Saturday, August 05, 2006

Farewell Elisabeth

Soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf has died, aged ninety. The Times has an obituary.
James Inverne, editor of Gramophone, the music magazine, said: “Elisabeth was the diva’s diva. She had the kind of glamour that was associated with stars of the silver screen, and a voice that most people interpreted as having that old- fashioned aristocratic touch.” Inverne pointed to her singing of the Marschallin, in Der Rosenkavalier, as a classic. “She had one of the most sheerly beautiful voices any soprano could be blessed with.”
I'll be playing my own two favourite Schwarzkopf recordings later today: Richard Strauss's 'Four Last Songs,' which she sings beautifully, and a delightful recording of 'Operetta Arias.' The 'Nun's Chorus' on this last is just astonishing.

Farewell Elisabeth.

TAGS: Music, Obituary

Anyone for tennis?

Like tennis? Want advice? Then Chris Lewis's new site Expert Tennis Tips is the place to go. "At this site," says Chris, "we are passionately dedicated to bringing you the most informative, up-to-date advice, articles and reviews on a wide range of always interesting - and sometimes controversial - tennis topics that wait just for you."
Whether you're a beginner looking for advice on which racquet to buy, a parent seeking guidance on the best competitive pathway for your child, or an advanced player looking for shoulder strengthening exercises to improve your serving power, there's something here for every level of player...including high quality tennis instruction, coaching advice and helpful tennis tips on all facets of the game. And all of it's designed with you in mind.
Give it a visit.

LINK: Expert Tennis Tips - Chris Lewis

TAGS: Sport

The world's shortest novel

According to Umberto Eco, who's the sort of chap who knows this sort of thing, this, by Augusto Monterroso, is the world's shortest novel: El Dinosaurio ('The Dinosaur'). Here it is, the whole thing:
Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.
("When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.")
Think about it. Comments on the plot and theme will be entertained below.

TAGS: Books

The Iranian solution

Oh, this is useful. Into the vacuum in which sit all the truly concrete things being done outside Israel to permanently and securely end the fighting in Lebanon leaps the financier of Hezbollah and the greatest beneficiery of this conflict, the deranged President Ahmedinejad of Iran -- and what do you know, he has the solution to this whole thing.

His solution? Simple. Destroy Israel. Wipe it off the map and the problem goes away.

You might call it a Final Solution. And he does mean it.

However, he does say he'll be happy with a cease-fire first. No time like the present to have those nice peaceful Hezbollah chaps stock up on rockets for another onslaught, I guess. Cox and Forkum have the cartoon and the links.

LINK: Changement de rhythme - Cox and Forkum
Ahmadinejad's Mideast Solution: Destroy Israel - Fox News

RELATED:
Israel, War, Politics-World

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Auckland counter-protest tomorrow, Saturday

Join Duncan and friends counter-protesting the pro-Hezbollah rally in Auckland tomorrow. If you are interested in participating, please email Duncan at dhgbayne@gmail.com for details.

The aim of the counter-protest will be to make the following points:

  • Israel is fighting a legitimate, moral war of self-defense.
  • Hezbollah is an anti-semitic terrorist organisation.
  • Having started a war of aggression, Hezbollah is morally culpable for the civilian deaths on both sides.
  • The legitimate Lebanese security forces are in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 that requires them to disarm Hezbollah.
  • Any anti-Israel protest is ipso facto pro-Hezbollah
If you have one of Duncan's 'Infidel' shirts, now would be a good time to break it out. I know Duncan will be.

LINKS: Pro-Hezbollah rally - BloggingBeirut.Com
Counter-protesting the Islamo-fascists - Duncan Bayne, SOLO

RELATED: Israel, Events, Auckland

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Beer O'Clock: Viking!

A Beer O'Clock rejoinder today from the Real Beer boys to someone who sometimes prefers to remain nameless.

In one of the rare comments to the mighty 'Beer O’Clock' articles, we were accused by a valued reader’s teenagers of only talking about “old people’s beer”.

This presumably meant that Stu and I tended to drink and write about beers which are not advertised on television and actually taste of something. If so, guilty as charged.

However, we do care about our readers - particularly those that leave comments – so I put on the dark glasses and went for a walk on the dodgy side to review Viking Draught (which of course comes in cans).

Ah – the mighty Viking! Truly a staple of 'The Mill' liquor stores, and a true friend to all who won’t pay more than a tenner for a dozen beers.

Even the can looks sick. The message thereon challenges consumers to “conquer the taste.” I failed manfully to conquer an immediate sense of foreboding on reading this.

The feeling proved to be fully justified. Viking from the can pours a surprisingly warm brown with no evident head. There is a touch of malt in the nose which is not completely unpleasant. The beer itself offers up the standard syrupy sweet malt flavours with some burnt notes and a suggestion of cardboard.

It may meet the price challenge, but it doesn’t come close on the taste challenge. A real Viking would cut you in half if you served him this at a banquet.

At least craft beers give you some flavours to write about!

Cheers,
Neil

EDITORS NOTE: If you want to challenge Neil and Stu to walk on the less-than-dark side by reviewing your favourite beer, drop a note in the comments box and I'll see if their arms can be twisted. As for mine, in the absence of a recommendation it looks like it's the perfect martini for me tonight.

TAGS: Beer & Elsewhere

Muslims: No Fun

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's biggest theme park has called off the country's first "National Muslim Fun Day" because of lack of interest, the park said on Wednesday.

You can't make this stuff up...

A present for Fidel

Cartoonists Cox and Forkum have a present for Fidel. Go see.

LINKS: Castroectomy

TAGS: Cartoons, Politics-World, Obituary

A complete list of things caused by global warming

Global warming to date is a difficult if not confusing figure to put your finger on, as Junk Science's ''Global Warming' at a glance' page shows. But just look at the damage it's already caused: Numberwatch UK has "a complete list of things caused by global warming." My favourites from a huge list: cold spells, Earth spinning out of control, expansion of university climate groups, Everest shrinking,human fertility reduced,lawyers' income increased (surprise surprise!), and finally, white Christmas dream ends.

Find your own favourite disaster stories here. Don't panic. There's plenty for everyone.

LINK: A complete list of things caused by global warming - Numberwatch UK
'Global Warming' at a glance - Junk Science


RELATED: Global Warming, Science, Environmental

It's Damascus, stupid.

What to do about the ongoing Israeli-Hezbollah conflict? Middle East authority Daniel Pipes has an answer: "Hold Damascus responsible." This approach will work, he says, "because Hezbollah's stature, strength, and skills depend on Syrian support, both direct and indirect."

Given that Syrian territory is the only route by which Iranian aid reaches Hezbollah, focusing on Damascus has the major side benefit of restricting Iranian influence in the Levant.

This plan has its drawbacks and complications – the recent Syrian-Iranian mutual defense treaty, or its giving Hezbollah the option to drag Syria into war – but it has a better chance of success, I believe, than any alternative.

Read on for more.

LINK: Hold Damascus responsible - Daniel Pipes, New York Sun

RELATED: Israel, War, Politics-World

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Siegmund O'Neill

'The Met' in New York and London's Covent Garden are two of the world's leading operatic stages, and New Zealand tenor Simon O'Neill (last here in March to sing Parsifal) is scaling the heights of both.

Already booked to sing the role of Siegmund in the Covent Garden performance of Wagner's Die Walküre in 2007, in which role he has understudied Placido Domingo at 'The Met' for the last two years, he has just received confirmation that this leading role at The Met is also to be his. You heard it here first.

When Domingo reminisced for TVNZ in 2005 about the time he covered Franco Corelli (and ended up making his own Met debut), he concluded by speaking "glowingly" of O’Neill: “Now it’s his turn,” he said. And now it is.

Currently singing in Mozart's Magic Flute in Salzburg, O'Neill is naturally delighted at this exciting news, as I'm sure are all New Zealand Wagnerians will be when they hear.

Congratulations, Simon.

LINKS: Simon O'Neill - official website

TAGS: Music, New Zealand

Libz on the NRA news

The news of the man who literally brought a knife to a gun fight has reached the US.

"Auckland gun dealer Greg Carvell should be applauded for his actions in defending himself from a machete wielding aggressor in his shop yesterday," said Libertarianz Firearms Spokesman Peter Linton on the 27th of July. Yesterday he was invited to discuss the case on the NRA News - that's the National Rifle Association News -- in Washington DC.

It's often surprising where press releases end up.

You can hear the interview here at Julian's place.

LINKS: Libz gun spokesman on NRA News - Julian Pistorius
Ordinary Kiwis Defenseless Against Armed Criminals - Peter Linton, Libertarianz
Auckland Gun Dealer Should be Applauded for Self Defense- Peter Linton, Libertarianz

RELATED: Self-Defence, Politics-NZ, Libz

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Burgher - Rodin


One of the magnificent 'Burghers of Calais' group, by Auguste Rodin, that I used to love spending time with in a park just south of Westminster.

TAGS: Art, Sculpture

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Thursday, August 03, 2006

A bunch of atheists

Speaking of religion and making judgements, as I was earlier, here's a page with a bunch of quotes about atheism. Sample:
  • "There once was a time when all people believed in God and the church ruled. This time was called the Dark Ages." - Richard Lederer
  • "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" - Epicurus
  • "It ain't the parts of the Bible that I can't understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand." -Mark Twain
  • "So far as I can remember, there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence." - Bertrand Russell
  • " I do not believe in an afterlife, although I am bringing a change of underwear." - Woody Allen
  • "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart." - HL Mencken
  • " Why should I allow that same God to tell me how to raise my kids, who had to drown His own?" Robert Green Ingersoll
  • "Blasphemy is a victimless crime." - Anonymous
More here.

LINK: Quotes - Chris Beach RELATED: Quotes, Religion

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Make your judgements

We're often told we're wrong to make judgements about other people, or that we're wrong to make judgements about a culture, or wrong to 'take sides' in an argument. "It's wrong to judge," admonish teachers, ministers, and journalists. Yet at the same time all around us are cries that we need 'a just society.' Yet how on earth do you get one without the other?

"It's wrong to judge"? Well, says philosopher Tara Smith (left), no it isn't. Anyone who says that is wrong. Moral judgement is good:
Adopting a policy of being non-judgmental--" who am I to judge?"--or fence-sitting as an agnostic is incompatible with the demands of justice... That policy would be dishonest insofar as it ignores the reality that individuals are different from one another and that those differences matter to your life.

...to retreat into a "judge not" posture "is an abdication of moral responsibility; it is a moral blank check one gives to others in exchange for a moral blank check one expects for oneself." ....The fact is, we need to be discriminating. We need to judge others objectively, to be sure, but emphatically: we need to judge...

Failing to condemn those who deserve it is counterfeiting insofar as it pretends that these people are better than they are, that they offer value--just as a person passing out counterfeit currency pretends that it has value. Correlatively, to withhold admiration from men's virtues is embezzlement. It is taking something for nothing, without paying: you benefit from their virtues, but you offer nothing in exchange--not even your acknowledgment of their virtue. That is what a moocher does--a sponge, a freeloader; not a trader, who gives value for value.

The reason I think it's useful to see the issue in these stark terms is that, when a person is tempted to that neutral posture, he doesn't normally think that what he's considering is anything like counterfeiting or embezzling; these are felonies, after all! The person simply thinks, "This guy isn't really so impressive, he's not so hot"; or: "I'm just being lenient, I'm cutting somebody a little slack." Yet in fact, this is what's going on. When you don't judge and treat others objectively, you are engaging in a fraud.
Who wants to make the first judgement call on that?

LINKS:
RELATED: Ethics, Philosophy, Objectivism, Books, Political Correctness

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The Passion of the Gibson

Mel Gibson's late-night, drunken anti-Jewish rant has given us an object lesson in what crawling apologies look like. Meanwhile, James Valliant takes it as an opportunity to re-evaluate Gibson, Gibson's film 'Passion of the Christ, and how exactly the Bible itself has contributed -- even caused -- anti-Semitism.

Interesting.

LINK: No, really, some of his best friends are Jews - James Valliant, SOLO

TAGS: Films, Religion, History, Racism

Top ten cities

Here's the top ten cities from which people are reading 'Not PC' at the moment:
  1. Auckland
  2. Wellington
  3. London
  4. Christchurch
  5. Sydney
  6. San Francisco
  7. New York
  8. Los Angeles
  9. Toronto
  10. Huntsville, Texas
Huntsville, Texas?

TAGS: Blog

The Martyrdom of St Matthew - Caravaggio

'The Martyrdom of St Matthew,' by the 'Italian Rembrandt Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1671-1610) -- a suitably cathartic image perhaps to reflect present events.

  TAGS: Art

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

What's wrong with designer babies?

Otago University Researchers have been very quick to affirm that the start to government funding* for genetic screening of human embryos for birth defects will not mean designer babies.

But why shouldn't it? What's wrong with choosing characteristics of your offspring if that's scientifically possible? Why limit parents to selecting for sex only on compassionate grounds? It's very good news that a complete handbrake on this life-affirming work hasn't been applied, but why has any been applied at all?

"We shouldn't play God," say religionists motivated by religious dogma -- who say it's wrong to end the suffering "chosen by God," and wrong even to stop suffering beginning -- who say that screening for genetic defects "cheapens human life," when in fact it does exactly the opposite.

This isn't playing God -- it's being precisely and heroically human.

"We shouldn't meddle with nature," say commentators, without perhaps realising that meddling with nature is exactly how we human beings stay alive: from morning to night, from birth to a hopefully far-off death, our lives and longevity are made possible precisely because we do meddle with nature.

Staying alive because of advanced medical technology is not 'natural' -- if Nature had her way we'd all be dead at thirty or less once our teeth decay and our bodies start failing -- in fact staying alive at all is unnatural. If we didn't meddle with nature to produce food, we wouldn't even be alive. 'Meddling' with nature keeps us alive.

Constructing and living in buildings 'meddles with nature' -- if Nature had her way we'd still be in caves; planting crops, breeding animals, building dams and abattoirs and factories and oil rigs and hospitals and cyclotrons ... all examples of how we 'meddle with nature.' They are the very means by which we human beings stay alive.

You see, unlike other animals, man, the rational animal, cannot live as nature delivered us into the world -- naked, unarmed, without the claws, the fur, the sharp teeth of other animals. Without our brains and the science and the industry and the food and the shelter and the clothing we produce by applying our brains to nature, we'd die. The first man who hunted down and killed and ate another animal was meddling with nature, as he was when he began making the weapon to do it with. Man as a species has to discover and produce for himself all the values needed for survival and flourishing. Everything we do 'meddles with nature' -- we investigate, we rearrange, we tinker, we plan, and by so doing we work to make human life much better, much longer, and more abundant.

That's a good thing.

Trish Grant from the IHC, on the other hand, who says that this research "devalues the lives of those children who are living with a disability" is just talking errant nonsense. What hatred of human beings she must have to demand that other human beings live with crippling dieases just so her charges (she says) can feel better about themselves. She would condemn new human beings by her choice to live with Downes Syndrome, with achondroplasia, with Marfan syndrome, with Tay-Sachs disease, with cystic fibrosis, with haemophilia, with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, with all the other possible genetic birth defects when it's completely and utterly unnecessary. Meddling with nature to avoid this is good. Not meddling with so as to ensure such suffering is criminal.

Technology such as this truly values human life -- the real enemies of human life are those who stand in its way.
-----
* Yes, the taxpayer is being forced to pay for this. No, you shouldn't have to. Yes, when governments pay for such things, some of those required to pay for it actively object to what their money is paying for, yet their views are just overridden. And yes, that is wrong.

As Yaron Brook from the Ayn Rand Institute said recently when commenting on Bush's disgraceful stem-cell veto,
It is only because science today is so dominantly funded by the government that restrictions on [state] funding can wreak the devastation they have--severely hindering a promising area of potentially life-saving medical research.

"If science were left free, as it should be, funded solely by private sources, a scientist would not have to plead the merits of his work before a majority of politicians, however ignorant or prejudiced by religious or other dogmas they might be."
LINK: Embryo report calls for changes - TVNZ
Government versus science - Yaron Brook, Ayn Rand Institute
RELATED: Ethics, Science, Politics-NZ, Heroes, Health

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Castro: Get those obituaries ready

Fidel Castro is in hospital. He's ill.

Nothing trivial, I hope. The ghosts of the 70,000 people he helped murder will be looking for him, and those imprisoned in the Cuban Gulag might look with some hope to the future.

[Pic at right from RealCuba.Com. Caption: "When I die, Raul will be Queen."]

LINK: The unfree world: Cuba (with links)- Mark Humphreys.Com
Castro's Gulag - TheRealCuba.Com


RELATED:
Obituary, Politics-World

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Zionist meeting: Israel-Hezbollah, a backgrounder

Approximately 320 people attended an Auckland meeting the other night hosted by the Zionist Federation of NZ -- a friend who attended sent me this [slightly edited] account.

I was most impressed with the calibre of both speakers -- Professor Dov Bing (left) (Dept of Political Science & Public Policy, University of Waikato), and Jeremy Jones (right with Pope John Paul) (Order of Australia and current Director of International & Community Affairs at AIJAC) -- together with the questions at the end from members of the audience.

The tone of the meeting was rational, measured and pleasantly free of emotive rhetoric.

Background:

• Israel is surrounded by 22 Arab states, ALL of which are dictatorships.
• Those Arab states lack real investment and 'national development'; their money is poured instead into military & secret services.
• Partly as a result, all those Arab economies are ‘calcified’ in comparison with their western counterparts, and with Israel.
• There is virtually no transfer of knowledge from western to Arab states.

• It is essential to understand the serious and bitter rivalry, and the power struggle between Arab Shi-ites and Sunnis.
• Iran is predominantly Shi-ite; Iraq is 67% Shi-ite; Lebanon 40% Shi-ite.
• Egypt, Jordan, West Bank & Gaza predominantly Sunni.
• Jordan & Egypt both have peace treaties with Israel.
• Al Qaeda is predominantly Sunni, sepcifically Wahhabi Sunni (but anti-US at the same time).
• In Israeli opinion however, Shi-ites are the most dangerous sect: following Ayatollah Khomenei's Shi'ite Islamic Revolution, Iran is dominant in this movement, it uses Syria & Lebanon.
• The Sunni states initially denounced Hezbollah, (see for example the editorial in Kuwait’s ‘Arab Times’, 23 July, posted here at Not PC.)

• Iran's sabre rattling, and the present aggression by Hezbollah are part of a power struggle to assert Shi'ite dominance in the Arab World and enter an era of ‘Ascendancy of Shi-ites’, despite being a minority in the Islamic world. That is what is the motivation for the present conflict.

Current Situation:

• Israel has been accused of inflicting ‘disproportional’ casualties despite being enormously outnumbered.
• Hezbollah's policy is to attack civilians. The Israeli modus operandi by contrast is to attack military targets, which results in civilian casualties. There is a difference.
• Hezbollah's policy of shooting at civilians makes it morally difficult for one’s enemy to respond.
• Western journalists are generally anti-Israel. Bing and Jones accuse most of ‘intellectual laziness’ in terms of there being historically ignorant … ‘not doing their homework.’
• There is a supreme irony they say in western left-wingers supporting Hezbollah, who are a fascist, imperial, genocidal, racist movement.
• The reality of what Israel faces in this conflict is this statement by Shi-ite Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Oct 2002: "If all the Jews gathered in Israel, it’ll save us the job of going after them worldwide."
• 22 August is a big date on Islamic calendar: the anniversary of 'Mohammed’s ascension to Heaven.' Iran has promised to "light up Israeli skies" (whatever the hell that might mean).
• UN peace initiative? Southern Lebanon has been under the eyes of UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon) since 1978 – and yet it’s the most densely armed spot on the planet!
• The Lebanese government contains members of Hezbollah, 14 seats out of 128. In addition, an Amal-Hezbollah alliance won all 23 seats in Southern Lebanon.

• A good place to start for reading the history of the area is the book 'A Peace to End All Peace' about the dissolution of the old Ottoman Empire that produced the present map of the Middle East, and effectively sold present-day Israel twice: once to Jews and once to Palestinians.
• Ceasefires in the Middle East do not work; they simply give aggressors time to re-arm.
• Wars only end when one side gives up its aims. The aim of Arab aggressors since 1948 has been to drive Israel and Israelis into the sea. Iran's President Ahmedinejad's promise to wipe Israel off the map is only a contemporary re-wording of the long-standing aim, and the long-standing refusal to recognise any right for Israel right to exist.

• Democracies never fight democracies; as Dr Wafa Sultan explained so eloquently in this TV interview, true ‘civilisations’ don’t clash – they compete
• Hezbollah is a multi-billion dollar enterprise currently funded by Iran. It is not being funded out of altruism.
• Hezbollah also extorts money from Christian Lebanese who are forced to pay ‘huge amounts’ every day not to be terrorised. In Chicago and New Jersey, they call this 'protection money.'
• The Russian situation is interesting: on the one hand they have their own problems with Moslem Chechnya, whilst they are simultaneously arming both Iran and Syria.

Both Professor Bing and Jeremy Jones (an Australian) discussed the difficulty in getting their pro-Israel viewpoints across in the western media (see Bing's May opinion piece in the Herald for example). Bing estimates he has one letter in every three submissions printed. He urged the audience to use the print media to best effect. Jones writes for the AIJAC Review -- here is an example of his writing: 'Leading Lies: Holocaust and Hate.'

UPDATE: Here's another useful link from the good people at the History News Network: What Is the Difference Between Sunni and Shiite Muslims--and Why Does It Matter?

LINKS: Zionist Federation of New Zealand website
Arab Times: 'This war was inevitable...' - Not PC
'A Peace to End All Peace' - Amazon.Com
'Clash of civilizations' rubbished by Arab-American woman
- Not PC
Fermenting of a dangerous brew - Dov Bing, NZ Herald
Leading lies: Holocaust and hate - Jeremy Jones, AIJAC Review
What Is the Difference Between Sunni and Shiite Muslims--and Why Does It Matter? - History News Networks

RELATED:
Israel, History-Modern, War, Politics-World

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Recording with the Duke

I'm sure you all have an idea of what today's recording studios look like, and pretty much how they work.

Cables everywhere, lights flashing, computer screens, huge mixing desk with more nobs than a New Zealand First party conference...

Not at all how it was seventy years ago -- and how much technology has progressed since then!

Have a wee look at this video at You Tube to see what early electrical recording was like -- and this was an advance on the bellowing into a tube that was happening only ten years before -- and you can also get a glimpse of the great Duke Ellington and his band in the studio with singer Ivie Anderson.

It's amazing that anything from 1937 was recorded at all, and delightful that it was and we can still enjoy it today.

LINK: Record making with Duke Ellington - 1937

RELATED: Music

What my sleeping position says

Heh heh.

What Your Sleeping Position Says

You are calm and rational.
You are also giving and kind - a great friend.
You are easy going and trusting.
However, you are too sensible to fall for mind games.

So there.

TAGS: Quiz

Up and Away - Michael Newberry, 2006

Up and Away (left), is one of six recently 'signed off' Newberry works produced since his move to New York.

"The energy of New York," he says, "is influencing my art in dramatic ways; I am exploring color, light, and composition possibilities."

About this piece he says, "My favorite part of the set up for this still-life was the brightness of the white silk against the brilliant yellow linen...

"I think it turned out to be a pleasing yet dynamic composition. I also painted this in a technique of working from light to dark. I started with sketching in the oil the silk and then moved progressively on to the darker colors; this technique facilitated a very luminous quality."

Read more here.

LINKS: Recent Additions to Romantic Realism - Newberry Art
Up and Away - Michael Newberry
Newberry Workshop

RELATED: Art

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

'Team players' & process servers

"There's no 'I' in team," says the Team Player. "And if you say that again," says the Rational Boss there'll be no 'U' in it either."

Oswald Bastable has some observations on "those who wank on about the virtues of being a 'team player'." And talking of people you really do want to avoid, David Slack remembers his time working as a process server, and therein some tips for avoiding such a person.

LINKS: 'Workers' to be wary of - Oswald Bastable
Ngaio in winter - David Slack

Mis-Education Commissariat's new Five-Year Plan

SCOOP: Secondary Education A Straitjacket For Students
The Libertarianz Party questions the need for the new draft curriculum for schools, released today by the Ministry of Education...

Read on here to see what Libz says about the Mis-Education Commissariat's new Five-Year Plan.

RELATED: Education, Libz

Dream of home ownership is just that

THE PRESS: Home ownership in New Zealand has plummeted in the face of rising property prices
Nationwide home ownership fell 12 per cent in the year to March 2006, although ownership in the South Island fell less than in the North Island, statistics released today show.

NZ HERALD: Home ownership falls dramatically
Home-owner numbers are sinking as property prices rise, and Auckland is more than twice as badly affected as the rest of New Zealand. In the year to March, the number of people who owned their own homes fell 12 per cent throughout New Zealand - and 26 per cent in Auckland... Previously, half the population aged over 15 owned or lived in their own houses. Now, it is 44 per cent, the survey showed.

What's going on?

As studies of the world's cities have shown and as I've argued and pointed out here before [see posts on Housing and on Urban Design], cities around the world that strangle the supply of land are less affordable to live in.

New Zealand cities are amongst the most strangled by the fashionable nostrums dreamed up by town planners, and measured as a proportion of income they are among the most unaffordable cities in the world in which to buy a house -- more unaffordable even as compared to income than cities like Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Quebec, Ottawa and even New York.

The chickens are coming home to roost. If Chris Carter really wanted to do something to actually and permanently help first home-owners (and I believe he's genuine in wanting to) he should demand that councils remove immediately their 'smart growth' policies, their 'metropolitan urban limits' and all the other restrictions on land supply imposed under the Resource Management Act.

Wherever such strategies are imposed, wherever policies are imposed that ration and restrict the supply of land, then house prices rise and home ownership falls.

This applies as much to Portland, San Francisco, Sydney, London, San Diego, Dublin, or Vancouver as it does to Auckland.

UPDATE: It's pleasing to note that both Nats John Key and Phil Heatley have at least picked up on the connection between the Resource Management Act, the restriction in the supply of building land, and the unaffordability of NZ housing, if not yet drawing the necessary conclusion from it: that "reform" of the RMA is just not enough.

Asked Phil Heatley in yesterday's Q&A, which received the standard brush-off from Steve Maharey and no follow up from Heatley or any other National MPs:
Does he think that taxpayers got value for money from the $1.8 million Welcome Home Loans marketing budget, pouring in over $1,000 of promo money per applicant, yet attracting a measly 3 percent of those eligible, or would he do better to address crippling land and section prices through Resource Management Act reform?
And on Monday, John Key correctly noted in a press release:
A significant driver of the cost of housing in New Zealand cities is because of the lack of land for new developments – something that is driven by the expensive hoops developers have to jump through under the Resource Management Act..
LINKS: NZ Housing affordability "in crisis," says report - Not PC (Peter Cresswell) [Jan, 2006]
Sustainable cities are unaffordable cities - Not PC (Peter Cresswell) [July, 2006]
2nd Annual Demographia INternational Housing Affordability Survey (2006) - Demographia
Housing Affordability Crisis in New Zealand - Hugh Pavletich [Jan, 206]
.
RELATED: Auckland, New Zealand, Housing, Urban Design

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Russel Norman, Jared Diamond & Easter Island: "Bunk."

On his election to the Green Party co-leadership back in June, Russel Norman delivered an impassioned speech imploring humanity to halt our path to self-destruction, citing as his chief example of our fate the destruction of their own habitat by the people of Easter Island.

"The story of Easter Island is the story of one potential future of the planet writ small," said the senior Green outside Parliament. [You can read my analysis of Norman's speech here, and Liberty Scott's here]

Problem is, New Scientist magazine says that the story of Easter Island told by Russel and others is bunk.

Not just wrong in the sense as I'd said before in trying to equate societies with property rights to a society that didn't, but wrong in the sense that, as New Scientist says, "At the very least, there is painfully little archaeological evidence for the fundamental claims that underpin the self-destruction theory." That's scientist-talk for: this hypothesis is bunk.
"Much of what has been written about Easter Island is little more than speculation," says Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii. "When you start to search for the actual evidence for some of these claims, often it just isn't there."
Alas, poor Russel. Alas too for his thesis, and for the myth on which he and author Jared Diamond relied.
There are ... problems with almost all aspects of [the much-cited 'Collapse'] story, say Hunt and his colleague Carl Lipo of California State University in Long Beach. Take the idea that the population was once much larger than the low estimates made by early visitors. "People say, 'Look at all these statues, there must have been armies of people to do this,'" says Lipo. Many conclude that by Roggeveen's time the society had already collapsed. "But that is just absolute speculation," Lipo says.
The soil itself was never any good either, which is perhaps why the palm forest was removed.
"Thegn Ladefoged of the University of Auckland in New Zealand is analysing samples of soil from locations across the island. In general, the soils are poor, he reported at the meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in May. Nevertheless, he adds, there is no clear evidence of extreme soil degradation across the island. "I think people have extrapolated from one area which does show extreme degradation, Poike, to the whole island. I just don't see it," says Ladefoged."

"Lipo and Hunt suggest that, given Easter Island's poor soils and relatively low rainfall - which struggles to top 1500 millimetres a year - it actually made sense to get rid of the forest to make way for [rock] gardens [with a 'lithic mulch], and to extend agriculture across a greater range of soils and levels of rainfall."
So the story that Russel and Jared spun just falls apart, doesn't it.
"In 2002, Paul Rainbird of the University of Wales, Lampeter, investigated the idea of eco-disaster on Rapa Nui and concluded that there is no compelling archaeological evidence for any of the key claims of societal dissolution and breakdown before the 18th century."
Russel thinks we should find in Easter Island a lesson for ourselves "writ small." On that I do agree with him. There is something to be learned, and it is this: scaremongering claims for eco-collapse and eco-destruction produced without evidence should be ignored.

Are you listening, Russel?
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LINKS: Easter Island - A monumental collapse - New Scientist [with podcast]
Learning from Easter Island: Something for Russel Norman and his Greens to think about - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Collapsed: Jared Diamond's arguments - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)

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RELATED: Science, History, Economics, Environment, Politics-Greens, Books

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Money does too buy happiness

Material wealth doesn't bring happiness? Bollocks. Explain away that map over there from the New Scientist, and the related study.

Not only is freedom what the have-nots haven't got, without it they ain't got lashings of happiness or prosperity either. Turns out generally that the more there is of one, the more of the other. And happiness is what we're here for, right?
According to the analysis, a country's happiness is closely related to its wealth, along with the health and education levels of its people... "There is a belief that capitalism leads to unhappy people," [says the author of the study]. "However, when people are asked if they are happy with their lives, people in countries with good healthcare, a higher [earnings] per capita, and access to education were much more likely to report being happy."
Back in the nineteenth-century an otherwise sane but particularly rationalistic German 'scientist' Wilhem Ostwald tried to establish a mathematical formula for happiness. This was a serious undertaking -- he was German. It looked something like this:
HAPPINESS = E2W2, "where E denotes the energy spent intentionally and successfully, and W that spent with dislike." Note the squares.
Now the New Scientist has shown the formula for per-capita happiness is, quite seriously, more likely something like this:
FREEDOM => PROSPERITY = > HAPPINESS, where the equation has a causal 'arrow' from left to right.
Happiness Studies. Where Ethics meets Politics meets Science.

LINKS: Wealthy nations hold the key to happiness - New Scientist [Hat tip Will Wilkinson]
Happiness & Public Policy [don't laugh, or try not to] - Cato Institute

RELATED: Ethics, Politics, Science

Monday, July 31, 2006

Wikipedia celebrates ... something

Wikipedia did celebrate American Indepence Day -- they were just a little late. The Onion has the 'news.'

LINK: Wikipedia celebrates 750 years of American Independence: Founding Fathers, patriots, Mr T. honored - 'The Onion' [Hat tip Diana at Noodle Food]

RELATED: Humour

Beirut blogger

A new blog promises to be a window on Beirut in the same way the Interdictor blog was a window on New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina -- in fact it's the former Interdictor blogger who recommends it: it's called Cedarseed.

Here's a few recent excerpts:
  • "HA [ie., Hezbollah] is NOT in good standing with the Arab world right now and it's pretty clear that this is more than a HA-Israel war or even a US-Iran proxy war: we're watching a large Sunni-Shia conflict of influences unfold. I'm sure what's happening in Iraq has both factions irritated enough as is, and the HA's fanaticism was the last straw."
  • "My dad's phone rang, he picked up and started chuckling – then held it up to my ear so I could hear: it was a recorded message that started, in careful Arabic, 'This is the Israeli nation' and went on warning us against Hizballah and against allowing them near us or into our homes.
    My mom, not taking her eyes off the tv: 'They probably know by satellite which ones of us are still home'."
  • "Of course the running joke now is that Google Earth needs to update its files, because southern Beirut is now a giant parking lot."
  • "I have mentioned before that despite several really horrible mistakes (or not mistakes, who knows), we generally have faith in the IDF's remarkable intel. Here's a story to illustrate this. 5 days ago the news made a fuss about a car 'full of Lebanese policemen,' in the Bekaa, that an Israeli plane bombed before shooting down those that escaped from the wreck. The next day it was revealed that the 'policemen' were in fact HA in disguise. And yesterday right on the edge of the suburb, another plane took out another carful of HA fleeing in civilian disguise. How the hell they know this is absolutely mindboggling. I have a suspicion that despite the bravado, the [Hezbollah] party is mostly peeing their pants at the moment. They're being taken out one at a time like pigeons (or whatever the English equivalent is)."
LINKS: Cedarseed's Journal - Cedarseed
Interdictor

RELATED: Blog, Israel, War, Politics-World

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Six years preparation for war with Israel - Hezbollah

Hezbollah's Sheikh Naim Qassem tells the Sunday Times that Hezbollah has been preparing for war with Israel for six years.
Hezbollah’s stockpiling of arms and preparation of numerous bunkers and tunnels over the past six years have been key to its resistance. “If it was not for these preparations Lebanon would have been defeated within hours,” he said.
In fact, if it weren't for those preparations and the use of those stockpiled arms on Israel, Lebanon would very likely not have been attacked at all.
Hezbollah is believed to be in possession of four types of advanced missile: Fajr missiles with a range of 100 kilometres; Iran 130 missiles with a range of 110km; and Shahin missiles and 355mm rockets with ranges of 150km. He said that Hezbollah will use its weapons to strike deep into Israel should the attacks in Lebanon continue.
And what sort of places are are those weapons stockpiled? According to Israel's U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, "Hezbollah has homes in Lebanon which house a missile in which a family sleeps. When you sleep with missiles sometimes you don't wake up in the morning." The Australian Sunday Herald Sun shows where those weapons are being fired from:

The images, obtained exclusively by the 'Sunday Herald Sun,' show Hezbollah using high-density residential areas as launch pads for rockets and heavy-calibre weapons.

Dressed in civilian clothing so they can quickly disappear, the militants carrying automatic assault rifles and ride in on trucks mounted with cannon.

The photographs, from the Christian area of Wadi Chahrour in the east of Beirut, were taken by a visiting journalist and smuggled out by a friend...

The images include one of a group of men and youths preparing to fire an anti-aircraft gun metres from an apartment block with sheets hanging out on a balcony to dry.

Others show a militant with AK47 rifle guarding no-go zones after Israeli blitzes.

Another depicts the remnants of a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket in the middle of a residential block blown up in an Israeli air attack.

The bravery of using children and families as human shields.

UPDATED: Link to Herald Sun story added.

LINK: Hezbollah: We've planned this for six years - Sunday Times [Hat tip Free Market News]
Photos that damn Hezbollah [Hat tip Jihad Watch]

RELATED: Israel, War, Politics-World

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More environmentalists at war with the human race

For those still considering the truth of Charlie Pedersen's point that some environmentalists are at war with the human race, the Bio-Nuclear Bunny has a short post that you might like to consider - three environmental projects that between them cost millions of human lives every year.

LINK: The truth will set you free - Bio-Nuclear Bunny

REALTED: Environment, Ethics

Prius: Look at me!

Jeremy Clarkson puts the boot into the Toyota Prius, the hippy 'hybrid car' that equates 'good for the environment' with the words slow, fat and ugly, and in the process skewers the motive for so much environmentalist hand-waving.
Saving polar bears, of course, is not the point of a hybrid car. The point is not to save the planet but to be seen trying. I saw a Prius in California the other day with the registration plate “Hug Life” and that’s what the car does. It says to other road users, “Hey. I’ve spent a lot of money on this flimsy p.o.s. and I’m chewing a lot of fuel too. But I’m making a green statement.”

Think of it, then, as a big metal beard, a pair of open-toed sandals with wheels, David Cameron with windscreen wipers.
Anybody want to 'fess up to owning a Prius? Perhaps you've just bought it to use as a backup generator?

LINK: Jeremy Clarkson column - Times Online [hat tip Marcus Bachler]
Prius as backup generator - Ryan.Freebern.Org

RELATED: Environment, Humour

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Excusing 'the bash'

An unusually patronising article appeared in yesterday's NZ Herald purporting to explain once again why, as one do-gooder put it the other night on 'Campbell Live,' "we're killing our chooldren" ( which once again had me yelling, "What's with the 'we,' white man? You speak for yourself. I didn't kill them!")

Anyway, the article by Simon Collins entitled 'Salvation Through Racial Pride and Self-Awareness' was as thoroughly racist, collectivist and wet as it sounds from that title, and full of excuses for Maori who bash their kids, and for women (and men) trapped by the "male will for power and control."

"Why are we still where we are?" asks one "former drug dealer" who has now exchanged dependency on drugs to a dependency on racial identity and the supernatural (he is now a pastor who, he proudly says, "chose the Charisma church because its pastor was Maori"). Once again, you might ask "What's with the 'we'? " This chap's 'insights' seemed to be included as some sort of expert or specially insightful commentary on why "we Maori" are killing "our" children -- and a better example of pathetically inept group-think on such a tragic topic would be hard to find.

"The way we think and the way we see things is totally different to our European brothers and sisters," says this idiot as some sort of excuse for 'Maori alienation in a Pakeha world', echoing no doubt what he's heard from group-think academics in counselling sessions over the years.
It's just different values. So with a Maori, you can drop in at your [relative's] house, sleep for the night, have a big feed, because we have been brought up in the same community.

With Europeans you have to ring them up, make an appointment for Sunday at 10am, and don't overstay your time. So we are different.
As I write this I hear sounds of cleaning up coming from my kitchen, where friends are cleaning up after dropping in unannounced last night (as they so often do here) and staying over for a big feed. The proposition of this Charisma church bigot is so fatuous it hardly even serves as an argument, yet these are the sort of paper-thin 'differences' between Maori and non-Maori that are frequently cited by blowhard academics and their fellow-travellers like Collins to argue that "after years of assimilation, differences like these" need to be recognised, or "the bash" is the inevitable result. Hence the nauseating title of the patronising piece: Salvation Through Racial Pride -- about as vile a proposition as one could imagine.

As P.J. O'Rourke points out so pithily, the very idea that racial differences are so important is absurd.
Finally, people are all exactly alike. There is no such thing as a race and barely such a thing as an ethnic group. If we were dogs, we'd be the same breed. George Bush and an Australian aborigine have fewer differences than a lhasa apso and a fox terrier. A Japanese raised in Riyadh would be an Arab. A Zulu raised in New Rochelle would be an orthodontist. I wish I could say I found this out by spending arctic nights on ice flows with Inuit elders and by sitting with tribal medicine men over fires made of human bones in Madagascar. But, actually, I found it out by sleeping around. People are all the same, though their circumstances differ terribly."
It is those terrible circumstances all commentators are trying to explain, but the focus on race has made too many I've read in recent days ignore P.J.'s important point, and two very important things that underly his point.

The first is Maori culture itself -- as distinct from the race of Maori -- and the failure of that culture yet to fully embrace individualism. As more than a few Australian rugby coaches and commentators pointed out last week in relation to the haka, it is -- or at least has been -- a tribal culture that values savagery and bloody violence. About that those Australians were accurate, and if 'we' weren't so bloody precious about things we'd recognise that.

As Alan Duff points out in the Herald, in a piece that appears opposite Simon Collins's apologetics (in more ways than one), the "base line" for the Maori culture "is a Stone Age societal model which patently does not work in the modern world."
Most of this is due to not developing as individuals, which includes of course taking responsibility as an individual [says Duff with unerring accuracy]. If the group says no, we’re okay, we don’t have to change. Then no change occurs.

To continue with the collective, whanau, hapu, iwi societal model is a fatal mistake. A fatal mistake. For in not developing individuality we continue down the declining slope of anonymity in a collective. Of no-one willing to make decisions – especially unpopular decisions – for fear of standing out from the crowd, going against the collective will. Individuality is as fundamental to a society’s development as property rights.

The quality of debate in this country on Maori issues is poor, cowardly, non-analytical, and none of it serves the Maori people well. Like social welfare, which many of us have warned about for years, every government benefit takes another breath of the recipient’s self-respect away. Until they choke on self-hatred and maim and kill themselves and others.

Which leads to the second point, one too often ignored, the very faculty that underpins individualism: the fundamental human quality of free will.

It is our ability to make choices -- moral choices -- that is part of what makes us distinctly human beings. We -- none of us -- are merely the helpless playthings of blood, of genes, of upbringing. Adult human beings have the power of choice. We have free will.

No one, has to bash their children, they either choose to, or they chose to take the actions that led to that. Commentators talk glibly of a 'cycle of violence,' but not every person bashed by their parents goes on to become parents who bash; not every "poor working class Maori" bashes their kids. People who do are not depraved because they're deprived -- they're just depraved. Not every human being who grows up in despair is trapped by that. It is fundementally a matter of choice.

Positing race or upbringing as a reason for bashing children or for avoiding the responsibility of becoming an adult human being merely provides an excuse to those who refuse to exercise any free will in their own lives, and to make any positive choices themselves. Alan Duff is right, as he has often been right before.

LINKS: "We"? - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Cue Card Libertarianism - Individualism - Not PC (Peter Cresswell
Nature v nurture: character is all - Not PC (Peter Cresswell

RELATED: Racism, Maoritanga, New Zealand, Ethics

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