Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Mere desire v burning ambition

Are you burning with ambition?

Or merely harbour a desire for success in your chosen field?

That’s the difference that really makes the difference, you know—as actor Kevin Spacey explains

[Hat tip Diana Hsieh]

If you want to get things done, find an introvert

If you want to get things done, then don’t work in an open plan office.

Most of us now work in teams [notes the New York Times], in offices without walls, for managers who prize “people skills” above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.
    But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the
psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.
    One explanation for these findings is that introverts are comfortable working alone — and solitude is a catalyst to innovation…

SOME teamwork is fine and offers a fun, stimulating, useful way to exchange ideas, manage information and build trust.
    But it’s one thing to associate with a group in which each member works autonomously on his piece of the puzzle; it’s another to be corralled into endless meetings or conference calls conducted in offices that afford no respite from the noise and gaze of co-workers. Studies show that open-plan offices make workers hostile, insecure and distracted. They’re also more likely to suffer from
high blood pressure, stress, the flu and exhaustion. And people whose work is interrupted make 50 percent more mistakes and take twice as long to finish it. ….
    [Creative people] many of whom are introverts, are unhappy….  Privacy also makes us productive… Solitude can even help us learn…
    Conversely, brainstorming sessions are one of the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity… decades of research show that individuals almost always perform better than groups in both quality and quantity, and group performance gets worse as group size increases.

Ground zero in junk economics [updated]

M.I.T. is a world leading university.

And no, Virginia, I’m not talking about the low-rent second-rate impostor out in Otara. I’m talking about the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The world-leading M.I.T.

The world-leading M.I.T. has a tale to tell that illustrates again the power of ideas to move the world, for good and for bad.

It has produced some 76 Nobel laureates, and around one-third of US astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin. It has been home to some stellar physicists, such as Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann. To some explosive chemists. It’s mathematicians are as adept as their stories (John Nash) are Oscar-winning.

M.I.T. has produced some of the world’s leading hard scientists.

In economics however the story is both the same and very different.  Sure, its economics graduates are everywhere—but given the catastrophe they produced in recent years (and are continuing to produce) I don’t mean that in a good way. 

Central banking is filled with former attendees of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, university … At MIT, [Bank of England Governor Mervyn] King, 63, and then-professor Ben S. Bernanke, 58, had adjoining offices in 1983, spending the early days of their academic careers in an environment where economics was viewed as a tool to set policy. Earlier, Bernanke [now head of the US Federal Reserve] and European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, 64, earned their doctorates from the university in the late 1970s, Draghi with a thesis entitled “Essays on Economic Theory and Applications.”
    [Bank of Israel Governor Stanley] Fischer, 68, advised Bernanke’s thesis on “Long-Term Commitments, Dynamic Optimization and the Business Cycle,” and taught Draghi. Greek Prime Minister and former ECB vice president Lucas Papademos and Olivier Blanchard, now chief economist for the International Monetary Fund in Washington, earned their doctorates from MIT at about the same time.
    Other monetary policy makers who have passed through MIT’s doors include Athanasios Orphanides, head of the Central Bank of Cyprus, Duvvuri Subbarao, governor of the Reserve Bank of India and Charles Bean, King’s deputy in the U.K.

Not to mention Paul Samuelson, the writer of the textbook schooled modern Americans in the complex wrongheadedness of the Keynesian disease; New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, the man with more all-round wrongheaded advice than Mr Keynes on speed; Lawrence Summers, adviser to both Obama and Bill Clinton; and Christine Romer, head of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

These are the people who define “mainstream economics”—the very “macroeconomic” theories that got us into the hole.

Their advice, then and now, is to keep digging.

Given the results of its graduates then, by which I mean the state of the world today, its clear that while M.I.T.’s hard sciences departments should be lauded for their graduates’ achievements, its economics degrees are as much a piece of junk as the bonds still being peddled by European governments.

[Hat tip Tyler Cowen. Arnold Kling comments.]

UPDATE: Peter Boettke suggests, with a bit of nudging, that one primary difference between mainstream economics and Austrian economics is that  mainstream theory “can’t handle the complexities of the real world…”

Monday, 16 January 2012

Quote of the day: Downgrade edition

In case you hadn’t heard, European government debt was downgraded over the weekend.

Not before time.

After four years of attempting government “rescues” of their respective economies by borrowing to bolster “demand”, and two years of belatedly realising that they couldn’t afford the borrowing, and the expected recovery was nowhere to be found, the mainstream rating agencies finally noticed something was wrong.

So the ratings have finally been downgraded—but not yet the economic theory on which the profligate borrowing was based. And talk still continues about , even as the causes of the economic crisis of the last few years continues to be all but ignored.

Which brings me to the Quote of the Day, from page 8 of L. Albert Hahn’s 1949 collection The Economics of Illusion:

As far as government interference itself is concerned, one should never forget that serious economic disturbances are the consequences of basic maladjustments. The effect of correcting or not correcting such maladjustments is infinitely greater than any artificial creation of demand by government in an economy that, in most sectors, is still free. Therefore an economic policy that concentrates on artificially filling up an investment or spending gap rather than on fostering adjustments – and thus creating demand in a natural way – is doomed to fail in any severe crisis.

Don Boudreaux has more.

Climate models “yet to demonstrate an ability to confidently predict climate change”

As I blogged last year, temperature “predictions” by alleged climate scientists have failed over recent decades to match the measured surface temperature record. “Predictions” from 1990 for example expected a temperature trend of between 0.2 to 0.5 degree C per decade—a rate that has quite simply failed to materialise.

The record is even worse when compared to the satellite temperature record over the last 33 years—which, unlike the surface measurements, measures temperatures in the upper atmosphere, precisely where the “predictions” say most warming should occur. The thirty-three year temperature update, released in December, shows temperatures well below computer model predictions.


The end of November 2011 completes 33 years of satellite-based global temperature data… Globally averaged, Earth’s atmosphere has warmed about 0.45 Celsius (about 0.82° F) during the almost one-third of a century that sensors aboard NOAA and NASA satellites have measured the temperature of oxygen molecules in the air [explains John Christy, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center (ESSC) at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, where the satellite record is recorded and maintained].

This represents a global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978 of just +0.14 C per decade. Says Christy:

   This is at the lower end of computer model projections of how much the atmosphere should have warmed due to the effects of extra greenhouse gases since the first Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU) went into service in Earth orbit in late November 1978, according to satellite data processed and archived at UA Huntsville’s ESSC.
    “While 0.45 degrees C of warming is noticeable in climate terms, it isn’t obvious that it represents an impending disaster,” said Christy. “The climate models produce some aspects of the weather reasonably well, but they have yet to demonstrate an ability to confidently predict climate change in upper air temperatures.” …
While year-to-year temperature variations measured by the satellite sensors closely match those measured by both surface thermometers and weather balloons, it is the long-term warming trend on which the satellites and the surface thermometers disagree, [Christy’s colleague] Roy Spencer said, with the surface warming faster than the deep layer of the atmosphere. 
    If both instruments are accurate, that means something unexpected is happening in the atmosphere.
    “The satellites should have shown more deep-atmosphere warming than the surface, not less” he said. “Whatever warming or cooling there is should be magnified with height. We believe this is telling us something significant about exactly why the climate system has not warmed as much as expected in recent decades.”

“Something significant” for which climate models are signally unable to account.

Read the whole analysis here.

[Hat tip Jeff Perren]

Thinking positive

There’s plenty of reasons for a person to feel negative about life in Christchurch. Or not...

Friday, 13 January 2012

Don’t try this at your next lecture

"How (not) to communicate new scientific information: A memoir of the famous Brindley lecture."

[Hat tip Geek Press]

Golfing on top of the world

If you’re going to play golf, then this is probably the way to do it.

Like Rory McIlroy. On top of the Burj al-Arab.

Education as an aid to life

Here’s a recommendation from our friends at NZ’s Maria Montessori Education Foundation:

Dear Friends and Advocates for Young Children.

The new website Aid to Life is now on-line and it is superb!


It is primarily a resource for parents, guiding them through how to support their young child’s development from 0-3 years. A wonderful parent resource!

There is information about movement, independence, dressing, and more—complete with videos to help parents.

Highly recommended. Please pass this it on!

Kind regards,
Carol Potts

I have.  Smile

Thursday, 12 January 2012

No blogging


No blogging today.

I’ve been assassinated by a crazed Ron Paul supporter.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

What would entice them back?

Recovery authorities are asking business, property owners and customers what would entice them back into Christchurch's quake-stricken CBD.

An Enterprise Zone would.

But never in a million tears would they consider that…

Ayn Rand Campus

The Ayn Rand Institute’s ‘Online Campus’ has just gone live, a major new educational initiative promising “free courses on Ayn Rand and her ideas in an innovative and interactive learning environment!”

That’s what it says on the label, and it’s looking pretty good.

Initial course offerings include: 
•       Ayn Rand: A Writer's Life
•       Ayn Rand: Radical Thinker
•       The Ayn Rand Bookshelf
•       Anthem
•       We the Living
•       The Fountainhead
•       Moral Virtue
•       Philosophy of Education
•       Philosophy: Who Needs It

New courses will be added regularly—the first release post-launch will be an in-depth look at the novel Atlas Shrugged, taught by Dr. Onkar Ghate and appearing in February. The full, public launch of ARI Campus is slated for September of 2012.

Looks like a great online resource!

Organon Architecture’s 2011 Top 10

imageYes, I know it’s 2012 already. But 2011 ended so busy for me I didn’t have a chance to do my semi-regular Top 10—i.e., in the spirit of Epic Beer’s own Top 10, listing the top ten things we achieved at Organon Architecture did in 2011:

image1. New offices!
2011 started badly for me, for reasons many of you know. But productivity picked up in July when I opened my new office on Dominion Road—about halfway down, as it happens.  Safely sequestered therein, we’ve produced a mountain of work and lots to celebrate.
And being about 400m from Eden Park, it wasn’t a bad location from which to enjoy the World Cup!

2. ‘Art & Architecture Afternoons’
The new offices, corner of Valley and Dominion Rd, now play host to informal Friday afternoon ‘Art & Architecture Afternoons’ from 4pm every Friday. The “art” part is supplied chiefly by local artists Jasmine Kamante and Jesper Sundwall, whose studio is fortuitously just up the road, and between us we have a few plans for presentations in 2012—starting on the 20th. Feel free to drop in and chat.

3. Orders!
Order books are still full, with some exciting new work and renovations going on—and not every architecture practice can say that this year!

image4. Bungalows!
In the words of Paul Litterick, “Man is born free, yet everywhere is in villas.” And this year again, no one’s asked me to renovate a villa—folk are getting more excited instead by California Bungalows. Good news, and a very healthy trend indeed. That said, there was one reluctant sale by a client of a very special California Bungalow (right)—news made better by the sale price which more than covered our fairly extensive renovations.

5. Kebyar
I’m still really enjoying my Kebyar membership, which keeps me in touch with like-minded architects overseas (since there’s few enough of them locally).

imageimage6. Home Show
Thanks to my sister, a landscape architect, I was persuaded to share a stand at the Whangarei Home Show—the first time I’ve tried that method of promoting the practice. It was fun, and from it came two delightful clients and the prospect of a few very interesting things emerging…

image7. Topping out
I was delighted that a project first begun back in 2003 (right) is finally seeing the light of day, with topping out on the top storey all but complete in the last days of 2011. It’s all set now for completion in 2012.

8. New website
Yes, I know, I’ve been promising this for years—pretty much since the year I first cobbled it together--but this year it’s not just long, long, loong overdue (one client suggested if I don’t update it I should just unplug it) but will actually emerge.
Or so I’m promised.

9. New logo
With the move to new offices, I was persuaded by hotshot graphic designer Graham Clark from Clark Design & Marketing that I should change my logo. Quite frankly, I think what we came up with is pretty damn striking.
You can see it at the top of the page.

If you like it, give Graham a call and he’ll do something just as sharp for you.
Tell him I sent you.


10. Good Work
Not that I’m one to boast, but I think 2011 finished with good variety and some pretty good work in the bag—both renovations and new work.  Here’s a small selection.









So it didn’t start too well, but in the end not a bad year at all, really.

I look forward to topping it this year.

Hope you had a good year too. Keep enjoying the good life--and don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Peter Cresswell

[Cross-posted at my Organon Architecture blog]



Horrors!  I’ve gone through nearly this whole holiday period without a post on beer!

My apologies, gentle readers. Let me remedy that now.

Let me remedy that by talking about affordable beer. And “by talking about affordable beer” I mean talking about what someone else has said about affordable beer. About affordable good, tasty beer.

In fact, let me just quote that someone else, who from hereon in I will call Kevin---chiefly because that is Kevin McLellan’s name. So let’s talk about good beer value, and New Zealand’s best value beer: and Kevin’s detailed, meticulous, rigorous study of this critically important subject.

I enjoy drinking quality beer [says Kevin]. That doesn't mean that I need beer brewed by a silent Belgium monk and costs as much as a pint of saffron… I need to pay the mortgage and I need to know that the beer in my fridge is value for money.
    So how do I know that I'm getting value for money? Up until now it has been calculated on-the-fly based on experience, gut-feel and some badly applied maths. I was having a bit of a slow day recently so I decided to devise the beer value formula. I had no idea how this formula would work. All I knew is that it would need to prove that Epic Pale Ale is the best value beer that money can buy in New Zealand…
    I worked out a standard cost - $per/100ml – … [and] added a new column to show the Ratebeer overall score. Seeing that Epic scored 97/100 and Heineken 7/100 I knew I was onto something. Now for the formula - I simply divided the Ratebeer score by the cost. The result of this division is effectively how much quality is bought with every dollar spent.

A good start. And what he found—Hallelujah!—is at least half-a-dozen easily available, good value, tasty bottled beers to help the daily restocking of your fridge, with the aforementioned Epic Pale Ale (which took no manipulation whatsoever to achieve top spot with a score of 95.1) and Little Creatures Pale Ale, 82.4, on top spot, and Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black (co-brewed by former NOT PC beer columnist Stu) holding up third place with a score of 77.0.

And with shops full of Coopers’ Sparkling Ale (65.6) and Original Pale Ale, and a new local $2.50 “craft” beer hitting the shops since Kevin’s definitive, scientific, peer-reviewed study, there’s no shortage of ways to keep your fridge fully stocked.

It’s summer. So why not start your restocking this afternoon?

PS: My own beer of choice over our holiday break was fill-your-own flagons of Leigh Sawmill Pale Ale, collected regularly direct from the brewer. Good value with a score of 76.1—and, if you’re in Auckland, available in fill-your-own flagons at the Herne Bay Cellars in Jervois Road.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

“Let them eat bonds!” Before they eat themselves.

Despite conventional wisdom, government bonds are not a good investment. The endgame for government bonds is either default or default—either outright default or default by central bank-created inflation.

And as the Euro crisis (really a govt debt crisis) plays out, it’s clear enough that endgame is coming soon.

“The government bond market is still skating on thin ice,’ says Detlev Schlicter, and with it “the entire financial system.”

Read about it here at Detlev’s ‘Paper Money Collapse’ blog.

And learn about his thesis here, in his recent talk to London’s Adam Smith Institute, described by 'Libertarian Home’s Andy Janes as “very impressive, if terrifying.”

He argues that the present financial crisis is far from over; generally misunderstood and misrepresented, it is far from being a ‘crisis of capitalism’. Detlev traces the history of failure of paper money systems and lays out why present policies pursued by various governments and institutions are misdirected and counterproductive.

Thank Galt for warming, eh.

A reader (thanks Greg) has spotted the warmists’ latest spin, trumpeted by no less than their favourite outlet the BBC.

They are now not trying to hide the decline [notes Greg]. In fact they admit that things are getting colder--but now the spin is that global warming [sic] is slowing down an ice age. This is somewhat like Obama claiming that while unemployment under his watch has sky-rocketed under his administration, it would have been worse if not for him.

So now that the warmists’ religion is collapsing under patently transparent nonsense, what’s going to replace it as the chief weapon in the anti-industrialists armory?


‘Body and Soul’

Could this be the greatest jazz solo of all time? The good folks at Jazz on the Tube sure think so.

Coleman Hawkins, ‘Body and Soul’

Monday, 9 January 2012

Ron Paul

I’ve had to discuss Ron Paul frequently over the holiday break. Not because I brought him up. For some reason, friends wanted to talk about him. Here below are links saying a little of what I tried to say about him in response, summarised by those more knowledgeable about the subject than I.

Short summary? Ron Paul is not a libertarian. He

  • rejects the Jeffersonian principle of a "wall of separation" between religion and government;
  • is anti-immigration (“to the right of most Republicans” says Vodka Pundit Steve Green);
  • is anti-abortion (Paul describes "the rights of unborn people” [sic] as “the greatest moral issue of our time," and "abortion on demand" as "the ultimate State tyranny");
  • “plays footsie” with racists and kooks;
  • is a hypocritical supporter of pork-barrel earmarks for his own congressional district;
  • is opposed to free-trade agreements (like NAFTA); and
  • is appallingly “blame-America-first” on  foreign policy.

In addition, he is a Creationist—a point of view disqualifying the holder from intelligent discussion of, well, virtually everything.

In short, then, and to repeat, he is not a libertarian: he is a “states-rights” religious conservative, with all the intellectual confusion that implies—yet his growing public prominence as a self-proclaimed spokesman for the ideas of liberty gives grave concern for the fate of those ideas.

UPDATE:  Clearly, Ron Paul is far from the secular freedom lover many would like him to be. Argues Gus Van Horn,

   he functions as a Trojan horse for the religious right even as he pretends that personal freedom is as obviously good and uncontroversial as breathing on a regular basis. (Personal freedom is good, but this is neither obvious nor uncontroversial.)
So what then about his claims to being a lover of freedom? What exactly is Paul's vision of "a free society"?  On that subject, this Open Letter to Ron Paul is an eye-opener, written by one Duncan Bayne in response to this article by Paul criticising the 1993 BATF & FBI assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco. Says Bayne:
   While I agreed with many of your criticisms of BATF and FBI tactics & strategy, it became apparent to me that your article was not primarily concerned with those criticisms: the main thrust of the article was to whitewash the monstrous evil committed by David Koresh and his followers. You wrote:
‘The community of faith that once lived at Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, believed the promise of a free society.’
“This is the "community of faith" that sacrificed twelve-year old girls to Koresh so they could serve as his 'wives' - some of whom bore his children. If that level of barbarism - a religious community complicit in the slavery and rape of young girls - represents anything approaching your idea of what is a ‘free society,’ then I don't want you having any say in how society operates.

    Too true. There is no need to defend the barbarism and paedophilia of Koresh’s supporters in order to attack the BATF and FBI goons who killed them. Yet Paul is happy to embrace the barbarity, and in doing so demonstrates the Objectivist argument against irrational libertarianism.  Without a rational philosophical foundation, argue Objectivists, without a decent "philosophical infrastructure," politics becomes a dangerous pursuit of empty words, floating abstractions, and range-of-the-moment compromises. How can you call libertarians allies in freedom, ask hardcore Objectivists, when libertarians such as Ron Paul can't even agree on what the word "freedom" stands for?  And how can you call someone an advocate of freedom at all when their vision of a "free society" apparently includes the the freedom to rape twelve-year-old girls?

It's clear, just as Van Horn charges, that freedom is neither obvious nor uncontroversial. In fact, personal freedom can and does (and must) be predicated on the base of reason, not of subjective whim.  As Michael Berliner points out in this article on Ayn Rand,

    She understood that to defend the individual she must penetrate to the root: his need to use reason to survive. ‘I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism,’ she wrote in 1971, ‘but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.’ This radical view put her at odds with conservatives, whom she vilified for their attempts to base capitalism on faith and altruism. Advocating a government to protect the individual's right to his property, she was not a liberal (or an anarchist). Advocating the indispensability of philosophy, she was not a libertarian.
The point could hardly be clearer. Van Horn concludes:
   The fight for freedom is, as I have pointed out, a war on two fronts: the political and the intellectual. Of the two, the intellectual is the more fundamental, and cannot be lost. The longer enemies to freedom like Ron Paul can masquerade as friends, the longer it will take for people to become aware of the actual requirements for a society that respects individual rights.

That he can masquerade as a friend to freedom at all demonstrates how far the intellectual battle for freedom still needs to travel.

Because the harsh fact about Ron Paul is that on the few occasions he takes off the tinfoil hat and talks Austrian he’s damn good. But when he’s wearing the tinfoil headwear, as he does the rest of the time, he’s rotten.

Why Wikipedia doesn’t make money

Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales explains why making money isn’t his primary goal—to the surprise of those who think it should be for an Objectivist.

[Hat tip Diana Hsieh, who Jimmy quotes in his Ford Hall Forum speech]

Welcome back

Welcome back everyone.

How was your holiday?

Mine was a beauty.

And thanks for asking.

So what’s been happening with everyone?

“Balloon Race,” by David Knowles


“Balloon Race” by Wairarapa artist David Knowles is posted this morning to mark the tragic accident over the weekend—and to remind us of the spirit that animates the sport, and produces this sort of spectacle.

Let the tragedy not destroy it.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Your pocket guide to festive drinking

Observed Alexander Pope, “Drink is the feast of reason and the flow of soul.”

So drink sensibly this Festive Season, i.e., start early, then lash yourself securely to a bar.

And tell the wowsers to go to hell. It’s what hell was invented for. For wowsers.  For wowsers who try to deliver “Good News” like this:

_Quote_IdiotIf any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife,
and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he
cannot be my disciple.--[Luke 14:26]

Because even if this was his birthday (which it isn’t) that’s not someone whose disciple you’d want to be, or something you’d want to celebrate. Ever.

At Christmas time we don't say "sacrifice and repent," we say enjoy yourself and thrive! Especially enjoyable when you know  Islamic "scholars" find "saying Merry Christmas worse than fornication or killing someone."  So hold your drinks high, shout loudly “Merry Christmas and a Salacious Saturnalia,” and celebrate the Season as a time of unabashed earthly joy.

Because it’s entirely self-evident that flourishing and being happy about it is good for you.

So as Tom Waits once said, “Champagne for my real friends, and real pain for my sham friends.” Here’s the Champagne Song from Die Fledermaus to get you started with the appropriate toast: “It’s not how much you drink, it’s what you drink.  A toast to King Champagne!” (Kiri’s toast starts about 2:00 in.)

And here’s the drinking song from Verdi’s Otello, sung by an unusually ebullient bunch of Laplanders*. The loose translation is ‘Wet Your Throat,’ but you hardly need an ace translator to work out what they’re singing about.

* Well, almost. Finland is pretty close, right?

Books, books, books, books…

I’ve been trying to limit my pile of holiday reading this year.


I thought reading books on my iPad would help reduce the stack. But I suspect I’ve overdone it again.


So what’s on your holiday reading list this year?

Monday, 19 December 2011

Vaclav Havel (1936-2011)


THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT HISTORICAL event of the last fifty years was the collapse of Communism, and with it the liberation of hundreds of millions from slavery.

One of the most important figureheads in that fall died last night: Vaclav Havel, dissident playwright, Velvet Revolutionary, the first president of the free Czechoslovakia he and his colleagues wrested from the Soviets, and the man who successfully guided the Czech Republic from communism to relative freedom.

His story is as inspiring as his understanding that authoritarianism can never last; that the collapse was inevitable; that authoritarian rule is inevitably the victim of a "lethal principle" that will always destroy it:

"Life cannot be destroyed for good," he wrote in a widely-circulated samizdat letter in the last years of Soviet rule. “A secret streamlet trickles on beneath the heavy crust of inertia and pseudo-events, slowly and inconspicuously undermining it. It may be a long process, but one day it has to happen: the crust can no longer hold and starts to crack. This is the moment when something once more begins visibly to happen, something new and unique."

HAVEL—PLAYWRIGHT, POET, MAGAZINE editor and a dissident against totalitarian rule since the mid-sixties—led the 1989 ‘Velvet Revolution’ which overturned the Communist government of Czechoslovakia, and remained as President of the new country until he retired.

The Velvet Revolution was a revolution of ideas - ideas that in the end saw the Communists concede rather than confront them; Havel won with his principles, which he developed in his many battles to beat the Bolshevik bastards back. He and his supporters were regarded as a major threat by the communists not because of their numbers, but because of what they said. More particularly, the communist government knew that when Havel said something, HE MEANT IT.

Vaclav Havel had no intention of ending up in his country’s presidential palace; it was his fight to keep his own magazine, Tvar, alive and un-banned that got him involved in politics, but the way he fought eventually brought down a government. His fight was based on ideas, it was based on principle, and it required an almost ineffable patience.

Havel learnt a crucial lesson in the power of principle very early in his career. He learned to never rely on the “moderates”—that it is these creatures who are your biggest enemies; it is them who will knife you in the back while smiling.  He learned this when he was sold out by his own fellow writers and imprisoned; sold out by souls so cowardly, so in thrall to the Soviets - so craven - that they would rather die on their knees than even give thought to the notion of standing up for their own freedom. Havel and his supporters learnt then that if they were ever to achieve anything they must stand up for themselves. They did, and eventually they won their country.

Two years before the ‘Velvet Revolution’ there were no outward signs that his years of struggle would ever have any tangible effect, yet Havel remained adamant that the struggle was worth it; he was convinced that totalitarianism contained within it a ‘lethal principle’ which would eventually kill it.  He described this principle in a illicit ‘samizdat’ essay widely-circulated in the desolate years after the Soviets had crushed the Prague Spring

[Havel] described a society governed by fear - not the cold, pit-of-the-stomach terror that Stalin had once spread throughout his empire, but a dull, existential fear that seeped into every crack and crevice of daily life and made one think twice about everything one said and did.
The essay was, in fact, a state of the union message, and it contained an unforgettable metaphor: the regime, the author said, was "entropic," a force that was gradually reducing the vital energy, diversity, and unpredictability of Czechoslovak society to a state of dull, inert uniformity. And the letter also contained a remarkable prediction: that sooner or later, this regime would become the victim of its own "lethal principle." "Life cannot be destroyed for good," [Havel] wrote. “A secret streamlet trickles on beneath the heavy crust of inertia and pseudo-events, slowly and inconspicuously undermining it. It may be a long process, but one day it has to happen: the crust can no longer hold and starts to crack. This is the moment when something once more begins visibly to happen, something new and unique." *

"Life cannot be destroyed for good." Fifteen years after Havel wrote those words in a samizdat pamphlet those streamlets burst forth, sweeping away communist regimes from Berlin to Bucharest and carrying the playwright Vaclav Havel from the ghetto of dissent to the world stage. Those extraordinary events of 1990 enrich that letter with new levels of meaning.

HAVEL FIRST BECAME INVOLVED in political resistance in the mid-sixties in his efforts simply to survive; to keep alive his small literary magazine, Tvar, in the face of pressure from the Communist Party to close it down. In resisting, he discovered what he called "a new model of behaviour":

When arguing with a center of power, don't get sidetracked into vague [nitpicking] debates about who is right or wrong; fight for specific, concrete things, and be prepared to stick to your guns to the end.

That model of principled behaviour served him well:

On Tuesday morning, November 28,1989, Havel led a delegation of the Civic Forum to negotiate with the Communist- dominated government. The issue was not a magazine this time, it was the country. Ten days before that, the "Velvet Revolution" had been set in motion by a student demonstration in Prague; that was followed by a week of massive demonstrations culminating. in a general strike on Monday, November 27. Early Tuesday afternoon, following the meeting, the government announced that it had agreed to write the leading role of the Communist Party out of the constitution. We do not know what was said at the meeting, but I don't think we would be far wrong to assume that the discussion stayed very close to the concrete issue of amending the constitution, and that the Civic Forum delegation stuck to their guns. A principle that Havel and his colleagues had learned decades before now stood them in good stead.

By the end of that month, Havel was President of the country in a process that readers of Atlas Shrugged could easily recognise. The battle begun simply to save Havel’s magazine had ended by saving the people of Czechoslovakia.

Yet he recounts how he began this battle simply by resisting pressure from his local 'Writers Union' to 'persuade' him to close the magazine. He quickly realised that his real enemies were not the Soviets. His real enemies were all those who Lenin had once called his ‘useful idiots’ – all those like the Writers' Union who are prepared to compromise with their enemies and to sell out their friends - supposed allies who, in accepting servitude for themselves, happily impose it on others.

In the end though and despite his resistance, [the banning of Tvar] became more and more inevitable. The Central Committee of the Union had to make it appear as though they were doing it on their own initiative, but in fact they were ordered to do it by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Left to themselves, the anti-dogmatics [as the wowsers were descriptively called] would not have banned us, but we weren't worth a rebellion inside the party so they did it anyway. Of course they explained it to us in their traditional 'anti-dogmatic' way: The struggle for great things - the general liberalization of conditions - demands minor compromises in things that are less important . It would not be tactical to risk an open conflict over Tvar, because there is bigger game at stake [etc., etc]. … This is [the very] model of self-destructive politics. …

We argued that the best way to liberalize conditions is to be uncompromising precisely in those "minor" and "unimportant details, such as the publication of this or that book or this or that little magazine. Our argument was not heard. Nevertheless, a kind of hangover from this experience remained in anti-dogmatic circles. And it began to spread rapidly when we refused to accept their ultimatum silently, and refused to accept the rules of the game as they had played it until then.

Havel and his Tvar team mobilised to defend themselves, organising petitions and meetings amongst their fellow writers, refusing - in Ayn Rand's words - to accept the sanction of the victim. Used to more compliant behaviour from their victims, this unusually principled resistance got under the skin of the Central Committee:

I think our efforts had a great importance, one that has not been recognized, even today. We introduced a new model of behaviour: don't get involved in diffuse … polemics with the centre, to whom numerous concrete causes are always being sacrificed; fight "only" for those concrete causes, and be prepared to fight for them unswervingly, to the end. In other words, don't get mixed up in back-room wheeling and dealing, but play an open game.

I think in this sense we taught our anti-dogmatic colleagues a rather important lesson; … They realized that many of their former methods were hopelessly out of date, that a new and fresher wind was blowing, that there were people - and there would obviously be more and more of them - who would not be stopped in their tracks by the argument that a concrete evil was necessary in the name of an abstract good. In short, I think that Tvar had an educational effect on the anti-dogmatic members of the writing community. Suddenly here was the party taking us, a handful of fellows, more seriously than the entire anti-dogmatic "front." And they were taking us more seriously for the simple reason that we could not be so easily talked out of our convictions.

In 1969, Havel wrote to Alexander Dubcek, the face of the brief 'Prague Spring' before it was crushed by the Soviets, pleading with him to leave political life rather than let himself be used as a propaganda pawn. Dubcek did leave office. Reflecting on that letter seventeen years later, Havel wrote:

I had written that even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance. In this I found, to my own surprise, the very same idea that, having been discovered by many people at the same time, stood behind the birth of Charter 77 and which to this day I am trying - in relation to the Charter and our "dissident activities" - to develop and explain and, in various ways, make more precise.

In an interview two years before the Soviets fell, when from the outside things still seemed apparently hopeless, Havel reflected that years of seemingly hopeless resistance had indeed produced effects, though not ones that everyone would notice :

[Our various actions], of course, have wider consequences. Today far more is possible. Think of this: hundreds of people today are doing things that not a single one of them would have dared to do at the beginning of the seventies. We are now living in a truly new and different situation. This is not because the government has become more tolerant; it has simply had to get used o the new situation. It has had to yield to continuing pressure from below, which means pressure from all those apparently suicidal or exhibitionistic civic acts. People who are used to seeing society only 'from above" tend to be impatient. They want to see immediate results. Anything that does not produce immediate results seems foolish. They don't have a lot of sympathy for acts which can only be [practically] evaluated years after they take place, which are motivated by moral factors, and which therefore run the risk of never accomplishing anything. …

Unfortunately, we live in conditions where improvement is often achieved [only] by actions that risk remaining forever in the memory of humanity [as] an exhibitionistic act of desperate people.

Havel, reflects that it is the sum total of these many 'hopeless acts' of 'exhibitionism' that in the end force change; that only by not lying down in the face of an apparently hopeless struggle are these crucial and very tangible victories achieved:

To many outside observers [the many small victories of principled action] may seem insignificant. Where are your ten-million strong trade unions? they may ask. Where are your members of parliament? Why does [the President] not negotiate with you? Why is the government not considering your proposals and acting on them? But for someone from here who is not completely indifferent, these [small signs] are far from insignificant changes; they are the main promise of the future, since he has long ago learned not to expect it from anywhere else.

I can't resist concluding with a question of my own. Isn't the reward of all those small but hopeful signs of movement this deep, inner hope that is not dependent on prognoses, and which was the primordial point of departure in this unequal struggle? Would so many of those small hopes have "come out" if there had not been this great hope "within," this hope without which it is impossible to live in dignity and meaning, much less find the will for the "hopeless enterprise" which stands at the beginning of most good things.

Freedom lovers everywhere might reflect on Havel’s words, and his experience. We must sometimes seem to be such an apparently "hopeless enterprise" as he describes, engaged in a doomed an unequal struggle.

But we can learn from Havel that such an apparently "hopeless enterprise" can eventually ignite success. As he suggests, if our own actions are to ever become "the beginning of … good things" we must always let our hope "within" motivate us to action.

We must realise we ourselves are the change we hope to make in the world; that our ostensive enemies are really only paper tigers supported by nothing but lies; that our real enemies are the inertia of thousands with heads full of mush, and our so-called friends with nothing in their souls but marshmallow.

Havel himself had to spend four years in jail before his battle was won. Little wonder. Power does not concede without a struggle. As former American slave Frederick Douglass said, struggling for freedom in the century before Havel’s: " The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle! "

The struggle for freedom goes on, its path lit by heroes like Douglass and Havel.

We mourn the loss of Vaclav Havel, and celebrate his life.

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* Quotes are from the book Disturbing the Peace.