Friday, June 19, 2009

Thought for a Friday

Thought for a Friday: Perhaps if fewer women went to university, there’d be  more room for Maoris?

Harry Enfield starts the argument:

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Step 2 of a nine-step programme: Denial.

Ah, so that’s what’s going on.  Defending his firm’s study on the costs of alcohol that a thorough criticism concluded had "few redeeming features" – a study that overstates “the annual social cost of alcohol abuse” by around thirty-three times, just as its sponsors wanted – Ganesh Nana from BERL said that he and his critics obviously have “a different world view.”

Sounds like Mr Nana is living in a different world altogether.  A world of denial.

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Quote of the Day – F.A. Hayek, advice to central bankers

Writing from the very depths of the 1930s depression, Friedrich Hayek offers advice for the central bankers responsible for this one.

    "Instead of furthering the inevitable liquidation of the maladjustments brought about by the boom during the last three years, all conceivable means have been used to prevent that readjustment from taking place; and one of these means, which has been repeatedly tried though without success, from the earliest to the most recent stages of depression, has been this deliberate policy of credit expansion. …
    To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about; because we are suffering from a misdirection of production, we want to create further misdirection—a procedure that can only lead to a much more severe crisis as soon as the credit expansion comes to an end. … It is probably to this experiment, together with the attempts to prevent liquidation once the crisis had come, that we owe the exceptional severity and duration of the depression.”

- Hayek, ‘Monetary theory and trade cycle.’ Quoted in Tom Woods’ article, ‘Unnatural Disaster: How the Fed Creates Booms and Busts.’

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The Lord of the Flies - the Keynesian edition [updated]

Remember Lord of the Flies?  This is from the little-known rejected first draft [hat tip Jeffrey Tucker].

lord_of_the_flies

UPDATE: Today the issue is still Keynes versus Hayek, says Mario Rizzo, just as it was in the Great Depression.

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DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Filipinos, Foreign Aid and Five-Year-Olds

In which Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath takes his regularly irreverent look at some of the past week’s headlines.

  1. Taxpayers Get Bill For MPs’ Campaign Trips – Productive New Zealanders have just funded seventeen Molesworth St parasites to visit Mt Albert during the recent by-election campaign. These cockroaches attended sham meetings and conducted “parliamentary business” in Auckland so that you and I would be forced to pick up the tab for their hotel bills, taxi fares and electioneering. Jonathan Hunt would be proud of them. National’s party whip says all MPs acted within the rules. Time then, I say, for an immediate overhaul of those rules. Let’s make political parties self-funding. Why the hell should I be forced to fund Phil Goff or John Key, when the policies they espouse turn my stomach? Quote of the week has to be Parliamentary Services general manager Geoff Thorn who in a moment of psychosis described MPs as “honourable people.” Honourable people who don’t hesitate to spend other people’s money in the pursuit of power. At least the Libertarianz Party were honourable enough to refuse taxpayer funding for television advertising during the 2008 election campaign. In addition, they were not allowed to fund their own television advertising, thus closing that door as a means of putting their message across. I say it again: why should an individual be forced to fund campaigns for organisations whose ideas and policies are diametrically opposed to his own? It’s high time we abolished restrictions on political advertising, and stopped public funding of political parties.
  2. ‘Give Maori Free Access To Uni’ – Pita Sharples insults Maori students with his call for tertiary institutions to lower their entry standards for a favoured minority group that he considers incapable of entering university under their own steam. Sharples presumably wants not just equality of opportunity in our universities - which Maori people already have now - but equality of outcome. How on earth does he think someone who has failed to achieve at secondary school could march straight into university and succeed? If Dr Sharples is so worried about the absence of Maori in mainstream education, why not get rid of “mainstream”? What’s wrong with a bit of diversity in our education system? Why not make it easier for interested parties to set up new educational facilities, including ones who gave free access to everyone regardless of school achievement? Or even race-based ones, as preferred by Dr Sharples. Just don’t ask me to fund race-based universities, because I have other priorities for my money – such as educating my own children. In fact, get the state right out of education. If Dr Sharples is so concerned about the lack of Maori participation in universities, why doesn’t he petition the tribes, with their billions in Treaty settlement pay-offs, to fund their own private universities, with their own entry criteria?
  3. Don't repatriate Filipino workers, pleads consulThousands of workers from the Philippines plan to outstay their work permits. Their consul-general here has asked that these people be allowed to stay, as many of them have sold everything they own back home to come and work here. I say: why not let them stay? Get rid of minimum wage laws, so that they can all find work; and stop them from claiming taxpayer-funded welfare, so they don’t become a drain on the rest of us. Let’s make these Filipinos the recipients of “foreign aid” by giving them jobs here. Once they find employment, give them a vote. Equally, remove the franchise from native-born sickness, invalid and unemployment beneficiaries. Give people incentive to be self-supporting, instead of rewarding non-production.
  4. Fury As Five Year Old Told To Clean Toilets – A five year old who hit another child in the face with a ball is not smacked but instead is told to clean toilets at the child care facility he attends. This has apparently caused damage to his mother’s ‘mana’ and trampled his spirit. Well, diddums. This child has been directed into some work that will benefit other children. I say well done to the caregivers responsible for turning a negative into a positive, and exposing this child to a work situation early in his life. Too many children in situations of intergenerational welfare dependency never learn what work is, and survive (if they are lucky) in squalid filthy conditions, looked after by dope-addled criminals. And here’s the kicker: the five year old’s mother is now seeking advice from Annette Sykes - the same Annette Sykes who rejoiced when Islamic terrorists killed thousands of innocent people on September 11, 2001. A real expert on human rights, our Annette. Wonder if she thought for one second about the mana and spirit of those who perished in the World Trade Centre?

See y’all next week!
Doc McGrath

* * Read Richard McGrath’s column every Wednesday here at NOT PC . . .  except when when you read it on a Friday * *

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‘A Cobblestone Is the Weapon of the Proletariat’ – Ivan Shadr

Shadr-stone-proletariat

To those who are astonished at the appearance here at this blog of a well-known work of 1920s Soviet Art, I say it’s often astonishing how successfully the message of powerful art can transcend political ideology.

The theme here is resistance, determination, the sheer will to overcome with whatever the tools at hand. Sculptor Ivan Shadr (real name Ivan Dmitriyevich Ivanov) might have put his talent to work in the service of Soviet Art, unfortunately, but what he produced is no less powerful for that – not at least when his theme is so universal.

The young man here could just as easily be resisting Czarist cossacks, Soviet tanks or Iranian militia – the key qua art is that he is resisting.  And not without hope.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

The oxymoron that is local government transport planning

Proponents of Rodney Hide's template for Auckland's mega-council insists it's absolutely necessary to amalgmate Auckland's six council into one in order to "integrate city planning."

Which is to say, to integrate "planning" by council planners (while, incidentally, making private planning more difficult).

Which is to say, to give more power to morons like this one, Mr Chris Darby, North Shore City's representative on the Regional Transport Committee, to make your life more difficult and his ego more shiny.

Why do I call him a moron? Because Mr Darby is a tranport planner who doesn't like roads. Worse, he's an Auckland transport planner who doesn' t like roads. Even though 86% of commutes in Auckland are undertaken by car, and only 7% by public transport (and of those more than half are by buses, which use those same roads) Mr Darby, North Shore transport planner objects to 76% of Auckland transport funding going on roads.

"An absolute time warp to the 1950s" this moron calls that decision. "It fails to provide against dwindling oil supplies," he says. "It will be a long-time liability," he insists.

Why do we want to give morons like this any power at all, let alone more? As Liberty Scott says, in giving this rate-paid liability a thorough fisking, "Mr Darby is another commodity speculator who doesn't actually risk his own money on the assertion that oil prices will go sky high. . . Why should he have any say at all? He doesn't represent users, he doesn't represent producers, he represents planners."

And central "planners" are the lowest of the low. We don't want their kind of planning "integrated," we need it abolished.

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Quote of the Day: Art Carden on charity

On the occasion of Te Ururoa Flavell's bill seeing the light of day, here's some wisdom from Art Carden:
"Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat forever. Protect his private property rights to fish and he'll feed the world."

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PUBLIC NOTICE: Help wanted

Beer writer, Real Beer blogger and (ir)regular NOT PC contributor Neil Miller is trying to determine, once and for all, which is the oldest pub in New Zealand to help sort out this “stoush” described here.

Can you help?

Any theories?  Any stories? Any facts?

Clint Heine has a couple of long-held thoughts.

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No more confiscation!

What a shame that one the same day Maori Party leader Pita Sharples was disgracing himself, his colleague Te Ururoa Flavell was presenting a bill before parliament that does him enormous credit.

His bill aims to return Maori or general land confiscated from property-owners under the Public Works Act and never used – or at least to give them first right of refusal – to compensate owners for that theft, and to ensure that no more Maori land is confiscated under the Public Works Act.

For that, I give Mr Flavell and his party a nine out of ten, and great kudos for being the only party in Parliament who wants to protect property rights.

But can you see why I’ve taken one point off?  It’s obvious, isn’t it: there’s no reason at all, is there, that the protection of the last of those three points shouldn’t be extended to all property-owners, regardless of race.  As we’ve said here several times, there’s no need to confiscate property for projects when it can all be done voluntarily.

But if it can start here, with Mr Flavell’s bill, then we’re at least going somewhere better.

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Race-based racist foolishness

Q: What do you get when you cross a race-based party and a government education system? 
A: You get headlines like this one: ‘Give Maori Free Access To Uni’

It would be nice to think that racism was dead in New Zealand.  But it’s not.  It’s alive and well and thriving in Pita Sharples’ proposal for preferential entry to university for unqualified Maori entrants.

The “affirmative action” system admitting under-qualified Maori has been so “successful” – and only an entity occupying a race-based seat could call lowering standards based on race a success – that this numb nut wants to have it extended to Maori with no qualifications at all.

Dr Sharples, who is also Associate Education Minister, said allocating Maori places regardless of their qualifications would boost Maori participation at higher levels of study.

Well, yes it will.  It will but it will hardly earn them greater respect if they fail when they get there, or are coddled through their courses – and it will hardly endow them with respect for their courses or for their own learning.

It will not raise the educational standards of Maori; it will only lower educational standards for everyone.

Now it’s true that students can enter university and succeed without any substantive secondary success – I know this because I know students who have.  But this says more about the already appallingly low standard of New Zealand’s secondary and tertiary courses (there’s too little real learning being delivered at secondary level, and too few courses at tertiary level that truly necessitate it), and a lot about the courses these students choose. It’s possible for example to achieve a Bachelor of Arts or Education without any original thinking and any prior learning (that is to say, a Bugger All or a Bed, neither of which are worth much more than the paper on which the degrees are printed). 

In fact in most of the humanities faculties a working brain is a positive disadvantage.  But there other areas of learning where a student does need to have prior success and previous learning on which to build. Engineering and medicine are just two. It’s all but impossible to achieve a genuine medical degree or Bachelor of Engineering without some real hard graft, and genuine prior knowledge – impossible, that is, without the preferential coddling of students on the basis of race.

And as Thomas Sowell writes, "The dirty little secret about affirmative action is that it doesn't work."

    An even dirtier secret is that virtually no one really cares whether or not affirmative action works to advance minorities or women.
    It works politically to put its supporters on the side of the angels. It works for ethnic or feminist "leaders" as a rallying cry to mobilize support. For the mushy minded, it works to make them feel morally one-up.

And for politicians, it helps them get a headline.  So that worked well then.

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Does MG maketh the man?

PC_Waterfront-sm_A Turns out my car only turns heads when I’m not in it [hat tip TWR].

In some surprising findings commissioned by popular SBS TV show Top Gear Australia, researchers measured changes in the brain responses of women towards a range of men depending on the car they drove. The study tested the reactions to a luxury sports car, a ute, a 4WD, a hotted-up street car and a vintage classic. . .  In one of the biggest surprises, the classic MG Roadster was viewed favourably when empty, but failed to impress the minute a man was seen in it.

Maybe it depends on the man? Maybe it makes me look better?

    The experiment, conducted by Neuro Insight, aimed to explore the argument, "does the car maketh the man."
    "Pretty much every car made the family guy look better", Peter Pynta from Neuro Insight said. But he had this advice for the good-looking guys. "If you're a good looking bloke, don't even worry about it," he said.

So the question is, do I need to sell my MG?  Careful how you answer, now.  ;^)

NOT PJ: A Report into the Costs of Harmful Economic and Other Social Policy Analysis

The government’s pet analysts at BERL will be needing a stiff drink, says Bernard Darnton, after being eviscerated by Not PC reader (and Canterbury University economist) Eric Crampton.

Alcohol was on the menu at a Law Commission breakfast in March, when Geoffrey Palmer floated the idea of yet more government busy-bodying and higher taxes based on a report on the social costs of alcohol conducted by economic analysts BERL at the behest of the Ministry of Health and ACC.

The BERL report estimated the social costs of alcohol – whatever that might mean – at $4.79 billion. That’s a significant fraction of the New Zealand economy that’s supposedly missing or broken because we’re all too hungover to go to work and drunks keep breaking windows and each other’s bones.

I’d be the first to admit to occasionally having such a good time that I forgot to go to work the next day. Sadly the work I missed didn’t just evaporate like evanescent sambuca flames; I just had to catch up later. No lost productivity there (bugger it). Likewise, health costs: Anyone who’s been into Dunedin Hospital’s Accident and Emergency department on a Friday night knows that there are no health costs. You get given a 12-cent photocopy of a leaflet called “So You Think You’ve Broken Your Nose” and told to bugger off.

The analysts at BERL, however, won’t accept my reminiscences as a valid criticism of their cost/benefit analysis. Fortunate, then, that Canterbury University economist Dr Eric Crampton has helpfully produced an arse/elbow analysis of their report.

Economists’ language is usually dry – dryer than Charles’s eyes at Diana’s funeral – but Dr Crampton and collaborator Matt Burgess have trouble restraining themselves. BERL’s estimates of costs are “grossly exaggerated.” They use a “bizarre methodology” and make “very strange assumptions … without any reason or evidence.”

Translating from Academic into English, this is saying that they’re mad. Batshit Crazy. Crazier. Crazier than the shit of vampire bats who’ve been feeding on mad cows and rabid dogs. He’s saying that to believe their conclusions you’d need to have lost more marbles than the Greek Antiquities Commission.

One of the subtle methodological flaws that Crampton and Burgess pick up is that the cost/benefit analysis contains no benefit analysis. My favourite paragraphs in academic papers are the ones that begin, “Astonishingly, …”

The BERL economists assume that anyone who consumes more than two drinks in a session (not that they ever use the word “session”) is irrational and derives no pleasure or other benefit from this activity. Remind me never to go to the BERL Christmas party.

Of course alcohol has benefits – otherwise I wouldn’t buy it. And I buy loads of it so the benefits must be huge. This column, for example. Then there are the sensuous pleasures: the earthy bouquet of a Central Otago pinot noir, the perfectly balanced palate of a Gisborne chardonnay. And don’t forget the immense pleasure to be had masturbating in public – verbally of course, about the earthy bouquets of Central Otago pinots and perfectly balanced palates of Gisborne chardonnays.

Dr Crampton’s critique goes on to dissect the haphazard accounting, the bad economics, the frequent use of misleading language, the lack of transparency in calculations, and many other crimes against logic committed by the report’s authors. He struggles to keep a straight face while referencing Karl Marx (“students of economic history will recognise … a theory discredited”) to explain some of BERL’s reasoning.

He goes on to point out the vast mass of literature on the subject that BERL completely overlooked, presumably because they didn’t look in any actual economic journals, instead copying a similar study done in Australia – one panned for the same faults. The authors of the Australian study that this one was based on were then called in to provide an “independent” peer review. (Apparently they thought it was smashing – “couldn’t have put it better myself.”)

Dr Crampton advises in his accompanying press release that “the Law Commission should give no weight at all to the findings in the BERL report.”

If Crampton and Burgess are anywhere close to right, this report is so shoddy that the only excuse could be that its authors were drunk.

The only non-sinister excuse, that is. Conclude Crampton and Burgess: “A year-long study commissioned by the Ministry of Health and the ACC at a cost of over $135,000 must surely have some purpose. We leave it to readers to consider what that purpose might be.”

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *

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Wisdom supporting liberty - Jules Dalou, 1889

Peace--protesters-maleWhen liberty has never needed the support of wisdom so desperately, it's a pleasure to discover gems like this, from back when the French knew how to do sculpture and the world knew how to appreciate it, posted at blogs like The Aesthetic Capitalist -- where you can go to learn much more about this small 24" wonder.

As Keats said, "Truth is beauty...

PS; The revolution in Iran is still being twittered here and here – and aggregated at Andrew Sullivan’s. Two recent “tweets” offer both insight and hope.

  • “Only [the pro-government] baseej militia and Etellaat are following orders – and they cannot contain country without Army.
  • “140 characters [the maximum length of a Twitter post] is like a novel when you’re being shot at.”
  • As opposition protest continues in post-election Iran, Revolutionary Guard announces websites and bloggers must remove any materials that 'create tension' or face legal action.
  • Revolutionary Guard targets social media http://tr.im/oMcx
  • "One if by land, two if by sea... and three if by Twitter."
  • Check out the photoshopping on the pro-ahmedinajad rally pictures http://twitpic.com/7m1vd
  • “Confirmed by MOUSAVI - Thursday march in memory of those killed - location tbc - sea of green.”

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Muddling while Tehran yearns [updated]

The sound of freedom is still ringing around the streets, houses and souks of Tehran, even if that sound hasn’t yet reached the White House or the man within it.

While the people of Iran cry out for change from their fearful oppressors, the ObaMessiah who once promoted such a concept as something you could believe in is struggling to avoid any believable stand at all.  The policies of Ahmadinejad and Mousavi are practically the same, says President Zero, all but wondering what the big deal is here.

The big deal, you big oaf, is that freedom is breaking out where hitherto we might have least expected it. Mousavi is hardly Thomas Jefferson, but that’s hardly the point – and it rather makes the perfect the enemy of the good, doesn’t it. Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal explains the point well,

    Just as in Hungary in 1956, a popular uprising has coalesced around a figure (Imre Nagy in Hungary; Mir Hossein Mousavi in Iran), who had once been a creature of the system. Then as now it was buoyed by inspiring American rhetoric about freedom and democracy coming over Voice of America airwaves.
    And then as now the administration effectively turned its back on the uprising when U.S. support could have made a difference. Hungary would spend the next 33 years in the Soviet embrace. One senses a similar fate for Iran, where Mr. Ahmadinejad's "victory" signals the ultimate ascendancy of the ultra-militants in the Revolutionary Guards Corps and the paramilitary Basij, intent on getting what they want and doing as they please even in defiance of their old clerical masters. Which means: Get ready for a second installment of the Iranian cultural revolution.
[Thanks to Shari for the link.]

On top of that, President Zero and his cardboard cut out Vice Biden look to the god of democracy as the balm that will fix all, ignoring some simple advice that rings down through history, advice that the people on the streets of Tehran might pass on to Obama – if he would but listen and if they weren’t banned from communicating by any means other than Twittering: That even if the majority did vote for Ahmadinejad, that doesn’t make it right.

As  Walter Williams reminds us,

Democracy and majority rule [can] give an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny.

Principled government is not built on majority rule, but on individual rights.  Hanging your hat on the verisimilitude of a vote is not the way to bring freedom to Iran, or to anywhere.  Freedom is not a popularity contest, it’s a human birthright.

Meantime, the sounds of freedom continue to ring out around Tehran and the peaceful demonstrations continue, even in the face of brutality by the pro-government militia (the Basij) and from the Hamas and Hezbollah ring-ins trucked in to take the place of the Iranian military who are reportedly refusing to fire on the protestors. Andrew Sullivan posts this quote below from a women protestor that gives some context::

    Ahmadinejad called the opposition as a bunch of insignificant dirt who try to make the taste of victory bitter to the nation. He also called the western leaders as a bunch of 'filthy homosexuals'. All these disgusting remarks was today answered by that largest demonstration ever. Older people compared the demonstration of today with the Ashura Demonstration of 1979 which marks the downfall of the Shah regime and even said that it outnumbered that event. The militia burnt a house themselves to find the excuse to commit violence. People neutralized their tactic to a large degree by their solidarity, their wisdom and their denial to engage in any violent act.

It worked in the Philippines when Marcos was overthrown and in Portugal with the “Carnation Revolution.” It worked in Prague’s Velvet Revolution and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and the later “Colour Revolutions” when the cracks within those society finally and peacefully opened up.

Let us hope it happens here in Tehran too, with or without the help of a President who can apparently only muddle while Tehran burns.

UPDATE: Michael asks in the comments what Obama should do, just as if the poor chap had nothing to work with. 

“If you were Obama, what would you do? Sure, he could point all that out about it being wrong, but would would it actually achieve?”

Well, there are several tangible things he could do to help.  After all, he has no compunction about meddling in the affairs of Israel, or of the world’s tax havens, so the problem is clearly not one of reluctance to meddle in another country’s internal affairs – and in this case (as Scott says) it’s akin to “your next door neighbours saying "mind your own business" when you witness their kids bruised and bleeding after hearing them screaming saying ‘stop’.” And Obama’s troops over the border in Iraq are practically neighbours, and since Iran is the world’s primary sponsor of world’s terrorism ending the Ahmadinejad regime at a time when it’s already weakened would be within its ambit.

But even that may not be necessary.  Yet.  Moral courage is sometimes enough, even if it is about as rare as an honest lawyer.  It was enough when Ronald Reagan stood up in Berlin and said “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”  And eventually, the logic of that was accepted and Mr Gorbachev did.  And it was enough when Reagan spoke out in support of striking Polish workers, who took the moral courage from his words and used them as fuel to overturn the oppressive regime of Soviet puppets that was stifling their freedom.

And we know that while Obama very rarely has anything to say, we know as well as we know anything that he sure as hell can talk when he wants. If only he could say anything approaching what Reagan said when the Soviets began crushing the Polish Solidarity uprising, it might be enough:

We view the current situation in Poland in the gravest of terms, particularly the increasing use of force against an unarmed population and violations of the basic civil rights of the Polish people.

Violence invites violence and threatens to plunge Poland into chaos. We call upon all free people to join in urging the Government of Poland to reestablish conditions that will make constructive negotiations and compromise possible.

... The Polish nation, speaking through Solidarity, has provided one of the brightest, bravest moments of modern history. The people of Poland are giving us an imperishable example of courage and devotion to the values of freedom in the face of relentless opposition. Left to themselves, the Polish people would enjoy a new birth of freedom. But there are those who oppose the idea of freedom, who are intolerant of national independence, and hostile to the European values of democracy and the rule of law.

Two Decembers ago, freedom was lost in Afghanistan; this Christmas, it’s at stake in Poland. But the torch of liberty is hot. It warms those who hold it high. It burns those who try to extinguish it.

Would that the current President had either the courage or the understanding to say what’s needed.  It would assuredly save a lot of future heartache, and undoubtedly avert a lot of present bloodshed.

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Quack go the chiropractors

In resorting to legal action against their scientific critics, chiropractors are showing they have no more claim to respect than Scientologists, who famously substitute legal muscle for rational discourse.

That is the only conclusion one can draw from a Chiropractors Association complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority about comments made against them on Breakfast TV by Dr Shaun Holt, and a recent court action in London brought in an attempt to silence another prominent critic. (News on both here. See Holt’s comments and the chiropractors’ on-air response here.)

Keeping his cool, Dr Holt says he is “disappointed” about. the complaint.  “Scientific debate shouldn’t be settled by legal muscle,” he says, “but rather through open discussion in medical and mainstream literature.”  Quite right.

If people have disagreements with the credibility of a treatment, which [in this case] is chiropracty, shouldn’t they be settled by producing evidence and references to good scientific literature and research, rather than getting settled through the courts?

One may draw their own conclusions from chiropractors’ preference for the courts.

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You’ll never get poor promoting the government line

A bullshit study promoting wowserism has been completely overturned by economists Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess. 

Produced by tame economic consultants BERL in order to promote the party line on alcohol, it looks like nothing more than a report whose conclusions were paid for in advance.  The report on so called alcohol abuse is over-egged, the results are over-exagerated, and the consultants are clearly overpaid.

As Burgess says, “At one point BERL makes accidental (we think) use of the labour theory of value, which we discuss on page 35. Never a good look when Marxism makes an appearance in your economic analysis.”

You and I paid $135,000 for this study but because of its, shall we say, “unusual methodology and poor execution” it looks to be suitable for nothing more than filling up a landfill – the work of people paid for lying to order.

Here’s Eric and Matt’s polite summary of its errors:

Reported costs of alcohol abuse "grossly exaggerated" according to economists

A widely publicised $135,000 government report on the cost of drug and alcohol abuse has been slammed by two economists, who say the report’s findings are grossly exaggerated.

Economists Eric Crampton and Matt Burgess have released a research paper which examines the report, by Wellington economics consultant Business and Economic Research Limited (BERL), after Law Commission President Sir Geoffrey Palmer cited its findings in support of proposed new regulations on alcohol.

“What we found shocked us. BERL exaggerated costs by 30 times using a bizarre methodology that you won’t find in any economics textbook,” Dr Crampton said.

The BERL report was commissioned in 2008 by the Ministry of Health and ACC, and put the annual social costs of alcohol at $4.79 billion. Crampton and Burgess said the net social costs instead amounted to $146 million – 30 times lower than that calculated in the report.

“BERL has virtually assumed its answer. The majority of the reported social costs rest on two very strange assumptions which BERL has asserted without any reason or evidence,” said Dr Crampton said.

“The report assumes that one in six New Zealand adults drinks because they are irrational; that is, they are incapable of deciding what is good for themselves. BERL further assumes that these individuals receive absolutely no enjoyment, social or economic benefit from any of their drinking,” Dr Crampton said.

“These assumptions allowed BERL to count as a cost to society everything from the cost of alcohol production to the effect of alcohol on unpaid housework. That’s bad economics.”

Among other serious flaws, Dr Crampton said the report’s external peer review was done by the authors of the report’s own methodology, important findings in academic literature that alcohol had health and economic benefits were ignored, BERL did not properly warn readers about the limitations of its methodology, and used language in the report that was frequently misleading.

The BERL study caught the economists’ attention when it was cited by the Law Commission as the basis for supporting proposed new taxes and regulations on alcohol.

“Our research paper is not commissioned work. We’re doing this because we don’t want to see legislative decisions being misguided by bad research. In our view, the Law Commission should give no weight at all to the findings in the BERL report,” Dr Crampton said.

You can read Eric and Matt’s full demolition of BERL’s mercenary nonsense here.  The BERL report is available from: http://www.berl.co.nz/874a1.page .

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Smacking referenda

In the wake of John Key effectively rejecting in advance the results of the forthcoming referendum on smacking, I’ve been inundated with emails from folk calling for NZ to embrace the concept of “binding referenda.”  The latest such missive

If politicians are going to take referenda seriously . . . they should also be considering the right of citizens to have their will enforced, and make all referendums binding. If they are not binding they are not worth the paper they are written on.

I have a couple of problems with hanging my hat on that idea.

The first objection goes to motive. The enthusiasm for binding referenda is rooted in the feeling that politicians don’t listen to us – which is true.  But since I don’t see any sign of politicians presently taking binding referenda seriously, not at least as long as the two-party capture of the body politic remains in place, I’d suggest that persuading them that they should take the idea seriously becomes about as difficult as persuading turkeys to vote for Christmas – and if you have that sort of persuasive power then you’d hardly need binding referenda to make your voice heard.

The second objection is more substantive. It’s that binding referenda do not represent an increase in freedom. Not at all.

In fact, the idea behind binding referenda is that the will of the majority should always be enforced; that unlimited majority rule is always right.  Nothing could be more dangerous, or more destructive of real freedom. It’s not just that the majority is not always right, but that unlimited majority rule puts in danger every “minority” who disagrees – and the smallest “minority” is the individual. As the ghost of Socrates might tell you, in any battle between an individual and the community under such a system, it’s the individual’s life that is forfeit.

And as the people of Iran might presently tell you, even if the majority did vote for Ahmadinejad, that doesn’t make it right. As  Walter Williams reminds us, "Democracy and majority rule [can] give an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny." Principled government is not built on majority rule, but on individual rights.  Hanging your hat on the verisimilitude of a vote is not the way to bring freedom to Iran, or to anywhere (are you listening President Obama?).  Hanging your hat on a system of constitutionally protected individual rights would be.

That said, I’ll still be voting in the forthcoming referendum on smacking.  And I’ll be voting “no.” Even if the politicians refuse to listen to the result, which by their hysterical reactions over the wording of the referendum we can pretty easily predict, the overwhelming message is going to be hard to ignore.

And parents deserve to have their children back from the clutches of those so abjectly ignorant as to be unable to distinguish between smacking and beating, between assault and reasonable parental force

You might object, as John Key does, that “To date I have not seen any evidence that it is not working” – that there have been no court cases indicating the law isn’t working, no good parents being criminalised, no police resources wasted on fruitless inquiries, no children snatched from their parents’ hands by uncaring state monitors.

But that completely misses the point, doesn’t it.  The anti-smacking law hasn’t stopped parents beating and killing their children, has it, even though Sue Bradford insisted it would. And as MacDoctor says however, hanging this particular hat on some very short-term outcomes rather misses the more important point.

    The problem is, as I have blogged before, that the effects of the repeal of section 59 are actually being felt in family dynamics, not in law enforcement. There is considerable fear, uncertainty and doubt about the new law and what is really acceptable. Listening to someone like Bradford, one would assume that a smack on the bottom is the equivalent of true child abuse , on the scale of Nia Glassie. The net result of this uncertainty is a reduction in the use of smacking – a result that the advocates of the repeal applaud. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this is that some parents will lack the skill-set to use some other form of discipline, resulting in the use of no discipline at all.
   
Thus the true consequences of the repeal of section 59 will not be seen in 2 years, but in 15 years time when undisciplined children become undisciplined youth. But you can already see some of the consequences already. Noticed an increase in very unruly children recently? It is very noticeable in my consulting rooms. There have always been inquisitive kids and some downright hyperactive ones, but there is now an obvious flurry of toddlers who wander round the consulting room utterly unsupervised, barring an occasional protest from the parent. My observation is purely anecdotal, of course, but I am willing to bet that doctors reading this blog know what I am talking about. I am also willing to bet that other readers have noticed an increase in badly behaved children in public places.
   
Let me be clear. I do not think that smacking is a particularly effective form of discipline. I do not subscribe to the idea that “spare the rod and spoil the child” means “beating your kids is your duty as a parent” (the rod in that passage is a rod of authority, not a weapon). But I think other forms of (non-violent) discipline require considerably more skill as a parent than smacking. It seems to me that a more measured way of reducing smacking in our society is to assist parents by improving their skills in other disciplinary forms, rather than removing the only form of discipline to which they have access.

I agree completely with that. How' ‘bout you?

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‘Third of May’ - Goya

goya

I fear for what we might see on the streets of Iran tonight.  The revolution is still being twittered – despite Iranian government efforts to shut it down and to spread misinformation – and as one twitterer says, “this will be a pivotal day for Iran.” Whatever you might say about the man whose flag they’re rallying behind, people in Iran are risking their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honour for freedom.

Will we the scene portrayed above by Goya, or the conquering heroes of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People.

Reports of deaths, injuries and missing persons are streaming into Twitter accounts from Isfahan, Shiraz, Sharhrak Gharb and Tehran. Students have been reported dead and wounded at Shiraz, Nooshiravani Babol and Mashad universities. Army generals arrested in a rumoured coup d'état. While the military is reportedly refusing orders to fire on protestors, the pro-government militia (the Basij) has taken up the slack with relish.  The Tabriz Basij (pro-government militia) headquarters has been set on fire, and “many dead” reported.  Hezbollah and Hamas thugs from Lebanon and Palestine have been mobilised to quell protests.

Mousavi’s rally and general strike – the third straight day of resistance – is being countered with a “pro-government rally,” and there is talk that some of the marches to which protestors are being invited are being set as a trap.  Tehran hotels have been put under under high security to stop Iranians from contacting foreign press. Foreigners’ visas have been cancelled. Foreign media are banned from leaving their offices to cover the protests. Anyone with  a camera or a laptop is attacked in street.

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.  It is the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness.  It is the spring of hope, and the winter of despair.  The people of Iran have everything before them, they have nothing before them. 

For good or evil, today (their time) will likely tell the tale. History is poised – yet in history there is hope. For in history, says Ludwig von Mises, there are “an abundance of striking examples to show that, in the long run, even the most ruthless policy of repression does not suffice to maintain a government in power.”

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What's worse than stagflation? Hyperdepression, silly.

Economist Robert Murphy has been doing interviews for his new book The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Great Depression (what Tom Woods calls "an accessible and persuasive Austrian account of an essential period of American history that most people know only in propaganda form"), for which Murphy is always asked the question, "Will the present crisis turn out as bad as the 1930s?"

His answer - from which you can tell he is an economist -- is "yes and no."
On the one hand, there were very specific reasons that unemployment broke 25 percent in 1933, and we don't have those factors in place today. So I don't think the official unemployment rate will get anywhere near that catastrophic level, though it could very well come in at the #2 spot in US economic history.
However, even though unemployment rates will not be as severe, I still predict that we are in store for a miserable decade of economic stagnation. Given all of the huge assaults of the federal government into the private sector in just the past six months, I frankly don't understand how anyone except true believers in Karl Marx can be seeing "green shoots."
What is perhaps worse, laid on top of the stalled output in goods and services, I predict Americans are in store for the worst price inflation in US history. Just as
stagflation referred to the combination of high unemployment and price inflation rates in the 1970s — something Keynesians thought was impossible — we can use the term hyperdepression to refer to the mix of hyperinflation and a serious recession in real output.
Read on here for the explanation of this pessimistic outlook.

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Quote of the day: Ludwig von Mises on Tehran

As if he said it yesterday in Tehran, instead of sixty years ago in Omnipotent Government: 

"The elite should be supreme by virtue of persuasion, not by the assistance of firing squads."

Words made more poignant by some of the footage coming from Tehran’s streets [hat tip Andrew Sullivan]:

LIBERTARIAN SUS: American Tunes

Susan Ryder thinks it was worth the wait.

AMERICAN TUNES

Laughing on the bus,
Playing games with the faces
She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy
I said “Be careful, his bowtie is really a camera”

I’ve loved the music of Simon & Garfunkel for a long time. When travelling the USA via Greyhound bus some 20 years ago, I often recalled those lyrics from America on account of the, shall we say, colourful clientele the bus-line attracted.

The depots were always in the nastiest part of town and the schedule saw buses arrive and depart in the wee small hours. Navigating the restrooms – a misnomer if ever there was one – involved avoiding the junkies shooting up in the dim light. And it wasn’t much better out in the relative safety of the waiting room, where it was not uncommon to trip over the winos and prostitutes who didn’t make it to the restrooms.

Most Americans either flew or drove long distance. Amtrack was okay, but limited in its coverage, so the rest pretty much used Greyhound. There were repeated rumours that civic authorities would round up their homeless and present them with one-way tickets to warm places like Florida with whispers of fruit-picking jobs at the destination to neatly and cheaply ship them out, rather than go to the ongoing expense and bother of having to deal with them at home. The drivers, on the other hand, were great. And one day I’ll tell you more about all that. Back to America ..

. . . So I looked at the scenery; she read her magazine
And the moon rose over an open field

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America

The quintessential New Yorkers can the claim the double in managing to not only write beautifully about their city of birth, but their country, too. Paul Simon’s lyrics and haunting melodies resonate throughout the neighbourhoods and parks of New York City just as they capture the solitude of long-haul travel across the continent. They are both Central Park and the New Jersey Turnpike. And last weekend they brought it to Auckland.

I’d missed them by a whisker the last time they played New Zealand in 1983. By the time they arrived, I had landed in the UK having made plans well before the concerts were announced, so I was determined to see them this time.

I wasn’t disappointed. They might be 67 and look more like a couple of Spitting Image puppets these days – Art’s hair is still alarming and Paul’s is nearly as scary – but their performance remains as powerful as ever, backed by a masterful band of musicians. I knew they were friends from youth calling themselves “Tom & Jerry”, but I learned that they met as 11 year olds in the school production of Alice in Wonderland, with Art playing “second lead” Cheshire Cat and Paul as “only third lead”, White Rabbit. They started composing the following year styling themselves on their idols, The Everly Brothers. The rest, of course, is history.

It was my favourite sort of concert. No opening act, no intermission; just old friends chatting about old times and playing old tunes to an appreciative audience, generous in its praise of a lovely harmony or well-delivered instrumental, while singing along with every well-known word. Lyrics that tell stories, evoke images and awaken memories …

This, from “Sound of Silence” ..

And the words of the prophets are written
On the subway walls and tenement halls

Or this from “The Boxer” ..

In the clearing stands a boxer
And a fighter by his trade
And he carries the reminder
Of every glove that laid him out
Or cut him till he cried out
In his anger and his shame
I am leaving, I am leaving
But the fighter still remains.

“Mrs Robinson” from The Graduate ..

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you
What’s that you say, Mrs Robinson?
Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away

Or perhaps my favourite of all from “American Tune” ..

And I thought I was dreaming
When standing in front of me
My eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Smiling away at me

For me, Paul Simon is one of the great songwriters of the twentieth century. I never liked his politics much and I’m sure I still don’t. But based on that premise I’d barely see a film given the general direction of Hollywood politics, and I see, and enjoy, a lot of films.

He is a poet and together, Simon & Garfunkel’s music still moves me as it always has done. Not even the Vector Arena’s inadequate parking facilities or curious refusal to open the doors earlier, preferring to have patrons queue outside instead of enjoy refreshments inside (and then run out of red wine shortly thereafter), or the authorities’ decision to close the nearest motorway entrance, meaning that south-bound traffic had to drive to Point Chevalier before heading south again afterwards, could mar the occasion.

And judging by the repeated encores for their enraptured audience, everyone else loved it, too. Thank you, gentlemen. It was worth the wait.

* * Read Susan Ryder’s column every Tuesday here at NOT PC * *

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End the Federal Reserve!

As Jeffrey Tucker says at the Mises Economics Blog, “It's a good day when Barron's magazine has a headline calling for the Abolition of the Fed.”

Is another revolution about to start?

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Regime change Iran? [updated]

UPDATE: If it does happen, it's looking like the revolution will be Twittered.  Search term is now #gr88.

6a00d83451c45669e20115701fad26970c-500wiWith hundreds of thousands of Iranians taking to the streets of Tehran in response to what they say is a rigged election, this is looking more and more like it could end with either hope or disaster.  It could be either the toppling of “another Berlin Wall” – this time with the toppling of Tehran’s thirty-year Islamic dictatorship – or else the onset of another Tiananmen Square.  Don’t know about you, but I’m keeping up with events at Michael Totten’s blog, Andrew Sullivan’s blog, and at Twitter – especially Persian Kiwi.  From Andrew Sullivan:

A reader writes:

    I just talked to my father in Iran a few minutes ago. He had been in the demonstrations. He was telling me people were chanting: "Ahmadi, Ahmadi 24 millionet koo?" ("Ahmadi, Ahmadi were are your 24 millions?") and "Ahmadi, Ahmadi 63-dar sadet koo?"("Ahmadi Ahmadi, where is your 63%").
    He said that the protesters were chanting "Nirooye Entezami Hemayat Hemayat" (asking police for support) And he was also confirming that at the beginning when there were smaller groups, the police was attacking them, but as the crowd built up thay had to stand back.

We might be experiencing a true revolution here.

Some recent reports from all sources:

  • 6a00d83451c45669e20115701fb10f970c-500wiThere are reports of about 3M ppl out on the streets. Millions of people marching in absolute silence.
  • The demonstrators headed toward the capital's huge Freedom Square in the largest display of opposition to the election results to date. "Mousavi we support you! We will die but retrieve our votes!" shouted supporters, many wearing the trademark green colour of Mousavi's election campaign.
  • And all these people are now breaking the law. The riot police are apparently standing back . .
  • “Some Football Match, Mr Ahmadinejad. Some Crowd.”
  • Car horn protests could be heard throughout the city, as could chants of "Bye bye dictator", "Ahmadi Nejad is the biggest liar in Iran," and "The president is committing a crime and the supreme leader is supporting him."
  • Press TV is now reporting on “hundreds of thousands” in today’s rally from Enqelab Square to Azadi Square, protesting the outcome of the Iranian election. The gathering is in defiance of the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to give a permit. So far, based on video and on the correspondent’s report, the rally appears to be peaceful and calm.
    Just to bring home the significance of the previous item, Press TV is state-owned media. Until this morning, it has given almost no attention to the protests against Ahmadinejad’s election. The sudden change to in-depth, even effusive coverage of the demonstrations points to a wider political shift . . .
  • Iranian poet Sheema Kalbasi: Today is the day that the Islamic Republic officially transformed from a theocracy supported by Pasdaran to a Junta supported by a handful of clerics.
  • Grand Ayatollah Sanei in Iran has declared Ahmadinejad's presidency illegitimate . . .
  • 6a00d83451c45669e201157114c523970b-500wi Robert Tait, the Guardian's former Tehran correspondent, has been poring over leaked reports of the official results, allegedly leaked by disaffected officials. He and our diplomatic editor Julian Borger write: "The figures have been accompanied by claims from interior ministry sources that fake statistics were fed into a software program and then distributed to vote counts among polling stations to produce a plausible outcome. The same sources have also claimed that the interior ministry's statements announcing the results were prepared before Friday night's count." Such claims are being reported on websites that Iran is frantically trying to block, according to our blogs editor, Kevin Anderson. He explains the cat-and-mouse game between the authorities and internet users.
  • Was Ahmadinejad's Win Rigged? at Time magazine.
  • Bolton on the basic facts of the #iranelection that reporters are happier ignoring: http://bit.ly/1a4bow
  • Former president Khatami has just called for the election to be declared VOID at todays protests in Tehran.
  • Grand Ayatollah Saanei accompanies today's anti Ahmadinejad rally.
  • NBC offices in Tehran raided, equipment confiscated. BBC told to leave Iran immediately.
  • “Our ppl are tearing apart this regime by protesting on the streets”
  • “Iran / today / Tehran. Is this really happening????”
  • “Thousands has morphed into MILLIONS of people marching in Tehran. Truly SPEECHLESS.”
  • “Most important world event since 9/11.”
  • 3 students killed at Univ of Tehran.
  • “World should know that ppl attending pro-Ahmadinejad rally were civil servants, they are sacked if they don’t participate.”
  • “Very glad to see Twitter making a huge difference in information getting out about #iranelection . Hope there's change coming to Iran.”
  • “Isn't this the type of change that #Obama should support? Should and Do are 2 separate things.”
  • People were holding signs saying: We are not sheep.
  • Hundreds of thousands of people are demonstrating from Engelab to Azadi.  The number of people is constantly increasing as more people join to protest against the coup d’état.
  • @persiankiwi is now the world's most vital journalist #iranelection
  • “Juan Cole's evidence that the Iranian election was stolen http://bit.ly/pINRc - Juan knows his stuff.”
  • “Al-Jazeera reporter - restrictions on media tightening. Unsafe to take camera/mobile on street - relying on ppl sending pics”
  • Other cities also having their own parades but with MORE oppression; Mashhad, Babol, Tabriz, ...
  • Students are being surrounded in Shiraz Uni civil police (Basij) is in fight with people.
  • The BBC's Jon Leyne, in Tehran, says he understands plain-clothed militias [Basij] have been authorised to use live ammunition for the first time.
  • Reuters reports gunshots have been heard at the pro-Mousavi rally!
  • @abzole: People are getting killed in Azadi Sq.
  • @BreakingNews BULLETIN -- GUNFIRE ERUPTS AT PRO-MOUSAVI RALLY IN TEHRAN, PEOPLE RUNNING. #IranElection
  • #Tehran Apparently conventional Police's leaving field to Basij. This is usually the way brutal attacks begin.
  • Andrew Sullivan over at The Atlantic is under digital attack (guess who). http://tinyurl.com/kt66sp
  • Ambers posts some wise words about how to judge the torrent of information we and others online are bringing you. This is raw data - riveting raw data, but subject to subsequent review, analysis. Skepticism is merited. But open eyes and ears are as well.
  • Unconfirmed as yet - Mousavi newspaper offices raided.
  • “CNN gets some video, finally. But then you hear a simple statement from the anchor that Mousavi lost the election and telling us to wait for the official results in ten days' time. CNN no longer qualifies as a news channel.”
  • Persian Kiwi: reliable soure from Ahvaz. Situation there is bad - violent clashes in streets.
  • “Bassej are out in force in darkness. this is when they operate best. Streets are dangerous now for young people.”
  • Persian Kiwi: “confirmed - there is shooting in Azadi sq. protesters wounded and shot, no numbers yet, still hearing gunfire.”

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‘Headland’ – David Knowles

HEADLAND

‘Headland’ – a striking oil on board landscape by Carterton artist David Kowles.

Check out all his work at his website DavidKNowlesArt.Com, buy his work at the Quent Cordair Gallery or this local website, commission a portrait, and keep your eyes peeled here at NOT PC for some exciting news about David that will be good for you too.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Key apologises for canning the tax cuts . . [updated]

Colin Espiner blogs on a debate/meeting last night on the economy, organised by his newspaper The Press. "1000 people turned up to hear what John Key had to say about the recession, and how to fix it," says Colin setting the scene [hat tip DPF].
The night was interesting for several reasons. It was good to hear the Prime Minister explain what he planned to do about the recession in words that didn’t have to be fitted into a seven-second television soundbite. Or in a dry speech to a chamber of commerce. Or in the heat of battle in Parliament.
And it reminded me that the public is interested in weighty issues and able to absorb them in relatively big chunks. They don’t need stuff dumbed down, and they do care about more than just day-to-day issues that obviously still concern them.
This was obviously a rare audience indeed. Personally, what I found particularly interesting was this concession:
Key apologised for canning the tax cuts, though he said they would be back: “I believe in the power of tax cuts,” Key said, almost evangelically.
D'you think perhaps our four days at Fieldays inviting folk to head across the corridor and ask the Nats about the broken tax-cut promise might have had some effect?

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Minorities

Some people feel a visceral reaction to finger nails down the blackboard.  Some feel it when they get a piece of aluminium foil between their teeth.  I get it when I hear people banging on about “minorities” – by which they invariably mean racial minorities.  When I hear the word “minorities,” I always want to thrust this column* by Tibor Machan into their hands:

    When, more recently, it began to be fashionable to stress one’s ethnic or cultural or racial identity, I was puzzled. To start with, what kind of identity is it that one acquires by accident? So, I was born in Budapest and heard a lot of gypsy music, ate paprika csirke and palacsinta. And, yes, I liked these things and still do. But how significant a part of me is there in that? My idea from early on was that what’s important about one’s identity is what one contributes to it oneself.
    Who one is shouldn’t be a matter of happenstance but of purposive action. I liked to read and think about philosophy and religion, so if someone wanted to know who I was, I’d tell them about that. Or, in a less serious vein, about things I liked to do such as traveling and playing tennis.Some collage of these aspects of my life, of the things over which I have had some say, some choice, seems to me to make me who I am— not so much how tall I am or where I was born.
    As I got to hear more and more about ethnic and racial pride, I was even more puzzled. How can someone be proud of being, say, Caucasian or black or gay or Asian? What had
one to do with such things? Perhaps one might be glad of being tall or of having lived among other members of one’s ethnic group if, indeed, this had amounted to a good experience.
    And one could certainly refuse to be ashamed of being black or white or whatever one could not help being.
    Even more, one might feel some affinity with others who were being picked on for attributes one shared with them and be willing, even, to unite with them to resist such treatment.
    But proud? Doesn’t pride require some worthy achievement from oneself?
In my neighborhood newspaper, there is someone who writes mainly about Hispanics, and in nearly every column Hispanics are urged to feel special for being Hispanic. Why so? What is special about that? Doesn’t feeling special for being Hispanic or Hungarian American or black or tall suggest that others aren’t as special and worthy of feeling similarly about themselves? I have never liked the idea of a chosen people because it suggests that the universe or God picks some to be inherently, undeservedly superior to others.
    When I am told, “Hey there are some other people from Hungary you must meet,” I respond, “Why exactly? Do they play tennis, love philosophy, or like the blues?” The idea of ethnic or cultural pride, it seems to me, suggests something close to an insidious form of prejudice.
    Without having done anything worthwhile whatsoever one gets to be satisfied for belonging to a group. Just whom is one kidding anyway?

For my part ,I’ve always been in a minority in the place where I live – at least in the civilised way that Tibor explains the concept.

In sport, I like AFL.
In food, I like vegetarianism.
In beer, I like real beer.
In philosophy, I like Objectivism.
In politics, I like libertarianism.
In music, I like Wagner.
In architecture, I like Organic Architecture.
In painting and sculpture, I like Romantic Realism.

So that’s just some of what puts me in the minority around here.  But I don’t expect special favours for that.  I don’t want to force people to like what I like, but I certainly will keep right on trying to persuade them. :-)

But spare a thought for a friend, who’s still struggling to find a young woman who embraces vegetarianism, Objectivism, libertarianism and is a champion (or at least competent) salsa dancer to boot.  If you know of such a star, then please do drop us a line.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* You can read the whole column in PDF form at the link below, where it appears as part of an online copy of Tibor's recent book of his columns, Neither Left nor Right. The column from which I’ve quoted above, 'Never Mind One's Cultural "Identity",' appears on page 23 of the section 'Sex and Politics in America.' [PDF]

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Top 5 spy novels

The Wall Street Journal has listed its top five spy novels of all time, worth checking out if like me you’re a fan of this genre [hat tip Leighton Smith] – and since there’s two authors and four books I’ve never read, it’s given me some more good reading to look forward to.

How about letting us know your own favourites in the comments.

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Chris Knox

Very said to hear the news about Chris Knox, which (just to show how different the world is now than it was when I used to hang on Chris’s every dischordant note) I first heard about from a blog reader in Mississippi. But somewhat comforting to hear via Russell Brown that the news may not be quite as bad as first reported:

The past few days have also been anxious ones for the family and friends of Chris Knox. I found out he'd had a stroke a couple of hours before The Orcon Great Blend (which was a tremendous evening) and, like many other people, have been shocked and worried for Chris and his family.
It's not my place to release news but I do feel bound to say that I understand things are a bit more hopeful than was suggested in the Sunday Star Times's front-page story, which quoted unnamed "friends". I accept that Chris is a prominent cultural figure and worthy of news, but that story was irresponsible. The fact is that they probably won't know what they're dealing with for another two or three days yet. It is certain that there's a long, difficult recovery ahead, but Chris is surrounded by people who love him and will help him there.

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The world’s top drives

Amalfi

Taking a break from its now regular promotion of  the increasingly discredited global warming myth, the National Geographic has a neat photo gallery of the world’s twenty best drives on which you should take your open top car: Drives of a Lifetime: The World's Greatest Scenic Routes.

DrivesFortunately I have eighteen of them still to look forward to – and since New Zealand’s North Island gets one of the twenty spots, described as having “some of the most varied and rugged landscapes on Earth,” it’s one to keep on regularly enjoying.

Check them all out here.  (That’s Italy’s Amalfi coast above, by the way, one I’d really like to try.)

And while we’re doing world geography, see how you go in these ten questions from America’s National Geography bee, a programme of the National Geographic Society. (See if you can better my eight out of ten.)

WS on GM [updated]

Our roving and irregular correspondent Willie Seabrook comments on the news the Washington Post found fit to print:

‘Washington Post’: “As part of a drive to become a sustainable business - as congress instructed, GM is trying to close 1,323 dealerships. But congress actually wants GM to be profitable, yet also keep unprofitable dealerships open.
"I don't understand how they're costing you money," Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who invited a Pittsburgh dealer to testify, told the automakers. "I think they're a revenue stream for you guys."

WS: Of course the shithead doesn't understand – he’s not involved in the business, he doesn’t understand this business, and like most of his colleagues he hasn’t got any serious experience in any real business anyway. Which makes he and his colleagues the perfect people to oversee the bankrupt company, right?

‘Washington Post’: "In addition, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers has introduced legislation that would halt the closings and restore protections under state franchise laws, and the Senate is considering similar measures. "

WS: So they introduce legislation to try to make GM profitable business, and a month later introduce legislation to try to make GM an unprofitable charity. This is surely leadership you can believe in.

UPDATE: Alex Epstein reckons that "even as taxpayers are forced to pay $50 billion to bail out the massive corporate failure that is GM,' reporters and analysts are still struggling to "accurately break down the series of events that brought us here."
Unfortunately, the recent GM retrospectives in top newspapers evade the elephant in the room — which in this case is joined by a donkey. The biggest player in the GM breakdown (and in the broader failure of the US auto industry) is the United States government, following both Republican and Democrat policies. The stories all focus on the failed policies of GM’s management — but conveniently omit how the government was instrumental in forcing these policies on them.
Sadly even the Wall Street Journal is guilty.
None of GM’s management decisions can be understood without understanding two fundamental truths. 1) GM’s success, like all businesses, was/is determined by whether it can make a profit — whether it can sell its products for more than it costs to produce them. 2) Through union laws and fuel economy laws (CAFE), government policy forced American automakers to pay higher costs for every vehicle produced — placing them at a crippling disadvantage.
And yet the Wall Street Journal story does not even mention the unions or CAFE. The New York Times story does worse [just as you'd expect]; it dismisses the regulations without evidence, and treats the union concessions as voluntary.
Read The elephant — and the donkey — in the room (part 1) and The elephant — and the donkey — in the room (part 2) to put yourself ahead of most of the analysts and journalists in your understanding of the disaster - and to find out about the one "great source of consistently outstanding reporting and commentary on the auto industry" that's worth reading regularly.

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Election disappointment [update 3]

Well that was disappointing, wasn’t it. Disappointing all round, really.

National will be disappointed that their Mt Albert candidate Melissa Lee got fewer votes than Ravi Masuku did in the last two general elections.

The Greens will be disappointed that Russel’s muscle could only wrestle him into third place.

ACT will be disappointed that despite him being the self-described “only credible centre-right candidate,” John Boscawen could only attract five percent of the vote.

The Christian parties will be disappointed that they each scored fewer votes than the cannabis candidate Dakta Green.

And of course we Libertarianz supporters are tremendously disappointed that four weeks of door-knocking, bill-boarding and well-coordinated campaigning brought Julian Pistorius only marginalisation by the MSM and a result of thirty-five votes – few even than the number of homes the main parties were all promising to knock over to build their favoured transport routes – which will obviously please the sundry whiners and knockers who always disparage principled politicking.

And even the victorious David Shearer will probably be disappointed that what was called “the hottest political contest this year” attracted fewer than half the electorate’s registered voters to the polls – prompting a few wags to suggest that at the end of the day the “no-government” vote was the winner.

And speaking of disappointing elections, how disappointing was it to see the rigged election result in Iran over the weekend that saw madman I’m-A-Dinner-Jacket reconfirmed as president.  Not just disappointing, but frankly frightening to have the nuclear dictator reconfirmed in power.  But how thrilling nonetheless to hear ringing out from the streets of Tehran the resounding chant  of “We Want Freedom!” from good people who refuse to do nothing in the face of evil – thousands of Iranians chanting not "Death to America" or "Death to Israel," but "Death to the Government." [Read more reaction on Twitter.]

How unlike people here who are happy with their temporary state-sponsored security, allowing themselves only the occasionally cynical kick against the various pricks.

UPDATELiberty Scott on the Mt Albert result:

    I would have been pleasantly surprised and astonished had Julian Pistorius won, but the Mt. Albert result was disappointing. However, I guess an electorate that ticked Helen Clark consistently for 28 years was unlikely to be a place of free spirits or individuals who were gagging to have more control of their own lives. So voting Labour is clearly like breathing to most of them.
   
Most by-elections are interesting, and produce results well out of kilter with a general election. This one didn't. The last proper one was Taranaki-King Country, when ACT came a close second. In Selwyn, the Alliance came a close second. In Mt Albert, the voters could have voted Green to say no to motorways - but didn't. They could have voted National, but admittedly there was no good reason for that. They could have voted Libertarianz, but clearly the idea of being responsible for yourself frightened too many of them.
    So all in all a bit of a yawn.

Read on here for more from Scott.

UPDATE 2: Daniel Hannan, the Conservative Euro MP who verbally flayed Gordon Brown, comments on the Iranian election:

It strikes me as pretty implausible, this Iranian election result. True, international observers sometimes side, knowingly or subliminally, with pro-Western and English-speaking politicians. European monitors looked the other way when Boris Yeltsin claimed to have defeated resurgent Russian Communists. They collaborated with Georgia's Mikheil Saakashvili when, in 2004, he awarded himself a Saddam-like majority of 96 per cent in a post-putsch snap poll. They may even have been biased towards the Orange revolutionaries in Ukraine. Even so, the idea that Iranians would turn out in record numbers (the government had conveniently ordered lots of extra ballot boxes in advance) in order to bestow a massive majority on a regime that has brought them inflation, stagnation and isolation, is hard to swallow.

UPDATE 3: Christopher Booker weighs in.  The Iranian elections are a 'loathsome charade' he says:

The reality is that this was a completely sham battle between rival factions of a regime as ruthless as any in the world, in which the real power is exercised by the gang of hard-line mullahs round the "Supreme Leader", Ali Khamenei. In an election riddled with fraud (six million more ballot papers were printed than there are Iranians eligible to vote), all four regime-approved candidates had long been personally involved in the regime's murderous reign of terror.. . .

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