Quick Roundup 320

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What a rarity! My wife is awake and here while I'm composing a morning blog post!

Thursdays, I typically have to rush to get in earlier than usual, so when she asked me whether I was going to post about how much I love her, I said, "Oh, I don't know! I'm probably just going to throw some stuff out there and get out of here."

I love Mrs. Van Horn!

So there! I never said what I was going to "throw out there", did I?

New Blogger Feature

It's in Beta, but Blogger is in the process of making it possible to compose a blog post in advance and have it automatically show up at a pre-set date and time.

Once I move to Boston, I will likely have to make major changes to the way I blog if I wish to continue doing so and further my non-blogging writing career.

And I wish to do both.

All Atlas Can Do...

A reader pointed me to this column in the student newspaper of Columbia University by a student who had recently read Atlas Shrugged and decided to make the case for its inclusion in his school's core curriculum. He does a pretty good job:

[T]he most important thing that Rand does is make one question one's beliefs. I always wondered how capitalism could be morally justifiable, whether or not the rich should be shunned as most of society does, why the welfare state is inherently bad, how selfishness could be perceived as anything but appalling. In a word, where in my heart I was scared to be an egoist, Rand showed me that I should not hate this impulse, but I should embrace it, and that if all were to embrace it, the bounds of human progress would be limitless. I learned that striving to achieve and putting thought to action was the highest goal that I could seek, and that this would lead to my ultimate happiness. [bold added]
Ben Weingarten earlier indicates the growing intellectual influence that Ayn Rand has had over the past few decades.

Whether or not Atlas Shrugged lives up to Weingarten's claims -- and I think it does -- that it stimulates critical thought about philosophical beliefs, there is no excuse for not including it as part of a collegiate core curriculum. Either Weingarten is right, and students are missing out on an enjoyable and profitable learning experience, or he isn't, and students are being deprived of the chance to learn what's wrong with it first-hand.

I doubt Weingarten will succeed in shaming Columbia into changing its curriculum. Shame is, after all, one of the few emotions modern intellectuals refuse to indulge. But I think that in raising this issue, he and those who read his column will learn just how small the modern intellectual is.

All knowledge has value.

Two Roundups

Bo posted another submarine-blogger roundup last week and Rational Jenn's hosting the weekly Objectivist roundup today.

Who Watches the Watchers?

Amit Ghate's been on fire lately. Tuesday, he notes a key unspoken assumption about government regulation and points to a relevant news story:
One of the key assumptions underlying arguments for government regulation is that when people switch over from the private sector to the public sector, they're somehow transformed from devils to angels. I've never understood any part of this -- most people I see in the private sector are more conscientious and harder working than those I see in the public sector; and more importantly, the market provides an incentive to do good, honest work lest a competitor unseat you -- no such mechanism is at work in the public sector.
And yet his preamble still doesn't prepare you for the orgy of theft by government officials covered in the article. Take a look.

Congratulations to Joseph Kellard!

And I also enjoyed what he wrote on the subject of his recent promotion. You will, too, if you haven't seen it already.

Oh, but that ribbon is different!

I must say that I fully support C. August's "blue ribbon campaign" for ethical sophistication!

And, on a serious note, I am very intrigued by that book trilogy review he posted recently:
Neal Stephenson's trilogy, The Baroque Cycle, is a must read if you are interested in any of the following: history, The Enlightenment, science, philosophy, reason, how ideas shape world events, the birth of capitalism, pirates, battles, or love stories. Yes, this isn't so much a book review as a trilogy review, but the books can't really be separated. [link dropped]
That's as far as I've gotten so far. Or something like that.

-- CAV


: Added link to OBlogger roundup.


Amit Ghate said...

Thanks for the links Gus! And if I ever have some extra time, the Baroque Cycle sounds like a great read. Thanks for pointing it out.

Gus Van Horn said...

You're welcome.

And, yep. My hopper just grew by a trilogy!

Adrian Hester said...

Yo, Gus, you mentioned Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy. There's another good review up at Inchoatus, a website devoted to the criticism (in the proper sense) in sensible terms of SF and fantasy books. Here's part of what they have to say about the first of the trilogy, Quicksilver:

"The reader will be rewarded with those concepts with which Stephenson is most fascinated: freedom of speech and thought; the daring of great minds to dare great things; the abominations that are slavery and genocide; and the ultimate failure of the attempt of a system of rules and government to fully contain the burst of energy, creativity, and chaos that is human evolution. Cryptography, at its essence, is the weapon of the interminable war between creative genius and the suffocating political hegemony that seeks outright control in the name of order. The war is the very subject of cryptography fought over the most precious of all commodities: information and its relation to objective truth about the world in which we live."

(No, I haven't read it yet. I haven't the time, and I wouldn't start it anyway until after I finish Necronomicon, which is quite long enough as it is.)

Adrian Hester said...

Heh. That should be Cryptonomicon. Though I imagine even the Necronomicon could be interesting in Stephenson's hands. (Just as I'm quite sure I'd not want to read Cryptonomicon as written by H.P. Lovecraft.)

Gus Van Horn said...

"Heh. That should be Cryptonomicon."

And if you're fibbing, I'll know in few months when the men with in white coats come to get you!

Jennifer Snow said...

The Baroque Cycle is enjoyable, but it's too damn long and it has way too many characters that don't do nearly enough interesting stuff. Cryptonomicon is better by far, and even *it* pushes the Victor Hugo Unnecessary But Good Essay Included In The Novel envelope a bit too far.

If you want to try Stephenson, read Snow Crash first. If you really enjoy it, try tackling Cryptonomicon. If you REALLY REALLY enjoy that, you may want to consider tackling the Baroque Cycle if you have a lot of spare reading time on your hands suddenly. Otherwise, spend your time doing something else.

Gus Van Horn said...

"... if you have a lot of spare reading time on your hands ..."

Thanks for the advice. That is one small problem for me that could worsen in Boston.

Joseph Kellard said...


Thanks for linking to my column.

Joseph Kellard

Diana Hsieh said...

I got about 50 pages into Cryptonomicon before quitting in disgust at the style of writing. It was too self-consciously witty, i.e. trying too hard to be clever. (I had the same problem with "Confederacy of Dunces" and the Guy Ritchie movie "Snatch." I wish I could explain what I hate about that style better, but it's damn hard to do so.) Paul loved it, however.

Gus Van Horn said...

How we respond to such things as artistic style and types of humor would be one of the most daunting problems facing the cognitive sciences even if they weren't hobbling along due to irrational epistemology and determinism!

The fact that you hated my favorite comedic novel causes me to wonder whether I'll be more likely to enjoy Stephenson's works! (And after the other comments, I'm confused, so I'll first test the waters with Cryptonomicon....)

The fact that you and Paul reacted in opposite ways to Cryptonomicon reminds me a little of how I like Seinfeld and The Office while my wife usually finds either of those bearable at best.

Jennifer Snow said...

From what I understand, Cryptonomicon is very definitely a Geek Thing. What Diana describes as "self-conscious wittiness" is actually a true reflection to most geeks (I think), because you spend your life in a world of deep enthusiasms that other people seem to find, at best, bizarre.

That self-conscious edge taints everything you do, and you're never quite sure whether it should be a badge of pride or a mark of shame that you are Not Like Other People.

Or, I could be totally off-base.

Gus Van Horn said...

That's an interesting thought.

Geekiness,as I know from personal experience, is a complicated condition.

Given that our culture encourages secon-handedness, it makes it that much harder to become your own person -- to reach the point where you don't give a damn what others think in those areas where what others think really doesn't matter one way or the other.

But even in a better culture, some interests are so far off the beaten path that one will be considered eccentric no matter what.

Still, I think that one would be more likely to reach adulthood feeling more like a charming eccentric or knowing that most people smile about, or laugh with him over his odd interests.

I suspect that in a more rational culture, geekiness would become less of a dilemma, if that makes any sense.

"Or, I could be totally off-base."

One of my college majors was in the humanities, and we had to pass a written, comprehensive exam as a degree requirement when I was a senior.

Our running joke during breaks was that we were covering ourselves by adding, "Or not," at the end of each discussion question.

Jim May said...

In the context of this culture, I have always seen "geekiness" as a kind of taking refuge from the irrationality of the culture at large.

I speak from a definite position of authority on this topic, as I have been a geek for most of my life, and work in a field dominated by them (visual computer effects for TV/film). If you've seen the penultimate geek movie "Trekkies", you may remember the kid with the mullet who was modelling parts of the Enteprise using computer software. That kid is Gabriel Koerner, who now does VFX for a living and is credited alongside me on Joss Whedon's Serenity.

Gus Van Horn said...

I think that's definitely part of geekiness, but not all of it.

Many geeks, in the process of ignoring irrational elements of the culture, go overboard and throw out the baby with the bathwater, ignoring social conventions that actually have some rational basis, and sometimes getting in their own way as a result.