Sunday, 25 October 2009

‘Sacred Scriptures of the Human Race’ [updated]

    Too many atheists are content to grant religionists of all brands a monopoly over what they call the 'spiritual.'  “We haven't any spiritual goals or qualities,” they say, “All we care for is material things.”
    And religionists are all too happy to let them believe that, since as long as they’ve got a stranglehold on the things of ‘the spirit’ then they retain the important high ground -- and still have a toe-hold on intellectual respectability.
    Robert Ingersoll's writing is the perfect antidote to both religionists and materialists, which is is why I’m reposting this piece on Ingersoll from
The Rational Capitalist blog, where it first appeared.  (And if you’re looking for commentary, analysis, and links upholding reason, individualism, and capitalism, you should add it to your regular reading list.)

Robert G. Ingersoll was part of the Free Thought movement of the 19th century and an outspoken opponent of religion. In 1894, he wrote a brilliant piece titled About the Holy Bible that not only provides a thorough expose of biblical contradiction but more importantly recognizes the fundamental conflict between religion and liberty, or, more specifically, between religion and man's happiness on earth. As the left, in addition to the right, turns towards religion, it is important to understand this conflict. The below excerpts represent a partial reprint of a previous post, but I believe his writing is so outstanding I am posting this part again. I enjoy his writing more for its style than any technical philosophy (he was a famous orator) and his ability to articulate the essence of this conflict in such a passionate and eloquent way:

    THERE ARE MANY MILLIONS of people who believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God -- millions who think that this book is staff and guide, counselor and consoler; that it fills the present with peace and the future with hope -- millions who believe that it is the fountain of law, Justice and mercy, and that to its wise and benign teachings the world is indebted for its liberty, wealth and civilization -- millions who imagine that this book is a revelation from the wisdom and love of God to the brain and heart of man -- millions who regard this book as a torch that conquers the darkness of death, and pours its radiance on another world -- a world without a tear.
    They forget its ignorance and savagery, its hatred of liberty, its religious persecution; they remember heaven, but they forget the dungeon of eternal pain. They forget that it imprisons the brain and corrupts the heart. They forget that it is the enemy of intellectual freedom. Liberty is my religion. Liberty of hand and brain -- of thought and labor, liberty is a word hated by kings -- loathed by popes. It is a word that shatters thrones and altars -- that leaves the crowned without subjects, and the outstretched hand of superstition without alms. Liberty is the blossom and fruit of justice -- the perfume of mercy. Liberty is the seed and soil, the air and light, the dew and rain of progress, love and joy.
In a section titled Is Christ Our Example?, Ingersoll writes:

    HE NEVER SAID A word in favor of education. He never even hinted at the existence of any science. He never uttered a word in favor of industry, economy or of any effort to better our condition in this world. He was the enemy of the successful, of the wealthy. Dives was sent to hell, not because he was bad, but because he was rich. Lazarus went to heaven, not because he was good, but because he was poor.
    Christ cared nothing for painting, for sculpture, for music -- nothing for any art. He said nothing about the duties of nation to nation, of king to subject; nothing about the rights of man; nothing about intellectual liberty or the freedom of speech. He said nothing about the sacredness of home; not one word for the fireside; not a word in favor of marriage, in honor of maternity.
    He never married. He wandered homeless from place to place with a few disciples. None of them seem to have been engaged in any useful business, and they seem to have lived on alms.

    All human ties were held in contempt; this world was sacrificed for the next; all human effort was discouraged. God would support and protect.
    At last, in the dusk of death, Christ, finding that he was mistaken, cried out: "My God My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?"
    We have found that man must depend on himself. He must clear the land; he must build the home; he must plow and plant; he must invent; he must work with hand and brain; he must overcome the difficulties and obstructions; he must conquer and enslave the forces of nature to the end that they may do the work of the world.

Here is my favorite excerpt:

    FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS men have been writing the real Bible, and it is being written from day to day, and it will never be finished while man has life. All the facts that we know, all the truly recorded events, all the discoveries and inventions, all the wonderful machines whose wheels and levers seem to think, all the poems, crystals from the brain, flowers from the heart, all the songs of love and joy, of smiles and tears, the great dramas of Imagination's world, the wondrous paintings, miracles of form and color, of light and shade, the marvelous marbles that seem to live and breathe, the secrets told by rock and star, by dust and flower, by rain and snow, by frost and flame, by winding stream and desert sand, by mountain range and billowed sea.

    All the wisdom that lengthens and ennobles life, all that avoids or cures disease, or conquers pain -- all just and perfect laws and rules that guide and shape our lives, all thoughts that feed the flames of love the music that transfigures, enraptures and enthralls the victories of heart and brain, the miracles that hands have wrought, the deft and cunning hands of those who worked for wife and child, the histories of noble deeds, of brave and useful men, of faithful loving wives, of quenchless mother-love, of conflicts for the right, of sufferings for the truth, of all the best that all the men and women of the world have said, and thought and done through all the years.
    These treasures of the heart and brain -- these are the Sacred Scriptures of the human race.


Friday, 23 October 2009

The Beer O’Clock Special Official Beer Tasting Thing

You’ve been challenged.  A few weeks back we were talking here or somewhere about beers of quality -- beers of taste -- beers you should get inside you – and young Willy opined that we wouldn’t know the difference between one brown muck and another.

And since on this blog we advocate taking nothing on faith (“nothing on face” as the great woman sort of told Mike Wallace), we swing into action to prove two things:

  1. That young Willy owes us all an apology.
  2. That we can indeed organise a piss-up, both within a brewery and without.

So a piss-up beer tasting has now been arranged.  And you’re invited.

The tasting will be Saturday week, 31st October and will be done over two rounds: the first session in a secret location that looks very much like the garden used for that taste-off shown on the right, where we’ll see if anyone can tell one mainstream beer from another; and the second up the road at Galbraith’s, where we can work through one (or several) of their tasting racks. 

Your tasting guide for the afternoon/evening/early morning will be the Mr Greig McG, the brew-meister and beer maven of Hamilton’s world renowned Ruakura Campus Beer Tasting Club.

Plan for the first round (and you can tell this has been written by an innumerate scientist) afternoon session: 5 jugs labelled samples A through G will be divided into “light” and “dark” beers. A list of beers will also be provided containing 8 choices. Participants may sample the jugs in any order, and must identify which beers from the list they are.

Entry fee is a six-pack of your favourite mainstream beer of choice from the following lists:

Round 1, part 1. "All That Glistens Is Not Gold"
       Any five of:
       Export Gold
       Lion Red
       Speights Gold
       Crown Lager
       DB Bitter
       Ranfurly Draught
       Victoria Bitter

Round 1, part 2. "Cheeky Darkies" (slight variation - not
       enough mainstream darks to have extras, so just mix and match)
       Any five of:
       Monteiths Black
       Speights Old Dark
       Mac's Black
       Monteith’s Black
       Cooper’s Extra Stout

For Round 2, “The Gold Standard,” we start with a glass each of either (depending on taste) the Munich Lager, the Bohemian Pilsner or the Grafton Porter to cleanse our palates, before getting on with he serious drinking tasting. 

Our beer meister suggests we just do this simply by working through the Galbraith’s tasting tray – which experience indicates will often require several trays in order to compare, contrast and record the fulll range of beers on offer. Discussion, abuse, and general merriment may or may not ensue (such things not being compulsory, you understand).

Volunteers will be be called for to write up the whole experience for next week’s Beer O'Clock post, and if anyone is still standing there will be a single malt tasting to follow.  Or maybe tequila.

The session promises to give new meaning to the expression “a blind taste test.”

If you’re interested, then drop me an email (at organon at with either “GOLDEN LAGER” or “DARK BEER” in the subject line and let me know what your beer of choice is going to be (first come, first served – so to speak), and I’ll let you know where it’s going to be.

Just your average postmodernist double standard

If you’ve already had enough of my posts this week on double standards, then spare a moment to consider this one. It’s a doozy.

“Unquestionably the leading twentieth-century philosopher for the postmodernists,” says Stephen Hicks in Explaining Postmodernism, is Martin Heidegger.

Nazi bastard And guess what? While postmodernist “thinkers” are overwhelmingly of the “left” (indeed, says Hicks, “it was the failure of socialism that made postmodernism necessary”), old Martie gets a free pass from postmodernists for being a hard-core, out-there, “sack-those-damn-Jews” Nazi – an “ostensibly magisterial thinker who informed Freiburg students in his infamous 1933 rectoral address of Nazism's ‘inner truth and greatness,’ declaring that ‘the Führer, and he alone, is the present and future of German reality, and its law’."

Nice chap, so why do postmodernists keep him around the house?

Asks Carlin Romano in The Chronicle of Higher Education, from whence I drew those quotes above [hat tip Mr Hicks],

“How many scholarly stakes in the heart will we need before Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), still regarded by some as Germany's greatest 20th-century philosopher, reaches his final resting place as a prolific, provincial Nazi hack? Overrated in his prime, bizarrely venerated by acolytes even now, the pretentious old Black Forest babbler makes one wonder whether there's a university-press equivalent of wolfsbane, guaranteed to keep philosophical frauds at a distance.”

Sure does.  And it makes one wonder too why postmodernist so-called thinkers disparage young boys who are too young to know what’s wrong about saluting Nazi symbols, but are prepared to give a free pass to a fully-fledged Nazi like Martin when “scholarly evidence fingers the scowling proprietor of Heidegger's hut as a buffoon produced by German philosophy's mystical tradition. He should be the butt of jokes, not the subject of dissertations.”

nazi-com Why? Perhaps because they’re so desperate to shore up their failed politics, that any old Hitler-loving philosophical fraud will do as a buttress? Or, perhaps, it’s because as bedfellows the “left” and the “right”, the Nazis and the socialists, are really just one and the same.

Friday ramble

Sorry, looks like the regular Friday morning bunch of links isn’t going to appear here today. Too short of time.  In other words, it’s just Twitter only. 

So head on over to my Twitter page, where you can read all the links that normally appear here on a Friday, and you can print them out on the office printer and take ‘em home to read on the weekend.

Because I know that’s what you do, right?  :-)

Feel guilty, or the dog gets it.

dog_gets_it Brenda & Robert Vale are like Tom & Barbara Good – your average middle-class, macrame-wearing refugees from Glastonbury – except Tom & Barbara were funny, and they would never ask you to shoot your dog. 

The Vales are two hand-wringing, hairshirt-wearing hippies from Surbiton the UK who made a career out of building what they called Autonomous Houses and “sustainable buildings” around England, many of them government funded, before heading to New Zealand where the climate for people living in houses without decent power was somewhat more generous – arriving at the very time when “sustainability” was just starting to become a buzzword here. 

Since arriving, they’ve built a semi-autonomous house on Waiheke, they’ve indoctrinated several hundred Auckland architecture students in their version of “sustainability” (self-renunciation all round and a double helping of sackcloth and ashes, please), and they’ve dreamed up a bureaucratic scheme for Australia that “measures the ongoing environmental impact of existing buildings.”  Lucky hippies. Lucky students. Lucky building owners.  These are people who dream stupid dreams and know how to get their “pet projects,” if you will, into law.

And now they’re branching out.  They’re taking time out from tripping over their wind chimes. They want you to eat your dog.

Specifically, in their new book Time to Eat The Dog, they (i.e., Robert and Brenda) say “pet owners should swap cats and dogs for creatures they can eat, such as chickens or rabbits.”  And why should we (ie., you and I) do this?  Because, they say, “the eco-pawprint of a pet dog is twice that of a 4.6-litre Land Cruiser driven 10,000 kilometres a year.”

Yes, Virginia, grown adults (or at least, the Vales) sit around all day and do calculations like that, and dream up arguments like this.

The I Love Carbon Dioxide blog says, “It's bad enough that some people buy into the myth that their own ‘footprint’ is somehow a bad thing, but this just goes to show how far the absurd eco-alarmists can really go.” And so it does. This really takes sandal-wearing self-renunciation to a new height. 

Just a few weeks back a £6m British climate porn ad campaign was warning children “Turn out the lights or the dog gets it.”  Now the Vales are saying you should just shoot the dog anyway.  As one commenter says, “Why don’t these people worry about THEIR impact on the earth instead of telling everyone else how to live their lives.”

Or why don’t they just shoot themselves.  After all, don’t they breathe out CO2 too? And if self-renunciation is really their thing, and they’d like to do it properly . . .

“US Dollar As Reserve Currency Not Working Very Well” – Sayce [updated]

As Ben  Bernanke keeps  running the printing  presses to buy up the toxic assets of tomorrow, people keep talking about the death of the US dollar, and the possibilities of a new global reserve currency.  Australian financial commentator Kris Sayce, who writes at the Money Morning site, has a few thoughts on that and on how the UN – the UN! – are planning to take advantage of that. ANd on what a real “reserve currency” would look like.

US Dollar As Reserve Currency Not Working Very Well

We read with interest [a few weeks back] a call by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development for a new global reserve currency.

Apparently the current set-up of having the US dollar as a reserve currency isn't working very well.

They're quick learners at the UN obviously!

Their report makes some of the right noises, "The dollar-based reserve system is increasingly challenged." Hmm, a slight understatement there. If "increasingly challenged" is a euphemism for "dead" then we'd agree.

But we don't think that's what they mean.

So, what do they plan replacing it with?

Special Drawing Rights, or SDRs. If you've got no idea what that means, it's simple.

An SDR is something made up by the boffins at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to act as an "international reserve asset."

The rationale for the creation of the SDR was that "the international supply of two key reserve assets - gold and the US dollar - proved inadequate for supporting the expansion of world trade and financial development that was taking place."

Look, your editor won't pretend to be a grade 'A' student of monetary theory, but to us the creation of the SDR is part of the reason the global economy is in the current mess.

That gold was deemed to be inadequate for "supporting the expansion of world trade and financial development" tells you that's when the Western world begun its massive spending spree.

Back in 1969 with the creation of the SDR.

A spending spree that couldn't be achieved just through stealing money from citizens through the tax system, but one which could only be kept going by the creation of more money.

It was, you could argue, the beginning of the 'consume, don't produce' Western economies.

The problem that SDRs 'solved' was the ability to crank up the printing press. Of course that didn't happen straight away. There's always a transition with these things.

First, as it happens, like the US dollar, the SDR was backed by gold. But if you're creating a new reserve that you want to be more flexible than gold (ie. You want to print more money and spend it), then backing it with gold isn't going to work.

Because backing a currency with gold helps to maintain the value of the paper currency. If you know that your $1 note is redeemable for a set quantity of gold then it will maintain value.

It means the banks can't - or shouldn't - create more paper money than the reserves they have in gold to back it up.

Simply put, it creates and requires discipline. Something that bankers and governments in the 1960s weren't happy with. The 'inflexibility' of gold makes it harder to for governments to spend and makes it harder for banks to lend.

Therefore the creation of the SDR was a stepping stone to abandoning the reserve status of gold. And sure enough, four years after the SDR was invented, US President Richard Nixon closed the gold window at the Federal Reserve and there was no longer any obligation for US dollars to be exchanged for a fixed weight of gold.

Instead the US dollar was backed by nothing, and so the SDR was backed by the US dollar and other currencies which were also backed by nothing.

Yet it is this 'worthless' SDR which is being touted as the new reserve currency.

But why should the SDR make any difference? It won't. An SDR is just a weighted basket of other currencies. Unless it is backed by something tangible, such as gold, then it will prove to be equally as worthless as the US dollar it is replacing.

Perhaps, bankers and governments will see the error of their ways and make a call for these new SDRs to be back by gold...

Not a chance.

There are several reasons for that. One, as I mentioned above, is that gold forces a government and its central bank to be disciplined. It cannot circulate more money without having a corresponding increase in its gold reserves.

If it were to do so then the paper money - or certificates - would not be fully backed by gold. This would cause the value of the paper to decrease - the greater supply of one thing relative to another devalues it.

If people got wind that the central bank was printing more money without increasing its reserve of gold, there would be an increased demand for physical gold. There would be a run on the banks.

The other problem gold has is an image problem. Take this comment from a recent article by Alan Kohler over at Business Spectator:

"But while there's no doubt the gold will continue to be underpinned by the demise of the dollar, it is not a currency. I can't go into JB Hi-Fi with a lump of it and buy a TV."

"Central banks around the world own about 26,000 tonnes of it, which represents 8.5 per cent of total reserves, but it's not legal tender. It's just a commodity they got stuck with because it used to be a currency a long time ago and will never be again."

It's fairly common of the attitude the mainstream press has to gold. They don't understand that it is a store of value.

Kohler claims you can't go into JB Hi-Fi and buy a TV with a lump of gold. He's quite correct on that score. But it wasn't so long ago that is effectively what consumers did. Maybe not for TVs but for other items.

Under a gold standard where your dollar was backed by gold, consumers were exchanging a gold backed dollar for goods. It was an exchange of gold for goods, only that a paper note was used as a proxy.

What's so crazy about that? Nothing.

But if you look at Kohler's other comment about 26,000 tonnes of gold being only 8.5% of total reserves it gives the game away for the real reason bankers and governments don't want a gold backed currency.


It's no coincidence that since the early 1970s global paper currencies have lost about 90% of their value. Virtually every currency you name is worth significantly less today than it was thirty-odd years ago.

That's not because prices have risen, it's because currencies have become devalued.

As Kohler, perhaps unwittingly admits, central banks and governments have embarked on a massive money printing exercise.

If paper money still had the backing of gold then global economies would not have one-tenth of the current problems we are currently facing.

The fact that the UN and other government organizations are proposing to replace one currency backed by nothing with another currency backed by nothing signals they are either ignorant or are intentionally pursuing policies guaranteed to deliver economic destruction.

And more importantly to you, to guarantee the continued devaluation of your money and wealth.

Kris Sayce

UPDATE: On a related note, today’s FEG Newsletter reckons you should “read what the Wall Street Journal has to say as the paper currencies of the world vie for the lowest position on the world markets. The race is picking up speed!”  I did read the summary, and was brought up short by this ridiculous sotto voce comment: “For its part, the U.S., publicly favors a strong-dollar policy . . . “  Given the Fed’s overheated printing press and an Administration enthusiastically cheering as the paper money pours off them, one wonders what the Wall Street Journal’s reporters think the Fed would be doing differently if they favoured a weak-dollar policy?!

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: The New Zealand House

Every place has a house form that’s unique to that place – unique because of history, because climate, because of landscape or way of life.

Given what we have here, and our relaxed way of life, here’s how the New Zealand house appears to me, in oomparison to some of the house types of other times and other places . . .

Thursday, 22 October 2009

NZ tops the world!

There was a note on Page 31 of the most recent Herald on Sunday that caught a reader’s eye (but is not on the NZ Herald web site). Observes K.McK, it’s like an Alice in Wonderland report in which good news is reported as bad news – a scorecard in which we rate bottom of the list for not throwing taxpayers’ money away on farming subsidies:

    It is great to see New Zealand winning at something. And I am particularly proud that it is such a Libertarian issue that we are top in the world at – Government Spending on Agriculture!
    I am just surprised that they say it like it is a bad thing.
I am saddened that there is an organisation of, I presume, well meaning people that are dedicated to more government involvement in starvation! Something that Government involvement caused in the first place.
    The score card itself is here:
    Here are some quotes from the release":

  • “... Greece, Portugal, Italy, the United States and New Zealand are named as the worst offenders in reducing official aid to agriculture.”
  • “Bottom of the developed nation scorecard is New Zealand, with a score of seven out of 100, followed by the United States and Japan which were all given an ‘E’ grade.”
  • “The Democratic Republic of Congo, with nine points, is the lowest on the developing state list.”
  • “ActionAid called on world leaders to fight hunger by supporting small farmers, protect rights to food, and tackle climate change. ‘It's the role of the state and not the level of wealth, that determines progress on hunger," said Anne Jellema, ActionAid policy director’.”

Well, she sure got that last statement right, though in that Alice in Wonderland way she was right not in the way she intended it. The greatest cause of hunger around the world is not lack of subsidies or lack of aid, but political corruption.  What determines progress on poverty and hunger is not taxpayers’ largesse but recognition of property rights, protection of contracts, and the rule of law. In short, freedom.  For real progress, that’s worth more than a whole truckload of cash sent to or distributed by a corrupt government.

Air New Zealand plays GrabAMurderer for laughs [updated]

The double standard of poster boys and propaganda continues (see here and here for earlier posts).

A while back Powershop featured “humorous” pictures of bloggers and media types dressed as that loveable rogue Che Guevara.  Oh, how we all laughed to see Russell Brown and Gordon Campbell dressed as the chap who imprisoned homosexuals, murdered his political enemies, and declared "A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate. We must create the pedagogy of the The Wall!" (And by “The Wall” he wasn’t meaning a Pink Floyd album, he was meaning something his revolutionary firing squads would put you against).

But how much laughter would there have been if Powershop had dressed them up as Brownshirts or SS Guards?  The free pass given to one particular breed of homicidal totalitarians continues.

And it continues today on Air New Zealand’s Grab-A-Seat website. I’m sure Air New Zealand wouldn’t countenance displaying a Nazi propaganda poster extolling “Blood, Soil and Sacrifice” and copies of Mein Kampf as an inducement to buy seats on their flights, but right there on their website exhorting you to fly the friendly skies to Hong Kong is this image ripped directly from a Maoist propaganda poster from the Cultural Revolution – you know, that fun time in China when thought police ruled and around 7,731,000 people were brutally murdered by for not following the diktats of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book, which our peasant friend clutches to his breast:

Screen shot 2009-10-22 at 10.31.10 AM

Just the sort of image you’d expect a national airline to use to sell tickets to China today, wouldn’t you think? 

I’d say that somebody in their advertising department clearly needs shooting . . . but I might be misunderstood.

UPDATE: Liberty Scott spots another “anomaly.” If BNP kiwis are odious, because of their vile racist and anti-immigrant views, then why aren’t modern-day adherents to the ideology that killed over 100,000,000 people?

    “The NZ Herald has used the leaked list of BNP members to call on New Zealanders belonging to the party to "explain themselves".
    “The BNP is odious, but quite why people should be contacted and harangued by a journalist is questionable. Any cursory look at white supremacist forums will find New Zealanders posting on them, and the same with communist forums, or indeed most political persuasions.
    “However, would the New Zealand Herald do the same if it found New Zealand members of the far-left RESPECT Coalition, led by the odious George Galloway (who misses the Soviet Union and has publicly approved of both Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad)?
    “Would it seek to find out if there are New Zealand members of the pro North Korean Revolutionary Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist?)
    “How about New Zealand's own Communist Workers' Party?
    “If not, why not?”

Those all seem like fair questions to me.  And I think we all know what the answers would be, no?

If you doubt it, then ask yourself why when Trevor Loudon is credited in the US Congress for helping bring down Obama’s communist side-kick Van Jones there’s nary a whisper out of NZ’s mainstream press, not a sign of the expected “Kiwi Brings Down Messiah’s Adviser” headlines. But when a BNP members’ list is leaked showing NZ members, no stone is unturned to track them down.

Three new blogs

Well, three new blogs to me, anyway.  Three very good ones, two on subjects close to my heart, that I’m adding to my blogroll as we speak.

Warmaholics Anonymous is the blog of a retired Christchurch scientist who I had the pleasure to meet last weekend at the Christchurch premiere of anti-warmist film Not Evil Just Wrong (which, by the way, I’d also highly recommend).  Like the chap himself, the blog is sharp, witty and authoritative – with posts on shrinking sheep, disappearing unicorns and psychic glaciers appearing among straightforward puncturing of most of the warmist mythology. And useful tips like this: “To really reduce one’s carbon footprint one should stop breathing.” The writer of Warmaholics Anonymous is one of the good guys.  Add him to your regular reading.

And  Montessori Ed, who I met at Steven Hughes’ presentation ‘Good at Doing Things,’ which Ed writes up way better than I did. Ed is also one of the good guys.

There’s more than a few of us around.

And last but not least is one of the good sheilas. Writing at Carnivorous Capitalist, recovering Act On Campus big cheese Helen Simpson documents her travels into some of the world’s more colourful places.  Beirut, for example, sounded like a blast.

And while we’re talking about blogging, econo-blogger Matt Nolan' offers a selfish inducement to other would-be bloggers at his post The best reason for blogging:

    “…my reasons for blogging are purely selfish.  I want people to tell me why I’m wrong about things, and how I can improve my understanding of issues.  Furthermore, I like the idea of having a historical record of my opinions – so if similar events happen in the future I can quickly jog my own memory.”

I think that’s true.  The discipline of blogging, especially the abundant and cutting commentary that replies to my blogging, has immeasurably improved my own understanding of issues – which you’ll have to agree, given my still appalling understanding of most things, must surely have started from a very low level.

Libertarians are taking over

Reader W.S. reckons “libertarians are taking over” – in the unions and the Labour Party!  See what he means:

I offer these two pieces of evidence from this Herald article:

[CTU president Helen Kelly said] ...although the union was open to discussing the idea, she did not believe higher earners should have to forgo any chance of a pay increase so the less-well-paid could benefit.


"Labour's education spokesman, Trevor Mallard, said it was "outrageous" to propose setting the education groups against each other. You don't take money off one group of people in a workforce to pay another." [Emphasis mine.]

So... I guess Trevor and Helen don't support progressive tax rates then... or really... the concept of tax at all.
Who would have thought? The CTU president and Trevor Mallard are both closet libertarians. I knew it!
To paraphrase Harvey Milk - "Come out! Come out of the closet! If they know us, they can't hate us. They can't hate us if they have a libertarian friend. Or a libertarian son, or brother. Come out!"

NOT PJ: Whatever the weather

This week, Bernard Darnton experiments with heterodoxy.

_BernardDarnton If you want to be a hit at your next party, explain how the melting of the ice caps is a good thing because it’ll make it easier to get at all that oil under the Arctic Ocean.

It’s that kind of optimistic thinking, always looking for the upside, that makes capitalism the most productive economic engine ever devised. (Strictly speaking, capitalism hasn’t been “devised”; it’s simply having the good sense to ignore all the economic contrivances dreamed up by kings and dictators and people with clipboards at the regional council.)

Capitalism will continue to be as productive, ice caps or not. (More, if Greenland lives up to its mineral promise.)

We chose economic systems for reasons other than what the temperature is. The people who want to shut down Western industry would want to do that whether or not the Earth is warming. Likewise, I believe that capitalism is the best economic system whichever side turns out to be right.

If the globe is warming, we’re going to need all the economic flexibility we can find just to keep up with the changes. If it’s not, then all that flexibility will come in handy just for making life more fun, or lifting millions of the world’s poor out of poverty. Or, if the future’s anything like the past, both.

If you want to get past oil and coal you’re going to need capitalists competing to come up with energy schemes that work at a sensible price. We don’t need Government committees subsidising “initiatives” like banana skin-fuelled composting toilets.

Capitalism also allows those with a gambling instinct to take on more than their fair share of any losses that do occur. Take beach front property. I’d like to but I’m not allowed to.

Some councils won’t let people build near the sea because of the danger of flooding and erosion when the West Antarctic ice sheet collapses. Mad (or perhaps just bossy). People who want to build just above the shore may not believe that Al Gore could be right. They may not care if Al Gore’s right; they may think they’ll get plenty of enjoyment out their property before a million cubic kilometres of melted glacier come washing in. Or they may secretly suspect that Al Gore’s right but want to punch him in the face for being an imperious git. So let people build where they want and assume their own risks.

These rules are supposedly to eliminate risk. When do-gooders with clipboards want to deal with risks they tell you how you’re allowed to behave. When capitalists want to deal with risk they invent insurance companies. Real capitalism also privatises losses. Want to know how likely your bach is to be inundated? Try insuring it.

It’s a money-where-your-mouth-is proposition. If the skeptics are right they get the best property in the country at a discount. If the catastrophists are right they get to see their opponents drowned and there’ll be no one around to punch them in the face for being imperious gits.

The current swathe of policies designed to combat climate change are the worst of both worlds. They threaten to raise taxes and to hobble industry, all without making any positive difference to the environment. The centre-leftists and the leftist-rightists would have us living in a world that could be several degrees warmer but where all the deodorant factories have closed.

Voluntary exchange and division of labour have improved humanity’s lot for thousands of years through war and plague, averting famines, whatever the weather. Central planning, on the other hand, is immoral and unworkable at seventeen degrees; what makes anyone think it will work at nineteen?

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

‘Stoneflower’ – E. Fay Jones

Part 1.2 This small home  was the precursor of E. Fay Jones’ stunning Thorncrown Chapel, his undisputed masterwork.  As “Bru” says at his blog The Art of Where:

    “The separation of the two levels addresses some intriguing ideas about how to build in harmony with the land. it is as if the lower level, made of stone, was always there-- a ruin of some obsolete structure given a new life. the light timber framed upper level seems to hover above the land as the only discernible man-made intervention on the landscape.
    “While the limitations of budget may have kept this house from becoming widely celebrated and published, the lessons it taught its creator are widely seen in the halls of Thorncrown.”

Part 1.11 Part 1.5

And as James Schildroth of Kebyar points out, it’s for sale!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

More selective mass-murdering

The Adolf vs Che debate begun here and continued on Radio NZ yesterday is going on in the States at the moment  too -- but with much higher stakes, and at the same time much less lather.

In NZ it was silly boys saluting Nazi symbols, for which they were castigated up hill and down, and (by contrast) the Victoria University Students Association who got a free pass for their poster of Che in the meeting room in which they squelched a democratic vote on making association membership voluntary.

In the States it’s much more serious, but from little things big things grow. In the States it’s one of Obama’s four top advisers who, it turns out, is a Maoist.  Enter Anita Dunn, , who is not just an admirer of Chairman Mao, but someone who considers him one of her “two favorite political philosophers.” And not just someone who considers him one of her “two favorite political philosophers,” but someone who tells a high-school commencement class that before quoting him approvingly:

    “. . . the third lesson and tip actually comes from two of my favorite political philosophers Mao Tse-tung and Mother Teresa, not often coupled with each other, but the two people that I turn to most to basically deliver a simple point which is you're going to make choices, you're going to challenge, you're going to say why not…. In 1947, when Mao Tse-tung was being challenged within his own party on his plan to basically take China over, Chiang Kai-Shek and the nationalist Chinese held the cities, they had the army, they had the air force, they had everything on their side and people said, "How can you win, how can you do this, how can you do this, how can you do this against all of the odds against you?" And Mao Tze Tung said, "You fight your war and I'll fight mine."’ [Dunn's remarks appear in this online video.]

For those remarks, Ms Dunn is not getting the arse-kicking she deserves.  She’s not even getting the sort of reaction those silly Auckland Grammar boys got.  Fact is, Fox aside, she’s getting nothing at all but support.  She’s got a free pass, leading George Reisman to ask:

MaoistAnitaDunn     “My question is, Where is the outcry against Anita Dunn? Her remarks were not limited to a casual comment that had vicious implications. Rather they constituted a prolonged, blatantly explicit, and far more fundamental endorsement of an incalculably worse person and program than did those of Trent Lott. She has dared to say that one of her "favorite political philosophers" is one of the greatest mass murderers in the history of the world, a man whose takeover of China was responsible for as many as 70 million deaths during his reign. She has dared to present the words of this monster as a source of inspiration to youth!
    “Perhaps she would like to rephrase her remarks. Perhaps she would like to substitute Adolf Hitler for Mao Tse-tung. Perhaps she would like to say something like this:

‘"In the days when the Führer was being challenged even within his own party on his plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe, the Jews and their allies controlled many major businesses, they controlled many major banks, they owned many major newspapers and magazines. They were protected by the rule of law, by trial by jury, and by laws against robbery, kidnapping, and murder. They had everything on their side and people said to Hitler, 'How can you win, how can you do this, how can you do this against all of the odds against you?' And Hitler said, 'You fight your war and do your destruction and I'll fight mine and do my destruction.'"

    “If the United States had an honest press and media, one committed to the principle of individual rights, their outrage would drive Anita Dunn out of Washington, D.C., just by hurling her words back at her. They would make her such a "hot potato" that no one would dare to defend her in her infamy.”

The same double standard I was arguing about yesterday is there in spades in the States, wouldn’t you say.  Looks like according to the prevailing “cultural film” not all totalitarian monsters are equal.  Looks like some are more equal than others.

Oops, I’ve got an STV

Lindsay Perigo used to say that “New Zealanders need to get over this knee-jerk notion of changing the electoral system, and go for freedom instead.” He’s right: if we’re going to beat the bastards back – which is how to gain our freedom, right – then the important thing is not to change the way the bastards are voted in, but to make sure the bastards are properly chained up. (Which means, let’s face it, a properly written constitution.)

As “Captain Ahab” says at the CYFSWatch website, “Although MMP has brought many changes, it is clear that a new voting system cannot by itself radically alter a nation’s traditional political culture.”

That said, with John Boy’s announcement of the forthcoming two-stage referendum on MMP, it looks like we’ll still be talking voting systems for some years to come.  May the gods help us!

And may the gods rescue us too from the “race to the centre” that the big parties think MMP requires, and those wastes of space that, let’s face it, MMP has delivered us.  You know who I mean, those people “on the list” who are slipped in and can never ever be elected out again: the unelected and the unrepresentative; the braindead and the brazen; the Alamein Kopus and the Sue Bradfords.

Whatever its other demonstrated faults, perhaps this is MMP’s greatest flaw: that it gave power to those like Bradford who have never won office in an open contest, and never would have. (And by contrast to the Bradfords of the political world, at least the Kopus are benign.)

So despite ourselves, it looks like we’re going to be saddled once again with a debate on electoral systems in which case it’s important not be encumbered once again with a bear trap.

Which leads me to make two suggestions.  First, if we’re going to change the system again, then the STV system has my money – not the sexually transmitted disease, you understand, but the Single Transferable Vote system used in Australia, though without the compulsion in Australia to vote. And as it happens, that post by “Captain Ahab” at the CYFSWatch website I linked to above explains the system well, and why it should be your preference (the simple answer being that it gives at the opportunity for those few principled politicians who do exist in New Zealand to be heard, and to be rewarded with office – which is about as much as you can really hope for in a voting system).

And the second suggestion is that if we’re going to have the debate, then it might be opportune for some young enthusiast for liberty to pick up the baton and become The Face of STV – or in other words, to “do a Rod Donald” in reverse.  Do it well, and you’ve leveraged a place for yourself and your colleagues in the bear pit, you’ll have helped ensure the system introduced might be better than it would be otherwise, and you’ve probably also set yourself up to continue the debate into one on the necessary constitutional changes that will eventually need to be made here if we are to ever chain the bastards up properly.

It’s a dirty job (just like all politics) but someone has to do it. So who’s up for it? 

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: ACC and other bottomless troughs

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

1. Motorcyclists plot protest rides against big rises in levies - Massive proposed rises in ACC levies will, I predict, provoke an equal and opposite reaction from potential victims.
    Motorcyclists around the country are girding their loins for a battle with the grey ones and their political masters. It’s bad enough that competition in the accident insurance market is outlawed, but premium increases of over 200% are intolerable. Imagine the outcry from our socialists if the private sector upped their charges to this degree. The silence from our coterie of left-wing state-worshipping political commentators is very telling.
    One thing is for sure: the Libertarianz Party will be there to support the motorcycle clubs and organisations that are fighting this usurious, arbitrary and inflationary move to try and save ACC’s bottom line.
    Wake up, guys - ACC cannot be salvaged; public servants cannot manage corporations unless they have a club with which to beat taxpayers when the finances start to look shaky. A lot of New Zealanders had no choice but to use ACC and are now at its mercy as their sole source of income protection and treatment funding following accidental injury.
    If the accident insurance industry was privatised, or even just opened up to competition, these people could have their claims transferred to a private insurer of their choice, with bankrolling of their future costs from asset sales.
    Starting with the sale of the building in which ACC is housed, if it is state-owned.

2. Rugby TV bid to cost well under $5m - PM – That’s great news, John. You should be able to fund it out of your own pocket and then reclaim it from rugby fans via pay-per-view.
    If these matches are important to enough people, they will fork out money to watch them. People who hate rugby and people with no interest in rugby should not have to subsidise those who do have an interest.
    Why there is even a Minister for the Rugby World Cup is beyond me. But the farcical situation of the taxpayer having to pay two competing broadcasters in a bidding war is proof that we, the people, are the losers in this political game. And always will be, as long as people like John Key and Trevor Mallard think certain sports are so important that people should be forced at gunpoint to pay to have them broadcasted live on TV.
    Can I assume these rugby games are so important that New Zealanders will be sent home from school and from work, and compelled to watch them?

3. Secret ACC plan to charge all victims $100This would be a good idea if ACC was a private insurer that one could join voluntarily. It isn’t: it’s a coercive government monopoly. There is no choice about using ACC; the state press-gangs New Zealanders into paying for its accident insurance scheme with veiled but very real threats of asset seizure and/or imprisonment. Any attempt to run ACC along corporate lines is just more coercive bullying.
    In a privately-run insurance company, introduction of a surcharge should result in a commensurate reduction in the cost of premiums. But ACC have just indicated they will be hiking – not reducing - its fees.
    The government should stop pretending it can run a viable insurance company. ACC is broke. Close it down, and let organisations who know what they’re doing compete for custom in a free and open market. 

See y’all next week!
Doc McGrath

Afghanistan “on the brink” says Michael Yon

In this interview at Pajamas TV, journalist Michael Yon (one of the good guys) argues that indecision, prevarication and political posturing leaves Afghanistan “on the brink.”  “It’s going very poorly,” he says [hat tip Robert Winefield].

"The war is being clearly being lost at this point..."
"The coalition is slowly but surely dissolving..."
”The Taliban can sense blood in the water.”
"The British are under resourced..."
"The German's are being badly handled..."
"The Dutch are thinking of taking a secondary role..."
”It’s the perfect storm for the enemy at this point.”
”We’re on the final play here.”

Meanwhile, despite pledging to make Afghanistan his focus once in office, Obama is still not taking the calls of his field commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal.

So What Went Wrong in Afghanistan? asks Elan Journo:

    “How did America, the world's most powerful nation, find itself in this morass? A shortage of troops and resources? Reliance on a corrupt Afghan regime (a fact highlighted by the charges of massive election fraud, to name a comparatively tame example)? Some combination of these themes? No, the problem goes far deeper. Our post-9/11 policy--in Afghanistan and across the board--was subverted by a factor that few have thought to examine: the basic moral ideas that animate our foreign policy.”

Basically, a morality dedicated to goals other than overwhelming victory is achieving its aim.

Warmist-in-chief Salinger a 'stranger to truth' [updated]

A court heard today that sacked alleged climate scientist Jim Salinger is “a stranger to the truth.”  I agree.

Salinger is still seething over being peremptorily dismissed by his former employer, the Government's National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA), and is appearing before the Employment Relations Authority in an attempt to pull down truckloads of cash for the pain, hurt feelings and the bruise on his sorry arse caused by the long-overdue appearance of his employer’s boot there.

But Salinger was known less as the head of NIWA, which was what he was paid to be, and more as "New Zealand's most prominent climate alarmist," and “the voice of global warming in New Zealand.” But that wasn’t a role his employer wanted to pay for, and as NIWA’s lawyer indicated in court yesterday, it required him to put his warmism before the truth.

Here’s just some of the “wisdom” dispensed on behalf of his former employer, that back up the lawyers’ claim:

  • At a convention of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in New Zealand, Jim Salinger appeared to scare the crowd with news that climate change is going to cause a decline in the production of malting barley in New Zealand and particularly Australia. "It will mean either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up," speculated the irresponsible scaremonger, without benefit of any science.
  • "Regional warming" is killing NZ’s glaciers, said Salinger in November 2007. Yet figures from Salinger's own former organisation, NIWA, showed (and still show) there has been no “regional warming” at all in New Zealand (so if those glaciers are receding, it could only be because they’re psychic). I’ll say it again, no regional warming at all.  Just take a look:
  • In April 2007, Salinger claimed that heavy rain and flooding in Northland was the direct result of global warming since, he claimed, “as climate warming occurs, the atmosphere can hold more moisture and therefore more rain falls.”  But NIWA’s own figures demonstrate that there have been no local warming at all; and as meteorologist Augie Auer said at the time, "As an explanation of the cause and consequences of last week's Northland rains, Dr Salinger's statement ... is as unscientific as it is incorrect. " 
    "So simplistic, it's silly" was how the late Dr Auer described the statement, and “the strongest argument [yet] for the disbanding of NIWA and the return of all weather matters to MetService. “
  • In February this year, Salinger was quoted in the Herald on Auckland’s so called “hottest day ever” -- “the highest since official NIWA records began in September 1868” the Herald quoted Salinger as saying – a remarkable judgement based on one outlying reading in Whenuapai, a station which only existed from 1945 to 1993 and from 2005 to now. (See discussion here at NZ’S Weather Forum.) This interview was among those cited as a reason for Salinger’s sacking.

Frankly, Salinger looks less like a scientist than a serial liar. He has as much credibility as Al Gore’s movie, which a British High Court Judge found contained nine serious lies and exaggerations

There sure is a pattern here with all these warmists, don’t you think?

UPDATE: The hearing continues.  NewstalkZB reports Salinger faced questions today “about disregarding a clear request by management to not use traditional local knowledge when compiling a climate report in the Cook Islands [traditional local knowledge!?]. Dr Salinger also admitted to doctoring an email which was sent to management regarding the issue.”

Doctoring an email would certainly put him onside with the likes of fellow warmist Phil Jones – who’s managed to mislay the entire modern temperature record.  The dog apparently ate his homework.

Architectural Mini-Tutorial: Ceiling Decks

Open plan living is a vast improvement on life in a box -- or in a series of boxes, which is what describes most traditional houses, unfortunately.

But it’s not enough just to be “open plan.”  The biggest open plan space is just a field, right?  Good open-plan living still requires a delineation of spaces within the larger space – it’s just more difficult for the designer to ensure the right degree of separation between the sub-spaces, and the right amount of integration of each sub-space with the main space. 

In a well-designed open space, each space will have its own character, and will flow easily and comfortably into other spaces – especially if the spaces are successfully “nested.” It should feel natural, not forced, with each space retaining its own character within the larger space, but still being a part of it.  Done properly, the “separation” or division of spaces gives the right feelings of liberation or enclosure appropriate to the space.

It’s important that the definition of each each space within the larger whole is done a subtle manner so as to avoid there simply being a space like 'one large barn.'  Some popular methods of achieving this separation are:

  • different floor coverings in different space;
  • changes in floor level between spaces;
  • furnishing layouts;
  • the use of sliding or folding 'screens';
  • the use of room proportions and wall returns to break up a larger space into smaller sub-spaces;
  • posts and the like between spaces;
  • changes in window and door layouts, e.g., a french door layout in one part of a space, and perhaps clerestory windows in the other;
  • changes in ceiling height, including the use of lowered ceilings and lowered ceiling decks, seen below:

The method by which the separation is achieved is usually dependent on the extent and quality of the spatial separation required. brings me to ceiling decks – a special kind of “overhead plane” - essentially a lowered “ceiling slab'” that you can see over, and in which you might have downlights, uplights and other services – and that the cunning designer can use to frame a space; to separate two spaces; to direct a view; to give order to a series of spaces; and another way by which to squeeze down the “space bubble” of occupants in a space to give either “containment” or “release.”

And oddly enough, if the “decks” are done well and they become the primary ordering element of a space – the means by which space in a building is “read” – then your walls, and other enclosures start to lose their importance.  You’ve started to “break the box.”

Which maybe explains why you see them so rarely. Most modern designers like boxes.  And they despise subtlety.

Ceiling decks offer a particularly subtle way both to 'frame a space' and to divide one space from another, but also – if you do them well -- lowered ceiling decks that 'frame' a space help to make that space and those around it appear larger than they are. 

So basically, a lowered ceiling deck is simply a lowed or independent part of a ceiling, usually horizontal in the manner of an above-ground 'deck.'  Below are some examples of lowered ceiling decks, ceiling dividers and “picture rails” (used to suggest a lowered ceiling) using different styles, and from different eras. See if you can see all that the designer as hoping to achieve with it:

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Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Ayn Rand on the Daily Show

Jennifer Burns has just written a biography of Ayn Rand, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, and having just finished reading a review of the book (written in less than laudatory fashion by Jeff Perren) I was less than expectant about viewing her being interviewed by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

“The book, apparently by design, is a long series of contradictions,” says Jeff in the review (to be published in the next Free Radical magazine) -- contradictions “about Rand, her philosophy, and the people she affected.”  So given Burns’s book and Stewart’s satire, I expected the worst from the interview – but instead was pleasantly surprised.  As Diana summarises at Noodle Food (where there’s a good discussion under way):

    “The interview was remarkably good until Jon Stewart said, "it's almost as if [Ayn Rand] would have a totalitarian state of individualists." Sigh. However, that was the worst of it. Stewart was seriously interested in the right's appropriation of Ayn Rand when convenient, then ignoring other ideas like her atheism. (I'm glad he pointed that out!) In attempting to critique the philosophy as elitist, Stewart said, "Objectivism works really well for extraordinary people." While Objectivism is not elitist -- and Burns did a reasonably good job of defending Ayn Rand against that charge -- that strikes me as praising with faint damnation. At least, it's great PR. If more extraordinary people read Ayn Rand and become advocates of her ideas, I won't complain!
    “More of all though, Jon Stewart took Ayn Rand seriously -- far more so than I expected. He knew something about her ideas, and he did not treat her as an object of ridicule.
    “Consider this near-final exchange:

Stewart: "[Ayn Rand was] an incredibly impressive person. Sheer force of will to drive this entire framework. But in some ways, her body of work is a refutation of the society that she wants. Because I don't think everyone, no matter what, could attain and accomplish what she did."
Burns: "Right, well she was creating ideals, things to aspire to. That's really what people take from her -- this vision of 'I can be the hero of my own life. I can aspire to be like John Galt or Howard Roark or Dagny Taggart.' That's what she wanted.
Stewart: She wrote "The Secret"!
Burns: "She sort of did. There is a lot of self-help and spiritual energy in these books, and a lot of people take that from her."
Stewart: "And a lot of dirty, dirty, dirty sex."
Burns: "This is true."
Stewart (slyly): "Oh, I've read."
    “That's the kind of interview that will intrigue people about Ayn Rand's ideas. Given what might have happened in that interview, I count it as a huge win.”

I’d have to agree:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Jennifer Burns
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor  

Selective mass-murdering [update 2]

UPDATE 2: I’m on Radio NZ’s Panel discussing this here.  Topic starts about 10:30 in, after ten minutes of waffle.

* * * *

When a Lincoln University student hostel held an Oktoberfest party that saw dickheads show up in Nazi regalia and concentration camp outfits , everyone and their grandmother went apeshit.

And when six lumpen idiots at Auckland Grammar were snapped bowing and saluting before Nazi symbols -- “kissing a swastika, bowing before a Nazi banner and making a Nazi salute at an exhibition” – the apoplexy could be heard all the way from Christchurch.

Che_at_Vic So saluting Nazis is not okay, alright.  But get caught carrying pictures of Chairman Mao (death toll around 70 million) – or have a poster of mass-murdererer Che Guevara on your wall (as Victoria University of Wellington’s student union has, as you can see in the pic at right taken from this video series of the VUWSA’s fraudulent democracy-capping) – or go sipping revolutionary coffee in the Havana cafe&bar (paying homage as you do to the murderous Cuban revolution) – and you fit right into today’s culture.

Indeed, head down to relax at the Lenin Bar in Auckland, which pays homage to the man who unleashed the Bolshevik state upon the world and the Cheka upon the Russian people, and you’ll be surrounded by the very journalists writing all those outraged articles about students dressing up in Nazi fancy dress – and who’d be just as violently outraged if a Hitler Bar were to set up next door – or a Himmler's Death's Head Bistro, Quisling's Croissants & Pastries, or Goering's Gelatos.

Surely shumthing wrong here, no?  Nazism is still rightly reviled, but the philosophy that killed 100 million people and at one time enslaved around three-fifths of the globe is still given house room.  How can that be?

BTW: If you want to track down modern history’s biggest mass-murderers, perhaps your best two resources are Rummel’s Power Kills website (and/or his excellent book Death By Government), and the French publication Black Book of Communism. Read them and weep.

UPDATE:  Jim Mora has invited me on as a phone-in guest on Radio NZ’s ‘The Panel’ this afternoon, to discuss the free-speech implications of larrikins in jackboots.  I’ll be on around 4:20pm.


No one forgets their first earthquake, says Susan Ryder.

susanryder There are some dates you don’t forget. For me, Tuesday 17 October 1989 is one of them.

It was a funny day right from the start. I’d gone into San Francisco to finalise some travel details. I had to go downtown and found a car park straight away which was weird in itself. Market Street was bare. There was nobody there. Someone could have fired a shot down the street and not hit a soul.

Also unusual was the fact that I wasn’t working late for the first day in three months. In fact, I was leaving early to specifically avoid the baseball traffic at Candlestick Park later that day. It was game three of the World Series where, also oddly, the play-offs were an all-Bay Area affair between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics.

It was a stunning day, very warm for that time of year in Northern California. Driving south to the small coastal town of Half Moon Bay where I lived, I remember thinking that old-timers in my family would have called it ‘earthquake weather.’ Growing up on the coast north of Wellington, tremors are a fact of life.

Revelling in the unaccustomed free time, I decided to read the paper before going for a run. It was 5pm, I had the house to myself and the sun was streaming through the open front door. I poured a small glass of juice and sat at the table. The window rattled slightly and I thought “Oh, it’s a wee quake” and turned the page.

And the very next second, the world went mad.

My juice slopped right across the newspaper. The floor rose fully two feet before falling and rapidly rising again in succession. “My God,” I thought in panic. “It’s the big one!” I ran across the lounge to the big wooden double front doors, hugging on to the locked one with both arms and legs, but the force of the movement saw me repeatedly thrown to the ground. Our house was barely 400m from the beach, just off US1, the coast road, where the cars were bouncing on all four wheels in a macabre lamb-like depiction, while the large concrete telephone poles were swaying metres. I still don’t know how they didn’t snap. Insanely, I was scared that I was going to be seriously injured by Scott’s vast CD collection that was only a few feet away, but thankfully the shaking occurred in the other direction. I was shouting but I couldn’t hear myself. Later on, I realised that the incredible noise must have been the seabed itself.

Then it was over. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know that fear can play games with time. The 20 second duration felt like minutes.

I went into autopilot. The power and telephones were out, but as I couldn’t smell gas I left well alone, having been told that turning it off when there isn’t a leak can be more of a nuisance. I jumped into the car and checked the radio. There was nothing on the FM band, but I found one solitary operational AM station where the dazed announcer was saying that if anybody could hear him, we’d just had a massive earthquake but he didn’t know if they were even broadcasting. I noticed a strange car in my driveway, so approached it and knocked on the window. A man with a face as white as his vehicle looked up and wound down the window.

“What the hell just happened?” he asked. “One minute I was driving along, enjoying the scenery and the next, my car was bouncing and the road was going up and down like waves! I pulled off the road and yours was the first driveway I happened upon!”

I looked down and spotted his Florida license plates. It transpired that it was his first trip to California and I imagine that he will never forget the date either.

The aftermath was hard going. There were 400 shocks registered over the next six weeks. The Bay Bridge that links San Francisco with Oakland was closed for a month when an upper section collapsed. A two-kilometre upper section of Oakland freeway just off the Bay Bridge collapsed onto its lower section crushing 40 odd vehicles in an instant. It took years to fix and was deviated in the process. Thousands were made homeless and in spite of the initial media predictions of hundreds dead, a total of 67 people lost their lives.

But with the utmost respect for those 67 families, it could have been so much worse. The earthquake measured 7.1 on the Richter Scale, occurring at what should have been peak rush hour traffic. But because the World Series was on, and featuring both local teams to boot, most people had either left early to watch the game at home or stayed at work to do so. The roads were abnormally quiet for what should have been a regular Tuesday evening.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) proved to be a godsend in the interim. Designed to withstand a major earthquake, it was closed for 24 hours for inspection, before being passed fit for service. Its daily passenger numbers rose by 50%.

Getting around was a nightmare with so many road closures, both temporary and longer term; the problem magnifying where bridges were featured. I had a 35 mile commute from the coast across the San Mateo bridge to the East Bay, so packed up what I needed and lived at work during the week, returning home at weekends. One Friday I decided that I’d had enough and left early. Knowing that I’d hit traffic, I took some work with me.

It seemed that everybody had the same idea, so much so that nobody was going anywhere fast. The freeways were jammed. All engines were switched off, with people chatting through open windows, exchanging quake stories, magazines and cassette tapes. I decided to give myself a manicure, discovering in the process that steering wheels are ideal for that. The guy in the car next to me asked to borrow my nail polish when I was finished. Correctly guessing my expression, he grinned.

“No, I’m not gay”, he said. “I’m married with two kids. But I’ll do anything to avoid going nuts in this traffic!”

“Go for your life!” I said “and give it to your wife with my compliments. It’s good stuff!”

My regular 45 minute commute took six hours that day. It turned out that there was total gridlock everywhere for 50 miles.

That was 20 years ago last Saturday and I remember it clearly. In fact, I recall it every time I hear people say that human beings affect the planet. In my opinion, those people can’t have experienced a serious natural disaster.

How lucky for them – because I was under no illusion as to who was in control that day.

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