Archive for November, 2013
27 Nov 2013

This Time The Truth

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26 Nov 2013

New Feudalism, California-Style

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Atherton, Calfornia

Charlotte Allen
, in the Weekly Standard, gives her readers a tour of the dystopian future represented by California’s Silicon Valley where left-wing politics goes hand-in-hand with spectacular inequality. The Tech Company owner lives in Atherton or owns, as the saying goes, “his own hilltop in Portola, while the merely upper-middle-class pay $1,200,000 to live in the sort of despicable ranch house equivalent of what a mailman might own in New Jersey. But they both have Mexican illegals to mow their lawns and paint their fences.

“If you live here, you’ve made it,” David Berkey said to me as I rode shotgun in his car two months ago through the Silicon Valley’s wealth belt. The massive house toward which he was pointing belongs to Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google. With a net worth of $24 billion, Brin is Silicon Valley’s third-richest denizen and the fourteenth-richest man in America, according to Forbes. Berkey was chauffeuring me down Atherton Avenue, a wide, straight, completely tree-lined boulevard nicely bifurcating the city of Atherton (population 7,200), located 29 miles south of San Francisco, boasting no commercial real estate, and with a zip code (94027) that was recently listed by Forbes as America’s most expensive.

You couldn’t really see Brin’s house from the car, though—just a swatch of rooftop, maybe a chimney—because the point of the trees lining Atherton Avenue and nearly every other street in Atherton is to hide the dwellings behind them. Where the screens of trees happen to thin, property owners have constructed high hedges, high wooden fences, and high brick walls, so that when you look down Atherton Avenue from the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west toward the commuter railroad station to the east, you see only the allée of trees—pine, palms, eucalyptus, sycamore, and juniper—shades of gray-green and brown-green shimmering placidly in the early autumn sun. “This is the Champs-Élysées of Atherton,” Berkey explained. The other thing we didn’t see from Berkey’s car is people, except for the occasional driver on the road. …

Berkey himself doesn’t live in Atherton. He can’t afford to. He’s a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, and his wife, Eleanor Lacey, is general counsel at SurveyMonkey, which occupies Facebook’s old startup quarters in downtown Palo Alto. That makes them part of what is known as the “middle class” of Silicon Valley: two-career couples with family incomes in the low-to-mid six-figure-range. They and their two daughters live in neighboring Menlo Park, in what is essentially a modest 1950s tract house, the kind of flat-roofed, three-bedroom, two-bath, sliding-glass-patio-door, under-2,000-square-foot residences, pleasant but not pretentious, that were built en masse well into the 1970s as cheap starter homes, because back then it was conceivable that there could be such a thing as a cheap starter home in the valley. Berkey says his own house is currently valued at $1.2 million.

That’s par for the course. Open on any random day the Daily Post, the throwaway newspaper serving the mid-peninsula, and there will be a full-page ad for a “charming updated contemporary home” in Menlo Park or Palo Alto or Mountain View or Sunnyvale, with its single story, its gravel-topped roof, its living-room picture window, its teensy garden strip running alongside the jutting two-car garage that plugs into the kitchen, its pocket-size but grassy front lawn reminiscent of The Wonder Years—and its 1,216 square feet of living space—all “offered at $949,000.” That’s a bargain for the valley.

Berkey drove us out of Atherton, across El Camino Real, the peninsula’s main commercial highway, and across the railroad tracks past the tiny Atherton station, now part of California’s state-run Caltrain system and a commuter stop only on weekends. We were now in the featureless, nearly treeless, semi-industrial flatlands of Menlo Park stretching eastward to the bay. The demographic change was instant: ¡No se habla inglés! There were suddenly plenty of people on the sidewalks—and nearly every single one of them was Latino. There were suddenly plenty of commercial establishments—ramshackle, brightly painted, graffiti-adorned storefronts with hand-painted business signs mostly in Spanish: “Comida Nicaraguense,” “Restaurante Guatemalteco,” “Carnicería” (pork chops and steaks crudely painted on the walls), “Pescadería” (fish and crustaceans crudely painted on the walls), “Panadería,” “Check Cashing,” “Gonzalez Auto Sales,” “Sanchez Jewelry,” “Check Cashing,” “Arturo’s Shoe Repair,” “99¢ and Over,” “Check Cashing.”

Menlo Park is actually only about 20 percent Hispanic and is unabashedly affluent in its own right, but its Hispanic population concentrated next door to the hedgy scrim of Atherton makes for a startling study in contrasts. No one pretends that the gravel-roofed, shack-size houses in this particular neighborhood are “charming” midcentury modern gems. That would be hard to do, what with the weeds, the peeling paint, the chain-link fences, the chained-up guard dogs, and the front lawns paved over to accommodate multiple vehicles for multiple dwellers. The phrase “the other side of the tracks” has vivid meaning. “Look at the newspaper police blotters, and you’ll see that in Atherton the main reported crime is identity theft,” said Berkey. “Here, it’s break-ins.”

You can laud this underbelly barrio as vibrant immigrant culture or you can decry it as an instant-slum product of untrammeled illegal border-crossing, but it represents an important fact on the ground: These are the people who earn their livings tending to the needs of the high-tech “creative class” that has made Silicon Valley famous. I could see them on Atherton Avenue, the amanuensis class heading up from Menlo Park in their wee panel trucks and Dodge minivans and their Ford flatbeds fitted out with racks for garden tools among the Bentleys, BMWs, Audis, and Lexuses that are the standard Atherton vehicles. They tend the meticulously clipped lawns, flower beds, hedges, and trees of Atherton (Berkey said that it’s not uncommon for an Atherton sentence to begin, “My arborist .  .  . ”). They clean the houses and the swimming pools, they deliver the catering, they watch the children, and they repair the roofs, the plumbing, the balconies, and the wine cellars of the very affluent and the very busy. You might say that across-the-tracks Menlo Park, along with down-market Latino neighborhoods just like it up and down the peninsula—East Palo Alto, parts of Redwood City, the southern end of San Jose—functions as a kind of oversize servants’ wing. It’s safe to say that almost every hotel maid, restaurant busboy, cashier, janitor, retail stocker, and fast-food worker in the valley is Latino.

Master and servant. Cornucopian wealth for a few tech oligarchs plus relatively steady but relatively low-paying work for their lucky retainers. No middle class, unless the top 5 percent U.S. income bracket counts as middle class. Silicon Valley is a tableau vivant of what many economists and professional futurologists say is the coming fate of America itself, a fate to which Americans, if they can’t embrace it as some futurologists hope, should at least resign themselves.

While I was driving with Berkey around Atherton, Tyler Cowen, economics professor at George Mason University and author of The Great Stagnation (2011), published a new book, Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. There, Cowen bluntly predicted what he called “wage polarization.” The increasing ability of computers to perform ordinary tasks will inexorably transform America into an income oligarchy in which the top 15 percent of people—with skills “that are a complement to the computer”—will enjoy “cheery” labor-market prospects and soaring incomes, while the bottom 85 percent, that is to say, 267 million out of America’s 315 million people, will be lucky to find Walmart-level jobs or scrape together marginal “freelance” livings running $25-a-pop errands for their betters via TaskRabbit (say, picking up and delivering a pair of designer shoes from Nordstrom) or renting out their spare bedrooms (if they have any) to overnight lodgers via Airbnb. That is, if they’ll be working at all. “There are many other historical periods, including medieval times, where inequality is high, upward mobility is fairly low, and the social order is fairly stable, even if we as moderns find some aspects of that order objectionable,” Cowen writes in his new book.

In other words, what is coming is the “new feudalism,” a phrase coined by Chapman University urban studies professor Joel Kotkin, a prolific media presence whose New Geography website is an outlet for the trend’s most vocal critics. “It’s a weird Upstairs, Downstairs world in which there’s the gentry, and the role for everybody else is to be their servants,” Kotkin said in a telephone interview. “The agenda of the gentry is to force the working class to live in apartments for the rest of their lives and be serfs. But there’s a weird cognitive dissonance. Everyone who says people ought to be living in apartments actually lives in gigantic houses or has multiple houses.”

It’s hard to travel anywhere in the valley and not see what Kotkin is talking about.

Read the whole thing.

26 Nov 2013

Not Fond of the Emperor

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Also in the December Maine Antiques Digest Letter from London, sold at the 18-19 September last Sale 1186, the Collection of architect and scholar Professor Sir Albert Richardson, P.R.A., a patriotic Georgian Pearlware chamberpot, painted on the exterior with a band of ochre leaves within brown trailing circular branches and bands, and featuring within a bust of Napoleon accompanied by the motto: PEREAT. Let Him Perish!

The item, Lot 271, estimated to bring £400 – £600 ($610 – $900), actually fetched a whopping price of £6,250 ($10,081), despite a (repaired) crack across, a chip, and more than one riveted repair.

26 Nov 2013

Tipu Sahib’s Sword

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Maine Antique Digest runs a monthly Letter from London column which describes some of the more interesting items appearing in recent sales.

At Sotheby’s “Art of Imperial India” sale, London, October 9th last, was sold a captured and re-hilted British sword decorated with the bubri symbol of Tipu Sahib, “the Tiger of Mysore,” one of the most formidable enemies of British rule in India, slain finally defending his own fortress at the Siege of Seringapatam in 1799.

Tipu is quoted as saying: “Better to die like a soldier than live a miserable life dependent on the infidels… I would rather live two days as a tiger, than two hundred years as a sheep.”

Interestingly, this sword was not taken at Seringapatnam, as it comes from the estate of Sir Charles Malet, Bart., who had left India a year before the siege. It was probably a trophy of the Third Anglo-Mysore War.

The sword sold for $157,695 (98,500 GBP). Lot 249.

26 Nov 2013

Havery Ward, The Last Shovel Maker

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Squido:

Harvey Ward was known as, The Last Scoop Maker. That title came to him from the documentary that film maker, Jack Ofield made about his scoop making that was broadcast on PBS in 1974. Harvey was the last of his family line to make wooden shovels for a living. Each wooden shovel was cut with an ax and carved out by hand. He made scoops just about everyday of his life, starting when he was about 14 years old or for about 78 years. Making a Wooden Scoop requires a great deal of upper body strength. Harvey managed to perfect his craft so well that the entire process of building a scoop from start to finish was done in 51 minutes. He claims he wasn’t the fastest though. That titled belonged to his father, Joseph, who was not only renowned for making the fastest shovels but also for an extremely smooth finish which was achieved with a single ax head. Harvey used a double ax head for his craft.

Harvey’s family made “scoops” for hundreds of years which was traced back to his Delaware Indian roots. In Native American tribes families were assigned roles. Harvey’s family was assigned to make all the wood tools and other wooden utilitarian ware needed by the tribe.

In the 1700-1800s, in the northeastern United States there were plenty of wooded forests. In later years, Native American’s traded beaver skins with the English to obtain metal tools. These metal tools made making wooden shovels and handcrafted objects much easier. Often tribesmen melted down the metal and customized their own tools to suit their needs.

Harvey’s family made wooden bowls and plates to eat off of and other needed objects such as firewood boxes. The tradition was passed down from one generation to another until Harvey and his brothers were taught as teenagers to make wooden shovels.

Last Shovel Maker from Jack Ofield on Vimeo.

25 Nov 2013

Yale on Lockdown After Reports of Gunman

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One of those armored vehicles (with unmanned machine-gun turret) can be seen sitting just outside the campus.

Around 9:30 A.M. this morning, an anonymous caller phoned New Haven Police warning them that his roommate was going to Yale to shoot people. There have been reports of a man being sighted carrying a long gun. Yale is on Thanksgiving break. Most people are not on campus. And police have swarmed the area between Chapel & Elm and High and College Streets.

NBC Connecticut News

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Constant Yale Daily News updates by Twitter.

25 Nov 2013

Polar Bear Attacks in Vermont

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25 Nov 2013

Week of Greatness Commercial

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Footlocker Commercial: Mike Tyson gives Evander Holyfield back his ear. Dennis Rodman flies one way to North Korea, Brett Favre finally walks away, and Craig Sager decides to change his wardrobe.

24 Nov 2013

Franz Schubert: Der Erlkönig, D. 328

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Heinrich Schlusnus (1888-1952), accompanied by Franz Rupp. Recorded 1933.

23 Nov 2013

Dancing Satyr

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Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo, fourth-century B.C., Greece

Wikipedia:

The over-lifesize Dancing Satyr of Mazara del Vallo is a Greek bronze statue, whose refinement and rapprochement with the manner of Praxiteles has made it a subject of discussion.

Though the satyr is missing both arms, one leg and its separately-cast tail (originally fixed in a surviving hole at the base of the spine), its head and torso are remarkably well-preserved despite millennia spent at the bottom of the sea. The satyr is depicted in mid-leap, head thrown back ecstatically and back arched, his hair swinging with the movement of his head. The facture is highly refined; the whites of his eyes are inlays of white alabaster.

Though some have dated it to the 4th century BCE and said it was an original work by Praxiteles or a faithful copy, it is more securely dated either to the Hellenistic period of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE, or possibly to the “Atticising” phase of Roman taste in the early 2nd century CE. A high percentage of lead in the bronze alloy suggests its being made in Rome itself.

The torso was recovered from the sandy sea floor at a depth of 500 m (1600 ft.) off the southwestern coast of Sicily, on the night of March 4, 1998, in the nets of the same fishing boat (operating from Mazara del Vallo, hence the sculpture’s name) that had in the previous year recovered the sculpture’s left leg. …

Restoration at the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro, Rome, included a steel armature so that the statue can be displayed upright. … [I]t is on permanent display in the Museo del Satiro in the church of Sant’Egidio.

Via Ratak Monodosico.

23 Nov 2013

Managing Millennials

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Hat tip to Veronique de Rugy.

22 Nov 2013

They’ll Be Sorry!

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Randy Barnett posted, at Volokh:

Restoring the Lost Constitution just got much easier.

This is an historic moment on our constitutional history. With the change of Senate rules today by a simple majority to [allow a simple majority to] close debate on judicial nominations, a Rubicon has been crossed. Restoring the Lost Constitution has now been made far more feasible, and will make the 2014 & 2016 of enormous importance to our constitutional future.

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Krauthammer gleefully observed:

I’m always amused by the nuclear option debate because it is without a doubt the most spectacular display of Congressional hypocrisy, which is saying a lot. Because whenever the minority party is arguing, it says that this is a very important, indeed a majestic part of our constitution. And as soon as the minority become the majority, like Harry Reid and the Democrats and Obama, all of a sudden it’s terrible instrument of obstruction.

Look, as a matter of the means in which this was done, it was a rather lowdown way. This is a fundamental change of the structure of the rules of the Senate and done on strict party lines, which it should not be. The same way, incidentally, Obamacare, a major reform, on party lines. That should not be. But on the substance of the change, I think the Democrats have stumbled upon the truth as they do every decade or so. If you are not to know who is in power, I think it’s a better idea for the president to have the ability to nominate his nominees, judicial and executive, without having to get a supermajority.

And the other part of it, as a conservative, I am extremely happy that the Democrats are doing this. The prospects are very strong that the Democrats are going to lose the Senate next year and there is an excellent chance of losing the White House. And the Democrats will absolutely rue the day because they not only are going to allow a Republican majority — which will come one day anyway — to get its nominees through, but Chuck Grassley has said that when Republicans come into you power, they’re going to include Supreme Court nominees, and that will be a devastating blow to the liberals on the Court and to the liberals in the country. So I don’t think Democrats will remember this day with any joy in the near future.

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