Tuesday, 24 August 2010

‘Aphrodite’ - Praxiteles


For the first time in history, in Classical Greece, sculptors began depicting the beauty of the human figure—and the master of Classical Greek sculpture was Praxiteles.

His naked Aphrodite—the Goddess of love, depicted preparing to bathe--was so famous, that dozens of later Roman copies were made. This is the marble original, c.350 BC. It was the first monumental female nude in classical sculpture.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Accentuate the just

_Quote Just as justice demands primary emphasis on recognizing the good, so public policy must primarily be formulated to make life for the good and the innocent possible. Dealing with criminals [and drunks] is a secondary issue.
                      - Amit Ghate, “You Can't Have the Time Back

“A bottle store on every corner…”

Announcing yesterday’s package of puritanism, Simon Power-Lust signalled that he will be continuing the attack on small bottle-store owners begun by Helen Clark the very week bottle-store owner Navtej Singh was shot.  One of the three big “improvements” delivered by his reforms, says Simon, is that it “gives communities a say in when and where liquor outlets can open.”  The unspoken announcement being: “We’re going to make it damned hard to get a new license, or renew an existing one.”

This frankly just blames small-business owners for selling to wiling customers.  It’s the same sort of finger-pointing in which several hundred people indulged in Manukau last week, marching on council buildings to complain about what other people are doing. One woman in the rally, who revealed to the interviewer that she had a god on her side (she didn’t reveal which one), complained that in Manukau there is now “a bottle store on every corner.” “That’s not what we want as a community,” she huffed.

Well, I beg to differ.

If there really were a bottle store on every corner (there are 350 bottle stores in Manukau, but many more corners) then that would in fact be a sign that this is precisely what “the community” does want—because the customers of those bottle stores, who come from “the community,” are the very people who are keeping all these bottle stores open, demonstrating as clearly as you can that this is precisely what “the community” does want.

So what the woman should have said was “this is not what I want.” “The community, c’est moi.” But why is her voice more important than any other?  And why should her puritanism give her any power to to tell you and me when and where we can buy a bottle of wine? 

Well, on that one you’ll have to ask Simple Simon. Because in “giving communities a say in when and where liquor outlets can open,” he is simply giving a say to busybodies like this one, and taking it away from the communities themselves. Because like that woman, Simple Simon is completely unaware that communities already are “having a say” in where and when outlets are open—having a say by voting with their wallet every time they make a purchase.  

They’re called customers, Simon. At the end of the day it’s not you or I or anyone else who decides whether or not a bottle store or any other store stays open.  They do: their customers.  And these customers are the community.

Perhaps you should listen to what they’re saying. Because shutting down these small businesses won’t limit demand for alcohol, it will simply change where it’s bought. And meanwhile, as Eric Crampton observes, there are a lot of immigrant families whose businesses are going to be destroyed.


Monday, 23 August 2010

‘Prisoners From the Front’ – Winslow Homer

PrisonersFront1866 Winslow Homer (American, 1836-1910). Prisoners from the Front, 1866.
Oil on canvas. 61 x 96.5 cm (24 x 38 in.)

I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ stunning TV documentary series on the unspeakable tragedy that was the American Civil War—four years when the country tore itself apart over the stain of slavery the Land of the Free should never have countenanced.

The character of the men making up the war’s two armies is well expressed in Winslow Homer’s classic portrait, representing three rebel soldiers of varying temperaments undergoing the interrogation of a sober Union general.

It remains one of the most well-known images from the whole blood-soaked struggle.

Drinking-age humbug [update 3]

Is it just me, or is there something vaguely distasteful about middle-aged people who’ve made fuck ups out of their own lives making up rules for how 18-20 year-olds should spend theirs—rules, especially, about drinking.  Nothing is more calculated to flush out the fuck-up’s inner puritan.

And when those middle-aged fuck-ups are politicians ready to “bring out the ban”—to ban all 18-20 year-olds from buying alcohol simply because a few, a very few, 18-20 year-olds have behaved badly—then that just stinks of rank humbug.

Not every 18-20 year-old is a train crash waiting to happen, any more than every politician is a braindead, spendthrift fat fool who wants to download porn, travel extravagantly, or play fast and loose with confidential defence documents (though tarring all politicians with the same brush claim is infinitely more justifiable).  Blaming them all for the bad behaviour of some is frankly ludicrous, not to say iniquitous.

And asserting that people considered old enough to vote those politicians into power are not yet old enough to choose what goes into their shopping trolley is frankly indefensible.

Young Jenna Raeburn makes the case for keeping the status quo far more soberly than I can manage. Her restraint is admirable.


_Quote_thumb[2] The government will be unveiling its liquor policy today, and a core element seems to be national opening hours, with off-licences restricted to opening between 7am and 11pm, and bars and nightclubs between 8am and 4am…. What next? A legislated national bedtime?

UPDATE 2:  Matt Nolan at The Visible Hand wonders why the wowsers can’t even get their outrage straight:

_Quote_thumb[2]One of the main reasons the government wants to crack down on alcohol is because of thescenes no civilized society can relish,“, which is when people of the age of 18-24 go into town and run amok....
    So they are introducing a policy that will give people the incentive to go into town, instead of drinking at home…so more people will just drink in town (where it is likely more student bars with low margins and high quantities will open), and with them already in town there can be even more people to “run amok.”

More unintended consequences of nannying.

UPDATE 3The liquor policy is unveiled. They’ve gone for a half-nanny rather than the full reach-around begged for by the Law Commission. Paul Walker makes a number of cogent objections to being bossed around by Simple Simon. Roger Kerr makes a toast to moderately common sense.

UPDATE 4: Two new Facebook groups you may like: Open Bars and Being Able To Buy Alcohol At Night.  Because “why should it be illegal to buy a bottle of wine after 11pm?”

I Ran [updated]

Q: What’s more important in world politics than the mis-named Ground Zero Mosque?

A: The fact that the world’s biggest sponsor of terrorism has just gone nuclear—in rhetoric as well as reality.

Q: And how was this allowed to happen?

A: Thirty years of bipartisan appeasement:

_Quote Consider the rise of Islamic Totalitarianism. In 1979, a new Iranian regime founded on Islamic [] principles held fifty-two Americans hostage for four hundred and forty-four days, while America helplessly begged for their return and Iranian leaders had a world stage to proclaim their superiority to the nation they call the ‘Great Satan.’ … [W]ith America on her knees, the burgeoning anti-American movement achieved a crucial victory.
    [Did this] warrant a military response? Did it rise to the level of a direct attack sufficient to place us at the point of ‘last resort’ with Iran and other nations that sponsor Islamic terrorism? Not according to Jimmy Carter. What about after two hundred and forty-three marines were killed in Lebanon in 1983? Not according to Ronald Reagan. Or after Khomeini’s fatwa offered terrorists a bounty to destroy writer Salman Rushdie and his American publisher for expressing an ‘un-Islamic’ viewpoint in 1989? Not according to George Bush, Sr. Or after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993? Not according to Bill Clinton. The pattern is telling.

It is a pattern that has allowed Iran’s Mullahs to pursue the Islamist Holy Grail combining nuclear enrichment with the sponsorship of world terrorism—from Lebanon to Gaza to Iraq to Afghanistan—while allowing themselves to think the pursuit will attract no response.

Since future decisions are so often made on the basis of past actions, it underscores again how a forceful response at the right time can quell a conflict before it starts; whereas the lack of one so frequently leads to dangerous escalation, and much more force being necessary much later.

I-RAN-Over-30-Years-of-Bipartisan-Appeasement-4-NRB [Cartoon and article by Bosch Fawstin]

U.S. "reassures" Israel that Iran is "at least 12 months" from nuclear bomb despite starting reactor today…  There, there. You're not going to get obliterated today; it's just later on where things could get a little dicey…  Just try not to think of the idea that the "dying" Lockerbie bomber could, theoretically, outlive your country as you know it.

Attacking the messenger doesn’t alter the message

Um, can someone tell me why it’s so important to know who leaked that 82-page memo last week confirming how far ACT has strayed from being a party of ideas, rather than addressing what is in it, i.e.,

  • that ACT’s caucus has discarded the realm of ideas altogether, and now fights people instead;
  • that unless ACT urgently tries to expand the market for its ideas, something at which it has signally failed, it will remain reliant on National’s favour in the seat of Epsom;
  • that National Party polling in Epsom suggests Hide has only a “tenuous” hold on it, yet, (almost unbelievably given its reliance on the seat for its very existence), no ACT polling has been done to determine the truth of that;
  • that the thuggish David Garrett appears to run the caucus;
  • that secure documents in Act’s offices are just the opposite;
  • that Act is a dysfunctional party run by an ego made fatter by ministerial office, in denial about its imminent oblivion.

The document itself argues “Act sees [politics] as primitive combat, with a need to destroy a colleague's reputation” rather than address the real issues, and it offers ample evidence to back up the claim. 

The reaction to the document’s release tends to just further confirms the thesis, wouldn’t you say?

Australia: Weak govt? Not a problem. [Update 3]

Following the Australian election, which left both Libs and Labor in equal place on either side of the “can’t-form-a-government-on-their-own” line, commentators are talking about the “problems” inherent in having a weak government.


In just the last few years, so-called “strong government” has delivered to Australia a ridiculously profligate programme of economic stimulunacy; eye-watering deficits; a home-insulation programme that killed installers; a tax to strip-mine the economic backbone of Australia … and Kevin Rudd. And it left Australia on the brink of having an emissions tax scam inflicted on it.

So by that standard, weak government—which simply means that this kind of stupidity will be harder for a parliament to deliver—will be a good thing, not a problem.

UPDATE 1: “Strong” government delivered the destructively inept toe-rag called Wayne Swan.  Fortunately there still exist people like Michael Kroger with the gumption to tell him the truth to his face. [Hat tip Tim Blair]

UPDATE 2: Word up to the xenophobes: According to a NSW Labor activist, Gillard’s anti-immigration views were a key factor in the collapse of Labor’s vote: [Hat tip Tim Blair]

_Quote In our attempt to go after the white bread conservative vote in Lindsay, we have lost entire ethnic communities, our traditional base. It’s a disaster,” the [activist] said.
“In 25 years, I have not seen people of Chinese background walk past people with Labor how-to-vote cards. As soon as she started talking about too many immigrants, we lost every ethnic vote.”

One bright spot, perhaps, in an election in which bagging would-be immigrants seemed to become a sport for both main parties.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Do-it-yourself ramble

Since doing DIY on your house is now mostly illegal, let’s do what DIY we still can. 

So this is your chance for a DIY ramble around the best of the internet this week. Post your own interesting links in the comments, along with a good reason others might care to go read them. (Remember to sell, not just tell.)

If I get a minute, I’ll put the best of them here on the front page.

In the meantime, here’s a pony.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Welfare for bankers. There’s a lot of it about. [Updated]

‘Tis the season to give welfare to bankers. Unfortunately, New Zealand is not immune.

What is Kiwisaver, after all, but a giant welfare scheme for local paper shufflers; the nett result of which is that NZ’s overall level of saving hasn’t changed a whit—just the places where saving is done, and the levels of the taxpayer subsidy for it.

And what is the call for compulsory saving but even more welfare for those same suits with nothing in them—suits who’ve already failed to grow the money they’ve been give voluntarily, so that giving them your money by force just looks like rewarding failure.

kiwibank_180 Which is pretty much the case with Kiwibank.  A bank set up simply to assuage those New Zealanders who are frightened of foreigners—one that gives no returns at all to its shareholders (i.e., you, whether you like it or not), that makes virtually no return on the enormous capital you and I have sunk into it, and on the back of its lower profits has been rapidly expanding its loan book ((by $2.2 billion last year) by propping up the rapidly deflating housing bubble.

And its reward for its dismal return on your involuntary investment of more than $300 million?  That’s right: another hit of the same.  A promise from Bill English to pour $150 million more of your money down its black hole, just so it doesn’t lose its credit rating.

There is no rational argument for Kiwibank to exist as a state-owned bank, nor for it to keep sucking in more taxpayers’  money just because (with its unprofitable business model) it can’t generate enough itself.  There are four other big banks and fifteen smaller ones doing the job banks actually need to be doing without having otherwise productive capital tied up in a bank whose advertising and very existence is based on little more than NZers’ xenophobia.

New Zealand has a small labour force, and it enjoys among the developed world’s worst figures for labour productivity. A primary reason for that is because entrepreneurs have so little capital with which to put labour to work.  Yet this government and the last one seem insistent on making the little capital we do have is put to the least productive uses they can find for them.

It makes no sense.  But then, xenophobia never does.

UPDATE: Eric Crampton spotted superb commentary on this at NBR’s Plays of the Week:

_Quote National’s decision to use taxpayer funds to prop up Kiwibank’s credit rating ensures not only will this dog remain on the government’s books but also the liability will continue to grow.
    Only a few months after considering at least a partial sell-down of Xenophobiabank, the government has decided to give it a credit facility, allowing it to borrow about half a billion dollars more to try to keep the housing bubble inflated.
Massey University banking studies lecturer David Tripe told media the facility was basically a government guarantee that gave Kiwibank an unfair competitive advantage over the other main banks.
    But there should be no surprise the spineless National Party has continued to pander to unthinking nationalism and economic illiteracy.
    Just as with Kiwirail, that other capital-destroying “investment” made by the previous Labour government, National opposed Kiwibank when it was created.
    However, when handed the levers of power it decided to send more funds down this giant black hole for taxpayer money, just as it did with Kiwirail.
    Throwing good money after bad is a strategy only governments can get away with for any length of time, because they can continue to thieve from taxpayers to fund the stupidity.
    If a private company destroyed this much wealth it would go bust faster than you can say “malinvestment.”

Magnificent! I’d be proud to have said it myself.  :-)

The New Bad Deal: Is Obama Repeating the Errors That Led to the Great Depression?

Yaron Brook discusses ways in which government economic policy today mirrors the policy that preceded the Great Depression. [Hat tip Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights]

The New Bad Deal: Is Obama Repeating the Errors That Led to the Great Depression?


Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Multimedia Room of the JinHua Architecture Park, by Erhard An-He Kinzelbach

JinHua1 The Multimedia Room of the JinHua Architecture Park, designed by Erhard An-He Kinzelbach. The glazing doubles as a projection screen.


This looks like a promising inside-out idea—an “ergo-topographic” landscape. It really does nothing with the space its created, but it could do. It’s not there yet, but it holds an idea worth exploring more.

Photos and story from ArchiCentral.

Hide v Roy: The story of he and she [update 4]

It now seems clear that both of the rumours about the ACT split swirling around yesterday are correct, but not in the way we first thought.

It was about the mis-use of a restricted Defence document, only it wasn’t Roy mis-using it, it was Hide.

Which is why she sought assistance from Parliamentary Services—to see what to do about his mis-use.

Which is why he couldn’t work with her any more—not because she tried to roll him, but because she has standards about these things, and he no longer has.

Which is why he rolled her.

Which is why what’s now left of the ACT Caucus (now that Roy & Douglas are both sidelined) wouldn’t say why she was rolled. Because instead of not answering questions about why they rolled her, they’d have to not answer questions about why their leader no longer has any standards.

So just look now at what the ACT Party has now become:


Is this what you’d call a party of “transparency and accountability”?


Is this what you’d call “a party of ideas”?



Clearly, ACT are now dead from the neck up.  Send in the undertakers.

Time for a genuine freedom party to get out from under.

UPDATE 1:  Liberty Scott asks “So what now kiwi lovers of less government?

_Quote ACT had potential, it did believe in less government once, it did have senior leaders who would talk the good talk. As flawed as Rodney Hide is, and Sir Roger Douglas, there were more than a few occasions when one could say "bravo".
    However, ACT's first real chance at power …  hasn't just been disappointing, it has even seemed counter-productive.
    So what now?

UPDATE 2: Blair Mulholland.  Same question, different answer.

UPDATE 3: Further confirmation of the death of “The Party of Ideas,” from its former deputy leader:

_QuoteAct sees [politics] as primitive combat, with a need to destroy a colleague's reputation to justify an otherwise inexplicable decision.

C/F, from a post a few weeks back about the death of ideas in politics:

_Quote…For them, politics wasn’t  a battle of ideas, it was a battle of warring political tribes.  “But the big dilemma for all the pragmatists of the Right, is: what are they to fight and by what means, if principles are inoperative? Politics is a field in which one deals with ideas and it requires the ability to argue, to discuss, to persuade. What does one do in politics if one has discarded the whole realm of ideas? One fights people.

UPDATE 4: And here’s “The Story of He and She” in 82-page detail, confirming that despite many rumours to the contrary Roy didn’t want to be the leader and didn’t try to roll the leader.  She was  simply concerned that ACT is “distracted from the policies and causes we are here to advance and we are losing the political authority that comes only to parties that patently live their principles.”

And who could argue with that.

It confirms that, under Hide, ACT’s caucus has discarded the realm of ideas altogether, and now fights people.

Like leader, like caucus.

It demonstrates her concern that unless ACT urgently tries to expand its market, it will remain reliant on National’s favour in the seat of Epsom-- a seat on which National Party polling suggests Hide has only a “tenuous” hold; and in which, almost unbelievably, no ACT polling has been done-and simply drift into oblivion.

Who could deny that possibility.

It reveals that the thuggish David Garret is now court favourite, effectively running shotgun for his leader.

Who would expect that?

And it confirms that following months of goings-on worse than the most dysfunctional family, the final break came when Rodney Hide breached the security of a confidential Defence document, which somehow ended up in the hands of ACT board member Nigel Kearney, and then to a blogger at No Minister who had the good sense not to leap into print. Following which breach Roy sought advice from Parliamentary Services  (note “sought advice from,” not “lodged a complaint with”).  And when HRH (as it seems Rodney Hide is known around Bowen House) took this exception to Roy questioning his majesty, his lieutenants moved to rid his highness of his “turbulent” deputy.   (They should have taken more notice of what happened to Henry II’s.)

What the 82 pages give us in the end is an insight into an ego made fatter by ministerial office, leading a disfunctional party in denial about its imminent oblivion.  It’s only appropriate then that it contains several references to the Titanic.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: Compulsory saving…

_Quote So if the main justification for compulsory super is that “people are too stupid to save for themselves,” how can we say that a government made up of these same people will be able to determine the “right” level of savings?
                                   - Matt Nolan, The Visible Hand in Economics

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Hubbard, Hickey & Hillbillies [updated]

_richardmcgrath Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath ransacks the newspapers for stories and headlines on issues affecting our freedom.

This week:  Hubbard, Hickey & Hillbillies

1. “Taxpayer may prop up South Canterbury – Yes, South Canterbury Finance may shortly be nationalised, using the money you were thinking of using on home improvements, debt repayment and educating your children, to prop up a company doing well until the jackboots came through the door.
    May as well go the whole hog and just rebrand it South Wellington Finance.
    Soon, this private company, built up over many years by the hard work of Mr Hubbard and his employees, will be run instead by bureaucrats and politicians -– many of whom would have difficulty running a cake stall, and none of whom would dare put their own money at risk. (If they have any they’ve earned honestly.) They now want to play the businessman with Mr Hubbard’s money. And, shortly, yours too.
    Allan Hubbard, the founder and chairman of SCF, who never missed paying shareholders their dividend, is being blackmailed by the government to hand over ownership of the company in return, it’s reported, for not facing any charges “that may arise from a Serious Fraud Office investigation.
    The SFO have had two months to dig up dirt on Mr Hubbard, an 81 year old man with a gammy kidney. Where is this dirt? In the absence of even any mud, it looks they’ve gone instead for extracting a confession.
    If the SFO have a genuine legal stick with which to beat Mr Hubbard, let them produce it, instead of this cowardly threat to grind Mr Hubbard down using the legal system and an endless supply of stolen (taxpayer) money. Our money is being used to persecute a successful and apparently honest businessman, and that’s disgusting.
    If Allan Hubbard’s assets can be taken in this way by John Key’s government, is anyone in this country secure in their property and assets?
   And yes, that question is rhetorical.

2. “Bernard Hickey: The problem with compulsory Kiwisaver – Bernard Hickey—a cheerleader, by the way, for the doing over of Mr Hubbard—insists by inference that no-one in New Zealand should be able to invest overseas. Is Jim Anderton a big fan of yours by any chance, Bernard? Should people living in the North Island be allowed to invest in South Island industries?
    Bernard doesn’t have a problem with New Zealanders being forced to “invest” their money in KiwiSaver schemes rather than being able to pay personal debt off with it, which is what any sensible person would consider doing. Bernard has now firmly jumped the shark and joined the grey ones. He has no problem at all with the coercion (just see how he’s been cheerleading the evisceration of Alan Hubbard) because what really burns poor Mr Hickey is those pesky superannuation fund managers shipping money out to places like China and other parts of Asia, where it might yield a higher return. The bastards.
    Instead of encouraging an environment in which they might wish to keep their money, instead he calls for the opposite—a place in which government takes the big stick to savers to force them to invest where others wouldn’t voluntarily.
    Bernard would no doubt have approved of a labour exchange facility run by the German government in the 1940s – a sort of temping agency that provided workers for the local armament factories. Nothing like keeping investment local, is there, Bernard! They didn’t ship these workers out to Vichy France or other German-occupied territories for the benefit of foreigners. No sir; they kept their staff close to home, where they could be of benefit to the local community. Think global, act local, eh, Bernard?
    Still, the bureaucrat in charge was a little concerned about his ability to accommodate all the state servants employed there; some of them may have found the quarters a bit cramped.

3. Sentence for rustling sheep a joke says farmer – Two Hawkes Bay hillbillies who stole sheep from a farmer have been sentenced to be put up in warm accommodation and fed at our expense for ten months. The other was sentenced to four months on his couch watching Sky TV, only having to get off his arse for about five hours a week to do “Community Work.” As an afterthought, the judge ordered them to pay compensation to the farmers from whom they stole.
    I guess the farmers should really count themselves lucky. Because if the thieves had happened to be employees of the farmers, the Employment Court would probably have found that because they hadn’t been given two verbal and one written warnings not to steal the sheep, and had not gone to mediation and had twenty-four sessions of counselling at the farmers’ expense, the thieves would have been entitled to a massive payout for hurt feelings and emotional harm backdated to 1987, as well as their jobs back.  (Just one small example of why superannuation fund managers can get a higher return in places elsewhere.)
    The lawyer who represented the three vermin caught stealing, one Eric Foster, claims invading a rural property on which a farmer and his family are living and stealing the means by which that family feed themselves is not as bad as burgling the farmer’s house. Eric, if your moral disorientation is representative of others in your “profession”, is it any wonder lawyers have such a bad name? (How many lawyers does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three. One to climb the ladder. One to shake it. And one to sue the ladder company).
    It is only a matter of time before a bit of rural justice is visited upon those who choose to violate the sanctity of private property. Apparently, the police don’t like people defending themselves with firearms; it’s better that people get murdered on their farms. But from what I hear, electric fences are real handy for extracting information from cockroaches who arrive uninvited in the middle of the night!

“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny - when the government
fear the people, there is liberty.”
- attributed to Thomas Jefferson

KRIS SAYCE: On the edge of a crisis

_Kris_Sayce Guest post by Kris Sayce 

    If you’re after a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with mainstream economic thinking can I suggest you get hold of a copy of yesterday’s Australian Financial Review (AFR).
    Once you’ve bought it, take it home, lay it on the table and then slowly turn to page 26.
    But before you start reading, grab a notepad and a pencil and then settle down to read the article by “Market monitor” Glen Mumford.
    Why the notepad and pencil? So you can take notes. So you can write his arguments out for yourself in your own handwriting. We’ll guarantee that when you read it back and try to make sense of it you’ll be amazed that anyone could make the kind of mindless argument that Mumford makes.
    But with any luck you’ll resist the urge to stop reading at the end of the second paragraph. A paragraph that goes:
    “Perhaps Dr Strangelove was on the right track all those years ago when he told us to stop worrying about the bomb. Instead, we should learn to love it.
“Maybe it’s time US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke and his policy-setting colleagues did the same with inflation.”
    And perhaps Mr. Mumford would do well to recall that the Dr Strangelove character was also a raving lunatic. A raving lunatic with an involuntary twitch that caused him to do a fascist salute.
    But then, likening central bankers to fascists is rather appropriate we think. Not that Mr. Mumford would have intended the comparison.
    Our good friends at Wikipedia provide a neat definition of fascism:
“Fascism… is a radical and authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to organise a nation according to corporatist perspectives, values and systems, including the political system and the economy… Fascists believe that a nation is an organic community that requires strong leadership, singular collective identity, and the will and ability to commit violence and wage war in order to keep the nation strong. They claim that culture is created by the collective national society and its state, that cultural ideas are what give individuals identity, and thus they reject individualism.”
    If – as your editor does – you consider taxation as a form of violence against the individual then the definition of fascism can easily be used as the definition for so-called Western democracy.
    We like Mark Latham’s idea of encouraging Australian voters this Saturday to just spoil their ballot papers. Make no mistake, it won’t matter which party wins the election, the result will be the same – money from your pocket going into the grubby paws of Canberra bureaucrats.
    But anyway, keep reading Mr. Mumford’s article, because it gets worse… much worse.
    I won’t go into any further detail here because it just contains more of the same old story from the mainstream – inflation good, deflation bad. Rising prices good, falling prices bad.
    However, I will quote one more comment from the article. Last week we wrote how the Federal Reserve was institutionalising money printing by vowing to keep the Fed balance sheet at the current level.
    It was going to do this through buying more longer dated US treasuries when its existing holdings of mortgage-backed securities matured. In other words, rather than removing liquidity from the market – as all the mainstream commentators this past year insisted the Fed would do – the Fed will keep the money in the system.
    Which, apparently isn’t good enough for the likes of Glen Mumford:
“Instead of talking about ‘maintaining’ its [the Fed's] balance sheet, it needs to embrace a major expansion; at least $US1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) more – possibly a whole lot more.”
    No explanation of course where the magical $1 trillion will come from. Mumford doesn’t explain that it will just be created out of thin air.
    And there’s no explanation of why the next trillion will be any more successful in helping the economy than the previous trillions. But that’s probably because like the rest of the mainstream drones, Mumford doesn’t have a clue.
    It’s like the gambler who insists they’ll have one more bet. Except the gambler doesn’t have any money left and so instead has to pinch it from the wallet of a friend – “It’ll be OK, I’ll pay him back after I’ve won…”
    Except the casino gambler never wins, not over time anyway.
    The sad difference with the casino analogy is that it’s the Fed doing the gambling, except it has never used its own money, because it doesn’t have any. The only money it has is what it has taken through taxation via the government, or what it has created from thin air.
    Either way, it has built its balance sheet through stealing from the pockets of the nation. Either directly or indirectly.
    Already the US Federal Reserve holds over USD$777 billion in US government debt.
    Yet Mumford thinks that isn’t enough. More must be done. An extra USD$1 trillion if Mumford has his way.
    To be honest, I’m just as dumbfounded by all this as you are. To me it just doesn’t make sense that such economic idiocy has been embraced by the mainstream commentators. I mean, let’s see exactly what the US government and the US Federal Reserve have conspired to do…
    As you’re aware, the US government has consistently spent more money than it has taken from taxpayers.
    Therefore it has a budget deficit. Similar to you having a budget deficit if you spend more than you earn in wages. The difference being that you have to earn your money through the exertion of your labour whereas the government takes the money from you on the, erm, exertion of your labour!
    So, because the government consistently spends more than it takes in tax revenue it has to come up with another way of getting cash. So, it sells bonds to investors.
    Those foolish investors unwittingly use the money that they’ve earned and which they could otherwise have invested in private enterprise or saved in the bank, or even spent on something for themselves, and give it to the government. The government then spends it on wasteful projects or on the lazy, inefficient and useless public servants.
    In return for lending the government money, the government promises to pay interest on the loan. For instance 5% per year over three years. That’s roughly how it used to work anyway.
    However, the more it spends on wasteful projects that don’t produce a profit, the more the government has to borrow to spend on new projects and to maintain the old ones.
    Another analogy would be if you kept borrowing money to buy new cars without selling the old cars.  You’d still have to maintain the old car – servicing, fuel, rego, etc – plus you’d have the cost of buying and maintaining the new car too.
    The problem with borrowing money is that typically lenders (investors) will – annoyingly – want to know how much else you’ve borrowed. The more you’ve borrowed the greater the fear by investors that you’ll find it harder to repay the loan.
    Plus, the more you borrow, the greater the incentive you’ll need to give investors to encourage them to lend the money.
    What kind of incentives would an investor look for? That’s right, a higher interest rate.
    That’s obviously a big problem when you’re already several trillions of dollars in debt and you know you’ll need to borrow several trillions more.
    The last thing you’d want to do is cause interest rates to rise.
    For most borrowers it would be tough luck. That’s the consequences. The outcome would be that you’d slow down your spending or you’d just go bust.
    Luckily for the government – and unluckily for the citizens, government’s have no such constraints.
    The government can just tap their pals on the shoulder at the money printers – in this case the Federal Reserve – and ask them to buy the government debt.
    And for the government, the central bank is the perfect buyer. It has no profit motive – despite being a private company – so it doesn’t care what interest it receives, and secondly it has the ability to create as much money as it wishes in order to buy the bonds issued by the US Treasury.
    What impact does that have on the market and interest rates? Naturally enough it artificially pushes the interest rate lower.
    You can see that from an interesting chart produced by the guys at Zero Hedge:

The race to zero

Click here to enlarge
Source: Zero Hedge

    Just to explain, the chart above shows the historic bond yield curve between 1990 and 2010 for the three month to thirty year bonds.
    As you can see yields at the short end of the curve (3 months to two years) are close to zero. Even a seven-year US bond is only providing an income of 2% per year. Forget about the 5% I mentioned above. You can’t even get that for a 30-year bond!
    Would you want to lock your money away for seven years with only a 2% return? Or how about 30 years for a 4% annual return?
    I know I wouldn’t. But the Fed would certainly do it because it doesn’t care what return it gets. All it cares about is keeping the paymasters happy – the government.
    And now, thanks to the latest decision by the Fed, we can expect to see the longer end of that yield curve starting to fall even further. That’s because the Fed intends on buying up even more ten-year bonds.
    According to Mr. Mumford’s nice little chart in today’s AFR, the Fed already holds about 17% of the bonds with a maturity of greater than a 10 years, and about the same percentage of those with a five to ten year maturity.
    But with mainstream investors seeking supposed safety in the sovereign bond markets, it led our Slipstream Trader Murray Dawes to say this earlier today, “We’re on the edge of crisis time. Look at this”:

Crisis time

    In a nutshell the chart shows you the spread between the US 10 Year Note and the US Treasury Bond fast approaching the levels last seen towards the end of 2008 when the market went into meltdown.
    What it tells you is that bonds are in big demand, despite the already crazy low yields. Yields, that if history repeats could see the final rush to safety force yields even lower.
    And according to Bloomberg News:
“Money managers are moving more money than ever out of stocks and into bonds. About $185 billion was sent to bond funds through July 31, the most on record, according to the Investment Company Institute.”

    Institutional investors are loading up on government bonds because they’ve convinced themselves that if the worst happens, the US government won’t default on its debt. Not directly anyway.
    Chances are it will do so indirectly as it tries to inflate its way out of trouble.
    What does this all mean?
    It means financial markets are in big trouble. It means that while the mainstream numpties trumpet on about the strength of the economy, and the greenshoots of an economic recovery, their actions are speaking much louder than their words.
    Their actions are telling you what they really think about the market. And I agree. And that is that there’s big trouble brewing.
    The problem is, what the big investing boys consider to be safe haven assets – bonds – are actually no safer than holding your money as cash under the mattress.
    Because if the US Fed does as we suspect it will, and expand its balance sheet almost to infinity then the likes of Mumford and the other mainstream commentators are certain to have their inflationary dreams come true.
    As Mumford wraps up his article: “The only way to avoid this [deflation] is for the Fed to stop worrying about inflation and instead look at embracing it a little. Love it, even.”

Kris Sayce
For Money Morning Australia

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Ise Shrine, Japan

Ise Shrine Outer Grounds

Japanese temples don’t enclose congregations, they mark sacred space. Space to which pilgrims must undertake a journey.

Ise Shrine Grounds of Buddhist Temple The journey is part of the ritual. It conditions the soul for the destination.

Ise Shrine Steps These plain, craftsman buildings elevated above the ground on simple structures have been marking these same sacred space for centuries; unadorned, unchanged--yet they are destroyed and rebuilt anew identically every twenty years.  (Unadorned, but not undecorated—the “decoration” derives quite naturally from their construction.) At the turn of the century poet Locfadio Hearn visited Ise and wrote,

_Quote There is nothing imposing but the space, the silence and the suggestion of the past.

Ise_1746 And few people gain admission to the inner shrine, where we find one of the main Ise “treasure houses,” The architecture recapitulates the ancient end-post-and-roof beam style of prehistoric Japanese rice storehouses and shrines.ijinja0001p1

Ise pre-dates Zen.  It represents a kind of nature worship that venerates the spaces that  gods might inhabit, and the nature-given materials used to frame it.  No wonder so many architects find inspiration here.

Granted permission to visit these temples  a few years ago, architect Kenzo Tange—designer of the dramatic 1964 Tokyo Olympic Stadium--said,

_QuoteThe buildings, their placement, and their form and space moved me deeply. Plain to the point of artlessness, they nevertheless possessed a highly refined style.  Their origin in remote times has stamped on them an elementary vigor; they combine this with a timeless aesthetic discipline.  Seldom is an architecture created in which the vital and the aesthetic are as well balanced as here.

Tange wasn’t alone in finding inspiration here. Architects from Greene & Greene to Walter Gropius to Bruno Taut to Frank Lloyd Wright discovered architecture afresh from the shrines at Ise and from other lesser temples.  taut reckoned that, along with the Parthenon, Ise represents “the peak of world architecture.”

But as Gropius and Wright observed, where the Parthenon seeks “to breast and conquer nature,” this is architecture that seeks to adapt and absorb it.  Honor, said Wright, represents truth to nature and  to materials. This is part of the “be clean” ethic celebrated here. Japanese architecture like this, he said, is “a supreme study in elimination—not only of dirt, but of the insignificant.” There is “very little added in the way of ornament because all ornament as we call it, they get out of the way the necessary things are done or by bringing out and polishing the beauty of the simple materials used in making the building.  Again, you see, and kind of cleanliness.”


In Japan, he declared, “I had found one country on earth where simplicity, as natural, is supreme.”

So what does the ACT Party actually stand for now? [update 2]

Isn’t it about time someone decided what ACT actually stands for now?

Given that Roger Douglas and Heather Roy have now been repudiated by the other three in their caucus -- leaving their effective caucus as just a dancer, a prancer and a bigot with his foot in his mouth –- and given that ACT has across this parliamentary term departed entirely from their founding principles ( I don’t recall seeing either the baubles of ministry or planting a super-sized bureaucracy across Auckland in there) –- and given that all of this caucus have voted for every big budget Bill English has ever written –- budgets that with each vote grew government rather than shrank it –- and have completely backflipped on the Foreshore & Seabed issue – recognising property rights one month; calling for nationalisation the next -- then just what the hell does the party whose name is on those three remaining buttonholes actually stand for?

Has all the political capital of fifteen years really come to this?   Not a party of ideas, just five people who don’t like each other. Not a party of freedom, but one more like flounder.

They can’t say they were railroaded by their senior coalition partner into this malaise either.  Not today, not ever. Even at the start of this term, ACT leader Rodney Hide (remember him?) was given the choice of pursuing either regulatory reform or super-sizing the Auckland bureaucracy.  That he chose the latter (and chose to live it up on your tab) says all you need to know about this erstwhile small-government perk-buster. 

From poacher to moocher, in less-than-one parliamentary term. That’s some sort of record, for sure.

Every minor party so far has been killed by coalition—NZ First was cannibalised and spat out; the Alliance was cannibalised and spat out; United-Dunne nothing turned intro a lapdog and a party of one. Every minor party so far has been killed by coalition--and so it has been for ACT. 

So what does the ACT Party stand for now?  Which one of the current caucus members could even tell us?

And why does it even matter.

UPDATE 1: Just listened to Deborah Coddington talking to Maggie Barry on Radio Live, saying very much the same.

UPDATE 2: Now, I’m not one to gossip … but rumour has it that Roy was fired for being a little loose with a certain set of defence papers.  Time will tell on that one, no doubt.  But she certainly should have been fired, just like her leader, for doing absolutely nothing while a minister to advance her party’s stated ideals.

Article Published at Big Peace: "Ground Zero Mosque, Rotten Foundations"

Guest Post by Jeff Perren.

My article discussing the plan to build the so-called Ground Zero Mosque in Manhattan has been published at Big Peace.

Your feedback is invited - pro, con, or otherwise.

Thanks, Jeff

Off the ‘Spirit Level’ [update 4]

The authors of the British book The Spirit Level have a political agenda, and they’ve got it talked about everywhere. Even here. The NZ Labour MPs’ blog Red Alert for example is so excited it even has a ‘Spirit Level’ “tag”, and breathless comments from the likes of Grant Robertson that “These people’s work can not be dismissed.” And Colin James, the commentator on the tired and the bleeding obvious, wonders if the 300-page tome might not become  “a sort of guidebook for the next Labour ministry,” should there be one.

So what’s their work, and why are Grant Robertson and his comrades so excited about it? It’s a “revolutionary” thesis overturning all previous research: that societies with more “equal” incomes do better than those that don’t.

So how did they do what no other researchers before them have managed to do? Simple, They fudged the figures.

Here, for example, is a graph that is central to their thesis, purporting to show how much better off our life expectancy would be if we all copied “the workers’ paradises of Scandinavia and the egalitarian nirvana of Japan.” See how the culturally egalitarian Japan and Sweden skew the left side up, and the culturally meritorian USA skews it down?

SpiritLevel01And here it is again, this time with the many elephants in the room they neglected to include because they inconveniently contradict their thesis, charted using figures from that bastion of inequality, the UN. See how the addition of Hong Kong alters the right-hand side, and the additions of the likes of South Korea and the Czech Republic give a more “realistic” level to the left-hand end.


Go to the SPIRIT LEVEL DELUSION blog Adding in the countries that contradict their thesis shows that there really is no significant trend at all (maybe one month, or two?), which means their much-hyped thesis is basically bosh.  [Further clarification on the graphs below.]

As the author of The Spirit Level Delusion, Christopher Snowdon, explains at Spiked, (from whom I stole those graphs) this sort of statistical legerdemain exposed here cannot be unintentional. Which means, to put it bluntly, that the authors have lied—and if you have to lie to make your point, that probably means you haven’t got one. Nonetheless, it’s a lie perfectly calculated to get the chattering classes talking; so after tearing apart their “research,” Snowdon draws the only conclusion about their thesis and its widespread acceptance that you could:

_Quote The only real difference between ‘less equal’ and ‘more equal’ countries is the size of the government and the amount it takes in tax, rising from less than 15 per cent of gross domestic product in Singapore to almost 50 per cent in Denmark. The fact that Singapore outperforms Denmark under almost every measure of what makes a country ‘do better’ only serves to underline the folly of The Spirit Level and, by association, the futility of its political agenda.
    That this agenda takes the form of zero-growth economics and eco-authoritarianism perhaps explains why journalists at the New Statesman and the Guardian have been so willing to suspend disbelief when confronted with such an improbable explanation for the problems of all mankind. It seems not to have struck them as odd that two left-wing epidemiologists were able suddenly to unearth a ‘theory of everything’ which had eluded the world’s finest minds for generations.
    To The Spirit Level’s legion of admirers, this uncanny turn of events is only proof of Wilkinson and Pickett’s unique genius. A more prosaic explanation is that the grand unifying theory had not been unearthed because it was never there.

As Ayn Rand used to say,

_QuoteIf there were such a thing as a passion for equality (not equality de jure, but de facto), it would be obvious to its exponents that there are only two ways to achieve it: either by raising all men to the mountaintop—or by razing the mountains.

And naturally, the exponents of forced equality always end up advocating the latter. That the talk about this book and its recommendations at the Red Alert blog usually ends with a recommendation to soak the rich is proof once again that this thesis is still fundamentally correct. But don’t expect them to change that one big idea in their policy manual—because it’s the only “big idea” they’ve actually got.

UPDATE 1: Phil Sage has some complementary comments over at the No Minister blog, concluding,

_QuoteRedistribution … is useful for solving short term problems but ultimately does not make a community more cohesive or happier; it just drags back the wealth creators, to the detriment of all.

Phil links to two excellent reports on the central thesis of The Spirit Level, which I hope he won’t mind me linking here; first, from the UK Taxpayers’ Alliance:

_QuoteBefore policymakers rush to enforce the income equality that the authors suggest is so vital to improve public health and general wellbeing, it is important that we properly scrutinise its claims. 
new report published today by the TaxPayers' Alliance does just that.  The Spirit Illusion looks at whether the most important correlations established in the book can be replicated.
The findings are stark.  On almost no measure does the central claim of the Spirit Level, that income inequality decreases life expectancy, stand up to scrutiny…
    [The report’s] main point is that the most important statistical correlation between countries that the authors claim to have established – the connection they point to between life expectancy and income inequality in different industrialised nations – is simply wrong…

I recommend the report. It’s free. And the UK Policy Exchange has produced its own report on the phoney tome, Beware False Prophets, in which “Wilkinson and Pickett’s empirical claims are critically re-examined using (a) their own data on 23 countries, (b) more up-to-date statistics on a larger sample of 44 countries, and (c) data on the US states. Very few of their empirical claims survive intact.”  The hardback costs you £10 + £3p&p—but you can download the PDF free.

UPDATE 2: If you think those “dots” have moved in the two charts above, you’re right.  Chris Snowdon clarifies in the comments:

_QuoteThe two graphs are from exactly the same UN source, but are from different years. The first is from the 2004 UN Human Development Report, the second is from the 2006 report.
The reason I mention this is that, if you own a copy of The Spirit Level, take a look at references 2 and 6. Reference 2 is the 2006 report and is for their graph showing no relationship between life expectancy and GDP. Reference 6 is the 2004 report, and that's used to show there IS a relationship between life expectancy and inequality.
    Why use two different data sets? We can only speculate, but I would speculate that its because, even if you exclude places like the Czech Republic, the 2004 data fits their hypothesis better than the 2006. This, from two researchers who insist they took their data "warts and all."

UPDATE 3: Dinther sums it all up perfectly. At the end of the day, even if the research were true …

_QuoteI’d rather live a shorter life in freedom … than a longer and no doubt boring life in captivity.

UPDATE 4Spirit Level authors Wilkinson and Pickett's responded to the Spirit Level Delusion author’s 20 Questions to them. Hong Kong was excluded because, apparently, it’s not “an older, rich, developed, market economy.” Presumably because it’s a young, poor, undeveloped, communist state like Cuba?  I guess this gives you a taste of Wilkinson & Picket’s acumen.
Snowdon’s response to them is here. It’s good.
Some of the graphs from The Spirit Level Delusion are here. And Snowdon’s Spirit Level Delusion blog is here.

Sky not falling. The real lessons of another failed scare story.

sky-not-falling Who can doubt the power of mythology to drive behaviour.  Sadly, the myths of ‘End Times,’ ‘Apocalypse’ and our “separation” from nature (part of the myth of our ejection from the Garden of Eden) have driven several dozen scare stories over the centuries—from the earth running out of sunlight in the third century to it running out of coal in 1860; from it running out of oil by 1990 to it running out of room by 2000; from ice ages to floods; from robins dying of mass slaughter in 1979 to Americans dying of mass starvation by 1980 to England failing to exist in the year 2000 to “the entire world” being under famine by 2010. We’ve heard it all. And it hasn’t happened.

Mythology can guide us.  If we’re not careful, it can also blind us.

This tendency to go moth-like to the flames of self-immolation doesn’t stop with individual humans but can suck in an entire culture. As I have previously shared, perhaps the single best example of that is provided by the ancient Hawaiians who, finding themselves in absolute paradise, set about inventing over 2,000 “kapus” or laws, transgressions of most of which were punishable by death. One minute, paradise, the next....

As you see, this idiocy isn’t confined to modern western man.  Take this dopy quote, for example:

_Quote You must know that the world has grown old, and does not remain in its former vigour. It bears witness to its own decline. The rainfall and the sun’s warmth are both diminishing; the metals are nearly exhausted; the husbandman is failing in the fields, the sailor on the seas, the soldier in the camp, honesty in the market, justice in the courts, concord in friendships, skill in the arts, discipline in morals. This is the sentence passed upon the world, that everything which has a beginning should perish, that things which have reached maturity should grow old, the strong weak, the great small, and that after weakness and shrinkage should come dissolution.

That quote comes not from recent times, but from third century Europe—and we’re still here and we’re still vigorous, and the human environment is now the best it’s ever been! But we’ve been scaring ourselves to death for centuries, literally centuries.

chicken-little-1 The latest “we’re-all-gonna-die” scare story widely embraced by those who can’t see past the myths was H1N1 Swine Flu, about which nearly everyone was all in a lather not so long ago.  Now that the World Health Organization have called off the “pandemic,” two Canadian epidemiologists make a sober assessment of one of the more unlikely scare stories of recent times to have pushed the hot button of mass hysteria.

There are important lessons to be learned here about many of the other apocalyptic scare stories—and people’s too-eager readiness to embrace them.

So read The real lessons of H1N1

Monday, 16 August 2010

The world’s biggest sign

For our regular art post tonight, something called GPS Art—which is not at all art, but is certainly something to do with GPS.

Apparently, a chap took a month off and travelled the length and breadth of the States to “write” this piece of art on Google Earth with his GPS unit. It’s a big sign with a big message. Here’s how it looks … (Click through to read on)

The future of education

Paediatric neuropsychologist Dr Steven Hughes explains that traditional education is running out of steam, and why Montessori education has to be an important part of the future of education--not just one of a number of alternative approaches, but the main one---not least because Montessori education is unique in recognising the way children’s brains develop.

Not bad for a three minute video.

He mentions:

Get more information about Montessori education and Montessori teacher training at Mt Eden’s Maria Montessori Education Foundation.  Or just sit through the videos that should play automatically after this one, courtesy of www.MariaMontessori.com.