Wednesday, August 06, 2008
Escape from Edouard Update
The tropical storm I was following -- starting the Sunday evening before an early Tuesday flight -- never intensified.
But its wind field grew Monday evening, and I had some concern that winds at the airport would keep me grounded after all. Luckily for me, the thing hooked to the right before making landfall, and I was able to leave.
But preparations ate up a lot more of my time than I expected, hence this morning's short post. Blame lack of sleep yesterday and Too Much Stuff Left to Do this morning.
Summer 2008 TOS
If I weren't so busy lately, I'd have read this issue of The Objective Standard in the same way that Gideon Reich, who reviewed it, did. But I was, and since I knew I'd be flying to Boston soon, I allowed myself to read the book reviews, which I really enjoyed, and then set the rest of it aside until yesterday's flight.
My capsule review: Damned good from beginning to end! I particularly recommend "Property Rights and the Crisis of the Electric Grid" by Raymond C. Niles, which I'd been looking forward to for some time. That article is available online, so if you don't subscribe, read it there and remember that you could get three articles of the same quality each quarter for the price of less than two movie tickets per issue.
Even if Hollywood could still reliably produce great movies, that would be a bargain!
Update: Burgess Laughlin has a very interesting post about Mr. Niles's work to persuade leaders in the utility industry and others of the case for better government protection of individual rights.
Etiquette is contextual.
If ethics is practical, absolute, and contextual -- and I agree with Ayn Rand that it is -- then so is its application to daily social interactions, etiquette, as Andrew Dalton indicates after encountering some individuals who expect there to be no criticism of Alexander Solzhenitsyn upon his death.
Now, as a guide to etiquette, in a properly delimited context, such an injunction ["Do not speak ill of the dead."] has some merit. Such a context would be when speaking in the presence of family and friends of the deceased, or when his faults were confined to his private life. In that case, trumpeting the dead person's moral shortcomings would be an act of spite with little or no rational purpose.And it is worse than merely rude to allow such to go unchallenged, given the greater context of the real-world consequences collectivism visits upon its victims, be they adherents of collectivism themselves or their victims.
However, Solzhenitsyn was a public figure, and his often-criticized religious and nationalist views were part of his publicly expressed philosophy. It is dogmatic and insane to insist that these views should not be criticized on a political/legal blog simply because Solzhenitsyn recently died.
Based on My Last Visit, I Think Not
A few stops down the tram line from where I work is a Sears location I would use to buy Lands End shirts from time to time after the catalog retailer was acquired by the venerable department store chain.
Hoping to replace a couple of shirts before leaving town Tuesday, I went down there, only to find that there was nothing in the racks from Lands End, and that everything else they had was a far cry from the business casual level I was shooting for. I left empty-handed.
The store, pictured at right in its former glory, is now an eyesore, and looks increasingly out of place in the neighborhood which is regentrifying around it -- and would send shoppers there if they'd only offer better merchandise.
So it was with jaw dropping just before my flight that I saw a teaser on the front page of the Houston Chronicle to the effect that behind its present rusting, corrugated facade hides an art deco delight! Unfortunately, I lost that section of the paper at some point during my rush to make the flight, so I'm linking to the story now. (And, on the paper's past advice, reproducing lots of the story since it likes yanking days-old content from the web.)
Sears' tan metal siding, blotched with graffiti cover-up, gives the building's upper floors the beaten-down air of an aging ministorage unit. But even that beats the urban battle fortifications at ground level.I have been told before that during that period, this kind of ugliness was strongly associated with modernization. The idea that progress in aesthetics is the same thing as a utilitarian stripping-away of all decoration and ornament -- specifically that reason is incompatible with a pleasant aesthetic -- is both a manifestation of the mind-body dichotomy and a bastard offspring of the aesthetics of modern philosophy and the admiration of technology peculiar to America. The latter is made possible by the massive philosophical confusion rampant in our modern culture.
Someone, it appears, worked hard to make the department store defensible, able to repel invading hordes of shoppers intoxicated by Vanessa Hudgens' back-to-school ads. At the Wheeler side of the building, two sets of glass double doors, blacked out and locked during business hours, present an ominous face to the street. Opaque gray film makes the official entrance's glass doors, facing Main, only a little less scary. Bricks fill almost all the former display windows; burglar bars and more of that gray film cover the plate glass that survived. Only the most intrepid seekers of Kenmore appliances would dare breach such a bulwark.
The strange thing? Sears' unsightly fortifications hide a gorgeous Art Deco building, a store that, in its day, marked the height of luxury.
In 1939, when the Main Street Sears opened, Main at Wheeler seemed a world away from downtown, where all of Houston's other major department stores clustered. To lure shoppers away from their accustomed haunts, the chain created a store that the Houston Chronicle called "one of the finest in the South or Southwest."
Sears ponied up what was serious money during the Great Depression: $330,000 for a block and a half of property, as well as a cool $1 million to build the store itself. To design the store, the chain hired Nimmons, Carr & Wright, a Chicago firm, as well as A.C. Finn, a Houston architect known for his commercial buildings.
They designed the building around three features now so commonplace that it's hard to imagine a time when they seemed notable. First was the idea that outside of downtown, shoppers would arrive in cars, and that those cars must be accommodated. Next to the store, Sears operated its own gas station. And even more notably, the store provided an enormous parking lot. Across Main Street from the store, it could hold 600 cars, a number then considered enormous. Lighting that parking lot at night counted as a separate novelty.
So what on earth happened to that poor building?
It's hard to say what, exactly, the store's general manager was thinking in 1962, when he proudly announced a "modernization." The building's interior and exterior, he told the Chronicle proudly, "are to be completely and radically changed." [minor edits]
Reporter Lisa Gray goes on to note that many art deco features of the building remain, both behind the "space age" (spaced age?) shell and within the interior.
[G]iven the store's location, and the relative ease of restoring it, you hope the chain realizes what it's got. You'd like to think that the old Art Deco Sears hidden underneath that beige metal could return.Based on the direction that their clothing inventory has taken, I think that the answer to the question of whether they know what they've got is, "No."
And not just return. Arrive. [bold added]
Maybe they'll sell to someone who does.
Today: Added link to post on "in-line activism".