Friday, August 26, 2005

Smithsonian in trouble

According to an article snippet forwarded to me from a friend, this appeared in the New York Times on August 25, 2005:

Ominous drips from strained expansion joints have sprinkled down amid Asian artifacts in the institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The historic Arts and Industries Building is closed to visitors to protect them from metal panels dropping from its beautiful but dilapidated ceiling. At the National Air and Space Museum, a water stain mars the Lilienthal hang glider that inspired the Wright Brothers to fly. Even the 1940's prototypes of what was to become seemingly indestructible Tupperware were irreparably damaged in a plumbing breakdown.

The world's largest museum complex, the Smithsonian includes 18 museums and galleries, 10 science centers and a zoological park. It is charged with conserving and displaying the country's treasures, both grand and whimsical - the Star-Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry, bits of moon rock from the earliest space missions, the "puffy shirt" worn by Jerry Seinfeld in his hit television series.

But years of inadequate financing and maintenance have led to widespread disrepair that is imperiling the collections, institution officials say.

My friend added this comment:
The whole article makes for very sad reading. But as a nation, it is
what we want, apparently. “No More Taxes” inevitably means “No More
Financing for the Smithsonian”. Ah well, as the NASM rots, we can enjoy
that big SUV...
I was going to reply to my friend, but didn't want to start a political discussion, so instead I'll vent here.

No more taxes? You've seen no more taxes? I sure as hell haven't - I saw a extra refund a few years back (then saw massive deficit spending, but that's another essay), then my tax bill got higher than it ever has. I've seen government on every level do everything it can to squeeze more taxes out of me (the recent Kelo decision is the latest attempt), even when I've voted to pass laws saying it can't. I've seen the IRS bill me for ten large (that's $10,000) because it didn't like the fact that I only reported my income once (that's right, they were counting some of my income twice and thought I owed them more). If my tax money isn't going to fix the Smithsonian buildings, I wonder where it is going. Hopefully it's not being used to force democracy on a sovereign nation halfway around the world.

I'm also wondering why my friend decided to send this out to everyone - shouldn't he be whipping out his checkbook and writing a big fat one off to the Smithsonian to help? I mean, this is something near and dear to his heart, right? Couldn't he give extra money to the government for a specific purpose? Of course, if it were a private institution, this would be no problem - donations of this sort are done privately all the time.

That brings up another issue - do privately held museums have this problem? The Museum of Flight in Seattle is owned by Boeing Aircraft - wonder if they've let their building deteriorate to the point where it's causing irreparable damage to exhibits and holdings. What kind of museum curator lets his building fall down around his ears? Does he not care about the exhibits? Where does the money the Smithsonian does take in go? Do they charge admission on top of the government handout? That's still not enough? Who's overseeing the accounting? How much is the curator's salary? The salary of others who work there? Will they take a pay cut to preserve the artifacts they've been hired to preserve? Can the labor force be reduced to cut costs, or are all they all "civil servants", basically tenured for life? I'm thinking that the Museum has no shareholders to answer to, and the money is free, so why should the curator care? It's not like his salary depends on the number of people paying admission - if it did, he'd be working on better exhibits than Tupperware and Seinfeld's shirt (preserving the first is ironic, preserving the second is just silly and pointless) in order to get more people interested and coming to the museums. In other words, if he had a selfish self-interest in the success of the Museum (i.e. ownership, or some part of his livelihood tied to ownership), this wouldn't be happening.

There are three things to do - let it fall and lose all those exhibits (I'm appalled by that idea as well, although Indiana Jones' fedora can crumble to dust for all I care); funnel more money into it (maybe we can pass the hat around for donations - let's start with our service men and women in Iraq and see what they think); or sell it to a private party to fix, preserve, and profit from.

Instead of whining, my friend should be forming a private organization, dedicated to raising money to buy the Museum and put it in private hands. Contract with the government to preserve citizen access to the exhibits, but allow it to show a profit, attract investors, and purchase new holdings and exhibits to keep the whole thing running. If he cared enough about it, this is what he'd be doing - as it is, he cares just enough to whine that no one else is helping...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Your government at work #2

You know, there are people who think, rightly so, that you should be free to live your life as you see fit. That your life is your own responsibility, and the harm you cause to yourself is up to you to deal with, and when you cause harm to others you should be responsible enough to make it right. Too bad Northbrook Village Board President Gene Marks (e-mail him here)isn't one of them, according to a story in the Northbrook Star.

Apparently, in his experience as a firefighter, the number of dead people in house fires he's seen has bothered him (as well it should, as it would anyone). Now, as a duly elected official (and newly elected - his four year term runs til April 2009), he's gonna by gumption do something about it, namely require sprinkler systems in all new single family homes in Northbrook Village, Illinois. As some on put it, now, when you burn the toast, instead of that annoying beeping, you get to haul the soaked contents of your home to the curb and buy new shit.

One other thing Gene Marks doesn't believe is that there are limits to what government can and should do. Board Trustee James Karagianis has it half right when he says, "Government should not intrude in every area of life, and this is one area that I think is intrusive." Actually, I would say government should intrude as little as possible into anything. Two other Trustees, Sandy Frum and Mike Scolaro, are wary fo the measure, but for the wrong reasons - they're concerned about the cost. In dollars, not in freedom lost.

Another Trustee, one Julius Kole (address 4036 Linderwood Lane, Northbrook, IL 60062, Phone: 847-498-0669, E-mail: - all public info from the Northbrook web site), actually said, "I think there comes a point that you have to force some things down people's throats." (emphasis mine) Do the residents of Northbrook Village realize what this guy is saying? If you're living your life in such a way that seems to be wrong to the Board, they'll force the right thing down your throats. Got an old tree in your front yard that drop leaves on the road in the fall causing a hazardous driving condition? Cut it down! Got a leaky faucet that wasting a hundred gallons of water a year? New plumbing mandated! Got a leaky ring in your engine, causing it to smoke when it's cold? Fine and fix! It's all for your own good, you know... Quite frankly, elect these petty little Nazis out ASAP. If there's an impeachment process, do it, and do it now. It can only get worse.

Seriously, folks, if a random person off the street tried to force this crap on you, you'd be well justified in telling them to stuff themselves. If a company tried to handle you this way, you'd be justified in filing a lawsuit and spreading so much bad publicity for them they'd pay you to shut up. But when government does this, what recourse do you have? Move? Vote? Neither do much good - busy-bodies who want to be paid from the public dole are everywhere. Write letters? All I ever get in return from my Congressperson are form letters (mail and e-mail) when I'm in agreement with them, nothing when I'm not (actually, only one Senator even acknowledges my letters to her - the junior Senator and the old Rep seemingly never hear anything). Run for office yourself? You lie down with the dogs, you wake up with fleas - I personally don't trust anyone who wants a public position.

The Founding Fathers held a revolution over less than this...


Before continuing, read the story in the Fairfield (CT) Herald.

Out-FUCKING-rageous! Not only have these people been paying their property taxes, but the City is now charging extra, as well as offering them prices that are five years old. If I lived in New London, I'd move. Now. Just leave. Sell your house for less than it's worth (once the New London officials get a mind to take it, it won't be worth even that), trash the place to kill the property value, salt the earth, and move anywhere out of the state of Connecticut.

Now, most libertarians with any sense of property rights will tell you that property taxes are, in essence, rent you pay to government for land you supposedly own. This actually isn't very surprising, and is completely legal (think of any civil case where the loser has to pay court costs and interest on money not paid during the contest), but it is completely outrageous, and the officials in the city of New London should be voted out of office next time around. I also wouldn't be patronizing any establishment that set up shop in the new buildings that are going on top of these people houses and land.

The problem here is the mentality at work - public officials need money to do the things they need (and simply want) to do. Since government doesn't produce anything like a business does, they have no real income. Therefore, government relies on taxes (i.e. theft) to provide that income. As government spends, it is asked to spend more on things the people think government should be doing - providing education for your kids, maintaing public roads, helping the poor, fighting wars far away from home, etc. It needs more money to do so, so it raises taxes.

In recent years, however, a number of states have passed laws and initiatives barring the random and capricious increase in taxes to provide these public services. Lawmakers are therefore looking for more creative ways to increase the amount of money they get without actually raising taxes. Using eminent domain in this creative way (and getting 6 of 9 Justices to agree with you) is very creative, doesn't increase the tax rate at all, but increases the value of the land being taxed. If you can overlook people being ousted from their homes, it's brilliant.

Any libertarian will tell you that 99% of the things government does today it shouldn't do - eductation, transportation, charity, ecology, etc., are all done better and cheaper in the private sector, and what's more, offers you a choice of options. That's the main problem with government - there is no choice. If I don't want a telephone, I don't buy a phone - if I don't like the way a company does business, I don't buy from that company. But if I don't like my government stealing from me to give to the needle exchange clinic down the road - tough. In this case, New London stole land from these people and gave it to a private developer - which is more moral or ethical?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Your government at work

Thank the gods we’re being kept safe from these dangerous people flying…  Reason #2 why I’ll never board a plane voluntarily again.

Oh baby: Infants among those caught up in 'no-fly' confusion -

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Parental Rights vs. Public Schools by Wendy McElroy

Good essay, but it misses one point completely.  Why didn’t the father in this case simply remove his son from the school, tell the officials to go fling themselves in the lake, and home-school the boy?  If you want there to be no influence of government-run propaganda camps (aka public schools) in your life, the best thing to do is keep your kids out of them. 

Parental Rights vs. Public Schools by Wendy McElroy

Wednesday, August 10, 2005 - Chertoff: Privacy fears not justified

This is the danger of having people appointed to key positions rather than voted into positions – he has no one to vote him out, no way to remove him unless we go to his boss, George Bush.  This is also the latest in a string of reasons why I will never, ever, fly again. - Chertoff: Privacy fears not justified

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Where?s the Kelo Calamity? by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

Interesting take on the recent Kelo decision, where the Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London, CT, could make it’s own eminent domain decisions.  I hadn’t thought of the issue the way lew did – it makes for a very interesting juxtaposition of ideas. I recommend reading the essay with an open mind and thought to true liberalism (AKA libertarianism).

Where’s the Kelo Calamity? by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.