Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Bullshit! at Ten

Just so I don't miss it again, a friend has very kindly reminded me that Penn & Teller's celebrated TV programme 'Bullshit' screens again tonight on Prime.

Tonight's topic is 'recycling' -- something I had a go at myself some weeks back. Tune in and watch them make fun of people too worthy to survive.

If you miss it tonight, do a Google search. It's everywhere.

Welfare isn't working

What's been going on with welfare while every one's been crowing about the unemployment figures being the lowest in history? Lindsay Mitchell has an overview:

When Government's 'Trim the DPB' campaign began back in 1995, there were 102, 000 people on the DPB. Now? There are still 102, 000 on the DPB, and several thousand more bureaucrats to help administer the various 'Trim the DPB' campaigns devised since then.

What else? Back in 1995 the Government introduced "bold new measures" to "reduce the number of sickness beneficiaries," then totalling 74,000. What's the result, eleven years later? There are now 122,000 people receiving a sickness benefit.

As Lindsay concludes:
The government should STOP doing whatever it is they do. They just manage to make matters worse.
They sure do. Over the last ten years around $150 billion has been taken from taxpayers and spent in a war on poverty, and it's a war that no one is winning; not the government, not the taxpayer, and if recent studies are correct, not the 200-300,000 or so who've been the targets of this war over the last ten years: according to those studies, and despite the vast sums being spent fighting poverty, over the last five years for example the number in "severe hardship" has become both more numerous, and worse off.

That's $150,000,000,000 -- enough to have given every beneficiary in the country a massive $500,000 each to start their own war on poverty, and it still hasn't worked. It just hasn't worked. To paraphrase PJ O'Rourke,
the spending of this truly vast amount of money -- an amount more than half again the nation's entire gross national product in 1995 -- has left everybody just sitting around slack-jawed and dumbstruck, staring into the maw of that most extraordinary paradox: You can't get rid of poverty by giving people money.
When do we realise that government welfare doesn't work -- not for anyone -- and least of all for those who it is supposed to help.

LINKS: It's pathetic - Lindsay Mitchell
Labour has failed the poor - No Right Turn (Idiot/Savant)
Excerpt from 'How to endow privation' from PJ O'Rourke's book 'Parliament of Whores'

RELATED: Welfare, Politics-NZ

McCarten finds reason in the irrational

Matt McCarten has realised we are at war, and he's chosen sides: he's on the side of new "socialist friend," Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, the general secretary of Hizbollah, the Lebanese para-military organisation armed by and answerable only to its paymasters in Iran and its quartermasters in Syria; whose 10,000 or so rockets full of ball-bearings were fired freely into the population of Northern Israel for several weeks; whose cadres spent the last six years and many Iranian petro-dollars preparing for this conflict -- an aggressive supra-governmental paramilitary who are now refusing to disarm, despite it being an express condition of the cease-fire agreement signed by both sides.

McCarten sees Hezbollah as the solution, not the problem. End the
"occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine" says McCarten, echoing his new hero, or else expect permanent war. "So long as there is imperialism in the world, a permanent peace is impossible," McCarten quotes Nasrallah approvingly -- Nasrallah's is the "new voice of Islamic reason," says NZ's voice of old-school socialist un-reason, a voice he says that "resonates with indisputable reason." This is McCarten's assessment of the butcher-in-chief's re-stated intention to wipe Israel off the map and to engage in "permanent war" until he does.

At least we now know for sure which side McCarten is on. The side of the loons. The side of Islamic totalitarianism. The side of those who adamantly refuse to recognise any right for Israel to exist. The side of those who fight in the name of jihad. If there is one primary reason for permanent war in the Middle East, it is that view -- a view that McCarten shares. If there is one primary reason for the war with Islamic totalitarians being exported to the rest of the world, it is the idea that there is somehow "reason" on their side.

Place the blame for war where it lies: with those whom McCarten supports, and with those like him who give them ideological house-room. The bodies of the dead can be laid at their feet.

MEANWHILE, Cox and Forkum have a response to cries in the recent conflict of there being a 'disproportionate response':

New voice of Islamic reason resonates with indisputable reason - Matt McCarten, NZ Herald
Disproportionate response II - Cox and Forkum

RELATED: War, Religion, Politics-World, Politics-NZ, Politics-Alliance

Sunnis shooting Shiites

Who opens fire on an unarmed group of people going about their business? Apparently the practitioners of a religion of peace and love do. Says CNN:
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims crowded the streets of the Iraqi capital, heading to the shrine of an eighth century imam... Gunmen on the streets and snipers from the rooftops opened fire on the crowds in six Baghdad neighborhoods, police said.
And who were those gunmen? They were Sunni Islamists -- including (it would seem from CNN's pictures) at least one Sunni imam with a pistol -- whose imaginary friend had told them to massacre Shi'ite Islamists. Such is the way this religion of peace fights a war of ideas.

Iraq's liberation from Saddam's tyranny left Iraqis free to succeed, free to flourish, free to make their own mistakes. It seems that, as with the liberation of Yugoslavia from Tito's yoke, too many of the newly-free are eager only to loot, to bomb and to kill -- and to kill in the name of their religion.

Peace and love? Tell me another.

LINKS: 20 pilgrims killed, hundreds wounded in Baghdad - CNN [Hat tip Elliot Who?]

RELATED: War, Politics-World, Religion

Breakfast with Wayne - debating the 90-day Probationary Employment Bill

I finished my beauty sleep early this morning to have breakfast with Sue Bradford, Ruth Dyson, Wayne Mapp, Rodney Hide and about a hundred or so others. The event was a debate on Wayne Mapp's 90-day Probationary Employment Bill, for which Ruth Dyson argued we should listen to the facts.

Unfortunately, as an employment lawyer in the audience quickly showed, not all the facts are on Ruth's side.

The fact is that every business and every entrepreneur survives by taking a risk; by seeing a new vision or a new idea, assessing it, and then backing their judgement. The fact is that present employment law does not favour taking risks in whom employers choose to hire, because as too many Employment Court decisions have shown, letting an unsuitable employee go is a about as easy as getting Helen Clark to admit she shouldn't have spent taxpayers' money on her Pledge Card -- and can be almost as expensive a process.

The fact is that in in the present legal environment every employer who has to choose between someone well-qualified but dull and someone else less-qualified and less-experienced but perhaps a little sharper is more likely to see the nice-but-dull candidate signing the Employment Contract, and the more 'risky' candidate being shown the door. Present law favours nice-but-dull, and lowers the boom on candidates who need a risk taken on them. Those more risky candidates are finding it hard to get a toe on the employment ladder, and the fact is that present employment law is helping to making that happen.

We all suffer by that -- employers, manufacturers, employees and consumers -- but there is one group who suffer most, and despite the great boon this bill would offer them, they are not going to be listening to 'nice but dull' Wayne promoting it.

Who stands to benefit most? Let's have a look. Government figures show an unemployment rate of only 3.6%. At the same time, there are nearly 300,000 people are either on a benefit or otherwise unemployable. Whatever your view on the facts of economic growth under Labour or the truth of those particular figures, there is one figure that no one is challenging: 27% of young Maori are unemployed -- they are under-skilled, under-experienced, under-qualified (and in too many cases criminally-qualified) -- they are the very group of people who most need employers to be free to take a chance on them, and the very group that present employment law is helping keep unemployed. But they aren't listening to Wayne.

There's someone who might listen to Wayne though who could make a tangible difference. The Maori Party could with some justice call present employment law racist -- and in this case they might actually be right. It's targeted against the very group the Maori Party claim to represent. It makes life worse for them. Wayne Mapp's Bill would do more for under-skilled and under-qualified young Maori than any hundred government programmes aimed at closing their gaps -- it would give them the chance at real employment, and the chance for many of them to turn their lives around.

For this Bill to pass it will need to the Maori Party's vote. Let's hope they consider who stands to benefit most from it.

LINK: Probationary emplyment bill far from redundant - Susan-Jane Davies, EMA

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-National, Law, Economics

Khalifa Sports Center Tower - Roger Taillibert

The Khalifa Sports Center Tower, designed for the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, Quatar, by French architect Roger Taillibert, the designer of stadia for the Montreal Olympics and of Paris's Parc de Prince stadium.

Taillibert talks of his sports stadia as "Game Space" ...
a place where man can unleash, either in shelter or in the open, his definitive physical performances.
As definitive performances go, Taillibert's own are right up there.

LINKS: Roger Taillibert's website

RELATED: Architecture

Monday, 21 August 2006

Nicole Kidman is hot

Nicole Kidman is hot.

Instead of hand-wringing or trying to duck making moral judgement (as so many others around the place have done), Nicole and 84 other Hollywood types took out a full-page ad in the LA Times laying responsibility for the deaths in the recent conflict squarely on the shoulders of the aggressors: Hezbollah and their vicious friends.

Mel Gibson was not among the 85 signatories.
[Nicole Kidman], joined by 84 other high-profile Hollywood stars, directors, studio bosses and media moguls, has taken out a powerfully-worded full page advertisement in today's Los Angeles Times newspaper. It specifically targets "terrorist organisations" such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine.

"We the undersigned are pained and devastated by the civilian casualties in Israel and Lebanon caused by terrorist actions initiated by terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah and Hamas," the ad reads. "If we do not succeed in stopping terrorism around the world, chaos will rule and innocent people will continue to die." "We need to support democratic societies and stop terrorism at all costs."
That makes Nicole my personal favourite to play Dagny in the upcoming movie of Atlas Shrugged!

LINKS: Kidman condemns Hamas Hezbollah - Sydney Herald Sun [Hat tip Diana Hsieh at Noodle Food]
Atlas Shrugged movie - ImDb page
LA Times, 16 August - Press Display viewer

Israel, War, Politics-World, Films

More drugs, less crime?

New York's crack epidemic of the late eighties undoubtedly contributed to a huge rise in crime figures. Crack, as you will recall, is illegal.

So is heroin. But in recent years for several geo-political reasons increasing amounts of low-cost and very pure heroin has been hitting New York's streets, and as one correspondent to the Spectator points out, this "quasi legalisation" of heroin has been accompanied by ... what do you think: a drop in crime figures.

So what do you think? Could it be that what's being too much overlooked in the link everyone sees between illegal drugs and crime is the 'illegal' rather than the drugs? That's the answer given by the correspondent, who points out: "Heroin is more widely available than at any time in history -- probably more than if it were legal. Addicts simply do not have to commit so much crime to feed their habit."

And that's also the position of the criminal justice profesionals from LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) who argue that, "We believe that to save lives and lower the rates of disease, crime and addiction, as well as to conserve tax dollars, we must end drug prohibition."

Just think.

Lindsay Mitchell has the letter on her blog. I recommend a read, and a pondering of the implications.

LINK: A different take on NY crime drop - Lindsay Mitchell
Law Enforcement Against Prohibition - website for LEAP

RELATED: Victimless Crimes, Politics-US

Dov Fisks Fisk

"Hizbollah are "increasingly heroes across the Muslim world," says Robert Fisk. "As usual," responds Dov Bing, professor of political science at Waikato University, "[Fisk] offers no references for this sweeping statement" -- so Prof. Bing scans the Sunni Arab press on our behalf.

  • Lebanese Huda Al-Husseini wrote in Al-Sarq Al-Awsat: "Lebanon has been taken hostage by Hizbollah, Syria and Iran and Islam itself has almost become a hostage to Iran's aspirations."
  • Egyptian Hazem Abd Al-Rahman wrote in Al-Ahram: "All Iran wants is to extend its hegemony over the eastern Arab countries, and it is trying to use Hizbollah as a Trojan horse to achieve his aim."
He concludes,
The Sunni countries are anxious to contain Iran.
It is ironic that Israel is playing a role on the side of the moderate Sunni states in this new power play in the Middle East.
The least Mr Fisk could do is to let readers know about the thinking of the Sunni Arab press.
But as I'm sure Prof. Bing is aware, Mr Fisk is never one to tell all the relevant facts, not when cherrypicking them gives him a better story. Read Prof Bing's whole piece in the Herald here.

LINK: Dov Bing: Coup fear creates new allies - NZ Herald [Hat tip Whale Oil]

RELATED: Politics-World, Israel, War

Darnton on air

Bernard Darnton was interviewed last night on Lindsay Perigo's Radio Live show about his legal action against Helen Clark, Parliamentary Services and 46 Labour MPs.

Listen up here courtesy of Julian.

UPDATE: Whale Oil notes that Helen Clark now has a new defence. In response to Paul Holmes question this morning asking whether she intends to pay back the money spent on the Pledge Cards she responded, "Mmm ... there's been no ... such ... request." Visit Whale Oil's post and you can hear the conversation for yourself. (Question and response about 5:30 into the linked audio.)

LINKS: Perigo interviews Darnton - Julian Pistorius
You have to hear this to believe it - Whale Oil Beef Hooked

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Darnton v Clark, Libz

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Were Maori environmentalists?

A friend who wrote a thesis several years ago on common law solutions to environmentalism asked me this question a few weeks ago, and I've only recently got around to answering (I've paraphrased the question just a little):
Q: How did Maori activists [he asks] attain the apparent status they now possess in the environmental movement? In other words, why do NZ environmentalists bow to Maori prejudices? When I wrote my thesis this absurdity was not evident as it is now. Please can anybody shed some light on this?
So here's my rather belated answer.

On the facts of pre-European Maori environmental stewardship , the best I've read is a shortish piece by M.S. McGlone et al: 'An Ecological Approach to the Polynesian Settlement of New Zealand' published in The Origins of the First New Zealanders [Auckland University Press, 1994.] Unfortunately, it's not online (although I do quote from it briefly in this article), but it does rather give the lie to the idea of Maori as sound environmental stewards.

Take bird life for example.
"James et al estimate that untouched Oceania may have had more than 9000 bird species -- more than the total of surviving species on Earth today. Most of this incredibly rich fauna was eliminated by the direct or indirect effect of [pre-European] settlement... The amount of accessible fat and protein per square kilometre on a Pacific island may have been unequalled anywhere in the world...

Direct evidence exists for this superabundance of bird and marine resources on unexploited islands... In the initial settlement period [of New Zealand], the early abundance of bird bone must have represented a truly incredible exploitation rate... [Yet] NZ midden evidence shows that the consistent exploitation of birds in the late prehisoric results in few bird-bone remains...

The extinction of birds other than moa and of reptiles, and the shrinking of the range of many other species are well-attested (Cassels 1984)... the absence of these species in natural deposits such as caves, swamps and sand dunes after about 1,000 years ago strongly suggests early and vigorous depletion...
In summary: the birds were being killed and eaten in great numbers, in complete disregard it seems of any long-term consequences.

The case is the same for New Zealand flora. Slash and burn agriculture "rapidly destroyed much of the forest cover... By 600 years [Before Present] many animals had been driven to extinction or close to it, and very large areas of country, even in remote inland South Island valleys, were being burnt regularly... A degree of burning may been beneficial, for a [short] time at least."

However, over the longer term: "Extensive burning of inland valleys and ridges offered no obvious advantages in terms of food production..." The result of indigenous environmental stewardship over the longer term? Population grew rapidly in the North Island of NZ from 800 years BP, before slowing down about 400 years BP (following the major forest clearance phase) and plateauing about 200 years BP at about 100,000 when resources began diminishing (see graph at right).
After the initial settlement phase, New Zealand moved directly into a subsistence mode which characterised other island populations only during famine or when pushed into highly marginal lands... By the end of the prehistoric period New Zealand was no longer resource-rich, and the very scarcity of resources and reliance on hard-won wild foods had created a situation from which no larger political entities could easily arise.
So the idea of Maori as sound environmental stewards is not supported by the archaeological evidence. As 'sustainable' environmentalists they just weren't. So how to explain then the apparent status they now possess in the environmental movement? The reason is more widespread than is contained in environmentalism alone.

I think there's perhaps three legs in answer to the question, all related.

1. The Noble Savage

The first is the notion, first given currency by Rousseau, of the 'Noble Savage' -- the romantic idea of wild, untamed human creatures 'uncorrupted' by civilisation. It might be noted that this creation of 'romantic primitivism' was postulated entirely without evidence.

As Roger Sandall amongst others has noted, "A 'savage,'' untouched by civilization, would be akin to an animal, and neither noble nor a good role model for a society. By viewing civilization as something that corrupts or taints a person's pure or natural state, 'new tribalists' are succumbing, like Rousseau, to the romantic idea that the natural state of a human being, without the moderating effect of civilization, is somehow better. To the critics this notion is easily refutable, either by comparing human quality of life before civilization, or as humorist P.J. O'Rourke pointed out, by considering the natural state of children."
In Sandall's view, [summarises Wikipedia] romantic primitivism places far too high a value on cultures that were often characterised by, among other aspects, limited human rights, religious intolerance, disease and poverty. Other negative aspects he discusses include domestic oppression (usually of women and children), violence, clan/tribal warfare, poor care of the environment and considerable restriction on artistic freedom of expression.
'The Four Stages of Noble Savagery: The Moral Transiguration of the Tribal World' is the Appendix to Sandall's book, 'The Culture Cult,' and is highly readable on this question. He concludes by discussing the 'Disneyfication' of the 'Noble Savage':
Sentimentalism begets puerility. The ruthless scalpers of yesterday become Loving Persons. One-time ferocious fighters are discovered to be Artists at Heart. Hollywood becomes interested...
Combined with this a suffocating religiosity now descends on public discussion, enforced by priests and judges, journalists and teachers, poets and politicians, all of whom claim that native culture possesses a “spirituality” found nowhere else. Soon the primitive is elevated above the civilized. In the words of one observer in New Zealand it is said that the whites “have lost the appreciation for magic and the capacity for wonder” while white culture, besides being “out of step with nature. . . pollutes the environment and lacks a close tie with the land.”

Few are unkind enough to note that “the imagined ancestors with whom the Pacific is being repopulated”—Wise Ecologists, Mystical Sages, and Pacifist Saints—“are in many ways creations of Western imagination.”

Just like Pocohantas. Or Chief Seattle.

2. 'The National Question'

The second leg is specifically political, the idea that Lenin called 'The National Question' -- a specific strategy adopted by Marxist-Leninists to help destabilise a colonised country by use of the grievances, real or otherwise, of indigenous populations.

This movement came to attention in NZ in the late seventies (made most visible with the 'Treaty is a Fraud' movement), and you might say that reached its apogee under Neville Bolger's appeasing stewardship (when it suddenly transmogrified into an'Honour the Treaty' movement).

When mainstream Marxism collapsed following the collapse of the Berlin Wall -- and with it any claim that Marxist societies would ever be able to produce (or be good environmental stewards) -- rather than give up their authoritarianism, the custodians of 'The National Question' stampeded into local and overseas environmental movements, as I'm sure Trevor Loudon will attest. Consequently, the numbers of 'National Question' adherents and other fellow-travelers (the gullible type whom Lenin called Useful Idiots) who call themselves 'green' but are still red on the inside would seem to be quite large.

3. Multiculturalism

The third leg, related to and in some sense underpinning both, is the notion of 'multiculturalism' -- the idea that all cultures are equal (apart, that is, from the cultures of the west). 'Multi-culti is one of the many foolish notions of postmodernism, (encompassing both moral relativism and political correctness) that captured the academies in recent years.

Naturally when the least are made equal to the best, the least win out. If all cultures are asserted (without evidence) to be equal, then one is disarmed from finding evidence that would disprove such an assertion. To find and assert such evidence would, according to the multiculturalist, be 'racist.'

The consequence is this: If one is disarmed from judging a culture -- which is one of the goals of moral relativism -- then the worst cultures are left free from moral judgement, and moral judgement itself becomes bereft of any evidential-base: the only immorality to a multiculturalist is to challenge the assertions of multiculturalism. That too would be racist.

But as Thomas Sowell points out, you can judge cultures, and in fact if human life is our standard then morality demands that we should judge them.

Cultures [he insists] 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. The judgment that matters is not the judgment of observers and theorists, but the judgment implicit in millions of individual decisions to retain or abandon particular cultural practices, decisions made by those who personally benefit or who personally pay the price of inefficiency and obsolescence."

Anyway, on this last point you might want to have a good look at:

- Cassells, R., 1984: 'The role of prehistoric man in the faunal extinctions of New Zealand and other Pacific Islands,' in Martin et al Quaternary Extinctions, Uni of Arizona Press.
- James
et al, 1987: 'Radiocarbon dates on bones of extinct birds from Hawaii,' Proceedings of the Nat. Academy of Sciences of the USA, 84.
- Leach, H.M., 1980: 'Incompatible land use patterns in Maori food production,'
New Zealand Archaeological Ass. Newsletter, v.23.


RELATED: Environmentalism, Racism, Multiculturalism, Postmodernism, Political Correctness, Politics, Conservation, Maoritanga, Philosophy

Walking through an empty city

Michael J. Totten takes a walk around Kiryat Shmona, the town most targetted by Hezbollah katyusha rockets.
I expected to see at least one destroyed house. There may be a destroyed house in there somewhere, but I drove all over and couldn’t find one.
The reason? Katyusha missiles filled with ball bearings aren't military weapons, they're weapons of terror. They can't destroy a city, but they can make it uninhabitable.
War is coming again, and it’s coming like Christmas. It will not resemble the Middle East wars we are used to.
It certainly won't if those missiles are filled with something more potent than ball bearings.

LINK: Terror war - Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal

War, Israel, Politics-World

'Naked with Pig' - Kira O'Reilly

What's the meaning of art? Is it a shortcut to our philosophy? A concrete vision of our values? A way to present a view of what's important in the world in a single vivid image? Or this:
Kira O'Reilly will provide her own answer today by spending four hours naked, hugging a dead pig - at the taxpayer's expense.
There you go. Tristan Tzara has a lot to answer for.

(And another big thank you to 'the taxpayer,' wherever he or she is.)

LINK: It's art, says the naked woman who'll hug a dead pig on stage - UK Daily Mail [Hat tip Thomas Lee]
Who needs great art? - Peter Cresswell - SOLO HQ

Art, Philosophy, Nonsense

Saturday, 19 August 2006

Darnton on ZB: "The case is good"

Bernard Darnton explains to Larry Williams on last evening's show why he is taking the PM and Parliamentary Services to court over election spending. "The case is good," says Darnton.

Listen here. Story here.

[Hat tip Julian Pistorius]
LINKS: Labour files defence over election spending - Newstalk ZB
Listen here - Newstalk ZB

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Darnton v Clark, Libz

Still some chains on Government

The reason we have governments is the same reason we have guard dogs: to protect us from those who want to do us over.

The problem with governments and guard dogs is the same however: give 'em an inch and they'll eat you out of house and home; fail to train them properly and they'll be more trouble than they're worth; let them off the chain and they'll end up going for your throat and savaging you instead of the bad guys -- in fact, they'll end up being the bad guys.

That's why Constitutions were invented, and after years of neglect even President George W. Bush can still receive a reminder that the chains of the Constitution can still be felt around his neck.

The US Supreme Court is the body with constitutionally-given power to veto unconstitutional actions of both Legislature and Executive, but the Constitution gives even subordinate courts power to veto. Idiot/Savant sums up recent vetos so well I can only quote him at length. [Thanks I/S.]
The "war on terror" may be eroding human rights an civil liberties, but it is also giving us some of our strongest language in defence of freedom. First, we had the Supreme Court's memorable statement in Hamdi v Rumsfeld that

[A] state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens.

And now we have the statement by Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the US District Court, in her decision [PDF] on Bush's warrentless domestic eavesdropping scheme, that

There are no hereditary kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution.

and that therefore, the Administration's "arguments" about the "inherent authority of the President as Commander in Chief" are bunk. Even in a time of war, the President is bound by the constitution and the law. He is not, in the infamous words of Nixon's lawyers,

...as powerful a monarch as Louis XIV, only four years at a time, and is not subject to the processes of any court in the land except the court of impeachment.
Even in its dotage there are still serious constitutional chains on the US Government. The Head of State is not an Absolute Monarch.

And guess what: even in its dotage, the 1688 Bill of Rights still imposes constitutional chains on the NZ Government, and the extent of those chains will be tested soon in Darnton V Clark, examining whether or not a Government was entitled to use money appropriated from taxpayers for one purpose for something entirely different.

Like these recent US Supreme Court cases this one goes to very heart of government power, and to that line that divides a constitutional republic from a dictatorship. I look forward to it.

LINKS: "There are no hereditary kings in America" - No Right Turn (Idiot/Savant)
Helengrad, 1688. Bill of Rights. - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Cue Card Libertarianism - Constitution - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Putting freedom beyond the vote - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Darnton Vs Clark - lawsuit website

RELATED: Politics-World, Politics-US, Politics-NZ, Constitution, Darnton V Clark

Myths and misconceptions about the Big Bang

The Angry Astronomer has a post listing some common misconceptions about the Big Bang.

I'll give you the list; go see the Astronomer for the reason.

1) The Big Bang was an explosion
2) The Big Bang theory doesn’t explain what caused it
3) There’s no evidence for the Big Bang
4) The Big Bang doesn’t leave room for God

On the last, I'd say the Big Bang is utterly irrelevant to questions of theism or atheism, which is essentially the point AA is making.

LINK: The Big Bang - common misconceptions - The Angry Astronomer [Hat tip Stephen Hicks]

RELATED: Science, Religion, History

The Atlas of Economics

Austrian economist Peter Boettke, here in New Zealand recently to deliver the 2006 Ronald Trotter Lecture, had this to say recently about how effective Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged is in teaching economics (the article, 'Teaching Economics Through Ayn Rand: How the Economy is like a Novel and How the Novel Can Teach Us About Economics,' is unfortunately offline).

During his years of teaching, Boettke confesses he frequently used Atlas as a teaching tool, comparing the economic ideas it taught with those in John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. He writes that 'Atlas' "details the benefits from voluntary exchange, the importance of a sound monetary standard, and the role of individual initiative and creativity as the engine of economic progress. Rand's work highlights the importance of private property rights in providing incentives, the mutually beneficial aspects of exchange, and exalts the human achievement of innovation and wealth creation..."
Rand makes the very important point that the critique of socialism was never against rational planning per se. Rather the question was who was to do the planning and the scope and the scale of the planning proposed.

[Rand] communicates to her readers within the context of a beautifully constructed story the basic insight concerning the perverse incentives of collectivism, the inability to engage in rational economic calculation without private property, the law of unintended consequences in interventionism, and the interest-group logic of political capitalism...
The difficulty of reasoning economically from first principles to logical conclusions combined with unmasking the sophisms of special interest groups led [Henry] Hazlitt and [Ludwig von] Mises to devote their lives to economic education through the written and spoken word.

It is my contention that Rand picked up that challenge and attempted to provide economic enlightenment to her readers through the story of 'Atlas Shrugged.' The book is no doubt one of the most philosophical novels of the twentieth century -- whatever one's judgment is of that philosophy -- but learning philosophy through Rand is not my topic....

The slippery slope that Hayek, Hazlitt and Mises warned about -- where one failed intervention begets another failed intervention -- is neatly illustrated in Rand's story. Moreover, as in the work of these economists, the reversal of public policy away from statism and toward freedom will not occur until a sea change in the underlying ideology takes place. So one can read in Rand's novel both the dynamics of interventionism and the mechanism of effective social change that a variety of classical liberal economists since Adam Smith have attempted to articulate in their articles and books.

'Atlas Shrugged' is arguably the most economically literate work by a major novelist in the history of literature. Daniel Dafoe actually wrote in the field of economics, and his story of Robinson Crusoe became the quintessentially fictional allusion for economists. But in my opinion, Rand taught more common-sense economic truth than any other novelist.
As the chaps at LFB say, it's a fascinating article about not only how the novel illustrates economic principles through its plot about a massive breakdown of an economy, but also how economists must tell a "good story" about how the economy works to be successful both theoretically and pedagogically.

LINKS: Learning while visiting NZ - Peter Boettke - Austrian Economists Blog
To what extent was Rand a Misesian - Mises Economics Blog
Atlas Shrugged - Amazon.Com

Books, Economics, Objectivism, Philosophy

Friday, 18 August 2006

Beer O'Clock: Delirium Tremens, Strong Pale Ale, 9%

Continuing the theme of pandering to requests from anonymous comments, this week’s Beer O’Clock from Neil at Real Beer goes in search of the legendary Pink Elephants of Huyghe.

The Huyghe brewery in Belgium has been in existence since 1654 but today’s beer – Delirium Tremens – is only about 20 years old. It comes in a bottle painted to look like pottery and with a label boasting its trademark Pink Elephants and (inexplicably) Alligators Wearing Sunglasses.

Beer wise, it is a bottle-conditioned, strong Belgian pale ale weighing in at a hefty 9%. The brewing process is complex and uses three different yeasts. It is considered a classic beer – one of Beerhunter Michael Jackson’s Top 500 beers in the world.

Huyghe also make a dark beer called Delirium Nocturum and a seasonal winter beer called Delirium Christmas (or Delirium Noel) – the labels have the famous Pink Elephants with little Santa Hats on and they are just too cute.

They also make La Guillotaine – the blandest 9% Belgian Strong Ale you will ever taste.

As for the name, Delirium Tremens (known popularly as 'The DTs') is a potentially fatal form of ethanol (alcohol) withdrawal. Christy Moore for one has a fine song on the subject. Several US states however banned this beer because of the name. Their loss.

The beer itself pours a lazy, hazy yellow with a compact, firm head. The nose is peppery, grainy, fruity (orange, banana) with a little late coriander spice. In the mouth it is smooth, yeasty, fruity (apple and pear) and little spicy (coriander and pepper). It has pleasantly long bitter finish.

Like many quality Belgian beers it hides its high alcohol content.

Take care, once the bottle is opened those marvellous pink elephants are never far away…

RELATED: Beer & Elsewhere

Americans more prone to supernatural nonsense

Americans are more likely to believe in supernatural bollocks than almost anyone else in any other Western country. That's the clear and unfortunate conclusion of research recently published in 'Science' magazine.

Surely proof if proof were needed that freedom is a greater indicator of prosperity than clear-headedness.

That's a graph on the right collating the results of surveying 32 European countries, the US and Japan which reveals "that only Turkey is less willing than the US to accept evolution as fact." You might view it as a 'sanity ranking.' Said the study's author of the US's position:
American Protestantism is more fundamentalist than anybody except perhaps the Islamic fundamentalists, which is why Turkey and we are so close.
The result is disturbing for those who value science and reason. Of reason and science and evolution, James Watson, co-discover of the secrets of DNA had this to say:
One of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural, and it was a lesson that my father passed on to me, that knowledge liberates mankind from superstition. We can live our lives without the constant fear that we have offended this or that deity who must be placated by incantation or sacrifice, or that we are at the mercy of devils or the Fates. With increasing knowledge, the intellectual darkness that surrounds us is illuminated and we learn more of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

Let us not beat about the bush — the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a "theory" in the same way as string theory is a theory is wrong. Evolution is a law (with several components) that is as well substantiated as any other natural law, whether the law of gravity, the laws of motion or Avogadro's law. Evolution is a fact, disputed only by those who choose to ignore the evidence, put their common sense on hold and believe instead that unchanging knowledge and wisdom can be reached only by revelation.
Sadly, the number of people in the world's most prosperous country "who put their common sense on hold" is increasing rather than decreasing. Rationality is on the slide. Twenty years ago the percentage of people in the US who accepted the idea that the earth was created only six-thousand years ago and that Joshua made the earth stop turning for twelve hours were just 55 percent of the population.

But now the number of nutters who believe that what their imaginary friend said is superior to reason and evidence-based science has increased to sixty percent!

It's hard really to know who is the least sane. Those who believe in the supernatural, or those who follow the equally irrational postmodernism lampooned in yesterday's post. Science is under attack on both fronts.

In any case, my heart goes out to anyone with a brain living in Kansas. All I can offer you in recompense is this account of the crucial and highly entertaining cross-examination of William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Monkey Trial, and a link to my own three-part series on Unintelligent Design.

LINKS: Public acceptance of evolution - Jon D. Miller et al, Science Magazine
Unintelligent Design, Part 1 - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Fighting evidence-based medicine with postmodernist bollocks -
Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Darrow vs. Bryan - website for Positive Atheism Magazine

Science, Religion, Nonsense

Party stooges still spinning party corruption

Unwilling and also unable to defend the corruption of his favourite political party, Labour party hack Jordan Carter is instead peddling his party's chosen spin -- he's posting instead in breathless support of so-called 'Democracy Funding,' that is:
  • the proposal for taxpayers to fund politicians both to run their offices, and to run for office;
  • the proposal to force taxpayers to pay for political parties whose opinions they may well despise;
  • the proposal to allow the ruling party to force taxpayers to pay for their election campaigns.
There are only two reasons anyone is talking about this:
  1. Labour can't find enough people willing to voluntarily write a cheque to support them.
  2. The slimy buggers have been caught with their hands in the till so they want to legitimise the theft.
  3. They've been found breaking the rules that define the difference between democracies and dictatorships, so they want to changing those rules.
  4. They'd rather have everyone talking about changing the rules rather than how they broke the rules.
But is anyone but the party stooges really buying this?

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Darnton v Clark

Fighting evidence-based medicine with postmodernist bollocks

"Microfascists unite! You have nothing to lose but your evidence-based science!" That's the mildly paraphrased call from three postmodernist academics who have published (in what was once a fairly reputable journal) a deconstructionist attack on reason and evidence in medicine. Excerpt:
Drawing on the work of the late French philosophers Deleuze and
Guattari, the objective of this paper is to demonstrate that the evidence-based movement
in the health sciences is outrageously exclusionary and dangerously normative with regards to scientific knowledge. As such, we assert that the evidence-based movement in health sciences constitutes a good example of microfascism at play in the contemporary scientific arena.

The philosophical work of Deleuze and Guattari proves to be useful in showing

how health sciences are colonised (territorialised) by an all-encompassing scientific research paradigm – that of post-positivism – but also and foremost in showing the process by which a dominant ideology comes to exclude alternative forms of knowledge, therefore acting as a fascist structure.
[Hat tips Stephen Hicks and Bad Science -- check out Bad Science's 'Postmodernist Bollocks' if you want a really serious laugh, and Hick's 'Explaining Postmodernism' if you want to understand why such bollocks is fashionable.)]

It would be nice to think this was a joke, much like the celebrated hoax on deconstructionist idiots perpetrated by physicist Alain Sokal (story on the 'Sokal Hoax' here; Sokal's website here; Sokal's excellent book eviscerating fashionable postmodernist nonsense here). However, given that such bollocks is still all-pervasive in too much of academia, the move to disintegrate knowledge and to 'un-know' what we already know seems to be continuing apace.

LINKS: Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: truth, power and fascism - Bad Science
Socal hoax - Wikipedia
Alan Sokal's website (includes much more detail of the hoax, including the reasons why and the reactions to)

RELATED: Health, Science, Postmodernism, Nonsense

ACT election spending has costs

Oh dear.
Former "perkbuster" Rodney Hide is joining other political parties in fighting the Auditor-General's view that much taxpayer-funded party advertising for last year's election was unlawful...

Among the examples of ACT's pre-election advertising cited by the Auditor-General in his draft ruling were newspaper spreads two days before the ballot proclaiming "What Act Brings To Parliament", and listing things the party wanted.
Taxpayer money is not allowed to be used "for the purpose of supporting the election of any person or the casting of a party vote for any political party."

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Story here. Readers of this blog will remember a few other examples of ACT's 'perkbusting' campaigning being paid for by the taxpayer.

There's a lesson here, isn't there, for anyone who care to learn it.

UPDATE 1: A lesson too this morning from the Solicitor-General's office, courtesy of Audrey Young in the Herald:
A legal letter from the Acting Solicitor-General contradicts political parties' claims that they had approval for taxpayer-funded election spending.
Since the row began, Labour, New Zealand First and Act have said the Parliamentary Service - which runs Parliament - approved the payments.
New Zealand First and Act say they sought prior approval from the Parliamentary Service for their taxpayer-funded election spending.
And Labour leader and Prime Minister Helen Clark says the issue is essentially a dispute between the Parliamentary Service and the Auditor General.
But a letter from Acting Solicitor General Cheryl Gwyn says the Parliamentary Service's job is to administer payments.

It has no decision-making power and is not able to vet spending before the money is paid.

The letter, dated July 27, was written to Auckland barrister Alan Dormer.
He is acting for Libertarianz Party leader Bernard Darnton, who is seeking a judicial review of the spending on Labour's election pledge card, which cost $446,000.
UPDATE 2: The letter from the Acting Solicitor-General can be found here in PDF form, courtesy of Bernard Darnton.

Soft-shoe shuffle on ACT's spending - NZ Herald
Official contradicts MPs on electoral expenses - Audrey Young, NZ Herald

RELATED: Politics-ACT, Politics-NZ, Darnton V Clark

One hand behind the back, and both eyes closed

From Diana Hsieh's 'The Evils of Half-Fought Wars':
"A U.N. resolution calling for the disarming of Hezbollah in Lebanon is not the same thing as the actual disarming of Hezbollah in Lebanon--let alone the defeat of Hezbollah throughout the Middle East. And by urging Israel to end its military offensive, the administration has ended any possibility that Hezbollah will actually be destroyed. "The only way to end the threat from Islamic totalitarian groups like Hezbollah and their state sponsors is to inflict crushing devastation upon them by aggressive military action."

...The West has shown too much weakness for the jihadists to be easily convinced of any new-found determination to crush Islamic totalitarianism that the West might exhibit. That'll be the true legacy of decades of appeasement: the mass destruction required to destroy the threat of Islamic totalitarianism. It's a horrifying prospect. Even worse, it's a moot point at present: I have little hope of any Western power rediscovering the moral courage required to defend itself from the barbarians at the gates...
I fear she's right. Three-and-a-half years after Japan's suprise attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese mainland was a smoking ruin and the militarists who had brought the destruction down upon the country had killed themselves. But now, nearly five years after the surprise attack on the World Trade Center by Islamic totalitarians, the barbarians are still at the gates and the West is looking like Neville Chamberlain without the spine.

And much though we might wish it otherwise, those barbarians are not going away...

LINKS: The evils of half-fought wars - Diana Hsieh's blog, SOLO

RELATED COMMENTARY FROM THOMAS SOWELL & MARK STEYN [Hat tip and comments from Ross Elliot's blog]:
  • Will cease-fires never cease?
    In which Sowell provides a concise, modern history of Israel and lays the blame for Arab refugees firmly at the feet of the Arabs themselves. Hot off the press.

  • Pacifists versus peace
    In which Sowell shows that "peace" movements do not achieve peace at all but enable & encourage aggressors.

  • Advocates of 'proportion' are just unbalanced
    In which Steyn argues that a proportionate military response plays into the hands of the aggressor and renders the victim impotent.

  • Islamoschmoozing
    In which Steyn identifies the vacuity of multiculturalism as a replacement for true identity, and the alacrity with which Islam fills the gap.

  • Pan-Islamism challenges idea of nation state
    In which Steyn argues that Pan-Islamism, not wars between nations, is the real threat, and that Westernism is dying by degrees, sacrificing itself upon the altar of multiculturalism.

TAGS: War, Israel, Politics-World

Cartoon by Cox and Forkum: 'Incoming'

Annette Presley -- the face of chardonnay?

Check this out from yesterday's Dominion:

Wonder what the second prize was: maybe ten minutes with Annette? Snort!

(Full puff piece here. Hat tip Lindsay M.)

RELATED: Telecom, Humour

Thursday, 17 August 2006

HEADS UP: Labour file defence

Helen Clark and 46 other current and former Labour MPs have finally filed their Statement of Defence in Darnton V Clark -- the case that will test the legality of their misappropriation of taxpayer's money to pay for the Pledge Cards and succcessfully buy the election.

Litigant and Libertarianz leader Bernard Darnton suggests visiting the entry on his lawsuit blog at http://www.darntonvsclark.org/, where you can either read his three-sentence summary "or download 9 pages of mumbo-jumbo."

Things are soon to get interesting.

UPDATE (9:15am, 18 August): Darnton's lawyer Alan Dormer responds very briefly in today's Herald:
Labour's statement of defence says the pledge card was "an inherently political expression".
This is a different emphasis to that put on the card by Helen Clark, who said it was allowable under election spending rules because it set out the party's policy.
The statement of defence also says that under the Bill of Rights, the Labour Party and its leader have "the unqualified right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the right to adopt and to hold opinions without interference".
Mr Dormer said Labour appeared to be saying that it had a right to exercise freedom of speech at the taxpayers' expense.
"If one put all their quotes together, there would be a high degree of inconsistency, it seems to me."
LINK: Labour's Defence - Darnton Vs. Clark
Official contradicts MPs on electoral expenses - NZ Herald

RELATED: Darnton V Clark, Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour

Ask not for whom the tipping point comes. It comes for Helen.

It's fairly widely agreed that Margaret Thatcher's eleven years in power were ended when she lost touch with the electorate and brought in the poll tax. (Having just landed in the UK with my girlfriend, I can tell you first-hand what a severe shock it was to be handed a NZ$4000 bill just to be able to rent a flat!)

For Thatcher the poll tax was the tipping point, the moment when even her supporters turned against her, and when all those critics who had been biding their time figured out it was then safe to attack. Once the floodgates were opened by the poll tax debacle, all it took was one mauling by a former ally (whose verbal thrusts had been likened to "being savaged by a dead sheep") to bring her down -- and with Thatcher it wasn't the electorate who sacked her, it was her own colleagues.

Once the tipping point comes, it only takes a 'small putsch' for the House of Cards to fall.

It seems that with the Auditor-General's revelations of Labour's electoral corruption now ringing out around the country, the tipping point has now come for Helen Clark and her Labour Party.

Recent articles and editorials have uncharacteristically savaged her for her "Government's absolute determination to cling to office at any cost," even as her deputy threatens the media with attack by the IRD. And now, as David Farrar observes, "today's Dominion Post editorial on the illegal pledge card spending makes the others (which were very stern also) look like wimps."
It starts by asking:
"What part of shameless and arrogant does Labour not understand?"
And it just gets more acerbic by the sentence.

What's noticeable with these recent richly-deserved MSM attacks is the point made by Insolent Prick in a comment to that post: "This is the same mainstream media that ate out of Auntie Helen's hand for the last ten years, and swallowed her spin hook, line and sinker. Shows you just how low Labour's got if even the editorials have turned on her."

Quite. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, for it would seem to be ringing for Helen. Roll on Darnton V Clark.

LINKS: 1990: Howe resigns over Europe policy - BBC: On This Day
Shameless and arrogant - Kiwiblog (David Farrar)
A blatant opportunist - Editorial, Dom Post

RELATED: Darnton V Clark, Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, History-Modern

Castro encomia: Bring your bucket

How amazing was Castro? Let, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alexandre Trudeau tell you, in time for the (hopefully) forthcoming obituaries. Two more sycophantic sacks of shit you've never seen -- unless that is you count those who adored 'Uncle Jo' Stalin.

Craig Ceely has the potted sycophancy here. Take it in small doses.

LINK: Walter Duranty lives, and writes encomia to Castro - Craig Ceely's blog, SOLO

RELATED: Politics-World

Petition to ban the ... ?

What does Bastiat's heavily satirical petition from the candlemakers and the idea to ban the single most deadly nuclear reactor have in common?


Given that they want to ban free trade and hydrogen monoxide respectively, the Sues Bradford and Kedgeley might want to take note.

UPDATE: I've changed the link for 'The Petition of the Candlemakers' because I've just noticed the buggers at that first link only had up half of the bloody petition! Sheesh already.

LINKS: Candlemakers' petition - Frederic Bastiat
Xxx kills 60,000 a year, WHO says
- Reuters [Hat tip Stephen Hicks]

RELATED: Economics, Environment, Humour