Sunday, 23 December 2007

The Spirit of Christmas (not)

Here's my favourite Christmas story:
About four weeks ago, I was rushing around trying to get some last-minute shopping done. I was stressed out and not thinking very fondly of the Christmas season right then. It was dark, cold, and wet in the multi-story car park. I realised that I had lost the shop receipt, which I would need to get out of the car park without paying. So, mumbling under my breath, I retraced my steps to the shopping centre entrance.

As I was searching the wet pavement, I heard a quiet sobbing. The crying was coming from a poorly dressed boy of about ten years old. He was short and thin. He had no coat. He had only a ragged flannel shirt to protect him from the evening chill. He was holding two fifty pound notes in his hand.

Thinking that he had got separated from his parents, I asked him what was wrong, and he told me his sad story. He came from a large family. His father had died when he was seven years old. His mother worked two full time jobs to make ends meet. Nevertheless, she had managed to scrimp and save two hundred pounds to buy her children Christmas presents. She had dropped him off at the shopping centre on the way to her second job. He was to use the money to buy presents for all his brothers and sisters and save just enough to take the bus home. He had not even entered the shopping centre when an older boy grabbed two of his fifty pound notes and disappeared into the night.

"Why didn't you scream for help?" I asked. The boy said, "I did!”

“And nobody came to help you?" The boy stared at the ground and sadly shook his head.

“How loud did you scream?" I enquired. The soft-spoken boy looked up and meekly whispered, "Help me!"

I realised that absolutely no one could have heard that poor boy cry for help. So I grabbed his other two fifty pound notes and scarpered.

But I also like this, which is all over the internet now:

The 12 Days Of Christmas (For the politically correct)

On the 12th day of the Eurocentrically imposed midwinter festival, my Significant Other in a consenting adult, monogamous relationship gave to me:

TWELVE males reclaiming their inner warrior through ritual drumming,

ELEVEN pipers piping (plus the 18-member pit orchestra made up of
members in good standing of the Musicians Equity Union as called for in their union contract even though they will not be asked to play a note),

TEN melanin deprived testosterone-poisoned scions of the patriarchal
ruling class system leaping,

NINE persons engaged in rhythmic self-expression,

EIGHT economically disadvantaged female persons stealing milk-products from enslaved Bovine-Americans,

SEVEN endangered swans swimming on federally protected wetlands,

SIX enslaved Fowl-Americans producing stolen non-human animal products,

FIVE golden symbols of culturally sanctioned enforced domestic incarceration,

(NOTE after members of the Animal Liberation Front threatened to throw red paint at my computer, the calling birds, French hens and partridge have been reintroduced to their native habitat. To avoid further Animal-American enslavement, the remaining gift package has been revised.)

FOUR hours of recorded whale songs

THREE deconstructionist poets

TWO Sierra Club calendars printed on recycled processed tree carcasses

AND a Spotted Owl activist chained to an old-growth pear tree.

Finally, if you want something that is in the spirit of Christmas, try "Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial" by Dr. Leonard Peikoff.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Rules for simpler living

Don't warm up butter before you try to spread it. Just cut off thick slabs of the cold butter and lay them side by side on the bread, leaving small gaps inbetween so there's somewhere for the honey to go when you press the two slices of bread together.

Don't recycle anything at all (unless, like me, you find composting a fascinating recreation).

Don't buy socks of only one colour. All my socks are black, but each pair is subtly different from every other pair, and I also have three odd socks. I keep these because one of the paired ones might develop a hole, and if that happened the newly widowed sock might just match one of the old odd socks.

If you have obsessive-compulsive tendencies, do not buy coloured hangers. We have many plastic hangers and I am always tempted to match the hue of the hanger to the hue of the garment. I also feel the need to arrange the hangers in rainbow order. The pink, cream, brown and grey hangers worry me: should pink, for instance, be a subdivision of red, or should the pastel and murky colours be arranged in a separate series? Checked and striped clothes also worry me.

Don't have more than one handbag. All my stuff (and I do mean all) is in a single handbag. I can't always find what I want in its cavernous depths, but I can be sure that it is in there somewhere. If I need the item quickly, I get Paddy to extract it for me, because he searches systematically whereas I just scrabble.

Don't buy lots of household cleaning fluids. All you need is one cleaner (any non-corrosive kind will do), and a dog (to deal with food spills).

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Philosophy applied to every day life

That's what you get from Leonard Peikoff's podcasts. The latest, published on 11th December, gives philosophical (and, of course, practical) answers to moral questions about labour unions, pain relief and musical preferences, and explains why it really ought to take three people to make a child. The one before (4th December) tackles tatoos, property rights, legal murder and the age of majority.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Count Arthur Strong Talks about Creationism

I listen to Count Arthur Strong's radio show on BBC Radio 4 every Tuesday on the way home from work, but I'd never seen what he looked like till I found him on YouTube. During this Tuesday's show, when Count Arthur is supposed to debate Creationism at the Oxford Union, I was laughing so hard I had to move into the nearside lane to reduce my chances of swerving into another vehicle. Count Arthur Strong's blatherings are the funniest thing I've come across since the TV skit, years ago, showing how it would be if we had guide cats for the blind.

I wonder now: what would my moral status have been if I'd had an accident while deliberately listening to a comedy show? Maybe I should read Diana Hsieh's articles on 'the problem of moral luck' to find out.

Update: rewritten 13-DEC-07 after problem with html script

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Gracious old lady

This is one of my favourites in the British Museum - I visit her every time I go there, which is at least once a year. She lives in the Wolfson Galleries, not far from the Molossian Dog. She looks young, but she's well over two thousand years old - an Etrusco-Latin bronze, half life size, thought to have been found at Nemi and cast during the third to first century BC. There's more information about her on the British Museum site, though she has a presence and grace that I think my photo captures better than the BM one.

Hat tip: Kieron McNulty, who was kind enough to answer my appeal on the Open University Student Association's Classics Forum, found the link for me.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Someone at work mentioned Belbin team roles, and that has been my ruin today. I did a Belbin test about twenty years ago and came out as a "Plant". Wondering if that would have changed, I wasted time on a fruitless search for a free online test after work. But I did do a consolation quiz that is probably nearly as accurate, courtesy of Monica at Spark A Synapse, and came out the same as her on the Sesame Street one. And what do you know, I do collect unusual objects (my objets trouves collection is under constant threat of being thrown out by Paddy). Since I was in the mood I did a whole series of these amusing tests and was impressed with this one:

Your Brain is Purple

Of all the brain types, yours is the most idealistic.
You tend to think wild, amazing thoughts. Your dreams and fantasies are intense.
Your thoughts are creative, inventive, and without boundaries.
You tend to spend a lot of time thinking of fictional people and places - or a very different life for yourself.

It's the usual guff, but the last line is actually true: I really do spend a lot of time thinking of fictional people (especially at meetings).

Sunday, 25 November 2007

In debt

The shame and disgrace continues. Yesterday I went to the library to return another book (a well written but pointless novel by Martin Amis, can't remember the title.) A shelfful of books was for sale: "fill a bag for £1". I selected three books, took them to the counter and opened my wallet - which contained nothing but a £20 note. The library is not set up to handle that kind of money, so the librarian kindly put an electronic note on my library card: owes £1. She said I could pay up the next time I came by. Poor gullible creature - she'll get into big trouble when I skip the country instead.

Saudi Arabia is not our friend

Saudi Arabia funds Islamic terrorism - using the money we give them to buy oil from the oil wells they confiscated from western companies in the 1970s. And now, they are using our laws to silence a westerner who has criticised the Saudi regime - see the short film from the Moving Picture Institute that I linked to in yesterday's post. The film is about Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz's attempt to destroy Funding Evil by Rachel Ehrenfeld, a book documenting how he and other Saudi Arabian bigwigs further the cause of Islamic totalitarianism.

As Dr Ehrenfeld explains in the video, paying for terrorists to bomb our soldiers, our skyscrapers and our public transport is expensive. Still, the Saudis have a lot of money left over, and they use some of that to buy advanced military systems like the Eurofighter. Western governments eagerly thrust these weapons at the Saudis. They are our allies, after all, aren't they? Unfortunately for us, they're also theocratic barbarians. With money extorted from the west in the first place they buy weapons we provide for them. What reason do we have to suppose that they'll use them in ways that won't harm us? About as much reason as we have to suppose that Iran wants nuclear capability so that it can generate more electricity.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

The Libel Tourist

"Saudi Billionaire Accused of Funding Terror Exploits British Laws to Silence American Authors. Documentary Film Shows How The Libel Tourist Failed to Silence Rachel Ehrenfeld.
The Moving Picture Institute (MPI) has released a documentary short film (at casting light on what a former ACLU director calls 'one of the most important First Amendment cases of the past 25 years.'"
The Libel Tourist exposes how Saudi billionaire Khalid Bin Mafhouz exploits the British legal system and sues for libel in London even though he does not live there and the articles or books are not published in Britain. It is an outrageous abuse of the legal system," said the film's Executive Producer Rob Pfaltzgraff. Many American authors and researchers are finding themselves silenced and harassed by Mafhouz's trans-continental manipulation of libel laws. MPI's new 8-minute film The Libel Tourist is a story about how Saudi money is used to silence and control the media through the British court system.

Directed by MPI fellow Jared Lapidus, the film explains how Mahfouz filed a libel suit against Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed - and How to Stop It. The suit was not filed in the United States, where the book was published and sold, but instead in London, where Mahfouz associates ordered 23 books online. The judge ordered all copies of the book pulped, and ordered Ehrenfeld to pay the legal fees and damages, despite the fact that nothing in her book about Saudi funding of terrorism was ever disproved.

Since 2002, drawing on a vast fortune, Mafhouz has sued more than 36 times in London, where the libel laws heavily favor the accuser. Every media outlet or publisher he sued, or threatened to sue, apologized, retracted and paid fines. "Mafhouz has single-handedly wiped out an entire genre of reportage. Researchers are chilled into dropping the entire subject." said Pfaltzgraff.

Mahfouz's frequent libel lawsuits have earned London the title of "World Capital for Libel Tourism;" even Cambridge University Press, the oldest English-speaking publishing house, chose to pulp the book Alms for Jihad, apologize, and pay Mahfouz.

Ehrenfeld, however, is fighting back. In The Libel Tourist she speaks about her shocking experience of modern-day book burning by British courts, and the First Amendment lawsuit she filed against Mahfouz. Oral arguments in her case were heard November 15, 2007 in a New York courtroom.

Audrey Mullen, Advocacy Ink: (703) 548.1160 email:

Hat tip: Ed Cline via UKOA

Friday, 23 November 2007

Putting up with the little things

For a year or two now I've had a slight problem with my right knee - a twinge of pain when stepping down from one level to another. I think it started after I slipped while hurrying down some steps in the rain and banged my knee hard on the concrete. I'd never done anything about it and had almost stopped noticing it. However, I recently started running once or twice a week and found that that made the pain worse.

Worried that the extra exercise might lead to a real injury, I resolved to do something positive to prevent it. I considered a visit to the doctor; but that didn't appeal, because I would have had to take time off work and probably would have got nothing out of it but a prescription for ibuprofen and a referral to a physiotherapist with a three month waiting list. Then I realised what might really help: and I resorted once more to Sarah Key's The Body in Action. There is, of course, a knee section in there, so I did all the knee exercises she recommended (they don't take long). Judging by what she writes about the initial difficulty of doing these excercises, both my knees are actually pretty healthy; so when I felt an improvement the very next day I wondered if it might just be a placebo effect. But I noticed, when I stepped down from the kitchen onto the back porch, that I had omitted to do something: I hadn't braced myself for the expected discomfort I would feel on bending my right knee. I'd got so used to something being wrong that compensating for it had become automatic. Now, it's normality that seems novel.

One of my reasons for writing this is just to say again how good Sarah Key's exercises are.

My other point, though, is that we shouldn't get used to something being wrong - physically or psychologically - without first finding out if it can be fixed. Some things can't be fixed, and we have to get used to those. But I wonder how many times we subconsciously wince before enduring yet another little niggle that could have been fixed without much difficulty, if only we'd stopped long enough to identify it, but that is gradually developing into a real problem because we're ignoring it.

To keep putting up with minor annoyances, enduring slight discomforts, and finding ways round small obstacles is to allow disorder to accumulate in our lives as more and more of our enerby becomes unavailable for useful work.

Why we need more chairs 3

This photo reminds me of the old story about the Princess and the Pea: the one where the princess is so sensitive to discomfort that she can't sleep a wink, despite the fact that her bed is piled with twenty-three feather matresses, because right at the bottom of all of them is a dried pea.

Pussy Kirk is very like her.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

hapax legomenon

Come on, you ought to know what that means - after all, it's there as bold as brass in the Oxford Concise (9th edition, 1995). It is of course, "a word of which only one instance of use is recorded. [Greek, = a thing said once]".

I found it on the way to "he" (which I'd decided check up on while writing my previous post).

Grammatical neutrality

I'm off on another grammar whinge (actually, only the second on this blog, but unlikely to be the last).

My favourite offender, Pet Supermarket, warns me about the perils of Christmas in the following terms:
Your cat is likely to hide if there are lots of people or noise around the house at Christmas. Give them time and encouragement and they will hopefully venture out and be included so they too can enjoy the Christmas festivities ... If your cat is nervous and hides away, make sure they either have access to the outside to toilet or the use of a clean litter tray.
Now who are "they" - all my clamourous but timid guests, queing nervously in the shadows outside the bathroom door? No, "they" are my cat - he, she or it. I know we aren't allowed to say "he" any more when we mean a person of unspecified sex (just try doing it when you write material for a training course or a company's business management system). But now, it seems, we aren't even allowed to refer to an animal of unspecifed sex as "it". We are, however, allowed risible constructions like those quoted, because it's quite alright to be grammatically incorrect.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Falsely accused

The Council sent me a threatening letter about an allegedly overdue library book. If I did not return the overdue item within a fortnight, it warned me, "borrowing privileges will be suspended. Daily fine: 15p per adult item." By the time I got the letter the item would have been nearly a month overdue and attracted a fine of over £4; so of course I phoned the library at once and protested my innocence.

After an investigation lasting several minutes the librarian found the book right where it lived, on the fiction shelf under "R", and apologised profusely. I accepted her apology. Afterwards Paddy told me I should have requested compensation: for did this false accusation not cause deep psychological distress to me, bring shame and confusion to the family (me, Paddy and the tabbies) and cast a shadow of local ignominy upon me? People would have pointed as I walked through the town and whispered to each other: "She's been excommunicated, you know." I would have had to buy all my books instead of just most of them. I would have had to move to another county, perhaps change my name.

The book, by the way, was Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts (an author recommended to me by my friend Jack Gordon). This is not her best, and I am not fond of the Irish saga genre, but it was well worth reading, especially for the sex scenes.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

American Football v. Rugby

I just watched a bit of an American football game, New York Giants against Detroit Lions. I know nothing about American football except what Charles Sures once told Paddy and me way back in 1989 at the Objectivist summer school in La Jolla: it's all about territory.

At a first glance, American football looks a lot like rugby - muscle-bound scrums, running with the ball, rough tackling, trying to carry the ball over the line. Rugby players, however, look nothing like football players. Rugby players look battered: broken noses, cauliflower ears... features coarsened and blurred by repeated trauma over the years. Football players look well cared for: some faces sharp-featured, others with smooth curves and planes, all unmarked by injury. Rugby players do not wear helmets. Football players wear helmets (and shoulder pads, and gloves).

Football players also seem a bit taller and more slender than rugby players. I don't know if they really are, or if they just look that way because they wear skin-tight breeches instead of shorts.

My verdict is that, on aesthetic grounds alone, American football beats rugby hands down. Just to be clear: football may or may not be better in other respects (I suspect it is); but it's already better enough in the way it looks to be better overall than rugby. And isn't it just a bit dumb for rugby players not to wear more protection?

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Back to Greenwich Mean Time

Today is the day when the clocks go back. I wish they'd stay back.

Civilisation has many things for which to thank Benjamin Franklin, but I don't count daylight-saving as one of them. Twice a year we have to wrench ourselves forward or back in time by changing all the clocks, and in high summer we have to put up with unnaturally late sunsets. I don't blame Franklin though. He may have been the first person to suggest the idea, but it wasn't a serious recommendation - it appeared in a humourous essay he wrote in 1784 while he was in Paris.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for proving in a dangerous experiment that lightening was a form of electricity. He had started out in life as a printer. Another, greater scientist interested in electricity also began his working life in a trade linked to publishing: Michael Faraday, born the year after Franklin died, who completed a seven year apprenticeship as a book binder. It's not really much of a resemblance, though, since Franklin never lost his love of printing and made his fortune by it whereas Faraday got out of bookbinding as soon as he could (by taking a job as Humphrey Davey's assistant at the Royal Institution). But it does show that the sky's the limit for a boy who knows how to read and is willing to make the most of it.

I learned only recently that Faraday was a chemist as well as a physicist and is also famous for isolating benzene. Of course the ancient Ethiopians were able to exploit a natural source of pure benzene, but I don't believe they knew its formula. (Actually, neither did Faraday; that had to wait for Kekulé.)

Friday, 26 October 2007

Wait your turn!

Brent Cowgill alerted me (via UKOA) to this wonderful story in the Daily Mail. Published on 23rd October, it is about a petrol station cashier who told a robber she was too busy to serve him:
Instead of surrendering the £15 cash from her till, the 51-year-old turned to the raider and told him she was too busy to deal with him.

I just got on with it," she said. "British people don't stop work just because someone is trying to bully us with guns."

Yesterday David Collinson, 42, was beginning a seven-year jail sentence after he was convicted of robbery at Gloucester Crown Court.
When her colleague told her she had to give the robber money,
"I said, 'Whatever for?'"


"I was going to thump him, but I thought twice because it may well have been a real gun. Anyone that knows me, knows that I would."
Good for her.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Why we need more chairs 2

There are two of us and two of them. We bought enough chairs for ourselves. There will never be enough chairs for them.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

The Cat's Pyjamas

Here is Pussy Janeway showing off her fine... um... markings. The book is Ayn Rand's The Art of Non-Fiction - which is, of course, the cat's pyjamas.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Right on target

Today Pussy Janeway sick-bombed the ironing board. About half went on the cover, soaking through to the foam below, and half went on the shirt I had been going to iron. Well aimed, PJ. And now I am going to cook you.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Cascades of error

Several recent posts on HBL refer to this interesting John Tierny article, published in the NYT on 9-OCT-07:
Diet and Fat: a Severe Case of Mistaken Consensus

The whole article is worth reading, both for its specific discussion of the crusade against dietary fat and for showing how the mechanism of mistaken consensus leads to such crusades. An extract:
We like to think that people improve their judgment by putting their minds together, and sometimes they do. The studio audience at “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” usually votes for the right answer. But suppose, instead of the audience members voting silently in unison, they voted out loud one after another. And suppose the first person gets it wrong.

If the second person isn’t sure of the answer, he’s liable to go along with the first person’s guess. By then, even if the third person suspects another answer is right, she’s more liable to go along just because she assumes the first two together know more than she does. Thus begins an “informational cascade” as one person after another assumes that the rest can’t all be wrong.
The obvious analogy to the anti-fat crusade is the global warming crusade. Only heretics dare question four assumptions that have yet to be provided with a plausible foundation:

1) Long term global warming is occurring
2) Economic activity causes global warming
3) Global warming is a bad thing
4) Governments should curtail economic activity to prevent global warming

One HBLer discussed another interesting article, Science is the pursuit of the truth, not consensus, by John Kay in the Financial Times (also on 9-OCT-07). Some extracts:
Numbers are critical to democracy, but science is not a democracy. If an evangelical Christian converted all members of the Royal Society to creationism, that neither would nor should affect my belief in evolution. Most scientists know no more about climate change, HIV/Aids or the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine than do most lawyers, philosophers or economists, and it is not obvious who is better equipped to assess conflicting claims on these issues. Science is a matter of evidence, not what a majority of scientists think.
Statements about the world derive their value from the facts and arguments that support them, not from the status and qualifications of the people who assert them. Evidence versus authority was the issue on which Galileo challenged the church. The modern world exists because Galileo won.
I have to agree with that.

Independent of the Truth?

Here's a disappointing example of unprofessional journalism - a factually innacurate attack on Ayn Rand ineptly disguised as a news story:

The Independent, 12 October 2007
"Guru of greed: The cult of selfishness"
By Leonard Doyle
[Several paragraphs at the start, asking why Americans don't vote for welfare-statists, snipped.]

So what's the matter with America?

The answer may be contained in the writings of the Russian emigrée and radical libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand. Two decades after her death, she remains the darling of right-thinking Americans and sales of her novels, paens of praise to unbridled capitalism, are even outselling The Da Vinci Code.

More copies of her book Atlas Shrugged are sold now than when she was the literary pied piper of Wall Street. In his early thirties, no less a figure than Alan Greenspan, who married one of her closest friends and went on to become the chairman of the Federal Reserve fawned over her. On Saturday nights he made his way to Rand's deliberately darkened apartment in Manhattan to sit in rapt admiration as passages of her novels were read aloud to her conservative salon.

[several paragraphs about Alan Greenspan snippped]

Some argue that it was Rand herself rather than her philosophical ideas that held the public gaze. Biographies penned by spurned lovers and collections of her letters reveal a difficult personality, alternatively passionate and cold. A woman who kept lists of sworn enemies. She enjoyed kinky sex with swinging couples and enforced a cult of loyalty among her followers.

Rand was born in 1905 in Russia and her comfortable life was turned upside down when the Bolsheviks attacked her father's pharmacy, declaring his business to be state property. She had fled the Soviet Union by1926 and soon arrived in Hollywood. There she looked
though the studio gates to see the director Cecil B. DeMille on the set filming a silent movie, King of Kings.

She talked her way onto the set, and got a job as an extra, later becoming a junior screenwriter. There she also met and married the writer Frank O' Connor.

For a few years she wrote screenplays as well as novels that failed to sell. It was only in 1943 that her career took off when word-of-mouth campaign got The Fountainhead noticed and put her on the road to success.

Rand's most influential book, Atlas Shrugged begins in a recession. To save the economy her hero, John Galt, calls for a strike by intellectuals against government interference. Factories, farms and shops close. Riots break out as food becomes scarce. Rand herself said she "set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them" and to portray "what happens to a world without them".

The book was published into a welter of criticism. The New York Times critic denounced it as "written out of hate" and called it "a triumph of English as a second language". Both conservatives and liberal critics disparaged it, with the right condemning its promotion of a godless ethic and the left condemning its message of "greed is good". Rand cried every day as bad reviews poured in.

But now she is back in fashion of a sort. Her theories have made inroads into academia. Objectivism is taught at more than 30 universities, with fellowships at several leading philosophy departments. The Ayn Rand Institute has a war chest of over $7m to promote her ideas and more than a million high school pupils are being given free copies of her novels to read.

[several paragraphs on Ayn Rand's influence and the continuing high sales of Atlas Shrugged snippped]

One of the characters in Atlas Shrugged, summarises her philosophy of Objectivism with the following oath: "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another human being, or ask another human being to live for mine."

[one paragraph snipped]

One way or another Rand's ode to American individualism has made her one of the towering figures of US political thought in the late 20th century.

By rejecting altruism and embracing selfishness she rejected the Judaeo-Christian underpinning of the religious right. The only moral obligation a person had was to his or her own happiness. That meant capitalism should be given a free rein with an unregulated market economy.

She pushed America's cult of individualism into uncharted waters where ruthless self-interest and disdain for poorer members of society were the guiding principles.

Her admirers partly credit her revived appeal to an absence of ideas coming from the US left: "Today's left doesn't have anything positive to offer to young people," says Yaron Brook, director of the Ayn Rand Institute. "When they were socialists, there was at least something they were fighting for, and they believed in a right and a wrong [snip] Ayn Rand is the only voice that offers a secular absolutist morality with a positive vision and agenda, for individuals and for society as a whole."

The coming presidential election will reveal the extent to which ordinary poor Americans will proudly vote themselves out of jobs, off the land and ensure that their children can never afford to go to university or afford health care. It happened in the last two presidential elections, and the Ayn Rand Institute is banking that it will happen again.
Aeon McNulty, a businessman, wrote to the editor. In a letter too long to be published, though not long enough to enumerate all that was wrong with Leonard Doyle's article, he summarised the reporting errors:
Sir: the article on Ayn Rand entitled "Guru of greed: The cult of selfishness" by Leonard Doyle (12th October) contained the following errors.

1. Ayn Rand is categorically not a "libertarian". She repeatedly expressed her profound disagreement and disgust with libertarians, branding them "hippies of the right".

2. The phrase "biographies by spurned lovers" is severely misleading because the use of the plural directly implies that there has been more than one. In fact, although there are certainly many biographies of Miss Rand in print, there is only one penned by a former lover: the bitter and biased account by Nathaniel Branden which was published after her death.

3. Miss Rand did not keep "lists of sworn enemies". What she kept, and frequently wrote about, were notes on intellectual ideas that she disagreed with. Since ideas come from people it's entirely unsurprising that these notes often contained the names of their proponents.

4. There is no evidence that she "enjoyed kinky sex with swinging couples". Miss Rand did not view sex as a smutty or casual indulgence. She regarded it as a profound expression of joy and affection. At the time of her alleged affair with Mr Branden she was, by all accounts, deeply in love with him. There is no indication ofany other extramarital sexual activity during her life.

5. Frank O'Connor, her husband for fifty years, was an actor not a

6. John Galt (the hero in Atlas Shrugged) does not call a strike in
order to "save the economy", that is obviously never his aim (or the result), he explicitly calls it to free the "men of the mind" from the "morality of self-sacrifice".

7. "Greed is good" is not a phrase attributable to Miss Rand, she never said it. It comes from the well-known 1987 film, "Wall Street".

8. Miss Rand did not cry "every day as bad reviews poured in". This is lifted directly from a ridiculously arbitrary assertion by Harriet Rubin that appeared in a recent article in The New York Times. To those that knew Miss Rand the very notion of her crying over a bad review is laughable.

9. The following is a misquotation, "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another human being, or ask another human being to live for mine." It should instead be: "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

10. It is claimed that the Ayn Rand Institute is hoping for (indeed "banking" on) another Republican victory. It is a matter of record that the ARI has been a consistently harsh critic of the Republican Party since the institute was founded.

Thank you for your time and attention.
The writer Ed Cline agreed. In his own letter to the editor he said:
The errors present in Leonard Doyle's "Guru of Greed: The cult of selfishness" (12 October) are too numerous to list in a letter. These errors center on what Ayn Rand did or did not do, on what she said or did not say. To cite one instance, she did not cry "every day as bad reviews poured in" of her novel Atlas Shrugged. If she did anything, she shrugged. And, her novel is having the last laugh; after 50 years, it is still selling strong and influencing people, while all those smarmy, vitriolic critics are gone.
My contribution was:
The title of Leonard Doyle's article "Guru of greed: The cult of selfishness" set the tone for the absurd assertions that followed. Ayn Rand identified rationality as the basic virtue and the source of all others. In her philosophy of Objectivism, selfishness is the virtue based on the facts about what man requires for his proper survival. To call rational self interest a cult, and Ayn Rand a guru, is a profound misrepresentation of the greatest philosopher of the modern era.

DSA Murray, an artist, targeted misapprehensions about Objectivism in two separate letters - first on 13th October:

Contrary to Leonard Doyle's article, Ayn Rand was not an advocate of the commonly held view of "selfishness".

Through her integrated philosophy, Objectivism, Ms Rand rejected the false alternative of sacrificing others to yourself (Nietzschean behaviour), or sacrificing yourself to others (altruism), by advocating a rational self-interest of neither living as a profiteer of sacrifice, nor as a victim, but as a voluntary "trader" of values for mutual benefit.

By upholding a "benevolent universe premise", Ms Rand argued that it is not "selfishness" that is the route of malevolent behaviour, but precisely the absence of a "self" e.g.,
the need to be admired, envied, feared, thought great, etc., by others.

She opposed altruism, which she defined as, "service to others as the moral justification of a man's existence and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty", because it destroys genuine benevolence and is the foundation of all forms of tyranny. Indeed, by elevating the idea that helping others is an act of selflessness, she argued, altruism implies that a man can have no selfish concern for others, that morally an act of goodwill must be an act of sacrifice, in effect destroying any authentic benevolence among men.
and then on 15th October (in response to somone else's letter):
...Rand was not opposed to acts of kindness towards others, indeed, she upheld a "benevolent universe premise" based on "rational self-interest". What she opposed
was a sacrificial moral code that turns men into either profiteers of sacrifice or victims.

She argued that by elevating the idea that helping others is an act of selflessness, altruism implies that a man can have no selfish concern for others, that morally an act of goodwill must be an act of sacrifice, in effect destroying any authentic benevolence among men.
The Independent, to its credit, did publish this last. As Daryl explained to its letters editor, "I don't expect The Independent to necessarily agree with, or fully understand Objectivism, (it requires major study), but I do expect the chance to correct any editorial errors or misconceptions about Ayn Rand's life and philosophy."

Note: all hyperlinks inserted by Valz.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

TV confession

I don't watch TV often enough. My friends have recommended many shows I know I should watch, but I never seem to find the time. I've missed most episodes of Firefly, Lost , House and Heroes. Maybe Lost is not such a loss... but I didn't see the first season of 24 until about forty thousand hours after it was broadcast on Sky (I watched it on DVD last January). Most episodes of Seinfeld have come and gone without me. Niles in Frazier got married without my knowledge. Documentaries are being presented by people I've never seen or heard of. I just have to buckle down to the box!

Morning call

Here's how many cat owners greet the day:


Pussy Kirk does this sort of thing to Paddy every morning, about ten minutes before his alarm goes off.

But I'm the one who wields the baseball bat, and I only do that to stop the snoring.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Whose environment is it?

Decades ago, most governments banned the use of DDT to kill mosquitoes. They did it because it was supposed to be bad for the environment. Millions of people in Africa and Asia died of malaria as a result of the ban. Now, some of those countries are allowing DDT again - because it is the safest and most effective way to eliminate malaria from the human environment. Whose environment are the environmentalists trying to protect? Not ours - not one fit for human beings to inhabit.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

article on Yaron Brook in OCR

There's an excellent article in the Orange County Register on one of the locals:
It appeared on 9th October and was written by Terry Sforza under the heading Atlas came to Irvine: ex-socialist runs the Ayn Rand Institute. Here's what it says:
Yaron Brook grew up a socialist. What choice did he have?

His parents were "standard leftist intellectuals," he said, driven from their homeland of South Africa by the injustices of apartheid, and drawn to Israel by dreams of Zionism and kibbutz-living. A kibbutz, you know – one of those communal farm/socialist-type utopias where everything is shared, collectivism rules, and other people help bring up your kids.

Brook's dad was a doctor. The family spent time in England and Boston, and he fondly recalls arguing with his Western capitalist classmates over the blights of poverty and economic inequality that went hand-in-hand with the free market.

So honestly. How did Yaron Brook come to be one of the nation's – nay, the world's – leading spokesmen for "rational selfishness" and "laissez-faire capitalism"?

How did he come to conclude that making money is good – very good – and that life's highest moral purpose is achieving personal happiness and individual fulfillment, not necessarily helping the neighbor in need?

How did Yaron Brook come to be president of the Ayn Rand Institute?


He was 16. It was summer break. A friend lent him a copy of Rand's 1,000-plus page "Atlas Shrugged" (which was published 50 years ago today to mostly scathing reviews and is now hailed as one of the most influential business books ever written).

In "Atlas," the capitalist movers and shakers – "individuals of the mind" – go on strike to protest overbearing government regulation and forced income redistribution. They simply drop out, refusing to contribute to a corrupt social order that confiscates their profits and tries to dictate their actions. These folks are, Rand argues, the very glue that holds society together.

In Rand's view, selfishness is a virtue, not a vice. An individual is an end in himself. He should be motivated by rational self-interest and guided solely by reason. And making money is a sign of success, proof that you have created something of value. The government shouldn't take money away from you and give it to the unsuccessful hordes.

Whoa. "I fought the book," Brook says. "I didn't want to agree with it. It challenged everything I believed in." But, after "Atlas," there was no going back.

At age 18, Brook entered the Israeli army, where he met his wife, Revital. On their first date, he gave her a copy of Rand's "The Fountainhead." On their second date, he took her to a lecture.


Now, what does a young man afire with rational self-interest do with his life? Brook got his civil engineering degree from the Technicon — Israel Institute of Technology, but it didn't much agree with him. This backbone of civilization stuff – bridges, roads, sewer systems – had rather limited appeal. There wasn't a great deal of individual fulfillment involved. And the money wasn't so hot either.

"After you come to the conclusion that the purpose of life is to maximize your own well-being, then there is only one country in the world that allows you to do that," he said.

So, like Rand, Brook came to America.

He got his master of business administration from the University of Texas at Austin, and followed up with a doctorate in finance. In a delicious irony, he became an assistant professor at Santa Clara University in San Jose, a Jesuit Catholic university. He started several businesses, including an investment consulting firm and Lyceum International, which organized conferences on objectivism, Rand's philosophy.

It's through those conferences that Brook got to know the movers and shakers in the world of objectivism. Warm, smart and funny, he was eventually asked to head the Ayn Rand Institute, the largest of the think tanks devoted to Rand's work.

Its mission: "To spearhead a cultural renaissance that will reverse the anti-reason, anti-individualism, anti-freedom, anti-capitalist trends in today's culture," its Web site says. "The major battleground in this fight for reason and capitalism is the educational institutions – high schools and, above all, the universities, where students learn the ideas that shape their lives."

The institute began in 1985 with just two staffers in Marina del Rey. Brook agreed to take the job in 2000 on two conditions: that he get an Apple computer, and that the institute move from Marina del Rey to Orange County.


The institute devoted to the high priestess of profit is, well, a nonprofit. Brook proudly earned a total compensation in excess of $356,000 as president last year (he says he could make a lot more in finance).

When he took over in 2000, the institute's budget was less than $2 million. It just closed the books on the 2006-07 fiscal year at a stunning $6.7 million.

More of that money is going into programs, and less into fundraising and administration. In 2004, 57.8 percent of the institute's spending was on programs. Last year, that shot up to 80.6 percent, according to financial information filed with the Internal Revenue Service.

"I don't even know where I am anymore, it has grown so much," said Donna Montrezza, one of the institute's original employees. "Beyond my wildest dreams."

It gives away Rand's books to high schools (some 700,000 to date). Runs an essay contest that annually attracts some 20,000 high school students. Supports college objectivist clubs, writes op-ed pieces, comments regularly on Fox News and CNBC. Next year it will open an office in Washington, D.C., to educate those in the capital on what America is reallyabout.

And, as a special treat for locals, it holds public lectures in Orange County, delightfully poking its fingers in the eyes of conventional wisdom and the status quo.

On Nov. 7, a talk titled "Religion vs. Self-Esteem" will argue that religion undermines every essential precondition of self-esteem.

Brook has lectured on "The Morality of War," arguing that trying to spare civilian lives has prevented the U.S. from winning in Iraq. "If, once all the facts are rationally evaluated, it is found that directly bombing civilian populations or torturing POWs will save American lives, then it is moral – morally mandatory – to do so."

Brook isn't exactly an ideologue. He's fine with charity, for example, so long as it's done voluntarily and for personal fulfillment, rather than out of guilt or self-sacrifice. He lives in Trabuco, watches lots of movies with his wife and two sons, takes in the opera, loves to travel – Italy, Thailand, China, Japan. But, more than anything, he loves the intellectual joust.

Brook sits at his desk and smiles, clearly relishing his philosophical about-face. "My parents," he says, "are still waiting for me to grow out of it."

Register wire services and staff writers Peter Larsen and Frank Mickadeit contributed to this report.

Worth preserving, I think.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

The Centre of the World

My home town is the setting for a silly science-fantasy novel I recently borrowed from the local library:
[It] is an old town and not all of its ghosts sleep the sleep of the just. Nestled in the rolling hills and valleys of the county of Wiltshire, in the ancient heart of the south west of England, many kinds of people have lived in [it] down the centuries, and some of their past deeds live on to trouble the present.
According to the novel, more ley lines cross each other here than anywhere else in England, making it the real centre of the world...

But its oldness does fascinate me. When I was a child nothing around me was old: my parents had been on earth longer than any of the buildings I walked past. Almost all the buildings in the centre of this town are old, and if you walk over ploughed fields in its environs you're quite likely to find bits of Roman or mediaeval pottery in the soil and see pieces of stone from Roman villas in the dry stone walls separating the fields.

Why we need more chairs 1

The handbag was not put there for scale. (It's true that Janeway is a small cat, but there again, the handbag is huge). No, I put the handbag there to prevent the cat from claiming my chair - but the chair was big enough for both of them.

The thing is, Jinny-Puss, my chair is not big enough for both of us.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

Soy lake

I don't want to sound obsessed with food, but in fact I am (it will soon be time to hibernate). That is why I must announce that I have just bought five litres of Kikkoman dark soy sauce from an online Japanese food store.

Now I don't need to stock up at one of the Chinese supermarkets in Soho next time I visit London. They can be fun to look round, but they often smell bad, they're always packed with other shoppers (ie people who get in the way when I've a train to catch) and they usually hide the Kikkoman somewhere in the basement where uninitiates would never think of looking for it.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Lettuce - why?

What I want to know is, why anyone ever thought of eating lettuce.

Now in civilised societies, lettuce is an excuse for mayonnaise and vinaigrette. But what made the first lettuce eaters decide that lettuce was worth eating? I've eaten naked lettuce myself a few times: it is insipid and slightly bitter. I doubt that it's even particularly good for you, but if it is, the smart thing would be to get something else to eat it for you and then eat that creature. (I'm thinking rabbits here, not slugs.) Then you could save the vinagrette for your seafood salad and just eat the mayonnaise straight from the jar.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Accidental tomatoes

A few months ago I emptied the compost bin and stored a large tubful that we weren't able to use immediately. Later I noticed that some sort of weed had started to grow in the tub but I didn't bother to extirpate it. The "weed" turned out to be this exuberant tomato plant.

Having seen how many bunches of fat tomatoes weighed down its stems, I started to water it every day and feed it occasionally with bonfire ash. It's a race against time now: will the fruits ripen before the autumn frosts set in?

The silly thing is, I don't much like tomatoes. Their only edible forms are those that don't require chewing: very finely chopped; cooked to mush; juice, puree, sauce and soup. Paddy likes them raw, though, and casts a lustful eye on the accidental tomatoes every so often.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Coffee is good for you?

If so, I'm glad to hear it. I went through a green tea phase a few years ago, but it ended when I admitted to myself that green tea both looks and tastes disgusting.

According to a recent post on Healthbolt, coffee is...

...Not just good, but great! Reasonable amounts of coffee - no more than a few cups a day - promote all kinds of healthy side effects, from reduced risk of colon cancer, Parkinson’s, and type 2 diabetes to healthier liver function (aha!). And three cups of coffee have just as much fiber as an apple.

I had already heard most of this elsewhere, but not that "three cups of coffee have just as much fiber as an apple". How reliable is this assertion? I'm not qualified to say, and Healthbolt doesn't cite its sources, so I'll take it with a pinch of salt (but I may have to watch my blood pressure there).

Another thing I've read about coffee is that it isn't really an anti-diuretic. The Coffee Science Information Centre, for instance, says:

Q: Is coffee a diuretic?
A: The caffeine in coffee is a mild diuretic, but
moderate consumption of coffee has no greater effect than that seen with plain water. Decaffeinated coffee contains minimal amounts of caffeine and will therefore also have no greater effect on fluid loss than water.

Q: So will drinking coffee make me dehydrated?
A: No, coffee is an important source of fluid in the diet and moderate consumption, of 4-5 cups per day for the general population, will have no adverse effect on fluid levels in the body. In fact, experts in nutrition state that coffee can contribute significantly to daily fluid intake.

CoffeeScience (which appears to be a different organisation) confirms this and goes into more detail - an excerpt:

The diuretic effect of coffee was also evaluated in previous studies which Dr. Armstrong reviewed. The mild diuretic effect in coffee, tea and soda stems from their active agents, classified as methylxanthines. Dr. Armstrong explained, “The caffeine in coffee, tea, and soft drinks is 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. Tea contains theophylline – 1,3-dimethylxanthine. Theobromine is found in tea, chocolate and cocoa as 3,7-dimethylxanthine. All three compounds are central nervous system and cardiac stimulants, as well as mild diuretics in some situations.

Both serious athletes and weekend athletes consume a number of beverages that, when taken in large volume, have a diuretic effect. It is interesting to note that researchers have shown that fluid-electrolyte replacement beverages have diuretic activity, and that even water is a diuretic. At less than 300 mg a day, the diuretic activity of caffeine is similar to that of water.

What I can tell you for sure is that drinking coffee is good exercise (but just how good depends on how far your desk is from the coffee machine).

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Botched operation

Now I know what surgeons go through.

I needed to repair the hem on a pair of trousers. I got out my sewing basket, selected my tools, prepared my materials and mentally rehearsed the procedure one more time. I was now ready to do it live. I accomplished the first part of the procedure by neatly pinning the hem so that it would stay in place while I worked on it. I checked that the vertical crease on the turned up section was exactly in line with the rest of the leg, both front and back. I threaded my needle with just the right length of cotton and penetrated the cloth.

Then I proceeded to sew up the wrong damn leg.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Cat Worship...

...Have I allowed it to get out of hand?

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Widbrook Wood

This morning I went out for a walk along the canal at about nine o'clock and came back via Widbrook Wood, a part of the Moulton estate which Alex Moulton (famous for the Moulton bicycle and dynamo) has generously opened to the public. The week before I'd seen some red current bushes full of ripe fruit - light red, translucent and glistening. They looked so attractive that I decided to pick some this time and collected about four pounds from just three bushes growing near the grassy walkways that the estate has laid out between the trees and shrubs.

The trouble with currants is that they are too sour to be eaten raw, and have such large seeds that they can't be used in pies. Just about all you can do with them is make red currant jelly - so that's what I did. I found a simple recipe on the internet which didn't even require pectin. All you had to do was boil up the currants until they were mushy, strain them through a "jelly bag", and then boil up the juice with a large amount of sugar. We don't use sugar at home, so I had to nip out to the corner shop for some, but I did have a suitable bag from my wine making days.

Then I boiled, and I boiled, and I boiled. I was afraid the end result might be a sort of red toffee, but the hot juice did eventually jell into a sticky goo, reminiscent of jam, which I was able to pour into two large jars. It tastes nice but it is very sweet, even though I used less sugar than the recipe specified.

The question now is: how much venison am I going to have to eat in order to use up all the jelly?

Friday, 14 September 2007

Environmental compromise

Most people understand that environmentalism reduces standard of living. Airfares and car journeys become harder to afford if carbon taxes are added to the price of fuel; garbage is collected less often and costs more to dispose of if everyone has to use recycling bins as well as one for general rubbish; "energy efficiency" drives house builders to design ugly boxes with thick walls, low ceilings and small windows.

Fewer people realise that this is a life-or-death issue. After all, those who think government should impose 'green' taxes don't advocate killing anyone: they just want to take a little bit of life away from everyone. Like petty insurance cheats, they think their victims can afford to lose the small amount that's stolen from them. But there's no place to draw the line, morally or materially, for either theft or a forced reduction in standard of living.

The connection between standard of living and life itself is not obvious in western society. No one in the west starves, dies of exposure for want of warm clothing, or is worn out at forty by manual labour. The widows of Kensington may live ten years longer than those of Clydeside, but all of them can expect to reach their mid-seventies. The connection is clearer when you compare our society to those of the third world: there aren't many old people in Mozambique or Haiti. So, here's a question for environmentalists: just how much life is it OK to take?

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Blowing hot and cold

Since I, in common with most environmentalists, am not a scientist, I won't try to explain the absurdity of attempting to reduce "carbon footprints". Here's a hint, though: carbon dioxide is not a significant greenhouse gas.

I'll believe the predictions of global catastrophe when scientists understand the climate well enough to a) predict what the local weather will be next week; b) explain the enormous fluctuations in climate over past aeons; c) determine just what the optimum temperature is, so that each of us can know whether global warming, or global cooling, or global stasis, is good or bad, with respect to our own location.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

magical creatures

Wondering what had caused his abrupt return to consciousness, he opened his eyes and saw something with very large, round, green eyes staring back at him in the darkness, so close they were almost nose to nose.
This sounds very like Pussy Janeway; but in fact it's Dobby the house elf, as described by JK Rowling in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire(Chapter 23). Unlike Dobby, Pussy Janeway apparates silently. Once she's made herself comfortable on the bed pillow, though, she starts washing loudly - SLURP! SLURP! SLURP! nick-nick-nick SLURP! SLURP! How we love her, in the hours before dawn.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Happiness - Greek, not Roman...

... according to The Oxford History of the Classical World. Reading up on Cicero, I came to this passage:
Before and after Cicero, it was common to comlain of the deficiencies of Latin as a philosophical language. Cicero protested, with some justice, that new subjects in any language require the creation of new words, and that Greek philosophers too had resorted to neologisms. He himself introduced, for example, qualitas, moralis, and beatitudo, for 'quality', 'moral', and 'happiness' (it is suggestive that Rome, left to herself, needed no word for happiness).

[Ch.19, "Cicero and Rome" by Miriam Griffin, p. 458.]
When I learned Latin at school I was taught that the word for happiness was felix, but that this really meant good luck rather than the meaning captured in Galt's Speech:

Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.")

[Galt's Speech, in For the New Intellectual and Atlas Shrugged]

So Republican Rome had no concept of an earned happiness! That sort of figures: all those stories about violated virgins committing suicide to escape dishonour and statesmen preferring to execute their own sons than deviate from the letter of the law...
The Greek concept of happiness wasn't quite the same as ours either, though it seems a lot closer: Jonathan Barnes notes in Aristotle that Aristotle used the term eudaimonia, which means 'flourishing' - a successful life and the activity required to achieve it - rather than the state of consciousness that might be expected to proceed from flourishing.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

HP is not PC

Yes, you guessed it - the educational practices described in the Harry Potter books are not Pedagogically Correct:
Despite the very heavy load of homework that the fourth-years had been given for the holidays...
This quote is from Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (Chapter 23) but the Hogwarts teachers overload the students with homework throughout all the books.

Lisa VanDamme will have none of it - here's the opening section of her article on homework:
The Homework Lie
by Lisa VanDamme [Dec. 04, 2006]

Every year, dozens of parents sit at my desk and describe to me the intense frustration they feel as they watch their children get churned through the public schools. One of the refrains of their complaints: endless homework.

And no wonder:
  • The work itself is largely pointless. Students must complete countless contrived worksheets meant primarily to satisfy state standards for homework volume.

  • Their children are overwhelmed, trying to cram this busywork into car rides between after-school activities.

  • Parents do not know the material themselves. They are often unable to help, and sometimes they even hinder the children with their own confused instruction.

  • There is no sacred family time. Instead, the time for bonding between parents and children is compromised by battles over homework.

  • There is no sacred free time; the time the child should be allowed to rest, play, spend time with family, and pursue personal interests is compromised by the looming responsibility of performing hours of homework drudgery.

VanDamme Academy has a policy of no homework. Yes, you read that correctly.
You should read the rest as well. From further on in the article:
Our students shine because we make efficient use of the school day, focusing on those subjects which are most essential to the cognitive development of the child...
So don't expect to see Divination on the VanDamme Academy's curriculum.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Living on earth

Can't beat The Objective Standard for a topical logo:

What you get the other side of the link is also good:
Exploit the Earth or die. It’s not a threat. It’s a fact. Either man takes the Earth’s raw materials—such as trees, petroleum, aluminum, and atoms—and transforms them into the requirements of his life, or he dies. To live, man must produce the goods on which his life depends; he must produce homes, automobiles,
computers, electricity, and the like; he must seize nature and use it to his advantage. There is no escaping this fact. Even the allegedly “noble” savage must pick or perish. Indeed, even if a person produces nothing, insofar as he remains alive he indirectly exploits the Earth by parasitically surviving off the exploitative efforts of others.

Aristotle came first

One of my searches came up with a link to the "Ethical Philosophical Selector":
These questions reflect the dilemmas that have captured the attention of history’s most significant ethical philosophers. Answer the questions as best you can. When you’re finished answering the questions, press "Select Philosophy" to generate your customized match of ethical philosophers/philosophies. The list orders the philosophers/philosophies according to their compatibility with your expressed opinions on ethics.
I tried the link and found my results were Aristotle 100%, Ayn Rand only 92%... There were twelve questions, so I guessed that only one answer had been assesessed as inconsistent with Objectivism. That turned out to be question No. 7:
Should I act as if the maxim (principle) with which I act were to become the universal law for all rational people?
The options were
a) Yes, and any deviation from this rule is wrong.
b) Yes, but in a very loose manner, evaluating the unique specifics of the situation is essential.
c) No, there is a consistent morality that applies to all, but their methods may differ greatly.
d) No, one's own actions are not morally equivalent to the actions of others.
e) Doesn't matter/Dislike all answer choices.
and I chose (b) the first time round, having in mind something like the importance of context. Choosing (a) the second time around gave AR 100%, Ari 95%, and Aquinas 83%.

Monday, 27 August 2007

The cat who needed no guidelines

I came across an interesting article for cats. While I was reading it, Janeway hopped up onto the desk and started playing with one of those plastic-covered wire ties.

Here's the link to what I was reading:

I had the last laugh. She chased the tie all the way down the stairs and by the time she reached the bottom it had got stuck to her collar magnet.

Friday, 17 August 2007


Last night Pussy Janeway trotted into the lounge from outside, a little mouse clamped in her jaws. She dropped it onto the floor in front of me, patted it a few times to check it was dead, and began to eat it head first. After a couple of minutes she had devoured every last scrap.

Those who equate selfishness with inconsiderate behaviour would call that selfish. I call it boorish. Yes, I know she had no obligation to share her mouse with me... but PJ's staple foods are crunchies and the jelly surrounding the "meaty chunks" in the more expensive brands of cat food. The mouse was just a snack, and it would have been polite to offer me some. After all, I always share my king prawns with her.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Equal but different

Paddy. who comes from a largish family, used to refer to his siblings by number ("my first sister" etc.). He now speaks of the cats in the the same way: "Cat One" and "Cat Two". I regard this as invidious. If we cannot be bothered to call the kitties by their names, Janeway and Kirk, then we must say "Cat One" and "Cat Other One" (I'm not sure which is which).

My boss would understand. We are planning a team visit to one of our facilities but have to split into two parties because of space restrictions. He has designated these "Team A" and "Team 1".

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Holy parts

Diana Hsieh's recent post at NoodleFood on Creative Swearing, and the ensuing comments, reminded me that my mother used to swear by God's teeth (Teeth?). I'm not sure if it had anything to do with the fact that her father, who was on earth, earned his daily bread as a dentist.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Sarah Key

Back problems? Joint stiffness? To relieve the pain take two Sarah Keys:

The Body in Action (Allen & Unwin, Crow's Nest, 2006)

The Back Sufferers' Bible (Vermilion, London,2000)

She's Australian (Crow's Nest is apparently in New South Wales) and the books can be hard to get hold of, but they're worth the trouble of finding. Actually it's not that much trouble if you use a service like Abebooks.

The exercises Sarah Key prescribes worked for both Paddy and me. I tried them when I had back pain a couple of years ago, and they helped me get rid of it. More recently, when my right wrist started hurting from my too-rigid grip on the fencing foil, the relevant exercises fixed that. I only have recourse to the books for specific problems, but Paddy does the exercises several times a week because he finds they keep his joints supple and pain free.

Paddy, who used to work as a doctor, says Sarah Key is obviously fascinated by anatomy as her books give excellent functional descriptions of the joints. (For all I know the knee bone's connected to the T-bone, but I trust his college gold medals - one of them was for anatomy).

Prince Charles, much battered from his polo days, wrote the Forward to TBSB, but don't let that put you off; he too commends the clarity of the explanations and the effectiveness of the exercises themselves.

Monday, 6 August 2007

The Top and the... no, just the top

I know it's a month since I left for OCON in Colarado, but I want to post about my last full day in Telluride, which I devoted to a high-altitude hike. I climbed to over 12,200 feet - here, on the side of a cable station, is the proof:

Setting off from Mountain Village (height c. 9500 feet),

I walked up to Saint Sophia (about a thousand feet higher - it's quicker by gondola)

and from there took the See Forever and Wasatch Connection trails. Hours later I finished the hike in Telluride town (yes, down there).

A man I met coming the other way with his two young sons warned me that the trail was very exposed in parts - right on the edge of the mountain, so you could see how far you'd roll down if you lost your footing. He advised me to watch out for the slippery shale and said I'd have to ford several streams. They all come from melt water...

I'm not sure if he'd noticed my inadequate footwear (old sneakers, no grip at all). Anyway, his advice helped me cope when I got to the tricky bits he'd mentioned. He was another Objectivist who'd lingered after the end of the conference. How did I know? It could have been the look in his eye, or the accuracy of his information... but I went by the fact that he was wearing an OCON T-shirt.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Two kinds of dynamite

I'm recently back from the Objectivist Summer Conference in Telluride, Colorado. During the outing to the nearby town of Ouray, set in a valley on on which Ayn Rand based the fictional Galt's Gulch, I took shelter from the rain in the local museum. Here, among the collections of rusty nails, old bottles and photographs of local worthies, I found this box:

The Atlas Powder Company, it seems, supplied high explosives. But for a real blast, only this Atlas will do:

This is the old Signet edition - the one I read back in the early 1970s (though not that particular copy, which disintegrated long ago). Apart from the sentimental value, it's much more attractive than the latest Penguin edition with the hideous Tamara de Lempicka painting on the cover.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Nature's hierarchy

I have an email from Pet Supermarket informing me that

It's also National Flea Week! This exciting week is dedicated to raising awareness of fleas and the problems they cause to pets, people and homes. See below for 2 articles on awareness of fleas and what you can do to stop them evading your pet and home!

Howzat? Mothers only get a day, but fleas get a whole week?

And heaven knows what we'd do if the fleas decided to invade instead of evade.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Strange beauty

We can't all be beautiful, but I did try:

And if you want to know where I got the special clay for the face mask, here you go:

(The whole cliff is made of it).

The Wanderers

Padysseus and Valzelope (or is it Valypso?) are back from the Greek islands. We didn't quite make it to Ithaca, but you can see Itahaca from the north and east of Kefalonia.

Yes, I know I should have read Captain Corelli's Mandolin instead of Herodotos and Thucydides before going. Actually, I happened to have read CCM about a year before and was so exasperated with the way the story developed in the second half of the book that I couldn't bear to read it again.

Inedible Dog

I don't dare keep a real dog (Pussy Kirk eats dogs for breakfast). Here, though, is a favourite dog that even PK can't scare. He lives in the British Museum. Apparently he is "a Molossian dog, ancestor of the modern mastiff breed." He's known as the Jennings Dog and also as The Dog of Alcibiades, although he's 2nd century BC Roman. I was disappointed to learn that the sculpture is twice life size (so Kirk probably would have eaten the real thing).

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Island of no account

We're planning to go on a short holiday to the Greek island of Kephalonia. I looked it up in both Herodotos and Thucydides to see if anything interesting had happened there in the 5th century BC. It hadn't.

Sleeping Rough (not)

I've shelled out megabucks for accommodation at OCON07. I'm British, I don't need good accommodation. I'd be quite happy to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs, like Harry Potter, or on a trolley in a corridor, like NHS hospital patients waiting for their operations to be shelved. I even considered camping; yet I've ended up paying through the nose for king beds and jacuzzis. I guess I'll have to get a Saturday job.

Friday, 18 May 2007

Ancient Ethiopians drank Perrier

Herodotus heard of the Ethiopians "that most of them lived to be a hundred and twenty, and some even more, and that they ate boiled meat and drank milk." [The Histories, III.23].

Could it be that eating animal products does not doom us carnivores to an early demise, much though we deserve it? No; the real explanation was "...a spring, the water from which smelt like violets and caused a man's skin, when he washed in it, to glisten as if he had washed in oil. They said the water of this spring lacked density to such a degree that nothing would float in it, neither wood nor any lighter substance - everything sank to the bottom."

Sounds like benzene to me.

Saturday, 31 March 2007

British sailors kidnapped by Iran

Appeasement of agressors never has worked and won't work this time, as Elan Journo of the Ayn Rand Institute knows:

Hostages of IranFriday, March 30, 2007 By: Elan Journo
Irvine, CA--"There is a profound, but unrecognized, lesson in the West's weak response to Iran's hostage-taking of British naval personnel," said Elan Journo, junior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute.

"The U.K. government and Washington are widely regarded as aggressive defenders of their interests in the face of Islamist aggression. But the present Iranian hostage crisis shows, again, how these would-be defenders of our life and freedom are pathetically timid--while our enemy is shameless and ever more confident.

"Iran is a leading world sponsor of Islamic totalitarianism and has long been waging a terrorist proxy war against the West, through groups such as Hezbollah. In Iraq, Iran's proxies have been slaughtering U.S. and British troops. Iran initiates all of this aggression--to say nothing of its nuclear weapons program--with the confidence that it has an Allah-given right to murder. No surprise, then, that when 15 British naval personnel came near Iranian waters, Teheran took them hostage--and unabashedly demanded an apology from Britain, its victim.

"What has been the British, and American, response to Iran's outrage? What has the West done in the face of such a confidently evil regime? Did Britain give Iran an ultimatum backed by the threat of force? Far from it. With Washington's endorsement, London meekly protested, renounced using force to free its troops, and solemnly vowed to pursue 'patient diplomacy.' It has brought up the issue at the international sewer known as the United Nations, London is hoping that the U.N. will condescend to issue a press statement--its weakest possible statement--deploring Iran's actions. But since the U.N. is packed with Iranian allies and sympathizers, even this futile gesture is unlikely to happen.

"What underlies this unconscionably weak response? Fundamentally, it is the corrupt moral principle that dominates the West, the principle that regards selflessness as a virtue and self-assertion in pursuit, and defense, of one's interests as immoral. To punish Iran militarily for its many acts of war would be wrong, it would flout the will of the 'international
community,' it would, on this premise, be 'selfish.' It is this premise that inhibits, and thus disarms, the West in the face of the enemy--and, as a result, spurs our enemy.

"While the British may hope that their timid, deferential approach will avoid inflaming the crisis and antagonizing Iran, they are accomplishing the opposite. The spectacle of Western nations bowing in submission is an encouragement to Iran and Islamic totalitarians worldwide.

"Iran and other evil regimes grow stronger and more threatening precisely because the morally good nations, who should defeat Iran's regime, are cowardly, apologetic, and meek."

As for those "confessions", John Nichol put it this way in today's Daily Telegraph:

'Unless you have experienced the fear and the uncertainty over what happens next it is impossible to understand what it means to be captured by an enemy.

"Some people have criticised the captives' appearances on television. How dare they? In this situation, each man and woman is fighting a personal battle with their courage, honour and dignity.

I echo his words: how dare anyone critise these soldiers for the words extorted from them. What they deserve is a government that will respond to Iran as it deserves.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Global Warming

I am grateful for the recent, temporary, and probably brief warm phase. My problem is that I don't know whom to be grateful to. The warmth of the past decade or two certainly can't be credited to God, and almost as certainly wasn't caused by mankind. But surely it can't be natural, can it? Could thousands of politicians, grant-dependent scientists and bottle-washing housewives really be wrong?

Yes, according to the startlingly good Channel 4 documentary, The Great Global Warming Swindle, first broadcast on 8th March:

Sunday, 11 March 2007

Cat Drying

No, I don't mean where the person drys the cat (though this is a rainy place and we do have to dry ours every few days). I mean where the cat dries something. For instance, this morning I told Pussy Janeway to dry the frying pan. This is a large cast iron job that would be excellent for braining intruders, if only I could lift it more than two inches. Pussy Janeway is very absorbent and would be just the right size; but she wouldn't do it.

I've also wondered about using the cats after my shower. The trouble is, they don't have handles, so deploying them would be awkward (but oh! how warm and soft!)

Mod Cons

Whatever happened to drip-dry clothing? When I was a girl in the sixties and seventies my mother wore nothing else. These drip-dry clothes: you washed them in cold water (and there was even a washing powder specially formulated for that) and then you hung them out to dry. No ironing. I think my mother knew how to iron, but I never saw her do it. Where are they now, all those nylon trouser suits that needed no pressing and lasted forever?

Friday, 2 March 2007

David Kelley's petty deceit...

... Petty, but disgusting. See below.

On 28th January the London Observer published a good article about Ayn Rand and the film of Atlas Shrugged:,,2000313,00.html

However, the article did contain one error: it said that David Kelly was the founder of the Ayn Rand Institute. Later on The Observer published an inaccurate correction, so I sent them an email about it. I received the following reply:

Dear Valda Redfern,

Thank you for your e-mail pointing out that Leonard Peikoff was the founder of the Ayn Rand Institute. We were about to run such a correction last week when the letter printed below arrived from David Kelley giving us a different version. As he was one of the subjects mentioned in the story, we assumed that his version was the reliable one.
It was good of you to take the trouble to write.


Teresa Goodman
Assistant to the Readers' Editor

January 28, 2007
Letters to
the Editor

To the Editor:
In Paul Harris’s otherwise thoughtful and accurate article on the film adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged ("Jolie to film the cult ‘bible of selfishness,’" Sunday, January 28), he mistakenly identifies me as founder of the Ayn Rand Institute (ARI). In fact, I am the founder and now senior fellow of The Atlas Society.

The ARI is a wholly different organization, founded by Comcast-Spectacor chairman Ed Snider. Snider, who is no longer associated with ARI but serves on our board instead, has been involved in several efforts to adapt Rand’s novel, including the current one.


David Kelley, Founder & Senior Fellow
The Atlas Society
1001 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 425
Washington, DC 20036