Saturday, December 26, 2009

Posted Elsewhere: Justice and Parenting

The concept of "justice"--within the context of relationships--means identifying a person for what he is, using every relevant fact available, and acting accordingly.

This includes a parent identifying certain traits in their children that make them entirely lovable--traits such as the seriousness with which they set upon the task of learning how this world works; their independent, (sometimes brutally) honest evaluations of nearly everything; and their generally benevolent view of this world and the place they (expect to) have in it.

It involves acting according to these identifications (and many more), while identifying that certain facts (such as whether they've eaten their veggies lately) aren't relevant here, and it involves clearly identifying that one's response to these characteristics is love.

"Love," Ayn Rand identified, "is the expression of one's values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another."

Justice also requires acting accordingly, which here means a parent showing their love in simple ways throughout the year and perhaps on special days (like Christmas) giving gifts--as an expression of the love their kids have earned and because, like you said, it's fun to see one's kids happily enjoying something.

In the same way that your love for your kids is a reward, using a standard definition for that term, even though you disagree with it, I also think you show your kids that good behavior is rewarded by others, even though you may teach the opposite.

Again, if the concept of "reward" is used in the sense that Rand used it above, "to reward" means "to recompense" and a "reward" is--as I have defined it recently--"something given or received in response to or recompense for some action."

You may not agree with this definition, but so defined, every "thank you" given your child is spiritual payment for an action taken, as is every smile you give them in response to some achievement of theirs that fills you with happiness, as is your very love for them (let alone the holiday gifts that are but one expression of it).

This is long, so rather than state the material rewards that are equivalent to the spiritual ones noted above, I should say that I think rewarding in this way is an entirely good thing.

Kids need to learn how to evaluate others and how to respond to good and bad actions (or people) in a proper fashion. A child who learns what justice is and how to apply it has a tool for living that'll help him make many good choices in the future, in response to the "rewards" of others. And all this is true whether he wants to live in a bubble or not, whether they do so from a standard he chooses or not, and so on.

Friday, December 25, 2009

How to Understand (and Savor) Great Art

This short clip is taken from a longer presentation on the art curriculum at the oh-so-wonderful VanDamme Academy.

I recommend watching it in full, but wanted to highlight this portion of it because it made me remember an Edgar Allen Poe quote (from the Purloined Letter):

"When I wish to find out how wise or how stupid or how good or how wicked is anyone, or what are his thoughts at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or correspond with the question."

Travers has taken the full pedagogical value of this quote and applied it to great effect at VanDamme Academy. Those watching this short presentation might be able to use it to get more enjoyment out of art than they otherwise would.

I myself got the quote from a book called Emotions Revealed--which, though it was not its main purpose, has increased the enjoyment I get out of art manifold.

Again, if you want to experience art, if but briefly, in all its life-enhancing glory, watch this presentation from the start. But remember this quote, along with the method presented, and I suspect you will begin to savor many great works of art that in the past you might not have even glanced twice at.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Define Your Terms

I offered a definition of "reward" in the comments section of a previous post and wanted to bring it front and center--for comments. Here it is again: a reward is something given or received in response to or recompense for some action.

Notice that this is very close to the standard dictionary definitions for the term. The Free Dictionary, for instance, defines the term as something given or received in recompense for worthy behavior or in retribution for evil acts.

Central to the concept of reward is compensation, or justice. The concept is wide enough to include responses to good or bad actions. And it leaves open what is good or bad (as it should given that it's a broad definition).

Some examples: paying a salary to an adult for providing work agreed to, paying a child an allowance for doing the same, buying a friend a beer in honor of a good story told, buying a toy for a child in exchange for demonstrating some skill, celebrating an achievement with anyone for something great, and so on.

The concept of reward, broadly defined, also leaves open who or what (in the case of reality) is providing something in response to some action. In any case, given the above definition, to be anti-reward, literally means to be against giving or receiving something in response to or recompense for some action.

While agreeing that a child's primary feedback should come from reality, I will be making an argument (at some point) that there is nothing wrong with rewards--so defined--and that there is nothing wrong with incentives either.

As a preview, here's a brief point: Some grown-ups never have the experience of getting paid for something they love to do. When they do get paid to do that thing which they love they do not become second-handed or focus on the payback. They love it all the more, because what gives them happiness internally improves their situation externally (in this case more money to spend). Letting kids experience this seems like a good--and not a bad--thing. Especially within a proper context.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Questioning HR 3962

John David Lewis has done it again. He's made a list of important questions for, and text passages from, HR 3962. To these, I'd only add a few questions of my own--that some of you may want to ask the bill's supporters.

1. A proper government recognizes the right of each individual to act toward the pursuit of his own happiness and to keep the justly earned fruits of his labor. Does the current bill recognize this right or does it violate it?

2. Is my right to act on the judgment of my own mind, and to do what I want to with my own money, inalienable and inviolate--or is it dependent on the current health status of my neighbor?

3. Any moral standard that justifies the sacrifice of freedom and nullifies the basic requirements of human life is, in principle, anti-life and pro-death. Will you question, for once, the nature and ultimate purpose of this moral code, or will you evade the bloody history of the past century and support the next move forward of this once-free country into a totalitarian state?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Annie Sullivan on Discipline

I recently ordered a course by Lisa VanDamme that analyzes three great plays--one of which is The Miracle Worker. So, in partial preparation for the course, the wife and I watched the movie based on Gibson's play.

Though I watched the movie as a child, and didn't like it, I found it much better this time around. The actions of the characters made more sense, and I could get past the erratic behavior of Keller in particular, to enjoy more fully the drama bound up in Sullivan's quest to get Heller to understand language.

On Sullivan's disciplinary methods: I'm not sure what you would call this these days--other than illegal--but I wonder what my readers would call it.

For instance: Can Sullivan be said to be using positive discipline? At some parts of the movie--when she's not slapping Keller hard in the face-- think a lot of what Sullivan does actually follows these principles (given my admittedly cursory understanding of them).

Anyway, I had to mention this real quick before I forgot. Also: if anyone has not seen the movie, I recommend it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

3 Lessons Richard Feynman's Father Taught Him

Richard Feynman is one of my favorite people. And he had a wonderful father. Below are some excerpts, from "What Do You Care What Other People Think?", showing what Feynman's childhood was like:
When I was just a little kid, very small in a highchair, my father brought home a lot of little bathroom tiles--seconds--of different colors. We played with them, my father setting them up vertically on my highchair like dominoes, and I would push one end so they would all go down.

Then after a while, I'd help set them up. Pretty soon, we're setting them up in a more complicated way: two white tiles and a blue tile, two white tiles and a blue tile, and so on. When my mother saw that she said, "Leave the poor child alone. If he wants to put a blue tile, let him put a blue tile." 
But my father said, "No, I want to show him what patterns are like and how interesting they are. It's a kind of elementary mathematics." So he started very early to tell me about the world and how interesting it is.
Feynman's family had the Encyclopedia Britannica (remember those?) and his dad would sit Richard on his lap, and read to him.
We would be reading, say, about dinosaurs. It would be talking about the Tyrannosaurus rex and it would say something like, "This dinosaur is twenty-five feet high and its head is six feet across." 
My dad would stop reading and say, "Now, let's see what that means. That would mean that if he stood in our front yard, he would be tall enough to put his head through our window up here." (We were on the second floor.) "But his head would be too wide to fit in the window." 
Everything he read me he would translate as best he could into some reality. 
It was very exciting and very, very interesting to think there were animals of such magnitude--and that they all died out, and that nobody knew why. I wasn't frightened that there would be one coming in my window as a consequence of this. But I learned from my father to translate: everything I read I try to figure out what it really means, what it's really saying.
Of course, Feynman's father taught him more than how to translate from words to reality. He also taught him to go from reality to words.
My father taught me to notice things. One day I was playing with an "express wagon," a little wagon with a railing around it. It had a ball in it, and when I pulled the wagon I noticed something about the way the ball moved. I went to my father and said, "Say, Pop, I noticed something. When I pull the wagon, the ball rolls to the back of the wagon. And when I'm pulling it along and I suddenly stop, the ball rolls to the front of the wagon. Why is that? 
"That, nobody knows," he said. "The general principle is that things which are moving tend to keep on moving, and things which are standing still tend to stand still, unless you push them hard. This tendency is called 'inertia,' but nobody knows why it's true." Now, that's a deep understanding. He didn't just give me the name. 

He went on to say, "If you look from the side, you'll see that it's the back of the wagon that you're pulling against the ball, and the ball stands still. As a matter of fact, from the friction it starts to move forward a little bit in relation to the ground. It doesn't move back." 
I ran back to the little wagon and set the ball up again and pulled the wagon. Looking sideways, I saw that indeed he was right. Relative to the sidewalk, it moved forward a bit. 

That's the way I was educated by my father, with those kinds of examples and discussions. It has motivated me for the rest of my life, and make me interested in all the sciences. (It just happens I do physics better.) 
I've been caught, so to speak--like someone who was given something wonderful when he was a child, and he's always looking for it again. I'm always looking, like a child, for the wonders I know I'm going to find--maybe not every time, but every once in a while.

For more by me on Feynman, check out "The Curious Life of Richard Feynman" and "3 Things I Learned Off the Beaten Track with Richard Feynman."

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The (New) Rebel

With apologies to Tennyson:

He has a book between his hands
The third of three it is Ayn Rand’s
And with perfect posture, he stands

Around him theocrats and thugs
The rugs beneath their feet he tugs
And then a world changes, he shrugs

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Parenting Questions (Answers Sold Separately)

Here are a bunch of parenting questions I posted at Rational Jenn's excellent blog:
I have yet to delve fully into this issue but it seems there is a great need for objective definitions in [the field of parenting].

For example, what constitutes a reward? Does a smile and a high five, in response to a kid's achievement, constitute one? Or, using one of Kelly's examples, are good grades a reward?

What distinguishes a reward from an objective evaluation of the facts (or an act of justice) in the above cases? Does being a good parent demand that one pretend facts (or one's estimates of them) are other than they are? Put another way: is emotional neutrality with regards to children's choices and the consequences a virtue?

Are kids quick to exchange their parent's (or teacher's) values for their own? In certain areas--like food and games and schedules--it seems that this is not the case. But this seems to be the premise behind the strong need for caution.

What is "extrinsic motivation" and is it necessarily the same as "second-handed motivation"? How does the "extrinsic motivation" of giving a kid an allowance for their efforts at school differ from an adult getting a salary for their efforts at work?

As noted in the title, the answers are not included here. But feel free to post your own in the comment section!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Red Bull for Your Soul, Cont'd

Here's some more "red bull for your soul"--an excellent poem by Dale Wimbrow called "The Man in the Glass."
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the guy in the glass.
I love this poem, not only for its rhythm and rhyme, but for the message it holds: that, if happiness is your goal, you should be true to yourself--living in such a way that your own judgement of your own soul is unquestionably positive.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

TV Series: Pillars of the Earth

Can you believe it? They're actually filming the 8 hour series now--and the casting is great (as far as looks go). I pictured Jack different, but the rest of the staff looks like they were bred for the roles. If you haven't been looking forward to 2010, start now. (Official site.)

Friday, October 23, 2009

No Impact Man

My initial reaction to "No Impact Man" was that, far from sounding good, it sounded to me like a horrible insult. My next thought was that writing a book about it was something less than consistent with the aims this author strives for.

Evidently, a reviewer for The New York Times agrees. I found the opening sentence to a review of the book a bit amusing:

There’s a certain problem with branding oneself a radical environmentalist superhero and then letting a real old-fashioned book about the experience roll luxuriously off the presses. I don’t care if the thing is printed in beet juice on paper recycled by indigent Amazonian tribespeople under the glow of beeswax candles!

When you’ve renounced most worldly goods in the name of saving the planet, as Colin Beavan and his family did for most of 2007, it seems a tad contradictory, if not downright hypocritical, to land with a splat two years later in the crowded stacks of Barnes & Noble. Surely there’s a less material way of making an impact...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Published Book Reviews

A review of the book I mentioned a while ago, Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants, has been published in the best quarterly journal out there, The Objective Standard.

You can read a good bit of it for free here. Another review, of Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, can be read at the same site but different location.

Or, you can go to your local Barnes & Noble. Hopefully they are carrying the journal there already. If not, recommend it. And consider yourself cool.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Love and Marriage

Some of you may know this--being connected to me on Facebook--and some of you may not, but I got married earlier this month. Will start posting here again after an extended break.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Snake Hips by The Memphis Five (1923)

This song just barely missed making my list (for the music section of pick three, see one). It's one of my favorite tunes, and I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Art Antidote for the Apathetic

A poem by Edgar A. Guest was used as a previous art antidote (for a lack of resolve) and you're likely to see more of him here as he is one of my favorite poets.

"If I Had Youth" is a good poem for any occasion, but it may be particularly valuable to those who need a fire relit in their soul. I myself can't read it without being more excited about life. Enjoy!

If I had youth I'd bid the world to try me;
I'd answer every challenge to my will.
And though the silent mountains should defy me,
I'd try to make them subject to my skill.
I'd keep my dreams and follow where they led me;
I'd glory in the hazards which abound.
I'd eat the simple fare privations fed me,
And gladly make my couch upon the ground.

If I had youth I'd ask no odds of distance,
Nor wish to tread the known and level ways.
I'd want to meet and master strong resistance,
And in a worth-while struggle spend my days.
I'd seek the task which calls for full endeavor;
I'd feel the thrill of battle in my veins.
I'd bear my burden gallantly, and never
Desert the hills to walk on common plains.

If I had youth no thought of failure lurking
Beyond to-morrow's dawn should fright my soul.
Let failure strike--it still should find me working
With faith that I should some day reach my goal.
I'd dice with danger--aye!--and glory in it;
I'd make high stakes the purpose of my throw.
I'd risk for much, and should I fail to win it,
I would not ever whimper at the blow.

If I had youth no chains of fear should bind me;
I'd brave the heights which older men must shun.
I'd leave the well-worn lanes of life behind me,
And seek to do what men have never done.
Rich prizes wait for those who do not waver;
The world needs men to battle for the truth.
It calls each hour for stronger hearts and braver.
This is the age for those who still have youth!

Update: Want more? Check out this post sharing eight quotes from Mind Over Mooda book on changing how you feel by changing the way you think.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Behind-the-Scenes Look at the New American Wing

The New American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has been opened a little over a month already.

This interesting, behind-the-scenes look at some of the statues visitors will be allowed to experience takes us through the new wing while it was still under construction.

Fans of Saint-Gaudens and Daniel Chester French may find this video especially interesting. Nothing more about it needs to be said. So, enjoy!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

3 Quotes from Luther Burbank on Raising Children

I've been working on a review for The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants by Jane S. Smith.

The book should be interesting to those who want to know more about the person who created faster growing trees; larger, sturdier, better-tasting fruits and vegetables; and more beautiful, better-smelling flowers.

One of the main points that I will probably make in my review is that, if you want to say justice (as opposed to grace) this Thanksgiving, you should raise your glass to Luther Burbank. That's because his innovations deserve acknowledgement on a day when we enjoy a bounty of delicious treats that he (in many respects) made possible.

A part of the book that I won't be mentioning in the review, except possibly as an aside, is his view on raising children--which many homeschoolers (and unschoolers) follow. For those interested, however, here are three quotes by Burbank on the subject:
1. "If we paid no more attention to our plants than we have to our children, we would now be living in a jungle of weeds." (p. 189)
2. "'Don't feed children on mauldlin sentimentalism or dogmatic religion,' he urged his listeners. 'Give them nature. Let their souls drink in all that is pure and sweet. . . . Let nature teach them the lessons of good and proper living, combined with an abundance of well-balanced nourishment. Those children will grow to be the best men and women. Put the best in them by contact with the best outside. They will absorb it as a plant does sunshine and the dew.'" (pp. 191-92)
3. "'Every child,' Burbank wrote, 'should have mud pies, grasshoppers, water-bugs, tadpoles, frogs, mud-turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb, brooks to wade in, water-lilies, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pine-cones, rocks to roll, sand, snakes, huckleberries and hornets; and any child who is deprived of these has been deprived of the very best part of his education.'" (p. 193)

Update: my review of The Garden of Invention made its way into the Fall 2009 issue of The Objective Standard. You can read the opening paragraphs of it here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Global Architecture Competition

I've been meaning to post this ever since I read about it at ArtDaily: Guggenheim has teamed with Google in a global design competition inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Between June 8 and August 23, 2009, everyone from students to amateur designers to design and architecture professionals can visit the Design It: Shelter Competition Web site for information on how to enter the competition and download Google Earth and Google SketchUp.

After choosing a location on Google Earth, participants can use SketchUp 3-D modeling software to create original designs for 100-square-foot structures in which to live and work.

Completed designs are then uploaded to the Google 3D Warehouse and submitted via the Design It: Shelter Competition Web site where site visitors will be able to browse through all of the entries.
If any readers design something of note, leave a comment here. I'd be happy to see it!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

New Acropolis Museum

This is the new acropolis museum, designed by architect Bernard Tschumi.

I don't like the pillars that seem to be painted on the side--but I'm no fan of pillars on anything new.

That said, I think the top of the building, situated parallel to the acropolis, is very nice. And the inside of it, from what I've seen so far, is very nicely laid out.

All in all, it's an interesting building and if I had to rate it on a scale of good to bad, I'd rate it a good one. Click through to the link for some other views. And leave a comment here if you have any thoughts on it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

One Question, One Answer with Burgess Laughlin

An interview with Burgess Laughlin, author of The Aristotle Adventure and co-founder of Study Groups for Objectivists.

The Nearby Pen
: If a biography is a selective account of someone's life according to the author's judgments about what is important, what makes for a good (or bad) biography?

Burgess Laughlin: This is a fascinating question. There are three related issues here. The first issue is: What is a biography? Etymologically, the term names the idea of a written account of someone's life as a whole. For some subjects--for example, an ancient mathematician such as Euclid--so little information is available that a biographer might present all the facts known about the events of that person's life. For some other subjects of biographies, so much information is available that the biographer must be highly selective.

Where plenty of information is available, a second issue emerges: What criteria should a biographer use in selecting facts to interpret and report? The one element that most sets the context here, as often in life, is purpose. What is the biographer's purpose? For example, is a particular biographer of Thomas Aquinas writing mainly to examine the career of Thomas as a teacher; to explore Thomas's own philosophical development throughout his short life; or to consider Thomas's role in the social history of his time, that is, his relations with men of power in Church and State? The answer affects which aspects of Thomas's life the biographer will choose for most careful consideration in his research, which facts he will report, and in what level of detail.
Like all writers, a biographer considers other criteria as well, such as the nature of his intended audience.

That leads us to the third issue. In deciding whether a biography is "good," one should ask: Good for whom? An objective biographer defines his audience even before beginning his research. A scholarly, 800-page, two-volume biography, like Jean-Pierre Torrell's Saint Thomas Aquinas--written for historians of medieval philosophy or religion--would not be "good" for a beginner who merely wants an overview of Thomas's life; instead, a 30-page "Thomas Aquinas" article in the 10-volume Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy or in the 13-volume Dictionary of the Middle Ages would be appropriate.

What makes a biography "good" for any reader are the following qualities, with the most important first: objectivity (all conclusions should be drawn logically from facts of reality); clarity (the author's style should reflect his quality of thinking, for a specified audience); conciseness (following the principle of form and function, the author should say no more than he needs to say to fulfill his purpose); and an entertaining manner.

In particular, in biography "objectivity" means not only that footnotes include accurate and complete citations, but also that the biographer has logically essentialized the information he has discovered. Essentialization here means that the biographer has studied the facts and identified which characteristics are causes of most of the other characteristics.

For example, an essentializing biographer of Thomas Aquinas would ask what philosophical and personal values--which are the essential (causal) characteristics of a man's life and character--explain all, most, or many of his particular actions. A non-essentializing biographer would merely present a hash of facts, some broad and some narrow, perhaps in chronological order, but without indicating a cause-and-effect relationship among the facts. A biography should not be merely a presentation of facts, but an accounting of those facts, that is, an explanation of their relationship.

In conclusion, if an objective biographer, writing with a particular purpose and for a particular audience, has conveyed the essence of the subject's life and the consequences that follow from that essence, the biography is a "good" one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do Your Thing. And Do It Now.

Here's some more "red bull for your soul"--this time with the recommendation to just do whatever it is that you love. And to do it now.

Do other people think you can't dance? Do your thing! As this video shows, they'll come around. Writing a story that nobody seems to care about, or filming a movie with characters that nobody talks like, or creating a product that nobody believes in? Do your thing! And do it now.

When somebody does a thing that they love. When they put their heart into it. When they persist doing that thing when others laugh--so that one day they own that tiny world. When they do all that, chances are they'll get some kind of external reward. But they'll be having fun, creating something of value to themselves, if not.

What is it that you love doing? Whatever that thing is, you should be clear about it, set aside time for it, plan all you can about it. And you should be doing it. Now.

(Hat tip: Seth Godin.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Potentially Alive, 4

This is the fourth post (out of six) in a short story about how the world ends, or begins. Click on the appropriate link for the first, second, or third post in the series.


The girl in the blue convertible frowned. All the garages in her parent’s house were full of cars. She would have to park on the street instead.

“There’s a whole crowd of intelligent, politically important people here tonight,” said a middle-aged woman upon seeing her daughter enter the foyer, “You’ll enjoy it.”

The girl winced. Her mother knew she wouldn't enjoy the party. They both knew it. The barely concealed command didn't take her feelings into consideration whatsoever but it was nothing new, thought the girl.

She sighed, said "whatever" to nobody in particular, and wandered off into the other room.

A couple of steps into the mix she overheard people talking about the invention. Useless chatter, she thought.

"But it's not useless at all," said a soft voice--evidently spoken by a man on her right. The shock of having spoken out loud what she was thinking quickly faded at the sight of him.

He had a non-existent jaw, not quite concealed by a patchy, white beard. His thin lips were peeled back, revealing slightly clenched teeth. And he had combed his hair over a large bald spot on the top of his head.

"History will change tonight. If we are to concede to the religionists that the actually living should be sacrificed for the potentially so, why should they not grant us the truth that all men are equal--and equally deserving of the life which is in our power to give them?"

As he talked, she stared at his teeth, thinking of one of those old traps made by digging a hole in the ground, placing sharp objects at the bottom, then covering up the opening with leaves and twigs. Then there was another voice.

"The thing is, it's not in your power to give or to take--and, while it may be selfish, people still have a right to their own life. Forcing them to sacrifice for the living is one thing...but for the dead?"

This last comment was interesting, thought the girl, and directly at odds with the principle that the old man's comments seemed to presuppose.

"Not the dead," corrected the old man, "the potentially alive."

The girl saw a little bit of truth in what both had said and set to work the problem out. Her brain moved slowly, the process comparable to pushing a heavy cart, with rusty wheels, uphill. It was not easy, she thought, and probably didn't matter anyway.

She sighed, said "whatever" to nobody in particular, and wandered off into the other room.

Noting her departure, the old man told his critic to have another drink, then added what the girl had thought but didn't say: the matter actually was decided already.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Must See JW Waterhouse Exhibition

An exhibition featuring J.W. Waterhouse's paintings will be hosted by the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts from October 1, 2009, to February 7, 2010.

This is, in my mind, one of those must see exhibitions for any fan of late 19th century art. Art Daily had this to say about the news:

"J. W. Waterhouse: The Modern Pre-Raphaelite is the first large-scale monographic exhibition on Waterhouse’s work since 1978 and the first to feature his entire artistic career."

"This retrospective features some eighty paintings that are among the finest and most spectacular of the artist’s production, on loan from public and private collections in Australia, England, Ireland, Taiwan, the United States and Canada.".

"It will also present many of the artist’s attractive studies in oil, chalk and pencil. Several of these works have not been exhibited since Waterhouse’s lifetime."

Waterhouse painted in the tradition of Frederick Leighton and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. While all three focused on classical themes and painted beautiful, thought-provoking scenes, one thing I enjoy in particular about Waterhouse's work is his ability to portray "romantic longing" in his characters.

In the above picture, titled Hylas and the Nymphas, look at the girl drawing Hylas into the water. This is a depiction of true love--and it was mutual. As the story goes, Hylas--son of Hercules--left the Argo behind in order to live forever with the nymphas.

The picture to the left, titled La Belle Dam Sans Mercie (or: The Beautiful Woman Without Mercy), shows that same romantic longing in the character of another.

Again, I think he is particularly adept at painting this state of mind (see Lamia for additional proof), but his work is not limited to this.

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy Waterhouse's paintings--and I hope some of you get the chance to discover them for yourself!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

3 Ways to Teach Kids to Lie

Teaching kids to lie is somewhat simple and chances are, if you have kids, you're doing it already. Here are the three top ways you were taught to lie, or possibly are unknowingly teaching your kids to:

1. Ever heard your mother say "don't make that face" when you react honestly to food that you find (or found) disgusting? Ever said it to your kid? Don't.

2. How about telling your kid to be sure and fake a smile when they meet a relative that even you don't like? For god's sake let the kid frown. You can always blame their honest expression on the fact that they're still young.

3. Ever told your kid to tell someone else that you weren't at home? Like the above, this one sounds harmless (to many) if given little to no thought. But it's not.

And there you have it the three top ways people teach their kids to lie. So, for all the parents searching for the reason their kids lie, here's a possible answer: you taught them to.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Casa de la Cascada

Here's some red bull for your soul! Many views of Fallingwater--or rather a digital copy of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece--set to a pleasing tune. And how about the name for Fallingwater in Spanish? I love it!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Potentially Alive, 3

This is the third post (out of six) in a short story about how the world ends, or begins. Click on the appropriate link for the first, second, or fourth post in the series.


The red pick-up truck came to a full stop, a thick cloud of black smoke belching at odd intervals from its muffler. Any other night the streets leading to his house would be empty, thought the boy. Tonight they were full—not of cars but of people.

The people held signs and shouted at passersby to head to one of the many local clinics. There, in brightly lit, white laboratory rooms a small group of people would suffer so that another might live.

It was a painful process and, when individuals were used instead of groups, it was so physically demanding that some had died. So, groups it had been ever since--but the size of the groups had been getting smaller. And quickly.

Part of the reason no doubt was the rise of "the suicide boys"--a group of mostly teenage kids who, realizing that they would be brought back to life, attempted the most dangerous stunts or worse yet killed themselves in spectacular, fame-seeking ways. Where successful, and some had been, the number of imitators soared.

The boy looked out a dusty window. A pale-faced young girl with eyes dead to the world and shoulders sagging, slouched near the front of her more passionate elders. She held a sign which said "they aren't dead yet; only your selfishness can kill them."

Reading it, the boy felt a cold chill run up his spine. For a brief second he wondered why that should be his emotional reaction, but then decided to focus on the matter at hand--like how to get into his house.

The road ahead was blocked with people. And these seemed to be of a more violent nature. They were surrounding his neighbor, a girl he had grown up with and last year, but not this one, had a crush on.

"How can you do nothing while the dead die," they pleaded, "how can you stand yourself while a new holocaust happens?" One person reached out, grabbed the girl and shaking her said, "their blood is on your hands, don't you understand, you're responsible for their deaths."

The boy got out of the red Chevy, leaving the door unclosed, and started to walk towards the group. His walk became faster and faster, his emotions rising with the pace of his feet.

By the time he got to the group, his fists were clenched tight together and his eyes were on fire. "Leave her the hell alone," he said. "She's not going to die for those who should remain dead!"

The crowd momentarily stopped, shocked by his words. Then somebody yelled out, "Remain dead?!? Those are the words of a murderer."

Others might have made the connection, and might not have, but they caught the last word and put all their emotional feelings into it. "Murderer!" they shouted, "Murderer!"

A fist reached out and punched the boy in his face. The boy staggered back, then swung forward with all his might at the person who had punched him. The hit landed squarely, sending blood flying through the air. The sound of the impact made the boy half-expect to see the guy's jaw fly with it, but this was real life, not the movies, and so the guy was simply hurt.

The guy did however fall a few paces back, along with the rest of the crowd, leaving the boy and his neighbor with some space for a brief second. But the raised eyebrows of astonishment were being lowered one by one into those of anger. The boy, recognizing the danger, grabbed the girl and ran.

He was afraid now and running. The girl who trailed behind him was holding his hand and crying. The crowd was shouting "murderers" and chasing after them both, throwing anything they could.

With the sound of feet and insults fast approaching, the boy opened the door to his house, launched the girl inside, then closed and locked the door just as a fist on the outside banged fiercely against it.

The boy let his back slide down the length of the door. He sighed heavily, and wondered why he should be so scared for his life from those who so vehemently claim to be for it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Women of the French Salons, 2

She sought to gather all that was most distinguished, whether for wit, beauty, talent, or birth, into an atmosphere of refinement and simple elegance, which should tone down all discordant elements and raise life to the level of a fine art.

There was a strongly intellectual flavor in the amusements, as well as in the discussions of this salon, and the place of honor was given to genius, learning, and good manners, rather than to rank.
This is the historical description of Mme. de Rambouillet's salon, which reached its heights under Richelieu. But the description could just as well belong to a present day salon of your own making--provided that you first learn how the great salons came about (and went away).

The above is of course one of the main values that reading Women of the French Salons has to offer. (Another is detailed in the first part of this review.)

Amelia Gere Mason, the book's author, shows two of the crucial foundations for the salons: how these great women viewed friendship and the value they most respected in the person of another.

The attribute held in the highest regard was of course intelligence--as illustrated by the following quote from Mme. de Stael: "I would not open my window to see the Bay of Naples for the first time, but I would travel five hundred leagues to talk with a clever man whom I have not met."

The view of friendship most common to these ladies is expressed best by Mme. de Tencin. She advised others to "never refuse any advance of friendship, for, if nine out of ten bring you nothing, one alone may repay you."

To a large extent, these women were collectors of fine people, in the same way and for the same reasons that people collect fine arts and wines. And, as far as their salons went, they were just as selective.

"The hostess who opened her house for these assemblies selected her guests with discrimination," Mason writes.
The Parisienne selects her company, as a skillful leader forms his orchestra, with a fine instinct of harmony; no single instrument dominates, but every member is an artist in his way, adding his touch of melody or color in the fitting place. She aims, perhaps unconsciously, at a poetic ideal which shall express the best in life and thought, divested of the rude and commonplace, untouched by sorrow or passion, and free from personality.
Here, guests would improvise sonnets, praise each other in verse, and either "talk wittily and well" or lead others to do so.
At many of these gatherings [a guest] would be certain to find readings, recitations, comedies, music, games, or some other form of extemporized amusement...
...The woman who improvised a witty verse, invented a proverb, narrated a story, sang a popular air, or acted a part in a comedy entered with the same easy grace into the discussion of the last political problem, or listened with the subtlest flattery to the new poem, essay, or tale of the aspiring young author, whose fame and fortune perhaps hung upon her smile.
In showing the history of these salons--from the thoughts on friendship and the code of conduct to the activities and the people who led them--Mason provides both inspiration and a sort of guidebook to those looking to start a modern day salon.
She also shows some of the reasons for the decline of the salons--in particular and in general. As far as the latter is concerned, Mason points to the decay of aristocratic institutions as but a superficial reason. "...[T]he most formidable enemy of the salon has been the press," she says. Continuing:
Intelligence has become too universal to be focused in a few drawing rooms. Genius and ambition have found a broader arena. When interest no longer led men to seek the stimulus and approval of a powerful coterie, it ceased to be more than an elegant form of recreation, a theater of small talents, the diversion of an idle hour. When the press assumed the sovereignty, the salon was dethroned.
In an inversion of Hugo's famous phrase from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mason's point can be stated that that (the printing press) killed this (the salons we have been talking about).
While I think the most fundamental reason for the end of the salons was philosophical, Mason's point without a doubt has a lot of truth to it. And those eager for a resurgence of the salons would do well to keep it in mind--for, if the salons did end with the press, in a way they began again with the internet.

Update: You can now download Women of the French Salons for free via Amazon.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Arango House by Lautner

I'm not the biggest fan of John Lautner, but I agree with the person who is that his entire portfolio of work is both original and dramatic--not to mention as functional as it is logical.

This video shows off the Arango house--one of Lautner's better known works.

"When I first visited the site," says Lautner, "I got the idea to build a large, open terrace so that all you had was the beauty of the Acapulco Bay and the sky and the mountains. You don't feel you're in a building at all. You're out in space. With the beauty of nature."

Just viewing the house inspires me. Though the curvy lines give the house a fluid feel, like the water that runs along the edges of the terrace or the clouds that encompass it, the dominant impression is one of boldness.

This house is the rarest of residencies: a house that is itself--a house that has integrity. And therein lies its boldness, its originality, and its beauty.

Getting personal, my first thought upon seeing it was, "I want my life to be like that." The building has a clear purpose, and every part of it works towards that end--without exception, without shame.

Because of this, the Arango House is more than just an art antidote against that feeling of aimlessness or of being pulled in too many different directions at once. It is a kind of "red bull for the soul"--a view of art that not ony tells you to not give up but also inspires you to live with more passion and to pursue your own creative work with zeal.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Potentially Alive, 2

This is the second post (out of six) in a short story about how the world ends, or begins. Click on the appropriate link for the first, third, or fourth post in the series.


It was supposed to have been the greatest invention of the past century--but nobody bothered to learn the name of the inventor. The invention was so ground-breaking, and what to do with it so controversial, that there was little room in most people's minds for anything else.

"They call it the life-saver," mumbled an unshaven, middle-aged clerk, looking up from the newspaper he held in his hands, "but it saves lives for what—and at what cost?"

The kid who stood at the counter didn't ask about the invention, and at the moment didn't care enough about it to even respond. "20 dollars in the red Chevy," he said, pointing to a beat-up truck at the filling station.

"You got it," said the man, flipping a switch.

After putting the cash in the register, his eyes turned back to the paper. It detailed how the invention was said to have worked, as it had every day--for months.

“Like a transfusion of blood from a healthy body to an unhealthy one,” it said, “the invention does the same thing—only what is being transferred is more akin to energy than blood.” But the energy must come from somewhere, thought the man, or in this case someone.

“Like the series of electric shocks that sometimes get a patient’s heart to beat again soon after stopping, the life-saver does almost the exact same thing—only it can be used to rejuvenate a person after they have already been technically dead a good bit of time.”

“The increased strength of the invention is miraculous,” said a doctor quoted in the paper, “the fact that the process is so excruciating for the living is but a minor fault.”

The man set the paper down at that. He reached for his coffee mug, took a sip, and then set it down quickly with disgust. It was too bitter, he thought.

A young girl entered the store. “40 dollars in the blue convertible,” she said. “Oh, and the paper too.”

“You got it,” said the man, flipping a switch.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Potentially Alive

I'm filming three shows this week, so here's part one of a short story I pulled out of the archives (for the second, third, and fourth posts click on the appropriate links):

She stood like a statue--with her feet apart, shoulders back, and head high.

She was listening to a tune from an age long past, from a time when joy was both possible and expected. It was a playfully happy tune, with notes that rose and fell, only to rise higher and higher yet again. It was her tune, she thought. She had earned the right to listen to it.

A clear lake lay below the perch on which she stood. Red sparks from a setting sun skipped across the gently swaying surface.

As a breeze swept across her face, the usually sharp features relaxed into a look of pure sensual pleasure. She took in a deep breath of the crisp, autumn air—noting to herself that the wind was picking up.

Strands of her jet-black hair seemed to dance with it. And, as the breeze passed through, each seemed to pause for the briefest moment at the end—like the outstretched arms of one lover for another—only to resume again, this time to a new beat and with a new partner.

The air was light up here, and clean. The grass was lush, and green. Looking up, she thought the rose-red fingers of the setting sun seemed to cling to the day they both loved and did not want to part with--not for a night, not ever.

But the night was fast approaching nonetheless. She was lying on the ground now; her knees, framing the lake below; her head, resting comfortably in her hands; her eyes, fixed on the heavens above.

She knew that, like the passing day, these were to be her last minutes too. A long-forgotten quote, by some long-forgotten philosopher, sprung up like Minerva in her mind. "I will not die," she said quietly, "it's the world that will end."

A moment later, a lonely streak of fire burst across the sky, in silent defiance against the night's approach. And then everything went dark. She was dead.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Fountainhead (in Vietnamese)

An interesting footnote from Suối Nguồn--the recently translated version of The Fountainhead in Vietnamese--follows:

"...This needs to be distinguished from 'selfishness' as the term is usually used. The concept of acting in one's own interests is a prominent subject in the literature of Ayn Rand; because of that it is very difficult to explain fully here; we suggest you read this book in its entirety, and if possible read her other books, in order to understand clearly what Ayn Rand means in this sentence."
Just for full disclosure, I haven't completely mastered Vietnamese yet--but that is very close to an exact translation.

What I find interesting about it is that the footnote doesn't explain the sentence but simply refers readers to the rest of her works on the subject. While not that useful, the translators could easily have explained the concept wrongly--so I'm definitely not complaining!

Adsense Pennies Adding Up

Continuing the behind the scenes look at what a small-timer makes from blogging, here are the numbers from April (along with the months prior):

January...........4,291 page impressions...........$1.97 earned
February..........4,242 page impressions...........$3.62 earned
March.............4,411 page impressions..........$11.15 earned
April.............4,418 page impressions...........$7.89 earned

Page impressions stayed pretty much the same, though I posted on two blogs instead of three. Interestingly enough, due to a couple random clicks, almost five dollars worth of April's total came from Systemically Important (the blog on stand-by).

Is this sobering data for anyone who is thinking about blogging their way to riches? In a way, it should be--and in a way, not.

Based on how much time I've put into writing, the amounts above are a miniscule paycheck. I of course could spend more time promoting the blogs--writing guest posts, for instance--but these too take time. And there's no guarantee that others will want to publish them.

If you're writing for money, then, take note: be prepared to like what you write and not earn much for a while--or be prepared to work like crazy and hopefully earn a bit more.

On the other hand, the data above may be encouraging for some of you. For the amount of traffic I have, the pennies actually add up quite well. So, if money is not your main motivation in writing, and you have rational expectations, you'll see the dollars earned like I do: similar to a bonus check.

Many of the true money-makers (whose "bonus checks" can buy a lot more than a used paperback) say not to expect much (if anything) for the first six months. Even then, they say, most of one's money will be made, or not made, depending on whether one is selling anything (e.g., an e-book). We'll see how that works out in my experience.

In any case, there is a lot of material out there on how much top bloggers make. And a whole lot more on people promising to show you how to make a ton of money blogging. But (for obvious reasons perhaps) there is very little showing how much money a regular, small-time, beginning blogger makes.

That's what this series has done, and will continue to do. Will report again, in another month.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Women of the French Salons

Imagine a society composed of a leisure class with more or less intellectual tastes; men eminent in science and letters; men less eminent, whose success depended largely upon their social gifts, and clever women supremely versed in the art of pleasing, who were the intelligent complements of these men...

[A]dd a universal talent for conversation, a genius for the amenities of social life, habits of daily intercourse, and manners formed upon an ideal of generosity, amiability, loyalty, and urbanity...

[C]onsider, also, the fact that the journals and the magazines, which are so conspicuous a feature of modern life, were practically unknown; that the salons were centers in which the affairs of the world were discussed, its passing events noted--and the power of [the French] salons may be to some extent comprehended.
Women of the French Salons, by Amelia Gere Mason, presents a broad view of some of the major salons--showing who the dominant characters of each were; how their power increased, or not; and the ideas that animated both the characters and their salons.

I found a lot of the characters in the book fascinating. There is, for example, Julie d'Angennes, "the petted daughter of the house, the devoted companion and clever assistant of her mother."
Her gaiety of heart, amiable temper, ready wit, and gracious manners surrounded her with an atmosphere of perpetual sunshine. Fertile in resources, of fine intelligence, winning the love alike of men and women, she was the soul of the serious conversations, as well as of the amusements which relieved them...
And there is Anne Marie Louise d'Orleans, Duchesse de Montpensier--i.e., the Grande Mademoiselle--who says of herself:
"I am of a birth to do nothing that is not grand or elevated. One may call that what one likes. As for myself, I call it to follow my own inclination and to go my own way. I am not born to take that of others."
There is Fontenelle, the philosopher who preached that everything must be done in moderation--and who followed what he preached to the extent that he could. He smiled, but did not laugh; frowned, but did not cry. His last words were said to be, "I do not suffer, my friends, but I feel a certain difficulty in existing."

And there is a student of Fontenelle's, who measured her lover's passion mathematically. As the author explains:
"He was in the habit of accompanying her home from the house of a friend. When he began to cross the square, instead of going round it, she concluded that his love had diminished in the exact proportion of two sides of a square to the diagonal."
A lot of these characters are described via "pen portraits"--where a person was drawn not by the strokes of a painter's brush but by the strokes of a pen. For example, here is Mme. de La Fayette at work, describing a friend:
"Your mind so adorns and embellishes your person, that there is no one in the world so fascinating when you are animated by a conversation from which constraint is banished. All that you say has such a charm, and becomes you so well, that the words attract the Smiles and the Graces around you; the brilliancy of your intellect gives such luster to your complexion and your eyes, that although it seems that wit should touch only the ears, yours dazzles the sight.

"Your soul is great and elevated. You are sensitive to glory and to ambition, and not less so to pleasures; you were born for them and they seem to have been made for you ... In a word, joy is the true state of your soul, and grief is as contrary to it as possible. You are naturally tender and impassioned; there was never a heart so generous, so noble, so faithful ... You are the most courteous and amiable person that ever lived, and the sweet, frank air which is seen in all your actions makes the simplest compliments of politeness seem from your lips protestations of friendship."
This fascinating group of characters had particular thoughts on the value of friendship, on what should determine a person's rank in society, and on how to bring individuals together in such a way that the pleasures of both the body and the intellect could be maximized.
Mason presents these thoughts along with the results masterfully--going into just enough detail as to whet one's appetite for more, but not so much as to lose sight of the big picture (how these people came together and interacted over the history of the salons).
I'll share some excerpts making the above statement more objective in a second part to this review.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Taylor Mali on What Teachers Make

Nothing to add to this great video. But please watch, enjoy, and, if you want, comment.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Judge Others--And Prepare to be Judged

Despite being a crucial skill, very little has been written on the art of judging others--on how to become a good judge of character.

While art's main value is most definitely not bound up in providing explicit moral guidance or detailing specific information, I personally have learned a lot from different authors on this subject--and will be posting some quotes here along these lines.

Having just finished reading World Without End, here are three quotes from or about Edmund--one of the many great characters in the book:

1. "Any man who needs to surround himself with loyal acolytes doesn't really believe in himself, why should I?"

2. "I never trust anyone who proclaims his morality from the pulpit. That high-minded type can always find an excuse for breaking his own rules. I'd rather do business with an everyday sinner who thinks it's probably to his advantage, in the long run, to tell the truth and keep his promises. He's not likely to change his mind about that."

3. "Edmund had explained to Carris, many years ago, that although customers needed to believe they were buying from a successful business, they would resent contributing to the wealth of someone who appeared to be rolling in money."
I highly recommend this book by the way--not because you can learn a little bit about how to judge other people, but because it's a great story, one of the best ever written.

(I actually like it better than its much-acclaimed predecessor, The Pillars of the Earth, primarily because of how World Without End ends.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Art Antidote for a Lack of Resolve, 2

Though the poem by Edgar Albert Guest might have had some effect in making you more determined to pursue your goals, I mentioned that the strength of the art antidote could be increased--when combined with another.

La Valse d'Amelie, by Yann Tiersen, is exactly what I had in mind. The theme of the movie from which it is taken is "the need to courageously face reality (or one's fears) in order to attain happiness" but one doesn't have to have seen the film to understand what the song expresses.

While you're free to disagree, what I hear--when listening to the song--is a slow, purposeful advancement towards a goal (that is finally reached). Do you hear that, too? If so, listen and read the two within a short time span for greater results.

(Note: if you speak the first stanza right away, start the second at 32 seconds, and the third at 1:16, well, it sounds pretty freakin' good. But don't take my word for it. Push play above, scroll down--or open this page in a different window--read the poem with the music, and see for yourself.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Art Antidote for a Lack of Resolve

While art can sometimes bring you down, at other times it's like "red bull for your soul"--it lifts your spirit higher.

Where before you stared at your feet, after a great work of art you're likely to be looking up to someone else's achievement or, better yet, to the great things that you plan to (and will) do.

Suppose though that along the way you make a mistake or meet an unexpected obstacle.

The problem may be something outside yourself--for example, an economic or political system that makes your financial dreams more difficult. The problem could also be something internal--for example, you are paralyzed with fear at the seeming insurmountability of a struggle.

Art can not change the nature of external challenges, nor the steps that you need to take to conquer them. However, it can strengthen your will to keep going in spite of the odds, or to keep moving forward despite the distractions.

It can do so simply by showing what happens when a person pursues their values with determination and resolve. Or: it can do so by poetically stating the reasons why one should act in such a way.

"See it Through" by Edgar A. Guest is a fitting example of the above (and the first part of this week's art antidote):

When you're up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it's vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!

Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don't let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!

Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you're beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don't give up, whate'er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!

If you're ever feeling a lack of resolve when pursuing goals, certainly spend as much time as it takes to achieve clarity regarding your purpose and your plan, but also remember the lines above.

I think the above poem is beautiful; its message, priceless. And I hope, after reading it, you feel the same. On Thursday, I will pair up this Art Antidote with another, in order to help you further strengthen your resolve.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New Posting Schedule

I've played around with a few different posting schedules--starting out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then moving to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I liked the former set-up better, as it allowed me to focus on producing more quality content rather than feel at times like I was meeting a deadline.

And so, that old schedule is the new one too. It'll start next week, along with the new content--much more focused on helping you to achieve happiness and work more productively.

Will you like the new schedule and content? Perhaps you'll love them both. I honestly hope so! In any case, see you at the same place, at a different time, next week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Introducing Art Antidotes

I explained the concept of art antidotes ever so briefly in the post on how to get rid of a bad (movie) feeling. I plan to present a whole series of posts on art antidotes--opening up a kind of online pharmacy for them--so an introduction is definitely in order.

You can think of art antidotes as being somewhat analogous to medication. In this case, however, the antidote is working on your soul as opposed to your body.

A typical post will start with an emotional "ailment" such as being agitated or scared or apathetic--and then go on to list an artwork that helps you to feel an opposite emotion.

Agitated, for instance, is the state of being "shaken up" emotionally, or restless. Leaving aside the causes of the emotion for now--something that I do not recommend you do (should you feel it)--an appropriately selected art antidote should help you achieve a state of serenity.

In my experience, combinations of different mediums of art (that convey similar emotions) are immensely useful, the equivalent of extra-strength medication for those "sticky" bad feelings.

Because of the above, many of the art antidotes will be delivered in two or three posts--to be "taken" (i.e., viewed, listened to, thought about) either at once or at spaced intervals.

All that said, I hope you like the concept of art antidotes and, when you come back to the site again, I hope you'll enjoy the reality of one!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Things I Like, Things I Hate

Do you know what you like--and what you hate? You should. And you should know so clearly (if happiness is your goal).

This short film by Jean Pierre Jeunet focuses on these things.

Later I'll refer back to this post, showing how Jeunet's focus on values is what allows him to create masterpieces like Amelie or A Very Long Engagement.

For now, however, enjoy some of the things Dominique Pinon likes--along with some of the things he doesn't!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Jefferson's Other Home

From the Arts section of The New York Times, Edward Rothstein highlights Jefferson's private retreat (which is now open to the public):

[I]n 1806, as Monticello neared completion, Jefferson began to build Poplar Forest, a more private retreat: a modest octagonal home with a skylight-topped central room shaped in a perfect cube. And let us detour here for a moment. Poplar Forest seeks the same stylistic resonances as Monticello, though in a more intimate context, its geometric core and extravagantly tall windows opening onto rolling fields and hills. “When finished,” Jefferson wrote of this building in 1812, “it will be the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen.”

In recent years, after being rescued from generations of owners and their modifications, Poplar Forest has been straining for attention, welcoming just 20,000 visitors a year. Now celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s first extended stay there, it is displaying an ever-expanding yet refined restoration that began more than 20 years ago. It affords a chance to see Jefferson’s thoughts about space, stripped of all ornament and furnishing. We see bare brick and plaster, the walls’ inner supports for arched windows, the skylights and surrounding panoramic views that in early America must have been a revelation.
To read more about Poplar Forest in particular, click here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How to Get Rid of that Bad (Movie) Feeling

Have you ever watched a film that made you feel as though your soul was somehow dirty afterwards?

Have you ever finished a novel with the vague feeling that somewhere along the way you lost something of spiritual importance?

Have you discovered a method for ridding yourself of that "icky" feeling and reclaiming your previous emotional state at once?

I have. And, although the following five steps are not the only way to rid oneself of a bad (movie) feeling, they are the quickest and surest way of doing so that I've discovered thus far.

1. State the emotion clearly--starting with the dominant emotion first.

For example, let's assume you have just seen a horror movie--like Friday the 13th. You leave the theatre with a strong sense of discomfort, a feeling that can last for hours and perhaps (intermittingly) for days or weeks.

The first step to get the feeling out of your system quickly is to state in a clearer way what it is exactly that you feel. In this case, the answer may be that you feel an underlying though vague sense of fear (as if you were haunted).

2. Identify the dialogue or action that caused the emotion.

Continuing with the above example, you might point out that the world portrayed in the movie is one where the innocent are not only semi-retarded but also completely helpless against evil. At the same time, the evil character is ever-present, all-powerful, and unkillable. The feeling of being haunted, you conclude, comes from being in this sort of universe--a world where one can't escape from evil no matter how hard one tries.

3. Re-affirm the world as it is and the proper place for humans in it.

"People as a whole are not like those shown in the film," you might say--noting that your fundamental view of mankind should not be defined by the lowest common denominator.

More importantly, in this world as opposed to the one experienced while watching the film, the innocent do not have to fear any sort of all-knowing, all-powerful, and unkillable being.

The innocent and the good move forward confidently from one destination to the next, their days are spent peacefully, and when they are tired they sleep soundly. It is the evil characters by contrast that stumble through life--they are the ones condemned to spend long days crouched in fear and long nights with no rest.

More importantly, in this world as opposed to the one experienced while watching the film, the evil have to fear an all-knowing entity--one that can not be vanquished except with their own life: their consciousness.

No matter where they go, or how much they try to deaden their senses (with liquor or with drugs), as long as they are alive they will be haunted by the awareness of something horrible, ever-present, and evil: themselves.

The way that horror films portray good and evil (along with the emotional consequences of both in a person) couldn't be more wrong--it's a completely upside down view in fact. No wonder so many people feel so "shaken up" spiritually after watching one.

4. Repeat the above steps for any other emotions experienced.

For example, perhaps while watching the film you kept the full context of the situation in mind.

In other words, you were aware that "it's just a movie" and that the whole idea that a person can die and come back to life is utter nonsense (because it's biologically impossible). Thus, you were never truly scared but still got that vague sense of uneasiness--as if you were haunted--by having spent so much time in that world.

To the extent that you kept the above facts in mind or focused on other issues--like the quality of acting in the film--another emotion you may have experienced is boredom. (Actually, judging by the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes this was the dominant feeling!)

Here again, simply repeat the steps. Name the feeling, identify what caused it, and--using specific examples--show yourself that people are not always boring and neither does life have to be.

5. Choose the appropriate (art) antidote--and enjoy the well-deserved emotions that result.

After the above four steps you know a lot more about the causes of certain painful emotions--and are thus in a better position to avoid the films (or other works of art) that might lead to them.

You also should more deeply understand the causes of pleasurable emotions--and are thus in a better position to find the films (or other works of art) that might lead to them.

The underyling sense of fear, you may notice, has gone--but wouldn't it be better if this could be replaced with an opposite emotion?

Part of that work has already been done, when you mentally showed how one view was incompatible with reality as it is and another, more positive view, is philosophically consistent.

The fifth step is to strengthen and re-affirm the above examples and conclusions--using specific works of art that are chosen for the specific purpose of eliciting desirable emotions.

Because they completely eradicate undesirable emotional "ailments" by replacing them with their opposites, I call the above artworks art antidotes.

When chosen properly, not only should the undesirable emotion be gone, but you should be truly excited about living in an awesome world--where material success and undiluted happiness and romantic love are possible (even to-be-expected, by those who work hard for them).


If you haven't identified the artworks you like, the emotions they tend to elicit and why--stay tuned. I'll be sharing a ton of the art antidotes I use, and which you can as well, to combat boredom, fear, anxiety and so on.)

Also, for more on this, check out a post I wrote called 8 quotes from Mind Over Mood on changing how you feel.

Friday, April 3, 2009

20 Top Objectivist Blogs

Are you looking for Objectivist blogs?

Below are 20 top blogs, each of which is written by a fan of Atlas Shrugged and of Objectivism:

1. Leonard Peikoff 

Every week at this site, Peikoff answers questions about the application of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism to the task of living. He also answers personal questions, such as what periods of his life were most enjoyable and what is the single most important thing he learned from Ayn Rand. (These are by far my favorite.)

2. TOS Blog

This is the blog for The Objective Standard, a journal of culture and politics based on an Objectivist perspective. Here, you'll find engaging interviews and insightful commentary on everything from the difference between left and right to the beauty of Ayn Rand's ethics.

3. Laissez-Faire

This blog shows "how, in case after case, the problem we face is government intervention and the solution is to free the economy." Yaron Brook and Don Watkins are the main contributors here and there's a good variety between short videos on specific issues and targeted posts on the same. See, for example, Brook's video on whether high taxes and prosperity go hand in hand and this post by Watkins titled, "It's the Spending, Stupid."

4. We Stand FIRM

This is the blog of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. Written by Paul Hsieh, a regular contributor of articles to Pajamas Media and The Objective Standard. As you might expect, given how prolific a writer Hsieh is, the blog is updated frequently and well worth reading daily. A good example of the short posts you'll get is this one on the logical outcome of government-run health care.

5. Center for Industrial Progress 

If you like industrial progress, you'll love this blog. Alex Epstein is the main contributor here but he's not the only one. Check out "Why I Celebrate Transforming the Earth" or read "The Industrial Manifesto"--both by Epstein--to get started. Then read some of the posts by other contributors, for example "The Story of DDT."

6. Philosophy in Action

This is the eclectic blog of Diana Hsieh. Like Peikoff, she has a podcast where she answers questions on how to "apply rational principles to the problems of life" and, while I disagree with her on a few issues, I also find that she has some very smart, well-considered things to say on many others. I enjoyed her podcasts on responding to requests for prayers, on overcoming perfectionism, and on living a value-dense life to name a few.

7. Luc Travers 

At his site of the same name, Travers--author of Touching the Art and a teacher at VanDamme Academy--blogs about his fascinating approach to art and some of the artists he loves. The best place to start here is by viewing his introductory video on the home page. From there, check out some of his "art chats"--such as this one having to do with precious possessions.

8. Jason Crawford 

Crawford's a big fan of Atlas Shrugged--he actually has a website that helps students get free copies of it.. At this blog, he mostly writes about tech and business. Some of my favorite recent posts of his are "When there is no map, you need a compass" and "Does great work have to be cold and lonely?"

9. Rational Jenn

Jenn Casey--host of the weekly Blog Carnival for Objectivists--posts on a number of topics at this blog, but mostly on parenting. If you're an Objectivist parent, or plan to be one soon, you'll likely find much of value in her comments on disciplining without punishment or on kids and money.

10. The Capitalist

This is Richard Salsman's hard-hitting blog over at Forbes and it's always a pleasure to click over to that site and see an article such as "Memo to the Supreme Court: Health Care is not a Right" just published. Another one worth checking out for those interested is "Five Financial Reforms that Would Prevent Crises and Promote Prosperity."

11. Forgotten Delights

This is the blog of Dianne Durante, "an art historian but not an academic." Durante's self-declared goal is "to describe art and comment on it in terms that non-academics can understand. No jargon, no appeals to authority, no stream-of-consciousness ranting." There's plenty to love at her site, especially for fans of Ayn Rand's aesthetics. A good place to start is with "What is the function of art?"--or, alternatively, "What is art?"

12. The Purposeful Reader

This is my own blog, where I write on everything from the novels of Nevil Shute to the DIM hypothesis by Leonard Peikoff. If you're wondering what book to read next, and why, you may find the site's collection of useful quotes and in-depth reviews a big help.

13. Don't Let it Go

This is the blog of Amy Peikoff, who runs Ayn Rand Bot on Twitter. Recently, the blog has mostly served as a sort of bulletin board for her podcast on blogtalkradio, which you can also listen to on iTunes. For a good representative of what she does there, check out this interview with Yaron Brook on, among other things, Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as VP--and, after that, this one on Obama's "you didn't build that" remark.

14. Ari Armstrong

Although Ari Armstrong now posts consistently at TOS Blog, he maintains his own blog as well. One of his latest articles is a good example of the outstanding work he does. "[T]here’s nothing progressive," he observes, "about forcibly confiscating other people’s wealth. Real progress comes from respecting people’s rights and banning coercion—the initiation of force—from social relationships."

15. Voices for Reason 

This is the blog of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. It has recently seen an exodus of bloggers, but Elan Journo (for one) is still posting regularly here and he's well worth clicking over to read. See "Responding to Iran's clenched fist" and "The intelligence debate over Iran's nuclear program" for proof.

16. 3 Ring Binder

This blog's by-line is "a place to collect, store, and eventually integrate ideas." It is not always focused (and thus hard to define) but it is often interesting and sometimes brilliant. For example, check out her post on Why I am an Objectivist.

17. The Rule of Reason

This is the blog of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism. As you might guess it is predominately focused on political issues. Ed Cline, author of the Sparrowhawk series, posts here and to say he doesn't pull his punches, with regards to present-day politicians or Islam, would be an understatement.

18. Making Progress

This is the blog of Burgess Laughlin, author of Aristotle Adventure and, more recently, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith. The posts are logically laid out and well worth reading. Here, for example, are some of his notes on how to write a book review from Chapter 9 of The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers.

19 LePort Schools 

This is the blog for LePort schools. Like that for the VanDamme academy (see below) there is plenty of good advice on education. An excellent place to start here is with the post, "Why Your Child Deserves a Better Curriculum." At the end of this one, there are links to videos at LePort's YouTube channel. The one on history is particularly good, but if your child is younger, definitely do not miss their videos introducing their Montessori approach.

20. The Undercurrent 

This is a blog run by students who take ideas seriously--and Ayn Rand's ideas in particular. The posts are animated, passionate, and often well-thought out. For example, check out "Stimulus Checks vs. Our Rights" or another, more recent one, "Fundamentally Adrift: Today's Ideological Debates Require a Deeper Perspective."

Need more?

As a bonus, here are 13 more blogs. Some of these were included in my first collection but have since gone on hiatus; others weren't included back then but are worth checking out now: As before, check out the comments section, or add to it, for any I missed:

1. SeanCast

This is the blog of Sean Saulsbury, CEO at Soundtrack.Net. He doesn't post regularly but when he does it's excellent. Check out "Rework: Sell Your By-Products" or "The False Hope of Failure" for proof.

2. ReasonPharm

The author explains the purpose of this blog well. "Health care in America is in desperate need of a strong dose of reason. This blog presents a rational, Objectivism-based view of medicine." Here's a recommended post for those interested.

3. Titanic Deck Chairs

You'd probably guess that any blog with the by-line "nothing that is observable in reality is exempt from rational scrutiny" would be interesting. In this case, you'd be right. C. August produces great content here. But dont' take my word for it. Read his thoughts on the smoking ban or on human rights and judge for yourself.

4. Dollars and Crosses

This is the blog of Capitalism Magazine, a site that's been around since I first started studying Objectivism--and therefore got a ton of clicks from a younger me waiting for something new to upload.

5. One Objectivist's Art Object of the Day 

This blog is run by Justin Wisniewski. The concept of it is as interesting as clear.Wisniewski presents an art object per day--most often with very little commentary. Here's a recent guest post by Luc Travers that I enjoyed, and here's a link to the most popular posts at the site.

6. Pedagogically Correct

This blog on education makes up for being rarely updated by providing timeless and extremely valuable information..It is run by the staff at VanDamme Academy, with Lisa VanDamme writing most of the (again excellent) posts.

7. Heroes of Capitalism

This blog focuses on, you guessed it, heroes of capitalism--the people who used private property--whether tangible or intangible (as in an idea)--to create wealth. The blog hasn't been updated in a very long time, but if you read the posts that are up you'll learn who exactly is to thank for everything from root beer to the clothes you wear. Hint: it's not God.

8. Three Little Things

This is the blog of Amy Mossoff. Like other Objectivist mommy bloggers, such as Kelly (at Reepicheep's Coracle), there are a lot of posts here on her kids and what she's doing with them. Other posts, such as this one, are about celebrating Randsday.

9. The New Clarion

Like some of the blogs above, this is a collaboration between different authors. The result? A lot of passionately delivered posts, from different perspectives and in different styles, almost always on politics.

10. The Aesthetic Capitalist

According to the blogger, the purpose of this blog is to support art with capitalism, glorify capitalism with art, and defend both with philosophy. Everything from completely honest church signs to beautiful starlettes dressed in tight-fitting Fountainhead shirts can be found here.

11. Scott Holleran 

Scott Holleran posts regularly at this blog of the same name. You'll find lots of reviews here, notes on current events, and interviews. One of his interviews that I enjoyed in particular was this one with the composer for The King's Speech. If you decide to click over, I hope you enjoy it!

12. Not PC

This is the blog of Peter Cresswell, where he regularly posts on art, architecture, and economics. Cresswell often discusses politics in New Zealand, where he's based, but since he references principles, anyone with a brain can see how the same applies in the U.S., Great Britain, or elsewhere. For example, check out this short post by him which highlights the difference between entitlements and rights. And as for art, check out the whole category. Lots of good stuff is there, particularly on mythology.

13. Gus Van Horn 

This Objectivist blogger has been posting consistently since 2005. You can read some of his favorite posts over that time span here--or check out this one, which shows how licensing laws "are an evil, freedom-violating cancer that must be abolished."

And that's it, at least for now, because I have to stop somewhere!