Tuesday, 31 October 2006

The Stern Report: Selective modelling?

Blogger Tim Worstall is working his way through the Stern Report. Here's what he's posted so far:
He's not impressed. From his analysis of Chapter 5 he declares himself distinctly unimpressed by the "appalling failure in [Stern's] own modelling: only taking a medium high emissions scenario and then one with further feedback mechanisms to do your sums on. Here: Page 61 in chapter 3... It's almost as if that model were deliberately chosen isn't it? The one that shows the lowest future wealth and thus makes the discounting make current expenditure look good? Surely not?"

UPDATE: Tim has given a more concise summary of his trawl through the report over at the Adam Smith Institute blog.

RELATED: Politics-UK, Environment, Global Warming

I wish.

From the "I wish" file comes this excerpt from Helen Clark's weekend speech to her party faithful, from a section attacking National:
"Attacks on the Resource Management Act are [National's] stock in trade," she said. "It wouldn't just be the nuclear-free legislation that would be gone by lunchtime."
I only wish it were true. Sadly...


Stern green taxes

The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change is a 700-page doorstopper commissioned by the Blair Government to have an effect on an international audience. It is a political document commissioned by politicians to justify political action -- and in Britain and here in New Zealand the 'Stern Gang' was all ready to hit the ground running with respectively "green taxes" and promises of "carrots and sticks" even before the report was released. The report takes the politicised science as read and unsurprisingly concludes with alarmist calls for government expansion. The UK's Scientific Alliance [Word Doc] "believes that Sir Nicholas’s talents have been misused."
His calculations are based on the output of complex computer models, all constructed on the assumption that average global temperatures are directly linked to atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases – in particular carbon dioxide. His estimates are doubtless correct for the scenarios presented, but we question the validity of the starting point.
As they drily note, "Not surprisingly, his conclusions are those which the government wanted..." Philip Chaston at the UK-based Samizdata blog gloomily summarises:

The Letter from David Miliband [PDF], the appointment of the political failure Al Gore and the report by Stern are all designed to provide the intellectual ballast for continued government expansion. These taxes are politically unpalatable and would be rejected by the electorate, if levied without green cover. Therefore, climate change and catastrophism are the reasons for a 'greener than thou' ratchet effect, where politicians use Britain and our money to puff themselves up as a moral example for others.

Since the science and the scenarios are still so uncertain, climate change has been adopted as the vanguard for further taxation and a curb on British consumerism. Using the expansion of the state and taxes, rather than market mechanisms, our politicians will dampen our economic growth, steal our wealth, and wrap us in their parasitical hairshirt. The only light in this gloom is that the British electorate may reject such alarmism and the example of our political stupidity will lead India and other nations to seek technological and free-market solutions that do not curb their march away from poverty.
Reaction from the public to the Stern Report, which is only officially released today, has not been entirely positive. This BBC forum is an example, with the more popular commenters expressing views like these:
  • Everyone in the country is sick to the back teeth of working just to pay ever increasing bills and taxes to this hopeless government.
  • We already have a green tax on cars. Its called petrol duty. And at 80% its already more than enough.
  • Typical government reaction: if you can't solve it, tax it.
  • It seems to me that this government has run out of ideas, and thinks that the failures of tax and spend, can be rectified with new and inifinitely more complex versions of exactly the same thing.
  • More taxes???? This really is the Government's answer to everything!
  • NO! Despite what the greenies would have you believe, there is NOT a consensus amongst climate scientists that humans have (or even can) affect the climate. The government is jumping on the green bandwagon because it allows them to increase taxes without taking the heat for it
Meanwhile, the Junk Science website has a useful round up of UK reactions to the report and to the "green taxes" proposed along with it.

LINKS: The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change - HM Treasury, UK
Too Stern a view of climate change - Scientific Alliance (UK) [Word Doc]
Blair's last word on climate change - Samizdata
Miliband draws up green tax plans - BBC
Would you pay green taxes? - BBC forum
News and Commentary - Junk Science [scroll down a little to see the links of reactions]

RELATED: Politics-UK, Environment, Global Warming

Spammers clogging inboxes

Ah. Now this explains why my iHug email has been so slow in the last couple of days.

LINK: Explosion in junk emails overloads service providers - NZ Herald

RELATED: Geek Stuff

What is New Zealand’s all time greatest engineering feat?

The Faculty of Engineering at The University of Auckland is celebrating its centennial year in 2006, and with it they're looking to pay tribute by running a competition amongst alumni to help identify New Zealand's greatest engineering feat by selecting ONE of the options below. The overall winner will be announced in November.

What's your pick?

Grafton Bridge (1910):
When it was built, Grafton Bridge was reputed to be the biggest span, reinforced concrete arch bridge in the world. It was pioneering in its use of reinforced concrete.

Auckland Harbour Bridge (1959):
New Zealand’s longest bridge with the largest span. ‘Clip-on’ extensions, doubling the traffic lanes, were added in 1969.

The Raurimu Railway Spiral (1908):
The famed spiral loop on the railway line between Auckland and Wellington overcomes an abrupt 132m rise in the topography.

Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World (1985):
Built in disused sewerage holding tanks, the 110m long transparent acrylic tunnel under Auckland’s waterfront was a world first.

The Skytower (1997):
At 328m it is New Zealand’s tallest structure. A feature of its design is its ability to safely withstand an earthquake, severe wind storms or fire.

Black Magic NZL32 (1995):
The yacht Sir Peter Blake and Team New Zealand sailed to glory in the 1995 America’s Cup race. Black Magic used cutting edge engineering and design technology to beat out the competition.

High-voltage DC link between the North and South Islands (1965):
The under-sea cable in Cook Strait was the world’s largest and longest submarine cable when it was built. The 600MW, 500kV HVDC transmission link integrates power supply between North and South Islands.

World’s first base isolated building (1982):
The William Clayton Building in Wellington was the world’s first base isolated building, designed to withstand earthquakes using a lead/rubber bearing as an isolator and energy absorber.

Manapouri Power Station:
The largest hydro power station in New Zealand. The majority of the station, including the machine hall and two 10km tunnels, was built under a mountain.

Wairakei Geothermal Power Station (1963):
The first in the world to utilise super-heated geothermal water as a steam source for the turbines, and the first to utilise flash steam from geothermal water as an energy source.

McLaren F1 Supercar (1994):
The McLaren F1 was the fastest production car ever built (top speed 386.5 km/h). Most of the McLaren designers were New Zealanders and Team McLaren was founded by Bruce McLaren, a legendary New Zealand F1 driver.

World’s first flying machine (1903):
A claim open to interpretation, Richard Pearse flew a powered heavier-than-air machine on 31 March 1903, some nine months before the Wright brothers.

The electric fence (1936):
In 1936, New Zealand inventor William "Bill" Gallagher Snr built one of the world’s first electric fences from a car's ignition coil and a Meccano set. The Gallagher Group of companies is still involved in electric fencing.

The Modern Jet Boat (1950s):
Bill Hamilton developed the modern jetboat in the 1950s to navigate the shallow fast flowing rivers where he lived. In 1960 a Hamilton jet boat was the first boat to travel up the Grand Canyon.

The Taranaki Gate:
A ‘Taranaki Gate’ is made from battens strung together and connected to a fence by loops of wire. The phrase has come to mean a practical approach to a common problem.

John Britten Motorcycles (1990s):
John Britten designed a world-record-setting motorcycle that was years ahead of contemporary design. In 1994 it broke four world speed records in its class.

I understand the current leader is the Manapouri Power Station, with a narrow lead over NZL 32. What's your own pick?

LINK: Celebrate Engineering: 1906-2006 - Auckland Engineering School

RELATED: New Zealand, Heroes

Cezanne: View of Bonnières

Why am I posting this painting? Because I was fascinated by a discussion of it in one of Bernard Levin's columns.
The problem of Cezanne, which we who only want to feast on his pictures can
happily leave to the experts, is how to classify him. To start with, was he an
Impressionist at all? He said himself that his aim was ‘To make of Impressionism
something solid and durable. . .‘, which suggests that he was not altogether at
home in a world where everything dissolves, and if he was the true precursor of
Cubism, that would further distance him from the ‘true’ Impressionists, though
his Cubism was all his own, and it didn’t last long anyway.

A fig for all this taxonomy; go to the Academy and stand in front of
No. 17, ‘View of Bonnières’. Better still, get yourself a camp-stool and sit in
front of it. If you stay there long enough you will see the picture change
before your eyes, first becoming Impressionist, and then sliding imperceptibly
into Cubist. What you are watching through these metamorphoses is Cezanne
becoming Cezanne — no, Cezanne making himself Cezanne, wrenching his genius
apart to see how it works and how it can be put back together and remade.
Click on the pick to enlarge, and then spend some time in front of it on your camp-stool. Can you see it?


Monday, 30 October 2006

More sustainability

The Austrian Economics Environment Study Guide (just updated) is the sort of resource that National's wet Bluegreens should be eating up, instead of ignoring.

The two highlights are George Reisman's insightful refutation of resource doomsday-ism -- he points out that "the entire planet is a big ball of chemicals that, with the right technology, can be used to meet human wants ...for all practical purposes, [natural resources] are infinite"; (and this ain't just theory folks) -- and John Brätland's article on "sustainable development" which has just come online.

Brätland's article (pdf) deals with the economic theory of intergenerational sustainability, more popularly known as "sustainable development". The red flags pop up right away for Austrians with this description by a proponent:

Fundamentally, "sustainable development" is a notion of... disciplining our current consumption. This sense of "intergenerational responsibility" is a new political principle, a virtue that must now guide economic growth. The industrial world has already used so much of the planet’s ecological capital that the sustainability of the future is in doubt. That can’t continue.

Brätland's basic strategy is to deploy insights from the calculation argument against the neoclassical theory of Robert Solow and others. A few suggestive quotes from Brätland will, I hope, pique your interest in this excellent article:

The concepts of valuation, capital, and income only take on valid or coherent meaning in the context of individual action, private property and market exchange... The critical goal of legitimate sustainability is to establish an expanded system of private property rights that allows the owners to manage resources as capital assets. (p. 21)

...the ethics underlying the acquisition of private property is not even acknowledged in the economics of intergenerational sustainability. The entire resource base of the world’s society is implicitly under the control of some government making allocative decisions. (p. 22)

Without private property, monetary exchange, and capital accounting, no rational economics of asset maintenance could exist... The extent that individual business plans may conflict and be incapable of mutual success creates a barrier to aggregation or "macro-reckoning." Hence, society or a government as its agent has no aggregated measure of capital for which it can legitimately presume to make decisions. (pp. 28,29)

...public control of resources in the name of "sustainability" is not only contradictory but also self-defeating. (p. 41)

LINKS: Austrian Economics Study Guide: Natural sciences and the environment - Mises Institute
Environmentalism refuted - George Reisman, Mises Economics Blog
Toward a calculational theory and policy of intergenerational sustainability - John Brätland, Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics [34-page PDF]

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Environment, Philosophy, Ethics

Clark Government signals free speech attacks

I've mentioned the headlining sustainability nostrums trumpeted at the weekend's Labour conference, but Bernard Darnton points out the less well-reported attacks on free speech that emerged:

In the wake of their shambolic handling of the election funding scandal and their disgust that people voluntarily give more money to the National Party than to them, the Labour Party called for a raft of changes to electioneering rules at this weekend’s party conference.

The NZ Herald reports that the remit called for state funding of political parties, a ban on anonymous donations to political parties, and constraints on third party advertising. The resolution was passed “unanimously and without debate.” And that’s how they like it.

All of these are attacks on free speech. State funding of political parties subsidises some political propaganda, in effect drowning out opposition. Banning voluntary donations can be seen as a move to protect against any potential corruption but, given the general lack of corruption in New Zealand, is more likely to be used as a way to find out who donates to the “wrong” party. Restricting third-party advertising is the most direct attack on free speech as it prevents unapproved groups from expressing their opinions at election time.

Read Bernard's whole post here, and make no mistake that free speech is under attack.

UPDATE: Liberty Scott weighs in as well:
Having happily used your money, extracted from you by force, to fund a key part of its election campaign (and none of the other parties having the same funding to spread its manifesto the same way), the Labour Party has voted in its conference to support compulsory funding of political parties campaigns based on the previous party vote... This is an absolute outrage for several very important reasons:
Read on for those reasons.

LINK: Stifling dissent the Labour Way - Section 14
Thieving bastards have conference - Liberty Scott

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Free Speech, Politics-Labour

The buzzword for this morning is 'sustainability'

The buzzword for this morning is 'sustainability.' Be aware that both National and the Clark Government have now trumpeted that your freedom and your future prosperity are to be sacrificed on the altar of 'sustainability' -- National are doing so in the name of political strategy; Clark in the pursuit of a political diversion, but the few carrots and the many sticks are the same. So what the fuck does it mean, this flatulent buzzword? It's no good looking to your dictionary for help:
Sustain v.t., to bear the weight of, to hold up, to keep from falling...
Not much help there. No, sustainability is more about keeping people down than it is about keeping anything up.

'Sustainability' first became fashionable with the UN's Bruntland Report of 1987, which provided a recipe for authoritarians to take control of their nations' economies -- this report by the way was produced on on the back of scare stories from Rachel Carson about DDT (which proved to be both wrong and destructive), from Paul Ehrlich on the population explosion (which proved to be embarrassingly wrong), and from the Club of Rome on how the world is running out of resources (which myth Julian Simon almost "single-handedly routed"). All were wrong, spectacularly wrong, but their spectres still haunt the world through the 'sustainability' detritus of this report.

The Bruntland Report defined sustainable development as
development that "meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
This nostrum was adopted by the Agenda 21 circus in Rio early in the '90s, by schools and universities around the world, and was reaffirmed by the World Sustainability Summit in Johannesburg as recently as 2002. As the Ayn Rand Institute's Robert Tracinski pointed out at the time, the confusion seen at the 20002 summit
is precisely the result of taking "sustainable development" seriously -- with all of the contradictions inherent in the notion.

For environmentalists, the campaign for "sustainable development" is not motivated by a legitimate desire for development. Instead, it is an attempt to put a respectable face on their anti-development, anti-industry, anti-technology philosophy. The environmentalists want to pretend that strangling industrial civilization would not consign the world to a permanent hell of poverty, starvation and mass death. They want to evade the monstrous consequences of their ideas.

Thus, they tell us that there is something called "sustainability," a magic mechanism that will help the Third World achieve prosperity -- even as the environmentalists restrict the only known conditions for prosperity: free trade and industrialization. The way to achieve this contradiction, or at least to achieve the illusion of it, is the central idea of the Johannesburg conference: the demand that industrialized nations pay out massive aid subsidies, putting Third World countries on the dole rather than helping them develop their own economic production. It is an attempt to give the Third World some of the results of industrial development without actual industry or development.

But even the promise of aid is a lie, because Western money can do no good when the greens have outlawed all elements of industrial development. For example, there is much talk in Johannesburg about using Western aid to prevent famine, to halt the spread of disease and to provide Third World countries with clean water and sanitation. But it is the environmentalists who have campaigned against the construction of hydroelectric dams, a major source of electric power and clean water. It is environmentalists who have tried to block the use of genetically modified crops, which are more resistant to drought and disease. And it was environmentalists who stopped the use of DDT, allowing the resurgence of malaria, which once again kills millions in the Third World each year.

These campaigns are proof of the greens' real motives. They want to stop development and keep the Third World in a state of poverty -- while they work to bring the same ideal of poverty to industrialized nations...
Michael Shaw and Ed Hudgins call 'sustainable development' Sovietization, and they highlight a number of philosophical problems with the notion:

The U.N.'s concept of Sustainable Development is antithetical to individual freedom and economic liberty. It is, philosophically speaking, unsustainable. Development in this context refers to the use of naturally occurring materials such as land, forests, rivers, water, and the like. The notion of Sustainable Development assumes that if not managed by some collective body, these materials will be destroyed by individual owners. The United Nations Habitat Conference Report in 1976 stated: "Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice…Public control of land use is therefore indispensable."

This idea plays on the notion that resources are limited. Yet there is no such thing as a "natural resource." There is only matter and energy in the world that we human beings with our remarkable minds are able to make use of for our survival and well-being. Oil, for example, a century and a half ago, was not a resource to a farmer who found it seeping out of his land; it made the land worthless for growing crops or grazing farm animals. Only when men discovered how to use it to heat homes, run electrical generators, and propel planes and automobiles did it become a resource. Since from a human perspective there is no limit to the potentially usable matter and energy in the universe, there is no problem of running out of resources. The only problem is which resources will be developed and at what cost.

There is nascent technology, for example, to generate energy via ocean waves or to use orbiting collectors that would convert and beam energy to Earth via microwaves or lasers.

And University of Arizona, Tucson, Professor John Lewis has done serious work on the technology and economics of mining asteroids for minerals.

Sustainable Development is supposed to meet "the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." This definition is collectivist to the core. Not only does it ignore individual owners of assets, it in effect bestows title to those assets to an unborn future collective—not even future individuals who might inherit titles to property - but to "future generations." Agenda 21's definition of Sustainable Development was lifted from the 1977 Constitution of the Soviet Union.

In addition, this conception assumes that one can judge at any given time whether some use of an asset will be sustainable in the future. But such knowledge is virtually unobtainable. Estimates a century ago that America would soon lose its forests—a renewable resource -- were wrong; we have more woodlands today than at that time. Predictions at that time that America would run out of oil in a few decades also proved spurious. Consider the folly if our ancestors had determined to save whale oil for lighting a few homes during the twentieth century.

But more fundamental is the fact that we cannot know how technology will affect the sustainable use of any given asset in the future. A snapshot is not a movie. America's history shows material progress over past centuries by any measure. If we had asked at any given time whether the use of an asset were sustainable without knowledge of future technologies that are simply unknowable before they are created, not doubt most development and progress would not have occurred.

This brings up another flaw in the definition of Sustainable Development. It is likely that future generations will live better than present ones if governments do not sabotage economic growth through takings, taxes, and regulations. If anything, the present generation makes itself a victim by forgoing the use of resources for the sake of future ones. The present generation bequeaths to the future a wealth of capital and knowledge. That means future generations will not need to reinvent the wheel.
These problems with Sustainable Development show that at best it is a subjective, collectivist muddle and its application inevitably will destroy private control of property and with it freedom itself.

'Sustainability' is not about wealth production, rational analysis or the use of science or technology for advancement of human welfare. Quite the opposite: at root it is about sacrifice, paying penance for our prosperity and our freedom, and like all forms of sacrifice or of altruism, it's more about the present-day sacrifice than it is about future results (if any).

As Bjorn Lomborg points out for example, rational analysis of authoritarian reactions to projected environmental problems see the solutions as more expensive and more damaging than the so-called problems. As he says, "Just because there is a problem doesn’t mean that we have to solve it, if the cure is going to be more expensive than the original ailment." That of course doesn't stop much irrationality.

We're supposed to conserve 'resources' for future generations, for example, but if ‘resources’ are ‘conserved for future generations,’ when in fact will the resources be used? Which future generation will be allowed to access them? When? This is a sacrifice of the present to a future that never arrives. If ‘resources’ may no longer be used, can they really be called a ‘resource’? It is the human mind that has turned trees, rocks and mud puddles of yesterday into the resources of today; it is the human mind that is the ultimate resource -- and just like all the other resourcess, it is not running out, although with economies and industry being shackled it is the mind being applied to production that is itself being shackled.

But will our grandchildren really thank us tomorrow for not applying our minds and our energy to production today? Will they really thank us tomorrow for not having built today the roads, dams, abattoirs, oil refineries, industrial and chemical plants, canals, sewerage systems, pulp and paper mills, railways and mines that we present generations have enjoyed as a gift from our own predecessors? Will they think we've been sensible? Or bloody idiots with an anti-human agenda who should have been silenced with a gag and a bucket of paraquat.

But in the end it's not sense that attracts politicians is it, it's power, and the reason for the more-than-decade-long popularity of the 'sustainability' nostrum is that it delivers power to those who are hungry for it: to politicians and their minions. It is nothing other than a pseudo-concept giving planners, bureaucrats, politicians and minor functionaries power over your property and your industry and the use of your mind to create new wealth and new resources. And it does this in a way peculiarly suited to politicians -- by delivering them a constituency that can't talk back. If ‘resources’ (i.e., your property) must be protected for ‘future generations,’ and in the absence of future generations to speak for themselves, then the idea of 'sustainability' nostrum empowers someone to speak on their behalf. That someone of course is a politician.

How ironic: a constituency from tomorrow that can't answer back, used to shackle the constituency of today that can. What could be more ingenious? And what could be more suitable to sell politically.

Are you buying it?

LINKS: 'Bluegreen - the new symbol of wetness - Not PC
Bruntland Report - Wikipedia
'Sustainable development's unsustainable contradictions - Robert Tracinski, Capitalism Magazine
Sovietizing America: How sustainable development crushes the individual - Michael Shaw & Ed Hudgins, The Objectivist Center

Speaking for the speechless - Not PC (Aug, 2005)
Altruism: It's about us, not about them - Not PC (May, 2005)

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Environment, Philosophy, Ethics

Welfare activists on air

I hear that welfare activist and petitioner to abolish the DPB Lindsay Mitchell, and Libertarianz health deregulation spokesman Dr Richard McGrath will both be appearing on Radio NZ's Nine to Noon show later today to talk about growth in the sickness and invalid's benefits. (Sorry, I don't know the exact time.)

You should be able to hear it online here later today.

LINKS: Nine to Noon Show - Radio NZ
Nine to Noon - Lindsay Mitchell

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Welfare, Libz

Sunday, 29 October 2006

More Gore

We all know by now that the Sunday Star front page is a regular repository of trash. From the fish and chip wrapper of tomorrow we see splashed across it today the breathless revelations that "New Zealand may be refuge as rising sea levels displace hundred of millions of people"! That Helen Clark has"called for boldness in tackling climate change"! That she boldly "credits [Al Gore's movie] An Inconvenient Truth with helping sharpen public opinion"! This movie, says the Star, "lays out evidence for the potentially devastating effects of man-made climate change"!

Wow! What a lot of bunk.

Those "hundreds of millions" of "climate refugees" are supposed to be the result of massive rises in sea level. Al Gore's film talks about sea level rises of “18 to 20 feet,” partly as a result of "possible" melting of the Greenland ice sheet. The Skeptics' Guide to An Inconvenient Truth conveniently rebuffs these two related myths.
Sea Level Rise. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not forecast sea-level rises of “18 to 20 feet.” Rather, it says, “We project a sea level rise of 0.09 to 0.88 m for 1990 to 2100, with a central value of 0.48 m. The central value gives an average rate of 2.2 to 4.4 times the rate over the 20th century...It is now widely agreed that major loss of grounded ice and accelerated sea level rise are very unlikely during the 21st century.” Al Gore’s suggestions of much more are therefore extremely alarmist.

Greenland Climate. Greenland was warmer in the 1920s and 1930s than it is now. A recent study by Dr. Peter Chylek of the University of California, Riverside, addressed the question of whether man is directly responsible for recent warming: “An important question is to what extent can the current (1995-2005) temperature increase in Greenland coastal regions be interpreted as evidence of man-induced global warming? Although there has been a considerable temperature increase during the last decade (1995 to 2005) a similar increase and at a faster rate occurred during the early part of the 20th century (1920 to 1930) when carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases could not be a cause. The Greenland warming of 1920 to 1930 demonstrates that a high concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases is not a necessary condition for period of warming to arise. The observed 1995-2005 temperature increase seems to be within a natural variability of Greenland climate.” (Petr Chylek et al., Geophysical Research Letters, 13 June 2006.)
Read on here for the top 25 one-sided, speculative, misleading and just plain wrong pieces of "evidence" peddled in Al Gore's film, and here (if you haven't already downloaded it) for the full 120-page Skeptics' Guide [PDF]. Given that both National and now Labour have been pushing the bloody film in recent weeks as an excuse to outbid each other in meddling promises of environmentally-motivated authoritarian action, it would seem that a passing acquaintance with its full shallowness is to be necessary self-defence for freedom-lovers in coming months.

LINK: Al Gore to star at Kiwi summit - Sunday Star
Gorey Truths - Ian Murray, National Review
Skeptics' Guide to an Inconvenient Truth - Competitive Enterprise Institute [120-pge PDF]
Lots of climate change announcements - Not PC (Oct 6)

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Environment, Global Warming

Martyr of the nation

Judy Bailey is still playing the martyr to help sell her autobiography (excuse me as I pause for a yawn.)

Bailey came in for a storm of negative publicity in December 2004 after news her $400,000 salary had been doubled to $800,000. The pay rise was even probed in Parliament. Bailey said her salary was based on her "brand" but the criticism still hurt.

She says her "branding" expert told her she was worth $800,000 to read the news. Seems to me she rather overplayed her rather limited hand.

The sustainable business con

As Helen Clark tells her party conference the Clark government will use "a mix of carrots and sticks" to foist so-called 'sustainability' on New Zealanders, George Reisman points out the con of so-called "sustainable" businesses:
Not surprisingly, a so-called Green Business functions very differently than does a normal business. While a normal business seeks to add amenities to its offerings, a so-called Green Business seeks to subtract them...
Read on.

LINK: The Green business racket: Con Consumers, cut corners, boost profits - George Reisman's blog

RELATED: Environment

Today's Bible reading

We need to read the Bible because,say religionists, it is "the book of comfort and hope." Let's see:
And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body, the flesh of thy sons and of thy daughters.--Deuteronomy 28:53
No, perhaps not.

LINK: Skeptic's Annotated Bible
Brick Testament

RELATED: Religion

Friday, 27 October 2006

Beer O'Clock: Tsingtao

This week's recommendation from Neil at Real Beer.

Beer Fact: Tsingtao is the only Chinese beer to appear in the Beer Hunter Michael Jackson's list of the world’s top 500 beers.

Beer Opinion: Tsingtao is definitely my favorite Chinese beer.

Granted, it's the only Chinese beer I've ever tried - but I really do like it.

It's also surprisingly easy to find - in Wellington it pops up at a number of fine Chinese and Malaysian restaurants and at reputable bottle stores like Regional Wines and Spirits.

I had a couple of bottles for lunch at the excellent Long Bar just to confirm its ready availability for skeptical readers.

A word of warning though - be careful with your pronunciation otherwise you may end up with the inferior Thai Singha! The official Tsingtao website suggests “Ching-dow”.

The brewery was founded by Germans in the port of Tsingtao in the early 1900s. At that time, the city was a German port as part of the concessions after the Boxer Rebellion. The Germans were eventually kicked out by the Imperial Japanese Army, who moved in and stayed until they were defeated in the Second Sino-Japanese war. Tsingtao Brewery is now 100% Chinese owned and is the largest in China. Many breweries around the world were established by German settlers including Samoa Breweries, and the producers of the excellent Namibian Windhoek.

Geopolitics aside, the beer pours a lovely straw colour with a wispy white head. It has a slightly astringent and crisp nose. Nicely carbonated, it has short, sweetish body with a crisp, dry finish. It’s quite smooth and refreshing and is indeed a perfect match for spicy food.

This is one of the few beers to use a small proportion of rice properly giving it a light colour and clean finish. It is not overly complicated - but everything balances and everything works.


LINKS: Michael Jackson, beer hunter
Tsingtao Brewery

RELATED: Beer & Elsewhere

Smart Growth is not Green

'Smart Growth' -- the platitudinous urban design imposition that herds people inside arbitrary city boundaries -- is NOT a green theory. In fact, it's not even 'sustainable.'

Wendell Cox of Demographia points out that organic farmers in the US are waking up to this. Owen McShane summarises:
Smart Growth and other regulations prevent all processing of food in rural zones. These new farmers want to raise their beef, chickens and pigs on site and slaughter them on site - open to the gaze of their buying public. As they say "transparency is the best form of regulation". But these regulations are seriously restraining the development of "local miles" food producers and markets while favouring the massive centralised industrial operations. So the "slow food" and "fresh food" people, and organic farmers should be joining in the campaign against the Auckland Regional Council's Policy Change 6, and similar moves around the country. Again, Smart Growth is not Green.
'Smart Growth' policies ring-fence cities with the aim of "reducing ugly sprawl" and "preserving food-producing land" -- they have the result instead of locking people out of rural areas, and pushing up prices for housing and for land in urban areas. Auckland Regional Council's Metropolitan Urban Limit provides an example. As Cox explains, "anti-sprawl policies ration land inordinately increase the price of housing, destroying wealth creation, while intensifying traffic congestion and air pollution."

And as he points out, when you take the "footprint calculations" of the sustainability-worshippers themselves you realise that even if you could suspend disbelief over the unfortunate economic impact of restricting development, the Smart Growth credo is just wrong on its face:
The new World Watch 'Living Planet Report' provides strong evidence that the space required by urban areas is only a small part of what is required to support human habitation --- that the land required for agriculture, energy production and other factors is far greater --- 90 times greater. The World Watch data thus provides evidence that the urban form --- whether dense or sparse ("compact" or "sprawl") --- is irrelevant with respect to sustainability. [Let me repeat that: it is irrelevant.] If the World Watch prescription is reliable, then strategies to combat "urban sprawl" would yield virtually no progress toward improving sustainability (even at the theoretical level).
Full commentary here.

LINKS: World Watch, sustainability and the politics of sprawl - Wendell Cox, From the Heartland
Man's footprint on Earth too heavy to be sustained - Times Online

RELATED: Urban Design, Politics, Environment, Auckland

University faculties not all that diverse - survey

Author Stephen Hicks, himself a professor at Rockford College Illinois, has found "a fascinating recent survey of [American] university faculty political beliefs." Here's some 'highlights' from the summary:
  • "Faculty at colleges and universities of all kinds in America are overwhelmingly liberal in their political ideology, creating a strong campus political culture. Categorized according to both self-identification and voting patterns, faculty are heavily weighted towards the Left."
  • "The majority of faculty are liberal and Democratic, and thereforethe full spectrum of beliefs and political behavior of the American public is underrepresented on campus."
  • Faculty hold a certain number of beliefs that are pervasive, but not monolithic. They include:
    • Criticism of many American foreign and domestic policies.
    • Propensity to blame America for world problems.
    • A tendency to strongly support international institutions such as the United Nations.
    • Strong opposition to American unilateralism.
    • Criticism of big business.
    • Skepticism about capitalism’s ability to help address poverty in developing nations.
  • "Recruitment, hiring, and tenure review processes have either failed to adequately prevent this political imbalance within disciplines or have actively perpetuated and deepened political unity."
  • "Social science and humanities faculty are the most liberal and Democratic, and least diverse in their political culture. Fully 54% of the social science and humanities faculty identify as Democratic and 60% as liberal, and only 11% as Republican and 12% as conservative, a 5-to-1 ratio. [Which begs the question of what the remaining 17-23% see themselves as?] Of social science faculty who voted in 2004, they were more than four times as likely to have chosen Kerry (81%) over Bush (18%) while humanities faculty were more than five times as likely (81% for Kerry, 15% for Bush)."
  • "Business faculty are the most diverse in their political beliefs and behavior. Still, only 30% of business faculty de-fine themselves as Republicans and 35% as conservatives..."
  • "Significant percentages of faculty acknowledge that not only students but also other faculty may feel restricted in their expression..."
LINK: A Profile of American College Faculty. Volume I: Political Beliefs & Behavior - Institute for Jewish & Community Research

Politics-US, Education, Philosophy

Drinkers fingerprinted. Landlords threatened.

I hesitate to post this for fear it may give a local bureaucrat ideas. From Metro UK:

Drinkers could be asked to leave their fingerprints at the bar every time they buy a pint in a pub or club. They may also need to show a passport or a driving licence and their details will be held on a database available to police...

Some landlords were reluctant to sign up until they were told they faced having their licences revoked...

Guy Herbert, of privacy campaign group No2ID, said : 'People are having to post bail in the form of their fingerprints merely to have a drink.' Liberty's Doug Jewell added: 'The money for these schemes could be better spent on police services.'

Meanwhile, Tony Blair insisted there should be 'no limits' on expansion of a national police DNA database, saying it was vital for catching criminals.

Big Brother, bullying and threats to small businessmen. Just another day in the UK then.

LINKS: Drinkers to leave prints for pints - Metro UK

Politics-UK, Beer & Elsewhere

UK Tories even wetter

Sojourning in the UK, Liberty Scott has a good look at the UK Tories, and finds them even more vapid than the NZ variety. Hard to believe.

LINK: Yawning with the Tories - Liberty Scott
Bluegreen: The new symbol of wetness - Not PC ( , 2006)
Dripping wet - Not PC ( , 2006)
Leadership? Not here. - Not PC ( , 2006)

RELATED: Politics-UK, Politics-NZ, Politics-National

Auckland Architecture Awards

Every year the local Architecture Awards are announced for local Institute members, and every year ... well, there is no Auckland winner this year (there is no one "winner" you understand, "this is all about taking part" says judge Paul Clarke), but here below are small pics of four "singled out" for special mention so you can judge yourself.

From the official announcement (where you can find pictures of all the forty "winners,") convenor of judging Paul Clarke said "a number of projects deserved special praise, including the Auckland Domain Winter Gardens Restoration."
He also singled out two other Community & Cultural projects [pictured below]. The Manurewa Aquatic and Leisure Centre (JASMAX Ltd) was “a really simple building, effective yet inspiring; an asset that the local community can use and enjoy at no cost”. And the Auckland Central City Library Redevelopment (GHD Ltd) was “a fantastic facility for the city; a building that invites people in with open arms”.

Mr Clarke also made special mention of two Residential winners [also pictured below]. He said Dunn House in Remuera (Fearon Hay Architects Ltd) was a “simply beautiful house… I defy anyone viewing it not to succumb to the desire to live there.” And the McNaughton Thornton House in Grey Lynn (Malcolm Walker Architects) was “totally refreshing, a one-off house that is very well executed”.

Manurewa Aquatic Centre - JASMAX Architects

Dunn House remodelling- Fearon Hay Architects
What was once a very attractive concrete house is now ...

NcNaughton Thornton House - Malcolm Walker Architects

Auckland Library Cafe extension - Auckland City Architects
A fairly uninformative photograph of a useful extension.

Your comments welcome. What do you think of the four buildings "singled out" for special mention.

LINK: New Zealand Institute of Architects Resene Awards - Auckland local award winners - NZIA

RELATED: Architecture, Auckland

Thursday, 26 October 2006

Free Speech with Bernard Darnton

Q: What's Libertarianz leader Bernard Darnton doing now that his case against the Clark Government's misappropriation of money has been unilaterally terminated under the Clark Government's retrospective Get-Out-of-Jail-Free legislation?

A: He's been initiating a new project, one exposing the free speech attacks of the Clark Government.

He explains all at his old Darnton V Clark site, and invites you all to bookmark his new site, FreeSpeech.Org.NZ:
With this court case abruptly terminated [explains Bernard], I have begun work on a new project - FreeSpeech.org.nz.

The site will become a central resource for information on the freedom of expression in New Zealand. The site has been kicked off with a blog called Section 14.

Later will come background information on freedom of speech and its necessity, longer magazine-style articles on various topics relevant to free speech in New Zealand, information on how and when to annoy your Parliamentarians, and a range of other useful tools.

This is a soft launch. There will be a more formal announcement in a few weeks when there's a bit more information on the site and to coincide with issue 73 of the Free Radical, which will also contain a number of free speech themed articles.

If you have ideas about free speech topics that are relevant to New Zealand, let me know and I'll include them in my plans. Currently I'm looking at restrictions on election advertising (no prizes for guessing what kicked this off), restrictions on liquor, pharmaceuticals, and fast food advertising, sedition, blasphemy, hate speech, self-censorship in the face of Islam, self-censorship in the face of environmentalists, how name and evidence suppression works and what trade-offs are really required.

Contributions are welcome.
Bookmark the site and blog now, and keep yourself up to date with his progress.

LINK: FreeSpeech.Org.NZ - Bernard Darnton's new website
Section 14 - Bernard Darnton's new Free Speech blog

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Free Speech, Darnton V Clark

Some spending chains

There's nothing that makes me feel better about some new rules on Parliamentary spending than seeing a politician bleating about the rules making it hard to spend money.

And when the politician doing the bleating is supposed to be an advocate of small government, my irony-meter really starts to twitch.

LINK: Pre-approval for MPs' spending - Rodney Hide

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

The new browser wars

Having a few problems with the new Firefox 2.0 (which to be fair is still Beta) makes me look with renewed interest at the new Internet Explorer 7. Unlike Robin's less than laudatory review of IE7 the other day, Hamish at Polemic has reviewed both and is impressed enough by what Microsoft have done with IE7 that he's almost ready to go back to Bill Gates for his browser -- but note his comments here on security.

LINKS: Deathmatch: Firefox 2 versus Internet Explorer 7 - Polemic
IE7 tip: networks and shortcuts - Polemic
IE7 is coming this month ... are you ready?- RobiNZ CAD Blog

RELATED: Geek Stuff

US Elections: A House divided?

One of the beauties of the American system of government is the check on power created by enabling the executive and both houses of the legislature to be controlled by different parties. Which lovers of small government, for example, cannot recall with a smile the shut-down of government due that happened under a Clinton Administration and a Republican House?

This is just a prelude really to saying that all things being equal I prefer to see power divided, rather than having all elected arms of government in the hands of the same party, and so just on that basis alone would not be unhappy to see the Democrats take control of either the Senate or the House of Representatives. On top of that, and given the disgraceful statism in recent years of the conservative side of the aisle (examined in some detail in this series here), it's hard to see that the Democrats could do a worse job.

Objectivists are divided on the question of whom to vote for in the forthcoming mid-term elections. Given the theocratic thrust of so much of recent Republicanism, philosopher Leonard Peikoff argues that not to vote Democrat for both Houses is immoral:
How you cast your vote in the coming election is important, even if the two parties are both rotten. In essence, the Democrats stand for socialism, or at least some ambling steps in its direction; the Republicans stand for religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, and are taking ambitious strides to give it political power.

Socialism—a fad of the last few centuries—has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades... Religion, by contrast—the destroyer of man since time immemorial—is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.

Given the choice between a rotten, enfeebled, despairing killer, and a rotten, ever stronger, and ambitious killer, it is immoral to vote for the latter, and equally immoral to refrain from voting at all because “both are bad.”

[...] What does determine the survival of this country is not political concretes, but fundamental philosophy. And in this area the only real threat to the country now, the only political evil comparable to or even greater than the threat once posed by Soviet Communism, is religion and the Party which is its home and sponsor.

The most urgent political task now is to topple the Republicans from power, if possible in the House and the Senate. This entails voting consistently Democratic, even if the opponent is a “good” Republican.
Writer Robert Tracinski disagrees. Unsatisfied as he is (and I am) with the Republican Congress, he still suggest the best result is a "humiliating defeat" for the Democrats. "The best thing we can do in this election is to crush the left," he says, "because the Democratic Party adds nothing of value to the American political debate." All the important debates are now happening on the right, he argues, and so "the more the left fades from the scene, the more the national political debate will be a debate within the right."

It sounds a little Pollyann-ish to me. He does however allow:
In the American system, of course, we don't vote for parties but for individual candidates. So if your local congressional candidate has championed a particularly evil political agenda, is under indictment, or is named "Katherine Harris," then by all means vote for the other guy.
Good advice in any election.

UPDATE: Even as I was writing this Mike Mazza was writing an almost identical post with even the same linked articles over at SOLO, where a healthy debate has ensued: Election '06 - SOLO

LINKS: Peikoff on the coming election - Leonard Peikoff, Capitalism Magazine
The Democratic Party adds nothing to the national debate - Robert Tracinski, Real Clear Politics
CONSERVATISM - A NEW OBITUARY: Part 5: The Neocons in practice - Not PC
Cartoons by Cox and Forkum

Politics-US, Objectivism

Too many hoops, not too many overstayers

The problem with the scheme drawn up by David Cunliffe to allow up to five-thousand temporary seasonal workers is not the danger of too many overstayers -- and what way is that to talk about other human beings simply looking for a better life -- the problem is too many hoops to jump through.

Reports the Herald:

Well done those Black Caps

Black caps.

Beating Pakistan by 51 runs.


Great stuff.

RELATED: Sports, New Zealand

The Fall - Martine Vaugel

A piece by contemporary sculptor Martine Vaugel. Full image above, detail below. Her site is here. Her biography here.

RELATED: Art, Sculpture

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

New skeptic's blog

New blog just added to the blogroll is Dwindling in Unbelief, hosted by the editor of the excellent online Skeptic's Annotated Bible/Quran/Book of Mormon.

A sample of what to expect comes in a recent post comparing the number of people killed by God in the Bible (2,270,365) with those killed by Satan (10). And this is in the book written by God's own chosen press agents. Do you think they're trying to tell you something?

LINK: Who has killed more, God or Satan? - Dwindling in Unbelief
Skeptics' Annotated Bible/Quran/Book of Mormon.

RELATED: Religion, Humour

Historian gives MSM twenty years

I was invited last night as a guest of the Centre for Independent Studies to hear historian Arthur Herman deliver this year's John Bonython lecture: "History as the Story of Liberty: A Globalised Western Civilisation." I'll review the fascinating lecture later today, but I'll just note here a point made by Herman in the question period that should interest the blogosphere.

The mainstream media, suggested Herman, has lost the crucial virtue of immediacy to the blogosphere, and with that the days of the MSM are numbered.

News in the US print media for example is all simply recycled reports from the NY Times and wire services, which is then picked up and rewritten and re-analysed and re-splashed across the country's papers, but even that initial report on which everyone is relying is probably written by someone at some distance from the story, someone who's perhaps talked over the phone to someone who talked to someone who saw the story being reported. Or so they said.*

As anyone involved in anything that is ultimately reported in the press would know, the stories as they actually happened bear only a passing resemblance to what finally appears in print. Now, in courts around the world reports collected in this way would be ruled out as hearsay, yet important decisions are made on the basis of these rudimentary reports, and over time people are going to demand better -- and blogs, says Herman, are perfectly placed to be that better thing.

He gives it twenty years for the mainstream print media to wither and die, and for blogs to take over as the main source of news.

Invest now.

* The Vegemite story is an example of this. The "horrifying" story about a "Vegemite ban in the US" (Google links here) was first written up by an Australian newspaper and was then picked up by other "news" sources and rewritten for their own pages -- often with added hysteria -- but who had actually paused to determine whether the story was true or a puff-piece from Vegemite manufacturer Kraft? "Expatriates" who were reported as being stopped at airports after the "ban" was put in place turned out to be one reporter from the Geelong Advertiser who wrote as an yet unauthenticated report claiming a ban, and people subsequently reporting a Vegemite shortage in US supermarkets (perhaps as a result of the 'guerrilla advertising' so compliantly peddled by the press?)

Meanwhile, "Vegemite ban may be urban legend," suggests OverLawyered.Com. And "there is no ban on Vegemite," confirms US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesman Mike Herndon. A pity no-one clarified that before the MSM disseminated the scare story.

As I say, this is only a trivial example, but too many of these debacles and over time the mainstream media loses whatever reputation it still retains for the veracity of its reports when it comes to things of more importance.


The dance of the long black veil

Your house, your rules. That would be the easy way for Britons to resolve their present debate about the wearing of the niqab by a Muslim woman. He (or she) who owns the property sets the rules, and she (or he) who visits said property can either abide by those rules or go elsewhere.

So if I go to a mosque, I might be expected to follow the rules of the house, and if you come to my house or my office or my school you might be expected to follow mine.

We don't need to necessarily respect the rules, just to follow them if we wish to enjoy the hospitality of the host.

The problem in the case that has generated the British debate is that the woman who wishes to wear a niqab that completely covers her face in the manner pictured above wants to work in a government school as a teacher, which means that since there's no private property argument to which to repair, the debate as framed is unresolvable. Literally unresolvable.

Many parents with children at the school object to their children being taught by a woman whose face is concealed. But she has the right to wear what she wants, doesn't she? The principle to be followed here is that no one should be forced to pay for beliefs which they oppose -- but of course that belief is violated every day in very government-owned school across the western hemisphere. As long as schools are unowned (or government 'owned'), then who gets to make the rules about what you wear in class, what food children are allowed in their lunchbox, and what religious observances are practiced is left at the mercy of whoever grabs the levers of power.

What happens without clear private property rights is that a women who does wish to wear the veil to teach in a secular classroom has to endure a national debate. That's pathetic. No such problem would (or should) exist if the secular school wasn't a place to which children are forced go, and parents are forced to pay for. If the school was private and parents had the choice about their children attending then the problem would just disappear. Don't like the rules or the dress-code of the teacher? Then don't send your kids there. Their school, their rules, right? Choice and private property resolving the apparently unresolvable.

But there is another point to be made.

There is something barbaric about wanting to veil yourself, or being forced by religion to veil yourself. The Western value of freedom of expression rightly protects the freedom of someone to choose how they dress (when their property is their own or someone who accedes to the dress code), but there is an element here amongst British Muslims that they must confront of wanting to eat their Western cake and to have it too. And there is something too for non-Muslim Britons to learn. Says the Ayn Rand Institute's Alex Epstein on these last points:

Britons are absolutely right to criticize the niqab. It is a demeaning, barbaric article of clothing that inculcates shame in women, depriving them of individuality and femininity. But to criticize niqabs will not go very far in making Britain a more integrated, less balkanized nation. Britons' most powerful tool of assimilation is to understand and proudly and convincingly proclaim Western ideals.

“They must understand that what made the West great is individualism, reason, the pursuit of happiness--and that this is objectively superior to the tribalism, superstition, and earthly deprivation that many Muslims seek to live out and bring to Europe. Britons must reject the insidious idea of multiculturalism, which holds that all cultures are of equal value. Cultures are not of equal value: prosperity is superior to poverty, happiness is superior to misery, freedom is superior to slavery, and a visible face is superior to a slit revealing two anonymous eyes."
And that's the truth.

UPDATE: I just completed this and then noted that Liberty Scott has made almost the exact same points as I have: 'Niqab, Islam and Civilisation.' Great minds, etc.

LINK: How Britain should promote assimilation - Alex Epstein, Ayn Rand Institute
Schools told: Ban the veil - Daily Express

RELATED: Politics-UK, Multiculturalism, Education, Religion, Political Correctness