Getting the Cling of Word Press

I’m thrilled that I switched to Word Press (installed on the server I use) to run my web page. It’s truly remarkable software. I would recommend it, and nothing else, to those starting a new blog. It is such a different online world from when I started “blogging” in 1998! (It wasn’t actually “blogging” back then, because the term hadn’t yet been invented, assuming Wikipedia correctly reviews the matter.)

Soon after switching to Word Press, I got deluged with spam comments. So I turned on moderation. (Others I know installed Disqus to handle comments, but I dislike adding anything that requires users to set up yet another account.)

So now I get “only” a handful of spam comments each day. Still, it’s a little odd, given that I moderate all comments and don’t find it remarkably difficult to weed out the spam.

I must wonder who it is presenting these comments for my moderation. Consider the following:

You actually make it seem really easy along with your presentation however I in finding this matter to be really one thing that I feel I would by no means understand. It kind of feels too complicated and extremely broad for me. I’m having a look ahead to your subsequent publish, I will attempt to get the cling of it!

I’m afraid I don’t quite get the cling of what these spammers hope to accomplish. But perhaps I need merely look ahead to the spammers’ subsequent comment. Will it be submitted to this very post?

Liberty Is the Greatest Inheritance

The following article originally was published June 8 by Grand Junction Free Press.

When I was a small child I always thought my grandpa was nuts for saying the older you get the faster time goes. But it’s true. My dad Linn [shown in the photo] and I started writing this twice-monthly column for the Free Press back in July of 2005. For seven yearns we’ve written about free markets, free speech, political races, taxes, gun rights, and a host of other topics. Our main goal has been to advocate individual rights and political liberty.

The time has gone fast. Now it’s time for us to move on to other projects. Now that my dad is in semi-retirement, he’s busier than ever; among other things, he teaches classes on workplace safety and emergency response to violence. I’ve started writing more for The Objective Standard, where you can read my blog posts and occasional article for the print journal.

I wanted to take this opportunity to say farewell to our Free Press readers. But we’re not going anywhere geographically; we’ll continue to advocate the ideas we believe in (though some of our critics might wish we’d simply shut up). See my web page at for ways to stay in touch. Perhaps you’ll see my dad around town.

My dad and I considered writing a farewell column together but decided against it. However, with father’s day coming up, I thought this would be a good opportunity to write a solo column about my dad. I mulled it over, and it strikes me that my dad taught me five main things in my life.

First, my dad gave me an appreciation of history. He has always been something of an amateur historian; for example, he’s done a fair amount of research about the old stagecoach trail near Mt. Garfield. Though it took me a while to pick up this interest in history—for years I didn’t see much point in studying the past—finally I caught on to its importance.

Even my name carries historical significance. “Ari,” a common Jewish name, in my case comes from Leon Uris’s book Exodus, a novelization of the founding of the modern state of Israel. Of course I read this novel, along with another historical novel of Uris’s, Mila 18, which pays tribute to the resistance fighters in Poland who struggled against Nazi oppression.

So my dad taught me that we can’t really understand ourselves unless we understand those who came before us.

Second, my dad always encouraged my healthy respect for the U.S. military. My dad served in Vietnam (and you can find video interviews about this if you Google “Linn Armstrong Vietnam”). [See also my dad’s article about July 4 in Vietnam.] My dad was not my only influence in this regard; both of my biological grandfathers served in World War II, so I consider myself lucky even to have been born, with all the warfare in my family’s past. (A great-grandfather of mine also served in WWI.) I did not have to fight in any wars, but through my elders’ stories I am aware of the dangers and heartaches of war.

This respect for the military was important for me ideologically because it helped me resist the worst impulses of libertarianism, which at its worst becomes indistinguishable from the “blame America first” left, so far as foreign policy goes. Now I reject both the “nation building” of the neoconservatives and the strict noninterventionism of the libertarians, advocating instead a robust military defense of American lives and liberties.

Third, my dad gave me an appreciation for philosophy. When I was a kid he read Ayn Rand’s Anthem to me, and the story of individualism stayed with me and influenced my development. My dad also handed me Atlas Shrugged when I was in high school. I continue to take an interest in Rand’s philosophy (as well as in other schools of thought), and as I matured so did my understanding of those ideas.

Fourth, my dad also helped me develop an interest in economics. In addition to giving me Atlas Shrugged (which itself contains some interesting insights into economics), my dad handed me Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose. Though I have since come to disagree with some of Friedman’s positions, he introduced me to the basics of economic reasoning.

Fifth, my dad helped give me a lasting appreciation for liberty. Not only did he give me various pro-liberty books that strongly influenced me, he led by example by staying active in politics and helping to build up a great gun training program.

My father shared with me the ideas of liberty, as many fathers before him shared them. That is the reason why America’s founding principles remain a living force in our culture, whatever insults and setbacks those ideas have endured. Other fathers could learn something important from my father: the greatest inheritance you can bestow to your children is the living tradition of liberty.

Ari Armstrong writes for The Objective Standard as well as for his web page at For seven years he coauthored a column for Grand Junction Free Press with his father Linn.

In Appreciation of Diana Hsieh

As Diana Hsieh turns the primary leadership of Front Range Objectivism (a group devoted to studying and applying the ideas of Ayn Rand) over to the capable hands of Santiago Valenzuela, it is a great time to pause to appreciate all the great things Diana has accomplished in recent years.

• After undergoing the rigors of graduate school at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Diana completed her dissertation on the problem of “moral luck.” Essentially, she demonstrated that people are responsible for their own choices, luck notwithstanding.

• Diana has become an accomplished public speaker, and she has helped others in the area (including me) improve their speaking skills. As an example of her efforts, earlier this month Diana spoke to over 50 people at Liberty On the Rocks in Denver. Drawing from her dissertation, she argued that people deserve what they earn, contrary to John Rawls’s claims that people get what they have through luck. And last month Diana gave a “Think!” talk at CU about Rand’s conception of moral perfection.

• Diana helped create several Atlas Shrugged reading groups in the Denver area, groups that have have developed into regular monthly reading groups.

• Diana developed the “Explore Atlas Shrugged” podcast series, an excellent companion to the novel.

• In other ways, Diana has helped to expand Front Range Objectivism, as by developing its web page and running the “Snowcon” conference for the past two years.

• Diana formulated the most rigorous case for abortion rights ever written from an Objectivist perspective. She also put substantial effort into defeating the so-called “personhood” anti-abortion ballot measures in Colorado. Diana and I coauthored papers on the subject for the Coalition for Secular Government and for The Objective Standard.

• Diana created the “OLists” to promote Objectivist activism and community.

• Amidst all this other work, Diana developed her “Philosophy In Action” weekly webcast, which focuses on applying philosophy to the challenges of daily living. She plans to focus her efforts on expanding this.

Diana has done far more than most to promote important ideas over the past few years, and she deserves our gratitude and appreciation.

Search for Missing Friends Brought Out Heroes

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published February 17 by Grand Junction Free Press.

The Widegren family, with nine children and eight grandchildren ranging in age from a few months to over 40 years, has long been a pillar of the Palisade community, with connections spanning much of the west and beyond. That’s one reason why, when Mark Widegren and his friend and coworker Brian Axe went missing near Price, Utah, dozens of people responded to the emergency, driving and flying in from around the country to meet in Price to help with the search. Family and friends of both men played key roles in the search.

When the young men’s vehicle finally was found on February 5, the news was tragic: their vehicle had crashed down a steep cliff a week previously on Saturday night, and the sheriff’s department deemed the crash “unsurvivable.” Mark and Brian were driving through the treacherous Cottonwood Canyon, off of Nine Mile Canyon, northeast of Price on their way to their base camp. They worked for an energy company there.

The one silver lining to the horrible tragedy was seeing dozens of the men’s family, friends, and coworkers heroically join the search. Todd Widegren, Mark’s oldest brother, told reporters, “These guys were friends and family of a huge, huge number of people. And everybody that is here is here for the love of those guys.”

Because Ari went to school with several of the Widegrens and has long known the family, he too traveled to Price to witness the search (and perhaps in some small way to help with it). In retrospect, the efforts of the searchers pay tribute to the memory of the lost friends. We won’t mention their names here because we don’t want to make anybody feel uncomfortable, but we wanted to describe their valiant efforts to the broader community.

Volunteer ground searchers first discovered the secluded vehicle and hiked to it, giving the family and friends at least the comfort of learning what happened. Obviously the hope had been to find the men alive and assist them. Finally we learned that had been impossible, but the fact that, at the time, we thought they might still be alive made it crucially important to find them as quickly as possible. As terrible as the news turned out to be, at least the news allowed the recovery effort to proceed, and it gave the family and searchers a bit of peace from the constant anxiety and stress of not knowing.

Two young men from Grand Junction first spotted the vehicle by scrambling down a steep, snowy decline and then peering down the face of the cliff. The vehicle had been difficult to see from the air because it was crumpled and it blended into the surrounding rocks. After those men called in the news, another group, consisting of two family friends from Denver and two family members, drove and hiked to the vehicle, again through heavy snow, to check for survivors and help guide the recovery effort.

For several days, other search teams had covered the area extensively by ground and by air. One group of friends and family searched throughout the night with spotlights.

At the Holiday Inn hotel in Price, which was very accommodating to the search parties, others organized the search, verified that everyone returned safely from searching, organized written reports from the searchers, reported to friends elsewhere and to the media, and worked with the local authorities.

Local law enforcement agents helped track down credit card receipts, cell phone data, and security camera footage that helped narrow down the search area. Carbon County Deputy Sheriff Wally Hendricks helped organize the search and bring updates to the family.

Of course the search took money and resources, and many people responded with donations of food or money. One local “cage” fighter even donated his fight purse to the recovery effort and raised additional funds from sponsors.

Plenty of others also helped out. The Abby and Jennifer Recovery Foundation sent representatives from Grand Junction to Price to help. Several Price locals also joined the search with their ATVs and other vehicles. The owner of a small air company paid for the hotel rooms of the searchers. Pizza Hut delivered an order of free pizzas to those involved. (No doubt we’ve inadvertently left some people out.)

When the emergency hit, many people from the Western Slope, Utah, and beyond answered the call. Their efforts are an inspiration and a credit to our communities.

We only wish the final outcome had been the one we had hoped for. Mark and Brian will be deeply missed.


Why Can’t Blogger and Facebook Play Nicely?

Blogger usually works great. Facebook usually works great. So why can’t Blogger and Facebook play together nicely?The problem is that, if inside Facebook I link to a post of mine managed by Blogger, Facebook does not pick up the lead paragraph of the post (which obviously is what I want). Instead, Facebook picks up my bio line, which is completely unrelated to the contents of the post.

Others have told me that the problem arises from Blogger’s non-standard formatting. Regardless, I imagine that the whiz kids either at Blogger or at Facebook easily could fix the problem, if they’d attempt to do so.

Alternately, perhaps there’s something simple that I could do to fix the problem — though I’ve tried a variety of strategies, all without success. If somebody has a suggestion, please leave it in the comments.

Otherwise, I may have to undergo the serious hassle of switching over to Word Press.

[January 24, 2013 update: Obviously this post now appears on a WordPress site; I moved it here from the old site.]

Fun at Ikea

I confess I was skeptical of the Ikea store when it first came to town. But it’s a lot of fun, and the restaurant there has some great deals. We found a number of items throughout the store that were less expensive than what we’ve paid elsewhere. Unfortunately, a city water main broke the day we went, preventing us from buying the Swedish meatballs for lunch. Next time.

Christmas Could Be Challenging for Colorado’s Old Timers

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published December 24, 2010, by Grand Junction Free Press.

These days at Christmas most of us enjoy the opulence of the season. We might drive our shiny automobiles past sparkling lights on our way to the movies, the mall, or a restaurant. Under the tree many of us will find video disks and games, iPods, Kindles, or maybe even a new flat-screen television.

We owe our wealth and comfort today largely to the hard work of Colorado’s pioneers. This Christmas, it is worth remembering the challenges and struggles our forebears overcame and the more modest holiday celebrations they enjoyed.

We found several Christmas stories in a two-volume work from 1982, “Long Horns and Short Tales: A History of the Crawford Country,” by Mamie Ferrier and George Sibley. It covers the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“At a typical one room schoolhouse there was one teacher for all eight grades,” Ferrier and Sibley tell us. Apparently it is not the case that today’s students cause more trouble. At Maher (near Crawford) the school board hired John Stafford, who brought a bull whip to class to keep the unruly older boys in line.

“In the days before the automobile, movies, TV, and the like,” Ferrier and Sibley write, the school houses were used not only for class but for church, elections, and business meetings. Twice a month the local residents held a “literary” where people would sing, debate, and perform skits. To raise funds for the school, women would auction off boxed dinners and their company, and the “young ladies brought… as much as $25.”

Christmas brought a “gift exchange, singing of Christmas carols, and a program that included every child in the school.” Despite the modesty of the celebration, “a good time was enjoyed by all,” our authors assure us, and we do not doubt it.

Ferrier and Sibley nicely summarize the spirit of Christmas in those ground-breaking times. “In the homes Christmas was celebrated with a big dinner and lots of company. Gifts were much different from those of today. Most children received only one gift and the hand knitted mittens and stocking caps.

“There might be a few oranges which was a real treat as they were not purchased during the rest of the year. Home-made rag dolls were common. Older boys might be given a single shot .22 rifle; older girls got things for their hope chest, hair ribbons, and handkerchiefs. The men were sure to get neckties or socks. Today children are given so many toys that they don’t appreciate any of them. In pioneer days the few things were treasured.”

The book about Crawford contains the brief autobiography of Laura Piburn Pace, who arrived in Colorado as a girl in 1884. She describes her home after her marriage: “The house was a two-room log cabin. The kitchen had a dirt floor and one small window. My furniture was wooden boxes nailed to the wall and stacked on top of each other… I made curtains out of flour sacks, embroidered them and crocheted edges on them and they were quite clever.”

One May Laura’s house burned down. “By August, 1911, the new house was near enough finished so we could move into it,” and “by Christmas Day we had a lovely farm home.”

Of course, some people today are struggling this season, hit by unemployment or the housing crunch; the Denver Post reports a rise in poverty. But today’s economic troubles pale in comparison to those of the Great Depression. Yet even in those dark days Coloradans found a way to enjoy and celebrate Christmas.

Writing for the Winter 1986 edition of “The Journal of the Western Slope,” Mesa State professor Paul Reddin describes how Grand Junction women coped with the Depression. He bases much of the article on interviews he conducted.

“During the Depression, the residents of Grand Junction worked hard, but they also found time to enjoy life. Much about their entertainment reflected the rural aspects of the region and a conviction that good times centered around family and friends,” Reddin writes. He adds that people then had the attitude that you should “make your own fun.”

The professor’s comments on Christmas are especially poignant: “Holidays, especially Christmas, brought family together. All enjoyed the fellowship of such occasions. If funds for gifts were short, grown-ups did not exchange them, using the available cash for presents for the children. Parents could practically always afford gifts for youngsters because a small toy car might cost as little as 15 cents, and a dollar would buy a nice present. For adults, the chance to visit with inlaws was more important than gifts.”

Earlier Coloradans, rugged of spirit, maintained a good outlook even in rough times, and generally they appreciated the things they had and made do with them. As you enjoy your glorious feast and the amenities of modern life, spend a moment to reflect on what has been made possible by Colorado’s hearty pioneers.

Colorado’s Madness and Magic

The one irritating thing about my ’87 Samurai is that it doesn’t ding me when I leave the lights on. So, of course, this morning, with the other vehicle in the shop, the Samurai was dead. So my wife had to catch another ride to work. It was sunny, back then, and spring.

Now it is winter. I got the battery charged up earlier today. Then the rain started in pretty hard. I ran a couple of errands. Then the rain turned to snow. Then, surprisingly quickly, the snow started sticking to the road.

But my wife was at work, so I had to lock my hubs (yes, I have to lock my hubs by hand) and call the Samurai into snow duty. It took me over an hour to drive the twelve miles to my wife’s work. I foolishly took the back roads, thinking they would be quicker. But those roads are hilly, and only two lanes. On the hills numerous cars were skidding out. I swore under my breath when some dude ahead of me stopped, going uphill. But the Samurai had no problem getting going again. It’s the first time I’ve driven it in four-wheel low. (In that gear I get up to about 25 miles per hour with the other shifter in fourth.) I estimate I saw about twenty vehicles on the way that had either slid off the road or skidded out in the middle of the road. I had to periodically unroll my window and knock snow off the windshield with my gloved hand.

The timing worked out fine, because my wife was working late, in anticipation of not making it in tomorrow.

I had experienced the Colorado madness; then came the Colorado magic. My wife works above Nissis, and her shop is owned by a co-owner of Nissis. Because of the snow, the usually-sold-out Face show had a few seats available, so we had the opportunity to stay for the show. When I had time to settle down I noticed how tense the drive up had made me feel.

And, as usual, Face was awesome. They sang two songs I hadn’t heard them perform before: U2’s “Pride” and Aerosmith’s “Living On the Edge.” Great show.

For the drive back we took 287, which is four lanes and better plowed. And there was much less traffic. We passed one pretty bad accident involving a truck that had obviously (given the damage) been going too fast for conditions. The trip took just over half of an hour. It took us longer to shovel the drive way once we got home. We estimate we got around eight inches of wet, heavy snow (and that was on top of the earlier rain).

Welcome to Colorado.

Reading Kindle On the iPod Touch

Earlier this year I purchased an iPod Touch, primarily for use as an ereader.

Since then, I have purchased one Kindle book for the machine (Jesus, Interrupted, by Bart Ehrman, which I highly recommend), and I’m thrilled with the way Kindle reads on my Touch. (By contrast, while FileMagnet works fine for pdfs, it does not allow fond adjustments with html. That is, you can make the type bigger, but the lines don’t wrap. I resorted to inserting an html font command into an html file, which is a clumsy way to address the problem.)

I got an unexpected benefit with the Touch: I can take notes with the Notes application as I read. All I have to do is toggle between the Kindle app and the Notes app. Then I record the Kindle locator and some brief notes. Once I find a hot spot, I can cut and past the contents of a Note into email (I use my wife’s hotmail account because it’s easy to access), then send myself the notes.

In fact, this works so well that I might start taking notes on my Touch even when I read paper-and-ink books. True, the keypad is irritatingly small, and I struggle to peck out a message. But the alternative is either to take notes by hand, which I would then need to digitize to make them fully functional, or try to use a full-size keyboard, which is impractical when reading a book. So, as much as I didn’t expect it, the Touch wins out as a note-taker while reading.

Going Digital

What is extraordinary about my lifetime is that I will have witnessed the birth of the home computer industry and (if things go well) the complete conversion of all relevant media forms to digital formats separate from any particular physical “carrier” medium.

In recent days I have written about the still-problematic e-book industry as well as the move toward online video content. Fittingly, today I found an article by Matt Buchanan covering both these stories in the context of Apple’s business innovations. Before getting to that story, though, I thought this is a good time to step back and gaze at the landscape.

The basic art forms are these: music, painting, sculpture, literature, dance, theater, film, and architecture. There are certain hybrids, like opera (musical theater) and illustrated fiction.

Art presented as a structure (sculpture, architecture) may be photographed and filmed, and only in these derivative forms digitized. (One may view a photograph of the Parthenon, but obviously viewing the photo is not at all the same experience as visiting the place.) Performance art may be recorded in audio or on film, and the recorded presentations may be digitized. Going to hear a symphony is a different experience than listening to a recording of a symphony, though the audio quality might be very similar.

Paintings obviously may be digitized, and the similarity of the digitized piece to the original, while generally fairly close, varies significantly by art work. The School of Athens is fantastic on a modern computer screen, but it simply does not compare with the real thing, whereas the Mona Lisa is nearly as impressive digitally (I write as I duck the stones).

Literature is readily digitized, for the same reasons that literature can be translated and read aloud. Literature is the most purely conceptual form of art, and its mode is language, and language is inherently separable from any particular medium (which is not to discount the qualities of a musty old book).

Film inherently converts a performance to a two-dimensional image, so the digitization process is perfectly natural. Some modern “films” may begin with hand drawings but develop primarily digital animation.

For our purposes, the upshot is that film, music, and literature are the most-easily digitized art forms, with paintings following behind. Regardless of how we categorize photography in terms of art, obviously it has joined film in making the natural jump to digital formats. (General retail outlets don’t even sell film cameras any more.)

The basic modes of mass communication are text, photographs, speaking, and video (I’ll say rather than film, which is now mostly outdated).

The above facts indicate that the modes of digitizing the fine arts match up pretty will with the modes of digitizing mass communication. Whether we are talking about fine arts or mass communication, in the digital world we are basically talking about text, still images, audio, and video. Any digital content basically combines those four sorts of presentation. Basically, if you can see it or hear it, where the seeing or hearing is the point of the thing, it can be digitized. (Whether the sense of touch can be effectively digitized remains to be seen, but a world where more than a few would want such a thing would be a very different world from our own.)

Music has essentially gone digital now. My first album was a record, as in a disc of plastic etched to stimulate a needle. (Genesis, baby, as in the band.) Interestingly, I’ve never actually looked up the term “analog” until just now: “of or pertaining to a mechanism that represents data by measurement of a continuous physical variable, as voltage or pressure.” Anyway, within my lifetime music has gone from entirely analog to almost entirely digital.

Moreover, music has largely made the break from a particular, dedicated medium. While the music CD remains popular, increasingly people buy music online and save it to a hard drive or flash drive.

Video similarly has largely gone digital. Due to its increased file size it remains more tied to the DVD, though this is rapidly changing. My step-dad had one of those VHS video recorders you had to rest on your shoulder to operate. I own a digital video camera that records directly to flash memory. YouTube allows pretty much anybody to upload any video that’s under ten minutes, while a variety of services display movies and “television” shows online.

Obviously photography has gone digital. While 35 millimeter film was the standard consumer-grade film in my childhood, today I can’t name anybody I know who owns a film camera.

Strangely, text, while far more easily digitized than audio, photos, or video, remains largely bound to ink and pulp. They still print newspapers and books in large quantities. The stickiness in converting text to digital formats is funny given that the analog formats are created from digital source files. Word processors were among the first computer applications.

My mother used a real typewriter in college. I mean, you hit the key, and it caused a metal arm to strike the paper through an inked ribbon. No electricity! When I was in high school, I learned how to type on an electric typewriter; the metal arms were replaced by a rotating ball, but the mark was still made by a metal form striking the paper. Now I don’t know anybody who uses anything other than a computer to generate polished text. (Well, I’ve met two people who still write by hand, a novelist and a philosopher, but they lie well outside the norm. Of course somebody then transforms their scribbles to digital text.)

So why is it that practically everyone generates text digitally but then many still convert it to ink on pulp? There are two main reasons, one involving technology and the other business organization. The technological problem is that reading text on computer screens tends to create eye strain (as I am already experiencing in the writing of this post). It’s a lot easier to sit down for several hours and read an ink-on-paper book than it is to read a digital display of the same text. But the new eye-friendly e-readers seem to be on the road to solving this problem.

The second problem is that nobody has yet figured out a great way to sell e-books or profitably publish news online. I think it extremely likely that some combination of business leaders will solve all of these problems within the next few years. I think that, within the next decade or so, printed newspapers will be mostly gone and that the paper-on-ink book industry will look a lot like today’s record industry.

Whether we look at video, audio, still images, or text, the trend is the same: people will no longer buy a physical good, they will buy a digital file online and store it on some sort of data drive.

Today I went to Target and spent just over $15 to purchase a four gigabyte “thumb” drive. I loaded it with videos, photos, audio files, database files, and text files, then dropped the device into my pocket. We no longer need dedicated physical objects to store these things. We buy them via an energy stream, then we store them on a universal storage device and enjoy them via some software program running on a gizmo.

I know that techies have already rolled their eyes and closed this page in annoyance, but I stand in awe of the digital revolution that has occurred in just a few years. These simple, obvious, and mundane facts all around us mark a turning point for our species.

As for Buchanan, he reports that Apple appears to be gearing up to expand its online video market and its small-sized computer market. As Philip Elmer-DeWitt indicates for Money, Apple’s “Tablet” and associated deals may revolutionize the e-book industry.

Very soon digital content via the internet will be the norm, and records, tapes, CDs, DVDs, newsprint, and pulp books will become quaint (and even eccentric) throwbacks to an earlier age.

Update: I was just poking around at the Cato Institute’s web page, and I noticed that the outfit is selling Tom Palmer’s new book as an e-book for $14. This is available through Kindle for $9.99. However, I called Cato and was assured their digital books are straight pdfs, and to me that is well worth the extra four bucks.)