Tuesday, 26 January 2010

“Fifteen books that will always stick with you”

Rational Jenn has asked, “Which fifteen books that you have read will always stick with you?” The rules specify that you think about the issue for no more than 15 minutes and that, for good or ill, you list the first 15 that come to mind.

Like Jim Woods, I’ve added a condition that I would not repeat authors, or subjects.  Otherwise it would just be a list of fifteen Ayn Rand books.  :-)

And just because I can’t cut my list down (and don’t want to) I’ve made it a coming-of-age twenty-one instead of just an adolescent fifteen.  Just call me Mr Greedy.

Over to you now. What are the fifteen or so that stick with you?

Monday, 25 January 2010

SUMMER SIX-PACK: Tangled up in glue

Another six cans of whip-arse from the ice-cold vaults of NOT PC

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Saving the planet? Who do you call?

    There's an interesting point made here at CapMag that warmists and environmentalists might want to consider. Environmentalists have said for years that "we" need to create "alternative" forms of energy. But how have "they" gone about creating them?

    “Well, they support like-minded politicians -- who've invented nothing but obstacles to innovation. They march in protests -- that have created nothing but vandalism. And they rage against capitalism -- the only system by which worthy creations can effectively be financed, marketed and widely distributed... Clearly, a viable, cleaner form of energy (if you buy into the faulty premise that one is needed) will not be created by some snarling rock-hurler, nor some land-confiscating government official, nor some loafer who nests with squirrels.”
    Innovation cannot be forced, and nor can it be created by political edict.
    So if “alternative energies” and viable recycling schemes and the like are every going to emerge, they'll only do so if there's real and genuine demand for them.  
    And no one knows either where or with whom creation will happen—all we can do is leave people free to create. If they're going to come from anywhere, they'll come from the same place that all innovations have come from -- from the brain of a creator -- and that creation can neither be forced nor subsidised.   
    And here’s something else we know: that when (or if) they’re produced, they'll be produced and distributed by the very profit-oriented capitalist system that too many environmentalists profess to despise, and even while the creators and distributors are being shackled by controls and regulations dreamed up the loafers and rock-hurlers and government officials.
    So ironically, as CapMag summarises, "it's the profit-oriented, productive achiever-types that the 'save the planet' crowd most despise and desire to shackle" who are the ones the 'save the planet' crowd most need.
    “The men and women who possess the ingenuity, personal ambition, and business acumen that a successful new energy venture would require, environmentalists lob eggs at. Yet it's businesspeople, not "Friends of the Earth," who, by translating scientific discoveries into practical reality, actually advance human life and eliminate pollution.”
    Give it some thought.
If you're still not convinced by Beer O'Clock-time this afternoon, then ponder the author's concluding thought:
    “If the planet truly did require ecological salvation (and there's plenty of evidence indicating it doesn't), ask yourself who'd be more apt to achieve a solution: one million bureaucrats or ‘Earth First!’ members compelled by their ‘love for nature’? Or one creative genius of the caliber of Bill Gates or Henry Ford driven by the profit-motive? You know the answer.”

LINK: Environmentalism vs creativity - Wayne Dunn, Capitalism Magazine

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Where's my free will?

vermeer32     THE LIKES OF BRIAN EDWARDS still argue that criminals “can’t help it” when they do bad things—which means, conversely, that neither do heroes when they do good.
    Tell that to Thomas Jefferson. Or Nelson Mandela.
    But such is the incredulity of the determinist conclusion: that between them nature and nurture determine human behaviour, so humans themselves should be neither praised nor condemned.
    Sounds like horse shit to me.  But then, according to Edwards et al they have no choice about shovelling shit—and nor do you about taking it.
    So much for the nonsense of “hard determinism.”
    In the words of Ayn Rand, the determinist argument—that you’re neither to be blamed nor lauded for your behaviour—is simply “an alibi for weaklings.” 

    “Don't excuse depravity. Don't drool over weaklings as conditioned "victims of circumstances’ (or of ‘background’ or of ‘society’), who ‘couldn't help it.’ You are actually providing an excuse and an alibi for the worst instincts in the weakest members of your audience. . .
    “. . . the best advice I can give you is never to regard yourself as a product of your environment. That is not the key to me, to you, or to any human being. It is not a key to anything, it is merely an alibi for weaklings.”

Building on Ayn Rand’s observations on free will and the failures of the determinism, philosopher Tibor Machan points out that the determinist argument utterly ignores free will—the faculty that allows us to make decisions for ourselves.  It is this faculty, he says, that truly determines our character .
    While nature and nurture certainly play a part in forming our talents and personality, he argues, what we do with what we’re given is up to us.  It’s up to our free will-and the choices we make.
    In his argument, nature and nurture build our personality, but using our free will builds our character.
    But where does our free will come from?  Where does it reside?  How does it work?  To answer you, we’re going to have to go back to bed. . .

    THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE through the fog of sleep is a loud, ringing sound. As you rise up through the fog of sleep you recognise it as an alarm of some sort. Your alarm clock. You focus further and realise that it's not going to turn itself off. As you force yourself awake you direct your focus to your limbs, lifting yourself out of bed, and you turn off the clock on your way to the bathroom, making yourself shake the sleep from your mind as you go. It's the start of another day.
    As you shower, you set yourself thinking about what you need to do today and, as you do and as you shower, the scales of sleep slip ever further away. You understand you have an important day ahead, and you feel yourself rising up to meet it. You choose to. In a few short minutes, by your own direction, your mind has changed from an inert unconscious thing, one barely able to grasp what's going on around it, to one that is now focussed upon the events of the day and is starting to make plans to meet them ... and all this even before the first coffee!
    Most of us manage this process in a few minutes. Some take hours. Some will choose to stay unfocussed for days. But everyone who has ever experienced this -- which is all of us, at some time – even Brian Edwards and his criminals--has experienced what it is to have free will.
    Free will at its root is that process of choosing to focus, of deciding first of all to lift our level of awareness from a lower level to a higher one (or to decide not to), and then directing our focussed attention to something on which we've determined we need to pay attention. A lecture perhaps. Our alarm clock.  A book. A piece of music. A blog post on free will. Someone offering us a beer. At each stage of listening, reading, comprehending, trying to grasp a thought (as Vermeer's Geographer is doing in the picture above) we can choose to maintain attention and focus on what we're trying to take in, to weigh the thoughts and melodies and information that is coming in, or we can choose to float off in a vague fog and let everything just wash over us.
    The process of turning off our alarm clock and heading into a lecture shows the process in microcosm: choosing to focus more intensely at each new level of awareness we reach. From the fog of sleep right up to the intense awareness needed to focus on your lecturer (and spot her errors) every step of the way we’re choosing to focus more intensely.
    And even if we choose not to, we still have made a choice.
    The act of choosing to pay attention (or not to) is a volitionally focussed act by which we first say to ourselves, "I need to focus on this, to understand this," and then acting -- choosing to act -- so as to direct our minds to that on which we ourselves have determined that we need to understand.
    Observe your own mind while you’re reading this post. Are you focussing on the arguments in an attempt to understand and address them, or have you already drifted off into non-comprehension and evasion?
    As I've described above, the act of focussing is voluntary, and is almost like continually turning on a car. At each stage we can choose to go either to a higher level of awareness, or not; we can choose to focus, or we can choose to drift back off either to sleep, or into a state of unfocussed lethargy. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Equally, you can lead someone else's brain to stimulus, but you can't make it respond. That person must do that work for themselves.
    Volition is a powerful factor. Thoughts, values, principles aren’t just given to us out of the ether, or imprinted upon us by our genes; rather, they are things to identify and think about and grasp for ourselves. Or not. No one can do the thinking for someone else. With sufficient will we can work towards grasping the highest concepts open to us, or we can even sleep through the warning alarm clocks of our consciousness.
    That choice -- to focus or not; to switch on or not -- is contained entirely within ourselves, and from that choice made by each of us every minute of every day all human thought and all human action is the result. The fact that we are continually making this choice (or choosing not make it) every waking minute of every working day is perhaps why we sometimes fail to see that we're doing it. We've almost automatised our awareness of it, but honest introspection (if we honestly choose to do so) is all it requires to be identified.
   This is the nature of the volitional consciousness that each of us does possess, even Brian Edwards, and is the fact those who choose to deny free will wish to evade: that this great thinking engine resting on top of our shoulders does not turn itself on automatically. We ourselves own the keys to the engine, and it is in that fundamental choice -- to think, or not to think; to focus, or not to focus; to go to a higher level of awareness, or to drift in and out of awareness -- that the faculty of free will itself resides.
    So given that very brief discussion of free will -- to which, if you like, you can add previous similar discussions here, here, here, here and here -- what then do you make of this discussion from the former Sir Humphrey's blog.  Where does free will come from?  From her God, says Lucyna.

Where does this thing called free will come from?

"...if there is no God there’s no free will because we are completely phenomena of matter... we cannot be considered morally responsible beings unless we have free will. We do everything because we are controlled by our genes or our environment."
- comments by David Quinn in
The God Delusion: David Quinn & Richard Dawkins debate

Logically, if you are an atheist, you will believe that we are completely influenced by our genetics and environment. That there is no free-will, that moral responsibility has no ability to manifest in any human being. If you don't believe all of that, then you cannot be an atheist and you must have some inkling that God exists.

What do you make of that then? Let’s turn on our brains ourselves and examine it. "If there's no God then there's no free will"? And “If you are an atheist” then “logically” [logically?] you can't "believe" in free will?
    Doesn’t this sound like horse shit too?
    As I've suggested above, we don't need to "believe" in free will in the same way a Christian chooses to “believe” in the existence of a supernatural being; instead, to identify that we do have the faculty of free will all we have to do is introspect—to apply our cognition inwards (to choose to) and watch ourselves making choices.  (Indeed, you can do it right now as you weigh in your mind that last thought, and choose whether or not to accept it -- or whether to evade the effort or the knowledge. And recognise, dear reader, that if you choose not to accept it or to evade it, you've still made a choice.)
    So much for needing to believe in the supernatural in order to "believe" in free will.  As Ayn Rand identified:

    “That which you call your soul or your spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call your "free will" is your mind's freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.”

We have consciousness. Consciousness is endowed by its nature with the faculty of free will. What we each choose to do with our own consciousness is up to us -- and it's there that the discussion of morality really begins...

LINKS: Nature v Nurture: Character is all - Not PC
The chemistry of love - Not PC
The fatalism of entropy. The dynamism of spontaneous order - Not PC
More on value judgements in art - Not PC
Excusing the 'bash' - Not PC
Man and free will - Lucyna, Sir Humphrey's
Philosophy, Ethics, Religion

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

If God is dead ... rejoice (updated)

   Elizabeth Anderson’s “If God is Dead” essay is one of the best indictments of The Bible  that novelist Ed Cline has ever read, he says:     “Posing the conundrum of why God (or Allah, or whomever) is considered to be the be-all and end-all of morality – originating morality and rewarding it and punishing its delinquency – she writes:

    “ ‘Consider first God’s moral character, as revealed in the Bible. He routinely punishes people for the sins of others. He punishes all mothers by condemning them to painful childbirth, for Eve’s sin. He punishes all human beings by condemning them to labor, for Adam’s sin (Gen. 3:16-18). He regrets his creation, and in a fit of pique, commits genocide and ecocide by flooding the earth (Gen. 6:7). He hardens Pharaoh’s heart against freeing the Israelites (Ex. 7:3), so as to provide the occasion for visiting plagues upon the Egyptians, who, as helpless subjects of a tyrant, had no part in Pharaoh’s decision. (So much for respecting free will, the standard justification for the existence of evil in the world.)’ ”

    So even if you believed the existence of this supernatural monster, why would you grant him any authority at all over morality? It just makes no sense at all.

UPDATE: Fact is, even Christians don't take their morality from The Bible, a point made perfectly clearly by Mr Dawkins:

    It’s true that we have some independent basis for deciding on good and bad, dut that doesn't mean that the source of morality is somehow "innate," which is where (despite all their other good work) Team Dawkins get it wrong.  Team Dawkins suggest that we “jes’ know” what’s right or wrong, that our gut feelings just tell us so. 
    And yet other will tell you that morality is determined by law or by politics, or by your social group or culture.
    This too is horse shit—all of it.  The source of morality is neither God or Helen Clark; neither our neighbours nor our own gut feelings.  No, the source of morality is reality—and I’ll explain in a moment what that means.
    But first, a brief advertisement for reading on.
    First of all, it involves beer—which should be motivation enough.  And second of all, we get to smack the religious right. 
    It should be obvious enough why this matters, but to those who eschew thinking about ethics and who prefer instead to bloviate solely about politics, there is a political connection here which Peter Schwarz points out:

    “Does morality depend upon religion? Most people believe it does, which is a major reason behind the appeal of the religious right. People believe that without faith in a supernatural authority, we can have no moral values--no moral absolutes, no black-and-white distinctions, no firm demarcation between good and evil--in life or in politics. This is the assumption underlying Justice Antonin Scalia's recent assertion that "government derives its authority from God," since only religious faith can supposedly provide moral constraints on human action.
    “And what draws people to this bizarre premise--the premise [of the likes of Brian Edwards]that there is no rational basis for refraining from murder, rape or anarchism? The left's persistent assault on moral values.
    “That is, liberals characteristically renounce moral absolutes in favor of moral grayness.”

BUT MORALITY ISN'T GREY.  It is absolute.  It's absolute because the source of morality is reality, which is impossible for anyone to evade--even the most hard-bitten religionist. 
    Fact is, there are serious problems with the approaches taken by both the religionists (who insist on intrinsic rules, yet insist again on cherrypicking which ones are really and truly the ones to live by), and by their subjectivist opponents (who insist there are no absolutes, except the rule that there are no absolutes).
   But to dismiss these objections is not to answer our question here, which is: “Can you then have morality without God? Whence comes moral structure if the Law-Giver in Chief is dead?”. The answer, to say it once again, is reality, and the constraints it places up on us.  The source and locus of all our values is reality. Where else could they come from? 
    Contra David Hume, All facts, to us, are potentially value-laden.  The world is fashioned in a particular way, and to derive happiness and flourishing in such a world we need to act in such and such a way.
   In response to this all too obvious point, those trained in university philosophy departments will often wheel out something called the 'Is-Ought' argument as 'proof' that facts are inherently value-free, or (to put it another way), that neither reality nor reason provide any basis from which to formulate a reliable ethics.

THE 'IS-OUGHT' ARGUMENT was a remarkable piece of sophistry devised by a drinker called David Hume (as many of you will remember, "David Hume could out-consume Schopenhauer and Schlegel" ), who suggested between drinks that the fact that the world is this way or that way provides no means of suggesting whether one ought or ought not do something, and thus there is no way -- no way at all -- to put together any sort of rational morality. This is the sort of thing that in university philosophy departments passes for a sophisticated argument.
    What's remarkable is that such a fatuous proposition should still have sufficient legs to persuade graduates of philosophy departments over two-hundred years after it was formulated. The 'is-ought problem' is a problem only if your mind has been crippled by such a department.
    Aristotle stands first in line as a healthy contrast to both religionists and subjectivists and university philosophy professors in being a consistent (and too-frequently overlooked) advocate of a rational, earthly morality -- his was a "teleological" approach to ethics. That is, he said, we each act to achieve certain ends, and those ends must be the furtherance of our lives. All actions are (or should be) done "for the sake of" achieving some goal.

ARISTTOTLE PROVIDES A STARTING point from which to proceed rationally. Let’s think about what the basis for any rational standard of morality for human life would be. Morality should be ends-based – it should be goal-directed – but what end should it pursue? Surely the starting point would be the nature of human life itself? Shouldn’t the fact that human beings do have a specific nature tell us what we ought to do?

IT WAS AYN RAND who identified that the crucial fact about human life that provides such a starting point is the conditional nature of life, the fact that living beings daily confront the ever-present alternative of life or death. Act in this way and our life is sustained. Act in that way, and it isn't. Life is not automatic; it requires effort to sustain it, and reason to ascertain what leads towards death (which is bad), and what leads towards life (which is good). What standard then provides the basis by which a rational morality judges what one ought to do, or ought not to do? Life itself. Life is the standard. As Ayn Rand observed in her essay ‘The Objectivist Ethics,’

    “It is only the concept of "Life" that makes the concept of "Value" possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”

Following Rand, Greg Salmieri and Alan Gotthelf point out that,

    “Rand’s virtue-focused rational egoism differs from traditional [ie., Aristotelian] eudaimonism in that Rand regards ethics as an exact science. Rather than deriving her virtues from a vaguely defined human function, she takes “Man’s Life” – i.e. that which is required for the survival of a rational animal across its lifespan – as her standard of value. This accounts for the nobility she ascribes to production – “the application of reason to the problem of survival” (1966, p. 9). For Rand, reason is man’s means of survival, and even the most theoretical and spiritual functions – science, philosophy, art, love, and reverence for the human potential, among others – are for the sake of life-sustaining action. This, for her, does not demean the spiritual by “bringing it down” to the level of the material; rather, it elevates the material and grounds the spiritual.”

THE FACT THAT LIFE is conditional tells us what we ought to do: in the most basic sense, if we wish to sustain our life, then we ought to act in a certain way. This is the starting point for a rational, reality-based ethics: reality itself.
_Beer     Consider, for example, that brown glass on the left.  Is this perhaps a beer which we see before us?  Or something else?  The fact of what  it is determines it’s value.
    If that glass of brown liquid in front before us is dangerously toxic, then one ought not drink it. That would be bad. If, however, it is a glass of Epic Pale Ale, Limburg Czechmate or Stonecutter Renaissance Scotch Ale, then all things being equal one ought to consume it -- and with gusto. That would be good.
    So much for the 'is-ought problem.' The fact that reality is constituted in a certain way, and that every living being confronts the fundamental existential alternative of life or death is what provides the basic level of guidance as to what one ought or ought not do. This fundamental alternative highlights an immutable fact of nature, which is that everything that is alive must act in its self-interest or die. A lion must hunt or starve. A deer must run from the hunter or be eaten. Man must obtain food and shelter, or perish.  We ought to seek out good beer or else sentence ourselves to a lifetime of drinking Tui. 
    The pursuit of morality is that important.
    The fact that we exist possessing a specific nature and that reality is constituted the way it is tells us what we ought to do.
   (The intelligent reader will already have noticed that in seeing morality in this way, the primary issue in morality is not our responsibility to others, but fundamentally our responsibility to ourselves. Without first understanding our responsibility for sustaining our own life, no other responsibilities or obligations are even possible. Tibor Machan observes that this fact is recognised even in airline travel, where the instruction is always given that if oxygen masks drop from the ceiling you should put your own on first before trying to help others. Basically, this is a recognition that if you don't look after yourself first then you're dead, and of no use either to anyone else or to yourself. This might help explain to interested readers why Ayn Rand named her work on ethics: The Virtue of Selfishness.)
    So to any living being alert enough to notice it, facts are not inherently value-free, they are value-laden – some facts are harmful and we should act to avoid them; others are likely to be so pleasant that we should act to embrace them --  but all facts we should seek to understand, and in this context we should understand that all facts are potentially of either value or disvalue to us.   Facts are inherently value-laden.
    Contemplating the delightful reality of a glass of Limburg Czechmate, for example, demonstrates that some facts can be very desirable indeed, and are very much worth embracing. The point here is that it is not the facts themselves that make them valuable, it is our own relationship to those facts: how those facts impinge upon and affect our lives for either good or ill. It is up to us to discover and to make the most of these values. Leonard Peikoff makes the point in his book Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand

    “Sunlight, tidal waves, the law of gravity, et al. are not good or bad; they simply are; such facts constitute reality and are thus the basis of all value-judgments. This does not, however, alter the principle that every "is" implies an "ought." The reason is that every fact of reality which we discover has, directly or indirectly, an implication for man's self-preservation and thus for his proper course of action. In relation to the goal of staying alive, the fact demands specific kinds of actions and prohibits others; i.e., it entails a definite set of evaluations.
    “For instance, sunlight is a fact of metaphysical reality; but once its effects are discovered by man and integrated to his goals, a long series of evaluations follows: the sun is a good thing (an essential of life as we know it); i.e., within the appropriate limits, its light and heat are good, good for us; other things being equal, therefore, we ought to plant our crops in certain locations, build our homes in a certain way (with windows), and so forth; beyond the appropriate limits, however, sunlight is not good (it causes burns or skin cancer); etc. All these evaluations are demanded by the cognitions involved -- if one pursues knowledge in order to guide one's actions. Similarly, tidal waves are bad, even though natural; they are bad for us if we get caught in one, and we ought to do whatever we can to avoid such a fate. Even the knowledge of the law of gravity, which represents a somewhat different kind of example, entails a host of evaluations --among the most obvious of which are: using a parachute in midair is good, and jumping out of a plane without one is bad, bad for a man's life.”

    But this is (or should be) basic stuff.

NOW, UNLESS YOU'RE a university philosophy professor (or David Hume) you don't simply sit there looking wide-eyed at the world, acting only on the basis of what appears in front of you on the bar. As Aristotle pointed out, if we want the good then our actions should be goal-directed.  A rational man acts with purpose: that is, he acts in pursuit of his values. If our purpose is the enjoyment of more glasses of Limburg Czechmate, for example, (something even David Hume would agree is a value) then we must act in a way that allows us to acquire more drinking vouchers with which to buy them, a fridge in which to keep them, and to sustain our health, wealth and happiness so that we might enjoy them for many more years in the future.
    We should act in this way or in that way, in other words, in order to bring into reality certain facts that our (rationally-derived) values tell us are good. Acting in this way is itself good. We might even call it “virtuous” – virtues being the means by which we acquire our values.
    And further: we should act not just in order to stay alive. As Aristotle and Rand both point out, the proper human state of life is not just bare survival, it is a state of flourishing – not just life, but “the Good Life.” Rand again:

    “In psychological terms, the issue of man's survival does not confront his consciousness as an issue of "life or death," but as an issue of "happiness or suffering." Happiness is the successful state of life, suffering is the signal of failure, of death...
Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values...
    “But neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to survive in any random manner, but will perish unless he lives as his nature requires, so he is free to seek his happiness in any mindless fraud, but the torture of frustration is all he will find, unless he seeks the happiness proper to man. The purpose of morality is to teach you not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”

    Such is the nature of a rational morality. The fact that the world is constituted as it is, means that if life is our standard -- my life, here on this earth -- then we ought to recognise the value of a rational morality, and if we wish to achieve happiness we ought to act upon values derived from a rational morality focused upon life on this earth.
    What the hell else could ever be as important?
    Let me say it again on conclusion: the standard for morality -- the rational standard -- is not obedience to what your God says or Moses says; it's not doing what your priest or your pastor or your Imam says; it's not subscribing to the same standards as your teachers or your peers the folks who live next door; it's not listening to what your own "inner voice" seems to say, or what your mother or your father or your Great Grandfather Stonebender used to say.  Not if it defies reason.
    The rational standard is Life, our life, and the lives of those we love. The immediate beneficiary of our actions is not others; it's ourself, and the purpose of such a standard is not to suffer and die, but to enjoy ourselves and live.   (Once we've identified and internalised ethical guidelines to further our own flourishing, we can then only then safely listen to our own "stomach feeling," but it would be fatal to do so any earlier.)

TO TURN DESCARTES ON on his head (which is no less than the silly French philosopher deserves), the basic ethical principle is this:

"I am, therefore I'll think!"

Because if we don't think clearly there'll soon be no "I" around to think about.

I hope you think about that.

PS: For your homework, if you want to know more about Objectivist morality then you might want to act on that ...

Labels: Anarchy, Ethics, Religion

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Cooperative Homesteads Housing, Minnesota - Frank Lloyd Wright (1942)


Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned by a group of enthusiastic homesteaders to design a cooperative project for their shared property, on which they were each to pursue their personal and agricultural dreams. 

The earth-bermed rammed earth houses Wright designed are unique in his and every other canon. Each house was to cost approx. $1400 in 1942 dollars.  More here.

The enthusiastic homesteaders were eager to build  them. Sadly however, the whole project was extinguished by World War II.


Labels: Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Brainy billboards

    Billboards don't have to be as boring as National's blancmange offerings last year, as some of these examples demonstrate.
    Miele vacuum cleaners, on a billboard near a flight school:

    Kill Bill.  Crap film, inventive billboard:

Tide Detergent.  After a few weeks the background becomes progressively dirtier . . .


A "bright idea" for The Economist magazine:

Bic razors, in Spain:

Extra strong sellotape, in Malaysia:

Paint ad on a building in Columbus, Ohio:

Many more of these here. [Hat tip Stephen Hicks]

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Thanks for reading.  Your reward is Anna Netrebko.  She can sing a bit:

Friday, 22 January 2010

Who Needs Great Art?

by Peter Cresswell

Icarus    Painting, movies, literature, sculpture, music, architecture ... all have the ability to make us cry, to make us laugh, and -- just occasionally -- to make us feel ten feet tall. Why is great art so powerful? -- why does it have this profound ability to affect us? Simply, because it speaks personally to each of us. It is our shortcut to our very souls. When we experience art that truly touches us, we don’t just feel, “I like this;” if we have souls we feel “This is Me!”
    Great art has enormous scope: it subsumes an enormous range of experience and thought and emotion, and integrates these three into a mental unit that our particularly human consciousness is able to grasp. It might be a painting, a sculpture, or a play or a building, but if it is well done we can all look at it or walk through it and almost immediately know -- without even being able to put it completely into words -- how the artists see the world around them. By experiencing the art they’ve produced, we should have a pretty fair idea of what they see as important in the world, and whether or not we too see the world in the same way. 
     Think, for instance, of the lightning-like evaluation you make when you see this painting. Or this one. Or this collection of buildings. Or these. See what I mean? The integration involved in a good work of art subsumes all the experience, thought and emotion that goes into our own view of the world and, if we identify with it, allows us to point and say: “That’s Me!” or “That’s Not Me!” (So on that score, ask yourself about your reactions to those linked pieces, and what it tells you about the way you see the world.)


    The point here is that art isn’t just a way to kick back after a difficult week -- which is one reason elevator music and abstract painting are so execrable. Art is a shortcut to our very philosophy; a way to see and to experience our deepest values, and also to celebrate them.
    Art -- good art -- shows us our way of seeing the world, while celebrating that that is the way we do see the world; more particularly, it celebrates our own individual way of seeing the world, and affirms it.
    Why do we need art to see the world when we’ve already got eyes and ears and fingers and hands with which to experience it ourselves, and a brain with which to organise those experiences? Answer: We need art precisely because of the nature of that brain, and because of the way it organises the experiences.
    Look at the way our knowledge of the world is acquired and held: our knowledge of the world around us begins with our senses, which provide us with material that is then organised by our brain into concepts; those concepts in turn are then integrated into propositions and theories. We start with sensations, derived from particular experiences, and these form the basis for all our higher abstractions: all our ideas, from ideas of love, of justice, of rights, of value ... all high-order abstractions; all derived from earlier concretes which are subsumed into concepts, and then subsumed into even wider concepts, and so on.
    This process of abstraction leading to further abstraction creates both the enormous power of the human mind, and its great weakness: its power to think in vast abstractions, and its inability to see these abstractions as one unit. That’s what art does for us: it gives us each the power to see all of our important abstractions as a single unit.
    To ‘fix’ each particular abstraction, as Ayn Rand points out in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, we integrate the concept into a single mental unit: a word. Each word acts as a unit that integrates the constituent units of that particular concept, which brings together and holds for us in our minds the vast material referred to by the particular concept which that word is used to delineate.
    But as we integrate these high-end abstractions into even wider abstractions, we run into a problem: the scope becomes too vast and too amorphous to grasp as a whole. For that, we need art.  Think for example of the Statues of Justice and of Liberty, and of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” These don’t just sum up the concepts of liberty and justice; they offer an evaluation of them to boot.
    The relative position of our higher abstractions works of art is analogous to the position of a poem to a word; or that of a book to its chapter; or that of a piece of furniture to a building: the greater work orders, makes understandable and gives context to all the units subsumed, and brings into existence a new mental unit integrating them all. In making a work of art, we are offering a new mental unit that is at once a higher abstraction than those it subsumes, and a more concrete one. In making our abstractions concrete, it takes us back to the concretes from whence they came, but in a much more powerful form.
    Art allows us to see the totality of our worldview. If we follow Leonard Peikoff’s idea that philosophy is like a skyscraper, we can see that it is a rather oddly-shaped one. Peikoff's skyscraper begins at the lower levels with metaphysics, the nature of existence. It continues upwards with a few floors dedicated to epistemology, how we know what we know. On top of these lower floors and dependent on them are floors describing the nature of human beings and how we should live in the world as it is, i.e. ethics, and then how we should live together, i.e., the field of politics.
    Now, if we understand the true nature of art we can see that art does fit on top of the other floors, since it requires all the other floors below to give it support. But in an important sense, the upper floors of art actually lead directly back to the basement, rather like one of those strange buildings in a science fiction story in which we keep going up, yet we end up in the basement instead of the penthouse. Good art is both penthouse -- in the sense that it is a glorious summation and culmination of all that is below it -- and it is also basement, because it is both fundamentally necessary to human survival (witness the cave scratchings of even primitive men, who sought to find meaning in his world) and also intensely explicative of our own deepest metaphysical value judgments. Deep art really does go deep: right down to the bottom floor.
    Why, then, is art so intensely personal? If it’s just a higher form of abstraction, why do we so readily get up in arms over it? Again, it is because of the nature of the human mind. We are endowed not just with a cognitive mechanism, but also with an emotional mechanism. “It is man’s cognitive faculty … that determines the content of both.” The premises and abstractions we form and accept are the programming for our subconscious: based on this ‘subconscious programming,’ our emotional faculty provides us inexorably with lightning-like evaluations of the things we see and experience around us -- the extent of our emotion at these experiences is the extent of the import and resonance they have for us.
    As Ayn Rand said when identifying the nature of our emotions, they offer a lightning-like evaluation of the things around us. But our emotions do not spring from nowhere; they themselves are “an effect, not a cause.” Every single thing we see or experience is value-laden. It is our previous thinking (or lack thereof) that determines the nature of the evaluation.
    If one has finished a hard day’s work and sees a beer, one might feel a fierce thirst and a yearning to sit down and enjoy it; if one’s a poor student and sees an exam paper, one might feel nausea and a desire to escape the classroom; but if one is a human being with a healthy soul, and one hears Beethoven’s Ninth or sees Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, then one feels exalted. The difference in the feelings is determined by what it is we experience. The intensity of feeling is the measure of the extent of the intellectual and emotional abstractions subsumed.
    Why does great art move us? Because it speaks to the whole of us, and to everything we know and stand for.
    Who needs great art? You do.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Tax “reform.” It’s not rocket science, it’s theft. [Update 3]

There’s one aspect only of the Tax Reform Group’s recommendations I have any time for: If NZ is going to be wealthier, then NZers need to consume less and produce more.

Fair enough.  The intelligent commentator distinguishes between the two: consumptive expenditure uses up stuff without replacing it; whereas productive expenditure uses up stuff in order to create more stuff.  The more productive spending, the more productive we are.  The more consumption spending we do, the less productive we are (especially if we’re consuming our capital.)

This is just basic economics, but it’s ironic that it’s being said in the same spending season as all the Keynesians are talking up spending as if it’s the cure to syphilis.

So much for the consistency of mainstream economists.

So saying it makes sense, but (even given today’s rampant Keynesianism) it’s hardly a feat like discovering gravity to say it. Because if they have the intelligence they are supposed to, they would recognise that the biggest consumer of stuff round here is the government—and recommend the government stop.

No such luck. instead they’re recommending that we give the government more.

So much for the “logic” and acumen of the Tax Reform Group.

And the government is talking up a change away from taxes on the production side at the same time as their Nick Smith is imposing new taxes on production to protect the Earth Mother Gaia.

So much for the “logic” and acumen of this government.

The Tax Reform Group insist that we give the government more (and have no fear that we will). 

They insist on soaking residential property investors for example, and commentators like this moron over at Bernard Hickey's leap into print cheering on the increased rents on tenants and the tax-man’s hand being thrust into a new pocket.  That moron is just one among many completely blind to the irony of giving tenants an accommodation supplement with one hand (which has helped push rents up to unsustainable levels), while taking the cash back with a tax on their landlord.

So much for the ability of economic commentators to know what the fuck is going on.

The only thing we can be sure of is that when anyone talks up a new tax, a legion of talking heads with nothing in them will leap up to cheer on the tax man.  Soak the rich, soak the poor, soak the landlords, soak them more. That’s just the thing to get the commentariat cheering.

This latest bunch of academic done-nothings insist on a “new” tax on land, for example — and commentators like David Farrar and Bernard Hickey leap about excitedly, announcing that this new tax will (somehow) avert the growth of future housing bubbles.  Commentators like David Farrar and Bernard Hickey say this despite evidence from all around the world that not one market that had such a thing managed to avoid any such thing; and evidence from here at home that we have pretty significant land taxes already, thank you very much.

And not only that, commentators like these two  appear utterly oblivious to the all too obvious fact that the housing bubble was itself the product of a borrow-and-spend mentality flushing out of the system under the Reserve Bank’s impimatur (what George Reisman calls counterfeit capital), coupled with a restriction on land supply created by the toxic swill of ‘Smart Growth.’ 

An inflationary demand combined with restrictions on supply!  Who would have thought you’d see a bubble!? Not these two, anyway.  And not the Tax Reform Group either. (For an extra mark, work out what will happen bubble-wise when an additional tax is placed on the suppliers of developed land.  Answers on a postcard please.)

There’s certainly more than one thing broken here, but the Tax Reform Group (and the various commentators who are mostly too dim to see past their next tax return, or the last economic report) just can’t see them. 

So instead of trying to fix the country’s woes with a new tax, here’s a few home truths the Tax Reform Group failed to wrestle with but should have:

  • that the Reserve Bank’s credit spigot needs to be capped, and the country’s town planners need to be told to take a hike. 
  • that if they’re serious about taking taxes off productivity, they immediately take an axe to their new cap-and-tax scheme. (Copenhagen’s over boys.  No need to grandstand now.)
  • that if they’re serious about lowering the the “price” of rents, and with it the value of rental property, they think seriously about calling a halt to the Accommodation Supplement.
  • that if they’re serious about reducing consumption, then they get pretty damn serious about reducing their own (and the way to start that is to begin attacking the culture that demands that need is an entitlement).

If you want some sort of “step change,” those simple things need to come first.

UPDATE 1: Slight change in text and title.  And the addition of a swear word.

    “Libertarianz  leader Richard McGrath said the National Government needs to grasp the nettle and slash state spending so that taxes can be reduced across the board.
    ““The agonising by Bill English over which taxes to cut, and which to increase, demonstrates a clear lack of direction,” he said. “This government clearly has no intention of reining in the profligate spending habits of its predecessor. And if it doesn’t stop spending, it has to keep taxing.”
    “My party can name dozens of departments, ministries and boards which could be axed tomorrow - and no-one would miss them. . .”

 Read on to see some examples.

UPDATE 3: Cactus Kate lets rip:

    “All this talk of "tax neutrality" makes me rather ill. When you are running deficits you need to cut government spending. No talk of that is there?
    “I don't understand Hickey's crusade against landlords, perhaps he doesn't own a rental property. As for the depreciation on buildings - Farrar states most buildings don't depreciate in value? WTF?
    “If anyone has sold a rental property they would know a thing as ‘depreciation recovered’; that is, on any sale in which you make a gain, you have to pay the bloody deductions back in any case.
    “Fund Managers, NZX operators, share scammers - I can understand their self-interest on the Tax Working Group. Pity others can't.
    ”I'm independent of the matter having no NZ stocks or property. All it seems like is new ways to thieve from all walks of life.
    “The suggestions are so poor that we can now only put faith in English and Key that true to form they will decide it is all too bloody hard so they do nothing.”

A Complete Hiftory of Man According to Hif Divers Delightf — PART TWO: 'Making the Geniuf Quicker'

by Peter Cresswell

Strong is a king who destroys all, stronger still is a woman who obtains all, but strongest is wine, which drowns reason. Stronger still, however, is Truth and I who speak it.

                                                     Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

    So, to summarise (from Part One yesterday, 'You Smell of Goat'): in the beginning all that existed was savagery and raw steak.  And then, with bread and beer, civilisation was ushered in. (Bread and circuses were to come later.)
    Since beer and civilisation was something to celebrate, everybody did. For the next several thousands of years human beings would celebrate the arrival of beer by being variously bladdered, blotto, blathered and blagged (to use just four of the over one-thousand English words for being bevvied).
    Talk about overdoing a good thing.
    Fact is, the world was awash in ‘wastage.’ For some centuries the main source of nutrition for most families was beer. Lunch, dinner, supper—as a ‘warm beer soup it was drunk by men and women and children at every meal including breakfast – indeed, in most cases it was the meal’ -- and the world looked like you’d expect it to look after several thousand years of a serious session.

[New scene: A medieval city under siege[1]. Plague stalks the land. Camera pans to a small shit-laden hovel with a filthy leprous woman in the foreground. Suddenly, with a loud crash, a dead horse crawling with maggots and flung by a siege catapult crashes through the roof.]
Women (turns to camera): I can’t wait for the Renaissance!

    Two things happened to bring on the Renaissance: after a millennia-and-a-half of drinking, a few scholars sobered up long enough to begin reading what all those wine-sodden Classical Greeks had been banging on about. “Hey, this is good stuff!” they instantly hallelujahed.
    Artists and popes agreed, and celebrated by producing and commissioning some of the finest erotica the world has ever seen (and in the case of the popes themselves enacting it upstairs at the Vatican). But the world didn’t see any of it (especially what was gong on upstairs): it still took several centuries and Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press for the art and thought of the Renaissance to become widely available.
    And it took one more thing too -– it needed the rest of the population to sober up for a moment to read and savour what Gutenberg‘s copier produced. And what that took, in a word, was the invention of coffee.
    From out of Islam came this great redeemer, and his name was Suleiman the Magnificent.  His rescue was quite inadvertent. When the Turks in 1529 left behind a few bags of their coffee at Suleiman’s failed siege of Vienna, we suddenly knew what to do when in the grip of a hangover, and our fuzzy brains began working again. Naturally, men began writing eulogies to the arrival of this exotic new intoxicant:

When the sweet poison of the Treacherous Grape[2]
Had acted on the world a general rape; …
Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome Liquor
That heals the stomach and makes the genius quicker.
Coffee was the Great Redeemer:
It is a panacea…It dries the cold humours, dispels wind, strengthens the liver, it is the sovereign cure for hydropsy and scabies, it restores the heart, relives bellyache. Its steam in fact is recommended for fluxions of the eyes, buzzing in the ears, catarrh, rheum or heaviness of the nose, as you will.[3]
Coffee was great; coffee was it; coffee was the new new thing.  And what coffee produced was a new kind of man, Homo coffea, and with it a new society that frowned on the excesses of the past. One in which reason was no longer drowned in a beer tun:
The massive, heavy body types of seventeenth-century paintings had their physiological explanation in high beer and beer-soup consumption… The insertion of coffee achieved chemically what the Protestants sought to fulfil spiritually [by] ‘drying’ up the beer-soaked bums and replacing them with ‘rationalistic, forward-looking bodies’ typical of the lean cynics of the nineteenth-century.[4]

     The whole of Europe changed. People suddenly became sober and serious; thought and wit and rationality became valued; and business picked up as people stopped shooting each other and being knifed in pub brawls.
    The popular pastime of besieging each other’s cities stopped -- the Thirty Years War came to an end -- and the population began instead desperately seeking overseas supplies of this wonder drug.
    With coffee addiction came the immediate necessity of large scale foreign trade to keep the addiction fed: such was the beginning of the noble tradition of globalisation that Starbucks celebrates to this day. Coffee at once energised the brains of entrepreneur’s and gave them a goal: more coffee!
    And with it too came innovation! As Ayn Rand observed, animals survive by adapting themselves to their environment while humans flourish by adapting their environment to themselves. For too long people had concluded that all foods aside from beer quickly ‘go off’ so best just sup up and stay stoated. Although coffee itself didn’t replace the nutritional value that beer then provided, what it did do was sober people up enough to begin inventing ways of preserving foods, producing packaging and so making of food (and life) the man-made delight it had never been before. We today are the hearty beneficiaries of those sober and serious producers.

    Western civilisation rightly fell in love with coffee and the enlightenment it ushered in. Historians were so excited they capitalised the era: coffee ushered in The Age of Enlightenment. Western civilisation was again transformed for the better, industry and enterprise picked up, and in the coffee-houses of Europe two new revolutions were being planned, and executed.

To be continued ...

[1] Don’t interrupt. But if you can remember from which film this scene originates I’d be obliged.
[2] Our anonymous author clearly couldn’t find a word to rhyme with ‘hops’ so chose wine as his target. The point remains the same. And stop interrupting.
[3] The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco
[4] Tastes of Paradise : A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants, Wolfgang Schivelbusch [I swear I did not make that name up!]

NB: A special note for my American readers: You’ve probably never had a good coffee.  Friends from NZ who live in the States tell me they’ve yet to meet an American barista who can make good coffee, or who have good beans to make it with. (One is tempted to say at cafes, “could I please have a medium latte with 3 shots and do you mind if I come back there and make it myself.”)
    There is hope however.  ‘Albina Press’ in North Portland is reported to have good coffee. And ‘Mud’ in Manhattan.  Any others?

‘My Creed,’ by Dean Alfange

Alfang 72

[Hat tip Doug Rasmussen]

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Perigo on ‘The Vote Heard Around the World?’

Lindsay Perigo comments on the astonishing vote in Massachusetts—a shot that signals the start of a fight back.

The Vote Heard Around the World?

    Republican Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the election to fill the Senate seat formerly held by far-left shyster Edward Kennedy is a decisive indication that the American voters’ honeymoon with Barack Obama is over and they are clamoring for divorce, says SOLO Principal Lindsay Perigo.
    “Never mind their incomprehensible stupidity in entering this abusive relationship in the first place,” admonishes Perigo. “What’s important and reassuring is that they’ve awoken to the coercive, anti-American nature of their president ... and want out.
    “Mr. Obama won their hearts with his sweet-talk about change they could believe in. The actual change he has attempted to enact is from soft capitalism to hard socialism.
    “Scott Brown proudly promised to be the vote that derails Obama’s health care plan. This plan would make it compulsory for every American to take out health insurance—a shocking reversal of the relationship between the state and the individual laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Massachusetts voters who supported Obama in 2008 but voted for Brown today are citing health care as the reason for their switch. Mr. Obama and his fellow-socialists Pelosi and Reid have been told in no uncertain terms their Big Bossy Government agenda is not wanted.
    “It’s to be hoped that the rest of Obama’s toxic program is now equally destined for the ashcan of history. His proposed success taxes, his treasonous over-spending, his cap-and-trade scam, his decreeing that carbon is toxic, his takeover of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, his refusal to call terrorism ‘terrorism’ let alone name its Islamic roots, his gladhanding of dictators, his obeissance to union mafias, his diabolical determination to turn the Land of the Free into the United Socialist States of America ... let us hope his treason to liberty has been stopped in its totalitarian tracks.
    “This will require that voters, who showed themselves none too bright and none too American in 2008, keep faith with their awakening. It will require Republicans to repudiate their own socialist proclivities and present a genuine pro-freedom alternative to Mugabama in this year’s elections. It will require that the magnificent patriots of the Tea-Party movement keep up the pressure to take America back to its roots.
    “May today’s vote be heard around the world, and obviate the need for another equally audible shot,” Perigo concludes.

Lindsay Perigo
SOLO (Sense of Life Objectivists): SOLOPassion.com

Ode to the taxman . . .

. . . the sum of several thousand dollars. Ho ho.

And after that little quip, here’s another joke: the idea that the solution for what ails this country is another goddamn tax.  Sayeth the bard:

Tax his land,
Tax his bed,
Tax the table
At which he's fed.

Tax his work,
Tax his pay,
He works for peanuts

Tax his cow,
Tax his goat,
Tax his pants,
Tax his coat.

Tax his tobacco,
Tax his drink,
Tax him if he
Tries to think..

Tax his car,
Tax his gas,
Find other ways
To tax his ass.

Tax all he has
Then let him know
That you won't be done
Till he has no dough.

When he screams and hollers;
Then tax him some more,
Tax him till
He's good and sore.

Then tax his coffin,
Tax his grave,
Tax the sod in
Which he's laid.

When he's gone,
Do not relax,
It' s time to apply
The inheritance tax.

And here’s George Harrison:

[HT Owen McShane for the poem]

A Complete Hiftory of Man According to Hif Divers Delightf. Part One: 'You Smell of Goat'

by Peter Cresswell

A brief history of the world based on several things that really matter . . .

“ ‘Tis better to be a good liver than to have one.”
Tom Waits

    Man’s recorded history begins on the plains. When wildebeest and wild beasts roamed the plains thousands of years ago, early man roamed with them ... and often provided them with a good meal.
    Life for early man for most of those thousands of years was just as Thomas Hobbes described it :  nasty, brutish and short. The battle for survival was a daily challenge; the threat of imminent oblivion all that drove men forward; Hunting and gathering whatever could be scavenged the only way to fend off starvation.  In such a primitive struggle, man’s mind was of little use :  native cunning and primitive tool-making were highly valued; long-range thinking was not.
    A successful hunt was all such creatures had to celebrate:  a high point in such an existence would be to roast another wild beast over an open fire. For a brief moment in their short and brutal lives their bellies would be full, their bodies warm, and their thoughts could (at last!) roam to higher things.
    They had bought themselves time to think. What great realisations did they come to? After much skull-sweat they concluded that , in the immortal words of Tom Waits, 'twere better to be a good liver than to have one.  On such nights, and over the course of those thousands of year of struggle, there was one thought, one goal, that drove these men forwards:  the idea of beer!
    That’s right. Beer. The first step away from the caves and that precarious existence of the hunter-gather came with the cultivation in Mesopotamia of grains and cereals. With this important step man had begun thinking long-range; he had begun to plan ahead … a season … then a year … then several years in advance. Rather than roaming far and wide for whatever he could find, he could instead settle down, build a house, raise a family, have a beer, start a civilisation.
    The planting and harvesting of grains and cereals represented the arrival on this earth of man the-rational-animal; and for the first time it could be clearly seen that man’s mind was his chief tool of survival. Man had put his mind to work, and for the first time flourishing replaced survival.
    And what was all that grain and all those cereals for? Why, for beer of course! And bread. If bread was the staff of life, then beer was its inspiration. With bread came sustenance; with beer came civilisation. If the symbol of that first phase of primitive human development was a wild beast gnawing on the roasted limb of another wild beast, then the mark of the next was several pitchers of beer, and happy people consuming them.
    Beer was the first example of men expending precious time and effort producing something not just for survival, but for their own pleasure!
    And with the time bought by cultivation, men could now devise stories to entertain themselves while drinking beer. And curiously, many of these tales involved stories of extensive imbibition and getting seriously bladdered. How times have changed.
    The first of man’s great stories-and the very birth of literature--is ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh,’ a tale describing the evolution of man from the primitive to the cultured. This perhaps the first of man ‘s great creation myths, and also the first recorded instance of a great drinking songs. 
    So if civilisation began with beer, then literature began with a drinking song. (Sounds like a good story to me. ) In the epic we hear tell of the whore sent by Gilgamesh to the savage Enkidu, who teaches him what it is to be human. “She [gave Enkidu] bread to eat, because that’s what humans do, and beer to drink, because that’s what civilised people do”:[1]

‘Drink beer the custom of the land.’
Beer he drank – seven goblets.
His spirit was loosened.
He became hilarious [don’t we all!].
His heart was glad and his face shone.

    Enkidu drank beer, became hilarious, became glad – and in doing so became human.
    The Mesopotamians had their own popular drinking song. A rather odd one, suggesting that Mesopotamian lager louts liked rather fancied dressing up:

Sweet beer is in the Buninu barrel.
Cup-bearer, waiter-waitress, servants and brewer gather around.
When I have abundance of beer,
I feel great. I feel wonderful.
By the beer, I am happy.
My heart is full of joy, my liver is full of luck.
When I am full of gladness, my liver wears the dress befitting a queen.

    The only think left to add is a hiccup. And a belch. And to wonder what sort of visions the Mesopotamian liver was conjuring up!

    African myth includes an early version of the story of Pandora’s Box: in this version at the bottom of the empty casket is found, not hope exactly, but a gourd of beer. ‘Forget the afterlife and redemption by the gods,’ this story seems to say: ‘be happy with your lot, because to you is given beer.’  So beer puts the gods in their proper place for the first time:  Where primitive men would fearfully seek to propitiate the cruel and fickle gods for one more day of a brutal existence, civilised men instead called on their gods to assist in the tricky processes of cultivation and fermentation.
    It is thus no accident that religion quickly associated itself with beer: to this day, beer recipes from Belgian monks are still highly prized. Even the murderous Aztecs were not found wanting: if you weren’t completely cunted at Aztec religious rites your head became forfeit to the priests.
    The message seemed to be that as drunkenness was a gift from the gods, it must be so honoured. Now there’s a religious morality you can subscribe to!

    So beer built civilisation: it was what were getting civilised for.  The Sumerians, the Aztecs, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Teutons … all took the happy accident of fermentation and with it made their crops last longer and their short lives better. Beer was good.  Beer was popular. Beer was the reason we were here.  The Egyptians for example used up to forty percent of their harvests to make beer. Bousa (or bouza) as one type was called (yes, it’s true!) was the staple of the Egyptian diet; the pyramids were paid for with another type known as kash.
    Clearly, t
he urge to go out to work to earn drinking vouchers and spend them down the boozer is a long-established mark of civilisation.
    In this way life was made much better for the next few thousands of years, which was important since for many other reasons life – outside beer and its associated revels – was still shit.
Aside from a few brief, glorious years in Ancient Greece -- in which philosophy, art and science were very soberly invented -- getting mothered was the only reliable pleasure to be had across most of the Dark Ages and in most of the world. To understand Europe for most of this time, think Nebraska on a slow weekend – you had the choice of either church or beer. The best you could say was that most monks were good brewers!
    In fact, much of the Dark Ages might well be explained by the fact that most of the people for most of the time were munted.  And who wouldn’t want to be. In an age when the water was disgusting and food was once again scarce and difficult to keep fresh, beer had become the chief source of daily nutrients. The average Northern European, every man, women and child, drank three litres of beer a day – and this is real beer we’re talking about, not today’s girly muck, with much higher alcohol content than the lolly-water of Messrs Budweiser and Miller. (Nordics were even harder: the daily ration for Finnish soldiers was the equivalent of forty cans of strong beer. No wonder the Vikings were fearless)

    If you’re at all interested in history then, try drinking three litres of Tennents Super or Carlsberg Elephant beer every day and see how you feel, and then think about that when you study European history because that’s what most Europeans were filling up their history with:

Almost everything had some liquor in it, especially medicines. Anything not deliberately fermented went off in the summer heat.  In winter, beer froze, causing the alcohol to separate into high-proof liquor… To make matters worse, the main non-alcoholic source of nutrition, bread, is now believed to have been plagued with the hallucinogenic fungus ergot, the base ingredient for LSD. Drunk doctors, tipsy politicians, hung-over generals: the plague, famine and war. Add a pope on acid and medieval Christianity begins to make a whole lot of sense.[2]
    How seriously did Europeans take their drinking?  Here’s one measure: The Eskimos have twenty-three words to describe snow, but the English language has over one thousand to describe getting hammered.[3] Little wonder. Being bollocksed in fact explains much English history, as for most of their history the English spent most of their time getting trolleyed. After encountering the arseholed Ancient Britons, Julius Caesar (more used to the pleasures of the grape than the hops), asked in an ode :

Who made you and from what?
By the true Bacchus I know you not.
He smells of nectar
But you smell of goat.

    High praise indeed!
   It wasn’t just the Britons yore who were getting trollied either. King Harold’s much later fall at the Battle of Hastings (on that famous date of 1066) was ascribed by twelfth-century historian William of Malmesbury to the fact that the boys were still hung-over from celebrating an earlier victory over the Vikings. Echoing the much later charge of the Light Brigade (and the more recent invasions of England’s Barmy Army and its football hooligans), Malmesbury describes the English fighting “more with rashness and precipitate fury than with military skill.”  
    Even Queen Elizabeth I indulged, supping her beer soup at breakfast and washing it down with a quart of the warm flat stuff - 'an excellent wash' she called it. When she visited Hatfield House her off-sider the Earl of Leicester hastily wrote to Lord Burleigh, "There is not one drop of good drink or here there. We were fain to send to London and Kenilworth and divers other places where ale was: her own beer was so strong as there was no man able to drink it." [4]
The Scots (or the Picts as they used to called themselves) were even more serious about getting gewgawed: they made their beer one part malt to two parts heather. The heather, it turns out, contains a natural hallucinogen called fogg, which is somewhat descriptive and explains something about the Scottish enthusiasm for their beer today -- including the Tennents Super of today - and very much about their tactics in battle.
    Arseholed they may have been for most of their history, but it was from the drunken shambolic British that we got the idea of liberty. Common law and the Magna Carta were early English makeshifts, just the sort of Heath Robinsonisms you’d put together when drunk.  It was a good start, but we had to endure half-a-millennia more before the ideas embodied within these could be properly developed and applied. 
    What kicked off their proper development was a saviour from the East: in the twelfth-century European scholars began learning from their Muslim counterparts about the great thinkers forgotten in the European Dark Ages.  The rebirth of those great thinkers was so powerful it kicked off the Renaissance—which, naturally, was enough to kick off another round of celebrations.
    Through the centuries of hangovers What Europe really need was to wake up. It needed another drink. And in the seventeenth-century Europeans learnt from Islam of another wonder, and this special wonder helped to kick off the Enlightenment …
    And for knowledge of that pleasure and what came of it you will have to wait for Part Two.

    To be continued . . .

[1] Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer, Pete Brown; Macmillan, 2003
[2] The Devil’s Cup: Coffee, the Driving Force in History, Stewart Lee Allen; Soho Press, 2000.
[3] Yes, it’s true! The fabulous and afore-referenced Man Walks into a Pub includes nearly 250 of these words, and author Pete Brown points out that there are a further 800-odd such words and phrases to be found in Jonathan Green’s Dictionary of Slang. As Brown comments: “It is clearly the work of an insane genius. Just so you know, the only other words that come close to having as many different slang terms as drunkenness are bonking, jobbies, wabs, the front bottom and the old chap. In itself this says more about our culture than most books could ever hope to.”
[4] ibid