Friday, 30 November 2007

March for Free Speech!

Send Clark, King, Peters, Dunne and Fitzsimons another message this Saturday in Auckland: Get your placards, effigies and chants ready for another day out in the sun, and join the second Auckland protest march -- AND LET'S HELP KILL THE BILL! Says organiser John Boscawen. "The PM was not impressed with I want to give her 5000." Start going through your address book now.

Assemble outside the Town Hall from 2pm for a 2:30 start, and join thousands of other good New Zealanders speaking up for freedom in this country. And once again, keep an eye out for wankers like these who might be there to hijack the march, and your free speech.

See you there! March for your free speech now, while it's still legal!

Beer O’Clock: All Hail Pale Ale

Neil Miller from RealBeer celebrates one of his favorite beer styles – Pale Ales – in a column which originally appeared in 'Salient' magazine

I’m a great believer that beer needs to be drunk in the proper context.
Ordering a jug of Speight’s at the excellent Leuven Belgian Beer Café is very poor form. Conversely, drinking 8.5 per cent Duvel at the cricket will have you completely trumpeted by tea time.

The quest for proper context was my excuse at least for eating gourmet hot dogs and watching the opening match of the NFL while sampling the first bottle of Emerson’s American Pale Ale (6 per cent). The star-spangled label would outrage Nick Kelly and Keith Locke - always a huge bonus. It pours a deep burnished gold which would not be out of place in Fort Knox.

This is a big, strong and independent beer delivering plenty of rich orange and grapefruit notes – like snogging a Californian fruit salad - before a unilaterally firm finish. The day this beer is released each September should be a public holiday. No one would really miss Labour Day.

American Pale Ales (APA) are the boisterous new cousins of the traditional English style pale ales. Historically, pale ales are firm, fruity, nutty and relatively bitter. A fine example is the Croucher Pale Ale (5 per cent) from Rotorua. The brewer, Paul Croucher, is a reformed university lecturer who is fiercely passionate about food and beer.

His Pale Ale throws a punchy malt nose with lashings of stone fruit. In the glass, it has a full, biscuity body with pronounced orange and caramel notes. A lingering dry finish leaves the drinker immediately ready for the next taste.

One of the popular beer genres is India Pale Ale. This style of beer was developed when Britain still ruled the Raj. The troops – heaven forbid – would not drink local brews, so barrels of good old English pale ale (pip! pip!) were shipped in from Portsmouth.

Given that beer does not like heat or movement, the rough, steamy ship journeys tended to see the beer arrive in an undrinkable state. Long before refrigeration, the brewers turned to their two main weapons against infection – alcohol and hops (a natural preservative). The result was a strong, bitter style known as India Pale Ale (IPA) which, ironically, has still never been made in India.
Made from authentic ingredients and true to style, Tuatara IPA (5 per cent) is a luxuriant beer with a deep spicy nose, mellow marmalade body and a long, imperial finish. It is great to see this beer appearing in supermarkets around town.

Another university lecturer who went on to gainful employment is the effervescent Dr Ralph Bungard who runs the boutique Three Boys microbrewery in Christchurch. He says his Three Boys IPA (5.2 per cent) is unique because it uses a selection of New Zealand-grown hops which produce similar aromas and flavours to modern IPAs and APAs, “but extends those styles in a genuinely New Zealand direction.”

His golden beer has a herbal and citrus nose, a well balanced body with lashings of grapefruit and a cleansing finish. Another magnificent beer and one more reason to All Hail Pale Ale!

Cheers, Neil

Green ribbons for eco-anxiety

Now that "environmental consciousness" is no longer just another lifestyle choice -- something like open marriages or joining the circus -- now that it has been upgraded to A Moral Imperative (TM), expect there to be more people suffering from this: Eco-anxiety -- an affliction in which one constantly reflects on one's eco-failings while not doing much about them; a general malaise in which one feels basically sorry to be alive.

Who knows, it could be the next big fashionable disease. Roll on Green Ribbon Day ...

'Life' magazine Dream House, 1997 - John Rattenbury

An exterior view (above) of 1997's 'Life' magazine Dream House by architect John Rattenbury, who worked for many years with Frank Lloyd Wright. You can see much more information on this house here, including plans, specifications, and many,many more views.

Strangely enough, Rattenbury's childhood -- or, at least, an important incident in his childhood -- is the subject of a play by Terence Rattigan, one of my favourite playwrights, currently being revived in London's West End. Full story here.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Cement consent spins green wheels

The Green Party is very disappointed with an interim decision indicating support for cement giant Holcim’s plans to build a massive cement plant at Weston, near Oamaru.

SOLO-NZ's Lindsay Perigo however is delighted. Any "disappointment," he says, is wholly and solely due to "overwhelming opposition to this plant and to any form of progress, by the Green Party."

You can read his spirited response to the decision and to the Greens' hand wringing over the decision here: Holcim Decision a Breath of Unpolluted Air.

Popular PC

For your edification, popular searches landing here at PC recently include (in descending order, with the pages sought):
not pc
new zealand civil liberties union
bavinger house
ron paul
broadacre city
horta house
schminke house
shawn mckee blog
rose pauson house
taliesin west, quotes
presidential candidate quiz
peter rabbit panzerfaust
nude descending a staircase face
100 most sustainable cities
becky from dublin
what's this we, white man tonto
And of course, that old favourite:
sex with chickens

Texting the Queen

This is really headline news? Helen Clark texts during a speech by the Queen -- you know: blah, blah, platitude, platitude; the sort of speech we've all heard and fallen asleep to before -- and Britain's Daily Express newspaper leaps to the defence of Her Britannic Majesty by sniffing that Clark has "insulted" their Queen. The Express, the repository of all that is dull in Britain, sees Helen Clark's texting and the low turn-out of Commonwealth leaders at a banquet for Prince Charles as part of a "rising tide of republicanism."

They say that like it's a bad thing.

Frankly I'm less concerned with Clark "insulting" the Queen when she's delivering the same speech we've heard umpty tum times before, than I am with Clark getting work done. That really is a concern.

Since (to paraphrase Mark Twain) "No one's life, liberty, or property is safe while Clark is hard at work," I'd much prefer to see less work and far more play from our leaderene -- a work/life balance that I'm certain would do wonders for this country. I'd far rather she went catatonic like one is supposed to when the Queen is talking, and hopefully for some time. I'm pleased to hear she's now relaxing in Egypt. I hope she's there relaxing for several weeks. Perhaps she could spend some time while relaxing texting the Queen? That's really as much work as I'd like to see her do.

EFB: Not just bad law

It's not uncommon to find an academic on the stump berating the government, but when an academic economist fronts up to protest, you know something must be up. And there is.

Canterbury University economist Eric Crampton fronted up yesterday to tell the Cathedral Square march against the Clark/Peters/Dunne/Fitzsimons Electoral Finance Rort that there is bad law, really bad law and law like this that is "so bad the New Zealand Law Society wants it scrapped."

This isn't just bad law, he says, it's bad law that undermines the very basis of freedom and governance in New Zealand:
It's a bad law that affects how we make laws, and threatens the legitimacy of government itself. Constitutional rules stand apart from other bits of legislation. They affect fundamental rights and freedoms, and they set out how all the other rules will be written. The Electoral Finance Bill directly affects our freedom of speech. Once it's passed, we'll only have freedom of speech 2 years in 3. And, it sets out the rules for how an election is conducted - how legislation for the subsequent three years will be formed. These have constitutional implications.

Constitutional rules aren't like other rules. They really require broad agreement across society. I studied under James Buchanan, who won the Nobel Prize in economics for his work in this area. He likened it to setting out the rules for a poker game: you get everybody to agree to the rules before you deal the cards. If everybody's agreed to the rules before the cards are dealt, the outcome of the game is fair and legitimate. What Labour and its support parties here have done is dealt the cards, taken a peek at their hands, and then declared deuces wild. This violates constitutional justice and threatens the legitimacy of any government that is elected under the new rules.

Electoral rules - constitutional rules - require broad agreement if the government that's formed under them is to have legitimacy. We're here today to say that we don't give that assent. If Labour rams this bill through Parliament, shuts up anyone who opposes it during the 2008 election, then squeeks through a tight coalition win after a lot of litigation, will that government have any legitimacy?

That's why this Bill must be stopped and that's why I'm here. The Bill violates the spirit of our constitutional foundations. It throws freedom of speech out the window. And it rigs the election to protect the politicians who pass it. Helen Clark, Annette King, throw out this Bill!
Read all of Eric's speech here. And send Clark, King, Peters, Dunne and Fitzsimons another message this Saturday in Auckland: Get your placards, effigies and chants ready for another day out in the sun, and join the second Auckland protest march -- AND LET'S HELP KILL THE BILL! Says organiser John Boscawen. "The PM was not impressed with I want to give her 5000." Start going through your address book now.

Assemble outside the Town Hall from 2pm for a 2:30 start, and join thousands of other good New Zealanders speaking up for freedom in this country. And once again, keep an eye out for wankers like these who might be there to hijack the march, and your free speech.

Willoughby Incinerator - Walter Burley Griffin

The Willoughby Incinerator in New South Wales, one of several Australian projects built by Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin.

Civic architecture with a smile.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

No justice

  • Four thugs brutally beat a man to death in cold blood in Te Puke this week as he withdrew $100 from a cash machine; two of them admit to the murder. Today, all four charged are back out on bail (with name suppression of course) until their case is heard.
  • Another young scumbag in Tauranga, David Stephenson, beat up a taxi driver a couple of years ago and left him within inches of his life. Now he has been let out early after serving only nine months of a twenty-month sentence, and after four months of freedom is in the news again for further assaults.
  • Yet another Tauranga murderer is let out before completing his sentence for killing a woman a couple of years ago. This time he has killed a young child he was supposed to be looking after.
And this is just Tauranga! As the Tomahawk Kid says in listing this litany of brutality -- all of it avoidable -- WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON!?

Let's reflect again on the primary point of a criminal justice system: it is neither to punish nor to rehabilitate. The primary purpose of a criminal justice system is to protect the rest of us from the criminal.

The sole justification for government is the protection of individual rights -- the primary purpose of a government's criminal justice system is to protect us from those who have shown they have no respect for our rights. When they can't even do that much (when with all their meddling it's the only thing they don't care about), then it's time to ask ourselves again what justification a government has?

Let's say it again: The primary purpose of a criminal justice system is to protect the rest of us from the criminal. So what should be the primary intention with sentencing? The sentence should ensure 1) that the rest of us are made safe from the criminal; 2) that no criminal achieves any value from his crime; and 3) as far as possible, no victim is worse off for it.

Remember the victims? Tomahawk Kid asks the question that should keep those responsible for giving these scum new victims awake at night:
Who is supposed to be protecting us from these predators?

Who is responsible for letting them back into civilisation to kill again?

Whoever it is needs to be given a bloody good shake-up - they are as guilty of these crimes as the perpetrators of these vile crimes.

What's wrong with Ron Paul?

    Who's the scarier presidential candidate: Ron Paul, or the Rev Mike Huckabee?
    Both Jonah Goldberg and Gus Van Horn consider the question, but with opposite results. Despite Ron Paul's "disastrous" foreign policy and his sometimes scary coven of supporters, Goldberg plumps for Huckabee as the scariest – Huckabee, says Goldberg, s a "compassionate conservatism on steroids," and "an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do "good works" extends to using government -- and your tax dollars -- to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth."
    That’s frightening enough, so Ron Paul would have to be plenty scary to bet that.  And he is,as Gus Van Horn explains:
    “The Reverend Mike Huckabee is dangerous for wanting to mix religion and politics, but at least he is honest about wanting to do so. Paul pretends to be a secular candidate, and does the same thing. In that sense, he is more dangerous to our secular republic than the Reverend, because he will fool some who would otherwise oppose the agenda of the religious right.
    “And I haven't even touched on the fact that as a libertarian, Paul is a poor proponent of individual rights generally and, in particular the philosophical arguments for them espoused by Ayn Rand, who is often mistaken for (or smeared as) a libertarian.”
     Phew, more than a few points there to wrestle with. On the first point, Paul's opposition to abortion shows he deserves the charge of smuggling in religion, and place him firmly at odds with any claim to being an advocate for freedom. "Abortion on demand," says Ron Paul, "is the ultimate State tyranny." On June 4, 2003, speaking in the House of Representatives, Paul described "the rights of unborn people” as “the greatest moral issue of our time."
    The ultimate State tyranny? The greatest moral issue of our time? The man's either unhinged or blind, but however good his pronouncements on economics might be (and they’re normally very good), it's clear that he's far from the secular freedom lover many would like him to be. At the very least, continues Van Horn,
    “This means in sum that Paul, as an allegedly secular candidate who is, as such, dismissed as a threat to personal freedom in America, functions as a Trojan horse for the religious right even as he pretends that personal freedom is as obviously good and uncontroversial as breathing on a regular basis. (Personal freedom is good, but this is neither obvious nor uncontroversial.)”
And here we get straight to the second point. What about his claims to being a lover of freedom? What exactly is Paul's vision of "a free society"?  On that subject, this Open Letter to Ron Paul is an eye-opener, written by one Duncan Bayne in response to this article by Paul criticising the BATF & FBI assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco. Says Bayne:
    “While I agreed with many of your criticisms of BATF and FBI tactics & strategy, it became apparent to me that your article was not primarily concerned with those criticisms: the main thrust of the article was to whitewash the monstrous evil committed by David Koresh and his followers. You wrote:
‘The community of faith that once lived at Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, believed the promise of a free society.’
“This is the "community of faith" that sacrificed twelve-year old girls to Koresh so they could serve as his 'wives' - some of whom bore his children. If that level of barbarism - a religious community complicit in the slavery and rape of young girls - represents anything approaching your idea of what is a ‘free society,’ then I don't want you having any say in how society operates.”
    Too true, and here we get to the root of the Objectivist argument against irrational libertarianism.  Without a rational philosophical foundation, argue Objectivists, without a decent "philosophical infrastructure," politics is a dangerous pursuit of empty words, floating abstractions, and range-of-the-moment compromises. How can you call libertarians allies in freedom, ask hardcore Objectivists, when libertarians such as Ron Paul can't even agree on what the word "freedom" stands for?  And how can you call someone an advocate of freedom at all when their vision of a "free society" apparently includes the the freedom to rape twelve-year-old girls?
    It's clear, just as Van Horn charges, that freedom is neither obvious nor uncontroversial. In fact, personal freedom can and does (and must) be predicated on the base of reason, not of subjective whim.  As Michael Berliner points out in this article on Ayn Rand,
    “She understood that to defend the individual she must penetrate to the root: his need to use reason to survive. ‘I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism,’ she wrote in 1971, ‘but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.’ This radical view put her at odds with conservatives, whom she vilified for their attempts to base capitalism on faith and altruism. Advocating a government to protect the individual's right to his property, she was not a liberal (or an anarchist). Advocating the indispensability of philosophy, she was not a libertarian.”
The point could hardly be clearer. Van Horn concludes:
    “The fight for freedom is, as I have pointed out, a war on two fronts: the political and the intellectual. Of the two, the intellectual is the more fundamental, and cannot be lost. The longer enemies to freedom like Ron Paul can masquerade as friends, the longer it will take for people to become aware of the actual requirements for a society that respects individual rights.”
And that, in 'short,' is the argument.  When he takes off the tinfoil hat and talks Austrian he’s damn good. But when he’s just got the tinfoil headwear, he’s rotten.
UPDATE:  Robert Bidinotto's New Individualist magazine goes even further in repudiating Paul's candidacy. The cover (pictured right) gives you an idea of the opprobrium in which Paul is deservedly held; the cover story by Vodka Pundit Steven Green
    “focuses solely on Congressman Paul's growing public prominence as a self-proclaimed spokesman for the ideas of liberty -- and on the impact that his representations of those ideas are having on a national audience. This article expresses concern for the fate of those ideas, and not for his fate as a candidate for public office.”
As this post on Bidinotto's blog makes clear, even apart from as the views and authorship of those Ron Paul newsletters, his credentials as a spokesman for liberty are such that his further advocacy can only damage the cause -- as more and more are realising as his campaign swiflty unravels.
    “[The] revelations about Cong. Paul's more outrageous views and his intimate association with a disreputable fringe cult within the libertarian movement have touched off an explosion of media scorn and expressions of outrage in recent days -- much coming from the more responsible libertarian circles. For example, the editors of Reason magazine -- who, in sharp contrast to The New Intellectual, published a glowing cover feature about "the Ron Paul phenomenon" in their latest issue -- are now expressing their disgust and distancing themselves from his candidacy. (Here are comments from the magazine's editors, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. Reason contributor Jesse Walker weighs in here, and former contributor Tim Cavanaugh here, while past editor Virginia Postrel comments here and here.) Likewise, Cato's David Boaz offers his own repudiation here. (I could cite many, many more denunciations from various prominent libertarians.)
    “In the meantime, many commentators are also taking Cong. Paul to task for views that thoroughly refute his claim to being a consistent champion of individual rights, liberty, and the Constitution.
    “Steve Green's article in The New Intellectual cited Paul's highly restrictive position on immigration (to the right of Tom Tancredo), his hypocritical support of pork-barrel earmarks for his own congressional district, his opposition to various free-trade agreements (like NAFTA) on wacko-conspiratorial grounds that they surrender U.S. sovereignty to Evil International Institutions, and his appalling, blame-America-first version of "non-interventionism" in foreign policy.
    “To that, Wendy McElroy points to Congressman Paul's pro-federal-interventionist anti-abortion bill (read her whole commentary), which would deny women the right to end a pregnancy and even deny the courts the power of judicial review in the matter -- a clear violation of separation of powers, which is a curious position for this self-proclaimed champion of the Constitution.
    “But what can you expect from a religious conservative who, on Lew Rockwell's website, rejected the Jeffersonian principle of a "wall of separation" between religion and government? As the congressman put it, ’The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers.’”
    “Read Bidinotto's full post here (complete with links), and a link to Steve Green's article here.”

Iraq: What's going right

The positive indicators in Iraq are now so strong, says Ralph Peters in the New York Post, "that the left's defeatist lies are losing traction." Here are Peters' Big Five reasons about Iraq, and What Went Right -- reasons the defeatist liars do their very best to evade.

Sporting excellence

One reason to really enjoy sports is that any team in the sporting business is in " the excellence business" argues blogger RelieveDebtor, and anyone not captured by political correctness should be cheering on any team that never apologises for excellence and (in the case of the All Blacks), denouncing anything that gets in the way of excellence.

Like it or not, he argues, but sporting teams represent cities and countries, they represent cultures, they represent ideas -- sporting teams provide proxies for discussing ideas and cultures without appearing to: and they let us see that political correctness gets in the way of winning.
We like to debate sports because it’s the way we politely debate politics. Can’t talk about religion and politics? Talk about sports instead, but you’ll find the same debates, just couched behind GMs, players, coaches, and strategies. And in a politically correct world, a world that seeks to rid of greatness so we can achieve “equality,” a world that is often ashamed of success as a sign of greed and sanctimony, you will find that the more [a team] wins, and the less they care about the well-being of their opponent, the more they will be hated.
Sad but true. By all accounts, the New England Patriots are currently such a team -- see our friend RelieveDebtor argue why they would be Ayn Rand's favourite team.

More loony law proposed by the Greens

I suggested yesterday that the single best way to relieve poverty is to stop stealing from the poor, if only vested interests would let you. The Greens are one of those vested interests, and a new Greens' private members bill would make life for the poor worse. Remember that nearly half the price of filling up your car already goes to the government in petrol taxes -- the Greens don't want to remove this burden (as any friend of the poor would surely be advocating) instead they want to take petrol taxes to fund their own pet projects and feelgood transport schemes. Liberty Scott has details of what he calls their "faith-based initiative."

UPDATE: Just a reminder that this new bill would be on top of the provisions in Cullen's last budget to raise petrol taxes yet another ten cents a litre to pay for roads and for public transport that people don't use.

Charles Ashe, MP

Charles is a list MP striving desperately to have a constituency. He'll do anything, including rent a website, produce a vlog, and crack open a Facebook page. If anyone deserves your vote ... it probably isn't him.

Calling all Christchurch freedom lovers

Reminding Christchurch readers that today is YOUR chance to let Helen, Winston, Peter and Jeanette know how you feel about your free speech and democracy being rationed one year in three. Today lunchtime is John Boscawen's march Canty march against the Clark Government's Electoral Finance Bill. MAKE SURE YOUR VOICE IS HEARD while it's still legal!

Get ye to Cathedral Square at 12.30 with placards, loudspeakers and attitude, to begin at 1.00pm. Check the EFB posts to see why the bill is so evil. And keep an eye out for any of these wankers who might be there again to hijack the protest.

Two landscapes

Landscape painting isn't for everyone, so after posting last night's wild landscape as recommended by 'Big Picture' presenter Hamish Keith, I figured it's time to explain very briefly how one finds values in landscape paintings -- or, more accurately, allow painter Michael Newberry do the job for me.

These two landscapes from two different centuries and with two very different world views are chosen by Newberry to explain the point. The important question to start with is this: "Imagine that you are really in each of these places -- do you think this would be a good place to be? Are these roads or paths likely to happiness on earth?" As you can see, each artist has very different answers to these fundamental questions. Further questions and answers here at Newberry's site.

Art: there's more to it than meets the eye.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


Since yesterday my inbox has been flooded with junk email originating from various .de and other domains spoofing a address claiming I haven’t updated the privacy policy and “Failure to accept the updated PayPal User Agreement and Privacy Policy within 3 days will result in limited access to your PayPal account." The emails all include the same fraudulent “PayPal security updates” link. I don’t have a PayPal account but I do have one with the .com, and a careless user could easily click on the link if not vigilant.

If you have a PayPal account, check the security tips on the website and forward spoof emails with the header information to

Stop stealing from the poor

"Children have been left behind in the economic prosperity enjoyed by New Zealand over recent years, child health advocates say... Despite some bright spots,[a new] report describes a clear emerging trend, with those living in poverty significantly more likely to suffer... They are urging politicians to reconsider the use of money for initiatives such as tax cuts, and what it could do to improve the health of children - those suffering most where poverty exists... The overall picture painted by this work is not a pretty one," said Paediatric Society president Nick Baker... Public Health Association director Dr Gay Keating said the report showed that there was still an "underclass" of children and young people with poorer health. GP Nikki Turner said the overwhelming message from the reports was that the strongest risk factor for getting sick was being poor."
Sobering reading, huh. Here's a simple suggestion to help the poor: stop stealing from them.
  • You could remove GST in its entirety and still leave the government's accounts in the black, and at a stroke you will leave money in the pockets of the poor to pay for food and housing and heath care. But it won't happen.

    It won't happen because the poor are such good lobby fodder for a certain kind of politician. They put politics before people.
"The poor are always with us" say the politicians -- the very same politicians who really need the poor. They need them as lobby fodder. It's the poor who provide their power base. Who else would see the poorest of the poor and still want to take the money out of their pockets they could have used for food, but a politician? Who else could watch the poorest of the poor struggling to afford the places in which they have to live and still want to severely restrict the supply of new housing -- who else but politicians?

It's time to put people before politics. Stop stealing. Get the hell out of their way.

Seventy years of welfare in New Zealand has made things not better, but worse. In the last ten years alone around $150 billion has been taken from taxpayers and spent in a war on poverty, that's one-hundred and fifty billion dollars on a war that no one is winning; not the government, not the taxpayer, and as recent studies all show, not the 200-300,000 or so who've been the targets of this war over the last ten years: we're all worse off except for the politicians, for whom this massive sum amounts to very cheap and efficient vote-buying.

That's $150,000,000,000 -- enough to have given every beneficiary in the country a massive $500,000 each to start their own war on poverty, and it still hasn't worked. And it won't. It never will. To paraphrase PJ O'Rourke,
the spending of this truly vast amount of money -- an amount more than half again the nation's entire gross national product in 1995 -- has left everybody just sitting around slack-jawed and dumbstruck, staring into the maw of that most extraordinary paradox: You can't get rid of poverty by giving people money.
When do we realise that government welfare doesn't work -- not for anyone -- and least of all for those who it is supposed to help. Let's try something else. Let's try to stop stealing. let's give people back their future and the money stolen from them, and let them get on with fighting their own goddamn war on poverty.

If these reports tell us anything at all, they tell us it's becoming urgent.

The nude top twenty

For everyone who's been wondering about the top twenty nude scenes in 2007 -- and frankly, who hasn't -- then here's your answer. And here's the worst, in fact the ten worst nude scenes ever. (Here's a hint: Borat scores well.)

I wonder which link will prove more popular.

Seven 'wonders' of the totalitarian world

You all know about the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and maybe the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. You've probably heard too about the recent competition to find the New Seven Wonders of the World, which featured some stunning buildings including Sydney's Opera House and New York's Statue of Liberty.

Now, courtesy of Esquire magazine, we proudly present the seven wonders of the totalitarian world, "celebrating those modern monuments from the totalitarian world that may or may not make it through the next coup. Check them out while you still can."That monstrosity to the left, by the way, is the North Korean monument Winston Peters would have admired last week in Pyongyang, and down there on the right is the monument to Mao -- the prick who made the founding and "success" of the North Korean Worker's Party possible. These monuments - all of them -- are quite literally monuments to totalitarianism, and they're exactly as ugly as the ideology that produced them. Lumpen products of a grey, deadening spirit.

And they aren't just ugly, they aren't just tributes to the megalomania that produced them, on closer analysis they're also an explanation of the type of human being who would have them produced. You can laugh at them, as you must, but when you've finished it's also possible to learn from them, and to answer the all-important question: What the fuck kind of person builds this stuff!?

To begin with, it's instructive to compare these seven totalitarian pseudo-wonders with those all-too genuine wonders of the industrial world celebrated above. The seven wonders of the industrial world were produced by honest effort, and mostly by the energy, initiative and non-sacrificial wealth of private individuals -- instead of enforcing sacrifice and impoverishment upon those forced to pay for and build these great achievements such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the Transcontinental Railroad, their building helped raise and kept raising people's standard of living.

It's the difference between the voluntary and the involuntary -- the earned and the unearned. Ayn Rand reckons it's this last that sets the totalitarian monuments apart: it's not just that they're literally as ugly as sin, but they come from something ugly in the humans who wished them produced, and who wished to bring for that same ugliness into the world. In that task, they succeeded. In her article 'The Monument Builders' Rand writes that the primary motivation of those who commissioned such aesthetic atrocities was the ugliness of power lust -- a desire for a particular kind of "spiritual" atrocity.
Power lust -- as a manifestation of helplessness, of self-loathing and of the desire for the unearned.

The desire for the unearned has two aspects: the unearned in matter and the unearned in spirit... These two aspects are necessarily interrelated, but a man's desire may be focussed predominantly on one or the other. The desire for the unearned in spirit is the more destructive of the two and the more corrupt. It is a desire for unearned greatness; it is expressed (but not defined) by the foggy murk of the term prestige.

The seekers of unearned material benefits are merely financial parasites, moochers, looters or criminals, who are too limited in number and in mind to be a threat to civilization until and unless they are released and legalized by the seekers of unearned greatness...

Of the two, the material parasite is psychologically healthier and closer to reality: at least he eats or wears his loot. But the only source of satisfaction open to the spiritual parasite, his only means to gain "prestige" (apart from giving orders and spreading terror), is the most wasteful useless and meaningless activity of all: the building of public monuments ... presented as a munificent gift to the victims whose forced labor or extorted money had paid for it ...
Such is the motivation of those who clamour for such monuments. Don't even mention today's fetish for public transport. I began writing my own conclusion, but how could I improve on this summation of totalitarianism's pyramid builders:
When you consider the global devastation perpetrated by socialism, the sea of blood and the millions of victims, remember that they were sacrificed not for "the good of mankind" nor for any "noble ideal," but for the festering vanity of some scared brute or some pretentious mediocrity who craved a mantle of unearned "greatness" -- and that the monument to socialism is a pyramid of public factories, public theaters, [public museums, public transport centres] and public parks, erected on a foundation of human corpses, with the figure of the ruler posturing on top, beating his chest and screaming his plea for "prestige" to the starless void above.
Such is the nature of the monument builders of totalitarianism.

'Water Spouts in Cook Strait' - William Hodges, 1776

Described by Hamish Keith in 'The Big Picture' -- his complete history of NZ art that's been shovelled away to a late night Sunday spot on TV One -- as his favourite New Zealand painting, 'Water Spouts' was painted by James Cook's official painter William Hodges (1744-1797) on his second NZ journey, and places man in as precarious a relationship to the landscape as it's possible to imagine. Keith calls it "a moment of change in European landscape painting" when the landscape begins to take over from the figures and palpable danger enters in, presaging the romantic landscapes of the next century.

The New World they were helping to discover inspired in painters like Hodges a very new way of looking at the world itself, and man's place in it. [Picture from the repository of much of Hodges' work, the British Ministry of Defence Art Collection. Hat tip Hard News. Click to enlarge.]

Monday, 26 November 2007

"Very disturbing" evidence online

KiwiBlog and MikeE both report that the "New Zealand Civil Liberties Union" home page has a download of the surveillance evidence filed in the Manukau District Court to obtain the search warrants on the so called 'Urewera 17.' There is no link given, but I understand Google can do amazing things.

As Mike says, this is definitely NOT "what you'd hear in any gun club," despite John Minto describing it that way after hearing it all in court. It is this stuff about which Minto said everyone in the public gallery was laughing -- "everyone" included the likes of Jane Kelsey, Nandor Tanczos and the editors of Socialist Worker's 'Unity' magazine, ie., the ones whose "friends" were "kidnapped by state terrorists."

Tying your tubes for Gaia

Tim Blair makes note of a nutter who has had herself sterilised for Gaia," rendering herself permanently infertile so as to avoid producing another human being who "uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases."
Having children is selfish [says the nutter]. It’s all about maintaining your genetic line at the expense of the planet.
The Free Will blogger observes of this voluntary act of natural selection,
While most parents view their children as the ultimate miracle of nature, Toni seems to see them as a sinister threat to the future.It's the only logical conclusion of their ideology, one not shared by any other living thing in nature: existence is wrong.
One might be tempted to invite her to draw the obvious conclusion from her lunacy and to make the ultimate sacrifice for Gaia.

If only we could insist that she and her ilk leave the rest of us free from having their own misanthropy enforced upon us.

Chain them up!

Good to see that recent events here in NZ have finally led David Farrar to come out in favour of constitutional chains on government. Not before time. Governments are like a guard dog, there to protect us from being done over, but if we don't have it properly trained and chained up, then it's likely to start doing over us instead of the intruders from whom it's supposed to be protecting us.

We need to chain up the government constitutionally for the same reasons we chain up our guard dog. If recent events don't persuade you how important those chains are, then nothing will. As Bernard Darnton summarises, recent efforts of the NZ Government to kill democracy are on a par with those of Pakistan's.
In 2005 they flouted election laws by stealing public money to buy propaganda. In 2006, they abandoned all constitutional norms and retrospectively changed the law so that they wouldn't be called into the High Court to answer for that action. This year the government has passed legislation allowing them to steal far more at the next election. Worst of all, the Clark regime is now trying to ram through legislation that would ban me from pointing out that they are behaving like tyrants and telling people not to vote for them.
With Prime Minister Helen Clark currently in Uganda picking up tips from other leaders of third-word pseudo-democracies, constitutional chains including an entrenched Bill of Rights are becoming a matter of urgency.

UPDATE 1: Spelling mistake corrected. To say "Governments are like a guard god" is amusing, but incorrect.

UPDATE 2: In an irony of ironies, New Zealand has been appointed at the Uganda meeting to the Commonwealth's watchdog on democracy and governance. Rather like the UN's Security Council, the organ of the United Nations charged with the maintenance of international peace and security, on which over the last sixty years has sat some the world's greatest aggressors.

Warmist madness from a wetness of PMs

British PM Gordon Brown and NZ PM Helen Clark both took time out to say in their first response to the weekend's election that they're pleased new Aussie PM Kevni Rudd will be "making climate change a priority." Madness. Madness in pursuit of a fantasy. As Christopher Booker points out "the scare over global warming, and our politicians' response to it, is becoming ever more bizarre."

On the one hand we have the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change coming up with yet another of its notoriously politicised reports, hyping up the scare by claiming that world surface temperatures have been higher in 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) than ever previously recorded.

This carefully ignores the latest US satellite figures showing temperatures having fallen since 1998, declining in 2007 to a 1983 level - not to mention the newly revised figures for US surface temperatures showing that the 1930s had four of the 10 warmest years of the past century, with the hottest year of all being not 1998, as was previously claimed, but 1934.

On the other hand, we had Gordon Brown last week, in his "first major speech on climate change", airily committing his own and future governments to achieving a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 - which is rather like prime minister Salisbury at the end of Queen Victoria's reign trying to commit Winston Churchill's government to achieving some wholly impossible goal in the middle of the Second World War.

Mr Brown's only concrete proposal for reaching this absurd target seems to be his plan to ban plastic bags...
More Booker here on such "fantasy exercises," including how this year will be remembered for two things:

First, it was the year when the scientific data showed that the cosmic scare over global warming may well turn out to be just that - yet another vastly inflated scare. Second, it was the year when the hysteria generated by all the bogus science behind this scare finally drove those who rule over us, including Gordon "Plastic Bags" Brown, wholly out of their wits.

The Right Hon PM Tweedledum

So Australia are now the first country in the world to have a Prime Minister who rejoices in the name of Kevin. A mummy's boy with a taste for his own earwax. Must be why Australia's called the lucky country.

The difference in personal quality between the new PM and the old one could be clearly seen in their two speeches on Saturday night. Howard's concession speech -- perhaps the last political speech in his career -- was proud, generous and statesmanlike. Rudd's victory speech by contrast was so wet that even his ebullient supporters were silenced.

Those personal differences however are more substantial than any policy differences. As yesterday's 'Sunday Star Times' editorial suggests, on policy issues this was in every way a me-too election -- Tweedledum trying to outbid Tweedledummer -- and in that respect at least, it's likely to foreshadow NZ's own election this time next year.

UPDATE 1: Rudd's already announced he's taking up the only three substantive areas of policy difference: he's going to sign up to sacrifice Australian prosperity to Gaia, to empower the unions, and to cut and run from Iraq. At least these are differences on the face of it, since Kyoto's now all but irrelevant and while withdrawing Australia's 550 combat troops from Iraq, that will still leave more than 300 Australian support troops.

UPDATE 2: "Ideology is dead in Australia," says Paul Sheehan. "The electorate made sure of that at the weekend." SOLO's Australian coordinator Hilton Holder agrees, but he argues that's a bad thing. Rudd's victory, he says, "is a symbol of a lobotomized and amoralized nation. "

UPDATE 3: Russell Brown also has a go at His Wetness:
Australia's last two Labor Prime Ministers, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, were raging personalities: brash, passionate, prone to controversy and somehow embodying national character. I don't think there's much chance of that with the new guy...

Sunday, 25 November 2007

What's the meaning of life?

What's the meaning of life? One of the still-persistent man-on-the-street questions of philosophy is: "What's the purpose of the universe?" Or, in a slightly different form: "What's the meaning of life?"

Anyone else have that conversation over the weekend?

There was a time before post-modernist pomowank when philosophers themselves tried to answer such questions -- those days of course are now long buried under bullshit. But after answering it myself couple of times recently, I enjoyed seeing James Valliant saying what I said to my own interlocutors, only with far more eloquence than I. Explains Valliant, there is no meaning, no value-pursuit, and no "values," apart from living organisms.
That is to say, there are no ends, no goals, and no purposes apart from the specific ends, goals or purposes of a living being. Life is the only objective end of all other ends -- and only life is an end in itself... According to Ayn Rand, life is the pursuit of values, and happiness is the emotional state that proceeds from successful value-pursuit. Thus, the struggle to live and the quest for happiness, she argued, are two sides of the same coin.
Without life, there is no meaning. It is not the universe that gives meaning to life, but life that gives meaning to the universe. Continues Valliant:
Atheists have long pointed out that such questions already assume that the universe, or life, has an overarching (teleological) "meaning," end or purpose. And, as an atheist, the Objectivist agrees that the universe as a whole lacks such "meaning."

But the Objectivist has more sophisticated answer: it is the phenomenon of life which generates all of the "meaning" and all of the purposes to be found in the universe. Life is the meaning of life -- and the quest for my own life and happiness is an end in itself.

Rand puts this point most poetically in chapter XI of her novel Anthem:
"I am. I think. I will.

"My hands. . . My spirit. . . My sky. . . My forest. . . This earth of mine. . . .

"What must I say besides? These are the words. This is the answer.

"I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.

"It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect.
. . .

"I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose."

"My ball!"

Been out at Manurewa watching the preliminary final of Auckland's Australian Football competition -- in a close struggle, Mt Roskill (in the black, white and red) just pipped North Shore for the right to meet the Uni Poofters in next Sunday's final out at Oratia. (Details here.)

Lucky the players were a little sharper than the chaps running the scoreboard...

"May your chains sit lightly upon you..."

A quote today for voters everywhere, a point made by Sam Adams in 1776 before helping to throw out a tyrant...
If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom -- go from us in peace. We ask not your counsel or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands that feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were even our countrymen!

Friday, 23 November 2007

A Beer O'Clock summer taste-off

A repost here of my taste test to find the perfect good, crisp, summery lager -- something that's just the thing for a long, semi-summery New Zealand weekend ...

This informal beer tasting was held here in the garden at 'Not PC Towers.' Ranged against each other in two 'semi-finals' were two New Zealand charmers, and a couple of European beauties. The tasting began informally, and ended even more so.

The two Europeans lined up against each other first. On the left the Czech beauty Budvar, and on the right a German from Dortmund, DAB. Quite a contrast to look at in the glass, with the Budvar both darker and with with much less head; both proved an equal contrast in taste. The DAB was crisper and 'deeper,' with almost a hint of mushroom, but all the tastes very subtle. If drinking the DAB was like eating an apple with a hint of mushroom, the Budvar was like a malt biscuit with a small side of hops. Very tasty. Neither had much aroma to speak of, but the tastes were superb, and beautifully integrated. The afternoon ... ahem ... the tasting had started well.

In the European semi-final then, the Czech beauty proved a narrow, but unanimous winner with its extra flavour just getting its 'head' above that of the other competitor.

So to the two New Zealand charmers, the Limburg Hopsmacker and the Mac's Reserve. Both are attractive in the glass (bear in mind the Hopsmacker is an ale) and both have full and attractive aromas -- the Hopsmacker exceedlingly so -- but after the two Europeans these local lovelies were far less subtle and much more, um, robust. My regular beer correspondents might disown me for saying so, but from the first sip it was clear that whoever won this local derby, the eventual winner would be from Europe.

Of these two locals however the Hopsmacker was the clear favourite. Taste aplenty, as there was also in the Mac's Reserve, but the Hopsmacker's flavours seemed somehow better integrated, and the Reserve's bitter after-taste lost it points by the hop-load.

So to the Final, and following the final taste-off, and then another for third and fourth, and then just a few more to make sure of the results -- and then doubly sure since we wouldn't want to make any mistakes (by which time both 'tasting room' and tasters could well fit the description implied by the phrase "a mess") the taste test results looked like this (and I really do hesitate to use the phrase "in order"):
  1. Budvar. Just like the Miss World contest, the Czech beauty got the crown.
  2. DAB
  3. Limburg Hopsmacker
  4. Mac's Reserve
And it has to be said too that beer really was the winner on the day. Hic. And still is.

Cheers, PC

Oz newspapers fall foul of local law

The front pages of several Australian newspapers have just broken the law -- or at least the law as it will be in NZ's elections next year.

"We believe this country must, for now, look elsewhere for that response - to Kevin Rudd, and the Labor Party," says the Sydney Morning Herald endorsing Rudd. "Daily Telegraph backs Rudd," shouts the Daily Telegraph. Lots of other newspapers over there are following suit, all of which robust journalism would be illegal here next year under the Clark/Peters/Dunne/Fitzsimons bill to muzzle political opponents.

Incidentally, the Herald's endorsement comes just three years after swearing off such benaviour, saying just before the 2004 election [hat tip Tim Blair]:
There comes a time when a newspaper, having expressed its voting preference for more than 170 years, as has the Herald, must renew and reassess its claim on independence so that its pursuit of truth is not only free of partisanship and without fear or favour, but is seen to be so. From today, the Herald no longer will endorse a political party.
I guess it's always okay to lie when you're supporting Labor/Labour?

Honey, I doomed the universe!

Those of you familiar with the famous Schrodinger's Cat thought-experiment -- in which a cat's very survival is dependent upon the effect our observations may or may not have upon the quantum system in which it's said to be entangled -- will be interested to hear that according to two "controversial" physicists, the entire universe is in the same position as that cat.

One false observation, they claim, and apparently our universe gets it! Story here from 'New Scientist' magazine: Have we sealed the universe's fate by looking at it?

Comrade Trottersky lays bare the real EFB issues

Chris Trotter, who is on the record of being all in favour of "acceptable corruption," makes his derision at "the owning class" abundantly clear in a diatribe this morning against a libertarian opponent of the Clark/Peters/Dunne/Fitzsimons Bill to Gag Free Speech & Buy Elections. You can read Comrade Trottersky's column here at Lindsay Mitchell's blog.

Stephen Franks summarises Trotter's position perfectly when he summarises Jeanette Fitzsimons speech to Wednesday's parliamentary protest: "Freedom of speech and political association and action is subordinate to the class war." Both Trotter and Fitzsimons are singing from the same songsheet -- and we all know who's writing their songs, or we should do.

Trotter and Fitzsimons understand just as clearly as Trotsky did the crucial importance of property rights. Where there is no private ownership, Trotsky recognised, individuals can be easily bent to the will of the state. The authors of the Electoral Finance Bill and the fellow travellers of Mr Trotter understand that point more clearly than "the owning class" themselves presently do -- and because they understand it more clearly, and because they despise "the owning class," they're prepared to use all the levers of state power at their command in the battle to control the "inherent power structures" at work in a society in which "the owning class" is allowed to flourish.

They're prepared to justify an "acceptable" level of corruption in our elections -- which includes putting severe restrictions on how much electioneering you can do with your own money, while putting their hand in your pocket to fund their own political campaigns. They're prepared to countenance the muzzling of your free speech while using your resources to trumpet their own. They're prepared to support retrospective legislation legalising eight-hundred thousand dollars of pledge card spending that Labour Party organisers knew at the time was illegal.

They're prepared to support and spin and lie about the real point of the Electoral Finance Bill, which is to use state power to silence as far as possible this "owning class."

Thank goodness then for the columns of old schools socialists like Trotter, whose spin being less opaque than that of his younger more postmodern successors the reader can see more clearly the real issues at stake here. In a sea of spin, his "extreme, unvarnished -- and refreshingly candid -- ideological assertions" are a welcome relief, since they can help us see the issue more clearly.

Make no mistake, it's the very idea of an "owning class" Trotter and Fitzsimons and their fellow travellers find repugnant, and in the name of the poor, the oppressed, the halt and the lame -- of speechless peoples and the "oppressed" everywhere -- they'll do whatever it takes to wipe that class out, or at least to puncture the "power structure" their post-structuralist pomowank tells them is there in society and at the service of this "class." And make no mistake, they're prepared to wrap themselves in all the state's power they need to do that.

That's not just the reason for their willingness to countenance and support this latest obscenity - it provides the explanation too for the many other outrages introduced under the Clark regime, including the nationalisation of children via the anti-smacking amendment, the welfarisation of the middle classes via Welfare for Working Families, and the innumerable other nannying assaults by which we're all kept down.

Do not make a mistake of thinking they don't mean to take your free speech away: they sure as hell do. And once your free speech is gone, all legitimate forms of protest at what they're doing will be gone too.

More marches against election muzzling

Momentum is building for more protests against the Clark/Peters/Dunne/Fitzsimons project to muzzle political opposition while giving themselves access to your wallet.

Auckland gets a second to beat the bastards back on December 1st, at 2:30pm. Says organiser John Boscawen. "The PM was not impressed with I want to give her 5000."

And Christchurch gets its chance this Wednesday, 12.30pm from Victoria Square to Cathedral Square.

Anyone else like to get something started? How about a Day of Action right across the country on December 1st to protest the bastards' outright attack on free elections and free speech? Who's in? All you need at the moment is a megaphone and a plan -- do it now while it's still legal!

Let's give the bastards hell!

The very best composer for films ...

Imagining films without music to drive them emotionally is like imagining pasta without sauce, cheese without wine -- or Helen Clark without Judith Tizard around to carry her handbag.

So given the crucial importance in film of communicating intense emotion through music, which composer do you think has been most used in film soundtracks?

John Williams??

I've already given you a clue. What film directors are after is intense emotion. As Auckland Wagnerian Chris Brodrick discovered through extensive research, which I'm told involved consumption of life-threatening quantities of popcorn and extensive pillaging of the IMDb database, it's Wagner's music that's far and away the most used to deliver that emotion. As Chris said at the conclusion of his death-defying resarch, it's astonishing "how much Wagner has been pillaged over eighty years of film soundrack, and how absolutely fundamental he has been for the way modern film composers try to make music work on film."

Wagner's music makes an appearance in films an astonishing four-hundred times -- and in films of all genres -- followed far behind (and in descending order) by Mendelssohn, Mozart, JS Bach, Rossini and Beethoven. (Distressingly, the most used is his 'Wedding Music' from 'Lohengrin,' which everyone knows who's ever attended such a function.)

On reflection however it's hardly astonishing at all. It wasn't just the intense emotion in Wagner's music that directors look for and contemporary composers continue to pillage (Brodrick points out for example the presence of Wagner's "nature" motif in the 'Lord of the Rings' films). It was Wagner who first showed how to use music as a "psychological tool" in dramas, a lesson well used by John Williams with his 'Jaws' theme which "instantly warns of danger by implying the shark's presence," and in "the famous shower scene in Hitchcock's 'Psycho' that is underscored by Bernard Hermann's truly terrifying music."

In the way he composed music for his monumental music-dramas, Wagner in almost every way but inventing the celluloid itself was responsible for inventing movie music. Composer Max Steiner, a pupil of both Brahms and Mahler, a godson of Richard Strauss, and the composer of the soundtrack for the film of 'The Fountainhead' is the chap usually credited for inventing movie music. "Nonsense," says Steiner. "The idea originated with Richard Wagner. If Wagner had lived in this century, he would have been the Number One film composer. "

I can't say I know all the films in which he's been used, but here's just three examples from YouTube of how Wagner's been used in some film classics. As those three examples show, however, I can't say that all the uses have been appropriate to the music, or that they've been great films . . .

The Rheingold prelude in Werner Herzog's 'Nosferatu'
'Siegfried's Funeral Music' in 'Excalibur'
Tannhauser's xxx Overture and Bacchanale in 'Meeting Venus' [scroll through for a few clues how it's used]
And of course, the infamous use of Wagner's 'Ride of the Valkyries' in Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' -- music intended to sanctify dead heroes used instead to accompany mindless slaughter.

[NB: Chris Brodrick's articles on Wagner and the Movies can be found in these two Wagner Society newsletters. Both links are to PDF forms of the newsletters.]

'Steam to Nuclear' - Robert Tracy

A 6"x8" canvas by artist Robert Tracy, available at Quent Cordair Art.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Good news from odd places

BBC News: "George Bush's troop surge in Iraq appears to be working... An estimated 1,000 people a day are returning across Iraq's borders having previously moving abroad to escape the violence, Iraqi authorities say... One factor in their return is likely to be a sharp and sustained drop in all kinds of violence, particularly in parts of the capital Baghdad, following a US-Iraqi military 'surge'."

London's Times:
Road from Damascus: Iraqis are voting with their feet by returning home after exile The figures are hard to estimate precisely but the process could involve hundreds of thousands of people. The numbers are certainly large enough, as we report today, for a mass convoy to be planned next week as Iraqis who had opted for exile in Syria return to their homeland. It is one of the most striking signs that not only has violence in Baghdad and adjacent provinces decreased dramatically in recent months, but confidence in the economic and political future of Iraq has risen sharply. Nor is this movement the action of men and women who could easily reverse course and turn back again. Tighter visa restrictions imposed by Damascus mean that those who are returning to Iraq cannot assume that they could quickly retreat again to Syria if that suited them. This is, for many, a one-way decision. It represents a vote of confidence in Iraq.
NY TIMES: Around Baghdad, Signs of Normal Life Creep Back: "With security in Baghdad improving, residents across the city are taking steps to return to normalcy. More Iraqis are traveling between Shiite and Sunni areas to shop, work and go to school. While there are still neighborhoods too dangerous to enter, interviews across the city reveal the personal ways Baghdad residents are fighting to reclaim the lives they lost."

NY POST: "THE situation in Iraq has improved so rapidly that Democrats now shun the topic as thoroughly as they shun our troops when the cameras aren't around..."

It must hurt the poor pessimistic dears terribly to have to admit that General Petraeus' "surge" is working, but the good news is now breaking out of from blog commentators like Michael Yon and Michael J. Totten, and on out into the mainstream. That in itself is good news.

Governments are "utter, unbelievable, jaw-dropping, unpardonable idiots"

A very large number of Britons have just woken up to the fact that government cannot be trusted with their data: Her Majesty's Government has just misplaced the personal details of some twenty-five million people. Well done HM Government, eh?

British commentators are already beginning to say that watching Gordon Brown as PM is like watching Frank Spencer make a garden shed, and this is only exacerbating the contempt in which he's held. Frankly, in my view, anything that demonstrates to millions of people that governments are "utter, unbelievable, jaw-dropping, unpardonable idiots" is a very good thing in my book.

UPDATE: "There is lack of honesty about this," says Liberty Scott. "It didn't happen yesterday, or last week. It happened months ago - the efforts to find the [misplaced information] have been fruitless, so now the banks have been advised, and the public too. It is not a Labour or Tory issue, it is an issue about government, and the simple fact that there are never the adequate incentives or accountability for when the government fails to protect its citizens. This is [another] very good reason why governments should do less, nor more."

Honest John?

Good for Whale Oil:

Subject: Time to stand up and be true to your word!

Dear Sir,
We believed you when you said that the first time this happened you would stand up and commit to scrapping this law. No amount of spin will get you off the hook here.

Please read this :

Now show us that it is worth staying in NZ . And show us that National has some guts.
Kind Regards, Whaleoil
I'm sure readers will have no problem composing a similar email to Sue Bradford, who said that the law would be treated by police and prosecutors with "common sense"; that it wouldn't catch good parents, only those who are killing "our" children.

Bullshit. "The law of common sense" that in various contexts Bradford, Key and Annette King have argued will protect people from inappropriate police attention should have another think about delivering laws that they argue won't be fully enforced. As I said here yesterday in respect of the Electoral Finance Bill,
A law with draconian provisions that aren't intended to be applied is bad law. A politician who introduces such a law and who argues that they won't be applied is either a fool or a liar -- and in either case they're a tyrant.

Don't worry, be free

I'm hearing all about "peak oil" and how we're "running out of resources." The answer apparently is to give up, give up, give up!

Fuck that.

The idea is as wrong ethically -- it's not man's natural estate to grovel before Gaia; we either stand tall and exploit nature or we die -- as it is wrong economically. As Cambridge Energy Research founder Daniel Yergin points out "The theory [of Peak Oil] is very fashionable ... but it completely discounts technology, which constantly expands our horizons..." Let's explore that idea.

In the sevententh-century Britain was running out of trees to build houses. The problem was solved by the increased use of bricks. In the late-nineteenth century we were all running out of whale oil to light out lamps. It was a problem solved by the exploitation of a new resource: oil.

The stone age didn't end because they ran out of stones; it ended because they went on to exploit better things -- and sitting here as a beneficiary of the Industrial Revolution I'm very glad they did. Given that it's the process of invention and exploitation of resources begun back then that keeps us all alive today, it's important to have some basic understanding of how resources are produced and exploited -- when properly and freely done, it's almost seems as if an invisible and benevolent hand was guiding production.

As George Reisman explains,
the resources provided by nature, such as iron, aluminum, coal, petroleum and so on, are by no means automatically goods. Their goods-character must be created by man, by discovering knowledge of their respective properties that enable them to satisfy human needs and then by establishing command over them sufficient to direct them to the satisfaction of human needs.

For example, iron, which has been present in the earth since the formation of the planet and throughout the entire presence of man on earth, did not become a good until well after the Stone Age had ended. Petroleum, which has been present in the ground for millions of years, did not become a good until the middle of the nineteenth century, when uses for it were discovered. Aluminum, radium, and uranium also became goods only within the last century or century and a half.
Julian Simon points out that it's the human mind applied to nature that is the ultimate resource. It's the human mind applied to production that transforms what nature provides into "goods" for human use: in other words, it's the mind itself that produces resources from the raw materials around us. As George Reisman and Ludwig von Mises point out, the idea that resources are running out "comes true only under socialism" -- only under a system in which private property is banned, production is strangled, the tragedy of the commons remains in effect, and (crucially) price signals that indicate the real value of resources are ignored or muzzled. Let George explain.
The value of goods is within us—within human beings—and radiates outward from us to external things...

Thus, in one sense ... the contribution of nature is zero. Practically nothing comes to us from nature that is ready-made as a useable, accessible natural resource—as a good in [this] sense. In another sense, however, the natural resources that come from nature—the matter, in the form of all the chemical elements, known and as yet unknown, and energy in all of its forms—are virtually infinite in their extent. In this sense, nature’s contribution is boundless...

And this brings me to what I consider to be the revolutionary view of natural resources that is implied in [this] theory of goods. Namely, not only does man create the goods- character of natural resources—by obtaining knowledge of their useful properties and then creating their useability and accessibility by virtue of establishing the necessary command over them—but he also has the ability to go on indefinitely increasing the supply of natural resources possessing goods-character. He enlarges the supply of useable, accessible natural resources—that is, natural resources possessing goods-character—as he expands his knowledge of and physical power over nature.

The prevailing view, that dominates the thinking of the environmentalists and the conservationists, that there is a scarce, precious stock of natural resources that man’s productive activity serves merely to deplete is wrong. Seen in its full context, man’s productive activity serves to enlarge the supply of useable, accessible natural resources by converting a larger, though still tiny, fraction of nature into natural resources possessing goods-character. The essential question concerning natural resources is what fraction of the virtual infinity that is nature does man possess sufficient knowledge concerning and sufficient physical command over to be able to direct it to the satisfaction of his needs. This fraction will always be very small indeed and will always be capable of vastly greater further enlargement.
In a free and unhampered market, the production of resources once discovered are coordinated and harmonised by the price system. Produce too much and prices go down, making further production uneconomic. Produce too little, and not only do we get headlines saying we're running out, but (if the politicians have left it free to operate) the price system tells producers that it's time to explore new fields, to bring previously uneconomic fields back into production, and (if prices really go stratospheric) to explore substitutes for these resources that are becoming uneconomic.

If it's left unmeddled with, it's the price system itself that provides the motivation for production, for conservation, for exploration and for exploitation; not the maunderings and witterings of Gaia worshippers and economically illiterate politicians who only help to make things worse.