Monday, 31 August 2009

FINE MACHINERY OF THE DAY: If it’s mining you want . . .

If it’s mining you want then here’s one of the world’s biggest machines to do it with.

Now this is really capital in action, huh?

Property rights urgently needed to allow mineral riches to be safely exploited

Gerry Brownlee’s announcement that he wants to unlock New Zealand’s mineral wealth has set hearts all aflutter, with the Standard (poor lambs) likening his trial balloon to a precursor to rape and pillage and Metiria Turei complaining that we don’t really need to get richer, and that mining stuff is just “old dinosaur thinking” anyway.

Tell that to the Lucky Country to the west of us, where everyone is still (on average) around 25% wealthier than each of us based in no small part on digging stuff out of the ground and selling it.

Which leads me to ask and answer an obvious question for you:

Is it possible to mine without upsetting the neighbours, and to set up a legal structure that allows it?

And the answer:

Of course it is. It just requires the clear recognition of private property rights.

Such a shame then that we have so few of them – that nearly half of New Zealand’s land is ‘owned’ by the government and around one-third set aside as “conservation land” – with up to 70% of all known potential mineral resources on government land administered by the Department of Conservation.

And although Gerry Brownlee, bless ‘im, is keen to get mining going again in New Zealand, he’s not going to countenance a change in either the government ownership of mineral rights (all naturally occurring gold, silver, uranium, and petroleum in New Zealand is owned by the Government, and permits under the Crown Minerals Act are needed to explore for or mine these minerals), or of government ownership of land.

That’s a great pity since there’s so much at stake – and his proposal simply to improve “access” to conservation land for mining is probably the worst of both worlds.

How much is at stake? Well, Australia is often known as "the lucky country" because of its resource riches. And according to a 2006 World Bank study (which being the World Bank is bound to be full of holes, but it’s all we’ve got to look at) Australia's underground mineral wealth only amounts to around $11,500 per Australian, most of which is being tapped, whereas New Zealand’s is around a third of that at $3,600, most of which is not being tapped. That’s not quite Australia’s mineral riches, but that’s a respectable amount of wealth to lock up just to protect a few snails-- according to Brownlee’s advisers that’s around $140 billion of gross in-ground value locked up.

And what’s wrong with just improving access rather than improving private ownership rights?  Because the incentives are all wrong. One look at the Soviet Union’s lethal legacy of filth or of logging and forest clearance in the Amazon is enough to show what happens when government owns everything, and is interested in extraction at all costs.

Improving access instead of improving private ownership rights does nothing to solve the Tragedy of the Commons problem that is at the cause of so much of the world’s environmental degradation:  As long as a resource is either unowned or held in common (or govt) ‘ownership,’ then the incentive for each resource user is to take as much as they can when they can and whenever they can, no matter the consequences for the quality and the quantity of either the resource or the are in which its being extracted.  That's the tragedy: common ownership provides no incentive for genuine 'stewardship' – and any attempt to replace natural incentives with bureaucratic management is doomed to failure.  Just ask the residents of Magnitogorsk or the Mato Grosso.

Conflict is not inevitable with mining. The answer, as I pointed out to Nandor Tanczos a few years back, is not political management but clearer property rights, and greater common law protection of those rights. Property rights take the issue out of the political arena, allowing those who do hold rights to express their own values without political interference from the likes of either Mr Brownlee or Mr Tanczos. Elizabeth Brubaker from Canadian organisation Environment Probe makes that case superbly here.

When property rights are properly expressed through common law for example, property rights involve a 'bundle' of rights, and each rights-holder is promised clear legal protection by the courts over their 'stick' in the bundle. When such a thing as mining is contemplated, every owner of a stick in the affected bundle has absolute protection in expressing their own values--whether that’s conservation of the environmental values, or the use of the resource--and that legal protection must be recognised by anyone proposing to exercise the use of their own 'stick.'  Everyone is free to make their own valuations of each of the ‘sticks,’ and in the end, the resources end up in the hands of those who value them most.

If for example I have a clear and protected right to use a stream running through an area affected by proposed mining, then under common law the miner is obliged to take my values into account by either not damaging the waterway, or by purchasing my assent and the assent of all other affected stream-users -- and of all other affected parties. (Elizabeth Brubaker offers some examples here of the sort of legal protection afforded to stream-users by common law).  These affected parties might hold rights to access, hunting, harvesting, tramping, logging, birding, or profits à prendre; they might hold a conservation covenant, or just have the right to peaceful enjoyment of their property – but under common law all their rights must be protected as long as they wish them to be protected.

That's protection then for all rights-owners' chosen values, and all done without all the picketing, bickering and politicking we see now. If it be objected that this excludes all those who value the untrammelled value of wild and untouched land, then let them express the extent to which they really do truly value the conservation estate by becoming a rights-holder in it, rather than seeking to use the government's club to enforce their chosen values over others. It doesn't require full ownership, it simply means acquiring the right to a 'stick' in the bundle.

I commend the idea to your attention.

NB: Check out the New Zealand Mineral Exploration Association’s website, which has all the information you’d want to know about where and how much we’re minerally endowed. See.

Monday ramble

Here’s a few links I’ve loaded up on my Twitter page in the last few days.   Why not subscribe to the feed:

  • Click for JOHN COX ART Ted Kennedy (1932-2009) “So passes a very influential man whose legacy will echo among the halls of the Senate.” Well that much is certainly true.
  • Mark Steyn assembles a Mary Jo Kopechne death panel . . . and more comment on the Dead Kennedy.
  • "The New Zealand left is possibly at the lowest point that it’s been at for over a hundred years." That’s just so sad, isn’t it.
  • A person in the pay of the government is not free to speak publicly about the most pressing issues he confronts. He sells his soul and gets a mess of pottage in return.
  • 150 years of Oil: Most good things would either not exist or be far more expensive without oil, yet oil is labelled "a pollutant."
  • Ted Kennedy stood for everything that America is not  . . .  which is precisely the reason he is now lionized by the liberal media
  • Ted Kennedy has promoted govt expansion & the establishment of socialism in the US. Is this a what a true American hero looks like?
  • Irony Alert: Weather supercomputer used to predict climate change is one of Britain's worst polluters
  • A wonderful graphic summary of the rise and fall of the US dollar from 1800 until now.  Dollar dilution is a cost to all dollar holders.
  • Tellingly, not one major Republican legislator has been able to mount a moral challenge to ObamCare.
  • British broadcasting is authoritarian, says Murdoch junior.
  • A message for those want to "invest" in public transport . . .
  • 'To the living one owes consideration; to the dead only the truth.' The truth about Ted Kennedy just keeps getting worse
  • You can't raise good kids if you don't have a clear sense of the good yourself.
  • Peak Oil? Not yet, Jeanette.
  • Knowing how to raise kids to become fine adults is much more important than talking past each other about the legality or otherwise of smacking.
  • RT @Rational Jenn : The latest Objectivist Round Up is Live! #AynRand
  • Pythagoras’s Theorem needed only 24 words, the Ten Commandments just 138, US regulations on cabbages a massive 26000, and UK Education Dept guidelines contain over 1.3 million words! “So it takes 90 pages to cut down on bureaucracy?!!! I hate to think what it would take if they wanted to increase it!”

Keep reading here.

And don’t forget to check out these two new blogs:

Which blogs have Gone Carter? [update 3]

Soon after the last election I asked if regime change will mean blog change? -- suggesting that the pro-National blogs would find it hard to maintain their enthusiasm for blogging under a National Government, and if they did they’d simply turn into a blue Jordan Carter. (Uugh! What could be more shameful?)

Along those lines, two Tory bloggists have questioned their blogging raison d'être this week including Barnsley Bill, who’s questioning his blogging mojo but seems to be staying put, and Keeping Stock who cites other interests and is saying Goodbye. And not so long ago we saw Roar Prawn go, then come back again, then . . . (just what the hell is she doing now?)

Blogging is by and large an oppositional medium. Perhaps that’s why Labour’s Red Alert has made a splash without seeing anything comparable from the government – and just how dull would it have been if there had been? Because, let’s face it, it’s far more interesting downloading posts that rip the arse out of the ruling panjandrums than it is reading soothing encomia to their brilliance. And that’s why the pro-National blogs are so boring. I predicted as much back in November, suggesting that

the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy -- which is to say Whale Oil, Kiwiblog, No Minister and the odious Matthew Hooton -- well, they'll just quietly transform the Conspiratorium of Right Wing Opposition into a Softcock Centre-Right Blancmange sending out trial balloons for their masters between frequent encomia to blandness and big government.

Was I wrong? Well, Matthew Hooton’s got a new job inside the tent; Whale Oil has taken to attacking people no-one cares about; and David Farrar keeps sending out those trial balloons in between recycling the news, republishing some good stats, and explaining why this is the best government since Gladstone’s.

And there’s only so many times you can read Adolf filling up the columns at No Minister with news about how wonderful that nice Mr Key is for not listening to his employers before feeling the bile rise in the throat -- and his regular attacks on Labour’s front bench are quite simply irrelevant. Who cares? Attacking Labour made for readable posts when Labour was in power, but it’s a dumb-trick one-trick pony now they’ve been turfed out.

So No Minister under Adolf’s dictatorship is the prime example of Going Carter.

What about the left side of the aisle? As expected, The Double Standard has moved from the Ninth Floor of the Beehive down to EPMU headquarters, but has become more interesting for it, if no less hyperbolic; Tumeke has gone from hating John Key and George Bush to really, really hating John Key and wanting to fellate Obama; The Hive has disappeared into the lobbies; and the men and women of Public Address are slowly realising John Boy is one of them, especially now he’s telling Family First it’s still not okay.

And the Dim Post has got funnier.

So I don’t think I”ve done too badly with my predictions -- though I confess I said nothing about Dim Post or the ermgence of the MacDoctor -- and nor has Cactus Kate with hers, particularly with her prediction: “new left wing blogs to emerge now they all face long-term unemployment.” That might explain the bitter tone of the newly unemployed at the likes of Kiwipolitico.

And if you’re wondering if this is all a precursor to folding up my own tent, I’m afraid not. NOT PC is going nowhere (as the latest blog rankings confirm). My own reasons for blogging haven’t changed since I began.

And there’s always some breaking news to talk about:

UPDATE 1: Trying to find a new mojo, Whale Oil is now blogetically co-habiting with Cactus at a new blog location called Gotcha! – the name an homage, I presume, to The Sun’s famous/infamous headline.

UPDATE 2: Pablo from Kiwipolitico reckons they’re neither bitter nor un(der)employed. The latter we’ll have to take on trust, and on the former claim you can simply head over there and decide for yourself about the bitterness or otherwise of this increasingly influential left-wing blog.

UPDATE 3: Speaking of mojo, DomPost's political editor reckons Farrar has lost his, The Standard writers haven't quite acquired one, and Whale Oil is, "once I got over my squeamishness . . . utterly nihilistic and entertaining." Oh, and NOT PC doesn't exist -- except when it comes to pinching lines. (Yes Virginia, we bloggers can spot a pinched line when we see one.)

Read Tracy Watkins's must-read political blogs.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Raising Good Kids [updated]

The sad situation that’s developed in the aftermath of last week’s referendum on smacking is that all debates on raising good kids have now become framed by the issue of how they’re disciplined rather than how they’re raised to become fine adults – and on what other parents are supposedly doing wrong instead of what it means to do right yourself. 

And this is exactly backwards. “Discipline” is just a nice person’s way to say punish.  To take nothing away from your right to raise good kids as you choose (which in their equating of smacking with beating is essentially what the Bradford-Harridan axis wanted to take away) , if you want to raise good kids, the method by which they’re punished is not the first or even most important tool in a parent’s toolbox. 

The issue has become so much framed by the debate over whether or not smacking should be legal or illegal, that people seem to have forgotten that the law in no way offers a guide to what you should do, only what you may not do. Legality is not morality – or even necessarily good parenting. Avoiding sending the wrong messages is a very different thing to making sure you send the right ones.

So let’s see if we can step outside the essentially negative “debate” over whether or not smacking should be legal or illegal, and have a look at what parents ought to be doing if they want to raise good kids, and where they might get some assistance.

art_v1n2livingston_5 First off, let’s recognise that the development of good character in their children is the goal of many, if not most, parents -- but young children aren’t yet able to grasp for themselves such abstract virtues as honesty, responsibility and productivity. (And something similar might be said about many parents, who perhaps never will.).  Fundamentally, children lack yet the ability to project the future into the present in a way that would demonstrate to them the positive long-range consequences of acting well, and in any case they lack the experiences on which to draw that allow them to draw those lessons.

It’s not enough for you to simply draw up a list of rules and tell your child to follow them – to give them a stamp on the hand when they do and a session on the naughty mat when they don’t. What you’re after in the long run is for the child himself to internalise a set of virtues that are necessary for a successful life.  That’s what it means to be good, right?  To have internalised desirable traits and virtues like rationality, justice, responsibility, benevolence, independence, pride and integrity.  It’s those you want to cement in, not a list of do’s and don’ts.

Drawing on the literature in brain research and psychology, Vassar College professor of cognitive science Professor Kenneth Livingston explains how “the growth of virtue can be encouraged, despite the fact that young children lack the capacity to project the consequences of their actions very far into the future.” Prof Livingston argues that the parent's job is be what he calls a 'virtual consequence generator' - to stand in for the future and structure the child's experience of the world in a way that reflects the abstract moral principles involved.

"The parent’s job [he says] is to bring the future into the present for the child, to make it palpable, and to do so in a way that accurately represents the world as it is—but at a level that is accessible to the child."

As he says in ‘Teaching Albert Honesty’, this is a tall order – and he invites you to look more closely at what he identifies as the three components.

  • “First, the child needs to be able to experience—immediately—the unpleasantness associated with being dishonest or behaving irresponsibly. And of course he needs to have some way of experiencing, also in the present moment, the joys of acting honestly or responsibly.
  • “Second, he has to get information that helps him to build the abstract concept at issue (such as honesty or responsibility), so that what he feels is linked to this more general notion—not merely to the specific situation that provoked the parental response. (Remember, the goal is to internalize a principle, not a list of rules.)
  • “Finally, once an immediate connection is made between the concept of the virtue in question and an emotion associated with achieving or failing to achieve this virtue, the child’s time horizon needs to be stretched to introduce the critical element of anticipation.”

So what does this mean in concrete terms any parent can understand? 

Well, obviously the sharing and reading of stories and fables helps to offer the wide range of experiences he might one day encounter in the world, and help demonstrate for him the long-range consequences for him of acting well – not to mention encouraging him to enjoy reading for himself.  But there are obviously lessons to be drawn and demonstrated in day-today life.

art_v1n2livingston_7 Consider little Albert, who lies about a broken vase. “It wasn’t me who done it,” says Albert, despite that fact that you’ve got him cold.  Suggests Livingston:

The parent might begin by immediately withdrawing a privilege based on trust (like choosing a television program and watching it alone). Albert would feel disappointed or unhappy and, with some discussion of the importance of trust and honesty, might begin to build a concept of truth-telling that transcends the immediate situation with the vase. Later, if Albert lied again about something important, earning a more dramatic punishment, our approach would suggest that the punishment ought to be promised but then delayed for a short time, during which Albert would be encouraged to anticipate what is about to happen.

There are many, many things to be said about how to help concretise values, to bring the future into the present for the child, to accurately represent the world as it is—but at a level that is accessible to the child. And there’s just no way to do all that in a short post. (That is, in what was supposed to be just a short post.) In his lecture on Raising Good Kids,  Livingston offers a few points to keep in mind when considering your strategies":

  1. Know Your Virtues. You can't raise good kids if you don't have a clear sense of the good yourself.  You need to know that there are right and wrong answers; that there really is  such a thing as moral and immoral; that virtues themselves are a positive thing -- that the very purpose of “the good” is to help you achieve your own happiness and success in the world, not to give you a list of things to avoid or feel guilty about.
        Most of all, you need to know and to hold in mind the concrete principle you're hoping to convey when you're confronted with your child in a particular concrete situation.
    (And you need to know too that not every situation with your child has ethical implications. Most times you should just enjoy them.)
  2. Be a Virtual Consequence Generator. A young child may not yet know virtue in the abstract, but he is capable of understanding it in its more concrete particulars IF the parent can help structure his experience in a way that accurately reflects the abstract principle, and that helps him discover it for himself. That's the principle of being the "virtual consequence generator" -- you have to remember that you're "standing in for" the future, and for the much rougher, much less forgiving world in which your child will one day have to function but is not yet able to understand. 
        One of Maria Montessori’s commonly used maxims to keep in mind when helping children was the child is essentially saying: “Help me to do it by myself.”  That’s your job in teaching the virtues.  (It also relates to her idea of the classroom as a "prepared environment,” structured in such a way that the child can discover for himself the leading principles and concepts “revealed” there.) 
  3. Show, Don’t Tell.  Remember that whatever else you say or do to a child in guiding or “redirecting” their behaviour from good to bad (and let’s be clear, that redirection is sometimes going to require some force), the very techniques you employ to redirect a child's behaviour themselves convey a message.
        Make a habit of snatching a toy off him that he's just snatched off a smaller child, and you unavoidably demonstrate to a child that might is right -- and whatever lessons you try to convey on each occasion by talking to him about respecting other people's property will be undercut,and quite another lesson will nonetheless be conveyed.
        Start giving your child stars or stamps on the hand to reward him for acting well, and you demonstrate to a child that his primary reward for acting well is the praise or rewards given to him by authority figures, instead of by his own internalised moral compass (and it’s the internalised moral compass which you're actually trying to develop) - and you're teaching him to look outside for his rewards rather than within. 
         Demonstrate inconsistency in your punishments or rewards, with different consequences for the same behaviour, and you teach him the lesson that different consequences can follow from the same actions. 
    Remember, in other words, that it’s not primarily quiet and peaceful short-term consequences you’re after – what you’re looking for is successful long-run consequences.
  4. Observe that a child isn't a china doll.  As Livingston says all this can all sound like a very tall order. But don’t beat yourself up when things go wrong; a child is less “breakable” than you might think. They do have free will, and you need to recognise that as well as try to harness it.  Nature and nurture AND the child's own individualistic volition act together in helping the child to develop himself, provided that you "prepare the environment" well to help him do that.

So all that said, it’s still barely scratched the subject’s surface of how you can raise good kids.  So here’s a few books, articles, blogs and lectures to read and listen to that will offer you more guidance suggested mostly by some good friends and colleagues of mine who know much more about most of this than I do, and from most of which I’ve taken what I’ve written here:


UPDATE: My friends and colleagues at the Maria Montessori Education Foundation tell me I should let you know about three upcoming public events for parents with two world-class speakers  in Auckland, Tauranga and Wellington.

AUCKLAND: PUBLIC ADDRESS - ‘Good at Doing Things'
Professor of paediatrics and neurology at the University of Minnesota, Steven Hughes appears at AUT’s Northcote Campus on Friday September 18 to to talk about how Montessori education provides children with a lifetime of success, how it parallels what is known about brain development, and how it fosters the development of empathy and leadership.  Dr Hughes, who developed his own interest in Montessori education when he saw the success and happiness of his own children in their Montessori classroom, will show how and why Montessoir kids become ‘good at doing things,’ and why that matters.
This talk -- which he’s given in Amsterdam, Minnesota, Perth, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney and now Auckland – is especially good for fathers who may wonder about this “Montessori-thing!”

* * Friday September 18 @ 7-9pm,  $10 per person.
* * AUT Campus, 90 Akoranga Drive, Northcote, Auckland
For ticket information and bookings, email or freephone Ana on 0800 336612.

TAURANGA: PUBLIC ADDRESS - 'The Child - A Social Being'
London-based Montessori trainer Cheryl Ferreira talks on Saturday October 10th on how the first step in ‘the child as a social being’ is to help the child develop all his functions as a free individual, which is what fosters that development of personality that actuates social organisation.

* * Saturday October 10th @ 7- 9p.m, $15 payment at the door (includes light refreshments)
* * Historic Village on 17th, Seventeenth Avenue, Tauranga
* * For ticket information and bookings email or phone Carol 021 111 4133 by Tues Oct. 6th.

WELLINGTON:  PUBLIC ADDRESS - ‘Children Creating and Developing Language from Birth Onwards' 
London-based Montessori trainer Cheryl Ferreira talks on Saturday October 17th on how children create and develop language from birth onwards
Join us to discuss the factors that impact on the development of spoken language from 0-6 and how this impacts on writing and reading'.

* * Saturday October 17th @ 7-9p.m, $10 payment at the door (includes tea &coffee)
* * Wa Ora Montessori School, 278 Waddington Road, Naenae, Lower Hutt, Wellington*
* * For ticket information and bookings contact or phone Anna on (04) 232 3428 by Tues Oct. 13th.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Beer O’Clock: Literary Cocktails, by Liz Upton [updated]

I enjoyed finding out about Raymond Chandler’s gimlet so much that I wanted to learn more about authors and their drinks.  So here’s the very thing: a guest post on ‘Literary Cocktails by Liz Upton from Gastronomy Domine. Everything you ever wanted to start to know about writers and their cocktails (and if it’s Wellington Beervana news you’re after then it’s Neil’s Malthouse blog you’ll be wanting, and the Twitter feed you’ll be needing ).  Take it away Liz, direct from a night out at the River Bar in Cambridge, England . . .

river_mussels%20011     I am female and approaching 30 at a headlong rush. This means I like cocktails. I am fortunate, then, in living near Cambridge, where the River Bar and Kitchen perches above the river, over a gym whose window gives a splendid view of a hot tub full of svelte ladies which you have to sidle past to get to the bar.
    The Kitchen part of the River Bar and Kitchen is not as glorious as the Bar part, so I'll gloss over it; I ate there with some friends a couple of weeks ago and was rather disappointed (dry meats, vinegary preparation, identikit saucing). The cocktails, though, are well worth a visit.
    A few months ago, gurgling happily over a Manhattan (equal measures bourbon and vermouth, with a cherry and some orange zest and a dash of bitters), I was told by a friend with something pink and creamy on the end of her nose that I only like pretentious grown-up cocktails. I think this means that I prefer cocktails which aren't sugary and full of things squirted out of a cow, but I will admit to a certain mental frailty - I get a tiny kick (OK, a massive one) out of the Literary Cocktail. Knowing which brand of lime cordial you should use to make a Gimlet like the kind Philip Marlowe enjoyed, and being able to argue with the barman about it. That kind of thing.
    The drink at the top of the page is a perfect example of pretension in cocktail form, and it's my very favourite cocktail, the alcoholic drink I would happily forgo all others for; a Vesper Martini. This is the original Martini James Bond creates in Casino Royale (1957, the first Bond book), named for Vesper Lynd, Bond girl and double agent. He instructs the barman:
    'In a deep champagne goblet . . . Three measures of Gordon's, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it's ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.'
    Bond [or Fleming] knew what he was talking about; this is a beautiful cocktail.
    Kina Lillet is a vermouth, and the guy at the River Bar uses only a tiny breath of vermouth; he says tastes have changed since the 50s. (They certainly have; Tom Lehrer sang about 'Hearts full of youth/Hearts full of truth/Six parts gin to one part vermouth' in Bright College Days, and this is a very vermouth-y Martini indeed to my youthful, truthful tongue.)
    My next Martini was a Zubrowka (a vodka flavoured with fragrant bison grass, which is added during distillation) one. I have a great love for W Somerset Maugham. In The Razor's Edge, Isabella says:
    'It smells of freshly mown hay and spring flowers, of thyme and lavender, and it's soft on the palate and so comfortable, it's like listening to music by moonlight.'
Even though her ultimate aim in rhapsodising about the stuff is to drive another character to a sodden alcoholic grave, I can't help but feel Maugham himself must have been pretty keen on Zubrowka too. (Another Somerset Maugham favourite was avocado ice cream, which is, you may be surprised to learn, absolutely divine - watch this space.)
    For some reason I can't fathom, some apple schnapps and other fruity stuff found its way into my Martini when I wasn't standing at the bar to keep a firm hand on the barman (there really shouldn't be anything other than gin or vodka and vermouth - find me the man who invented the chocolate martini and I will show you an man without tastebuds but with an uncanny understanding of what drunk women will pay for), but it was still pretty fabulous. Excuse the lipstick on the rim in the photograph. It is hard to remember to photograph your Martini before drinking it when you've already had a few.
    My friends were now on the champagne cocktails. In the back here is a Carol Channing. Those who have seen Thoroughly Modern Millie, a glorious film with Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, James Fox and a biplane, will remember Carol Channing's dance with the xylophone and her habit of shouting 'Raspberries!' A Carol Channing is made with muddled raspberries, sugar syrup, Chambord and raspberry eau de vie, topped up with champagne.
    In front is a proper champagne cocktail - that is to say bitters soaked into a brown sugar lump, with champagne poured on top. A lovely drink, and a very, very old fashioned cocktail; it first pops up in 1862 in Jerry Thomas's How to mix drinks. (Click the link for an online facsimile of the book.) There are only a very few true cocktails in the book (the other recipes are flips, juleps, punches and recipes for flavoured syrups and so forth), and the champagne cocktail is the only one you're likely to recognise in 2005.
     Somebody (as the evening wore on I lost track of who was ordering what. Can't think why) ordered a Mojito (muddled mint and sugar, rum, lime and soda water). A Brazilian friend has special mint-muddling pots and sticks, like a conical mortar and pestle, for making these; she brings cachaça, a Brazilian rum, home to England when she visits her family, and uses it to makes the best Mohitos and Caipirinhas (lime, soda, cachaça and sugar) I've tasted.
    I should wrap this post up. ‘Mr Weasel’ is on his way home from the supermarket; he has gone to fetch a bottle of Big Tom's tomato juice, which we will adulterate with some vodka I've been steeping chilis in for a few months. I love weekends. Those wondering about the Philip Marlowe Gimlets, by the way, should read The Long Goodbye, where Marlowe informs us that 'A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice, and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.' He's right; Rose's is the only one made only with real, fresh limes. Try it some time - cut down on the Rose's if you find it too sweet. [And if you really want to know even more, then try A Gimlet for Mr Chandler.]


Cool Machine of the Day: The log-splitter that can!

Now this is what you need to sort out your firewood pile!

Friday Ramble?

Just so you know, there’s no (ir)regular Friday Ramble here today – no bunch o’links for you to explore.  But if you’d like to head over to my Twitter page you’ll get all you’d normally get here on a Friday – and if you subscribe to my Twitter feed (which is easier than you think, you know, all you have to so is sign up--it’s free--and then click ‘Follow’), then you’ll be able to keep getting my bunch o’links in real time.

PS: Now I’ve finished typing that and read it back to myself, I realise that five years ago I wouldn’t have understood a word of it.  How’s that for change!

Top Ten Things About Being Prime Minister, by John Key (aged 13¾)

I see John Boy Walton Key is appearing on Letterman in the ‘Top Ten’ slot.  So here’s some suggestions from Russell W for what he can say: The Top Ten Things About Being Prime Minister, by John Boy Key (aged 13¾)

No 10. I’m on TV!
No 9. Nick Smith & Tony Ryall are so annoying, they make me look good.
No 8. Listening?  What’s that you say?
No 7. I can say, “I’ll give you a tax cut,” even though I knew I wasn’t going to.
No 6. I get to meet the Obamessiah.
No 5. I get to overrule Bill.  Sometimes.
No 4. People think I’m nice.
No 3. I can finally say “Some of my best friends are Maori.”
No 2. I’ve discovered that flip flops are actually political principles./
And finally,
No 1. To get elected, you just have to tell people you’re different from the other team -- but you don’t have to be different.

Building: Less Government? More Maurice. [Update 3]

Few details have been released so far, but Maurice Wimpianson’s proposal to “shift the responsibility for building work” away from councils and onto “licensed” builders looks like the worst of both worlds.  “The liability for building now lands on local councils and that needs to change,” says Williamson, and so it does.  Trouble is, I’m not so sure that what I’ve heard of his changes – what will be the third major change to the industry in little over a decade – are the silver bullet the industry needs.

It’s true that councils should never have been landed with a responsibility they can properly administer nor a risk their ratepayers can afford.  (The cost of making councils responsible for building risk has been made worse both by leaking houses, and the green-plated building regulations supposed to “fix” that  problem, which heavily inflates the cost of repairs.)  Assessing building quality  is not something councils do well, and with the increasing sophistication of buildings these days the attempt to  have them shoulder the responsibility for it has been a disaster all around.

Long discussions about sophisticated building systems with people who have only just learnt to read and write, but who nonetheless are required to take responsibility for issuing your consent, is not a process calculated to make a person fall in love with the present system.

Long delays in processing consents and issuing Code Compliance Certificates only add to already exorbitant costs for home-builders and home-buyers – costs that reflect the attempts by council to do something they can’t do well, and to stump up for a responsibility they should never have had.

But you’re not going to fix this mare’s nest of unclear responsibility and the extra cost that reflects that loose chain by allowing “licensed” builders to “self-certify.” That just sounds absurd. And it cuts out completely D.I.Y.ers and honest builders who don’t wish to pay fat sums to ignorant fat cats to assess them.

Don’t be confused by the rhetoric of the Building Minister.  It’s not a free market or a deregulation that Wimpianson is proposing.  It’s a hampered market with costs inflated by state meddling, the supply of builders restricted by state controls, and the cost of risk (which is inflated by green-plated building regulations inflating the cost of repairs) landed squarely on builders’ shoulders – those few builders who will choose to remain.

Government-licensing of builders is no more a guarantee of building quality than it was to have government-licensing of building systems.  We’re still paying for the false sense of security that gave everyone.  Using qualifications as a proxy for quality is the only way a bureaucrat in a state-controlled system can “measure” quality, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee it -- as a perusal of the “quality” of registered teachers would tell you.

The idea that registering architects and licensing builders is some silver bullet that guarantees quality can be exploded simply by looking at the number of leaky houses designed by registered architects and built by master builders, i.e., a significant number.  I’m repairing one now that was built by master builders, and designed and signed off by the president of the Institute of Architects – didn’t stop the building leaking, or needing expensive repairs

It’s essential that councils be taken out of the building chain.  They should never have been there in the first place.  But licensing builders is not the answer to fall back on: and the enthusiastic reception by Master Builders to the idea is not evidence that it is the answer, but evidence instead that Master Builders see the opportunity here for rent-seeking.  And they will be.

To see what the answer to all this might be, let’s look at what might happen if  the government got the hell out of the way altogether (aside, that is,  from its proper job of registering titles and contracts).   Now, when you buy a second-hand car you’ll usually get it inspected.  When you buy a house, which is the most expensive thing most of you are ever going to buy, you’d expect that you’d have that inspected too.  And just as sellers of second-hand cars are increasingly touting the quality of the inspections and inspectors to help sell their cars – Come With Full AA Inspection! Signature Class Car! – so too would recognised building inspectors acquire increased importance among buyers.

Wouldn’t be very long before they’d be looking only for houses backed by reputable inspectors – inspectors who, unlike councils, would have their own reputation on the line with every house they assess.

And acquiring importance  too would be insurance companies.  I see Maurice floating the idea of a warranty bought by the builder, but without details it’s hard to know precisely what’s intends for Maurice’s Market.  But what’s likely to happen in a free market is that standards are increasingly set by insurance companies themselves – standards that in many cases will be higher than they are now, but are based on what’s economically workable for their customers.  If you want to sell a house, then you’ll want to convince house-buyers it was well-built – and the best way to convince them of that would be first to convince the best insurance company you can afford. 

The company that insures your house has the biggest incentive to assess its build-quality without taking your wallet off at the arm. And in a free building market, each insurance company would be free to set its own building standards – with premiums and reputations to suit. Build the housing equivalent of a Toyota Corolla, and most insurers would charge very little for the very little risk involved.  Build the housing equivalent of a hot rod however, something more radical, and you’d find fewer insurers willing to back you, and those who did would want to charge you more for the privilege.  But you’d still be able to build it, which you can’t do today.

The outcome of an actual free market would be that you could choose your risk based on the level of building risk and building excitement you wanted – just as you do with a car – and building standards would eventually be set by market mechanisms that left the risk where it should be: on buyers and sellers and insurers. Not on ratepayers.

Standards would likely be higher, as insurers (like the AA do with their car inspections) fight to increase their reputations. And over time you’d have building standards that encouraged innovation, rather than strangled it, protected home-owners rather than leaving them in limbo, and didn’t cost an arm and a leg and numerous long delays to assess. 

Frank Lloyd Wright used to say that the building regulations of today reflect what the building inspectors of yesterday knew, or thought  they knew.

He’s still right.  And it’s getting so that’s all we’re allowed to erect.

UPDATE:  A question from a commenter made me wonder if I hadn’t been too clear.

Basically, I am suggesting is inspections not just when you buy an existing house (which is what most people do now), but also during the construction of your new house – and not from your local council, but by your chosen insurer.

What I'm essentially suggesting is that if govt and local govt withdrew, then what would be likely to replace them is an insurance-driven model, with the insurance companies themselves acting as your "consenting agency."  Unlike now, that would make the chain of responsibility for failure very clear, and the motivation for doing good very stark.

Your motivation as a home-builder for using one would be to ensure both its resale value and its insurability.  Both would be easier if you can choose and afford a reputable insurer who sets objective standards by which your new building can be measured.  (And these could even refer to existing standards like NZS, AS and so on.)

And the motivation of the insurer would be the same as it is now in every other field: to offer a competitive rate and service while maintaining its reputation for square dealing.

So as a home-builder you'd be dealing with a rational organisation who wanted to help you -- and also wanted to ensure things were done right.

And as a home-owner you'd have both the choice of insurer, and the choice of the level of risk you wanted to take.

Basically, if you wanted to build something conventional, you could get a good inexpensive service that protected you and future home-buyers.  And if you wanted something more like the Bavinger House (below and right), you'd have to pay a little more . . . but unlike the situation now, you'd actually be allowed to build it!

GlasgowArchitects-Scope UPDATE 2: Opening my latest copy of ‘Scope’ magazine, I read with interest the story of this new house (right and below) on Fiji’s Denarau Island for a newly retired couple, designed by Auckland-based Glasgow Architects.  The house, one of many in this still popular resort area, has been specced for abundant rainfall, Fiji’s heat and high tropical wind forces. Says principal Garry Glasgow of the insurance-based model used in resort-town Fiji,

“Building in Fiji presents some interesting issues as there is no ‘building code’ as we are accustomed to in New Zealand.  ‘In fact,” Garry says, ‘the control on quality is dependent on the insurance companies who insist on engineering reports and architectural qualifications to comply with their building criteria.  For this reason more detailed construction supervision was required than is the case in New Zealand.”


UPDATE 3: Meanwhile back in New Zealand, the South Pacific’s home of extensive, expensive building bureaucracy, we hear more stories like this one:

    “We're getting a simple shed built, to use as a workshop. The contractor tells us that the council charges for a building permit have gone up by around 40% in less than two years. And even though the number of applications has dropped drastically over the past twelve months the waiting time for approval hasn't varied.....Oddly enough, the four councils in this area have all put up their charges by exactly the same amount.
    “In addition, any windows in a habitable building must be double-glazed--never mind the cost, never mind that it's none of the council's damn business.
    “These bastards are nothing more than parasites, leeching off other people's work and getting in the way of the productive sector of society. A pox on them all.”

“Whitey” wins again? What the . . . ?

Cartoon by JOHN COX ARTRacism is still alive and well and thriving around Auckland – much of it around the blogs.

Tumeke! for example, where Bumber Bradbury blubs that “Whitey wins again” -- crying a river because he insists that brown-skinned people should get a special place at the Auckland table simply because they’re brown-skinned, and anyone who disagrees is “manifestly racist,” a “garden variety bigot,” an “ignorant redneck” and guilty of ugly Brashism.

Talk about patronising. And racist.  And dumb.

Well, Mr Blubbery, my cartoon beats your cartoon.  And since that’s about all your argument amounts to – a cartoon rant – that means I win.  So there.


A special message from Scott Powell of Powell History:

After literally dozens of research trips to museums across America and the world; after scouring the art libraries of local universities; after performing hundreds of hours of on-line searching...I have put together an unmatched collection of hundreds of digital reproductions of fantastic visual art that depicts history.

Some of the images we'll be examining in my upcoming course, History Through Art for Adults, you no doubt already know, such as Bonaparte Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David or Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emmanuel Leutze.  But over the next week, and surely beyond that, I'll be giving you a taste of some of the exciting finds that I've made that are going to make this course the favorite of my students!

Here's the first installment.

Who is this person?

If you know some history, then even the visual excerpt of this fantastic painting (detail, left) by Gaston Bussiere (1908) may already have revealed to you who this historical character is. The warm glow of godly light intensifies the sense we get of the religious experience she is undergoing.

But what is the message she hears?

The message is one of
supernatural duty, of mystical patriotism, which directs the woman-child to become the liberator of a nation and the harbinger of the decline of Feudal Christendom.

By her strange energy and mystifying feats, this youthful creature becomes the focal point for the hopes of an entire people, the rallying figure of the armies of a nation wishing to fulfill itself, against the very dictates of the Feudal framework in which it arose.

In her quest, the young woman is astoundingly successful. Artist Jules-Eugene Lenepveu captures her during the culminating moment of her meteroic career, in his painting of c.1888 (detail, right).
The forces of which she is the greatest symbolic representative, however, are those that will destroy her young life.

Betrayed by those whom she empowered, the pious creature is left to the fate which the unjust framework of Feudal Christendom logically reserves for those it cannot assimilate.

Of course you know who it is, don't you?  The maid of Orleans, the harbinger of the fall of Feudal Christendom: Joan of Arc.

In History Through Art, you will see her and understand her place in history as you never have before!


Want to see what else is in store in the HistoryThroughArt curriculum? Here's a full curriculum summary.
Classes start September 2nd, so don't delay your registration!

Scott Powell
Powell History

* * *

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
--George Santayana

Thursday, 27 August 2009

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Envy, greed and broken contracts

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

  1. Telecom board defends CEO’s ‘shameless’ salary package – Union boss and Labour Party hopeful Andrew Little calls the Telecom chief executive’s remuneration package “insulting to striking lines engineers”, and “shameless greed”. Well, if you think you can do a better job for less pay, Andrew, I’m sure the board of Telecom would like to hear from you. And isn’t it a little ironic that unions regularly strike to increase the pay of those they represent? Aren’t those employees being “greedy” too?
        It always seems those who protest the loudest about the “obscene” pay deals of high-ranking executives are those least qualified and able to fill the job themselves. Could there be just a smidgeon of envy colouring the views of these whingers? What they tend to forget is this: Telecom is a private company owned by shareholders, with governance by a board who appoint a CEO. The details of what executives are paid is the business of the board, and to a lesser degree, the shareholders. The latter can overturn the board if they feel the CEO is being overpaid; however none of us really know what was in Paul Reynolds’ employment contract. He may well have fulfilled his agreement with the board to the letter, and thus may be fully entitled to his salary and bonuses.
        Those people so upset about how much Mr Reynolds’ is paid also forget that the IRD probably steal half of his earnings back anyway, so that other people can be paid for not working and for breeding the next generation of Labour-voting non-workers.
  2. Tobacco firm fined $20.4m – A brief report on yet another example of an irrational and grossly disproportionate payout to the family of a person who, knowing the risks from smoking tobacco, elected to carry on regardless and then to everyone’s surprise developed a fatal lung cancer.
        This whole story is absurd. The dangers of smoking are well-known to everyone; as a child in the 1960s, I knew that smoking was linked to lung cancer. Anyone who has opted to continue smoking since the Surgeon-General’s report of 1964 has done so knowing the potential consequences of their actions. To award damages against tobacco companies is to relieve smokers of responsibility for their actions.
        The means by which juries arrive at the amount of damages often awarded to smokers or their families can only be described as non-objective. Philip Morris - the tobacco company being punished for selling a product that adults want to purchase - allege that prosecution evidence violated state and federal law, and described the punitive damages award as “unconstitutionally excessive.” Still, in 2002 another jury recommended damages of 28 billion dollars to this same smoker and her family before the decision was overturned by a district court of appeal. Clearly, juries are making punitive damages awards based on emotion not reason, and there is a clear anti-business bias and a persistent portrayal of smokers as helpless victims which does not reflect reality.
        Those who sue tobacco companies should have to prove fraud or some other initiation of force by the company in question, and a more objective quantification of harm caused should be a requirement before damages are awarded. Whether or not one has any sympathy for tobacco companies, multi-million dollar damages awards to smokers (who knew the risks they were taking) are manifestly excessive.           
  3. Kiwibank joins bank fee slashing – Hey! Surely Jim Bolger’s taxpayer-funded state bank hasn’t been ripping off its customers for the last few years? No? Then how come they have only just decided to remove overdraft fees, months after those greedy Australian banks did the same? Why should Kiwibank customers have to put up with this corporate greed? This is the same Jim Bolger who, along with his wife, gets a 90% taxpayer subsidy on his air travel. The same Jim Bolger who, it is alleged, quickly put his mum’s assets into a family trust before a law change, so that the taxpayer would be landed with her rest-home fees. I think the latter might just be a nasty rumour, so please Jim, correct me if I’m wrong there.
  4. Households refuse to pay power bills – That’s OK; don’t pay your power and gas bill, and learn the hard way what life was like before someone invented electricity and greedy utility companies brought it to individual homes. As the Electricity Complaints Commissar said, her staff were powerless (pun intended?) to help: “If [your power bill] is high because you’ve used a lot of electricity, there’s not much we can do.” The first law of thermodynamics states that energy is neither created nor destroyed, so that there is a cost to generating electricity; by the second law there is a cost in relaying electricity around the country. There is no such thing as a free lunch, or a free kilowatt-hour. Power companies have to run at a profit or they will disappear; and there is no right to have electricity supplied cheaply just because you want it. There is also such a thing as individual responsibility and the moral onus to honour contracts – so if a power company has supplied you with their product, kindly pay for it!

See y’all next week!
Doc McGrath

MACHINE OF THE DAY: The world’s safest bench saw

Meet the world’s safest bench saw . . .

It’s by SawStop.

Fat fools call for new taxes on rent and mortgages [update 2]

House_300x20030215 Everyone’s got a favourite tax they want to slap on someone to stop the exchange rate exploding and the housing bubble happening again.

Brian Fallow is the latest alleged economist to weigh in with a new tax burden to fix things.”Time to add GST to rents and mortgages,”says the Fat Man.  No Brian, it’s time you and your tax-hungry buddies stuck your head down a toilet and pressed flush. 

It’s not an answer to say that this would be “revenue-neutral.”  What rot. What serious student of politics would seriously expect any commensurate drop in income and company taxes to match the new ones. And what serious economist would want the serious dislocations that would happen when a tax on rents and mortgages was slapped on – not to mention the serious injustice of raising taxes on one group, even if you did drop them elsewhere.

Apparently it’s too much like rocket science to figure out what’s really wrong and to fix it.  Better instead to flap about strangling the residents while their house is burning down. 

Because it’s not rocket science to fix things. Here you go, let’s fix them:

  1. Fix the building regulations and the land controls that are still ramping up supply-side costs (even when demand has dropped), and
  2. stop the Reserve Bank inflating the economy with counterfeit capital

Do those two things and the problem disappears – and you don’t need to hand Bill English all the arguments he needs to put his hand even further into everyone’s pocket. Look at those two points in turn:

You see, the Reserve Bankers and their shallow, fallow supporters still maintain that the Reserve bank’s primary job is to set interest rates, print money, and allow banks to issue credit. They think this is a good thing (and some of then even labour under the illusion that an economic dictator setting interest rates and printing money is somehow a free market!)

And they think that the Reserve Bank is fighting inflation, when if they weren’t so blinded it would be obvious the Reserve Bank is actually creating it.*

Essentially you see, what happens when the Reserve Bank sets interest rates is that banks issue enough debt to balance out the supply-and-demand at that interest rate level. And under our fractional-reserve banking system that debt is then monetised (what Charles Holt Carroll called the Organization of Debt into Currency).  Under this arrangement for easy credit expansion, NZ’s M2 money supply had been increasing at a year-on-year rate of around 20% at the height of the boom, and was still increasing at a year-on-year rate at May this year of 10.7%. 

This is literally new money, created out of thin air.  And guess what happens when more money is chasing the same number of goods? (That’s right Virginia, you get what the mainstreamers call inflation. And the poor fools think the Reserve Bank is fighting it!) 

And guess where the lion’s share of that all that new money goes?  That’s right again, – although the mainstreamers are too blinded by their theories to see it, (mostly because they’re still thinking in the Keynesian aggregates that conceal most of the real economic facts), the lion’s share of that new money goes to people who borrow it.

You know.  People like home-buyers. Remember them?  Folk who get first use that new money and, when things start taking off, want to use it quick as they can before prices do the same.

DollarTrash This is what feeds the bubble. As Thorstein Polleit points out,

It is an inflationary regime. The relentless rise in the money stock necessarily reduces the purchasing power of money to below the level that would prevail had the money supply not been increased. Early receivers of the new money benefit at the expense of those receiving it later.

And that’s why it’s so easy to stop another housing bubble being inflated.  if you seriously want to stop it, then just stop inflating the money supply. 

Stop diluting it with new paper. 

Stop printing more of it. 

Stop creating credit out of thin air, and stop it with the nonsensical idea that a new tax will solve the problems that government itself has created.

Just stop it with the Reserve Bank Act’s inflation-mongering altogether, and leave us taxpayers alone.

We’re already over-burdened.

* * * *

* Inflation is what mainstreamers call it when prices rises across the board, right? But what they don’t even realise is that it’s the Reserve Bank who promotes general price rises across the board.

Ironic, huh?

Price rises, say the blind fools, are caused by wage-push, or cost-push, or demand-pull or some other failed excuse for not looking at the whole picture.  Because if you do look at the whole picture you understand that the only way you can get price rises across the board is if the money supply increases.  If some costs go up and the money supply doesn’t, then there must be a corresponding drop in prices elsewhere. If some wages go up and the money supply doesn’t, then there must be a corresponding drop in prices elsewhere. If demand goes up in one area and the money supply doesn’t, then there must be a corresponding drop in prices elsewhere to match the price rises due to demand.

The only way you can get price rises across the board is if the money supply increases.  And look who’s in charge of that.

Ironically, to squelch the price inflation that they themselves set off, the Reserve Bank then tries to squelch it all. And to do that, they do everything necessary to ramp up the exchange rate. 

But this Scylla and Charybdis of high finance isn’t inevitable – that is, is is not inevitable unless you refuse to take off your mainstream blinders and see things as they really are.  And in this context, that’s to realise that inflation is not essentially a measure of rising prices but of the rising money supply that causes them.

UPDATE 1The Visible Hand confirms that it’s never seen a tax it doesn’t like.  “Excellent” it calls Fallow’s disgraceful call for the IRD to put their hand in renters’ pockets.

    Well, I’ve not read the article, don’t have time to do so [don’t worry, you’re missing nothing], but from this I would say it’s not going to affect domestic rental investment, because I would assume that type of investment will no longer be a GST exempt activity, thus, landlords will be able to claim the GST on the interest back, plus will add GST to existing rentals to be returned. No difference to them.
    So who loses?
    Tenants, because they will have a 12.5% rent rise.
    Every house owner, especially low income house holders who will incur dramatically higher interest rates via the GST component, which they won’t be able to claim back, some of whom will thus be forced into rented ghettos, paying rents they can’t afford for the same reason.
    Another brain dead idea by a NZ mainstream economist who only seems to find ’solutions’ that include increasing the cost of living for kiwis by the likes of this, or further taxes. Why not advocate reducing the size of the State so the people that would be so badly affected by this ludicrous proposal could be given tax cuts - that aren’t simply to compensate for higher taxation elsewhere - and get on with their lives with the least amount of government, and economist, interference.
    PS: Matt, do you see a government implementing any new tax, and then cutting another tax.
    It doesn’t happen.

Exactly right.

Ethics and the Two Johns

I posted a piece on the success and future promise of genetic engineering the other day and offered a prize to anyone who could successfully link the subject of the post with the foundations of ethics.

Sadly, no-one succeeded, but instead of giving you the answer directly let me give you a clue. In fact,three clues – three quotes in chronological order -- one from a Beatle, two from Enlightenment legends, and one from a certain Russian/American novelist/philosopher – and if you fill in the gaps between these and the post on Tuesday, you’ll have your answer.

“Nature to be commanded must be obeyed.” – Francis Bacon

"The intrinsic natural worth of anything consists in its fitness to supply the necessities or serve the conveniences of human life.” – John Locke

“Why in the world are we here/Surely not to live in pain and fear.” - John Lennon

“…the purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” --Ayn Rand

Have at it!