When I first read Atlas Shrugged (in college), I really got into it. I read one of Ayn Rand's other novels, and read a lot about Objectivism. A couple years later I realized why it appealed to me so much, and since then I've completely changed my mind about it.
Don't get me wrong - Atlas shrugged is a good piece of fiction. I even consider it a good counterpoint to a lot of the 60's socialist-hippy science-fiction that some of my favorite authors have cranked out, or (yech) most anything by L. Ron Hubbard. It is well-written story with good characters, but (like Battlefield Earth) the main focus of the story isn't the characters, it's the philosophy. In Ayn's case, a set of social and economic ideas called Objectivism.
Atlas Shrugged appeals to people initially because they sympathize with the powerful, hero-like characters in the book. At the risk of gross generalization, everyone likes to picture themselves as a powerful person. Everyone likes to think their contributions are important. Everyone likes the idea of sticking it to people who don't appreciate them. Everyone somewhere has a selfish core that wants to believe the world revolves around them, and that's exactly what this book appeals to. Normally I wouldn't care, but given the outsized attention this book has received over the years, the number of "Going Galt" cultural references, "Who is John Galt?" bumper stickers, company names, etc. that I've seen, and the powerful people who subscribe to Objectivism, it's a philosophy that worries me. Some of it's most powerful proponents are former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan, and R-WI congressman Paul Ryan, who created the Medicare-slashing U.S budget proposal that Republicans just passed in the House in Representatives.
When you take a step back, Atlas Shrugged is simply about the richest, most powerful people in the world whining that their contributions aren't appreciated. One after another, they say "I'm going to take my jacks and go home", then take their magical talents off somewhere to wait for the world to come crawling back on it's knees begging them to deign to run civilization for the rest of the poor helpless folk who can't do anything for themselves.
Objectivism is inherently and unabashedly selfish. There's even a term for it: "rational self-interest". The theory seems to be that the world will be great if everyone acts only in their own self-interest. Ayn rejects feelings, emotion, and faith as irrational, which (if you're a Star Trek fan), would make her the ideal Vulcan.
My understanding of Objectivism sets it diametrically opposed to, and completely incompatible with Christianity. Aside from Ayn rejecting that religion has any value, just about anything espoused by Objectivism is the complete opposite of what Jesus "would have done". This makes it a complete mystery to me why Atlas Shrugged is so popular with the Tea Party, unless they're just pretending to be concerned about "family values", and are really just in it for the money. For some reason Ayn is the one atheist in the world that isn't a demonic cultist on her way to hell. Rather, she's been turned into some sort of economic patron saint, and copies of Atlas Shrugged are given away like it's the Bible.
Needless to say, I won't be forking out any money to see this movie. It's completely in my own self-interest to save my twenty bucks and take my kids to see Rio, which will probably do a better job of preparing them to function in a society where you actually care about people. In fact, I may find a charity to give it to, as "irrational" as that would be, in order to offset a small amount of the societal damage this book has caused. As far as I'm concerned, anyone who wants to emulate this book is welcome to take off and go live in a valley by themselves somewhere. The rest of us will get along with the business of trying to make the world a better place in our own small, flawed ways, whether we're appreciated for it or not.
My associate Mattbear has inspired me to share my own weight loss/fitness status, so I'll start with some history:
A little over two years ago, I was at my highest weight - 230 lbs. (I'm 5'11", for reference) I started running a few times a week, doing aerobic kickboxing classes at the gym, and eating better, and dropped 19 lbs. over about 9 months. It was rather painful, but culminated in running a 5k marathon, and I was in much better shape overall. But then we moved, our instructor got pregnant and left for a while, and I was basically just slacking and eating whatever, and crept back up to 218 over the next year or so.
A few months ago I decided to get a handle on things again. I can't say I've make any drastic changes in my life, but it seems to be working, and I'm dropping a pound or two a week. Basically, this is what I'm doing:
Cutting down on food intake: My eyes are always bigger than my stomach. In fact, it seems silly but I noticed that I have this tendency to get a little panicky if for some reason I think I won't get enough food at a meal. I'm not sure where that came from, but for instance, if I walk into the cafeteria at work, I would always look for something that looked big and filling, which usually ended up being full of meat, dairy, and grease (burgers, fries, lasagna, pizza, fish & chips). In the morning, I would always eat a big heaping bowl of cereal, or a big bowl of oatmeal plus a donut, but I basically always had this subconscious goal of being "full". So, my first change is to simply start eating less, and remove this emotional/stress component of my eating.
This is my standard diet now: A small (half-normal) bowl of raisin bran in the morning, plus coffee (soy milk, no sugar). A big vegetable-and-tofu salad at lunch (Intel has a great salad bar, so I'm spoiled here), with wine vinegar for dressing, water to drink. And pretty much whatever for dinner, although I try to make it non-dairy, and I try not to eat as much. If I'm feeling snacky, I can usually distract myself with some water or an apple, but I usually just try not to think about it.
Improving Food Quality: Basically, I try to avoid dairy and sugar. I'm not a big salt fan normally, so that's not a huge issue. Honestly, if you can simply avoid cheese and processed sugar (corn syrup, etc.), your diet will become healthier exponentially by default. For instance, I used to eat a lot of ice cream. Ice cream is the food of the devil. It tastes great, but contains solely the worst things you could possibly eat - pure dairy, pure sugar, and tons of salt. I don't drink soda or juice anymore, mostly just water. I'm not a vegetarian, but I try to eat only "whole" non-processed meats (whole fish, steak, sliced ham, bacon). Stuff with dairy in it (bread, etc) is generally fine, but I avoid cheese and cream-based sauces/dressings. It's odd, but when I have eaten a lot of cheese lately (had a burrito for lunch one day), I can definitely feel the difference - I just feel heavier, and more congested somehow.
I can't say I'm always successful, I will sometimes eat a cookie in the afternoon, make some waffles, or eat pizza with the kids, but overall my diet "trend" has improved drastically.
Exercise: I'm currently doing my one-hour aerobic kickboxing class every Monday, and jogging about two miles (40 minutes or so) a couple evenings a week. I would like to start doing some actual weight lifting to work on my upper body more, but haven't got there yet. Monitoring: I weigh myself in the morning after I get out of the shower. I've noticed that my weight can fluctuate by a pound or sometimes two from day to day, probably due to water retention, which I'm guessing depends a lot on how much salt I ate the day before. In general it's at it's lowest the morning after my kickboxing class, and will pop up and down a bit during the rest of the week. I can definitely correlate my diet quality and amount of exercise to whether I lost any weight that week though.
So, my current status: two weeks ago I got down to 206, the lowest weight I can remember. I had this work conference and started slacking (eating out & conference food) and missed kickboxing one week, so my weight popped back up to 210, then settled back to 208. I went kickboxing this week and am back on my cereal/salad regimen, so as of this morning I'm back to 207.
My goal was to be under 200 before Burning Man, but I don't think I'm going to make that. I think I stand a good chance of being below 200 *after* Burning Man though, so I would be very happy with that. I'm going to get myself a present, or celebrate somehow when I break the 200 barrier, haven't decided what yet.
Long-term, I'd like to get down to 185. According to this Ideal Weight Calulator my ideal should be 182-200, so 185 seems about right. I'll hereby set a goal for that of the end of 2008. Will update weekly, wish me luck!
Unlike some people who don't update their blog nearly enough (hint hint), I actually have a job, which I will use here as my excuse for not updating my own blog nearly enough. However, a few things struck me today, which I feel necessary to relay:
I was seventeen in 1991, when Nirvana's "Nevermind" album came out. On NPR's All Things Considered show yesterday was a story about the baby on the cover of Nevermind. Give it a listen. He apparently lives in California, is seventeen now himself, and has his own brand of teen angst which landed him in military boarding school for six months. He disparages Guitar Hero and thinks our generation was probably cooler than his. And yes, you should feel old in... three, two, one... now.
Note: I had originally posted something snarky here about "Spam King" Eddie Davidson escaping from prison. Given the ensuing tragedy, and apparent desire of this man to inflict unforgivable harm on the people who loved him the most, I no longer found it funny and have removed it.
Finally, I saw this story about former NASA astronaut and Apollo 14 moon-walker Dr. Edgar Mitchell going on the record, claiming that we've been visited by aliens and the government is covering it up, although they're going to go public with the information any time now. I really want to go crash the local UFO convention this year, it would be a hoot. If Dr. Mitchell had actually seen them himself while walking on the moon I might lend him more credence, but I'm afraid all it really proves is that astronauts are just as gullible as the rest of us. But you never know, I could be being paid by the government to spread disinformation, or they could just be controlling my mind directly with radio-controlled spy cockroaches. Now where did I leave my tinfoil...
Now back to your regularly scheduled (non)work day.
One thing I love is old science-fiction. I find it fascinating looking back at how people in the past imagined the future would look, and how it actually turned out. I ran across a series of 16 pictures drawn by a french artist (feuilleter?) in 1910, showing his concepts of life in the year 2000. (You can click on the pictures to see a larger version) He hit a lot of things really accurately that probably weren't too much of a stretch - electric trains, motorcycles, "automobiles of war" - but I'm impressed by the "Correspondance Cinema", and that one "At the School" where the teacher is dropping books into a mechanical machine that appears to put the information straight into the kids' heads. I'm also intrigued by the one titled "Un Diner chimique" - "A chemical dinner" where there's no actual food, just little flasks & things. The last one appears to portray what looks like horse-drawn carriages, if you removed the horses and stuck wings on them.
All in all, I think he got it pretty spot-on, conceptualizing the technologies that really ended up defining our lives on this end of the century - cars, airplanes, automated manufacturing, processed foods, computers. 2010 is going to be coming up soon - what are your predictions for the year 3000?
I've had this picture (on the left) as my desktop for the last week or so. At first glance it doesn't look like much, black and white, moon rising. Nice, but not too attention grabbing.
It gains a little more significance however when you're told that this is an actual photo of Europa, rising over Jupiter, taken two months ago.
This photo was taken on February 28th by the New Horizons spacecraft, which just passed through Jupiter's system on it's way out to Pluto.
It blows me away that NASA doesn't get any decent headlines these days, that the media would rather play "Paris Hilton Goes to Jail" than follow the astounding things that we're doing in space. Let me recap this particular mission:
- NASA Engineers basically built a robotic, solar-powered telescopic camera, designed to operate in deep space. - They stuck it on an Atlas V rocket and blasted it into space in 2006. - They put it on a trajectory to slingshot around Jupiter on it's way out to Pluto, a journey of about three billion miles. - A year or so after launch, it just passed Jupiter (approximately 500 million miles away), travelling at 47,000 miles per hour. This slingshot maneuver sped up the craft, saving about three years travel time. - Said spacecraft took this picture of Europa rising over Jupiter, then broadcast it back towards the earth. - NASA picked the picture up from a satellite dish somewhere, and stuck it on their web server. - I downloaded it, and here I am talking about it. - We should expect more photos, of Pluto, in about eight years.
If you want to see more astounding photos from this mission, go here.
My other favorite is an animated photo of Jupiter's moon IO and the 180-mile-high volcanic plume from its volcano Tvashtar.
New Horizons is by no means the first. By way of a little history, NASA's first spacecraft to do this, Pioneer 10 was launched in 1972. It passed Jupiter in 1973, and then headed out of the solar system. The last signals were received from it in 2003, when it had travelled about 7.5 billion miles.
It's now about 8 billion miles away, travelling at 27,000 miles per hour. It should reach the Aldebaran solar system in about two million years.
Each one of these missions enables us to learn incredible things about our solar system, and raises more questions for future missions to investigate.