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I'll be posting articles infrequently in April, as I work on my ACT materials, as well as finalizing the following five books: 

TWO RAILS TO A POINT, A CAPITAL IDEA, THE DREAM, THE COMMERCE CONNECTION, and THE MATHEMATICAL ELEPHANT.

 

                   

 

A RALLYING POINT

for all those who are starved for a voice of integrity.

 

April 1, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

He was reported to have had the highest IQ in the history of the world.  A genius - not just in one discipline, but many.

 

William James Sidis.

 

 

 

And when he died in 1944, he was judged a failure.  A prodigious failure. 

 

We know better now.

 

We know of his study on the founding of this country.  Of black holes.  Of liberty and of the infinite.  Of other topics.

 

He was studying - and learning - about everything!

 

The media discovered one book he had published under the pseudonym Frank Folupa (Sidis published under several such names) titled, "Notes on the Collection of Transfers", about Trolley transfers, and offered this as evidence he was a failure.  "Why would a genius write such a thing?"  My guess?  Trolleys afforded Sidis the opportunity to really investigate the city he lived in - its places and its history.  And he did.

 

There's a passage that comes to mind from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged when I think about William James Sidis:

"I am speaking to those who desire to live and to recapture the honor of their soul. Now that you know the truth about your world stop supporting your own destroyers. The evil of the world is made possible by nothing but the sanction you give it. Withdraw your sanction. Withdraw your support. Do not try to live on your enemies' terms or to win at a game where they're setting the rules. Do not seek the favor of those who enslaved you, do not beg for alms from those who have robbed you, be it subsidies, loans or jobs, do not join their team to recoup what they've taken by helping them rob your neighbors. One cannot hope to maintain one's life by accepting bribes to condone one's destruction. Do not struggle for profit, success or security at the price of a lien on your right to exist. Such a lien is not to be paid off; the more you pay them, the more they will demand; the greater the values you seek or achieve, the more vulnerably helpless you become. Theirs is a system of white blackmail devised to bleed you, not by means of your sins, but by means of your love for existence.

"Do not attempt to rise on the looters' terms or to climb a ladder while they're holding the ropes. Do not allow their hands to touch the only power that keeps them in power: your living ambition. Go on strike—in the manner I did. Use your mind and skill in private, extend your knowledge, develop your ability, but do not share your achievements with others. Do not try to produce a fortune, with a looter riding on your back. Stay on the lowest rung of their ladder, earn no more than your barest survival, do not make an extra penny to support the looters' state. Since you're captive, act as a captive, do not help them pretend that you're free. Be the silent, incorruptible enemy they dread. When they force you, obey—but do not volunteer. Never volunteer a step in their direction, or a wish, or a plea, or a purpose. Do not help a holdup man to claim that he acts as your friend and benefactor. Do not help your jailers to pretend that their jail is your natural state of existence. Do not help them to fake reality. That fake is the only dam holding off their secret terror, the terror of knowing they're unfit to exist; remove it and let them drown; your sanction is their only life belt.

"If you find a chance to vanish into some wilderness out of their reach, do so, but not to exist as a bandit or to create a gang competing with their racket; build a productive life of your own with those who accept your moral code and are willing to struggle for a human existence. You have no chance to win on the Morality of Death or by the code of faith and force; raise a standard to which the honest will repair: the standard of Life and Reason.

"Act as a rational being and aim at becoming a rallying point for all those who are starved for a voice of integrity—act on your rational values, whether alone in the midst of your enemies, or with a few of your chosen friends, or as the founder of a modest community on the frontier of mankind's rebirth. 

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged

 

At the marvelous site www.sidis.net , created and maintained by Dan Mahony, is this moving piece, written in 1944, by Mrs. Sharfman:

 

LAMENT FOR WILLIAM JAMES SIDIS

AN AMERICAN

 

When I think of America again,

Of what it could be, or was meant to be,

Or when I think of an American,

I shall see Sidis, with the light upon

His face, the light of genius, that made him more

An angel than a man.  He was no failure.

You could roll Harvard, its professors and

Its learning into one.  He could have taught

That one.  The proof?  Not one in Harvard knew

Enough to honor him.  He talked to little

Groups and told them stories; tales of the Gray

Champion who appears when Massachusetts'

Civil liberties are threatened.  Insights

Like jewels he strung upon a silver thread

Of knowledge; made American tradition

From concepts hard as a jade and bright as needles

Shining upon the tree of liberty.

The pine tree was his symbol and his fate,

He knew the debt we owe to Indians.

That we derived ideas of federation

And written constitution from them, he linked

The peace path of the Iroquois with our

Country's role among the nations; he saw

That our naturalizing of citizens

Stems from adopting strangers into the tribe,

Making them brothers, as the Indians did.

Of what he saw he made a theory

Of continuity; who heard him speak.

Or read what he has written, know the man

Outgrew the prodigy.  It was not all

He knew.  If any man since Leonardo

Had universal knowledge, it was he.

He traced the history of Boston back

Four thousand years; he knew Atlantis and

The mound builders; and transportation systems

Of many cities as he knew the paths

The Indian couriers took; he told people

The names of streets they never heard of in

Their own home towns; what bus to take; what train;

And followed travels of a hurricane

As easily.  Yet he could smile at Einstein

Having discarded more than experts know.

The Boston cop who smashed him on the head

One May day, when he marched in a parade;

Did not disturb that mind.  In Texas where

He taught, he looked each night upon a star.

"Capella, Capella, that's my star," he said.

"It shines on Boston."  The light that Sidis shed

Could shine on Boston and illumine there

The promise Sidis saw of a Promised Land.

 

 

 

 

William James Sidis ...

 

He was born this day, April 1st, 1898.  But he was no April Fool.  Neither was he superhuman.  This passage from Atlas Shrugged comes to mind (paraphrasing):

 

"Don't be astonished - and don't make the mistake of thinking that Sidis is some sort of superhuman creature. He's something much greater and more astounding than that: he's a normal man—a thing the world has never seen—and his feat is that he's managed to survive as such. It does take an exceptional mind and a still more exceptional integrity to remain untouched by the brain-destroying influences of the world's doctrines, the accumulated evil of centuries—to remain human, since the human is the rational."

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged

 

 

ROBBING PETER TO PAY PAUL

 

"A Capital Idea" Story

 

April 6, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

Minnesota - the name itself reveals the cultural history of this area.  A Dakota Indian poured milk into the Minnesota water and noted how it turned a "sky-tinted" color, or "somewhat cloudy".

Native Americans were here first, of course.

The British laid claim to lands east of the Mississippi.

The French laid claim to lands west of the Mississippi.

The British also claimed northern "Minnesota"!

A map of how the United States came to acquire the land follows:

The United States was growing up.

But the War of 1812 showed the vulnerability of the northern border, and a series of forts was erected.

As waterways were the principal points of vulnerability, the confluence of rivers served as an opportunity to defend two rivers with one fort.

The Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers did just that.

Fort Snelling was erected. 

 

A wider angle showing the fort years later, and incorporating more of the Mississippi River, which oddly moves north from the fort, before retreating again south.

 

Many squatters settled along the grounds surrounding Fort Snelling.  One such person was Pierre Parrant.

"Pig's Eye" Parrant.

He was blind in one eye.

He settled along the Fort and made a living distilling liquor, which he would sell to other squatters, the indigenous people of the area, and even the soldiers of the Fort.

In 1838, they were kicked off the land, accused of using too many of the natural resources in the area.

Parrant moved downstream and made a claim on a tract of land north of the Mississippi, just as it crests, and established a bar, known as "Pig's Eye", or "Pig's Eye Pandemonium".

It did well.

The area was growing up.

And a bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dubuque, Iowa, took notice of the many catholics.

A missionary was in need.  And Lucian Galtier answered the call.

 

When he arrived at "Pig's Eye", and began construction of his chapel on the bluff atop Parrant's bar, Galtier was dismayed to think the town was actually taking on the name of a man with such ill-repute.

"Pig's Eye, converted thou shalt be, like Saul; Arise, and be henceforth, Saint Paul."

His favorite apostle.

The origins of Saint Paul, Minnesota ...

And now, you think you know "The Capital Idea".

The story continues ...

Downstream from Saint Paul, along the Minnesota River, lies St. Peter.

And momentum was picking up to have the territorial capital changed from Saint Paul to Saint Peter.

 

The territorial governor, Governor Gorman, owned land in Saint Peter.

Geographically, it made sense, residing in the middle of the state and along a waterway, while Saint Paul sat on the eastern border.

The territorial legislature was in favor of the move, and the measure passed in both houses.

All that was needed was Governor Gorman's signature.

But the process had to go through the Chairman of the Enrollment Committee.  The Chairman was Joseph Rolette.

Rolette didn't like the move of the capital from Saint Paul to Saint Peter.

So he stole the bill.

Literally.

And hid.  In a bar.  In a brothel.  Away from city police searching for him.  They did not find him.

And he only turned up once the deadline to pass bills had come - and gone.

And Minnesota became a state May 11, 1858, with Saint Paul its capital.

Because Rolette "Robbed Peter to Pay Paul".

And NOW you know "The Capital Idea"!

 

 

 

 

"AS GOES ARGENTINE, SO GOES BNSF"

 

April 7, 2010

 

 

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They move more intermodal freight traffic than any other rail system in the world.

As we saw earlier, the BNSF Railway was one of five large rail companies in the United States ...

 

And "As goes Argentine, so goes BNSF."

Argentine?

In our article on "Coal and Commerce", we talked about the intersection of a BNSF coal line with a rail line extending from the Port of Long Beach, California to Chicago, Illinois.

Goods from Asia on their way to Chicago.

All the way to Chicago?

Surely, not all of the goods go all of the way to Chicago.  What happens, in this case?  And what about goods heading westward?  North?  South?

Consider a mailman.  A mailman makes stops, picks up mail, drops off mail, and moves on - returning to the post office.  Mail is sorted.  Held until another mailman is heading another direction.

It's classified - organized. 

Such is the case with railroads and goods.  Stops are made.  Rail cars are "classified", and sorted.

To lots of different destinations.

Of course, unlike an envelop, a railcar is huge.  To classify them would require huge swaths of land.  Many tracks.

Let's see if we can find such areas of land here in Kansas City.  Below is a snapshot of Kansas City, where the Kansas and Missouri Rivers meet:

 

Let's zoom in and see what we can see:

The highlighted region is the Norfolk Southern Railroad, North Kansas City yard, which is the furthest west the railroad travels.

 

This highlighted region is Neff Yard, a hump classification yard for the Union Pacific. Once used by the Missouri Pacific, this is now one of two major yards used by the Union Pacific in Kansas City.

 

The highlighted region below is Murray Yard, BNSF Railway's Murray Yard complex, one of BNSF's railroad yards in Kansas City. Crews from Murray Yard operated north to Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska; south to Fort Scott, Kansas; and east to Brookfield, Missouri. It is augmented by the much larger Argentine Yard in Argentine, Kansas. There are maintenance of way facilities, a rail car repair shop, and a small diesel locomotive ship inside the complex.

 

You get the idea - huge areas "right in the middle of everything going on", responsible for the classification and organization of all the things that make life what it is -

These are yards on the Missouri side - what about the Kansas?  What's going on just north of the Kansas River as it makes the shape of a "U"?

 

This highlighted region is the Union Pacific Intermodal Yard ...

 

And the huge area southwest of the UP intermodal yard, just south of the Kansas River?

This is the Argentine Yard, the largest Burlington Northern Santa Fe classification yard, the largest yard on the BNSF system. There is an intermodal hub center, a hump with 60 sorting tracks, a car repair shop, and a large diesel shop on the premises.

 

 

 

 

The image above and layout below are from:

"North American Railyards", by Michael Rhodes

 

 

THE ARGENTINE YARD OF KANSAS CITY

Second Largest Classification Yard in the United States

"As Goes Argentine, So Goes BNSF"

 

 

The Moral Meaning of "Robin Hood"

 

April 13, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

 

Robin Hood - he stole from the ruthless and thieving rich to give back to the robbed poor.

If that's the meaning behind the story of Robin Hood, I'm all for it.

But whether that's the story or not - if there actually was a Robin Hood - it's not the story that's come down to us.

Robin Hood: a "staunch philanthropist", who merely stole from the rich to give to the poor.

That's the moral meaning that's come down to us.  Property theft.  But more important than that, a moral message: it's OK to steal from those who have to give to those who don't.

In education financing.

In health care reform.

In taxation.

The philosophy of "Robin Hood" is alive and well.

Health care reform can be defeated.  But it will return, in a thousand variations, inevitably, unless the moral premise is challenged - and destroyed.  Ragnar Danneskjold, my favorite character of Atlas Shrugged, was in pursuit of this philosophical thief, as he talked with Hank Reardon:

"I'm after a man whom I want to destroy. He died many centuries ago, but until the last trace of him is wiped out of men's minds, we will not have a decent world to live in."

What man?"

"Robin Hood."

Rearden looked at him blankly, not understanding.

"He was the man who robbed the rich and gave to the poor. Well, I'm the man who robs the poor and gives to the rich—or, to be exact, the man who robs the thieving poor and gives back to the productive rich."

"What in blazes do you mean?"

"If you remember the stories you've read about me in the newspapers, before they stopped printing them, you know that I have never robbed a private ship and never taken any private property. Nor have I ever robbed a military vessel—because the purpose of a military fleet is to protect from violence the citizens who paid for it, which is the proper function of a government. But I have seized every loot-carrier that came within range of my guns, every government relief ship, subsidy ship, loan ship, gift ship, every vessel with a cargo of goods taken by force from some men for the unpaid, unearned benefit of others. I seized the boats that sailed under the flag of the idea which I am fighting: the idea that need is a sacred idol requiting human sacrifices—that the need of some men is the knife of a guillotine hanging over others—that all of us must live with our work, our hopes, our plans, our efforts at the mercy of the moment when that knife will descend upon us—and that the extent of our ability is the extent of our danger, so that success will bring our heads down on the block, while failure will give us the right to pull the cord. This is the horror which Robin Hood immortalized as an ideal of righteousness. It is said that he fought against the looting rulers and returned the loot to those who had been robbed, but that is not the meaning of the legend which has survived. He is remembered, not as a champion of property, but as a champion of need, not as a defender of the robbed, but as a provider of the poor. He is held to be the first man who assumed a halo of virtue by practicing charity with wealth which he did not own, by giving away goods which he had not produced, by making others pay for the luxury of his pity. He is the man who became the symbol of the idea that need, not achievement, is the source of rights, that we don't have to produce, only to want, that the earned does not belong to us, but the unearned does. He became a justification for every mediocrity who, unable to make his own living, had demanded the power to dispose of the property of his betters, by proclaiming his willingness to devote his life to his inferiors at the price of robbing his superiors. It is this foulest of creatures—the double-parasite who lives on the sores of the poor and the blood of the rich—whom men have come to regard as a moral idea. And this has brought us to a world where the more a man produces, the closer he comes to the loss of all his rights, until, if his ability is great enough, he becomes a rightless creature delivered as prey to any claimant—while in order to be placed above rights, above principles, above morality, placed 'where anything is permitted to him, even plunder and murder, all a man has to do is to be in need. Do you wonder why the world is collapsing around us? That is what I am fighting. Mr. Rearden. Until men learn that of all human symbols, Robin Hood is the most immoral and the most contemptible, there will be no justice on earth and no way for mankind to survive."

Rearden listened, feeling numb. But under the numbness, like the first thrust of a seed breaking through, he felt an emotion he could not identify except that it seemed familiar and very distant, like something experienced and renounced long ago.

"What I actually am, Mr. Rearden, is a policeman. It is a policeman's duty to protect men from criminals—criminals being those who seize wealth by force. It is a policeman's duty to retrieve stolen property and return it to its owners. But when robbery becomes the purpose of the law, and the policeman's duty becomes, not the protection, but the plunder of property—then it is an outlaw who has to become a policeman."

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged

 

 

Robin Hood and School Financing

 

April 15, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

In the Olathe News today came the following announcement:

SCHOOL DISTRICT, MNU SPONSORING LEGISLATIVE FORUM

The Olathe District Schools and MidAmerica Nazarene University will jointly sponsor a legislative forum at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, in Room 115 (Hager Lecture Hall) in the Cook Center on the MNU campus, 2030 E. College Way.

State legislators who plan to attend include representatives Lance Kinzer, Rob Olson, Arlen Siegfreid, Mike Kiegerl and Gene Rardin and senators Karin Brownlee and Julia Lynn.

 

The legislative forum is in response to unprecedented state cutbacks in educational funding.  Noticeably absent from the list of those attending is Governor Mark Parkinson. 

When prodded by citizens during recent meetings about "What can we do?", the answer from the school board was simple:  "Contact your legislators."

When seeing a house burning down, imagine giving the disheartened homeowner the advice, "contact the arsonist standing nearby with burnt match in hand."

We are where we are because of what transpired in 1992.

Of course, the legislators above likely weren't involved in the 1992 vote.  The particular legislators who were involved are not relevant.  What is relevant is the real villain in the process. 

Philosophically, it was Robin Hood. 

Read my earlier article for a further explanation here, if you'd like. 

Equality in school financing formula was the goal.  Money goes into the state from all districts, and is divided equally as it goes out - "from each according to his ability - to each according to his need."

Aren't there allowances for special circumstances?  Can't local areas raise their own money to make up for shortages?

To a point, and, by law, no more.

Again, this goes back to the 1992 school financing law.

What about building up reserves over a period of time in case of economic crises like the one we're facing now.

The contingency reserve percentage is, you guessed it, set at a maximum: 6% of the General fund budget.  The same law restricts this.  You cannot hold more.

You can't set much aside.  You can't raise much by yourself.  You must depend on the state for the bulk of your money.

All in the name of ---- equality.

Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson, taking over for exiting Governor Sebelius, has mandated these massive education cuts.

Then State House Representative Parkinson, newly elected in 1990, was the sole Johnson County Republican who voted for the school financing bill - in 1992, reports Fred Logan in the Kansas City Business Journal, in his wonderful column last June ...

http://kansascity.bizjournals.com/kansascity/

stories/2009/06/08/editorial2.html

 

People watching the presentations rightly wonder, "What can one do while the Governor is making these cuts?  Why can't there be more local control?"

Because he's against that, too.

Other Johnson County districts apparently recognize the obvious flaws in the school financing formula.  For those of us who've lived here prior to the law, the flaws were immediately obvious - morally and numerically.  Welcome to the party, Blue Valley and Shawnee Mission.

Our district, however, reportedly is silent on the issue.  From Kansasliberty.com:

"Another Johnson County-located district, the Olathe School District, is appearing to be quieter in its criticism of the school finance formula. In its 2010 legislative agenda, Olathe does not urge for an overhaul of the formula but does advocate for having strong local control."

http://kansasliberty.com/liberty-update-archive/2009/21dec/school-advocacy-group-not-supporting-tax-increases-until-school-finance-formula-is-changed/

 

Why are we quiet on this issue?  There's an elephant in the living room, yet we're pretending it's not there.  This is the issue.  Morally and financially.

Much of this I've written about already.

But a recent incident demonstrates the inevitable consequences of that crucial word:  equality.

The big three school districts in Johnson County - Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley, and Olathe - changed last year what counted as "special education funding".  State law required the state to recognize the increased costs associated with special-education-children, and was suppose to reimburse school districts accordingly.

These three districts started accounting for all costs associated with the care of these children.  This included transportation and classroom instruction costs.  The state approved the change!

The state budget crisis then hit.  Educational cuts are across the board.

And districts across the state objected to the three districts accounting "tricks".  "Transportation and classroom instruction costs are already accounted for in other accounts.  You can't count it as special education!"

A bill was written - get that money back!  The bill passed - overwhelmingly, of course.  When democracy consists of 2 wolves and 1 sheep voting on what to eat for dinner, well ... the consequences are inevitable.

$6.5 million in total from the three districts, taken back and distributed across the other state districts.

Whether the accounting was correct or not is immaterial.  The general issue is what's important: there is a bucket of money and it's only so full, like rationed water on a raft filled with surviving ship passengers.  Everybody knows when someone drinks from the canteen, that's less for them.

"Equality" suddenly becomes a free-for-all.

And a section from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged comes to mind:

‘We're all one big family, they told us, we're all in this together. But you don't all stand working an acetylene torch ten hours a day – together, and you don't all get a bellyache – together. What's whose ability and which of whose needs comes first? When it's all one pot, you can't let any man decide what his own needs are, can you? If you did, he might claim that he needs a yacht – and if his feelings is all you have to go by, he might prove it, too. Why not? If it's not right for me to own a car until I've worked myself into a hospital ward, earning a car for every loafer and every naked savage on earth – why can't he demand a yacht from me, too, if I still have the ability not to have collapsed? No? He can't? Then why can he demand that I go without cream for my coffee until he's replastered his living room? … Oh well … Well, anyway, it was decided that nobody had the right to judge his own need or ability. We voted on it. Yes, ma'am, we voted on it in a public meeting twice a year. How else could it be done? Do you care to think what would happen at such a meeting? It took us just one meeting to discover that we had become beggars – rotten, whining, sniveling beggars, all of us, because no man could claim his pay as his rightful earning, he had no rights and no earnings, his work didn't belong to him, it belonged to 'the family,' and they owed him nothing in return, and the only claim he had on them was his 'need' – so he had to beg in public for relief from his needs, like any lousy moocher, listing all his troubles and miseries, down to his patched drawers and his wife's head colds, hoping that 'the family' would throw him the alms. He had to claim miseries, because it's miseries, not work, that had become the coin of the realm – so it turned into a contest among six thousand panhandlers, each claiming that his need was worse than his brother's. How else could it be done? Do you care to guess what happened, what sort of men kept quiet, feeling shame, and what sort got away with the jackpot? ‘But that wasn't all. There was something else that we discovered at the same meeting. The factory's production had fallen by forty per cent, in that first half-year, so it was decided that somebody hadn't delivered 'according to his ability.' Who? How would you tell it? 'The family' voted on that, too. They voted which men were the best, and these men were sentenced to Work overtime each night for the next six months. Overtime without pay – because you weren't paid by time and you weren't paid by work, only by need ...

‘In the old days, we used to celebrate if somebody had a baby, we used to chip in and help him out with the hospital bills, if he happened to be hard-pressed for the moment. Now, if a baby was born, we didn't speak to the parents for weeks. Babies, to us, had become what locusts were to farmers. In the old days, we used to help a man if he had a bad illness in the family. Now – well, I'll tell you about just one case. It was the mother of a man who had been with us for fifteen years. She was a kindly old lady, cheerful and wise, she knew us all by our first names and we all liked her – we used to like her. One day, she slipped on the cellar stairs and fell and broke her hip. We knew what that meant at her age. The staff doctor said that she'd have to be sent to a hospital in town, for expensive treatments that would take a long time. The old lady died the night before she was to leave for town. They never established the cause of death. No, I don't know whether she was murdered. Nobody said that. Nobody would talk about it at all. All I know is that I – and that's what I can't forget! – I, too, had caught myself wishing that she would die. This – may God forgive us! – was the brotherhood, the security, the abundance that the plan was supposed to achieve for us!

Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged

 

 

An Open Letter to the Lady at the Museum

 

April 20, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

Madam:

It's been quite a learning experience, you and I.  This thing called "art" we've spent a lifetime struggling with is starting to come together.

And in this spirit of newfound joy in learning, I'd like to share one last experience.

When I last was at the Nelson-Atkins, I purchased a book with a picture of everything in the museum.

I paged through this the other day with this goal in mind: rather than look at any artists' names, I would look at every single picture, note which ones captured my eye - for whatever reason - and jot down quickly information about those images.  These, I said, will limit my focus.  These, I will research.

I found 50 that stood out, for whatever reason.

I would like to tell you about three in particular - well, it will boil down to one, actually.

When I say the word "Impressionism", I think of French painters.

When I hear the words "American" and "Impressionism" together, I think of Mary Cassatt.

What about the words "Childe Hassam"?

Who?

Childe Hassam - American Impressionist painter.

 

The leading American Impressionist painter at the turn of the century.  Here is a video of a few of his paintings.  Take a few minutes and watch this:

 

The Nelson-Atkins has three paintings by Hassam, and I jotted down all three.  As I said before, I'd like to focus on one:

 

The Sonata

 

This stood out, to me, by whatever visual criteria I was employing.  It just looked "beautiful". 

But let's not stop there - let's do some work.  What do I really see?  It's a girl at the piano.

Is this it?  It's a girl at the piano, painted via Impressionist philosophy.

Fine.  Is this it?  Let's look at the title:  The Sonata.

Still not a lot to go on, though some thoughts come to mind.  There are lots of sonatas.  Did Hassam have a particular one in mind?  And why sonatas?

We're not getting anywhere with what we can see.  Let's do some original research on what we can't see ...

Hassam exhibited, we find, the painting under two different titles:  Beethoven's Sonata Appassionata (1929) and The Marechal Niel Rose (1930)

This is interesting.  Why these and why two?

Let's take a look at the Beethoven reference.

It's useful to know at the time of the painting, he was displaying many pieces at Celia Thaxter's parlor.  This was the place for artists to congregate, meet, talk about their work, and do work.  This was on Appledore Island, off the coast of New Hampshire.

Here is a painting of Celia Thaxter by Childe Hassam:

 

Barbara Weinberg, in her book "Childe Hassam: American Impressionist", tells us "Beethoven was Celia Thaxter's favorite composer, and Beethoven's Sonata in F-Minor, popularly called the "Appassionata", is considered to represent the epitome of his heroic style."

Below is the Appassionata.  While you listen to this music, look at Hassam's painting.  Think about him painting this with Thaxter in mind.  Why would he?  What might have prompted him?  Let's conjure a guess: imagine Celia listening to the Sonata while looking at the paintings in her parlor and saying with a tone of desperation, hope, and despair, "I wish I could see this sonata".

Does this change how you look at the painting?

 

But let's not forget there was a second title for this painting:

 

The Marechal Niel Rose

 

Who was "Marachal Niel"?

Niel was a French hero who distinguished himself in the Crimean War as the Minister of War of Napoleon III.  The Marechal Niel Rose was named after him.

 

Do you see it, in the painting, on the ledge above the piano?

Why?  Why did Hassam choose this image?  This rose?  This military hero?  Why did the change in exhibits provoke this name change?

There is an economics essay I'd like to introduce at this time, written by the Frenchman Frederic Bastiat, in 1850, titled, "Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas" ... "That which is seen - and that which is unseen".

I invite you to read "The Parable of the Broken Window" in the essay, to understand the fundamental principle - and fundamental error - in most economic thinking: observing only that which is seen, instead of looking at the consequences (positive and negative), unseen.

Isn't this the case with the painting above?

There is much seen - and much unseen?

Let's look for both as we continue our artistic voyage.

Let's appreciate what we see.  Let's research what we are seeing - before and after we see it.  Let's fight to earn the opportunity to judge what it is we are seeing.  Let's struggle to understand what the painter has done, and why?

The fight is ours to win. 

Yes, we can look at art for beauty's sake.  We can also look behind the art.  Doesn't one compliment the other?  And there are instances I'm happy at the "beauty" stage, and other instances where digging is necessary for me to appreciate what I'm seeing. 

It's a whole new world.

I've enjoyed these conversations greatly.  I hope to see you soon, at the Nelson, and the other fine galleries about town.

Sincerely,

Michael Round

 

What Would Nature Say?

 

A Celebration of Earth Day

 

April 22, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

As some of you celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, it might be revealing to ask me - Mother Earth - what I think about "Earth Day".

Yes, this is Mother Earth talking. 

It saddens me many of you watch TV rather than play outside, but since this is the case, let me tell you one of my favorite TV stories from a movie you're probably familiar with:

Toy Story 2.

You may remember the scene.  Woody encounters the truth about his childhood.  A TV star in a cowboy series.  Then, it went off the air.  He became a collector's item.  He was brought together with the rest of the collectables to form a complete unit.  They were to be sold to a museum in Japan.

Buzz came to rescue him.  Woody didn't want to be rescued.

Woody:

I can't abandon these guys. They need me to get into this museum. Without me, they'll go back into storage, maybe forever!

 

Buzz:

Woody, you're not a collector's item. You're a child's plaything. You are a toy!  Somewhere in that pad of stuffing is a toy who taught me... that life's only worth living if you're bein' loved by a kid.

 

Woody:

I don't have a choice, Buzz. This is my only chance.

 

Buzz:

To do what, Woody? Watch kids from behind glass and never be loved again?  Some life.

 

 

Some life.

 

Sometimes, that's what I thought of myself.  Some life. 

 

You see, I've really had quite a life.  I've been around nearly 5 billion years.  5 BILLION years!  Many of you people can't remember what happened last week, let alone last decade.

 

Lots of things happen in 5 billion years.

 

I've iced over a number of times.  Life has come - and gone.  I've nearly exploded.  Continents torn apart, and them come together, only to come apart again.

 

You can't imagine any of this.  I understand that.

 

But it's my nature.  Or let me say that differently.  It's me - acting in accordance with my nature.

 

These, of course, are events taking place over millions of years.

 

There are other things that arise annually you are aware of:  hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, typhoons, cyclones. 

 

Again, don't take it personally - I don't.  And I don't have any say over it.  As I said, it's just me, acting in accordance with my nature.

 

And it bothers me I don't have a say in it.

 

I lack the volition to change my nature - or modify it.

 

And as Buzz said earlier, "Some Life".

 

But then you came along --- man.

 

And I want to tell you a story about how you crossed a continent.  I know.  I was there.  I watched you.  I felt the pain - and the joy.

 

In the 1860s, you wanted to build a transcontinental railroad.  I was excited!  I was to be used - for a purpose!  I knew the best terrain for the railroad.  One always is aware of their own environment.

 

But I was curious - and maddened - to see what you actually did do.  There was no sense to it.  Neither did there seem sense to the sloppy work you did in constructing the railroad. 

 

Why?  I thought.

 

And then I knew.  This wasn't an enterprise to make money - this was a government sponsored event where sloppy work was encouraged.

 

I felt abused.

 

And then a man came along who said he would build a transcontinental rail road himself - no government funding - across the northern United States.

 

He cared.

 

But I, being who I am, offered challenges.  He made it across the Rockies - who couldn't - but the Cascades?  These offered a very unique challenge.

 

I can't apologize for that - as I said, mountains?  They're part of my nature - acting in accordance with the laws of reality.  When plates collide, mountains form.

 

He first tried to overcome the Cascades with a series of switchbacks.  This worked - but was time consuming.

 

A tunnel - the first Cascade Tunnel - was built.  My goodness, I felt good!  People cared!

 

But where the tunnel was built required thousands of feet of snowsheds covering the tracks, high in the mountains.  They were doing their best, I understand, and I felt great sorrow for the Wellington Avalanche in 1910. 

 

But he there was nothing I could do.  I am who I am, and can do nothing about me.

 

He could, however!  And he would!  He would try again!  He would try again.

 

That inspired me!  Again, I could do nothing but watch, just as a toy can do nothing but enjoy being ... loved!  Is that what I felt?  Yes!

 

The New Cascade Tunnel!

 

An engineering marvel!

 

 

 

And when the dedication took place in 1929, I listened with joy to the program broadcast across the country.

 

Program?

 

Yes!

 

And I'd like to briefly replay part of that program:

 

==============

Dedication and Opening

 of the

New Cascade Tunnel

A Monument to James J. Hill

 

On Saturday evening, January 12, from 9:00 to 10:00 PM, EST, several million Americans, through radio sets in their own homes, participated in the dedication and opening of the new Cascade Tunnel on the main line of the Great Northern Railway in the State of Washington. 

==============

 

 

Think about that, for a moment, before I continue.  Several million people sat in their homes listening to a radio program of the dedication of a railroad tunnel?  These are people who cared!

 

 

Here's part of the dedication from Ralph Budd, President of the Great Northern Railway:

 

At the very beginning of this project a plan of attack was carefully worked out in all its details, and that plan has been executed with a courage and enthusiasm that I have never seen equaled.  Through nearly eight miles of solid granite, men have drilled and blasted and mucked their way in three years' time.  The schedule of progress called for a speed that never had been determined that that schedule should be maintained.  Thousands of feet under the mountains, working at times in water knee-deep, with fresh drenchings at each round of blasting, there was no stopping or even slackening of the pace.  They changed shifts at the handles of the drills, as the saying goes.  A thrilling sight it was; members of one crew splashing in and taking hold of the machines before the others let them go.  The constant battering was kept up every minute of every hour of every day and every night for thirty-five months.  Think of it!  Drilling, blasting, mucking out the broken rock, then over again, drilling, blasting, and mucking; eight feet gained at each round, five rounds in twenty-four hours, all by machinery, but machinery in the hands of enthusiastic, expert workmen.  There was no letting up until the last foot of tunnel had been excavated and the entire bore lined with concrete.

 

Another group, equally enthusiastic and determined, were always present at the front.  They waited their chance to dodge in when they could to do their work without interfering with actual excavation; yet without them there would have been no aim or direction to the drifting which went on at such feverish pace.  They were, of course, the engineers who gave the line and grade.  Contending with the many handicaps incident to such a job, they nevertheless made their calculations and did their work so accurately, that when they had carried the survey eight miles, over mountains 3,500 feet high, and back from each portal nearly four miles into the blind ends of the tunnel, where the last barrier was removed, the centers were only eight inches apart and the levels only nine inches different.  I am glad of this opportunity to give credit to the engineers, the superintendents, the foremen, and all the men on the job for the wonderful spirit which characterized this great undertaking.

 

He continued, but for the sake of brevity, I'll move on to another part of the program.  Remember, this was an hour long radio broadcast!

 

 

J.C Baxter

Vice President: A Guthrie and Company

"Why the Cascade Tunnel was Completed in Three Years"

 

Mr. Baxter gives four reasons:  I'll summarize three quickly:

 

1. Equipment

2. Man Power

3. Leadership

 

"But all of these things would have counted as nothing without the fourth and most important element.  I speak of COURAGE AND PERSISTENCE - that quality of "stick-to-it-iveness" sometimes called "The Will to Conquer".  This quality is a spiritual one that an organization cannot create wholly within itself.  In our case, on the Cascade Tunnel, we received this spirit of courage and persistence, this will to conquer, from the officials of the Great Northern Railway Company, who, from President Budd on down the line, by their constant daily confidence, encouragement, and helpfulness made it possible for us, with equipment, man power, and leadership, to complete the Cascade Tunnel in three years.

 

 

I need to stop and wipe and away a few tears.  You see, many of you think "Earth" - ME - is honored when it's - "I'm" left alone.  Do we honor Woody by putting him in a museum for people to gawk at?  No!  As Buzz said, "Some Life".

 

And now I was "living"!  And the Tunnel?  It's still there, great as ever!

 

 

 

You people want to celebrate "Earth Day"?  Don't do it by merely picking up trash.  Yes - that's nice, and I appreciate it.  People shouldn't have thrown it there in the first place.

But if you really want to celebrate "Earth Day", do it EVERY DAY!  LIVE!  BUILD!   Bridges!  Tunnels! 

Do this - and I, Mother Earth, will smile.

 

 

ON PAPER ONLY

 

"A Capital Idea" Story

 

April 26, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

Over drinks recently with some colleagues, the NFL draft came up, and the conversation drifted to football. 

The talk moved to the Minnesota Vikings.

My recent work on state capitals got me to change the subject to how the capital of Minnesota came to be the capital of Minnesota ... the deception, the trickery, the history.

A friend was from Nebraska, who laughed at the story of the state to his northeast, as he reminded us the noble origins of the capital of Nebraska - Lincoln - named after President Lincoln.

Having also researched Nebraska, I knew the story wasn't quite so pure, and brought up the fact the state capital was changed from Lancaster to "Lincoln" to persuade pro-slavery south-Nebraskans NOT to move the capital south from Omaha!

The mood became quiet.  My Minnesota and Nebraska friends were silent.

But there was a Packers' fan at the table who wasn't so quiet.  He ridiculed the political machinations he was hearing ...

"At least my state has more pure origins - Wisconsin - Madison - named after President James Madison.  In fact, even our streets have a wonderful story, named after the signers of the Constitution!"

I wondered.

I had grown skeptical of such "pure" stories.

There was more, I was sure.

After an hour or so of talk, we parted for the evening, agreeing to meet again in a week.  I would put the week to good advantage, researching the issue.

Wisconsin.

It has quite a history.  Every state does, actually, when you do a bit of digging.  After the United States was created, "Wisconsin" was first part of Territorial official listed as "unorganized" ...

 

It then became part of the Northwest Territory ...

 

From this, the geography of present-day Wisconsin shifted through several different iterations:

 

 

 

 

 

I laid out the maps in front of my friends.  The evolution of the territories was new to them, as it was me.

However, I had studied them well during our week apart. 

And I was prepared ... I said to my friends:

"When the Michigan Territory was split into Michigan and Wisconsin Territories, the first Wisconsin Territorial Capital meeting was in Belmont.  This was October 25, 1836.

 

However, the representatives were not happy with the Belmont facilities.  Neither were they happy with the location, being distant from both Green Bay and Milwaukee.

Therefore, they chose Madison as the Territorial Capital.

"Sounds interesting", my friend said, yawning.  He thought he already knew this.  I wasn't finished.

The next meeting, 1837, was held in Burlington.  Burlington, Iowa?  Yes - but you see, this was still the Wisconsin Territory - there was no "Iowa".

Belmont - the first capital of the Wisconsin Territory.

Burlington, Iowa - the second capital of the Wisconsin Territory.

My friend chimed in, looking at the maps.  "And since the Iowa Territory was created, I bet, they had to quickly move the territorial capital to Madison, as they voted on."

"That's right", I said.  "But ..."  I was interrupted.

"This was an interesting history lesson, which merely proves the point while Minnesota and Nebraska may have scandalous political origins of their capital, Wisconsin has no such 'skeletons in the closet'."

"We'll see."  I reached into my briefcase.

"What do you mean, 'We'll see'?  We'll see what?"

"In my research, I found the following testimony during a trial about 1850."

You think you know "The Capital Idea"?  Stay tuned for Part II.

 

 

THE NEXT STEP

 

The Final Chapter of "Art Appreciation for the Rest of Us"

 

April 27, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

 

 

What’s our next step?  I’ve talked about research and investigation, but not specified what kind.  What constitutes good research? 

Let’s first agree it requires some work – on our part.  And let’s also agree if we’re not willing to invest some time to do this work, we’re really right back where we started.

So if this interests you, let’s get started …

Let’s share our stories on a site.

An “Art Appreciation” site …

But this doesn’t capture the type of “art appreciation” we’ve been talking about.  “Art Appreciation” classes abound – but they’ve not affected us.

This is a “New Type of Art Appreciation” … a RENAISSANCE!

www.ArtAppreciationRenaissance.com

 

You may be hesitant.  I understand.  “How will I know if I’ve done the research necessary to appreciate what’s really going on?”

You’ll know.

Because you’ll be honest with yourself.

You’ll have done the work – yourself.

But let me offer a test I’ve found works for me, not just in art, but in many things.

Let me explain it first with this story:  the Santa Fe Trail came through our city.  You do your own research to determine what that meant – to go across country by wagon.  On that same path, in our town, years later was the remarkable story of an interurban railroad connecting our town with Kansas City.

The same set of tracks is now used by the BNSF to deliver goods from Long Beach to Chicago.

So one day a while back, I went to a spot where all this took place.  I, of course, had driven over these railroad tracks many times – never giving it a second thought.

Now, I was there, armed, intellectually.  The literal history of the USA was right beneath my feet.

You feel it.

I took a railroad spike that was in the rocks aside the rail.  It’s in my car right now.  If you saw that spike in my car, you’d think it was junk.  I know better.  I’d tell you the story.  Hopefully, you’d want to go get your own spike, or snap a picture of the series of tracks.  Maybe you’d simply like to be there!

You’ll know.

If you’ve done the research prior to seeing the piece of art, when you’re approaching that piece, you will literally feel a deep level of respect.  Or you might feel anger, if you dislike the painting and / or painter!

Your collective set of emotions, driven by the research, will tell you if you’ve done your homework.

If you feel nothing, take that as a hint you need to go back.  That’s OK!  Learn more!

And write up what it is you’ve found.  It doesn’t have to be much.  And it can be a lot.  Add to it when you’ve found more!

Not just us – but our kids.

Reading?  Writing?  Arithmetic?  We’re told these are the 3 R’s crucial to education.  How about a fourth “R” in education – ART? 

Let’s involve our kids in our project.  In fact, that’s make them the focal point!

I propose the following:  I’ve got two kids, aged 13 and 11.  I’ll work with them on 2 paintings or sculptures a month over the summer.  Imagine enlisting 18 other kids.  20 kids total.  6 pieces of art apiece.  120 total.  All available to all. 

And we close out the summer with a show – each kid choosing their favorite piece, and giving a brief presentation.

www.ArtAppreciationRenaissance.com

 

ON PAPER ONLY

 

"A Capital Idea" Story

(Part II)

 

April 29, 2010

 

 

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round@rationalsys.com

There were many senators at this hearing.  For the sake of clarity, I'll call them all "Senator" in the transcript below.

 

Senator:  Good day, Mr. Doty.  Would you raise your right hand.  "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

Doty:  "I do."

Senator (looking up):  "The WHOLE truth?"

Doty:  "I do."

Senator:  Very good.  The name "Wisconsin" has a very interesting history.  Do you know it?"

Doty: "Of course. Jacques Marquette was the first European to reach the river, in 1673, we now know as the "Wisconsin River".  He noted the reddish sandstone of the Dells, and called the river "Meskonsing", a Miami Indian word for "it lies red".

Through many (mis) translations, it came down to us as "Wisconsin".

Senator: "State origins interest me a lot.  So do state capitals.  The state capital of Wisconsin is Madison.  How did it acquire that name?"

Doty (shifting uneasily in his chair):  "Well, it was named after then-President James Madison, who had recently died."

Senator:  "This was 1836"?

Doty:  "That's right."

Senator:  "And you were territorial judge at that time?"

Doty:  "No - I became territorial judge in 1823, and served until 1832."

Senator:  "I see - and how did you become territorial judge in 1823?"

Doty:  The Michigan Territory, at the time, encompassed what is now Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. 

The government realized, with the size of the territory, there was a need for a new federal judicial district for northern and western Michigan Territory.  President James Monroe appointed me Judge for the district.

Senator:  "And you lived where?"

Doty:  "At the time, I was living in Detroit, but the law required I live in my district, so I moved to Prairie du Chien."

Senator:  "Prairie du Chien?  Can you show me on this map where it is and why you moved there?"

 

Doty:  Sure - it's down here, at the southeast corner of Wisconsin.  It lies at the intersection of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers, the latter leading directly to the Great Lakes."

Senator:  "It's a pretty important city, then."

Doty:  Indeed! It was first founded by the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, but a Native-American tribe - the Fox Indians - were already there.  Their chief's name was Alim, meaning "Chien" in French, and "Dog" in English, so the French explorers named the location, which was a plain, "Prairie du Chien", French for "Dog Prairie".

Senator:  "So Prairie do Chien" was well established?"

Doty:  (Again, starting to noticably squirm in his chair):  "Very".

Senator:  "You'll see Milwaukee and Green Bay are also highlighted on the map.  Were they well-established?"

Doty:  "Very - cities along water-fronts, be they lakes or rivers, were very important".

Senator:  "Our first territorial capital, Belmont.  How did this come to be?"

Doty:  "You'll have to ask the Territorial Governor, Henry Dodge, that."

Senator:  "We will - Mr. Doty, will you take a seat.  The panel calls Henry Dodge to the podium."

"Mr. Doty?  Before you leave the stand, I've got one last question.  You said when you were forced to move because of your appointment, you moved to Prairie du Chien.  It was also the case Milwaukee and Green Bay were developing cities."

Doty:  "That's right."

Senator:  "By developing, we mean they had a significant population?"

Doty:  "That's right."

Senator:  "When Madison was chosen as the Territorial Capital in 1836, what was it's population?"

Doty:  "Senator?"

Senator:  "How many people lived in Madison when it was named the capital?"

Doty:  "Well - zero."

Senator:  "Thank you.  Mr. Dodge, please take the stand!"

 

stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of "Only On Paper"!

 

 

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