Monday, 9 May 2005

Mediocrity Awards

Cartoon by Nick Kim.
Courtesy The Free Radical magazine

Neo-Nazi defeat in Berlin

Berlin Bear reports today that on the Sixtieth Anniversary of the end of WWII a counter-protest that led to the cancellation of a neo-Nazi show of force on the streets of Berlin demonstrates we may be able to lay to rest any fears we might still harbour about a neo-Nazi revival in Germany. Says BB:
As I see it, this is an important defeat for the neo-Nazis. It shows to the world that, although there is a tiny minority of fascist numbskulls who have learned nothing from the horrors of the Second World War and the Nazi regime and continue to spread their xenophobic hate-filled lies, they are vastly outnumbered by rational, right-thinking German citizens who are prepared to stand up to them and to say loud and clear, "Never again. Not here, not anywhere."

Or, in the words of the German Minister for the Environment, Jürgen Trittin:

'With peaceful means, the public showed these Nazis who were trying to glorify the greatest genocide in history will never again have any role in Germany.'
Let us hope so.

Why do we do it?

Why do people write blogs, or columns?

Writer and columnist Tibor Machan - one of my own genuine mentors - describes here his own motives in writing columns. And he writes a lot of them!

His motives are also mine, including his thoughts on both the hazards and the benefits of comments. Begins Tibor,
What motivates people to write columns? There is no one answer that fits all columnists—that’s a start of an answer. In my own case there is no one motive—depends on the day, time, circumstances, my own state of mind, and probably much I don’t even bother to learn of.

A few things I do know, about why I write columns, involve certain goals. Among these, foremost is the achievement of a world in which freedom is in greater rather than lesser abundance, the freedom of the individual from coercive intervention in his or her life. But why bother about this, one might ask?
Read on here to find out why he does bother. And why I do.

Let me say too that Tibor doesn't just explain why I enjoy writing my blog pieces and the like, he's also provided inspiration for their production. I always remember Tibor on a visit to Auckland excusing himself from a discussion to duck away and tap out a new column on a borrowed computer in order to record an insight he had just come to, only to emerge smiling with the explanation he "just had to get that out." Such fecundity of production explains how Tibor is as prolific as he has been over an extraordinarily productive career.

The man's an inspiration. Check out his most recent books here and here.

Successful campaigning techniques, Part 1

Libertarianz Tim Wikiriwhi tries out two different campaigning techniques at the Tauranga Home Show this weekend.
Robin Thomsen and Russell Watkins try another. Which do you think will prove more successful? Please feel free to suggest (polite) captions. :^)

New libertarian blogs launched

A new libertarian sort-of-blog called 'Speakeasy' has been launched by Julian Pistorius and Helen Hughes (aka Hooch Helen), Libz candidates respectively for Northland and Whangarei. They describe it as a web newsletter, hard copies of which are distributed around their electorates. A blog 'engine' for the site is promised soon. I suspect most readers of this blog will understand the connection between Speakeasies and Prohibition.

Their first issue checks out the connection between Anzaz Day and the attempted closing of Orauta School.

And Richard Goode from beNZylpiperazine is now blogging at LibertyNZ, where others including Philip and Luke Howison are soon to join him.

Perhaps they've been reading about political blogging here, even if NBR did get it wrong "that Act and the Greens are the first two parties to have a sophisticated online presence." Is 'Not PC' - which predated the Frog - just too unsophisticated for NBR? Croak!

Wananga's failure shows voucher failure

News here that Trevor Mallard is proffering Rongo Wetere's Wananga o Aotearoa a $20 million "short-term loan" (with more to come) and (possibly) appointing a commissioner to oversee the Wananga and (maybe) an advisory group to work alongside the putative commissioner and the existing Mallard-appointed Crown Manager is greeted as expected by Rodney Hide and others with the joy of being vindicated in their attacks on the Wananga and its management.

Well, perhaps that joy is somewhat undeserved.

In the first place, if the Wananga is so badly run, then why should more taxpayers' money be spent where it has already been so flagrantly wasted? Does anyone really expect this "short-term loan" to be repaid?

And would there really be a problem with the Wananga declaring bankruptcy and its assets then used for a decent school? After all, the assets don't go away when bankruptcy is declared, and as it is now the government has just taken control of a private school, not something a libertarian should enjoy.

And why have Bill English, Rodney Hide, Ken Shirley and Deborah Coddington been attacking the Wananga anyway? This Government is spending roughly a billion dollars a year in tertiary education, mostly in what's known as 'low-level' courses such as the degrees in air-hosting and diplomas in dog-washing and the like that have been exposed in various news stories. That billion dollars a year is being spent in a system set up by the previous National Government that 'follows the student'; in other words, if a student decides to enrol for a course, then the government will pay for it.

The other name for such a system is ... a Voucher System. Such a system is exactly what ACT party luminaries such as Rodney Hide, Ken Shirley and Deborah Coddington have been advocating for years, and what English's colleagues put in place at tertiary level. Now they've got it, they don't like what they see. Have they perhaps changed their mind? Or ist just that they don't recognise it for what it is?

Rodney Hide blames Mallard for "pouring in money without control." Does he really not realise that's what a voucher system does?

Let me remind readers of the four basic ways of spending money, with some examples to show what I mean (hat-tip here to Milton Friedman and PJ O'Rourke). See of you can work out which situation describes how Rongo Wetere's chequebook was funded:

1/. You spend your own money on yourself -
e.g, you buy your own toys, and you've probably saved for them. You look after them.

2/. You spend someone else's money on yourself -
e.g., a kid gets hold of Dad's wallet in the toy store. Lots of toys, most quickly broken or ignored.

3/. You spend your own money on someone else -
e.g., you buy a toy for a friend. It's cheap.

4/. You spend someone else's money on someone else. Neither price nor quality are important -
e.g., your parents buy a toy for your friend. Its cheap. And he doesn't want it.

Until 1984, government spending in New Zealand fell exclusively into Category Four above. Following the transformation wrought by Prebble, Douglas and Richardson, government spending was mostly still Category Four, except when it wasn't and was instead Case Two: Case Two describes the whole input-output, 'purchasing of outcomes' waffle that Douglas, Prebble and Richardson applied to government spending, and that Christine Rankin's Welfare empire, John Tamihere's Waipareira Trust and Donna Awatere's Pipi Foundation went on to spend. These last three were all buying toys for others with other people's money (and Donna as you may remember was also caught spending it on herself.)

Case Two also describes Rongo's spend-up at the Wananga. It describes the voucher system too

Blair's post-election blues

Showing the gratititude and honesty typical of Labour MPs everywhere, British Labour MPs now want to stick the knife into the man they asked a country to vote for last week, on the pretext that not enough people did so. "The [Labour] backbenchers, many speaking publicly for the first time, have been moved to hasten Blair’s departure after his majority was slashed by 94 in Thursday’s general election." Read here. And that's just the backbenchers; his cabinet are little better, bickering about the cabinet posts offered them. Apparently the words 'hypocrite' and 'ungrateful' are both spelt L-A-B-O-U-R.

Hypocritical blathering is not solely restricted to British Labourites however. In the wake of Michael Howard's resignation comes navel-gazing from British Conservatives too, wondering where it all went wrong for them. I can tell them quite simply: they can trace it to the day they so cowardly abandoned the Thatcher Revolution that had once made them both popular and principled.

But the latest navel-gazing demonstrates they still have no idea where they went wrong. "The compassionate part of our Conservatism goes back deep into our history and must be renewed," says one tired old Tory sifting through his navel fluff here, offering a paucity of ideas as flaccid as any given by the 'Heseltinis' who once knifed Thatcher. "We sometimes talk as if all that matters is the individual and his or her freedoms but Conservatives have always valued the ties that bind us," he blathers to himself. "That's why we've never settled for the conventional bureaucratic welfare state. It's why we understand the ties of family, neighbourhood and nation." It's why they've been deservedly ignored by the country since at least 1993.

Blair stole what once made the Tories worth anything at all, and it's clear they still don't want it back.

Sunday, 8 May 2005

Who is your mentor?

The American Academy of Achievement celebrates, what else, achievement; specifically Aemrican achievers, It seeks to "bring students face-to-face with the extraordinary leaders, thinkers and pioneers who have shaped our world."

A page on the site here offers you the chance to find your own 'mentors' with a few simple mouse-clicks. The site tells me my own mentors include Sir Edmund Hillary, Chuck Yeager and BB King, which as you can imagine left me feeling pretty happy - at least I was until I discovered Philip Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Ralph Nader were also on my list, and that Frank Lloyd Wright and Duke Ellington weren't even included in the academy. I guess Frank and Duke did pass on some years ago, but the egregious Philip Johnson died not long ago, and he hardly deserves the acclaim anyway.

See who is on your own list and see if you agree with it here.

[Hat-tip to Stephen Hicks.}

NCEA resignations: Et tu Billy?

I have to assume from Bill English's frequently repeated calls for the resignation of those responsible for the disastrous NCEA qualification - here's the latest - that he is either stupid or else refreshingly irony-free.

On his past performances either of course is possible, but I do look forward to Bill calling for the head of his National colleague Lockwood Smith, who some people still remember as the Minister responsible for implementing the whole sorry NZQA/NCEA/Unit Standard bollocks in the first place, and of fellow Nat-Brat Nick Smith who presided over the resulting and inevitable decline in educational standards (Unit Standards in being able to use a fax, anyone?).

And, as many of you will no doubt recall, the whole NCEA/NZQA implementation process was accompanied by the loud and sustained applause of both Smith-Person's Cabinet colleagues at the time - of which Bill himself was a thrusting young member - so maybe Billy-Boy will fall on his sword as well, just to show Karen van Rooyen how such things are done?

To point out the culpability of these National Party luminaries in the present disaster is not to remove any responsility for it from this Government or from Trevor Mallard - who are as much to blame as the National Party for the whole sorry shambles - it is to make the point that it doesn't matter which party is in Government as long as they allow the Ministry of Education complete control over this country's factory school system.

From the libertarian point of view, they're all culpable. It's time to take back the schools from all the above.

New! Tax calculator

As we get closer and closer to Budget Day, as new taxes are added by the day, and as this thieving Government boasts anew of having stolen $8 billion too much this year, you might like to visit this simple 'Pillage' calculator to see how much of you hard-earned wedge is stolen each year in Income Tax alone just to keep Helen Clark's election bribes afloat.

Just remember once you see the total pillaged that the calculator calculates your Income Tax only; depending on your investments and chosen lifestyle, your other taxes both central and local- excise taxes and Development Levies and rates and Government Slavery Tax and the like - will approximately double that figure.

Once you've done your final calc you might just about need a drink, at $38.4 per litre for a whiskey, plus Slavery Tax. Or a smoke, at 24c per cig, plus Grab Snatch and Take. If, that is, you can afford to pay the excise.

Loving wealth

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, don't they. And those rich bastards are busy getting rich off the backs off the poor, aren't they.

Well, no they don't, and no they're not. In fact, as Walter Williams says in a recent column, most of today's rich are yesterday's poor. For the most part, 'the poor' don't want to stay that way, and they haven't - it's them that's mostly busy getting richer, with about 80% of American millionaires being first-generation wealthy.

Furthermore, 'the former poor' are making themselves rich, and in that sense only can you say they're getting rich off the backs of the poor - it's their own back. Thomas Sowell argues:
Are there genuinely poor people who stay poor? Yes. However grossly exaggerated the numbers, there are such people. But studies that follow the same individuals over time find that most of those in the bottom 20 percent of income earners are also in the top 20 percent at some other time in their careers....

There was a time when you could legitimately contrast the idle rich and the working poor. But that time is long gone. Nevertheless, the image is still politically useful, so you are likely to see that image invoked again and again by candidates practicing divide and conquer politics, sometimes known as class warfare or by its more fashionable name, 'social justice.'
And 'social justice' mostly harms not helps the poor because it calcifies the social structure and the economy into present patterns. Sowell's new book 'Black Rednecks and White Liberals' argues that for example American "ghettos are still filled with 'black rednecks' who have never escaped [their] self-destructive patterns. Why not? Their attempt to escape, Sowell says, has been consistently and repeatedly hampered by white liberals!" The 'black redneck's' have still got what Malcolm X called 'their slave minds'; the 'white liberals' want them to keep it because there's votes and kudos in being patronising.

See for example the Labour Party manifesto.

As Reverend Ike always says, "The best thing you can do for the poor is not to become one." Right on, Reverend. If Bishop Tamaki talked like that I could be a fan. Pity he's just another fascist arsehole with a power complex.

And forget about the so-called 'gap' between rich and poor. The richer the rich are, the bigger the gap. And the richer the we're all allowed to get, the easier for the poor to become rich and to stay that way. PJ O'Rourke sums it up in his classic book 'Eat the Rich',
If we want the whole world to be rich, we need to start loving wealth. In the difference between poverty and plenty, the problem is the poverty and not the difference. Wealth is good. ... wealth is not a world-wide round-robin of purse snatching... [T]he thing that makes you rich doesn't make me poor. ... Without Productivity, there wouldn't be any economics, or any economic thinking, good or bad, or any pizza, or anything else. We would sit around and stare at rocks, and maybe later have some for dinner. ... Wealth is based on productivity, and productivity is expandable. In fact, productivity is fabulously expandable.
Productivity is good. So is getting rich - if only governments and those white liberals would let us.

Saturday, 7 May 2005

Toucan Table in Tennessee

Artist and friend Michael Newberry has an exhibition of recent work opening tonight New Zealand time in Chattanooga, Tennessee. To celebrate, he's putting many of the works on the net here, with prices. My own favourite is the colourful 'Toucan Table,' pictured below.

You can read here an interview I did with Michael early last year.

Pizza with that Identity Card, sir?

Here's a highly amusing short from the ACLU on the dangers of Identity Cards. Would you like pizza with that?

The Tamaki top ten

Apparently Brian Tamaki told last week's 'Listener' about his favourite songs. Now, I didn't see what Bishop Brian says he has programmed on his iPod when he's happy-clapping for Jesus... but I can guess. So I have.

In fact, while writing I felt a great spirit move me; I truly felt I was receiving divine inspiration from the good Bishop himself ... it's almost as if these are his words I was putting down:

10. '(Sometimes) Pleasureheads Must Burn' by The Birthday Party. I won't just abide unadulterated pleasure-seeking. Said Brian.

9. 'Religion I' and 'Religion II,' by Public Image Limited. So nice to have good serious religious material in our popular music.

8. 'Big Daddy on Fire,' by Jesus Chrysler Supercar. A toss up between this and Jerry Lee Lewis's 'Great Balls of Fire' as a tribute to our beloved Father.

7. 'I Need,' by the Buzzcocks. And I do need a great deal. Hence the tithe. (All together now: "I used to want but now, I NEED (I need)!")

6. 'Purple Haze,' Jimi Hendrix. I especially love that classic line, "Excuse me while I kiss this guy." Don't even have to play the record backwards or nothing, it's right there.

5. 'Walking on the Water,' by Richard Hell. Great for all my aerobic workouts.

4. 'Burning Hell', by R.E.M.
What those sodomites will get if they don't keep their bottoms holy.

3. 'Beers, Steers and Queers,' by the Revolting Cocks - the 'Drop your Britches' mix is my personal fave.

2. 'Demagogue', Urban Dance Squad
Always a pleasure seeing the mokopuna and the black shirts out on the floor. Nice to have them singing about me, too.

And my very personal favourite:
1. 'Jesus Built My Hotrod' by those nice Texan boys Ministry. Nice name for them. And a lucrative choice of career for me. I wonder if they have a song about a Harley?

Freedom Tower's post-modernist architect sacked

The design for the so-called Freedom Tower at the Word Trade Center site has thankfully been scrapped. Donald Trump at least is happy: "It was an egghead design, designed by an egghead," he said, and for once on a question of aesthetics The Donald is right.

When Islamic terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center it was clear the attack was not just an attack on those proud soaring buildings and the people within, but as Ehud Barak said at the time it was an attack on civilisation itself. I said so too at the time.

What was needed as an architectural response was the swift design and construction of another proud and soaring thing, a building demonstrating defiance to the savagery that made such a replacement necessary, and a celebration of the values under attack. Something like Frank Lloyd Wright's 'Mile High Center' perhaps. What we got instead was dawdling, hand-wringing and eventually the decision to build a post-modern lemon designed by a fashionable idiot. Fortunately that decision has now been rescinded.

As TIADaily explains, "The awful design for the "Freedom Tower" at the World Trade Center site has been scrapped because of 'security concerns'—and if you believe that, you also believed that Dan Rather retired because he wanted to work on his golf swing. The column [here] speculates on the real reason for the change, but doesn't quite get to what I think is most important: everyone wanted to jettison postmodern architect Daniel Libeskind."

And thank God they now have. May we now get a real Freedom Tower worthy of the name.

Not PC celebrates a Labour victory

Christopher Hitchens says he's waited forty years to "vote Labour on a point of principle," but the recent UK election has made that possible. Read Hitchen's extended comments here. For myself, I have to say I did once enjoy a Labour victory - 1987's Labour win is still a milestone in NZ's political history - but I little thought such a time would come again. It has.

Blair's principled stand on the liberation of Iraq has however made it possible to actually enjoy his election victory, for where his political opponents and spineless other European 'statesmen' vacillated and wavered (Bonjour Monsieur Chirac, Herr Schroeder and the miserable Michael Howard) Tony Blair has been absolutely solid on the necessity for the Iraq invasion. And he was right to be so.

This was really what the British call a khaki election, one in which Blair's stand in Iraq was put to the people of Britain. Thankfully the side of right has won. Just.

"Arguing about the war in Britain is quite different, in point of tone and alignment, from debating it in the United States," says Hitchens. Very different to debating it here as well. Unlike here and in the US, Britain seems to allow a rather more nuanced view on the necessity for regime change than the reflexive bile always so evident elsewhere when the words 'Bush' and 'Iraq' are mentioned in the same sentence.

Everywhere that is except, it seems, in the Tory party (Hitchens suggests "Anti-Americanism in Britain has long been a conservative rather than a radical trope, and dislike for George Bush is very common among the aristocratic remnant") or electorates such as Bethnal Green and Bow in which unreconstructed Stalinist and paid-up Saddamite apologist George Galloway - expelled from the Labour Party for calling for jihad on British soldiers - managed to disgrace his own election victory with a taste of the bitterness his campaign of hate engendered. (See some of that bitterness here in his interview with Jeremy Paxman.) Much of that hatred was deservedly directed at Galloway himself; as Hitchens comments, "How satisfying that those who support the Iraqi 'insurgency' from a safe distance have now received a taste of its real character."

So in the end, as says,"Tony Blair has won a historic third term as prime minister--but he has little to be happy about, since he did it with only 37 percent of the vote as his party lost dozens of seats in Parliament. The only reason he won was the incredible weakness of the opposition, especially Conservative leader Michael Howard, who went through an embarrassing series of flip-flops on the Iraq war (and who now plans to resign).

Tony Blair is an odd combination of Peter Keating and Gail Wynand. (OK, that's a stretch, but bear with me.) Like Keating (and Clinton), Blair sought to be all things to all people, pursuing a compromising "Third Way" policy. Like Wynand, however, what brought him down was his one semi-principled act: his support for the Iraq War, an act that could not be made consistent with his overall character and history."

[UPDATE: I just came across this BBC account of the Oona King-George Galloway brawl in Tower Hamlets. Said Oona of George, "What makes me sick is that when I come across someone who is guilty of genocide I do not get on a plane and go to Baghdad and grovel at his feet," referring to Mr Galloway's controversial meeting with Saddam Hussein 11 years ago. Almost makes me wish I could have voted for her myself.]

Friday, 6 May 2005

Great moments in human history, 1: The invention of beer

As the UK election and the week both get wrapped up (the latter from a New Zealand perspective at least) it is now definitely time for a drink.

Time too to reflect on what built civilisation. I can give you the answer in one word: Beer. It's true - let me explain.

What was it that primitive man was fighting for, yearning for, struggling towards all those millenia ago? Why, for the same thing we all do on a Friday afternoon. A rest. Time off. A beer.

When wildebeest and wild beasts roamed the plains thousands of years ago, early man roamed with them ... and often provided them with a good meal when he was doing too much yearning, and too little watching.

Life for early man for most of those thousands of years was as Thomas Hobbes described it : nasty, brutish and short. Hunting and gathering -- and the threat of imminent starvation – were all that drove men forwards. Their battle for survival was a daily challenge. Man’s mind was of little use in such a primitive struggle: native cunning and primitive tool-making were highly valued; long-range thinking was not.

A successful hunt was all such creatures had to celebrate: the high point in such an existence would be roasting a wild beast over an open fire. For a brief moment in their short and brutal lives their bellies were full, their bodies warm, and their thoughts could (at last!) roam to higher things. They had bought themselves time to think.

On such nights, and over the course of those thousands of year of struggle, there was one thought, one goal, that drove these men forwards: the idea of beer!

That’s right. Beer. The first step away from the caves and that precarious existence of the hunter-gather came with the cultivation in Mesopotamia of grains and cereals. With this important step man had begun thinking long-range; he had begun to plan his life a season … then a year … then several years in advance. Rather than roaming far and wide he could settle down, build a house, raise a family, start a cilvilisation. The planting and harvesting of grains and cereals represented the arrival of man the-rational-animal; for the first time it could be clearly seen that man’s mind was his chief tool of survival. Man had put his mind to work, and for the first time flourishing replaced survival.

And what was all that grain and all those cereals for? Why, for beer of course! And bread. If bread was the staff of life, beer was its inspiration. With bread came sustenance; with beer came civilisation. If the mark of that first phase of primitive human development was a wild beast gnawing on the roasted limb of another wild beast, then the mark of the next was several pitchers of beer, and happy people consuming them.

Beer was the first example of men expending precious time and effort producing something not just for survival, but for their own pleasure!

And with the time bought by cultivation, men could now devise stories to entertain themselves while drinking beer. Curiously, many of these stories involved the pleasures of imbibition... (Read more here.)

Rodney Hide opposes prohibition. But.

There are many ways to argue for an end to the War on Drugs.

Libertarians generally begin by pointing out that its your body, and your right to choose what to put into it - providing of course that you take responsibility for your choices. Historians like to point out that prohibition has never worked, and that organised crime only achieved 'take-off'in the US when alcohol was prohibited in the twenties. The former head of Scotland Yard's Drug Squad, Eddie Ellison, likes to point out that legalising drugs dramatically reduces police corruption, overhwelmingly reduces crime both petty and felonious, effectively nearly doubles police numbers and halves prison populations, and removes profits from criminals and reduces their control over the quality and consequent danger of drugs.

There are many ways to argue for the legalisation of drugs. Unfortunately Rodney Hide has just chosen the worst, specifically to "legalise and tax hard to keep the price where it is now" so that the government could effectively levy huge windfall taxes on drug-users. This would somehow remove drugs from the black-market, thinks Rodney.

Will de Cleene, Trevor Loudon and 'dogsbody' are already accurately pointing out the problems with Rodney's position on his own blog as we speak, but what is at least positive about Rodney's announcement is that this is the first time an ACT MP - let alone ACT's leader - has even floated the idea of legalising drugs, or at least the idea that prohibition is a bad thing. Which is a good thing. A shame then that it is only to endorse extortionate taxation "for something useful."

Maybe if he's truly serious about opposing prohibition and supporting an increase in personal freedom he could get Will de Cleene to advise him on what credible arguments for legalisation would look like. This for example. Or this.

[UPDATE 1: Rodney could also visit one of NORML's J-Day celebrations tomorrow and get a few better arguments against probition. I feel sure Chris Fowlie from The Hempstore can give him something compelling.]

[UPDATE 2: I've been pointed to a piece Rodney wrote in 2003 opposing prohibition. Here it is. Great piece, but sadly it doesn't come to any conclusive position on ending the criminilisation and imprisonment of drug users. He did however come out completely in support of legalisation on a Ralston Group episode some years back before being told by then-leader Richard Prebble to settle down and shut up; and Mild Greens' Blair Anderson reports herethat Rodney was staunchly in support of Clifford Thornton's legalisation arguments in 2004. So there you go. I await with eager interest this support turning into a policy in support of personal freedom. Until then I can only agree with NORML's summary of ACT here, 'Pathetic and No Policy.']

UK Election exit polls show up earlier polls

Exit polls are suggesting Tony Blair's Labour Party is heading for success in the UK elections, though not the level of success predicted by pollsters. And even exit polls are an imperfect guesstimate, but even now they're suggesting earlier polls were less than useful.

For example, just two days ago the Times-Populus poll was predicting Labour 41, Tory 27, Lib-Dems 23; and the Mori-FT poll Labour 39, Tory 29, Lib-Dem 22. Exit polls now predict Labour 37%, Conservatives 33% and Lib Dems 22%, meaning some 63% of voters have voted against Blair's Labour.

Why polls are taken as seriously as they are has always been a mystery to me. One of the most amusing elections I've seen was the 1992 UK election, in which a Welsh windbag was well-beaten by a grey man who ran away from the circus to join a bank.

Pollsters in 1992 were predicting disaster for the grey man (John Major - Tory) and overwhelming success for the windbag (Neil Kinnock - Labour) - so much so that Labour put together a pre-election 'victory rally' in Sheffield broadcast live to the nation. Highly amusing in retrospect.

Neil Kinnock was sacked as leader following his failure, but strangely the pollsters' abject failure didn't lead to any loss of their unwelcome influence.

Of the 1992 election 'The Grauniad' summarises in part,
...when polling day came around, it still felt as though Labour could win, and if the polls were right, that Labour would win narrowly - or at least that there would be a hung parliament.

Even the exit polls on April 9 suggested a hung parliament, with Labour and the Tories each projected to take 305 seats, a result that would have produced a Labour minority government. Most newspapers wrote that it was neck and neck.

A final poll of polls, published on April 9, suggested a Labour lead of 0.9%. "Time for a change" was the Daily Mirror's election day headline. But the Sun, with far more flair and ruthlessness, splashed memorably with: "If Kinnock wins today, will the last person out of Britain please turn out the lights?" It was illustrated with the Labour leader's head in a light bulb.

As soon as the results began to come in, it was clear that the 1992 election was to be the pollsters' Waterloo. In the event, the Tories won by 7.6%, an 8.5% error and the worst ever showing by the polls. The national shares of the vote were Conservative 42% (no change from 1987), Labour 34% (up 3%), Lib Dems 18% (down 5%) and others 6% (up 2%). The Tories took 336 seats (down 40 from 1987), Labour 271 (up 42), the Lib Dems 20 (down 2) and others 24 (up 1). Overall, John Major had a majority of 21.
So why you would rely on any pollsters after that abject defeat, I couldn't tell you. It might have been the pollsters' Waterloo, but none showed any sign of embarrassment. Within the week they were being quoted as if they knew what they were talking about.

Thuggery at Northland school

At midday today the Ministry of Education will be attempting to evict the parents and children from Orauta School. I've reported previously on this case, in which parents at this Moerewa school in Northland wish simply to educate their children away from the clutches of the state. Northern Advocate gives some background here.

As Peter Osborne from Libertarianz says this morning, it's not that the government is even interested in the premises - "the buildings will probably be left to rot at the taxpayers' expense" - "what the Government is most concerned about is the community wish to educate their own children without government interference." Libertarianz oppose the eviction, and Libz Julian Pistorius and Helen Hughes will be at the school today to offer the trustees their support.

The person charged with organising the eviction is Sharron M. Berry at Opus Consulting, ie., the former Ministry of Works. You can tell her what you think about the orders she is following at (07) 834 1873. And you can tell the gentleman who issued those orders what you think of them as well: Brian Mitchell, Property Implementation Manager (now there's a catchy title) at the Ministry on 04-463 8285 or Tell them I sent you. You might also like to ask the Maori Party's Hone Harawira why he isn't "walking the talk" on this issue as he should be.

And if you're near Moerewa and want to help, then please call in and talk to trustees chairman Ken Brown.

Army quizzed over Berryman bridge

With the Butcher Report suppression now lifted The Herald has given its own summary of the Report here, and points out the Army's credibility gap over the report. Meanwhile, the Institute of Professional Engineers (IPENZ) has likened the collapse of the Berryman bridge to that of the Cave Creek platform that killed fourteen people when it collapsed. The Herald report on IPENZ's comments is here.
IPENZ didn't say it, but they might have pointed out that, like the Cave Creek platform, this bridge was built by government employees who clearly didn't know what they were doing, and who looked to shirk responsibility for the subsequent disaster.

Top ten searches this week

Top ten search terms for my blog as it heads into its fifth week are (all searches are Google unless noted otherwise):
1. marsden cove (not on front page);
2. peter cresswell epsom blog (1st, unsurprisingly);
3. site poll cresswell epsom (also 1st, also unsurprising);
4. libz on campus (2nd);
5. cave creek tragedy (not on front page);
6. rob moodie (4th);
7. keith berryman (1st);
8. email addresses of building construction companies in saudi 2005 (bizarrely enough, I score 15th on this Yahoo search);
9. turia and sharples (not on front page);
10. seashore and seabed new zealand law brash (10th)

And a big welcome to the 16,466th person to hit this site. I don't think I've even met anyone from Bremen, but here they are nonetheless. Welcome, mein Herr or Fraulein.

Mussolini or Mandela?

'The Times' have an online political quiz as part of their election coverage. Are you a Mussolini or Mandela it asks. Well, are you?

It's actually a longer and more watered down version of the World's Smallest Political Quiz, found here and on my sidebar, making it perhaps the world's second smallest, and amusingly it shows Blair's Labour Party on the edge of Authoritarianism. Not just amusing then, but also accurate.

Try both quizzes and see if the results agree. If you like, tell me your results and the party you presently support and I'll add them to the chart I'm compiling and will be posting shortly showing where NZ political parties and their supporters are placed. In the meantime, would you care to guess which is our most authoritarian parliamentary party? Our most libertarian?

For myself, I get 100% Personal Freedom/100% Economic Freedom with the World's Smallest Political Quiz, but only 60-70 on the Times quiz. There you go. [Hat-tip to David Bertelsen at SOLO.]

Thursday, 5 May 2005

Houses by Fred Stevens and by Peter Cresswell at Lake Tarawera

Houses by Fred Stevens and by Peter Cresswell at Lake Tarawera

Testing Labour's tax pledge

In 1999 Helen Clark's Labour Party went to the country with a 'pledge card' promising among other things no new taxes to the 95 per cent of people who earned less than $60,000 per annum.

Have you seen what's happened since: Jimmy Jangles lists here twenty-three news taxes from the fork-tongued filth from Helengrad, the most recently announced yet another increase in taxes on petrol - 4c/litre plus Government Slavery Tax - to pay for the foolish Kyoto promises.

As the joke goes, how do you know when a politician is lying? Their lips are moving.

Pylons v property rights

As Daryl Kerrigan from the film 'The Castle' used to muse, power lines are a reminder of man's ability to generate electricity. In the Waikato, they are a reminder that the government's big stick may still be used to force pylons and powerlines across unwilling farmers' property.

There's a lot of ill-feeling in the Waikato over Transpower's proposed power pylons - understandably so when you consider that Waikato farmers will likely be forced to play host to the these 70m monoliths without even being asked nicely by Transpower.

What's wrong with asking nicely? Why use the government's stick to force property owners against their will? When railroading was at its peak in 19th century America, railroads used to purchase 'options' from land-owners along their three or four preferred routes - options that would only be picked up once one of the routes became 'live' by having purchased 100% of the necessary options along that route. The Kapuni gasline that went through some years ago made use of similar undertakings.

There is no reason at all that the state-owned Transpower cannot make use of a similar voluntary mechanism to gain their transmission route, no reason at all except that as a government department they can't be bothered. To resort as they have done to wielding the bullying big stick of government is a disgrace. The present delay called by Trevor Mallard is, as Piako MP Lindsay Tisch observes, gutless and aimed simply at pushing the issue beyond the election. "All this does is leave in limbo the farmers across whose land the pylons could be going," he says. I agree with him.

I suspect Daryl Kerrigan would too.

Great landscape - great architects

You know, one of the real joys of being an architect in this country is the gorgeous landscape our architecture inhabits. I'm travelling back up to Auckland today while stopping to check out sites and projects - it really is a huge pleasure. (I'll post some pictures tonight of one or two for your viewing pleasure.)

And while talking architecture, you might enjoy this particular architectural website, which hosts 3-dimensional virtual models of great buildings that you can walk through online. It's not the real thing, but it's better than a few lousy photographs of your favourites. You have to download a viewer first, but that's the work of a moment.

You may also like to visit here, where I give links to my own favourite architects.

Wednesday, 4 May 2005

Tauranga & Tarawera

I've spent the last two days driving around Tauranga looking at sites, and I'm now enjoying respite at a colleague's wonderfully relaxing house at Lake Tarawera. Normal blog service will resume shortly.

Butcher Report suppression lifted

Court suppression of the Butcher Report - the once-secret army report into the fatal collapse of a bridge built for King Country couple Keith and Margaret Berryman - has now been lifted.

Story here and here.

Wellington High Court judge Justice Wild said "it would be futile to stop publication of the report now it is in the public domain." Good on everyone reading this who helped to put it there.

News too this morning that in 1986 Keith Berryman signed a document taking full responsibility for the army-built bridge. Says David McLoughlin's 'Dominion' article:
The Berrymans' lawyer, Rob Moodie, said yesterday that he knew of the document but believed the army could not enforce it, because Mr Berryman was a layman, not an engineer... Dr Moodie said the agreement Mr Berryman signed did not absolve the army of liability for the major construction defect that led to the collapse.

Though Mr Berryman "certainly had liability" for maintaining the bridge, he had signed the agreement as a layman and not an engineer.

Tuesday, 3 May 2005

May Day 2005: A day of remembrance

I know it's a bit late to remember May Day (and fortunately this year few New Zealanders did), but it's never too late to remind ourselves just how appalling communism is.

Catallarchy is doing just that here. As we say at Anzac Day, Lest We Forget.

Butcher Report back in parliament this afternoon

Xenophobic he might be, and election year it surely is, but Winston is still pursuing the Berryman case when no other parliamentarian cares to.

Question 9 in parliament this afternoon, from Winston, asks, "To the Prime Minister: Has she received a copy of the report by former army engineer, George Butcher; if so, does she have any concerns with its findings?" I look foward to hearing the answer, and those to subsequent questions.

Does anyone have any news on Rob Moodie's Law Society censure hearing last week?

Classical sex

Okay, confess. You came in here and first thing was you had a good look at the young ladies above, didn’t you? Go on, confess.

Lovely ladies. But do you buy their records? And is classical music really about sex? Well, as the Daily Telegraph notes here, you probably will, and yes it is. But there is an irony in the marketing of Vanessa Mae and Bond that might have been lost on the marketing departments: way or another, the idea has taken root that classical music in itself is completely sexless, and needs an urgent transfusion of this life-giving elixir from the marketing department.
Which is really a travesty of the truth, because classical music is mostly full of sex, or to put it better, eroticism - it's just that it's hidden, buried in music's grammar.
Every time you hear a dissonance (a tense-sounding interval or chord) melt into a consonant one, you're hearing the basic erotic pattern of arousal and relief. That's true even in the chaste polyphony of Renaissance church music (which is why some of it doesn't sound half as chaste as it ought to).
But where that pattern is spiced up with really grinding dissonances, or where it's repeated in ascending sequences, each repetition more intense that the last, then the sexual connotation becomes blindingly clear.
So there. The music really is full of sex. Intensely, blindingly so. So are the young ladies above. But are they full of music? You’ll have to buy their music to find out for yourself, but personally, I wouldn’t recommend it. Ironically, when it comes to sex in music, dusty old Richard Wagner and Wilhelm Furtwangler do it way better.

Some hot theremin players here though …

(Hat-tip to Irfan Khawaja for the link.)

Central Planning pushing new boundaries

I bet many of you thought central planning died out with the collapse of the Berlin Wall, didn't you. It didn't.

The ethos is still alive and well, and is nurtured in the hearts of New Zealand's planning profession. They've been emboldened by how the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act have given them broad powers while tying up the rest of us, so excited and emboldened in fact that they've just finished a conference called 'Pushing the Boundaries' about which they say:
This conference is about ‘pushing the boundaries’. The role and scope of planning in New Zealand is expanding. We can now be concerned with assisting communities to plan for a better society, not just a better environment, using mechanisms such as the Local Government Act (LGA), strategic and social planning economic development planning and other statutory and non statutory processes to give effect to community values.

We need to take these new opportunities by the scruff of the neck and look at what planning is, what it can be, and how it can provide New Zealand with the best possible future for its diverse people. The conference is about improving and moving past established resource management practices – looking at how we can further push the boundaries, both within and outside the RMA.
Does anyone really want the role of planners expanding? As one observer says: "The Local Government Act has released the planners from their chains and they are now able to plan every aspect of our lives."

I'd like to say about the LGA and the RMA 'I told you so,' and I can, here and here. Perhaps you'd like to tell the Planning Institute what you think of their members 'pushing the boundaries.' Email the Executive Director here,, and tell him.

Monday, 2 May 2005

Treaty Principles

Treaty Principles

Nick Kim cartoon, courtesy of The Free Radical magazine.

Rangatiratanga - at whose expense?

Tariana Turia’s Maori Party wants to end Maori dependence on welfare, she says in this week’s Listener. Great. So do I.

“We’re saying these are the groups of people [whanau, extended whanau, hapu, iwi] that have to start taking back responsibility and obligation. Don’t rely on the state because the state makes mistakes.” Marvellous stuff!

The party has been careful to promise nothing, Turia tells the Listener. “Instead it is telling people they have to stop allowing the state to take over their lives.” Just keeps getting better and better, doesn't it.

And it does: “Labour has always believed the state will provide,” continues Turia. “Labour has kept our people trapped in dependence. This so-called welfare state has not done us any favours. We didn’t want welfare. We wanted independence.”

Wow! A libertarian reading this should probably be standing and applauding right now – the rhetoric almost echoes that of great libertarians like Isabel Paterson who warned half-a-century-ago in her God of the Machine that a government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.

If only Tariana truly understood that. If only that was what she was really saying.

Sadly, she’s not. Her idea of ‘independence’ is one that is funded by taxpayers. She still wants Maori to suck off the state tit, she just thinks the manner of the suckling needs to change: "[W]e believe we have a right to rangatiratanga, as guaranteed under Article Two.” What exactly does she mean by that? “It’s our firm belief that money being spent on Maori needs to be unbundled. It is being spent on them, on behalf of them, but not effectively. It’s a waste of public money… We’re just tired of it. We also think there is a more effective way of spending that money.”

Well, she’s partly right. It is a waste. As Charles Murray pointed out in 1984, from the late sixties to the early eighties the so-called War on Poverty in the US spent almost the equivalent of the country’s entire Gross National Product on ‘relieving poverty’ and it didn’t. “That’s $3,800,000,000,000 – enough to give every poor person in America $117,000 [in 1984 dollars] to start his own war on poverty.” It didn’t. A similar calculation here would I’m sure show a similar result. Said PJ O’Rourke of the lesson learnt: “You can’t get rid of poverty by giving people money.”

And you can’t pretend it’s not welfare just by calling it rangatiratanga. Whatever 'unbundling' might mean it's clear she's not calling for welfare spending on Maori to end.

So the Maori Party is in favour of race-based funding, then? “For sure. Unabashed, upfront,” says her co-leader Pita Sharples. So it's clear what the Maori Party wants is independence and ‘rangatiratanga’, and they want someone else to pay for it. So much for independence. Rongo Wetere has recently given a master-class in what this kind of independence means. So what's new?

And why do the views of Turia and Sharples even matter? At just 2% or so in general polling they’re not even getting traction in the general electorate, despite all their publicity. Naturally however, it’s not the general electorate they’re targeting. A recent and much discussed Marae-Digipoll of just over 100 voters in each of the seven Maori seats gave them a real sniff of success in five of them. These are seats of course that are firmly based on an apartheid gerrymander – a by-product of colonial paternalism that a true claimant of rangatiratanga would firmly reject.

But not this lot. Because when it comes to standing on their own two feet, they really want someone else to do it for them.

God defend NZ from politicians' false promises

As Rodney Hide points out, Labour's promise to spend $3billion extra on defence over ten years is just empty nonsense. It's apparent they do see such a promise as being something the electorate will like - which is a good thing - but they figure the electorate and the press gallery can't count, which is bad - and sadly true.

The truth is that the Air Force will still need to run a cake stall just to keep its Orions in the air, and shouldn't even think about having enough to get its strike force back.

Basically, Labour's promises are the typically empty blatherings of politicians lapped up by headline-writing journalists short of a critical faculty. And the country still only has an National Anthem to defend us.

Personally, I believe that this country is worth defending, and that doing so is a legitimate task of government. Oddly enough, so do the Libertarianz, and they're quite specific as to what is needed - more specific even than is our present Government. Other opposition parties do at least realise something must be done: Check out what they're promising - National, ACT, and Winston First. Note that conscription has thankfully disappeared from Winston's policy proposal - expect it to reappear however if his poll rise reverses.

Polls raise balance of power problems again

This morning's Herald poll differs a little from the weekend's Sunday Star-Times-BRC poll, but both show Winston First clearly above the 5% threshold. I'm not a Winston fan, but this is surely due reward for being a proper opposition party leader - the only one for instance who's been supporting the Berrymans in parliament instead of making irrelevant hay over a silly interview. I commented on the lack of real opposition here a few weeks ago - looks like more than a few voters feel the same way.

Winston's not talking coalitions this election, whatever the polls say. At least, not yet. Asked if he believed his party could again hold the balance of power, he said: "We don’t use that phrase. We’ve moved on from there." And well he might, he's been burned before - and so have we. And so have the major parties; both are likely to look somewhat askance at doing a deal with parliament's devil.

And in any case, every coalition party in the MMP era has either been burnt by being too close to power (think Alliance), or is simply irrelevant (think Progressive). Which raises the question: How exactly should a minor party act when confronted by holding the balance of power? If they're principled and in favour of more freedom and less government, then they have no problem: they can simply say "We will support every measure that advances freedom without introducing any new coercion." And then they would do so. Such support would be reliable (as long as freedom is advanced) and consistent. Such a policy is that followed by the Costa Rican libertarian party Movimiento Libertario, who hold 5 of Costa Rica's 57 Congressional seats, and it's worked fine for them.

I explain here how the studious application of this principle would suggest that killing the entire front bench of Government in their beds would be unprincipled; and here (scroll down to 'We'll get our fair share of abuse') how this principle would rule out support for a flat tax, for educational vouchers, and for state welfare being a 'hand-up and not a hand-out.'

Sunday, 1 May 2005

Saturn and two moons, from the Cassini spacecraft

Saturn and two moons, from the Cassini spacecraft

Space: still the final frontier

I've just got in from a fascinating lecture by Bob Mitchell of NASA. Bob Mitchell is the "Programme Manager for the highly successful Cassini Space Project, whose spacecraft arrived at Saturn near the end of last year, and is still there, sending back a multitude of beautiful and interesting images of Saturn, its rings and moons." Those images are highly detailed, and of subjects for which we previously had no more than very blurry images if at all.

The knowledge gained is immense; in the case of Titan it now seems it is knowledge of an Earthlike planet which has been 'deep-frozen' for several billion years - studying Titan is like studying Earth before life developed. And the engineering prowess involved in putting such a successful mission together is simply mind-blowing - just think for example of the mathematics needed to calculate the trajectory of a 7m by 11m object in order for it to orbit the sun twice, meeting with Venus each time, and then have it 'slingshot' off Venus out to Saturn - meeting Jupiter on the way for another 'slingshot' off its gravity - and then knowing just precisely how much 'burn' is required to brake that object so that it stays in Saturn's orbit. An account of this process is here. Such a calculation, or series of calculations, is but meat and drink to minds such as those of Mr Mitchell and his team.

The website for the mission where mission info, raw data and unprocessed pictures can be seen is here. Processed pictures from all NASA's missions, including many composite pictures, are here. The mission has upwards of three-and-a-half years still to run, so images and data are still flooding in.

Mission costs are expected to run to US$3.3billion, something a libertarian would be expect to take an interest in. Here's two gentlemen who have, and two ladies:
Robert Garmong discusses free-market space exploration here; Ronald Pisaturo discusses here how property rights in space might transform space exploration; Anita Campbell talks here about the entrepreneurisation of space; and Ayn Rand pays tribute to the Apollo 11 mission here.

DPF's April NZ blog stats

Woh, looks like I need a life. See here for details.

Vietnam, thirty years on

Thirty years ago Saigon fell to advancing communist Vietcong troops, and the Vietnam War was over. America, and the South Vietnamese, had lost.

Unlike the situation in Lebanon and Iraq today, the South Vietnamese were neither free to succeed nor to make their own mistakes - the mistakes were forced upon them by their own regime. The 'liberation' of Vietnam was to leave a trail of corpses and the stultification of life for those remaining alive. As a piece in a recent LA Times explains,
The first postwar decade was marked by a continuation of the wartime subsidy system, the regimentation of daily living and the same hard-line ideology that had reigned during the war. In the South, people were imprisoned, property was seized, intellectuals were purged. Careers — and lives — were ended. This period was also marked by military conflict on the western border with Cambodia and on the northern border with China. Our newly achieved national independence turned into international isolation and transformed our recently unified country into a territory riddled with poverty, backwardness and repression.
That situation is only now beginning to lift, explains the Vietnamese author:
Thirty years after the war, all of our foundational cultural values have lost their validity, and the noblest ideas of communist ideology have become a joke. No space has emerged for basic Western democratic values or for the positive dimensions of modern globalization. Instead, we face corruption, violation of the rule of law, perversion of morality and dignity, the collapse of our medical and educational systems, dizzyingly rapid increases in social inequality, the time bomb of ethnic and religious conflict, a destroyed and polluted environment, the impoverishment of spiritual life, a crisis of belief and of hope. Vietnam's totalitarian system long ago showed that it does not have the authority to solve these problems.
Thirty years of catastrophe are the price of Ho Chi Minh's victory. Are those clouds now beginning to lift?

Free to make their own mistakes

"Every country has the right to liberate a slave pen," Ayn Rand argued. A right, but not a duty. Naturally, there is no guarantee of success when a slave pen is liberated, and the act of liberating one slave pen may in fact encourage by example the removal of similar shackles elsewhere.

Such is the case with the liberation of Iraq. There is no guarantee of success in the difficult task of building a stable, peaceful democracy in Iraq, nor is there in its newly liberated near-neighbour Lebanon. But there is much cause for hope.

The citizens of both Iraq and Lebanon are now free to succeeed in this endeavour or to fail. As this article on Beirut's immediate future says of the Lebanese, they are now free make their own mistakes.

Saturday, 30 April 2005

Holiday House, by Organon Architecture

Holiday House, by Organon Architecture

Italian Idol

A man sits on the battlements of a prison, deep in thought. In the distance the sound of shepherd boys can be heard, their clear voices filling the starlit sky. Dawn is imminent. In less than an hour the man will be shot.

What thoughts go through a man’s mind at such a time?

If the man is Mario Cavaradossi and the opera is Tosca, the memories he is filled with and overwhelmed by are those of lost love in fragrant gardens, of soft kisses and tender caresses … of the despair he feels at his imminent demise, yet the poignancy that never - at this moment of death - has he loved life so much!

Such is the material of Puccini’s much-loved aria ‘E Lucevan le Stelle’ (‘And the Stars were Shining’); such a song demands a singer who not only knows his stuff, but one who can deliver to the listener in one performance both that despair and the love of life. Last Sunday night a judging panel of two convened in my lounge to explore every singer in our collection to judge what they made of such a moment. I give you here the fruits of our survey – the finalists of ‘Italian Idol.’

The contenders were many: ‘E Lucevan’ is amongst the most recorded of all Italian arias, every top tenor worth his salt has a version in his repertoire, and most were entered in our contest. Pavarotti was tried: the voice was gorgeous, but as my fellow judge suggested, “Why does he not do more with it?” Perhaps, I thought, he was saving it for something – maybe for a long career?

Next we tried Guiseppe di Stefano in two different recordings, one with Maria Callas and the orchestra of La Scala and the other with Leontyne Price conducted by the brilliance of Herbert von Karajan. A truly luminous voice and beautifully tender, the first of these quickly made itself a contender and became the standard by which other contenders were judged. The second, sorry to say, was too tired to score well - the singer had clearly suffered a long night himself, but the conductor was first rate! This version immediately became the standard by which other conductors were judged; Karajan’s orchestra had captured in music the drama and poignancy of the moment – there would be no other to touch him.

Benjamino Gigli was played. Lyrical and gorgeous he was, but the judges declared it too delicate for our stalwart prisoner. Mario del Monaco had strength, but was a little stentorian in passages. Josef Schmidt was pleasant but too light. Placido Domingo in two slightly nasal performances touched heights of beauty that had one judge enthused, but for this judge neither performance could beat de Stefano’s at La Scala for lyrical power.

On came Jussi Bjoerling to sing Mario’s last. A wonderful natural voice and achingly expressive, he very nearly had the judges in tears.

Wiping our faces, we examined which contestants were left to perform? There were two: Jose Carreras singing Tosca with Monserrat Caballe under Colin Davis, and Mario Lanza singing the aria in 1950 as part of a session for his Great Caruso album.

Jose’s singing was tremendous; he made one feel as if you were on those battlements with him. Or he would have, but for one thing: an appalling production decision has left echo all over his voice – as if we are hearing him from several miles away. Galt knows why such decisions are made, but it removed Carreras from the contest.

So with di Stefano still holding the lead, Mario Lanza entered the field. Wow! From the first few notes all other tenor contestants were in the shade. Here was power, beauty, lyricism and a wonderfully natural voice that seemed to just surge forth – what stupendous control just to restrain such an instrument. And what emotion! Mario Cavaradossi is a man still burning with life, but singing here of his last hour before dying; Mario Lanza alone of all the world’s great tenors makes us feel as if – truly – we are hearing a man sing each note as if it was his last one on earth.

This is an absolutely breathtaking performance. The tragedy is that we can never hear the man in a complete opera; all we have to savour are gems such as these. I bow to each of the performers, but to Lanza goes the prize.

Bush was right - but I wasn't

You know, I'm flabbergasted. Truly bowled over. Over the last day or two I've posted a number of pieces, but based on recent experience there were two in particular which I'd assumed would create some controversy and some debate: one saying GE is great, and one saying George Bush was right.

The post on GE and its subsequent follow-ups here and here have generated twenty-two comments to date - for the most part all reasonably argued, even if in my estimation often greatly misguided; the post arguing that George Bush was right to invade Irag has generated just one comment - and that from a nutbar. Even publishing the latter post in my weekly column on Scoop has failed to generate any outrage.

That's NO outrage. None. For a post on Scoop. Arguing that George Bush was right to invade Iraq. None so far, at least. :^)

What that suggests to me - so far at least - is that many people have now accepted however reluctantly that Bush was right to invade Iraq, and the "long-frozen political order ... cracking all over the Middle East" is due to GWB's own foreign policy; and also that despite my own observations on the matter, feelings on the GE issue still run high, and are highest among those I would least expect.

So as I said, I'm flabbergasted. Fortunately my brain-cells were sufficiently regenerated last night that I'm able to think about this phenomenon properly this morning. You'll be the first to know when I've got an answer.

Friday, 29 April 2005

'Slipper', by Michael Newberry

'Slipper', by Michael Newberry

Success of Waterways well-deserved

Hopper Brothers' Waterways projects have been wildly successful - and for very good reason - with only politicians and busybodies finding anything about them to object to. Bob Dey explains here today many of the very good reasons why they've been so successful, and what's up with the Hoppers' latest project at Marsden Cove.

Reading Bob's excellent summary reminds me again of those busybodies who object to the transformation of the landscape for human pleasure and wellbeing. One of the things about which I am most proud in my campaigning in the Coromandel electorate last election was helping to squash Sandra Lee's appalling decision to stymie the superb Whitianga Waterways project.

I explain here who was really to blame for trying to squelch the project. Fortunately, public pressure got it back on the rails, and naturally ever since I've been enjoying the subsequent success of the project, and of the Waterways concept itself.

I hope they make a pile of money at Marsden Cove. They've earned it.

Alcohol: The real health tonic

Friday afternoon is a good time to reflect that the best tonic for the brain is alcohol, and as we all know there's no better time to start taking that tonic than a Friday afternoon.

Let me paint a picture for you to tell the full story. Imagine a herd of buffalo stampeding across the prairy - or, if you're a 'Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy' fan you can imagine a herd of Perfectly Normal Beasts intead. That herd will only run as fast as the slowest buffalo in the herd; in order to speed up the herd, those slow buffalo need to be killed off.

Such is the case with our brain cells. The neural wiring of our brains is so complex that most of the brain is used for most of our thinking, so as with the herd of stampeding beasts, the brain only functions as fast as the slowest of our brain cells. The best thing to improve our thinking, therefore, is to ruthlessly cull those slow brain cells - which is exactly what alcohol does for us!

Now, I first heard that story in a bar some years, and as we know stories confided in such a place are invariably found to be true - right? To make sure, I've subjected the theory to a great deal of empirical research since, research that has proved the theory's soundness - to me at least. But don't just take my word for it: today on Scoop comes news of research from impeccable sources backing it up.

I look forward to the new Government health campaign: Sharpen up: Drink more!

NEXT WEEK: How beer built civilisation.
Tags: Economics Education

Stop taxing families

It's truly a hold-the-phone day when a National Party press release is found to be talking sense, but that day is now here.

Judith Collins points out today that the Labour Government's Working for Families package is an election bribe paid being paid for with voters' own money, and furthermore it's a bribe that is damaging to both families and the economy. She's a little less succinct than that of course, but that's her essential point and one with which I can only agree.

Stop stealing from people and give then their money back, she (almost) says - unusual stuff from a National Party who was once pretty good at election bribes themselves: "Keeping families functioning and healthy is a tough business," she correctly concludes. "It is certainly too tough for a bunch of politically correct 'experts.' I say, give the money back to the families that are functioning, looking after their own children, paying their way and raising responsible adults."

Quite right. The only thing I might add to this is that all the money stolen from them by government should be given back, not just the billions wasted on the Families Commission and on turning the middle classes into welfare beneficiaries.

In this respect I invite Ms Collins and her readers to reflect that when the total tax-take is getting on for 47% of the country's GDP, then one parent from each working family is going out to work just to pay that family's tax bill.

If Ms Collins or Mr Maharey really would like to build stronger families, then perhaps they might consider advocating stealing from them a lot less. If taxes were just a fraction of what they are now, then both parents going out to work would be a choice for families to make for themselves, and not a necessity.
Tags: Economics Education

Q&A: Why are Libertarians for genetically modified food?

In response to yesterday's Celebration of Ten Years of Commercial GE here at Not PC, Lucyna asks on the Sir Humphrey blog: "Why are Libertarians for genetically modified food?" A fair question.

It's true that many libertarians (small 'l') are in favour of capitalism, technology and genetically modified food, but as a political party Libertarianz (big 'l' and an 'NZ' on the end) is neither for nor against GE. What Libertarianz is for is laws protecting against force and fraud. What we are against is busybody politicians inflicting force and fraud on us. In this respect, under 'Force and Fraud' and 'Busybody Politicians' please see 'The GE Debate,' particularly under Fitzsimplesimons, Jeanette and Hager, Nicky.

The Libertarianz position is that the issue of GE food is not one for politicians who know nothing - who should butt out - but for scientists, consumers, farmers, manufacturers and the like; the only political issue is a legal one, that there should be laws that protect against fraudulent labelling and objectively proven damages. I answered the particular question about legal protection some years ago here, and gave a speech to students on the subject some more years ago here. (Dates have been changed on the hosting site for some reason; these two were delivered some three to five years ago as I recall.)

The Royal Commission made a similar point in its report when discussing common law. In fact, the Royal Commission went much further than this:
"Technology is integral to the advancement of the world [they said]. Fire, the wheel, steam power, electricity, radio transmission, air and space travel, nuclear power, the microchip, DNA: the human race has ever been on the cusp of innovation. Currently, biotechnology is the new frontier. Continuation of research is critical to New Zealand's future." 

Not my words, or those of Ayn Rand, but those of the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification, which I would be proud to have written. The Commission adds, "As in the past we should go forward but with care." And as Lindsay Perigo clarified at the time: "The only "care" that needs to be exercised here is that at no stage are the rights to life, liberty & property violated. Otherwise, I say to the geneticists, tamper away - from your work will come more & better food, new medicines, & the unlocking of more of life's secrets. I hope you make bucket-loads of money from it."

A tribute to Dover's bladder

A tribute to Dover Samuels this morning, who in a regression to childhood normally typical of a Cabinet Minister pissed in a hotel corridor when the Duty Manager couldn't get Dover's electronic door-key to work - possibly because Dover had already wet the key.

Ten great moments in pissing history:

10. Pissy Neville Chamberlain. "Peace in Our Time!" Arse.

9. President Lyndon Johnson, who said of the FBI's J. Edgar Hoover that he would "rather have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."

8. American/Australian/UK/NZ Idol – surely this over-hyped non-talent quest was taking the piss. In any case, Chris Knox’s 'Listener' column saying he was a fan of the show definitely had to be a piss-take.

7. All Black fullback Mils Muliaina, who was suspended from playing for Auckland for two weeks in 2002 after urinating on the floor of a bar, and Auckland cricketer of the year Tama Canning, who allegedly pissed on the floor of a club called ‘Boogie Wonderland,’ which is surely all a club with such a name deserves.
Rumours that a tribute pub crawl around Auckland centred around 'Boogie Wonderland,' the Heritage Hotel and the Parnell establishments favoured by the Auckland Blues were said by a spokesman to be "only speculation at this stage."

6. Napoleon – too much of a pissant to get to Moscow.

5. Paris Hilton, who is apparently a huge fan of water sports ...

4. The late alcoholic Oliver Reed, who made something of a career of publicly pissing his pants on every continent.

3. Twelve car movies to make Ralph Nader wet his pants.

2. When deposed Italian Fascist Dictator Mussolini was captured and killed trying to flee to Switzerland, his body was hung upside down by partisans before being torn down to allow "several screaming women to spread their skirts and urinate on his battered face."

1. The very greatest moment in pissing history, the conquering of Everest: On the summit after reaching their goal, Tensing Norgay knelt and paid tribute to the four winds, offered tribute to the spirits of the air that had allowed their journey, and gave thanks to the gods who had favoured them with success. Edmund Hilary unzipped his fly and took a leak.
Tags: Economics Education

Smoking bans and GE Labelling

Much nonsense spoken around the place yesterday over a poll that purported to show that most people like having smoking banned in bars. (I refuse to soil the word 'free' by applying it to to a ban.) Jordan Carter for instance was suggesting that the polls showed that banning smoking on bar-owners' property was "a simple step in line with public opinion."

Well, if that's true and public opinion really was in line with banning smoking on other peoples' property, then there wouldn't have needed to be a law passed to that effect, now would there? And if public opinion now really does favour bars in which the patrons don't smoke, then there is no need for the law and it can swiftly be removed, can't it. The law is either redundant - because people feel that way anyway - or it is a nannying intrusion, because people don't feel that way and are forced by Nanny's agents to behave as Nanny wishes.

In the case of that stupid cow Steve Chadwick, she's both redundant and a Nanny. (Photo here. It carries a Public Health Warning.)

Anyway, once you've grasped the contrast between redundancy and nannying, you might realise that the same argument that applies to smoking bans also applies to the issue of food labelling, something that was discussed around here yesterday (see here and subsequent comments.)

If there is huge public supprt for labelling food as either GE or not, then food manufacturers and suppliers will be doing their darndest to cover their packaging with labels in order to satisfy that demand - and as long as laws on fraud still exist, those labels will need to be accurate. By contrast, if there is little or no public demand for such labels, then equally there is no justification for laws making them mandatory - there is no mandate for such a law, just as there is no principled justification for one.

The situation at present is that many people who favour specialist foods such as soymilk, organic foods and the like do like GE-Free labelling, and this market has responded appropriately. But the wider market? It doesn't give a damn, and - I submit - nor should it.

As I said yesterday, GE is a technology to celebrate, not one to hand-wring about.

Thursday, 28 April 2005

Anatomy of a latter day troglodyte

Not PC's tribute to ten years successful commercial production of GE crops. Cartoon by Nick Kim, courtesy of The Free Radical magazine.

Cave Creek: Still unfinished business

Much has been said about the commemorations today of the Cave Creek tragedy.

The one thing I haven't heard in the ten years since the disaster is a good reason why those responsible for the death of fourteen people have not been prosecuted.

The subsequent inquiry found that the reason the Department of Conservation built a death-trap was not in fact blind incompetence, but was instead an example of 'systemic failure' - a clear illustration if one were needed that sheer blithering incompetence is not confined to the Department of Conservation, but is also alive and kicking in the Department of Justice.

Andrew McCarthy, whose daughter Kathy died when the viewing platform collapsed, said the lessons had been learnt from the tragedy, "almost over learnt", and there was no point dwelling on the past. Hmmm.

"I think it was a great shame that Cave Creek has been used as an excuse by the bureaucrats to over-regulate our lives," says McCarthy. On that we agree.

Celebrating ten years of GE

Commercial genetically-engineered crops are now ten years old, and it's high time this wonderful technology was properly celebrated Michael Fumento is celebrating in the Washington Times:
Globally, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, biotech acres planted have grown almost 50-fold since 1996. They now cover the equivalent of 40 percent of the U.S. land area. An increasing percentage of these crops are in places with hungry populations such as China and South Africa. In the United States, three-fourths of the cotton, almost half the corn and 85 percent of the soybeans planted are biotech. Considering the massive variety of foods we consume containing corn and soy and cottonseed oil, almost all of us eat biotech food daily.
And evidence continues to grow that the food is healthier than 'health foods', a godsend for third-world farmers who can be productive without expensive fertilisers and pesticides, and in the case of crops like the soon-to-be-rolled-out golden rice 2, able to provide highly nutritious food where at the moment there is very little. This stuff feeds the world better than a song by Sting or Bob Geldof ever could.

And, despite the many warnings by activists that GE food 'could,' 'might' or 'may' lead to unspecified disasters, it hasn't. Not one single person has died in that time due to food being genetically engineered. 

On the other hand, food that hasn't been genetically enginered has continued to cause problems, some of which genetic engineering may have helped with. The onset of birth defects from fumonisins caused by mouldy organic corn, mentioned by Fumento, is just one example.

Ironically, as no news of problems with GE foods continues not to flood in, we continue to see reports such as these from The Times about organic foods: There is evidence "that organic farms may act as reservoirs for fungi which generate dangerous food mycotoxins - two such (fumonisin and patulin) are both reported to have a higher incidence in organic food. There have been cases of contamination of organic food worldwide -botulism in tins of organic soup, listeria in organic cheese, salmonella in organic sprouts, E. coli in organic apple juice..." Etc.

So do I expect the opponents of GE to get over themselves any time soon? Well, the Greens are now banging on about Peak Oil instead of GE in a desperate attempt to get themselves an election hook, and their FrogBlog hasn't even mentioned GE since the blog began. See.

So you tell me? Maybe I was wrong back in 1999? Maybe they have got it now. Maybe I was wrong in 2001? Robert Bidinotto doesn't think so.

What do you think?

The voices of mainstream mediocrity are tipping

Sir Humphrey rightly slags off the pretentious twats at the clearly mis-named Fighting Talk blog for bitching about not being noticed.

The poor dears are giving up, and they're having a swipe at the whole blogosphere on the way - according to these blowhards, blogs are "only water wings for playing in the shallow end of the media pool. To plagurise [sic] a radio station whose attitude sums up the pigheaded arrogance out here; all blogs are shit." To plagiarise a well-known ad: Yeah right.

But as the boys pack up and jump from the well-deserved anonymity of their blog ('If you write as good as you talk no-one reads you' - Lou Reed) to the well-deserved mediocrity of the mainstream, we bloggers who can write continue to be read. Seems to me there are just two things to be said on this topic:

The first is a personal comment. As a good friend would say in moments like this: You're not being read, I am. Bite me.

The second is that mediocrity is not enough. The boys might be a bit premature in their jump into mainstream media punditry, but at least their mediocrity will be at home there. In an irony that is hopefully not least even on these would-be pundits, some commentators are begining to notice that the mediocre Big Media organisations are losing their audiences to the very alternatives Un-Fighting Talk are so condescendingly dismissing. "Big Media have their faults -- chiefly laziness, political groupthink, and a tendency to condescend to their audiences -- and those are starting to cost them," says one commentator here, and he suggests that we might be near a media 'tipping point' in which blogs and alternative media come out on top.

The reason? Says columnist Jim Bennett, "What is going on with journalism today is akin to what happened to the Church during the Reformation. Thanks to a technological revolution (movable type then, the Internet and talk radio now), power once concentrated in the hands of a few has been redistributed into the hands of the many." Perhaps that's what really annoys the non-fighting Fighting Talkers, just as it did the Church - with power in many more hands it's much, much harder to manufacture consent.

The lesson for the voices of mediocrity is that they should never take the status quo for granted. Now that is fighting talk.

Bush was right!

The Syrian army has left Lebanon, after popular protests forcing them out. Muammar Gaddafi is desperately sucking up to the west. Free elections have been held in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are to be held soon in Egypt and in Lebanon. The Palestinian Authority held free elections, put together a cease-fire and called a so-far mostly successful moratorium against attacks on Israel.

Arab and Muslim absolutism is slowly being replaced with western ideas of freedom. Peace is breaking out in the Middle East - and I mean real peace: peace with freedom. It's almost like watching the Berlin Wall fall all over again and freedom take hold across Eastern Europe.

Who could possibly object to the latest developments in the Middle East? Well, there's Al-Qaeda’s Dr. Ayman Zawahiri of course; and (Abu Musab) al-Zarqawi and the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars. And Saddam’s remaining Baathists. And the entire unwashed anti-war movement across the west. And Robert Fisk.

Turns out, the critics - liberal and cynical and peacenik and 'realist' - were wrong, just as they were wrong about the Cold War. The critics got Reagan wrong and the Soviets wrong, and now they've got Bush wrong and the 'Arab street' wrong. Time for them to 'fess up on both.

When the Soviets fell it was chiefly due to the Reagan Doctrine which was crafted not to contain the Soviet Empire, but to destroy it. So too with the 'Bush Doctrine,' which seeks not to contain Islamic terrorism but to hunt it down and destroy it,and destroy those who support it.

When the Arab street finally got to speak and say what they thought about this doctrine, they called - not for American blood - but for freedom and dignity and prosperity. For something we take for granted called 'normality.' The 'Bush Doctrine offered them a chance at liberation, and they're grabbing it with both hands. As one commentator has suggested, "the two central propositions of the Bush doctrine have been vindicated: First, that the will to freedom is indeed universal and not the private preserve of Westerners. And second, that American intentions were sincere. Contrary to the cynics, Arab and European and American, the U.S. did not go into Iraq for oil or hegemony, after all, but for liberation--a truth that on Jan. 31 even al-Jazeera had to televise."

Back in March even the New York Times had to admit that maybe Bush's foreign policy was ... um, well.. probably justified by events, and things have only got better since then: "It's not even spring yet [in the Northern Hemisphere], but a long-frozen political order seems to be cracking all over the Middle East. Cautious hopes for something new and better are stirring along the Tigris and the Nile, the elegant boulevards of Beirut, and the impoverished towns of the Gaza Strip....

"[T]his has so far been a year of heartening surprises -- each one remarkable in itself, and taken together truly astonishing. The Bush administration is entitled to claim a healthy share of the credit for many of these advances. It boldly proclaimed the cause of Middle East democracy at a time when few in the West thought it had any realistic chance. And for all the negative consequences that flowed from the American invasion of Iraq, there could have been no democratic elections there this January if Saddam Hussein had still been in power."

If even the New York Times can almost admit the truth, then perhaps it's time we heard this from further afield: Bush was right.