Saturday, 14 July 2007

Weekend ramble, #15

Join me on another ramble through the more rational parts of the internet.
  • Why do some countries drip health, wealth and happiness, and other places just suck. That's the very question PJ O'Rourke set out to answer in Eat the Rich, and Tim Harford continues to hunt out the answers. Here's Harford's report from "the armpit of Africa," a place with not shortage of either entrepreneurial spirit or investment or government, but desperately short of both wealth and what makes wealth possible: institutions that give long term time horizons to allow entrepreneurs and even governments to plan ahead. See Why Poor Countries are Poor - Tim Harford.

    UPDATE to this: Watching a film at Auckland's film festival yesterday, an ebullient entrepreneurial cinema impresario in Burkina Faso, one of the world's poorest countries, confided that the dream of he and his go-ahead colleagues was to be able to OWN their own cinema, giving them the necessary security to plan ahead. There's a saying in Africa, he said: "If you sleep on your own mat, then no one can take it away." In that saying is the importance of property rights explained, and in that story (and the lack of secure long-term time horizons) is the lack of wealth in Africa explained.

  • And we all know that the mainstream media is awash with ignorance and hostility to capitalism, don't we? Notes Jeffrey Tucker, capitalism gets the blame even when all the capitalists have been murdered.
    Ever think that the anti-capitalism of the press is exaggerated or non-existent? Check out this incredible story at MSNBC/Newsweek. You would never know, never even guess, that China was the home to a murderous tyrant only a few decades ago (est. 40 million dead), and you would certainly never guess that China has gone from vast impoverishment to vast economic growth in record time, and certainly the relationship of this to capitalism is completely lost on the reporter. So here we go with the full-scale hysteria blaming the market for all of China's woes...
    Read Tucker's China Abandoned Communism and Deadly Chaos is the Result!

  • Speaking of anti-capitalism, have you seen 'Sicko' yet, Michael Moore's latest encomium to a dictator? Says Ryan Balis, 'Sicko' Presents a False View of the Cuban Health Care Industry. Who would have thought, Michael Moore to presenting a "false view" to make a point -- you have to ask yourself, would he ever really have a point if he told the truth?

  • Ever wanted to mail all the questions to which you wanted answers to a wise old philosopher? You're in luck. Dr Leonard Peikoff is in, and he's asking and answering questions at his website. Aristotelian sagacity at the click of the mouse.

  • It might be mid-winter, but if your cat smells like last week's dishrag it's time to give him or her a wash. Bud Herron has some hilarious tips on how to go about the job without losing an arm.

  • Everyone and his feminist great-aunt finds "phallic symbols" everywhere. But what about vagina symbols and those of us on the lookout for these? Why should vaginas miss out on all the action? The Sex or Not blog picks out a few examples and asks, "Vag, or not vag?"

  • While we're talking art (or very nearly), those of you who've been following artist Michael Newberry's art mini-tutorials and aesthetic commentary linked here might find it useful to see all the commentary linked on one page here, and the mini-tutorials here.

  • Stephen Hicks adds to the debate on good education (or the worldwide lack thereof) by asking about the divide between the humanities and the sciences and pointing out, "You can’t be an educated person without knowing some literature [or history], but when will we stop thinking of the scientifically illiterate as educated too? And what about the politically and economically illiterate? Bryan Caplan’s new book probes the issue of whether democracy is self-defeating."

  • And here's Stephen being interviewed about post-modernism, what Nietzsche gave to the Nazis, and the joys and otherwise of being a philosophy professor. On postmodernism (on which his book Explaining Postmodernism is still the most pellucid) Hicks argues that the failure of Enlightenment philosophers to produce a viable theory of knowledge is what made post-modernism possible, and although "we are still living in the after-glow of modernist confidence and reason," this failure leaves reason and scientific enterprise philosophically undefended, and the field wide open for the cynical skepticism of the post-moderns. See The Post-modern Assault on Reason - Interview with Stephen Hicks.

  • What should a rich man do with all his money if he really wants to "help others"? If he's Bill Gates, "the (second) richest man in the world who helped create a revolutionary computer software company, and earlier this month collected an honorary degree from Harvard University" you might wonder whether he really understands "the vital role wealth creation plays in society" if he thinks giving is money away is the best way to help. "By any reasonable calculation," says Robert Barro in the Wall Street Journal, "Microsoft
    has been a boon for society and the value of its software greatly exceeds the likely
    value of Mr. Gates's philanthropic efforts." True. With a walking engine of production like Bill, the most productive thing Bill could do for all of us is to keep using his money to produce more. See Bill Gates' Charitable Vistas - Robert Barro, Wall Street Journal.

  • The reason for Islamic terrorism is not western foreign policy. Who says? A former member of the British Jihadi network. Says Hassan Butt,
    By blaming the government for our actions, those who pushed the ‘Blair’s bombs’ line did our propaganda work for us. More important, they also helped to draw away any critical examination from the real engine of our violence: Islamic theology. "
    Ed Hussain concurs, saying in a Telegraph article on the rise of middle class Islamic terrorism,
    [Blaming western foreign policy] is just an excuse. They reject Western culture full stop, not just 'slags in night clubs'. They would have supported the bombing of Muslims attending the cinema in Cairo in the 1950s. They do not want Muslims to enjoy social freedoms. If it was not Iraq they would cite Chechnya. Or Palestine. These are angry men. Accommodation is not an option. It has to be containment or annihilation.
    And says Tanveer Ahmed in Australia:
    What we now call extremism was virtually the norm in the community I grew up in. It was completely normal to view Jews as evil and responsible for the ills of the world. It was normal to see the liberal society around us as morally corrupt, its stains to be avoided at all costs. It was normal to see white girls as cheap and easy and to see the ideal of femininity as its antithesis. These views have been pushed to more private, personal spheres amid the present scrutiny of Muslim communities.
    Hat tip to Tim Blair and to Perry de Havilland at Samizdata, who points out to anyone who's still averting their eyes from the danger, "That is what makes these people so different from the IRA or ETA or any of the West's entirely indigenous terrorists: there can be no possible meeting of the minds or compromise or middle ground to be found with the current crop of Wahhabi inspired mass murderers. It really is them or us." As Brian Doherty summarises, "we are all self-indulgent libertine scum who deserve to die."

  • Despite the models showing the atmosphere as the place where warming happens, the surface temperature record is what everyone points to in discussing global warming. Roger Pielke and Anthony Watts continue to research the actual quality of the reputed "high quality" surface temperature stations on which the surface temperature record relies. Here's the surface temperature station that was recording temperature in Fort Morgan, Colorado (a place for which no "urban heat island" effect will have been factored into any temperature adjustments) complete with a red brick building (great for storing and re-radiating the sun's warmth), silos full of fermenting sugar beets (with the heat products thereof), four air conditioners in close proximity, and as the man says, "in keeping with current observed trends, any weather station with air conditioning also needs close-by parking."

    The UK, Europe and NZ are seriously talking about reducing carbon emissions by fifty percent to stop "runaway global warming." Al Bore wants ninety percent. Comforting to know that it's stations such as this that produce the temperature record on whose basis the shackling and shut down of western industry is being contemplated.

  • Is there a difference between the forecasts of the opinions of experts and scientific forecasting? "Yes!" say forecasting experts Scott Armstrong and Kesten Green, and the climate forecasts produced by the IPCC for the next hundred years fall into the former camp. "The forecasts in the [latest IPCC] Report were not the outcome of scientific procedures. In effect, they present the opinions of scientists transformed by mathematics and obscured by complex writing... We have been unable to identify any scientific forecasts to support global warming. Claims that the Earth will get warmer have no more credence than saying that it will get colder." Read the article on these two here : Chorus Does Not Justify Climate Prophecies - Sydney Morning Herald.
    And their own paper of the IPCC's forecast here: Global Warming: Forecasts by Scientists Versus Scientific Forecasts? - Armstrong and Green [pdf] [Hat tip Climate Audit]

  • And have you found out your own "carbon footprint" using the Live Earth footprint calculator? My own is an embarrassingly small 0.75 tonnes of carbon per year, only ten percent of the average American, barely one percent of Al Bore's, and just 0.001 percent of the carbon produced by Al Bore's Live Earth.

  • More on the morons of Live Earth here from the Sp!ked team. Says Rob Lyons, "The problem with the concerts was not Madge's massive footprint and other rock-star hypocrisy. It was the apocalyptic message of the sermons." Too true. With the magnitude of the problem the warmists claim we're facing -- global apocalypse; worldwide destruction; millions of climate refugees; extinction of species; running out of toilet paper -- it's remarkable just how wet was the pledge the warmists wanted the audience to make. It's almost like they don't really believe in their own apocalypse.

  • By contrast the almost-always rational Czech president Vaclav Klaus points out that even by their own standards the "apocalypse that isn't" requires not enormous state intervention but intelligent adaptation, and in that the state can only get in the way. Human adaptation is not the province of either the state or of climatologists; it's carried out by individuals with the freedom to act, and can best be measured and assessed by economists. This question, he says, is "not the cup of tea of economists and representatives of other social sciences. These people ask very different questions (which is why they shouldn't be blamed for not being weather or climate experts). They are asking to what extent a particular phenomenon such as warming will be a problem, what its consequences will be, what will be the costs of adaptation, and perhaps what would be the costs of eliminating the phenomenon altogether. This is not a domain of natural sciences."
    Richard Posner... [suggested] ... it was necessary to do something about the climate because higher temperatures would lead to higher sea levels, by about two feet in 100 years (even though it is 0.5 - 1.3 feet according to the latest IPCC report) and that this would require a forced transfer of tens of millions of people. At first glance, this looks horrible. It is like moving several Czech Republics from one place to another.

    However, if we think for a while and consider these issues in their proper context, we realize that what we talk about is about 0.5 percent of the world population. We should immediately see that every year, much more than 0.5 percent of the world population is moving. But this relocation should occur not within one year but within one century: only one hundredth of the number cited above would be moving every year: five thousandths of a percent of the people of the world! This is a completely negligible number - but we could only see this fact by considering the context. [...]

    What should we choose? Should we believe the market (and its ethics) or ethics of the prophets of global warming? I would prefer to believe the free market (and its interest rate) more than the elitists from the rich and developed world ...

    The debate about this issue must continue. But this debate is unrelated to measurements of temperatures and it is only marginally related to the causes of these changes.
    Read Klaus in translation at Lubos' Reference Frame: Vaclav Klaus: Climatologists & Economists.

  • Speaking of fashionable nonsense, local contrarian and property investor Bob Jones has slammed the Green Building fad as "a fashionable inanity," saying the movement is an over-reaction by "conservative dullards."

    The movement - which looks at and rates the environmental impact of a building and the activity that surrounds it - is gaining popularity, but Sir Robert said he doubted it would last. "I'm picking this to last about four years with the private sector and a decade with the government," he said.

    See Property Tycoon Jones Slams Green Inanity.

  • And the fashionable nonsense continues with the contradictorily name "Smart Growth," a movement started in Portland Oregon that severely restricts growth and is definitely not smart (but neither is it "green"), but which has nonetheless infested the western world and raised house prices in every city in which planners have been allowed to introduce it. As PM of NZ says sagaciously, Portland Oregon itself is now "a world class example of how not to plan." He backs this up with a Cato Institute report Debunking Portland: The City That Doesn't Work.

  • In the face of the Green Juggernaut, Nick Provenzo suggests it's time to resurrect the Capitalism Center's Campaign in Defence of Industry and Technology. Any takers?

  • Two tales of freedom are compared by Juliusz Jablecki: JRR Tolkein's Lord of the Rings and Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.
    Both Rand and Tolkien passionately tell their tales about freedom ... but they resort to completely different aesthetics, and, in consequence, paint two entirely different pictures of the world, with different heroes and different challenges. Are those differences important? How do they affect the "moral" of the respective tales? Given that it is of utmost importance just what kind of story one tells, it is perhaps worthwhile to reflect upon the different world images depicted in Atlas Shrugged and The Lord of the Rings, comparing the characters of both narratives along with the predicaments they face.
    Personally, I'd prefer to see Wagner's Ring and Atlas Shrugged compared, but as yet that study has barely begun. In the meantime, see Tales of Titans & Hobbits - Juliusz Jablecki.

  • Speaking of tales of freedom, I saw the deservedly award-winning film Lives of Others the other night, a tale of late-Communist East Berlin when one-third of East Germany was spying on the other two-thirds, and on each other. Magnificent drama, for which John Podhoretz has an equally magnificent review (warning, contains spoilers). For myself, I was struck by the character of Wiesel [sp?], the repressed Stasi spy in this last-days-of-Ccommunism drama, and I contrasted him with the character of Andrei Taganov in Ayn Rand's We the Living, a novel describing the first bloody outpourings of Bolshevik takeover.

    Together We the Living and Lives of Others act as bookends to the Communist era, and the characters of Taganov and Weisel act like a graph measuring the fate and character of the communist system's own best and brightest over the seventy years of Communist hegemony. Taganov was the best the revolution could produce in the early days, and he died of it. Here's a discussion between Bolshevik Taganov, and the individualist heroine, Kira We the Living that presages those seventy years and the world produced by Taganov's revolution.
    [Andrei:] "I know what you're going to say. You're going to say, as so many of our enemies do, that you admire our ideals, but loathe our methods."
    [Kira:] "I loathe your ideals."
    "For one reason, mainly, chiefly, and eternally, no matter how much your Party promises to accomplish, no matter what paradise it plans to bring mankind. Whatever your other claims may be, there's one you can't avoid, one that will turn your paradise into the most unspeakable hell: your claim that man must live for the state."
    "What better purpose can he live for?"
    "Don't you know," her voice trembled suddenly in a passionate plea she could not hide," don't you know that there are things, in the best of us, which no outside hand should dare touch? Things sacred because, and only because, one can say: 'This is mine'? Don't you know that we live only for ourselves, the best of us do, those who are worthy of it? Don't you know that there is something in us which must not be touched by any state, by any collective, by any number of millions?"
    He answered: "No."
    "Comrade Taganov," she whispered, "how much you have to learn!" More here.
    Weisel was what became of good men under the system seventy years later in the crumbling end days of that revolution. Small, repressed, poisonous, but still within him the honesty that made him capable of an act that transformed lives, and presaged the fall of The Wall. I highly recommend the film, with Rand's novel (or the sometimes muddled, sometimes magnificent film of the book) as a necessary bookend.
  • And finally, it's Bastille Day, so here's some Django Reinhardt at You Tube. Balm for the soul. And here's the Marseillaise, one of the world's great anthems, sung as an act of resistance in the great anti-Nazi scene from Casablanca. Allez les Bleu!


  1. richard mcgrath14 Jul 2007, 16:02:00

    Regarding the film 'Lives of Others', I think the main character's name is Weisner. A review can be found at:

  2. Moving to czechlovakia is an option that becomes more desirable each day (as is moving to Australia, Ireland ,Denmark, or just about any first world country except the U.S).

  3. PC said...
    Is there a difference between the forecasts of the opinions of experts and scientific forecasting? "Yes!" say forecasting experts Scott Armstrong and Kesten Green, and the climate forecasts produced by the IPCC for the next hundred years fall into the former camp.

    I think Eddie Visits Frequently needs to read that very interesting paper.

    For us who are well-versed in the developing numerical model on forecasting algorithms, the article addressed what I have been arguing all along in this AGW debate. Some IPCC authors, I say the majority are just being novice in numerical modeling. There is no doubt that they are excellent climate scientists in doing what they do, but coming to modeling, it is a completely different domain. The general public thinks that, "Oh surely , he is a climate scientist". Meaning that he/she automatically an expert or knowledgeable in numerical modeling. NOPE. These are completely 2 different domains. Some are good at both, such as Professor Richard Lindzen (one just needs to check out the complexity of the differential calculus model derivation in his papers which are freely downloadable from his site). The majority are only good at being a descriptive climate researches where (no modeling is involved). The IPCC is full of experts from the latter (descriptive climate researches), and there is no surprised at all here about this criticism of the IPCC forecasting methods by Armstrong & Kesten.

    Perhaps, those IPCC authors of the forecasting chapter should read the proper scientific methods of forecasting by subscribing to the
    Internation Journal of Forecasting. This is one of the journals that I regularly scour to look for new improved algorithms. There is always new ones that are being published that showed improved accuracy over existing ones.

  4. The problem with postmodernists is that they'll fly to a conference (aeroynamics, thermodynamics) and give a presentation on their laptop (about as technologically dense as you can get) about the inability of science and human reason to describe reality without any apparent irony.

    In practice though, the great crime of the postmodernists is to instill militant unreasoned skepticism in the general population. The result is indifference to any -ism you care to name and a mind occupied by an inarticulate 'whatever'.

  5. My Carbon footprint thankfully was much larger than average at 26.45. The average is 7.5.

    Is this carbon footprint thing like cricket where the more you get the better you are.

  6. Looks like a lot of good stuff there.

    He he...I see you managed to sneak in some Sat afternoon criticism of Popper via Hicks's piece:

    If you come over to the Anglo-American side of the divide, by the time you get to the middle of the twentieth century, the major intellectuals at that time are also people who are strongly non-rationalistic. Think of the later Wittgenstein and people like Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, as well as, to a significantly lesser degree, Karl Popper.

    Hicks does not explain in what way Popper is similar to Kuhn, Wittgenstein, and Feyerabend, so it just seems like the usual guilt by association. If Popper is strongly non-rationalistic but to a significantly lesser degree than Wittgenstein et al then what is Hicks really saying: that Popper is just a bit non-rationalistic? Funny way to put it.

    Popper was the first philisopher to fully recognise the poverty of justificationism. Among other things, justificationism leads to the following errors:


    Unfortunately objectivists are justificationists and that is one of my main stumbling blocks with objectivism. Most objectivists appear not to have a clue about Popper and seem to think that caricatures of Popper like the Dykes paper cut it (and I realize I still have to respond to that - difficulty is how to do it without writing a paper!).

    The alternative to justificationism is criticalism, which is about the search for truth, not the search for justified belief.

    There is much to commend in Rand. But she was not infallible and made mistakes (as did Popper). The major mistake was to place her philosophy in a justificationist framework. Objectivists need to recognise this and introduce criticalism into objectivism.

    Anyway, that is my bit of a rant for a Saturday morning!

  7. Whale Oil said, "My Carbon footprint thankfully was much larger than average at 26.45. The average is 7.5."

    Perhaps with my own inadvertently modest footprint I should offer "carbon offsets" so those like yourself who are using the planet properly can receive just reward?

  8. Another "well" placed recording station in NZ: NIWA has a pollution measuring device sitting under the motorway just off Khyber Pass, Auckland. They must honestly think we are thick.


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