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Sunday, October 17, 2004

The mention of Ayn Rand evokes strong emotions. Just how much a person's judgment
of her work has been swayed by her personal life is a good question. If you read Rarebits regularly, you will notice that I have reviewed several biographical works in addition to The Fountainhead in the past couple of years (see for issues 99 and 112) Certainly, she had little tolerance for those who disagreed with or or presented opposing viewpoints, could often be hypercritical, and often resorted to ad hominem attacks. Her critics fall into the same trap. For the New Intellectual is a meaty little book of selections from Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead and very short speeches from Anthem and We the Living. The best part of the book, "For the New Intellectual," is her impassioned plea for rational thinking, reason, and the development of philosophy and intellectualism to counteract the forces of "Attila" and "Witch Doctors."

"The tragic joke of human history is that on any of the altars men erected, it was always man whom they immolated and the animal whom they enshrined. It was always the animal's attributes, not man's that humanity worshipped: the idol of instinct and the idol of force--the mystics and the kings--the mystics who longed for an irresponsible consciousness and ruled by means of the claim that their dark emotions were superior to reason, that knowledge came in blind, causeless fits, blindly to be followed, not doubted--and the kings, who ruled by means of claws and muscles, with conquest as their method and looting as their aim, with a club or a gun as sole sanction of their power." John Galt in Atlas Shrugged

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Wired is becoming more than a magazine for just geeks (although it's possible that I have just become too much of a geek to notice), but several recent articles (October 2004) were prescient and interesting. Aside from one explaining how computers can now predict the course of forest fires, there's a fascinating piece on a radical new car that gets 70 mpg, is made of plastic, and has a revolutionary new frame that protects drivers better than standard frames even though it's much smaller and intuitively appears quite fragile. "The Long Tail" describes the impact of Internet mega sites like Amazon and ITunes, which have revolutionized buying patterns. No longer need books or music disappear from print because their availability through these web sites means that for profitability huge sales are no longer necessary. Walmart, in fact, becomes an elitist store than can carry only those CDs that sell at least 100,000 copies. ITunes, selling individual songs for $.99 can make money selling only 30,000. Recommendations can also made a huge difference. The example the author cites is the best seller Into Thin Air, a nifty book by Jon Krakauer that describes a tragic Everest expedition. Joe Simpson wrote a similar book about climbing in the Andes entitled Touching the Void. It was almost out of print and was hardly selling. No copies were in book stores, but because many people who had read Krakauer's book recommended Simpson's, it took off and Random House had to rush out a new edition. That could never have happened in the traditional bookselling paradigm. I think that's cool.
Dissent is crucial to the success of an organization. That's something I gleaned from a William Langewiesche article in The Atlantic. He dissects the Columbia shuttle disaster from the management standpoint. One of the investigators asked the top NASA administrator what mechanism or strategy she had in place for assuring that dissent would reach the top. Her reply was that they could just tell her. Obviously none of the low-hierarchy engineers bothered to relay concerns abot the foam that fell off and hit the wing ultimately causing the disaster. The lesson appears to be that a succesful bureaucracy requires a formal process for encouraging dissent and disagreement. Another recent book (haven't finished it yet) called The Wisdom of Crowds makes a similar point. It's crucial that people who aren't part of the normal structure and process be included in decision-making. The results are always better than when decisions are made by experts or individuals operating in a vacuum.
Questions I'd like to ask the president:

1. What is your vision for government?

2. If privatization is important, why no mention of it in the debates? What about Social Security?

3. Why not adopt the model of interstate highways and airlines for railroads, i.e. government owns, maintains, and funds the infrastructure which is leased/paid for by users? That would provide Amtrak and the railroads with a better and more level playing field.

4. Just what is a liberal? You keep bashing them all the time. Please define it, because by any definition, you're no conservative.

5. What constitutes victory in Iraq? How many troops is the country worth? Why not just declare victory and leave?

6. Do you regret the statement "bring 'em on?" You should.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Atlantic Monthly has some excellent articles on Bush's strategy - or lack thereof - in Iraq. (The joke going around is that he invaded Iraq by mistake, meaning to go after Iran where we know there are WMD but spelled it wrong.) Read "The Lost Year" by James Fallows and "The Green Zone" by William Langewiesche (one of my favorite authors, two excellent books of his are Outlaw Sea and American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center ) both in recent issues.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Five reasons to urge defeat of Orrin Hatch's Induce bill:

1. It discourages innovation:
Frivolous lawsuits would abound. The bill would prohibit any device that could possibly be used to facilitate copyright infringement, e.g., vcrs, IPODs, CD-Rs, etc. You get the picture.

2. It threatens even email and browsers:
Google and other search engines utilize P2P technology. Email is also a form of P2P.

3. The Business Software Alliance is scared of it.

4. It ignores reality. Technology development should not be hindered. What is needed is thoughtful and new ways of using it. After all, the VCR saved the movie industry, ratherthan destroying it. Why is the music industry so obtuse?

5. It will ultimately be more harmful to the people it purports to protect. It's also just bad law. One should never prohibit anything because it might be used illegally. We'd have to get rid of cars, guns, airplanes, etc.