Monday, March 30, 2009

Art Historian Coaches Olympian Swimmer

Lee Sandstead, of a fascinating show called Art Attack, recently wrote an open letter to Michael Phelps. In it, Lee--also an avid swimmer--talks about the role of both swimming and art in his own life:

Mr. Phelps, I grew up for most of my early life in a house trailer. I never had fine things, elegant foods or high culture. We weren't sitting around the trailer discussing world travel or the daily life of Michelangelo, we were debating if an open oven was a satisfactory work around for a broken furnace, or wondering if our pipes would freeze (again) during the winter.

It was in my early twenties when I decided the ideals that I would pursue for the rest of my life--and it is art that continually serves as the guidepost towards those ideals.
Using one of Albert Bierstadt's greatest landscapes--specifically Storm in the Rocky Mountains, Mt. Rosalie--he also talks about how (this type of) art makes him feel:
Mt. Rosalie demands that I live my life like the painting--filled with drama, adventure, beauty, excitement, and love.

I never feel little in front of Mt. Rosalie. Only grand; only bigger than life. Full of my ideals. It's a feeling much like Elvis' famous quote on art: "When I was a child, I was a dreamer. I read comic books, and I was the hero of the comic book." Comic books filled Elvis with grand aspirations. So, too, does Mt. Rosalie for me.
The point in writing the letter was not just to show that "art historians can swim too" but to say thanks to Phelps for the inspiration received via the sight of his achievements--and to show the crucial importance of art, to Phelps or anyone, in one's life.

While mini-biographical and thus of some interest to fans of the show, the above is the open letter's main value. If you're interested in what a passionate art historian thinks about art, and how he thinks art will help Phelps win more gold medals, head to the site now.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tax Credits for Education, 2

Earlier in the week, I wrote out the fundamental reason why tax credits should be advocated.

To repeat that argument, in an even more condensed form, I said that tax credits pay restitution to parents for the infringement on their right to their own earnings--and how they are spent with regards to their child's education. As an advocate of freedom, I consider such restitution a good thing.

I also raised the possibility that non-parents might recognize the inconsistency and assert their right to their earnings--an action that I and probably many others (who just gained freedom in this area) would agree with.

Of course bad possibilities can be imagined as well as the good. For example, it is possible that bureaucrats within the government use tax credits as a way of pushing their own agendas.

"Want your money back?" they might ask, "then you're going to have to send your kids to a school that teaches this" (or passes these standards, and so on).

The ultimate, paralyzing fear is that if parents do get their money back, albeit with strings attached, those strings will grow into ropes--and it's possible that in the end everyone will be worse off than before.

Note that this same thinking can be applied to what one should advocate or do in every area of politics and one's own life.

For example: Should you go talk to that beautiful woman and see if there is something interesting wrapped up in all the pretty? Should you support the abolition of laws prohibiting drug use? Should you try to eat better foods and exercise more?

In each case above, both good and bad results are possible. But the proper action remains the same: it is the action consistent with one's long-term, rationally chosen values.

If you are single and looking, then you should go talk with that person you find attractive. She might be boring or reserved, but she could be brilliant or sensual. In many cases, how you approach her (and the thought you've put into that) will determine the outcome of that encounter. Nobody is as boring as a person answering boring questions.

If you are an advocate for freedom, then you should support abolishing laws that restrict it--even though some people will use their freedom in a way that is harmful to their health (for example, using drugs excessively). Here, as in the case above and the one that follows, the usual responses can be thought of in advance, allowing you (and the political system) to deal with them effectively.

If you want to be healthy and fit, then you should exercise more or eat better. The fact that many people binge after diets or get injured while exercising is no reason to not do those activities. The possibilities are real, but they should lead one (again) to think clearly about one's approach.

Doing nothing, or acquiescing to defeat before one even begins, is a sure way to not reach one's desired destination.

I hold that tax credits for education should be advocated by all. They are not the final destination, where the US has a politically free educational system, but they would be the enactment of an absolutely crucial point along the way towards that goal (and many others besides).

Once a government recognizes a parent's right to their own earnings, the rest of the battle is downhill.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kill Bill in One Minute and One Take

As anyone who has read my detailed storyline for Kill Bill 3 knows, I am a huge fan of the series. This video condenses parts one and two into one minute, all in one take.

The dialogue is great, given that in just one minute they had to severely delimit what they could say. Bill's last line--"by the way this baby is yours"--is classic, but not as funny as him counting to five fast as he walks to his death.

Actually, it's all the little stuff that makes this video--shot by the University of York Filmmaking Society--awesome. But I'll let you find all that stuff for yourself.

Just one reminder: if you liked this one, the school also made a Forrest Gump in One Take and in One Minute clip. Check it out!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Tax Credits for Education, 1

I ended a previous post on vouchers--based on a letter to the editor by Aquinas Heard--as such:
"If freedom is the standard, and it should be, coercion needs to be removed from education completely. Not just in its funding, but in its enrollment too. The way to get more choice in the meantime is not with vouchers but with tax credits for education."
The fundamental argument for tax credits is simple. Here is the one minute simplified version:

Parents have a right to the money they have earned, which includes of course how it will be spent by them. When it comes to educating their children, the government does not acknowledge this right. Instead, money is taken from parents and used to fund an education for their children that others think those kids should have.

The above constitutes an abrogation of rights. Leaving aside compulsory attendance for the child, the property rights of the parents are violated--because the government has taken away their property (which means here their earnings).

Tax credits would recognize the infringement on rights that occurs above, unfortunately on an ongoing basis given the present system, and--while not changing the system--would compensate parents for the money taken from them in this specific area.

Note that the practicality of having parents search for the best school or textbooks and so on for their child is not mentioned above. Though practical benefits would no doubt be one result, on a fundamental basis, it is really just about rights--and, specifically here, property rights.

In the comments section of the previous post, a knowlegeable reader and fellow blogger pointed out that the system as a whole wouldn't change. The government would only pay restitution to parents; those without kids, who are forced to pay into the current system, would continue to see their right to the disposal of the money they earned infringed upon--with no restitution whatsoever.

This is an inconsistency for sure, and one that was pointed out to me elsewhere. Given the state of the political system, however, inconsistency is hardly a bad thing. I want to support something at odds with the current system, as long as it is aligned with freedom, and the more people that recognize their lack of a right when contrasted with someone who has it, the better.

In other words, I want those people to say that that they earn money too--and then ask why they shouldn't also have a right to spend their money on what they want as they wish. Sometimes getting people to ask the right questions is far better than giving them the right answers.

Here, all an advocate of individual rights has to do is agree. Main premise agreed upon, the conversation can then move to more practical matters of what that person can do to bring about a more just system (in the limited area of education and beyond).

It is of course obligatory to note that the above is one possibility. There is no certainty that this is how people will react, and the reactions of some--including government bureaucrats--may be entirely different. Since this post is long (especially by internet standards), I will discuss the objection arising from this possibility in a coming post. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Prokofiev's "March"--More Tiddlywink Music

This was one of Ayn Rand's favorite songs, though probably not a recording that she was aware of. Instead, this is my favorite playing of Prokofiev's famous "March"--by the violinist Jascha Heifetz.


(This one barely missed making my top three list for the post where I wrote out my "top three" favorites in different areas of art, from paintings and music to novels and poems.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Heard on the Web

Aquinas Heard argues in a recently published LTE that whether vouchers are good or bad for public schools is beside the point; the proper question to ask, according to him, is what their exact relationship is to the choice a parent has with regards to their child's education.

The question should be: Will vouchers expand parent’s educational freedom? There can be no expansion of freedom when the funding of vouchers still rest on the forcible appropriation of a citizens’ earnings through taxation.


Until vouchers are funded by completely voluntary means, Georgians who are supporters of individual rights must state unequivocally: Vouchers equal wrong choice.
I think the LTE raises a crucial point, that the funding of vouchers via taxation makes them just as opposed to freedom (and property rights) on a fundamental level as the funding of public schools.

However, from the standpoint of a parent, they do provide a choice between one school and another--a choice that can potentially mean a world of difference in the education of their child. This (superficial) meaning of freedom or choice is what most parents refer to and struggle to attain.

It's sad that even this superficial choice is impossible to many, let alone the choice of what to do with their own money (with regards to funding their own child's education or choosing not to fund the education of other's children).

If freedom is the standard, and it should be, coercion needs to be removed from education completely. Not just in its funding, but in its enrollment too. The way to get more choice in the meantime is not with vouchers but with tax credits for education.

(Hat tip: The Sidereal Messenger)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mausi: Ayn Rand's "Laughing Song"

In Facets of Ayn Rand, Charles Sures remarks about the famous author's musical preferences, saying:

"She loved, more than any other music, what she called her 'tiddlywink' music—those lighthearted, irresistib­ly gay melodies, many from the pre-World War I period..."

"...She had a record­ing of some­thing we all called 'the laugh­ing song,'4 which we never tired of hear­ing. The singers start to laugh as they are sing­ing; their laughter is so contagious that long before the song is over every­one is laugh­ing along with them."

You can hear that "laughing song" for yourself, most likely for the first time, above.

By the way, if you liked the song, be sure and rate it highly. This is the equivalent of clicking on an ad or leaving a comment for a blogger--it rewards them for what they have done and what you have found valuable (and it makes it more likely that a future world will include more of whatever it is you support).

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

John D Rockefeller Quotes

Titan is the best biography written by Ron Chernow, and one of my favorites by anybody. Following are some quotes that I took from its pages, along with some notes. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are by Rockefeller:

"The impression was gaining ground with me that it was a good thing to let the money be my slave and not make myself a slave to money."

"Save when you can and not when you have to."

"Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings."

"Your future hangs on every day that passes." (This was a Benjamin Franklin quote that Rockefeller often repeated.)

"It is very important to remember what other people tell you, not so much what you yourself already know."

"Yet the thing to be husbanded most jealously was time." --Ron Chernow on Rockefeller's tightly budgeted daily schedule.

"Often-times the most difficult competition comes, not from the strong, the intelligent, the conservative competitor, but from the man who is holding on by the eyelids and is ignorant of his costs, and anyway he's got to keep running or bust!"

"Success comes from keeping the ears open and the mouth closed" and "A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden ful of weeds" were two of Rockefeller's most cherished maxims. They go a long way towards showing why he equated silence with strength.

"Do not many of us who fail to achieve big things. . .fail because we lack concentration--the art of concentrating the mind on the thing to be done at the proper time and to the exclusion of everything else?"

"Waste neither time nor money" The favorite motto of Charles Pratt, an associate of Rockefeller, but one that very well summed up the key to Rockefeller's accumulation of wealth.

"I should say in general the advantage of education is to better fit a man for life's work. I would advise young men to take a college course, as a rule, but think some are just as well off with a thorough business training."

"It has always been my rule in business to make everything count."

"As with industrial methods, Rockefeller broke down cycling into its component parts then perfected each movement." Ron Chernow on the oft-repeated method used by Rockefeller with great success. It was applied just as much to his own life: "[He] reduced everything to a routine and repeated the same daily schedule. . ."

Later, Chernow echoes this same focus on getting the most out of time: "Rockefeller placed great store in following the same daily schedule down to the second. Whether in prayer or in wholesome recreation, he still had the Puritan's need to employ every hour profitably."

"A man's wealth must be determined by the relation of his desires and expenditures to his income. If he feels rich on ten dollars, and has everything else he desires, he really is rich."

"Probably the greatest single obstacle to the progress and happiness of the American people lies in the willingness of so many men to invest their time and money in multiplying competitive industries instead of opening up new fields, and putting their money into lines of industry and development that are needed."

"A great injustice has been done the company. It was from ignorance on how the great business was founded. For all these years no one has known and no one seems to have cared how it came into existence."

"When a man has accumulated a sum of money, accumulated it within the law, the Government has no right to share in its earnings." (On the ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment, which provided for the first federal income tax in America--which had a top rate of six percent.)

"Do you know what would hurt grandfather a great deal? To know that any of you boys should become wasteful, extravagant, careless with his money."

The above quotes typify the type of person Rockefeller was and the type of actions one should take if they want to achieve great things in this world. While one can think about and understand each quote taken in turn, their value can be realized in a greater way with a reading of Titan. I highly recommend the book, including Chernow's other works: The House of Morgan and The Warburgs.