Saturday, 16 June 2007

Weekend Ramble, June 16

Here's some of what caught my eye for you this weekend.
  • There's money and power to be made from frightening people. Everyone seems to like a good apocalypse. But fear not, help is now at hand for recovering apocoholics: as Gary Alexander explains, he's "a recovering Apocaholic. I am currently Apocalypse free for nearly 18 years." And you can be too. Welcome to "Apocoholics Anonymous."

  • Everyone likes a good "end of days" story, which might explain the continuing popularity of Jared Diamond's Collapse despite being based on poor science, poor thinking, and -- as Ronald Bailey notes -- being "Under the Spell of Malthus." As he says, "biology doesn't explain why societies collapse." Read on to find out what does.

  • You've heard the phrase "good enough for government work"? Well, have you been keeping up with the ongoing investigations of those measuring the forthcoming climate apocalypse being recorded at Steve McIntyre's Climate Audit? You should be. Some of what he and his readers are discovering about the weather stations from which the surface temperature record is processed are examples of "government work" at it's best. Here's just some of the recent posts you might want to investigate:
    McIntyre is well known for helping debunk the Mann 'Hockey Stick' temperature record, so he has the credentials. His Climate Audit blog is the place to keep up to date with his latest investigation of "government science."

  • A Climate Audit reader has put together a graphic that morphs conveniently between the raw and the unprocessed surface temperature data for the continental US. As they discuss at Climate Audit, there's something odd going on.

  • HomeBizBuzz has a useful 'Warrant of Fitness' test for your business website. How does yours measure up? On the basis of this WoF Test, my own website for Organon Architecture needs work, I must say (in my defence, it was only intended as a temporary solution until I found time enough for something better); and The Free Radical website for which I'm now responsible is becoming embarrassing. Long overdue for updates, let alone the rejig it so desperately needs -- what it really needs is a switched on web-jockey eager and willing to put their services at the site's disposal. If only I knew such a person . . . if only I knew one willing to volunteer their services in such a good cause by emailing me at . . .

  • Everyone's had a go at Al Bore's movie by now, and by now everyone should know that it's full of holes, and where those holes are. Nonetheless, there's nothing like having your whole fraudulent film blown apart by a fifteen-year-old girl. Kristen Byrnes follows up her masterful analysis of the warmist science in her Ponder the Maunder project by ripping the Bore a new rear orifice. See Facts & Fictions of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth - Kristen Byrnes. Just part of her whole Ponder the Maunder site. The girl's a genius.

  • You think I bang on about The Bore too much? Then spare a thought for young Canadian high-schooler McKenzie; the poor sap's seen the damned thing four times already this year, none of them by choice.
    First it was his world history class. Then he saw it in his economics class. And his world issues class. And his environment class. In total, 18-year-old McKenzie, a Northern Ontario high schooler, says he has had the film 'An Inconvenient Truth' shown to him by four different teachers this year.
  • Some YouTube humour at Al Bore's expense. Because biofuels are worth it.

  • And just to add some science to your day as you spend it worrying about your carbon footprint and how much The Bore is banking from film, footprints and flim flam, here's a question for you: Just how much of the Greenhouse Effect is caused by human activity? Come on, how much? Is it
    a) around 50% ?
    b) around 28% ?
    c) around 2.8% ?
    d) around 0.28% ?

    If you answered 'd, ' then you'd be right. As this writer explains "water vapour overwhelms all other natural and man-made greenhouse contributions":
    Water vapor, responsible for 95% of Earth's greenhouse effect, is 99.999% natural (some argue, 100%). Even if we wanted to we can do nothing to change this.

    Anthropogenic (man-made) CO2 contributions cause only about 0.117% of Earth's greenhouse effect, (factoring in water vapor). This is insignificant!

    Adding up all anthropogenic greenhouse sources, the total human contribution to the greenhouse effect is around 0.28% (factoring in water vapor).
    So as RB wonders, "If anthropogenic C02 contributions to global warming are minuscule ... then how much impact on today's temperatures do you think must have come from a mere 33% increase in CO2 since 1750? One-third of minuscule -- that's what."

  • And, gee, all that extra carbon dioxide is causing plant attacks! You have to laugh, don't you, and The EcoEnquirer is one place you can do it, with "environmental news that will make you smile."

  • Tim Blair makes the point however that global warning alarmists make a good point, or at least they would do "once you imagine that every time they open their mouths they're talking not about the environment but about Islamic terrorism." See how he plays out this argument in Just Swap Weather For Terrorism - Tim Blair.

  • If you're a free market journalist like Tim Blair, then you only have two weeks now to get your entries in for this year's Bastiat Prize for Journalism.
    Inspired by the 19th-century French philosopher and journalist Frédéric Bastiat, he prize was developed to encourage and reward writers whose published works eloquently and wittily elucidate the institutions of a free society: limited government, rule of law brokered by an independent judiciary, protection of private property, free markets, free speech, and sound science. .
    So there's maybe two journalists in NZ who might be interested. The prize (a total of USD $15,000) might interest a few more. The prizewinning articles from previous years should interest all of you. There is some magnificent reading in the winners from both 2005 [pdf] and 2006 [pdf]; it's well worth downloading and printing out the collection from both years and working your way through them. This is what good journalism looks like, not the flaccid stuff we put up with from most of our local hacks.

  • Good journalists hunt down the facts before making headlines. These days, bloggers have to check the facts to see whether the headlines make any sense. There's no better checker of facts in the local blogosphere than Lindsay Mitchell, as in this example from a couple of weeks ago: "NZ is the second most peaceful country in the world," crowed the headlines, Helen Clark and even No Right Turn. "Something to Be Proud Of," said the Idiot. Well, maybe not, noted Lindsay. Our homicide rate actually shows us to be the twelfth worst out of 38! Not good. Not good at all. Either for us, of for our journalism.

  • Tim Blair also reflects on some ironies thrown up by Ayaan Hirsi Ali's recent visit to Australia. He quotes Paul Berman reflecting that

    Something like a campaign against Hirsi Ali could never have taken place a few years ago. A sustained attack on an authentic liberal dissident crying out against injustices in remote parts of the world and even in the back streets of western Europe, a sustained attack that appears nearly to have erased the mention of women’s oppression and the struggle for women’s rights from discussion - no, this could not have happened yesterday, except on the extreme Right.

    This is a new event. This is a reactionary turn in the intellectual world.

    And it’s coming from the likes of lefty feminist Kim, who writes about a woman mutilated as a child, in accordance with tribal Muslim custom:

    Her view on Islam is too much coloured by her own experience …
    So contemporary progressives are now opposed to someone who denounces barbaric customs such as genital mutilation? By what standard do they call themselves progressive, I wonder? Can anybody help me with that question?

  • Christopher Hitchens asks a similar question of "Reverend" Al Sharpton" in this debate that you can watch on YouTube: Sharpton/Hitchens Debate - Can Morality Exist Without God? He even makes the question more pointed. If "God's design" is so perfect, asks Hitchens, then why in God's name does that necessitate taking these perfectly-formed gifts from God and sawing off bits of their genitals?! How can that be part of "God's plan"? It's sure got me beat, and it seems to have Sharpton beaten as well.

  • Now many "progressives" reading this will nod their heads along with Hitchens, so whhy do they give the butchers of Islam a free pass? How about watching this wee You Tube piece from British stand-up comic Pat Condell, who tells us The Trouble With Islam, part and a whole hilarious series of wholly non-sectarian pices from Condell that savage all religions equally. The man's a riot.

  • Robert Spencer continues his series Blogging the Koran, which helps explain the butchery behind the butchers of Islam. Prodos summarises the latest instalment: Robert Spencer Blogging the Koran - Part 2, The Fatiha. It's not exactly "moderate," now is it?

  • Speaking of the antediluvian end of the religious spectrum, Andrei at Ian Wishart's ironically named 'Briefing Room' blog has apparently never heard of the cultural treasures of Classical Greece, or even of the philosophical and cultural contribution made by Classical Greeks to western civilisation. But that's fundamentalist Christians for you: lost in their own book full of fairy tales.

    As Paul at 'The Fundy Post' points out, "These conservative chaps and chapesses, the ones who blog about the clash of civilisations and all that stuff, talk a lot about culture but they never show any evidence that they have any of it." A fair point, methinks.

  • And just a reminder,for conservative chaps and chapesses who might think, as Gordon Copeland seems to, that laws in most Anglo-Saxon countries are based on the Ten Commandments . . . they ain't. See Moses Didn't Write the Constitution - Thom Hartmann, and No Representation Without Taxation - The Fundy Post.

  • It's possible of course that conservative chaps and chapesses might perhaps spend less time brushing up on culture and more of their spare time reading economics? If so, Tyler Cowen and readers at his 'Marginal Revolution' blog have some recommendations on How to Study Economics in Your Spare Time.

  • Craig Ceely's also been looking at some recommended readings on Economics, and not only are his recommendations more to my taste, he's as excited as I am by his discovery of a whole series of Study Guides of Ludwig von Mises' masterwork Human Action, by Robert Murphy, the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Capitalism. Part One is here [pdf]. If you're smart enough to be a Misesian, you'll be sharp enough to find the other thirteen parts on your own.

  • Why Restrict Immigration At All? Good question. I wouldn't.

  • Everyone's favourite psychiatric patient has had enough of psychiatrists. I don't blame her. Read Krimsonlake's post Psychiatrists Are Stupid, and you'll probably agree with her.

  • Every student has their own favourite excuses for not handing in their work on time. Diana links to a professor's hilarious responses to the most common: Top Ten No Sympathy Lines (plus a few extras).

  • Addiction. If you listened to Nanny, you'd think this was a serious problem needing her urgent attention, and bucket loads of our money. If you listen to Diana at Noodle Food however, addiction seems far less a problem and far more a misidentification.
    For many years, I've been annoyed by the extension of the term "addiction" from physical dependencies on chemical substances (e.g. heroin, alcohol) to include psychological dependence on self-destructive behaviors (e.g. gambling, sex). The two are very different phenomena. A person with a physical addiction will suffer from well-defined symptoms with the withdrawal of the drug, such as tremors, sweating, headache, nausea, and hallucinations. A person with a psychological addiction finds the experience of life unpleasant (perhaps very painfully so) without engaging in the destructive behavior, whether in the form of drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or whatnot.

    My general view is that, as currently used, the concept "addiction" is a package-deal designed to absolve the psychological addict of responsibility for his voluntary actions . . .
    Read on here: Addiction? - Diana Hsieh
Phew ... there's much more here, but my typing fingers are packing up. Enjoy!

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Friday, 15 June 2007

Beer O'Clock: Speights Porter

Stu the SOBA beer writer contemplates Consumer's winning beer.

Speight's Porter - the great unknown NZ beer - has just been included as one of Consumer magazine's beer tasting top picks [blogged here at Not PC earlier his week - Ed]. For years the Porter beer has been sitting, almost unnoticed, on the supermarket shelves while people have lingered nearby purchasing it's poor excuse for a big brother - Speight's Gold Medal Ale. The fact that the Gold Medal Ale is not even an ale is surely suggestive of something, but to put the spotlight back on the positive let's look at Speight's Porter.

The positives:
• Is it good? Hell yes!
• It is available almost everywhere - of course it's on tap at Speight's Ale Houses but it's also at bars, restaurants, cafes, bottle stores, supermarkets all over the country.
• On the world's best beer consumer website (, It is currently rated as 33rd best NZ beer, and the top beer from either of the two big breweries - even higher if you remove the ten or so beers that are no longer available. The notes from some of the world's most prolific beerhunters are very encouraging too.
• It's pretty good value at around $12-$14 per six pack.
• Their Pilsner isn't too shabby either!

The negatives:
Speight's hardly even promotes the stuff, focussing instead on their well-known watery caramel fizz.
• Much of it is brewed in Auckland, rather than in the famous open-topped Kauri fermenters that the label implies. I'd love to try these versions side-by-side, if possible.
• The sad indictment on New Zealanders is that there is probably more Tui and Lion Red spilled each year on beer-barn carpets around New Zealand than the total volume of Speight's Porter that is brewed.

Stu's taste test:
A very dark chestnut with reddish highlights and a light tan head. Coca-like coffee notes on the nose, with a whiff of caramel. A silky mouthfeel that's complex enough to savour but simple enough to enjoy relatively mindlessly (bitter chocolate and a slight hint of fruit). Dry roasty finish with a little showy caramel note. Not as full nor as robust as many porters I'd normally drink, but one of my common "go to" beers in the relative desert of NZ bottles stores and bars.

For proud southern men:
For all those proud southern men whose chests are swelling with pride, when hearing that Speight's made the grade, it might be interesting to note that Speight's Porter has, for the last few years, been brewed by a woman - and an English-woman at that! She's a hard road finding the perfect woman, for sure, but Speight's have sure made the grade here: Tracy Banner, who once resurrected the Mac's range from the pitiful state into which it had fallen, has for the last couple of years been heading up the brewing team at Speight's, and has recently moved back to Nelson to retake the reigns at Mac's spiritual home. Hopefully the Speight's craft range will not suffer from her loss.

Have a beery good weekend, no matter what you're drinking.

Slainte mhath, Stu


The New Seven Wonders of the World

Voting has nearly closed on The New Seven Wonders of the World ... and after fifty million votes from right around the world, China's Great Wall and Rome's Coliseum are out in front, and Sydney's Opera House and NY's Statue of Liberty are trailing the pack.

Head here to to see the story
, and over here for seven votes for your choice of Wonder from the twenty-one strong shortlist. Here's my seven, in alphabetical order:
  1. Acropolis, Athens
  2. Alhambra, Spain (right)
  3. Coliseum, Rome
  4. Eiffel Tower, Paris
  5. Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto
  6. Statue of Liberty, NY
  7. Opera House, Sydney


Around the world in 52 states

I love maps. One good map can keep me amused for hours. A whole blog full of them is my perfect time-waster.

Here's a good one: an economic map that dramatically illustrates the size and market of the US relative to other countries by comparing states to countries of roughly similar income:

Click on the map to go to the larger map at the site, Strange Maps. You'll never guess which 'state' New Zealand matches.

The art of saying nothing

Wendyl Nissen. And her columns. Has there ever been so much writing about so little for which someone has paid so much? If you too want to see several thousand words used to say as little as possible -- and what Herald on Sunday reader doesn't, apparently -- then head right over to her blog full of "outraged" columns and discover what several thousand words of award-winning journalism look like in the raw. Several thousand short words. Take notes! Be as "outraged" as she is when she publishes them. And see if you can work out the technique whereby she gets those short outraged words to giggle. [Hat tip Mrs Smith at Idle Vice].

UPDATE: Oh dear God! The woman's writing a novel! It's not enough that she fills news space and TV and radio air-time with vapid drivel, now she wants to fill the remainder bins as well! Lawd help us!

(Enter, stage left: The Depression) ...

The boys at Cafe Hayek remember a less happy anniversary for the world than Reagan's clarion call that we celebrated the other day.
Seventy-seven years ago today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Smoot-Hawley tariff. Seventy-seven years ago tomorrow the knaves in the Senate followed suit, and seventy-seven years ago on June 17th the ludicrous President Herbert Hoover signed it into "law," thus helping to mire the world for years in a Great Depression.
If you don't know what the Smoot-Hawley Tariff was, then you need to find out before you next open your mouth to give us your wisdom about depressions, or about "market failure", "underconsumption", "too many imports", protection for local industry, price stability, and other destructive delusions that cause depressions.

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Top fifty business blogs

The Times has compiled a handy list of the top fifty business blogs. Consider adding a few to your daily reading. Even when they're wrong, the best will surely stimulate. And there's some that just demand a read, like this one, PR man Richard Edelman’s blog, who says, “There is no place in PR for spin . . . We are in the business of presenting reality . . . ”

And another of my favourites: Overlawyered. Sample: “When Sacha Baron Cohen accepted his Golden Globe award for Borat, he famously thanked all the Americans who hadn’t sued him ‘so far’.”

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Samson and Delilah - Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens's Samson and Delilah (1609), just one of a series of Old Masters pasted around unlikely window fronts in London in a spot of guerilla marketing by the National Gallery. Story here in the Telegraph.
The critic Andrew Graham-Dixon said: "I can see that they may well appeal to graffiti artists. They invited a Banksy type of intervention and I suspect we are going to get some interesting juxtapositions between the paintings and street art.

"I hope that this idea generates a new street lingo. You can imagine people making arrangements on the phone saying, 'I'll meet you at Whistlejacket at 12.30' and getting the reply, 'No, it's more convenient to meet at Samson and Delilah'."
Great idea. What a shame, if they were intent on using the Samson theme, they didn't choose the far better Blinding of Samson by Rembrandt* (1636). Much better. Much more to my taste.
- - - - -
* Do make sure you click on the smaller picture to enjoy the full-screen image.


Thursday, 14 June 2007

NZer's most loved movies

Results just in on Flicks website's competition to find NZers' Top Ten Favourite Movie Ever. Of the top ten "NZers' favourite movies ever" I've seen three, really liked two, and another two failed to pass my stringent ten-minute test. The winner was a deserving winner. My own highest-ranking favourite made 46 on the list.

Of the top ten most hated, I've seen two and liked about thirty minutes of each. And isn't "Pearl Harbour" mispelled?

Head here to see all 130 on both lists.

Party Pills Petition presented

The Libertarianz/Act on Campus petition opposing the banning of BZP party pills was presented on the steps of parliament at noon today to Heather Roy. Presenting it to her was Libertarianz drug spokesman Dr Richard Goode. Details in this press release.

Who says minor parties can't work together.

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"When did 'profit' become a dirty word?"

"Oil companies in America are reporting record profits, says John Kerry. "Record profits!"

"So what?" says ABC News' John Stossel. "When did 'profit' become a dirty word?"

Read Stossel's piece before you let out your bung: [Hat tip Prodos]

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Carbon taxes: What if ...

Carbon taxes, carbon taxes, carbon taxes. Everyone wants a carbon tax. We "need" a carbon tax, apparently, to stop runaway global warming.

Really? Well, Ross McKitrick -- the co-debunker of the bogus Mann 'Hockey Stick' -- has an idea. Why not link the rates for any carbon tax to actual global temperatures -- indeed, how about linking them to the temperature of the tropical troposphere, where the IPCC's science says the primary CO2 "fingerprint" is to be found [see here for example]?

If you really believe that temperatures are going to rise precipitately, then why would you object -- surely, from your point of view, that's a one-way bet, right?

Owen McShane describes the proposal as it appeared in a recent Canadian National Post:
McKitrick calls this proposal "Calling their Tax (bluff)." The idea is that the carbon tax is pegged to actual measured global temperature just as pensions are pegged to inflation. If the globe warms we pay more; if the globe cools we get a refund. People would really focus on the actual measurements. They might even notice that there has been no warming since 1998. And everyone would take a great interest in long range forecasts and figure out who was getting them right. Those whose "predetermination and bias" always encourages them to predict "warmer" would soon lose their clients and their track record would be there for all to see, no doubt listed in the same pages as the share market and similar "real" information.Augie would be thrilled.
That could bring a little honesty to warmist politics, couldn't it? And too to some of the science.

And with the focus on the troposphere instead of the flawed surface record, we could put paid linking our prosperity to the entirely substandard network of surface weather stations on which the surface record relies, a topic that has been spinning the wheels of McKitrick's co-debunker Steve Mcintyre in many recent posts at his Climate Audit blog. (And check out the beginnings of Anthony Watts' photographic record of the substandard stations at SurfaceStations.Org. Anybody like to send him some photos of local stations to see how they match the likes of the "high quality" station shown below in Marysville, California?)

UPDATE 1: Steve McIntyre's a fan of the McKitrick Plan.
If models are wrong and solar or something else is causing climate change, then it would have negligible impact. If models are right, then the tax would go up a lot. It’s an elegant idea. Calling everyone’s bluff.Of course, it wouldn’t generate any commissions for lobbyists and brokers or expense accounts in night clubs in Moscow and Montreal; so it’s chances of passage are negligible. But isn’t it a better idea than anything on the field so far?
Well, isn't it?

UPDATE 2: A fine comment at the Climate Audit blog:
It is a better alternative to any mitigation plans I have heard and would be something to propose when one wants to determine how much the AGW advocates really want to attack the real problem and how much they merely want to impose regulations.
Many good comments on that thread, including follow up from McKitrick himself. Why not head over and ask him some questions.

UPDATE 3: Geoffrey Plauche comments at the Mises Blog:
If models are right, then the tax would go up a lot." On the other hand, if the tropical troposphere temperatures continue to decline as they have since 2002, then the tax would go negative and turn into a subsidy on carbon emissions. Of course, the alarmists are convinced this won't happen so it shouldn't be an obstacle to them endorsing the tax...

McKitrick has effectively laid down the gauntlet for both skeptics and alarmists by offering them a public policy proposal they both should be able to endorse, since both are convinced it will go their way. Only those of us who have independent moral and practical reasons for opposing any form of tax or subsidy whatsoever should have a good reason for not accepting the challenge.
Many good comments on this post too.

UPDATE 4: Arnold Kling suggests a wrinkle whereby "there is a futures market in the temperature indicator, and the tax is tied to the futures price." Good thought.

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Thought for the day ...

Thought for the day, from comedian Red Buttons:
Never raise your hands to your kids. It leaves your groin unprotected.

Ayn Rand on modern wars

Ayn Rand died in 1982, so she never saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, nor the rise of Islamic totalitarianism. Nonetheless, with some judicious cutting and pasting (which my friend Jameson has done), we can extrapolate from her views on the Vietnam war.

Let’s first imagine Ayn’s horror as the buildings of the World Trade Center collapse in her beloved city after an attack by Communist Terrorists (CT). In the proceeding investigation she learns the terrorists were not partisan to any particular state; however, it is widely suspected that they were supported by communist states in and around Indochina.

Furthermore, reports suggest North Vietnam are producing weapons of mass destruction and that Ho Chi Minh has ties to terrorist organisations - including the mastermind behind the CT attack - creating an imminent threat both to the U.S. and to her western allies.

Now let’s ask Ayn what she would do...

“... at the first sign of an attack by [someone who threatens the US], we should fight them...”

And how hard should we fight them?

“... by every means we have, because it is criminal to kill Americans while not using the better weapons we possess.”

But what if it’s an asymmetrical war and nuking them is ineffective?

“... anyone who wants to invade a dictatorship or semi-dictatorship is morally justified in doing so...”

What should we do now that we've invaded, hanged Ho Chi Minh for war crimes, and discovered there wasn’t any firm link between him and the CT? And what do you have to say to those who are pulling punches, trying to fight a limited war?

“... for us to withdraw would be appeasement. But here is what’s worse: The idea that this country cannot defeat Vietnam is ridiculous, and the whole world knows it. But we are not allowed to use our strength. We’re not allowed to take proper measures - that is, pursue the Vietcong across borders and into its own territory... We are fighting with our hands tied. The idea that America must withdraw from Vietnam is worse than appeasement. It is a shameful pretense. Further, since the world knows we are not physically weak, it would be an admission of moral corruption: that we do not possess a primitive dignity that any nation should have - to it’s own dead, if nothing else - that if it is involved in a war, it should finish it. It must win or be defeated.”

Thank you, Ayn. Now let's get on with it.

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Pittwater House - Utz-Sandy Architects

New house at Pittwater, Sydney, by Utz-Sandy Architects.



Wednesday, 13 June 2007

"Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Anyone over thirty should still remember this moment with goosebumps. Twenty years ago today -- after seven years of resolute opposition to the Soviet dictatorship -- US President Ronald Reagan stood at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, beside the Berlin Wall, the dividing line between an ideology of darkness and one of freedom, and with these words he called on his Soviet counterpart to end a half-century of imprisonment of a whole swathe of humanity: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate.

Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!
It was an historic moment. Within two years the East German state was toppling, and by November 1989 the wall was down -- blasted through by forces too strong to be kept imprisoned for so long.

That wall and the division that it symbolised and made possible set up an unlikely laboratory experiment. One one side the semi-free west; on the other the totalitarians who once declared, "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you." They didn't. PJ O'Rourke celebrated the day they didn't, and we did.
We won, and let's not anybody forget it. We, the people, the free and equal citizens of democracies, we living exemplars of the rights of man tore a new asshole in international communism. Their wall is breached. Their gut-string is busted. The rot of their body-politic fills the nostrils of the Earth with a glorious stink. ... The privileges of liberty and the sanctity of of the individual went out and whipped butt.
Reagan's fortitude and this speech played a large part in that victory. The speech in full can be seen here. The words themselves were delivered to the people of West Berlin, and intended to be heard -- and were -- over the wall.

The voices of appeasement who wished the speech were not delivered get their say here.

NB: LEST WE FORGET. Is there a more fitting reminder of the oppressive nature of communism than the Berlin Wall itself?

And is there anything more lemming-like than today's young anti-globalisation protestors? Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got when it's yours ...

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Who's next?

Scapegoat. n. One who is made to bear the blame of others. See goat, fall guy, whipping boy.

Helen Clark does scapegoats well, doesn't she. First she puts the boot into the Exclusive Brethren, who she would like us to believe were almost single-handledly responsible for contemporary corruption in politics (anything to divert us from the very real corruption of an election bought with our money); now Mercury Energy, whose "heartlessness" she says (rather than a family's own bad lifestyle choices) is responsible for a woman's death ... anything, any lies at all, to get people's minds off the clusterfuck that her Government has become. Anything to avoid blame being pointed at her.

Still eighteen months before an election. Who's next? Do we all need to keep our heads down? As a blues singer said once, "Every culture needs a scapegoat to clean the shithouse." There's still an awful lot of shit to clean up 'tween now and next November -- if this strategy can last that long.

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Economics with Spider Man

Mainstream macro-economists tend to build hyper-theoretical castles in the air based on very little of real substance. Elegant graphs are constructed like the one on the left, which purport to convey immense quantities of information without ever being sullied by the taint of actual facts.

As Mark Twain used to say, "One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

These floating castles only rarely feel the all-too tangible tug of reality to tie them down, and we can spot these times with ease by the frequency with which pensive central bankers appear in the news headlines -- central bankers often unable to explain why the recalcitrant stuff of reality isn't work in the way their elegant models told them it should.

At such times we tend to hear them blaming the inhabitants of the market for not acting the way their models told them "the market" would. Don't we Alan.

Austrian economists by contrast tend to begin with real human action rather than with hyper-theoretical speculation. Here's one example. Austrian economist John Paul Konig noticed that Spider Man comics rose in price from 1963 to now by a whopping 2400%! Much more than what macro-economists would call "the rate of inflation."

This interested Mr Konig, and lead to questions such as this:
  • Does "the" rate of inflation really mean anything useful?
  • Why have Spider Man comics seemingly spurned this rate?
  • Why have Spider Man comics increased at a different rate to the rate of increase in the price of Time magazines?
  • And to the printing of dollar bills by the central bank?
  • What does that say about the relationship between borrowing money and buying comics?
  • And how exactly does this simple example help explain the different rates of price increase in different parts of the economy -- differences that are largely overlooked by macro modelists?
I'm sure we all look forward to seeing the results of a correlation between photos of Alan Bollard appearing in the newspapers and those situations when reality defies the macro models. I'm sure something can be done with that.

In the meantime, enjoy J.P. Konig's piece at the Mises Blog: Spider Man Battles the Inflation Monster.

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Military wit & wisdom

Here's some military humour. Nothing as funny as councillors unilaterally declaring their bailiwicks a City of Peace, mind. If only Warsaw could have done that so easily in 1939, eh?
  • "A slipping-gear could let your M203 grenade-launcher fire when you least expect it. That would make you quite unpopular in what's left of your unit." - Army's Magazine of Preventive Maintenance.
  • "Always aim towards the Enemy" - Instructions printed on U.S. Rocket-Launcher
  • "It is necessary for technical reasons that these warheads should be stored with the top at the bottom and the bottom at the top. For clarity, the top has been labelled 'bottom'." - US Navy safety label
  • "When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend." - U.S. Marine Corps
  • "Cluster-bombing from B-52s is very, very accurate. The bombs are guaranteed always to hit the ground." - USAF Ammo Troop
  • "If the Enemy is in range, so are you." - Infantry Journal
  • "It is generally inadvisable to eject over the area you just bombed." - U.S. Air Force Manual
  • "Whoever said the pen is mightier then the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons." - General MacArthur
  • "Try to look unimportant; they may be low on ammo." - Infantry Journal
  • "You, you, and you... Panic. The rest of you come with me." - U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt.
  • "Tracers work both ways." - U.S. Army Ordnance
  • "Five-second fuses only last three-seconds." - Infantry Journal
  • "Don't ever be the first, don't ever be the last, and don't ever volunteer to do anything." - U.S. Navy Swabbie
  • "Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid." - David Hackworth
  • "If your attack is going too well, you're walking into an ambush." - Infantry Journal
  • "No combat-ready unit has ever passed inspection." - Joe Gay
  • "Any ship can be a minesweeper. Once."
  • "Never tell the Platoon Sergeant you have nothing to do." - Unknown Marine Recruit
  • "Don't draw fire; it irritates the people around you."
  • "If you see a bomb technician running, follow him." - USAF Ammo Troop
  • "You've never been lost until you've been lost at Mach 3." - Paul F. Crickmore (Test-pilot)
  • "The only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire."
  • The three most common expressions (or famous last words) in aviation are: "Why is it doing that?", "Where are we?", and "Oh S...!"
  • "Airspeed, altitude and brains. Two are always needed to complete the flight successfully."
  • "A pilot who doesn't have any fear probably isn't flying his plane to its maximum." - Jon McBride, Astronaut
  • "You know that your landing gear is up-and-locked when it takes full-power to taxi to the terminal."

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Three pieces, three cultures ...

Three eras, three views of the world, three pieces of art... all examples used by Kenneth Clark in his great work, Civilization. Each represents a culture's own shortcut to their philosophy, depicted in the way they saw themselves and their gods.

The Apollo of the Belvedere (above and below left) -- in Kenneth Clark's words "a world of light and confidence, in which the gods are like ourselves, only more beautiful, who descend to earth only to teach us reason and the laws of harmony."

An ancient African mask (above right) -- of a similar era as it happens -- representing very starkly "a world of fear and darkness, ready to inflict horrible punishment for the smallest infringement of a taboo."

The bronze doors of a medieval cathedral (above), embodying the world of crosses and graves through which bloodless, leprous foundlings (us) are doomed to wander, cursed by superstitions and transgressions. Dark, dead, dull and lifeless. What a fall from man's exalted view of himself and his existence just a thousand years, a few miles and a Hellenistic world away.

These three pieces represent the light, the darkness, and the ordure of each of these cultures. What d you say would best represent the culture of today?

And what say those of you who maintain that great art like this speaks of nothing?

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Tuesday, 12 June 2007

New record

The world's most libertarian sport has a new record:

THE round 11 crowd attendances for the 2007 Toyota AFL Premiership Season are the fifth-best single round in the history of the game, with a total of 342,376 fans attending the eight games across the Queen's Birthday Weekend. AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said the 2007 season had now seen more than three million fans pass through the gates.

Sort of puts Super 14's woes in perspective, doesn't it. Oh yes, and Geelong are now at the top of the table. Just thought you should know.

And how about them Warriors, huh? ;^)

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Anarchism is self-defeating

You'll rarely see a better critique of the nonsense of anarchism than this one, from Harry Binswanger. "Competition," says Harry, "is an economic, not a political, concept; it refers to the voluntary exchange of values, not to the exchange of gunfire."

Read more of this common sense here: Harry Binswanger: Anarchism vs Objectivism. [Hat tip Thomas Lee]

See also: Cue Card Libertarianism: Anarchy

UPDATE 1: A commenter at SOLO has conveniently summarised the main points covered in just 1500 words:
  1. why government must have a monopoly of force;
  2. the need for a philosophy of law to spell out details of objective justice;
  3. private force iss a violation of objective justice;
  4. the self-defence/emergency exception;
  5. private guards;
  6. what 'competing' would mean in practice;
  7. How anarchism is 'the rule of whim';
  8. how varying notions proposed for 'just retaliation' under anarchism would result in rights violations;
  9. the inescapability of disputes over rights in whatever anarchist system is initially set up;
  10. the stolen concept of a 'market' in force;
  11. the 'binding arbitration' fallacy;
  12. defense agency force is still force suppressing 'competition';
  13. the denial of the need for objectivity and proof in regard to force.
As the commenter says, "the only criticism of the essay would be ... that he lumps together all 'libertarians' as though they were anarchists."

UPDATE 2: A good debate on this still continuing at SOLO. Jump in.

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Consumer beers

David Russell's former fiefdom, the Consumers' Institute, has done a beer tasting. Russell's replacement Sue Chetwin told Breakfast News this morning some of their results, which included awards for, wait for it, Speights Gold and Black Mac -- and I'm sure I heard her say that the latter was a prize for best lager! If there hadn't been a prize to Emerson's brewery for their Emerson's Old 95, I might have had something more acerbic to say.

Let me know in the comments if you hear the full list of results. In the meantime,whatever you do don't use Consumer magazine as a guide to buying beer. It'll only end in tears.

UPDATE 1: Ah, that makes more sense: Black Mac is best dark lager. Well, in their mind.
  • Best NZ Draught: Speight's Gold. ["Best" is clearly relative. Second is DB Draught!]
  • Best Dark Lager: Black Mac
  • Best Ale: Emerson's Old 95
  • Best Porter: Speight's Porter
  • Best Stout: Cascade Stout [poor Guinness, the locally brewed stuff, comes in fourth!]
Consumer's recommendations are Founders Organic Long Black, Emerson's Old 95, Wigram Brewing Co Munchner Dunkel, Speight's Porter, Black Mac, Moa Noir, of which Speight's Porter would be the best for value. Comments?

UPDATE 2: Greig from the Society of Beer Advocates (SOBA) reckons I'm too negative.
We at SOBA had some input into this. Remember that it aimed at the mainstream consumer. The tasting panel were fairly knowledgeable, and included a sensory scientist and Geoff Griggs, the well known beer writer - both SOBA members. Stu and I also had some input into the article itself, and I think the end result was fairly good. I was a little suspicious of Black Mac's - especially when noting that Colin Paige (Mac's brewer) was also on the tasting panel. ;)

Oh, and the Speight's Porter is pretty damn good. Don't write it off just because it's made by the same crowd who bring you "Distinction Ale". :)


Alan Bollard is insane.

If ever there was doubt that Alan Bollard is out of his depth, then his efforts earlier today supplied the proof. This is just insane, denying the cause of the high exchange rate -- himself and his interest rate hikes -- and seeking to lower it by letting off his peashooter full of our money into the nuclear battlefield of international finance. George Soros and the like will be rubbing their hands with glee.

Alan Bollard is insane.

See Stuff: RBNZ confirms intervention in NZ dollar.

UPDATE 1: Gareth Morgan calls it right:
Economist Gareth Morgan said: "Overall, this is high-stakes poker. I think we're gonna end up dog tucker here."
The "we" here, by the way, is those of us whose money Bollard is gambling with.

UPDATE 2: Gonzo comments:
This intervention may set the stage for some very nasty arbitrage. Let's hope the fund sharks don't take the bait.
"Hope" is all Bollard has. When the big sharks start biting, Bollard's going to lose our shirt.

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Nanny State Has Gone Berserk!

Nanny State Has Gone Berserk!
Nanny tells us . . .

We may not discipline our children
We may not let them eat tasty food
We must pay for hysterical advertising that treats adults like children
We must not watch advertising that treats us like adults
We may not drive fast cars in industrial areas at night
We may not climb tall ladders
We may not act in ways that Nanny deems "anti-social"
We may not buy vitamins and minerals without a prescription from Nanny
We may not drink alcohol in public places
We may not smoke cigarettes at work or in the pub
We may not smoke marijuana anywhere
We may not ride a bicycle without a helmet
We may not walk a poodle without a muzzle
We may not buy fireworks that go ‘Bang!’
We may not put up bright billboards or sandwich boards around our cities
We may not cut down trees on our own property
We may not repair our own property if Nanny says we can't
We may not plant trees on our own property without Nanny’s approval of the type of tree
We may not paint our houses in colours of which Nanny disapproves
We may not build houses at all where Nanny says we can’t
We may not advertise for young female employees
We may not open for business on days Nanny specifies
If we do open for business, we must act as Nanny's unpaid tax collectors
We may not fire staff who steal from us
We may not fire staff, whatever their employment contract says
We must surrender our children to Nanny’s factory schools
We must pay for teachers that can’t teach and for centres of education that aren’t
We must believe that Alan Bollard knows what he’s doing
We must believe that our money is not our own
We must not call bureaucrats “arseholes”
We must not offend people paid to boss us around with our money
We must answer stupid questions when Nanny asks us
We may not spend our own money in ways of which Nanny disapproves
We may not defend ourselves against people who try to kill us
We must pretend that snails are more important than we are
We must pretend that murderers are people too
We must pretend that totalitarian Islamists do not want us dead, that Castro’s hospitals are not abattoirs, and that Che Guevara was a humanitarian
We must apologise to tribalists for things we didn’t do
We must not offend criminals for things they did do
We must apologise to conservationists for things we need to do
We must apologise for success
We must ignore failure
We may not build new power stations that actually produce real power
We must not offend Gaia by driving big cars and enjoying overseas holidays … unless we’re a cabinet minister
We may not end our own lives when we choose
We must pay for art we don’t like and TV shows we don’t watch
We must pay middle class families to become welfare beneficiaries
We must pay no-hopers to breed

Are we all going mad … ?
Time to throw Nanny from the train.
Tell Nanny to “Go to hell!”
And start living like a goddamned adult!

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New house by Steve Kornher, San Miguel, Mexico

Images from Flying Concrete ferrocement houses.


Monday, 11 June 2007

Sad news about Augie Auer

Just heard the sad news on Newstalk ZB that meteorologist Augie Auer has died. Terry Dunleavy reports that Augie looked forward to living long enough to see the global warming scam thoroughly disgraced, and in the week NIWA admitted they get their forecasts right only half the time [pdf] ...

UPDATE 1: Tribute to Augie from Lindsay Perigo:
The erudite, jovial Augie Auer, meteorology professor-turned-TV-weather-presenter has died. Latterly he achieved notoriety as a debunker of the current Global Warming bullshit, to the embarrassment of his employer, TV3, who are fulltime proselytisers for said bullshit. Augie featured in the last Free Radical. His death is a sad loss for reason, science and life-loving.
UPDATE 2: More tributes at Stuff.

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Sunday, 10 June 2007

No Ethics Please, It's Culture

The subtitle for this piece is this: 'Mrs Muliaga Didn't Have to Die.'

Culture can blind you, some people never figure that out. Culture can kill you. Folole Muliaga died because she and her family acted in accordance with their "culture," but ultimately unethically.

Does that sound extreme? Harsh? Strange?

If it sounds strange, it's because you're not accustomed to thinking about ethics that way.

I've said here before that you should think about morality that way, and I don't know that many of you understood. Let's see if the tragic case of Folole Muliaga makes it any clearer.

It's been argued that the Muliagas acted in a way that their culture demanded of them; that they didn't want to cause trouble; that they were ashamed to embarrass themselves in front of their neighbours by asking for help; that their diet obliged them to eat and eat and eat until Mrs Muliaga died of it...

This is just nuts.

None of us is obliged to do everything, or even anything, that our culture demands of us -- or seems to demand. We all have a choice. We all of us -- every one of us -- has the power of choice, the power to speak up, to act, to say "This isn't good enough," and to choose a better path. If our cultural norms demand -- or seem to demand -- that we act in a way that will lead to our own destruction, then so much the worse for those cultural norms; and so much the worse for us if we choose to close our eyes to reality and to follow those norms instead of what reality demands.

You see, everyone has a choice. The most basic choice is the choice to focus on reality, and to act upon our identification of what confronts us.

It takes just simple stupidity to make basic mistakes, but it really takes "culture" to kill. It takes just simple observation, for example,to notice that your mother is dying, and basic integrity and common sense to do something about that.

It takes "culture," or in this case what's been defended as the "Polynesian mentality," to really evade the obvious and do nothing but sing hymns while your mother dies. Two young adults of twenty-one and eighteen and two boys of fifteen and five watched their mother slip into a coma in front of them, and not one of them did anything at all about it.

That is the real tragedy. Such is the power of bad ideas, bad cultural norms, and bad philosophy.

Now, among those hymns was a real crowd favourite: "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." What a joke. What a sad and tragic irony. As Christopher Hitchens says in the subtitle of his latest book: "Religion Poisons Everything." The "friend" the Muliagas needed as they sat around clapping their hands as their mother's breathing became more difficult, as her speech became more incoherent, as her eyes closed and then her breathing stopped, the friend they needed was not an imaginary sky pilot or the outside chance of some luck to save them -- the "friend" they needed was themselves, and their rationality.

The point being that focussing on some other world or some form of salvation that exists only in the imagination -- heaven, Valhalla, Paradise, Jannah, Elysium -- the abode only of gods and angels and the souls of those who have already "gained salvation" -- necessarily sells life on this world pretty short, and pushes the locus of morality and the object of 'salvation' out into the realm of the imaginary.

What they needed to do was to act ethically, which is what I'm arguing here -- to think about what was happening right in front of them on this world and then to act. Ethics, otherwise known as morality, is the science that examines our choices and our actions, and determines good from bad. In cases such as this one, "the good" and "the bad" become much clearer.

You see, many of you argue that morality comes from religion, and that without religion there is no morality. Many of you argue that morality comes from culture, and that our culture sets our "norms" for us. Some of you have suggested that morality comes from within, from some "fellow feeling" that somehow inspires us to do "good" deeds -- which in this line of argument usually consists of sacrificing ourselves to others.

This is all just so much bunk. Morality comes from none of these, and it most certainly doesn't demand our sacrifice. Where objective morality comes from is reality, and what it demands at root is our survival, and in time our flourishing.

Let me explain.

As I've said here before, when it comes to morality, the basic choice that confronts every living being is the fundamental alternative of life or death: in stark terms, to live or die; either to identify and then take the actions necessary to living, and living well, or to evade the responsibility and to act instead for your own destruction -- or the destruction of your loved ones. All actions flowing from that first set of choices come under the heading of "the good." All those flowing from that second set of choices comes under the heading of "the bad."

(For your first bit of homework, I'll let you decide for yourself under which label the lifestyle and diet of Mrs Muliaga comes, and under which label the actions of her teenage family would fall. Answers on a postcard, please.)

I've said before that life is the standard for morality, the standard by which all actions should be judged (including the act of judging our actions). Let me say it again: the standard for morality -- the rational standard -- is not obedience to what your God or Moses says, or what your priest or pastor or Imam says, or what your neighbours say, or what your own "inner voice" seems to say, or even what you mother says if it defies reason. The Standard is Life, our life, and the lives of those we love. The immediate beneficiary of our actions is not others; it's ourself, and the purpose of such a standard is not to suffer and die, but instead to enjoy ourselves and live.

To turn Descartes on his head (which is no less than the silly French philosopher deserves), the basic ethical principle is this: "I am, therefore I'll think." Because if we don't think, there'll soon be no "I" around to think about.

I hope you think about that.
* * * * *

** For your second bit of homework, if you want to know more about Objectivist morality then you might want to act on that ...

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Now that's love...

Your Sunday cartoon:

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