Saturday, August 30, 2008

The "Barracuda" and the "Maverick"

Congratulations to Sarah Palin

Back at the beginning of this blog, Doctor June McCarrol was featured as the Inventor of Highway Pavement Markings! You can read her remarkable story Here. Her genuine concern led her to activism as she petitioned the Indio government and later the State of California. Alaska Governor Palin is made of the same stuff. Beginning as a concerned parent she got involved in local government. In 1992 she ran for city council of Wasilla, AK and served there until 1996 when she became mayor. She was appointed to the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and served as Ethics Commissioner from 2003 to 2004. She resigned and exposed corruption in the commission, fingering prominent members of her own party. Her credentials as a reformer clearly established, Ms. Palin ran for Governor in 2006 and defeated incumbent Republican Governor Murkowski in the primary. She went on to win the general election and became, at 42, Alaska's youngest Governor in history.

As Governor, Palin is known as a foe of wasteful spending and is famous for her vetoes of questionable expenditures. She has another unique qualification for leadership -- she is the Mother of five children! Her youngest child, Trig, was born while she was Governor of Alaska. That has to be another historic first! Her oldest son serves in the U.S. Army and will serve in Iraq starting this fall.

So how did she get the nickname "Barracuda?" It goes back to her Wasilla High School basketball days when she earned the moniker: "Sarah Barracuda" for her fierce play as point guard. Off the court, she was President of the school's Fellowship of Christian Athletes Chapter. Do you see a penchant for leadership here?

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in Kuwait.

Binyamin L. Jolkovsky of Jewish World Review ran This Piece by Nat Hentoff in May! Mr. Hentoff is a liberal thinker who is pro-life [he thinks for himself, obviously]. His observations about Ms. Palin and her qualifications for the job are well worth reading, even now, months after Hentoff wrote them. This is no overnight decision.

A Vice President We Can Relate to

Sarah Palin represents a rebirth of that Jeffersonian ideal where people from ordinary life go up to Washington to represent us and then come home! She's no Washington insider in a grey suit.
She got involved in the first place because she cares. I thought of a young mother of five we know who is very active in her kids' schools, and said to my wife "that's like (our friend) being chosen to be Vice-president." Ms. Palin should take that as a great compliment. She's truely one of us!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Econ 101 For Reporters

Do News Reporters Even Understand Economics?

"The impression one gets from corporate critics is that many are prospering but exploiting loopholes in the tax code and leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab." -- Steven Malanga

I found this piece by Steven Malanga: Do Corporations Really Pay No Taxes? It makes the point that so much of the economic reporting we see today is at best devoid of necessary context and at worst, downright misleading.

I thought it was basic knowledge that corporations pay taxes on profits, not gross sales, but Malanga points out a reporter who makes no effort to clarify that point. Forgetting that $50 million in sales is not money the company gets to keep. Think of eight or nine percent of that amount as "evil" corporate profits and you are probably closer to the truth.

Malanga also points out that the profit is often passed through the entity as salaries and dividends. That is where they are taxed.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Myth and Reality of 'Energy Economics'

John Stossel Rephrases the Question for Us

I grew up with NASA getting man to the Moon, after the Manhattan Project brought a quicker end to the war, so the current talk of some centralized push to make us energy independent is appealing. Still, John Stossel shines some important light on the economics involved and makes some important points about how markets actually work.

The Idiocy of Energy Independence I
The Idiocy of Energy Independence II

I wondered why we didn't make a wholesale transformation to some alcohol-based fuel system after the 'gas crisis' of the Seventies, and the truth is there was always a whole lot of oil. It was relatively cheap and didn't create competition for corn. The government simply can't buy ethanol into the marketplace -- especially in a food crisis.

Perhaps the next decade will see a variety of solutions and better uses of existing technologies. Most of them will likely come from private initiative in one form or another. Indeed the financial incentive is there, without government creating it. There was a myth going around in the Seventies about the 100mpg carborator and how some big oil company bought up the patent. If it's lying in some plan file somewhere it's time to pull it out and make some real money. Stossel gives us the example of a $300 million prize one candidate proposes be offered for developing a truely workable electric car battery. Hey, if someone actually develops it they're looking at many times that amount in royalties/licensing; and that's just on Prius refits alone! Some after-market manufacturer might just write a really great open-ended agreement for those rights.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When Image Trumps Reality

"Things are seldom as they seem, Skim milk masquerades as cream." -- William S. Gilbert

The opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics featured a lovely little girl with a beautiful voice performing... er, it was actually TWO little girls, chosen in a competition to find the prettiest perfect little vocalist for the event. The seven year old with the beautiful voice wasn't 'cute enough' apparently, so a nine year old who was 'cuter' lip-synched her song.

Cory Franklin Has These Observations on the phenomenom of manipulating reality. Leni Riefenstahl's 1938 film Olympia did much the same for the1936 Berlin Olympics, creating a showcase for the Nazi regiem.

While we are apalled at certain revelations of manipulation, such as the opening ceremony vocalist, Franklin points out that people often prefer the image over reality. When Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, was speaking at Harvard students flocked to see him. Following Roddenberry on the program was Werner Von Braun, one of the creators of NASA. As Von Braun began to speak he noticed the students leaving in droves. Thinking this might have been a protest of his earlier involvement in the Nazi regiem, he asked about it later. He was told that the students were only interested in hearing Roddenberry. Ironically, the networks had already started curtailing their coverage of the actual space launches pretty much after the early Apollo flights.

My father worked for NASA and I couldn't get enough of coverage of our exploits in space, but it seems that in this day appreciating reality is akin to appreciating opera. You have to do some work on your own -- such as reading the libretto and learning about the music. A little understanding of Sixteenth-Century Italy doesn't hurt either. Heather Mac Donald Observes This Disturbing Trend to 'rewrite' classic works, dumbing them down in performance to create 'relevant' content for modern audiences. The result is often not unlike what you would achieve if you gave the project to middle-school boys [unsupervised, of course].

There is a lot of talk now about 'hope' and 'change,' especially as we approach another National election. What's missing are the frank discussions of how to solve problems. Matters such as how economies work and how to fuel them need to become the centerpiece of this discussion.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Great Olympian of the Past

His Triumph was More than Athletic

Who was the first gold-medalist olympian born in China? The answer may come as a surprise, but his story carries much meaning as we've just seen the first Olympic Games played in the land of his birth.

If you've strained through your memory of fine gymnasts, precision divers and table tennis champions, give up. The man is Eric Liddell, otherwise known as the 'flying Scottsman.' He was the second son of Scottish missionaries to China and was born in 1902 in Tianjin. He distinguished himself as a sprinter at a very young age and was considered a contender for gold in the 1924 Paris Olympics 100 and 200 meter races.

A devoted Christian, Liddell withdrew from the 100 meters, his best event, when he learned that the qualifying heats would be run on Sunday. He still was able to compete in the 200, gaining bronze, but here is where the story gets good!

He won a slot in the 400 meter race as well, but was not expected to do well at all. Before the race, an American trainer handed him a piece of paper that said: "Those who honor me I will honor." -- 1 Samuel 2:30. Liddell ran the race with that piece of paper crumpled in his hand.

Liddell ran that race, coming out like a shot. He ran like he was running a 200! There was no way he should have been able to dig deeper -- but then he did. Anyone who's ever run this race knows it was nothing short of a miracle. Liddell's head went back and his arms flailed as he churned out 200 meters more of pure energy. He won the gold in that event that day, surprising all who observed him run it.

Liddell says that G-d carried him that last 200. NBC described the race yesterday and the commentator stumbled over this fact, saying it was "almost like" a miracle! Hey, he "almost" got it right. They interviewed Liddell's daughter for the piece and she described the rest of Eric Liddell's amazing life. Liddell himself felt the call to minister in China and was there with his family when the Japanese occupation began. Sending his wife and two daughters home, Liddell labored on. When the Japanese interred all foreigners in concentration camps, Liddell became a science teacher for the children and organized games for the youth. It is worth noting that Liddell had no qualms about running athletic events for the youth on Sunday afternoons and was a great force in keeping up everyone's morale.

Winston Churchill arranged a prisoner exchange at one point and Liddell was one of the ones chosen to go, but he gave his place to a pregnant woman and stayed on. He suffered a nervous breakdown while in camp and died of an inoperable brain tumor on February 21, 1945.

In the Moscow Olympics of 1980, Scottsman Allan Wells won the 100 meters. Someone asked him if he had run the race for Harold Abrahams [who won the 100 in 1924], and Wells said "No, this one is for Eric Liddell!"

What would Eric Liddell have thought of the games we have just witnessed? I think he would have shared the mixed feelings of many of us; Happy to see the door open, but grieved at the condition of so many of our Chinese brethren.

Read More About this Great Olympian Here

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A New Old Problem

Bigger Isn't Always Better

I've refrained so far from commenting on the Beijing Olympics. Randy Alcorn has some excellent thoughts on the games and I read his novel Safely Home prior to the games. I highly recommend it! I share many of the sentements he expresses.

What I do want to think about at the moment is China's entry into the Syd Mead super-sized urban core and the loss of its neigborhoods. This News Story covers it very well. Japan has dealt with this phenomenom as it has seen old Kyoto's traditional houses fall to the wrecking ball.

Europe saw postwar reconstruction of monsterous blocks of sterile housing and America built urban renewal projects of the same genre. No longer did the life of the village surround the plaza. Now Paris, which survived Hitler and Le Corbusier, faces similar urban renewal as detailed Here in City Journal. Clearly the challenge of preserving the fabric of community is greater than ever.

The answer is probably over simplified by calling for replicating Nineteenth Century Main Street architecture. I could see some really lovely infusion of the work of Hugh Newell Jacobsen, for example. Jacobsen deftly manipulates pure form but he lives and works in Georgetown where there is a rich community fabric, which he appreciates. Also, there are places in Manhattan where the market for community spaces thrives amidst twenty story buildings.

Le Corbusier's vision for Paris

Seward Park is typical of American Urban Renewal Projects.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A New Village Square

New Life for an Old Strip Center

IGA Shopping Center
Old shopping centers like this exist in most of our suburbs.

Let's face it, people flock to the suburbs because they offer a house in the village. Unfortunately their is no center to most of these villages and that is the mission of Traditional Neighborhood Design. Here is a great idea! Take the tired old shopping centers that abound in our suburbs and create village centers like the one below proposed for Crozet. Residential and office space is created by adding upper stories to the existing retail spaces, creating a very nice mixed-use town center.

Crozet Station
Here is the new village center which fits right in the footprint of the old strip center.

Crozet Station
Detail of the new village center.

Elevation Rendering.

View looking West.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Purpose Driven Forum

Seeing the Candidates in a New Light

I was pleasantly surprised by the Civil Forum hosted by Pastor Rick Warren on CNN last night for the two presumptive nominees. First of all, the forum was indeed civil and allowed one, as it were, to meet the person rather than the perception. Senator Obama and Senator McCain were each interviewed for an hour by themselves, receiving the same questions. The time and space were given for thoughtful answers and the individual interview format allowed the viewer time to process what each man was saying.

Pastor Warren dug politely but directly to find out what the candidates believe personally and how it affects the decisions they make [and will have to make]. This led to the telling of some interesting personal stories and the unfolding of some pretty positive visions for the future that both men hold. It was a brief window into what motivates the two contenders for the Presidency and allowed us a chance to know them as men.

Click Here to Watch the Forum

We could use a lot more of such dialogue.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Modern Siege of Vienna

History Tells Us How to Fight the War on Terror

Vienna, on the outskirts of Metropolitan Washington, DC.

In 1529 and again in 1683, the Ottoman Empire invaded Hungary, working their way to the outskirts of the Habsburg Capital of Vienna. Central Europe was threatened and in 1529 the onset of Winter drove the Turkish invaders back to Istanbul. The second siege in 1683 was ended by Polish troops under Jan Sobieski who showed up to relieve the defenders of Vienna.

As Bruce S. Thornton points out in This Piece in City Journal, the Ottoman Empire was a dangerous place for the non-islamic inhabitants. What would have happened if the Turks had prevailed at Vienna? Europe would have likely become a very different place.

It took a decisive victory, that of Setember 11, 1683, to turn the tide and secure Europe from the Ottoman threat. Likewise the young Republic dealt with the Barbary Pirates. These North African pirates looted ships and captured crew members from the 16th Century to the beginning of the Nineteenth. In 1801 the First Barbary War was fought by the United States against Tripoli to secure the safety of the seas. In 1815 the Second Barbary War was fought.

As the smoke from the Pentagon could be seen over the Washington suburb of Vienna on September 11, 2001 the forces of Islam took up the struggle where they had left off at the gates of the Habsburg Capital.

The Gates of Vienna Blog is an excellent resource for learning about the historical perspective of the modern war on terror. Visit them Here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Today's Heroes

Modern Soldiers Deserve Our Respect and Admiration

Having given up on the mainstream media before the surge, I suppose this is old news to some, but I found this group: Veterans for Freedom a breath of fresh air. Their mission is simply to make sure the real story gets told. Indeed there is plenty of heroic good to report and I think it is a shame that the press goes silent when there is progress.

Perhaps it is just the "bad news sells papers" phenomenom but the young men and women who put themselves in harm's way deserve better from a free press that thrives in a free nation who owes that freedom to the sacrifice of such men and women.

So stop by their Website and learn more about their mission.

Thank You!
Run for the Fallen came through Rockfish Gap this weekend. Each mile they run is in honor of a fallen soldier. Here the gaurdrail at the crest of the Blue Ridge becomes a memorial.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Preserving the Dream

David Tenenbaum's Story and Why it Matters

This Story as Reported in Jewish World Review should cause all of us to pause. Mr. Tenenbaum was doing important work on armorment for military vehicles when he was singled out for hostile treatment because he is an observant Jew. The real tragedy is the lives that could have been saved by his research.

We need to remember our beginnings as a nation and not tolerate such persecution.

Looking Back -- Looking Ahead

Celebrating Twenty-three Years

Biosphere illustration for WDEF

It's been an interesting twenty-three years. Take a look at Twenty-three Years in Pictures at our website.