Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Robb Shrugs, Discobulus Punts

With the release of part 1 of the new "Atlas Shrugged" movie, I've been cringing as each new trailer, excerpt or production detail comes out, and one of the kindest things I could say about it is that if Dagny was Lillian and Rearden was Paul Larkin and Lillian was Francisco and Rearden's brother Phillip was Al Capone and the producers worked for Barnum and Bailey -- it might make sense. 

Not everyone feels that way, and I could point to many who are excited and others who are merely phlegmatic, but a common theme among even those who dislike it mildly is that it could have been worse, and "heck, at least it will provide good P.R. for the book, get people reading Rand." 

Or not.

I've heard it enough that I am compelled to respond.  Here is where I think that analysis goes wrong:  under this approach, "Atlas Shrugged, the Travesty" is acceptable and a positive influence in the culture if it basically adheres to the book, and to the philosophy, and the characters follow the same action, with the same convictions.

But imagine the same standard for a sculpture, let's say.  Call it, "Discobulus", the famous work of ancient Greece.  Instead of a perfectly balanced, graceful man exuding thoughtful power in motion, imagine an incompetent artist trying to "interpret" this to his "honest" best -- I'm talking of a person of no or little training in art or human anatomy, trying to render such a theme.  Say it's Joe Sixpack or Peter Keating trying to be a great artist.

What would you get?

Awkward, poorly executed, distorted human form, embarrassing.  Now Peter puts it on display in the Louvre for all to see his "interpretation", and let's say that most people going through the Louvre had never seen the original.  Well, doubtless, you'd find a few people who would say, "that's nice", maybe even a few others with absolutely no knowledge of art till that moment who would say "great!" and they'd look at the sign below that says, "Rendering of Discobulus by Peter Keating".  "Wow, that Keating knows his stuff."  How many would track down the original?

Many others would walk past indifferently, others would walk past in disgust.  How many of those would say, "Boy, I'd sure like to see the original!  Which wing of this museum is it in? Let's go!!"

And how many others would say, "it may not be perfect, but hey, it's great P.R. for the original Greek statue!  It will really introduce a lot of people who never heard of it before!"

If that's not clear enough, now apply this approach to Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto with an amateur musician at the piano -- actually, not even an amateur, but someone who says, "hey, I know I've only been a bodybuilder my whole life, but I bet I can play the piano, too, without too much study!"  Someone who really, really likes the Second Concerto and wants to perform it.  For the world.  To help promote Rachmaninoff's music to the unenlightened.

I don't really have to explain this one, do I?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tending to the Sick

Paul Hsieh wrote an excellent op-ed over at PJ that damns the moral agenda of introducing social activism into medical ethics, citing the example of doctors writing "excuses" for protesters in Wisconsin.   I made the comment,
Dr. Hsieh is correct in saying, "...“social justice” is frequently just a euphemism for a socialist political agenda of leftist politics, redistribution of wealth, and heavy state controls over the marketplace," but let's add the motivation underlying this:  the morality of self-sacrifice. 

Everything that drives this agenda is the destruction of the individual in the name of the collective.  Under this kind of politics and morality, you are nothing -- the State, the "Volk", or just your local community and neighbors and even your government-run HMO are more important. Any group of any size is more important than you are. Any ambition, any happiness, any achievement and any judgment you may ever wish to exert can be sacrificed to any one who claims that he represents "the people" or whatever other tribe they are pidgeon-holing you into.

You are a pidgeon to them, after all.  Just part of the flock.  Have some more seed -- or take an aspirin instead of an MRI.

Even doctors are amorphous non-entities under this kind of morality, like the social-activist doctors in Wisconsin.  Everyone is sacrificed to everyone else: patient's health and lives are sacrificed to "budget savings," and doctor's judgment and integrity and just remuneration for years of excruciatingly difficult study and practice are sacrificed to sate the power-lust of "community organizers", bureaucrats and those quasi-governmental professional organizations that have been seized by the collectivists. (Who include not just Leftists but too many do-gooders on the Right, too.)

And so it goes.

Play this out across the nation and across the world, in every profession and every realm of human action. In Ayn Rand's words, "the world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrifice". 

It is.

The dignity of the individual needs to be reclaimed -- including the individual doctor, the individual patient, and the individual doctor-patient relationship.  Expel the government from any involvement in medicine, at any level, for any purpose. Expel the government from all aspects of dictating the economy, and us. In the words of Rand's hero, John Galt, from Atlas Shrugged: "Get the hell out of my way!"

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The London Telegraph Takes on Plato

We here at Robbservations have been remiss in our reportorial duties of late, so to get back in the saddle, so to speak, let's do a fun topic that I posted elsewhere to some friends.   The subject is a link to a news story on yet another sighting of the ancient city of Atlantis.  Or not.

If you go to Google Earth and put in the latitude/longitude coordinates from the article (31 15'15.53N 24 15'30.53W), there is indeed a very odd undersea grid of lines in the seabed that is 100 miles x 80 miles in extent at a depth of 18,000 feet.  It's almost certainly either a hughly unusual geological formation (you can find all sorts of similar things if you scan the seabed of the world, though this one is admittedly different) or some smartass at the mapping service has been playing games.  I'll put my money on the latter before I attribute the grid  to Atlanteans, mermaids, mutant seacows or space aliens. The likely explanation to me is that it's an artifact of defective source data they used for the ocean mapping, which probably came from a ship on the surface that was using sonar while following a grid pattern to map the ocean floor, with GPS to guide it.  Probably oil exploration.  Any number of things could have caused errors in the depth measurements -- uncalibrated equipment, old equipment, defective equipment, sloppy measurements (imagine if they were taken 40 years ago, say), sea conditions, who knows what.

As for Atlantis, the "experts" who persist in believing it could be in the Atlantic ocean haven't the foggiest clue of the history of pre-antiquity or the way people in ancient times viewed their world, for which there was no "Atlantic Ocean", a modern term.  The end of the world in Plato's time was about Gibralter, if even that far, and the historical record wasn't good enough to locate Atlantis precisely.  Plato was guilty of a lot of hyperbole, and I doubt he could count well enough to tell the difference between 9000 years and 2000 years before his time based on nothing but hand-me-down stories.  His methods of radio-carbon dating were somewhat lacking.  There is this interesting bit I found online:

"The oldest known mention of "Atlantic" is in The Histories of Herodotus around 450 BC (Hdt. 1.202.4): Atlantis thalassa (Greek: Ἀτλαντὶς θάλασσα; English: Sea of Atlas); see also: Atlas Mountains. Another name historically used[who?] was the ancient term Ethiopic Ocean, derived from Ethiopia, whose name was sometimes used as a synonym for all of Africa and thus for the ocean.[citation needed] Before Europeans discovered other oceans, the term "ocean" itself was synonymous with the waters beyond the Strait of Gibraltar that we now know as the Atlantic. The Greeks believed this ocean to be a gigantic river encircling the world."

So Plato doubtless picked up on Herodotus' mention of "Atlantis".

In any case, I think we would know the details of a geologic event 9000 years ago that sunk 10,000 square miles of land by over 18,000 feet.  I agree with those who place Atlantis on the ancient island of Thera, aka, modern Santorini, which had an extensive Minoan civilization on it, an offshoot of the civilization on Crete.  Around 2200BC it suffered possibly the world's most cataclysmic volcanic eruption in human times (say, over a span of 100,000 years  or more) creating the "ring-shape" that Plato gave to the Atlantean world, except, after they were all gone.  This volcanic eruption was likely the source of all the great flood myths that appeared among many religions, including Noah's, as well as accounts from Jason and the Argonauts.  Some estimates suggest that the magnitude of the Tsunami hitting the Greek mainland could have exceeded 1000 feet high.  On Crete, 60 miles to the south, there are multi-ton blocks of stone from an ancient seawall that were pushed something like a half-mile inland, toward Knossos.  I'm going on memory, so don't beat me up too much over dates and distances.

You see, in any case, to the Greeks of Plato's time that  "Atlantis" was simply a place a long way off that something terrible happened, and when your principle mode of transportation was a big rowboat with sails, a hundred miles (the distance from mainland Greece to Thera) is a long way off.  Throw in 2000 years of big fish stories and the accuracy is bound to suffer, but probably not so much as you'll read in the London Telegraph.