George H. Smith

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Everything posted by George H. Smith

  1. Brant, An ardent DC Comics fan as a boy, I owned every issue of "Superman" from around 1956 to 1963. The ads in the back were of great interest to me. This was especially true of the ad for "X-Ray Glasses," which became more interesting as I got older. I recall that the ad featured a drawing of a fully clothed woman who was attempting to cover herself with her arms as if she were nude. At the same time mysterious rays were emanating from a pair of glasses that were worn by a guy with a smile on his face. I was skeptical about whether or not the glasses really worked. I assumed that the ad was fraudulent, but when I asked my mother to order the glasses for me (I think they cost 50 cents or thereabouts, plus shipping and handling), she appeared flustered and embarrassed, and she refused. At that point I changed my mind. After all, why would my mother refuse to order the glasses for me unless they really worked? What would be the point? I finally figured out a way to place the order myself so I could grab the package before my mother got to it. That plan worked, but guess what? The glasses didn't work. My faith in advertising was shattered. Even worse, I was stuck with National Geographic as my sole prospect for seeing topless women. Young whippersnappers nowadays don't appreciate how easy they have it. A few clicks on a computer and a lusty lad can see anything he wants. Back in the day we had to work hard just to see a hint of nudity. Youngsters no longer appreciate the value of hard work. Traditional values have clearly declined in modern America. 8-) Ghs
  2. While watching the Republican debate last night and pondering the most popular Republican strategy for achieving international peace -- which I call the Let's kick some butt! theory of foreign affairs--I devised a fantasy scenario to focus attention on the question of how effective that strategy might be Here is the basic setup. You magically become Superman (or his female equivalent) with all of his traditional powers. I won't quibble over exactly which powers you have. The point is that you can kill whomever you like with super speed, accuracy and efficiency (e.g., by frying brains at super-speed with your heat vision). And you can do all this without anyone ever knowing that you are the killer. You can also fly, etc., etc. In short, you have virtually unlimited powers to kill, maim, torture, etc. anyone you like, and to do so with complete anonymity, so you decide to deal with the problem of ISIS and Islamic terrorism generally. The only limitation is that your Superman powers will expire after one year, so after that year is over you will need to use your normal human powers to deal with any adverse blowback you may have generated during your year as Superman. . Maybe you don't believe that you will be able to eradicate Islamic terrorism within a year, but you figure that a year as Superman will be time enough to make significant improvements. Okay, so what specifically would you do in that year? And how would your actions make things better in the long run? Your only constraint would be moral in nature, not physical. Be creative. Ghs
  3. Freethought and Freedom: The Christian Theory of Property Smith discusses the traditional Christian theory of private property and how it was viewed as the result of original sin. My Libertarianism.org Essay #183 has been posted. Ghs
  4. The Libertarianism.org podcast of my Essay #59 is now available. Ghs
  5. Freethought and Freedom: Jean Meslier on Property Was Meslier a communist? Smith explores this tricky issue. My Libertarianism.org Essay #182 has been posted. Ghs
  6. The Libertarianism.org podcast of my Essay 57 has been posted. This is the third part of my commentary on Jason Brennan's book, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know. Ghs
  7. Freethought and Freedom: The Political Theory of Jean Meslier Smith critically examines the claim that Meslier was a communist anarchist. My Libertarianism.org Essay #181 has been posted. Ghs
  8. The Libertarianism.org podcast of my Essay #56 is now available. Much of this piece discusses my objections to Brennan's portrayal of Ayn Rand's ideas. http://www.libertarianism.org/media/excursions/instead-review-commentary-libertarianism-what-everyone-needs-know-jason-brennan-0#.f289p2:xWBv Instead of a Review: A Commentary on Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Jason Brennan, Part 2 Ghs
  9. Freethought and Freedom: Jean Meslier and Christian Ethics Smith explains Meslier’s three major objections to Christian morality, as taught by Jesus. My Libertarianism.org Essay #180 is now available. Ghs
  10. Freethought and Freedom: Jean Meslier and the Catholic Church Smith explains the role of the Catholic Church in the French government, and how Meslier reconciled his atheism with his role as a priest. My Libertarianism.org Essay #179 is now up. Ghs
  11. Another one of my favorite passages by a great English essayist--Thomas de Quincey, in Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts (1827). I wish I had written that. Ghs
  12. Indeed, it is all of that, but it is also clearly directed to a woman (or a homosexual man I suppose but doubt given the date written). I recognize in it what I consider a character flaw of many women - the expectation that the men in her life be the source of her happiness and self-worth. Great poem! Despite the references to "your boyfriend" and "your ex-husband" and I don't read the poem as gender specific. Rather, Lopate's observations are universal and would apply to either sex. If he wanted to indicate that the conspiracy of your "closest friends" included even past and present sex partners, which greatly enhances the effect, stylistic considerations would virtually demand that he settle for male or female references. Nevertheless, I would wager that many women read this poem and think immediately of insecure men they have known. I certainly did not think solely of women when I read it, and neither did my girlfriend. Of course I could be wrong. The interpretation of poetry has never been my strong suit. I find that style of writing pretty much a mystery. Although I enjoy reading poetry from time to time (especially Coleridge and other Romantics), I have neither the eye nor the ear to appreciate it fully, and, at my best, I can only write doggerel on a high-school level. Ghs Try listening to poetry done by expert readers. --Brant During the 1970s and early 80s, I listened to quite a few poetry readings on LPs. I enjoyed them, for the most part, but my enjoyment stemmed largely from the sound of the words alone. I often didn't understand what the poems were supposed to "mean," and professional readers didn't make that task any easier. Much of my problem is related to the fact that I tend to think in highly abstract terms. I lack visual imagination--which is the main reason I could never write decent novels. Moreover, lack of clarity, as we often find in poetic metaphors, does little more than annoy the hell out of me. When reading poetry, I would sometimes think: "Is there a point here? If so, just spit it out." 8-) I could be wrong, but I recall reading something by Rand in which she expressed her dislike of poetry. Maybe someone can remember the specific comment. I have always been somewhat mystified by fiction writers who can describe someone's physical appearance in detail, or even the details of a physical environment. I usually don't notice such things and to describe them in writing exceeds my abilities. But give me some abstract ideas to write about, and I'm off to the races. I even find myself writing about ideas and their histories as if I were describing individual human beings, complete with their subtle features and peculiarities. Ghs
  13. One more story about style that may interest OLers. During the early 1970s, while I was living in Hollywood, writing ATCAG, and attending one of Nathaniel Branden's groups, I was forever broke, so I struck a deal with Nathan: He needed a research assistant for a project he was working on, so I would take that job in exchange for payment to the weekly group, which consumed most of every Saturday and Sunday. I served in that role for around a year, so I had to meet with Nathan fairly often to give him my notes and explain some things to him. We often met at an upscale hamburger joint near his office on Sunset Blvd. (I could not afford to eat there very often, but Nathan always picked up the tab.) One day at lunch I quizzed Nathan about his writing style. (This is something I did whenever I had a chance to talk to professional writers.) During the conversation we talked about the fact that many young Objectivist writers modeled their nonfiction style after Rand's, with the same polemical mannerisms, punctuation (lots of dashes), plentiful use of "i.e.," etc. Neither of us saw anything wrong with this, so long as such writers go on to develop their own style instead of remaining mimics for the rest of their lives. But during the conversation I mentioned that my own style was probably influenced as much by Nathan's writing as by Rand's, and possibly more so. This immediately caught Nathan's attention, so he asked me for details. I then explained how, when I read Peikoff, I could not distinguish his style from Rand's. The two were identical for all intents and purposes. I specifically mentioned "The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy"; if Peikoff's name were not on that monograph, I would have assumed it had been written by Rand. Nathan nodded, noted that Peikoff wrote it with Rand "over his shoulder," and went on to explain that Rand closely supervised and edited everything Peikoff wrote. This made sense to me, since I had owned for years a copy of Peikoff's doctoral dissertation, which was written in a radically different style than the material he wrote during his years with Rand. But Nathan's style, I went on to explain, differed considerably from Rand's. His sentences tended to be longer and more complex, etc., and I sometimes preferred that way of writing to Rand's. Nathan was quite pleased with my comments; he said that he also thought that he had his own way of writing that differed from Rand's, and that he had worked on it intentionally so he would not appear a clone of Rand. I apparently had been the first reader to tell Nathan that I was well aware of the difference, and that seemed to earn me some brownie points, at a time when brownie points mattered with me. 8-) Ghs
  14. I mentioned George Orwell's essays in my last post. If you are interested in essay writing but have never read Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant," you should do so. It is as close to a perfect essay as I have ever read, and I learned a lot about essay writing from it. Orwell also wrote my all-time favorite opening line of an essay. The first line of "The Lion and the Unicorn," written while the Nazis were bombing London, goes like this: It doesn't get any better than that. If I could write one opening line as crisp and brilliant as this line by Orwell, I would die a happy man. Ghs
  15. From time to time in my early writing career I attempted to write poetry, but the results were typically so godawful that I threw almost everything away. I only managed to write one poem (c. 1977) that I thought was pretty good, or at least clever enough not to toss in the wastebasket, but I wasn't even sure what it should be called. The only reason I called it a "poem" at all was because I broke what could have been a continuous paragraph into several lines; that was about the extent of my understanding of "poetry." Anyway, I managed to get the piece published in a small circulation zine in Los Angeles. I wrote it in a fit of frustration, after finishing an academic article that included dozens of footnotes. I hated writing footnotes, and I still do, so here is what I came up with. My goal as a writer: To write an entire piece Without a single footnote.* *Failed again. This piece, whatever it should be called, reflected my desire to write "essays" rather than "articles"--a desire I did not satisfy until I published "My Path to Atheism," in Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies, in 1991. Although many pieces in that anthology had been published previously, I wrote that essay specifically for the collection, largely because I wanted to try my hand at a "pure" essay. I wrote it in a style quite unlike anything I had written before, and I still consider it one of my better efforts. I was reading a lot of George Orwell's essays at the time--he remains my favorite essay writer to this day--and his influence is evident at various places, especially in the final paragraph. "My Path to Atheism" may be read here: https://books.google.com/books?id=44APM0d_JtMC&lpg=PA1&dq=George%20Smith%20My%20path%20to%20atheism&pg=PA23#v=onepage&q=George%20Smith%20My%20path%20to%20atheism&f=false Ghs
  16. Indeed, it is all of that, but it is also clearly directed to a woman (or a homosexual man I suppose but doubt given the date written). I recognize in it what I consider a character flaw of many women - the expectation that the men in her life be the source of her happiness and self-worth. Great poem! Despite the references to "your boyfriend" and "your ex-husband," I don't read the poem as gender specific. Rather, Lopate's observations are universal and would apply to either sex. If he wanted to indicate that the conspiracy of your "closest friends" included even past and present sex partners, which greatly enhances the effect, stylistic considerations would virtually demand that he settle for male or female references. Nevertheless, I would wager that many women read this poem and think immediately of insecure men they have known. I certainly did not think solely of women when I read it, and neither did my girlfriend. Of course I could be wrong. The interpretation of poetry has never been my strong suit. I find that style of writing pretty much a mystery. Although I enjoy reading poetry from time to time (especially Coleridge and other Romantics), I have neither the eye nor the ear to appreciate it fully, and, at my best, I can only write doggerel on a high-school level. Ghs
  17. Great tune, but who sings it? Three different claims are made in the comments section on YouTube: Jimmy Buffett, August Campbell, and George Jones. My guess is George Jones, but I'm not sure. Ghs
  18. My only reason for posting the poem was that I found it very amusing and insightful. It plays into the paranoia many people have about what their friends say about them behind their backs. Ghs
  19. http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/we-who-are-your-closest-friends We Who Are Your Closest Friends Phillip Lopate, 1943 we who are your closest friends feel the time has come to tell you that every Thursday we have been meeting as a group to devise ways to keep you in perpetual uncertainty frustration discontent and torture by neither loving you as much as you want nor cutting you adrift your analyst is in on it plus your boyfriend and your ex-husband and we have pledged to disappoint you as long as you need us in announcing our association we realize we have placed in your hands a possible antidote against uncertainty indeed against ourselves but since our Thursday nights have brought us to a community of purpose rare in itself with you as the natural center we feel hopeful you will continue to make unreasonable demands for affection if not as a consequence of your disastrous personality then for the good of the collective From At the End of the Day: Selected Poems and an Introductory Essay, copyright © 2009 by Phillip Lopate. Used by permission of Marsh Hawk Press
  20. Freethought and Freedom: Jean Meslier Smith explains some of the libertarian ideas of Jean Meslier, the notorious atheist-priest. My Libertarian.org Essay #178 has been posted. Ghs
  21. That is my recollection as well. The term "Dark Ages" has traditionally referred to Europe from around the 6th century to around the 10th or maybe the 11th century. The phrase the "Renaissance of the 12th Century" has been current for many years, and the intellectual importance of that century was understood long before the term was coined. Considering Rand's admiration for Aquinas, who lived during the 13th century, it is inconceivable that she considered the later Middle Ages to be part of the "Dark Ages." The writer of the linked article makes some valid points, but he exaggerates the progress of science during the later Middle Ages. Most of the notable achievements were in technology, not in pure science. (This is what Lynn Thorndike, whom the author mentions, stresses in his multi-volume work.) I think it is fair to say that during the 17th century alone (the period of the "Scientific Revolution") more scientific progress was made than during the entire Middle Ages. The author also underestimates the detrimental influence of the Catholic Church on the development of science. You don't have to burn a lot of people to make the point. When Bruno was burned by the Inquisition in 1600 (partially for his heretical cosmological views, such as his ideas about an infinite universe), other original thinkers got the message. And when Descartes received news that the Inquisition had arrested Galileo, he decided not to publish Traité du monde et de la lumière during his lifetime--a book in which he, like Galileo, defended the heliocentric theory. Ghs
  22. To have Mark Levin endorse Rand may be more of a liability than an asset. I catch his radio program once in a while; he is a fanatical conservative ideologue. And let us remember how much Rand detested conservatives. Ghs
  23. I never cared much for BB's Efficient Thinking course. My main problem is that they moved along at a snail's pace. In college, when I owned the original Academic Associates LPs, I would sometimes play a record on 45 rpm instead of at 33-1/3. That picked things up a bit. Ghs
  24. Freethought and Freedom: Spinoza’s Political Theory Smith explains the fundamentals of Spinoza’s theory of rights and government. My Libertarianism.org Essay #176 has been posted. Ghs
  25. I've gotten lazy and neglected to list my recent postings on Libertarianism.org. Here they are. My latest essay in the series on Freethought and Freedom: "Spinoza on Freedom of Religion and Speech." http://www.libertarianism.org/columns/freethought-freedom-spinoza-freedom-religion-speech?mc_cid=be766b0d64&mc_eid=68fdc83f45#.qebnxb:vS17 The first two parts of my series "Ayn Rand and Altruism" are now available on podcasts. Part 1 Part 2 Ghs