Monday, 10 October 2005

A buzz about 'Serenity'

Libertarians everywhere are getting excited about a new movie by a chap called Joss Whedon, who some of you lot might know from TV series 'Firefly,' 'Buffy,' and 'Angel' -- I confess I don't.

Writer/director Whedon has said the hero of 'Serenity,' Mal, is "certainly a libertarian, he's certainly a less-government kinda guy." A little girl in the film, questioned why 'independents' would resist 'civilisation' imposed by centralised government answers: "We meddle...People don't like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don't run, don't walk. We're in their homes and in their heads, and we haven't the right. We're meddlesome."

Universal have a nine-minute trailer up on site so you can see in advance what you're going to get. And feel free to check out some of the enthusiastic reviews below. Keep an eye out for it.

[UPDATE, 1: Oops. What idiot forgot to put up the link for the trailer for 'Serenity.'
2. Mr Whedon's name corrected.]

--------------------What critics are saying----------------------
"Two thumbs up!" -- Ebert & Roeper
"More engaging and certainly better written and acted than any of Mr. Lucas's recent screen entertainments." -- New York Times
"A strongly acted, well-written story fortified by riveting action sequences — a rarity these days among studio releases — "Serenity" should delight Whedon novices as much as the already converted. " -- Los Angeles Times
"More fun than you had at any bigger-budget movie this past summer." -- New York Magazine
-------------------What libertarians are saying (about both Firefly and Serenity)------------------
After all, Serenity is based on the most consistently libertarian TV show I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing (Firefly).... By voting with our wallets, we as libertarians have the opportunity to show...that the market screams for more libertarian-themed and intelligently-crafted media! -- Seth Daniels,
"Perhaps the saddest loss of all was Firefly,...the best ever [science fiction] to appear on television. The military socialists here, quasi- and otherwise, are the bad guys, the heroes are libertarian — capitalists and smugglers all, and the characters' struggle for intelligent, coherent ethics is continuous." -- L. Neil Smith
"Serenity is not just a string of good chase scenes, but...a surprisingly profound meditation on what freedom means—both in politics and, perhaps more importantly, as a source of personal meaning." -- Julian Sanchez, Reason Magazine
Beyond its explicit libertarian theme, Firefly is simply well written and produced. -- J.E. Crosby,
Like the best of science fiction, Joss Whedon's Firefly is a tale of freedom and self-reliance. -- America's Future Foundation (conservative/libertarian leadership network)
The series has strong libertarian threads running through each episode. -- Daniel D'Amico, Mises Economic Blog
"Now if you're looking for something a libertarian can get behind, there's Firefly." -- Jay P. Hailey, "Filtering Entertainment," The Libertarian Enterprise

[Hat tip, Helen Tucker]

Watching the Tories

LibertyScott is enjoying watching the UK Conservatives' leadership battle, but wonders how many will really care who they pick. "The Conservative Party looks geriatric," he says. It always has.
So can the Tories find a leader from the existing stable of contenders to modernise the party, through off this stuffy image AND establish a clear place on the political spectrum to appeal to British voters sufficiently to win the next election.

The problem is, I don’t think it can.
I think he's right.

Pat Robertson. Idiot.

NEWS: US TV evangelist Pat Robertson said overnight that recent natural disasters around the world point to the end of the world and the imminent return of Jesus Christ.

"These things are starting to hit with amazing regularity," Robertson said in an interview with CNN, pointing to the coincidence of a major earthquake that killed thousands in Asia yesterday and recent killer hurricanes in the United States and the Boxing Day Tsunami.

What an idiot, trying to raise his profile on the back of disaster. If there were any justice, this should be the end of this idiot. Sadly, ...

Robbie Williams: Get off Kate's back

He can't sing, but he can occasionally talk sense: Robbie Williams has gone against the tide of media outrage and defended Kate Moss. "She's done nothing wrong," says Williams. "What she does in her private life should be her own private affair. We are talking about a woman who has never hurt anybody and never pretended to be somebody she isn't."

Williams went on to accuse the media of hypocrisy. He said: “I have personally taken cocaine with the people who are now writing these stories.”

Williams said that he had attended a drug rehabilitation clinic and “it’s not fun”. He hoped Moss recovered because “she deserves to be happy. People should get off her back”.

He's right, you know. Times article here. [Hat tip Julian]

The future of textbook publishing

Google have done it again. Google Blog Search is one recent boon. Google Scholar allows us, as the slogan says, to "stand on the shoulders of giants." And Google Earth gives us all free access to aerial views of almost anywhere on earth. Bloggers have used it for example to see whether or not Mayor Ray Nagin had buses to use to evacuate the New Orleans Superdome (he did).
Google Earth Hacks allow you to see:
And I've used it to check out:
AND NOW: Google have produced the face of the future of textbook publishing, Google Print. [Hat tip Stephen Hicks]. Whole books; online; searchable!! Some treats that I've found already (well I think they're treats anyway):
Wow! This is a whole searchable library at your fingertips, and without the overdue fines. :-)

Sunday, 9 October 2005

Drinking over time preferences

I was in the liquor store yesterday buying some beer, some wine, and a good vodka for making Martinis (or is that martinis?) -- just as you do on a Saturday -- and at the counter I found myself faced with a dilemma.

My chosen brand of beer was priced at a modest $16.95 a dozen today, but it was pointed out to me that it will be on special Tuesday for a very tempting $13.95 a dozen. The dilemma was resolved in a moment: far preferable to get outside a few beers now, I reasoned, than to sit around until Tuesday with only a dry old promissory note for a cheaper dozen to keep me company.

As I quite happily paid over the odds in order to begin consuming beer now instead of days later (without of course ruling out consuming it on Tuesday as well) I reflected that this is clearly an example of 'time preference' -- a phenomenon first identified by WS Jevons and Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, and one seen every night in nightclubs across the globe, wherein people happily empty their pockets for a drink NOW rather than wait for satisfation on a later night.

It is a phenomenon that Ludwig von Mises called a universal (a 'categorial,' or a priori) element in human action; put simply, the theory of time preference reflects the overwhelming preference to have two drinks this moment rather than three drinks next week, and it is this universal desire, argues Mises, that explains the phenomeon of interest.

If, for example I borrow money from you today in order to buy a car this afternoon, I'm quite willing to pay extra in order to have the car now rather than next year; thus $1o,000 for that purpose put into my account now is worth more to me than my promise to pay, say, $12,000 over the course of the next two years. As Mises explains it in Human Action:
Time preference is a categorial requisite of human action. No mode of action can be thought of in which satisfaction within a nearer period of the future is not--other things being equal--preferred to that in a later period. The very act of gratifying a desire implies that gratification at the present instant is preferred to that at a later instant. He who consumes a nonperishable good instead of postponing consumption for an indefinite later moment thereby reveals a higher valuation of present satisfaction as compared with later satisfaction.
The theory is not without its critics, of course. Some critics still insist that interest simply reflects the productivity of capital, a notion that both Bohm-Bawerk and Mises effectively dismissed -- there is no evidence, Mises pointed out, of a "time-structure" in the capital stock of a society; further, the present valuation of income-producing capital will already have anticipated the future income stream. Brian Caplan rejects Mises' time-prefence theory for a different reason, in that he puts the origin of interest down to diminishing marginal utility:
You don't need time preference to get people to divide their consumption between today and tomorrow; all you need is diminishing marginal utility. If you are stuck on an island with two bananas for two days, a perfectly patient person would still want to eat one banana per day. Even though he disvalues hunger today and hunger tomorrow equally, eating one banana today assuages his hunger more effectively than saving that banana for tomorrow.
Lawrence White however argues that Caplan's criticism doesn't stack up. First off, Caplan talks about perishable rather than imperishable goods (contra Mises) and assumes too an ever-expanding economy; for another, diminishing marginal utility "doesn’t explain why, even when today and tomorrow are equally provisioned, the market characteristically values a dollar today higher than a dollar tomorrow. That’s a fact that we need time preference to explain." I'm with White on this one.

Israel Kirzner has another beef with Mises' theory, one I'm inclined to agree with; says Kirzner:
The pure-time-preference theory [that Kirzner has] written about is not based on a priori reasoning. I've merely concluded that time preference is a reasonably universal empirical phenomenon. I ask my students: do you know anybody who is indifferent between receiving a paycheck now and receiving it in ten years? The answer is no. To me, that is enough to provide the basis of the theory.
As I drank my beer, I reflected that he's probably correct. And if true, it means that bankers and nightclub owners have more in common than might otherwise be thought, for they both earn their money by trading on the basis of this universal phenomeon of time preference.

Blame the terrorists

Two views on the Bali bombings and on Bush's Thursday speech on terrorism and the war in Iraq, both reflecting a remarkably similar view.

Christopher Hitchens emphatically rejects claims that Islamo-fascist terrorism is caused by the policies of the West: he explains that 'Terrorist attacks aren't caused by any policy except that of the bombers themselves'. Concludes Christopher of the Bali bombings:
So, what did Indonesia do to deserve this, or bring it on itself? How will the slaughter in Bali improve the lot of the Palestinians? Those who look for the connection will be doomed to ask increasingly stupid questions and to be content with increasingly wicked answers.
Meanwhile, Lindsay Perigo has examined George W's recent speech on the continuing war on Terror and finds much to savour in what the President says, but finds too a disturbing contradiction:
There is both reassurance and folly in George W. Bush’s speech on terrorist-maggotry today at the National Endowment for Democracy. It is reassuring that he appears to be unmoved by the tide of treacherous Saddamy lapping at his doorstep... Reassuring also that the President does not buy into the view that what Western civilisation faces can be dismissed as mere random madness... But it’s disturbing that he repeats the error of separating the species from the genus... Jihad, the slaying of idolators “wherever ye find them” is at the heart of Islam and permeates the Koran . The fact that most Muslims are not currently engaged in it doesn’t mean it’s not a requirement of their religion.
If you still doubt these claims about the Koran, check out the Skeptic's Annotated Koran for the vicious intolerance and blind cruelty contained within. For on this point, argues Perigo, is contained the contradiction that Bush is yet to resolve :
Islam itself is a malignancy on the body of humanity. The actions of its consistent, true practitioner-maggots demonstrate that. But Bush can’t afford to say it. He himself is in thrall to a vicious religion that seems benign only because it has lost its political power—and under his Administration threatens to reclaim it. The President is undone by his own contradictions.
Linked articles: - 'Terrorist attacks aren't caused by any policy except that of the bombers themselves' - 'Ignoble Islam'
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Saturday, 8 October 2005

Being beastly

I just couldn't resist. Here's another message from God, the Head Intrinsicist -- a nicer guy you really couldn't hope to meet:
What a guy.

Make up your own signs using the Church Sign Generator. If you want to make them Biblically accurate you can find all the absurdity you'll need over at the Skeptics Annotated Bible. Weekends full of fun. :-)

Liberty quotes

"This provision (the 4th Amendment) speaks for itself. Its plain object is to secure the perfect enjoyment of that great right of the common law, that a man's house shall be his own castle, privileged against all civil and military intrusion."
-- Justice Joseph Story
(1779-1845) US Supreme Court Justice, 1833

"It is fundamental that the great powers of Congress to conduct war and to regulate the Nation's foreign relations are subject to the constitutional requirements of due process. The imperative necessity for safeguarding these rights to procedural due process under the gravest of emergencies has existed throughout our constitutional history, for it is then, under the pressing exigencies of crisis, that there is the greatest temptation to dispense with fundamental constitutional guarantees which, it is feared, will inhibit governmental action."
-- Justice Arthur Goldberg
US Supreme Court Justice
Source: Kennedy v. Mendoza-Martinez, 1963


This post is unashamedly stolen from SOLO. For the T-shirt, send your credit card number to Bureaucrash.

Friday, 7 October 2005

Friday night's message from God

You heard Him, so go and get thee hence. What are you all standing around waiting for?

The birth of racial quotas

Racial quotas didn't just appear recently. As Malcolm Gladwell explains in the New Yorker, they've been with us for years -- at Harvard University for instance the movement started back in the twenties when Jews began to take over the campus, and Harvard's Wasps began to fear being outnumbered, poor lambs:
The enrollment of Jews began to rise dramatically. By 1922, they made up more than a fifth of Harvard’s freshman class. The administration and alumni were up in arms. Jews were thought to be sickly and grasping, grade-grubbing and insular. They displaced the sons of wealthy Wasp alumni, which did not bode well for fund-raising. A. Lawrence Lowell, Harvard’s president in the nineteen-twenties, stated flatly that too many Jews would destroy the school: “The summer hotel that is ruined by admitting Jews meets its fate . . . because they drive away the Gentiles, and then after the Gentiles have left, they leave also.”
Harvard fought back, not with quotas initially, but by requesting 'character references' and the details of an applicant's private life. Princeton and other unis followed... Read on here.
[Hat tip Stephen Hicks]
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Freedom for New Orleans

There's been a ton of pressure for the US Federal Government to move heaven and earth and the contents of Fort Knox to rebuild New Orleans, and in such circumstances Government’s are always willing to oblige. Pony up they have, to the tune of $62 billion and counting -- as one commentator has noted, at this level of 'emergency funding' "the aid effort is likely to result in the largest transfer of government funds into private hands in American history." Bad news then.

There are of course good economic and geographic reasons to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, reasons so good in fact that investors should themselves be able to see the value in rebuilding. But why does rebuilding need to involve taxpayers ponying up $62 billion, I wondered to myself.

Why not, I thought, take the artifical hurdles out of the way of private investment and declare New Orleans, Biloxi, and the entire Gulf Coast as Enterpise Zones, wherein all businesses and those investing in them are exempt from tax and from all but the very lightest of regulation. As I thought, I read, and as it turned out the idea has already been floated ... by George Bush, and by John Stossel.

Lysistrata defending the Acropolis

Aubrey Beardsley's 'Lysistrata defending the Acropolis,' drawn to illustrate Aristophane's hilarious comedy.

Thursday, 6 October 2005

Girl v crocodile

ADELAIDE ADVERTIsER: A 14-YEAR-OLD boy helped save his little sister by pummelling a saltwater crocodile as it mauled her in the remote far north of Western Australia... Her ordeal is the latest in a string of crocodile attacks across northern Australia. Two men - a snorkler and a diver - died last month in separate attacks in the Northern Territory. In August, a fisherman was killed when a crocodile pulled him from a canoe in northern Queensland.

Rather than the just repeat the arguments expressed here recently, I'll just point you to what was said before on the subject. Suffice to say that I don't agree with those who felt that the girl is to blame for being attacked. I blame misanthropic environmentalists.
Eaten by absurdity
A new environmentalism: Putting humans first
Protecting a predator

UPDATE: Den MT and Ruth have both blogged in response to this and to my earlier posts on this subject here at Not PC. Unfortunately, they both miss the full context and hence the point of what I've been saying -- God knows why, I thought it was clear enough. Maybe not. Anyway, I summarised what my point was here. I'll do it again. Briefly, the position I've been arguing for is this:
  1. First and most importantly, it is an argument for a change in ethics that recognises that 'environmental harmony' can only begin once it is recognised that humans have a right to exist, and that they exist by using and transforming nature (the clearest argument for this appears in Tibor Machans' book 'Putting Humans First').
  2. There is no such thing as 'intrinsic values' that inhere regardless of context or relationships -- as I argued in this comment, the very concept of 'intrinsic value' is a nonsense, and one often used to smuggle in a person's own 'subjective values.' I argue that 'value' has a context; it implies both a valuer, and a purpose: that is, someone to whom a thing is valuable, and an answer to the question, 'valuable for what?' I argue that real value is objective, not intrinsic. The problem with intrinsic values is outlined briefly here, and illustrated in too much misanthropic environmentalism. :-)
  3. The practical arguments for rational wildlife management is put here in Dr Graham Webb's PDF article, 'Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wildlife - an Evolving Concept.' I sumarise it very briefly in this comment. In essence, Webb argues you have to give local a property right in the animals in order to make the animals' protection a boon to them rather than a disaster, and he explains the means whereby to do that.
So in essence then, to say that my position is either one that worries about "Australia morphing into Jurassic Park," or that my position amounts to saying "kill them all" is, well, just not correct. Sorry. It's a little more nuanced than that.

'Bloody obvious' Nobel Prize winners

Congratulations to the two Australian doctors who just won the Nobel Prize for medicine for their discovery of what causes ulcers. Contrary to the previously received wisdom that it is stress that causes ulcers, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall knew the real cause -- a bacterium called H. Pylori -- and Marshall swallowed a beaker of bacterium to prove it.
"It is nice to be officially recognised and it gives some sort of a stamp of approval, but we believed it within a few months because it was so bloody obvious," Warren told reporters... The two men made their discovery in the early 1980s, but it took a long time to convince the medical community, who viewed them as eccentric. "The idea of stress and things like that [as the cause of ulcers] was just so entrenched nobody could really believe that it was a bacteria," Dr Marshall told the Associated Press.
They do now. Ulcers can now be cured with a short-term course of drugs and antibiotics, and I have formerly ulcer-ridden friends to submit as evidence the cure works. They and thousands of others have been raising a glasss or two to Marshall and Warren for years.
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Judy gets the archer

If television news and talkback is anything to go by, the big news of today and yesterday is that Judy Bailey has been given the Spanish Archer* by TVNZ. I'd make a comment, but while I do know how to do a smiley face in writing, I don't know how to a 'who-gives-a-fuck shrug.' This is news?

*Spanish Archer = El Bow.

Steyn on the money

As Simon Pound once said here, "by jillikers, Mark Steyn can sometimes be on the money." Or something like that. You don't read him for a few weeks, and then you find the bastard has been cranking out columns of brilliance that you've been missing out on.

Here's a summary of some recent feats of insight:
  • 'Media deserve blame for New Orleans debacle': The media were stangers to the truth in the week of Katrina, says Steyn. "Hurricane week was in large part a week of drivel, mostly the bizarre fantasies of New Orleans' incompetent police chief but amplified hugely by a gullible media."
  • 'Sayonara Kyoto': Blair concedes Kyoto is a crock; Steyn crows. "Here's what I wrote about Kyoto at the time of the Bush Administration's rejection of it. It's not a complicated issue. The only wonder is that it took Tony Blair four years to concede publicly the conclusion I make in my final paragraph."
  • 'Right-Wing Europe': Steyn says if Europe is 'centre-right,' then he's a Dutchman. "That’s right: The EU – you know, the EUnuchs, the Euro-weenies, the proverbial cheese-eating surrender-monkeys, etc – are four-fifths 'centre-right.' Half a decade ago, they were all centre-left Third Wayers. But having put its left foot in, Europe pulled its left foot out, stuck its right foot in and shook it all about..."
  • 'Islam or Boom': Terrorists return to Bali. Bali, the west , and 27 familes are poorer for it. "...despite Clive Williams's game attempt to connect the two on this page yesterday, nobody seriously thinks what happened in Bali has anything to do with Iraq. There are, in the end, no root causes, or anyway not ones that can be negotiated by troop withdrawals or a Palestinian state. There is only a metastasising cancer that preys on whatever local conditions are to hand."

Strayhorn WordPress1.5

I'm impressed to find that the new version of WordPress1.5 is called 'Strayhorn,'
in honor of Billy Strayhorn the pianist and sublime composer who worked closely with Duke Ellington and wrote tunes like 'Take the A Train' and 'Lush Life.' We thought he was perfect to represent the power and elegance of this release, which has been under intense development and testing the past few months.
As a Strayhorn and Ellington fan myself, I'm most impressed. If you're also impressed, and you've either got your own blog domain or you're planning to migrate from Blogger (Yes, I know, some of you have just migrated to Blogger after problems eslewhere!), then you can go here and download. I'm told very good things about it.
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Coromandel cottage

Small cottage designed for a couple, in the Coromandel foothills.
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Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Greenspan returns to his roots

When Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Strong died in 1928, the market juggling with which the Fed was struggling fell in a heap, and the world caught a case of economic pneumonia. Incumbent Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, nearing retirement and speaking at the Kansas City Fed's annual symposium, shows he is both keenly aware of his legacy and his place in history, and concerned too at the prospect of the economy catching a cold with his departure on January 31st.

Bloomberg's Caroline Baum says Greenspan's was a speech of two halves, in which both his heroes Adam Smith and Ayn Rand featured :

[First] Greenspan provided a brief history of the changing attitudes toward the government's role in the economy: the free- market capitalism of Adam Smith that prevailed in the 19th and early 20th centuries; the attempt at interventionist, demand-side management advocated by John Maynard Keynes during the 1930s Depression...; the resultant stifling of competition and economic stagnation of the 1970s; the failure of wage and price controls and eventual disillusion with regulation; and the ultimate triumph of free markets when "the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 exposed the economic ruin behind the Iron Curtain," Greenspan said.

It was Atlas Shrugged without Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden to lead us through the struggle. Greenspan was present at the creation of Ayn Rand's masterpiece as part of the free-market philosopher's inner circle in the 1950s. It makes perfect sense that as he gets ready to retire from the Fed on Jan. 31, Greenspan would create an idealized image of himself, even if it differs from reality.
But that's not quite an accurate portrait of the speech. Rather than talking up his role, Greenspan then declared his unshakeble belief in Adam Smith's invisible hand and the power of market forces, and his view that despite the liberalisation of the world's economies there is perhaps still too much dependence on uber-gurus like himself:

Governments today, although still far more activist than in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are rediscovering the benefits of competition and the resilience to economic shocks that it fosters. We are also beginning to recognize an international version of Smith's invisible hand in the globalization of economic forces.

Whether by intention or by happenstance, many, if not most, governments in recent decades have been relying more and more on the forces of the marketplace and reducing their intervention in market outcomes. We appear to be revisiting Adam Smith's notion that the more flexible an economy, the greater its ability to self-correct after inevitable, often unanticipated disturbances. That greater tendency toward self-correction has made the cyclical stability of the economy less dependent on the actions of macroeconomic policymakers, whose responses often have come too late or have been misguided.
He then suggested, counter-intuitively to some, that the Fed's economic management itself somewhat discourages the necessary strength and agility that allows these self-corrections to happen. To the extent the Fed's management is successful, he sggested, it necessarily alters investors' perception of economic risk, and it also makes the Fed the focus when asset bubbles happen, rather than the focus being on the misalignments themselves.

Relying on policymakers to perceive when speculative asset bubbles have developed and then to implement timely policies to address successfully these misalignments in asset prices is simply not realistic.
Is he perhaps suggesting that the time has come to diminish the role of the Fed? Or is he just trying to allow his successor -- whoever that may be -- to settle into the job without the same glare of attention the incumbent enjoys. What's your call?

An earlier version of Greenspan's speech is online here.

Commies aren't cool.

If like me just don't get this joy some people have in walking around with a picture of a murderer on their chest, here's a bunch of T-shirts you might prefer.

What's inside some of them isn't too bad either.

Jorn Utzon

There's at least one architectural masterpiece that everyone in Australasia knows...

Tuesday, 4 October 2005

Nandor goes bush

Nandor's gone as an MP and gone bush to clear his head. Reactions to his departure from the parliamentary complex have ranged from the eulogistic -- "I will never forget the people I met who had life changing stories to say about you" -- to the humorous -- Rasta la vista baby -- to the occasional celebratory "Fuck him; let's dance."

He did mature from his early days as an MP when he helped vandalise a researcher's crops down at Lincoln, and he might perhaps have been the only Greens' MP that had at least a visceral commitment to personal freedom. (This was a party that ran on the policy of raising the drinking age. Go figure.) So that's the end of that then. In that respect at least, there are worse MPs that well-deserved the chop before him. Nick Smith for instance. Or Keith Locke.

Tanczos said his "biggest disappointment is that we did not complete cannabis law reform. There are 20,000 cannabis convictions a year and it's an absolute waste of police and court time and young people's lives, for what is essentially just a herb."

Tanczos said there was a certain irony that if a portion of the 5748 people who voted for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party had voted Green, he an advocate for reform would have been back in parliament.
But as Zippy Gonzales says in response to a similar bleat from the FrogBlog, "Blaming ALCP won't get the Greens anywhere. If they wanted the stoner vote, the Greens should have done something like, y'know, included it in their campaign." Excellent point. Anyone for an instant fine?

[UPDATE: Russell Brown's interview with Nandor Tanczos on the past six years and where-to-now on the 95bFM Wire show is archived here.]
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What was the election for, then?

For once, I'm almost in agreement with Rodney.
TV One’s Guyon Espiner reports what the parties want:

Greens: 500,000 solar panels and a “buy kiwi made” campaign.

Maori Party: Review the Foreshore and Seabed Act.

New Zealand First: Golden Age card increasing entitlements to senior citizens and removing GST from petrol.

United Future: No change to cannabis law and retain the Families Commission.

Add in Labour’s free loans to students. And ask yourself was that really what the whole campaign was about?
No steps forward then (with the possible exception of the unjust Foreshore and Seabed Act), but at least only baby steps backwards. Given what we've had to put up with in preceding years, that's some sort of a boon. The legislature will soon be back in session, and as Mark Twain warned neither property nor liberty will be safe, but if this is the extent of the new impositions to be exacted upon us, we might at least reflect that while things could be an awful lot better, it could very well have been much, much worse.

Release of the 'Capitalist Manifesto'

Andrew Bernstein's Capitalist Manifesto is a new book with balls that defends capitalism as the world's most moral and most practical solution. Ed Younkins reviews it here. Australia's Prodos interviews the author in his online radio show here.

From the review:
This tour de force presentation thoroughly and eloquently addresses virtually every question or criticism anyone has ever made about the morality or practicality of capitalism.
From the interview:
  • Capitalism as "The system of the Enlightenment" - even though that happened a century or so earlier;
  • The connection between human rights, freedom, and prosperity.
  • What capitalism has done for the Arts.
  • What is ACTUALLY the central, foundational principle of the capitalist system?
  • Capitalism as the system of the mind.
And much, much more.

Linked Articles: A Review of Andrew Bernstein's "The Capitalist Manifesto"
Interview with author Andrew Bernstein

Bagging the Ice-man

All that banging on that everyone did a few weeks back about people in a disaster zone charging ten bucks for a bag of ice: turns out now that FEMA wasted over $100 million of ice that was intended to help to hurricane victims. So much for the power of government coordination in a crisis.

As the Mises blog notes with some asperity,
One frustrated truck driver had to drive 2,000 pounds of ice around for 4,100 miles, being redirected half a dozen times, and waiting up to a week (with the engine running) for FEMA to make up their mind. 59% of the purchased ice was never used, and much of it ended up thousands of miles from the affected areas because not enough storage space had been arranged. A homeland security report stated that the problem was that there is "no automated way to coordinate quantities of commodities with the people available to accept and distribute them." But not to worry, because “there are programs in the works that will help us better track commodities.”

Hmm, an automated way to coordinate quantities of commodities with the people available to distribute and consume them. I think I’ve read about something like that.

It's called a free market.
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A lucky bastard goes to 'Siegfried'

A friend had the good fortune to attend his first Wagner opera: 'Siegfried' at Covent Garden. I'm very happy to report it wasn't wasted on him...

Wow! Wow! Just fucking WOW! You were right, and Perigo is wrong. As wrong as Rand was on Beethoven.

I walked out of that feeling like I had *lived* through that opera, rather than merely watched it. It was exactly as you say: listeners with a three -minute span of attention should look elsewhere. This was five hours of total immersion!

Where to start? I guess the great thing about this production was that the singing was first rate. Siegfried himself was tireless with a very strong voice, and, although I don't have any point of comparison, it seemed to me he expressed the irrepressible joie de vivre of Siegfried just right. I was also blown away by the bass voice of the dragon, Fafner. His voice, was, according to my partner (a soprano singer herself) cleverly amplified, but the booming depth of it was simply wonderful.

However, if there was a show stealer, it was certainly Wotan. The richness, depth and sheer volume of the singer's voice was unmistakeable. And the two stand-out scenes for me both involve his character. The first was the interchange between Wotan, Fafner and Alberich at the
opening of Act II, where Wotan's regal and sumptuous themes are matched by the even more imperious themes of the dragon. This was just mind-blowingly good, and I don't think I've ever appreciated the sheer staunchness and masculinity of the male voice as much as I have while experiencing this booming interchange.

The second was the opening scene to ACT III, where Wotan laments his imminent loss of power. Here the power of John Tomlinson's voice was clear to everyone. This scene brought the highlight of the production itself. Wotan lay on a very large square tilted at an angle that
spun around quite quickly, with swirling clouds somehow projected onto it. It really was a glorious spectacle, and quite befitting the scene. These imperious interchanges were what really grabbed me, however there was plenty of entertainment to be had elsewhere, in particular through the hilarious Act I interchanges between Siegfried and the dwarf, Mime.

The production itself ranged from fabulous (see above), to appalling. Fortunately, the appalling bits did not interfere with the spectacle too much, although the post-modern touches were all too clear. The central piece in Mime's cave throughout Act I was a plane wreckage, and much of the action took place on or around a broken wing. Bizarre. And the "anvil" which gets broken by Siegfried's sword, Nothung, looked to me like a hospital trolley.

Somehow none of this was too intrusive however. The low point was most certainly the sequence where Siegfried goes off by himself in Act II to ponder about his parents in the forest. At this point some sort of stuffed deer and what looked like a stuffed sheep were wheeled in on two
more hospital trolleys. At this point I was shuffling irritatedly in my seat, but I needn't have worried too much because things generally got better from there, except for some weird metallic box on the 'dragon's' head.

And of course the Royal Opera House is itself a wonderful setting, and the orchestra first class. Fortunately, I had forked out a bit extra to get central seats and ensure that we weren't craning our necks around corners or being blocked from part of the view. For a five hour spectacle, it was certainly worth it.

At the end of each Act the audience went wild, and I have never heard such applause for any performance of anything, anywhere as at the end. Nor had my partner, who is obviously far more experienced in these things. The applause for the singers was certainly deserved, however as I stood there clapping like mad with the rest of the cheering, bellowing audience, I felt that I
was clapping Wagner himself more than anyone. I was totally gripped by the whole wondrous spectacle and the time flew by. What a wonderful achievement this epic is, and I still have three more to experience!

You were right PC; today I truly felt like a lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky bastard.

Monday, 3 October 2005

Ken Ring on 'Sunday'

Last night's 'Sunday' programme examined the Ken Ring phenomenon I blogged about the other day in Lunatic?. Feel free to let me know if you saw it, and if you either changed your opinion as a result of the programme, or had it reinforced.

Some coalition questions

Now the results are in, some questions for the coming week's ducking and diving in the Smokefree rooms around Bellamy's and the Beehive that might be answered by week's end:

Can the Greens bear to be left outside cabinet? But can Labour afford to have then inside cabinet? Could they really be trusted with Energy and Transport? What trophy policies can Labour accept without frightening the horses?

Will Peter Dunne really do anything to be close to power?

When will the Maori Party know the minds of its members, given that their series of consultation hui will only start on Wednesday? And will this tardiness help to make the Maori Party's four seats irrelevant to the final coalition calculations?

If Labour can cook up a deal for Winston to support them, how long before he spits the dummy?

With the possible combinations that Labour can cook up offering such slim and insecure majorities, can Labour afford to contribute the Speaker this time? Might this mean that Clem Simich might have to do something, for the first time in his parliamentary career?

Will Helen just be satisfied with the achievement of a historic third term, even if it proves to be an impotent one in terms of the Labour agenda?

There are presently 300,000 New Zealanders receiving a State benefit. How many more will there be at the end of this term? Will this Government last three years? And when does Kofi Annan retire?

And the final question: Has anyone really minded not having a real government for the last fortnight? How long before the outrage begins again?

Female soldiers

Do you like your women armed and in uniform? So do the people who contributed to this rather odd site: pictures on this thread of female soldiers from around the world. God only knows what it has to do with an Islamic Republic, but the contributors seem to be enjoying it. Pictured here from L to R, representatives from Italy, Czech Republic and Canada. And if that beauty below really works in a Czech recruiting office, would she be enough on her own to make you think about joining up? Or would you need the image above to help motivate you to think at least about relocating?

A NZ Political Wiki is born

"TopSpin is a Wiki created to document and monitor New Zealand politics and politicians. We intend to document all parties and all mainstream media outlets."

"We" in this case is 'you' -- that is, Bernard Woolley and Antarctic Lemur who have set up the Wiki in the hope and expectation that contributors will volunteer to contribute content and maintain the currency of the content, just as they do with the excellent Wikipedia. Feel free to join in as a volunteer.

Sunday, 2 October 2005

A Katrina Sky?

I've been sent some spectacular photos of the threatening skies just before Katrina hit New Orleans.

A Sunday constitutional

I've been a fan of a constitution for some time, for one very specific reason: an effective constitution is the very best way to tie up a government.

Why is a constitution needed? Because in essence, good government is like a guard dog: it's there to protect us from being done over by others. However, if that dog is badly trained and it gets off the chain, we can be badly savaged -- more so sometimes than we would have been without the dog.

A constitution is our means of chaining up the government, and training it to act only in our protection.

As I’ve said already elsewhere, the task of government is to protect us against physical coercion and its derivative, fraud. Good government is the means by which retaliatory force is brought under objective control. A good constitution, properly written, brings the government itself under objective control.

Such a constitution was the intent of America’s Founding Fathers, but after nearly two-hundred years the success has been only partial. Building on the success of the US Constitution and seeking to close the loopholes exploited since its introduction, New Zealand libertarians have written a Constitution for New Freeland which sums up what we think a constitution should look like, and why.

  • The Crucial thing within any democratic system is that majority rule is limited; that important things are put beyond the vote, specifically the thing our government is sworn to protect: our rights. Such things should be in a Bill of Rights, and those rights clearly enumerated are what the government should be constituted to protect. You can see our proposed Bill of Rights here.

· The job of government is to protect its citizens, not to infringe the liberties of its own citizens except by following due process of law – a ‘Bill of Due Process’ clearly outlines under what circumstances and in what manner those liberties may be breached, and for what specifically limited purpose.

· The US Constitution has suffered from interpretations that have often been at odds with the declared intentions of the Constitution’s authors – the Constitution for New Freeland puts the intentions of its authors on the record in the ‘Notes on the Bills of Rights and Due Process.’

Every good constitution relies on two further important restraints on the growth of Omnipotent Government:

1) significant public understanding and support for the constitution and its protections, without which politicians and advocates of a ‘living constitution’ can pervert the constitutional protections as easily as the simple agreements given in the Treaty of Waitangi have been perverted;

2) government’s powers are separated, so that each of government’s three branches – legislature, judiciary and executive -- has some specified veto power over the others. The imperfect separation of powers in our present NZ constitutional arrangements shows the dangers of being without these essential checks and balances on political power.

The task of constitutional law is to delineate the legal structure of a country’s law; it must therefore be superior to all other laws, and law stepping outside the bounds of what is declared unconstitutional must be able to be struck down – an accessible Constitutional Court makes this possible.

The superiority of a constitution to all other law is both a good thing and a bad thing. What’s good is that once a watertight constitution properly protecting individual rights is in place, it acts to chain up the guard dog and to keep it on its leash for good. What’s bad is that once in place, a poor or anti-freedom constitution is very difficult to get rid of.

As history demonstrates -- and the constitutional conference of 2000 and the current Select Committee review of NZ’s constitutional arrangements foreshadow – a bad constitution poorly written can give the erstwhile guard dog control of the back yard and the house, and rather than protecting us it then has no impediment to doing us over.

Liberty, as Thomas Jefferson suggested, requires eternal vigilance.

Saturday, 1 October 2005

Final count

Just announced: Special votes have now all been counted. National lose one seat, leaving an overhang of only one seat There are no other changes. Welcome to Helengrad.

Books around the house

Here's a bunch of what I'm reading at the moment. If you're not interested, just turn the electronic page.

Putting Humans First: Why We Are Nature's Favorite, by Tibor Machan

Ludwig von Mises: The Man and His Economics, by Israel Kirzner

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

The Business of Ecology, ed. by Leigh Cato

The Essential Hemingway, by Ernest Hemingway

Music and the Mind, Anthony Storr

I'm enjoying all of them immensely. Do you generally have more than one book going at once? It's always worked that way for me.

Unintelligent design, Part 3

Continued from yesterday.... Do you remember the Scopes Monkey Trial, which was immortalised in a play and two exceptional films titled 'Inherit the Wind'? Creationists in Tennessee passed a law banning the teaching of evolution in schools; when the law was challenged in court, both Creationism and its defenders were shown to be, as Bill Lawrie would say, completely lacking in logic.

The 'Intelligent Design' movement is in many ways a rearguard action against this embarrassing loss. ID attempts to move on from the obvious idiocies of Creationism by wrapping myth in an aura of scientism rather than poetry. Despite the aura, it is still a movement attempting to give respectability to stupidity. Tom Cruise's Scientology almost begins to look sane by comparison.

"Every living cell contains many ultrasophisticated molecular machines," says ID proponent Michael J. Behe. So? There is no logical connection, nor any shown causal connection, between naturally occurring complexity and a Creator that brought that complexity into the world. Just because machines of man-made complexity are products of intention and design is no reason to extrapolate this intentionality into naturally occurring entities or processes. Crikey, that's been pointed out since Greek scientists began their inquiries nearly 2,500 years ago. As Benny Hill used to say, "Why you no 'rissen!"

Ayn Rand pointed out there is a profound confusion in a claim such as Behe's: a confusion between things on the one hand about which there is some choice, that is, things that are man-made, that someone has chosen to design and to produce, and might very well have chosen to produce otherwise; and another class of things that in her words are "metaphysically given," that is, entities or processes that exist in nature, and whose properties are given by the nature of the entity, and about which neither choice nor free will can apply. The key to the difference between these two classes of entities is that human beings have free will, whereas nature does not.

Man-made things are generally as someone chose them to be (I exclude here my numerous failed efforts to produce a decent home brew); natural things by contrast are as their nature determined them to be (in the case of home brew, manifestly determined to piss me off).

Was existence itself brought into existence by a Creator? There's no evidence for that claim, and nor is there any need for it. Nor is there any evidence for the claim of there being a Creator -- and as I said Thursday, if you say that existence was brought into existence by a Creator then you have the 'infinite regression' challenge of explaining how the Creator who brought everything into existence came into existence herself. There is no evidence for a Creator; there is however abundant evidence for existence. That existence exists is axiomatic, meaning that no explanation is actually needed to explain its presence. As Ayn Rand put it:
"To grasp the axiom that existence exists, means to grasp the fact that nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence. Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, it is not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the Law of Identity."
Proponents of 'Intelligent Design' completely fail to grasp that point. (And they aren't the only ones.) It is somewhat hard to grasp, it's true, but it's much harder to grasp the fact that otherwise intelligent people believe in an Intelligent Watchmaker who somehow brings order to the universe through his very will. Because here's the thing: if we do see an 'order' in existence, if things look orderly to us, then we might reflect that the 'order' is what we ourselves bring to the judgement of existence; existence itself is neither ordered nor disordered, it is just what it is, and it could be no other way.

That's right. Things couldn't be any other way than what we are -- there is no alternative existence in which all possible forms of existence were worked out; if anything were substantially different, if for instance the weight of the Hydrogen nucleus were something other than what it is, we would not be here to talk about it. Things would be different, and we wouldn't be here to talk about it over a Martini.

Further, to ask 'what caused existence' is itself a silly question. Existence does not require a cause; causality is inside existence, not vice versa. Causal explanations do back to what exists, not the other way around. The universe itself, meaning all that exists, has no cause -- if you insist on poetry, you might say that existence is its own cause. Nathaniel Branden summarises the point:
Existence is all that exists, the non-existent does not exist; there is nothing for existence to have come out of and nothing means nothing. If you are tempted to ask, ‘What’s outside the universe?’ recognize that you’re asking, ‘What’s outside existence?’ and that the idea of something outside of existence is a contradiction in terms; nothing is outside of existence, and ‘nothing’ is not just another kind of ‘something’—it is nothing. Existence exists; you cannot go outside it, you cannot get under it, on top of it, or behind it. Existence exists, and only existence exists: there is nowhere else to go.
So there you go.

In any case, who is this all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-perfect designer that ID proponents posit as the Prime Mover of it all, and that millions around the world worship? According to just some of the evidence produced by those who support the notion of a Creator, their personal choice of God is responsible in the past for razing entire cities to the ground in a fit of pique [Gen. 19:24], encouraging child rape [Gen. 19:8], and sending bears to kill the children of disobedient followers [2 Kings 2:23-24].

So, both all-powerful and all-loving then.

Indeed, if she does exist, then God has been busy since Boxing Day. The Asian tsunami killed 200,000 or so, and an all-powerful Being must also have designed -- or at least allowed to happen -- a series of weather patterns that devastated vast swathes of the God-fearing USA. What a great sheila, huh? What a Loving God. Or at least, what a creation, since the only place this entity exists is in the minds of those who need to believe in, or to explain, something they can't, or won't, understand.

Let's move on from the imperfection or unattractiveness of this 'all-perfect' God that's been created by some as a super-position of their own selves. Instead, let's examine the imperfections of her 'creation', the creation that Intelligent Design bunnies praise so highly: what about, for example, our own bodies -- those temples of perfection that God created in her own image and likeness. As an examination of either your own body or your neighbour's will demonstrate (put her down!), it's certainly 'irreducibly complex' (and decidedly pleasurable if you do it right), but WTF is the point of all those coughs, colds, cataracts, cancers, the appendix (what's with that?), gout and all those ongoing chronic spinal problems and arthritis as those bodies get older? What sort of bad design is all that anyway? Baaaad Watchmaker. And what's the deal with people being born with spina bifida and multiple sclerosis, and all those birth defects and congenital deformities? And what sort of way is that to give birth? Who designed the birth canal for goodness sake! Just who is this Creator trying to punish, and for what...?

Now, as sober reflection will demonstrate, there is no supernatural being 'punishing' anyone. The whole idea of a supernatural Creator is just absurd on its face; we are how we are because that is who we are. Our nature was not chosen for us by an Intelligent Designer; our nature is given to us by the Law of Identity: we are what we are, and once we understand that we can, if we understand how to do so, change some things, as long as we do so in a manner consistent with our Identity. There is no more evidence for a Creator or any supernatural Prime Mover than there is for green spiders on Mars, and the onus of proof for those asserting the existence of either is on those who assert that there is.

Nor do we even know anything about this Designer. Apart from the 'evidence' adduced above, all we have boils down to assertions she is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, immaterial, immortal, and infinite, and exists outside what we understand to be the universe. Frankly, this amounts on its face to nothing more than an embarrassing admission that we know nothing about this entity. To say that this is a useful description of the Chief Designer is an admission that 1) we don't' really know what she is specifically, but that she is unlimited in some way we're quite unable or unwilling to specify; and 2) that we're happy to accept the multitude of contradictions that these mutually contradictory descriptions require. The acceptance of the existence of a Designer demands faith, and it demands too the denial of reason.

Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he died and found himself in Heaven, and God asked him why he was not religious during his life. Russell said he would reply, "Not enough evidence!" That's what this whole case boils down to. There's plenty of evidence that existence exists, but none at all for a Designer who created it all, and not a skerrick to suggest that the existence of which we do have immediate first-hand experience even needs a causal explanation. After all, wave your hand around and there it all is. Hard to explain all that stuff away, but hard to explain something about which there is not a scintilla of evidence, only a mountain of wishful thinking called faith.


There is one single reason for the birth of the Intelligent Design chimera, and that is to smuggle Creationism back into American schools and so allow the continued indoctrination of impressionable young minds with supernatural nonsense. By giving equal measure to science on the one hand, and to faith on the other, its proponents hopes to give belief in faith and the supernatural some legs for a few more years. It's not intelligent, in fact it's completely transparent, and it amazes me that in the Twenty-First Century such stupidity still gets house room.

And that's my last word.

This is the last of a 3 part series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.
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Friday, 30 September 2005

Pop star or porn star?

Pop star or porn star? Guess right and you get fifty points. Guess wrong and, well, you still haven't really lost out, have you.

A great game for a Friday night. Linked game here.

Eaten by absurdity

NEWS STORY, BBC: A man is believed to have been killed by a crocodile in northern Australia - the second fatal attack there in less than a week. The 56-year-old man was scuba diving with a friend on the Cobourg Peninsula, in the Northern Territory. In a separate incident last Saturday, Briton Russell Harris was killed while snorkelling near Groote Eylandt.

Would anyone are to reconsider any viewpoints expressed in some earlier discussions here at Not PC? I said in Protecting a predator when decrying a ban on hunting sharks, "This directly pits the anti-concept of 'intrinsic values'-- which environmentalists employ to say things should be protected 'as is, where is'--against real human values, such as the value of human life, from which all real value is actually derived...A similarly stupid three-decade Australian ban on hunting crocodiles has seen numbers jump from 5,000 to 70,000, and an increase in savage croc attacks." This was met with opposition which ranged from saying I was "swept up in ... hysteria" to questioning whether this is such a big deal. The issue was engaged again in A new environmentalism: Putting humans first, where a new ethic and an alternative to blanket protection was discussed.

What's wrong, I ask you, with 'farming' wild animals so that everyone wins, instead of protecting predators and having human beings killed. Some debate on that matter has already been joined following these deaths. Graham Webb says very sensibly that opposition to ending the hunting ban is "absurd when you have animals eating people..."

"How would Melbourne or Sydney people go with crocodiles in their backyards? I can tell you, they would lose their patience very quickly," Professor Webb said. "Nothing is to be gained from being cruel to animals. But our conservation program up here is at stake because landowners have to have an incentive to put up with crocodiles -- it's important that landowners see crocodiles as an asset."