Friday, October 14, 2005

Wisdom of sorts

Here you go: the perfect banner for this site, I'm told. And I'll be away for the weekend in Thames -- seeking further wisdom of course -- so it will remain as the banner for the weekend. Cheers. I've left plenty of reading for you.

And in tribute to one of the world's great drinkers, here's some thoughts on the subject from Samuel Johnson:
  • Boswell: "You must allow me, Sir, at least that it produces truth; in vino veritas, you know, Sir." Johnson: "That would be useless to a man who knew he was not a liar when he was sober."
  • "Exercise!! I never heard that he used any: he might, for aught I know, walk to the alehouse; but I believe he was always carried home again."
  • "In the bottle discontent seeks for comfort, cowardice for courage, and bashfulness for confidence."
  • Boswell: "I think, Sir, you once said to me, that not to drink wine was a great deduction from life." Johnson: "It is a diminution of pleasure, to be sure; but I do not say a diminution of happiness. There is more happiness in being rational."
  • "A man who exposes himself when he is intoxicated, has not the art of getting
    drunk."
  • "Claret is the liquor for boys; port, for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy."
  • "There are, indeed, few who are able to drink brandy. That is a power rather to be wished for than attained."
  • "Melancholy, indeed, should be diverted by every means but drinking."
  • "This is one of the disadvantages of wine. It makes a man mistake words for thoughts."
  • "I must entreat you to be scrupulous in the use of strong liquors. One night's drunkenness may defeat the labours of forty days well employed."
  • "As soon as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience an oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude : when I am seated, I find the master courteous, and the servants obsequious to my call; anxious to know and ready to supply my wants : wine there exhilarates my spirits, and prompts me to free conversation and an interchange of discourse with those whom I most love : I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinion and sentiments I find delight."
  • "There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern. A tavern chair is the throne of human felicity."
  • "Life admits not of delays; when pleasure can be had, it is fit to catch it."

Some cultures deserved to die out

Not every culture is worth saving or preserving. There are some cultures that deserved to die out -- the Maya were just one, and on this as so much else Jared Diamond's book Collapse has it wrong again. As a tragic loss, they weren't, and Roger Sandall is right on the money. "I don’t care if the Maya civilization did collapse. I don’t think we should shed a single retrospective tear":
The ripples of Greek civilization spread globally, and deserved to. There were no ripples from the Maya. No enlightenment. Nothing. Just art and masonry [some of it above] and the dried blood of long-dead sacrificial victims. That is not nearly enough.
Inca culture was another blot on the landscape of history, and Tibor Machan is one who sheds no retrospective tears over its demise. Under the Inca for instance: "As many as 200 children used to be killed to please some god or another. And sometimes the sacrifice would involve cutting out the heart of a living individual." Nice culture that, the Incas. It brings to mind my favourite quote from Thomas Sowell:
Cultures are not museum pieces. They are the working machinery of everyday life. Unlike objects of aesthetic contemplation, working machinery is judged by how well it works, compared to the alternatives.
Too true. As Tibor concludes:
The only thing that can be done that will make a difference is to stop all this collective praise and blame and to recognize that justice requires looking at and judging all human beings individually, based on their own choices to act well or badly.

Some SaveTheHumans classics

When fridge meets philosopher

Brain Stab this morning has the following wisdom from Morthos :

Why Philosophers will Rule the World

We are the original problem-solving discipline. We care about problems and are not afraid to play with a variety of solutions, ranging from quick fixes to deep changes to the underlying structure of reality.

Why Philosophers won't actually end up Ruling the World

I was the only person in the [Philosophy] Department who could fix the fridge on level six.

Rodney the thinker

The parliamentary hiatus seems to have brought out the thinker in Rodney -- a good thing as it turns out as he's posted a few good pieces over the last few days (even if he has lost count):

Globalisation and Third World Poverty
Articles that Helen Clark, Michael Cullen et al. should read (I)
Articles that Helen Clark, Michael Cullen et al. should read (II)
Articles that Helen Clark, Michael Cullen et al. should read (II)
Articles that Helen Clark, Michael Cullen et al. should read (III)

Helen and Mike aren't the only ones who should read them.

Cale speaks

A friend sent me a recent '60 Second Interview' with John Cale that I enjoyed, and some of you might. (If you don't know by now who John Cale is, you probably won't care -- just to clarify, he never wrote a song called 'Cocaine.') The interview is short -- just sixty seconds -- but he does talk more about the Velvet Underground than he does normallly, and he reveals some 'interesting' recent listening whose influence has found its way onto his new album, blackAcetate:. Cale goes hip hop! Cale sings falsetto*!! Oh Lord!! "Hip hop is the new jazz," says Cale. Oh dear.

And which current bands "have the VU spirit?" Cale's picks: Beck, Elbow and the Strokes. Who would have thunk it.

You can sample his album blackAcetate: at Cale's site.
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* And let's be fair, 'Mr Wilson' does have its falsetto moments.

New site poll: What will Winston do?

It's taken a while, but my previous site poll to see whether the Maori Party can support Labour appears to have finally and barely come up with the correct result (below): that they can't unless Labour repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act (as Ive argued they should). Last cab on the rank and it seems one destined for the crossbenches, which is probably where they should be.

So now there's a new site poll, reflecting the speculation that's emerging this morning that because the Maori Party can't go to bed with her, Helen's needs to sleep with Winston. Question is, will she put the tongue in?

UK Libertarian Conference

UK readers, of which I know there's a few, will be able to enjoy an upcoming conference. I'd love to join you.

LIBERTY 2005: THE ANNUAL LONDON CONFERENCE OF THE LIBERTARIAN ALLIANCE
AND THE LIBERTARIAN INTERNATIONAL

Saturday 19 November - Sunday 20 November, 2005, at he National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place, London. Info can be found in here.

************************************************************************

SPEAKERS AND SUBJECTS INCLUDE:

Mattias Bengston - "Statism: The Swedish Model and Its Lessons"
Prof. Gabriel Calzada - "The Privatisation of Defense"
Dr. Ben Cosin - "National Health Socialism: A Critique"
Prof. Frank Van Dunn - "Personal Freedom, Corporate Liberties: An Uneasy Mix"
Dr. Richard Ebeling - "Austrian School Economics and the Political Economy of Freedom"
Dr. Sean Gabb - "Cultural Revolution and Culture War"
Dr. Syed Kamall MEP - "The Dilemmas of a Free Trade Liberal in the European Parliament"
Sacha Kumaria - "Think Tanks and the Movement for Liberty"
Christian Michel - "Mafiosi and Oligarchs: The Making and the Unmaking of a Russian Legend"
Dr. Julian Morris - "Environmental Problems: Myths and Realities"
William Thomas - "Ayn Rand and the Values of Liberty"

More details here.

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'Peter Rabbit: Tank Killer'

This 'children's' story is hilarious. 'Written' by both Beatrix Potter and Sven Hassell (now there's a writing team made in heaven) it comes with a hat tip to Sir Humph, who points out quite accurately that the tank has been misattributed. Fancy that. I fancy that the 'Panzerfaust' also looks more like a bazooka ... but only a pedant would point that out. It's not the only thing about it that's decidely odd.

Print it out and read it to your kids tonight. They'll thank you for it later.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Visiting site with dry feet

Here's a boon for overworked architects: ArchiCam. Instead of visiting sites only to find the builder hasn't shown up again -- or having to field all those awkward questions that builders just can't avoid asking -- a New South Wales firm of architects have set up a webcam to allow them to keep up with progress. I bet the builders love it.
Story here, webcam here. [Hat tip butter paper]

Wounded Lion still bleats like a lamb

Sad old Brian O'Driscoll is still bleating about being blown out of a ruck in the first Lions-All Blacks test. He told The Times, “I have to accept there was no malice in it, but a bad tackle is a bad tackle. I have been on both sides of that situation and they have to be punished. That didn’t quite happen." Sure, his shoulder still hasn't recovered, but isn't it time to get over it? "Get over it, Brian!"

More interesting are his comments on why the Lions Tour failed to get off the ground, which will apparently be expanded in his book out soon, A Year in the Centre. I doubt that it will challenge Anton Oliver's sour book for genuine bad grace however, or Gavin Henson's.

Invade where?

Remember the expression: 'God invented war so that Americans can learn geography'? It appears God's plan is not working. See this video as partial evidence for the prosecution (3MB to download). [Hat tip TinCanMan]

Macro-who? Micro-what?

WTF is the difference between 'macroeconomics' and 'microeconomics'? The Austrians at Cafe Hayek have a helpful way of distinguishing between the two, (even if Austrian economists generally don't recognise the distinction as a valid one). In passing, they also throwsome light on why economic thinking is any damn use to anyone -- or at least 'micro' thinking.

The chaps end their discussion by recommending Menger's explanation of how money was not the creation of a conscious mind but, instead, evolved into use as an excellent if rather "elaborate macroeconomic insight." Using Menger as an example is somewhat ironic, because Menger's student Boehm-Bawerk declared "that Menger's system had spanned the chasm between microeconomics and macroeconomics, finally establishing economics as a true science." And Austrians might remind other economists that micro or macroeconomics without the entrepreneur is like trying to make beer without yeast.

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Bottled stupidity

The things people do to avoid drinking water from their tap: $3.47 for a bottle of Italian water with bubbles in. $4.75 for a four-pack of bottled water you can safely be seen with around the streets of Parnell (right). How dumb do you have to be to buy this stuff?

Britons spend £700 million a year on it, and Americans pay a whopping $22 billion a year for this overpriced tap water -- yes, that' s right, America's two top selling brands, Dasani and Aquafina, are nothing more than reprocessed tap water, and the same process was used in the UK. Here at home, New Zealanders down 40 million litres a year, nearly two thirds of that from Te Waihou spring in Putaruru, which produces water from a source little better than what you use at home to clean your car. That is to say, just as good.

So why do people pay through the nose for what they could get out of the tap? Auckland tap water which mostly comes from dams in the Waitakeres and Hunuas is like having a meal, but it's by no means unpalatable, and what comes out of Auckland's taps is probably the worst of NZ's municipal samples. Even the world's great cities don't have a problem with their water, and in blind taste tests few people can tell bottled water from tap .

The water in Rome is fresh from the mountains; Spanish water is crystal clear and refreshing; even Parisian water is fine. Sure, Sydney water is like a three-course meal, but still drinkable once you get used to it; and London water used to taste as though someone died in it, and was so full of lime that shower heads, kettles and (probably) urinary tracts would regularly clog up -- it was said at one time that a glass of London water has already passed through at least five other people before it got to you -- but Thames Water and Southern Water have changed all that, and even at its worst chilled London tap water was still palatable. The water from Dublin's Liffey is reputed to be the reason Dublin's Guinness tastes so much better than Guinness made elsewhere (NZ water is just too damn clean to make good Guinness apparently) but Dubliners have no problems with what they get in their kitchen sink.

Now it's true that nearly a billion people worldwide don't have access to clean drinking water, more's the pity, and the water in places like Albania, Russia, Sudan and parts of Greece and India are surely to be avoided -- drink your Albanian cocktails without ice cubes just to be safe -- but paying more for bottled water here does nothing to help those who don't have access to clean water, and the horrors of Russian, Albanian and African water just reinforces how good is the tap water most of would enjoy if we didn't insist on paying through the nose for it from the supermarket.

As this chap points out, "do you suppose some water bottlers are having a laugh at their customers' gullibility? How many purchasers of Evian have noticed that this name spelled backwards is 'NAIVE'?"

And why drink bottled water when bottled beer is so much cheaper, and so much better for you? After all historically, bad water is the reason beer drinking caught on, and for most of human history humans consumed clean beer in preference to the dirty water -- why not, when for most of human history water was so contaminated that drinking it was like playing Russian Roulette with giardia. However, boil that water with barley, yeast and hops (a natural antiseptic), strain out the barley husks and let it all stand for a bit so the sugars ferment, and you have a tasty, nutritious, SAFE drink for all the family -- exactly as beer was for much of human history. (That this drink contained alcohol was of course a not unpleasant added bonus.) No wonder the invention of beer produced civilisation, as I might have mentioned once before.

Anyway, if you want to drink chilled bottled water, then just keep a bottle of tap water in the fridge like I do. And spend the money you save on something more worthwhile. Like me. :-)

Blogrolling

I've just been changing around my Blogroll to tidy it up, to organise it a little better, and to make my blogroll better match my News Reader. Please let me know if you should be there but aren't, or if you are there and shouldn't be, or if you should be elsewhere than where you've been filed -- if for instance you consider yourself a Compulsion Touter instead of a National Socialist, or if your blog will become entirely apolitical now the election is (nearly) over.

And if I've inadvertently deleted you, then please let me know. Unless, that is, you've been looking forward to disappearing.

Travelling to Taliesin West...

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: The desert gem Frank Lloyd Wright called home

With this year's Frank Lloyd Wright conference at Taliesin West nearly upon those lucky enough to be attending, the 'Trib' dropped in on Taliesin to see what's afooot...

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- After zigzagging happily through the wildness of northern Arizona I dropped down into the Phoenix megalopolis... [where], eventually, I took a left over an aqueduct and followed a winding road through the Sonoran Desert. Within minutes I was holding a glass of chardonnay in the courtyard of the great architect's winter home...

The large, fit stones gave the walls a raw, earthy, almost jigsaw quality. [Arnold] Roy [Taliesin Fellowship member] said: "Somebody once asked, `What did Frank Lloyd Wright have on
the walls for decoration?' The walls were decoration."

"This is the last of a breed of building that tried to incorporate the wilderness of Arizona into the design," said ... fellowship member, Tony Puttnam, "His saying about `a view at the rim of the world'--what was he looking at? The whole complexity of things. It's more complicated than a native-based architecture...

Wright himself said that he designed not from ideas but from feelings. In an interview once, Mike Wallace called him an "intellectual" and Wright balked at the title. "I am not an intellectual," he argued. "I have my feet on the ground."

From the moment he saw it, he was attracted to the "vast battleground of titanic forces called Arizona." And, also, "the eternal and everlasting smile of the sun."

Anecdotes were trotted out: of the boy, living in a Wright-designed house, who wrote asking him to design a doghouse for his Labrador retriever. (Wright's design appears in the book "Barkitecture.") Of the nearby power lines, which so disturbed Wright that he wrote to President Truman requesting that they be placed underground. When Truman refused, saying it would create a precedent, Wright replied: "I have been creating precedents all my life."

[Article from the Chicago Tribune Travel section. Photos courtesy AvO and MvO]

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sack McCully

HERALD: National MPs want McCully dumped
STUFF:
McCully's influence worries some National MPs

Three electoral defeats in a row, and the Nats are only now starting to talk about sacking the chief strategist. Where on earth he derived this reputation he wields as some sort of strategic genius I can't begin to imagine -- if he'd been in the pay of the Labour Party he couldn't have done a better job on their behalf. Time for McCully to get the Archer.

Islamo-Fascists, "Australia is not for you"

Pakistan's Daily Times has the news that John Howard and his Ministers are telling Islamo-Fascists that if they want Sharia law and a theocratic State, then Australia is not the place for them.
“I’d be saying to clerics who are teaching that there are two laws governing people in Australia, one the Australian law and another the Islamic law, that that is false. If you can’t agree with parliamentary law, independent courts, democracy, and would prefer Sharia law and have the opportunity to go to another country which practises it, perhaps, then, that’s a better option,” said Australia's Treasurer Peter Costello.

Still no Government

Heh heh heh. Still no Government, and as DPF notes "the job of forming a Government is proving more difficult that predicted." Heh heh heh. Does anyone really miss not having a Government meddling with things? Said Helen Clark a few weeks before the 1999 election, "I don't want a country where people have to wake up every morning and wonder what new thing their Government has done."* Best way to ensure that doesn't happen is to have no Government, eh?

Just reflect for a moment: Who really runs the country?** It should now be clear that it's not the Prime Minister, is it.
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* That's from memory -- feel free to send me the exact quote.
** Who runs the country? You do, of course. Each of you runs your part of it.

Pakistan disaster

Looking for coverage of the disaster in Pakistan -- how many more disasters in just one year! -- I was pointed to Slate, which has a compilation of American coverage of the tragedy. Hat tip Irfan Khawaja, who has some thoughts about the seemingly odd priorities of the Pakistani government:
I'd wanted to refrain from criticizing the Pakistani government at a time like this, but the thought of children trapped in schools without means of rescue (quoted in the Slate roundup) prompts the following thought. We are told by the Pakistani government that there is no equipment to rescue these children. And yet Pakistan has atomic weapons. Is this not an odd inversion of priorities? Did the government of Pakistan think that they needed an "Islamic bomb" more desperately than they needed Chinook-type helicopters and heavy-moving equipment? Or that India (or Israel!) posed a greater threat to Pakistan than an earthquake of this kind?
The Times reports that help to affected areas is painfully slow to arrive, evan as military helicopters "clatter by" overhead. “Why are they not stopping to help us?” asks a man who buried more than 60 people yesterday. “We need help here or more of our children will die.” Fair question.

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'Kill them all, let Allah sort them out' - Zarqawi

NEWS, AFP: Islam permits killing of 'infidel’ civilians: Zarqawi tape [Hat tip Cox and Forkum] DUBAI -- Al Qaeda frontman in Iraq Abu Musab Al Zarqawi has said Islam permits the killing of 'infidel' civilians... In Islam, making the difference is not based on civilians and military, but on the basis of Muslims and infidels."

The Muslim's blood cannot be spilled whatever his work or place, while spilling the blood of the infidel, whatever his work or place, is authorized if he is not trustworthy," said an audiotape broadcast on the Internet early Saturday.

That's just in case you were in any doubt. Now have a look again at the post from the other day...

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Risky business in storm country

Further to the pieces from Mark Steyn and others on the bizarre fantasies and rabid drivel of much of the Hurrican Katrina coverage -- the media were strangers to the truth in the week of Katrina,' said Steyn -- Forbes Magazine has a sober analyis of how government's and busineses see rick differently, and how they both coped with Katrina's destruction.

"Katrina is an especially poignant study in risk because the catastrophe was so widely foreseen,' observes Forbes. The weather event itself was not just foreseen, it had for some time been considered a 'once-in-200-years' event. Now, businesses view a 1-in-200-year event as having a1-in-3 likelihood of occuring in the average 77-year lifespan, and invested accordingly. Elected officials on the other hand saw a 1-in-200-year event as a1/50 chance of occurring in a four-year political term, and accordingly they failed to invest, with the consequences we all saw.

“This is a case where they did an exceptionally good job on the natural science and a really poor job on the social science,” says a commentator. But from the point of view of the elected officials, they were acting rationally. Read Forbes discusion on the risk management of disasters here. [Hat tip NBR blog]

And big ups to the Home Depot people: notes Forbes:
A day after the storm, all but ten of the company’s 33 stores in Katrina’s impact zone were open. Within a week, it was down to just four closed stores (of nine total) in metropolitan New Orleans. “We always take tremendous pride in being able to be among the first responders,” says Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli [in photo right with GWB].
Now there's a case study that some of those elected officials and their cronies could learn from.

More John Soane

Soane's warmly welcoming Breakfast Room at Pitshanger Manor (left) and his light-filled Bank of England interior (right).

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

What did Columbus bring to the New World?

Today is Columbus Day in the States -- today their time, that is -- the day the achievement of Christopher Columbus's discovery of the New World is commemorated. Of course, these days his memory is not so much commemorated as eviscerated. As Ed Hudgins notes in his own 'Weighing of the Columbus cargo' in today's Washington Times:
Many critics argue Christopher Columbus gave us a devil's bargain. In October 1492 that Italian explorer, working for Spain, opened America to his fellow Europeans. The result: We got a prosperous New World by impoverishing, enslaving and murdering the natives who were already here.
But this fails to distinguish between two types of exploitation, one over other humans and the other over nature. The former should be expunged from our moral codes and civilized society, the latter is the essence of morality and civilization.
Hudgins comes most unfashionably to praise Columbus rather than to pillory him. Good for him.

An interesting thirst

Cathy apparently needs a drink. Don't we all. She's confused my 'reasoning from' the case of wanting a beer now with a 'reasoning to' that same point. Rather than just 'rationalising a basic human action' as she thought I was doing, I was trying to see where that most basic of human actions -- an overwhelming 'attack of the nows' -- gets us. In this case, the fundamental desire of wanting jam today rather than waiting for jam tomorrow leads to the phenomenon of interest. Who would have thunk it. The idea appealed to me after a couple of beers, and was identical to the point already made by some genuinely learned blokes, one of whom (Mises) has made a whole science out of seeing where these "most basic of human actions" lead us when analysed with some good skull sweat.

Oh well, at least I can agree with her sentiment: "It leads me to the conclusion that I actually need a drink right now." Who could disagree with that (and who needs an excuse)? Who knows where thoughts might lead after a quiet couple?

Which Looney Tune are you?

Heh heh. I'm Wile E. Coyote. And apparently I have weaknesses! Who knew?

You scored 57 Aggression, 57 Sophistication, and 71 Optimism!

You are intelligent, sophisticated, and the physical personification of the can-do attitude. No matter how many times something blows up in your face (figuratively or literally) or prized project collapses around you, you will pick yourself up and try, try again. There is a good chance that you are very skilled in problem solving and would probably make a fine engineer.

Your main weaknesses (and this is likely obvious to everyone but yourself) are your overconfidence and complete lack of perspective. When you inevitably fail at a task (you can’t possibly achieve all of the lofty goals you set for yourself), you tend to take it personally. If you are not careful, you can become thoroughly obsessed with what is not really a very meaty goal. Try taking a step back from time to time and figure out for yourself if it is really worth it, or if your talents could be best put towards a more rewarding goal. Also, your desire for things to work out the way you’ve planned can make you a bit gullible.

So, which Looney Tune are you? Take the quiz here. [Hat tip Maria von Trapp]

Coldest place in the universe

I spent an evening with a Nobel Prize winner last night; me and about three hundred others, at Auckland University's Robb lecture given by physicist Carl Weiman.

Carl Weiman won his prize for producing a Bose-Einsten condensate, meaning that he and his team had managed to cool a collection of atoms down to just billionths of a degree greater than Absolute Zero, the temperature at which there is neither molecular nor atomic motion. Nothing in nature occurs at this temperature -- the background temperature of deep space is some three degrees higher -- so as Weiman pointed out, he can say with complete confidence that his lab in Colorado is the coldest place in the universe.

Production of a small piece of matter this cold does two things: First, it confirms a prediction made nearly eighty years ago by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein; and second, it produces a bunch of atoms with some size that are in a single quantum state -- that picture above shows the representation of one of these 'superatoms' being formed; it is in the order of 0.1 mm across! Given that this 'superatom' can be produced on a table-top, instead of needing a cyclotron the size of a cricket oval or more, this is an enormous breakthrough, one offering tremendous opportunities for discovering more abut the quantum universe, and numerous potential technological spinoffs.

Weiman is also intensely interested in the methods of science education -- in his lectures he uses numerous ingenious java applets and other methods to demonstrate difficult scientific concepts in an easy-to-understand manner. Weiman's applets to support this lecture can be found here; his website chockfull of Interactive Physics Simulations is intended to help explain the fundamental concepts of physics, and it's also loads of fun.

The good news is that if this interests you and you missed last night's lecture, there are still two more to come. Details here.

Ig Noble Awards, 2005

An Ig Award is nothing to do with this chap, who will be playing The Big Day Out in the New Year. The Ig Noble Awards are designed to honour accomplishments that “first make people laugh, then make them think.”

Francis Till has a summary of the 2005 winners, which includes a fair smattering of expat New Zealanders. 'Smattering' might be an appopriate choice of word actually, since the winner of the Ig for Fluid Dynamics is a paper co-written by a kiwi "(“Pressures Produced When Penguins Pooh — Calculations on Avian Defacation”) using the basic principles of physics to calculate the pressure that builds up inside a penguin to produce the projectile faeces for which penguins are notorious."

You can see why the awards are so well sought after.

John Soane: Architect of the Enlightenment.




















John Soane's Museum (left) and his own Breakfast Room (right), both in his preserved hom in Lincolns Inn Fields, show that while working in the Classical idiom he had a well-developed spatial awareness, and (despite all those pots which he acquired for reference) an eye for simplicity in his detailing.

Monday, October 10, 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, lewrockwell.com
"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
http://www.reason.com/hod/js093005.shtml
"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, lewrockwell.com
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. :-)

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Sunday, October 09, 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.
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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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