Saturday, September 1, 2012

You'll Never Guess Who Ayn Rand Supposedly Writes Like

So, there's a website called I Write Like.

Recently, on Reddit, there have been a few posts showing how the algorithm being used is, to put it nicely, bunk.

But I don't take things on faith.

I test 'em out.

And so I went to the site and copied in this Ayn Rand quote:
Through centuries of scourges and disasters, brought about by your code of morality, you have cried that your code had been broken, that the scourges were punishment for breaking it, that men were too weak and too selfish to spill all the blood it required. You damned men, you damned existence, you damned this earth, but never dared to question your code. Your victims took the blame and struggled on, with your curses as reward for their martyrdom - while you went on crying that your code was noble, but human nature was not good enough to practice it. And no one rose to ask the question: Good? - by what standard?
Who does that sound like to you?

(Please don't say Ayn Rand.)

Any guesses? No?

I'll give you a hint.

It's an author that Ayn Rand detested, one who was pretty much the exact opposite of her in subject, theme, style, you name it.

You probably won't even believe me if I tell you so here's what you should do: just copy the above quote, go to the site, paste it in, and click "analyze."

Oh, and be sure you're sitting down.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oh No She Didn't! What Happens When Grandma Tries to Restore Art

I recently shared three important takeaways of a book by Lee Sandstead on the art world's dirties secret, but one thing I didn't share about it was some of the fascinating material it includes on the difficult job of art restoration.

This, as Joe Biden might say, can be a big freaking deal--because when somebody who is not an expert tries to restore art bad things can easily happen.

Say, for example, that you're an 80-year-old woman. And suppose, just for example, that you're fond of a prized fresco of Jesus Christ that has been in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church near Zaragosa for more than 100 years.

So there you are: old, with shaky hands, and eyesight that's been better, and you start to think. Perhaps, for example, you think that the Jesus Christ fresco could use some touchin' up and that you are just the person to do it.

I'm not going to stretch this out any further because I'm guessing you get what happened already. An 80-year-old woman actually did try to restore an old fresco of Jesus Christ. And it...well, it didn't turn out so well.

In fact, in a report by BBC, one commentator said, "The once-dignified portrait now resembles a crayon sketch of a very hairy monkey in an ill-fitting tunic." So sad. You can check out the photo for yourself here but be warned: it is not pretty.

Friday, August 17, 2012

4 Amazing Posts You May Have Missed and 1 (Almost) Funny Remark about Jonah Lehrer

So, I don't know if you know this already, but someone's got to say it.

You might be missing out.

In fact, you probably are missing out.

No, not (as you might be thinking) on Facebook posts. Like everyone else you're likely to have that one covered and then some.

But did you know this isn't the primary place I write?

It's not.

I create memes for you on what it means to be a successful kid here. I share stories with you here about Richard Feynman's childhood. And I condense the entire biography of Steve Jobs into 3 short quotes for you here.

But you know where my brainpower is focused most of the time?

Not here.

It's focused elsewhere, on creating the kind of posts that apply the sage words of Inigo Montoya to the concept of "overnight success," share quote after quote from the life-changing novels of Nevil Shute, pass along a few words for Hugh Jackman from Richard Feynman, and introduce you to one of the best books I ever read via this post of 8 quotes from Mind Over Mood on changing how you feel.

I don't want to brag about these posts.

I mean, yes, they're useful.

And, yes, if Jonah Lehrer were to quote somebody praising a couple of them for their creativity he would probably never get called on it.

But honestly I just want to make you aware of these posts.

Because you might be and probably are missing out if you haven't read them yet.

And that would not be cool.

So check them out already!

Monday, August 6, 2012

A Tribute to a Tribute

Ari Armstrong just posted at The Objective Standard's blog a short and fitting tribute to Kirani James, Oscar Pistorius, and Össur Kristinsson.

It's a good post and you may enjoy it.

One of the things I enjoyed about is the unabashedly positive view of human achievement it expresses. Another is the justice Ari gives to the two runners in earning their respective achievements by their own mental and physical effort.

But the thing I enjoyed most about it is the praise of Össur Kristinsson, the man who built the company that built the prosthetic legs (which Pistorius uses to run).

Our culture seems to relish taking down heroes. This is true in the business world especially, where countless heroes go unrecognized--despite the challenges they've overcome, the benefits they've provided, and so on.

That The Objective Standard provides businessmen praise, at least to the extent that they deserve it, is thus particularly refreshing to me. And it is just one of the broader reasons I'm happy to write for and read this quarterly journal.

Have you read TOS lately? If not, but you want to see what you're missing, start with Ari's latest post here, and then check out some of the articles in the Summer 2012 issue.

Refreshing, objective journalism awaits.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

This Book (by Greg Gutfeld) is Almost Unspeakably Profane

 As host of Red Eye, Greg Gutfeld shares "some honest crap about the world" without pulling any punches and for free. But in The Bible ofUnspeakable Truths, he wants you to pay for the pleasure. "[I]t’s almost the same thing," says Gutfeld, "give or take the suggested retail price."

The book covers everything from "political crap" and "obligatory sex junk" to "things that are stupid" and "stuff you put in your face." Gutfeld’s style, as you can see, is less than academic. In fact, it is crude, over-the-top, and full of profanity. Consider each of these, starting with the last.

Looking for profanity in Unspeakable Truths is like looking for hay in a hastack; if Gutfeld is making an important point chances are extremely high that it is included. 

Speaking of the absurd notion that violence is an infection, Gutfeld says: "If only there was a word that describes this idea. Oh yeah. Batshit crazy." He describes language as "the only thing we have to communicate our needs and other important crap to each other," adding that "it’s bullshit to muddle or subvert [language] in order to placate a special-interest group’s sensitive little feelings." Finally, just to give another data point, in responding to statements that America is not popular, Gutfeld asks:

What the hell is wrong with being unpopular? And when did it matter how assholes felt about us anyway? That’s right assholes. Most of the world is made up of them, and the fact that they hate us means we are doing something right. America is unpopular with countries like Iran and Venezuela because their leaders are exactly like Saddam Hussein. So when they see one of their own yanked out of the catbird seat . . . you can bet they’re going to be pissed as hell. And scared, too. The idea that we should give a fuck about these feelings is absurd and, sadly, pathetic.

Over-the-top claims are as frequent. A Big Mac, according to Gutfeld, has "everything you need to stay alive" and is "truly God’s supplement for a starving world." Meanwhile, Gutfeld goes from observing that murder victims nearly always know those who killed them to saying that "the fewer people you know, the less likely you’ll be killed" to concluding that "no friends equals no crime." "This is why Keith Olbermann could live forever," he says.

Sometimes Gutfeld is both over-the-top and crude. For example, at one point he promises to solve the two big issues for both political parties: immigration and terrorism. Gutfeld points out that the "folks behind terror reproduce like crazy." He says that while our population shrinks they "tend to pump out killers like they’re Doritos." Why is this a problem? Because, Gutfeld says, "Numbers dictate success." But according to Gutfeld we have a secret weapon: Mexicans—"the one hope against an enemy whose aim is our extinction."

While Mexicans bus your table, they’re defending Western civilization. While they blow the leaves off your lawn, they’re striking a blow against terror. Mexicans are the Mace against madmen, because they outscrew the creeps who kill for Allah. As we embrace cats over kids, Mexicans multiply, preventing us from becoming Europe—a continent flooded by people who hate Europeans. Mexican families love this country. I don’t like Mexico (diarrhea, people), but I love Mexicans. If you are Mexican, and you aren’t here yet . . . then come . . . in every sense of the word. We welcome you with open arms and legs. We’re powerless to prevent you from coming here anyway, thank God. You’re too determined, and we’re too disorganized and distracted.

This sort of style, however funny to some, may disqualify the book for many—and understandably so. But for those that can bear it, Gutfeld certainly has more to say. A lot more.

For example, he slams environmentalism and the current global warming madness a number of times. Regarding the latter, he points out that "most of the earth’s lush vegetation arose due to warmer temperatures" and thus even if global warming were true "it might save more people than it kills." But "[Al] Gore could never agree with this," says Gutfeld—"because it would turn his whole life upside down and all the stupidity would pour out his nose."

Gutfeld also tackles numerous subjects having nothing to do with politics. He says S&M lovers are cowards who "live in a world of pretend pain"—advising them that if they want to let someone else "be in charge" they should "try an actual relationship with a female." He slams schools for abolishing grades "because objective truth hurts dumb students"; says that hot women are never stalkers, just "avid fans"; and points out that "weapons work wonders as long as the good people have them . . . because when you point a gun at a bad guy, it makes him reconsider being bad."

At one point in the book, Gutfeld says he respects and admires anyone "who works hard for a living, knowing that self-esteem has no place in this world, until of course they’ve done something to deserve it." That is a surprising moment because for much of the book up to that point—and nearly all of it following—Gutfeld is relentlessly negative and self-effacing. In fact, while he can be especially cruel to many who deserve it, he bashes himself more than anything or anyone else. I personally found this excruciating—much more so than the constant use of profanity.

Is Gutfeld’s book worth reading? There is definitely some value in The Bible of Unspeakable Truths, and fans of Red Eye may enjoy it. But it is not for everyone. Those who do not like an aggressively hostile, crude, and over-the-top, self-effacing style should probably read something else.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Did a politician just vault that--or was it McKayla Maroney?

The world is unfortunately as full today of spectacular achievements as it is of politicians and bureaucrats who’d like to take the credit for them.

But this is patently absurd.

Are bureaucrats responsible for sites like Twitter and Facebook—or companies like Twilio and 37Signals?

No, they didn’t code that.

Are bureaucrats responsible for the new Tesla, or Gibson guitar, or the latest iPad?

No, they didn’t build that.

Are they responsible for the amazing vault by McKayla Maroney that earned her a gold medal?

No, of course not, they didn’t vault that.

Bureaucrats and regulators get in the way of achievements. They, along with the politicians who have their support, make achieving anything much harder than it would otherwise be (you know, in a free nation).

There really is only one thing these useless leeches do.

Can you guess it?

Yes, that’s right, they tax that.

They tax the gold medal that someone else earned. They tax the car or tablet that someone else built. They tax the profits made off the site or program that someone else coded.

And they hope all along that nobody remembers or discovers an important truth—that they tax this and that and everything else without a shred of morality on their side and in exact opposition to the founding principles of America.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve come to one conclusion about all this.

It’s time we fixed that.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The One Question You Should Ask Yourself Every Day

Asking questions is seriously under-rated (and more so the more you know).

This is true whether you’re asking questions of others or asking them of yourself. And it’s definitely true of a question described in Alan Lakein’s How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life.

That question is simple enough. Just try it and see.

Ask yourself, “What is the best use of my time right now?” and then answer.

Is it, for example, reading well-selected quotes in search of a life-changing, immensely-useful book?

It could be.

And it could not.

Perhaps the best thing to be doing right now is an action that leads you to one of your long-range goals--whether that's learning Japanese, becoming a better parent, growing your business, or whatever..

If so, stop reading this, and go do it!

Goals don't achieve themselves. 

You have to achieve them.

And how do you achieve them?

By taking control of your time and life, for one--or, put differently, by asking yourself "What is the best use of my time right now?" and following the answer as best you can.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Why Steve Jobs Quit Going to Church

In his biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson explains that as a young boy Jobs went to Lutheran church most Sundays but that this came to end when he was thirteen. Here's why:
In July 1968 Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. 
Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church's pastor. 
"If I raise my finger, will God know which one I'm going to raise before I do it?"  
The pastor answered, "Yes, God knows everything." 
Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, "Well, does God know about this and what's going to happen to those children?" 
"Steve, I know you don't understand, but yes, God knows about that." 
Jobs announced that he didn't want to have anything to do with worshiping such a God, and he never went back to church.
This is certainly one way to deal with the claim of an all-powerful God and the existence of evil. It displays an early knack for presenting information. And because of this latter especially it's probably exactly what you'd expect from a young Steve Jobs.

So did Steve Jobs die an atheist?

I think that depends on whom you ask. One thing's for certain, though: he lived his life on the premise that he alone was responsible for it. He never prayed to Buddha or Jesus for an iPod let alone an iPad. He simply got to work making and remaking them--and having fun all the while.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Revealing Infographic on the TSA

There are more and better reasons to abolish the TSA--reasons having to do with the gross injustice of its actions--but this is a good compilation of facts showing the uselessness of much of what its agents do and the huge amount of money the TSA takes (from taxpayers) to do it:

Image Source: Hardwood Flooring Baltimore

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Entire Biography of Steve Jobs in 3 Short Quotes

Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs is 656 pages long, but  these three quotes (not included in it) sum up a huge portion of what Isaacson wrote:

1. "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy!"

This quote comes from Brian's mother in The Life of Brian and, while Jobs's god-like status in business is definitely earned, so too was his status (for a time) as a trouble-making kid.

2. "Do whatever you do intensely." 

This quote comes from Robert Henri and advises something that Isaacson repeatedly shows Jobs put into practice.

3. "All he asked of life was the best of everything."

This quote comes from the daughter of the Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi, and is about her father's desire to have nothing less than the best; it also, however, applies to Jobs—as readers of Isaacson's biography will see in spades.

Of course, it should go without saying that these three quotes leave out a ton of details. For those, you can start by reading my review of the book, an article I wrote that contains excerpts from it, or skip all that and dig in to the biography itself. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Successful Kid

Many parents say they want a successful kid, but what exactly does a successful kid mean?

On one level, I think it means something different for each kid, according to what they value--what they want to have and do.

On another level, it can and I imagine almost always means something similar. For example, in spite of different values, kids want to have their feelings, all of their feelings, acknowledged. That, to them, is a successful outcome (and it should be for parents too).

On still another level, a successful kid is one who has gained important values, such as self-esteem, or skills, such as the ability to solve problems and arguments with others.

I had all of this in mind recently, having just finished reading two books by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (called Siblings Without Rivalry and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk).

Then I learned that I could easily make memes for some of the outcomes that they show parents helping to make possible. So, guess what? That's what I did. And here they are:

 Now this, to my mind, is a successful kid! 

He has his feelings acknowledged, he has learned problem-solving skills, and he knows how to take pride in his own achievements rather than look for approval from anyone else.

What do you think?

You can make other memes like the above here.
It's super-simple. Or, if you're interested in a review of a book on parenting, specifically one of those mentioned above, you may want to read this review of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk..

Your kid will thank you for it (although it may take him 20 years to do so).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Book for Our Epically-Challenged Times

If you agree with me about the value of epics, and have decided to experience an inspiring epic for yourself, one book to check out is Atlas Shrugged.

Published in 1957, and written by Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged is a novel of epic scope. Its style, like epics of the past, is similarly elevated in terms of the language it uses and the symbols it employs.

Should you open the book up, however, you will not read of a world where Dawn’s “rose-red fingers” blaze across the sky; Ayn Rand’s fiction, like the reality we live in, is a world where humans and specifically that which makes them human—their minds—create everything of value.

This role of the mind is actually the theme of the novel, and it’s expressed in part via two of the book's main story lines: the struggle of Dagny Taggart to keep a transcontinental railroad profitable in spite of ever more shackles put on it by the government and of Hank Rearden to discover a new type of metal and then to produce it while the men he pays and the material he owns by right are increasingly controlled by Washington bureaucrats.

The theme is also expressed via the struggle of one man to show the world who relies on whom, and what all the things that keep men alive depend on. He will show it by taking it away, leaving men free to see what happens in a world where those who use their minds are absent. And then he will advise them what to do, saying, in part, to those who want to live:

In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours.

Atlas Shrugged is not the only modern epic that offers inspiration to those who need it. Others, such as James Clavell’s Asian Saga, Ken Follett’s The World Without End, or the Korean TV series Dae Jang Geum, do the same--showing virtuous characters facing enormous challenges, over decades, and winning.

But in combining the epic story with the specific message to fight for your values, and the knowledge that this is the right thing to do, Atlas is one book for our epically- (let alone ethically-) challenged times.

Whether you choose to read Atlas, or watch Dae Jang Geum, or dive into the awesomeness of James Clavell's Shogun, however, I highly recommend finding some epic, one that you can enjoy and one that inspires to make your life better. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Value of Epics for the Epically-Challenged

“Epic” is one of the most misused words today. It is also one of the most overused.

People use it to describe a clever retort. They use it to describe a nap. They use it to describe a trick. And they use it to describe a pizza. In fact, if someone evaluates anything positively now, it seems that he will invariably declare it “epic.”

But this is nonsense, and hopefully a passing linguistic error.

Despite its misuse, the word “epic” has a legitimate and easily graspable meaning. As an adjective, it means “heroic or grand in scale or character” and, as a noun, it indicates “a long film, book, or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures.”

It is ironic that in a world where so little can be called epic—according to the word’s actual meaning—so much mistakenly is. It is also a bad omen, because whether struggling to gain more money, to achieve happiness, or to live in a free society, everyone today faces huge challenges and could get much out of a true epic.

Without the experience of reading great literature or great movies, and especially epics within them, what will people do? Chances are they will fight for their values to some extent, no matter what they are, but not with the burning passion or with the persistence that winning them requires.

Epics, as works of art, have particular features that allow those who read them to act otherwise, to approach their life, and the pursuit of their values, with vigor.

The style of epics, for one, is notably grand in its use of language, symbols, and descriptions. In The Iliad, you don’t just see the sun come up or—Zeus forbid—watch it mosey across the sky; rather, you see the “rose-red fingers” of Dawn shine across it. Characters, such as Achilles, are not statistical composites of your neighbors; they are high-hearted, mighty, like unto the gods. And so on.

There is something uniquely un-folksy about the epic style, and examples abound. Stated positively, however, the language is of a world that might have huge forces arraigned against its heroes but seems a place that offers them the chance of sacred moments and of a success to be earned.

This should not be surprising for it matches the content of epics—that is, the grand style is consistent with the story it tells of specific kinds of characters who face huge challenges.

For example, Odysseus, the hero of The Odyssey, must battle gods and men, as well as his own desires, and do so successfully, across decades, before reaching his goal and returning home to his wife, Penelope. Likewise, in Beowulf, the hero must battle against huge beasts, using the sword of past giants to defeat one.

No matter the epic, however, in terms of both content and style, they are grander in a way than everyday life.

But so what—what is useful about viewing someone who overcomes such odds or even just battles admirably against them? Seeing someone tackle immense obstacles, gives readers a useful perspective for viewing their own challenges. And, in seeing heroes overcome those huge obstacles, readers can better tackle their own, smaller ones with passionately-driven tenacity.

The more difficult question to answer is this: In a world where so many people point to so many things as epic, where can one discover the true epics, those that deliver on the above promise?

(Click here for my answer.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

50 Shades of Graphite

So, you've read how I started drawing again, how that drawing thing is going, and even my most recent post on starting to like the smell of graphite in the morning.

But you've been asking your good-looking self a question:

"What has Daniel been drawing lately?"

Daniel, that's me for those who don't know, has actually not been drawing a lot lately. Or rather, I've been drawing some profiles, but nothing I want to share here.

Excepting that is for this:

This is from a painting by Odysseas Oikonomoy. I rather like it. And I hope you enjoy it--it may be the last copy of someone else's work that I do for a while, or ever.

(More on that last bit later...)


There are four posts on this same topic now. If you're interested in reading them all, check out the following links.

1. How I Started Drawing Again
2. How That Drawing Thing is Going
3. I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning
4. 50 Shades of Graphite

Friday, June 8, 2012

3 Quotes on Raising a Brighter Child Translated for Stupid Parents

How to Raise a Brighter Child is one of my favorite books on parenting, mostly because it shares so many useful tips toward the goal of raising smarter kids.

When initially writing this post, for another blog, I was going to give a sampling of those tips via a selection of relevant quotes. However, about halfway through, I decided to shelve that idea and have a little fun instead.

Here, then, are three quotes on raising a brighter child translated for "stupid" parents:
1. "The force of gravity is the one constant point around which a baby systematizes all the spatial relationships he is working out for himself during his early sensorimotor stage of life."
This means that your kid’s going to throw a lot of stuff. Try not to stress out about it.
2. “In talking to their offspring, [effective] parents ‘consider the baby’s purpose of the moment’ and .  . . ‘do not prolong the exchange longer than the baby wants.’”
This means that when your kid asks what time it is, don’t respond with a lecture on the history of clocks or how they’re made.
3. “Give your preschooler the courtesy of listening to her with as much regard and attention as you’d give an adult guest in your home.”
This means that you should treat your kid as if you invited her into your house. After all, in choosing to have and care for a child at all, you kind of did.

I wanted to translate even more than this, but the book is notably absent of gobbledygook; the above three being the closest it comes to being complex.

Have you read it yet? What did you think?

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Truckful of Thai Bitches

Note: This is an old rewrite I did (for fun) of an item I saw in the news. Enjoy!

Thai police officers near the border of Laos are not always prepared for smugglers, but this past Thursday they were.

In an operation on that evening they nabbed four trucks. The drivers tried to flee. They threw things from the truck as they fled. And yet, try as they did, they could not, did not, get away.

The police caught up with the trucks. They arrested the drivers. And they opened the back of the trucks to see what the men were so eager to sneak across the border.

Inside, were hundreds of bitches.

They were crammed into cages, many already dead from suffocation, and all the rest with little time left to live. At the end of their journey, here in Vietnam, they were to be killed too.

The bitches, all the dogs in fact, were destined for Vietnamese dinner plates. But, thanks to the police officers in this northeastern province of Thailand, they—the dogs still living—will run free once again.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Poem About Stumbleupon

I recently started a new blog on reading (you can click here to learn all about it) and have been slowly building up content on it.

While doing so, I of course have been following traffic to it--wondering, in a way, whether Facebook or Google or Twitter like me more.

The answer to that question came through yesterday: Stumbleupon likes me the most of all!

More specifically, if all-too-tentatively, it likes me the most because a lot of people stumbled upon a post I wrote sharing 8 quotes on how to change how you feel--enough people anyway to make it my number one source of traffic.

How does a person express their emotions after reading such news?

I don't know.

Why do you keep asking me all these questions anyway?

What is it with all these questions?

I'll tell you what I did though. I took a nap. And, while slipping in and out of consciousness, I managed to put together a poem.

Then I woke up, jotted what I had thought out on a piece of paper in my pocket--there's always a piece of paper in my pocket--and now, sitting at my favorite cafe, where silence is golden, and my black coffee looks as good as ever on ice, I'm going to share it with you.

I'm calling it "That Poem I Wrote about Stumbleupon" for now. Feel free to let me know if you think of a better title than that. But in any case here it is...


When I use your services quite a lot,
And yet hits from you are not so hot,
Stumpleupon, I love you not.
But when you multiply my traffic flow,
With page views high and bounce rates low,
Stumbleupon, I love you so!


[cues applause]

[hits publish]

[hopes you enjoyed it]

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Can you name this famous scientist?

There’s a passage in When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, by Manuel J. Smith, where my favorite scientist is mentioned although not named. See if you can guess who it is:

Recently, after one class, I ran into a former student, a physicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratories, set up and administered by the California Institute of Technology, and he told me an amusing story.

The night before this incident happened, I had given an introductory demonstration of assertive verbal skills to a number of Cal Tech students on campus. The following day, the physicist noted one of the student assistants in the laboratory going around all morning and indiscriminately using a FOGGING response in reply to anything said to him. He kept enthusiastically saying: “You may be right,” to everything, including statements like: “You want some coffee?”

Having heard me describe this typical phase of learning in class as “the impulse you get, after you are given a brand-new shiny set of tools, to go around looking for loose nuts to tighten up,” and having gone through it himself, the physicist knew I would appreciate the humor inherent in the situation. . . .

With a puckish glint in his eye, but also with some sympathy for the novice FOGGER, the physicist told me that he was tempted to go up to the unaware student and say something like: “Harry, I’ve noticed that you’ve been using a lot of FOGGING this morning. Don’t you think you could save it for manipulative situations?”

He restrained his impulse out of his own identification with the student’s situation. He remembered how enthusiastic he himself felt in first being more assertive and learning to cope better with other people. In spite of his [kindness], he still wished he could have heard the novice’s probable response, “You mean you know this already?” and watch his jaw drop when he replied: “Of course. Everybody knows about FOGGING. Where have you been?”

While appreciating the humor in his aborted prank, I asked him: “What makes you think he wouldn’t simply have replied: ‘You may be right. I am probably overdoing it’?” The physicist looked at me and said in kind: “I should have thought of that. He might have!” and we exchanged understanding grins.

There are plenty of clues in the above, so I won’t add any more. Can you name the scientist?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning

Since I've been sharing most of my what I've produced since I started drawing again, I'm going to continue doing so now.

I say this with some reluctance because, frankly, I don't think these pictures came out as good as some of the others--at least not after having them scanned and seeing how little of the shading came out.

Anyway, it's not the fault of my tools entirely. I still have a lot to improve and even if the scans reproduced perfectly what's on paper there's still a good bit to criticize.

Just last night, in fact, I was looking through a book called The Artist's Guide to Drawing the Head to see if I should buy it. I discovered a few things there. Namely:

1. I don't even know how to hold a pencil yet.

2. I need to learn how to shade better so that whatever I'm drawing looks more realistic.

3. I could probably double the quality of what I'm producing by reading a few good books.

Having just finished a 26-book reading project, however, I'm reluctant to jump into another one so soon. Better to keep at it, drawing a little each day, and noticing something I did well or something I did not so well.

So what in the world have I been drawing these days?

Do I have any more feet for you?

The truth is I have no more feet--none drawn anyway.

But I do have some heads.

You cool with heads? Here's one of 'em:

That's me of course. Or at least it's a quick drawing of yours truly.

Here's another drawing of a much prettier face:

That of course is Lily Collins, who I know just from being addicted to Cover Junkie and seeing her on a cover. If I had known she was in a movie with that kid from Twilight I probably would've drawn someone else.

Anyway, speaking of movies, one of the things that I didn't like about some of my drawings to date is that they're just sort of drawings. They don't capture "a moment"--just "an image."

But I could fix that rather easily, by drawing a scene or two from my favorite television series, Dae Jang Geum (which you can read an excellent review of at TOS).

So that's what I did. I drew this image, of when Jang Geum wants to get in the school training the palace cooks:

I don't know about you, but I've had moments like this--when everyone else is doing what I want and the doors are closing on that opportunity (seemingly forever).

With art, for example, this summer many people are going to be studying at The Grand Central Academy of Art. The artists who are doing that this year are, for me, like the girls in this drawing--and there I am on the outside, watching them learn to do what I want to do.

Now, however amateur the drawing is, it does capture that moment, and in so doing allows me to relate what I'm going through now with what Jang Geum did (in the series).

In many ways, then, I like this drawing better than a higher-quality, expertly-done drawing of something that says nothing (or next to nothing).

The above drawing wasn't all I drew from Dae Jang Geum though. I drew one more scene as well, to improve on my ability to draw a portrait. Here it is:

For those who haven't seen the series, this will just appear to be a Korean girl smiling.

Well, hopefully it'll seem to be a girl, who is from Korea, and who is smiling.

But for those who have seen the series, it's more likely to be seen as the culmination of Jang Geum's efforts during the time that she was on the outside looking in.

In this way, for me, it's something more than a simple portrait. It's a portrait-with-a-message, for example: to keep trying, to study yourself when others are studying in school, and to enjoy the moment when that studying pays off.

It's a good message, and one that could perhaps offer motivation to those who need it.

I'm not terribly in need of motivation to draw right now, however.

In fact, this drawing thing is starting to pull me in more and more and to tell you a little secret, I'm actually starting to like the smell of graphite in the morning.

Stay tuned to see how this all turns out.


There are four posts on this same topic now. If you're interested in reading them all, check out the following links.

1. How I Started Drawing Again
2. How That Drawing Thing is Going
3. I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning
4. 50 Shades of Graphite

Thursday, May 24, 2012

How that Drawing Things is Going

This post is a continuation of “How I Started Drawing Again,” and so to understand it, you should probably read that first.

To sum up, I used to draw, then I didn’t for a very long time, and then I started to do so again—becoming ever more desirous of creating something, anything, and actually doing that (with improving skill).

By the time I went and got a drawing pad, this was a couple weeks ago, I was getting rather ambitious.

This is routine for me, and not anything new, but in any case before I went to the store I had already figured out how long it would take me to be an expert—assuming that it really does take just 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. (Malcolm Gladwell wouldn’t lie, would he?)

If you’re interested in that breakdown, here it is:

  • At two hours per day, it takes around 14 years.
  • At four hours per day, it takes around 7 years.
  • At eight hours per day, it only takes around 4.5.

Easy enough, right?

Well, if you really want to be "an expert" and have a lot of time to spare, yes, I guess it might be easy enough.

But you know something?

Who cares what title I have? 

I don't. On the way home, in fact, I was wondering why I was even thinking about this.

After all, I have a series of things I want to do, and it doesn't matter whether I'm called a newbie in comparison with others or the god of all things art—so long as I can create what I see in my head as I see it.

Anyway, I got home and ambitious as all get-out I drew . . . a foot.

That’s right, a foot.

What did you expect, the Sistine Chapel?

Here it is in all its glory:


I followed that up a few days later with another foot:

Getting bored yet?

What exactly do you have against feet?

Getting from point A to point B would be very hard without ‘em, right?

Actually, however, I probably know what you’re feeling.

Feet are just fine as transportation, but as a topic for art? There are better things.

So I set my sights higher.

Turns out there’s this guy called Bargue who taught people to draw back when artists were not producing collections of garbage or smears on a canvas—you know, when they produced something deserving of the term art.

What this guy would have students do is to copy what the masters did. And this seemed to me like a good approach—at least for an artist who wants to produce something similar.

For some practice, then, I drew the heads of some sculptures. Here, for example, is one:

Then I did a quick sketch of a drawing by someone who had copied one by Bargue.

“A copy of a copy!” you might have said.

And if so, I’d have responded by saying, “Exactly.”

Given my past flirtations with drawing, I didn’t want to buy the book and then have it arrive at my doorstep after I had already given it up.

(My feelings have since changed and it’s now on my wish list.)

Anyway, rather than continue drawing rough copies of rough copies, I decided to do one better by continuing what I began: making rough copies of originals!

In particular, I drew a copy of the Norman Rockwell painting, "Freedom of Speech." Here's one picture of my zoomed-in and slightly-modified version:

Since graphite doesn't show up as well in any of these pictures--it turns out that that's "a thing" about it--I took a couple more pictures. Here's one looking at it from the side:

And here's another, looking at it from the other side:

For some reason, the side versions look better to me--or more like what I drew looks like when you're staring right at it in person.

In any case, I finished this drawing still rather pleased.

I had been drawing for around three weeks straight. And, contrary to what had happened before, I didn't feel "the bug" leaving. Instead, the urge was getting stronger to create more and more.

I began watching videos on how to draw--and learning about basic stuff that I'm almost embarrassed I didn't know (except that there's no shame in being a beginner at anything, only in remaining a beginner, out of fear, at something you want to get better at).

And I continued to draw, gaining a bit more knowledge each time.

I drew, for example, a portion of a painting I liked by Serge Marshenikov:

...and I drew a photo of Marianne Bresleaur that I randomly came across on the internets:

Do you like this stuff?

Do you want more?

However you feel, more is on its way.

Because after finishing up that last drawing, I started in on writing this post, and right now, after publishing it, I'm set to draw some more.

Come back and look for it if you want.

There are a lot of areas I can improve, so chances are what follows will be better than what I've done thus far.


There are four posts on this same topic now. If you're interested in reading them all, check out the following links.

1. How I Started Drawing Again
2. How That Drawing Thing is Going
3. I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning
4. 50 Shades of Graphite

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

David Grann Does it Again

"What's so great about David Grann?"

That's a question that's rarely asked.

And the reason it's rarely asked is simple.

If you know the name, you have almost definitely read something by him, and if you've done that, well, you understand.

To my mind, Grann is absolutely brilliant.

He's brilliant enough to have me checking The New Yorker each week to see if there's anything new by him.

He's brilliant enough to have me reading everything by Jack Hart or Robert McKee or Rebecca McClanahan in order to write more like him.

And he's brilliant enough to have never let me down (something I can't say for many writers).

If you want to judge for yourself, however--and you should--proof is easily available.

Exhibit A: The Lost City of Z

This is a book by Grann that tells of the explorer Percy Fawcett's quest to find a lost city in the Amazon jungle. Read it, and let me know what you think. Seriously, don't wait for the movie that's coming out based on it--or watch the movie, whatever, but read the book too.

Exhibit B: The Devil and Sherlock Holmes.

This is a collection of Grann's work for The New Yorker and a couple other places. You can read the book, or for a sneak peak read some of the articles in it that are free online. For example, check out "The Chameleon," "A Murder Foretold," "Trial by Fire," or even "The Lost City of 'Z'"--which became a book.

Exhibit C: "The Yankee Commandante: A story of love, revolution, and betrayal."

This is Grann's latest and, as the title of this post says, he has done it again.

By "it" I of course mean penned a masterpiece that every writer should study.

It's a piece that surprises, sickens, inspires, saddens.

You could say it "moves you" but that's far too vague.

It grips you from its start to its end.

In this way, it's like everything else written by Grann (including his article on the NYC water system).

At this point, I could analyze Grann's writing like Slate did.

I could talk about how even Grann's mom is awe-inspiring.

But I won't.

I'd just be getting in the way.

And that's not half as exhilarating as reading Grann's latest at the New Yorker.

Do that, and I'll bet you'll never again ask:

"What's so great about David Grann?"

Sunday, May 20, 2012

How I Started Drawing Again

So, the other day I was talking about drawing with my friend Craig and I wondered if I still had any talent for doing so.

When I was a kid, I actually drew a lot. My favorite things to draw were ships. I’d draw them tiny but make absolutely sure to get all the details the same. I also remember loving to draw (of all things) an old barn. I drew that barn so many times as a child that I can close my eyes now and see it still.

But over the years, I drew less and less. Then I just quit. I may have been paralyzed by praise, but more likely than not I saw what they were doing in art class and wanted no part of that kind of thing.

Anyway, over the years, I’d get “the bug” for a while, draw for a week or two straight, and then give it up. More than a decade passed since that happened, however, and I would have thought it was out of my system if I thought of the subject at all.

Then The Objective Standard started its interview series with artists.

This series has so far interviewed the sculptor Sandra Shaw; a still-life artist, Linda Mann; and (just recently, to be published in the upcoming issue) a painter, Bryan Larsen.

Given my work for TOS, I was lucky enough to get paid for listening to and transcribing the taped interviews. In any case, however, in doing this I felt my old desire building up again.

This brings me back to the conversation with Craig that I mentioned at the start. 

After that ended, I had an old envelope in front of me, and a pen nearby.

So I started to draw.

It was nothing big really, just a picture of an author I like (called Ayn Rand). And I wasn’t expecting much either--which was good, because those expectations were realized. I got “a likeness” of her, but nothing much more.

The thing is, though, it felt pretty good.

So I continued.

I looked up a picture of one Sandra Shaw’s sculptures, called “Tranquility,” and I drew that quickly. It came out looking horrible! In fact, I have a name for this one, it’s called “Frumpy” and I don’t know if even that isn’t being generous.

But, again, actually creating this was good fun.

And I felt even more respect for what Shaw does.

Those lines are smooth, and sensuous, I thought, comparing them with my own. The next day, I drew the same thing again. And the day after that, I drew the same thing again. 

Professional golf players get better by repeatedly taking shots from the same places, I reasoned; it’d probably work for me, too. I’m certainly no professional, but after a few days I got to a decent “likeness” of it.

In between the above takes, I attempted to sketch “Vitality,” again by Shaw...

and then, after the Shaw copies, I tried to draw a study by Larsen:

It was in drawing the copy of Larsen’s study that I realized I didn’t know hardly anything about shading aside from just naturally making my lines look close enough like theirs to be happy.

It was in drawing the copy of Larsen’s study that I realized something else, too: You (or I) can only do so much when drawing with a pen!

Like any budding genius then I did the natural thing: I bought, wait for it, a pencil.

I figured I might as well start, as before, by drawing an author I liked—so I drew Nevil Shute.

Again, I think his face didn’t come out as long as it actually was, and it could have come out much better. But it wasn’t terribly bad--especially given the time I spent on it--and I felt that the shading was pretty good for a beginner.

Next up, I drew a painting by Leighton that I like. And, although I drew all the other ones pretty fast, I took my time on this one.

That was partly because I wanted to make good use of the pencils (now plural) that I bought and partly because I really like this painting. 

I should mention that the way I drew the old man’s face here is not as intense as Leighton has it—and that’s important. The Leighton painting is so vastly superior in a number of ways I could write a whole post just listing the differences.

While critical of my drawing, however, I didn’t have anywhere near that same rage I have when I see (a lot of) other artworks. You know, the kind where you want to scream “This is art” and kick the artist in the stomach, sending him flying backward into a deep pit, Sparta style.

I just saw that there was a lot of room for improvement.

And also that doing all this on better paper might help.

Oh, and that reading a few articles on how to draw might help.

You can guess what I did next.

In any case, I’ll be posting the results of what happened soon.


There are four posts on this same topic now. If you're interested in reading them all, check out the following links.

1. How I Started Drawing Again
2. How That Drawing Thing is Going
3. I'm Starting to Like the Smell of Graphite in the Morning
4. 50 Shades of Graphite

Friday, March 30, 2012

Parents Should Quit Arguing about Who's Better

The Wall Street Journal published another article along the lines of Amy Chua’s earlier one, “Why Chinese Parents are Superior.”

Although it’s not saying much, given how bad the original was (you can read Gena Gorlin’s takedown of it here) the latest, "Why French Parents are Superior,” is far better in terms of recommendations and it actually makes a few very good points.

For example, the article shares the view that parents should not consider themselves to be slaves to their children. It points out the value of teaching kids to be happy alone. And it highlights the ability of parents to give their children a lot of freedom and autonomy—but within certain firm limits.

Unfortunately, the title and approach of the latest article is as wrong as the first. For one, national stereotypes do not raise children, individual people do. Beyond that, however, and much more importantly, superior parents do not necessarily mean good ones.

Those who want the best for their kids should focus on being good parents above all, and to hell with whether their actions conform to the style of any one nation or another.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Most Amazing President Ever

The president sat in the Oval Office, his back to the windows, his elbows on the desk, his hands the only thing keeping his head from smashing down on the papers in between.

The papers on top showed the latest poll numbers, his lowest ever. Others underneath showed the rising trend of unemployment, of debt on the country’s balance sheet, and of various attacks against him.

Disgusted with the papers below, the president lifted his head, turned to an advisor, and asked if there was any way to make things better. The advisor didn’t respond.

Days went by—then weeks. Everything stayed the same.

Finally, the president realized what to do. Above all, he had a plan. But he wasn’t going to share it with anyone just yet, least of all his good-for-nothing advisors. Besides, he blamed them for creating the mess—or rather for making it worse.

This time, he thought, it was going to be all on him. If things go wrong, he’d pay for it; if right, well then to him would be the glory and his place in history would be secure.

At that thought, the president smiled.

Not long after, he got to work. From friends outside of his administration, the president learned of a solar energy company that had nowhere to go but up.

By acting fast and using those connections, he was able to extract over half a billion dollars from the company’s rise. The administration worked feverishly from that point on, using the money to improve the nation’s balance sheet by the same amount.

It was a small win given the size of the country’s overall debt, but the president knew that pennies make dollars just as streams make rivers. He then set out for another and before long discovered a way not only to achieve a small win but to make the nation safer as well.

The scheme would have to be implemented furiously and fast. It held some danger to boot. But the president thought it worthwhile. Thus, agents of the U.S. government went into Mexico and in a daring operation took back with them an arsenal of weapons from the hands of drug lords and gangsters.

Ultimately, thousands of guns came back, including 34 .50 caliber sniper rifles, approximately the same number that an infantry regiment uses in battle.
While the cash value of those guns did not come close to the 500 plus million dollars returned from the president’s investment in solar energy, it was another small win financially and a big win relative to the government’s function of protecting its citizens.

With that amount of guns taken back, who could tell how many lives were allowed to continue as before, rather than be stopped short by violence. That kind of value couldn’t be measured in dollars, but it was priceless just the same.

Perhaps the president observed this. And perhaps it gave him his next idea, arguably one of his best. Nobody knows. But two facts are incontestable: one, the country was involved in wars unrelated to its own self-interest; and two, the president changed that.

With little debate in Congress, he forthrightly brought the nation’s troops out of one of those wars, a small country in Africa that many Americans probably never even heard of before our troops entered it. Then he did the same thing again, taking our troops out of a small country in the Middle East, where they had been for no stated reason whatsoever.

These were small wins, but they were all starting to add up. Together, they saved hundreds of millions of dollars more, and in addition kept those troops out of harm’s way.

The president, in short, was doing his job, he was doing it masterfully, and with each step he took toward decreasing the nation’s debt and ensuring their safety, people liked him more.

Indeed, as everyone gained more control over their own health care, their own dollars, and thereby their own lives, the president became something of a star. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, appeared on numerous magazine covers, and brought down the house every time he spoke.

Even the media adored him. He was “the smartest president ever.” And the nation, once steeped in cynicism, now dared to hope. The president spoke of change, change that the people could believe in, and oh how everyone believed! There was no reason to doubt, was there?

He was the greatest, the most amazing president of all time. His name, of course, was Barack Obama. And his presidency is truly the most successful in history. You just have to watch it in reverse.