Friday, 22 June 2007

Beer O’Clock – Black Mac

The ever SOBA Neil from Real Beer takes free speech too far in this week's Beer O'Clock post...

While issues such as global warming and property rights can easily be addressed on the pages of 'Not PC' by simply quoting the appropriate passages from Rand [if only she'd written on global warming - Ed], the far more vexed issue of Black Mac beer caused some extended debate this last fortnight.

After quickly establishing that Black Mac really was a dark lager, the question was whether it should have been placed so highly in the Consumer beer survey.

Well, as luck would have it, I presented Black Mac at a beer and food dinner for the Wellington Young Accountants Group (YAG) last week, the perfect chance to reacquaint myself with this occasionally maligned beer.

I have to start by saying that I do not drink a lot of dark lagers. My preference is for lighter, hop-dominated brews so in the Mac’s range I tend to sup Hop Rocker.

However, I appreciate that Black Mac is a fine black lager. Though the recipe has been tweaked many times over the years, it is one of the more established Mac’s beers .

It pours near-black with an espresso head. The dominant flavours and aromas are of chocolate, coffee and toast but the finish is nicely bitter due to the use of Fuggles hops.

Smooth, creamy and pleasant, Mac's Black is at the heavier hopped end of the dark lager scale but there is nothing in there to scare your average beer drinker.

It is not the biggest seller in the range but in my opinion it has some of the most fiercely loyal drinkers in the country. People who drink Black Mac rarely have time for other beers. I believe Oswald Bastable has expressed a fondness for it before, so you know it can’t be politically correct.

Last night I matched it with blue cheese, crackers, ginger nuts, chocolate apricots and walnuts, and I have to say it was marvellous. Any number of preconceptions about beer and food matching got knocked out the window there.

Lay in a slab for the weekend's sporting action. Go you good things.

Cheers, Neil

PS: If you want to make it a real sporting weekend, why not lay in a slab of Consumer's overall winner Speight's Porter as well, and test your taste buds over both winners.

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Global warming: Truth or propaganda?

On that question in the heading above, Czech president Vaclav Klaus argued vigorously for the latter in last week's Financial Times. "Ambitious environmentalism," he said, "is the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity... What is at risk is not the climate, but freedom."

Naturally, that forthright position attracted some response. In today's Financial Times Klaus anwers those responses -- and damn, he's good.

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"Price stability" isn't working

After at least two "interventions" in the foreign exchange market in as many weeks, NBR reports Kiwi at 22 year high against US dollar. So that worked, didn't it.

Bollard says the "fundamentals" show the dollar shouldn't be soaring so; but the fundamental fact is that Bollard himself has set it soaring with interest rates high enough (he thinks) to dampen housing prices that have been made high by over-regulation -- interest rates high enough to send manufacturers offshore. Fundamentally, Bollard has lost it, and repeated calls for legislative quick fixes show that.

We don't need mortgage levies, capital gain's taxes or a tax grab on rental property owners. What's needed is an immediate lessening of regulation on land supply and construction, an immediate removal of the planners' stifling ring-fences around NZ's major cities, and immediate rejection of this absurd and destructive obsession with "price stability."

As Frank Shostak explains, "the policy of price stability always leads to more instability." I think Alan Bollard is slowly being taught that lesson, don't you? An article in the forthcoming Free Radical explains this apparent paradox; says M.A. Abrams, it comes about through a complete misunderstanding of the nature of monetary inflation:
In an economically progressive community (that is, one where the real costs
of production per unit are falling and output per head is increasing), any
additions to the supply of money in order to prevent falling prices will be
hidden inflation; and in a retrogressive community, (that is, one where output
per head is diminishing and real costs of production are rising), any
contraction of the supply of money in order to prevent rising prices will be
hidden deflation. Inflation and deflation can occur just as well behind a stable
price level as when the price level is rising and falling

Thus, in the case where [economic progress] due to increased saving is
corrected by additional money for consumers, the result is to prevent any
[increase in the efficiency] of production; and where a fall in prices due to
improved knowledge is corrected by additional money, the result is to force a
transition to less [efficient] methods. In both cases the fruits of
progress are rejected because of a determination to keep prices stable
Moreover, in both cases the correction of the attempted advances has involved
the abandonment of some of the higher stages of production where certainly some
of the factors used are highly specialized and these will therefore become
unemployed as a result of the transition.
It's time to cut the Reserve Bank Stabilisation Act loose. That's one thing that could be done immediately.

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Justice seen to be done

Excellent decision to retry David Bain. Justice to those five people who were brutally murdered would not be served in any other way.

And I support the idea of showing the trial on live TV so we at least have the opportunity of seeing justice done, even if most of us won't be able to watch every minute as it happens -- with TV On Demand, if we're of a mind to, we'll be able to catch up on the internet with whatever we missed .

Which suggests something: Given one of the important principles of justice is that it should not only be be done but be seen to be done, why not put all trials on the net, leaving each session archived for perhaps a week or more?

That would help open up the justice system, wouldn't it?

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Bradford's would-be young voters

Polls have shown that under-twenties for the most part support the Greens. The Green's Sue Bradford suggests sixteen-year-olds should get the vote. Well, why wouldn't she? It's exactly the same reason Rod Donald promoted MMP, isn't it.

There's a simple reason many youngsters support the Greens. As a Libertarianz colleague says,
You could say adolescents support adolescent policies and adults support adult
Sue Bradford is stuck in her teenage years; some day she may grow
up, but in the mean time immature policies and politicians seem good at winning

So are sixteen year-olds mature enough to vote? Crikey, I know plenty of thirty-six year-olds who aren't mature enough to vote. Should sixteen year-olds be given the vote? Well, if they pay taxes, then perhaps they should. Anybody who pays for the whole farce that is government should be entitled to vote.

In fact -- and here's my view in toto -- anybody who pays tax should have the vote, and only those who pay tax should be able to vote. And perhaps anyone who receives taxpayer largesse should be made unable to vote, on the basis that they shouldn't be delivered the opportunity to try and vote themselves rich by making the rest of us poor.

UPDATE: I liked this comment from Don Christie over at David Slack's:
16 year olds voting I don't mind. Governments controlling the education of the majority of them at the time, I do.

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You can't save the planet without sacrifice

As Michael Crichton said, it's questions like these that his friends worry about as they board their private jets . . .

[Hat tip Melissa]

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REPRISE: 'Conversion of St Paul' - Caravaggio

'The Conversion of St Paul' - Caravaggio, 1601. Caravaggio has undeniable depth and power; his subjects have all three dimensions; they springout of the canvas with real strength and drama -- something just a little hard to convey in an electronic reproduction unfortunately. Seen 'live,' the best Caravaggio canvasses are like seeing a brightly lit hologram. His aesthetic was almost antithetical to the prevailing mannerism of the period, a fresh and honest approach that helped destroy the fussiness of the mannerists; he focussed on the essentials of the composition, paring it down to the reality of objects in space.


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Thursday, 21 June 2007

Jolie shrugs off Atlas

Atlas Shrugged the film is off again [hat tip James Valliant]. Says Angelina Jolie, on whom (for reasons that still escape me) the whole project rests, says,
"the thing with Atlas is just, we all feel that it's one of those projects where if you can't do it right, you really can't touch it."
She sure got that right.
"So we have not had all the pieces come together. There's not been a director that's right to come on, or all of those elements. So until it does, you know, I certainly don't want to be a part of something that's just put together to hit 'this date."

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People of the 20th century: Admire, or not admire?

Gallup reports these eighteen people below as Americans' most admired of the twentieth century. [Hat tip David Slack]. Not by me for the most part -- but at least the Dalai fucking Lama isn't there. Here's Gallup's question: “
Now I'm going to read you a list of people who have lived this century. For each one, please tell me if you consider that person to be one of the people you admire most from this century; a person you admire, but not the most; a person you somewhat admire; or someone you do not admire at all...
Here's Gallup's list along with my ratings, using their four-point system:

1. Mother Theresa - NOT
FOR: Nothing
AGAINST: An Albanian witch obsessed with suffering, and making the suffering suffer more.
READ: 'How to Help the Poor,' 'The Diabolical Works of Mother Teresa,' 'Paris Hilton or Mother Teresa' and 'Christopher Hitchens on Mother Teresa.'
WATCH: Penn & Teller on the Albanian Witch - You Tube; and Penn & Teller on the Friends of the Albanian Witch. "I would describe mother Teresa as a fraud, a fanatic and a fundamentalist ... Everything everybody thinks they know about her is false. Not just most of the things ... all the things." - Hitchens.

2. Martin Luther King Jr.- ADMIRE
AGAINST: Religionist. Big government advocate. Opened the door to Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
FOR: "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character..." Magnificent!

3. John F. Kennedy - SOMEWHAT
FOR: Faced down Kruschev and won.
AGAINST: Big government state worshipper (e.g, "...ask what you can do for your country" ... bleech!); enmired the US in the Vietnam War.
LISTEN TO: Ayn Rand on Kennedy's 'Fascist New Frontier.'

4. Albert Einstein - ADMIRE MOST
AGAINST: Minor quibbles. Move along now, nothing to see here.
FOR: Genius!

5. Helen Keller - NOT
AGAINST: Dripping wet, but hardly the worst.
FOR: Inspired Annie Sullivan to become a tremendous teacher; inspired a tremendous film, 'The Miracle Worker.'

6. Franklin D. Roosevelt - NOT. AT. ALL.
FOR: Winning WWII. Dying in time so Truman could face down Stalin at Potsdam.
AGAINST: Getting into WWII by dishonesty; losing the Cold War before it began; delivering 170 million people into communist slavery; extending the Depression for a decade; permanently fucking American money; ushering in the era of bloated government; inventing the United fucking Nations. Eleanor.

7. Billy Graham - NOT
AGAINST: Fake, fraud, phoney, religionist.

8. Pope John Paul II - SOMEWHAT
AGAINST: He's a goddamned Pope!
FOR: Helped inspire resistance to end the Cold War.

9. Eleanor Roosevelt - NOT
FOR: No redeeming features. Not one.
AGAINST: A complete oxygen thief.

10. Winston Churchill - SOMEWHAT
AGAINST: Tonypandy; Antwerp; Gallipoli; Yalta; Great Depression.
FOR: Oratory; resistance to Hitler's appeasement; pugnacity; inspiring Britons in their darkest hour; Chartwell.

11. Dwight Eisenhower - ADMIRE MOST
AGAINST: Let Soviets take Berlin, ensuring fifty years of German communist enslavement; as president, did nothing to arrest growth of big government.
FOR: D-Day; liberating Western Europe; being a 'do-nothing' president.

12. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis - NOT
FOR: ?
AGAINST: Stole Aristotle Onassis from Maria Callas, who died of it.

13. Mahatma Gandhi - NOT
FOR: ?
AGAINST: Retarded Indian industry for nearly forty years.

14. Nelson Mandela - ADMIRE
AGAINST: Wet liberal. Racial quotas. Collapse of law and order. Winnie.
FOR: Demonstrates that looking forward with optimism achieves more than looking back with hatred. Unlike nearly every black African leader who took power in similar circumstances, didn't turn into Robert Mugabe or Idi Amin.

15. Ronald Reagan - ADMIRE MOST
AGAINST: Failed to arrest growth of big government; Reagan Doctrine helped activate Al Qaeda. Nancy.
FOR: Revived spirit of freedom in America, and spirit of optimism around the world; straight talker; infuriated socialists; Reagan Doctrine dismantled the Soviet Empire and won the Cold War.

16. Henry Ford - ADMIRE
AGAINST: Hitler sympathiser
FOR: Model A; productive genius.

17. Bill Clinton - SOMEWHAT
AGAINST: Spent too little time with his pants down, and too much on big government programmes. Hilary.
FOR: Less big government than he seemed. Rolled back welfare. Helped defeat Al Gore.

18. Margaret Thatcher - ADMIRE MOST
AGAINST: Poll tax; handing back Hong Kong (turned out better than anyone hoped, though); supported Pinochet, apartheid South Africa, and John Major; didn't notice that Nigel Lawson's rocket fuel was fucking the British economy.
FOR: Revived spirit of freedom in Britain; broke the unions' stranglehold, and rolled back Britain's suffocating state socialism; resisted big government Europeans; infuriated nearly everyone; straight talker; famously resolute; helped win the Cold War, and Gulf War I.
* * * * *
UPDATE 1: So who do you vote for? My own top five?
  • Ayn Rand - the twentieth century's greatest and most passionate advocate of reason, individualism and capitalism.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright - produced architecture that put man in possession of the earth, while all around him for much of the century seemed intent instead on tearing it all apart.
  • Duke Ellington - the twentieth century's finest composer.
  • Ludwig Von Mises - no finer thinker in economics has existed in any century.
  • Thatcher - picture the pit of despair into which Britain and the world had sunk in 1979 - "No Future" sang the Sex Pistols just three years earlier -- and then remember the state of Britain and the world when she left office eleven years later, and contemplate the fact that Thatcher did more to turn around the latter quarter of the century for the better than anyone else.

UPDATE 2: Let's add more heroes as you list them, for which we can all give our assessments:
  • Lech Walesa
  • "Don't forget young Jan Palach, he burnt a torch against the Warsaw Pact."
  • Vaclav Havel
  • Kemal Ataturk. George makes the case: "Beat the crap out of the Anzacs, Poms, French, Greeks, and Russians. Was in full possesion of his troops and gunline at hostilities end. Survived death sentences by reactionary government and the attentions of mad mullahs. Defeated same. United Turkey after civil war. Gave universal franchise, outlawed islamic political influence, educated his people. Gave the imans compulsory foxtrot dance lessons to get them to loosen up, or else. Kept Turkey out of future wars, gave them 90 years [and counting] of progress and improved prosperity."

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Beautiful women and guns. Women in uniform. There, now that I have your attention, you might remember a popular post here at Not PC a couple of years ago -- it still gets several hits a day all this time later -- linking to a site full of photos of gorgeous women in uniform. (You can head there now, but due to its outrageous popularity it's always overdoing its bandwidth. Those internet gods giveth, you see, and then the gods taketh away again.)

But never fear! Maxim magazine is taking up the slack with a profile of The Girls of the Israeli Defense Force -- somewhat out of uniform, bless 'em. They're so excited at Gawker, they're nearly tongue-tied:
  • Piece in the Mid-East!
  • Jew See The Cans On That Chick?
  • She Can Occupy My Territories Any Time!
  • Hear, O Israel, This Chick Has a Bod
  • Di-Ass-Pora
  • Ariel Sha-BONE
  • I'd like to invade her Gaza strip!

  • Okay, that's enough of that. But there's always someone wanting to piss on such a glorious parade, isn't there.
    But prominent Israeli women say using sex to market the Land of Milk and Honey is "an outrage." Former Consul-General Colette Avital, a member of the Israeli parliament, yesterday demanded an urgent meeting with the Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik to get an explanation of what she called the "pornographic campaign," the newspaper Yediot Achronoth reported.
    Enjoy Maxims' pics while you can. And here's some more Israeli women in uniform. And here a reason to visit the Holy Land -- and not for the soccer. [Hat tip Fleshbot]


    Man lynched in Texas

    It looks like the lynch mentality still exists in the American South:
    MYFOX, AUSTIN, TEXAS: Man beaten to death after car he was riding in hits girl
    40-year-old David Rivas Morales was was beaten to death in his apartment parking lot just after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday...

    Police say Morales was a passenger in a car that hit a small child. Witnesses told police that several black males then started to assault the driver. They told police the crowd then started beating Morales when he got out of the car to try to stop the fight. The driver was able to get away. The child hit by the car was not seriously hurt

    Morales' sister Margaret says she found her brother laying on a speed bump with blood coming from his head. Morales was taken to the hospital where he later died.
    What can you say?

    REPRISE: 'Cupid and Psyche' - Antonio Canova

    Antonio Canova's 'Cupid and Psyche.' 1796.

    Portrayed is the moment when the messsenger of love, Cupid himself, flies down and wakes his own love from eternal slumber -- doing so, naturally, with a kiss.

    What else would possibly do?

    TAGS: Art, Sculpture

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    Wednesday, 20 June 2007

    Parents face police

    DOMINION POST (Helengrad): Regular Smackers May Face Charges
    Parents who regularly smack their children despite warnings face prosecution and referral to Child, Youth and Family under police guidelines on the controversial law banning physical punishment.

    Even parents found to have used "minor, trivial or inconsequential" force and not charged will have their details recorded by police family violence coordinators, under the guidelines sent to officers yesterday...
    Can anyone remember the name of that gutless plonker who helped to pass this into law on the basis that the "guidelines" wouldn't criminalise good parents?

    UPDATE: Here on the police website are the all-important guidelines, and unsurprisingly they're hardly pellucid in their clarity. Sample:

    No definitions are offered about what constitutes reasonable force. In using force parents must act in good faith and have a reasonable belief in a state of facts which will justify the use of force. The use of force must be both subjectively and objectively reasonable. Any force used must not be for the purposes of correction or punishment; it may only be for the purposes of restraint (s 59(1)(a) to (c)) or, by way of example, to ensure compliance (s 59(1)(d))...

    Paragraph 19 of the Police Family Violence Policy states:"Given sufficient evidence, offenders who are responsible for family violence offences shall, except in exceptional circumstances, be arrested.

    In rare cases where action other than arrest is contemplated, the member's supervisor must be consulted."Force used on children that is not permissible under section 59 is covered by the Family Violence Policy.It is considered good practice that assault investigations involving children be referred to Child Abuse Investigators, and investigated in conjunction with Child, Youth and Family.

    Where an assault on a child is witnessed by Police or where a report of an assault needs to be dealt with promptly, Police Officers will need to determine whether section 59 provides a good defence and if it does not, arrest the alleged offender unless there are exceptional circumstances...

    If you're a parent, best you print it out, keep it in a drawer somewhere, and refer to it regularly. And whatever you do, don't let the kids read it: any self-respecting youngster will quickly realise how much control they now have over you.

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    Radio ratings

    I got a phone call last night from the folks doing the radio ratings survey, wanting to know my listening habits in each of their time slots. Here's what I told them I listen to when I don't have my home-office stereo going:

    6-9: Either Breakfast TV (which used to give a good heads up of the overnight news, but is now increasingly full of Paul Henry's blather), or Moaning Report (if I want the Public Service Announcements for the day), or Radio Sport (for the really important news of the day). No Newstalk ZB in our house over breakfast? No. Paul Holmes delivers only the second part of the Newstalk formula, leaving too little time for the first. For real news, what delivers it better these days than the internet?

    : Leighton Smith on NewstalkZB. The best pro-capitalist host regularly on radio (the only ~ ?) . He gets turned off damned quickly though when he gets all religious.

    12-3: Either bFM's Wire, which frequently throws up good stuff, or Radio Live's lunchtime news hour with James Coleman, and then Willy and J.T. for the occasional entertainment value*. The really important thing in the afternoon is to turn off Newstalk ZB before the afternoon wanker comes on (this afternoon before I turned him off he was railing against there being too many "foreign doctors." What a wanker.) Mostly in the afternoons I make my phone calls and listen to music. I've got plenty of it.

    3-6: About 4 o'clock in the afternoon I'll turn on Larry Williams on Newstalk ZB and catch up on anything I've missed, if I remember. It's usually a good summary.

    And then about 6:30 I'll start looking at the martini shaker -- but apparently the survey form had no slot for that.

    So what's your listening day look like?

    * * * * *
    * Just turned off Willy Jackson, who this afternoon is busy bagging Michael Fay and David Richwhite for the crime of being successful, and Team New Zealand for the crime of winning. So this afternoon we've got the choice of either xenophobia on one 'newstalk' station, or envy on the other. The face of too much of New Zealand.

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    Background to Green's Fijian expulsion

    Take it for what it's worth since it appeared on Ian Wishart's website [hat tip Whale Oil], but with all the mainstream media wringing their hands in unison on Michael Greens' expulsion from Fiji, this offers some of the background to the expulsion that the MSM's pathetic coverage has completely failed to provide: a letter from one Thakur Ranjit Singh, Fiji human rights campaigner, Fiji Sun columnist and a former general manager of Fiji's Daily Post.
    If NZ Government claims that the expulsion of Michael Green came as a surprise then it is a white lie. This is because the NZ government was warned about Michael Green's behaviour some four months earlier by members of Fiji community in Auckland...

    [A public] meeting was told about Michael Green's behaviour towards the military regime as well as people of Fiji seeking services from NZ High Commission. It was reported that Michael Green was very close to Qarase regime and could not fathom the fact that he would no longer be in the cocktail circuit after Qarase's removal in December last year...

    He failed to appreciate the reality of the situation and has now paid a heavy price for it.

    The other Michael also came into prominence. The supposedly expert in Pacific affairs, Michael Field was detained at Nadi on the eve of marching orders to Michael Green and deported the following morning to New Zealand.

    On 20th December, some two weeks after the removal of Qarase regime, Coalition for Democracy in Fiji held a panel discussion on Fiji affairs in Auckland. Apart from Suliana Siwatibau and NZ MP Keith Locke, I was also one of the speakers. Michael Field also attended this forum. In my presentation which was reported in Fiji as well as NZ papers, I revealed the ills of Qarase regime. The theme of my presentation was that: democracies that are devoid of or lacking in granting freedom, rights and equality to all its citizens and those without social justice are not worth defending. Qarase's regime that Bainimarama removed was an epitome of such a democracy. Michael Field did not report any part of my presentation. I am not cross that he did not report me but he displayed acute case of dereliction of media ethics in not telling Kiwis what they deserved to know...

    If Michael Field was indeed the veteran journalist then he should not have abused his position and status in keeping Kiwis ignorant about what was really happening in Fiji. My experience shows that like NZ Labour Party, New Zealanders generally are still ignorant about Fiji and this had to do with a journalist like Michael Field who while occupying an influential position indulge in news selling reporting rather than informative reporting...

    And it is so important for New Zealand mainstream media to have Pacific or Fijian journalists reporting on Fiji issues and informing the ignorant Kiwis on local politics, so that they get the correct picture.

    But unfortunately, the mainstream media in New Zealand is in no hurry to use Fiji journalist who have migrated to New Zealand, and will depend on jaundiced views from parachute journalists from New Zealand. Unfortunately, such views appear to get copied as New Zealand's foreign policy in the Pacific.

    For the full letter, see Thakur Ranjit Singh: Fiji Problem.

    Singh has been critical for some time of the performance of NZ media and their "parachute journalists" in covering events in Fiji (as have some bloggers, such as this one). Speaking in December, for example, Singh told a public forum
    that "NZ media was ignorant about Fiji affairs and naive about the post-coup reality."
    "They shoot their mouths off through parachute journalists who relish in rubbishing things happening in NZ's neighbours without first appreciating the fact that Fiji is not a model of democracy," he said.

    Singh said military commander Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama had saved Fiji from becoming "another Zimbabwe" with serious abuses of human rights and social justice.

    He said New Zealand's government and media had lost sight of the basic balance of "democracy and justice".
    I think he's right. Not for the first time, the failures of the Fourth Estate assist and inform the failures of the First Three. What Helen Clark has seen in Bainimarama is simply another scapegoat to draw attention away from her Government's failures, one allowing her to strut imperiously on a world stage -- and the media's pathetic coverage has allowed her to get away with it.

    UPDATE: Here's the sort of analysis I would have expected from local journalists, but which (if it has appeared) I haven't seen: Elizabeth Keenan writing in January's Time magazine:

    When military commander Frank Bainimarama seized power in Suva on Dec. 5, he was instantly denounced by Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., the E.U., the U.N. and the Commonwealth. Exiled Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase continues to vent outrage by phone from his island village, but his countrymen don't seem to be rallying. Soldiers at checkpoints receive abuse, but also smiles, handshakes, food and flowers. Some staunch democrats who condemned George Speight's botched coup in 2000 find themselves endorsing the aims of this takeover, if not the assault rifles that made it possible. The Methodist Church and the Great Council of Chiefs, bastions of indigenous society, have urged Fijians—including Qarase—to support the multiracial interim government "for the betterment of the nation." Writing in the Fiji Times, Catholic Archbishop Peter Mataca called Australia and New Zealand's shunning of the Bainimarama administration "regrettable and shallow." Some Fijians, he wrote, believe democracy and the rule of law "were abused and circumvented long before the military ousted the Qarase government."

    In Fiji, it seems, not all coups are equally offensive...

    Qarase's elected government was seen as caring most about the happiness of indigenous Fijians. Bainimarama's force-backed government aims to make Fijians of all races happy. If—and it's a huge if—he can implement his idealistic program, he might just have pulled off the coup to end all Fiji coups.
    And here's an article and and photo essay from March's Time magazine (both of which have been blogged here before) drawing attention to the tragic existence of Fiji's squatters -- mostly dispossessed Indo-Fijians who racist law has barred from owning land, and who previous governments have left at the mercy of shifting racial, economic and political tides.

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    Vote '72 Virgins'

    It's lame, it's unfunny, but if the Danish cartoons were enough to get Jihadists irate, then what will National Lampoon's film 72 Virgins do? Hat tip for news of the film to Liz who concedes "the film is not very good but the potty humor will do a decent job of mockery towards Islam and the sympathy of their sympathizers. Plus a good Animal House pissing on religion in general." PRECIS:
    National Lampoon's 72 Virgins
    Two idiot college students unwittingly join an Al Qaeda cell in order to get the 72 virgins promised to terrorists when they die...
    Vote now at National Lampoon for 72 Virgins to be made. And consider Robin Williams' point about the Jihadists' promise:

    ‘Have you heard they believe they will receive 72 virgins in heaven?

    Those of us who have been with virgins are thinking…hmmm…no thanks.’

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    Dalai Blander

    Now that the Dalai Lama has left, can anyone tell me anything he said that was any more profound than something you'd find in the Women's Weekly?

    Be nice to each other.
    We're all brothers and sisters.
    Share your toys.
    World peace would be nice.

    Now we know who writes the platitudes you find in fortune cookies, greeting cards and Bono's lyrics.

    UPDATE: Julian points out that Penn & Teller are onto Mr Lama.
    See Bullshit: Dalai Lama - YouTube. Summary:
    Penn & Teller expose the Dali Lama's reasons for freeing Tibet. CIA funding was stopped, so he seeks financial assistance from Hollywood shills like Steven Seagal and Richard Gere...

    Calling rational students

    There is an antidote available for uni students sick of nonsense and eager for the rational ideas they're unlikely to find in university philosophy departments. The Ayn Rand Institute's Objectivist Academic Centre (OAC) has online courses and on online academic programme of distance learning which for some years now has been offered as a supplement to a standard college education, and for which you can earn credits which can be applied to your own university course. Says Debi Ghate at the OAC:
    The undergraduate program helps students develop a basic understanding of philosophy, of Objectivism as a philosophical system, and of the art of clear, objective thinking and writing.

    As a benefit to students who would like to receive college credit for their OAC coursework, ARI has partnered with Chapman University to offer two OAC courses, "Introduction to Philosophy" and "Introduction to Writing," through Chapman's distance learning program. Students are able to take the classes for credit, transfer the credits to their own university, and apply them toward their college degree.

    Most full-time students receive tuition waivers, as well as other generous scholarships to help defray the costs of participating in the OAC. Additionally, ARI offers a wide array of support for OAC students, including grants, scholarships, and mentoring.

    The application deadline for the 2007-08 academic year is July 30.

    Details at the Objectivist Academic Centre website. If you're at uni now, then you're going to kick yourself if you don't find out more. I really wish this had been available back when I was a student.

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    Nanny State: "Who is she, this hybrid of gargoyle and dominatrix?"

    Nanny is everywhere, increasingly so. Lindsay Perigo lays into Nanny:

    I can't be sure, but it may well have been me who introduced the term "Nanny State" into the New Zealand vernacular, on my Politically Incorrect Show on Radio Pacific. Certainly I used it regularly there, and observed it creep into common usage thereafter, as did the related term, "Helengrad." In any event, the expression is well and truly out there now, and that's as good a thing as its referent is bad. Nanny State is vicious, anti-human … and, as we speak, relentlessly advancing.

    Who is she, this hybrid of gargoyle and dominatrix? She is the strident, scolding, snooping socialist, the control-freak who seeks to regulate every aspect of our existence. She forbids our kids to eat pies and chips at school; she tells us how not to discipline them; she forbids us to read magazines like Cigar Aficionado, and closes down cigar bars; she jails us for smoking marijuana; she confiscates our money at every turn and refuses to give any of it back even when she's awash in it...
    Read on: Lindsay Perigo - Nanny State.

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    REPRISE: Artemis - Michel Newberry

    Artist Michael Newberry has just completed a piece he's been working on for five years.

    Artemis was begun in Greece under a Mediterranean sky and completed in a Manhattan loft. Artemis herself, explains Newberry, "was the Goddess of the moon, birthing, and the hunt..." Read the complete artist's statement here, including an explanation of how the painting came about.

    UPDATE: I'm reposting Artemis because artist Michael Newberry has made available a "time lapse" video showing Artemis literally coming to life before your eyes!

    Click here for Windows Media, and here to see it on YouTube.


    Tuesday, 19 June 2007

    Opera Guy

    I keep getting sent a video of Opera Guy, a guy on some UK Idol show who purports to be a shy opera singer just waiting for his big break who wows the judges with 'Nessun Dorma,' gets a standing ovation, and is presumably set for his life to be changed forever. "Thrilling!" said one person who sent me the link. "This is what it's all about!" said another. I have three points here:
    1. The good: Not being a viewer of such programmes I can only imagine the dross that usually appears on them. So when something as genuinely thrilling as 'Nessun Dorma' is performed, it's no wonder a thrill goes down the spine of everyone in the room! It's like a ray of light has appeared highlighting the morass of mediocrity that characterises most of the musical slop they're familiar with.
    2. The bad: It was a set up. This isn't just some shy carphone salesman who sings in the shower who the judges would not have heard before. This is a guy in his thirties who's already appeared before the judges to get this far; and he's already plied his trade and been found wanting: He's sung for Bath Opera, for the Royal Philharmonic and as a soloist on an Italian tour -- and yes, part of his tour reportoire was 'Nessun Dorma.'
    3. The ugly: First ugly point, he can't sing. The tin ears of those judges (and most of the audience) has probably been destroyed by too much exposure to garbage, but with all that training and all that performance experience this guy can't sing. (See Lindsay Perigo's analysis of his voice if you want details.) Second, everyone who's just been touched by what they perceive as a magic musical moment, a moment when the thrill of real music has appeared in and touched their lives will now head home with bland muck like Dire Sraits or Andrea Bloody Bocelli on their stereo. Thrills such as this music delivers when delivered properly are too much for most people. Mediocrity is far more comforting.
    To get a genuine thrill, to hear what thrilling singing truly sounds like, listen to the best version of 'Nessun Dorma' I know: listen to how Mario Lanza sings Nessun Dorma [hat tip Lindsay P.] -- and don't imagine the recording was any more processed than Opera Guy's, this was a first take. Prepare to be genuinely thrilled!

    For more where that came from, if you really, genuinely have been touched by the thrill of real singing, the BBC have just released a one-hour Lanza documentary that's on Google Video in six parts. Here's the first. And if you think (despite your ears) that Lanza's a flake compared to real opera singers, then perhaps my own review and comparison of him to those other great singers -- to Domingo, Pavarotti, De Stefano - might persuade you to lose your inhibitions: Italian Idol.

    UPDATE: Several comments on this over at Tim Blair's. My favourites were comments about Opera Guy's choices of Puccini's 'Nessun Dorma.' 'Kiwinews' says, "someone around him is smart enough to get him in the spotlight here singing Puccini whose soaring harmonies thrill audiences while covering multiple sins of vocal technique in a way unforgiving Mozart or even Belcanto won’t - let’s hope he’s smart enough to grab the advantage."

    And Mitch follows up: "He looked like he was going to piss his pants, but seemed to know what he was doing. I have to agree with kiwinews, though. Puccini makes panties fall off – most notoriously, those of the singer for whom he inserted Musette’s Waltz into la Boheme – but Mozart requires the performer to make everything look easy. That’s much harder. Hell, if Chris Martin can accomplish the same trick as Puccini, how difficult can it be?

    "A pianist I met said that Chopin made him sweat when he played it, but Mozart made him sweat when he thought about it."

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    When Saddam's nuclear programme was destroyed

    Thrutch reminds us of another anniversary in June : on this month in 1981 Israeli jets destroyed the Osirak nuclear reactor in Baghdad, and with it Saddam's nuclear programme -- and ten years later when Saddam invaded Kuwait, the residents of Tel Aviv were very, very glad they did.

    Wikipedia has background. Google Video hosts a forty-minute documentary on the raid. Thrutch has relevant comment: "It's a reminder of how much we owe to the courageous actions of the Israelis and an example of the benefits of assertively engaging in self-defense." [And here's a previous commemoration at Not PC of the happy event.]

    Sometimes, you see, you do have to give war a chance, if only to avoid greater destruction from those less encumbered by your scruples. Something to think about when a country sworn to "wipe Isreal off the map" is working feverishly on their own nuclear programme...

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    Bring on your captions

    John Cox (one half of the brilliant Cox and Forkum) offers up a speech balloon with which to have your wicked way.

    Waddya got?

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    Teaching the four 'R's

    On a related point to yesterday's post on what's missing in mainstream education, Alexandra York -- one of my favourite writers on art and aesthetics -- makes a strong case for what she calls "the fourth 'R' in education," for the integration of art in education; to substitute for the trivium "the Four 'R's of Reading, Writing, 'Rithmetic and Art." [See Alexandra York: The Fourth 'R' in Education].

    Art is essential in educating you to see the world, she argues; it gives keys to understanding the world and one's own place in it. An excerpt which I think helps illustrate her point talks about the importance of music education in the development of emotional maturity in teenage boys:

    Like life, musical passages contain highs and lows, fast and slows … musical vocabulary includes dissonance and resolution, tumult and sublimity, all emboldening a student in the process of making music to feel to his heart’s content within the security of a confined experience... By learning to orchestrate emotional content through so rigorous a structure, the student must learn to merge reason and emotions; otherwise, the resulting music will be cold and sterile, math without the poetry. Classical music is too mentally commanding to permit the flailing and screaming incited by rock n' roll, thus it forces young people to control their emotional output, offering them the experience of cathexis rather than catharsis. Also, because music deals with broad abstractions - triumph, defeat, love, loss - it allows a young person to personalize universals of the human condition, to feel on a grand scale both the hope and the hurt that necessarily accompany an individual life fully lived. For teenagers, in particular, it unlocks gateways to mature excursions into the ecstasy and the vulnerability of love, the headiness and the hazards of risk. Often, once young people begin to understand the value of classical music, they turn to it in moments of emotional need to help them experience deep stirrings that may not make it to the surface of consciousness by themselves. Repressed boys, especially, can benefit immensely from music study.
    As another musician said, "Self-knowledge is a dangerous thing; the freedom of who you are." Read York's whole argument here.

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    Hamilton House - Organon Architecture

    The Hamilton House by Organon Architecture featured here some months ago is now developing a lived-in feeling, as these few photos show . . .

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    Monday, 18 June 2007

    Are schools killing creativity? Or killing knowledge?

    Check out the website for the Monterey Technology, Entertainment and Design Conference, the TED Conference, as it's called. This is a conference bristling with creativity, and the website itself fairly bristles with fascinating presentations from this year's conference that highlight especially the exciting new world opened up to us by creative technology.

    One presentation looks at the issue of educating for creativity itself, specifically with how public education deals with creativity. Keith Robinson argues that public education deals with it bloody poorly (although he seems to think it deals better with literacy and numeracy, something most figures dispute), and he's right that what Lisa Van Damme calls "classical education" does deal with it poorly. [See it here: Ken Robinson - Do Schools Kill Creativity?]

    Robinson's talk is humorous, insightful and well worth watching (it goes for a very enjoyable nineteen minutes), but at the end he's left saying very little beyond the truism that "education should value creativity." Well, so it should. But is that all it should do?

    Writing at The Objective Standard, Lisa Van Damme argues there's a problem if creativity is stressed without the tools or the knowledge to be creative with.

    In Dumbing Down Our Kids, Charles Sykes tells a chilling story about a straight-A student in the eighth grade named Andrea, who was very eager to learn science. Unfortunately for Andrea, her school, like most today, stressed the importance of “creativity” over “dreary” facts, and of “hands-on,” “active” learning over “dull,” didactic instruction. This bright young girl with a thirst for scientific knowledge spent her time in science class picking up cereal with a tongue depressor (to simulate the way birds feed), hunting for paper moths on a wall, and drawing pictures of scientists. When Andrea wrote a letter complaining that she had gotten nothing out of the class, she was expelled for being rude and disrespectful.3

    You have probably read stories like these and been horrified both by how shamefully ignorant, inarticulate, and illiterate many American students are, and, even worse, by what schools do to students like Andrea. I wish I could dismiss such stories as rare incidents circulated among cynical critics of American schools to give poignancy to their arguments. Unfortunately, my experience interviewing and teaching students at my school has shown me otherwise.

    Both Van Damme and Robinson are talking about the same schools. But they're seeing something different.

    Van Damme it seems to me is exploding the dichotomy embraced by both classical educators (those wedded to the Three 'R's), and by those who argue as Robinson seems to that creativity is everything, and that if education supports creativity then all will be fine and dandy. For Van Damme, something far more fundamental is necessary in education, and also for the "take-off" of creativity.

    Neither empty heads nor heads full of empty facts should be the aim of education: what's needed she argues is "reform more radical than harking back to a more traditional approach that mouths respect for facts, logic, and abstract thought," and too reform more radical than simply calling for more creativity.
    The proper goal of education [she argues] is to foster the conceptual development of the child—to instill in him the knowledge and cognitive powers needed for mature life. It involves taking the whole of human knowledge, selecting that which is essential to the child’s conceptual development, presenting it in a way that allows the student to clearly grasp both the material itself and its value to his life, and thereby supplying him with both crucial knowledge and the rational thinking skills that will enable him to acquire real knowledge ever after. This is a truly progressive education—and parents and students should settle for nothing less
    To see her full argument, see Lisa van Damme: The False Promise of Classical Education.

    Just to reiterate, her argument is not that creativity should be shunned in the classroom; instead she maintains that creativity may only be expressed once one has the tools and the knowledge with which to be creative.

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    Desperate Bollard goes to the cupboard one more time

    Desperate. That's the word to describe Alan Bollard. I pointed out a few weeks ago how one control leads to another; how one element of government meddling leads to another, and then another, and then another. Bollard's recent behaviour and the reasons for it offers a model case study.

    This morning's second recent intervention in the currency market in an effort to get the exchange rate down follows on from his desperate call over the weekend for a capital gains tax to get housing prices down, which follows his earlier intervention last week to get the exchange rate down, which followed his raising of interest rates the previous week which helped pump the exchange rate up ...

    This is a desperate man. If people are worried about addictions, then this addiction to meddling and its escalation should be an object worthy of study. This escalation happens everywhere that markets are dislocated or hampered by controls. Those controls always breed new controls.

    One control is introduced to 'correct' something that's making some legislator unhappy, following which economic imbalances occur; new controls are pretty quickly called for to try to correct them, following which more are introduced to correct the dislocations that occurred from those controls, and so on. Control follows control, as dislocation follows imbalance.

    The history of government controls is like the story of the Emperor's New Clothes in reverse: New controls are added all the time in order to fix the problems caused by previous controls, but no one is listening to the little boy who is saying, "Why not just take off the controls altogether, and then you won't need to make up new ones."

    The New Zealand history is no different to elsewhere.

    Controls on land use and central bank control of the money were introduced to "stabilise" land use and to stabilise prices. They haven't, have they.

    The controls on land use have seen land prices explode, and the price paid for housing has headed through the roof. Ever-increasing and ever-higher interest rates were introduced in an effort to squelch booming housing prices (and to strangle the rest of the economy). When that didn't work, we saw the mortgage levy proposed; we saw the de facto cartelisation of NZ's 'big five' banks; we saw a decree that more affordable homes be built ... all measures desperately calculated to fix the symptoms of exploding housing costs while ignoring the regulatory causes.

    And now we're seeing ever more desperate measures proposed and taken to avoid the consequences of controls that shouldn't be there in the first place.

    As I've asked before, things are spiralling out of control for reasons that are all too obvious, so why is no one listening to the little boy who is saying, "Why not just take off the controls altogether, and then you won't need to make up new ones?"

    The Emperor is still naked. But he's getting more desperate every day.

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    A philosopher has died, we think.

    Another philosopher has died. Since this is yet another philosopher who considers that truth and knowledge are less important than agreement, we might with some meaning ask "Who cares?" Tibor Machan offers a brief and readable obituary giving some idea of the value (or lack thereof) of Rorty's contribution. Rorty was a follower of John Dewey, one of the fathers of American pragmatism and of modern education. When you wonder what happened to schools in twentieth-century, the answer in a word is "Dewey."
    Whereas Locke and the American Founders thought that some things are indeed basic and true—for example, our individual human rights--[Dewey] held, to put it in a nutshell, that there are no basic truths, no foundations of knowledge. Rorty, especially, scoffed at this notion, thinking that these rights are made up and that truth itself is just what a given community takes to be true, while another community could take something quite the opposed to be the truth. [This was called a "conversationalist" notion of truth, one in which there are "no constraints on knowledge save conversational ones."]

    Indeed, talk about truth, which had concerned most philosophers since time immemorial, was viewed with great suspicion by the pragmatists, especially by Richard Rorty. Even our everyday language reflects this—someone is a pragmatist if he or she refuses to abide by any principles, refuses to take anything as basically true, but is concerned with what works or is expedient. Some have noted that this pragmatist outlook has its roots in the practical, down to earth, not very intellectual style of much of American culture. And there may be something to this, although a philosophy in the old fashioned sense is supposed to figure out what it the case, at least basically, not what is convenient or practical, based on style alone...

    [In his work] Rorty was very critical of the aims of traditional philosophy—or rather of what he understood to be its aims, namely, to arrive at the ultimate, final, and perfect—some would claim impossible—Truth of things.
    In fact, Rorty suggested that the pursuit of knowledge itself was a pastime of less use than activism, or even just chit chat. (Active about what, you might ask, if knowledge is based on agreement rather than correspondence to reality.) And people wonder why the products of modern schools are the way they are. Machan shows the all-too relativist political end-point of such "thinking":
    Rorty’s thinking came to a head for me in a review he wrote for the venerable magazine, The New Republic, in which he declared, not long before the final collapse of the Soviet bloc, that there is no objective difference between the politics of the Soviets and that of Western countries. As he put it, we “cannot say that democratic institutions reflect a moral reality and that tyrannical regimes do not reflect one, that tyrannies get something wrong that democratic societies get right.” That was too much for me, given my own direct experience with both tyrannies—in my home land, Hungary, during its early experiment with Soviet style “communism”—and democracies—in Germany, the United States and Switzerland, where I have lived for various periods of time. I had come to the reasonably firm conclusion that one can, indeed, say that the latter “reflect a moral reality” while the former a definite immoral one!
    A world without such firm conclusions -- or indeed firm conclusions at all -- that was what Rorty stood for. Perhaps that's all you need to know.

    Paul has some other more laudatory links.

    UPDATE: Philosopher Stephen Hicks considers Roger Scruton's obituary of Rorty one of the best he's seen. Hicks, by the way, is one of the good guys.

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    Teenagers: What can we do? Brisbane judge: Get a life!

    Mawkish teenagers listen up. A Brisbane judge has a message for you:
    Always we hear the cry from teenagers. What can we do? Where can we go? My answer is: Go home. Mow the lawns — wash the windows, learn to cook, build a raft, get a job, visit the sick, study your lessons and after you have finished, read a book!

    Your town does not owe you recreation facilities, your parents do not owe you fun. The world does not owe you a living...
    [Part of a letter to teenagers from a judge in the Brisbane Juvenile Court. You can read more at Richard's Benzylpiperazine blog]

    Hot air, carbon trading and Watergate

    Christopher Monckton, the man who's challenged Al Gore to a head-to-head debate over man-made global warming, is interviewed about the hot air over carbon trading by Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, the man more responsible than anyone else for the appalling crime of introducing the suffix ~gate to the vocabulary of every lazy journalist, and who for some reason is now a nationally popular radio host.

    You can listen in here [mp3]. And you can find out more here about the "head-to-head, internationally-televised debate upon the question 'That our effect on climate is not dangerous.'"

    And just to confirm that warmism/non-warmism isn't a right/left issue, I remind you of Alexander Cockburn's complete series (so far) on global warming published in The Nation, the self-described "flagship of the American left":
    1. Is Global Warming a Sin?
    2. Hot Air, Cold Cash: Who Are the Merchants of Fear?
    3. Explosion of the Fearmongers: The Greenhousers strike back and out.

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