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."

Lawyers seek more sucking off state tit

Lawyers are threatening to pull out of legal aid work because the poor dears don't think they're pulling down enough of the taxpayers' money. Story from The Press here.
In 1997, a senior legal aid lawyer was paid between $150 and $180 an hour, compared to a Crown counsel rate of $183. In 1999, the senior lawyer rate dropped to between $130 and $160. Since then, Crown counsel payments have risen to $216... David Ruth, a member of Christchurch criminal lawyer lobby group Just Cause, said equality of legal representation for all was starting to become an issue. Unless legal aid rates were adjusted, he feared many senior criminal defence lawyers would go elsewhere, taking their experience with them...
Do you really think firms like Deborah Manning's McLeod & Associates would forego further opportunities to pull down $2 million from the taxpayers, as they have done already for the Ahmed Zaoui case? Who are they kidding. Here's three possible solutions to Mr Ruth's please: One is to drop the rate for Crown counsels as well; another is to nationalise all the bloody lawyers; the third is one proposed by H.L. Mencken that I suggested a few weeks back to the Ass Editor of the Law Society journal, who was panhandling politicians in a similar manner before the election. Oddly enough, I never heard back from the chap.

Unintelligent design, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.... Speaking of myths, as we were yesterday, here's a candidate for 'The Emperor's New Clothes, Part 2': The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity' by Michael J. Behe is touted as an "Intelligent Design position statement" by its author. Sadly, it's neither intelligent, nor evidential in the way the author intends.
How can we decide [says Behe] whether Darwinian natural selection can account for the amazing complexity that exists at the molecular level? Darwin himself set the standard when he acknowledged, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." Some systems seem very difficult to form by such successive modifications -- I call them irreducibly complex.
That's really the crux of his argument. As an argument it's poor, and it sets up a false alternative: either Darwin or Behe's Creator. But we don't even need to point out the logical error he's committing, because as we see Behe fails even to get his argument off the ground:
Irreducibly complex systems appear very unlikely to be produced by numerous, successive, slight modifications of prior systems, [says Behe] because any precursor that was missing a crucial part could not function. Natural selection can only choose among systems that are already working, so the existence in nature of irreducibly complex biological systems poses a powerful challenge to Darwinian theory.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. H. Allen Orr responds to this nonsense rather too politely:
Behe's colossal mistake is that, in rejecting these possibilities, he concludes that no Darwinian solution remains. But one does. It is this: An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become - because of later changes - essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required
Orr is too polite because Darwin himself explained this process with regard to the human eye. The eye, he conceded, might at first sight be considered too complex to have been formed by natural selection. However,
if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.
Science has proved Darwin right on this point as on every other. As James Watson explains, evolution is not a Theory, it is a Law. As the youngsters say on such matters, "Deal with it."

This is Part 2 of a three-part series concluding tomorrow. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.

[UPDATE: Links fixed. Please explore the links before commenting -- you will find many of your questions are already answered there.]
Categories: ,

Global warming and the war in Iraq: The Link!

There is a link between global warming and the war in Iraq that I haven't seen picked up before, and is not without irony. The link is provided by the concept of risk, and how it relates to the arguments given for action in each case.

Irfan Khawaja spotted the link, so I'll let him explain:
Opponents of the Iraq war have typically argued that absent hard evidence of Iraqi WMD stockpiles, we had no business using force to disarm Iraq. In the case [of global warming], however, left-leaning environmentalists argue that absent hard evidence of danger, we're obliged to take drastic action.
Scientists such as NASA scientist James Hansen goes even further: he thinks it was appropriate to sex up the evidence for global warming in order to gain attention for the unproven. Now however that the scientific gravy train is up and running (with him on it) he is releasing estimates of warming trends. The need was different then than it is now, he argues. "Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue… Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic." Irfan's translation: "It might have been OK to deceive the public about global warming a few years ago, but now the game is up, so let's just tell the honest truth from here on out."
Hansen's "principle" here is an exact replica of the Bush Administration's strategy during 2002-2003 in discussing Iraqi WMD: emphasize extreme scenarios as a matter of consciousness-raising; then, when confronted with counter-evidence, ratchet things back and try haplessly to explain that the exaggerations, while exaggerated, did after all point to a real problem requiring a solution. Then pray that no one calls you on your squalid and stupid rhetorical manuever. Of course, if you are George Bush the Fundamentalist, your prayers will fail, and everyone will forever after say things like "Bush Lies--Soldiers Die." If you are an atheist environmentalist, on the other hand, your prayers will succeed and no one will notice your brazen manipulation of public opinion. Funny how that works.
Anyway, our environmentalists need to get their principles straight. Does weak evidence of a high-stakes event justify drastic action to prevent the event? I think it can--in both the Iraqi and global warming cases. But one can't have one's risk and eat it, too. One can't argue that 12 years of UN reports on Iraqi failure to disarm can be dismissed as "insufficient evidence of an imminent threat," while simultaneously insisting that weak evidence of global warming has to be played up so as to justify passing the Kyoto Treaty.
As he says, consistency: there oughta be a law!

Linked article: Global Warming: Pro and Con

My God Daughter

I don't have children -- "fortunately" I hear many of you cry -- but I do have a god-daughter (or is that 'God Daughter'?). Leonella Acquaye will be four this week, and I've never even seen her. Currently, she and her family are moving between Moscow and Accra, Ghana, where her father Philip is just starting up as a contractor. I know he's going to do well, and he deserves to. All the best, Phil, and happy birthday Leonella.

Here's a picture of some sheep and some landscape so you can see what you're missing by not coming here instead.

Halle Berry. Spot the difference...


One has been airbrushed, and one hasn't... can you tell which one. Or why, for sighing out loud? Bloody philistines.
Photographer Glenn C. Feron has plenty of other airbrushed examples at his site, all with a fancy 'mouse-over' arrangement that I couldn't import. Have a look.

Thursday, 29 September 2005

'Maori Health' author interviewed

bFM's Noelle McCarthy has a useful interview with Peter Cacciopoli, discussing what he and Noelle call the 'libertarian' view that Maori have a right to ignore the political busybodies and health nazis and to live their own lifestyle as they see fit. Cacciopoli is the co-author of the Kotahitanga Community Trust's book called Maori Health, which has attracted opprobrium and outrage in equal measure.

Not PC has had occasion in the past to praise the Kotahitanga Trust, whose school newsletter proudly declared some months ago "We believe it is more important to teach Maori kids to read, write and count than it is to ensure that ineffective state providers are protected by the Crown from competition." The school has now been closed By Order of the Ministry. Looks like there are some people who do understand the importance of weaning themselves from the State, even if the State would rather they didn't.
Categories: ,

Confiscation alert in Wellington

NEWS STORY, 'The Dominion': Hundreds of Wellington and Hutt Valley properties, including prestigious inner-city ones, have been listed as possible settlement options for one of New Zealand's biggest urban Treaty of Waitangi claims... The properties are all currently or were previously owned by the Crown and are subject to a part of the State Owned Enterprises Act 1986 that is known as a Section 27[B] memorial.

Once again today another blogger has both news and commentary that I couldn't really disagree with; Gman deservedly excoriates both the decision and the timing of its announcement: "Gee, they waited until after the election to let this get out didn't they?" You think? And as he says, how bloody treacherous that the National Party-- remember 'One Law for All' -- are singing 'Silent Night' on this one.

Chartwell homeowner John Williams was amazed, however, to hear his property was subject to a Treaty claim. "I don't understand where the claimants are coming from." He said he bought his section in 1982 and had lived there since 1991. He had no plans to sell. "I'm very happy here."

However, it does seem from the report that at least some of the present land-owners have a beef elsewhere than just the usual suspects. The 'Section 27B memorial' was added to Richard Prebble's 1986 'State Owned Enterprises Act' in 1988, at which point all new titles in the area should have included the rider that "in specified circumstances, the Crown may take back or “resume” a property to be used in settling a Treaty claim." If land-owners or their lawyers who arrived after 1988 didn't know about this, then they need to get themselves a better lawyer.

Those who bought before 1988 however, like Mr Williams above, have a beef at a culture and a Government that has neither respect nor understanding for private property rights.

ACT join National?

The National Whig proposes that ACT join National. In my opinion, they might as well; as long as ACT stays at the softcock end of the principled spectrum their policies will continue to be picked up by the Nats, so they may as well just merge and be done with it. There's bugger all difference between them now anyway.

My question for ACT's libertarians still applies: if ACT can't support the five measures I suggest, why support the party anyway? What's its raison d'ĂȘtre anymore?

PS: Isn't it time for Dick Prebble to realise he's a retired MP now? How about he shut the fuck up with the incessant post-election commenting and just shuffle off the stage gracefully. Or has he found now he's stepped down that he just can't bear to leave the limelight behind?

Why Scott likes Tony Blair

LibertyScott has summarised the reasons he can't not like Tony Blair -- the double-negative is intentional. His reasons are mine.
1. Blair is principled; 2. Blair is unashamedly willing to confront those who oppose him and argue out of principle. Yesterday I watched Blair’s speech at the British Labour Party Conference on TV (the BBC still covers political party conferences for nuts like me), and I came away inspired.
Find out why by reading on.
Categories:

Hacking Blogger to get categories

As you might notice, I'm going to try and implement Categories here at Not PC to make the archives more accessible -- the Classic blogs down there on the sidebar can only endure so many more new entries before they start to take over, so categorising all of them seems the way to go.

I'm going to start with the workaround for Blogger posted at FreshBlog. Feel free to suggest improvements.
Categories:

Unintelligent design, Part 1

The comment by Berend and the landmark US trial have prompted me to delve into the subject of so-called 'Intelligent Design,' a title that seems to me to beg the very question it seeks to prove. 'Intelligent Design' is Creationism in a lab coat: this idiocy was once thrown out the front door of intelligent debate; it now tries to come back in wearing new clothes and some slick shades, but the same old hand-me-down quality is still evident.

Why do these fundamentalists bother? They do so because fundamentally they haven't gone past the primitive explanations of primitive man.

Several Millennia ago, primitive man saw lightning, floods and other phenomena he couldn't explain and decided that the explanation for what he didn't understand was that 'a god -- or even several gods -- caused it, organised it or was otherwise responsible for it. This 'explanation' simply gave him a name for that which he couldn't yet explain, but by pushing explanation back for another day it brought into being the psychological phenomena of supernaturalism.

And pushing it back caused another problem: if a god was the cause of the lightning, then who or what was the cause of the god? Another god? And the cause of that god? Seemed like this wasn't an explanation so much as an infinite regression; an excuse for not simply admitting, when faced with utter ignorance of the seemingly incomprehensible, "I just don't know." Nothing wrong with not knowing, but an awful lot wrong with just making stuff up to cover your ignorance.

The explanation provided by primitive man to 'explain' things is still with us -- God did it! -- even as the reasons for honestly saying "I don't know" have diminished exponentially. Proponents of so-called Intelligent Design today claim for example that "there are natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural forces and that exhibit features which in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence." William Dembski for one believes that "an object must be the product of intelligent design if it shows'“specified complexity'.” 'Complexity' supposedly confounds explanation, and opens the door for idiocy.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of intelligent minds around to combat the idiocy. James Watson of Watson-and-Crick fame -- the chaps who discovered the secret of DNA -- had this to say recently on how science liberates us from the supernatural :
One of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural, and it was a lesson that my father passed on to me, that knowledge liberates mankind from superstition. We can live our lives without the constant fear that we have offended this or that deity who must be placated by incantation or sacrifice, or that we are at the mercy of devils or the Fates. With increasing knowledge, the intellectual darkness that surrounds us is illuminated and we learn more of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

Let us not beat about the bush — the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a "theory" in the same way as string theory is a theory is wrong. Evolution is a law (with several components) that is as well substantiated as any other natural law, whether the law of gravity, the laws of motion or Avogadro's law. Evolution is a fact, disputed only by those who choose to ignore the evidence, put their common sense on hold and believe instead that unchanging knowledge and wisdom can be reached only by revelation.
He's right, you know, and his article provides sound argument for Darwin's Law, and an acerbic criticism of the New Creationism. Have a good read. As he says, "We can only hope that a time will soon come when rational, skeptical thought renders the creationists' stories as what they are — myths." Too true.

This is Part 1 of a three-part piece. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.
Categories: ,

Man meets Dragon

Wagner's Siegfried, image from Act 2 of 1952 Bayreuth production. Enlightenment Man meets a modern dragon. Stark symbolism.
Categories: ,

Wednesday, 28 September 2005

Green charm offensive was the latter

'Greens ready to show their horns,' was yesterday's Herald headline. Apparently they did, and business didn't like them.

Despite Rod Donald telling Kim Hill he was a "radical capitalist" a week before the election (remember the election?), the Greens failed yesterday to charm invited business representatives in a bid to make themselves acceptable as a cabinet option in a Labour-led coalition. Story here.

"Unimpressed," "a wasted opportunity," "a lot of people will agree to disagree," and "the Greens [do] not understand business" were just some of the comments from those attending the meeting. "Frankly, the Green Party policies on trade, on roading, are just not acceptable," said one. So that obviously went well then.

Apparently Rod Donald is not a unicorn, as he bizarrely described himself yesterday.
Categories: ,

Taxing profits stifles oil production

Several years ago when the West was in the grip of the Oil Shocks, Ayn Rand asked her friend Alan Greenspan what would happen if all the taxes were taken off the oil companies, including the taxes, regulations and government-imposed disincentives discouraging exploration. Greenspan laughed and said we'd have oil shooting up from under our feet. What he meant was that with a drastic drop in the costs of exploration and developments, known fields that were either marginal or uneconomic would leap into production as the financial barriers to production were removed, and exploration for new fields would leap ahead.

Seems like he's still saying something similar thirty years later (though infinitely more nuanced), only few seem to be listening. James Glassman is listening; he's one of the few arguing against the foolish notion that taxing the "windfall profits" of oil producers will somehow ... well, somehow make oil cheaper. If that sounds stupid, it's because the proposal comes from a bunch of politicians, in this case the US Senate (Collective noun: A simpleton of Senators). As Glassman points out:

The United States has tried this before, between 1980 and 1987, and the results were hugely counter-productive, according to a 1990 Congressional Research Service report... "The WPT reduced domestic oil production between 3 and 6 percent, and increased oil imports from between 8 and 16 percent," says the report....

Energy companies are in a very risky business. They (and the investors and lenders who back them) commit hundreds of billions of dollars annually to searching for oil and gas, and to building or expanding refineries, ports and pipelines. These projects take many years to complete and the pay-off down the road is highly uncertain. It's tough enough to make investment decisions in anticipation of market conditions that can change overnight, but why spend vast sums to develop energy if -- as a reward -- government hits you with a special tax? So, with a Windfall Profit Tax (WPT), oil companies cut back.
When governments tax tobacco, everyone gets excited that this will discourage smoking. Why then when governments tax oil exploration and oil production do people exhibit surprise that this discourages both. You'd have to be a simpleton not to see the wider implication -- or maybe just a Senator.

Linked article.

[UPDATE: "The price of oil remains high only because the cost of oil remains so low." Peter Huber and Mark Mills explain the numbers involved with oil exploration and extraction in January's Wall Street Journal -- "The market price of oil is indeed hovering up around $50 a barrel on the spot market. But getting oil to the surface currently costs under $5 a barrel in Saudi Arabia, with the global average cost certainly under $15. And with technology already well in hand, the cost of sucking oil out of the planet we occupy simply will not rise above roughly $30 a barrel for the next 100 years at least."]
Categories: ,

Which State?

How 'bout that. If I moved to the States, I'd be a Noo Yawker. I know 'cos a quiz told me so. Good thing really, since Louisiana is underwater, and Utah is full of Mormons. Go on, try it yourself. See which State you should move to .

You scored as NEW YORK.

NEW YORK 84%
LOUISIANA 50%
NEVADA 50%
UTAH 34%
WASHINGTON 33%
FLORIDA 25%
WYOMING 25%
California 8%

[Hat tip About Town]

Socially responsible alcohol sales, and other bollocks

NEWS ITEM: The Warehouse is mulling a move into alcohol sales as it gears up to launch hypermarket stores selling groceries.... Such a move would be a big break from The Warehouse's past, when founder and largest shareholder Stephen Tindall ruled out alcohol sales.

Should The Warehouse sell alcohol? What will this do to their 'triple bottom line'? And isn't Stephen Tindall a hypocrite to consider allowing this when he's [gasp] a founding member of the important-sounding NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development and a supporter of Dick (Mother) Hubbard's equally wet NZ Businesses for Social Responsibility?

My answers to those questions are below. But first, consider this: What 'social responsibility' do businesses really have? Hubbard, or just "Dick" as he prefers to be known by his employees and his psychotherapist, says businesses should be "giving back to the community" and the like -- but what the hell do they think their businesses do all day, for goodness sake? Steal from everyone? Kidnap consumers and make them empty their pockets? Find people happily unemployed and chain them to machines, desks and checkouts against their will? Turn all those blighted areas with unhappy, destitute people into happy, wealthy places full of enterprise and enjoyment? How dare they!

How silly. As Roger Kerr once said, "The business of businesses is business"; anything else is surely peripheral. Adam Smith pointed out, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest."
By pursuing his own interest [an individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.
What 'social responsibility' do businessmen really have when all is really said and done? Milton Friedman once famously declared in an article whose title summarises its point, 'The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.'

If you disagree with Uncle Milt's assertion -- or even if you don't -- then you may enjoy a debate on that very question between Friedman and John Mackey, the founder and CEO of Whole Foods, and a self-described "ardent libertarian." Joining them is T.J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductors and famously dubbed "one of America's toughest bosses" by Fortune magazine.

Linked debate here. [Hat tip SOLO]

So now my answers from above, in order: That's their business, not yours, and it's probably good business; who gives a shit about that nonsense; and, yes he is. If Tindall pontificated less and exercised his greatest talent more -- that is, the ability to make piles of money -- he would be doing us all a much greater service in the long run.

Kim Jong Ill? Or Kim Jong Dead?

As the boys at Cox and Forkum have noted, where the hell is Kim Jong Ill? Anyone seen him about lately?

As they say:
North Korea is constantly in the news because of its never-ending cycle of nuclear blackmail (which our politicians help perpetuate), but there are never reports about Kim. Where is he?
Good question.

The Big Sleep

Classic film noir: sharp, stylish and as beautiful as a split lip. Not a plot line to fall asleep to, but with dialogue this cracking, who could. Famously, Bacall became Mrs Bogart between re-takes.

Tuesday, 27 September 2005

Ideas matter

I was ruminating on the exchange and thoughts below, and I felt a certain sadness at the seeming lack of interest many students and too many twenty and thirty-somethings have in ideas. Have a debate on campus, for example, and unless it's just a rowdy 'abuse-the-PM' handbag-fest, all you get is a succession of blank stares. Ideas are not fashionable. They're uncool. It wasn't always that way on campus.

So I was reflecting on that, and I came across a relevant observation of Ayn Rand's:

There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days—the conviction that ideas matter. In one’s youth, that conviction is experienced as a self-evident absolute, and one is unable fully to believe that there are people who do not share it. That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one’s mind matters. And the radiance of that certainty, in the process of growing up, is the best aspect of youth.


Its consequence is the inability to believe in the power or the triumph of evil. No matter what corruption one observes in one’s immediate background, one is unable to accept it as normal, permanent or metaphysically right. One feels: “This injustice, or terror or falsehood or frustration or pain or agony is the exception in life, not the rule.” One feels certain that somewhere on earth—even if not anywhere in one’s surroundings or within one’s reach—a proper, human way of life is possible to human beings, and justice matters.

I feel sad for those who've never felt that.

Don Adams dies

Don Adams, star of the first (and still the best) spy spoof Get Smart has died at 82, which rather dates those of us who watched it as a kid.

Tips for modern life

Phil Sage has lots of tips for modern life. Here's some of my favourites:

DON'T waste money on expensive ipods. Simply think of your favourite tune and hum it. If you want to "switch tracks", simply think of another song you like and hum that instead.

RAPPERS. Avoid having to say 'know what I'm sayin' all the time by actually speaking clearly in the first place.

WORRIED that your teeth will be stained after a heavy night drinking red wine? Simply drink a bottle of white wine before going to bed to remove the stains.

SOLDIERS Invest in a digital camera to avoid all that court martial tomfoolery after a trip to Trueprint.

MURDERERS Need to dispose of a body? Simply parcel it up and post it to yourself via NZ Couriers. You will never see it again.

EMPLOYERS Avoid hiring unlucky people by immediately tossing half the CVs into the bin.

MEN When listening to your favourite CD, simply turn up the sound to the volume you desire; then turn it down three notches. This will save your girlfriend from having to do it.

BLIND PEOPLE Give yourself at least a chance of seeing something by not wearing heavy dark glasses all the time.

ALCOHOL makes an ideal substitute for happiness.

DRIVERS. If a car breaks down or stalls in front of you, beep your horn and wave your arms frantically. This should help the car start and send them on their way.

CAR thieves. Don't be discouraged when nothing is on view. All the valuables may be hidden in the glove box or under a seat.

DEPRESSED people. Instead of attempting suicide as a 'cry for help', simply shout 'Help!' thus saving money on paracetamol, etc.

Read them all here. [Thanks Phil]

"Prohibition causes harm"

Q: Which current caretaker PM said this:
Prohibition is certainly not stopping people trying marijuana.
Prohibition is costly, both in terms of social harm and the economic costs of enforcement. Prohibition may actually act to drive families apart as parents react adversely to the illicit habits of their children.
Prohibition actually causes harm by involving otherwise law-abiding citizens who are marijuana smokers in the criminal scene.
A: Helen Clark, in the days before she needed to placate Peter Dunne. Blair from the Mild Greens has posted a comparison of what she says about prohibition now -- "one does hesitate before doing anything that might be seen to encourage the use of other drugs" -- and what she said about it just over ten years ago (but he's confusingly posted her more recent comments twice).

No doubt those bossyboots busybodies who scored "social conservative" on the latest quiz doing the rounds would be happy at her apparent change of mind.

Researching the cursing brain

Some of you might remember George Carlin's list of Seven Dirty Words*. You might also have heard his wonderfully enlightening eulogy to the word 'fuck.'

Now, if either or both offended you -- or if seeing the 'f' word just one line above offends you -- then consider this:
Researchers who study the evolution of language and the psychology of swearing say that they have no idea what mystic model of linguistic gentility the critics might have in mind. Cursing, they say, is a human universal. Every language, dialect or patois ever studied, whether living or dead, spoken by millions or by a single small tribe, turns out to have its share of forbidden speech,
Even old Will Shakespeare was not averse to the odd curse or three, and as for the Bible:

"The Jacobean dramatist Ben Jonson peppered his plays with fackings and 'peremptorie Asses,' and Shakespeare could hardly quill a stanza without inserting profanities of the day like 'zounds' or 'sblood' -- offensive contractions of 'God's wounds' and 'God's blood' -- or some wondrous sexual pun." The title "Much Ado About Nothing," McWhorter said, is a word play on "Much Ado About an O Thing," the O thing being a reference to female genitalia.

Even the quintessential Good Book abounds in naughty passages like the men in 2 Kings 18:27 who, as the comparatively tame King James translation puts it, "eat their own dung, and drink their own piss."

Our researcher concludes that studying cursing offers an ideal opportunity to probe "the tangled, cryptic bonds between the newer, "higher" regions of the brain in charge of intellect, reason and planning, and the older, more "bestial" neural neighborhoods that give birth to our emotions." There could be something in that.

* [ Hat tip Mark, who has the list of dirty words for you. Go on, look. You know you want to.]

How to comment

I've added Lifehacker's 'Guide to Weblog Comments' to my sidebar. As TinCanMan says, there is a lot of truth in it. If you're just another obnoxious, anonymous comments-pony, then get wise and read up.

Monday, 26 September 2005

Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk


A generation have grown up quite happily with this beauty as their neighbour.

Says the British Energy website:
With an output capability of 1200MW the station is capable of supplying around 2 million households.... Over the course of its ten year life Sizewell B has made some significant environmental savings. By using nuclear power instead of a fossil fuel mix Sizewell B has saved the following waste products... and avoided the consumption of a significant quantity of valuable gas:

CO2 avoided 56.6 million tonnes
SO2 avoided 333 thousand tonnes
NOx avoided 142 thousand tonnes
Fly ash avoided 2.45 million tonnes
Gas avoided 9.9 billion m3
No wonder some environmentalists are 'going nuclear.' And as a fan of industrial architecture I think it looks good. The one thing that strikes you on visiting is how peaceful it all is.

We've got the power

Resource consent has been granted to convert the mothballed Marsden B power station to run on coal. Stuff story here.

No news as yet as to how long it took to gain the consent, nor how much it cost, but there were "almost 16o conditions" attached to the 35-year consent, and an appeal promised by those opposing the consent -- which naturally includes both Greenpeace and the Green Party, presumably unhappy at the derelict plant being recycled for productive use, or indeed any sign of productive enterprise at all. Northland Regional Council says "the restrictions are some of the toughest ever imposed in Australasia," and they say that like it's a good thing. (I've quoted before Ayn Rand's observation on the injustice of the productive have to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce, and it seems time to do so once again.)

I've also noted before the restrictions on industry arising from the RMA's strangling of new power-stations, and the warning from the Electricity Networks Association (ENA) that the principal objective of having enough power to meet demand is steadily being eroded. "It's very hard to invest in coal [because of Kyoto], nuclear's a sort of four letter word...hydro is suddenly becoming too hard...what's left?...we can't do everything on windpower," warned Alan Jenkins from the ENA a few months back. Industry is the country's lifeblood, and if there's no power, there's no industry.

Solar, wind and microgrids won't cut it, at least not as long as every project from little to large gets caught up in the maw of the RMA. You'd think that, just once, there'd be some voices celebrating some productivity instead of trying to stamp on it.

Maharey's brainchild wins Bent Spoon Award

The Skeptics have issued their Bent Spoon Award for 2005.

The Bent Spoon Award, named after spoonbending charlatan Uri Geller, is won this year by Steve Maharey's brainchild (I use the word with caution) the Tertiary Education Commission for their decision to fund Bay of Plenty Homeopathy College's diploma in animal health. The reason for TEAC, you will recall, is to increase the quality of tertiary education.

Previous winners, including Phil Goff and Jeanette Fitzsimons, were not apparently available for comment. The Herald story also has the first winners of the Bravo Awards for
"critical thinking in a public arena."

If you're in Rotorua this weekend, you could do worse than head to the Skeptics conference for a session or three. It includes sessions on:

  • misleading language and jargon
  • the fascination with reading human influence in geological features (did anyone say Ark?)
  • the "intelligent design" debate
  • a skeptical look at genealogical research.

A sad lot of wimps

I'm probably expected to be upset because the Whig and his associates far and near have called Ayn Rand "boring." Oh, yawn. This from a group that still reveres New Zealand's most boring speaker for several generations, Roger Douglas, as "The Godfather" (tell me that's irony, please) and who are outraged today at an MP engaged in principled protest against the RMA -- "all the participants should be prosecuted," whimpers the Wimp.

What a sad bunch. Says Cathy: "I just don't fucking get libertarian philosophy. And I don't care that I don't get it." Fine Cathy, just stick to fucking married men then; that's about as much revolution as you seem able to handle. As for ACT's Liberal Project -- about which Cathy clearly has her knickers either in a twist or stuck to the wall -- the actual content was always a sad and boring joke, but at least someone in ACT did once recognise that if you want support for what passes for your ideas, then you do have to try and expand the market for those ideas beyond the 7% peak ACT once enjoyed. But quite how anyone could confuse the Liberal Project's tepid offerings of warmed-over inanities with real red-blooded libertarianism, which explicitly seeks a revolution inside people's heads, is beyond me.

What is perhaps even sadder however than Catherine Judd thinking the Association of Compulsion Touters were ever by any stretch 'liberal' is that the latest crop of young ACT conservatives confess that ideas per se bore them rigid. Remind me again what libertarians are supposed to have in common with these people?

AFL Grand Final saved by a mark

The Sydney Swans may play the worst form of AFL football to watch -- okay, they do play the least entertaining form of AFL football ever devised -- but the Swans-Eagles final came down to one last-minute mark (photo right, story here, video of final minutes here) and the ugly Swans came up with the pill and the Premiership.

I'd like to congratulate them, but if this is the future of footy, I might have to start watching golf*. It was like watching England pay rugby, only more so. Footy was the loser on the day.

And if, like most NZ media, you have no idea what I'm talking about ... then shame on you!
--------------------------------------------------
* Yes, yes, I'm joking. Sheesh. The worst afternoon spent watching AFL is still way better than the best afternoon watching rugby league -- who cares which pack of brainless munters are in the NRL Final? Not me. And golf isn't even a sport; it's recreation.

Green streak widely reported

This is the best coverage Keith Locke has ever got: AP reports of his near-naked journey have been aired from Taiwan to Tuscaloosa, incuding reports in Boston, London, New York, and Chicago. Never in the field of human reportage has so small a package received so much coverage. Sheesh, the story has even been picked up in New Orleans. I guess they do need some light relief.

More Nat calls for sell-out to Maori Party

As we've noted before here at Not PC, the one-law-for-all policy was flagship National policy -- the one bright light in a sea of capitulation to marshmallow middle-grounders. Rodney Hide, the Blue Team's water boy, has already tested the waters for a sell-out to get the Maori Party paddling in the Blue Waka, and this morning the Herald reports that "several Auckland National Party officials are behind a move to soften what they believe has been its overly hard-line stance on race issues."

Some people will do anything for power. No surprise to find that at least one of those behind the push to sell out those who voted National is a former ACT member and Hayekian
Michael Kidd. Blathered Kidd in the Herald a few weeks ago: "Cultural expression leads to the increase of self-worth and confidence, and implicit in Hayek's argument is that all groups should be assisted [by the government] in the ability to be themselves." I think reading that would make even Hayek sick.

MP talks RMA revolt

Environment Waikato are looking to get out the big stick over a community clearance of mangroves at Whangamata. "Obviously we have a range of options available to us under the Resource Management Act in terms of enforcement," said the council's spokeswanker.

Popular Coromandel MP Sandra Goudie, who helped in the clearance, says the "regional council will have a revolt on its hands if it tries to take legal action against her or anyone else involved in an illegal chainsaw attack on mangroves." Good on her. Speaking on Newstalk ZB:

She says the mangroves have taken over an area locals used to enjoy as a water skiing spot, and efforts to clear them have been bogged down for years by the Resource Management Act. She says it is political correctness gone mad and she has no regrets about taking part in the action. Sandra Goudie says the locals are frustrated by the red tape, and decided to take action themselves.

Herald story here.

The great immoral electoral divide

From the 'some-people-have-too-much-time-on-their-hands' file:

Ton Beard has crunched the numbers, and he's found and ranked the most 'immoral' voting booths in the Wellington region. Stand up please all those people who voted in the booths at Cannons Creek's Glenview School, and at "the infamous Aro Valley Community Centre."

(Feel free to comment below on his method of measuring immorality, by which Red+Green=Immoral, Blue+Purple=Moral, and Yellow+Blue=Irrelevant.)

Hercules takes on Panama


A poster from 1912 celebrating the construction of the Panama Canal--a magnificent engineering achievement, and one of my favourite stories of human accomplishment. The poster depicts the construction as 'The 13th Labour of Hercules.'
[Hat tip SOLO]

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Calvin Klein and friends.

Note Keith's discreet thong, provided by Calvin Klein. Clearly not a Naomi Klein reader then. Some people might suggest too that there was a somewhat better endowed candidate present to have kept the Green Party's promises. Of course, I couldn't possibly comment.

The view from and of Keith's behind


Keith Locke MP in Newmarket in his undies, just across the road from where Tuku Morgan made his own fateful underwear purchase. What is it about Newmarket, politicians and their undies?
Some of the minders and the media scrum. Posted by Picasa

Keith Locke steps out...

.. and Rodney masks look on.It wasn't naked ("Thank goodness," said passers-by), and I didn't see him run, but it was through Epsom as promised, and he did wear undies and body paint. Galt knows what was in the briefcase--maybe his lunch: some meat and two vege.

More photos later.

[UPDATE: All the, ahem, raw images of the Green Streak are here if you want to download them and start photoshopping. Feel free to send me any of your efforts: send them to organon at ihug dot co dot nz.]
Who can you spot in the crowd?
A bagful of organics tucked neatly inside a posing pouch.

Holidaying in Phaic Tan

Anyone planning their next holiday could do worse than consider Phaic Tan, where they promise Sunstroke on a Shoestring. Check out the Phaic Tan web guide to help put your holiday together. From the introduction:
For too long now Phaic Tan has been closed off from the outside world, a country visited each year by just a handful of hardy travellers, aid agency workers and hostage negotiators. But now, thanks to this fully up-dated Jetlag guide, everything you need to know about planning a trip to Phaic Tan, birthplace of the trouser press and irritable bowel syndrome, is here.
Vist soon. Brought to you by Jetlag Travel Guides - For the Undiscerning Traveller.

The inaugural Locke nude gift

I've just heard the news that Keith Locke, MP, will be doing the nude dash down Broadway at 2pm this afternoon. Abhorrent though the thought is, I'll aim to be there, camera at the ready.

Don't say I never make sacrifices for my readers...

The 'cathedral of power'

Gilbert Scott's Battersea Power Station: commissioned in 1933, abandoned in 1983, and sadly (like the once-majestic Meremere Power Station on the banks of the Waikato) derelict ever since. Known in its day as the 'cathedral of power,' and a London landmark since the day it was built. Like the Meremere station in its day, this is great industrial architecture.

Saturday, 24 September 2005

A hard place and a wall for Turia and Sharples

Tariana Turia confirmed on Eye to Eye this morning that repeal of Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed legislation is a bottom line for the Maori Party. This is as it should be, especially given that the legislation stripped all New Zealanders of the opportunity to prove ownership rights over foreshore and seabed in accordance with common law, and that the law’s passing was the proximate cause of the Maori Party’s formation. (Accordingly, I’ve added a vote to my Site Poll on her behalf.)

That seems to confirm the view that getting into bed with the Red Team would be a difficult call for them. But sitting down with the Blue Team is equally difficult, not least because abolition of the very seats on which the Maori Party are sitting was flagship National policy at this election. "Lead us not into temptation," is advice Turia said she was following -- advice she will need to remember as she navigates her party faithful between parliament's Scylla and Charybdis.

The indication from both Sharples and Turia this morning is that they and their party are there for the long haul, and they're aware that compromise this early is death to any long-term chances they might have. As Sharples said, they know that holding firm to their principles is their best chance of being re-elected in three years time, and so, potentially, changing the face of New Zealand politics.

They're aware too that the parties of the Blue Team did not get where they are today by holding on to their principles. The one-law-for-all policy was flagship National policy -- as Lindsay Perigo argued here, the one bright light in a sea of capitulation to marshmallow middle-grounders -- but the most junior member of the Blue Team has already tested the waters for a sell-out. And as we've learnt over many years, the Nats' one firm principle has always been a firm commitment to selling out their own mothers in pursuit of political power.

So, will the Maori Party allow themselves to be tempted? And from which Team, Red or Blue, will the temptation come? Will talking to their 21,000 members harden Sharples' and Turia's resolve, or offer them a way to sell a back-down as a response to that consultation?

We live in interesting times.

The planning illusion & Katrina

Flicking through my copy of Ludwig von Mises' Human Action*last night -- as you do on a Friday night -- I found as always when reading Mises that gems of insight just leap off every page. Here's a few gems that help explain why, despite his insights, Mises is still somewhat unpopular with mainstream economists:
  • From 'Economics as a Profession': "The development of a profession of economists is an offshoot of interventionism. The professional economist is the specialist who is instrumental in designing various measures of government interference with business."
  • From 'Forecasting as a Profession': "[T]he future is always uncertain, not radically so, but largely. Human action in an uncertain world with pervasive scarcity poses the economic problem in the first place. We need entrepreneurs and prices to help overcome uncertainty, although this can never be done completely."
  • "In fact, reasonable businessmen are fully aware of the uncertainty of the future. They realize that the economists do not dispense any reliable information about things to come and that all they provide is interpretation of statistical data from the past."
  • "If it were possible to calculate the future state of the market, the future would not be uncertain. There would be neither entrepreneurial loss or profit. [But] what people expect from the economists is beyond the power of any mortal man."
  • "The very idea that the future is predictable, that some formulas could be substituted for the specific understanding which is the essence of entrepreneurial activity, and that familiarity with these formulas could make it possible for anybody to take over the conduct of business is, of course, an outgrowth of the whole complex of fallacies and misconceptions which are at the bottom of present-day anticapitalistic policies. There is in the whole body of what is called the Marxian philosophy not the slightest reference to the fact that the main task of action is to provide for the events of an uncertain future.
    The fact that the term speculator is today used only with an opprobrious connotation clearly shows that our contemporaries do not even suspect in what the fundamental problem of action consists. Entrepreneurial judgment cannot be bought on the market. The entrepreneurial idea that carries on and brings profit is precisely that idea which did not occur to the majority. It is not correct foresight as such that yields profits, but foresight better than that of the rest."
The centrality of entrepreneurialism to human action is one of the crucial Misesian insights, one which Arnold Klingat TechCentralStation applies in analysing the critics of the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. These critics, Kling argues, have tended to focus too much on 'insights from hindsight' and on "the need to formulate and implement better plans," and too little on the need in all human enterprise for good old-fashioned improvisation. Says Kling:
I think that people have a tendency to put too much faith in centralized planning, and they do not have sufficient regard for decentralized improvisation. The more ambiguity that exists in a situation--because of its novelty, uncertainty, and the absence of critical information--the more that it favors improvisation over planning.
Kling calls this touching faith in centralized planning and in 'more and better plans' as "the planning illusion." You'd think he'd been reading Mises too, wouldn't you:
When something goes wrong, there is a natural desire to blame a lack of planning. In fact, with hindsight, it is always possible to come up with a plan that would have worked better. I would refer to this as the planning illusion.

This illusion causes a number of problems... In many cases, better approaches emerge from decentralized improvisations.
Arnold provides a number of examples of what this decentralised, entrepreneurial outlook looks like in practice.
========================================
* Human Action is online at the Mises Institute. Feel free to test my claim by dipping in yourself and seeing what gems you come up with. Feel free however to skip the first 160 pages, where those gems are the least in evidence. And do feel free to skip the sometimes unfortunate and intemperate rantings of some contemporary Misesians -- "stark raving nuts" as one blogger called them.

Cue Card Libertarianism -- Pollution

POLLUTION: The transfer of matter or energy to the person or property of another without his consent. As such, a violation of rights, properly to be proscribed by law.
If a man creates a physical danger or harm to others, which extends beyond the line of his own property, such as unsanitary conditions, or even loud noise, the law can and does hold him responsible.
– Ayn Rand
Contrary to the view of most environmentalists, the best antidote to pollution is the extension of private property rights, not the destruction of them. People care about what they own and will not themselves pollute it or allow someone else to pollute it; property rights set up mirrors which reflect back our own behaviour – we do not readily soil that which is our own; individuals and companies who pollute can more easily be sued when it is clear that someone else’s property has been defiled; government departments which pollute are difficult to sue, and in a mixed economy are often in cahoots with private polluters. We now know that state-run industries in the former communist countries were about the worst polluters of all.

The way to go is not to nationalise land, as the Resource Management Act has done in all but name, but to privatise, or at least define property rights in respect of, land, rivers, sea and air to the maximum extent possible, and thence to rely on the protection of common law, which has a seven-hundred year record of sophistication and success in dealing with issues of pollution and property rights.

Suggested further reading:

  • Property Rights in the Defence of Nature, by Elizabeth Brubaker. This book draws on cases from England, Canada, and the United States, showing how the common law of property has for centuries been a force for environmental protection, while contemporary statutes have allowed polluters to foul private lands and public resources alike.
  • The Common Law: How it Protects the Environment, by Roger E. Meiners and Bruce Yandle. Meiners and Yandle review English and American legal history to show the environmental protections available to individuals. "Those who allowed something noxious to escape their control and invade the property of others could be held accountable for their actions through private litigation," they write. "Eventually, citizens will recognize that the common law, bolstered by local regulation, can protect the environment more effectively and fairly than can statutes and bureaucratic regulations."

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.

Friday, 23 September 2005

A cornucopia of e-mail privacy

David McGregor from Sovereign Consulting has the tips on enhancing your email privacy:

If it's not spammers that are using your email address for nefarious means, it could be a commercial competitor, a personal foe, or worse, the bureaucratic monster known as the "state", who are keen to know what you are up to.

There are many ways to increase your online email privacy - including ways to beat the spammers. Choosing the right email service to achieve this depends on what your particular needs are.

Are you concerned with keeping your email safe from prying eyes? Are you more concerned with not giving out your email address - for fear of being targeted by spammers? Or are you mostly concerned with covering your tracks, and hiding the origin of your email?

Options exist which can assist you in any or all of these requirements - and the list of email privacy services below will give you a starting point to explore what is out there.

All the sites listed below offer various forms of email privacy - from encrypted email, anonymous email and secured email. Take a look - and take your pick!

http://www.fakemailz.com - anonymous email and ability to manipulate headers.
http://www.mailvault.com - browser-based PGP encrypted email.
http://www.mailinator.com - instant disposable email accounts, which are disabled after a few hours. Ideal for beating the spammers.
http://www.jetable.org - another disposable email service, where you can define the "life" of the email address.
http://www.safe-mail.net - ssl-secured email, ideal for groups who want to communicate within the same server, but do not require encryption.
http://www.hushmail.com - spam-free, encrypted email service.
http://www.highvip.com - anonymous, encrypted email service, which can be paid for via e-gold to enhance privacy.
http://www.t3l3.com - anonymous, stealth and self-destructing messages.
http://www.sharpmail.co.uk - anonymous and fake email with hidden IP address.
http://www.findnot.com - anonymous, secure email with hidden IP address, run from servers in Malaysia.
http://anonymous.to - free, anonymous email.
http://www.iprive.com/imail.shtml - anonymous email with ability to create unlimited email aliases.
http://www.mutemail.com - secure, anonymous email service based offshore.
http://www.pgp.com - the "grandaddy" of email privacy solutions, allowing users of PGP to encrypt email from their existing email software.

Obesity and recycling myths challenged

Two modern sacred cows challenged this morning: the causes of the 'obesity epidemic,' and the need to recycle.

First, Sue Kedgeley. Specifically, her obsession with what kids eat. TechCentralStation reports on
a new [American] study arrived which once again (See Kicking the Can, 7/8/05) suggests that it is not pop, but lack of exercise and family poverty that are driving up rates of childhood obesity. The study, from two researchers at the University of Alberta looked at the health, nutrition and lifestyle factors of 4,298 fifth grade school children in an effort to determine which risk factors were most important for overweight children.

Unlike so many studies that rely on estimates of height and weight -- estimates which always lead to an overestimate of both overweight and obesity -- the study actually took measurements of the kids' height and weight, as well as assessing their dietary habits including whether they ate breakfast, whether their lunch came from home or was purchased at school, whether they ate in fast food restaurants, whether there were regular family suppers, and whether supper was eaten in front of the television.

The results are startling, for they disprove so much of the contemporary "wisdom" that appears to be driving America toward a series of completely ineffective obesity policies... [Read on here]
Do you think Sue will stop her obsession with school vending machines? Yeah, right.

How about challenging another sacred cow: recycling. The Mises Blog has the argument:

Oh, I used to believe in recycling, and I still believe in the other two Rs: reducing and reusing. But recycling? It's a waste of time, money, and ever scarce resources. What John Tierney wrote in the New York Times nearly 10 years ago is still true: "Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America."

How does the author know recycling is wasteful? Simple:
I know that the costs of recycling exceed the benefits. This is the simple result of the observation that recycling doesn't return a financial profit...

What's wrong with recycling? The answer is simple; it doesn't pay. And since it doesn't pay it is an inefficient use of the time, money, and scarce resources. That's right, as Mises would have argued: let prices be your guide. Prices are essential to evaluate actions ex post. If the accounting of a near past event reveals a financial loss, the activity was a waste of both the entrepreneur's and society's scarce resources.
[Read on here]
So there you go. As always, PJ O'Rourke said it better:
I have a friend, Jerry Taylor, who is the director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute... Jerry pointed out that when used items -- Ferraris, for instance -- have real value they don't need to be "recycled", they get sold. "If recycling is so great," said Jerry, how come no private individual will pay you to do it?"

A brief word from our sponsors...


Felix Candela, 'Iglesia de la Virgen de la Medalla Milagrosa'

Interior, Iglesia de la Virgen de la Medalla Milagrosa, Felix Candela, 1954-55

Thursday, 22 September 2005

Whose business?

One of the best things about NZ political journalism, about which there is generally little good to say, is that politicians' personal peccadilloes go generally unreported.

Maybe no longer. This thread on TradeMe speculates that tonight on Prime, Paul Holmes will be exposing a private moment of someone married to a politician. Is this what we want of our political journalism? Even if the gossip is true, is it really any of our business? [Hat tip Sir Humphrey's]

The dollar and the gun

Our elected representatives are now doing the dance of political power--that's rather like Salomé's dance of the seven veils, except that the politicians to a man and a woman are hamkering to go all the way. Let's have a brief look at exactly what sort of power these people are after.

"People Have the Power," sings Patti Smith. "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun," declared Mao Tse-Tung. Smith is an artist; Mao was a thug and a realist. He got it right. There's a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of power, and particularly widespread confusion about the important distinction between economic power and political power. The distinction is this: Economic power comes from production and trade, "the ability to produce material values and offer them for trade"; by contrast, political power comes from the barrel of a gun.

George Carlin once suggested the keys to America are the cross, the brew, the dollar and the gun. Economic and political power are represented by the last two: the dollar and the gun respectively. Confusion between what distinguishes them leads to the gun sometimes being put in the service of the dollar, and occasionally the dollar seeking to buy the gun, but the distinction remains. (Harry Binswanger defines the two in an excerpt here.)
"'Political power' refers to the power of the government. The special nature of that power is what differentiates government from all other social institutions. That which makes government government, its essential attribute, is its monopoly on the use of physical force. Only a government can make laws—i.e., rules of social conduct backed up by physical force. ...The penalty for breaking the law is fines, imprisonment, and ultimately, death. The symbol of political power is a gun. [Read on here.]
That's the sort of power our politicians are dancing for now. Attractive, isn't it.

As cold as charity

Reflecting this morning that the last few days have been about as cold as charity, I realised there's been lots of talk recently about forced charity, government charity, and voluntary charity. Let's have a quick look at each of them.

Charity is defined in my dictionary as "liberality to the poor; alms-giving; an act of kindness." Fair enough.

What about forced charity then, the situation that exists with respect to the Welfare State. Clearly, if charity is forced then any 'act of kindness' is neither kind, nor moral, and 'charitable' is certainly not what one can call those who apply the force; since morality requires choice, only unforced actions can be moral ones -- an act forced on us by others, one that we ourselves have not chosen, cannot be considered a moral act. "Morality ends," as Ayn Rand used to say, "where a gun begins." Neither can it be a moral act to give away someone else's wealth against their will (and if it wasn't against their will, you wouldn't have to force them, would you?) -- if giving is admirable, then the admiration surely only adheres when it's your own stuff you're giving away.

So 'forced charity' is actually a misnomer; what it means is taking from Peter by force in order to give to Paul: it's theft, and as George Bernard Shaw observed such a theft will always get the support of Paul.

Charity is only charity when it's voluntarily given; when it's demanded from others or taken by force it's a very different thing. Systematised theft then, rather than charity, is what is at the heart of the welfare state.

It wasn't always so. President Bush's $50 billion appropriation on behalf of New Orleans has prompted Walter Williams to consider some of the history of US Federal Government charity.
Isn't government charity sometimes needed? No, says Williams: 'Charity Is No Function of the Federal Government':
In February 1887, President Grover Cleveland, upon vetoing a bill appropriating money to aid drought-stricken farmers in Texas, said, "I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit."

President Cleveland added, "The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood."

And so it has. Witness the name-calling, buck-passing, back-stabbing and racial smears going back and forth after Katrina (as Tibor Machan reflects, the only sure thing is that real responsibility will never be accepted for any of this). Fortunately, the nastiness and the blame game hasn't obscured the many acts of genuine kindness that have helped relieve people in their misfortune. It is this genuine kindness freely offered that represents real charity.

There's nothing wrong with voluntary charity -- indeed only charity offered voluntarily is worthy of the name -- but as David Kelley once observed, production naturally precedes consumption, and maybe our demands that others give, give, give until it hurts sometimes obscure this truth. As Kelly once answered when questioned, "Is it better to give or to receive? It is better to produce." What's wrong with praising producers, those who make charity possible? Why do we instead praise those who forcibly appropriate and distribute the wealth of others?

It all gives new insight into Ambrose Bierce's acerbic observation that charity is that "amiable quality of the heart which moves us to condone in others the sins and vices to which we ourselves are addicted." If we're addicted to theft or to living off its proceeds, you can be sure we'll find ways to make that vice look better. Calling theft an act of charity is one way of doing that.