Thursday, April 30, 2009

Taylor Mali on What Teachers Make

Nothing to add to this great video. But please watch, enjoy, and, if you want, comment.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Judge Others--And Prepare to be Judged

Despite being a crucial skill, very little has been written on the art of judging others--on how to become a good judge of character.

While art's main value is most definitely not bound up in providing explicit moral guidance or detailing specific information, I personally have learned a lot from different authors on this subject--and will be posting some quotes here along these lines.

Having just finished reading World Without End, here are three quotes from or about Edmund--one of the many great characters in the book:

1. "Any man who needs to surround himself with loyal acolytes doesn't really believe in himself, why should I?"

2. "I never trust anyone who proclaims his morality from the pulpit. That high-minded type can always find an excuse for breaking his own rules. I'd rather do business with an everyday sinner who thinks it's probably to his advantage, in the long run, to tell the truth and keep his promises. He's not likely to change his mind about that."

3. "Edmund had explained to Carris, many years ago, that although customers needed to believe they were buying from a successful business, they would resent contributing to the wealth of someone who appeared to be rolling in money."
I highly recommend this book by the way--not because you can learn a little bit about how to judge other people, but because it's a great story, one of the best ever written.

(I actually like it better than its much-acclaimed predecessor, The Pillars of the Earth, primarily because of how World Without End ends.)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Art Antidote for a Lack of Resolve, 2

Though the poem by Edgar Albert Guest might have had some effect in making you more determined to pursue your goals, I mentioned that the strength of the art antidote could be increased--when combined with another.

La Valse d'Amelie, by Yann Tiersen, is exactly what I had in mind. The theme of the movie from which it is taken is "the need to courageously face reality (or one's fears) in order to attain happiness" but one doesn't have to have seen the film to understand what the song expresses.

While you're free to disagree, what I hear--when listening to the song--is a slow, purposeful advancement towards a goal (that is finally reached). Do you hear that, too? If so, listen and read the two within a short time span for greater results.

(Note: if you speak the first stanza right away, start the second at 32 seconds, and the third at 1:16, well, it sounds pretty freakin' good. But don't take my word for it. Push play above, scroll down--or open this page in a different window--read the poem with the music, and see for yourself.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Art Antidote for a Lack of Resolve

While art can sometimes bring you down, at other times it's like "red bull for your soul"--it lifts your spirit higher.

Where before you stared at your feet, after a great work of art you're likely to be looking up to someone else's achievement or, better yet, to the great things that you plan to (and will) do.

Suppose though that along the way you make a mistake or meet an unexpected obstacle.

The problem may be something outside yourself--for example, an economic or political system that makes your financial dreams more difficult. The problem could also be something internal--for example, you are paralyzed with fear at the seeming insurmountability of a struggle.

Art can not change the nature of external challenges, nor the steps that you need to take to conquer them. However, it can strengthen your will to keep going in spite of the odds, or to keep moving forward despite the distractions.

It can do so simply by showing what happens when a person pursues their values with determination and resolve. Or: it can do so by poetically stating the reasons why one should act in such a way.

"See it Through" by Edgar A. Guest is a fitting example of the above (and the first part of this week's art antidote):

When you're up against a trouble,
Meet it squarely, face to face;
Lift your chin and set your shoulders,
Plant your feet and take a brace.
When it's vain to try to dodge it,
Do the best that you can do;
You may fail, but you may conquer,
See it through!

Black may be the clouds about you
And your future may seem grim,
But don't let your nerve desert you;
Keep yourself in fighting trim.
If the worst is bound to happen,
Spite of all that you can do,
Running from it will not save you,
See it through!

Even hope may seem but futile,
When with troubles you're beset,
But remember you are facing
Just what other men have met.
You may fail, but fall still fighting;
Don't give up, whate'er you do;
Eyes front, head high to the finish.
See it through!

If you're ever feeling a lack of resolve when pursuing goals, certainly spend as much time as it takes to achieve clarity regarding your purpose and your plan, but also remember the lines above.

I think the above poem is beautiful; its message, priceless. And I hope, after reading it, you feel the same. On Thursday, I will pair up this Art Antidote with another, in order to help you further strengthen your resolve.

Friday, April 17, 2009

New Posting Schedule

I've played around with a few different posting schedules--starting out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, then moving to Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

I liked the former set-up better, as it allowed me to focus on producing more quality content rather than feel at times like I was meeting a deadline.

And so, that old schedule is the new one too. It'll start next week, along with the new content--much more focused on helping you to achieve happiness and work more productively.

Will you like the new schedule and content? Perhaps you'll love them both. I honestly hope so! In any case, see you at the same place, at a different time, next week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Introducing Art Antidotes

I explained the concept of art antidotes ever so briefly in the post on how to get rid of a bad (movie) feeling. I plan to present a whole series of posts on art antidotes--opening up a kind of online pharmacy for them--so an introduction is definitely in order.

You can think of art antidotes as being somewhat analogous to medication. In this case, however, the antidote is working on your soul as opposed to your body.

A typical post will start with an emotional "ailment" such as being agitated or scared or apathetic--and then go on to list an artwork that helps you to feel an opposite emotion.

Agitated, for instance, is the state of being "shaken up" emotionally, or restless. Leaving aside the causes of the emotion for now--something that I do not recommend you do (should you feel it)--an appropriately selected art antidote should help you achieve a state of serenity.

In my experience, combinations of different mediums of art (that convey similar emotions) are immensely useful, the equivalent of extra-strength medication for those "sticky" bad feelings.

Because of the above, many of the art antidotes will be delivered in two or three posts--to be "taken" (i.e., viewed, listened to, thought about) either at once or at spaced intervals.

All that said, I hope you like the concept of art antidotes and, when you come back to the site again, I hope you'll enjoy the reality of one!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Things I Like, Things I Hate

Do you know what you like--and what you hate? You should. And you should know so clearly (if happiness is your goal).

This short film by Jean Pierre Jeunet focuses on these things.

Later I'll refer back to this post, showing how Jeunet's focus on values is what allows him to create masterpieces like Amelie or A Very Long Engagement.

For now, however, enjoy some of the things Dominique Pinon likes--along with some of the things he doesn't!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Jefferson's Other Home

From the Arts section of The New York Times, Edward Rothstein highlights Jefferson's private retreat (which is now open to the public):

[I]n 1806, as Monticello neared completion, Jefferson began to build Poplar Forest, a more private retreat: a modest octagonal home with a skylight-topped central room shaped in a perfect cube. And let us detour here for a moment. Poplar Forest seeks the same stylistic resonances as Monticello, though in a more intimate context, its geometric core and extravagantly tall windows opening onto rolling fields and hills. “When finished,” Jefferson wrote of this building in 1812, “it will be the best dwelling house in the state, except that of Monticello; perhaps preferable to that, as more proportioned to the faculties of a private citizen.”

In recent years, after being rescued from generations of owners and their modifications, Poplar Forest has been straining for attention, welcoming just 20,000 visitors a year. Now celebrating the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s first extended stay there, it is displaying an ever-expanding yet refined restoration that began more than 20 years ago. It affords a chance to see Jefferson’s thoughts about space, stripped of all ornament and furnishing. We see bare brick and plaster, the walls’ inner supports for arched windows, the skylights and surrounding panoramic views that in early America must have been a revelation.
To read more about Poplar Forest in particular, click here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

How to Get Rid of that Bad (Movie) Feeling

Have you ever watched a film that made you feel as though your soul was somehow dirty afterwards?

Have you ever finished a novel with the vague feeling that somewhere along the way you lost something of spiritual importance?

Have you discovered a method for ridding yourself of that "icky" feeling and reclaiming your previous emotional state at once?

I have. And, although the following five steps are not the only way to rid oneself of a bad (movie) feeling, they are the quickest and surest way of doing so that I've discovered thus far.

1. State the emotion clearly--starting with the dominant emotion first.

For example, let's assume you have just seen a horror movie--like Friday the 13th. You leave the theatre with a strong sense of discomfort, a feeling that can last for hours and perhaps (intermittingly) for days or weeks.

The first step to get the feeling out of your system quickly is to state in a clearer way what it is exactly that you feel. In this case, the answer may be that you feel an underlying though vague sense of fear (as if you were haunted).

2. Identify the dialogue or action that caused the emotion.

Continuing with the above example, you might point out that the world portrayed in the movie is one where the innocent are not only semi-retarded but also completely helpless against evil. At the same time, the evil character is ever-present, all-powerful, and unkillable. The feeling of being haunted, you conclude, comes from being in this sort of universe--a world where one can't escape from evil no matter how hard one tries.

3. Re-affirm the world as it is and the proper place for humans in it.

"People as a whole are not like those shown in the film," you might say--noting that your fundamental view of mankind should not be defined by the lowest common denominator.

More importantly, in this world as opposed to the one experienced while watching the film, the innocent do not have to fear any sort of all-knowing, all-powerful, and unkillable being.

The innocent and the good move forward confidently from one destination to the next, their days are spent peacefully, and when they are tired they sleep soundly. It is the evil characters by contrast that stumble through life--they are the ones condemned to spend long days crouched in fear and long nights with no rest.

More importantly, in this world as opposed to the one experienced while watching the film, the evil have to fear an all-knowing entity--one that can not be vanquished except with their own life: their consciousness.

No matter where they go, or how much they try to deaden their senses (with liquor or with drugs), as long as they are alive they will be haunted by the awareness of something horrible, ever-present, and evil: themselves.

The way that horror films portray good and evil (along with the emotional consequences of both in a person) couldn't be more wrong--it's a completely upside down view in fact. No wonder so many people feel so "shaken up" spiritually after watching one.

4. Repeat the above steps for any other emotions experienced.

For example, perhaps while watching the film you kept the full context of the situation in mind.

In other words, you were aware that "it's just a movie" and that the whole idea that a person can die and come back to life is utter nonsense (because it's biologically impossible). Thus, you were never truly scared but still got that vague sense of uneasiness--as if you were haunted--by having spent so much time in that world.

To the extent that you kept the above facts in mind or focused on other issues--like the quality of acting in the film--another emotion you may have experienced is boredom. (Actually, judging by the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes this was the dominant feeling!)

Here again, simply repeat the steps. Name the feeling, identify what caused it, and--using specific examples--show yourself that people are not always boring and neither does life have to be.

5. Choose the appropriate (art) antidote--and enjoy the well-deserved emotions that result.

After the above four steps you know a lot more about the causes of certain painful emotions--and are thus in a better position to avoid the films (or other works of art) that might lead to them.

You also should more deeply understand the causes of pleasurable emotions--and are thus in a better position to find the films (or other works of art) that might lead to them.

The underyling sense of fear, you may notice, has gone--but wouldn't it be better if this could be replaced with an opposite emotion?

Part of that work has already been done, when you mentally showed how one view was incompatible with reality as it is and another, more positive view, is philosophically consistent.

The fifth step is to strengthen and re-affirm the above examples and conclusions--using specific works of art that are chosen for the specific purpose of eliciting desirable emotions.

Because they completely eradicate undesirable emotional "ailments" by replacing them with their opposites, I call the above artworks art antidotes.

When chosen properly, not only should the undesirable emotion be gone, but you should be truly excited about living in an awesome world--where material success and undiluted happiness and romantic love are possible (even to-be-expected, by those who work hard for them).


If you haven't identified the artworks you like, the emotions they tend to elicit and why--stay tuned. I'll be sharing a ton of the art antidotes I use, and which you can as well, to combat boredom, fear, anxiety and so on.)

Also, for more on this, check out a post I wrote called 8 quotes from Mind Over Mood on changing how you feel.

Friday, April 3, 2009

20 Top Objectivist Blogs

Are you looking for Objectivist blogs?

Below are 20 top blogs, each of which is written by a fan of Atlas Shrugged and of Objectivism:

1. Leonard Peikoff 

Every week at this site, Peikoff answers questions about the application of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism to the task of living. He also answers personal questions, such as what periods of his life were most enjoyable and what is the single most important thing he learned from Ayn Rand. (These are by far my favorite.)

2. TOS Blog

This is the blog for The Objective Standard, a journal of culture and politics based on an Objectivist perspective. Here, you'll find engaging interviews and insightful commentary on everything from the difference between left and right to the beauty of Ayn Rand's ethics.

3. Laissez-Faire

This blog shows "how, in case after case, the problem we face is government intervention and the solution is to free the economy." Yaron Brook and Don Watkins are the main contributors here and there's a good variety between short videos on specific issues and targeted posts on the same. See, for example, Brook's video on whether high taxes and prosperity go hand in hand and this post by Watkins titled, "It's the Spending, Stupid."

4. We Stand FIRM

This is the blog of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. Written by Paul Hsieh, a regular contributor of articles to Pajamas Media and The Objective Standard. As you might expect, given how prolific a writer Hsieh is, the blog is updated frequently and well worth reading daily. A good example of the short posts you'll get is this one on the logical outcome of government-run health care.

5. Center for Industrial Progress 

If you like industrial progress, you'll love this blog. Alex Epstein is the main contributor here but he's not the only one. Check out "Why I Celebrate Transforming the Earth" or read "The Industrial Manifesto"--both by Epstein--to get started. Then read some of the posts by other contributors, for example "The Story of DDT."

6. Philosophy in Action

This is the eclectic blog of Diana Hsieh. Like Peikoff, she has a podcast where she answers questions on how to "apply rational principles to the problems of life" and, while I disagree with her on a few issues, I also find that she has some very smart, well-considered things to say on many others. I enjoyed her podcasts on responding to requests for prayers, on overcoming perfectionism, and on living a value-dense life to name a few.

7. Luc Travers 

At his site of the same name, Travers--author of Touching the Art and a teacher at VanDamme Academy--blogs about his fascinating approach to art and some of the artists he loves. The best place to start here is by viewing his introductory video on the home page. From there, check out some of his "art chats"--such as this one having to do with precious possessions.

8. Jason Crawford 

Crawford's a big fan of Atlas Shrugged--he actually has a website that helps students get free copies of it.. At this blog, he mostly writes about tech and business. Some of my favorite recent posts of his are "When there is no map, you need a compass" and "Does great work have to be cold and lonely?"

9. Rational Jenn

Jenn Casey--host of the weekly Blog Carnival for Objectivists--posts on a number of topics at this blog, but mostly on parenting. If you're an Objectivist parent, or plan to be one soon, you'll likely find much of value in her comments on disciplining without punishment or on kids and money.

10. The Capitalist

This is Richard Salsman's hard-hitting blog over at Forbes and it's always a pleasure to click over to that site and see an article such as "Memo to the Supreme Court: Health Care is not a Right" just published. Another one worth checking out for those interested is "Five Financial Reforms that Would Prevent Crises and Promote Prosperity."

11. Forgotten Delights

This is the blog of Dianne Durante, "an art historian but not an academic." Durante's self-declared goal is "to describe art and comment on it in terms that non-academics can understand. No jargon, no appeals to authority, no stream-of-consciousness ranting." There's plenty to love at her site, especially for fans of Ayn Rand's aesthetics. A good place to start is with "What is the function of art?"--or, alternatively, "What is art?"

12. The Purposeful Reader

This is my own blog, where I write on everything from the novels of Nevil Shute to the DIM hypothesis by Leonard Peikoff. If you're wondering what book to read next, and why, you may find the site's collection of useful quotes and in-depth reviews a big help.

13. Don't Let it Go

This is the blog of Amy Peikoff, who runs Ayn Rand Bot on Twitter. Recently, the blog has mostly served as a sort of bulletin board for her podcast on blogtalkradio, which you can also listen to on iTunes. For a good representative of what she does there, check out this interview with Yaron Brook on, among other things, Romney's choice of Paul Ryan as VP--and, after that, this one on Obama's "you didn't build that" remark.

14. Ari Armstrong

Although Ari Armstrong now posts consistently at TOS Blog, he maintains his own blog as well. One of his latest articles is a good example of the outstanding work he does. "[T]here’s nothing progressive," he observes, "about forcibly confiscating other people’s wealth. Real progress comes from respecting people’s rights and banning coercion—the initiation of force—from social relationships."

15. Voices for Reason 

This is the blog of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights. It has recently seen an exodus of bloggers, but Elan Journo (for one) is still posting regularly here and he's well worth clicking over to read. See "Responding to Iran's clenched fist" and "The intelligence debate over Iran's nuclear program" for proof.

16. 3 Ring Binder

This blog's by-line is "a place to collect, store, and eventually integrate ideas." It is not always focused (and thus hard to define) but it is often interesting and sometimes brilliant. For example, check out her post on Why I am an Objectivist.

17. The Rule of Reason

This is the blog of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism. As you might guess it is predominately focused on political issues. Ed Cline, author of the Sparrowhawk series, posts here and to say he doesn't pull his punches, with regards to present-day politicians or Islam, would be an understatement.

18. Making Progress

This is the blog of Burgess Laughlin, author of Aristotle Adventure and, more recently, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith. The posts are logically laid out and well worth reading. Here, for example, are some of his notes on how to write a book review from Chapter 9 of The Art of Nonfiction: A Guide for Writers and Readers.

19 LePort Schools 

This is the blog for LePort schools. Like that for the VanDamme academy (see below) there is plenty of good advice on education. An excellent place to start here is with the post, "Why Your Child Deserves a Better Curriculum." At the end of this one, there are links to videos at LePort's YouTube channel. The one on history is particularly good, but if your child is younger, definitely do not miss their videos introducing their Montessori approach.

20. The Undercurrent 

This is a blog run by students who take ideas seriously--and Ayn Rand's ideas in particular. The posts are animated, passionate, and often well-thought out. For example, check out "Stimulus Checks vs. Our Rights" or another, more recent one, "Fundamentally Adrift: Today's Ideological Debates Require a Deeper Perspective."

Need more?

As a bonus, here are 13 more blogs. Some of these were included in my first collection but have since gone on hiatus; others weren't included back then but are worth checking out now: As before, check out the comments section, or add to it, for any I missed:

1. SeanCast

This is the blog of Sean Saulsbury, CEO at Soundtrack.Net. He doesn't post regularly but when he does it's excellent. Check out "Rework: Sell Your By-Products" or "The False Hope of Failure" for proof.

2. ReasonPharm

The author explains the purpose of this blog well. "Health care in America is in desperate need of a strong dose of reason. This blog presents a rational, Objectivism-based view of medicine." Here's a recommended post for those interested.

3. Titanic Deck Chairs

You'd probably guess that any blog with the by-line "nothing that is observable in reality is exempt from rational scrutiny" would be interesting. In this case, you'd be right. C. August produces great content here. But dont' take my word for it. Read his thoughts on the smoking ban or on human rights and judge for yourself.

4. Dollars and Crosses

This is the blog of Capitalism Magazine, a site that's been around since I first started studying Objectivism--and therefore got a ton of clicks from a younger me waiting for something new to upload.

5. One Objectivist's Art Object of the Day 

This blog is run by Justin Wisniewski. The concept of it is as interesting as clear.Wisniewski presents an art object per day--most often with very little commentary. Here's a recent guest post by Luc Travers that I enjoyed, and here's a link to the most popular posts at the site.

6. Pedagogically Correct

This blog on education makes up for being rarely updated by providing timeless and extremely valuable information..It is run by the staff at VanDamme Academy, with Lisa VanDamme writing most of the (again excellent) posts.

7. Heroes of Capitalism

This blog focuses on, you guessed it, heroes of capitalism--the people who used private property--whether tangible or intangible (as in an idea)--to create wealth. The blog hasn't been updated in a very long time, but if you read the posts that are up you'll learn who exactly is to thank for everything from root beer to the clothes you wear. Hint: it's not God.

8. Three Little Things

This is the blog of Amy Mossoff. Like other Objectivist mommy bloggers, such as Kelly (at Reepicheep's Coracle), there are a lot of posts here on her kids and what she's doing with them. Other posts, such as this one, are about celebrating Randsday.

9. The New Clarion

Like some of the blogs above, this is a collaboration between different authors. The result? A lot of passionately delivered posts, from different perspectives and in different styles, almost always on politics.

10. The Aesthetic Capitalist

According to the blogger, the purpose of this blog is to support art with capitalism, glorify capitalism with art, and defend both with philosophy. Everything from completely honest church signs to beautiful starlettes dressed in tight-fitting Fountainhead shirts can be found here.

11. Scott Holleran 

Scott Holleran posts regularly at this blog of the same name. You'll find lots of reviews here, notes on current events, and interviews. One of his interviews that I enjoyed in particular was this one with the composer for The King's Speech. If you decide to click over, I hope you enjoy it!

12. Not PC

This is the blog of Peter Cresswell, where he regularly posts on art, architecture, and economics. Cresswell often discusses politics in New Zealand, where he's based, but since he references principles, anyone with a brain can see how the same applies in the U.S., Great Britain, or elsewhere. For example, check out this short post by him which highlights the difference between entitlements and rights. And as for art, check out the whole category. Lots of good stuff is there, particularly on mythology.

13. Gus Van Horn 

This Objectivist blogger has been posting consistently since 2005. You can read some of his favorite posts over that time span here--or check out this one, which shows how licensing laws "are an evil, freedom-violating cancer that must be abolished."

And that's it, at least for now, because I have to stop somewhere!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

AdSense Pennies Make Dollars

Are you a small blogger thinking about advertising but unsure how much money could be made?

This will be the first of an ongoing series of posts on how a blogger like myself makes (a small amount of) money using Google Adsense. Expect one post per month, but no more.

Some background: I currently have three blogs on which I actively post: Systemically Important, Nearby Pen, and The Guru 5. As of this writing the blogs are between two and three months old. Traffic over that period has averaged roughly 150 page impressions per day, meaning I am most likely in the same exact position as many of you (new bloggers):

Not only will I not be making loads of money with Adsense, but at this stage of the game I should not expect to.

So why use Adsense? Quite simply, because--as the title suggests--pennies make dollars. Or to put it differently, a little bit of money adds up, even if little by little. And who knows, perhaps those pennies will grow faster with traffic at each site. In my view, it pays (at least a little) to learn more about how advertising on one's blog works while the blog is growing. I also think it is interesting. Here's the data for my first three months:

January...........4,291 page impressions...........$1.97 earned
February..........4,242 page impressions..........$3.62 earned
March.............4,411 page impressions..........$11.15 earned

[If I understand correctly, Google AdSense does not allow publishers to share confidential information about the number of clicks and the amount paid with each one (a number that varies), so this somewhat important information can not be shared.]

Notice the percentage at which earnings are growing every month, despite the number of page impressions staying pretty much the same.

In January, I got a huge bump in traffic after having a post of mine (at Systemically Important) mentioned by Abnormal Returns, one of the top finance-related blogs on the web. This brought me a stream of visitors that stayed for a second or two, then left.

While I operate under the premise that "tiny streams of traffic will in time lead to rivers," when comparing the amount of page impressions to dollars earned, I expect that the quality of interested traffic is much more important than the quantity of uninterested passers-by.

In March, I didn't get any huge bumps in traffic at any of the sites--but I did achieve a lot more return visitors who were interested in what I was writing and stayed around to read it. Some of these visitors were no doubt the one's who clicked on ads. And the most likely reason they did that was because they found something relevant advertised.

Having passed the three month mark, I am starting to get a steady stream of visitors from the search engines, thanks in part to google-juicy titles, and am slowly picking up spots on people's blog rolls or in their blog posts. (Here's looking at you Rational Jenn and Simoleon Sense and SemiConductor Girl!)

The steady accumulation of these over time, like so many tiny streams, should lead to a river of traffic. And that will bring with it more money.

However, while money is good--and I'll write more on how I plan to monetize what I have written later--my main focus is on producing quality content. This is what matters most to readers, to search engines, as well as to me. Any money I make after that is gravy.

All that said, do the ads display here bother anyone? Do you find that they sometimes distract you from the content? Any comments are welcome, including comments as to why you don't personally use ads on your blog.