Saturday, May 28, 2005

Separation of State and School

I'm just listening to a fascinating online interview on The Moral and Practical case for Completely Private Education here at Prodos.Com. (You'll need Real Player to listen.) Much better than listening to the bland conformity of, for example, New Zealand State Radio while drinking your coffee on a Saturday afternoon.

From Prodos' site, topics covered include the following (and a number of strange diversions on catholicism and history!):
  • Why do most people assume the solution to education should be government based?
  • Where in the world are most people rejecting government involvement in education?
  • Margaret Thatcher’s reaction when Marshall Fritz asked her what she thought about getting rid of government schooling.
  • Public education as a monopoly.
  • The problem with “common schooling" and the lowest common denominator, blandness, conformity, relativism, and “going on feelings”.
  • The aim of government education as breeding conformity, obedience, dependence.
  • Government schooling as a state jobs program for teachers.
  • Who makes the decisions in a government system as to which of the many possible approaches to education the state system will use?
  • What about parents who are irresponsible? Who won’t educate their kids?
  • In a totally private, free school market will schools likely be larger or smaller?
  • The three stages of radical change.
I've got my own ideas about radical change here, and my own arguments about education that you may want to check out here. (And do check out Ludwig von Mises' book 'The Anti-Capitalist Mentality' recommended on the show, online here.)

Schapelle Corby is the collateral damage of war

“Went through my bags like McCartney in Japan
I didn't have a thing so I didn't give a damn
You can't trick me
'Cause I've been to Bali too.”
        Redgum

The trial and conviction and the public responses (many representative responses here) to the twenty-year sentence of Schapelle Corby have shone a light on some of the interesting hypocrisies of our modern world.

First off: Innocent or guilty? It seems fantastic that
Corby wouldn't have noticed someone having slipped a pillow-sized 4.1kg bag of electric puha into her slim, light boogie board bag. And if the weight of Corby's bags at either her Brisbane check-in or Sydney transfer did show a 4kg discrepancy with their weight at Denpasar her defence team would be supremely incompetent not to have raised that, wouldn't they?

Since bag and board were there in the courtroom it didn’t matter that they hadn’t been weighed when the drugs were found, they could have been weighed in court. That her defence didn't raise the weight discrepancy suggests there wasn't one. Guilty? Seems likely.

Second: Innocent or guilty of what exactly? Of smuggling some recreational hash? Should that actually be a crime? Who exactly is the victim here? If users weren’t criminalised what exactly would the ‘drug problem’ be – that some people like to get high and others object to that? So what? I like to get drunk and fall over; doesn’t hurt anyone except myself. Robert Downey Jr never had a problem at work, expect that he kept getting arrested for buying drugs.

The real ‘drug problem’ is not that some people take drugs, it is that the busybody Puritanism of The War on Drugs has made drugs criminally expensive, put drug profits and control of drug quality into the hands of criminals and corrupt policemen, and has criminalised people like Shapelle Corby. Read here for example. As H.L Mencken said of such people, "A Puritan is someone who is desperately afraid that, somewhere, someone might be having a good time."

Is that really sufficient motivation to criminalise those guilty of nothing except pleasing themselves?

Third: The twenty-year sentence: There’s been a lot of justified bitching at the length of Schapelle Corby’s sentence for smuggling marijuana. Twenty years in a Bali jail for smuggling marijuana attracts comments from like this from ‘Bart’: “Finally, justice has been served. She got what she deserved. You smuggle drugs, you pay the price, it's that simple.” Bart is an idiot. The scum responsible for killing 202 people in the Bali bombing received a sentence of just thirty months, story here. No Indonesian hypocrisy here. None at all. Indonesian justice appears to be an oxymoron.

Fourth: The ‘It’s their country’ argument: ‘Need to respect the law of the land’ screams a Daily Telegraph headline. “It really doesn't matter what you think is fair or what I think is fair. It's THEIR country and THEIR rules,” says another idiot at a Free Corby Petition site. “Indonesians do get executed for similar crimes (why aren't you crying for them?), so why should the westerners be treated any differently?” continues the idiot.

Bollocks, says me. Frankly, you’re free to criticise anything as an outrage wherever it occurs and no matter the ‘culture,’ and this is an outrage. You can say she’s stupid for smuggling drugs to a country in which the stuff is cheaper than it is back home and for which a death penalty is in operation, but your main criticism should be directed at the laws that criminalise such stupidity.

It’s not an outrage that she’s been found guilty -- she probably is – it’s an outrage that the War on Drugs has found another victim. Australians and New Zealanders who have responded to the injustice they see in the Corby trial should reflect that it is an injustice they and their governments support. It’s time people question that support, and if Corby’s plight helps people do that it might just serve a useful purpose.

The Sydney Morning Herald editorialised today,

...long before the sentence was handed down many concerned Australians had elevated Corby to martyr status. But a martyr to what cause? There are 155 Australians in foreign jails on drugs charges, two facing the death penalty. However, their stories of personal tragedy, stupidity and brazen greed fail to move us, while Corby touches strangers: "If eyes are the windows to the soul, I see a soft kindness shining through," wrote one supporter.

If you are a stranger who was touched by Corby’s plight, then why not be moved to make her a martyr to a worthy cause – not whether or not she is innocent or guilty; not the state of Indonesian justice; but the abject bloody hypocrisy of the War on Drugs that makes martyrs of such as she.

Labels:

12 Angry Books #2: 'A Clockwork Orange'

Today, the second of my 'twelve influential books.' But first, a message from our sponsor ...

... check out this reading/listening list of "Books, movies and music that nourish body and soul." With just four exceptions (and a number of additions) I'd recommend them all ...

.. and now back to our main programme:

When still a callow schoolboy, a teacher noticed my reading material and suggested I'd enjoy The Fountainhead and Darkness at Noon. I did enjoy both very much as it happens, but not until a few years later when I'd tracked them down. What did grab me immediately was another of his recommendations: Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, another dystopic literary gem examining the nature of free will: there is no morality, it concludes, unless we can make the choice to be good.

If there is no choice open to us, there can be no morality and no humanity - we are just the clockwork orange of the title, "“someone who has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or (since this is increasingly replacing both) the Almighty State.”

Burgess doesn't make it easy for the reader to accept this conclusion. As the prison chaplain puts it to Alex, the 'head droog,' "Is a man who chooses the bad perhaps in some way better than a man who has the good imposed upon him?" Alex is bad -- through and through bad -- a youth keen on rape, ultra-violence and Beethoveen. Bad, but as the last chapter portends not entirely without hope, as he is by then still able to choose the good organically, ie., from within himself.

Said Burgess later:
It is not, in my view, a very good novel, but it sincerely presented my abhorrence of the view that some people were criminal and others not. A denial of the universal inheritance of sin is characteristic of Pelagian societies like that of Britain, and it was in Britain, about 1960, that respectable people began to murmur about the growth of juvenile delinquency and suggest [that the young criminals] were a somehow inhuman breed and required inhuman treatment... There were irresponsible people who spoke of aversion therapy... Society, as ever, was put first.
The book bowled me over, and the film (which I saw much later) repelled me. Kubrick 's style-without-substance approach concentrated on the rape, the ultra-violence and the Beethoven and eschewed all else, including that crucial central theme. I re-read the book recently after the excellent and intelligent local production of the play based on the book. It still repays re-reading, but I've seen the question put so much better since by other authors. Like Victor Hugo.

The first of my twelve books is here. The brief introduction to why I'm bothering is here.

Labels: ,

Daily Dave added to the blogroll

I first came across the wite and wisdom of David M. Brown when he ran a daily site called 'The Daily Objectivist,' now unfortunately offline so I can't quote you some of his pearls.

But it turns out that unbeknownst to me he hasn't been idle since the site folded. He edits the weekly Book Beat for ISIL, "A weekly column by David M. Brown on books, ideas and liberty," he's a contributor at Daily Pundit, and he also runs the daily blog of "the world's largest selection of books on liberty," Laissez Faire Books.

Today at LFB blog he's defending 'Star Trek.' I guess someone has to.

Singing the Blues

I been listening to Robert Johnson all mornin' after reading this here guide to the Blues. Doubled over laughing first.

The guide to getting a blues name reminded me of the way to get your porn star name. Girls: your first name is the name of your family's cat when you were a kid; guys: use the family dog's name. Your surname is the street you live now.

Thus, my porn star name is Nero Castle.

Friday, May 27, 2005

A big welcome to the Lions


At least you might win the drinking.

Orauta school facing court action over independent stand

As the Government continues to try and close the Orauta School against the will of the school trustees and parents, summonses for court appearances are being issued by the Ministry of Education for "allegedy running an unregistered school."

"Bring it on," says courageous trustees chairman Ken Brown. Latest story here. My first analysis of Orauta's stand here.

Northland Libertarianz candidate Julian Pistorius has been keeping track of the whole story, both at his own site here and the site he shares here with Libz Whangarei candidate Helen Hughes.

Orauta parents and trustees just want to keep open their school. It's on their own land, it's their children being educated there, they're paying all the bills and they want to be independent of the state. Which part do you think most offends the Government?

The demographics of libertarians

About this time in the electoral cycle (the time comparable, that is, to the time in the life cycle of the male praying mantis just before he mates, and following which he has his head chewed off by his partner), about this time in the cycle we libertarians receive an influx of advice and offers from well-meaning supporters -- offers ranging from the bloody useful to the bizarre.

One regular offer from those enthusiastic about such things is to determine the ‘demographic’ of our supporters so that better ‘targeting’ can be done with our advertising and party promotional material. This offer fits somewhere between ‘bizarre’ and ‘bloody useful’ into a particular category called 'irrelevant.'

Here’s the problem. Libertarians don’t have a demographic. I know, we’ve looked.

Being a libertarian isn’t about income or wealth: there are some who drive Mercedes Kompressors and Dodge Vipers (and who are suitably benevolent in whom they take for a spin: me for example), but at least one other who lives in a one-room shack and gets around on a bicycle -- without a helmet, of course.

Nor is it about ‘educational attainment’: there are plenty of smart libertarians, but there’s nothing especially ‘modal’ about their qualifications. PhDs and truck-drivers have equal speaking time at Libz events, which is usually too generous to the PhDs.

Employment? Not all libertarians are self-employed, and there are some – including the Libz president himself – who are (gasp) bureaucrats. Disgusting but true. Ethnicity? We’re colour-blind. Family structure? Don’t make me laugh. Areas in which we all live? You’re dreaming

How about age? Well, we have noticed that those over forty often recognise what we’re losing –- property rights, rule of law, respect for others – but there are plenty of eager youngsters who understand these things too.

Recreational drug use? While all libertarians support the right of people to smoke, snort, inhale, inject or otherwise ingest what the hell they like, not many libertarians actually engage in this kind of things themselves. No hope there then. We don’t even have many Libz who smoke, for Galt’s sake! Or who shoot guns – although there are more than a few who do.

There is one exception however, that is almost without fail common to all libertarians: We like a drink. Or two. And we like to argue, and to make up our own minds on issues. Ask two libertarians to speak their mind and you’ll have four different opinions. Especially after a few drinks.

It makes for interesting and entertaining evenings together, but can you build a campaign on that? I doubt it, and I’ve had demographic experts advising me.

Look, here’s one now ...

Labels:

Councils to builders "More red tape please."

It's a truism that when the papers catch up with something it's often no longer news -- and ironically the people involved in the news don 't really believe it's happening until they see it in print, or watch it on TV.

So it is with a story in the 'Central Leader' sent to me by a client this morning that bemoans the long waits in getting a building consent. [Hat-tip to Aaron Bhatnagar for seeing the story online]. "Have you seen this?" said my client. I hadn't, but it wasn't news.

"Builders are frustrated at being forced to wait while red tape holds back construction," says the story. I know how they feel; I have a number of consents being processed at the moment by various councils, all held up by red tape and stupidity. It continues, "A lot of spec home builders who buy sites and develop them are sitting at home unemployed, waiting for permits. It can take two weeks to get a building inspector out. I have friends," says one builder in the story, "who took six months to get a consent to build a carport." Six months - luxury!

The problem is both the new Building Act and the old, and the notion that councils must take responsibility for every piece of paper that passes their desk -- indeed, the problem is the notion that councils need to be involved at all, and that they even need all those pieces of paper passing across their desk.

Ninety percent of New Zealand's homes were built with at the most a sheet or two of drawings on A1 paper, and a sheet or two of specifications on A4 paper. Not any more. A consent application for a bedroom extension I recently submitted to Franklin District Council had fifteen A1 pages, and a whole book of Specs to accompany those. Before granting consent, Council want at least two more A1 pages of drawings and answers to questions like 'Please describe the method of fixing stair balusters.'

The situation is insane, and home-owners and prospective home-owners are paying the price. As I've said here before, who'd be a builder?

Auckland heart surgeons still doing good

The Herald reports this morning on a new surgical technique called 'kissing balloons' that adds further sophistication to heart surgery that even ten years ago just wasn't even possible, but is now almost routine.

"The proving and enhancing of the technique build on the work of the former Green Lane Hospital's cardiac team - now in Auckland City Hospital - in heart surgery on babies and valve replacement." That team are truly world-class, as I can attest myself from seeing them in action four years ago -- and about which I reflected here on Scoop.

The piece generated quite some controversy, as I recall: here -- to which I replied here -- and then here, which I think I'd already answered.

Here's my conclusion to that original piece:

...we in the West should not thank God for our expectations of living to a ripe old age, we should instead thank the thinkers who liberated our thought from religion -- thinkers like Aquinas and his mentor Aristotle -- thinkers who said that life is for living; that this earth is where that living should be done; and that with the use of reason we can become competent to provide for and to plan our own living.

Those thinkers who liberated us from the dirt-poor existence we might otherwise have faced empowered Western peoples to seek knowledge and happiness in this world, and to value life and living rather than death and destruction. The scientists and producers and technologists that they liberated have been furiously increasing the length and quality and comfort of our lives ever since, and we should all be very grateful for that. We, the people of the West, are in their debt, and so too is any refugee from Islam who has embraced these western values.

Owing the largest debt, perhaps, is anyone who is over forty - anyone who in a lesser culture may not be alive to be able to offer their thanks. In fact, - as I sat in a darkened, air-conditioned room watching my mother's weak and irregular heart-beat flicker on a brand new twelve-lead ECG monitor - I reflected that anyone who has ever had a life-saving operation, or been saved by the early attentions of a paramedic - even just spent a night in a hospital or taken a course of tablets - has very good reason to thank them.

On behalf of them all, and in particular on behalf of my Mum, let me say it for you all now: "Thank you!"

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Common law

Common law arose in England almost by accident, but much of the English-speaking world has benefited from its property-rights based solutions to otherwise complex problems.

What began in the late twelfth-century as a formalisation of existing customary law, was to become a century later under the reign of Edward Longshanks -- King Edward I -- a way of dealing in an ordered, uncomplicated way with the legitimate concerns of his subjects.

Traditionally, subjects would petition the king in person; Edward, known as The Hammer of the Scots, preferred to be up north hammering Scots rather than sitting at home surrounded by his subject’s chickens, about which an inordinate number of complaints were commonly raised.

Edward reasoned that a system of courts common throughout the land could easily sort such complaints using principles of customary law common to them all. For instance, the easiest way to resolve disputes about neighbours’ chickens damaging a plaintiff’s vegetable garden was to determine 1) whose chickens; 3) whose garden; and 3) what damage.

Thus common law became property-based, and was focussed on specific harm or damages – it focussed on determining the rights in a property, and on finding remedies to damage caused by specific nuisance or trespass. Common law held that those who had rights in property were entitled to the quiet enjoyment of that property; that a man’s land and his house were his castle, and that protecting it from harm was his right. Common law was case-based rather than statute-based, and was tied by precedent: decisions made in cases using these guiding principles were made common to all similar cases by the principle of stare decisis, so that decisions were consistent across the country, and over time.

Common law was simple enough that the principles determined in these cases were quickly codified by writs that allowed property-owners easy access to the protection of law for common causes of action. By the eighteenth-century the laws of nuisance and trespass were already highly sophisticated, and were to become more so as the industrial revolution and the railway age took shape. Rights to light, to air, and to support were widely recognised as being a part of the peaceful enjoyment of land; rights associated with water and protections against noise, smell and other pollution were clear and in place; remedies for trespass and nuisance were well-known and based on the principle that a defendant should acquire no value thereby.

The principle of ‘coming to the nuisance’ was established (and then sadly in some jurisdictions dis-established); as was the principle of a ‘bundle of rights’ being associated with land, and some of those rights being acquired over time by ‘prescription.’

Easements over land and voluntary restrictive covenants that attach to land in favour of particular neighbours were recognised; these are registered with title, and can be traded and removed. You might for instance agree to protect a neighbours’ view over your land (a ‘view easement’) in return for the neighbour keeping a large tree on his that you like (by either a restrictive covenant or ‘conservation easement’). In this way a ‘net’ of rights is voluntarily built up reflecting the values of the right-holders rather than that of the legislators.

Much of the apparent confusion in the common law was made simple by eighteenth-century legal scholar William Blackstone, who with a few simple principles explained “the mass of medieval law” in England. Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law of England were to become the bible of English-speaking law for more than a century – a young circuit lawyer in rural Illinois called Abraham Lincoln would carry a copy in his saddlebag as the only legal text he needed.

Many aspects of common law are now regularised as a part of Tort law, but the explosion of statute law in the last fifty years has meant that duties imposed by statute now encumber and complicate what was once the simple but remarkably sophisticated realm of common law.

Common law is not just simpler than statute law, it is also immune to political hijack – one particular reason for its popularity with libertarians and its unpopularity with big government advocates. Rights are protected in practice, not just proclaimed on parchment or ignored altogether.

Further, unlike statute law, common law always has a plaintiff or victim – there are no ‘victimless crimes’ under common law. Finally, it is the pre-eminent law to protect both environment and property, and unlike zoning laws, anti-pollution statutes and the Resource Management Act it has over seven-hundred years of sophistication in actually doing so.

English common law brought real property rights into the world and made all Englishmen equal before the law – in doing both it helped make England and her colonies wealthy and free. Noted Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations: “The security of the tenant is equal to that of the proprietor.” He concluded that “Those laws and customs [of the common law], so favourable to the yeomanry, have perhaps contributed more to the present grandeur of England than all their boasted regulations of commerce taken together.”

Unfortunately the “boasted regulations” of today have turned Smith’s insight on its head, and removed many of the rights that common law once protected.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. Tomorrow, 'Drugs.'

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Death of Socrates


Jacques-Louis David: 'The Death of Socrates.' A martyr to democracy.

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Democracy

Democracy = Mob rule, be it an outright majority or mere plurality – not to be confused with freedom.

Historically, democracy has often coexisted with a relative flourishing of individual rights (see especially the work of 'democide' researcher R.J. Rummell in this regard) but has inexorably and over time led to the subversion of rights, since it has made them subordinate to the vote. Socrates for example allowed his right to life to be violated because a majority had voted that he should be put to death; Germans waived their rights to liberty and the pursuit of their own happiness when a plurality voted the Nazis into power; the right to property is routinely violated in all democracies because envy-driven mobs regularly vote themselves the “right” to someone else’s earnings.

The world’s foremost democracy, the United States, began, not as a democracy, but a constitutional republic, with specific mechanisms designed to protect the individual’s “inalienable rights” from unlimited majority rule. A consitutional republic of the American form recognises that some things must be put beyond the vote -- 'these things' to be beyond any vote are the lives and liberties of the citizens, as protected by the Bill of Rights and teh checks and balances against tyrannical government. These precautions, alas, proved inadequate, and British historian Thomas Macaulay’s famous warning of 1857 proved to be prophetic:

The day will come when a multitude of people will choose the legislature. Is it possible to doubt what sort of a legislature will be chosen? On one side is a statesman preaching patience, respect for rights, strict observance of public faith. On the other is a demagogue ranting about the tyranny of capitalism and usurers, asking why anybody should be permitted to drink champagne and to ride in a carriage while thousands of people are in want of necessaries… When society has entered on this downward progress… your Republic will be as fearfully plundered and laid waste by barbarians in the twentieth century as the Roman Empire in the fifth, with this difference: the Huns and vandals who ravaged the Roman Empire came from without; your Huns and vandals will have been engendered within your own country, by your own institutions.

Here in New Zealand we frequently hear the call for 'binding referenda,' as if the will of the majority were always right beyond question. Without the protection of right, such unlimited majority rule is as dangerous as outright tyranny -- it is just that the minority is done over by the mob instead of the government. The result for the minority is sadly the same either way however.

Contrary to the assumptions of democracy, truth and right do not lie in numbers; as New Zealand Objectivist Bill Weddell once said, simple democracy " is the counting of heads regardless of content," and not something principled libertarians would advocate.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. Tomorrow, 'Drugs.'

Labels:

Why conservatives suck

Two posts that explain why 'centre-right' conservatives suck, conveniently located on the one blog here and here . I couldn't have explained it better myself.

Show me the money ...

When complaining here yesterday about Queenstown's meddling arseholes rebuffing Shania Twain's proposed house, I paraphrased Ayn Rand's observation that when the productive have to ask permission from the unproductive arseholes in order to produce, then you know your culture is stuffed. I said something similar in a press release here.

I had a few requests for the exact source of the Rand quotation, which is the 'Money Speech' from Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged. You can find the speech online here.

Here's how the speech starts (no baloney here):
So you think that money is the root of all evil?" said Francisco d'Anconia. "Have you ever asked what is the root of money? Money is a tool of exchange, which can't exist unless there are goods produced and men able to produce them. Money is the material shape of the principle that men who wish to deal with one another must deal by trade and give value for value. Money is not the tool of the moochers, who claim your product by tears, or of the looters, who take it from you by force. Money is made possible only by the men who produce. Is this what you consider evil? [Read on here.]

Labels:

ACT losing the flat tax mojo - Greens

You know you're in trouble when the Greens are attacking you for abandoning your principles, especially when the Greens are right.

The Greens' FrogBlog attacks ACT's flagship tax policy here: "Act (values not politics!) has released its tax policy and it is, well, remarkable only for its lack of audacity... Act has met Mr Pragmatism and Mrs Compromise."Sighs the Frog, "Oh, for the days when Act was doggedly ideological."

Laugh?. I nearly cried.

Cullen still attacking judiciary

Our new Attorney-General seems as ignorant about the independence of the courts as the last. Michael Cullen -- yes, him again -- was telling judges yesterday that Parliament is supreme. Chief Justice Sian Elias had properly taken issue with that notion last year; chief historian Michael Cullen still disagrees. Herald story here.

Delivering a speech to the Legal Research Foundation Cullen restates his objection to judicial activism, but shows his confusion when he equates judicial activism with judicial independence, and demonstrates too that he knows little about how such judicial activism became so common.

When Geoffrey Palmer was having legislation drafted back in the eighties, his intention with the law being drafted was to ensure 'flexibility.' Whereas in the past good law would be clear and unambiguous, and consequently what was legal and illegal known for sure in advance, Jellyfish Geoffrey wanted instead to make the language of legislation vague, ambiguous and unclear -- all the better for it to be flexible, you see. Palmer purposely put vague undefined terms into legislation in the expectation that the courts themselves would explain what the hell the law meant by means of the cases in front of them.

Not so good for the people whose cases are in front of the courts, but who don't know what the law actually allows in advance.

Concepts such as 'kaitiakitanga' from the RMA are still awaiting 'clarification,' as are the 'principles of the Treaty' clause which infests nearly everything written since the State-Owned Enterprises Act of 1986.  Until they are clarified, law that contains phrases such as these are just so much dangerous mush, with no-one knowing precisely what is and isn't legally permitted.

This is idiocy, and Cullen has his erstwhile parliamentary colleague to blame for it. He certainly shouldn't be blaming the judiciary who have to ask themselves when dealing with such vague law 'what was in the mind of the parliamentarians when they write this.'  The answer is in most cases: Nothing.

Midgets v Lion

From the just-opened 'Only in Cambodia File' comes the unlikely tale of 42 midgets who didn't have the brains they were born with.

Members of the Cambodian Midget Fighting League obviously have hearts as big as a lion, but have brains only the size of a very small pea. That should read 'had.' Boasting recently they could "take on anything; man, beast, or machine," a fan set them up with a fight against an African lion.

Result: Lion, 28; Cambodian Midget Fighting League, 0.

These guys would surely have to be heavy contenders for this decade's Darwin Awards. When you're thinking about people 'dumber than a bagful of marbles' the late members of the Cambodian Midget Fighting League are people that should spring immediately to mind. There could however be other contenders ... check here for details ...

Websites that make me say 'No!'

There's some discussion at butterpaper about architectural websites, and it threw up two examples here and here of exactly the kind of web sites for which I desperately hunt for the 'Back' button -- sites which for me are the electronic equivalent of Te Papa. When entering either a website or a building, I like to find where it leads me; sites like these two and buildings like Te Papa lead me straight in, and then straight back outside again.

No disrespect to either architect or model-maker, who for all I know may be great, but their sites don't make me want to stick around to find out. Sites like these two are very common amongst architects, perhaps part of the reason why my own site is so defiantly low-tech.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Zero waste

Don't you love government propaganda, even the stuff of imagination. This from Jeanette Fitzsimon's new Sustainable Energy Commission

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Conservatism

Literally, the doctrine of conserving the status quo because it is the status quo – hence the bestowing of this appellation on such seemingly unlikely bedfellows as Ronald Reagan and hardline Communists in China.

More commonly, the term applies to those who defend capitalism on religious/ altruistic grounds – i.e. they say it promotes the general welfare ahead of individual self-enrichment in accordance with godly ethics – and confine their advocacy of freedom to the economic realm. Conservatives typically favour the criminalising of drugs, prostitution, pornography, homosexuality, abortion, etc. Laws that still exist in some parts of the United States against oral sex are favoured by conservatives who happily defend the free market in economics, and are completely oblivious to the inconsistency. Margaret Thatcher did much to free up the British economy while introducing repressive censorship laws.
In the battle for freedom, conservatives at best provide a breathing space, a slowing of the momentum of the statist advance, to the extent that they de-regulate economies and revitalise government’s legitimate defence function – at worst, they are positive impediments, since their bottom line is still that one’s life belongs to God and/or society, and they are in that sense indistinguishable from freedom’s enemies.
Conservatives too, as Ayn Rand pointed out,
have a disposition towards compromise that delivers more to freedom's enemies than they could otherwise hope to expect from their own efforts alone..


Libertarians are not conservatives – they are
radicals for freedom.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. Tomorrow, 'Democracy.'

12 Angry Books: 1, 'We'

I’ve promised to blog my ‘twelve most influential books’ just as other libertarian bloggers have been, and to replace the ‘great lost post’ from a few days ago in which I talked about all twelve. In detail.
So I’m going to tell you one at a time, beginning with the first.
The first book to influence me in a libertarian direction was We, by E.I. Zamyatin, one of those novels of dystopia so popular as warnings of where not to go.
I can remember very little about it, except that it brought me up short: this, the young me said, is not the way to go about things. And pray God things are not gone about this way!

A tame librarian at my local had forgiven me for stealing books (yes, I confess), and had noticed my reading material had included Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Thomas More’s Utopia and the like, and had ordered in Zamyatin’s masterpiece for me. Thank goodness he did.
I’ve been interested since to find writers arguing for a connection between Ayn Rand and Zamyatin (here for example) but since We none of the novels of dystopia has grabbed me in the same way, including
Rand’s own Anthem.
It was my first, and it will always be special. I’d love to find a local copy now.

Comments

Oops, forgot to thank AL from Sir Humphreys for sorting the comments sidebar. Thanks AL.

Top Google hits this week

A lot of yahoos here this week at ‘Not PC’, some totally mystifying, at least to me. Who will die today? I’m damn sure I don’t know.

What else can we tell from these searches? That Berend is world-famous in New Zealand; that there are clearly more than a few with classic sex on the brain (nothing wrong with that); and that my anatomy is the object of some speculation. Or not.

And I do hope that Dr Peter Cresswell, professor of immunobiology at Yale is not finding my blog too much of a problem. I feel sure his students will be able to tell us apart.

1. not pc epsom blog (1st)
2. Peter Cresswell (3rd)
3. ernest quor (6th on Spanish Google Search)
4. political spectrum quiz (18th on Yahoo Search)
5. world freedom summit (not on front page)
6. eat your greens (4th on Yahoo Search)
8. classical sex (1st on Yahoo Search)
9. berend de boer,
new Zealand (4th on Yahoo Search)
10. wananga rongo (3rd on Yahoo Search)
11. lindsay perigo jim peron (not on front page)
12. classic sex (1st on Yahoo Search)
13. whowilldietoday.blogspot.com (16th on Yahoo Search)
14. altruism libertarianism (1st and 4th on Yahoo Search)
15. the seven-lesson schoolteacher summary (4th on Yahoo Search)
16. pc anatomy education (3rd on Yahoo Search)
17. classic music brain (37th in Yahoo Search)
18. nolan chart nz politics (7th)

Collapsed: Jared Diamond's arguments

Jared Diamond’s much praised book Guns, Germs and Steel contains erudition by the plenty, but for me it fell down because his thesis had no place for the greatest boon in mankind’s history, the industrial revolution. And because he couldn’t explain it, he just left it out of his thinking – just one reason I prefer David E. Landes’ similar but superior work The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why some are so rich and some so poor to Diamonds’ book.

            Landes argues that in the end culture is a greater determinant for wealth than are geography or history alone. Cultures, as Thomas Sowell reminds us, are not museum pieces but the working machinery of everyday life – by that standard some cultural machinery is more likely to make you wealthy than others. Cultures that value property and contract rights and personal liberty are in the end going to be more successful than those that don’t. Read a comparison of the two books here.

            And Diamond is ignoring the field of property rights again in his new book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. As Joel Schwartz points out here on Tech Central Station Diamond’s central thesis is once again worthless because he simply fails to address this oversight.

            Diamond doesn’t understand markets, he doesn’t understand resource-pricing, and he doesn’t understand how property rights fixed the Tragedy of the Common problems he cites for the societal collapses in his book.

            In short, he doesn’t really understand his subject. Sad really, because he does write so well.

Prison overcrowding

Peter Williams QC is a bleeding-heart liberal idiot. There’s no question about that.

He says “forcing people into a dark dungeon with no windows and without the basic elements can have a huge mental strain on prisoners.” Poor dears.

Problems with prison overcrowding he says can be fixed if people just get intelligent, he says on Newstalk ZB. “A lot of people could be released early to make beds available,” he says, “as there are a large number of non-serious security risk prisoners who could be housed in other accommodation.”

These people could be put in motels, says Williams unintelligently.

Peter Williams is an idiot. Listen up Peter: ‘If you can’t do the time, then don’t commit the crime.’

The reason people are locked up is to protect us from people who are a real, proven threat; specifically, to protect us from people who have committed crimes in which it has been proved they are a threat. With just one caveat, they deserve to be there.

Here’s the caveat, and therein the solution: if we really do care about injustice and about overcrowding we could immediately cut prison numbers by about a third by freeing people who have committed any so-called crime in which there is no victim. Victimless ‘crimes’ such as our drug laws should be expunged from the books as the injustice they are, and as a practical solution that effectively doubles police numbers and reduces the prison population.

I say keep the dungeons for those who’ve committed real crimes, and free the others.

Labels:

Global Mean Temperature as it happens!

What’s the Global Mean Temperature been doing for the last 24 hours? The last seven days? How about right now?

And how much has the Kyoto Protocol cost so far? To what effect?

If those questions have occurred to you too then the handy real-time meters at JunkScience.com here will be right up your alley. And go right ahead and compare them with the ‘official’ figures, as JunkScience.com have conveniently done for you here.

Story about Global Mean Temperature here. Owen McShane argues that Kyoto is a Fraud here. Your comments welcome below.

[Hat-tips Stephen Hicks and Barry Paul.]

So what about petitions?

So have you downloaded Rodney’s petition yet to lower taxes? Download here. Commentators such as Newstalk ZB’s Larry Williams churlishly pointed out that petitions don’t achieve anything, and in one sense they’re right. They don’t. But that misses the point of a petition

That is, petitions don’t work if you’re just looking ‘top down.’ They can work if you’re looking ‘bottom up’; that is, if what you’re after is to attract and generate public support for your position. What you’re not really trying for is to have the petition itself get 200,000 signatures and be voted in by referendum.

In short, it’s not that you want the petition to necessarily go to parliament and be passed into law (about which you need to be realistic); you want the ideas to go to parliament and eventually be reflected in law, and getting out there and campaigning with a petition is one way of getting those ideas out there and getting them noticed.

When Lindsay Mitchell started her petition to abolish the DPB I encouraged her with the same arguments, and it’s clear Lindsay’s petition has been enormously successful for her as a platform to point out the obvious iniquities of the DPB – a platform that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.

When Helen Hughes, Warwick Malone and Tim Wikiriwhi began their petition in 2002 for ‘One Law for All’ they faced at the time little political support for their position, but as it transpired enormous but previously unnoticed public support. Turned out that was an idea whose time had come. And you saw it first in a petition.

So don’t knock them.

Meddling arseholes

I’ve never knowingly heard anything by Shania Twain so for all I know howling may be how she makes her living. If it’s not, she’s probably howling now about the Resource Management Act after her plans for a house near Queenstown were rejected because in the opinion of local busybodies “the complex would not be in harmony with the surrounding landscape.” Story here.

Andrew Henderson, the planning wanker from CivicCorp who rejected the application and Julian Haworth, head busybody from the Upper Clutha Environmental Society, decided that man-made mounds to screen the house from being seen by anybody other than the house’s occupants after dark in a blindfold were “not appropriate,” particularly because “the house would still be visible from a new walking track” to be built by the Twains themselves as a previous consent condition.

I guess even a camouflage net wouldn’t have satisfied these meddling arseholes. Remind me again how the RMA is “permissive” and “far-sighted environmental legislation.”

As Ayn Rand observed, when the productive have to ask permission from unproductive arseholes in order to produce (I paraphrase slightly) then you know your culture is stuffed. Here we are.

Questions about the Lions tour

The British Lions arrive on Friday, and I find myself wanting two questions about them answered.

First, what the hell are 45 players and 27 support staff from four different countries – all of whom bear a grudge over each others’ country for real or imagined historical slights – what are they going to do once their team starts losing? Will two video analysts, a chef, a lawyer, a ‘kit technician’, ten coaches, three masseurs, and Alastair Campbell help or hinder the arguments?

Second, given Jonny Wilkinson’s, um, unusual stance when kicking for goal and Leyton Hewitt’s temporary withdrawal from top tennis, why isn’t Jonny a top candidate for a Snowtex TV ad? There must surely be a thousand ways you could use him.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sick of slaving under Capitalism?


Cartoon by Nick Kim, courtesy of The Free Radical.

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Communism

COMMUNISM: One of the most virulent forms of collectivism known to man. Its defining ethic was articulated by Karl Marx as ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his need;’ i.e. one person’s need is a mortgage on someone else’s ability; i.e. people are born with prior claims over, and unchosen obligations to, other people; and that brings us back to the ethic of self-sacrifice (see altruism).

Marx imagined that the achievement of communism would be accompanied by a withering away of the state; clearly, however, such an ethic can only be implemented at the point of a state-wielded gun. Thus it is no accident or aberration that communist regimes routinely slaughtered millions of their own citizens. No other outcome was possible. 



One ought not to take excessive comfort from the collapse of communism while this underlying ethic still flourishes. Communism yesterday, Russian nationalism today, fascism tomorrow: variations on a theme called collectivism, derived from the ethic of altruism.


This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by NZ libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. Tomorrow, 'Conservatism.'

Labels:

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Rights

RIGHTS: The concept that ratifies our freedom. Such a concept becomes necessary when individuals form themselves into a society; it formalises the principles by which individuals are protected from each other.

Historically, the concept of 'rights' is relatively recent and by its nature highly sophisticated.

The concept of rights integrates our nature as human beings, and the freedom each of us needs within society in order to flourish. It is our minds that are our means of survival -- our thought put into action -- and in order to use our minds and plan ahead we must know the legitimate boundaries of our actions.

Rights define our boundaries, our "moral space," within which we are free to be ourselves.

Freedom pertains to action (including the action of thinking); rights specify the spheres in which one is properly free to act. 'Freedom' means the freedom to act to preserve and protect one’s existence = the right to life. Freedom to act to select and pursue values = the right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom to act to attain, secure and enjoy the fruits of one’s action = the right to property.

While separated thus for convenience of formulation and implementation, these rights are actually one continuance, indivisible whole, a logical unity, each implying, and being impossible without, the other. Rights may be said to be “natural” not in the sense that we are born with them literally attached to our bodies, but that they are inescapable requirements of man’s nature just as surely as if they were attached to our wrists.

Man – each man – is an entity who survives and flourishes by thinking and choosing. “Rights” sanction each man’s freedom so to do where more than one person is present. They are requirements of our minds, the distinctive aspect of our nature. Rights may be said to be “inalienable” not in the sense that they can’t in practice be violated, but that anyone who does so is “alienating” man from the reality of his own nature – a reality which remains real in spite of any violation. Rights are inalienable, in other words, not because they cannot be violated but because they may not be with moral impunity. Rights exist not because a “creator” “endowed” us with them, but because our nature demands them. To trace the origin of rights to a non-human, supernatural (i.e. non-existent) entity is to ground (cloud) them in the realm of faith, where they are vulnerable to attack from those who have equal “faith” that man has no rights, only “duties” – to his creator, or tribe, or Fatherland, etc.

The failure of America's Founding Fathers’ to ground rights in man’s nature qua man is one of the reasons legitimate rights have been all but swamped by bogus rights in the United Police States (and here in NZ). So-called rights to a job, an education, a house, etc – are bogus because they imply a right to the fruits, not of one’s own action, but of the actions of others. What becomes of the latters’ right to the fruits of their actions if those fruits have been commandeered in advance?

Rights can only be violated by physical force, and its derivative, fraud. I do not violate your rights if I decline to employ you; I do if I kill you, or detain you while on your way to a job interview. I don’t if I decline to feed you; I do if I steal your food. I don’t if I decline to perform a heart transplant operation of you; I do if I have signed a contract with you undertaking to perform such an operation and then decline to do so. I don’t if I hurt your feelings; I do if I hurt your body. Etc, etc.

The term “individual rights” is a redundancy. Rights are social requirements of reason, the thinking/choosing faculty – reason is the property of individuals – rights pertain to individuals.

I acknowledge that all of these points are wildly tendentious, and that one cannot do justice to them on a cue card. Naturally, they will be developed in more detail here at 'Not PC.' For further reading as to what rights are and aren't, readers are recommended to the Bill of Rights in the proposed Constitution for New Freeland here, and (by way of contrast) Lewis Napper's proposed 'Bill of No Rights' here.

Ayn Rand's article 'Man’s Rights' in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and Tara Smith's book Moral Rights and Political Freedom are recommended to the reader who wants to delve further.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by NZ libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. Tomorrow, 'Conservatism.'

Labels: ,

Nausea alert

The still extant Fighting Talk are on some serious stuff today, reviewing a book of 'erotic fantasies' about Helen Clark, titled On the conditions and possibilities of Helen Clark taking me as her Young Lover.

My skin crawled as I read the outline: "First-time author Meros wrestles with desire, the difficulties of courting a major political figure, and 'physiological considerations for young lovers' in a book that will raise the pulse of any self-respecting Head of State."

Uugh. Read more here if you must.

Lions: no imagination, little urgency

Okay I confess, I watched the Lions play the Pumas this morning. Wonderful intensity from the Pumas, but nothing special from the Lions.

The understrength Pumas took an early lead and held it courageously for most of the game against a Lions teams showing poor continuity, even less imagination and apparently little motivation-- at least until the last ten minutes when the realisation they were losing took hold and some urgency took over.

Pumas played out of their skins, Lions played with one eye on the plane: Forwards looked tight and moderately disciplined -- when they eventually got there; backs did the basics well but no more, and will need to do more than mid-field crash ball to be a threat to the ABs. Expect there to be a few more moves than what they showed this morning though.

So not much to learn from the game then that will tell us much about the tour, except perhaps that the match seems to have helped Wilkinson back to match-fitness. Bugger.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Lamps


Lamp cluster, Unity Temple, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1906

Labels:

Phony rights

With rumblings of republicanism ongoing, and talk continuing of changing the constitutional basis of the country and of whether or not to make New Zealand's existing Bill of Right's supreme law (see for example No Right Turn's candidate survey questions) the need arises to understand what the hell rights are about.

Do you know what rights are contained in the NZ Bill of Rights for example, and how many of those are genuine rights? How about the UN Declaration of Human Rights -- how many genuine rights there?

To help you out, Tibor Machan examines here the phony rights foisted upon the world by FDR.
The plain truth, he concludes,
is that all these phony rights of FDR and his supporters, many of them going very strong today in law schools and political philosophy departments across the country, indeed all over the world via the UN’s adoption of the list, have helped to systematically abrogate our genuine, bona fide unalienable rights - rights that are the conditions of our freedom and of a free society.

Labels: ,

What Class are you?

'Do New Zealanders give a monkeys about class?' asks this week's Listener. What do you think -- and do you give a toss?

Are the Browntable the new aristocracy? Or is it Heather Simpson and her colleagues? Are ACT people just Nats without the breeding? Is John Key the new John Banks? Is class temporary and form permanent, as rugby commentators tell us? Is egalitarianism a good thing, as sociologists tell us?

And does 'The Listener' have a stick up its arse and a need for a cover story? (Here's the results of their 'research.')

While you're deciding whether you even care, find out if you're a snob by using some Brit telly show's Snob-o-Meter here, or how much of one you are. Apparently I'm a 46% snob. There you go. It has about as much science about it as the Listener's research.

Roll on the meritocracy.

"Frantic" soccer fans turn down bikinis

Now I find this funny: Soccer fans who'd stayed up until the early hours of Sunday morning to watch the FA Cup Final were apparently upset that after neither team scoring a goal for what would have seemed like three hours or so, Sky TV turned the game off and put on the next scheduled programme, Sports Illustrated's '2005 Swimwear at Play.'

A reasonable decison I would have thought -- bikini-clad lovelies rather than grown men complaining to the ref as they roll arond the pitch clutching their body parts-- but crikey, I bet they could hear the whining in Wembley*. Fans were "frantic" says the Herald. Poor lambs.

=================================================================
Yes, I'm aware Wembley Stadium is being rebuilt and the game was in Cardiff. But Cardiff doesn't alliterate with whining. Does it.

They'll wish they were in DC

Remember those musical cartoons being emailed around before the American elections? This one, 'I Wish I was in DC,' and this one, 'Your Land'?

The Jib Jab guys have now made this ad to make people believe Budweiser is drinkable. That has surely got to be a more difficult job than making fun of politicians.

Meanwhile, here in NZ we're just a week away from getting the real Czech Budvar, a beer that's at the very opposite end of the drinkability scale to its American cousin. News here.

Right, back to work.

New political blog

A new political blog here for those who hate politicians, political blogs and bullshit.

No comments possible, just a big cup of shut the fuck up.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


La Danaide, by Rodin

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Property

As Leon Trotsky long ago pointed out, where there is no private ownership individuals can be easily bent to the will of the state under threat of starvation or worse. Only ghosts can survive without property, human beings cannot.

Unlike other animals we cannot survive as we come into the world; in order to stay alive and to flourish we each need to produce and to keep the fruits of our production. If our minds are our means of survival – as Julian Simon used to say, our Ultimate Resource – then property is the result of applying the creative potential of our minds to reality in order to enhance our lives.

The need for a legal framework protecting property has been long ignored or taken for granted by economists and legal theorists of all stripes, but its importance is slowly being re- understood by contemporary thinkers. Tom Bethell’ s landmark book The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity Through the Ages traces successes and disasters of history consequent upon the respective recognition or denial of property through the ages: Ireland’s potato famine, the desertification of the Sahara, and the near-disastrous US colonies at Jamestown and Plymouth can all be traced to lack of respect for property argues Bethell. He identifies four crucial blessings of property

that cannot easily be recognised in a society that lacks the secure, decentralised, private ownership of goods. These are: liberty, justice, peace and prosperity. The argument of [his] book is that private property is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for these highly desirable social outcomes.

Reflections on China

I met and had a drink on Thursday with an old friend who has just returned from getting married in China. I'm just adding a link to the site of his wife, a Chinese artist working in Chongqing.

We reflected on the irony that having been decimated early on by Marxism, one of the most destructive intellectual exports of the west, the later infestations of western bad ideas have passed
China by. Thus Feng Qi, his wife, and the other students who studied at the Art College of Chongqing studied the great masters instead of the formaldehyde maunderings and daubings of elephant dung so loved by so many post-modern western 'artists.'

Chongqing itself is a city of some fifteen million on the upper reaches of the Yangtze River, and as my friend tells me a city of increasing prosperity. What he sees there and elsewhere in China -- happening right before his eyes -- is a living example of the phrase 'making money,' and a refutation of the idea that getting rich requires that one make someone else poor.

As Ludwig von Mises observed, “Far from the wealth of one implying the poverty of others, the reverse is true: one can only acquire wealth by serving others.”

Real wealth means the ability to make choices – the freedom to produce and freedom to trade what one has produced means that the choices available to individual Chinese expand almost by the minute. The Chinese are busy making themselves rich.

Rewrites

I’m still fuming about losing yesterday’s post on the twelve books that influenced me. I’ve noticed that when such things have happened to me in the past that the rewrite is frequently better than the original, but it doesn’t make it any easier actually doing the rewrite.

Victorian virtues may attract only mirth these days, but on occasions such as this I always think of the example of 19th century historian Thomas Carlyle: having spent six years completing the manuscript of his magnum opus ‘The French Revolution’ he loaned the only copy of volume one to his friend John Stuart Mill to read.

Five days later an ashen-faced Mill confessed to his friend that his housemaid had accidentally consigned the thing to the flames to warm the house. Crushed but resolute – “Mill, poor fellow, is terribly cut up. We must endeavour to hide from him how very serious this business is for us” -- Carlyle set to work immediately to rewrite the book which was to become a classic. The revised volume was “different, perhaps better” reflected a sober Carlyle. Thank goodness he didn’t have to reproduce all the footnotes he would be expected to today!

So in the spirit of Carlyle I will resurrect the list of my own twelve or so inspirational books, a day at a time and in roughly the order in which I encountered them. Starting tomorrow.

Can you guess what the first one was?