Monday, 15 May 2006

Dick Turpin meets the taxman

A cartoon for Budget Week:

Original cartoon by Nick Kim, courtesy of The Free Radical.

TAGS: Cartoons Humour Budget_&_Taxation Libertarianism

Cue Card Libertarianism - Laissez Faire

Laissez-faire: Literally, leave/let to make or do; denotes the policy of non-intervention by government in the economy, an obvious application of the libertarian non-initiation of force principle.

The term originates from the despotic reign of King Louis XIV who had grandiose ambitions for France and believed that only through the state could they be achieved. His chief adviser, Colbert, a 17th century French version of Sir Robert Muldoon or Jim Anderton, believed that he could manage and control his way to national prosperity and duly regulated everything in sight. Meeting one day with a group of industrialists, he asked them what more he could do for them. One of the industrialists, a man rejoicing in the name Legendre, replied: “Laissez-nous faire!” -- “Leave us alone!”

Opponents of laissez-faire typically attribute to it the results of interventionism (the woes of the New Zealand electricity industry being a classic example) and then proceed to demand more intervention to repair the results of the ealier meddling – thereby, if they are successful, compounding the problems by further distorting the natural ebb and flow of supply and demand. New Zealand’s economic difficulties that came to a head in the Muldoon years arose from precisely this type of acquiescence to the demands of lobby groups seeking favours.

For decades farmers, unions, and business interests jostled for domination of government’s agenda, all meeting with considerable success at different times, always to the ultimate detriment of the economy. The solution to domination of the government by one group is not domination by another. Those who feel that Big Business and the current government are too cosily intertwined, for example, should realise that, even if that were true, the answer is not simply to effect a change of partner, but to disentangle government from all sectors of the economy altogether. Corporate welfare is as wrong as 'social' welfare.

Let's be clear: Advocates of laissez-faire are opposed to government collusion with any pressure group. Advocates of laissez-faire propose a complete and constitutional separation between the state and the economy, in the same way and for similar reasons as the separation of church and state, believing that only in this way can governments be prevented from playing favourites and confined to their legitimate function – protecting the rights of individuals.

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. The 'Cue Cards' will be published as a set at the completion of the series.

TAGS: Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Economics, Libertarianism, Politics, Politics-NZ

Cue Card Libertarianism - Monopoly

Monopoly: n. exclusive domain over the production or provision of a given good or service.

Coercive monopoly: n. exclusive domain over the production or provision of a given good or service that is maintained by government force.

The difference between these two very different things is as little understood as are the reasons that some companies come to claim near-dominance. But the difference is crucial.

The claim by statists that a free market inevitably leads to monopolies is a classic case of the inversion described under Laissez-Faire; an inversion in which the market is distorted due to state intervention, and the market is then blamed for the distortion that results.

True monopolies are creations of the state: there has been no company in history that has been able to maintain exclusive domain over all of the production or provision of a given good or service without the assistance of the state.

If true monopolies offend you, then it's government intervention you should abhor. The state will exercise its own monopolies, as with the old Air New Zealand, Post Office, or Producer Boards, or the present electricity lines 'business' and roading network, where other parties are prohibited by law from entering the relevant field; the state may confer monopoly status on a chosen private firm by issuing a charter or an exclusive franchise; or the state may boost favoured firms into positions of market dominance by means of subsidies, tariffs, quotas and other forms of artificial assistance and protection. That is a true coercive monopoly.

However, a 'monopoly' that emerges from the cut and thrust of competition in a free marketplace to achieve near dominance purely by its own efforts deserves its dominance by dint of the outstanding service by which alone it can achieve it; such a company has not been granted its position by state charter, but by consumer choice.

Maintaining such a position of voluntarily-maintained near-dominance in a market is not easy; as long as the field remains open and coercion and fraud are prohibited it is in permanent danger of losing that dominance.

Bigness as such is not a menace; state coercion that creates an artificial bigness or barriers to entry, is. 

Statists who erroneously fault the free market for producing monopolies are curiously staunch in their defence of existing state monopolies, and have taken to using the argument that certain fields are 'natural monopolies.' This may be translated as: “Whatever fields are now monopolised by the state are natural monopolies, therefore the state should continue to monopolise them.”

This argument is absurd on its face. That there are technical difficulties or problems in de-monopolising certain fields, e.g. roads and electricity, is a legacy of the state’s monopoly, not something intrinsic to the field. In most cases, however, there are not even technical obstacles to deregulation, just the knee-jerk moral objections of hidebound socialists, which have been eloquently quashed by deregulation’s actual fruits. Anti-Trust Laws in the United States and laws in New Zealand that enforce competition by state force -- laws that purport to 'promote competition' by preventing so-called 'anti-competitive behaviour' -- these both allow for the most vicious statutory violations of accepted legal and judicial norms in the semi-free world.

Under these laws, citizens cannot be sure beforehand what constitutes a crime, and under these laws, citizens guilty of no more than running a great business have been jailed. Charging a lower price for one’s products than a competitor has led to prosecution on the grounds of unfairness; charging the same price as a competitor has led to prosecution on the grounds of collusion; charging a higher price has led to prosecution on the grounds of exploitation of the consumer.

Such is the Alice-in-Wonderland world of Antitrust.

A truly 'natural' monopoly or near-monopoly – ie., an unsubsidised, unprotected victor of unregulated competition enjoying near-dominance in their field – is to be applauded: while it lasts! And where it really does exist!

But a coercive monopoly--a creature of the state who could only survive under its wing--that's where your real opprobrium should be directed.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by New Zealand libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. The 'Cue Cards' will be published as a set at the completion of the series.

  TAGS: Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Economics, Libertarianism, Politics, Politics-NZ

Sunday, 14 May 2006

'Recognise rights in river' says PC

Sometimes recycling works. Here's an example in the form of a press release. The Government are about to close a deal to return the Waikato River to Tainui. The Whig The Tory has a good discussion and a link to the 1999 Maori Law Review article discussing an earlier proposal to return the Whanganui River from the perspective of common law property rights. Sample:
English common law presumed that non-tidal waterways were held by the owners of adjoining land to the centre line, with no general public right of use or access... While the popular view was that rivers are ‘public property’, there is no legal basis for that view, apart from places where the Crown retained ownership of adjoining lands eg., in national parks etc.
Quite right, as I said in a press release at the time on behalf of the Libz:

‘Give Tribe Full Ownership of River’ says Libertarianz

Libertarianz supports full ownership of the Whanganui River being transferred to the Atihaunui A Paparangi tribe - not the so-called ‘partnership’ of state and tribe the Waitangi tribunal recommends, but the full and final creation of ownership rights in this river, and in every other river, lake, forest, mountain and waterway in New Zealand.

“The main issue to me is not to whom property rights in the river are transferred to,” says Libertarianz Environment Deregulation Spokesman Peter Cresswell, “the important thing is that transferrable property rights in the river be created.”

Property rights protect the interests of the property owners – as people who have had their land confiscated should understand – and protects the environment in the process. The environment needs to be de-politicised as crucially as does the economy. Creating property rights in rivers – and getting the state out of them - would be a crucial first step.
The important words were and still are "transferable," and "property rights" -- as long as rights in the river are made both secure and transferrable -- and as long as no other existing property rights are violated -- then those rights will end up in the hands of those who value them the most, as they should be, and out of the hands of Government, where they shouldn't.

Sadly, that doesn't quite appear to be what's proposed here.

LINKS: Government set to return Waikato to Tainui - NZ Herald
Rodney Hide missteps - The Tory

TAGS: Property_Rights, Maoritanga, Libz, Politics-NZ, Environment

'London Calling - Redux'

If the Beatles White Album needs pruning down to a single record, as The Whig The Tory suggested last week (erroneously IMHO), there is one well-known record that needs it more, much more: The Clash's London Calling.

When this first came out, records in NZ (remember records?) came out from England by slow boat, and English punk records came out by row boat, if at all. (Anyone remember standing in line at the bottom of Queen St to pick up one of the very few Joy Division imports in the country? Back when you had to save up for months and put your name down for one of the limited number imported? I tell you, those weren't the days.)

Fortunately, I had a girl-friend visiting the UK just as this came out, and she brought me back three wonderful vinyl presents*, including this one, making me one of the fortunate few in New Zealand to hear what the Clash's new record sounded like in the week it came out. My friends and I gathered expectantly around the wind-up gramophone as I unwrapped the boon, and I dropped the needle expectantly. It started well. 'London Calling' was no 'Safe European Home' -- or even a 'Janie Jones' -- but it was good and fresh and pungent, but from there it all sort of seemed to slide little by little towards limpness, from 'Brand New Bloody Cadillac' (limp filler) and ending up with the song they were too embarrassed even to include on the sleeve, 'Train in Vain.'

The Clash had gone disco. Uuurgh.

The record sat unloved for months. Even to an untrained teenage ear it was clear this was a different Clash, and a different Clash was not what I had signed up for. Eventually however, over time, its few treats won me over. This was a good record. A good single record. There was too much fluff; too much stuff that in the Age of Vinyl couldn't simply be programmed away and avoided -- the only recourse was to scratch a nail through the grooves you needed to avoid. I didn't, but I was often sorely tempted. Whatever fitness I had in in my early teenage years I attribute to getting up and down a lot to skip tracks on this album

Here then is the record The Clash should have put out, sans dreck -- London Calling Redux:

Side 1:

1. London Callng
2. Rudie Can't Fail
3. Clampdown
4. Guns of Brixton
5. Spanish Bombs

Side 2:
1. The Card Cheat
2. Wrong 'em Boyo
3. Death or Glory
4. I'm Not Down
5. Lost in the SuperMarket
6. Jimmy Jazz
*The other two records, bless her, were Stiff Little Fingers' Inflammable Material, and Buzzcocks' A Different Kind of Tension -- both also just released. Waddagirl!

TAGS: Music

Two Sunday memes

Shamelessly Pinched from Mark and Paula:
Meme 1...
Accent: NZ.
Booze: Yes please.
Chore I Hate: Blog memes.
Dog or Cat: 1 cat, a Devon Rex.
Essential Electronics: Computer, stereo - I like to try and injure or mislay the cellphone
Favorite Perfume: The smell of eggs in the morning.
Gold or Silver: Both.
Hometown: Auckland
Insomnia: Yes. Great for getting things done.
Job Title: If I tell you, I'll have to kill you. ;^)
Kids: No thanks.
Living arrangements: Castle on the Hill.
Most admirable traits: I 'let' people win in tennis.
Number of sexual partners: One at a time.
Overnight hospital stays: Three - once for tonsils; once for a finger; once for a knee.
Phobias: Snakes, liberals, Tories.
We hold these truths to be demonstrable in reality: that human beings are individually possessed of certain inalienable rights, which are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of private property and happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers - and only such powers - from the consent of the governed; that all laws legislated by governments must be for the purpose of securing these rights; that no laws legislated by government may violate these rights; that all citizens are equal before such laws; and that whenever any government becomes destructive of these rights, it is in rebellion against its citizens, who may then remove it and institute new government.
Religion: Not bleeding likely.
Siblings: One older blister.
Time I wake up: Depends who (or what) is waking me up ...
Unusual talent or skill: Can offend several dozen people at several paces simply by entering a room.
Vegetable I love: Potatoes, deep fried. Spinach, on pizza.
Worst habit: Not letting people finish their ...
X-rays/MRIs: Chest, neck, head.
Yummy foods I make: Lasagne, pancakes, scrambled eggs, sourdough bread, risotto, Sichuan tofu.
Zodiac sign: Uranus.

Meme 2...
I am: Therefore, I'll think.
I want: More time.
I wish: Wishing doesn't make it so.
I hate: Those who wish without thinking.
I love: Those who think without wishing.
I miss: My youth. ;^)
I fear: James Joyce.
I hear: James Joyce is not as frightening as he appears.
I wonder: Why Wagner's operas are longer than they need to be.
I regret: That Wagner's operas are so long.
I am not: Entirely unhappy at their length.
I dance: To everything other than Wagner. Or in public.
I sing: But not well.
I cry: At funerals.
I am not always: On the computer.
I make with my hands: Architectural models.
I write: Often.
I confuse: Deposits for full contracts.
I should: Charge more.
I start: With gusto!
I finish: Eventually.

TAGS: Blog

Saturday, 13 May 2006

Fine carpentry

Many of you will know blogger Mark D. Firestone to be a fine chap ... for a hippy. Look then to his new creation highlighting his professional side: Fine Carpentry. Beautiful. The man is clearly a craftsman's craftsman as well as a blogger's blogger.

If I was working in Sonoma County, I'd employ him in a shot.

LINKS: Fine Carpentry - Mark D. Firestone

The eyes have it: dismissing Creationism again

The so called 'irreducible complexity' of existence is one of the primary arguments that Creationists make for their imaginary friend being the architect of all that exists. "If it's complex, then God done it," is their claim. Michael Behe puts the arguments, such as it is, on behalf of the supernaturalists:
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.
It poses neither challenge nor problem to Darwin's Law of Evolution, as Darwin himself pointed out when evolution was only a theory. Said he:
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.
Indeed. Perceptive readers will notice that I discussed this in Part 2 of last year's three-parter on the shibboleth of Intelligent Design. For those who did notice, then as a reward you might like to see the point demonstrated in a short four-minute video presented by Swedish scientist Dan-Eric Nilsson, demonstrates one possible straightforward evolutionary path. [ Hat tip, again, to S. Hicks, Esq.]

LINKS: Unintelligent design, Part 1 - Not PC
Unintelligent design, Part 2 - Not PC
Unintelligent design, Part 3 - Not PC
The human eye is NOT irreducibly complex - YouTube

TAGS: Education Science Religion Politics-US Objectivism Philosophy

NZ not for sale

"NZ is not for sale," says eBay, after it was put up for auction by a disgruntled Australian and then withdrawn by the internet site, disappointing thousands around the world who had been preparing to finance a purchase of this South Pacific paradise:

With a starting offer of just one cent, brisk bidding for the prime chunk of South Pacific real estate quickly boosted the price to 3,000 Australian dollars (US$2,330) before eBay pulled the plug on the auction this week." Clearly New Zealand is not for sale," eBay Australia spokesman Daniel Feiler told the New Zealand Press Association, adding that 22 bids had been made before the company acted. The trader has not been named, but apparently was unimpressed with the country he was trying to sell.

"Very ordinary weather," was one of the trader's stated complaints. This may perhaps have put off some buyers and brought down the price of the bids for its withdrawal, although a few prospective purchasers did say they were concerned that the NZ Government would 'unbundle' the purchase once completed.

Speculation that the trader was just a disappointed Brumbies fan upset at being kicked out the Super 14 last night was apparently rife around Christchurch last night. [Hat tip: Stephen Hicks]

LINK: Online auction site eBay rules that New Zealand not for sale - Mainichi Daily News
Sharks knock Brumbies out of the semis - Stuff

TAGS: New_Zealand, Geek_Stuff

Headland - David Knowles

'Headland,' by New Zealand artist David Knowles. Don't try to buy it, it's already sold: but he does have other work you can buy...

LINKS: Headland - David Knowles Art David Knowles Art

Art, New_Zealand

Friday, 12 May 2006

Beer O'Clock: Tuatara IPA

Astute readers will have noticed the authorship of the ever popular 'Beer O’Clock' column is alternating between Real Beer's Neil and Stu.

While more than happy to sup together and to yak about beer, alternating columns allows Stu and I to show our very different tastes in the beer we like to sup. I [Neil] tend to frolic amongst enormous, exuberant hop-fueled pale ales. Stu on the other hand revels gleefully in the subtle inky roastiness of dark porters and stouts. Working week about gives readers of Not PC a bit of variety in their beer talk.

This week then one of my favorite libations: Tuatara IPA.

India Pale Ales (IPA) were created when Britain still ruled the Raj. After months at sea, traditional beers arrived in India sour, spoiled and undrinkable. This did not help troop morale. Instead of this swill, an enterprising brewer made a beer with extra hops and extra alcohol which proved much more resilient -- and so the style was born., and eventually spread around the world.

Working now in his farm-based brewery north of Wellington, Tuatara's Head Brewer Carl Vasta – a 'young veteran' of brewing – takes a traditional approach to his own range of beer. He says “I’m trying to make the classic styles as close to their traditional definition as possible.” We think he's succeeded.

While the alcohol level in this beer has dropped slightly in recent years, it remains a full-flavoured and worthy IPA. This sparkling gold beer draws the eye and throws a gorgeous nose, combining a spicy grassiness with some hints of tropical fruit. The body is mellow and full of citrus, before a long, lingering bitterness sneaks up on your tastebuds and you suddenly find you need another mouthful. Cheers.

The Tuatara IPA is on tap at The Malthouse and Bodega in Wellington, can be found in bottles all ofer this fresh green land -- and is good all year long.

Cheers, Neil Miller

LINKS: The Malthouse
Real Beer

TAGS: Beer_&_Elsewhere

New blog: The Objective Standard

I've just added a new blog to the Blogroll: The Objective Standard, a companion to The Objective Standard magazine -- "a rational, principled alternative to the disastrous ideas of liberalism and conservatism." It's Statement of Purpose declares it to be,
based on the idea that for every human concern—from personal matters to foreign policy, from the sciences to the arts, from education to legislation—there are demonstrably objective standards by reference to which we can assess what is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong. The purpose of the journal is to analyze and evaluate ideas, trends, events, and policies accordingly.
Its first posts include commentary on United 93, a critique of the altruist Presidency of GWB, and a welcome dismissal of the "widespread and dangerous misconception that the United States was founded as a Christian nation." Good objective reading.

LINKS: The Objective Standard blog
Objective Standard - Current issue

TAGS: Politics-US, Politics-World, Objectivism

Still hope!

There's still hope for us. News just out that Elle McPherson has declared:
a) she's single; and
b) she is presently revelling in spontaneous and enjoyable sex.
Hold the phone!


I've rearranged my Blogroll, so let me know if I've misplaced you, mislaid you, or readers should know you.
TAGS: Blog

Author meets Thatcher

The author of The Welfare State We're In confessed to nervousness when being introduced recently to Margaret Thatcher. Says James Batholemew of the meeting:
I told her that the book argues that we would be better off if the previous welfare systems had been allowed to develop instead of being replaced by the welfare state. She announced, "You must suggest an alternative. If you say the welfare state is no good, you must suggest an alternative."

I have agonised about this before in a previous entry on this website. I said to her that it would be a big job, requiring a lot of research and I doubted people would want to read my particular blueprint. She was having none of that, saying words to the effect: "If you can't think of a good way of communicating it, then you must
find a way of communicating it."

I felt like a junior minister being given his instructions. I could see the logic of what she said - all too clearly.
She's right you know, and not just about the welfare state. Just as it's important to argue the ethical issues underlying political principles -- in this particular case the ethic of altruism and of enforced moral cannibalism -- so too it's important to clearly set out the direct you propose. No dissembling; no prevaricating; no fudging; just clearly and consistently setting out the goalposts you intend to push towards: Because if you don't point out those goals posts, then no-one else is going to do it for you.
LINKS: Baroness Thatcher gives me my instructions - The Welfare State We're In
Cue Card Libertarianism - Altruism - Not PC
Cue Card Libertarianism - Welfarism - Not PC
TAGS: Welfare, Politics, Politics-UK

Cue Card Libertarianism - Welfarism

Welfarism: [n.] The Great New Zealand Disease; an affliction imbibed with Mother's Milk, incubated in the state's factory schools and released like a bacillus in humanities departments across the country. A mentality that assumes the following divine rights:
  1. the right to be kept alive at others’ expense;
  2. the right to abandon freely-chosen responsibilities at others’ expense;
  3. the right to have children at others’ expense;
  4. the right to have those children supported and educated at others’ expense;
  5. the right to health care and housing at others’ expense;
  6. the right to retirement income at others’ expense;
  7. the right to whatever else one feels like laying claim to, at others’ expense;
  8. the right, in pursuit of the above, to extract others’ earnings from them by force -- all the while proclaiming the evil of the pursuit of money;
  9. the right, in pursuit of the above, to tax the profitable -- all the while proclaiming the evil of profits.
The right, in short, to fleece the productive in order to placate and to fund the unproductive.

Welfarism divides humanity into two classes – beneficiaries and involuntary benefactors. For every beneficiary in New Zealand there are two involuntary benefactors. The number of beneficiaries rises in proportion to the eagerness of politicians to bribe voters with other people’s money. When the DPB was introduced in the 70s the number of people claiming it was in the hundreds, (and the amount spent was about $4million in today's money); it is now over a hundred thousand (and costs $2.8 billion per year, fifteen percent of the welfare budget). Welfarism feeds upon itself by paying people with dependent attitudes to have children who will grow up with the same dependent attitudes.

The ethics of Welfarism are an affront to the libertarian values of self-reliance, self-ownership and self-responsibility. Caring for those genuinely unable to fend for themselves – whose number in a free, no-tax, low-cost society would be nothing like a third of the population – is not a legitimate state function that should be effected forcibly: It is the legitimate private domain of those who freely choose to do it. As Thomas Mackay said in Methods of Social Reform:
We shall not get rid of pauperism by extending the sphere of state relief; on the contrary, its adoption would increase our pauperism, for, as is often said, we can have exactly as many pauper as the country choose to pay for.
Whether New Zealand will ever by cured of the disease of welfarism is a moot point. Its economic untenability is now widely recognised, but its moral untenability is not. State welfare is nothing less than moral cannibalism: the insistence at the point of a gun that Peter pay for Paul and Carol pay for Cathy -- something naturally for which Paul and Cathy are happy to express their support, when they can rouse themselves.

The sleazy advocates of institutionalised Welfarism are not for the most part motivated by the help they can do, but seek only the great boon of power for themselves through the charade of 'doing good' to others (and always at the expense of someone else). They have bequeathed instead only a helpless and hopeless under-class, while still having the gall to call themselves “humanitarians” -- a point on which they are only too seldom seriously challenged.

Part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians. Originally published in The Free Radical. The 'Introduction' to the series is here. The series so far is here.
LINKS: Cue Card Libertarianism - Not PC
TAGS: Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Libertarianism, Politics, Politics-NZ, Welfare

'Self-Made Man' - Bobby Carlyle

'Self-Made Man,' Bobby Carlyle. A snip at just US$83,000 for an 8'10" bronze limited edition. Or just visit the website regularly to see the 360 degree animation.

The concept reminds me just a little of a Richard Bock sculpture for Frank Lloyd Wright's 1903 Dana House called 'The Flower in the Crannied Wall' (below).

Story of that sculpture here.

LINKS: Self-made man - Bobby Carlyle, Quent Cordair Gallery
Richard Bock's flower in the crannied wall - Dana-Thomas House Foundation newsletter, March, 2004

TAGS: Art, Sculpture

Thursday, 11 May 2006

'The Budget': Sign of a pathetic addiction

The Budget. Say that phrase and immediately everyone knows what you're talking about -- a sign in itself of the overweening obsession we you lot have with Big Government, and of its overbearing place in our lives.

I was about to get ready for next week's Cullen Budget by beginning my pre-Budget thoughts with a piece along those lines when I found it had already been written for me. By an Australian. After a budget was delivered there with tax cuts...

If you want to ween yourself of your own pathetic addiction to big government, then Janet Albrechtsen's column is a must. [Hat tip Julian Pistorius]
LINK: Our pathetic addiction to big government - Janet Albrechtsen, The Australian
TAGS: Budget_&_Taxation, Politics-Australian, Politics, Libertarianism

Oh no: No UFOs, no aliens

Speaking of nonsense, a comprehensive British UFO study has found no sign of aliens. None at all. As Xavier says, "Who would have thought?" Concluded the report, "No evidence exists to suggest that the phenomena seen are hostile or under any type of control, other than that of natural physical forces."
Meanwhile, supporters of both NZ First and the United Party are still being investigated for signs of intelligent life. Scientists so far are said to have found little evidence in favour of the proposition.
LINK: UFO study finds no sign of aliens - BBC News
TAGS: Nonsense

Ahmadinejads letter to Bush: A prelude to what?

As you've no doubt heard, Iran's almighty president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a letter to George Bush. And as you might expect, Jihad Watch have an interesting theological perspective on it -- "an initial thought" that suggests the "letter could be -- but is not necessarily -- a prelude to an attack."
Read the whole fairly short thought here. The text of the longer letter is linked, if you haven't yet seen the whole sorry apologia.
LINKS: Ahmadinejad's letter a call to accept Islam? - Jihad Watch
TAGS: Politics-World, Religion, War

Teenage musical tastes

Support the Fine Arts

It's often said that teenage tastes are low-rent, and musical taste in particular. It hasn't always been true. There's an interesting 'culture-war' commentary currently re-circulating from ten years ago that makes an interesting claim: "Those presently engaged in a Diogenean search for heroes should stop and reflect that [Person X] was the only person in the history of the world to succeed in elevating teenage musical tastes."

Without cheating and reading the piece first, can you guess who 'Person X' was? Who could possibly have elevated teenage tastes? I'll give you a clue: It wasn't Kylie Minogue.
LINKS: The misanthope's corner - Florence King, (originally published in National Review)
TAGS: Music

Delusions en masse, and spin all the time

Recent NZ events and headlines have made it clear (if it wasn't clear already) that you and I really are taken for idiots both by the various power-lusters within Parliament and by their cheerless cheerleaders without. It’s almost insulting. Politicians are our employees and they will do whatever you and I let them get away with. Recent evidence suggests their employers let them get way with a lot.

Almost everyone came out in support of the idea that taking Telecom's lines and giving them to its competitors was neither nationalisation nor theft, but was instead re-regulation, unbundling, and everyone from Tory to houri was happy to go along and to peddle the spin – everyone that is with the significant exception of one minor party leader, one former Minister, a few blustering bloggers and a large number of former shareholders of Telecom who lost no time in taking their money out of the unbundled corporation.

Everyone however in the commentariat was only too happy to jump on the bandwagon, and happy to turn their focus (and the public's) on the leak – sorry, that should be 'The Leak!' – and the story of The Leak is still being followed assiduously by all the easily diverted drips, even as the larceny looks to be extended further into the partial nationalisation of mobile services.

“Well,” you can imagine the power-lusters from the Red Team contemplating, “if one act of larcenic legerdemain can be put over so easily, why not try and get away with another?” Why not, eh?

And who cares really? Who amongst you lot even notices you're being spun? Or cares? If politics is the art of the possible, then the power-lusters from both Team Red and Team Blue know that the public are buying the spin, and the commentariat are either happy to peddle it or too vapid to notice it (come in Susan Wood) -- but the end result of the spin being bought is that what is possible to the politicians is more, much more, of the same.

Just think how stupid they think we are. Irrelevant accusations of American involvement in our elections was flung around in the election campaign like so much chum – and what the hell’s wrong with Americans anyway? – and then after doing their job in that dust up they’re dusted off and resurrected in the form of some perfectly innocuous e-mails ... and to a man and a woman the commentariat leap up and down as if the sky is falling and we’re in danger of CIA takeover.

What a lot of barking seals and overfed fools. If the political commentators don’t know or notice or point out what’s going on, is it little wonder the public don’t seem to either? But how much more blatant does it need to be made that spin is overwhelming substance? Even having to point out the irrelevance and in-your-face obviousness of this stuff is soiling – and it’s not just me talking with my libertarian hat on here; most of this stuff so blindingly obvious you can only imagine the politicians laughing up their sleeves that they're able to get away with it.

Here’s some recent and ongoing lowlights of spin, just from the top of my head (feel free to add more):
  • Blatant lies and spin about welfare numbers is bought almost wholesale and corrected only on the margins.
  • Complete equivocation from politicians about the difference between tax cuts and welfare handouts is received with stone-dead ignorance from the commentariat that there even is a difference.
  • A coalition in everything but name, and a Foreign Minister in nothing but his name on the door, is greeted with little but laughter and smirks all round.
  • Some homes built by some Registered Master Builders and designed by some Registered Architects are found to leak, and the chosen solution is to register all builders and all designers -- 'masterfully done' is the response from the Guilds, the opposition, and the commentariat, who also unanimously agree that the building industry was deregulated in the nineties. It wasn't.
  • Stone-age racism from Maori Party and Maori quarter alike is hailed as ‘giving a minority a voice,’ while proposals to remove racism from legislation are spun (and bought) as “playing the race card.”
  • An electricity industry in which almost all major players are arms of the state is still widely considered and referred to as having been ‘deregulated’ and ‘privatised.’
  • Taxes on cigarettes are raised year after year in order to discourage consumption -- and ‘fat taxes’ are mooted for similar reasons -- but high taxes on production, ie., on fuel, on incomes and on profits are not considered to discourage either enterprise or production, and are barely questioned as being germane.
  • Parties across the board talk about the need to help working families and the desirability of good child-care, but the realisation that in most households one partner is going out to work just to pay the tax bill is either ignored, overlooked or dismissed.
I could go on -- and I often have -- but the fact that this stuff is widely bought and seriously sold is an insult to everyone’s intelligence right across the board. It’s either wilful blindness, or utter ignorance that it's not laughed off the podium. Whatever it is, politicians will keep on doing what they can get away with, and both blindness and ignorance will always allow them to get away with an awful lot.

Of course, having an opposition that pays major attention only to minor matters doesn’t hurt either. While an election is stolen and New Zealanders routinely and New Zealand’s largest company just recently have their property rights violated -- and the public apparently couldn’t care less about either -- the opposition tries instead to raise attention with footling attacks on the subjects of Plunket Line, tennis balls in schoolrooms, signed paintings, what TVNZ said in some private emails, speeding limousines in Canterbury and chauffered car crashes in Ponsonby.

It's hard to know whether they're all just dim bulbs or whether because both public and commentariat neither know nor care what's really going on the opposition don't really bother either. But it's not exactly diverting to watch.

As a Californian libertarian always sued to say, "People are deluded en masse, and enlightened only one at a time." At this rate, the job of enlightenment will be a long one.

  • Of course, I've forgotten to point out another headline grabber of recent days: the shameless spinning, right on to the front pages, of an out-of-context quote from Theresa Gattung. Naturally, the full context showed something quite different (see links in this post).
  • And the indefatigable Lindsay Mitchell has news of another crock being peddled as we speak by Minister for Weasel Words Michael Cullen, who points out essentially that the drop in our rankings for economic competitiveness is not so much that we've got worse, as that everyone else has got better.
  • And just so you don't think it's only NZers who suffer in this way, spare a thought for the citizens of the US of A, most of whom venerated when he was alive and in office what must be one of last century's greatest political charlatans, and who even today rank him among their top three presidents. I talk of course of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
TAGS: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Politics-National, Nonsense

Sagrada Familia Basilica - Antoni Gaudi

A modern Gothic: Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, begun 1882, and caled by its architect before he died in 1926, the "last great sanctuary of Christendom."
LINKS: Sagrada Familia - Great Buildings Online
TAGS: Architecture

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

Spin from Benson-Dope

David Benson-Dope is congratulating himself for manipulating the the drop in unemployment figures. There are now 44,549 on the dole compared to 42,405 in 1986 says The Dope. Yes there are. But that's nothing compared to the enormous increases elsewhere, as Lindsay Mitchell reports.
LINKS: Number on unemployment benefit hits 20-year low - Scoop
Half the story 2 - Lindsay Mitchell

TAGS: Politics-NZ, Welfare

al-Qaeda losing in Iraq

Captured al-Qaeda correspondence suggests all is not well for the organisation in Iraq. What a shame. As the Captain's Quarters blog says in its summary of the documents' contents:
Far from optimistic, the documents captured in an April 16th raid reveal frustration and desperation, as the terrorists acknowledge the superior position of American and free Iraqi forces and their ability to quickly adapt to new tactics... [These documents show] that we have just about triumphed over the AQ network in Iraq, and AQ knows it. Hopefully, the American media might finally start reporting it.
Some are. And even one NZ media outlet.
LINKS: Captured AQ Documents: "Every Year Is Worse Than The Previous Year" - Captain's Quarters

US claim of Qaeda Iraq weakness may reflect reality - Reuters
Seized Papers Said to Show Qaeda in Iraq Is Worried - NY Times [requires registration]
Seized documents highlight Al-Qaeda in Iraq's strategy, concerns - San Diego Union Tribune
Captured al Qaeda document 'shows weakness' - NZ Herald
TAGS: War, Politics-World

'United 93' director sees one too many hijacks

Jihad Watch are unimpressed by the new film United 93 , or at least unimpressed by the director's view of the hijackers portrayed in the film, to wit:
There were two hijacks on the morning of 9/11 [suggests 'United 93' director Paul Greengrass]. There was the hijack that we know about, the hijack of the airplanes, of the innocent people, that flew into the buildings and all that terrible death and destruction that occurred as a result.
    But there was a second hijack that took place that day. The hijack of a religion by a bunch of young men who twisted and perverted it in order to create a creed and an ideology to justify the slaughter of innocent people, and that's a hijack that is still out there today. It's still going on today, and it's going to be very hard for us to work out what to do to deal with that..."
So says the director of United 93 Paul Greengrass, to which Jihad Watch responds, that this "is still the prevailing mainstream view. But it is founded on a fiction.":

Winston scores one more with the braindead

So the National Party were talking to America's Republicans before the election. What a shock. And in other news, Tony Blair and Helen Clark exchanged phone calls, New Zealand's Greens and Australia's Greens sent each other Christmas cards, and Rodney Hide was invited to speak at the Mont Pelerin Society. In other words, of course they were.

This is not news, and certainly not scandal. Once again Winston Peters talks big -- "I have emails that will rock the National Party!" he's been saying for months -- and once again when it comes time to front with the evidence, all he has is a squib. A wet one. The only wonder is how this wet, flaccid blowhard contines to get away with it, and continues to earn support.

The fact is, he wasn't talking to you and me (well, maybe to you); he wasn't talking to the Parliament; he wasn't even talking to anyone with an active brain. Who he was talking to his supporters -- those people with neither memory nor judgement nor any critical faculty worth a damn; those diminishing few who still think the Cook Strait ferry ran aground, that the Russians sent a cruise ship here on a spy mission, that Saddam Hussein's former Ministers are enjoying NZ hospitality, and that the envy-ridden waste of time and space called the Winebox Inquiry actually found anything to answer for.

Who he's always been talking to is people who can just manage to scan a headline and a heroic photograph, but who will never read beyond to the small print. Those are Winston's people. And to them, he's just scored another success. To the rest of us, this is just more evidence that to Winston -- and also to his new student Trevor Mallard -- truth is less important than a headline.
LINKS: Nats election email leaked to Peters - TVNZ
TAGS: Politics-NZ, Politics-Winston_First, Politics-National

St. Barbara Cathedral in Kutná Hora, Bohemia - Peter Parler

I guess after this afternoon's post, I really have to offer up a Gothic masterpiece. So here's one that fits the bill: St. Barbara Cathedral in Kutná Hora, Bohemia, begun 1388.

One of the world's finest late-Gothic cathedrals, and something of a cutie.
TAGS: Architecture

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

No Playboy for Jakarta: Muslim tits still a-tangle

The publication of Playboy in Muslim Indonesia was greeted by some of us as perhaps a hopeful sign of Muslim liberalisation at least somewhere on the planet. Sadly, it seems Muslim tits in Jakarta are still all a-tangle: from Jakarta comes news of a new 'anti-porn' bill being discussed that according to some locals is "the thin edge of the Taliban wedge." If the bill is passed, says The Economist, "spouses will not be able to kiss in public, women will not be able to wear shorts for sport... , bikinis will be banned and many traditional dances will be consigned to history."

And Playboy? What of its future in Indonesia? It has none.

"Playboy is not suitable for reading because its contents degrade women," said the Islamic Defenders Front on behalf of a religion that values goats above women and has young women killed in order to "protect their honour."

Following the stoning of its offices by the Islamic Defenders Front, after which the police chose to interrogate the editors instead of arresting the thugs, Playboy have announced that publication of the Indonesian edition has now been suspended. Said the director of Playboy's Indonesian publishing company after the interrogation and the helpful suggestion from the police that they shut down and piss off, "We are very glad to have input from the Jakarta police. It was quite wise." I bet it was.

Looks like it's burgas and sharia all round then, huh?

UPDATE: On the question of women in Islam comes a relevant pair of links here from Arts & Letters Daily: "Bernard Lewis knows Islam's splendor and the dignity it gives to drab, impoverished lives. He also knows its darkness and its rage... more ... Lewis on women in Islam." Says Lewis in the second of the two linked articles,
I firmly believe that women are our best hope in dealing with the Muslim world, because they have so much to gain from modernization..
LINKS: Muslims get tits in a tangle - Not PC
No sex please, we're Indonesian -
The Economist (via The Hamilton Spectator)
Moral equivalence - Not PC
Indonesians ask Playboy to stop publishing - CBS News
A sage in Christendom - Opinion Journal
Modernizing the Muslim world - Toronto Star
What went wrong: Western impact and Middle Eastern response,
by Bernard Lewis (excerpts) - Google Books
TAGS: Politics-World, Religion, Sex

'Architecture is the scientific art of making structure express ideas'

"Architecture is the scientific art of making structure express ideas." A friend asked me recently just what the hell that quote from Frank Lloyd Wright actually means -- and to answer him, I had to go all the way back to the Middle Ages. Back specifically to Gothic cathedrals, perhaps the clearest and most powerful example of ideas being expressed through structure.

Prior to the development of Gothic cathedrals, the prevailing mode of construction was Romanesque, ie., in the form of Roman architecture, and the overwhelming things being constructed in this manner were churches. This was after all the Dark Ages, and Romanesque churches reflected that: dark interiors, few windows, little life in the proportions or rhythm of the building -- in short they were overwhelmingly gloomy, reflecting the overwhelming mood of the times (see left for example).

Yet after the turn of the millennia, a new mood was afoot. The year 1000 AD had passed and the world hadn't ended. The church still sucked the life out the peasantry, but more wealth and more intellectual inquiry were pursued. And a new, more optimistic conception of 'God's light of illumination' being at the heart of the town or city was formed (see for example Ulm Cathedral at right).

A new architecture was needed to express the new idea, but the prevailing Romanesque form was insuffiently supple to do it. The problem, you see, was the semi-circular or Roman arch, after which the style was named. Specifically, the semicircular arch couldn't easily transfer loads vertically to the ground without significant sideways buttressing -- the sideways thrust is significant with a semicircular arch or dome, as Michelangelo was to find later when he had to throw a chain around the base of St Peters dome to keep it intact -- and also with a semicircular arch the height and width of the arch are intextricably linked, which meant variation in floor plan was difficult to achieve. Taken together, these two features on their own meant the Roman arch itself, the very motif of the imperial Romanesgue style, was keeping churches low and gloomy, and stale and dull -- perfect for the Dark Ages but not so good for a more optimistic age. The Roman arch had to go.

Enter the 'pointed arch,' an Islamic innovation brought back from the Crusades and from journeys to Moorish Spain. The pointed arch solved both these problems at a stroke and was adopted wholesale, and with its adoption a new idea was able to be expressed.

You see, since the height of the arch no longer determined its width on the ground, the floor plan could become more supple and more lively. And since the pointed arch transferred loads more effiently and with a smaller sideways thrust, the buildings could become tall, really tall -- reaching to heaven you see, "linking the heavenly and earthly spheres" as Christian Norberg-Schulz puts it -- and the walls and buttressing could become ever thinner. And one more thing now entered, the invention of a Paris priest, Abbot Suger of St Denis: something called the flying buttress (left and below).

Rather like the stone scaffolding a spider would erect to support an outside wall if he were a great stonemason, Suger's flying buttresses took the load path away from the enclosing walls, allowing them to be even thinner, and held them aloft so the building could become even taller, and so thin that vast holes could be be punched through so 'God's glorious light' could flood in and overwhelm the supplicant within.

The effect was stunning and profound (see picture above at left of the St Denis interior), and the idea exploded around Europe -- with great spiders-webs of stone erected around ever higher and ever more glorious creations of man (see for example the choir of Reims cathedral at the bottom of the page).

To take the sideways thrust of these buttresses great piers were then erected, away from the outside walls and their vast stained glass windows, and on top of these piers enormous spires were then erected to counter-balance the sideways thrusts from the buttressing -- and with that the windows could be made much larger and the buildings even taller and ever more transparent! This was an exciting time to be a stonemason, with trial and error and much collapsing of stone producing ever taller and ever more transparent structures expressing the great idea of the age, such as it was.

Never was so much of mans' ingenuity used for so long in the service of such a shabby idea.

You can get some idea of the ingenuity involved in putting together Notre Dame of Paris, one of the smaller Gothic cathedrals, by clicking on and studying the cutaway picture at right.

The great idea of the Gothic cathedral was the expression of 'the age of faith,' of God's light illuminating man and the world, this idea itself being illuminated and expressed to an illiterate population through the means of architecture. The age of the Gothic Cathedral and the age of blind faith and illiteracy it represented was eventually killed by the printing press, and by the 'Age of Reason' that the printing press and the Renaissance beween them helped to bring about. As Victor Hugo put it in his famous essay on the demise of the Gothic cathedral in his novel Notre Dame de Paris, 'This Will Kill That,' an essay much admired by Frank Lloyd Wright and which expressed much the same idea as had Wright in the quote with which we began:
Human thought, in changing its form, was about to change its mode of expression; ... the dominant idea of each generation would no longer be written with the same matter, and in the same manner; ... the book of stone, so solid and so durable, was about to make way for the book of paper, more solid and still more durable. In this connection the archdeacon's vague formula had a second sense. It meant, "Printing will kill architecture." ...The great accident of an architect of genius may happen in the twentieth century, like that of Dante in the thirteenth. But architecture will no longer be the social art, the collective art, the dominating art. The grand poem, the grand edifice, the grand work of humanity will no longer be built: it will be printed.

henceforth, if architecture should arise again accidentally, it will no longer be mistress. It will be subservient to the law of literature, which formerly received the law from it. In India, Vyasa is branching, strange, impenetrable as a pagoda. In Egyptian Orient, poetry has like the edifices, grandeur and tranquillity of line; in antique Greece, beauty, serenity, calm; in Christian Europe, the Catholic majesty, the popular naivete, the rich and luxuriant vegetation of an epoch of renewal. The Bible resembles the Pyramids; the Iliad, the Parthenon; Homer, Phidias. Dante in the thirteenth century is the last Romanesque church; Shakespeare in the sixteenth, the last Gothic cathedral.

Thus, to sum up what we have hitherto said, in a fashion which is necessarily incomplete and mutilated, the human race has two books, two registers, two testaments: masonry and printing; the Bible of stone and the Bible of paper. No doubt, when one contemplates these two Bibles, laid so broadly open in the centuries, it is permissible to regret the visible majesty of the writing of granite, those gigantic alphabets formulated in colonnades, in pylons, in obelisks, those sorts of human mountains which cover the world and the past, from the pyramid to the bell tower, from Cheops to Strasburg. The past must be reread upon these pages of marble. This book, written by architecture, must be admired and perused incessantly; but the grandeur of the edifice which printing erects in its turn must not be denied.

At least one architect of genius did appear in the twentieth-century who understood what Hugo meant, and he put it much more simply: "Architecture is the scientific art of making structure express ideas." Architecture may never again compete with literature for pre-eminence in the expression of ideas, but it behooves both the reader of literature and the student and practitioner of architecture to understand how architecture can and has expressed ideas in the past, and how it still does just occasionally.
LINKS: The value of the pointed arch - Bryn Mawr College
This will kill that - Victor Hugo, Classic Reader
TAGS: History, Architecture, Building, Philosophy, Religion

Politics around the blogs

Liberty Scott has a round-up of a few interesting and possibly even hopeful points over recent days from some of NZ's parliamentary parties. From National: Brash talks about nanny state... but; from Labour: The tiny libertarian part of Labour; and from ACT: ACT on Campus on decriminalising marijuana - which, says The Tory, "will only happen with bold men and women prepared to state the case, especially MPs." If only there were some.

Instead of bold men and women, as Sus points out, we have growth in bureaucracy without any corresponding improvement in anything noticeable.

Meanwhile, with the Tasmanian miners freed, tributes are pouring in from all over. Personally, I like this one from Southern Gent posted just before their release: The miners are majors.

If you want to stop Cullen's ridiculous proposal to tax capital gains on money from overseas that you haven't yet made, Whinging in New Zealand has a link to a protest site put together by GPG.

Based on recent decisions not to prosecute various Labour Party luminaries despite at least the appearance of prima facie reasons to do so -- the latest being the decision not to prosecute for buying the election, reported with a very unpleasant headline -- Whale Oil suggests that the best thing lawyer Rob Moodie can do to avoid being prosecuted for contempt for releasing the Army report on the Berrymans' bridge is ... to join the Labour Party himself.

And for NZ Music Month, musician The Tomahawk Kid has some thoughts on musicians, moochers and looters, and lists some of his own favourite NZ music, as does the G-Man.

And on "that leak," TK suggests you don't "be taken in by the government's smokescreen -- trying to get the heat off what they have done by trying to find a scapegoat. Look to the perpetrators of the real crime." Quite right.

The leaker, if he or she was genuine (and not a Labour stooge panted intentionally to create a diversion), deserves not approbation but a medal. As I said the other day, "Whoever the whistle-blower was, whoever divulged Cabinet's plan to nationalise Telecom's network, did exactly the right thing. What the whistle-blower did was warn a victim of burglary what he overheard the burglars planning to do to them. It was a moral act.

And speaking of spin and Telecom, Russell Brown of Hard News posted an out-of-context remark from Theresa Gattung purporting to "explaining [Telecom's] incumbent telco business model: using "confusion" as a "marketing tool" to maintain prices and margins." As you'd expect with any out-of context snippet used in such a fashion, less than the whole truth is not the truth; as Telecom's John Goulter explains the full clip at Telecom's site apparently shows that what Gattung was talking about was Telecom's plan to simplify their pricing model, quite the opposite of the confusion Brown was clearly hoping to generate with his spin. Shame. Herald story here.

And just to confirm that I won't be talking about Dancing with the Stars. Ever. Although I might mention Chuck Norris occasionally instead -- Jimmy Jangles has the top Chuck facts here.
UPDATE: Link to full Telecom speech added. Russell Brown defends his out-of-context flim-flammery with it. Apparently he feels that all is well with posting such stuff without the full context as long as it gets you noticed.
TAGS: Politics-NZ