Tuesday, 20 January 2009



Sometimes even a flawed argument contains a kernel of truth – and when I say that, I don’t mean the destructive idea of government “stimulus” so beautifully pilloried above.  As Bernard Hickey said in the Herald,

Governments around the world are gearing up to borrow and spend unprecedented amounts on infrastructure, tax cuts and social spending in Keynesian-style attempts to boost their flagging economies. But the question rarely asked so far is: who is going to pay for it all?

The answer, of course, is us.  You and me. The money borrowed now to pay for the world’s stimulus packages will be lent by savers, or printed by central bankers, but it will eventually be paid back by us -– by taxpayers – and it will be spent by governments at the expense of real productive spending.  (And at roughly 3% of GDP, NZ’s stimulus package puts us third most profligate in the world’s “stimulus” stakes, right behind Iceland and Denmark.)

This is a bill doesn’t just have to be paid later; we have to pay for it now.  As Ludwig von Mises used to say, it’s the current generation that has to pay for huge deficits.  The reason is that there’s only so many pre-existing resources that all that stimulus can flush out, and in the absence of the government’s stimulus their owners had other plans for them.  To set them to work at the government’s behest means those resources are bid away from those other more productive uses.

Which means that, thanks to these stimulus packages, any recovery is going be delayed – and to compound the error the delay will have to be paid for.

Consider in this context this article excerpted by Jeff Perren, which amid a sea of error contains this nugget of truth:

    The very first step in every “stimulus” program is for the government to go out into the market and sell bonds.
    When the government sells bonds, it takes money … out of the economy. Then, some time later, the government puts the money back into the economy in the form of spending or tax rebates or whatever. Later, when the data becomes available, economists are shocked, shocked to find that “consumers saved their rebates” or “business investment fell by an unexpected amount”, or “imports increased”, thus completely negating the “stimulus”. Their hopes dashed, but their belief in “stimulus” unshaken, the stimulunatics then call for more “stimulus”.
    The fact is that for the government to be able to sell the bonds in the first place, consumers have to save, or businesses have reduce their investments, or foreigners have to sell more in the U.S. Otherwise, where would the dollars to buy the bonds come from?

The fact is, the government has no way at all to “stimulate” demand and nothing to do it with -– all it can do is either redirect demand to unproductive areas (by bidding up the price of resources), or else stifle demand by not allowing prices to drop when they need to.

The popular notion that governments can stimulate demand is a function of the idea that the printing press is a substitute for real capital goods, and the flawed measurement of GDP which leads to the ridiculous notion that it is consumers that drive the economy.  But they don’t, and as George Reisman points out the notion that they do is a relic both of the Keynesian mythology and the flawed GDP calculations, which fails for the most part to measure real productive spending (i.e., spending for subsequent sales).  What the GDP calculation does instead is to artificially inflate the importance of consumer spending, (even as it denudes the productive of the money they need to be productive) leaving governments to think that sending out this money as shopping subsidies and “stimulus” packages will work.

It’s also a function of another flawed idea: the idea that (in the words of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, “Our economic system is critically dependent on the free flow of credit.”  But as Peter Schiff explains, healthy economies aren’t so critically dependent on credit, only bubble economies:

    In truth, not all economies run on credit… In a legitimate economy, it is not credit that fuels spending and investment, but simply income and savings. It’s too bad our Fed chairman does not understand the difference…
    Credit is indeed vital to an economy, but it does not constitute an economy within itself. The important thing to remember is that credit is scarce, and is limited by the stock of savings. Savings loaned to one individual is not available to be loaned to another until it is repaid. If it is never repaid, the savings are lost. Loans to consumers not only crowd out more productive loans that might have been made to business, but they have a far greater likelihood of ending in default. In addition, while business loans increase our capital stock and lead to greater productivity, loans made to consumers are merely spent, and do not create conditions that will make repayment easier. When businesses borrow to fund capital investments, the extra cash flows that result are used to repay the loans. When individuals borrow to spend, loans can only be repaid out of reduced future consumption.
    One of the reasons we are in such dire straits is that consumers have already borrowed and spent too much. Many did so based on the false belief that ever-appreciating real estate would ultimately provide the means to repay their debts and finance their lifestyles. Now that reality has finally set in, why should the spending spree continue? The fact that a GDP comprised of 70 percent of consumption is currently contracting should not surprise anyone. In fact, such a contraction is long overdue and the government should not do anything to interfere.
    In trying to perpetuate the illusion, the government wants to revive the spending spree that has led us to this disaster. But how can such actions possibly help? How will more debt improve the economy? Wouldn’t our circumstances be vastly improved if we paid off some of our debts and replenished our savings? Wouldn’t we be in better shape if instead of buying more stuff we concentrated on producing it?

Wouldn’t we be better of if governments foreswore all the “stimulus” packages, and the deficit spending used to finance them, and instead got the hell out of the say so markets can correct?

Anything else will only delay what needs to be done: to flush out the malinvestments  so that genuinely productive businesses can adjust to new price levels and the new capital structure, and start producing again.  That’s what real recovery looks like.

If only the stimulunatics would get out of the way so that could happen.


The Herald is running this headline:

Plane crash victims to arrive home to Dobbyn song

Jeez! Haven’t their families already suffered enough?

Greatest living New Zealander?

Hands up all those who think Helen Clark is the greatest living New Zealander?  Well, frighteningly, 23% of Herald website readers do. 

And apparently Don Brash thinks the greatest living New Zealander is Roger Douglas!  Now, that’s sad, isn’t it, when your greatest living NZer is a politician?

Who’s the greatest living NZer in your assessment?

A victory for … [updated]

captionchallengeThe canonisation tomorrow of the Obamessiah is a victory alright -– a victory for Airhead America over the America created by its founders.

Read this piece that’s been circulating on the internet to concretise who wins tomorrow, and what loses: ‘A victory for Obama-worshippers.’

The Obamessiah has ridden to the inauguration following in the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, visiting the Lincoln Memorial with the entire press corps in tow, and will be sworn in tomorrow on the Lincoln Bible –- which means among other ironies a man known for using a lot of verbiage to say very little is thus invoking a president (Lincoln) renowned for using very little to say a whole lot.

UPDATEThe Onion reports that Congress are debating a suitable addition to the inauguration [hat tip No Minister].  And note that Comedy Central will be live blogging the event, perhaps the best way to experience it while keeping your food down.

Justice still not being seen to be done

The institutional cowardice of the Manukau police was revealed nationwide last year when they spent half-an-hour outside Navtej Singh's shop "securing the scene" while he bled to death inside.

Their cowardice was unforgiveable, and Mr Singh died of it.

And as we now hear news that every important detail of the case against Mr Singh's alleged killers has been suppressed by the judge, Justice Semi Epati, one can only conclude that in Manukau institutional cowardice is endemic.

Unfortunately the cowardice is nationwide.  In recent years New Zealand's courts have admitted TV cameras, for which our justices have patted themselves on the back for their “openness,” but at the same time they’ve more and more frequently enforced orders suppressing information about what's going on inside those courts.  Justice may be being done inside our courts (though reports suggests serious doubts on that score) but we can’t see that it’s being done.  We can see pictures, but we're frequently not allowed to know who's on trial, and what the evidence against them is.

Like a patronising parent protecting innocent children we’re given picture but no sound. We're being treated like children, with no justification for it.

Are we really that imature?  Name suppression, evidence suppression – in recent years the media has been gagged from reporting important details that would help we the people  to judge for ourselves whether justice is being done in the courts assembled in our names.

I've argued before that "It's unfortunate that our courts seem to have forgotten the crucial principle that underpins their work: that justice must not only be done must must be seen to be done. When justice is kept under wraps, all sorts of nonsense appears in the vacuum instead ... Why do the courts consider us so immature that we can't handle hearing the evidence for ourselves in media reports, instead of hearing only the nonsense that its absence has generated?"

Talking about suppression orders issued over the Emma Agnew murder back in 2007, Stephen Franks slammed this "recent fad to elevate privacy and possible embarrassment over substantive justice":

    The law around pre-trial contempt of court (and sub judice) is based on the theory that the risk of biasing judges and juries outweighs freedom of speech, including open disclosure of what is known and obtainable by insiders, or those determined to find out.
    I am not aware of any balance of evidence to support [this] fear... Indeed the attempt to treat juries like computers, cleansed of any pre-knowledge, and sheltered by evidence exclusion rules from anything a judge patronisingly considers prejudicial, turns upside down the original justification for a jury of your peers.

When justice comes with gagging orders then justice is neither being done, nor seen to be done.  It's time to urgently reconsider their popularity.

Anti Dismal more than promised

Just a quiet note to let you know that Paul Walker is blogging again at Anti Dismal.  Let him know you care.  :-)

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Hail to the Chief!

Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath looks at the coronation of the Messiah …

I write this on the eve of the inauguration of the 44th president of the United States, having earlier this weekend watched a movie based on the life of another American politician, populist demagogue Huey Pierce Long, whose ride could have taken him, as it has with Barack Obama, all the way to the White House.

The movie, All the King’s Men, follows the rise and fall of fictional politician Willie Stark, who becomes governor of Louisiana and narrowly survives impeachment before being gunned down by a medical doctor. Huey Long was governor of Louisiana (and then its U.S. Senator), who narrowly survived impeachment in the state legislature before being gunned down by a medical doctor.

The character of Willie Stark is played by Sean Penn who, as far as I can ascertain is no relation to Robert Penn Warren, the author of the novel on which the film is based. Sean Penn is well known as a left-wing activist who has cuddled up to despots such as Hugo Chavez and Raul Castro. In hindsight, Sean Penn would probably have admired much of what Huey Long stood for and achieved.  

The saga of Huey Long bears fuller examination in the light of the change about to occur at the top of U.S. politics. Barack Obama is possibly the most left-leaning American president ever, and appears eager to deliver his own version of the New Deal – which was the programme of economic mismanagement perpetrated by Franklin Roosevelt that prolonged the 1930s depression, and was the cause of a second one in 1937. President-elect Obama, like Huey Long, promises job creation and redistribution of wealth. Eventually, of course, the socialist house of cards will fall over and there will be spectacular collapse. (The collapse is already underway, reflecting the failed fiscal management and profligate spending of the Bush administration and continued interference in the banking system by the Federal Reserve. )

Huey Long, like Willie Stark and Sean Penn both, was essentially socialist in outlook, even though he couldn’t see it. One of nine children, and too poor to buy text books at university despite winning a scholarship, Long started as a salesman, then went to law school for a year before passing the bar exam at age 22. Most of his legal career was spent in conflict with large businesses such as oil companies and utilities. After several years in elected roles on the Louisiana Public Service Commission, he won on the second attempt, at age 35, governership of the state. His slogan for the campaign was “Every Man A King”, and he depicted the wealthy as parasites who grabbed more than their “fair share” of the wealth pie. He is said to have replaced the traditional north-south division within Louisiana based on religion with class-based differences he could continue to exploit.

Huey Long advocated taxing and redistributing wealth and assets, without regard for how the wealth was created or who actually owned it. He proposed federal money be spent on public works programmes, education and roading, whether or not this spending was authorized in the U.S. Constitution. As governor, he ruled the state of Louisiana as a dictator, ruthlessly persecuting political opponents, often using his political influence to ensure that his enemies and their families lost their jobs and businesses.

Corruption ensured that Huey Long maintained an iron grip on power. The governor’s office continued, under his leadership, to fill vacancies in the state bureaucracy with his favoured appointees. And of course all state employees were expected to pay a tithe into Long’s political war fund.

Long’s legislative programme met some opposition from Americans who had some inkling of what their Constitution actually meant. One school attempted to block the receipt of taxpayer funded textbooks, saying they would not accept charity from the state. The governor, in turn, blocked authorization for development of an air base near the town in question until the school aceepted the books. When things were not going well for Long in the state legislature, it is alleged he would cut the power supply to the building so that alterations could be made in Long’s favour, under cover of darkness, to the official record of representatives’ votes. After winning a U.S. Senate seat, Long installed his puppet in the governor’s mansion and actually used his old office to direct operations when the Senate was in recess.

Despite his public opposition to the commercial activities of big oil companies, Huey Long and an independent oilman formed a company that obtained leases on state-owned land and then secretly subleased the mineral rights to – you guessed it – the major oil companies. He also authorised a plain clothes police force answerable only to him. Little wonder that an armed insurrection backed by two former state governors reared its head in January 1935 – Long’s response was to declare martial law, ban gatherings of more than one person(!) and outlaw criticism of state officials. Eight months later he was shot dead by the son of a judge who had been gerrymandered out of his job after coming out against Long when he was governor.

Huey Long was a complex and rather inconsistent man. There were a few things to admire about his political legacy. He opposed unemployment and welfare payments. He slashed property taxes, and repealed the poll tax. He proposed making the first million dollars of income (1930s dollars, remember) tax-free. The first five million dollars of income would have only attracted $150,000 in tax – makes the Libertarianz Party’s ‘First $50k tax-free’ pledge in the 2008 election campaign seem a bit wimpish, doesn’t it! And he opposed the Federal Reserve Bank on the quite legitimate grounds that it exercised monopoly powers over the monetary system for the benefit of a few private stockholders.

But the very occasional bright spots in Huey Long’s political career were eclipsed by the monstrous erosions in civil liberties and corruption that were a hallmark of his tenure in office, and his support for statism on a massive scale. He opposed Franklin Roosevelt after initially supporting his rise to the presidency, on the grounds that the New Deal did not go far enough and was a sellout to Big Business(!). Yet Long denied that his political programme was socialistic, declared his inspiration came not from Karl Marx but from the Bible and the Declaration of Independence, and saw his policies as a bulwark against communism. Roosevelt, in turn, regarded Long as a political threat (rightly so, as Long planned to oust Roosevelt by running against him in 1936 and splitting the Democrat vote), and had him investigated by America’s legalized bloodsuckers, the Daywalkers known as the Internal Revenue Service. Unsuccessfully, as it turned out.

Barack Obama’s background has been extensively researched by investigators such as Trevor Loudon. His dealings in the past with extremist organizations such as the Weather Underground, and with various fronts for Marxist communism, are now a matter of public record. Obama has said and done very little to dispel fears that the political barometer United States will shortly undergo a violent shift to the left, with inevitable economic destitution and equal poverty for all. Like Huey Long, Obama is a charismatic demagogue with plans to seize the assets of the haves and hand them to the have-nots, notwithstanding the Bill of Rights and other constitutional measures which the founding fathers of America set up to protect individuals from this sort of predation by their own government.

The next U.S. president has been described as the most “loyal Democrat” by one source, and “most liberal” Senator by another. Scary stuff. I foresee hard times ahead for the vast majority of Americans, even those Obama claims he wants to help. How long will it take before the benign smiling face of Obama becomes tense and drawn, when his policies fail to deliver prosperity to Americans? How soon will “change you can believe in” become “change you will accept – or else”?

* * Read Dr McGrath’s column every week here at NOT PC * *

Slipper – Michael Newberry


Slipper is one of my favourites by artist Michael Newberry, who like all great literary and visual artists has the ability to conceive and create scenes of total originality that – just like the great myths and legends that had the dramatic power to last thousands of years in the retelling --  once seen (or read) the world is inconceivable  without them.  In the simplest terms, such artists (and such myths) portray great and original scenes that so perfectly animate their theme the world was almost waiting for the artist to create them.

Newberry does this with his Icarus Landing – the figure that conquers the fall of both Christ and Icarus, and puts man back in charge over his universe.  He does it again with Artemis.  And he does it too with Slipper, whose exuberance burst sout like a bullet in flight heading straight for the furthest horizon.

Why have I chosen it for my first artistic post of the year?  Because it encapsulates the sense of life I like to express in my architecture.  The exuberance.  The light.  The feeling of release.  The movement.  The exaltation.  It’s not an expression of repose I aim for in my work (which is what all the textbooks tell us we should aim for in our architecture – creating a sense of repose and then letting our buildings sink down into a sea of subdued magnolias, or pongas), it’s the controlled explosion of joy Newberry captures so perfectly here, and that’s so desperately hard to do well.

It’s not so easy, but it’s the most fun when you can pull it off.

Monday, 19 January 2009


Here’s a question for you to ponder:

Is Barack Obama’s inauguration really the most important event of the week?

Answers on a postcard, please. Or just leave your response in the comments.

A new study has found you shouldn’t believe every “new study”

"A new study has found ... "

How many times has that phrase kicked off a new scare story you read over your corn flakes?  Here’s a random selection of the sort of pseudo-academic bullshit you might have read recently: 

  • “A new study has found girls targeted by bullies at primary school are 212 times more likely than boys to remain victims as they get older."
  • "A new study has found that women have better sex with wealthy blokes. "
  • "A new study has found people who sleep less than seven hours a night appear to be almost three times as likely to catch a cold as those who sleep eight hours or more."
  • "A new study has found that men who were programmed in the womb to be the most responsive to testosterone tend to be the most successful financial traders. "
  • “A new study has found women with higher levels of oestradiol, a form of oestrogen, not only look and feel more attractive, they are also more likely to cheat on their partners."
  • "A new study has found Leonardo Di Caprio’s film performance causes cancer in rats."

Yes, grown adults (biologically at least) spend their time and valuable research dollars “studying” this bullshit.  But now a new study says that you shouldn't believe every "new study" that comes out.

    The new study started with an old study that came out last April. British researchers got international publicity when they said they'd found that pregnant women who eat a lot of cereal were more likely to have a boy. The new study took a look at the old study and found that it was faulty.
    "In statistical terms, it's a false positive," said Stanley Young, co-author of the paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
    Young's team had several reasons to question the results of the cereal-eating study, but one of their major concerns was that the researchers asked too many questions of their participants.
    "Put enough variables into a study and meaningless statistical flukes can arise," Young added.
    "The sad thing is what tends to get headlines is the most dramatic or the scarier findings," said CBS4 Denver Medical Editor Dr. Dave Hnida.

The problem is not just too many questions, but too little understanding. Too often, researchers are mistaking correlation for causality.  Where real knowledge uncovers and and explains causal connections, pseudo-knowledge simply discovers accidental coincidences and leaps to unproven conclusions .

Consequently, the “studies” you read over your breakfast cereal are likely to make you less, rather them more knowledgeable.  And that’s a fact.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Patrick McGoohan (1928-2009)

I've just learned, via Craig Ceely's blog, that actor/director/writer Patrick McGoohan, the creator and star of the classic TV series The Prisoner, has died.
I'm in shock.

Thank goodness the Free Radical magazine managed to interview him before his death.

Click to hear this important message from that first series:
"I will not make any deals with you... I've resigned... I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed or numbered! My life is my own."
NB: Read a full obituary and tributes at http://www.theprisonerappreciationsociety.com/.

A kerfuffle in a falafel food hall [update 2)

People should be tolerant, respectful, and mindful of other people's choices. They should favour persuasion over force. Hands up all those in favour?

So what about the case of Turkish-Invercargillian falafel shop owner Mustafa Tekinkaya who barred a group of Hebrew speaking Israelis from his Mevlana cafe? ("I have decided as a protest," explained Mustafa, "not to serve Israelis until the war [in Gaza] stops.") How does our foregoing proposition apply to him? Simple: Just note the words his cafe. That is, it's his shop, so it's entirely his business who he chooses to serve, or not. It's his business, not yours, so he's fully entitled to use it to make whatever protest he likes. It's his right -- specifically, his property right.

Remember property rights?

This means bossy boots bureaucrats desirous of prosecuting him for "discrimination" -- yes, I'm talking to you, Joris Bloody de Bres -- should butt the hell out and mind their own business.

This means that Israeli nationals Natalie Bennie and her sister Tamara Shefa, along with Mrs Bennie's two children Noah, 2, and Ella, 4, should shut the hell up and accept that as long as force isn't initiated against any party, then people are entitled to do what the hell they like on their own property, for whatever reason they care to name.

If you don't like Mustafa's decision, Mrs Bennis and Ms Shefa, then don't call for the use of de Bres's bloody bureaucracy to bombard him with directives; simply avoid Mustafa's place next time you're in Invercargill for a falafel.

And this also means that if you're sympathetic to the plight of Mrs Bennis and Ms Shefa, which they say has left them "shocked and hurt" (oh, the horror of being barred from a falafel shop), then you can always do the same.

That's what it means to use persuasion instead of force, you know: not to reach for the government's club when you disagree with someone, but to recognise the rights of the situation and to use the power of persuasion instead -- which means in this case to realise that no rights are breached, not one, when a businessman chooses not to serve someone on his own property, but they sure would be if the government forces him to do so against his will.

And to realise too that when it comes to persuasion, the kind of persuasion a businessman most understands is the kind that leaves his pockets emptier.

UPDATE 1: Thanks to the editors of the Herald on Sunday who ran a heavily edited version of this post as the Blog of the Week yesterday.

UPDATE 2: If you'd like to respond to a truck load of delusion on this very simple point -- that you're entitled to serve or not serve anyone you wish in your own shop, and be free to take the consequences -- then feel free to respond to a whole thicket of delusion over at Kiwiblog, including deluded fools comparing the freedom to make your own decisions in your own shop with the Turkish massacre of at least half-a-million Armenians early last century.

Not PJ: Pharmacy Floppy Flip Flop

Bernard Darnton boldly visits the pharmacy with his floppy in hand, an account of which you can efficiently and effectively peruse on this web log over an interconnection network...

It’s time for a change. Change we can be flabbergasted at. At the end of last year the Ministry of Health proudly announced that (some) pharmacies would now be able to lodge subsidy claims electronically. Instead of by posting in floppy disks.

For younger readers, a "floppy disk" is a square of stiff plastic with a delicate scrap of computer storage inside it. It’s like a fragile, error-prone memory stick but ten times the size and capable of storing 0.001 gigabytes of data. In iPod terms that’s like having as much as a quarter of a song in your pocket.

I remember berating one my clients five years ago about using floppy disks. I’d asked for some data and he came back to me bearing this square plastic thing. I lashed him with my bullwhip because I’m a software consultant, not a fucking archaeologist.

He’s no longer a client but I think I was making a valid point.

Until December every pharmacy in the country had to post a floppy disk to the Ministry of Health each fortnight. Which means that they also had to find someone who still makes the bloody things. And presumably every pharmacy in the country had to keep some decrepit fifteen-year old computer in service because you can’t buy a computer with a floppy drive in it any more. Just to cater to the Ministry’s prehistoric whims. (They could always not ask for government subsidies but that’s a different topic.)

I assume there was someone employed full time at the Ministry of Health to open the mail, find all of these floppy disks and then copy the data somewhere or other. My guess is that it was this same bumbling jobsworth who refused to let anyone submit their files by email. “Oooh, no, couldn’t possibly. There’s this policy manual see. Very important that procedures are followed. We do it this way for a reason, you know. More than my job’s worth to go breaking them rules. Now, where’s the tea lady. I need a cup of tea and a scone before my nap.”

A highly-placed source in the Ministry has revealed that their flagship information system for the twenty-first century, containing electronic records for the entire New Zealand health sector, is $200 million over budget with progress at a halt because the Ministry’s IT department has been placed under a preservation order by the Historic Places Trust.

Somehow, the new electronic claims system has staggered to fruition. Alan Hesketh, Deputy Director-General of the Ministry of Health’s Information Directorate, is very proud of this “initiative.” Apparently it’s “aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of health payment processes across the sector through a secure and reliable interconnection network.”

If the Ministry’s spin doctors are paid by the word I think I’ve just found a way to save millions from the health budget. A tip, Alan: I realise that back in floppy-disk land this “interconnection network” is probably very new and exciting but here in the twenty-first century people just call it “the internet.”

* * Read Bernard Darnton every Thursday on this web log. * *

Super? Shitty! [updated]

Two retired bureaucrats and a retired High Court judge have decided that 1.4 million people in the Auckland region need a super-bureaucracy to keep them properly in check.

That's the only conclusion I can draw from the Herald's suggestion this morning that the Royal Commission on Auckland Governance will assuredly be recommending a new "super" city council to "govern" the region and to meddle in "the social needs" of the region.

Just what we need. A new super-bureaucracy to make the existing uber-bureaucracies of the region look like friendly examples of small-government delight by comparision, and to give the super-bureaucrats a jet-fuelled rocket-propelled career path. 1.4 million people to boss around and whose "social needs" can be attended to. A dream job of meetings, memos and "super" action plans that will tell people where and how they can live, and what they'll be allowed to do if they beg correctly . A 140km strip of the country that the super-planners can dictate from their eyries, which will become even more untouchable and unaccountable than they are now.

A utopia for bossy boots busybodies of every stripe.

The nature of such a "super" city -- which will be truly super only in the size of both the city itself and of the egos of the people who will be clamouring to rule it -- can be gauged by how the smaller borough councils changed when they were forced to merge under Michael Bassett's force amalgamation of the eighties: from small agencies you could talk to, to larger bureaucracies who talked at you.

Ironically, last I read Bassett is not a supporter of the current "super" city idea (and I write this with only limited internet connectivity, so I'm unable to properly check that memory), but new Minister of Local Government Rodney Hide is. With boots on.

So if the Herald is correct, then, you can expect then to see small government advocate Rodney Hide announce in March that he will be giving his blessing to the largest new bureaucracy to be created in Australasia since Canberrs was constructed in the back of beyond.

Not the sort of legacy, I suspect, that Rodney's small-government voters thought they were voting for when they choser to throw their vote in his direction.

UPDATE: Owen McShane's 2007 column on this is worth a re-read: Super City - or Mega Flop?

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

First-of-the-New-Year Ramble [update 2]

Here’s what the boys at Brain Stab used to call a bunch o’ links; i.e., news, views and opinions around the web I’ve either picked up or been sent (for which much thanks) that you might be interested in too, most of which has appeared while I’ve been sunning myself in the Bay of Plenty.

  • Is this the biggest cheque ever?
  • What is Money? A video presentation recommended by RW.
  • Where there’s no carbon footprint, there’s no life. A timely reminder by Keith Lockitch.
  • Both the Wall Street Journal and Britain’s influential Spectator magazine are seeing strong parallels between the America and Britain of today, respectively, and the America of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, with scenes now playing out in reality that the WSJ says are “eerily similar” to those invented by Ayn Rand for her novel.
    If you’ve not yet read Atlas, then “now is a very good time to read it,” says the Spectator. Why? “Because … the reader [i.e., you] would find plenty of chilling analogies for the current economic collapse.”
    See 'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years and Britain, by Ayn Rand.
  • And more on the economic collapse … Free Radical readers who enjoyed George Reisman’s insightful take on the collapse will surely appreciate his new “series of articles that seeks to provide the intelligent layman with sufficient knowledge of sound economic theory to enable him to understand what must be done to overcome the present financial crisis and return to the path of economic progress and prosperity.”
    The first in the series addresses “a disastrous economic confusion, one that is shared almost universally, both by laymen and by professional economists alike, is the belief that falling prices constitute deflation and thus must be feared and, if possible, prevented.”
    Read Falling Prices Are Not Inflation, but the Answer to Inflation.
  • And yet more. As D.W. McKenzie points out, The US Federal Reserve is pursuing a policy of monetary inflation out of an erroneous fear of deflation. The result is now negative real interest rates in most of the developed world which, as McKenzie points out, will necessarily lead to a cure worse than the disease – a disease, as you might recall, that was caused by the Fed’s earlier massive monetary inflations to stave off the bursting of earlier inflationary bubbles.
    Read Liquidity Traps versus Inflation Traps.
  • And yet more. Are you by any chance spotting a theme here?
    According to the flawed mainstream economic theory, when resources are idle, as they are in depressions, then governments urgently need to borrow and/or print money to put these idle resources back to work. It is on this basis that the likes of Bill English and Steven Joyce are now drawing up plans to spray $7 billion of deficit spending over the economy, and the backward economics of Barack Obama that presages the fantasy of his “green economy.”
    Austrian economist Robert Murphy attacks this flawed economic thinking head on: The notion is not only unrealistic, but “even if we conceded that the government could spend money in a way that only involved unemployed resources, the measure would nevertheless be harmful and would make the country poorer.”
    In other words, it’s a dumb idea.
    Read Does "Depression Economics" Change the Rules? to find out why.
  • As most of you are now aware, the leading symptom of the collapse both here and overseas was the housing bubble.
    A housing bubble that was pumped up by inflated credit, and exacerbated by restrictive building and planning regulations that has sent the replacement cost of new houses through the roof – a bubble that has burst, leaving (in New Zealand alone) a predicted 35,000 construction workers looking for new jobs this year, a sum only slightly larger than the net increase in jobs in the sector over the last five years of the bubble.
    A housing bubble that is clear enough to everyone now, but so few saw through when they were caught up in the hype. Hugh Pavletich, who was warning about the bubble since at least 2004, looks at the “housing bubble blindness” and those who were caught up in it, and what is most urgent now.
    And I’ll give you a clue, it isn’t pumping up bogus and unaffordable infrastructure projects that will only inflate the cost of building materials and building labour.
    Read Housing bubbles and market sense.
  • And my thoughts go out to the people of western Fiji and especially those from Sigatoka, with whom we spent a very pleasant few days just a few short months ago, and who are now suffering the effects of huge rains and massive flooding.
    A Fiji Relief Account has been set up at the ANZ Bank. You can donate at any branch.
  • Chair - MICHAEL NEWBERRY        Finally, in more cheerful news, artist Michael Newberry has moved from Brooklyn to Santa Monica, where he can enjoy “a flourishing community of friends, collectors, and successful ex- and new students” and where he opens his new gallery in March – and you can take advantage of the move at his Williamburg Studio Sale sale on January 24-25th, and pick up quality art works at reasonable prices.

Here’s more:

  • PJ O’Rourke’s speaking tour to Sydney, postponed through illness, is back on for April. Annie Fox has the links and details.
  • And speaking of Australia’s Center for Independent Studies, which is where PJ will be speaking, applications are now open for the CIS’s first Liberty and Society student conference of 2009, to be held over the weekend of 1–3 May. For more details and to apply please visit: http://www.libertyandsociety.org
  • Craig Ceely has another offer worth jumping for. Says he, “Quite a few of us in the west supported Denmark during the big Muhammad cartoons imbroglio. Now, it appears, Denmark is paying us back. As the banner … says, "No Burka on Free Speech." Delightfully, there is no burka on anything in this Siemens commercial.” Head here to see what he’s talking about. Quite possibly the best use of Wagner in a TV commercial. And other delightful stuff. :-)
  • And Jeff Perren calls pseudo-economist Paul Krugman a village idiot in the sort of village Ibsen used to write about.
    Read Enemies of the People.
  • And calls Obama's economics guru Lawrence Summers for his “woozy-minded” editorial in the Washington Post, giving everyone “ample reason to hang on tightly to our wallets over the next few years. “
    “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” is Jeff’s summing up of the woozy-mindedness, “Unless perhaps it's the coming of Lawrence Summers.”
    Read The Newest Deal.
  • By the way, today in the US it’s National Delurking Day, “a day for blog readers to emerge from Lurkdom” and leave a comment on all their favourite blogs, which I’d like to think included this one. So say hello in the comments, huh?
  • And from the latest Objectivist Blog Roundup comes these next few beauties:
  • Guy Barnett presents Give Peace a Chance? posted at The Undercurrent, saying, "Doesn't everyone want peace? Can't we just put aside our differences and live harmoniously together? Find out the answer in this compelling blog post."
  • And check out Girls Gone Mild. "Virginity is all the rage these days,” says Guy Barnett, who clearly moves in different circles to mine. “This is partly [he says] because many people believe that the alternative to chastity is promiscuity. "Girls Gone Mild" analyzes this common false-alternative."
  • Doug presents How Hamas Brainwashes Children posted at The Rule of Reason.
  • Paul Hsieh points out that universal health care will create a "nanny state on steroids".
  • And Gus Van Horn presents Fascism Comes to Media saying, "Government 'bailouts' are already threatening freedom of speech."
  • And finally (and this time I really do mean it, I swear) if you’re looking for fun and relaxation next weekend then a little press release tells me the Legendary Raglan Mudsharks are having their 3rd Annual Mudshark Monday, Jan 19th 2009 in the Harbour View Hotel (garden bar), Bow Street, Raglan, 8.00pm start. The "legendary" line-up of Sid & Freddie Limbert (bass, vocals & drums), Dave Maybee (guitar & vocals), Midge Marsden (vocals & harmonica) & Liam Ryan (keyboards & vocals) promises to keep you entertained till midnight. The evening will also feature some special guests & friends of the band! As usual anything could happen, anyone could turn up (and will) so if you wanna 'shake, rattle & roll' or just 'sit back & cruise' you'll be in the right place!

salomepic UPDATE: Okay, my last note wasn’t the final one. Local opera buffs take note: A friend just let me know that there’s a whole new season of the Met’s operas-on-film now playing around the country at the Rialto cinemas.

First up is Richard Strauss’s Salome, playing at the unlikely time of 10am tomorrow morning!

So if necrophilic erotica, Biblical bloodlust and intense orchestration is what you want over your morning tea (and let’s face it, who doesn’t), then this will be the link you’ll be after.

Welcome back

Howdie all, and welcome to another year – this one to be brought to you by economic chaos out of political grandstanding. 

I hope you all had a great break?  I know I did.  Just ourselves and around two dozen of our closest friends at the perfect bach right by one of NZ’s best beaches … it doesn’t get much better than that.  See what I mean:

a man on his log with his woman

Even if the occasional ‘bronze whaler’ did try to monopolise the swimming.
Bronze Whaler at Papamoa 

A big thank you to our host, and to those of you who helped make it the perfect holiday.

I’ll be posting a short ‘ramble’ later on this afternoon as I cruise around the ‘net catching up on news and views.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear how, if you had a break, your time away turned out for you.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

NOT PJ: Whine Merchants

Bernard Darnton surveys the government's whineries, and discovers nothing but boos ...

You’d think that just once a year the do-gooders at ALAC could take a break from a hard year’s hectoring and relax with a couple of cold beers. Sadly, no. Looking irritatingly chipper the day after the ALAC Christmas party, they were straight back into the busy-bodying.

And it’s not just ALAC – the place is infested: the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council whines that “there is no safe drinking level” and it’s happily reported here, some outfit called “Alcohol Healthwatch” (a charitable trust with a reassuringly amateur website, but effectively a branch of the Ministry of Health) is constantly banging on about booze and its evils, and the Police are nagging the government to lower the drink-drive limit instead of enforcing some of the laws we’ve already got.

Where does this nonsense about “no safe drinking level” come from? Since sitting down to write this, I’ve nibbled on a couple of brandy-filled chocolates that some kind soul left on my doorstep over Christmas and I’ve noticed no ill effects. If this is living dangerously I really need to get a life. (I note from the chocolate box by the way that the French, quite sensibly and very unpuritanically, call brandy l’eau de vie – “water of life.” I wouldn’t ask a Frenchman for advice if I had an aggressive enemy on my border – take note, Israel – but if he was cooking dinner and serving drinks, then count me in. I assume that the Gaza peace negotiations are a well-catered diplomatic affair.)

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council claims that even one drink doubles the risk of injury – presumably from five eighths of bugger all to bugger all. Two more drinks doubles the risk again. With five drinks your risk is up six times. Seven drinks and it’s ten times. Chuck all that into Excel and do some formulas and stuff and it turns out that the first drink increases your risk of injury by virtually nothing – that being the initial risk – and each subsequent drink increases your risk by less than the previous one. I regularly write these columns with a few on board but even so I’m more likely to catch mad cow flu than stab myself with the cursor.

All this chatter about risk is just a way of keeping people scared. And scared people look for someone to protect them. And who better to protect them than a bloody great big government? One conveniently full of bureaucrats babbling incessantly about how risky everything is.
ALAC’s mission is to “change social norms” – to introduce a social stigma around “drinking for effect”. Their “It’s how we’re drinking” advertisements present New Zealand’s drinking culture as an unmitigated evil.

Not everyone sees it that way. For every stereotypical party-girl who gets wasted at Friday drinks, shags someone on the photocopier, and regrets it the next day, there’s a Dennis from Accounts who thinks that binge drinking is the best thing since sliced bread, unsliced bread, soft round baps, toasty warm muffins, and hot dripping crumpets.

It is criminal that the state steals from Dennis to fund a campaign to eliminate one of the few pleasures of his dull, green-visored existence. Of course, if he’s any good as an accountant he probably keeps his dough well out of the reach of the killjoys’ sticky fingers.

Drinking is fun. That’s why people do it and have done for thousands of years. For as long as people have had minds they’ve wanted to alter them. And for as long as people have made up their own minds what to do governments have disapproved and tried to herd those minds into order.

Drinking also has its costs, as the meddlers tirelessly remind us. The answer is not to socialise those costs and then berate everyone for enjoying themselves but to privatise the costs and let each of us weigh up the hangovers and broken photocopier screens against the rowdy good times swimming in the water of life.

* * Read Bernard Darnton's regular column every week here at NOT PC * *

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR'S: Public Health Bill = Totalitarian Medicine

New Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath runs his eye over the proposed Public Health Bill, and doesn't like what he sees ...

An interesting letter appeared in the 12 December 2008 edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal, written by three staff members from the Otago University Department of Public Health. In it, they point out the archaic nature of the Public Health Act 1956, a law which compels travellers on buses, aircraft, trains and ferries to notify the driver, pilot, ship’s captain, etc., if they (the passenger) have any sexually transmitted or other communicable diseases.

Yes, you read that correctly. New Zealanders are currently required to provide the master of any state-owned vehicle or vessel in which they travel with up-to-date information on their currently active social diseases. And let’s not forget it is still an offence to return library books or post letters if they have been handled by a sick person, unless they have been properly disinfected.

The writers offer two possible solutions to the absurdities outlined above. First, that we carry an electronic swipe card containing information about one’s sexual health and medical history, thus providing bus drivers with hours of amusement; or secondly, that we replace the Health Act 1956 with new legislation which would do away with the need to disclose a list of one’s currently active contagious diseases to bus drivers, but which would allow collection of the same information in more sophisticated ways and would also reinforce the disparity in power between the government and the people. And wouldn’t you know it - such a law has already been drafted: the Public Health Bill.

Generally speaking, when the government gives with one hand, it takes with the other. What it usually takes is an important little piece of freedom which you don’t miss until it’s too late.

According to the writers, a new Public Health Act will allow New Zealand to “reach full compliance with the new International Health Regulations.” These new regulations, to quote an earlier article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, “expands the range of events which must be notified to WHO”, and “expands the range of surveillance sources that WHO can use.” In other words, once this law is passed details of your private health status can and will be transmitted internationally, with or without your consent.

If enacted, the Public Health Bill will replace not only the Public Health Act 1956 but also the Tuberculosis Act 1948, a draconian law under which New Zealanders can be imprisoned and drugged using physical force. But this proposed new Act will do nothing to curb these infringements on our civil liberties; instead it will broaden the front on which our privacy can be invaded. Not only will the government have the authority to forcibly treat people suspected of harbouring infectious disease, it will “expand health emergency provisions, which currently deal only with epidemics of communicable diseases, to all actual or potential public health emergencies irrespective of the cause.” This provides enormous scope for increasing government encroachment into people’s lives via the public health system.

Not only will the state be able to act where there is perceived danger to the “public good”; the Public Health Bill also includes “new guideline provisions aimed at reducing risks of non-communicable disease.” Which means the state will have greater power to intervene when a person has risk factors for conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease that cause significant morbidity and mortality. This will not be good news for fatties, smokers, people with high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes or hypertension, and people with unfavourable family medical histories. Such people will find their private lives under increasing scrutiny, and their health providers under financial pressure to improve the overall risk profiles of their customers.

A logical consequence of the flow of money within state-run health services is that doctors and other providers will withhold or distort information that might impact negatively upon their funding. Word surfaced a few years ago of a British doctor who declined to record a patient’s blood pressure in the clinical notes because it wasn’t within the target range for blood pressure set under National Health Service guidelines. To have recorded less than perfect data could have jeopardised the flow of taxpayer funds to that medical practice, and impacted on the income of the doctor’s colleagues.

An online summary of the proposed Public Health Bill notes that “reliable flows of information are fundamental to all health policy and action”, and that “information flows are necessary to support funding of services.” Apparently the exercise of authority (i.e. use of coercion) allowed under the Bill contravenes even the minimal protection offered by the Privacy Act 2003. Too bad.

Should this Bill become law, there will be a greater requirement for doctors and medical laboratories to notify the authorities when they encounter patients with certain medical conditions. The government, of course, dictates which medical conditions will be made notifiable. The Bill aims to “build on” provisions within the current Act to incarcerate and treat with or without consent, with no right of appeal, for indefinite periods of time, anyone with a ‘notifiable’ condition. Powers that can be exercised by Medical Officers of Health will range from requiring a person to refrain from employment or travel, to “detention or compulsory medical examination.”

Medical practitioners will be able, under the proposed Bill, to approach employers and demand information about an individual – so that people can be hunted down and forcibly treated. Doctors will be able to disclose confidential information about individuals to their families and sexual partners. (Why stop there? Why not release medical information into the public domain so that the undesirables can be weeded out rapidly and ‘cured’ of their afflictions more efficiently?)

The Bill will allow public health zealots to supervise the ongoing regulation of private business owners such as hairdressers, importers and manufacturers of microwave ovens, camping ground proprietors and funeral directors. During emergencies, Medical Officers of Health will have wide-ranging powers including the ability to lock people up in quarantine, close down businesses, “requisition things” (i.e. seize private property) and redirect aircraft. The emergencies in question might have arisen in another country but that is immaterial. It’s all about the exercise of unlimited power - something for which statists live, and of which they dream.

Totalitarian medicine, as outlined in the Public Health Bill, was practiced by the Axis powers during the Second World War, in the post-war Soviet Union, and in a smattering of dictatorships at various times since then. It is a particularly invasive violation of personal freedom. At least two of the writers who propose the Public Health Bill as an answer to the antiquated Health Act 1956 - Nick Wilson and Michael Baker – are longstanding health bureaucrats. Wilson is a leading nico-Nazi. These guys will be right in their element, as the Bill is characterized by sweeping government powers of arrest, detention and compulsory treatment, at the expense of individual liberty.

As Benjamin Franklin is alleged to have said, those who would give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither. It is the government’s job to protect and defend our rights, not trample all over them. I am confident that the private sector, in a free market economy, could successfully co-ordinate the containment of infectious disease in New Zealand. But it will probably never be given a chance. The proposed Public Health Bill aims to entrench and expand the footprint of Big Government in the health industry. The Key administration will no doubt pass this Bill into law without thinking through the dangers inherent in putting so much power in the hands of so few. That’s because, despite what they say, conservatives don’t place a high priority on human freedom. Like their leftist counterparts they just love the trappings of power and bossing people around.

The obvious way to avoid having to disclose your medical history to a bus driver would be to privatise both the transport industry and medical services and allow open competition between providers. No bus company that wanted to remain solvent would dare to demand sensitive personal information from its passengers and then pass it onto a third party. Alas, privatisation of the health industry won’t be happening any time soon. The grand plan by New Zealand’s two major political parties, loyally supported by the health ministry, academics such as Wilson and Baker, and other statist scum, is to fully ‘socialise’ all aspects of health care (i.e. drive private players out of the market and then force them to pay for a state monopoly), thus ensuring a drop in quality of the service and creating price distortions that tend to make the product more expensive in the long run.

* * Read Doc McGrath every week here at NOT PC * *

Thursday, 1 January 2009

NOT PJ: Y2K Readiness Commission, the 10th Annual Report

As an atheist Republican, says Bernard Darnton, I'm not very good at public holidays but I love New Year with it's sense of optimism and renewal. Which is why I got roaringly drunk instead of worring about writing an article this week. Luckily I was leaked this document:...
We are pleased to announce that the 2008/2009 New Year transition has occurred, as in previous years, without incident. This result shows the vital role played in annual date rollover preparedness played by the Commission. The Commissioner would like to take this opportunity to thank the personnel of the Commission for their sterling work once again in preventing social and economic disorder. Without the dedicated service of Commission staff it is difficult to imagine smooth chronological succession.
A note of caution should be sounded, however. Recent research shows that fewer that 0.07% of households still have their “B Y2K Wise” fridge magnets attached to their fridge doors. Current surveys suggest that the EQC fridge magnets warning of tsunamis and the Ministry of Health fridge magnets warning of pandemic influenza have radically impinged on the “refrigerator ecosystem” reducing mindshare for cataclysmic exhortation.
Additional competition in the fridge-magnet space from HealthLine, PlunketLine, and the Quit Group (Te Roopu Me Mutu) has added marketing complexity. A coordinated approach with these agencies would be desirable.
A number of energy utilities – some privately held – are also using fridge magnets to market emergency telephone numbers. Whilst these efforts are undoubtedly well-meant it is important that regulations be put in place to ensure that these messages do not crowd out messages with broader social importance.
Fridge magnets without appropriate social messages such as Disney-character and imported Australian-mammal magnets should be banned. Products such as novelty “Kiwis next 1000 km” roadsign fridge magnets, essential to the clean green New Zealand image, should remain legal subject to approval from overseas agencies.
We are pleased to note that previous fears voiced about the survival of the agency under the incoming government have proved unfounded. Ill-informed commentators have previously implied that the Y2K Readiness Commission is no longer required, although a decade of uninterrupted success proves the contra. To counter inappropriate public opinion we advise rebranding the Commission the “Calendrical Succession Commission.”
Successful rebranding can only be accomplished via a sixty million dollar advertising campaign. The campaign should cover television, radio, and the internet – although internet coverage should avoid the months of December and January.
The focus of any advertising campaign should be the primacy of calendrical awareness. Because the messages the Commission promotes are identical to those promoted by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, differentiation is essential. Whereas the occurrence of a major earthquake or volcanic eruption cannot be guaranteed in any region in any one year, the rollover of the calendar year is assured, making the elimination of complacency a priority.
In the current environment there is constant pressure on government spending. It is essential that vital services such as that provided by the Commission are not compromised. Indeed, increases in human resources, health and safety, and building costs mean that core functions of the Commission are at risk if funding is not significantly increased for the 2009/2010 and subsequent years.
If the Commission receives further Cabinet-level support and is appropriately funded we can assure that nothing will happen for years to come.

* * Read Bernard Darnton's regular column every week here at NOT PC * *

Thursday, 25 December 2008

NOT PJ: What's the Reason for this Folly?

"All I want for Christmas," says Bernard Darnton, "is Christmas":

I wasn't one of those who bought a house near the top of the market with a hundred-percent mortgage and then extended the loan six months later to buy a bloody great big shiny new TV, so the recession has so far passed me by.

The worst effect I've seen is that austerity is now fashionable, even amongst those who aren't feeling the pinch. I hope it's a passing fad and I intend to ignore it, much as I ignore most passing fads. Not having a bloody great big shiny new TV I don't usually find out what the passing fads are until they've passed by, reached their destination, gone to the pub, and are having a lonely drink to drown their sorrows having been deserted by their followers.

Regarding the TV thing, I should add that I don't have anything against shiny expensive gadgets – Note to Santa: I quite like shiny expensive gadgets – it's just that I don't want a top notch telly when the programmes are so crap. Shite in high-definition is still shite.

The worst aspect of austerity-as-fashion-accessory is that it has invaded that stronghold of glorious consumption, Christmas. I know there are supposed to be religious reasons for Christmas – Jesus or Sol Invictus or something – but as far as I'm aware no verse in the Bible mentions the real highlight of Christmas, a fat bloke dressed as a Coke can.

This year our family has decided to cut back. That is, one person in our family has decided to cut back and told everyone else to comply. I certainly wasn't part of this daft decision, being merely a hanger-on by marriage. (And I only find out about this stuff after the fact. Mrs Darnton does all the present buying and associated carry-on at our place.)

I don't think any of us is in financial trouble. I suspect the dig-for-England mentality is just a bit of vaguely Puritan middle-class guilt. A bit like when your mother told you to eat your dinner because people were starving in Ethiopia. Which makes as much sense as putting your coat on because it's cold at the North Pole.

We are now subject to strict present buying rules, which have been laid down by the central authority. Each participant is to buy one present, addressed to a designated recipient, up to a legislated maximum value.

Excruciating Christmas morning horrors await. The primary failure of the centrally-planned Christmas is that not everyone knows the plan. The Christmas Control Authority has been too polite to tell some people that the trimmings have been trimmed. Those without inside knowledge of how the systems works will arrive arms laden and expecting full festivities. Their generosity will be cruelly punished.

The Christmas Control Authority has also become the clearing house for problematic gift-buying decisions. Those who've been assigned a difficult relative or someone they don't know well seem to believe that a bureaucracy clever enough to make up all these rules also knows exactly what everyone wants. No. Expect resources to be misapplied to the novelty sock and amusing coffee mug industries. I'm almost praying for scorched almonds.

On the upside, the atheists are going to have a good time regardless. While the churchgoers are going to church, the atheists will get in a two- or three-bottle head start to make the proceedings bearable, perhaps even entertaining. Without an explicit liquor ban, this will be the festive outlet of choice.

The question for next year is: will the failed experiment result in a return to laissez-faire or a second round of regulation to correct the problems caused by the first lot.

I wish you a raucous and regulation-free Christmas and hope that Santa hasn't been turned back from your place for the crime of overloading his sleigh.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

'Man the Enlightened Being': - Frank Lloyd Wright's Christmas Message from 1953

I like to post this Christmas message from Frank Lloyd Wright every year around this time ...
so it's probably a good time to wish all of you a great Christmas and a very happy and prosperous New Year -- that is, every single one of you who doesn't wish increased state bullying upon me and mine and on the rest of the populace of New Zealand who remains here. Just a small number of you, then.

So as the offices here at Not PC Towers begin to shut down for the holidays, I really do want to re-post architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s poetic message on “man the enlightened being” which he used to send out at Christmas time. “The herd disappears and reappears," says Wright's message, "but the sovereignty of the individual persists":

Literature tells about man. Architecture presents him. The Architecture that our
man of Democracy needs and prophecies is bound to be different from that of the
common or conditioned man of any other socialized system of belief. As never
before, this new Free-Man’s Architecture will present him by being true to his
own nature in all such expressions. This aim becomes natural to him in his Art
as it once was in his Religion.

With renewed vision, the modern man will use the new tools Science lavishes upon him (even before he is ready for them) to enlarge his field of action by reducing his fetters to exterior controls, especially those of organized Authority, publicity, or political expediency. He will use his new tools to develop his own Art and Religion as the means to keep him free, as himself. Therefore this democratic man’s environment, like his mind, will never be style-ized. When and wherever he builds he will not consent to be boxed. He will himself have his style...

Read on here for the full message: Man, the Enlightened Being by Frank Lloyd Wright, and remember to have a great individualistic holiday season. And remember this useful advice about responsible holiday drinking: Try to schedule responsibly so you get it all done before lunch.

DOWN TO THE DOCTORS' Illuminati Conspiracy Overturns Light Bulb Ban

In the New Year Doc McGrath will be regular weekly correspondent. Here's a wee taster for now...

Last week Gerry Brownlee announced, on behalf of the new National-led government, that plans by the previous administration to ban incandescent light bulbs were to be shelved. This is, of course, a fairly minor change in itself - but it offers a glimmer of hope to those who believe that people should be encouraged to think for themselves and act in accordance with their judgment.

The Clark/Cullen/Simpson troika and would-be Light-Bulb Czar David Parker thought they could chop away more of our freedom by spending three-million dollars telling people how they should light up their homes. This blew the fuse for most voters.

Weary after nine years of taking orders, they finally rejected Helen and her endless micromanagement of their lives. And so, the Blue Team once again occupy the treasury benches. Yes, this is the same Blue Team that gave us the Resource Management Abomination, and many New Zealanders are justifiably nervous at what other plans the Nats might have up their sleeves.

However, one of their first moves has been to put the kibosh on the proposed light bulb lunacy. The Libertarianz Party, while recognizing this as a small blow for freedom, is hopeful that it may represent the start of at least three years of quiet but steady deregulation, which is surely the route to prosperity and working our way out of the economic recession.

The word ‘Illuminati’ literally means enlightened ones. Fortunately, the National/ACT/Maori grouping have become enlightened on the issue of light bulbs, and have conspired to defeat Nanny and her army of interfering busybodies.

New Zealanders can choose, if they wish, to use the energy saving fluorescent light bulbs that look like coils of plasticine. I use them at home, but I’m not yet sure how much they will trim off my power bill. But at least I have a choice now. Helen Clark’s ban was an insult to every thinking person.

Look for more from Doc McGrath in the New Year ...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

SUS'S SOUNDBITE: Let's make Christmas more commercial!

Another sound bite from Susan Ryder.

I love Christmas. I love everything about it, from shopping to decorating to singing carols. It’s my favourite time of the year, as it is for millions around the world.

There’s something about putting your tree up. I put mine up earlier than anybody I know, with the exception of my sister who occasionally pips me to the post. I usually aim for the last Sunday in November, complete with my favourite festive music. My youngest sister, a mother of three, somewhat violently swears the two of us to secrecy, lest my nephews and niece pester her to get their tree up ridiculously early, too.

The music is important, because it simply wouldn’t be Christmas for us without it. The first is from Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters, originally recorded in the 1940s. My late grandfather was a huge Crosby fan and he and Nana had the record. We played it every Christmas until it quite literally warped – and even then we still played it. Several years ago we discovered it on CD, thereby preserving the tradition for the next generation, who I’m delighted to report know all the words of Mele Kalikimaka.

The second is a relative newcomer, “Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas”, introduced by one of my brothers-in-law, a musician. Aaron might look like a criminal – and he does - but he has the
voice of an angel. I defy the hardest heart to not be moved by his rendition of “O Holy Night” in particular. Occasionally we will permit an interloper on Christmas Day itself, but generally it’s just Aaron and Bing. Perfect.

Anyway, back to the tree where my decorations are like old friends who visit once a year. Some were picked up in my travels in the days when the offerings in New Zealand were severely
limited, but now, thanks to globalisation, we are spoilt for choice.

No matter the size of the tree, though, or the quality and quantity of the decorations, they come alive with Christmas lights. The lights provide the magic.

Retailers love the Christmas season and for good reason. For many, it’s the busiest time of the year with December sales representing a healthy portion of their turnover. The big annual
spend-up on Christmas gifts is an example of the market at work. Stores are stocked to the brim with goods to sell, employing thousands of staff in the process. Students are gainfully employed
as much-needed additional staff to help offset the costs of their next educational year, or to just get through the summer.

Manufacturers work hard to complete orders on time and freight companies are flat out with seasonal deliveries. The livelihoods of many depend upon the Christmas season, and yet every year we hear the same cries that Christmas has become commercialised, as if it is a bad thing.

But why is that so?

To answer that question, it is worthwhile to explore its origins. Here’s a quick look. Christmas is a Christian holiday and like other Christian holidays, it has its origin in paganism.

Saturnalia was a Roman festival in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture. It began on 15 December and lasted for seven days of feasting and revelry, just prior to the winter solstice that
fell around 25 December on the Julian calendar. The solstice included glorification of Mithra, the god of light who several centuries later became known as the god of the sun. The Roman
Catholic Church had the habit of absorbing pagan traditions into Christendom, converting the holiday commemorating the birth of the sun god into “Christ Mass”, a ceremony honouring the birth of the Son of God.

However, Christmas-time celebrations prior to the 1800s still featured much pagan revelry among the British commoners, at times little more than wild carousals. It is believed that this
drunken revelry had much to do with Oliver Cromwell – never much of a partygoer – going so far as to outlaw Christmas in the 17th century, forcing it underground for a time. This ban was
extended to many of the early North American colonies where “violators” were fined five shillings. After its reinstatement, Christmas still bore much of its earlier debauchery, but some of
our current traditions started to appear. For example, caroling began with groups of individuals visiting houses in the community singing songs in exchange for eggnog. Gift-giving, however, was still extremely limited, and virtually unknown within families.

The traditions of several countries are involved. The Yule log came from Scandinavian mythology, “Yule” being the Anglo- Saxon term for the months of December and January. After
most Scandinavians had converted to Christianity, “Yule” became synonymous with Christmas.

By the 17th century, the Germans had converted the Christmas tree, originally a sign of fertility, into a Christian symbol of rebirth. The Dutch called Saint Nicholas, an altruistic bishop from the
4th century, ‘Sinterklaas’, who was to become ‘Santa Claus’ in the USA. In 1823 the American professor Clement Clarke Moore wrote the delightful poem entitled A Visit from Saint Nicholas,
better known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.'

But perhaps the greatest change occurred after the publication in 1843 of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, providing lessons on charity and the importance of caring for family and
friends. As a result, Christmas became a joyful, domestic holiday focusing on children in particular. It was an illustrator with “Harper’s” magazine, who first depicted Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole in the latter half of the 19th century, while Coca-Cola ran commercials in 1931 showing Santa as the children’s gift-giver, as we know him today. Rudolf, the much-loved ninth reindeer appeared in 1939 via an advertising agent on behalf of his retailing client, all of which paved the way for the commercialism seen annually for decades.

The festive colour and sparkle brightened the dark days of the long northern winters, with the seasonal sales providing welcome respite during the slower trading months.

But what of Christmas down under, occurring as it does in early summer. Is it not odd to see traditional winter celebrations imposed by early settlers upon warm, sunny days? Christmas
cards depicting robins on snow-covered mailboxes? Rugged-up Carolers sipping hot toddies?
Not at all … if that’s what you like. Whether you prefer a traditional roast meal or a barbecue outside, a formal dinner or informal brunch, a church service to celebrate the birth of Christ
or a walk along the beach, a large, rowdy family affair or a quiet day indulging your favourite pastimes, is entirely up to you.

And rather than decrying its commercialism, I prefer to embrace it for the wealth it provides and the jobs it creates. It would be a mean-spirited Scrooge who begrudged another his
income during the Season of Goodwill. Do some people overstretch themselves fi nancially? Sadly, yes. But the truth is that nobody forces them to do so. Beautiful doesn’t have to be big and bold. It never did. Yes, the Santa sleepwear is tacky. Yes, the reindeer antlers are tragic on anyone old enough to pay full price at the pictures and Michael Jackson’s 'I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus' (I really did!) drives me nuts, too. But it all vanishes in comparison with the beauty of a Christmas tree lit up in the darkness, or the enrapturing melodies of some of the most beautiful music ever written.

Not to mention the face of the little one who gazes upon the simplicity of the nativity scene in the stable where the celebration of Christmas, as we know it today, all began.

May Father Christmas be good to you all.

This articloe originally appeared in the Franklin E-News. Get more of Sus' Soundbites here. And have a Salacious Saturnalia!

Sunday, 21 December 2008