Archive for October, 2009

Adam Kirsch’s NY Times oped on Ayn Rand is a perfect example of a commentator having absolutely no idea about the person he is writing about. In particular, it contains the following gem:

When Bennett Cerf, a head of Random House, begged her to cut Galt’s speech, Rand replied with what Heller calls “a comment that became publishing legend”: “Would you cut the Bible?” […] Cerf offered Rand an alternative: if she gave up 7 cents per copy in royalties, she could have the extra paper needed to print Galt’s oration. That she agreed is a sign of the great contradiction that haunts her writing and especially her life. Politically, Rand was committed to the idea that capitalism is the best form of social organization invented or conceivable. Giving up her royalties to preserve her vision is something that no genuine capitalist, and few popular novelists, would have done.

A genuine capitalist, as Rand used the term, is one who believes that two consenting adults have the right to enter into any transaction they want to.

I cannot make up my mind whether Kirsch does not understand  this or whether he is just that completely lacking in reasoning ability.

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I think that Scientology is a creepy, over-commercialized enterprise that feeds on people’s irrationality and does not do any good to anyone. In fact, I think the same about all religions and most quasi-religions.

But what was it that a great Frenchman said once? I do not agree with what you say but I will defend to death

To the point.  A French court has sentenced two Scientology centers of “fraud in an organised gang” and slapped a fine of almost a million dollars.

Here’s a link. They are a bunch of other links on the same story, easily accessible through Google, and the stunning thing is that they all use words like “pressured”, “harassed” and so on. Apparently some former members didn’t like all the money that the Church convinced them to spend on vitamins and such like, and so they sued.  No, they were not coerced in any way, nor were they shown a forged copy of  Nature containing a made-up paper on the virtues of Scientologistic vitamins. Merely “pressured”, and we are not talking about vulnerable body parts either.

I think this is a ridiculous case. But I subscribe to rather quaint notions of free speech and individual responsibility. I happen to believe that individuals and organizations should be allowed to say whatever they wish about heaven, hell or the spiritual succor obtained by eating  round bananas. I also happen to think that a conviction for fraud should meet an extremely high threshold of material misrepresentation of facts; for example by selling a handkerchief belonging to Nancy Pelosi to the customer who had asked for one used by Madonna. Short of such objective misrepresentations, irrational nonsense — whether spouted by religious organizations, new age spiritualists, ideologues, vegans or extreme environmentalists — should never be censored or prosecuted. One ought to take responsibility for one’s choices, and following a belief-system is a choice.

That’s my worldview, and I like to call it freedom. France, as I never tire of pointing out, lost sight of the concept a long time ago. I am glad I don’t live there today, and I do not ever plan to either.

(Here’s a related short piece on soothsayers and fraud I wrote a while back.)

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Todd Seavey and Kerry Howley (joined by Dan MacCarthy) continue their debate of whether libertarianism should include concern for more than just property rights. Its an old debate, one that Seavey and Howley have had in the past in their respective blogs, and one I have commented on extensively earlier, so there’s nothing much to really add. There’s one point — it struck me then, and it strikes me now — that however, I should reiterate.

Kerry at one point writes: “None of this is to say that it is the state’s place to force a family to accept its children, a church to welcome all comers, or a sex worker to embrace all lonely hearts. There is a difference between emotional coercion and physical force.” I am glad. If Kerry actually advocated using laws to overcome social pressures, I would have to stop calling her a libertarian.

But then, the reader could be forgiven for wondering what really are these guys arguing about. As Todd says: “There’s a vast universe of moral and philosophical judgments beyond libertarianism, and one of the beauties of the philosophy is that it leaves people free to debate those countless other matters without breaking the minimal ground rule of respecting one another’s rights.” If Todd agrees that a libertarian may validly  advocate for all the things Kerry wants (as long as they do not insist that it be included in the libertarian canon) and Kerry agrees that all the things she wants ought not to be coercively imposed, it seems to me that these people are speaking a bit past each other, or at the very least, their debate is more semantical than substantive.

No, I am not saying that there isn’t a disagreement, merely that the disagreement (Kerry: Libertarians should combat more than state tyranny, though not through the legal route; Todd: It is perfectly fine for libertarians to combat social tyranny by social means, though we should not mandate it as a part of libertarianism) is not as wide as the debate might make it seem to be. Todd’s position (which I completely agree with, by the way) doesn’t really seem to counter Kerry as much as some other straw-woman who wants to break apart racist, homophobic or patriarchal conventions by force. Kerry’s counter-reply also seems mildly oblivious to Todd’s position. I share Kerry’s concerns and I agree with Todd’s position. Isn’t that a little funny?

But anyway, those who aren’t steeped in this subject too thoroughly should really read the Reason article; Howley, Seavey and McCarthy are all fine writers, and they make all the points worth making. Also you may wish to glance at Ilya Somin’s take on the issue.

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(Post edited)

Since Sharon’s death [Roman Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate was murdered] … and despite all appearances to the contrary, my enjoyment of life has been incomplete.In moments of unbearable personal tragedy some people find solace in religion. In my case the opposite happened. Any religious faith I had was shattered by Sharon’s murder. It reinforced my faith in the absurd.

I still go through the motions of being a professional entertainer… but I know in my heart of hearts that the spirit of laughter has deserted me. It isn’t just that success has left me jaded or that I’ve been soured by tragedy and by my own follies. I seem to be toiling to no discernible purpose. I feel I’ve lost the right to innocence, to a pure appreciation of life’s pleasures. My childish gullibility and loyalty to my friends have cost me dear, not least in my relations with the press, but my growing wariness has been just as self-destructive.

I am widely regarded, I know, as an evil, profligate dwarf. My friends–and the women in my life–know better.

The last page from Roman Polanski’s autobiography, which I happened to re-read last night.

(But then, those who know only tangentially about Polanski have perhaps been looking at my last few posts with the same kind of bewildered skepticism that I have when I see intelligent people believing in God, or astrology, or communism.)

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My reaction was, and remains: WTF. If I were to expand on that, it would be roughly on the lines of this oped.

The award of this year’s Nobel peace prize to President Obama will be met with widespread incredulity, consternation in many capitals and probably deep embarrassment by the President himself.

Rarely has an award had such an obvious political and partisan intent. It was clearly seen by the Norwegian Nobel committee as a way of expressing European gratitude for an end to the Bush Administration, approval for the election of America’s first black president and hope that Washington will honour its promise to re-engage with the world.

Instead, the prize risks looking preposterous in its claims, patronising in its intentions and demeaning in its attempt to build up a man who has barely begun his period in office, let alone achieved any tangible outcome for peace.

[…] Mr Obama becomes the third sitting US President to receive the prize. The committee said today that he had “captured the world’s attention”. It is certainly true that his energy and aspirations have dazzled many of his supporters. Sadly, it seems they have so bedazzled the Norwegians that they can no longer separate hopes from achievement. The achievements of all previous winners have been diminished.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee has made several ridiculous choices before but this one takes the cake.

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Many of those who believe Polanski forcibly raped Geimer rely on the Grand Jury testimony as their primary piece of supporting evidence. So I think it would be nice to also take a look at the actual probation report, made at the time of the incident, by Santa Monica deputy Irwin Gold. The whole report — which recommended no jail time — is here. I would like to quote a couple of relevant portions:

Neither the mother nor the doctor are in any vindictive. They have asked for a demonstration of remorse and have requested the defendant not to be incarcerated.

[…] Neither doctor has found the defendant to be a mentally disordered sex offender. Dr. Markman has indicated that the present offense was neither a forceful nor an aggressive sexual act.

[…] There was some indication that circumstances were provocative, that there was some permissiveness by the mother, that the victim was not only physically mature but willing; as one doctor has additionally suggested there was the lack of coercion by the defendant, who was additionally, solicitous regarding the possibility of pregnancy. It is believed that incalculable emotional damage could result from incarcerating the defendant whose own life has been a seemingly unending series of punishments.

Not that this report should be viewed as necessarily the whole truth; I just ask those who condemn him that they take into account all the pieces of evidence available  from the time before reaching a conclusion.


I would also like to say a few words about  how I generally form credibility notions about people I have not met or do not know personally. This is less of an explanation and more of a personal note.

A commenter to my previous post on the Polanski arrest implies that it is hasty and unwise to make conclusions about personal credibility from other areas. I agree, generally. There are a lot of people whose work I admire. I love every movie made by Quentin Tarantino. Would I make any claim to knowing him? No. Ditto for Kubrick, Copolla or any of those many other people who I have immense regard for.

But there’s high admiration and there’s feeling that a certain piece of work speaks to you in that indefinable way– where the boundaries between art and life get blurry, where you think you could have made this piece of work, had you enough talent.

Let me put down a few pieces of work that belong to this rare category, which I will refer to as identification. Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead”. Hardy’s “A Mathematician’s apology”. Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gastby.” And yes,  most of Polanski’s movies, most notably “Bitter Moon”, “Knife in the water” and “Rosemary’s baby.”

But even that does not necessarily translate into my apportioning credibility into other areas.

I identify with Hardy’s view of mathematics. But I would never claim to know him on the personal, sexual or political plane. I would never claim to speak for Rand’s view of mathematical logic, even though I know a great deal about her thoughts on those matters, or about her sexual integrity, even though the sex/SM description in “The Fountainhead” (Dominique wants Howard, yet purposely resists with all her strength and makes him conquer her) is one of my favourite passages. Nor would I claim to speak for Fitzgerald’s integrity on anything except dreams.

And it would be foolish if I did. Even with identification acquired from creations, this identification should be restricted to only those aspects of the creator which those creations tell you significantly about.

But I say that I trust Polanski when he says he didn’t coerce sex on that girl. Why do I make such a claim?

First of all, as I have already mentioned, it isn’t just that I deeply admire his work. It’s that I see things in them that I think most do not. For I identify. And that allows me to get a glimpse of some aspects of his psyche in a peculiarly strong way.

But it is not just his work. It is also his autobiography, which, whatever else one can say about it, is one of the most harrowingly honest things ever written. It also sheds an immense amount of further light on his thinking on many of these subjects.

Even with all this, I would not claim to know Polanski completely. I just claim to know some things about him that are related to sexual matters, to his vision of evil and innocence and domination, and to his personal integrity. As I mentioned, this is a composite of both knowing and identifying with his work, and to reading his memoir.

So yes, credibility in work does not necessarily translate to credibility in other arenas. But in Polanski’s case, and restricted to this particular incident, it does for me.

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