Saturday, June 12, 2010

Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Eminent Domain

During my recent Arizona gig, I had the privilege of visiting Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's house, studio, architectural intern boot camp, and place where he built lots of stuff and then tore it down, just to stay in practice. 

It was a great experience, and if you ever find yourself in Phoenix, I hope you'll make time to visit.  Wright was a genius. 

Now....imagine that you're an architectural genius who has been diagnosed with bronchitis and pneumonia, and you need to find a new winter home, someplace far away from the near-arctic weather in Wisconsin.  Imagine that you settle on a place near Phoenix/Scottsdale, and you buy enough acreage to control the view from your house. 

The view is why you chose the site, built the house, and started the architecture school at that site.  The view of YOUR property.  Remember, you're a genius, and you think buildings should fit their surroundings, both in materials and placement. 

You whip out a masterpiece.  It's exactly what you want. 

The next part I have to piece together from our tour guide and from the internet.  Some government dweeb, long forgotten except for this solitary act of vandalism, decides to invoke his Eminent Domain privileges and run powerlines across your property.  You fight it, you even go to Harry Truman to try to get him to intervene.  The powerlines totally ruin the view. 

(The powerlines erected during Wright's lifetime were much smaller than these monsters, but they were enough to piss Frank off for the rest of his life.) 

The wall to the left was once almost 100% window.  Wright bricked it in halfway up so he wouldn't have to see the powerlines in the distance. 

He changed the main entrance from the front of the house to the back of the house, all to avoid looking at the reminder of the theft of his property. 

This is the man who built Fallingwater, recently voted as the most architecturally significant building of the 20th century.  And even he had to put up with that kind of crap from his government. 

Oh well.  That's enough ranting about Eminent Domain.  A tour of the house, the meeting rooms, concert halls, grounds, and architecture school only costs $24.00, and it's well worth it. 

The guides won't let you take pictures in the living quarters for some reason.  But at one point, our tour leader asked if there was a pianist in the house, someone who could show off the acoustics of the den.  I volunteered, and therefore was able to get my picture taken playing Frank's Steinway.  A rare privilege.
(Organic, natural, architectural materials look great, by the way.  But they are no good at keeping pianos in tune.  I'm just sayin'.....)
I can now say that I've played The Electric Light Orchestra's "Evil Woman" on Frank Lloyd Wright's Steinway, and "Dixie" on Robert E. Lee's piano at Arlington House (See pic below. Long story). 

Taliesin West, in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Go there. 

Pics came from here and here and here and here and me. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

Dallas Independent School District suffering from "Black Flight"

A recent piece in the Dallas Morning News has created a bit o' controversy. 
Remember the "white flight" of the 1970's and 80's, when white families left the cities by the dumpster-load, creating boomtowns out of sleepy little hamlets like Aledo, Colleyville, Weatherford, etc.? 
Many of these refugees were accused of being racists. 
Well, it ain't necessarily so. 

The Dallas Independent School District is now experiencing "black flight". 

The number of black children attending DISD schools has reached its lowest point since 1965.

I repeat....

The number of black children attending DISD schools has reached its lowest point since 1965.

Where are they going?  Charter schools.  Private academies.  And, of course, the suburbs

Today, about 41,000 black students attend DISD schools. They make up 26 percent of the district compared with 106,000 Hispanic children, or 68 percent. White students are 5 percent of the district.

Wow.  What could be going wrong?  Here are a couple of charts from The Cato Institute.  This one shows enrollment from 1970 to 2010, as compared to school employees from 1970 to 2010.

Hey, it takes a lot of employees to run off that many customers. 

Here's another one showing the spending per student vs the reading, math, and science scores:

Is there anyone, anyone at all, who can justify keeping this system going instead of privatizing the whole thing?  Or at least offering a voucher system for those who can't afford to get out? 

Does the United States really need another Aledo or Colleyville? 

How to explain the benefits of Free Trade

Here's how to explain the benefits of Free Trade in less than three minutes. 
The next time you hear Lou Dobbs or Nancy Pelosi griping about the "unfair advantages" of those pesky Chinese, Japanese, Messicans, or any other minority they don't like, please think of the Bastiat quote that closes this video:

"Through exchange, they are, in fact, compelled to allow us to share in those unfair advantages"

If you still disagree, think of it this way....What is the last item that you purchased because it was on sale for a great price? Did you ever consider NOT purchasing the item because it would be unfair to the retailers who couldn't offer the same low price?

Go here for more good stuff from The Atlas Network

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Are You Smarter Than A Libertarian????

Grab a piece of paper and a pencil.  Answer these eight questions with 1) Strongly Agree, 2) Somewhat Agree, 3) Somewhat Disagree, 4) Strongly Disagree, or 5) Not Sure. 
I've changed a few of the questions from negative propositions to positive statements, and vice-versa, to make the scoring easier.
Don't just read it.  Get a piece of paper and write down your answers.   

1) Mandatory licensing of professional services increases the prices of those services.
2) Overall, the standard of living is higher today than it was 30 years ago.
3) Rent control leads to housing shortages.
4) A company with the largest market share is not a monopoly.
5) Third World workers working for American companies overseas are not being exploited.
6) Free trade does not leads to unemployment.
7) Minimum wage laws raise unemployment.
8) Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable.

Ok, class, before we evaluate your answers, let's discuss a few of the "givens" here.  There are things that the overwhelming majority of Biologists simply "know", and take for granted.  Photosynthesis, for instance.  Biologists don't debate very often about whether it happens. 
Math instructors generally don't debate how many 90 degree angles are required to  form 360 degrees.  Most musicians generally agree that the A above middle C vibrates at 440 times per second. 

There are other things that Economists generally "know".  Those things are included in the questions above.

If you answered "Strongly Disagree" or "Somewhat Disagree" with any of the statements above, count that as a wrong answer. 

Please remember that ease of grading, I've changed the wording on a few of the questions.  All of these came from an editorial by Daniel B. Klein, writing for the Wall Street Journal, in a piece called "Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?"  Here's Mr. Klein:

Who is better informed about the policy choices facing the country—liberals, conservatives or libertarians? According to a Zogby International survey that I write about in the May issue of Econ Journal Watch, the answer is unequivocal: The left flunks Econ 101.

Zogby researcher Zeljka Buturovic and I considered the 4,835 respondents' (all American adults) answers to eight survey questions about basic economics. We also asked the respondents about their political leanings: progressive/very liberal; liberal; moderate; conservative; very conservative; and libertarian.

Rather than focusing on whether respondents answered a question correctly, we instead looked at whether they answered incorrectly. A response was counted as incorrect only if it was flatly unenlightened.

Consider one of the economic propositions in the December 2008 poll: "Restrictions on housing development make housing less affordable." People were asked if they: 1) strongly agree; 2) somewhat agree; 3) somewhat disagree; 4) strongly disagree; 5) are not sure.

Basic economics acknowledges that whatever redeeming features a restriction may have, it increases the cost of production and exchange, making goods and services less affordable. There may be exceptions to the general case, but they would be atypical.

Therefore, we counted as incorrect responses of "somewhat disagree" and "strongly disagree." This treatment gives leeway for those who think the question is ambiguous or half right and half wrong. They would likely answer "not sure," which we do not count as incorrect.

In this case, percentage of conservatives answering incorrectly was 22.3%, very conservatives 17.6% and libertarians 15.7%. But the percentage of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly was 67.6% and liberals 60.1%. The pattern was not an anomaly.

How did the six ideological groups do overall? Here they are, best to worst, with an average number of incorrect responses from 0 to 8: Very conservative, 1.30; Libertarian, 1.38; Conservative, 1.67; Moderate, 3.67; Liberal, 4.69; Progressive/very liberal, 5.26.

Americans in the first three categories do reasonably well. But the left has trouble squaring economic thinking with their political psychology, morals and aesthetics.

To be sure, none of the eight questions specifically challenge the political sensibilities of conservatives and libertarians. Still, not all of the eight questions are tied directly to left-wing concerns about inequality and redistribution. In particular, the questions about mandatory licensing, the standard of living, the definition of monopoly, and free trade do not specifically challenge leftist sensibilities.

Yet on every question the left did much worse. On the monopoly question, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (31%) was more than twice that of conservatives (13%) and more than four times that of libertarians (7%). On the question about living standards, the portion of progressive/very liberals answering incorrectly (61%) was more than four times that of conservatives (13%) and almost three times that of libertarians (21%).

The survey also asked about party affiliation. Those responding Democratic averaged 4.59 incorrect answers. Republicans averaged 1.61 incorrect, and Libertarians 1.26 incorrect.

Adam Smith described political economy as "a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator." Governmental power joined with wrongheadedness is something terrible, but all too common. Realizing that many of our leaders and their constituents are economically unenlightened sheds light on the troubles that surround us.

This reminds me of a P.J. O'Rourke line, from Eat The Rich, where he talks about systemic poverty in Russia: 

I had one fundamental question about economics: Why do some places prosper and thrive while others just suck? It’s not a matter of brains. No part of the earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills, and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a spectator sport, they’re boiling stones for soup.

It doesn't matter how smart you are.  If enough of your leaders fundamentally disagree with the 8 statements above, you're eventually going to find yourself boiling rocks to make soup. 
And if you're a Capital "L" Libertarian and got ANY of these questions wrong, please change your name or change your ways.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What the new Robin Hood movie is really about

You can go here and here and here and here and here and here to read libertarian perspectives on Ridley Scott's (relatively) new Robin Hood movie. 

Or you can go see it and develop your own theory of what it all means. 

Lord have mercy, it's a mess. It's a rousing pro-liberty, anti-tax call to arms, but it's still a total mess. The plot doesn't make a lick of sense, and the movie has more anachronisms than Ye Olde Northe Texas Renaissance Faire.
My favorite? The wooden landing craft that the invading French army (long story) uses to land on the British coastline.  They're near replicas of the metal versions that we used five centuries later to go the opposite direction into Normandy.  I don't think troop transport vessels with a hinged front end were on the market during the Middle Ages. 

Still, the movie is enjoyable if you understand the basic metaphor at its heart.....

King Richard plays George W. Bush, who got his country into debt with a pointless war against Muslims.  Robin Hood plays the returning Iraqi vet, who feels guilty about slaughtering Muslims. 

King Richard dies in battle and is replaced by Barack Obama, played by King John.  This new king cranks the spending even higher, and needs even more taxes. 
At one point early in the film, King John actually blames all the continuing high taxes and astronomical debts on the previous king.  If you don't laugh at that point in the movie, you need to watch the news more often.

Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet, Alan A'Dale, Little John some Lost Boys left over from a Peter Pan movie, they all portray various Tea Partiers, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, and Campaign For Liberty members. 

Godfrey, the evil tax collector, does a good turn as Timothy Geithner. 

The Sheriff Of Nottingham portrays Senator Arlen Spector, who tries to play both sides from the middle and gets shunned by everyone. 

That's all you really need to know about the characters, other than Maid Marion.  Maid Marion plays the mandatory female lead who, despite having no military or combat training, shows up in armor at the final battle so she can get knocked unconscious in the middle of the fight and distract Robin Hood from killing Timothy Geithner. 

At one point, King John/Barack Obama burns the new constitution, but stops short of requiring all his subjects to spend money with health insurance companies. 

Before the final fight, King John/Barack Obama, who is totally unqualified to do anything except be his own glorious self, says to the troops “Gentlemen, let’s go to war. It’s my first time – I’ll lead”.  If you don't laugh at that point in the movie, you probably thought that it was ok to vote for a presidential candidate who had absolutely no executive or management experience. 

Fun movie, but I only gave it 6 stars due to sloppiness in the plot and dialogue, plus none of the kings had a court jester portrying Joe Biden. 

Robin Hood, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Barack Obama, The Tea Party Movement, Timothy Geithner, and George W. Bush, is still showing in theatres.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Thrill Is Gone

Please play this while you read.

Here's Jack Kelly writing about how The Thrill Is Gone. A brief excerpt:

The low point came when Mr. Obama professed not to know whether Elizabeth Birnbaum, the woman he appointed to head the Minerals Management Service, resigned or was fired. No one expects the president to don scuba tanks and plug the hole himself. But he at least ought to know what's going on with his own people.

"He came across as a beleaguered bureaucrat in damage control," wrote Craig Crawford of Congressional Quarterly.

Here's Maureen Dowd, a former worshipper of The Obamessiah:

It’s impossible not to feel sorry for President Obama, pummeled by the cascading disasters, at home and abroad, unleashed by two war-mongering oil men — plus scary escalations by Israel, Iran and North Korea. (Dick Cheney’s dark influence is still belching like the well. BP just brought on a new public relations executive: Anne Womack-Kolton, who served as Cheney’s campaign press secretary in 2004 and worked in W.’s White House and at the Energy Department.)

Well, actually it is possible to avoid feeling sorry for the Messianic muttonhead.  I know a lot of  people who accomplish the feat every waking hour. 
If you like, you can go here for a similar column written by Newsweek's Jonathan Alter.
IMAO, what we're dealing with is the inevitable disappointment in the leadership style of someone who has been given the toughest job in the world, but who has never even had to deal with the heavy burdens of running a Whataburger night shift. 
What kind of competence were they expecting?     
I hope you're enjoying the B.B. King/Eric Clapton jam.  (That's a much younger, less bald Phil Collins on the drums, BTW.)

I found this in the comment field of the New York Post article up at the top:

Bush has been out of office for almost 2 years and you're STILL crying about him.
Did Reagan ever blame Carter for the mess he left?
Did Carter ever blame Ford for Nixon? For ANYTHING?
Did Nixon ever blame Vietnam on Kennedy or Johnson?
Did Kennedy blame Ike or Truman for the Cold War and the Cuban Missle Crisis?
Did Truman blame FDR for WW2?
Did FDR blame Hoover for the Depression?
Or did these men focus on the issues instead of acting like a child and pointing fingers?

Well, they probably did.  But I don't have time to research it. 
It's been a year and a half, and the guy and his minions still can't speak  to the media without saying the phrase "what we inherited".  What they're doing is "more of the same". 

I hope you'll listen to King and Clapton all the way through to the end.  The last minute of that video is like listening to Zeus talk to Thor.  Great stuff.