Friday, April 18, 2008

Beer O'Clock: The not so bitter taste of bitter

Your regular Friday Beer O'Clock post comes to you this week from SOBA's Stu. 

A few weeks back I crowded in to The Opera House, with what seemed like the majority of Wellington’s beautiful people (and at least half of Split Enz), to see American rock band Wilco play a fantastic two-hour set. In the weeks leading up to the gig – probably my most anticipated gig ever – I coughed and gagged at the nonsensical terms “alt-country” and “the American Radiohead”. It got me thinking about pigeon-holes, stereotypes, branding, categorisation… basically what this article comes down too, each and every week.

I’ll talk more about the wider concept of categorisation at the end of this beer style series but, for today, I want to relate it to the not so bitter taste of ‘bitter’ – the most misleading term in all of beer (besides, perhaps, the false claims of ‘ale’ used by marketing companies masquerading as breweries).

Bitter is an interesting term, with a history far too long and complex to give it any real justice here (though a reasonable start can be made at wiki). It’s an interesting term because it describes a taste sensation that would generally be described as least favourite. Strangely, it is used by some breweries to describe beers that are not very bitter at all, while it is carefully avoided by other brewers with intensely bitter beers. Indeed, “bitter” is such an unpopular term that the good folk at BJCP have euphemistically described the bitter category ‘English Pale Ale’ (even though every style of beer within the category is one form or other of ‘bitter’).

Bitter is not actually all that bitter. The BJCP style guide describes it perfectly in these few words: Drinkability is a critical component of the style. It should always be well-balanced, with neither malt or hop dominating. An excellent bitter, at 3%, is the perfect drink for the thirsty amongst us but equally, at 6+%, can be something for the more contemplative sessions.

One of the fun things about bitters is the fantastic names that breweries have given them (something a lot of New Zealand breweries – with their “premium” ideals – seem a little scared of). Broadside, Formidable, London Pride, Speculation, Landlord and Bombardier are some of the more well-known bitters, with Pridenjoy, Workie Ticket, Fine Soft Day, Granny Wouldn’t Like It and Sneck Lifter some of the lesser-known but more imaginatively named beers.

In the local market we have ‘Bookbinder’, from Emerson’s Brewery, as an excellent – very new-world – interpretation of they style (with reasonably good availability), while two or three bitters, of varying strengths and of the very highest quality, are always available on the handpumps of Galbraith’s Ale House and The Twisted Hop (some very good names amongst them too).

Anyway, as for Wilco, they’ve been nowhere near anything I’d call “alt-country” for their last 10 years (or four albums, if you count in that base). And as for the Radiohead comparison – a band with its head so far up its own arse that I can only hear a muffled café-style resonance from out here – there’s really very little to compare.

As for bitter, it is a fantastic drink. There have been millions of stories shared over a pint, and there are thousands of reasons to recommend it. I just implore you all to take a step on the journey towards exploring it.

Slainte mhath, Stu

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Message to the world's poor: "Starve! Earth's worth it."

1482929738_8dc47f6734_m Another example here of how government controls lead to more government controls which lead to ... well, read on:

    In the last year, the price of wheat has tripled, corn doubled, and rice almost doubled. As prices soared, food riots have broken out in about 20 poor countries including Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, and Mexico. In response some countries, such as India, Pakistan Egypt and Vietnam, are banning the export of grains and imposing food price controls.
    Are rising food prices the result of the economic dynamism of China and India, in which newly prosperous consumers are demanding more food—especially more meat?

No, they aren't, as Reason's Ronald Bailey demonstrates .  They're proof that the effects of global warming are already upon us.  To be specific, the effect of government overreaction to warmist nonsense is already upon us.

    If surging demand is not the problem, what is? In three words: stupid energy policies [from which New Zealand isn't immune, and from which we'll be paying the price directly this winter] ... 
   
Even worse is the bioethanol craze. Politicians in both the United States and the European Union are mandating that vast quantities of food be turned into fuel as they chase the chimera of "energy independence"... The result of these mandates is that about 100 million tons of grain will be transformed this year into fuel, drawing down global grain stocks to their lowest levels in decades. Keep in mind that 100 million tons of grain is enough to feed nearly 450 million people for a year.

But it won't be feeding them, will it.  Instead, their demand to be fed-- and in the case of third world populations the demand for grain is demand for the very stuff of life itself -- is being turned into higher and ever higher prices.

    [Dennis Avery from the Hudson Institute is right to conclude:] "Biofuels are purely and simply the biggest Green mistake we've ever made and we're still making it."

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The gift of an Enlightenment hero

Liberty In the nineteenth century the Statue of Liberty, called officially 'Liberty Enlightening the World,' was gifted by France to the people of New York as a sign of their common friendship in liberty.  It was a gift to the Nation of the Enlightenment from a country who played a major part in the Age of Enlightenment, and as a symbol of liberty it is still preeminent.

07aristotle.2.190 Another gift to the American people has just been unveiled in a New York park, a gift from Greece to the American people -- a bust of the 'Father of the Enlightenment' given to the Nation of the Enlightenment by the country that gave him birth. Story here in the New York Times.

Of course, that's not exactly the way the gift citation reads, but as the city’s parks commissioner said at the bust's unveiling: “In the spirit of Aristotle’s words, ‘The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance'."

NB:  Further on the 'Aristotle is the Father of the Enlightenment' theme is this, ahem, enlightening passage from Leonard Peikoff

The development from Aquinas through Locke and Newton represents more than four hundred years of stumbling, tortuous, prodigious effort to secularize the Western mind, i.e., to liberate man from the medieval shackles. It was the buildup toward a climax: the eighteenth century, the Age of Enlightenment. For the first time in modern history, an authentic respect for reason became the mark of an entire culture; the trend that had been implicit in the centuries-long crusade of a handful of innovators now swept the West explicitly, reaching and inspiring educated men in every field. Reason, for so long the wave of the future, had become the animating force of the present...  The father of this new world was a single philosopher: Aristotle. On countless issues, Aristotle's views differ from those of the Enlightenment. But, in terms of broad fundamentals, the philosophy of Aristotle is the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

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Finally, positive proof of global warming ...

I concede.  I've been following the claims made for global warming since 1991, and ever since then I've been waiting for that one piece of evidence, anything at all, that proves the claims.

It's now arrived.  Although there's not yet proof it's a threat to the planet, or to us -- in fact, the new evidence strongly suggests it has been a positive boon -- we do now have positive proof that global warming exists .  Click here to see the evidence.

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Rosenwald School Project - Frank Lloyd Wright

IMG_0004

A school designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1928 for the Rosenwald Fund, a voluntary organisation that built schools for African American students "well meaning in intent but uninspired in design."  It was never built, ironically, because the Fund continued to favour 'Colonial' styled architecture for its buildings.  Another Schoolhouse for Negro Children for the Rosenwald Foundation was designed for San Diego in 1929, which went unbuilt for similar reasons.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Pukekohe readers?

Readers in the Pukekohe area might like to consider joining us at the Counties Inn this evening to help set up a group of local freedom lovers.  That's the Counties Inn, 17 Paerata Rd, Pukekohe.  Doors open 7pm.  All welcome.

Reality check for Chicken Little warmist

James Hansen has been at the forefront of warmism since that day in 1988 that he told US Senators in the midst of a 1988 summer heatwave that the earth was burning up, and it was all our fault. More recently, he's been telling anyone who'll listen that we need to hold atmospheric CO2 levels at a level of 350 parts per million or else the sky will fall in. 

Currently however we're measuring 385 parts per million CO2, so achieving Hansen's target  presumably means going "carbon negative."  In fact, the atmosphere hasn't measured 350 parts per million CO2 since 1988, the year Hansen spoke to those sweating Senators.

So Indur Goklany asks the reasonable question, "Is the world better off today compared to 1988?"  Let’s check:

  • Life expectancy in developing countries was 4-5 years lower in 1988 than it is today (62 years rather than the current 67 years). Even in the US, it increased from 74.9 years in 1988 to 77.8 years in 2004!
  • Compared to today, at least 15 more infants out of every 1,000 in developing countries died in 1988 before reaching their first birthdays. In industrialized countries, the infant mortality rate dropped from 9 to 5.
  • India’s per capita income (in constant dollars adjusted for purchasing power) has more than doubled since 1988. China’s has more than quadrupled. As a result, hundreds of millions are no longer living in absolute poverty today. Even the US’s per capita income has increased by 40 percent.
  • Food production per capita in developing countries has increased 36 percent since 1988, despite a population increase of 40% (that is, 1.5 billion more people). [What fraction of this was due to the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and petroleum-based and greenhouse gas-emitting fertilizers, all of which stimulates crop growth?].

The answer looks like a very firm "Yes!"  And crucially, as Goklany notes, these improvements are primarily due to the economic growth and agricultural activity that fuelled the rise of CO2 concentrations beyond 350 ppm "... had CO2 concentrations been capped at 350 ppm, we would have to forgo many of the above improvements in the quality of life, and not only in the developing world."  And what sane person would want that?

Looked at in this context, one might say that if the sky is going to fall in then it's more likely to be by following Hansen's prescription and stifling economic growth and agricultural activity than it is by increasing CO2.

UPDATE: For those of you who like graphs, here's the temperature record from 1979 until the day before yesterday (well, to March 2008, which in climatic terms is the same thing). Click the pic to enlarge. You can see how Hansen's heatwave has been in effect since his 1988 warning -- in fact aside from 1998's El Nino, temps have struggled to reach those experienced in that sweltering summer.

 rss_msu_mar2008_large

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Coyote vs Acme

WileECoyote An amusing brief has been filed  in an Arizona court by Wile E. Coyote, claiming damages from the Acme Company for their generally defective products. 

Who wouldn't be sympathetic to Mr Coyote's plea?

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Frank Lloyd Wright for sale

                     resl01_estates

For a cool US$7.5 million, you can be the proud owner of Frank Lloyd Wright's Alice Millard House in California (which I've blogged before).  Sold for $1.3 million just a few years ago (and reportedly costing a similar amount to restore), the house is now a mint example of Wright's 'textile block' California houses.  Says Architectural Digest of the home:

Of La Miniatura, which he built for rare-book dealer Alice Millard in Pasadena, Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “I would rather have built this little house than St. Peter’s in Rome.” It was an extravagant statement, even for the self-assertive architect, who made the masterpiece  out of concrete blocks he called “the cheapest (and ugliest) thing in the building world.” Set in an arroyo near the Rose Bowl, the residence consists of a three-bedroom, three-bath main house and a studio designed by his son Lloyd in 1926.

Details here; Flickr set here; Architectural Digest listing here; hat tip Prairie Mod.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Liberated" Zimbabwe (updated)

When tragedy strikes, it's not enough just to mourn, or to say things like  'that's the way the world goes' -- it's essential to make sense of the world and to guard against future tragedies that lessons are learned from tragedies, and applied in our own context, especially if the tragedies are man-made.

One contemporary disaster that is entirely man-made, and entirely avoidable, is the destruction of Zimbabwe and its people.  Ed Cline describes its demise:

    [O]nce the “breadbasket” of Africa when it was known as Rhodesia (and for a few years after its “liberation” from white rule)[, it] is now a destitute, starving nation whose citizens choose flight to neighboring states in search of food and employment. Nearly a third of the country’s 12 million population has fled.
    The life expectancy of males has dropped from 60 years to 37, and for women, to 34 years. Unemployment stands at over 80 percent...  Over more than a generation, since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, adult literacy has fallen from 90 percent to about 40 percent...  Inflation is currently measured at 150,000 percent and climbing; it takes a wheelbarrow of paper money to buy a small bag of flour, when it is available...
    Once second only to South Africa as the most prosperous economy in Africa, Mugabe has reduced Zimbabwe to a condition only a slightly better than the Darfur region of the Sudan...

The country has gone from breadbasket to basket case in less than a generation, and there are many, many lessons to be drawn from that.  Ed Cline draws them in a succinct and pointed essay at his Rule of Reason blog: “Liberation” Ideology in Practice.  (If you're impatient, you might like to scroll down to the word 'Obama.')

UPDATE:  From breadbasket to basket case, and stolen election to an election now being stolen -- "a violent crackdown on opposition supporters ... and a cowed judiciary seem to be helping one of Africa’s longest serving dictators to live another day" reports Kenya's Daily Nation -- but South African president Thabo Mbeki insists there is "no crisis" here, nothing to see, move along, move along.  Mbeki made his "no crisis" comment after meeting with Robert Mugabe en route to a UN Security Council meeting that he chaired, and at which he managed to keep the issue of Zimbabwe's troubles off the agenda. 

Mbeki it will be remembered, achieved fame a few years ago for telling global media that

he does not know of anyone who has died of HIV-Aids in his own country, where about 6 million people are living with and are dying of HIV-Aids-related complications.

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An evening with a global warming skeptic

Bob_Carter If you haven't yet seen Professor Bob Carter (right) on his speaking tour denouncing the nonsense of man-made global warming, you have three chances left:

  • Wed 16, 7pm, Stratford T.E.T.Multi-Sports Centre, Portia St., Stratford.
  • Thur 17, Morrinsville
  • Fri 18, Auckland, Royal NZ Yacht Squadron, (includes dinner)

You may know of Bob. He is an internationally recognised expert on climate change -- a geologist from James Cook Uni in Australia, a graduate of Otago Bob_Carter_bio University, a member of the Climate Science Coalition, and he really knows his stuff. 

A friend went to see him last night in Masterton, and he tells me he was enormously impressive.  "It was a packed house of mainly local farmers. A few greenies there too, and he dealt with them ruthlessly but courteously. Some of the lines he came out with were almost verbatim quotes from George Reisman. Well worth seeing." 

  • For his itinerary: link to download pdf: link
  • To attend dinner presentation at Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, Auckland, Friday 18 April: download pdf. link
  • To make a direct booking for RNZ Yacht Squadron event : link
  • And to read a recent piece by Carter, head here to the NZCPR site.

                  Temps_1998-2008

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Where was God? (updated)

As most of you will have heard, a party from an Auckland christian school went canyoning yesterday in Tongariro, and six children and their teacher drowned as waters rose, and they were washed away.  This is tragic, absolutely tragic -- utterly heartbreaking for everyone involved -- and since it helps to talk, I'm going to talk.

Murray Burton, the principal of the school, said that the group were discovered missing when other students gathered after canyoning down the Mangatepopo river — a technique combining hiking, climbing and swimming...  It is a fairly standard sort of activity.  [ref: London Times]

Well, yes, it's "fairly standard," but since your adventure takes place in a river system in a mountain range, it's also highly dependent on weather.  Twenty-one canyoners died in Switzerland in 1999 when heavy rain caused the canyon to flood, and without any means of escape, they perished: rainwater has to go somewhere, and where it goes when it rains is down the river system.  If you're not prepared, you can die of it.

Two questions would have screamed out for an answer to most of us when we heard the news:

  1. On a day when we all woke up to news of heavy rain and happy farmers around the North Island, what the hell were they doing in the bloody canyon?
    I guess we'll hear answers to that question in due course.  It's a question that needs answering, and some angry people will be asking it very loudly.
  2. Here's another question that needs answering, and it's one that a lot of children will have been asking this morning:  When these young christians died yesterday, where was their God?

When they left their christian school en route to their adventure, and no doubt prayed to God to keep them all safe, where was God?  When they prayed that morning for success in their trek and God's guidance to get them through it safely, where was God?  When they listened that morning to the weather forecast, which would have told them that heavy rain was on the way, where was their brain -- and where was God?  When the heavy rain began flooding down the canyon and they first knew they were in danger, and no doubt prayed to God again ... where was God?

It's the same question any honest person must have in every disaster. It's a question that must have occurred to many of you when 75 people were killed in Australia's Ash Wednesday bushifires.  Or when 87,350 were killed in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.  Or when thousands die in a Venezualan mudslide, a Yangtze flood, or a Bangladeshi cyclone.  Or when the Boxing Day Tsunami snuffed out the lives of more than 225,000 people.  Or when a million people died in the Ethiopian famine?

What the hell is this 'god' doing?

According to his adherents, he's supposed to be all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good -- and one famous argument for his existence argues that "part of what we mean when we speak of God is 'perfect being'" (and if he's not all-powerful, all-knowing and all-good -- and perfect -- then what would make him god anyway?).  So where was he, this omnipotent being, and what the hell was he doing when seven of his adherents put themselves in his hands?  Didn't he want to look after 'his' children? 

I think you know the answer.

NB: Kudos to Newstalk ZB host Leighton Smith, who's had the courage to ask callers this question on his radio show this morning.

UPDATE: Wording altered slightly.

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'GIANT SOLAR POWER FLOWER: London Urban Oasis' - Laurie Chetwood, Architect.

                              londonoasiss1
London readers, listen up.  Bookmark the dates of 21st and 22nd June, because London's Tate Modern Gallery is soon to host a celebration  of one of my favourite architects: Oklahoma's Bruce Goff.   Details of the event here, here and here.

This is great news.  The man was a genius, and seriously underappreciated -- and to add to the festivities, Goff-inspired architect Laurie Chetwood won the Gold Medal at the 2007 Chelsea Flower Show with this ... Goff-inspired creation, above, and this garden which accompanies it.  Says Chetwood,

"The garden represents an imaginary concept for an open space in an urban setting, showcasing the latest environmental technologies and how they can sustain and enhance a garden.

"The focus is the Urban Oasis sculpture which harnesses daylight and windpower to recycle water. The sculpture mimics the design of an emerging flower: its 'petals' are linked to moisture sensors and are triggered to open when the garden is dry. The petals then convert sunlight to electricity for pumping water around the garden.

The things you have to say to sell a concept, eh.  (You can read more about the all-singing all-dancing giant solar power flower here.)

PS: I have no idea whether it's a functioning thing or not, but while I was Googling Chetwood I came across this "wind dam" he's proposing for Lake Lodoga outside St Petersburg. Fantastic!

                                        wind_dam_in_situ_ready_sq

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Stop attacking John Boy!

John Key is right when he says that Labour luminaries shouldn't be spending all their time attacking him, and Michael Cullen is wrong to mock him for crying Uncle.   I agree with John Boy.  Labour should be spending at least some of their time this year attacking Key's invertebrate front bench colleagues as well.

Those of us who can remember the Nats when they were in power might testify they came up three feet short of a yard then, and the talent pool has expanded little since.

This, it must be remembered, is a caucus in which Murray McCully is still revered as a strategist (despite his strategies having now lost them three elections in a row) -- a caucus which continues to attack the Government over the NCEA and RMA, blithely unaware it would seem that it was they themselves  who introduced these malodorous pieces of law, and they have no plans at all to remove them. 

A caucus in which Simon Power (a man presently obsessed with prisoners hitting small balls into tin cans) is considered promising; in which Jackie Dean (the woman who expressed an interest in banning water) is rated as a high flyer; and in which Paul Hutchison (known for little outside his apparent interest in banning absinthe) is considered good ministerial material.  As I say, the talent was always thin on the ground, and has expanded little since.  For lack of any decent challengers, most of the old guard still retain their spots.

One of the old guard has done his own small bit for expansion. Gerry Brownlee is a lightweight in every respect but the obvious.  Only in a caucus with the paucity of talent of this one would such a buffoon have attained the position of deputy, only to lose it in the last coup to an even bigger waste of space, Bill English -- who will forever be remembered as Mr Twenty-One Percent. 

English was a dithering boob as party leader (who could forget his ill-fated 'live-on-TV' boxing debut, or that regrettable televised 'haka' down at the Viaduct), a non-entity in search of a conviction who richly deserved to lead his party to their worst ever electoral defeat.  No National Party leader before or since has deserved to be so soundly defeated.  His recent performances, which includes going to court to clarify MP's exemptions under the Electoral Finance Act,  suggest that Michael Cullen still knows how to work him by remote control. 

Just as three-time loser Murray McCully is regarded as a strategist by this caucus, so too is Nick Smith regarded as a visionary.  It would be a joke if it weren't more serious.  The man is a simpering idiot in search of a dripping wet village -- yet if National get over the line this year it will be this red-faced spineless creep, as Environment Minister, who would have the crucial task of rewriting the iniquitous Resource Management Act he once happily administered as minister in the Shipley Cabinet. (Remember Shipley!  Uuugh!)

It is enough to remember that when Nick was previously minister for the environment he could be heard describing the Resource Management Act as "far-sighted environmental legislation" -- that he was happy and "very proud" to introduce the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act (somewhat like the RMA on acid) which went on to achieve fame by all but scuppered development in Whitianga and Whangamata and  surrounding towns.  That it was he who first introduced forced retraining for early childhood professionals.   As Lindsay Perigo describes him he is "a man with a fork in his tongue big enough to hug a tree with." Expect to see no change however "substantive" to the RMA from Nick the Dick, and his spot in the rankings retained.

And then there's that other brat, Tony Ryall.  Remember Ryall promising to end the presumption of innocence for crimes of his choice when he was Justice Minister back in 1998? Remember Vile Ryall defending the revenue-collecting of his speed-camera wielding police officers, and instructing them to continue the collections while burglars and muggers got away scot free.  Some of us still retain our memories of past events, even if as health spokesman Ryall himself can't remember who it was who introduced the health reforms that he keeps criticising for expanding the health bureaucracy.  (Hint, Tony, it was your team.)

Then we have their housing spokesman (Phil Heatley)who apparently has no idea what his opposite number is up to; the former education minister who has still forgotten that it was he who set up the bloated bovine bureaucracies that are the NZQA and NCEA (yes Lockwood, we're looking at you); the former transport minister (Maurice Wimpianson)who happily took away our lifetime driving licenses so he could try and slip an ID card past us; the welfare spokeswoman (Judith Collins) who gets a full time salary for doing far less than the part-time blogger who seems to supply her with her best lines; and the woman from Dunedin who'd prefer to spend more time with he own children than these mentally challenged numb nuts.  At least Katherine Rich's young kids have a decent excuse for having a mental age less than their shoe size.

So these are just some of the targets that are missed when Labour shoot only in John Boy's direction.  What a shame not to shoot some of these other fish as they scrape their way around the bottom of the barrel.

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Equality through bankruptcy

This observation by IIQ is good:

This past week we are starting to see the successes of Labour's economic management in helping the lower and middle class of New Zealand get ahead:
   "Other data collected by property experts shows mortgagee sales nationally rising almost 20 per cent in the past week as banks foreclose on families and property investors hit by crippling interest rates and the rising cost of living." [NZ HERALD]
Labour - creating equality through bankruptcy.

If you could change one thing about the environmental movement . . .

If you could change one thing about the environmental movement, what would it be? Environmental economist Lincoln McCain has some answers.  He's neglected my one favourite thing -- that they learn about property rights in defence of nature-- but what he has got is worth thinking about. [Hat tip Stephen Hicks]

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Why so big? Why so busy? Why so bossy?

"It doesn't matter how you want to slice the Auckland local government cake," says Liberty Scott, "it is still cholesterol laden and tasteless. It's too big. Arguments about the best structure avoid the first point - what should local government do?"

Excellent point.  The Local Government Act 2002 essentially gave councils the power to do anything they damned well pleased, and even in their current form, they have.  Hence the rise and rise of your rates bill.  When you combine this with a bureaucracy that's already large enough to be out of control -- and John Banks's struggles to put a leash on his chief executive David Rankin indicates how out of control the bureaucracy already is -- then foisting a super-city with its super-bureaucracy on one-third of New Zealand's population just looks more and more insane.

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'Egypt's Renaissance' - Mahmoud Mokhtar

                                           Egypt's_Awakening

Static, monumental, lifeless, this piece is the diametric opposite of the vital sculpture of the likes of Rodin or Michelangelo or Bernini, in whose work the very marble breathes life -- indeed, it has more akin to the stodgy sculpture so beloved of Soviet artists.  I'm not posting it here because I like it, but because it is nonetheless enormously symbolic in representing modern Egypt and its nationalistic 'renaissance.'   In that sense, it is good art: it successfully concretises the messy abstraction that is modern Egyptian nationalism, which is no doubt why historian Scott Powell chose it use to illustrate his post-lecture thoughts on Egypt.

Completed from 1919 to 1928 in the wake of World War I and Egypt's rising tide of nationalism -- the only sense in which it can be said that Egypt has ever undergone a renaissance.  Scott Powell argues that Egypt's defining characteristic is its several millennia old “sense of nationhood,”

an implicit premise embedded in Egyptian thinking that extends back to its “glorious” pharaonic past, of which the ever present pyramids and temples [and mortuaries and funerary palaces] provide a constant reminder...  Egypt’s sense of nationhood is a kind of subconscious estimate of the value of the people and their past which has been a major factor directing them to where they are today.  

Let us not forget that the "glory" of Egypt's past was a culture that celebrated slavery and death the permanence that was death -- and an architecture that in its glorification of burial rites and death-worship was the perfect embodiment of these anti-values.  If Mahmoud Mokhtar's art is both monumental and lifeless, that is because the "reawakening" it depicts is of a piece with this sentiment.

But while the nationalism of today's Egypt reveres the form of its past 'glories', it lacks the metaphysical base that was responsible for them.  Since the death of Nasser, Egyptian nationalism's most vigorous standard bearer, Egypt's nationalism has withered in the face of the more explicit and integrated metaphysics and values of Islam, both of which are widely accepted by the Egyptian population. 

Ironically (as a concrete symbol of the conflict between this nationalistic sense and the undercurrent of Islamism that directly challenges it), in the very year that Mokhtar's sculpture was completed in Cairo to express the incipient sense of nationalism in the Egyptian breast, a movement was founded in the same city to express the other-worldly metaphysics and death-worshipping values of Islam.  That organisation was the Muslim Brotherhood, from whom many of al Qaeda's notions and luminaries are drawn.

The values of these two ideological forces have been in battle ever since -- the suppression of the Brotherhood and the murder of Nasser's successor Anwar Sadat by Muslim Brotherhood killers being two ready symbols of the conflict played out between the secular but disintegrating nationalism and the vigorous, violent and persistent Islamism that the brotherhood embodies.

This can be a conflict with only one victor.  Scott Powell argues at his 'Powell History Recommends' blog that because nationalism is merely a set of disintegrated implicit notions whereas Islamism  is an "all-encompassing and explicit system of ideas," it is therefore "only a matter of time before it takes over."

Egypt is thus a nation in flux, and on its way to somewhere worse. "Despite the constant use of force by the Mubarak regime to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood," notes Powell, "that Islamist organization remains the only organized political opposition in Egypt [as a recent day of angry protest was intended to demonstrate]. This matters because the country may be on the verge of economic collapse and widespread violence."

And this matters to us because Egypt is not only the source of one of the most virulent of Islamism's anti-western toxins, but because it has the potential to be the next Poland -- ie., "the next flashpoint that ignites an unexpected larger war, such as occurred in 1939."

NB: I recommend Scott's lecture course on The Islamist Entanglement as an excellent and enjoyable way to get a handle on the important events shaping up in and from the Middle East.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Money, happiness & all that good stuff

'Money can't buy happiness' is the conclusion of a recent survey. Well, yes it can, says philosopher Tara Smith -- and does.  See 'Money Can Buy Happiness' [pdf]. I'm sure even Cactus would approve.

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ATTENTION: Beachfront Homeowners

  Ever since National introduced the Resource Management Act, planners have been slowly but surely nationalising beachfront property under the feet of its owners by all but prohibiting serious homebuilding on beachfront land, combining this with what Owen McShane calls an attitude of "New Puritanism which seems rampant in so many councils, which [between them] are making it virtually impossible for New Zealanders to enjoy their traditional place by the beach – based on the threat of inundation from sea level rise."

But this is a threat with no serious foundation.

All over NZ and particularly from the coastline from Rodney District and Coromandel down the Bay of Plenty and on down to Whakatane, district plans have been imposed on property owners that put sand dunes and bogus sea level rises ahead of the property rights of property owners.  Consultants Tonkin and Taylor have been preeminent in pushing the bogus science behind most of these council land grabs, but as engineer David Kear points out in a recent submission to the Whakatane District Council (Kear is a former director of the NZ Geological Survey and of the DSIR, now resident in Ohope), when hung in the balance the assumptions behind T&T's reports and the district plan impositions based on them are found seriously wanting.

If you're a beachfront homeowner then, as McShane says, "this highly respected New Zealand scientist has just come to your aid.  [Kear] is quite cross." Read this "no holds barred" report  here: 'Ohope – Safe from the Sea,'[PDF] and then tell your own council's planners to get stuffed.

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Speak up, the statists can't hear you!

Peter Boettke isn't the only one who's noticed that statism is again on the rise, but while he waits for another hero to answer the call, Paul Walker suggests we each look to ourselves to beat the bastards back one at a time -- in other words, another Marginal Revolution.  We don't need another Mises, Friedman (or Rand), he argues: what greater weapon do we need than the intellectual heritage of these giants.

We have great ideas and this is a battle to do with ideas, not men. Let us use these ideas ourselves to argue as to why statism is wrong. We can not wait for someone else to do the job for us, it is time for a marginal revolution, we must convince other people one at time.

Seems to me I've heard Richard Boddie (aka Senator Chocolate) saying something similar.  "People are deluded en masse but enlightened one at a time," he said -- or for economists: people are misled in the aggregate, and enlightened at the margins.  The job is ours to do.

At a time when all about you are selling out, stand up. It's what any honest man or woman would do.

You can't be too rich

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"You can't be too rich or too thin," goes the saying.  "Wrong," say sixty-thousand men who were asked whether they preferred women with curves, or stick insects who are all sharp corners.  Four out of five of those surveyed plumped for the more pneumatic option, overwhelmingly favouring size 12 and 14 women to size 8 stick insects.  (No information was taken regarding preferences shown in wallet sizes.) Conclusion, according to The Vine:

It seems their ideal girlfriends are pneumatic, not flat-tyred. They'd rather negotiate sweeping curves than sharp shoulders. They like women buxom, bosomy and bountiful.

And why not?  Yes, the survey is hardly scientific.  Yes, these are 60,000 men who read FHM magazine and who chose to reply to the survey, but if these blokes don't have an obvious interest in the subject, then who does, right?  Better to have something to hold on to than to be banging a bundle of kindling, right?

Wrong, says "body image expert" Julie Thomson, general manager of eating disorders and body image campaigners the Butterfly Foundation, who objects to the very premise that a bloke might enjoy looking at women, or fall in lust based on how they look (or at all). "It objectifies women ... perpetuating this ideal that men do look at women externally only ... centred around judging people based on what size they are ... it is very, very complex ..."  Maybe she's right.  Maybe this does objectify women.  Maybe we shouldn't just be perpetuating ideals of body shape -- maybe we should also be checking out whether they're rich.

NB: Let's have our own unscientific survey here.  Assuming those three young women above are all self-made rocket scientists, which of them would you prefer to be going home with?

Sustaining the moochers

While "sustainability" is being chanted everywhere like a mantra at a Hare Krishna ashram, at the same time some people still insist on calling government spending on so called infrastructure 'investment.'

It isn't. It's neither sustainable, nor investment.

Save Seed Corn Now! If sustainability means anything at all then it's this old Native American credo recycled by Dr Seuss: Don't eat your seed corn.  Or, in other words, don't consume your assets without renewing them.  Once you do that then you're sunk. But, as George Reisman points out, this is precisely what government 'investment' does.  It does not produce, it consumes.

You see, when a businessman invests in goods or assets, he expects to make sales from these assets sufficient to replace them, and more. He expects to recoup his expenditure, with a bit left over besides. In other words, sales made on the basis of these assets makes possible their own replacement when they are physically consumed. It is reproductively employed. Not only does the businessmen not eat his seed corn, he ensures the continuing replacement of his asset.  This is at root what it means to invest, and this process of investment and growth and reinvestment is in fact the basis of all physical production.  This is how we make ourselves rich -- sustainably rich.

When a restaurant buys roast beef for example, on which it plans to make a profit by selling dinners, or a laundry buys a new washing machine on which it plans to make money by washing people's clothes, these represent investments in producer goods, an investment which the producer intends to recoup -- which means (all going well) that the producer is self-sustaining.

Not so the purchase of consumer goods.  If your flat were to buy roast beef for your evening meal or that washing machine to keep your clothes clean, then whatever is consumed in the meal or the washing process (and every use consumes some part of the asset) is gone for good. It is consumed.  These same goods when used by consumers to consume are consumer goods, which are destructively employed. Unlike producer goods, they disappear with use.

Now, governments are not producers: they are consumers.  They are not self-sustaining: they are parasitical.   In other words: government does not invest, it consumes.  Hence only private businesses can be described as self-sustaining, since only the activity of private businesses is so designed as to recoup its investment in assets, and therefore to preserve its 'seed corn.' 

Put bluntly, all that a government produces requires consuming the production of others; all the assets in which it 'invests' are at best only consumptive production that is dependent on mooching off real producers.  Without this mooching, every government asset is on the road to disappearing without a trace. Concludes Reisman:

In the same sense as a housewife, the government is not a producer but a consumer, who is dependent upon producers.  All of its physical production, like hers, is in the last analysis a consumptive production. It is a production which cannot replace the means with which it began ...  a production which leaves the government poorer by the amount of funds it has expended.  In order to continue the activity, resort must be had to an external source of funds -- in the government's case, the taxpayers or the printing press.

The effect of all this 'investment-that-isn't' by governments is the wholesale consumption of real assets that been produced by producers, (with the price of producer goods having been pushed up by government spending), with the net result that the whole economy is poorer by the extent to which taxpayers' potential for genuine investment and sustainable profits has been curtailed by make-believe investments and the slow consumption of our seed corn.

Governments are not sustainable.

[NB: You can find Reisman's discussion of Capital Goods & Consumer Goods on pages 445 & 446 of his book Capitalism, which can be read online here.]

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Yet another reason not to vote National ... (updated)

Outflanking Every week brings another reason to realise that if you want any real change at the next election, then Labour-Lite are not the answer.

This weekend Flip Flop Boy has confirmed that his party will not be running on even the relatively timid freeing up of factory schools that is bulk funding -- which three years ago the Nats said was "the first step towards providing the flexible education system that parents wanted."  Apparently they now think that the Ministry knows much better than schools and parents how to provide "flexibility" in the state's factory schools.

And he's also confirmed that getting the government's $30 billion worth of dinosaurs off the taxpayers' hands is also off the agenda, by announcing that selling assets will be no part of a National Government's work under his spineless leadership -- not even the "pretty timid" partial asset sales floated by Bill English "as a way of raising capital for new infrastructure."  Reports The Press, "Key overturned years of National Party policy by making the U-turn on asset sales, saying preparing state-owned enterprises for sale would 'not be a good use of our time'." One wonders what a better use of their time could be, since at this stage there's nothing on National's horizon?

Their time won't be spent overturning the anti-smacking law, which Key personally insisted his MPs vote into law.

They won't be spending it overturning Michael Cullen's "No Bloody Foreigners" legislation, as they all but confirmed during the Auckland airport negotiations.

It won't be spent getting the ogre of the Resource Management Act off property owners' backs -- this is, after all, law that National itself introduced, and from which it has never resiled.

They won't be spending it gutting the NZQA -- they introduced that one too.

They won't be spending it getting rid of the Maori seats -- that's another one they've rolled over on.  Or slowing down the Waitangi gravy train that they themselves helped to kick off.  One law for all'?  Not with this mob.  Too busy bending over and saying "me too."

They won't be spending it reinstating a credible defence force -- "we've lost that argument too," they've effectively said.

They won't be overturning the interest-free student loans that Don Brash called "an irresponsible election bribe" -- a policy National once promised to oppose with "every bone in our bodies."  If they had any.

They won't be doing anything to overturn Labour's Welfare for Working Families programme that has made beneficiaries of so many of the country's middle classes.

On every point that Labour stands for, National just says "me too" -- which means they won't be doing a damned thing to work towards their party's purported goal of minimising the government and keeping them out of our lives -- which means there is no reason that National is seeking power, beyond the reason that National would quite like power -- which means there is simply no reason, no reason at all, for any freedom lover to vote National, and no way in hell that anyone who does vote National can pose as a freedom lover. 

If you want any genuine alternative, then National are not the answer.  They have no answer. Every week just reconfirms that.

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