Thursday, 31 January 2008

Paying no-hopers to breed produces ....

Here's another government disaster we're now all paying for:  The tremendous rise in youth crime.  The explosion in youth crime since the early eighties is largely due to people being paid by the government to have children they don't want.

Paying people to have children they didn't want started in the early seventies.  By the early eighties those children were old enough to make other people's lives a nightmare, and the violent crime statistics much larger.

Think about it.  What sense is it being forced to pay no-hopers to breed, and then wondering why their progeny go wrong?

Illiterates still sadly surging forth. Ambulances positioned firmly at cliff base.

First, a quote from earlier in the week: “Education in the government's factory schools is pumping out an ever-increasing number of functionally illiterate and unemployable youths - good for nothing beyond stuffing a ballot box." - Peter Osborne

And a cartoon (from The Free Radical):

               New_Maths

And now, some good news.  The Government appears to have accepted the bad news that "the literacy level of about 800,000 workers is such that they might struggle to transfer printed information to an order form - a deficiency cited as a factor stifling the country's economic growth" -- and, not incidentally, blighting the lives and futures of  at least 800,00 New Zealanders.  Story here. Puff piece here.

The bad news is, first, that according to Pete Hodgson, it is businesses who will be expected to teach their own workers reading, writing and maths "under a complex new plan to raise the skills of the workforce." 

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly - who, with Government and New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, is part of the new Skill New Zealand Forum developing the plan - [said he] didn't want a "bureaucratic nightmare" for business [but] "We've got a problem in terms of functional illiteracy and innumeracy in our workplaces. We are poor by world standards," said Mr O'Reilly.

At least it means the schools responsible for this disaster won't be getting their hands back on the evidence of their resounding failure.   But the further bad news however, completely un-addressed by this "complex new plan," is that the factory schools that churned out this horde of functional illiterates continue to sail on regardless.  One in five of the New Zealanders who attended those schools for ten years or more failed to attain the most basic of life skills, yet nothing about that revelation will cause any sort of re-examination by those responsible. 

That is outrageous.  It would happen in no other line of endeavour except one monopolised by the state.

Those who continue to insist that the state simply must take charge of primary and secondary education might pause to consider what this figure shows about the efficacy and content of what those factory schools have been and are continuing to delivering -- in recent years it's been mostly bullshit, mush and toxic swill.   If you thought they were primarily teaching literacy and numeracy, you were obviously very much mistaken -- it's mostly about the seven-lesson inculcation of servitude.

If you ever thought that appalling figures such as these would get the planners behind the factory schools asking themselves serious questions about their plans and their success rate (or lack thereof), then you've been  hoodwinked.  And if you ever wondered whether a private organisation with failure of this magnitude would be able to get away with it, then I have a bridge I can sell you.

The tragedy of wholesale illiteracy and innumeracy must be laid firmly at the door of the mandarins responsible for the method of teaching and the content of what is taught at the state's indoctrination centres.  It is not enough to pick up the lives of those blighted by those mandarins years later.  It is essential that those responsible are urgently removed from the responsibility of filling up further young minds, and be placed where they are never in such a position again.

As every year a new horde of young New Zealanders surges forth into the world, one in five of whom  after ten years of factory schooling are unable to function in the modern world, the situation becomes ever more urgent.  Don't just wring your hands in impotent despair at the tragedy.  Don't just bewail the youngsters' sorry futures.  Don't just join me in hammering the factory schools.   Join me in going in there and taking them all back

          Ministry_of_Miseducation

Seth Peterson Cottage - Frank Lloyd Wright (updated)

                               mlsethp06

Designed in 1958 when Wright was ninety and described has having “more architecture per square foot than any other building Wright ever designed,” this tiny (88sqm) one-man cottage is a jewel.

peterson The Seth Peterson Cottage in Mirror Lake, Wisconsin, is one of eight Wright locations you can rent, along with:

spcfloorplan50 lodge

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

NOT in support of murder

I must confess I'm disturbed by the many messages of support and sympathy I've seen around the place for the fifty-year old murderer of Pihema Cameron, a man who knifed the fifteen-year old for the offence of tagging his Manurewa fence. This wasn't self-defence, for which he'd have my support. He didn't drag the young tagger from his fence and discipline him, for which he might have my sympathy. He didn't just chastise him, which he certainly deserved. Instead he chased him three-hundred metres down the road and stabbed him through the heart. That's not self-defence -- the only legal defence available to him. That looks more like murder.

For tagging his fence, he murdered him.

I just don't understand how people can support murder.

Now I don't know the murdered youngster from a hole in the ground -- which is where he is now -- but when I was Pihema's age I must confess to having tagged a building or two around South Auckland. I'm not proud of it. It wasn't smart. But I grew up. Pihema Cameron never will.

I just don't understand how people can his support murder.

The Minto myth (updated)

Poneke explains why John Minto was one of the heroes of his formative years, and why he is no longer.

A good read, and topical, since Minto has made news for refusing to accept the South African award of the Order of Companions of Oliver Tambo, reserved for “eminent foreign nationals and other foreign dignitaries for friendship shown to South Africa.”

Yet was the award even offered?  As Liberty Scott has spotted, Reuters says he was never offered the award in the first place.  A statement from the office of the President of South Africa states:

  The Presidency has noted publication of an open letter addressed to President Thabo Mbeki written by Mr. John Minto of New Zealand.
   In the letter, Mr. Minto claims, amongst other things, to have been nominated for the prestigious Order of the Companions of OR Tambo.In this regard, the Presidency wishes to place it on record that Mr. Minto has not, as a matter of fact, been nominated as a candidate for any of our national orders.

Minto is no hero.  He's a destructive fool and a liar.

UPDATE: From Liberty Scott:

Minto has now been reported in the Dominion Post as saying "South African sports minister Reverend Makhenkesi (Arnold) Stofile told him at his home last year he had been nominated for the award." Oh so no letter John? No written evidence? Funny that. Given this is a man who once said the death of the Kahui twins was "society's" fault, it's no surprise that he has his own portable reality generator. I guess a journalist will now interview the South African sports minister ... his contact details are here.

Sort out your own stables first

A few people around the traps have been talking these last few days about 'pop econ' books like Steven Leavitt's 'Freakonomics' and Tim Harford's 'Underground Economist' that purport to take economic reasoning from the arid realms of economic analysis and apply it to everything from the use of toilet paper to the impact of abortion on inner city crime.

For all the pleasure to be had in reading them, and the huge sales of these books show how much fun there is in them, wouldn't it be better if instead of applying economic reasoning to other people's fields, these economists first sort out their own

While revealing what their economics has to say about your nail clippings and the 'hidden' effect of what your mother calls you when you're born -- in other words, things of almost total irrelevance --  these so-called economists seem to have been blithely unaware as the meddling of the world's great central bankers brought about the world's great credit crunch.

When most economists miss such an obvious blunder, when they struggle to understand the very basics of their own profession -- including where money comes from and what causes recessions and inflation and even how to properly define them -- it's clear the economists' own stables still need seriously mucking out. Until that's done, (if I may mix a metaphor) perhaps they'd better stick to their knitting instead of advising on it.

Freakonomics [Revised and Expanded]: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
by Steven D. Levitt, Stephen J. Dubner

Read more about this book...

UPDATE: Here's an example: while 'mainstream' economists write 'pop econ' books and promote the need to for 'fiscal stimulus' -- in other words, more easy credit to mop up the problems caused the earlier wads of easy credit -- the more sensible chaps have asked themselves a few serious questions, and formed a Coalition against Fiscal Stimulus [hat tip Paul Walker].

Plan Red for youngsters

This year's early political football is shaping up to be sixteen to eighteen year olds.   Problems with literacy, numeracy and youth crime have become so obvious even the politicians can't ignore them.  They labour, however, under the delusion they can fix them.  Both red team and blue team have a plan, one they hope will cement their place on the treasury benches, whatever its effect on the young people they're purporting to help.

Weaning young NZers off their cradle-to-grave welfare expectations is far more important than any other 'lesson' dreamed up just to capture election-year headlines. And what headlines.  At a time in youngsters' lives when the most important lesson they can learn is independence, John Key's 'Plan Blue' is for the state to either coddle them or shackle them -- or have them sent to boot camp.  Helen Clark has just announced her own response this morning, which in all respects is even worse.  Plan Red is this: no-one under voting age should be allowed out to work

It beggars belief.  Each election is an advanced auction of stolen goods.  This election, they're coming for your children.

Gates and the wealth of nations

The world's richest man, Bill Gates, has been disgracing himself at the World Economic Forum in Davos by calling on Western nations to adopt a new, “creative capitalism.” Notes Alex Epstein at the Ayn Rand Institute, Gates complained that

under “pure capitalism . . . . the great advances in the world have often aggravated the inequities in the world. The least needy see the most improvement, and the most needy see the least . . .” Gates called for corporations and governments to devote far more time and money “doing work that eases the world's inequities.”

Gates appears wholly ignorant of the historic role of capitalism in moving people out of poverty.  To paraphrase PJ O'Rourke, the reason that some places prosper and thrive and others just plain suck is simple: some have capitalism and freedom, and some don't.  Epstein has a Memo to Gates: The Cause of Third-World Poverty Is Not Capitalism, But a Lack of Capitalism...

The West did not become wealthy at the Third World’s expense--we did not seize computers, houses, pharmaceuticals, and railroads from the Sahara. We created our wealth under capitalism, the system that liberates individuals to produce and trade without interference. And Third World countries could do the same if they adopted that system.

“The last 200 years have shown that wherever capitalism is adopted--from Singapore to the United States to Hong Kong to Australia--it enables its citizens to create wealth and prosper. Yet not one word of Gates’s speech calls for poor countries to change their anti-capitalist governments.

“No matter how many billions Bill Gates gives to poor nations, until he starts advocating universal capitalism instead of attacking it, he is acting as an enemy of prosperity in the undeveloped world.”

On voting

Tibor Machan on how to waste your vote:

The notion that one must vote for someone, anyone, just to vote, never
mind that everyone running advocates bad ideas, bad policies, is
completely off the wall. That really amounts to throwing away one’s
vote--a kind of electoral littering. Better to wait for a time when
perhaps some sensible people, with sensible ideas, become candidates.

Tugendhat house - Mies van der Rohe

exterior1_v tugendhat-CRTugen1930deSandalo

045_0002One of European modern architecture's early classics, it was designed by Mies for for textile factory owner Fritz Tugendhat in Brno Czechoslovakia, 1928. 

If it looks familiar, it's because so may of today's 'classics' are simplhy stylistic recycling of Mies' early work.

The villa was seized from its Jewish owners Fritz and Greta Tugendhat by invading Germans in 1939, and was never returned to the family.

vila_tugendhat_project_doc_2

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

No answer

John Key's speech-writers had nine questions for Helen Clark:

• Why, after eight years of Labour, are we paying the second-highest interest rates in the developed world?
• Why, under Labour, is the gap between our wages, and wages in Australia and other parts of the world, getting bigger and bigger?
• Why, under Labour, do we get a tax cut only in election year, when we really needed it years ago?
• Why are grocery and petrol prices going through the roof?
• Why can't our hardworking kids afford to buy their own house?
• Why is one in five Kiwi kids leaving school with grossly inadequate literacy and numeracy skills?
• Why, when Labour claim they aspire to be carbon-neutral, do our greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise at an alarming rate?
• Why hasn't the health system improved when billions of extra dollars have been poured into it?
• Why is violent crime against innocent New Zealanders continuing to soar and why is Labour unable to do anything about it?

Unfortunately, neither the speech-writers nor John Key's policy-writers have virtually any answer to the obvious follow-up question: "What the hell would National do about any or all of these nine?" The answer to most of them still seems to be  either "Beats the hell out of me," or, "Much the same as Labour."

UPDATE: The Hive claims there was plenty of detail, all of which they liked.  I'd suggest however that the liberal use of phrases like "focus on," "more careful with" and "unrelenting in our quest" speak less of detail than they do of wishful thinking.  Every government since Jenny Shipley's has promised for example to "reduce the burden of compliance and bureaucracy."  Not one has yet managed it.  Key offers no details of how his government would be any different.  Like all such promises have proved to be, John Key's promise is all sizzle, no sausage.

Voucher schmoucher

HERALD: Key plans tertiary vouchers for teen school-leavers

Says the blogger known as Write Ups:

Is John Key’s voucher plan for 16 & 17 year old school leavers nothing more than changing the nature of the handout slightly?

No matter how you try to spin it, a voucher for polytechnic training is still a handout.

What we really should be worrying about is how to wean people of the welfare cradle-to-grave expectations many New Zealanders have of the government.

Too true.  Weaning young NZers off their cradle-to-grave welfare expectations is far more important than the details of a new handout with the designed life-span of one election year.

Frankly, a partial redesign of the handout system is far less important than cracking the culture of entitlement which young NZers imbibe in Nanny's indoctrination centres, and which a new handout will do nothing to cure.

And don't forget that it's the existing tertiary education funding system, that's a voucher system in all but name (a system introduced by the previous National Government), that delivered such delights as Rongo Wetere's outstanding salary, and tales of  profligacy and nepotism, of first class air travel, million dollar contracts to family members, and  money wasted on failed IT projects

The idea of school vouchers is popular (not least with the purveyors of twilight golf and the owners of Wananga o Aoteaora). Vouchers do purchase wider choice, it’s true, but only at the expense of either bringing private schools even more under the Ministry’s boot (as a once relatively free early childhood sector now understands), or of throwing the taxpayer’s money away on bullshit.  Key's advisors think they can achieve the latter by insisting on the former, which does nothing to wean anyone off anything, and will deliver even Ministry goons even more power over educationalists and young NZers.

Fact is, as long as state and school remain unseparated and youngsters consider themselves entitled to your cash, we may continue getting the various dogs' breakfasts that we keep being served up and to have inflicted upon us the smart-arse youngsters who think people other than their parents owe them a living; as long as it's assumed young people are the responsibility of the state, they'll keep thinking the whole world owes them a living, and they'll keep stamping their feet until they do so.  And now!

Already, more young NZers have gone to more tertiary institutions than perhaps at any time in this country's short history, yet fewer and fewer of them are educated. This is not an accident. Like the Soviets producing tractors, there are lots of figures showing an awful lot of production, but none of the tractors work. Meanwhile the number of people who can actually think on their feet -- actually do things -- is surely be at an all-time low.

The most important lesson for a sixteen- to seventeen-year old is independence, not entitlement.  John Key's vouchers are not the lesson they need.

Another murderer dead

Goodbye and good riddance to former Indonesian president Suharto, who seized power from the dictator Sukarno before embarking on his own career of repression.  Another dead dictator for whom one almost wishes the idea of hell had some meaning.  Chris Rossdale for one is enraged at the soft-soaping done by the official obituaries such as this obscene apologia from the BBC of a man in the top twenty of the last century's murderers. Says Chris:

You wouldn’t expect an article on Hitler, or Stalin, or Saddam Hussein, to start off by talking about his good economic record, and then mention ‘human rights abuses’. It would start by rightly condemning them as mass murderers. Suharto is a mass murderer, who killed somewhere between 700,000 and 1,000,000 people. The fact that he did most of this with Western support is to our shame, that it is not regarded as one of the worst atrocities of the post WW2 era is embarrassing.

Australian John Quiggin agrees, and sees signs of hope in post-Suharto Indonesia:

I don’t imagine many readers will be shedding tears at the death of former Indonesian dictator Suharto, and certainly I won’t be. The bloody massacres in which he rode to power amid the collapse of the Sukarno regime, and the brutal invasion and occupation of East Timor, not to mention his spectacular corruption, mark him down among the worst political criminals of a terrible century, and have coloured Australian attitudes to Indonesia in the decade since his fall from power.

Now that he’s gone, I hope Australians will begin to recognise the immense progress Indonesia has made against daunting odds...

Read on to see if you agree.

No free speech in election year

Labour's Electoral Finance Act has its first result: State censorship has successfully closed down Andy Moore's 'Dont Vote Labour' site. 

And you thought the left were supporters of free speech ...

[Hat tip Annie Fox!]

UPDATE 1: DPF notes the irony of former free speech advocate  Idiot/Savant, who blogs anonymously, arguing that Moore should not be able to advocate against the Government without listing his name and address...

UPDATE 2: We know your name and address, the Pacific Empire boys tell the proudly left blogger Idiot/Savant, who blogs at No Right Turn.  They point out quite correctly "this information is no more than Idiot/Savant thinks is fair for others who choose to express their political opinions online."  Time for him to either front up, shut up, or wake up.

It's murder

More New Zealanders murdered by New Zealanders.  Ten people murdered already, with the year only twenty-nine days old.

Tahani Mahomed
Michael Hutchings
Bronwyn Whakaneke
Sophie Elliot
Karen Aim
An unidentified woman aged between 30 and 50, found dead in the Wairoa River
Chattrice Maihi-Carroll-Poipoi
Saishwar Krishna Naidu
Shayne Walker
Pihema Cameron

“The motivation behind them seem to be quite random,” Detective Superintendent Win Van Der Velde said, “so there’s no single trend or factor.”

Random violence.  No single trend or factor.  Just a brutal start to a new year.  Here in New Zealand we like to think we're immune from the violence that all too frequently sweeps the world, but our 'quarter-acre pavlova paradise' sometimes seems more like Hell's half-acre.

With a new outrage almost every day, picking up the newspaper each morning is becoming an act of courage.

It is impossible not to contemplate the questions the slaughter raises: What kind of world - what kind of a country - is it in which these things can be done to other human beings: a child's life snuffed out by his parents; a graduate with her life before her murdered by ex-boyfriend; a bubbly young girl seeing the world is slaughtered by a young boy; another young boy killed for tagging a fence in Manurewa; and another young Manurewa boy killed in his parent's dairy ...

“We pay tax and what do we get?” says dairy owner Anand. “We’re trying to work hard. We try to make an honest living.”  Not so the brutes, who end the lives of other human beings for nothing much more than the 'kicks' it gives them.

What kind of bloody place is this where such unthinking, mindless brutes exist that can do such things to other people? What use is it -- we might ask ourselves -- to proselytise, to persuade and to philosophise when the newspaper is full of new atrocities every time we pick it up? What use is philosophy and reason when brainless brutality seems the order of the day?

Bertrand Russell once observed that "many people would sooner die rather than think - in fact, they do so." If only, we lament, it were only the wilfully mindless who were dying!  But it's not - these bastards are taking others with them before they go.

'What refuge is there from this noxious tide of irrational brutality?' I wondered as I drove into town this morning helping a client set up a new business. As I drove I watched thousands of other good people going purposefully about their business - carrying out their plans, making deals, and enjoying the adventure of life in a teeming city. And as I drove, I realised that - despite the headlines - these senseless killings are still the exception rather than the rule. The slayings are still news precisely because they are not normal everyday events: The norm was here, I realised, right outside my car window, inside my client's new architecturally-designed offices, and in the heaving, pulsating, guffawing city all around me.

I realised the overwhelming majority of people, in this hemisphere at least, are simply going about their daily business - planning, acting and producing wealth and happiness for themselves and for others. The mindless brutes are not all around us; what we see around us instead are people much like ourselves - people whose actions are the exact inverse of the mindless morons - people whose actions are purposefully productive. It is such actions that move the world, not the actions of a few mindless thugs, however brutal.

Those of us who do value reason and happiness will often become frustrated by the mindlessness around us - particularly when violent mindlessness is inundating the news we see. But the fact remains that, in the western world at least, the violently mindless are still very much in the minority.

The meek will probably never get the chance to inherit the earth, and nor perhaps will the brutes: We will - those of us who do choose to think, and to act, and to guffaw. But some days it still seems like we'll have to fight the brutes for it all the way.

Pass the ammunition.

UPDATE: January's outbreak of brutality is the "backfire of collectivism" says Callum McPetrie.  It's hard to disagree.

Cue Card Libertarianism: Education

Each 'Cue Card Libertarianism' entry forms part of a series intended to introduce newbies to the terms used (or as used) by local libertarians. The series so far can be found archived here, and here, and the Introduction here.

“A tax-supported, compulsory educational system is the complete model of the totalitarian state.”
– Isabel Paterson, 'The God of the Machine.'

EDUCATION: The system of compulsory, taxpayer-funded education is another prime example of the state performing the opposite role to its proper one, i.e. initiating force against its citizens, rather than protecting them from it.

It forces children from their parents; it forces a curriculum on children with or without the parents’ approval; it treats the child’s mind as the property of the state; it forces people to pay for the education of other people’s children.

New Zealand’s public education has followed in the path of the United States: beginning with educating children to submit to the collective feelings of the group, rather than to develop their own minds ands use their own independent judgement – i.e. it teaches them to value 'consensus' before truth, and 'fitting in' above facts.

Peer pressure and politics are now important than good pedagogy. “Humanities” subjects have been hi-jacked by the purveyors of fashionable political viewpoints, and even the sciences have been infected with irrational nature-worship and notions like "Maori Science," ie., myth. A recent Minister of Education even claimed that science is not even concerned with the discovery of truth.

The travesty of education being perpetrated by the state currently is nothing short of criminal. Taxpayers paying more and more to get less and less -- more money spent, to fill the heads of more and more young New Zealanders with mush.

Despite governments doling out increasing election bribes on the state's factory schools, Labour Department figures estimate there are more than half-a-million New Zealanders who are functionally illiterate. It's clear what we have is neither free, nor a system of education.

We're left to deduce (as we must with all government spending binges) that education isn't a function of the money that's thrown at it; what matters more is what that money is spent on.

What it's been spent on in recent years is bullshit, mush and toxic swill -- and the seven-lesson inculcation of servitude.

“Education in the government's factory schools is pumping out an ever-increasing number of functionally illiterate and unemployable youths - good for nothing beyond stuffing a ballot box."

The 'liberal' view is that all that is wrong with state education can be fixed with more money, better staff-student ratios, greater control of curriculum, more qualified teachers and more paperwork. But as more and more money spent on education has shown that more of the same just produces more and more failure. The view of conservatives is generally that public education needs to be made more efficient. With more efficiency, they say, 'delivery' of education will be better.

Libertarians however maintain that public education is all too efficient: it has been ruthlessly efficient at delivering the government’s chosen values. After generations of indoctrination at the knee of the state we now have several generations who are 'culturally safe' and politically correct -- ‘good citizens’ unable to use the brains they were born with, unthinkingly compliant in every respect with the values in which they've been totally immersed; braindead automatons to whom group-think is good and for forty-two percent of whom the reading of a bus timetable or the operation of a simple appliance is beyond them.

In previous decades the government's chosen values included banning the speaking of Maori in schools; speaking Maori in schools is fast becoming compulsory, along with the teaching of the ordained versions of Te Tiriti and the inculcation of the ideas of multiculturalism and the inferiority of western culture. Governments and their values change, but their use of their factory schools for indoctination doesn't.

The government's recently chosen values are "fairness, opportunity and security." We know that because Helen Clark said so. Orwell would have recognised these words, as he might the rigid orthodoxies of what passes for teacher training. "What happens in our schools is a very big part of shaping the future of New Zealand," says Ms Clark in the same speech, acknowledging that this is the way to make subjects out of citizens. Libertarians agree with Ms Clark's statement, which is precisely why we want governments away from the schools and away from control of curricula. Both Liberals and conservatives endorse state control of schools and of curricula, and they both seek to be the state. Libertarians don't.

Rather than delivering new generations of New Zealand's children to be indoctrinated into servitude and their heads filled with mush, it's time for a radical rethink and a wholesale rejection of NZ's educational establishment -- of those who've sucked up the money, and produced only failure. It's time for a permanent and constituional separation of school and state, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of church and state.

Even the critics of state education, however, cannot imagine life without it, simply because they’ve never known anything else. They would have the same difficulty grasping the possibility of removing the state from the production of clothing if, all their lives, the state had exercised a coercive monopoly in that field.

Libertarianism holds that the removal of the state from education is a reform needed more urgently than most; and that all education should be private, non-compulsory, and paid for by the parents whose children are receiving it.

This is part of a continuing series explaining the concepts and terms used by New Zealand libertarians, originally published in The Free Radical in 1993. The 'Introduction' to the series is here.

Too few busybodies

Some good news and some bad news this morning about the rise and rise of busybodying.  Lincoln University's Environment Society and Design Division head, Stephanie Rixecker says there is a growing demand for "environmental planners" -- that's the bad news -- but admits there is a lack of students keen to become such busybodies.  Ms Rixecker  blames "bad publicity and issues surrounding the Resource Management Act" for this lack of enthusiasm.

Excellent.  While the current legal environment still demands more planning busybodies, it looks like the culture is changing, and careers like these are being looked at with increasing revulsion.  Excellent.

Money: "Pathology & reality"

Here's a timely plug from the Mises Store:

Recent daily articles on Mises.org have addressed the economic downturn, and the unbearably bad response from Washington and the Fed [and the world's central banks]. These people have learned all the wrong lessons from the Great Depression. There is nothing that the planners won't consider at this point: wage and price controls, floods of new money, exchange controls, protectionism, hundreds of billions in public works – you name it.
The good news is that all the literature necessary to combat this nonsense is in print. The Austrian perspective is there to make sense of the current economic mess.

Visit the Mises Store to find all the literature that's fit to buy on the crisis that could define the next few years...

America's Great Depression - Rothbard
Buy Now: $29.00

Panic of 1819 - Rothbard
Buy Now $20.00

Money, Bank Credit Econ Cycles - Juerta de Soto
Buy Now $45.00

Causes of Economic Cycles - Mises
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Understanding the Dollar Crisis - Greaves
Buy Now: $22.00

Organization of Debt into Currency - Carroll
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Theory of Money and Credit - Mises
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Fiat Money in France - White
Buy Now $13.00

Time and Money - Garrison
Buy Now $24.00

Government Against the Economy - Reisman
Buy Now $22.00

Economics of Inflation - Costantino
Buy Now $32.00

Economics of Illusion - Hahn
Buy Now $22.00

History of Money and Banking - Rothbard
Buy Now $25.00

History of American Currency
Buy Now $25.00

Buy Now $10.00

 

31hdz2GSlmL._AA240_

Friday, 25 January 2008

Wine O'Clock

471pic1 Don't worry, the regular Friday avo Beer O'Clock posts will be reappearing once the holiday season is over and your regular correspondents return. 

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to getting up to Ascension Vineyard in Matakana tonight to enjoy the music of Graham Brazier and Dave McCartney, and the fine products of a very good vineyard.

It should be an awful experience...

The demise of the Head Bureaucrat

Paul Walker quotes two observations on the resignation of uber-Bureaucrat Mark Prebble.  My own, for what it's worth, would be "One down.  Three-hundred thousand to go." And: "It's never a bad day when another bureaucrat clears his desk."  Paul's are more thoughtful. 

The first, to paraphrase, is "Health reasons. Yeah, right."  Neither you, nor I, nor his employers believe he's resigning for his health, not unless being the chosen scapegoat for the politicised public service has become life-threatening as well as career-threatening.

Prebble's resignation seems an appropriate time to examine something else: why bureaucrats get paid so damn much to do so little.  Apparently they're paid up to twenty percent on average more than people doing real jobs. Writes John Gibson in the National Business Review, (reporting on research into why public servants in New Zealand get paid 20 per cent more than similar workers in the private sector): 

   My research shows that this pay gap is not due to obvious differences in job conditions, such as stress, whether jobs require physical labour, how interesting the work is or the scope for improving ones skills.
   But the source of this pay gap has become apparent in recent months. It's the "bite your lip and be the fall guy" premium.
As Paul Walker suggests, twenty percent obviously wasn't enough to keep Prebble.  Like everyone else, I now look forward now to reading what stories he can tell in his memoirs.

Flame warriors

We've all met them.  There's no more complete set of flame warriors in the local blogosphere than those who can often be found sparring in the thickets of Kiwiblog's comments, but the same games are played on nearly every forum on the internet.

Profundus Maximus Cartoonist Mike Reed has spotted, listed and drawn up all the usual suspects one finds in the usual internet-based rows -- a complete "roster of the online belligerents" he calls Flame Warriors, ranging from the  Artful Dodger and the Netiquette Nazi, to Furious Typist  and Lonely Guy.  (Pictured right is Profundus Maximus, who "eagerly holds forth on all subjects, but his thin knowledge will not support a sustained assault and therefore his attacks quickly peter out.")

You see them all in every internet discussion, and you can see them in full colour at his site: Flame Warriors[Hat tip Richard Goode.]

Which one are you?  Which one am I?

Student loans won't cost very much. Yeah, right.

When  the student loan election bribe was uncorked last election, it was predicted by everyone from bankers to political opponents to Cactus Kate that it was going to cost a lot -- up to $1billion said Westpac's Brendan O'Donovan, three times what Labour's electioneers were saying -- and "would ... cause an explosion in student debt."

No, no, no said finger-wagging Labour spin doctors and Green cheerleaders at the time, carefully keeping their their eyes on the polls, their fingers crossed and their calculations to themselves.  "Extremist and scaremongering" said a cynically vote-mongering Mallard about O'Donovan's now proven predictions.

Three years later, guess who was right?  "Research released today by TNS Conversa revealed average student debt had risen by 54 per cent since 2004" -- and let's face it, there can't be one person with a working brain who's truly surprised -- and NZUSA president Paul Falloon (who apparently wasn't awake three years ago) blames banks for "seizing the chance to entice students as customers."

Apparently Mr Falloon is in need of that working brain.  It isn't banks who are "seizing the chance" to entice students as customers -- it was the Clark Government's election bribe which sought to entice short-sighted students as voters (and don't forget that Labour-Lite now endorse the bribe).

Labour liars weren't wrong when they said their no-interest loan bribe wouldn't cause an explosion in student debt: they just didn't care two hoots that it would.  What interested them far more, and interests them still, is getting their bums back on the Treasury benches -- and short-sighted students were ideally placed to lap up their bribe and repay it later in the country's polling booths. 

The attention span of student presidents may be shorter than the average spin cycle; there's no need for anyone else's to be.

'Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer' - Rembrandt

                              aristotl

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Counterfeit capital

Here's a curly one for you: What's the difference between capital expansion and credit expansion?  It's important.  The answer could well affect your future for some years to come.
Give up?  Here's George Reisman with the answer, in his latest column:
Capital in the form of credit is normally and, certainly, properly, extended out of previously accumulated savings. In sharpest contrast, credit expansion is the creation of new and additional money out of thin air, which money is then lent to business firms and individuals as though it were a supply of new and additional saved up capital funds.  Its existence serves to reduce interest rates and to enable loans to be made and debts to be incurred which otherwise would not have been made or incurred. Always and everywhere, to the extent that private banks participate in the process of credit expansion, they do so with the sanction and generally with the active encouragement of the government.
See the difference?  One's real, and one's illusory.  New capital is the product of genuine productive activity, and is limited by the extent to which the fruits of production can be saved and reinvested; credit expansion on the other hand is a political tool that gains whatever value it has by diluting existing money.  As Don Boudreaux points out:
Government cannot create genuine spending power; the most it can do is to transfer it from Smith to Jones. If the Treasury sends a stimulus check to Jones, the money comes from taxes, from borrowing, or is newly created.
Stimulus like this is a way governments' bankers fake prosperity.  It's a way of 'putting a penny in the fusebox,' allowing economic activity to artificially expand and to keep expanding, yet just as putting a penny in your fusebox now only makes the eventual explosion of your whole circuit board more likely, so too does the cheap 'socialised financing' of fake credit risk a more serious meltdown of the world's economies.
You see, just as reality can't be faked indefinitely, neither can that phoney credit expansion continue indefinitely. As Warren Buffett is supposed to have said, "It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked."   Those loans that were made and debts that were incurred which otherwise would not have been made or incurred are what intelligent economists recognise as malinvestment (a misallocation of resources often following a period of artificially excessive credit). They are chickens searching for somewhere to come home and roost once colder economic winds start blowing.  The headlines you've been reading in recent days and weeks is the sound of their feathers flying overhead as their financial perches collapse.
Now with that in mind, can you deduce the result of the 'economic stimulus' packages touted by statists of different persuasions to offer a 'soft landing' for all those desperately roosting chickens.  The common factor with all these packages is yet further expansion of created credit, consuming even more real capital.  Like drug pushers doling out another fix, the world's central bankers dole out more and more and more printed money in a bid to stave off the inevitable.  If you or I were to print money it would be called "counterfeit", but when the banks print money it's called "stabilizing the economy." 
The problem is it doesn't.  That counterfeit capital consumes real capital.  Only governments' central banks can create credit out of thin air, and as Reisman points out, it's the expansion of easy credit that creates the boom-bust cycles that conventional wisdom blames on free markets, and sets everyone up for the 'easy fix' of more easy credit once the 'easy credit boom' starts turning to a real and genuine bust -- and, once the bust finally and definitely hits, it consumes the real and genuine capital produced over preceding years and by the sweat of previous generations like a firestorm going through a forest.
It's no accident that of the two leading periods of credit expansion in history, the first, in the 1920s, led to the Great Depression of the 1930s, when it took more than a decade to build up sufficient real capital to dig the way out of the hole the central bankers had gotten the world into. 
And the second leading period of credit expansion?  That was the 1990s.  Sit tight now as the central bankers keep tinkering through the 2000s.
* * * * *
NB: George Reisman offers a course of study based on his book Capitalism that every intelligent adult needs to understand the many fallacies of conventional economics which a colleague of mine intends to offer here in Auckland, starting in late February/early March.  It is a comprehensive, in-depth defence of the capitalist economic system, that he proposes to run once a week over the course of the coming year.  Think of it as essential economic self-defence.
Details of the course contents can be found at Professor Reisman's site.  For more information and the proposed schedule of the Auckland study group, please ring Julian on (09) 623 8111.  Be aware that places are strictly limited.
If you have or plan to have any kind of intellectual career, not only as a professional economist, but as a writer or journalist, as a teacher of philosophy, history, literature, psychology, mathematics, or any of the natural sciences, at whatever level; if you are interested in politics, whether as a potential candidate for office or simply as a voter who wants a serious understanding of the issues; if you are a businessman who wants to know how to defend himself and his company from scurrilous attacks; if you are anyone who wants to know what he is talking about when it comes to matters of politics and economics, this program is a necessity for you.

'Friend' - Hone Tuwhare

Friend,
Do you remember that wild stretch of land
with the lone tree guarding the point from the sharp-tongued sea?

The boat we built out of branches wrenched from the tree, is dead wood now.
The air that was thick with the whir of toetoe spears succumbs at last to the grey gull’s wheel.

Oyster-studded roots of the mangrove yield
no finer feast of silver-bellied eels, and sea-snails steaming in a rusty can.

Friend, allow me to mend the broken ends
of shared days:
but I wanted to say
that the tree we climbed
that gave food and drink
to youthful dreams, is no more.
Pursed to the lips her fine-edged
leaves made whistle—now stamp
no silken tracery on the cracked
clay floor.

Friend,
in this grim time
of dark unrest I press your hand
if only for reassurance that all
our jewelled fantasies were real
and wore splendid garb.
Perhaps the tree
will strike fresh roots again:
give soothing shade to a hurt
and troubled world.

title

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Spin is still in

Spin is already as endemic this year as it has been in year's past.  Despite campaigning for everybody else’s political affiliations and home addresses to be outed for one year in three and passing legislation under urgency to take "anonymous money" out of politics, the Labour Party has at the same time been funding, hosting and all but paying the staff's salaries for the blog that calls itself 'The Standard.'  Story here.  According to the law the pseudonymous co-bloggers themselves promoted at that blog, The Sub-Standard (as it will be known when the histories are written) should be wearing a parliamentary crest to show we've paid for it, a list of the names and home addresses of the contributors, and the following disclaimer (courtesy of the blogger known as 'Insolent Prick'):

“The Standard is proudly supported by the Labour Party, which subsidises the hosting of this blog. Some Standard authors are active Labour Party members. Some Standard authors are also paid employees of the EPMU. Some Standard authors are employed by Parliamentary Services and work in the Beehive.”

Or was the Electoral Finance Act only supposed to muzzle the Clark Government's opponents, rather than its few remaining supporters?

Ronald Reagan's war

If you've never heard of the 'Reagan Doctrine' and have no idea how its application helped to bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union, then a new film 'Charlie Wilson's War' starring Tom Hanks might just encourage you to read your history a bit closer.

The chief architect of the Reagan Doctrine was Dr. Jack Wheeler -- adventurer, freedom fighter and Aristotelian scholar -- who notes in this fascinating interview [pdf] that the Doctrine "was launched in the early 1980s, at a time it seemed almost inconceivable that the Soviet Union would ever collapse, much less quickly, within 8 short years.  But our analysis showed that the structure of the Soviet Empire, including the Soviet Union itself, was brittle... which is why the result of the stress placed upon it by the Reagan Doctrine was that the Soviet Union shattered virtually overnight."

Charlie Wilson was Wheeler's friend, a principled anti-communist and the guy who ran the crucial Afghanistan section of the operation.  Of the film Wheeler says "it is both true and not true, magnificent and ludicrous at the same time," and concludes,

caveats aside, I am so glad this movie was made.  It is so much better than the book, which is hopelessly permeated with hyper-liberal prejudice.  It is wonderful that the world knows about this extraordinary man, knows what a hero Charlie Wilson is.
   The movie overplays his flamboyance as much as the décolletage of his staff...
   The moral lesson of the movie should be a very sobering one for the Democrat Party.  Charlie Wilson was proudly and unashamedly a Pro-American, Anti-Communist Democrat.  His heroism should be a deep embarrassment to the party of Pelosi Galore and Lost Harry Reid, the party who apologizes for America's existence and has neither the spine nor will to defend her.
   The Democrat Party - indeed, America - needs more Charlie Wilsons.  I will always have the greatest respect for what he did for our country, and I will always treasure his friendship.

Read Wheeler's full review here at his ToThePoint News.

Politics is broken...

Putin candidate Alina Kabayeva ...and apparently the cure could be more totty.  Fleshbot figures that if recruiting candidates like Alina Kabayeva (right) whose chief qualifications for candidacy are that they are sexy and female worked for Vladimir Putin, then surely it can work for "Libertarian or Green parties" they say.  "If Libertarian or Green parties had thought of this tactic," they say, "we wouldn't be in the state we're in now." 

Suitable libertarian candidates for this year's elections might like to contact me for an interview.

[Thanks to GP for the link.  Moderately NSFW.]

More steroids please

Not content with all the earlier financial bailouts and rescue packages from the world's politicians for the world's troubled financial centres (and all those now being offered), the 2008 stock market slide has seen the US Federal Reserve push the panic button overnight, serving up rocket fuel to add to the earlier diet of rocket fuel on which it had placed the US economy.  Steve Horwitz points out what should be obvious to any intelligent financial commentator:

...excessive supplies of credit enabled mortgage lenders to give out high loan-to-value mortgages right and left, leading to delinquencies and foreclosures, supposedly leading to a weakening economy and a falling stock market, which the Fed is now attempting to "cure" by cutting rates by 75 basis points, which will inject even more funds into the economy.
Am I missing something here?  The "hair of the dog" is not a good hangover cure.

And (to add to the metaphors) prescribing more steroids as a cure for excessive earlier doses is a sure sign of a quack doctor.  That goes for financial quacks just as much as it does for medical ones.

'The Road to Wisdom' - Piet Hein

The road to wisdom? Well, it's plain
And simple to express:
Err
and err
and err again,
but less
and less
and less.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Merger news

Those of you who got your money out of the falling market early might like to run your eye over some upcoming corporate merger plans so you can get in on the ground floor and make good money in 2008.

  1. Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush, and W.R. Grace Co. Will merge and become:
         Hale, Mary, Fuller, Grace.
  2. PolyGram Records, Warner Bros., and Zest Crackers join forces and become:
         Poly, Warner Cracker.
  3. 3M will merge with Goodyear and become:
         MMMGood.
  4. Zippo Manufacturing, Audi Motors, Dofasco, and Dakota Mining will merge and become:
         ZipAudiDoDa .
  5. FedEx is expected to join its competitor, UPS, and become:
         FedUP.
  6. Fairchild Electronics and Honeywell Computers will become:
         Fairwell Honeychild.
  7. Grey Poupon and Docker Pants are expected to move into children's wear and become:
         PouponPants.
  8. Knotts Berry Farm and the National Organization of Women will become:
         Knott NOW!
  9. And finally .... 9. Victoria's Secret and Smith & Wesson will merge under the new name:
         Titty Titty Bang Bang

Submissions for next 'Free Radical'

It's nearly time to start pulling together contributions for the next Free Radical magazine.  If you have something you're already working on, or something you'd like to be working on -- something that simply has to be in the next magazine -- then let me know now, and start working towards the Feb 6 deadline.

You can email me at organon at ihug.co.nz.

Housing affordability: It's regulation, stupid

Since the news of New Zealand's leading position in the field of housing unaffordability is finally being digested, but unfortunately still with so many indigestible misconceptions, I thought I'd repost this concise summary of the reasons for rising housing costs produced by Pieter Burghout of the Master Builders Federation. He naturally overlooks the expected cost increases due to the senseless certification of builders and designers, but since planners, regulators and Alan Bollard have yet to focus on the real causes of that unaffordability, it's important that we do. I've retained my original introduction to the piece.

Demographia's worldwide survey of housing affordability demonstrates clearly enough that since all housing markets studied have similar tax and credit regimes but distinctly different policies on land regulation, the crucial factor in housing affordability is land regulation, not new taxes.

The problem in those markets experiencing serious unaffordability (those in which average house costs around six to seven times the average income) is overregulation of land use. Conversely those cities enjoying more affordable houses (those in which average house costs around three times the average income) is minimal regulations on land use. It costs more than twice an average household's income to buy a house in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch for example, around which "planners" have imposed artifical "urban walls," than it does in Houston, which is unzoned.

An editorial in the NZ Master Bulders' magazine Building Today highlights the problem perfectly with points keenly summarised in the graphs below (click on them to enlarge): over the last five years material costs have increased by twenty-five percent and labour costs by fifty percent (much of that due to the green-plated new building regs). Over that same time consent fees have increased by fifty percent, land costs have doubled, and levies and compulsory contributions levied by council have increased by ten times!

In dollar terms, the biggest increase is in the inflation of land costs due to regulation. In percentage terms the biggest increase is in infrastructure levies and fees. If that doesn't leave you incensed, then you're probably part of the problem. And if you think either are susceptible to interest rate increases then you must be Alan Bollard.

Because of its brevity it's worth reading Master Builders' CEO Pieter Burghout's piece in full (or nearly enough), so here it is:

Housing affordability -- it can be fixed!
...0ne of the recent, big public issues has centred around housing affordability, with nearly everyone jumping on the bandwagon and suggesting how it can be fixed.
...For certain, Kiwis have aspired, and probably always will aspire, to own their own home — their own “quarter acre section of paradise”. And that’s entirely how it should be.
...Unfortunately, the lift in house prices over the past five or so years has put the average home out of the reach of the average Kiwi family, which is not good. […]
...The construction industry, and New Zealand as a whole, benefits from having an affordable housing sector, and we believe there are a number of measures that can be taken to improve housing affordability.
...The main points we made in our submission to the [Select Committee Inquiry on Housing Affordability] are noted below. Our research, within New Zealand and offshore, validates that the key drivers of the housing affordability issue have been, in order of priority:
  • rises in land cost,
  • rises in local authority infrastructure levies and fees,
  • increasing compliance costs, and
  • increased labour and material costs.
...This analysis is shown in the graphs at right.
...And as the prices of new homes have risen, so have the prices of existing homes — because that’s how the market worksl
...If these are the cost drivers behind house price increases, then what are the things that need to be done to fix them and make houses more affordable again?
...First, the biggest factor affecting land cost is supply, and central and local government need to consider what measures can and should be taken to free up land availability, particularly in the main centres.
...Second, the biggest percentage increase in cost has been burgeoning increases in local authority infrastructure levies and fees. These should be better assessed and monitored to ensure they are fair and reasonable — rather than the “laissez faire” approach that applies currently. [It’s worth noting here that the Libertarianz submission on Sandra Lee’s expansion of local government powers pointed out at the time that good objective law allows individuals the right to do anything except that which is specifically prohibited while restraining governments to acting only on that which is specifically permitted, and that Lee’s Local Government Act reverses this important principle. The explosive consequences for the cost of local government that we’ve seen since the Act’s passing are entirely due to that reversal.]
...The construction industry can and should pay for those extra infrastructure costs that it imposes, but it’s not fair that new home owners pay inflated infrastructure levies to subsidise existing home owners who otherwise have lower rates to pay
...And third, the next largest significant increase has been in the area of compliance costs. Some of these costs are reasonable as the industry lifts overall quality levels since the leaky building saga, but some are unreasonable, and steps should be taken to reduce them, particularly:
  • consent process delays (consent, inspections and code compliance certificates),
  • consenting uncertainty and variability, and
  • producer statement uncertainty and variability.
...There have been increases in labour and material costs but, in our view, both of these are subject to strong competitive pressures across the industry and across the economy as a whole. We are generally comfortable with where these costs sit in perspective against the other cost drivers noted above.
...The final point we made in our submission to the Inquiry is that similar housing affordability issues apply in other countries, and New Zealand should take heed from the remedial measures being proposed in those countries to adopt what is applicable here.
...In nearly all the cases we researched, the three factors we have highlighted — land prices, infrastructure levies and compliance costs — are at the top of the list of things to fix. And so it should be in New Zealand, too.
...The problem won’t be fixed overnight, but it can be tackled, and we strongly encourage the Government to do so.
* * * * *
Burghout makes the point abundantly clear, don't you think? A commenter here at Not PC prescribed the solution just a few months ago:
Here's the solution: get rid of fiat money, get rid of zoning, don't fight so-called sprawl and let people free to develop according to demand, and let development "end the divide between rural and urban areas" by having the council-imposed 'Urban Wall' removed.
Good luck getting either this Government or the planners responsible for the problem interested enough to care.

Plot, character and great drama, all in less than an hour-and-a-half (updated)

Half-a-dozen of us here last night watched two films and a TV programme.  That might sound like a busy evening, but it wasn't.  It only took an hour-and-a-half.

It only took an hour-and-a-half because the two films didn't take long to watch.  Despite stars, spectacle and really big budgets both 'The Good German' and 'Black Dahlia' were execrable.  They failed the fifteen minute test, offering no good reason we should watch them any further.  If you haven't already seen them, my advice is 'don't bother.'

240px-Spooks002Not so the TV show, conveniently packaged on DVD.  With no stars and a merely moderate budget, but with a script so tight it rivalled a fish's sphincter, in its one non-commercial hour the BBC's 'Spooks' showed how good drama is done, and just how good it is when done well.

As too many directors forget, It's the Story Stupid.  'The Good German' and the 'Black Dahlia' had George Clooney and Cate Blanchett and Scarlett Johansen and a host of other so called stars who couldn't act their way out of a paper bag even if they'd been given any lines worth delivering to help them out.

 poster These two "modern noirs" are supposedly homages to the great film noirs of the forties and fifties, films like 'In a Lonely Place,' 'Double Indemnity,' 'The Third Man' or 'The Blue Dahlia' (the only similarity to 'The Black Dahlia is that they are both films), but unlike these classics today's tributes have no stories worth following, no characters worth caring about, and no actors able to impart the gravity that actors like Bogart and Stanwyck and Welles delivered so easily and (still) so memorably, and often with a touch of easy humour.  Neither 'Good German' nor 'Black Dahlia' could even manage the humour, yet these are films that deserve to be roundly laughed at.

As with so many of today's films, the films' directors seem to have forgotten the basic elements of their craft, and their actors all-too obviously never had them. Watching 'Spooks' however was damn fine entertainment, and also a simple reminder of how important those basic elements are.

200px-ThirdManUSPoster Nearly two-and-a-half thousand years ago Aristotle identified the six basic parts of any drama.  In decreasing order of importance they are Plot, Characters, Theme, Dialogue, Rhythm (or Melody), and Spectacle*.  In that order.  Without a plot to follow and characters to care about, neither spectacle nor melody can save a drama.  Two millennia and a century of film technology hasn't changed that, no matter how much CGI you might be able to afford. 

It's the first two of Aristotle's elements that truly characterise good drama -- that is, Plot and Character.  With all the technology now available to film-makers however, it's now the last two in his list that dominate contemporary films, with 'Spectacle' generally and mind-numbingly considered the most important, and a sumptuous score used to bolster the empty bravado.  “Superior poets rely on the inner structure of the play rather than spectacle,"observed Aristotle, however “the production of spectacular effects depends more on the art of the stage machinist than on that of the poet.”  It's no accident that "stage machinists" and soundtrack simpletons are highly valued in Hollywood while the "poets" are striking for better pay and recognition of their talents, and no wonder most of what's produced there is so teeth-achingly dull.  With nothing to integrate the explosions, the car chases and the lingering 'artistic' shots of most of today's films whether art-house or shit-house, there's nothing to do but either nod off or turn off.  Last night we turned off, and turned on 'Spooks' instead.

By crikey, this show is good.  With none of the megabudget resources available to most of today's film-makers, the show's creators rely instead on Aristotle's first two elements, and like the classic noir films they do them superbly: the Characters are  sympathetic, well drawn and given enough light and depth to emerge from the thematic shadows -- they are agents in both the fully volitional and the MI5 sense; and their Plots are sharp and well-integrated and relentless -- you mustn't blink for fear of missing a crucial plot point. 

260px-Inalonelyplace With 'Spooks,' the plot is always king, and this holds true for every episode of every season -- a remarkable achievement.

What makes a good plot wasn't news to noir's lions and isn't news to the makers of 'Spooks,' although it's clearly news that's now been lost in  L.A.: in three words, it's Dramatic Conflict, and Integration.  Without a decent dramatic conflict, there is no plot.  Without tight integration of all elements, you can't bring the drama into focus.  And once you have a well-written and well-integrated dramatic conflict, you don't need to spend a fortune on Spectacle.

You'd think budget-conscious producers would value that simple formula.  The rarity of shows as sharp as 'Spooks' and the flatulence of so many films shows it's something so many have still to learn.  Until they do, I'll keep ignoring most of what they produce.
                                                                          _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* Here, for your future viewing pleasure, are Aristotle's six elements along with explanatory quotes from his Poetics whence they come:

  1. Plot (muthos): “the combination of the incidents, or things done in the story.”
  2. Character (êthé): “what makes us ascribe certain qualities to the agents.”
  3. Thought/Theme (dianoia): "all they say when proving a particular point or, it may be, enunciating a general truth...”
  4. Dialogue/Diction (lexis):  "the externalisation of the internal order of the fable..."
    “What indeed would be the good of the speaker if things appeared in the required light even apart from anything he says?”
  5. Melody (mélopoia)
  6. Spectacle (opsis)

About these last two Aristotle says but little, regarding them "as having more to do with how the tragedy is performed, as opposed to its actual content."

UPDATE:  I loved novelist Ed Cline's review of the Will Smith blockbuster 'I Am Legend.'  With characteristic economy -- and a useful integration with my own post -- the review is titled "I am Plotless," and begins:

For a change of pace, offered here is a movie review. Warning: there are no plot-spoilers in this review; there is no plot to spoil... I suspected this movie would be talked about ... given the critical imprimatur. However, it is a B movie inflated by modern film technology (chiefly CGI, or computer generated imagery) with the intention of making it a blockbuster. But, fundamentally, it isn't any better than Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space.

The details or concretes one chooses to show or include in a story must have a purpose, that is, they must be integrated into the plot, they must have a demonstrable place or a role in the logical sequence of events. If they are included, but not explained, or are there just for "special effects" to impress or mislead a reader or viewer, or are included simply at the whim of a writer or director, then they violate Louis Sullivan's rule that form must follow function, or Ayn Rand's rule of essentialization. A plot itself, by Rand's definition, is "a purposeful progression of logically connected events leading to the resolution of a climax."

I am Legend is a cinematic jigsaw puzzle most of whose pieces do not connect. There is a "climax," but no logic to it. Among its many other faults, it is an epistemological abomination, and the horrible thing about it is that I don't believe the film's makers consciously intended that. Its illogic reflects the state of their epistemology. And since their epistemology (and metaphysics) is a subjectivist shambles, to them logic and causal-connections are elective elements not absolutely requisite to solving the problem of the moment.

Let us examine the film story of I am Legend, based on Richard Matheson's 1954 science fiction novel of the same title...

Click here to read all of Cline's masterful review, especially if you want to find why Plot and Character trump special effects and loud explosions -- and why Aristotle still matters.  ;^)