Monday, June 29, 2009

Great workout songs.

Anyone who reads my stuff knows I am a sucker for good music and that am always on the lookout for more. Scott Colby, the creator of The Abs Expert, has put up a post of his favorite 21 workout songs here. Be sure to check out the comments for recommendations from his readers too!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flippin' Stuff

'I've never cooked before but the prospect of flipping omelet's sounds way too coool!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Two excellent pieces.

I've received my copy of the latest edition of The Objectivist Standard and I couldn't resist recommending two excellent articles in it.

The first is "Justice Holmes and the Empty Constitution" by Thomas A. Bowden [accessible for free]. It surveys the dissenting opinion of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. in the case of Lochner v. New York. The article introduces the reader to early 20th century New York and the Bakeshop Act of 1895. The case challenges one of the first few regulations that were set on bakery shop owners. "The Act made it a crime for the owner of a bakeshop to allow a laborer to work more than 10 hours in one day, or more than 60 hours in one week." Lochner, a bakery owner was found guilty for violating the provisions of the said law. He decided to challenge it on the ground that his contract rights were being violated. Although his claim was rejected by the lower Courts, it was upheld by the Supreme Court -- on fickle grounds conceding the principle of liberty. Justice Holmes reframed the issue and asked a more fundamental question: What if, the constitution doesn't specify the relationship between the State and the individual itself? As he saw it, it is the opinion of the majority that subjectively shapes and shifts the law and that the constitution does not support any political theory.

Each time, the validity of the constitution is thwarted for the opinions of the majority, I find myself asking, "What is the whole point of writing a constitution in the first place?" The purpose of a constitution is to limit the power of the majority -- to make sure that democracy or mob-rule does not exist. To claim that a constitution does not limit the power of the government is absurd; it means annihilating the essence of the document while retaining the word. It is absurd to deny that Americans do not have individual rights even when the right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness are clearly enumerated.

I highly recommend the article or maybe it is the fact that I am a law student that I could not let it pass without mention.

The interview I recommend is, "An Interview with a "Capitalist Pig" Jonathan Hoenig on Hedge Funds, the Economic Crisis and the Future of America". Until I'd read this interview, I had absolutely no idea what a hedge fund was and never really understood what "speculating" was all about. Although it is relatively easy to prove that the financial mess was not caused by capitalism (thanks to Yaron Brook), it gets pretty tough to really understand and comprehend the articles and posts that delve deep into the economic crisis. However, this interview is free of such jargon and makes for an excellent introductory piece to a layman.


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Sparrowhawk series – Book One: Jack Frake

I strongly recommend the book, "Book One: Jack Frake" by Edward Cline. The book is the first in the Sparrowhawk series which sets the scene and the context in which the American Revolution took place. In Book One, we are introduced to 18th century England whose various trades are heavily regulated by the Crown by means of taxes and customs. Amidst all of this we meet Jack Frake who is a boy of ten. Jack is independent in thought, values privacy more than hunger, born in a lowly class and has a keen interest in studying. We also meet his rash father, Cephas, his mother Huldah Frake, his notorious uncle Isham Leith and his parish, Parson Parmley who also happens to be Jack's teacher. The parish quickly acknowledges the talent in Jack and requests his parents to send him to a good boarding school to which they flatly refuse on the account that there would be nobody to help with the household chores.

Later in the book, Jack ends up running away from home and through a series of events joins the smuggling gang of Augustus Skelly. The gang routinely smuggles various goods into the country which were otherwise taxable by the Revenue men appointed by the Crown. There are constant rumblings in the public of high taxes and they secretly welcome the smuggling gang from whom they can purchase materials at a much cheaper price. Jack also meets Redmagne, who is a member of the gang and an intellectual figure. Jack receives most of his education from him and is a big brother figure for Jack. In the book, we encounter Augustus Skelly, who as a leader of the gang sets the policies that the gang must follow. They are often referred to as thieves by the Revenue men but we soon learn that in fact, there is nobody they steal from. They enter into voluntary exchanges by men such as themselves and don't recognize the authority of the Crown on their lives and on their spirits. Skelly remarks in his first encounter with Jack Frake, "There is more freedom in these caves, Mr. Frake, than in our towns. And chains – these things – are a more honest form of slavery than the specious liberty enjoyed by most of our countrymen, who are chained to the laws….You will notice something about the men here, which is that the prospect of being swaddled in chains like these frightens them less than being swaddled in chains of laws, of which there are many more links. We will submit to chains, but we none of us will submit to their paper and ink parents!" Book One closes with Jack leaving England to serve an eight-year sentence in the colonies in the ship Sparrowhawk.

We also encounter the James Taggart-ish, Henoch Pannell, Commissioner Extraordinary of His Majesty's Revenue, and his likes to whom the Crown represents all the privileges they can curry favor with. To them, Augustus Skelly stands as the symbol they dread; a free England where they would have to earn a living.

The narrative of the book is the best I've read in recent times. I was even surprised to see a few tears run down my cheek in response to some of the lines in the book. A few of my favorite passages were one's that described egoism so passionately and the passages that described 18th century London, Paris and Vienna in such awesome terms. The reader is also treated to a firsthand experience of "tragedy of the commons" and the "seen and unseen effects of taxes".

All in all, the book was a great read and I just can't wait to get my hands on Book Two. I can say without any reservation, "This, is great art".

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Great song.

I've fallen in love with this song since I heard it for the first time a couple of years ago. It's always been there in my 'Favorites' playlist. The soothing Chinese music really does it for me.

Hope you like it as much as I did!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Angels and Demons II

For the better or worse, I've watched Angels and Demons twice. I felt the first review didn't address the central question the movie asks over and over again: Could one ever bridge the gap between religion and science? Here is my take:

Metaphysically Speaking

Science is the product of observation and the application of reason to understand the physical and natural world around us i.e. understanding the natural world which is independent of our consciousness. Now what does it mean for a thing to be "supernatural"? Nature is all there is even including everything that there is in the outer space. If a star ends at a particular point, then it ends at that point. It is not limitless. For that matter, any entity be it on earth or outerspace or wherever, if a part of the natural world and exists, then cannot shrug the restrictions placed by identity. It has to act in accordance with its identity and properties. If a thing exists, it has to follow natural law that to be is to be something. A thing that is not something specific cannot exist. If there is nothing, then there really is nothing.

Lets consider another angle. Leonard Peikoff tells us in OPAR, there can be no fact of this reality and this world that transcends everything we know. Thus, any inferences from the natural can only lead to more of the natural, not to something that does not exist. Take rocks. If we decide to research rocks, then all inferences drawn from it will lead to only more of the natural world. For instance, a discussion on rocks may lead us to understand that there are different kinds of rocks viz., igneous rocks, sedimentary rocks, metamorphic rocks and so on. There can be no evidence that will arise that will lead us an entity beyond the whole of existence itself. The realm of evidence itself then becomes inapplicable.

Craig Biddle nails it in his book, "Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It" when he says:

"But that raises the question: How can anyone know anything about that which is "not an aspect of nature" or "greater than the universe" or "beyond our sensory abilities"? Nature is all there is; the universe is the totality of it; and our senses are our only source of information. In other words, such "knowledge" would require understanding of a non-thing from a non-place by the means of non-sense.

This is why religionists of all walks ultimately echo the famous words of Saint Augustine: I do not know in order to believe, I believe in order to know."

Epistemological Stand

If man wishes to survive on Earth, then his survival entails a long chain of factual requirements he has to fulfill in order to live. Ayn Rand summed up the factual requirements succinctly as, "One cannot place an 'I wish' above 'It is'". These 8 words sum up such a vast quantity of knowledge that one needs to delve a little deeper into the issue. To refrain from placing an "I wish" above "It is" presupposes that one acknowledges that a world exists "out there" and exists independently of our wishes, feelings and desires. It acknowledges the responsibility that it is the duty of the individual to conform to facts and not the other way round. This view towards reality is known as the primacy of existence viewpoint according to Objectivism. It acknowledges the fact that a reality exists out there independent of our consciousness and that it is our duty to conform to facts through the faculty of reason. The opposite kind is exhibited by the primacy of consciousness viewpoint. It is the view that reality should shrug off the restrictions placed by identity and conform to ones whims and feelings. To them, it's not the duty of the individual to conform to the identity of things to live but the duty of things to act according to their wishes. True, nobody actually states it in such explicit terms but the primacy of viewpoint is assumed in any argument for religion or subjectivism.

Reason is the faculty that helps us draw relationships, deduce, induce, connect ideas, observe data and build it up into a consistent sum of knowledge. Using the faculty of reason presupposes the fact that one acknowledges the primacy of existence of viewpoint; that there is a world independent of us which requires observation and study. On the opposite side of reason stands faith. Faith is precisely this: the belief of the existence of a thing for which no evidence exists. Having faith presupposes the primacy of consciousness viewpoint; that one can close their eyes to facts and pray that reality conform to ones desires. Application of reason, leads us to knowledge and progress while the application of faith leads us voluntary blindness and ignorance.

If reason is our faculty of knowledge, then one looks outwards for knowledge and corrects his mistakes through a span of time. It is pertinent to ask then, what is the means of knowledge of the faithful? Since metaphysically speaking, God doesn't exist or since in fact, God doesn't exist, it is metaphysically impossible for God to inject knowledge into an individual head through the means revelations, intuitions and whatnot. A person disavowing his distinguishing characteristic of reason, has only one other guide to action: feeling. He does a thing and acts in a particular fashion because he feels so. He feels that God magically appeared in his head and told him to take a course of action. He obviously cannot prove the existence of a god, let alone entering his head but that doesn't concern him – it is not consistency that matters to him but having "a little faith" totally does.

Coming back to the question: can one bridge the gap between religion and science? To state the question differently: can one bridge the gap between reason and faith? Can one bridge the primacy of consciousness viewpoint and primacy of existence viewpoint? Can one bridge the rational means of knowledge with revelations? Can one bridge emotionalism with reason as our primary means of knowledge? Can one take two extremes [science and religion], extremes from all different angles and claim to bridge them? Could one bridge clear logic with the twistedness of the arbitrary? Could one bridge the method that furthers man's life and the method that hinders it?

The answer is painstakingly obvious: a resounding, "No!"

Update: Minor edits.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Some of the Stuff Around Me #3

I am back from a trip to Delhi. I've stayed there for about a week for the yearly ritual of hanging out with a few school friends who get together once a year. I've been in a boarding school for 12 years and have made some great friends in that time. Each year, we get together, hang out in a friend's apartment and load ourselves with lots of drinks and surround ourselves with roars of laughter. Here is some of the stuff that came up --

1. I've always got a mixed response when the movie Slumdog Millionaire comes up. I know of many Westerners who like the movie and many Indians who say it's totally not Oscar material and that it's just ok. I agree with the Indians and definitely think that the movie was not all that great. I mean, it's not even the case that the guy actually studies hard and answers questions, he luckily encounters situations in his life where he comes across the questions that would be asked in the game show he participated in. But I think why Westerners generally end up liking the movie is because of it was multi-ethnic. It brought forth a whole new culture, poverty unimaginable by Westerners and two brothers fighting through it. The presentation of the movie was pretty good I admit. However, when it comes to the central story or the theme of the movie, it gets pretty bad. If the purpose of the movie was to show a kid fighting poverty and answering questions in the game show by his own conviction and relentless work and not by chance, then the movie utterly failed at it.

Here's what Ayn Rand had to say about the movies

Today, the movies have gone all the way back to the pre-Griffith days; or rather, they have accepted, on a broad scale, the error that destroyed D. W. Griffith: the belief that a movie is primarily a director's art, that content, story, and cast do not matter—i.e., that it is an art concerned only with the "how," not the "what"—i.e., that it is an art of means, without ends—i.e., that it is the field of trick photographers, not of artists.

If anybody is looking for a great Indian suspense movie, I highly recommend Johhny G. I really, really liked that movie. Although, I don't think its great art, it is just so much more intelligent and well-written than Slumdog Millionaire.

2. Whenever I call terrorism by its proper name, Islamic terrorism, people [Muslims and non-Muslims alike] end up getting pretty pissed. One of the most oft-repeated retort I've been offered is that if Islam is really that totalitarian, with so many Muslims around me in India, one of them would have surely done me in. I usually tell angry Muslims [at this point] that if the Quran enshrines violence [which it does], and the followers don't, then they simply aren't good Muslims – good people probably. You can't eat your cake and have it staring in front you too, you know. But I think we should find something that unites the Muslim attitude towards life if they believe in Islam [to whatever extent that they actually do believe in it]. It was startling to discover that most old cities – i.e. the part of city which is usually the least developed consists of Muslims. Consider a few examples: Old Hyderabad, Old Delhi, Old Ahmadabad, Old Calcutta. These are the ones I know of but I am sure there are more to add to the list.

3. Over a couple of beers, I was introduced to a friend of a friend. He was a strict vegetarian and it came as a kind of a shock to me. Upon some polite enquiry, he told me that his girlfriend was against the killing of "innocent" [as they could be anything else] animals. I asked him what did he think about it. He said he was convinced that eating meat was not a bad thing to do and was sure that his girl would somehow be convinced otherwise. I told him that, to the contrary, he was emboldening her stand and was not even close to convincing her.

She is the third girl I've heard of who is a vegetarian and wants her boyfriend to convert too. I've been dating a girl for a couple of years now, and she seems to have a big problem with using animals as viable values for humans. Of course, she doesn't force me to convert. I think that the animal should be given a good life when it's alive and given a quick death. She tells me that it's hardly the case in India and that animals are tortured on a regular basis. Her solution: meat eaters should quit eating meat which would in turn force the producers to rethink their ways. My take on the issue is that if there was a choice and somebody to offer good, torture-free meat, I would definitely go for it but I am not sure, devoid of such a choice, if one could transfer the guilt of the torturing producer to the consumer who purchases it. Moreover, killing higher animals is still a big no-no. I wonder how will the animals that are never to be hunted sustain themselves in the first place. Consider whales. Even if all the countries unanimously passed an anti-hunting law against whales, there would still be poachers who will kill animals for free because they don't have to nurture them anymore. More so, I don't think any police force could actually police the seven seas. Since each poacher knows that sparing a whale only means leaving it for the next poacher, why wait? Kill as many as possible and drive them to extinction. People and governments alike will come along crying along that people are just too corrupt and "selfish" for their code. Never once do they question their code since resting the blame on human nature is so much more convenient. We've had so many heated arguments about the whole thing that we don't talk about it much anymore. I am happy that she doesn't scorn at me like the girlfriend of a "friend of a friend" for eating meat and lets me do my thing. Still, what is it with women and vegetarianism?

4. All in all, the trip to Delhi was great and most of my friends are on the side of "common-sense". However, there are a few downsides like think "America shows off too much" and the likes. I told them that only seems so because to each country, the relationship to the US is a pretty important one and one shouldn't be surprised to find the US almost ubiquitous.

Anyway, that's that.