Ross Barlow

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  1. Here is an interesting article from Science Dailey. For what it’s worth. It reminded me of Rand’s historical reconstruction of human epistemological development, and I think she would have been pleased and vindicated to hear of this research. (And it also reminded me of you folks here on Objectivist Living, whose company I do not seek out nearly enough.) -Ross Barlow.
  2. Brant, I don't give a fuck either, but I do thank you for giving me this opportunity to laugh my fucking ass off. -Ross Barlow.
  3. This is a very interesting thread that I only stumbled upon today. (I’ve been out of the loop, as usual.) Ellen, you have been recommending Doris Lessing to me for many years now. Can you suggest where to start reading? Thanks in advance. -Ross Barlow. .
  4. The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is a wonderful work to browse for nuggets of wisdom. When I lived Stateside and taught high school history and philosophy, I had a great quote of his attached off to the side of my desk, something I read every morning before students arrived. (I have temporarily misplaced my copy here, so I won’t try reciting it from my aged memory; maybe later.) The quote had to do with living with dignity, effectiveness, and benevolent tolerance as a true “man”/human amongst others who may vex us and try our patience (surely of importance to a teacher of many public school rapscallions!). It gave me a rational perspective on myself, my students, and our common connections as learners all. I also incorporated Aurelius into my philosophy course. He is an intellectual hero, a treasure of the Western heritage, as well as of the entire human heritage. An important connection between Stoicism and Objectivism and libertarianism is the tradition of natural law/ natural rights. Some roots of these concepts seem to trace directly back to the Stoics. Stoicism came directly after an immense Western world shake-up – i.e., the conquest by Alexander of the entire Persian Empire, which conquest then connected the old “Hellenic” Greek culture with new exotic cultures to the East in direct trade of both goods and ideas. This new mix of cultures inspired some Greeks to discontinue the old practice of calling all non-Greeks “barbarians,” who cannot be understood. They saw some common (“universal”) traits among all people in this newly connected Hellenistic world mix. I.e., we may all speak different languages, dress differently, observe different religious or philosophical pathways, etc., but we are very much the same in so many fundamental ways as humans. I strongly suspect that the newly opened commercial trade with these foreigners helped create a concept of basic human equality, since trading value for value is the essence of civilized and human interaction. The Stoics conceived of this newly expanded world as a “cosmopolis” (a “universal city of man,” with a related concept of the "universal brotherhood of man"). It follows that if we are all basically so similar, able to trade and interact as equals, we should all be treated with equal dignity and equal freedom, and we should be tolerated as long as we treat each other with equal tolerance. We can trace these ideas through such later ancients as the very influential Roman Stoic, Cicero, who was on the recommended shortlists of many of America’s Founding Fathers as required reading for the understanding of Liberty by future American generations. Natural Law and Natural Rights: squarely in the Objectivist tradition, with a noble history. More recent research may supersede my above suggestions, but this is my sense of it at this point. -Ross Barlow.
  5. Whiplash is the best film I’ve seen in the past year. It is intense with great acting. J.K. Simmons (a favorite character actor of mine) plays an uncompromising studio jazz band leader at a top music conservatory, and he comes off as a raging Drill Instructor from Hell – demanding complete perfection and even more from his students. He is obsessed with mentoring and driving students until he produces a true jazz legend. Damien Chazelle, the writer/director, is said to have been inspired by the intense and unforgettable drill instructor character in the first half of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket played by Lee Ermey, who had actually been a former USMC drill instructor. Whether this is true or not, it would make perfect sense, because the same fanaticism is there. Don’t miss the performance of J.K. Simmons here, because there should be major award nominations for him, and it blew me away. The jazz drum student that he drives so hard is played very well by Miles Teller. And the music is great. One aspect of the film that reminded me of Objectivism is when one of the main characters is so dedicated to his pursuit of excellence in his art that he sees that it is truly necessary to break off a valued relationship because he knows his art will always come first. The high costs of excellence. -Ross Barlow.
  6. For me as a young man, Nathaniel’s The Disowned Self, along with Breaking Free, were absolutely liberating and probably life saving. Stumbling home in 1970 as a shattered wreck out of the military, I was really, really fucked up. And it wasn’t just recent war trauma that had me by the throat. I had long been fucked up philosophically as well. I have frequently been too much of an idealist (perhaps an artifact of my evangelical Christian childhood). I had taken Objectivism, which I had studied enthusiastically while in high school and then when in the military, as a vision of absolute perfection – but it was an impossible vision that I strived for unrealistically, and thus I could never live up to it. (Who the hell did I expect to be? John Galt?) Branden’s works pointed me back to my authentic self, the person I had disowned through my unrealistic fantasies of perfection and my shouldering of hyper-moralistic expectations. With this release from my over-idealistic delusions, I went back to my true roots as a lone hill and forest rambler who was happiest sojourning in wild natural places. I got into mountaineering and technical climbing, and I became good at it. This exhilarating avocation and the acquisition of the skills it required brought me back to my true psychological “home.” I had rediscovered my true self, my eudaimonia. And I honed my Objectivist virtues: i.e., if one tries to climb without rationality, etc., then one’s climbing career will be short. A later book of Nathaniel’s that was highly valuable to me for self-exploration was If You Could Hear What I Cannot Say. He also produced a relaxation cassette tape that I internalized and incorporated into my meditation practices when under maximum stress and adversity. His work was fundamentally liberating and calming. Nathaniel Branden was a healer of the highest rank, and I thank him. -Ross Barlow.
  7. I will always remember Barbara for her consideration. I was only a remote online acquaintance of hers from these e-lists, so I was surprised to get an email from her immediately after the 2006 military coup here in Thailand. She remembered that I had moved here, and she asked if we were all okay. That touched me. -Ross Barlow.
  8. L’homme qui rit, (2012), French language with English subtitles . If you are a big Victor Hugo fan, you may be interested in this one, even though it is a low budget film. . I read Hugo’s The Man Who Laughs 40 years ago – on Rand’s recommendation – and I had left my copy Stateside. I routinely keep track of the movie schedules down in the Bangkok theaters, even though I usually cannot make it into town to see them. It blew me away when I saw The Man Who Laughs listed in the coming attraction websites. A Victor Hugo classic! . I quickly downloaded a translation of the novel to my Kindle and re-read it before the film started here. Hugo’s novels are often full of long, wordy historical reflections, but – as Rand noted – they can be skipped without destroying the excellent plots; they are like interesting commercial breaks during an exciting TV show. . The novel is long; the movie is not, since it only dwells on the main plot. The film stars Gerard Depardieu as Ursus. I jumped on an express boat to Bangkok to see it, and I got to see it twice before its run finished. I was surprised that it was not only playing in the art house theaters but also at many mainstream theaters. The book is much better than the film, of course. However, it was great to see a relatively obscure Hugo work made into a movie and given a bit of publicity. (Maybe someone, someday, will adapt Ninety-Three for the screen!) . -Ross Barlow. .
  9. Friends, . I have known a lot of folks on this forum for many years. Here is a recent note on the flooding here in Thailand: . I try to update that blog daily if I'm able. I think I will lose electricity soon. . -Ross Barlow. . Two blogs: . “Zenwind”: this is my primary site for recording more perennial stuff, e.g., accounts of my greatest climbing adventures, reviews of movies and books, favorite poems, and important personal thoughts. Click on “Index” links to navigate categories: . “Zenwind’s Musings”: this is a more informal site for recording recent personal experiences, with the goal of providing more regular updates: . “I’m packin’ my bags For the Misty Mountains.” -- Led Zeppelin -- .
  10. I would recommend The World of Jeeves, a collection of 34 short stories of Jeeves and Wooster. It starts out with the story “Jeeves Takes Charge,” where Bertie first meets Jeeves, and it goes right on from there. It also contains the story mentioned above, “The Great Sermon Handicap,” but I haven’t gotten to that one yet. . I bought this volume when I noticed that a local Bangkok bookstore had many Wodehouse books, and I’d like to read the entire Jeeves canon eventually. I first ran into Wodehouse books in my high school library in the 1960s, and I became an addict. I only got to see a couple of the TV episodes with Fry and Laurie, but they were great. . -Ross Barlow. .
  11. I am going to have to look back over some of my lists of favorite movies, because I know there are many that fit this thread. For the time being, there are two movies that have been discussed earlier in separate threads on OL that have not yet been mentioned on this thread. . The first is Equilibrium (2002), and, if this link works, you should be able to read the thread (and my review) here. As a teaser, I’ll just say here that there is a statue of Atlas struggling to hold the world up – in a society where, by law, no art works are supposed to exist. . The second film is The Lives of Others (2006), and its thread is here. Below is a short review of it that I had posted elsewhere. . [begin review] . “The Lives of Others” (2006). A film written and directed by Florian Hennckel von Donnersmarck. . An unforgettable movie that shows collectivism for the horror it is. It is in the German language with English subtitles [Das Leben der Anderen (2006)]. It won a recent Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, which it richly deserved. . It portrays a Stasi (secret police) officer of communist East Germany before the end of the Cold War who watches his system work its corruption and ruin on the lives of others, on real people. He is a true believer, but his utopian dreams are starting to sound hollow. . We see the lives of intellectuals and artists who are trapped within the insanity of a society of “real existing socialism” with threats of prison and black-listing hanging over their heads. Can good men preserve any traces of their goodness in such a brutal world? Can artists produce if the only client is the State? . Socialism sucks – and that is a truth that still has to be told far and wide because it is such a seductive ideology to many. I found myself going through many emotions while seeing this film. I was outrageously angry at the ruling elite’s contempt for human liberty, and I will refrain from telling you the raw expletives that leapt to my mind to describe these monsters. I also was fascinated by the bizarre scientific discipline and methodical routines used for the perverse purposes of totalitarian control. I laughed at some of the sheer absurdities of a rigid socialist system. I shook my head in wonder at the fine writing, acting and filmmaking. And I ended up weeping in release as this great sad, dark but redeeming story wrapped up. A sonata for a good man. . [finish review] . I highly recommend both films. . -Ross Barlow. .
  12. Thank you to Brant, David, Bill, Shane, Angie, Michael et al for the warm welcome back. This is a great website with friendly and knowledgeable people, and I have really missed the discussions here. . -Ross.
  13. . George, . The quote you mention is in the 1938 Flynn “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” It is said to the villain Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone) by one of his knight/henchmen as they are walking down a stairway in the castle: . “Our men can’t lay a hot iron in the eyes of a tax dodger without getting an […] arrow in the throat. It’s an outrage!” . That’s what the subtitles say (without my ellipses), yet subtitles are often inaccurate. It almost sounds as if another word is sounded before “arrow” and the article sounds like an “a” rather than an “an.” It might be “a black arrow,” rather than just “an arrow,” because black arrows are implied later in the movie as ones shot to definitely kill the bad guys. Sorry, it’s not clear. . -Ross Barlow.
  14. I agree that this latest Ridley Scott movie of Robin Hood is very much worth seeing. . And I also agree that Errol Flynn’s 1938 role set an impossibly high standard for the character, and it remains my favorite. I really like George’s earlier quote of Marian saying, “Why, you speak treason!” and Robin replying with a huge smile, “Fluently!” Absolutely classic libertarianism. After seeing the new movie in a downtown theater I immediately bought a DVD of the 1938 Flynn flick. I can enjoy many levels of this story and many versions. . As for the new Robin Hood film, go see it. It has some fine features, especially the history. The roots of the legends of R.H. are shrouded in mist, but some threads emerge. Barnsdale and other places across the county lines into Yorkshire have some claim as locales of the R.H. legends as well as do Nottinghamshire and Sherwood Forest. This struck me immediately, someone had done some homework. The story of King Richard in France is almost accurate – close enough for cinema work. . My sister, an enthusiastic and learned amateur historian who specializes in widespread historical periods’ clothing (military and civilian), raved about the apparel the characters wore, and she was so impressed that she wants to see it again in the theater. This is from someone who is an unbelievably severe critic and rarely goes to a theater in a year’s time. . As for story, I’m thinking there must be a sequel(s) and that this is only Chapter One. There is an allusion to the Magna Carta – a number of years before its time – and the potential limitations on the powers of the king therein is discussed as a minor but important plot element that rounds out King John’s depiction. It just cannot end there. The libertarian rhetoric begs for continuation. So, stay tuned. . If none of the above convince you to see it, I’ll mention one more reason: Cate Blanchet. Any film with her in it is worth a good look. . -Ross Barlow.
  15. . I think that it’s been about a year since I was last active reading or writing here on Objectivist Living – as well as on all other Objectivist or libertarian websites or e-lists (such as A2). I am sorry for being out of touch with many longtime online friends here. I was very ill a year ago and decided to stop participating in all online discussions because I tend to get too angry for my own good health. . In the last year I have been reading a lot – but using that archaic technology made from trees, once called “books.” Jeff Riggenbach had recommended some fiction many years ago on A2, and I have finally been catching up with them. On a related note, there are suddenly more Ayn Rand books on English-language bookstore shelves here in Bangkok – dramatically more. . I have some good libertarian friends here that I met via a local libertarian Meet Up website. Most are Americans but some are British, Indian or European. A sizable number of them got into libertarianism through reading Rand, and we may create a meet up group here especially for Objectivism – now that the fires of Bangkok have cooled down. . I use Facebook a lot to stay in touch with my former students as they go on through college and careers. As for OL members, I sadly learned through Facebook that Chris Grieb died recently. He was one fine fellow, and he will be missed. . I hope to try and catch up on some threads here on OL. This kind of site is easier for that because I can zone in on specific fora. But, for those here who know me, off the tops of your heads, is there any news that you think I might welcome about you or our fellow travelers: i.e., any achievements (books published, mountains climbed, etc.), noteworthy events, debaucheries beyond the usual, etc.? (If discussing that last category in public is too embarrassing, send me a PM.) . I’m looking forward to participating with you wonderful folks in this great forum again. . -Ross Barlow. .
  16. This is just a trivial objection to what may have only been a typo on Bob’s part in Post #22 of this interesting thread. In history, “Hellenic” is the name used for *pre* Alexander the Great times, the time of the glory of Greece proper. The *post* Alexander the Great period is called “Hellenistic.” Hellenistic civilization was highly Greek-influenced, but the intellectual power coming out of the Greek homelands was greatly diminished by then. And Bob is correct about the great math and science coming out of this latter period. -Ross Barlow.
  17. I am now reading Victor Hugo’s *The Toilers of the Sea* -- for the first time, as it was out of print for so many decades. It is the last of his major novels for me to read, and I will finish reading it tonight. Hugo could really write, and I am loving this book thus far, finding out just how much I miss reading him. This novel seems to be “slower” than his others, in that lacks the early snappy plot developments of, say, *Ninety-Three,* but I’m not minding that a bit. Hugo’s legendary, but brilliant, tendency to go on and on for many pages with descriptions and historical notes about a particular locale takes up the early part of this novel, but I have eagerly followed his physical-geographical descriptions of the Channel Islands with an atlas in hand, fascinated by it. (I am coming to view Geography, in its larger reaches – i.e., cultural as well as physical -- as an all-inclusive science that may subsume all of the human arts and sciences within its domain.) There are scientific errors in this book, but keep in mind that it was written in 1866. The plot picks up speed in the book’s second half, and the portrayal of Gilliatt’s lone struggles show us a man of extremely powerful will and original intelligence. Maybe I am liking it so much is because of its lonely individuality – both the lonely landscapes and the lone protagonist – which fits my own personal history. Of Hugo’s other novels, my favorites in order are first *Ninety-Three,* *Notre Dame de Paris* (The Hunchback), *The Man Who Laughs,* and *Les Miserables.* On another note, as for being a person with a large book collection, my books are stored in my sister’s attic in the States, taking up a huge area there. My sister remarked that when I moved to Thailand she imagined that I would pack a couple pair of underwear and the rest books. But I brought very few with me. In three years here I have started a new collection. We have several good bookstores in Bangkok, such as Asia Books and Kinokuniya, and they can order books for me. The next book in line for reading is *Our Enemy, The State* by Albert Jay Nock. It has been many years since I read this small classic, but, since it was very influential on my political thinking, it deserves another read. . -Ross Barlow.
  18. Great thread. I am enjoying it immensely. On one point: Judith, reserve your imagining of Hell until you have lived in Thailand for a stretch. I lounge around home in nothing but swim trunks and flip-flops all year long and yet I swelter in the steamy tropical heat and humidity. Without an electric fan blowing on me constantly, I would die. When I go out, decorum demands that I dress more modestly in long trousers and a shirt, but I am stubborn enough to wear sports sandals. I haven’t worn shoes in 3 years. In relation to this thread’s subject matter, Thai Buddhism has a strange mix of down-to-earth common sense morality and goodwill as well as a lot of pre-Buddhist native animism and belief systems that Rand would call “mysticism.” I am still trying to figure it all out. If I come to any interesting conclusions, I will let you all know. -Ross Barlow.
  19. Regarding that first draft lottery of the Vietnam era (December 1, 1969), I will always remember one thing. At the time I was living in a hole on Hill 55 (Quang Nam Province) and first heard about it through a letter from my father a few weeks later. My birthday came up in the lottery at around number 3, and my father wrote with his understated humor: “Better lay low, son, they’re going to draft you.” When I enlisted in the summer of 1968, the Marines had just lowered the time of a volunteer’s hitch to 2 years. As Brant said, there was an overall 6-year military obligation then for combined active duty, active reserves and inactive reserves. For the 4 years immediately after I got out of active duty, I was considered to be in the “inactive reserves,” and I was supposed to update them yearly on my address, etc. But I never contacted them or answered any letters if I got them. As far as I was concerned, I was finished. I did carry my inactive reserve ID-card with me for a while back in civilian life, and it saved my friends and me from an arrest for under-age drinking. The state cop looked at my ID and said, “What’s this?” I explained that I’d just come home from Nam and active duty. 20 years old and a veteran, but I still could not legally drink in Pennsylvania. It was a ridiculous situation, and the officer thought so too, because he radioed back to his station and told them that he just couldn’t arrest us. He let us go with a warning. But he did take our beer. -Ross Barlow.
  20. BBC’s online news has an ongoing series of articles and features called “1989: Europe’s Revolution.” It covers the fall of European communism 20 years ago, and it adds articles as milestone anniversaries of that historic year come up. Here is the link to a map tracking communism’s fall between the years 1989 and 1991. Links on this page’s right side lead to other articles in the series. The feature linked below describes how, 20 years ago this month, the reformers in Hungary’s Communist Party started to tentatively remove the barbed wire on the border separating Hungary from Austria. By doing so, the first crack in the Iron Curtain was made, and by autumn of that year all border restrictions were removed by Hungary, allowing East Germans to leave communist Europe by crossing into Austria by the tens of thousands. They had to first go from East Germany through Czechoslovakia to Hungary, then to Austria and from there to West Germany. The floodgates were opened, and the world could see without doubts which direction people chose to migrate when the wire was removed. -Ross Barlow.
  21. Barbara, This sounds like an incredible experience – a chance to mingle with gods. Did you get to speak at any length with my hero Reinhold Messner? He was my greatest exemplar in my early climbing days in the 1970s, a total inspiration of individualism and bold vision. Messner is an atheist and a rabid individualist. He steers by his own stars and cares very little for the opinions of others. I have always wondered how he would assess Ayn Rand’s writings. Perhaps his “Euro” sensibilities would turn him off to much of the politics, but ethically and epistemologically he seems to be a fellow traveler. Mountain climbing is an individualistic and maverick sport to begin with, but Messner challenged all the mountaineering orthodoxies of the day about the limits of climbing difficulty. These orthodox “authorities” claimed that traditional standards could not be surpassed and that the highest levels of (the then current) difficulty were forever the fixed standard. In his early book, *The Seventh Grade: Most Extreme Climbing,* Messner first listed pages and pages of quotes from some of the world’s greatest past climbers claiming that the most difficult and bold levels of climbing had already been attained – measured then as the “6th grade,” the absolute limit. Then Messner states that any of humanity’s highest standards can be surpassed, and the rest of the book is his documented proof of this by telling very honestly of his own personal achievements far surpassing any mountaineering feats yet known. He insolently proclaims that the “7th Grade” of difficulty (and beyond) is possible to those who dare. He despises artificial limitations. Messner stated that a climb of the highest currently rated difficulty – the “6th Grade – might be surpassed by, say, climbing it solo, or climbing it in winter, at night, in an extremely fast time, or in extreme weather. A very difficult new route’s first ascent may be designated as surpassing the 6th Grade. He did all of these things and pushed the envelope of what was considered to be the limits of human endeavor in the world of alpinism. He took the mentality of light-weight and fast day-climbs in the Alps to the gigantic Himalayas. Messner’s climbing feats are extraordinary. E.g.: when he was a youth of 16 he climbed the huge dangerous North Face of Les Droites in the French Alps in one morning (while the first ascent party earlier had taken days) and he was back in Chamonix for lunch; he did the first ascent of Mt. Everest without supplementary oxygen tanks (with his oft-time partner Peter Habeler); the first ascent of all of the 14 highest peaks in the world (again, always without oxygen); and the first solo ascent of Everest (without oxygen in just a few days, base to summit and back). He trains fanatically like an Olympic athlete. In the overall climbing community, Messner was viewed as an arrogant prick – a kind of mountaineering Howard Roark. But he still lives and goes on adventures. For me, his most valuable lesson was to turn back if you don’t feel up to it, to save it for another day. He knows his limits and his strengths. In sum, he was always rational about risk. My greatest memories of mountaineering are my solo ascents. They mean more to me than team climbs. I share a profound aesthetic vision of the lone individual in the mountains, and Messner literally wrote the book on this. I think that Howard Roark would have completely understood Messner’s life. -Ross Barlow.
  22. Gulch, thanks for linking this great interview with Sam Harris after *The End of Faith* came out: Very, very good reading. . Ed, thanks for writing and linking your own extremely fine review of Harris’s work: Ed Hudgins’s review: “From Faith to Force” (this title referring of course to a great Ayn Rand essay of 1960, “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World.”): Excellent . I had first read *The End of Faith* in the winter of 2005-06 while convalescing after quitting teaching and preparing to move to Thailand. I first heard of Sam Harris and this book on an e-list dedicated to the academic study of Buddhism, where it was favorably reviewed. I reviewed it for another libertarian-objectivist e-list soon after, but evidently I did not review it on OL (or at least I cannot find it here in the archives). . I just found the Vintage paperback edition (2008) of Harris’s short *Letter to a Christian Nation* in a Bangkok bookstore yesterday and read it in a few hours last night. Wow! This newer paperback edition includes a new Afterward that is also very powerful. . Harris, like Rand, does not compromise, and he takes names and kicks ass. They both criticize those “moderates” who are accommodating to blind Faith. Faith = a lie to oneself. Harris reminds me a lot of Voltaire – although Voltaire always claimed to remain a “deist” – because Voltaire’s words cut like a well-honed knife through the orthodox religious bullshit of his day, and they were concise and beautifully crafted thrusts to the heart of irrationality. Harris can really write, and he is a joy to read. . I highly recommend both of these books by Harris. In the case of both books, it seems that the later paperback editions have additional material that makes for a very good addition. . A very gratifying thing to see in Harris’s *Letter to a Christian Nation* was a mention of our own George H. Smith’s classic *Atheism: The Case Against God* at the back of the book in his page listing “Ten Books I Recommend.” I think George’s work was ignored in Harris’s first book, so I am glad to see it here even though it is number 10 on the list. The anathema of its mentions of Ayn Rand probably condemned it to that rank, but it is an indispensible modern pillar of freethinking. Harris is not an Objectivist, but he is not too far away. . On a personal note, I want to comment on Harris’s mentions of Buddhism (a specialty of mine, in a way). In *The End of Faith,* he suggests that scientists should investigate such things as meditation. He is interested as a neuroscientist and sees it as a kind of technology of the mind, a therapy if you will (and as I see as the Buddha’s original intent). In this first book, Harris is rather kind overall to Buddhism as compared to other religious traditions. But in the Truthdig interview linked above, he states that 99% of the world’s Buddhists are living it like it is a regular dogmatic religion, and I agree with him mostly on this point. Also, in his *Letter to a Christian Nation* he lists the Sinhalese Buddhist majority in Sri Lanka as among the list of unholy religious killers elsewhere – and he is right to do so because some of the Sri Lankan Buddhists are a gross anomaly and have become (almost, not quite) a mirror image of their terrorist separatist adversaries, the minority Hindu Tamil Tigers who long ago taught the world much about the use of suicide bombings. Many of the Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka are true reactionaries and are reacting fiercely to centuries of brutal oppression, first by the Portuguese (who almost wiped Buddhism out there) and later by the British (who put the Tamil minority in the best civil service posts), and they are so angered by the constant Tamil separatist atrocities that they have resorted to inflicting their own versions of brutality when striking back. Many of these monks are the most warlike Buddhists that I have seen in my own lifetime, and they do not fit the general historical behavioral profile. Years ago, while participating on a Theravadin Buddhist e-list, I was very much tempted to post a photo of a very famous contemporary Sinhalese Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka, but I didn’t post it because I didn’t feel like getting into a fight at the time. The photo was remarkable, as it showed what looked like an extremely angry and seemingly wildly psyched-out individual, and its expression didn’t exemplify any of the usual emotions people usually associate with Theravadin monks. Calm, equanimity and compassion are the expected norm but were eclipsed here. This was the photo of an angry religious-political fanatic, and it was shocking to see. Without knowing anything about this monk, I could easily see that he was a deeply disturbed individual, consumed by confrontation, hate and anger. It was just so obvious. If you saw a man on the street looking at you like this, you would step wide of him to avoid attack. What I originally wanted to post to that list was this photo along with the question: “What is wrong with this picture?” And by that I meant, “Is this a good example of Buddhist emotional expression?” I later found out that this monk was a major Sinhalese nationalist who urged the Sri Lankan military on in the most aggressive attacks on the Tamil Tigers and the Tamil people. He soon went on a diplomatic mission of some kind to Russia, and he died of a heart attack there. As he was not an old man, many of his followers suggested a conspiracy theory involving a murder plot. But to me, his photo (supplemented by later reading his emotional and angry speeches) pointed to an extremely agitated individual who was just asking for an early natural death by stroke or heart attack. What in the hell happened to the monkhood in Sri Lanka? So, all in all, I agree with what I’ve read so far about Harris’s thoughts on Buddhism. . Harris’s critiques of Christianity are right on. He concisely points out some of the Bible’s gross contradictions as well as its atrocious moral ideas. His evaluations of Islam and extreme Judaism are also well-balanced and equally deadly. I agree with what he says in the Truthdig interview, that in order to defeat an irrational ideology the best method is often to “embarrass” it and reduce its essence to public mockery. . -Ross Barlow.
  23. Michael, thanks for linking to this article of Justin Raimondo’s. I agree with you that, even if we find many things to disagree with in it, it causes one to think and that this is good. I highly recommend reading this article all the way through. Here are some of my random thoughts on it. First, let me say that I think that Raimondo gives a really great personal tribute to Ayn Rand here, despite his criticisms. The Objectivist “movement” deserves both. As to any ultimate evaluation on Raimondo’s intellectual stance, integrity and history, I submit here to Barbara Branden’s advice because she was intimately involved in Objectivism’s formative history and also probably knows something of Raimondo because his name has come up repeatedly in my own spotty “post-Split” Objectivist information sources for the last 40 years. I have only read a limited amount of Raimondo’s writings, but he does come off to me as quite an independent and individualistic thinker. “Nasty,” yes, many times. (I wonder if he is into street-fighting as recreational activity?) (I must say this right off: Raimondo’s signature photo with the cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth in a cocky adolescent pose does remind me of my own confrontational youth, and it makes me smile. There is an old photo of me, cigarette hanging in the same way out of the corner of my mouth, as I was holding a weapon on top of a bunker on Hill 55 in Quang Nam Province of the RVN in 1969 while F-4 Phantom jets were blasting the living hell out of communist NVA right below and behind me. It was a pose, a “hero” pose, a rebellious pose. Maybe I had been reading too much Mickey Spillane in those days. But youthful bravado and cockiness – while pure adolescent -- do sometimes show a spark of life and of honest rebellion in them, and for that I half-laugh at and half-applaud Raimondo’s persona as exhibited in that photo.) Re: Raimondo’s note about Rand vs. democracy. There are good precedents: US Constitution (secret convention, state government ratifying conventions that only very indirectly represented the people, Madison’s warning of a “tyranny of the majority” in the Federalist Papers). Also, Herbert Spencer: “The Right to Ignore the State” where he uses fine logic and gives solid theoretical examples of a democratic majority completely trampling the rights of individuals or minorities (and notice in the final section of his essay that Spencer is against “anarchism” as he defines it, and he is rather for law, “the law of equal freedom”). Raimondo makes one remark that is grossly unfair to the Brandens. He suggests that they saw Rand as a “meal ticket.” This is an egregious remark. I think this is totally unwarranted, because my own reading of this history of the Objectivist 1950s and 1960s is that Nathaniel and Barbara were mostly motivated by ideological goals. They were intelligent and capable people who could have made a satisfying living in any area of endeavor, not cheap opportunists as suggested here in this quip by Raimondo. They were dedicated intellectuals who wanted to fight for their ideals and to change the world and who saw Rand’s visions to be personally inspirational. If we focused our light upon Raimondo and his own associations with conservatives like some of those in the Lew Rockwell orbit, might we not insinuate that *he* is seeking a “meal ticket”? On a better note, Raimondo’s remark about how after the excommunications Leonard Peikoff “wound up with everything by managing to be the most servile of her courtiers” is a gem. Most of the other statements about the ARI are a bit lost on me, because I have studiously ignored their inanities from their very start because they appear as an embarrassing cult instead of free-thinkers. Raimondo says that there are few Objectivist criticisms of Judaism – albeit there is fundamental criticism of religion in general. I actually am a tremendous admirer of Jewish culture and history for the most part. Growing up in a Christian family, I always loved the Old Testament but despised the New. But please read or re-read certain passages from the Old Testament books such as Joshua to get a taste of classic and influential historical atrocity, as well as passages like 1st Samuel 15:3: “…’kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'" (This was the commandment of the Lord God to the Israelites, and he was considered in those days to be quite an authority on morals. This is a divinely ordered genocide of an entire people because of sins of their ancestors.) I think that many of the historical atrocities later committed by Christians and Muslims where in part encouraged by these and similar examples of the Old Testament, and that this OT tradition made it “okay” for these two religions that later claimed profound influence from Judaism to “justify” their widespread historical depredations. To be fair, Judaism and Jewish culture has developed extreme liberality since these earliest of days, and the Jewish traditions of scholarship, civilization, humanism and rationality have been almost unequaled in history. Ayn Rand was from this cultural tradition. Also, as I used to teach my US History students, regarding historical influences on the USA, the ancient Law of Moses held even a society’s rulers to be bound by the Rule of Equality Before the Law, and that in itself was a revolutionary idea. Without the contributions of Jewish culture, the West would be poorer indeed. ARI’s Brook is quoted as saying: “We view what happens in Israel as an indicator of what will happen in the rest of the world. To the extent America abandons Israel, it abandons itself. Israel is a beacon of civilization in a barbaric, backward area. Israel represents, despite its flaws, the values of the West: individual rights, free speech, freedom of the press, equality before the law and the rule of law.” And I see a lot of reasonableness in this statement and cannot argue much with it. But I do not give the Israel state a blank check to do whatever it wants, especially with strong religious conservative zealots in the background wanting to gain control and dictate policy. I do have some confidence that the rational elements in Israel will ultimately prevail. Let us hope so. All in all, this was a thought-provoking article. While I do not agree with all of it, it is a mind-stretcher, and that is good. Raimondo – however we may ultimately judge him – is an intellectual whose powerful thinking may be attributable to being a “son” of Rand. A renegade son, perhaps, but definitely given that radical spark by her thinking and her writings. -Ross Barlow.
  24. Just visualize Annie Lennox singing this in her prime. “Missionary Man” – recorded by Eurythmics “Well I was born an original sinner. I was borne from original sin. And if I had a dollar bill For all the things I've done There'd be a mountain of money Piled up to my chin... “My mother told me good My mother told me strong. She said ‘be true to yourself And you can't go wrong’. ‘But there's just one thing That you must understand’. ‘You can fool with your brother - But don't mess with a missionary man’. “Don't mess with a missionary man. Don't mess with a missionary man. “Well the missionary man He's got God on his side. He's got the saints and apostles Backin' up from behind. Black eyed looks from those Bible books. He's a man with a mission Got a serious mind. “There was a woman in the jungle And a monkey on a tree. The missionary man he was followin' me. He said ‘stop what you're doing’. ‘Get down upon your knees’. ‘I've got a message for you that you better believe’." [~lyrics by Annie Lennox and David A. Stewart~] -Ross Barlow.
  25. Anarchy in the Land of Smiles As you no doubt are aware from general world news, there has been a lot of unrest lately here in my adopted home of Thailand, aka, Siam. We are okay, as we live a simple life, but there is a lot of unpredictability in the air, as usual. Things have settled down a bit, and I’m hoping to go out and see a movie tomorrow, but I’ll check the local news first. It’s just an ongoing stumble into the modern age for this beautiful semi-traditional society that has only progressed from absolute monarchy since 1932 and is trying to become a sophisticated nation. (To be fair, please keep in mind that the USA, at a similar age in its own nationhood, was ravaged by an insanely brutal Civil War.) Since 1932, there have been at least 18 constitutions written here, punctuated by military coups (as recently as 2006) and elected governments that never served their full terms until the 21st century. They are trying to get the hang of it all. There is a class-war, a cultural war, going on between the mega-city of Bangkok and the rest of the country, those rural provinces whose poor folk love the deposed and exiled former PM Thaksin, the billionaire populist. I don’t know where it will end except that the Army will most likely decide in the end. Actually, the Army is one of the most respected democratic institutions in the country because even a poor boy can advance there on merit. (Yet politics is entwined intimately with the Army’s higher echelons.) The King is old and ill, he has no political power but he has tremendous moral authority here, e.g., in 1992 after the Army gunned down maybe 700 protesters, the King summoned both the Army leader and the demonstrators’ leader to a royal audience in which they bowed before him and he told them both to knock it off and act right. Out of respect for his highly-respected character, they backed off and had new elections. To make a long recent story shorter: Before and during December 2008 the “yellow shirts” -- i.e., royalists, Bangkok middle classes and upper classes, military and traditional elites, professionals, etc. – had mass demonstrations. They wanted all government traces of former populist PM Thaksin thrown out, and the courts eventually obliged them. Thaksin had been ousted in a military coup in 2006, but his party followers have won all the restored elections since then. The yellow shirts didn’t like this, so they took over Government House and the national airport, stranding tens of thousands of foreign tourists right before Xmas, wrecking the important tourist industry here and putting a million Thais out of work immediately. In their ranks were grandmothers with their grandkids in their arms. In modern Western terms you might call them “Tories.” They got their way. The courts convicted Thaksin (in absence) of abuse of power and other counts of corruption, and they sentenced him to 2 years in prison. The Thai government has frozen US$2 billion (76 billion Thai Baht) of his huge fortune. He wants it back and he wants his power back. Thaksin’s cronies had won elections since then, but the courts threw them out on grounds of corruption. In the parliamentary re-shuffles, the opposition Democrats formed the present government. The yellow shirts were happy. As one example of what might well be called an “abuse of power,” consider that Thaksin once ordered a very brutal “War on Drugs,” in which police hit-teams went out and shot dead around 2,500 people in a matter of weeks. Few policemen were hurt in this “war,” making it look a lot like extra-judicial executions. But lately it has been the “red shirts,” the poor underclass supporters of the exiled Thaksin, who have been shutting the city down, demanding that the present government resign so they can bring home and re-elect Thaksin. Thaksin’s support is mainly in the rural provinces among poor folk, whom he promised many government goodies, and they came into the city via bus and train by the thousands. The red shirts smashed through the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit meeting on 11 April, forcing Asian foreign ministers to escape via choppers. The red shirts paralyzed the city, shutting down major roads, burning buses and threatening to blow up large gas trucks. The police and Army just stepped back and let them run, because they don’t want to repeat the savage suppressions of the past. The Army wants to remain one of the most respected institutions in the country. Thus tourism and investment took another bad hit. Cancelations of flights to Thailand and of tourist packages have ballooned. Tourism is a mainstay of this economy. The hookers are looking so sad and lonely, it’s a pity, because their usually bright smiles help to make this country’s rep as “The Land of Smiles.” The present PM Abhisit (an English-born Thai educated at Eton and Oxford) ordered a State of Emergency that is still in effect. The Army finally obeyed his orders and chased the red shirts out of town on the 13th and 14th. There was a rifle platoon of the Royal Thai Army on our street on Sunday night, and as I went to the store to get beer and ice they greeted me with friendliness. The residents of Bangkok are largely sick and tired of the red shirts’ violence and their spoiling of the Songkran New Year fun. The Army showed surprising restraint in their use of force, and it appears that the soldiers did not kill a single protestor. Fatalities occurred when local residents resisted the red shirt depravations in their neighborhoods, and the red shirts seemed to have fired the fatal shots, killing a couple of locals downtown. PM Abhisit seems like an educated and decent fellow, but his perceived problem is that he only gained the premiership through Thaksin’s elected people being thrown out by the elitist courts plus mass defections of parliament members from Thaksin’s faction to his own. The red shirt faction does not see him as a legitimately elected leader. It’s a mess, with Thai society divided in half. If Abhisit can create genuine dialogue between parties, it will be a wonder, but I’ve never yet seen such a corruption-free, intelligent and dedicated politician as him here. This morning, a “yellow shirt” leader was ambushed and almost assassinated before dawn on a Bangkok street in classic gangland style. Hundreds of rounds were fired at his car from AK-47 and M-16 weapons, but he survived. No doubt it was a red shirt plot. Now the yellow shirts are angry, and they are mobilizing once again. As I have said, life is almost back to normal, but I will study the situation tomorrow morning before I head into the city. Those bookstores and theaters are just luring me in. Bangkok is quite the town. . -Ross Barlow.