God of the Machine – Page 49 – Culling my readers to a manageable elite since 2002.
Sep 162002

Colby Cosh nominates the ATM, and he has a point. But for the #1 underrated invention of the 20th century, I’m gonna have to go with air conditioning, invented in 1902 by Willis Carrier. On enormous swatches of the globe it is just too damn hot to work, even to consider working, for four to six months of the year. It’s impossible to imagine Houston, or Dallas, or Miami as they are today without air conditioning. Colby guesses that ATMs save 5-10 hours of time in line per person per year, which is a lot. But to double or triple the productivity of labor for a big chunk of the year at every latitude south of the Mason-Dixon line — what’s that worth?

Sep 152002

Further evidence, if any were needed, that sportswriters can’t read. Here are the instructions accompanying the MVP ballot:

Dear Voter:

There is no clear-cut definition of what Most Valuable means. It is up to the individual voter to decide who was the Most Valuable Player in each league to his team. The MVP need not come from a division winner or other playoff qualifier.

The rules of the voting remain the same as they were written on the first ballot in 1931:

1. Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
2. Number of games played.
3. General character, disposition, loyalty and effort.
4. Former winners are eligible.
5. Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.

You are also urged to give serious consideration to all your selections, from 1 to 10. A 10th-place vote can influence the outcome of an election. You must fill in all 10 places on your ballot.

Keep in mind that all players are eligible for MVP, and that includes pitchers and designated hitters.

Only regular-season performances are to be taken into consideration.

“The MVP need not come from a division winner or any other playoff qualifier.” Which means there’s no point in arguing for Miguel Tejada or Alfonso Soriano over Alex Rodriguez, as Jayson Stark does in the very article in which he prints these instructions. The Rangers are in last place because Rodriguez doesn’t pitch. Tejada and Soriano don’t pitch either.

“All players are eligible for MVP, and that includes pitchers and designated hitters.” OK, so Barry Bonds was wrong. But he doesn’t have a vote and probably hasn’t read the ballot. The writers who passed over some of the greatest pitching seasons of all time for MVP, like Greg Maddux’s 1994 and 1995 or Pedro Martinez’s 1999 and 2000, have no such excuse.

“Former winners are eligible.” Sure, as long as they didn’t formerly win too often. Three MVP awards appears to be the limit. Bonds, who ought to have seven or eight MVP awards, more or less forced the writers to give him his fourth by having the greatest offensive year in history, which is hard to ignore. Nor is it wise to outdistance the rest of the league to the point where you are taken for granted, like a force of nature. This is Alex Rodriguez’s problem. He ought to have three or four MVP awards. He has none.

“Members of the committee may vote for more than one member of a team.” Yet every year we hear that candidates on teams with two players having great seasons, like Soriano and Giambi on the Yankees, or Bonds and Kent on the Giants, will cancel each other. And they nearly always do.

The first criterion for “most valuable” is not merely specified — “actual value of a player to his team” — it is defined — “strength of offense and defense.” Would all the baseball writers who draw scholastic distinctions between “best” and “most valuable” please explain how “best” can be distinguished from “[greatest] strength of offense and defense”? Please?

Sep 132002

Turns out Eric Raymond took August off, just like Sullivan, except he didn’t bother to announce it or have Camille Paglia fill in. He’s back to point out that the current left seems like self-parody compared with the anti-Vietnam (New) Left. And I was still thinking the anti-Vietnam Left seemed like self-parody compared with the 1930s (Old) Left. No standards anymore.

Sep 132002

My old friend Jim Valliant takes issue with my old article on Objectivism and sexual psychology, which goes to show he should be reading me more often. You can read his comments in full in the archives; they are lengthy, and I shall excerpt them here. He begins and ends by accusing me of hostility to Objectivism, writing:

…he should read Atlas Shrugged first as he appears to be much better versed in Ms. Branden’s biographies of Rand than in Rand’s work itself.


Mr. Haspel’s use of the terms like “canon” and “official version” shows an inherent hostility to Rand. [Incidentally, we’ve known each other for twenty years, so it’s OK to call me Aaron. Really.]

I should state my bona fides. I am sympathetic to and familiar with Objectivism, as Jim well knows. Ayn Rand made a capitalist out of me, with help from Henry Hazlitt and Ludwig von Mises. She taught me the importance of being good at my job (when I have one), which I should have figured out on my own but didn’t. I agree with most of what she wrote and any criticisms I make are in that spirit.

The suggestion that I read Atlas Shrugged is an unfortunate example of a style of argument that is all too common among Objectivists. Any disagreement can be traced to ignorance, or misunderstanding, or both.

What I am hostile to is Objectivism™ — the school and business that grew up around the philosophy. Ayn Rand created Objectivism; Nathaniel Branden created Objectivism™. Objectivism is a philosophy; Objectivism™ is schisms, and denunciations, and hair-splitting disputes about who is an “Objectivist” and who a mere “student of Objectivism,” and expensive lectures on cassette. (A useful heuristic for cults: if you sell taped lectures, at high prices, you’re probably a cult. One characteristic all cults share is a shrewd understanding of price elasticity.) Objectivism has done many people, including me, a lot of good; the same, I am afraid, cannot be said for Objectivism™. It is Objectivism™, not Objectivism, that has official texts and authorized representatives. It is Objectivism™ that encouraged people to discard their non-Objectivist lovers. Jim knows all this perfectly well too.

Now let’s get to sex. Jim continues:

Mr. Haspel should definitely read my analysis of the Brandens’ biographies…

Rand rejected the “face-character” dichotomy being assumed here. While aspects of beauty are amorally outside of choice and control, much is not. A person’s posture, how she looks at things — including you — how she smiles, etc. are all reflections of her psychology and comprise initial evidence of her character even before any words are exchanged…

For Rand, thinking someone is “hot” already implies an active metaphysics. Rand correctly observed, we have no instincts. We are not born with any template of human appearance, for all we are born knowing, humans are multilegged spiders and there are three sexes, not just two. The process of sex itself must be learned. Which sex do we find “hot”? What age group? What demeanor, emotions and STYLE of soul are we attracted to, etc. All of this does reflect choices, values and beliefs. The fact that we value human faces at all is, as Rand says, a “response to values,” much less the KIND of face.

Dichotomy n. Logic. Division of a class into two subclasses, esp. two opposed by contradiction, as white and not white. A distinction is not a dichotomy. Even if we include matters like posture and carriage in looks, as Jim rightly insists that we should, they remain, compared to speech, a rather poor index to character. Speak, that I may see thee. Whatever one may think of Orwell’s assertion that at fifty we all have the face we deserve, it is surely not true at twenty-eight, which was Frank O’Connor’s age when Ayn Rand met him.

Jim then proceeds to make my point.

In reality, unlike fiction, people can be contradictory and, therefore, “disappointments” to their looks, if you will. In Rand’s fiction, her characters are consistent expressions of their souls down to the smallest gesture of a pinky. They never disappoint…

What Ms. Branden was saying is that Rand’s meeting with O’Connor was like her fiction, i.e. Frank did not disappoint, his character matched his look, his character was consistently expressed in his demeanor and looks.

Rand’s characters are indeed consistent, down to word and gesture, which is what gives her fiction both its exhilirating and its cartoonish aspect. To the best of my recollection, no Rand character, hero or villain, ever tells a lie, the most common of human foibles. (There’s a master’s thesis in that for someone.) Back in the world, however, not every distinguished person has an erect carriage and a piercing stare and wavy chestnut hair. He says Frank O’Connor was not a disappointment to Ayn Rand. I don’t think he was either. She was obviously in love with him, and that’s good enough for me. Frank O’Connor disappointed only the acolytes of Ayn Rand who expected her to marry an exceptionally distinguished person.

Of course sexual attraction is, as Jim says, a “response to values,” but it is a response to values largely assumed, projected, in the absence of remotely adequate information about their object. Certain circumstances in courtship, like prolonged absence after the first meeting, make this projection more intense — almost unbearably intense for someone of Rand’s intelligence and imagination. Stendhal, the first to point this out, comes in for some rough handling.

Stendhal, of course, begins the subject in the middle and continues through it in an emotional fog reflective of his own (and perhaps Mr. Haspel’s) psychology as opposed to any principles of universal applicability, such as Rand was articulating.

What Stendhal does in Love is to introspect successfully. He recognizes the kernel of truth in cliches like “love is blind” and “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but he does far better, and goes into great detail about how and when and why. This is not imprisonment in one’s emotions: it is liberation. We should all be so fortunate to walk around in such an “emotional fog.”

Update: Mark Riebling comments.

Sep 122002

Myself, I can’t figure out why the news that Rush‘s set list on the current tour includes “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” isn’t making more waves in the blogosphere. Maybe because it was only Part 1; I mean, dude, if you’re gonna do the Snow Dog, it’s gotta be all four parts. Full disclosure: I used to play in a fantasy baseball league with Geddy Lee. He’s tough. And I’m not getting you tickets. (Link, again, from Colby Cosh, whom I’m forced, after two in a row, to add to the blogroll. Besides his cat looks like mine.)