The Ayn Rand Institute Is Bad

Came across a Charles Tew video where Yaron Brook negatively comments on Tew and Tew responds. Around the 12 minute mark, Tew says that the Ayn Rand Institute has a negative attitude towards idealistic young people who want to be independent intellectuals. Their attitude is "Who are you? You're not Ayn Rand." Tew says he knew someone who wanted to be an independent intellectual and talked to ARI about it and they discouraged her and encouraged her to do academia instead. I think that's interesting. Academia has a lot of serious problems, especially these days, especially if you've got non-standard views on philosophical issues and are a fan of Ayn Rand. It's heavily geared against letting independent thinkers achieve greatness. I haven't carefully investigated, but offhand, I don't know of any Objectivist intellectuals who weren't personal associates of Rand who have done notable stuff in the philosophy field, despite lots of Objectivists having PhDs. Is there any Objectivist intellectual who didn't personally know Rand, followed the academia path that ARI encourages, and is even a worthy footnote to Rand? ARI is a non-profit which gets a bunch of donor money and part of what they do is basically send young people down a wrong path. They're acting as a destroyer. So that seems really screwed up.

The notion of some idealistic young person being great at philosophy seems implausible to people at ARI because the ARI people are not very good at philosophy themselves. Take Yaron Brook. He's said horrible things. I'm not some great philosopher but even I pointed out Yaron making horrible and inappropriate statements regarding aid to Israel years ago. Sunny Lohmann, an Objectivist podcaster/YouTuber, pointed out that Yaron's views on immigration were bad and ever-changing. Elliot Temple pointed out that Yaron argued that fighting WWII to help European Jews would not have been in our interest. Yaron was the Executive Director of ARI for many years and is the chairman of the board, and has been a "representative" of Objectivism for a long time, doing lectures and podcasts and videos. And yet he makes major errors and topics he cares about and repeatedly brings up (he's big on politics, so it's not as if his errors are confined to some topic that's minor for him, which would be bad enough).

I wonder if at some level the very notion of an idealistic young person who might be good at philosophy threatens the people at ARI. If they think they can't be as good as Ayn Rand (and they do seem to act consistently with such a belief), then someone who does think they can be that good threatens to blast away their premises and the value of their whole enterprise. You can't, at the same time, take seriously the possibility of achieving greatness, and also be content with mediocrity.

Some Thoughts on Drizzt Book

Some thoughts on Homeland (The Legend of Drizzt Book 1) (a fantasy book about a Dark Elf named Drizzt who is morally different than most other Dark Elves due to being decent/compassionate/kind.)

Dark Elf society basically says that if you get away with destroying an enemy Dark Elf family or murdering someone without witnesses, “it never happened”. This bad idea involves major dishonesty. The Dark Elves know various bad things happen but then ignore that knowledge so that they can continue living according to falsehoods. This is a big part of why their society is so corrupt and evil.

At one point, Drizzt wants to believe that the tales about the elves who live on the surface — that they’re evil oppressors who’ve tormented the Dark Elves — are true. If those tales are false, then that will require him to have an even more negative view of his own society than he already has. He doesn’t want to have such a view. So his reasoning is somewhat biased by wanting a certain outcome. When he confronts evidence that directly contradicts the narrative he’s been told regarding the surface elves, Drizzt is too honest to make himself believe the narrative anymore, despite his desires, and his resulting actions become a major plot point.

Zaknafein is a weapons master who trains Drizzt, likes Drizzt, and has a close bond with him at one point. He thinks that maybe he should have killed Drizzt when he was younger to spare him the horror of being corrupted by the world. He’s a bit like Dominique vis-a-vis Roark in The Fountainhead. Zaknafein sees the goodness in Drizzt and so he wants to oppose and thwart him to spare him pain. But Zaknafein underestimates Drizzt’s resilience.

I liked the book and will probably try some more in the series.

Resentment for Not Being Broken

From Homeland (The Legend of Drizzt Book 1) (a fantasy series about a Dark Elf named Drizzt who is morally different than most other Dark Elves)

“He does not belong;’ Masoj replied grimly. “After six months by his side, I feel I know him less now than I ever did. He displays no ambition, yet has emerged victorious from his class’s grand melee nine years in a row. It’s unprecedented! His grasp of magic is strong; he could have been a wizard, a very powerful wizard, if he had chosen that course of study:’
Masoj clenched his fist, searching for the words to convey his true emotions about Drizzt. “It is all too easy for him;’ he snarled. “There is no sacrifice in Drizzt’s actions, no scars for the great gains he makes in his chosen profession:’ “He is gifted;’ Alton remarked, “but he trains as hard as any I have ever seen, by all accounts:’ “That is not the problem;’ Masoj groaned in frustration.
There was something less tangible about Drizzt Do’Urden’s character that truly irked the young Hun’ett. He couldn’t recognize it now, because he had never witnessed it in any dark elf before, and because it was so very foreign to his own makeup. What bothered Masoj-and many other students and masters-was the fact that Drizzt excelled in all the fighting skills the drow elves most treasured but hadn’t given up his passion in return. Drizzt had not paid the price that the rest of the drow children were made to sacrifice long before they had even entered the Academy.

Masoj resents Drizzt for not being broken by the Dark Elf culture/society while still being excellent at what he does. This jumped out at me because this sort of resentment — wanting people to be broken by the world and resenting them for not being so — is a theme Rand wrote about some (e.g. she talks about it in regard to Lillian Rearden wanting Hank Rearden to be drunk just once).

Blog Post Plans

I’m liking Understanding Objectivism a lot and finding it useful for thinking about and dealing with my own issues. I’m planning on working my way through the book and continuing to write blog posts about it. I jumped ahead towards the end for my first couple of series of posts, but will be going back towards the beginning and working my way through. I’ll probably make a page with links to my posts about it, or at least links to the tags for each chapter, to make stuff easier to find.

I’m unsure if I should do more dialog style (like how I did Lecture Ten) or more summary & comments style (like how I did Lecture Eleven). I’m leaning towards summary & comments style because I think I’ll cover more ground more quickly with that approach. Dialog style might be better for chewing but also may be more prone to tangents. I’m not 100% sure about the best approach yet. Hmm, one idea I just had is to do summary & comments and then have a dialog at the end to chew the ideas. That might be the best of both worlds! I’ll try that.

Writing Goals ✍️

I’ve been trying to write at least 1500 words a day. I’ve managed to keep that up for about 3 weeks, which means I’ve written over 30,000 words in the past 3 weeks. That’s a lot for me. 🙂

Examples of Errors

There’s a Twitter thread about celebrities “aging well” that has various blatant math errors. Even if you assume they didn’t mean exactly 25 years ago, there are issues, because some of the comparisons are off by more than 1 year, e.g.:

The errors were blatant enough that many people noticed. Apparently there are factual errors regarding people’s ages, too:

Anyways I thought it was interesting that an actual business published something with a bunch of very basic, blatant arithmetic errors.

Another example of an error - a YouTuber caught the following idiomatic error in Netflix’s Witcher show (should be for this, not to this):

Making that sort of mixup in extemporaneous speech would be no big deal, but this is a scripted show written by professional writers…

Logic Problem

Say that

U = Adam is Ugly

D = Adam is Dumb

In a sentence of sentence logic:

∼(D&U)

This means that it is NOT the case that Adam is BOTH dumb AND ugly. He COULD be either one, but not BOTH at the same time. It rules out the case that he is both dumb AND ugly together.

I actually used a truth table to figure out the equivalent expression since I was initially unsure (spreadsheets are really good for truth tables). Negation can be a bit trick to keep straight.

So the equivalent expression to ∼(D&U) is ∼Dv∼U.

Worrying About a Promotion

From How to be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci:

The Stoic dichotomy of control applies throughout our lives. Let’s say you are up for a promotion at your job. You think it is reasonable that you will get it, given how many years you have been with the company, the quality of your performance reviews, and your good relationships with your coworkers and your boss. Suppose you are going to find out tomorrow whether you got the promotion or not. Adopting a Stoic approach will allow you to have a night of peaceful sleep beforehand and be ready in the morning to face whatever outcome comes your way, not with resignation but with confidence. Your confidence lies not in the outcome, however, for that is outside of your control. The outcome depends on too many variables, including the internal politics of your company, your boss’s personal sympathy (or not) toward you, and how much competition you may have from colleagues. No, your confidence lies in knowing that you did whatever was in your power to do, because that, and only that, is under your control. The universe doesn’t bow to your wishes, it does what it does; your boss, your coworkers, the shareholders of your company, your customers, and a number of other factors are part of the universe, so why would you expect them to do your bidding?

And even if you didn’t do whatever was in your power to do — even if you missed or didn’t take advantage of some opportunities to improve the likelihood of you getting a promotion — the fact that you missed those opportunities is no longer something in your control. Those opportunities are in the past now. Worrying about how having missed those opportunities in the past might impact something in the present — and losing a night of sleep over such worry — isn’t going to help anything!

Witcher Season 2 Was Terrible

The Witcher Season 2 was worse than I would have believed had I not watched it first hand myself.

They did so many weird and bad things. Some examples (these involve show and book spoilers):

  • Yennefer is a mage and because of that she can’t have kids, but she wants to have kids. In the books, Yennefer basically acts as a “mother” to Ciri, and that’s important for both their characters (it especially helps take the “edge” off Yennefer, who can be mean and bad at times, and it further connects her to Geralt, who is also magically sterile and serves as Ciri’s “father”). In the show, they decided to have Yennefer lose her magic (doesn’t happen in books) and then try to betray Ciri (but then regret it and try to call it off) as part of a plan by Yennefer to get her magic back. So they turned a maternal relationship into a sinister betrayal relationship.
  • A bunch of prostitutes were let into the hidden, somewhat secret, mountainous Witcher retreat (Kaer Morhen) because um … I guess Netflix wanted to hit a nudity quotient? The stern father figure of the Witchers (Vesemir) was somehow okay with this.
  • They killed off a named Witcher character (Eskel) for no good reason, after just introducing him, despite introducing a bunch of other no-name Witchers they could have killed nstead.

Also the dialogue was really bad at times (e.g. lots of pointless cursing.)

If you want some more details, YouTuber xLetalis is a big fan of the Witcher universe who seems to know what he’s talking about re: Witcher stuff (much more so than I do) and is doing detailed critiques/summaries. Here is his first one.

My big picture impression is that they tried to follow the books more for the first season, and despite some issues, the quality of the books (which aren’t super amazing, but which are decent fantasy IMHO) shone through. Now the TV writers are more doing “their own thing”, and it’s … bad.

I think some of the cause is trying to pander to audiences but some may be writers wanting to express their “individuality” (from The Fountainhead):

Keating fought. It was the kind of battle he had never entered, but he tried everything possible to him, to the honest limit of his exhausted strength. He went from office to office, arguing, threatening, pleading. But he had no influence, while his associate designers seemed to control an underground river with interlocking tributaries. The officials shrugged and referred him to someone else. No one cared about an issue of esthetics. “What’s the difference?” “It doesn’t come out of your pocket, does it?” “Who are you to have it all your way? Let the boys contribute something.” […]
“But what for? What for? What for?” Keating cried to his associate designers. “Well, why shouldn’t we have any say at all?” asked Gordon L. Prescott. “We want to express our individuality too.”

Spam Comments & Moderation

Spam from my Disqus comments is getting published to the RSS feed I’m making from the comments using Zapier. Disqus seems to be correctly flagging the comments as spam, but they’re getting published anyways. I turned comment moderation on to see if that helps. I don’t want pornographic spam getting added to my RSS feed.

Fun Math Problem

From this book. This is one where if you take the wrong approach, like I initially started to do, it seems like it’s gonna be super hard, but then if you flip things around and tackle it from a different angle, it becomes pretty easy. That’s what I found fun about it - that development from “oh wow this seems like it’s gonna be a pain” to “ah ha! I got it!”.

Favicon 🤔

I customized my Ghost Blog’s favicon. I thought to do this because I was reading a post on Elliot Temple’s Critical Fallibilism site, and I also had a couple of tabs open for my own blog, and I couldn’t tell at a glance which tabs corresponded to which page, since we were both using the default Ghost favicon!

It was easy to customize: you go to Settings/Design/Publication Icon and just upload the icon you want to use.

Exercise Apps

I like Apple’s Fitness+ app/service. I tried a few different things but particularly liked the functional strength workouts. I found the very guided workouts to be quite useful as a beginner. Going through an entire workout with someone and watching them do the exercises from different angles gives you more of an opportunity to error-correct your form than watching a short demonstration of an exercise would, and the trainers also actively discuss potential mistakes in form as they’re doing the workout. Another thing they emphasize heavily is making modifications to the movements to adjust them to your fitness and skill level. I think that’s important. Lots of people are discouraged by the difficulty they encounter in trying to mimic the range of movement/pace that they see on the screen. The Fitness+ strength workouts that I’ve seen tend to have 3 trainers on the screen, and 1 of them is typically demonstrating modifications to make the movements easier. I am not a big fan of the musical aspect/emphasis. I don’t mind music as background for exercising, but I find that most of the trainers don’t select stuff that is to my taste.

I also like Fitbod. It generates workout routines for you according to the equipment you have available and your workout history. It only has brief demonstration videos for each exercise. It’s an exercise/set logging app, as opposed to a guided exercise video. I’ve been using a mix of Fitness+ and Fitbod lately and like that combination.

Advantage of Dialogs

I think that one advantage of writing dialogs is that it removes some potential triggers of wanting to engage in a social performance from a communication. What I mean is that if you’re talking to someone else, you might have some automated behaviors regarding wanting to appear like a wise, informed, smart person. If you’re just talking to yourself, you don’t have to worry about that particular issue (though if you are publishing the dialogs like I am, you may want to appear wise/informed/smart for your audience, so there is still a potential issue there.)

Archimedes App

Archimedes is a nifty Markdown editor that supports writing math in LaTeX quickly and has an integrated preview window for viewing LaTeX. It also is specifically set up to make entering LaTeX easy. Some examples of this easy of entering LaTeX: 1) after you type $$ to indicate that you want to enter a Math expression, Archimedes auto-completes the closing two $$, and then moves your cursor in the middle of the two sets of $$ so you can begin typing. 2) If you start typing a couple of characters of something like \frac{}{} in order to set up a fraction, it will try to figure out what you’re typing, and you can hit enter to autocomplete the top guess. 3) For something like \frac{}{}, after hitting enter to select that as the expression you want to auto-complete, it will automatically select the numerator part so that you can begin typing there, and then when you’re done, you can TAB to the denominator part, and then when you’re done with that you can TAB a couple of times to get out of the whole expression.

So anyways I’ve been playing with Archimedes a bit. I have been working on a math book, and am trying to figure out the best way to take notes. I like Ulysses a lot, because I find it has various features (robust support for images, nice outline view, good publishing support) that I like. The LaTeX support is a bit iffy imho, especially for how I’ve been using it, because you’ve got to refer to an external resource in order to get LaTeX working in preview, and IME, Ulysses seems to refresh the preview window each time you make a change in the editor, so it’s kind of annoying to . One thing I have been trying out is writing out expressions in Archimedes and then pasting images from that into Ulysses. Below is an example of what that looks like with Exercise 2.39 from the Art of Problem Solving series book Introduction to Algebra. The first, lower res image is from the book, but the very bottom part (the part with just the actual expression in a nice-looking format) is actually an image I pasted from Archimedes’ preview mode. I think it looks quite nice and works quite well. One thing I like about pasting images into Ulysses instead of using LaTeX directly in Ulysses is that it makes the math expressions in the Ulysses editor more human readable - instead of being weird LaTeX stuff it’s just the actual formula. Also, if I wanted to send newsletters with math stuff in them using Ghost’s newsletter feature, this system would actually work (whereas LaTeX expressions entered directly into Ulysses will work on my website but not in the newsletter).

The 8r - 56 can be broken down into 8(r - 7), and then the r - 7 factored out, and then we can reverse the expressions and factor a 2 out of the (2r + 8) as well (I reversed the expressions in the final line).

Why Are Dialogues Easier to Write for Me?

I have been writing dialogues lately. I find it easier to write large amounts of writing in dialogue form than in other styles of writing. I was thinking about why this might be the case. I came up with two reasons. One is a fancier point, and one is more straightforward.

The fancier point is that I think I often suppress my ideas, and I think dialogue disrupts the suppression somehow. I am not sure exactly how. Maybe I feel less like I’m putting myself out there if I write things in the voice of two characters having a discussion than I do if I write things in my own voice. It’s all still me in the end, so I’m not sure that would make a ton of sense as a reason, but I think something like that may be going on.

The more straightforward point is that discussions are a format where I know how to write a lot fairly quickly. I have had big discussions with someone in the past at a fairly fast pace. So it’s a familiar format that I am comfortable with.

Mistakes & Doing the Right Thing

Mistakes that we’ve already made in the past can’t be unmade. You can learn from them, and try to avoid making the same mistake twice, and try to make amends for them, but you can’t get an actual do-over. People often beat themselves up for mistakes made in the past, which is silly. People may think that if they feel bad, that cancels out the mistake somehow. But it doesn’t. It also wastes time that could be better spent learning and being productive.

People often make a bunch of mistakes and then feel overwhelmed. One thing that may help with that is to think about the fact that there’s always a Right Thing† to do regardless of your situation. Then, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the burden of many years of mistakes, you can just try to do that Right Thing.

If you Quantum Leap’ed into somebody else’s body somehow, there would be a Right Thing to do - an appropriate way to act. This applies even if the person is terrible. In the case of a terrible person, the Right Thing might be to turn yourself in for committing a horrible crime. So just do that. And most people aren’t people who commit horrible crimes and won’t have to spend a bunch of time in prison. So doing the Right Thing shouldn’t be too bad for them, relatively speaking.

Imagining quantum leaping into somebody’s body is fanciful, but I think it helps make things more objective. Rather than start with your own situation directly, it might be easier to imagine doing the Right Thing if you were (very literally) in somebody else’s place - even a really bad person. Then you can turn it right around, and imagine what a person trying to act decently would do if they were in your place, and just do that. Hopefully with this thought exercise, you can get some perspective on how your situation isn’t actually so bad, and also think more objectively about what you should do.

† There might be a range of Right Things that differ in details. It’s hard to figure out the Perfect, Optimal Thing, but I mean more like, there’s some basic approach that you can take that is the right thing to do

Newsletter Strategy

I had been sending out each blog post as a separate email. Since I’m planning on posting more frequently now, I think that will get annoying for people. So I’m planning on sending more infrequent updates with links to posts (frequency TBD based on how much I post). Ghost lets you send emails without publishing now, so the newsletter feature is suitable for content roundups like this. So if you want individual updates on blog posts being published, you might want to use an RSS reader like Vienna (feeds are on the about page).

Further Microblog Revisions

Clicking on the title of my microblog entries will take you to an individual page for them now. This is for the purpose of being able to link specific microblogs and enable comments.

To get this to work, I had to do two things. First, my microblog entries weren't having individual pages generated for them at all - they were appearing on the page I set up for my microblog, but didn't exist anywhere as individual posts on the site. My understanding is that this is because they weren't in a collection. I'd filtered them from the default collection so that microblog posts wouldn't appear on my front page. This had the unintended side effect of removing them from the site entirely except as entries on my microblog post. So to remedy this, I made a microblog collection. This is what my routes.yaml file looks like now:

routes:

collections:
  /:
    permalink: /{slug}/
    template: index
    filter: tag:-[microblog]
  /microblog/:
    permalink: /microblog/{slug}/
    template: microblog
    filter: tag:microblog

taxonomies:
  tag: /tag/{slug}/
  author: /author/{slug}/

The second thing to do was make an actual link for the title in my microblog template.

<h1 class="article-title">
  {{#link href=(url)}}{{title}}{{/link}}
</h1>

So now I've got things set up how I want! 🎉

RSS Feeds

This blog has 3 different RSS feeds (main blog, micro blog, comments). Details are at the bottom of the about page.

New Microblog

I added a microblog section to my blog. You can see the hbs file I made to implement it here. I don't fully understand it ... it's a bit of a copy-paste job that incorporates some advice from Ghost discussion forums, but it seems to work.

I also added some lines to my routes.yaml file (indicated with **) to reference my microblog template and prevent microblog posts from appearing on the front page, respectively:


routes:
**  /microblog/: microblog**

collections:
  /:
    permalink: /{slug}/
    template: index
**    filter: tag:-[microblog]**

taxonomies:
  tag: /tag/{slug}/
  author: /author/{slug}/

“If people think you amount to something, distrust yourself.”

From Chapter Eight of William B. Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (footnotes omitted)

SOMETHING ELSE we can do during our Stoic meditations is judge our progress as Stoics. There are several indicators by which we can measure this progress. For one thing, as Stoicism takes hold of us, we will notice that our relations with other people have changed. We will discover, says Epictetus, that our feelings aren’t hurt when others tell us that we know nothing or that we are “mindless fools” about things external to us. We will shrug off their insults and slights. We will also shrug off any praise they might direct our way. Indeed, Epictetus thinks the admiration of other people is a negative barometer of our progress as Stoics: “If people think you amount to something, distrust yourself.”

I thought this passage, and particularly the last bit about the quote from Epictetus, was interesting. Many people think that being able to shrug off insults is good, but the perspective that you should be indifferent to praise, and even suspicious of it, is much rarer. If one thinks that the world has a bunch of serious problems and has a bunch of people in it with bad values, one should seriously question the value of praise from such a world. Things would be different in a world of heroes, but that’s not the world we live in.