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Jay P

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Everything posted by Jay P

  1. Here's an "online textbook" that has explanations of electricity and electronics concepts: All About Circuits In particular, chapters 1 and 2, on basic DC and AC circuits give a good explanation of inductance and capacitance. It does use some math, but the electric circuit concepts are introduced with lots of explanation. (Speaking of math, if you want to eventually solve AC circuit problems, using complex numbers makes the task a lot easier than it would be without them - they're a very useful concept. This web site does give an introduction to complex numbers as they apply to AC circuits.) A first-year physics textbook would also be helpful if you want to better understand the theory behind inductance and capacitance, though it would probably require more math than you'd want at first. I don't have any particular suggestions here.
  2. Yes... I've heard quite a few people who are hostile to Objectivism describe Objectivists as being dogmatic. I've thought about why this accusation might be so frequently made, and also asked a few of the people who made the accusation what they meant by it. Being dogmatic means accepting things on the basis of somebody else's authority. Since Objectivism does not advocate this, but instead advocates thinking for yourself and following reason, why the charges of dogmatism? I think the reason is that people are equating being dogmatic with claiming certainty. To a subjectivist, there can be no objective truth. There is only skepticism - the idea that nobody can know anything with certainty, versus dogmatism - the idea that truth is what some authority says it is - just because he says it is. So, when such a person hears an Objectivist claiming to unambiguously know that something is true (or claiming to be sure that something is good or bad), it sounds like dogma to him. Claiming certainty is something that is not done among subjectivists, which means that today it is not done by intellectuals. Modern intellectuals have quite a lot invested in the idea that nobody can be sure of anything, so they undoubtedly feel quite threatened when somebody comes along and claims that he can be sure. If, as Objectivism claims, it's possible to rationally validate knowledge so that certainty is possible, the subjectivist has lived his life believing a lie. He has used the mistaken notion that "nobody can be sure" as an excuse for waffling on every important question he's ever faced. Dogmatism is also a charge I hear made against Objectivists by people who used to be Objectivists (or who never quite were) - such as by tolerationists of various types. Their argument is something to the effect of: you're being dogmatic if you accept something Ayn Rand (or maybe Leonard Peikoff or some other prominent Objectivst) said as being true. But why would they assume this? I think that their problem is that they never grasped what it means to be objective. Such a person, like modern intellectuals, would think that one either just accepts ideas on authority, or else that no ideas must ever be accepted as certainly true, and consequently all ideas must be accepted as possibly true, and thus "tolerated". Actually, I think that the idea that one can never be certain runs very deep in modern culture. Other examples: - being afraid to take oneself seriously and even sometimes use humor self-deprecatingly. Perhaps this is the source of the charge that Objectivists are somehow "humorless". In a culture where it's considered somehow good to laugh at yourself or your ideas, an Objectivist would indeed stand out as not doing this. - distorting what one is and believes, in order to please others. After all, if everybody's ideas are to be taken with equal weight, since nobody can know anything for sure, then it wouldn't be nice to assert that one is right and somebody else is wrong. It's as if it's impolite to assert certainty. In a world filled with pragmatic wafflers, Objectivism's proud assertion of the truth stands out. It offends many people, particularly intellectual snobs. It makes clear that Objectivism stands opposed to what they've mistakenly lived their lives by. But - notice that this proud assertion of the truth and the refusal to mix the truth with even "just a little" of its opposite, is what can attract a good person - a potential Objectivist - to the philosophy in the first place. One of Ayn Rand's great strengths is that she absolutely refused to water her philosophy down in what would have been a mistaken attempt to avoid offending people and thus make Objectivism somehow more popular. (And one reason her fiction is so appealing is that she also did not dilute her character's virtues in an attempt to "humanize" them.[1]) [1] For example, see The Romantic Manifesto, p90-91, for an example this alternative in the characterization of Howard Roark.
  3. Jay P

    Good Reads

    I'd like to recommend a military history book: The Soul of Battle, by Victor Davis Hanson, 1999 The book's subtitle is From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny, and that is an accurate summary of the book's content. The book is in three sections that deal with: 1. The general Epaminondas of Thebes who in 370-369 BC led an army of soldiers from Thebes and other Boeotian city states in a campaign to destroy the slave society of Sparta and liberate hundreds of thousands of people who had been slaves to the Spartans. 2. General Sherman and his campaign of 1864 against the heart of the Confederacy. Hanson argues that Sherman's caimpaign was responsible for ending the Civil War, and with far fewer casualties than would otherwise have been the case. 3. General Patton and his 1944-45 campaign against the Nazi armies. Hanson argues that Patton's military genius and the resulting rapid progress of his Third Army resulted in a much earlier defeat of Germany than would have otherwise been the case. He also describes how Patton was repeatedly held back by superiors. The book emphasizes generalship, and the fighting spirit of free men - who fight for a moral cause. Hanson emphasizes how much the successes are due to these particular generals; in his opinion, there was nobody else at the time who could or would have done what they did. To me it's quite inspiring. These generals fought brilliant and ruthless campaigns with audacity, and in spite of opposition from other leadership on their own side. In addition, Epaminondas, Sherman and Patton were good at inspiring men in a great moral crusade. They didn't just see themselves as fighting a war: they saw themselves as smashing tyranny, and they did their best to instill this idea in the men they led. Frustrating is that apparently much of the information that existed about Epaminondas is lost, so Hanson's description of this campaign left out lots of details. But also in the case of Sherman and Patton, Hanson does not provide a detailed description of the campaign. So if you are looking for a complete description of these campaigns, you won't get it from this book. I don't regard this as a problem, because there are plenty of other books (quite a few of which are listed in Hanson's bibliography) that do provide these details. But, you'll probably get more out of the book if you are somewhat familiar with the course of the Civil War and the European theatre of World War II. (Though even that's not a prerequisite: I previously knew very little about Greece at the time of Epaminondas, yet was able to follow that section of the book easily.) A minor flaw is that he identifies "democracy" as being what these men were fighting for. Which in a narrow sense, it is, since the systems they instituted were ones in which leaders were democratically elected by the populace, but it should be distinguished from the kind of mob rule of an unlimited democracy, which is not at all what they were fighting for. (Though perhaps in ancient Greece the ideas were not fully enough developed so that the distinction was clear.) This book is particularly relevant today: our fine armies are held back by men who do not have the moral courage to wage a ruthless war, so it is inspiring and instructive to read about men who had that courage, "went for the jugular", and decisively won, at far less overall cost in lives, than if the armies had been led by lesser men. I also like the connection Hanson makes between the ancient Greeks and America. There is nothing so powerful as an army of free men, led by a military genius, fighting to obliterate a tyrannical state. ...... In reading this book, I also discovered that its author has written some good essays on current events that are available on his web site. And I strongly recommend that too. Hanson is a professor of classics at Cal State Fresno. His web site is http://victorhanson.com. It contains a list of fairly current essays, mostly on topics related to the war, and also has some archived essays. I've by no means read all of them, and I have read none of the ones on his site that were written by other people. The best thing I like about his essays on the present war and the greater political situation today is that he does not hesitate to name the issues. Morally, and with force. He speaks as a man who does not consider situations such as the 9/11 terrorism or the recent murders of the Russian schoolchildren morally ambiguous at all. This is a man who sees things in black and white. (In these respects, his essays are reminiscent of his book. Forcefully written, with moral clarity.) Not being an Objectivist, he doesn't go all the way back to the philosophical roots of the problem, so you won't find something as clear, for example, as Peter Schwartz's outlining of the fact that a proper foreign policy rests on self interest. And though he identifies the Islamic fundamentalists as evil and names the concretes that justify this, he doesn't quite get to the root of the evil. But - the way I look at it is that an Objectivist reader can fill this in. I also don't know whether he'd actually recommend quite as ruthless of a fight as Peikoff would (and I concur with Peikoff). Another refreshing aspect of his writing is that he makes no attempt to be politically correct. Interestingly, he's apparently a Democrat (and some of his writing does use fairly liberal justifications for his positions), but doesn't seem to have much use at all for people like Dean or Kerry and holds Michael Moore in complete contempt. Whatever he is politically, he's a man who loves Western Civilization and understands that it needs to be unhesitatilgly defended. From his book and from his essays, he clearly understands that there is such a thing as a just war. His essays are some of the best analysis of the present war that I've found anywhere.
  4. Over the past decade, I've also seen evidence that there is quite a lot of interest in Objectivism in India. I once asked an Objectivist who is a native of India about this. He told me that one thing that helps account for the Indian interest in Objectivism is that in India, there is quite a lot of interest in philosophy in general. So people get interested in Objectivism because they're already explicitly interested in philosophy. Perhaps this is a contrast with the United States. In the US, people seem to find out about Objectivism most commonly through reading Ayn Rand's fiction, or through being interested in her political ideas, not because they had an explicit interest in philosophy. ...... That's good news about Ayn Rand's books in Japan. I don't know much about Japanese culture, but I do observe that it is a country that has been very good at rapidly adopting good ideas from Western Civilization. And the fact that their economy is so productive (second largest in the world, I believe) means there must be lots of people there who take productiveness and this-worldly success seriously - are reality-oriented, in other words. People with those traits should make good potential Objectivists.
  5. How to survive public school..... First of all, your being familiar with Objectivism already will greatly help you survive. For instance: - You'll be able to see through many of the bad ideas that are taught. If a teacher tells you there are no absolutes, you already know that you don't have to take that idea seriously, so it won't have much effect on your learning. You won't have to later in your life "unlearn" wrong ideas very much. - Knowing something about epistemology will help you think more clearly. (For myself, I've noticed this most strongly in mathematics.) When I'm learning a new subject, I'm always asking myself questions like: "What facts of reality give rise to this concept?", "How do I know this is true?", "How does this new knowledge fit in with what I already know?". I think that familiarity with Objectivism makes it more natural to ask these questions, which means knowledge will be more solidly grounded. And, knowing what Objectivism has to say about concepts, I'm always trying to think of examples of the referents of a new concept. If I didn't do that, I'd end up with lots of "floating abstractions". - Objectivism gives one a vision of the possibilities of life. So if at a particular time in school you find yourself surrounded by people and ideas that are uninspiring, dull, or wrong, you'll know that, in effect, none of this has to matter. In this regard, I think of it as a kind of protection against cynicism. I say all this as somebody who went through public high school never having heard of Ayn Rand or Objectivism. Had I known that such a philosophy existed, my time in the public schools would have been much more tolerable. That said, I think the best general strategy to get through school is the same as one would use later in life, and that is: focus on the good, on the pursuit of your values, on furthering your knowledge, on making yourself into the kind of person you want to be. One specific way to do this in school is to find the best classes and try to arrange so that you can spend more time focused on them. On the subject of education, I highly recommend Leonard Peikoff's audio tape series titled Philosophy of Education. It's a 6-tape set recorded in 1985, probably at an Objectivist conference; I don't know if it's still available. The main points I remember from it are 1) what subjects are necessary for a good education and why; 2) the proper method of teaching, using both concretes and abstractions. The other Objectivist literature specifically on education that you might find helpful is Ed Locke's A Guide to Effective Study.
  6. You've indeed discovered how unions operate, though the situation at your company sounds worse than most. You give a good and vivid description of what a terrible joke union work rules are. Quite disgusting. You could find many people who could tell you similar stories to what you've observed. (I once worked in a company that was mostly unionized, though my job was not, nor were the jobs of most people I worked with. On the factory floor, I'd see union guys sleeping, reading comic books, and sitting around for hours. And they were quite unwilling to do anything at all that wasn't in their "job description". Can you imagine going through life this way? I can't.) The classic case of "featherbedding" is in the railroad industry. Years ago, when railroads used steam locomotives, there were two men in the cab: the engineer, who ran the controls of the engine, and the fireman, whose job it was to shovel coal into the firebox. This was a necessary job, and hard work. But then, along came diesel locomotives. There's no coal to shovel, since they burn oil! So, there was no need of the fireman. But, due to union rules, the railroads had to have a fireman in the cab anyway. Why do companies put up with this, you ask? The main reason is that there is legislation (mostly passed in the 1930's) that gives unions a privileged position that they would not have in a free market. For example: - If a union signs up 30% of workers in a "bargaining unit", the company is required to negotiate with that union. - There are restrictions on what management can do to keep unions out. You cannot do things like offer workers better pay if they don't join a union, and in some cases, companies have to be very careful what they say if a union election is coming up. Saying the wrong thing is an "unfair labor practice". Yes, this is a gross violation of the right of free speech, but it's the law. - Union organizers may come onto a company's property, and in general the owners may not interfere with their activities. (Though in some companies, the workers themselves who are the target of the union's "efforts" have been known to be quite hostile to union organizers.) - Firing an employee for union membership (which should be a company's right) is of course out of the question. In addition to these specific laws, there is the general fact that union violence is often unpunished; the police don't do anything about it. During strikes that I'm familiar with, the striking union workers have shot at managers, beaten up and intimmidated replacement workers, destroyed company property (for instance, cutting wires in telephone switching equipment, or ruining truck engines), and nobody was ever prosecuted, let alone sent to jail. Faced with this, many companies just give in. But companies could still resist unions, but they often don't because of lazy management. For example, union employees are promoted generally by seniority: it doesn't matter how well they can do the job. If a manager is lazy, this makes his job easier, since he doesn't then have to decide who gets promoted. The good news is that in the private sector, the percentage of union employees is way down from say the 1950's. Unionized companies are stuck with (as you've seen) wasteful work rules, and expensive workforces whose lethargic members have an "entitlement" mentality, so this makes them far less competitive. Companies in fast-changing industries in particular are usually not very unionized, if at all. The computer industry comes to mind; I believe most if not all major makers of computers are not unionized. That's because if such a company were to accept a union, it would never be able to react fast enough to the changes in technology that occur so fast - the company would be gone in a few years. And at many companies, the workers themselves hate unions and wouldn't think of having one "represent" them. So although the situation with unions is bad, it is easy for the rational man to find a non-union company to work for. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only way to go for somebody who wants to work hard and achieve something, and wants the best for himself in his career.
  7. Jay P

    Good Reads

    I recommend the novels and short stories by Frank Spearman that I have read: The Nerve of Foley Held for Orders The Daughter of a Magnate Whispering Smith The first two are collections of short stories; the latter two are novels. They were written around 100 years ago. All of them center on "railroad life" - adventures of men who work on a railroad in the Western US. Spearman projects a benevolent universe of people who are purposeful, happy and hard-working in their daily lives. They are the kind of people I would like to know and work with in real life. (And you might be surprised to read about all of the interesting and suspenseful problems that can arise in the running of a railroad.) Somewhere I believe I read that Ayn Rand had read and liked some of Spearman's work, but I do not remember the source. (You can find these books, as well as many others of general interest to Objectivists on the web site of their publisher: Paper Tiger, www.papertig.com.) ..... A historical novel that I read and liked is The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw. This is set in the later Roman Empire, about 370 as I recall. It is about a young woman whose dream is to be a doctor and how she achieves her goal. (Which was no easy feat at the time!) The novel presents characters (especially, but not only, the heroine) who are hard working and goal-directed, motivated by their love of some value. But you also get to learn about early medicine (and the contrast between science and superstition) and the Roman Empire as it was then (very much in decline), including life on its frontier, conflicts with the barbarians, and the influence of Christianity at the time. And although the book is set in a period of decline and decadence of the Roman Empire, it does depict nevertheless what a great achievement that civilization was, and by implication what a tragedy the collapse a century later was. It's also a good story of how it's possible to pursue and achieve values in a declining but still viable culture.
  8. If anybody was still seriously considering voting for or supporting any libertarian candidates, that party's recent attempt to use 9/11 as a day to show opposition to the US government should have served as a reminder of what that movement is all about. This kind of action is not a recent development, nor is it inconsistent with what the Libertarian Party has done in the past. This is the same party, for example, whose governing body passed a resolution in the early 1980's calling for the US to dismantle all of its land-based ICBM's. (The resolution was presented alongside a call for solidarity with leftist groups who were also calling for various forms of US disarmament. It also included a statement that the US was a greater threat to world peace than the Soviet Union was. The author of this resolution is still prominent in the libertarian movement. People like this make even John Kerry seem patriotic by comparison.) Peter Schwartz, in Libertarianism: the Perversion of Liberty, identified some fundamental, philosophical, things that were wrong with the libertarian movement and the Libertarian Party. These were not isolated positions that were taken by libertarian "extremists" that were not representative of the movement - he analyzed statements of prominent libertarians who were active in their party and movement. And he identified the essence of the movement as subjectivist, nihilistic and anti-American. (Anybody who has not read this booklet should buy a copy and read it. It is full of documented examples and accurate philosophical reasoning.) Given this identification, it is a big mistake to ask if, nevertheless, the party should be supported anyway. If one has identified a philosophical evil, it is not then proper to do some kind of cost-benefit analysis to see if there is maybe something pragmatic that would outweigh this evil. An organization deserves to be judged in much the same way a person would be. Forgiveness is not to be given lightly, if it is given at all. But what of the question: has the libertarian movement changed since Schwartz wrote his essays? For there to be any meaningful change, the philosophical essence would have to change. The movement would have to reupdiate all sorts of its past, so much so that I question why anyone would still want to identify it as "libertarian". Anything else would just be window dressing. In case one thinks that the libertarian party or movement is any better than 20 years ago, I offer the following: 1. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, their then-most-recent presidential candidate started writing about how the attacks were the fault of the US because of our "interventionism". And the Libertarian Party propaganda of the time also blamed the attacks on the US government's aggressiveness. 2. Their platform (when I last looked) still advocates things such as "personal secession" and disarmament of the US "down to police levels". 3. A survey done several years ago by a libertarian publication identified something like 30% of libertarians as anarchists. And there are plenty of libertarians who are not anarchists, but who nevertheless regard their disagreement with the anarchists as merely a legitimate difference of opinion. 4. Over the past decade, I've run across several local Libertarian Party newsletters. And they were debating such things as whether it was OK for child molesters to have sex with young children. (Perhaps most libertarians do not advocate that this is OK, but it is illustrative that this kind of thing would even be debated.) Another article I saw advocated reaching out to members of the Christian Right who felt alienated from the Republicans (!). I am sure other people could enumerate more examples. My point here is just to give some concretes. It would be wrong to make lists every few years of the positive and the negative aspects of libertarianism and decide on that basis whether "this year" the movement is worth some support. These concretes are not some isolated extreme positions; they are present in libertarianism precisely because they are consistent with its essence. (Nor is voting for them to "send a message" a valid idea. The problem with this idea is: you don't get to say what "message" you are sending. Your vote could just as easily be interpreted as a vote to not fight back against terrorism.) Schwartz's analysis will never become irrelevant due to the passage of time. No decent person should support a movement that welcomes advocates of anarchy, the "rights" of child molesters, and disarmament of the US, even leaving aside deeper philosophical considerations. If you don't want to help these people gain more prominence, then don't vote for them! People need to realize that there are no shortcuts to establishing a free society; any real progress has to be based on sound philosophical underpinnings. Some people may be attracted to the Libertarian Party because they have an urge to "do something" and are impatient, but this desire for action will not change the fact that supporting the libertarians will not do any good and will only harm the cause for freedom. And to someone who understands Objectivism, it should be clear that for fundamental reasons, the libertarian party and the movement are flawed so badly that changing it is not possible unless one threw the whole thing out and started over.
  9. To the list of Objectivist scholarship on Aristotle should be added Robert Mayhew's book Aristotle's Criticism of Plato's Republic. It's quite well written and should be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about Aristotle's politics. It focuses on the first five chapters of the second book of Aristotle's Politics. Also, the Ayn Rand Bookstore has quite a few tapes by Objectivst scholars on Aristotle. The only one of these lecture sets I've heard is the one by Mayhew titled "Aristotle: Father of Romanticism" - it was very good.
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