Thursday, 31 August 2006

Are there objective standards in art?

Just a heads up to readers that there's a healthy conversation on this topic going on at the 'Con Art in Kaipara' post.

Can we say about art, "That's good," or "That's crap"? I say, "Yes." My interlocutor says "No."

Enjoy the discussion -- and feel free to add your thoughts.


"Pay it back" say NZers

NZ HERALD: Pay it back, Kiwis tell politicians in latest poll
[Thursday, 31 Aug]
An overwhelming majority of New Zealanders want political parties to pay back money if it has been unlawfully spent on getting elected, according to the latest New Zealand Herald DigiPoll.
* Full details in today's [Friday's] New Zealand Herald.
I think that is what's called "traction for an issue." Roll on the court case. [Hat tip Adolf]

UPDATE 1:NZ HERALD: Vast Majority Want Parties to Pay Back Unlawfully Spent Money [Friday, 1 Sept]
In an unmistakably clear message from voters, 81 per cent of respondents to the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey said political parties should repay unlawfully spent money. Significantly, more than three-quarters of Labour supporters - 75.8 per cent - want the money paid back, and only 13.5 per cent support the party's idea of passing a law to validate the spending.
UPDATE 2: Would Labour have the numbers to retrospectively make their over-spending and misappropriation legal? David Farrar has done the numbers on a parliamentary vote, and the numbers would be tight. For both sides. 60 against. 58 in favour. United-No-Future holding the balance. Three assumptions in this analysis might need challenging however:
  1. "Now even though Rodney Hide has spoken against the AG's report, I can not believe he and Heather would vote for retrospective legislation such as this. It would quite simply be the death of ACT."
    You would certainly hope so, but remember that Rodney has sixty-thousand or so riding on this.
  2. "... with all the emphasis the Greens put on principles, I can't imagine they could hold their heads up high and vote for it."
    Really? I can, and I'll wager many readers here can imagine such a thing. A few more insulated hot water cylinders, or a Ford Fiesta or two for Ministerial limos, and they're anyone's.
  3. "... any MP who has not paid money back will have to make a declaration to Parliament under Standing Order 166 that they stand to directly financially benefit from the legislation. Now how will it look to have half the Labour Caucus declaring they will personally gain from a law and then vote for it."
    How will it look to them? I reckon it will look to them like they can keep their feet under the table for two more years. No problem at all -- the dishonest bastards won't even need to hold their nose.
Apparently David has a less jaundiced view of the venality of politicians than I do.

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Darnton V Clark

"Give me liberty, or give me death!"

"Give me liberty, or give me death!" That impassioned speech by Patrick Henry still rings down the years from a man who would rather die on his feet than live on his his knees. It is among the top speeches from all history in defence of taking action in defence of one's liberty.

Perhaps more than any other, it was this speech that swung support behind opposing British tyranny and firmly behind the cause of individual liberty, and within a month the American War of Independence had begin -- and we know now how that war ended. Here is how the speech ends, when victory against what was then the world's greatest military force was still far from certain:
There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free--if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending--if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained--we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength but irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?
It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace--but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
Lessons there for today, no?

Anyway, 'Learn Out Loud' now has this speech free for download on its website to listen to, learn from and enjoy. (And no, Virginia, this isn't actually Patrick Henry reciting the speech ... )

Just nine minutes long, it comes with my highest recommendation.

LINK: Patrick Henry's 'Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death' speech - Learn Out Loud
'Give me Liberty or Give Me Death' - transcript of the speech at Membrane.Com

RELATED: History, Politics-US

Hot air in downtown Wellington

I'm overjoyed to hear that gas leaks have disrupted work this morning around Thorndon and central Wellington, and offices have been evacuated around Bowen St and the Terrace (just behind the Beehive).

A day without bureaucrats beavering away is always a good day. Even an hour or two would help.

LINK: Gas leak forces Wellington evacuation - Newswire

Politics-NZ, Wellington

Kofi Annan "keeping the peace"

THE TIMES: Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, has called for all Israeli troops to be withdrawn from southern Lebanon as soon as an international force earmarked for the area reaches 5,000... Under UN Resolution 1701, signed earlier this month and agreed by both Israel and Lebanon, provision was made for a international force of 15,000 to act as a buffer between Israel and Hezbollah... The UN Secretary-General claimed that the Lebanese authorities yesterday assured him they were taking measures to stop the flow of weapons from Syria and Iran to their ally Hezbollah via sea and air...

Oh right. Well if the UN thinks everything's fine and dandy, then I guess it must be. If the hero of UN successes in Rwanda and Somalia and Bosnia informs the world that he has been "assured" by "the Lebanese authorities" that they're "taking measures" to stop Hezbollah being re-armed, then who would doubt this third-hand information passed on to a bumbling fool by provenly toothless "authorities" -- why would anyone think it might actually need people with real guns to effect a real blockade, one with proper confirmation of disarmament ...

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a Hezbollah bunker system has been uncovered right under a UN post in South Lebanon. This is a bunker 40m wide by km long in which, said the Israeli troops who uncovered it, Hezbollah had built dozens of outposts.
The bunker had "shooting positions of poured concrete," and ... the combat posts inside were equipped with phone lines, showers, toilets, air ducts, and emergency exits, as well as logistical paraphernalia for Hizbullah. A Golani officer told the Jerusalem Post that among the force's findings was a Katyusha rocket launcher, most likely used in rocket attacks against northern Israel during the war. [Follow the link for pictures and a video.]
So much for the peacekeepers.

LINKS: Annan sets timetable for Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon - Times Online
Hezbollah bunkers un under UN post - From Israel with Love Blog [Hat tip Robert Winefield]
Militant message - Cox and Forkum Cartoons

Politics-World, War, Israel

The science *isn't* settled, Mr Parker

"The science is settled," says Climate Science minister David Parker who's off to the movies with his hangers-on to see Al Gore's propaganda piece for shackling the world's industry. But, says London's Times Newspaper today, the science isn't settled. Not by a long chalk."The conventional global warming stance has huge limitations," says the Times.
It is widely accepted that the average surface temperature on Earth has risen by about 0.5 degrees centigrade over the past 125 years or so. Yet if man’s activities were driving this warming process then one would expect the rate of that increase to have accelerated in modern times in response to increasing industrialisation, aircraft flights and so on. This evidence has singularly failed to materialise, despite satellites having been available to measure the Earth’s temperature since the late 1970s.
Far from the science being settled in favour of man-made global warming, the Times suggests "That round yellow thing in the sky may have more influence on climate change than man’s activities."

Makes more sense than listening to Al Gore. More fun too.

LINK: Let's look on the sunny side - Times Online

Global Warming, Politics-NZ

'Maturity' - Camille Claudel

'Maturity' - Camille Claudel, 1899. An exhibition website describing this work (which includes many more of Claudel's works), suggests "The Age of Maturity is a painful account of the break between Claudel and Rodin." In my view, you don't need to know anything about that break to sense what Claudel has to say here.

LINK: Camille Claudel and Rodin: Fateful encounter - Detroit Institute of Arts

RELATED: Art, Sculpture

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

It's all about choice!

You've probably seen me mention a few times Tibor Machan's view on the basic errors made in the 'ongoing' nature/nurture debate (here for instance). As he's just blogged on how this error affects the 'obesity debate,' allow me to quote:
So once again we see the age old battle between two kinds of determinism, inherited versus environmental factors. But there is another option that needs to be added. This is personal responsibility.

We are all saddled with aspects of ourselves that we had nothing to do with, and we all face elements in our environment we cannot control. But there are also choices we can make, given who and what we are and the world in which we live. The very idea that we should look more to environmental factors than to our hard wiring suggest that we have a choice. This also suggests that no one has to eat fast foods, or clear his or her plate, or go on various binges. Some of us may find it more difficult to resist temptations than others, but so what? Tall people have different challenges from short ones but both need to meet those challenges they face.

As a teacher of ethics, I find it disturbing that so many educated people opt for removing individual responsibility from the picture as they try to understand human affairs.
Me too. I just don't know how they do that. Are they wilfully blind?

On this'debate' for example, don't you find it disturbing that fatties and pollies alike find common cause in removing personal responsibility from their respective equations.

If you're a fat bastard and you don't want to be, how about you stop blaming vending machines, your school, your parents, your genes and just try the 'don't-eat-so-frigging-much' diet. (Do you see many fat starving Africans in famine photos hiding at the back going, "Oh, I've just got big bones"? No? Is that a clue? Sheesh!)

And if you're a politician, how's about you trying an 'I-won't-poke-my-nose-into-your-business' week, and just leave us and our eating habits alone.

You see, it's not about victims, it's all about choice -- something you educated people want to remove from our understanding of human affairs. Why would you choose to do that?

LINK: Obesity -- Nature vs. Nurture (again) - Machan's Inputs
Nature v nurture: character is all - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)

Ethics, Health, Politics

Animal rights revenge

Man dies of rabbit flu, and people ring his parents taunting, "it's a rabbit's revenge."

Nice people some of these 'animal rights' pricks. Always putting humans first.

LINK: Activists target 'rabbit flu' family - Suffolk Evening Star

RELATED: Conservation, Ethics, Politics-UK


Apparently I'm self-righteous, wrong, closed-minded, disdainful, negative, morally superior, envious .. and all this just in one day. Who knew?

Anyway, feel free to add to the list. Here's your chance. I promise not to bite.

TAG: Blog

"Zone cheats"

"Zone cheats." That's a fairly powerful pejorative term, isn't it, for parents simply trying to get the best possible education for their children. Break the rules (rules about which no one is really too sure) and you, sir and madam, are "zone cheats."

Can you imagine being called a "zone cheat" because you've been to the "wrong" supermarket; or the "wrong" book store; or the "wrong" service station?

What's the difference? Why do we have arbitrarily-drawn zones for schools when we don't have them for supermarkets, stores or service stations? Why? Simply because for the privately-delivered services we have something called a market, a place in which people can freely bid for the services they wish to purchase, and pricing and supply are set by entrepreneurs looking for a place in the market by meeting the needs and wishes of the customers they hope to attract.

There is no market in New Zealand's factory schools. Instead we have rationing.

In the absence of a market, we have government-imposed rationing -- rationing by zone; if you want to send your son to Auckland Grammar you will either have to pay $50-100-200,000 more to live in the zone, or you'll have to be a "zone cheat." If you're a "zone cheat," expect to be pilloried.

In a market, extra customers are a good thing. Without markets ... extra punters are a bad thing ... a bloody nuisance ... cheats!

Good thing we don't have markets for our schools, huh? Rationing is so much more civilised than the way we buy our groceries, isn't it.

LINKS: School insists zone cheats should stay out - Newstalk ZB

RELATED: Education, Politics-NZ, Auckland

Taser trial

Steven Wallace. Constable Murray Stretch. Detective Constable Duncan Taylor. Three people who may still be alive if the police had been allowed to carry tasers before now.

So tasers are a good thing. Let the trial begin!

  • Their use has been abused by police departments overseas.
  • NZ's thuggish police culture has become evident in traffic policing and recent court hearings.
  • We still have many, many laws on the books that are an affront to personal liberty, and that suggest that no matter what internal police guidelines are established for their use, tasers used by the NZ police are going to be used against some people that have committed no real crime, and some of them will be used when and how they shouldn't.
So if our police force was run by angels and we only had good law on the books, tasers would be an unreservedly good thing. Does that perhaps show the urgency of getting our laws right, and proper checks and balances over our police force?

I think so. Fine words and promises aren't enough. You can imagine for yourself how much restraint such fine words would exercise on Clint Rickards and his colleagues. If Tasers are to be introduced, proper legal checks and balance must be introduced to effect firm, entrenched, systematic and transparent restraint. Victimless crime laws must be repealed so innocent people are not 'Tased.' And as I argued here a short while ago, police systems need to urgently change to fix what most of us already know: that all is not well with the force. Trevor's ten points for fixing police systems would be something else to get on with quick-smart.

If the introduction of Tasers is urgent, as I believe it is, then all this needs to happen with speed.

And here's one further point:
  • If the police are allowed to defend themselves with pepper spray and tasers, then why can't we? Why shouldn't NZers be allowed to own Tasers to defend themselves from attack? If the police need to defend themselves as a matter of urgency, which they do, then how much more urgent it that we who are their employers are able to defend ourselves.
LINKS: Taser trial starts Friday - TVNZ
Taser protection - Not PC (an earlier post on which this one is based)

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Law, Victimless_Crimes, Self-Defence

What's your real age?

Bugger your ecological footprint, let's get on with something much more actually constructive shall we: What's your real age?

That is to say, based on your lifestyle, present state of health and the amount of abuse you've previously subjected yourself to, what difference is there between your calendar age and the age your body now thinks you are. I've tested myself, and according to the Real Age Calculation site, I'm 4.6 years younger than my calendar age, which makes me precisely 105.2. (That's me on the right) How did they work it out? Explains the site:
Your RealAge was calculated by assessing over 100 different health factors, from lifestyle to genetics to medical history. The factors that are aging you, the costs, are counterbalanced by the things you are doing right, called your RealAge Benefits.
Go visit. Find out how old you (or the people you sleep with) really are!

LINKS: The Real Age Test Site
What's your footprint? - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)

Quiz, Health

'Lithe Spirit' - Shenda Amery

'Lithe Spirit' by British sculptress Shenda Amery. I'm proud to say about ten years ago or so I met and spent a very pleasant afternoon with Shenda and her husband Nezam Khazal in the Chelsea studio designed for her by Nezam, who apprenticed with Frank Lloyd Wright and worked with him on his Baghdad designs. We were introduced by a mutual friend, and spent the afternoon exploring the beautiful studio, Shenda's work, and each other's portfolios.

A great experience.

Nezam confided that British planning regulations made it virtually impossible to build anything approaching what he knew he was able to -- even the simple studio took years of his life to shepherd through the planning process -- so he had simply found it not worth his while to practice his profession in the UK. (I fear we are rapidly heading that way here.)

You can see Shenda's site here, and more of her work at the RBS online gallery.

RELATED: Art, Sculpture, Architecture

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Con-art in Kaipara

It's his money to waste, but if you want to see what Alan Gibbs has wasted his money on you can watch thirteen-and-a-half minutes of streaming TVNZ video showing much of what he calls 'art.' For a supposedly hard-nosed man, it's somewhat surprising to see what craftless tat some con artists have erected to persuade him to part with his cash.

Pictured above by way of example is a chunk of rusting steel, an enormous wall of which by the same 'sculptor' has been erected at great expense in one of Gibbs's Kaipara paddocks.

"It's some of the very best art in the world," Gibbs says of it all. I think not. "Capitalism is the greatest natural gift to mankind." Now there's more hard sense.

LINKS: Sunday: Alan Gibbs - TVNZ (13:25)

Art, New Zealand

Some Auckland mayors realise ring-fencing the city is 'unsustainable'

Some Auckland mayors at least have realised that 'ring-fencing' the city, as the Auckland Regional Council have done with their Metropolitan Urban Limit (discussed here and elsewhere), is restricting choice, restricting development, and driving up property prices -- without any positive spin-offs therefrom. Who would have thought it -- keeping a city contained within an arbitrarily decreed boundary wall leads to restricting the city's growth and "throttling economic opportunities"?! Herald story here.
Mayors of Manukau and Waitakere say the region's master plan for growth is throttling economic opportunities in their cities and needs an urgent overhaul.

When it was introduced in 1999, the Auckland Regional Council's regional growth strategy was hailed as the answer to managing the effects of growth such as in urban sprawl.
That is to say, when it was introduced in 1999 town planning gurus (who view 'sprawl' as an evil to be abolished, and the idea that people might have some choice in how and where they live as just anathema) hailed both the plan and the 'vision' of ring-fencing Auckland as "far-sighted" and "sustainable" and "smart." Idiots. Anyway, let the story continue:
But Manukau Mayor Sir Barry Curtis says the 50-year blueprint created by the region's eight councils is "out of date and irrelevant".

... The shortage of land for housing was pushing prices sky-high and making it difficult for young people to get homes.

Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey said he also wanted a review of the strategy to be completed as soon as possible.

He was impatient about the lack of progress in having potential new development areas at Westgate, Whenuapai and Hobsonville brought inside the metropolitan urban limit and made available.

"Anyone that is in local government is frustrated by long delays, procrastination and the inability to see the big picture - not by this council but by regulatory officialdom that stifles growth and prosperity."
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 -- up to three times less affordable than comparative cities without similar restrictions! It's encouraging that Auckland's mayors -- some of Auckland's mayors -- are finally coming to terms with that.

Sadly, their call is not for no bureaucratic planning or for an end to all the petty "officialdom that stifles growth and prosperity" -- that would be too much sense to hope for: The call is just for a change to this plan and to its restrictions. Nonetheless, a recognition from at least some of the city's mayors that removing land from the supply-side of the equation is just nuts is a good thing. More power to them ... in a manner of speaking.

NB: You can read about Auckland's Metropolitan Urban Limit here, and about the economic effect of such limits on housing here and here.

LINKS: Auckland mayors unite in plea for more land - NZ Herald
East Germany in East Auckland - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
NZ Housing affordability "in crisis" says report - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
'Sustainable' cities are unaffordable cities - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)

RELATED: Housing, Urban Design, Politics-NZ, Auckland, RMA

Cue Card Libertarianism - Unions

Compulsory unionism was a major component of the economic Fools’ Paradise to which the Alliance residue Matt McCarten, Laila Harre, Keith Locke et al would have us return, and for most of the Twentieth-Century a ‘Trojan Horse’ for Marxist movements who were more often genuinely concerned with economic dislocation and disruption than they were with worker welfare.

(The Unite and Supersize-My-Pay campaigns conducted by McCarten and Harre continue the ‘struggle’ – the aim not so much to achieve an increase in the ‘minimum wage’ or the ‘youth rate’ as to gain a new powerbase for themselves, and the radicalisation of the youth with whom they’re working.)

While voluntary unionism is a simple reflection of people’s right to choose whom they associate with, compulsory unionism is an imposition on that right. It is both morally and economically destructive. Compulsory unionism in New Zealand imposed artificially high wages on the economy and excluded potential non-union labour from the workforce, people who could have been employed at true market rates but who were instead left in unemployment. This acted to the detriment of productivity, and ultimately to the detriment of all workers.

The abolition of compulsory unionism was provably beneficial – acknowledged by all but the most blinkered to have provided a major impetus to New Zealand’s economic recovery. (Note that even the Labour Government’ s Employment Relations Act retains many of the voluntary planks of its predecessor.)

From a libertarian point of view, people have a right to organise into unions if that is their choice and if the employer agrees. He has the right not to agree – this being an aspect of property rights, whereby you enter someone else’s premises on his terms. Equally, workers have the right to effect a closed shop with their employer, if that is his choice and their choice. In the context of a totally free market, however, closed shops on the one hand or the forbidding of union membership on the other would be, and would be seen to be, incongruous and self-defeating. The role of government in a free employment market would be simply the protection of employment agreements that have been freely entered into.

'Cue Card Libertarianism' is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by libertarians. Originally published in The Free Radical. The 'Introduction' to the series is here
The series so far is here.

RELATED: Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Libertarianism, Politics, Economics

The question of government money

Is it morally proper for a libertarian or Objectivist to accept government money? For an advocate of small government and an opponent of government theft to accept a government scholarship, a government research grant or a government job?

Good question. Ayn Rand's answer is "Yes" -- and she then proceeds to explain and qualify the answer. "There are many confusions on these issues," she says, "created by the influence and implications of the altruist morality." Read on and find out what confusions she identifies, and what those implications are.

The first confusion that many libertarians or Objectivists might face is whether even to accept private scholarships or private donations -- some might even mistakenly see such a thing as an affront to their independence, or as a "sacrifice" on the part of a donor. That would be mistaken, says Rand.
It is morally proper to accept help when it is offered, not as a moral duty, but as an act of good will and generosity, when the giver can afford it (i.e., when it does not involve self-sacrifice on his part), and when it is offered in response to the receiver’s virtues, not in response to his flaws, weaknesses or moral failures, and not on the ground of his need as such.

Scholarships are one of the clearest categories of this proper kind of help. They are offered to assist
ability, to reward intelligence, to encourage the pursuit of knowledge, to further achievement—not to support incompetence.

If a brilliant child’s parents cannot send him through college (or if he has no parents), it is not a moral default on their part or his. It is not the fault of “society,” of course, and he cannot demand the right to be educated at someone else’s expense; he must be prepared to work his way through school, if necessary. But this is the proper area for voluntary assistance. If some private person or organization offers to help him, in recognition of his ability, and thus to save him years of struggle—he has the moral right to accept.

The value of scholarships is that they offer an ambitious youth
a gift of time when he needs it most: at the beginning.
So much for private scholarships. What about government cash that's been stolen from taxpayers -- should a libertarian accept a government scholarship?
The right to accept [government scholarships] rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force.

The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism.

Those who advocate public scholarships have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.

Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it.
I have to say that when I went through university it was back in the days when a derisory sum was paid in student grants, and I was very happy to take it. I also have to say that at the same time I was working and paying more in tax than I was receiving in grants -- but Rand argues (in the context of 1966 America at least) that such a calculation is irrelevant.
First, the sum of [a given student's] individual losses cannot be computed; this is part of the welfare-state philosophy, which treats everyone’s income as public property. Second, if he has reached college age, he has undoubtedly paid—in hidden taxes—much more than the amount of the scholarship. Or, if his parents cannot afford to pay for his education, consider what taxes they have paid, directly or indirectly, during the twenty years of his life—and you will see that a scholarship is too pitifully small even to be called a restitution.

Third—and most important—the young people of today are not responsible for the immoral state of the world into which they were born. Those who accept the welfare-statist ideology, assume their share of the guilt when they do so. But the anti-collectivists are innocent victims who face an impossible situation: it is welfare statism that has almost destroyed the possibility of working one’s way through college. It was difficult, but possible some decades ago; today, it has become a process of close-to- inhuman torture. There are virtually no part-time jobs that pay enough to support oneself while going to school; the alternative is to hold a full-time job and to attend classes at night—which takes eight years of unrelenting 12-to-16-hour days, for a four-year college course. If those responsible for such conditions offer the victim a scholarship, his right to take it is incontestable—and it is too pitifully small an amount even to register on the scales of justice, when one considers all the other, the non-material, non-amendable injuries he has suffered.
Hmmm. I'm sure Rand has already surprised you. What about accepting government welfare, the dole or a pension? What does uber-libertarian Rand, the arch-enemy of government theft say about that? What do you think? Perhaps instead of simply giving you Ayn Rand's answers on the taking of government jobs, government research grants (or of government money, taken to argue for the diminishment of the ability for government to take money), I'll leave those questions as an exercise for the reader. Here's some guidance:
The moral principle involved in all the above issues consists, in essence, of defining as clearly as possible the nature and limits of one’s own responsibility, i.e., the nature of what is or is in one’s power.

The issue is primarily
ideological, not financial. Minimizing the financial injury inflicted on you by the welfare-state laws, does not constitute support of welfare statism (since the purpose of such laws is to injure you) and is not morally reprehensible. Initiating, advocating or expanding such laws, is.

In a free society, it is immoral to denounce or oppose that from which one derives benefits—since one’s associations are voluntary. In a controlled or mixed economy, opposition becomes obligatory--since one is acting under force, and the offer of benefits is intended as a bribe.

So long as financial considerations do not alter or affect your convictions, so long as you fight against welfare statism (and only so long as you fight it) and are prepared to give up any of its momentary benefits in exchange for repeal and freedom—so long as you do not sell your soul (or your vote)—you are morally in the clear. The essence of the issue lies in your own mind and attitude.

It is a hard problem, and there are many situations so ambiguous and so complex that no one can determine what is the right course of action. That is one of the evils of welfare statism: its fundamental irrationality and immorality force men into contradictions where no course of action is right.

The ultimate danger in all these issues is psychological: the danger of letting yourself be bribed, the danger of a gradual, imperceptible, subconscious deterioration leading to compromise, evasion, resignation, submission. In today’s circumstances, a man is morally in the clear only so long as he remains intellectually incorruptible. Ultimately, these problems are a test—a hard test—of your own integrity. You are its only guardian. Act accordingly.
There. I feel better for getting that off my chest. Morality in the Objectivist view does not consist of a series of instrinsic commandments that must be followed in al possible situations -- an endless series of "shalt-nots" designed only to command your sacrifice and achieve your unhappiness. Acting morally involves making judgements and acting on them; knowing what your values are, and understanding how your values can be achieved non-sacrificially within the context of the world you live in.

As Rand affirmed, "the purpose of morality is not to teach you to suffer and to die; it is to teach you how to enjoy yourself and live." On the issue of accepting government money, as with so many other issues, the concrete results of such a policy can suprise those unfamiliar with such a view of ethics.

LINKS: Cue Card Libertarianism - Altruism - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
'The Objectivist' - Article Descriptions -- Objectivism Reference Center (see article 'The Question of Scholarships,' June 1966)

Ethics, Politics, Libertarianism, Objectivism

Israel: A philosophical defence strategy

Neo-Libertarian has some thoughts on what Israel can and has been doing to defend itself from those who want Israel wiped off the map, and what its long-term strategy should be. Israel's military strategy of defence is based on secure buffer zones between it and its enemies, whch explains its positions on the Golan Heights, the Sinai and the Straits of Tiran, the West Bank, and in Southern Lebanon.
What Israel does is actually a self-enforced version of classic UN buffer peacekeeping. A traditional UN peacekeeper force does nothing but sit between two combatants, on a border, and prevents either side from crossing. While this hardly prevents rocket strikes above the force (like Hezbollah firing over UNIFIL to hit Israel) it prevents ground invasions.
So what can Israel do now in Southern Lebanon:
First things first, Hezbollah must be destroyed or (more realistically) severely crippled. That's the short-term. Neither Lebanon nor Israel is safe while Hezbollah is running around armed.
Agreed. And it has to be done, if possible, without spreading the conflict.
For the mid-term, the US and the world need to clamp down on Iran funding Hezbollah.
And good luck with that, and with obtaining Syria's agreement to withdraw their support for this proxy war.
A long-term solution has to recognize what's to become of the peaceful citizens residing in the states that Israel combats. Arabs have rights and hopes. A real solution must place primacy on developing Arab liberalism and Arab democracy. Simply attacking Hezbollah doesn't fight the source of the problem, and unlike fighting against states like Egypt or Jordan (which have institutional interests like maintaining power and borders that push them to seek ceasefire or even peace) there's less incentive for groups like the PLO or Hezbollah to seek peace...

And when the fighting is over, Israel should compensate accidental victims specifically and the country generally with direct payments to widows, reconstruction of the airport and highways, and generally rebuilding what it broke in the fighting. The US should follow in parallel with the promise of strong support for democracy promotion, including thinkers and philanthropists.
Remembering of course that democracy is just one form of legalised mob rule.

What is essential for the Middle East is long term cultural change: the development of a culture that abhors tribalism and the ongoing tribal wars that have left everyone suffering, and everybody left alive worse off.

In the end it is only the promotion of reason, individualism and capitalism that can be a long-term antidote to the mysticism, tribalism, and state- and warrior-worship that infests the place -- the promotion of a trader culture instead of a warrior culture, and a realisation that peaceful people are a boon to each other, not a threat. Call this a philosophical defence strategy if you like, because that is exactly what it is.

As Ayn Rand noted in her essay 'The Roots of War':
The trader and the warrior have been fundamental antagonists throughout history. Trade does not flourish on the battlefields, factories do not produce under bombardments, profits do not grow on rubble.
And neither do dreams.

LINKS: Buffer-zone realism versus holistic liberalism - Neo-Libertarian
Statism as the cause of war - excerpt from 'The Roots of War' by Ayn Rand
Cue Card Lebertarianism - Democracy - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)
Cue Card Lebertarianism - Harmony of Interests - Not PC (Peter Cresswell)

RELATED: War, Israel, Politics-World


A prize of a virtual chocolate fish to the first person who can name the artist of this piece. You might be as surprised as I was when you find out.

RULES: No one from Kansas may enter this competition.


Monday, 28 August 2006

What's your footprint?

Oh dear. The Environment Ministry's online ecological footprint calculator has decided it would need 3.5 globes to sustain my lifestyle if everyone lived as I do, but otherwise is not so complimentary. The Ministry Sustain-O-Meter has declared, "You live a reasonably sustainable lifestyle by New Zealand standards." I hang my head in shame.

Here's the full, dripping wet, rationally unsustainable declaration:
You live a reasonably sustainable lifestyle by New Zealand standards. However, by world standards your lifestyle is not sustainable. If everyone on the globe used as much land as you do, 3.5 globes would be needed to support the world's current population.

Your strictly vegetarian diet considerably reduces your ecological footprint. Your food footprint is half the New Zealand average - ie 8,572 square metres smaller. As you no doubt know, your vegetarian diet is environmentally friendly as it takes less land and resources to supply your food needs.

Your use of vehicles is relatively high. This increases your personal ecological footprint to 317 square metres above the national average. The use of public transport could considerably reduce your ecological footprint.
Have a go yourself. [Hat tip Mr Hide, who scores an impressive 11.3 globes.] See if you can achieve either a more craven lifestyle than mine, or a more planet-raping one than his. (And see if you can work out the primary fallacy in the idea of a 'footprint' scored in such a way.)

And compare it to the Earth Day Footprint Quiz, which decides that "if everyone lived like me, I'd only need 1.5 globes to support me." Only a 233% difference between that and the Ministry's quiz -- clearly this isn't science so much as something that starts with a 'p.'

LINK: Ecological Footprint Calculator - Environment Ministry
Earth Day Footprint Quiz - Official Earth Day Do-Gooders

RELATED: Environment, Quiz, New Zealand

Windows Paint

An amusing short animation here showing "what happens when Windows Paint gets a mind of its own." Graphics users should appreciate the humour.

RELATED: Geek Stuff, Humour

"Not guilty by reason of insanity." Really?

I haven't followed the case at all, but I understand there was a recent verdict of 'not guilty by reason of insanity' in the case of a Hawkes Bay mother who killed her six-day-old son by smashing his skull.

I'll just pause for a moment and let that news and the verdict sink in.
In the High Court in Napier yesterday [Friday] Justice Paul Heath found the mother not guilty of murdering her baby on the grounds of insanity and ordered she be detained as a special patient, as her lawyer Bill Calver had requested...

The crown prosecutors did not challenge the five psychiatric reports presented to the court, all of which pointed to the woman being legally insane at the time.
The woman was "legally insane at the time," and the court concluded this provided a reason to declare her not guilty of murder.

What do you think? Do you think being insane makes you any less culpable? Do you think being declared insane by psychiatrists -- however many of them declare it -- somehow absolves someone of responsibility for their actions?

I don't. I'm all in favour of abandoning the 'insanity defence' altogether.

If you can commit murder, it might be said that at first sight that was already proof of insanity. But the main point surely is that people must be held responsibility for their actions. Drunkenness, drug-taking, PMT, post-natal depression, "my team just lost," etc. -- none of these provide an excuse for theft or assault, for beating the kids, for kicking the cat, or for bludgeoning to death your new-born son.

Allowing a defence of 'not guilty on the grounds of insanity' makes a murder victim no less dead, and is an injustice to their memory.

That said, I'm not in favour of state treatment of 'mental illnesses' either. In my view, the only reason to lock someone up is when they have committed a provable crime -- an actual initiation of force or fraud against another. In that, I'm entirely in agreement with psychiatrist Dr Thomas Szasz who in books like The Myth of Mental Illness questions the idea of mental illness altogether, and in The Therapeutic State challenges the state's role in locking people up for no more reason than having been declared "mentally ill."

In Szasz's view, there are certainly organic conditions that cause brain problems that in many cases can be cured relatively easily with medication -- and the illness then is a specific and curable physical illness, not a mental condition which is often only a symptom of the illness itself.

"True brain diseases," says Szasz, "are the province of neurologists, not psychiatrists." Labelling as "mental illness" the symptoms of an organic physical condition is as wrong as calling 'thinking problems' or 'problems with living' "illnesses," and declaring that the state can or should somehow cure or treat or lock people up for these afflictions.

As Szasz points out, such a thing is very, very dangerous indeed.

The state's only case for locking people up, says Szasz, should be for some crime they have actually committed, not for being, by the state's definition, "mentally ill." I agree with him. And murder is very much something for which they should be locked up.

You can read a good interview with Szasz here in Reason Magazine: 'Curing the Therapeutic State.'

LINKS: Baby-killing mother was insane - Hawkes Bay Today
'Curing the therapeutic state' - Reason Magazine
The Thomas Szasz Cybercenter for Liberty and Responsibility -- Thomas Szasz's official website
'The Myth of Mental Illness' - Text of the original 1960 paper that formed the basis of Szasz's first book - Psych Classics, York University
The Therapeutic State - Amazon.Com
The Myth of Mental Illness - Amazon.Com

RELATED: Law, Science, Politics-NZ, Health

Field or Pledge Card?

Q: Is Helen cutting Phillip Field loose this morning so attention this week is on Field himself instead of Labour and the Pledge Card? Just wondering.

Which is the more important issue, do you think?

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

Spectacular photos from the Jones Beach Air Show

Spectacular photos from the Jones Beach Air Show earlier this (northern) summer. [Click on them to see them larger: they are spectacular.]

You can see more online here at the Air Show website. (Did I mention they're pretty spectacular?)

LINK: Gallery - Jones Beach Air Show

Saturday, 26 August 2006

Art, Beer and History: All you need for a great weekend read

I'm heading up to Dargaville for the weekend, so I'll leave you with the perfect weekend reading:
  • 'Who Needs Great Art?' by Peter Cresswell

    Painting, movies, literature, sculpture, music, architecture ... all have the ability to make us cry, to make us laugh, and -- just occasionally -- to make us feel ten-feet tall. Why is great art so powerful? -- why does it have this profound ability to affect us? And who needs it? Find out in this short but succinct account.
  • 'A Complete Hiftory of Man According to Hif Divers Delightf'
    Part 1: 'You Smell of Goat'
    Part 2: 'Making the Genius Quicker'
    by Peter Cresswell

    What is the meaning of life? Why was civilisation begun? The answer of course is blindlingly simple: beer. It was for this that man came down from the trees.

    "In the beginning all that existed was savagery and raw steak. With beer and bread was ushered in civilisation. (Bread and circuses were to come some time later, when politicians first figured out how to bribe people with their own money.)"

    Read this two-part piece analysing history through the sometimes foggy lens of mankind's diverse delights.
Enjoy. And if you enjoy enough I'll get on to finishing Part Three.

UPDATE: Links fixed (Yes, I know, "Stupid bastard can't even get the links to two articles right." Sigh.)

RELATED: Art, History, Beer & Elsewhere, Humour

Friday, 25 August 2006

Beer O'Clock: Founders Long Black

"Another week, another beer. This time we’re back across this side of the ditch, in Nelson, and it’s totally my choice," writes Stu from Real Beer.

Nelson has a long and distinguished brewing history. These days it is both the home of the country’s commercial hop production and of Mac’s Brewery – where the rebirth of craft beer in New Zealand took place. As well as Mac’s Brewery, who now brew in several other locations throughout the country, there are several small and independent brewing operations in Nelson.

The most easily accessible of the smaller operations is the Duncan family’s Founders Brewery. Based in Founder’s Historic Park the brewery offers a strong sparkling cider alongside four beers: the nutty brown Generation Ale; the biscuity, grassy hopped, Vienna-style Red Head; a fruity hopped German-styled Tall Blonde; and my personal favourite the German dark lager Long Black.

The Long Black pours a mysterious deep dark brown, very nearly black, with a thick and persistent tan head. The clean nose is toasty and grainy, reminding me of coffee and toasted muesli (which helps justify you drinking it before midday, if you feel so inclined). The flavours follow suit completely with clean, dry toasted graininess, a touch of bittersweet dark chocolate, and a soft hop bitterness that is thoroughly approachable. It’s a great dark beer to try if you think you don’t like dark beers.

I visited the brewery’s lovely little cafe on a perfect spring evening last year, where the beers were tasting incredibly fresh and smelling divinely biscuity - quite different from anything else I’d tried in New Zealand. A friendly tour and a huge free platter of nibbles (thanks to them over-catering a function) made it the perfect way to end an enjoyable bike trip around Nelson’s breweries. I’d certainly recommend a visit to anyone who is in the region. Otherwise you can pick the beers up in most reasonable supermarkets and bottle stores.

Slainte mhath Stu

LINKS: Ratebeer opinions
Founder’s Brewery and Cafe

Beer & Elsewhere

A golden cocktail

Think some of the Beer O'Clock recommendations here recently have been expensive? Then consider this, Ireland's most expensive cocktail, "priced at a sobering €500 (NZ$1,009)."
The 'Minted' cocktail -- a vanilla and chocolate Martini on sale at the Mint Bar in central Dublin's Westin Hotel -- includes vanilla-infused vodka, 200-year-old cognac and flakes of 23-carat gold. The drink comes in a designer crystal glass with chocolate truffles served on the side.
Careful with that gold card.

LINKS: 'Golden' $1,000 cocktail for the rich - Xtra News

RELATED: Beer and Elsewhere

Balls to Kiwisaver

I loved this headline and opening line from Bernard Woolley today:

Kiwisaver neutered

Pity we couldn't have got a two-for-one deal and got Michael Cullen done at the same time.

Brilliant. And it carries on our 'balls' theme beautifully from recent days.

PS: Why would you rely on the details when as we know every government scheme like this that's ever been set up anywhere has very quickly changed from what it was initially to something quite different, something that suits whichever government of the time that's administering the thing that week.

And whatever the details this week, why on earth would you trust any government on something so important and involving such long-term personal consequences when it's crystal clear their own planning or thinking doesn't extend past the next headline?

If politicians want saving, which we all agree is necessary, then my advice to them is the same as my advice to Dick Hubbard the other day: Stop taxing us so goddamn fucking much!

RELATED: Politics-NZ

Drinking at the Hitler Bar

A few years back when we staged a Walk for Capitalism around Princes Wharf and Auckland's Viaduct, the Herald was amused that we didn't "darken the door" of the popular Lenin Bar. Asked why by the Herald reporter, one of the walkers replied, "If someone opened a bar called Hitler, would that be tasteful?"

Now I thought that was a good rhetorical question -- why would you want to drink in a bar whose name celebrates totalitarianism and mass murder? Well, ask the patrons of the Lenin Bar? And now ask too the patrons of the new Hitler's Cross Restaurant in Mumbai, India, where Yahoo News reports "local politicians and movie industry types were on hand to celebrate [its opening] beneath the posters of the Nazi leader and swastikas."

Hat tip for the story to Nicholas Provenzo who asks, "What's next? Himmler's Death's Head Bistro? Quisling's Croissants & Pastries? Goering's Gelatos?"

LINKS: Walk celebrates money-making - NZ Herald, Dec 3, 2001
New restaurant bears Hitler's name - Yahoo News
New restaurant bears Adolf Hitler's name - Rule of Reason weblog

RELATED: Politics-World, Auckland, Libz

Private Members Bill: What's yours?

No political junkie could have missed all the Private Members Bills that in the absence of a real direction from this corrupt Government have been focusing the minds of politicians in recent months.

Even a party with just two people can write a Private Members Bill that can be drawn from the ballot and have some chance of success. All it takes is one MP with one good idea and sufficient lobbying to get half the MPs in Parliament to vote for it -- and even an unsuccessful Private Members Bill has the ability to achieve results on your own favourite issue, as Rodney's Rates Capping Bill has done.

So I have a question for all you political junkies whose enthusiasm is for ideas rather than personalities: If you were an MP -- Galt help us all! -- then on what topic would your Private Members Bill be? What would you most want to achieve with a new law?

Post your answers below, and I'll post mine on Monday. (And I'll give you a clue about mine: it would include the words 'Codification' and 'Abolition.')

UPDATE 1: As usual, Idiot/Savant provides the service for political junkies of keeping an eye on what Members Bills have recently popped out of the hopper.

UPDATE 2: Idiot/Savant also suggests: "people check out my 'In the ballot' series. There have been 58 bills put in the ballot this year (about 30 in at any one time), and I've covered 46 of them."

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Law, Politics

Firenze high speed rail station - Norman Foster

Proposed Firenze High Speed Rail Station by Norman Foster. Just the sort of train station in which a man wouldn't mind alighting.

LINK: High speed station - Firenze la città nuova

RELATED: Architecture

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Getting your balls in a tangle

The person who sent me this swears it is true:

Who am I to doubt him, and several other sources?

TAGS: Humour

"Clark stole election," says Brash

NZ HERALD: Clark stole election, says Brash

Audrey Young is still on the case, reporting from yesterday's Questions in the House that,
National launched a fevered attack on Prime Minister Helen Clark in Parliament yesterday, accusing her of having "stolen" the election through Labour's taxpayer-funded $446,000 pledge card, which was recently declared unlawful by the Auditor-General in a draft report.

National leader Don Brash led the attack, ending in a demand for a fresh and fair election...

"Helen Clark stole the election. Not content with enormous bribes to voters with other people's money, she had to misappropriate half a million dollars of taxpayers' money to fund her campaign. She should pay the money back," he said, the trigger for his own MPs to repeat the chant.

"She should then resign, go to the country and have a fair election."
Meanwhile, John Armstrong reports that the response to the questioning was so noisy that many MPs couldn't hear the Q and A.
But then you did not need to be able to hear Dr Cullen to know what he thought of the afternoon's proceedings.
It was enough to observe his increasingly vein-popping demeanour, finger-pointing indignation and facial complexion turning puce to match the tie around his neck.
Such a shame. The pressure of their own dishonesty is getting to them. If you missed it yesterday, you can watch the proceedings online courtesy of the TVNZ site. (Scroll down to the 'Parliament Live' section, click 'Wednesday,' and then fast forward through the first few minutes of prayers and rubbish. The main relevant questions appear to be One and Three and, I think, Five.)

LINKS: Clark stole election, says Brash - Audrey Young - NZ Herald
Business as usual as decorum forgotten - John Armstrong - NZ Herald
One News video archive - TVNZ News

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

Inside the Googleplex

What goes on inside the Googleplex? The 'Googleplex' is the name for Google's headquarters, in which some pretty smart people produce some pretty sharp stuff -- and seem to have a great time doing it if this seven-minute video is any indication. (Looks like they're looking for staff.)

And BBC Radio have an audio peek inside the place -- it's a little longer, but being radio of course you don't get any pictures. (But you smart people have alrady worked that out, right.)

The open and creative nature of the Google workplace and of Google's success seems to be attributed by most commentators to the characters and personalities of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin -- and guess what: they're Montessori graduates. Asked in a TV interview about the reason for their success, they told interviewer Barbara Walters "it was their going to Montessori school where they learned to be self-directed and self-starters. They said that Montessori allowed them to learn to think for themselves and gave them freedom to pursue their own interests."

Find a Montessori school here, and set your own kids on the path to success.

LINKS: Sneak a peek inside Google - Mod Mom
Inside the world of Google - BBC Radio
Montessori graduates Larry page, Sergey Brin, Jeff Bezos - The Michael Olaf Montessori Company
NZ Montessori schools - Montessori Association of New Zealand

Geek Stuff, Education