Friday, 30 November 2012

Leveson, Dear Lord!

“I can’t believe a great democracy like ours is questioning
the need for a free press—it is a fundamental pillar of it.”

   - Dr Liam Fox, UK MP, tweeting his response to the Leveson Inquiry

"Leveson has recommended legislation to "protect press
freedom,” although he doesn't identify what threatens it.
Typically, the number one threat to press freedom, is legislation."
- Liberty Scott, “What you need to know about Leveson

In the wake of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry into the British press, into media ‘culture and ethics, into telephone hacking and press intrusions into politicians' privacy, the birthplace of the Enlightenment sense of freedom is about to contemplate, for the first time since the first Elizabethan era, stifling the freedom of speech with legislation--in retribution against acts that were already against the law--criminal acts--when the members of the press did them.

“In the war of words around the Leveson report,” says Mick Hume at Spiked, “too many on all sides have accepted the myth that the UK press is too free and must be tamed.”

The truth is however that the press is neither free nor open enough, even before a new regulator is appointed to wash its mouth out with soap…
    You can use whatever inoffensive-sounding weasel words you choose – statutory backdrop / underpinning / recognition etc. – but a law to regulate the press still means more state intervention in a supposedly free press by any other name.
    A statute compelling newspapers to sign up to a new regulator would look like a modern version of state licensing of the press. That system dictated that nothing could be published without the permission of the Crown. People went to the Tower and the gallows to fight for a free press until licensing was ended in 1694…
    The danger is not crude censorship or an ‘Orwellian nightmare’ of government-controlled newspapers.
    The threat is more insidious: that the shadow of state intervention and the consensus on the need for tougher regulation leaves us with a more conformist, tamer and sanitised press. The mission of the Leveson Inquiry has been to purge the press of that which is not to the taste of those who consider ‘popular’ a dirty word. A conformist culture of ‘You can’t say THAT’ is the biggest threat to press freedom after Leveson, whatever new system of regulation is finally agreed.

That sort of stale conformity has far too much hold here in EnZed. I’d hate to see it further infect Britain’s rambunctious broadsheets and tabloids.

    The [British] press is already far too unfree, hemmed in by dozens of restraining laws and by informal self-censorship. A top editor has warned of an ‘ice age’ for investigative journalism even before a new regulator is imposed. What we need is more diversity, boldness and troublemaking in the press. The last thing required is another policeman, state-uniformed or not, looking over the shoulders of journalists and editors…
    In the post-Leveson debate, almost everybody will begin by stating that of course they support press freedom, before adding the now-obligatory ‘But…’ of one sort or another. It is time we raised the banner for free speech and a free press, with no buts.


Thursday, 29 November 2012


By Frederic Bastiat.

[From "That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen," 1850]

imageIn all times, but more especially of late years, attempts have been made to extend wealth by the extension of credit.

I believe it is no exaggeration to say, that since the revolution of February, the Parisian presses have issued more than 10,000 pamphlets, crying up this solution of the social problem.

The only basis, alas, of this solution, is an optical delusion — if, indeed, an optical delusion can be called a basis at all.

The first thing done is to confuse cash with produce, then paper money with cash; and from these two confusions it is pretended that a reality can be drawn.

It is absolutely necessary in this question to forget money, coin, bills, and the other instruments by means of which productions pass from hand to hand. Our business is with the productions themselves, which are the real objects of the loan; for when a farmer borrows fifty francs to buy a plow, it is not, in reality, the fifty francs which are lent to him, but the plow; and when a merchant borrows 20,000 francs to purchase a house, it is not the 20,000 francs which he owes, but the house. Money only appears for the sake of facilitating the arrangements between the parties.

Peter may not be disposed to lend his plow, but James may be willing to lend his money. What does William do in this case? He borrows money of James, and with this money he buys the plow of Peter.

But, in point of fact, no one borrows money for the sake of the money itself; money is only the medium by which to obtain possession of productions. Now, it is impossible in any country to transmit from one person to another more productions than that country contains.

Whatever may be the amount of cash and of paper which is in circulation, the whole of the borrowers cannot receive more plows, houses, tools, and supplies of raw material, than the lenders altogether can furnish; for we must take care not to forget that every borrower supposes a lender, and that what is once borrowed implies a loan.

This granted, what advantage is there in institutions of credit? It is that they facilitate, between borrowers and lenders, the means of finding and treating with each other; but it is not in their power to cause an instantaneous increase of the things to be borrowed and lent. And yet they ought to be able to do so, if the aim of the reformers is to be attained, since they aspire to nothing less than to place plows, houses, tools, and provisions in the hands of all those who desire them.

And how do they intend to effect this?

By making the state security for the loan.

Let us try and fathom the subject, for it contains something which is seen, and also something which is not seen. We must endeavour to look at both.

We will suppose that there is but one plow in the world, and that two farmers apply for it.

Peter is the possessor of the only plow which is to be had in France; John and James wish to borrow it. John, by his honesty, his property, and good reputation, offers security. He inspires confidence; he has credit. James inspires little or no confidence. It naturally happens that Peter lends his plow to John.

But now, according to the Socialist plan, the state interferes, and says to Peter, "Lend your plow to James, I will be security for its return, and this security will be better than that of John, for he has no one to be responsible for him but himself; and I, although it is true that I have nothing, dispose of the fortune of the taxpayers, and it is with their money that, in case of need, I shall pay you the principal and interest." Consequently, Peter lends his plow to James: this is what is seen.

And the socialists rub their hands, and say, "See how well our plan has answered. Thanks to the intervention of the state, poor James has a plow. He will no longer be obliged to dig the ground; he is on the road to make a fortune. It is a good thing for him, and an advantage to the nation as a whole."

Indeed, it is no such thing; it is no advantage to the nation, for there is something behind which is not seen.

It is not seen, that the plow is in the hands of James, only because it is not in those of John.

It is not seen, that if James farms instead of digging, John will be reduced to the necessity of digging instead of farming.

That, consequently, what was considered an increase of loan, is nothing but a displacement of loan. Besides, it is not seen that this displacement implies two acts of deep injustice.

It is an injustice to John, who, after having deserved and obtained credit by his honesty and activity, sees himself robbed of it.

It is an injustice to the taxpayers, who are made to pay a debt which is no concern of theirs.

Will anyone say, that government offers the same facilities to John as it does to James? But as there is only one plow to be had, two cannot be lent. The argument always maintains that, thanks to the intervention of the state, more will be borrowed than there are things to be lent; for the plow represents here the bulk of available capitals.

It is true, I have reduced the operation to the most simple expression of it, but if you submit the most complicated government institutions of credit to the same test, you will be convinced that they can have but one result; viz., to displace credit, not to augment it. In one country, and in a given time, there is only a certain amount of capital available, and all are employed. In guaranteeing the nonpayers, the state may, indeed, increase the number of borrowers, and thus raise the rate of interest (always to the prejudice of the taxpayer), but it has no power to increase the number of lenders, and the importance of the total of the loans.

There is one conclusion, however, which I would not for the world be suspected of drawing. I say, that the law ought not to favour, artificially, the power of borrowing, but I do not say that it ought not to restrain them artificially. If, in our system of mortgage, or in any other, there be obstacles to the diffusion of the application of credit, let them be got rid of; nothing can be better or more just than this. But this is all which is consistent with liberty, and it is all that any who are worthy of the name of reformers will ask.

Exam question of the day: On America’s lost decade

America grew up under an ethic of self-reliance.  It now revels in an ethic representing precisely the opposite.


For your examination question today, discuss whether or not such a situation is sustainable.

[Pic from Zero Hedge. Hat tip Keith W.]

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Quote of the Day: Whose happiness matters?

“‎Why is it moral to serve the happiness of others, but not your own?
If enjoyment is a value, why is it moral when experienced by others,
but immoral when experienced by you? If the sensation of eating a
cake is a value, why is it an immoral indulgence in your stomach, but
a moral goal for you to achieve in the stomach of others? Why is it
immoral for you to desire, but moral for others to do so? Why is it
immoral to produce a value and keep it, but moral to give it away? And if
it is not moral for you to keep a value, why is it moral for others to accept it?”

- Ayn Rand, from “John Galt’s Speech” in Atlas Shrugged

Greens spin fracking report

The Greens called for a Royal Commission on the science behind Genetic Engineering—then demonstrably spat the dummy when the Commission came out overwhelmingly against the luddites. (Because it was never “all about the science.”)

The Greens also demanded “evidence-based policy” to ban fracking, and have come out with spin now the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has looked at the evidence and said “fracking is safe if it is properly regulated and managed.”

Which is to say fracking is safe if property rights are properly recognised and protected.

The Greens want to pretend she didn’t say that however.  The ParlCommish’s report they say “is not a green light for fracking, but a red flag.” And this is a party that will always keep the red flag flying. By lies and spin, if necessary:

* * “The PCE’s report does not say that fracking in New Zealand is safe,” says the Greens’s Gareth Hughes.

Well, yes it does. “Fracking is safe,” says the report, “if it is properly regulated and managed.”

* * “…the report concludes that fracking companies do not have a ‘social license’ to operate and that the regulation is fragmented and light-handed.”

The report concludes that fracking can be managed effectively provided, to quote the Royal Society
of London, “operational best practices are implemented and enforced…”; that “oversight is [presently] complex and fragmented” and (confusingly) at the same time “may be too light-handed”;  and that “if this new industry is to prosper, it needs to earn and maintain its ‘social licence’ to operate,” to earn it in the face of “concerns” that are “many and wide-ranging,” yet as she says herself are unproven.
This is certainly not any sort of libertarian conclusion, but it is subtly different than the one Gareth Hughes is trying to insinuate.  And the ‘social license’ she talks about is simply better public understanding of the technology, in the face of lies and spin from the likes of Gareth.

* * “The PCE has identified numerous ways in which fracking can cause environmental harm…”

Well, it has identified four: location of the well site, design and construction of the well, surface spills and leaks, and waste disposal. All of which, as the PCE recognises, are generally managed by common sense.

** “I believe these are good arguments for a halt until better rules are enacted… That’s why I am renewing my call for a moratorium on fracking…”

Which they are not. But which he was going to do whatever the PCE said…

** “…and urging the Government and councils to take a safety-first approach until we have strong regulations in place to ensure the health of people and the environment.”

…which regulations he will never every agree would be sufficient.

* * “Kiwis are right to be concerned about fracking’s environmental impact,” Hughes continues. “What we’ve seen of fracking with less than 100 well sites in New Zealand, mostly in Taranaki, doesn’t provide much confidence in the status quo.  We’ve seen fracking jobs being done without specific consent, returned fracking fluids dumped in a local stream in Southland, groundwater and soil contamination from storing fluids in unlined earthen pits, shallow fracking and fracking close to aquifers that increases the risk of water contamination, flaring of gas and fracking fluids from ground-level pits … and lack of scrutiny and transparency of fracking chemicals.”

Let’s be clear, these are genuine objections, but not one of them is unique to fracking—and nor are any of them fatal to it.  All of them essentially amount to problems of waste disposal—problems that are all easily managed by proper protection of property rights through common law, i.e., the same sort of protection that for several-hundred years, before statute law came along, stopped anyone legally dumping waste over your fence.

And notice that he’s not bothered to mention the alleged impact of fracking on earthquakes, presumably because even the ParlCommish is only prepared to allow a risk of “very tiny” localised earthquakes. And that her mention of risk to aquifers being “very real” is also made in the context of waste disposal—not of fracking itself. Because as the commissioner of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency admitted to Congress recently, after over sixty years of fracking in continental America, “"I'm not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water…"

“"I'm not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water."–Lisa Jackson

So in summary, the objections of the Greens’s Gareth Hughes to the report hold up to any scrutiny. As a commenter said in response to Gareth: “You called for an inquiry. You said wait for the outcome of the inquiry. It doesn’t go your way, so you renew your call for a moratorium… So much for evidence-based decision making.”

The commissioner said fracking is safe and should continue. His objections to that are spin, pure and simple.

The same can be said about his conclusion:

Renewable energy will always be cleaner and safer than fracking [he says] and is a better future for New Zealand.

Not only does this not follow, not only is it utterly unproven, so-called “renewable energy” does not really even produce real energy. Which is why the Greens like it so much—and why they oppose any form of genuine energy production: because without energy our industrial civilisation could not survive, and it is our industrial civilisation they are really against.

Here’s Anne McElhinney:


Berkeley’s Hobbit

If a film premiere is held in Wellington for which I don’t care, should it make a sound on this blog?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

“Fracking Amazing” [updated]

This afternoon the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment releases her report on fracking in New Zealand, to the certain howling and wailing of all the usual suspects [UPDATE: Fracking is safe, says ParlCommish], so I figured it was time for a re-post...

Councils around the country have been declaring themselves “Frack Free Zones.”

What the hell?

The declarations by councils from Hawkes Bay, Waimakariri, Kaikoura, Selwyn and Christchurch (don’t they have more important things to do in Christchurch?)—now joined by one from Dunedin—comes ahead of a report on fracking by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright which the cardiganned councillors hope will … do something.

So what is fracking, and why all the controversy?

Fracking is a means of extracting oil and gas by injecting high-pressure quantities of water, steam and sand into deep wells, creating sufficient hydraulic pressure to fracture the rock and release the hydrocarbons stored within. Writing seventy years ago in Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand describes her fictional oil tycoon Ellis Wyatt, who had discovered how to produce oil from shale:

It was as if somebody had given a shot of adrenalin to the heart of the mountain, the heart had started pumping, the black blood had burst through the rocks… because blood is supposed to feed, to give life, and that is what Wyatt Oil had done.

The oil and gas produced is the lifeblood of productive activity. Shale gas production across the US for example, where it was first developed, has in the last six years begun extracting a Saudi Arabia’s worth of gas, now accounting for at least 14 percent of U.S. natural gas supply—doing all sorts of good things for total gas supply and gas prices. And since it’s obvious you can’t run cars, home heating and air-conditioning on just smiles and sunshine, and we have plenty of the stuff in the ground here in NZ that could produce both ample gas and abundant jobs ("Washington County, south of Pittsburgh, for example, is currently the third-fastest job creator in the US as a result of the Marcellus Shale development”), you’ d think the technology would be universally embraced. But it’s not.

So why is it so controversial?

Well, it’s supposed to risk contaminating water aquifers and maybe cause minor earthquakes.

These graphs below derived from field images gives you an idea of the distance between aquifers (solid blue, along the top) and induced hydraulic fractures (coloured lines much lower down):

imageJust for the record, the graphs show a gap of thousands of feet.

The evidence for earthquakes is equally distant.  Look again at that graph above. Drilling for fracking only goes around 1 to 2km deep (around 5,000 to 10,00 feet). Hard to see how this could affect tectonic plates that are around six kilometres to two-hundred kilometres in thickness. Little wonder then that Bill Ellsworth, lead author of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, has said on the record

he is confident that hydraulic fracturing — a process in use since 1947 — is not responsible for earthquake trends that his team has observed….
    [Further, the US] National Research Council's report unequivocally states that "the process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events."

See that word “unequivocally”?

So why the protests?  Why are the new anti-fracking badges worn next to the enviro-left’s faded CND and ant-GE badges?
imageWell, turns out it’s not just the enviro-left who’ve been protesting this one. (Can you guess why?)


But the enviro-left protests have been less about science and causality than they have been about something else, which is a failure to acknowledge or even to recognise that while there are risks with every new technology and any new form of production—and caution clearly needed—human survival and flourishing is utterly dependent on our ability to produce.

imageBut these protestors protest every new technology, regardless of risk, especially and new technology that allowed energy to be created in the vast quantities needed to keep our industrial civilisation flourishing.

What could motivate such opposition to new technology? Ayn Rand had the answer forty years ago in her analysis of the green movement back then:

The dinosaur and its fellow-creatures vanished from this earth long before there were any industrialists or any men . . . . But this did not end life on earth. Contrary to the ecologists, nature does not stand still and does not maintain the kind of “equilibrium” that guarantees the survival of any particular species—least of all the survival of her greatest and most fragile product: man.
Now observe that in all the propaganda of the ecologists—amidst all their appeals to nature and pleas for “harmony with nature”—there is no discussion of man’s needs and the requirements of his survival. Man is treated as if he were an unnatural phenomenon. Man cannot survive in the kind of state of nature that the ecologists envision—i.e., on the level of sea urchins or polar bears . . . .
In order to survive, man has to discover and produce everything he needs, which means that he has to alter his background and adapt it to his needs. Nature has not equipped him for adapting himself to his background in the manner of animals. From the most primitive cultures to the most advanced civilizations, man has had to manufacture things; his well-being depends on his success at production. The lowest human tribe cannot survive without that alleged source of pollution: fire. It is not merely symbolic that fire was the property of the gods which Prometheus brought to man. The ecologists are the new vultures swarming to extinguish that fire.
Without machines and technology, the task of mere survival is a terrible, mind-and-body-wrecking ordeal. In “nature,” the struggle for food, clothing and shelter consumes all of a man’s energy and spirit; it is a losing struggle—the winner is any flood, earthquake or swarm of locusts. (Consider the 500,000 bodies left in the wake of a single flood in Pakistan; they had been men who lived without technology.) To work only for bare necessities is a luxury that mankind cannot afford.
City smog and filthy rivers are not good for men (though they are not the kind of danger that the ecological panic-mongers proclaim them to be). This is a scientific, technological problem—not a political one—and it can be solved only by technology. Even if smog were a risk to human life, we must remember that life in nature, without technology, is wholesale death.
An Asian peasant who labors through all of his waking hours, with tools created in Biblical times—a South American aborigine who is devoured by piranha in a jungle stream—an African who is bitten by the tsetse fly—an Arab whose teeth are green with decay in his mouth—these do live with their “natural environment,” but are scarcely able to appreciate its beauty. Try to tell a Chinese mother, whose child is dying of cholera: “Should one do everything one can? Of course not.” Try to tell a Russian housewife, who trudges miles on foot in sub-zero weather in order to spend hours standing in line at a state store dispensing food rations, that America is defiled by shopping centers, expressways and family cars.
In Western Europe, in the preindustrial Middle Ages, man’s life expectancy was 30 years. In the nineteenth century, Europe’s population grew by 300 percent—which is the best proof of the fact that for the first time in human history, industry gave the great masses of people a chance to survive.
If it were true that a heavy concentration of industry is destructive to human life, one would find life expectancy declining in the more advanced countries. But it has been rising steadily. Here are the figures on life expectancy in the United States (from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company):
    1900 47.3 years
    1920 53 years
    1940 60 years
    1968 70.2 years (the latest figures compiled)
Anyone over 30 years of age today, give a silent “Thank you” to the nearest, grimiest, sootiest smokestacks you can find.
If you consider, not merely the length, but the kind of life men have to lead in the undeveloped parts of the world—“the quality of life,” to borrow, with full meaning, the ecologists’ meaningless catch phrase—if you consider the squalor, the misery, the helplessness, the fear, the unspeakably hard labor, the festering diseases, the plagues, the starvation, you will begin to appreciate the role of technology in man’s existence.
Make no mistake about it: it is technology and progress that the nature-lovers are out to destroy. To quote again from the Newsweek survey: “What worries ecologists is that people now upset about the environment may ultimately look to technology to solve everything . . . .” This is repeated over and over again; technological solutions, they claim, will merely create new problems.
Whom and what are [the ecological crusaders] attacking? It is not the luxuries of the “idle rich,” but the availability of “luxuries” to the broad masses of people. They are denouncing the fact that automobiles, air conditioners and television sets are no longer toys of the rich, but are within the means of an average American worker—a beneficence that does not exist and is not fully believed anywhere else on earth.
What do they regard as the proper life for working people? A life of unrelieved drudgery, of endless, gray toil, with no rest, no travel, no pleasure—above all, no pleasure. Those drugged, fornicating hedonists do not know that man cannot live by toil alone, that pleasure is a necessity, and that television has brought more enjoyment into more lives than all the public parks and settlement houses combined.
What do they regard as luxury? Anything above the “bare necessities” of physical survival—with the explanation that men would not have to labor so hard if it were not for the “artificial needs” created by “commercialism” and “materialism.” In reality, the opposite is true: the less the return on your labor, the harder the labor. It is much easier to acquire an automobile in New York City than a meal in the jungle.

The only fundamental change in her discussion is the vast and exciting improvements in the last four decades in most of Asia, some of Africa, and parts of the Middle East—i..e, in the places that have embraced or begun to embrace the science, technology and freedom the fashionable west is now imploring us to abandon—that have pulled people out of the misery she describes.

But the fashionable west would rather ignore that, as it wishes to ignore most of the facts that underpin their own survival and flourishing.  Here’s Sean and Yoko Lennon, for example—“an old woman, whose longevity has been extended by oil-and-gas-based agriculture and oil-derived medicine, whose appearance is preserved by oil-based makeup, wearing plastic (oil) glasses, a shiny (oil-coated) hat, and clothes grown using natural gas fertilizers and oil-powered farm equipment, holding a plastic (oil-based) globe…performing in an extravagant building and auditorium could only be built by oil-powered machinery, the building’s massive power consumption likely powered by a natural gas power plant, as is the subway that brought some of the guests to the New York show; the rest certainly got there by oil-based vehicles”—completely dependent for their own lavish lifestyles, just like the members of their audience, on the technology they’re there to protest.

What wallies. The whole performance is virtually a tribute to fracking for oil and natural gas.  Fracking is your mother, darlings.

In fact, as Alex Epstein of the Center for Industrial Progress explains to a class of students, fracking is Fracking Amazing.

I’m sure, like me, Alex is looking forward with delight to the new film by Phelim McAleer and Anne McElhinney, Frack Nation:

The High Cost of Invention Theft

Guest post by Dale Halling 

Edwin Armstrong is the inventor of FM radio, the Regeneration receiver, Super Regeneration, Superheterodyne, and much else.  This creative genius’s life was however wasted fighting RCA, who blatantly stole his patents for FM, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who arbitrarily moved the FM radio range from 44-50 MHz to 88-108 MHz (where it is today) just to destroy the network of radio stations Armstrong had built up. 

If not for this arbitrary decision, Channel 1 on U.S. TV would be at 44-50MHz. This is why Channel 1 does not exist. 

The failure of the government to protect property rights and the arbitrary power given the FCC kept all of us from enjoying FM radio decades earlier, arbitrarily destroyed the investment of hundreds of people, and diverted Armstrong from inventing—which undoubtedly deprived us of other great inventions. 

Edwin Armstrong's struggle encapsulates everything that is wrong with the United States today.

Here is a great article on this genius of radio communications: Edwin Howard Armstrong (1890 to 1954).

Of course the anti-patent crowd does not believe in genius, at least in the technical arts.  Economists argue that someone would of come up with these inventions because of market demand.  (How? Somehow?) This is absurd. First of all there is no “market demand” for something that does not exist. (Did you know you wanted an iPad before Steve Jobs invented it?) Second, all macroeconomic evidence shows that in the absence of property rights for inventions, technological change is glacially slow and mankind falls back into the Malthusian Trap.

This is not somewhere we want to travel.

Dale Halling is an American patent attorney and entrepreneur, and the author of the book The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws are Killing Innovation.
Read his regular thoughts at his
State of Innovation blog.

Pump it up

News this morning that the local stock market is at a five-year high.

News has been everywhere for at least the last year that housing prices are running rampant again.

And all this in an economy as flat as a morning after the night before.

Don’t you think it’s inevitable that pumping the money supply at the rate of 5 to16.55% per year will see it increasingly slop over into share and housing markets?

Don’t you think that as long as we do have a Reserve Bank meddling with the money supply, that perhaps it’s time share and house prices were included in the Consumer Price Index, against which the Reserve Bank’s performance is measured?

And don’t you think more folk should realise that GDP—that so called measure of “production”—is really only a measure of how much money changes hands, and the more you pump up the money supply the more this figure is being massaged?

Or to use a more appropriate word, faked?

Don’t you?

Here’s Elvis Costello:


Monday, 26 November 2012

Peace in the Middle East?

Peace in the Middle East? Who are you kidding?

It’s not peace, it’s just a ceasefire.

A temporary cessation of hostilities in which Iran can re-arm Hamas with more rockets to fire at civilians, the chatterati can lambast Israel for responding, and Hamas can celebrate “victory” by broadcasting “death to Israel” music on the very day the “ceasefire” began.

In which  a “blockade” still exists, but only on weapons—which Hamas seem to have no problems getting anyway—and there’s a memory black-hole about the border Gaza enjoys abutting Egypt.

In which folk can twitter about “atrocities,” while ignoring those those perpetrated by Hamas—executing people without trial before dragging them through the streets; using women and children and even journalists as human shields for their missile launchers; lobbing rockets day after day into Israeli houses as long as the supplies hold up, regardless of whether Israel’s response is passive or aggressive.

In which folk can pretend Israeli aggression is the only impediment to a permanent peace, and ignore the permanent jihad against Jews called for in Hamas’s charter.

In which they can pretend if Israel didn't exist, all Mideast problems would be solved. (That is the thinking. Or not thinking.)

In which they can ignore that in calling for the destruction of Israel and the genocide of the Jews—for permanent jihad until “even the rocks and trees cry out: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!”—Hamas’s founding charter is itself a virtual declaration of permanent and ongoing war.

Peace in the Middle East?  That will never happen as long as jihadis view women and children and everyone other than themselves as expendable, and as long as their annhilationist charter remains.

Here’s Pat Condell:

GUEST POST: The Skill Set of the Young and Smart

_Jeffrey TuckerGuest post by Jeffrey Tucker of Laissez Faire Books 

The U.S. unemployment rate for 19-24 year olds hasn’t moved much since 2008, and the reality of the tight job market has fully dawned on the young people I’ve spoken with about this. They know that odds are against them and that it takes extra effort to make a go of it following college graduation. They are also aware that this represents a dramatic change from every decade since the end of World War II.
I recall that no one in my college graduating class worried about jobs. They wondered if they were choosing the right profession, whether more degrees were necessary, whether it would be good to move near or far, and that sort of thing. But the notion that we would suddenly find ourselves unemployed for a long time, or even longer than a week, never occurred to us.

Back in the day, young people would graduate college and go on long trips to Europe, follow the Grateful Dead, hang out in the college town for a year with their buddies, or casually do odd jobs until the time seemed right to get serious. We had marketable skills and we knew it. We were the sellers of services and the market was buying. The “land of opportunity” still thrived.
No more.
I’ve observed two general reactions to this among young people. Some let the problem sneak up on them and melt into despair when things don’t go their way. These people have a sense that they did everything right: good schools, decent grades, graduating on time. They sent out hundreds of resumes but got back nothing in return. Now they are living with Mom and Dad, saddled with a terrible debt they can’t pay, and increasingly bitter at the world and contemplating the indignity of a minimum-wage job.
These people followed the rules but the rules betrayed them. Now they blame everyone else. They blame the system, and they are right that they system is rotten. They blame their counselors, and it’s true that older people have been blindsided by this too. They blame the 1%, and there is no question that the system is rigged in favor of the well connected. I completely understand this attitude but there is a problem: it doesn’t actually accomplish anything. Anger, excuses, and protest gets no one any closer toward actually fixing the problem.
What intrigues me more are the students who are refusing to let the problem defeat them. They have seen three classes of graduates leave the college cocoon and face the cruel world, and they have seen who succeeds and fails. Among this group, you will find not panic or worry but a strange calm and confidence that they will be among the minority who will find a good-paying position in their field of choice. Having talked to many of these people over the last year, I’ve discerned the common character traits and skills sets they focus on.

Hard Work. All the students who have confidence about overcoming the odds are extremely busy for school, work, or professional preparations. I’ve met engineering majors (talk about time consuming) who are also cross-country runners who train 3 hours per day, every day. I’ve also met students who are pre-law who work for very low pay at law firms, just as a way of getting experience. Even students who are music majors accept every gig they can.
They take internships when available. They work odd jobs. They rise early and get to bed on time. They don’t take off summers, and the weekends are full of tasks.
These students are preparing themselves for a life of very hard work. They don’t party. They watch what they drink. They avoid personal relationships that threaten to distract and bog them down. They are not members of social fraternities and sororities. Social life is way down the list of priorities. They top priorities are school, grades, work, and making and saving as much money as they can.
All of this matters for the future. The biggest annoyance that employers have is being saddled with a new employee who knows not the meaning of work. They have been through four years of partying and sloth. They long for this to continue...with pay. This is more obvious from a resume than one might think. On the other hand, a student who has references from a wide number of established people who can speak with confidence about a prospective employee’s work ethic overcomes this fear, and has a much better chance going forward.

Technical Skills. At the dawn of the digital age, I looked forward to a time when all young people knew programming skills, could fix their own computers, and had vast literacy in navigating the new world of technology. Wow, what a disappointment! It’s astonishing how widespread computer ignorance is today. And it seems to be getting worse.
What I had not anticipated is that the easier that devices would become, the fewer skills people feel that they need to acquire. It is not uncommon that young students today are only good at updating their Facebook accounts. And the following fact still astonishes me: many students today can’t even type.
This is absolutely absurd. Learning to type has never been easier. You can go to or any number of services and learn in the course of ten days to two weeks. It should be rather obvious that a job candidate who is one one-finger pecking is going to fall to the bottom of the list.
But it takes more than typing skill. Database management, photo editing, video making, website management, basic code -- all of these are important. A candidate who can speak Geek is in a much better position than one who cannot, even if the job in question doesn’t seemingly involve computer skills. Young people who can’t navigate essential software with some competence are essentially advertising their lack of drive and their unwillingness to add value to the great enterprise of the digital age.

Low Debt. True, it is not long possible to work your way through school, and this is tragic. Unless the parents have a substantial income or savings, there is a good chance that a student today will have to take out a loan. But minimizing that is essential. Smart students understand this. The more debt you have when you leave college, the fewer choices you have when you leave. You want to be in a position to accept relatively low pay and work your way up, without having your finances crushed by debt obligations.
The horror stories here are legion, and the alert students know them all. This is why they look for every scholarship opportunity, ever work/study program, every chance to make a few bucks. Also important: spending as little money as possible. Social spending is the great bane of a student’s existence. Decline to go partying if it means being stuck with a big and pointless bill at the end. There are ways to date that do not involve breaking the bank. Doing without a car is a luxury that pays returns later. It all comes down to frugality. This is an essential financial skill that can and should be cultivated in college. It will be needed all throughout life.

Network Building. As regards Facebook and Twitter, let’s just say that many students in the past have made mistakes. Smart kids know this. They learned to use social tools wisely. They watch their privacy settings. If there is any image that shows drinking or partying in a crazy place, it is untagged. All status updates must be intelligent. And they should be relatively few on Facebook. It can even be advantageous to make your name unsearchable, though that alone can raise suspicions among future employers.
A tool that smart students have started using that most students do not is LinkedIn. This is the professional network, and here you can start forming contacts in your field and generally cultivating a professional online personality. This requires careful thought and some elbow grease but any applicant with an impressive profile and a large network immediately becomes more attractive to the job market.
These tools are there to help people navigate the tight labor market. It is never too early to start doing what is necessary to build up a well-thought-out digital profile and presence. These tools can be your best friend or your worst enemy, depending on how you use them. But they should be used. An applicant who is invisible to in the digital realm might be suitable for a position in the national security apparatus but it is increasingly strange in a commercial world.

Practicality. I love liberal arts and the cultivation of broad and highly educated minds as much as anyone. But the smart set of students understands that this alone will not cut it in the marketplace today. Practical skills cannot be neglected, whether they are in accounting or engineering, and math and science generally. The last generation that could get by in life without having actual technical skill in practical areas of life graduated two decades ago.
To be sure, some people are called to a serious vocation as a professor in literature, philosophy, and the arts, and that’s fantastic. But these are pretty much the only people who can completely neglect hard sciences and practical skills in life. The smart set understands that the liberal arts are essential to have a broad view of the world, but that these alone are not enough to make a go of it in today’s world.
As much as we talk about the trials of young people today, we all know that some will make it through and thrive in the future. This is true even in the hardest of times. And for graduating students today, these are indeed the hardest of times. To be sure, the lack of opportunities today is not the fault of its victims; it is the fault of terrible public policy that has raised the cost of hire, distorted economic structures, and punished entrepreneurship. Because there is little chance of this changing anytime soon, it pays to get on the right side of history and start preparing for the tough road ahead, so that you can face it with confidence.

Jeffrey Tucker

Primus Inter Pares Laissez Faire Book Club 

P.S. Another problem among students today: they don’t take reading seriously.* The Laissez Faire Book Club is devoted to changing that. We are providing the tools people need to start the process of self education, which is absolutely necessary given the curriculum in today’s colleges. We provide the books, the tutorials, the community, and more. Might you consider giving a gift subscription to a student you care about? Register them here and send the logins their way when you receive them.

* * * * *

* George Reisman reckons reading is something students should take very seriously. For a genuine education, he argues, a student should finish their university education holding in their mind “the essential content of well over a hundred major books” in their field of study. The emphasis in modern education however is decidedly against this:

With little exaggeration, the whole of contemporary education can be described as a process of encumbering the student’s mind with as little knowledge as possible. The place for knowledge, it seems to believe, is in external sources—books and libraries—which the student knows how to use when necessary. Its job, its proponents believe, is not to teach the students knowledge but “how to acquire knowledge”—not to teach them facts and principles, which it holds quickly become “obsolete,” but to teach them “how to learn.” Its job, its proponents openly declare, is not to teach geography, history, mathematics, science, or any other subject, including reading and writing, but to teach “Johnny”—to teach Johnny how he can allegedly go about learning the facts and principles it declares are not important enough to teach and which it thus gives no incentive to learn and provides the student with no means of learning.

The results of this type of education are visible in the hordes of students who, despite years of schooling, have learned virtually nothing, and who are least of all capable of thinking critically and solving problems. When such students read a newspaper, for example, they cannot read it in the light of a knowledge of history or economics— they do not know history or economics; history and economics are out there in the history and economics books, which, they were taught, they can “look up, if they need to.” They cannot even read it in the light of elementary arithmetic, for they have little or no internally automated habits of doing arithmetic. Having little or no knowledge of the elementary facts of history and geography, they have no way even of relating one event to another in terms of time and place.

Such students, and, of course, the adults such students become, are chronically in the position in which to be able to use the knowledge they need to use, they would first have to go out and acquire it. Not only would they have to look up relevant facts, which they already should know, and now may have no way even of knowing they need to know, but they would first have to read and understand books dealing with abstract principles, and to understand those books, they would first have to read other such books, and so on. In short, they would first have to acquire the education they already should have had.

Properly, by the time a student has completed a college education, his brain should hold the essential content of well over a hundred major books on mathematics, science, history, literature, and philosophy, and do so in a form that is well organized and integrated, so that he can apply this internalized body of knowledge to his perception of everything in the world around him. He should be in a position to enlarge his knowledge of any subject and to express his thoughts on any subject clearly and logically, both verbally and in writing. Yet, as the result of the mis-education provided today, it is now much more often the case that college graduates fulfill the Romantic ideal of being “simple, uneducated men.”

Contemporary education is responsible for the growing prevalence of irrational skepticism. The students subjected to it do not acquire actual knowledge. They have no firm foundation in a base of memorized facts and they have not acquired any solid knowledge of principles because their education has avoided as far as possible the painstaking processes of logical proof and repeated application of principles, which latter constitutes a vital and totally legitimate form of memorization. Such students go through school “by the seat of their pants.” They are forever “winging it.” And that is how they go through life as adults. It is impossible for them to have genuine understanding of anything that is beyond the realm of their daily experience, and even of that, only on a superficial level. To such people, almost everything must appear as an arbitrary assertion, taken on faith. For their education has made them unfit to understand how things are actually known. Their failure to memorize such things as the multiplication tables in their childhood, makes it impossible for them to understand whatever directly depends on such knowledge, which, in turn, makes it impossible for them to acquire the further knowledge that depends on that knowledge, and soon. With each passing year of their education, they fall further behind.

Ironically, their failure to memorize what it is appropriate to memorize ends up putting them in a position in which to pass examinations, they have no other means than out-of-context memorization—that is, memorization lacking any foundation in logical connection and proof. Because they have never memorized fundamental facts, and thus have no basis for developing genuine understanding of all that depends on those facts, they are placed in the position in which to pass examinations they must attempt to memorize out-of-context conclusions. It is because of this that a growing proportion of what they learn as the years pass has the status in their minds of arbitrary assertions. They are chronically in the mental state of having no good reason for most or almost all of what they believe. Thus, in their context of actual ignorance masked by pretended knowledge, they are prime targets for irrational skepticism. To them, in their mental state, doubt of everything can only seem perfectly natural…

(Excerpted from page 108-109 of Reisman’s book Capitalism)

Friday, 23 November 2012

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: Thanksgiving Edition


Yes, it’s Thanksgiving in the States—the sort of holiday we don’t have here in NZ, but should have. Don’t you have much to be thankful for?

On with the show!

No, it’s not what you think.
Beehive springs a leak – report – NZ HERALD

“The people complaining about New Zealand’s 100% pure marketing campaign have had a logic bypass.”
Critics have had logic bypass – HOME PADDOCK

Far too little, much too late, but still very, very helpful. Why did it take so long?
Brownlee orders land-use plan – THE PRESS

And while virtual ring fences around Christchurch’s outer suburbs continue to raise land prices, disgruntled property owners in the central city argue that the fences around the Chch CBD are in place to keep their prices depressed.
CCDU, what are you doing?: Locked out of undamaged factory for 635 days  - REBUILD CHRISTCHURCH

CERA’s Roger Sutton has finally, well after time, answered an Official Information (OIA) request for costing information and robust feasibility studies about his organisation’s multi-billion dollar plans for central Christchurch, none of which have been released to the public yet on the basis of which land confiscations have already begun. His answer to the question do you have costings or robust feasibility studies for your plans:  No.  Or in his words: “There are currently no confirmed costs.”
Scroll down here to see his OIA response:
CantabriansUnite – FACEBOOK

Finally someone in the media has asked Labour Leader David Shearer for a little bit of detail about his uncosted Lotto housing policy.  Like, for example, how many sections will the taxpayer need to buy?  Shearer couldn’t um, er, ah answer.
Shearer's Big 'Um' on Housing – WHALE OIL

Or maybe he wasn’t talking about actual houses, on actual land…
Labour Admits Affordable Housing = Apartments – CACTUS KATE

Insider trading on bringing down David Shearer? Who could be doing that!
David Shearer and the Labour Leadership - Part I – iPREDICT BLOG

Oh yes, and as a reward for a job done bloody poorly, the head of EQC has just been rewarded with a $70,000 pay rise.
Rewarding incompetence – NO RIGHT TURN

What gets political reporters excited?  “Political stories are generally very ‘managed.’ Political parties invest huge amounts of money and energy into controlling their presentation in the media, which can frustrate some journalists… I suspect that’s why journalists like Paddy get (very) excited when things don’t go as scheduled, e.g., the tea-pot tapes, the Labour conference. ‘Something’ actually happens – i.e., something that isn’t calculated and pre-planned by teams of highly paid experts.”
Do you support Paddy Gower? – DIM POST

So who are the winners and losers on Labour’s factional warfare?
Winners and Losers – KIWIBLOG

Urban legends, and Annette King, might be wrong say scientists.
Full Moons Won’t Make You Cray-Cray, Say Scientists – BLISSTREE

Safety message for our American readers on Thanksgiving, from William Shatner: “Just remember: ‘Fire, metal, oil, and turkey are glorious when in harmony.’”

Thanksgiving may look like like a holiday for consumption, but it’s really a holiday for producers.
Thanks to whom? – Jeff Scialabba, VOICES FOR REASON

As Americans sit down to enjoy their Thanksgiving they will, hopefully, be giving thanks to all those who made their consumption possible. Themselves.
Celebrate Thanksgiving the Ayn Rand way: Thank yourself – Debi Ghate, CS MONITOR

America might never have even got off the ground if those early pilgrims hadn’t thrown off communism. Read the almost unknown early history of those early Pilgrims -- of how private property saved their lives and their colony, so making today’s Thanksgiving celebrations possible.
How Private Property Saved the Pilgrims -  Tom Bethell. HOOVER INSTITUTION

By the way, “There are some things that God cares deeply about -- sex, foreskins, menstruation, and animal sacrifice,for example. And food.
Most Christians forget about that. They prepare and eat food on Thanksgiving that God abhors, while thanking him for it.. Don't make that mistake this Thanksgiving.
Here are some suggestions for a biblically correct Thanksgiving dinner.”
All the fat is the Lord's: The Bible's guide to Thanksgiving dinner – DWINDLING IN UNBELIEF

Is America a Christian nation? Or one nation under a constitution?


The fundamental dynamics in Gaza are more about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood Gaza and the weakness of the Obama Administration than anything Israel can do anything about. Apart from military deterrence.
Gaza reality – Editorial, JERUSALEM POST

The choice to initiate the conflict rested, and rests, on a choice only possible to one side.
Gaza could have chosen peace but no – LIBERTY SCOTT

Is there no way to resolve the perennial Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Are both sides morally equivalent? For those interested, I can recommend this older but clearly still relevant lecture by Yaron Brook.  “Central to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the question of whether the state of Israel has a moral right to exist…”
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: What is the solution? – Yaron Brook, AYN RAND CENTER, 2002

“Israel is the only free country in a region dominated by Arab monarchies, theocracies and dictatorships. It is only the citizens of Israel--Arabs and Jews alike--who enjoy the right to express their views, to criticize their government, to form political parties, to publish private newspapers, to hold free elections. When Arab authorities deny the most basic freedoms to their own people, it is obscene for them to start claiming that Israel is violating the Palestinians' rights. All Arab citizens who are genuinely concerned with human rights should, as their very first action, seek to oust their own despotic rulers and adopt the type of free society that characterizes Israel.”
Israel Has a Moral Right to Its Life – Peter Schwartz and Yaron Brook, 2002

Fascinating interview with a renegade historian.
“'You've [talked] about Arabs being incapable of democracy, not respecting the rule of law or sanctity of life.”
Also the treatment of women, treatment of homosexuals. I've got a whole list.
Have you seen anything in the "Arab Spring" that leads you to rethink that?
It's only made things worse.”
Israel historian Benny Morris responds to critics left and right – L.A. TIMES


As a public service, the Washington Post’s defence writer put together this primer for generals on their way to Afghanistan.  “Here is a list of 19 things that many insiders and veterans of Afghanistan agree to be true about the war there, but that generals can't say in public.”  Top of the list: “We don't know why we are here, what we are fighting for, or how to know if we are winning,” and “Pakistan is now an enemy of the United States.”
19 true things generals can't say in public about the Afghan war: A helpful primer – Tom Ricks, BEST DEFENSE

It’s true for us too, you know.
The Best Reason To Reform Immigration Is It Would Be Good For America and the World – Matthew Yglesias, SLATE
Heartland Draws Hispanics to Help Revive Small Towns – WSJ

Are zealously defended borders necessary to make a nation?
If Defended Borders Make a Nation, Then the U.S. Has a Pretty Short History – Brian Doherty, REASON

Voters legalised it, but whether Washington and Colorado can implement laws to legalise the recreational use of Marijuana remains unclear.
Unperturbed puffery – THE ECONOMIST

“As President Obama embarks on his second term, we’ll have to see whether he conjures up the specters of his controversial campaign moments. Recall his insistence that “if you have a business, you didn’t build that.” That upset a lot of people. But here’s the thing about that memorable line: If you have a business, there is a sense in which you didn’t build it all on your own.
Obama was right—but for the wrong reasons.”
The Enduring Lesson of I, Pencil – Nicole Ciandella, THE FREEMAN

Mick Jagger's lyrics don't ring so true any more:


Interactive graphic explaining how China is ruled and the structure of the Communist party.
Who wields power in China? – FINANCIAL TIMES

How big was the American housing bubble that Greenspan, Bernanke and other monetary gods never saw?
Biggest Housing Bubble Since 807 A.D. Has Burst – ZERO HEDGE

WE ARE now in the middle of the fourth quarter of 2012. That means that it has been five full years since the American economy first tipped into recession amid a gathering financial storm. How have we done since that time?
The long slump – ECONOMIST

“Many commentators blame reckless bank lending as the key cause behind the 2008–2012 financial crises in Ireland and Iceland. Our analysis, however, suggests that it was not the banks as such that caused the crisis but rather the boom-bust policies of the central banks of Ireland and Iceland.”
Ire and Ice: A Tale of Two PIIIGS – Frank Shostak, MISES DAILY

Yes, Keynes does prescribe the destruction of wealth through the dilution of capital by monetary authorities. It’s right there in black and white on age 376.
Kyle Bass: Fallacies Such As MMT Are "Leading The Sheep To Slaughter" And "We Believe War Is Inevitable" – ZERO HEDGE

Mind you, he also believed perpetual war was a way to permanent prosperity. 
Keynes On Worker Utopia Through Perpetual Threat Of War – ZERO HEDGE

Problems with your debt ceiling? Then just eliminate it.
But Timmy, You Can't Borrow Forever! - VITAL SIGNS

The morality of the free market: And do note the example of Say’s Law right at the start of this vidoe where the mown lawn is exchanged for food and drink. Demand is created by supply. This has been replaced by Obama’s Law: from each according to his ability, to each according to his vote.” – Steve Kates, CATALLAXY FILES

In a world that constantly throws big, unexpected events our way, we must learn to benefit from disorder, writes Nassim Taleb, “Herewith are five policy rules that can help us to establish anti-fragility as a principle of our socioeconomic life. Rule 1: Think of the economy as being more like a cat than a washing machine…”
Learning to Love Volatility – Nassim Taleb, WSJ

There’s an awful lot of asphalt in Manukau.
Form follows parking – Peter M, AUCKLAND TRANSPORT BLOG

With the summer holiday season approaching Stats Chat responds to requests for a post on the relative safety of driving and flying.
Fly away home – STATS CHAT

“Almost forty years after animal rights advocates began asking us to put down our steak knives, plant advocates may start asking us to relinquish our salad forks as well. Plants have rights too, they say…”
Rooting Out the Motive of “Plant Rights” Advocates – Ross England, T.O.S. BLOG

When it happens spontaneously, it’s great!
Return of the walking city -  - Kent Lundberg, AUCKLAND TRANSPORT BLOG

As more of us use “the cloud,” the less secure the cloud is becoming.
Kill the Password: Why a String of Characters Can’t Protect Us Anymore – Mat Honan, WIRED

Professor Flynn from Otago is trying to help you improve your mind.

“Last night and today I have been chatting with friends on facebook about the nature of Romanticism. And I realized that my stance is radical, and it is so simple and intuitive I can’t believe it is not embraced as the standard for the next era of art.”
New Romanticism – Michael Newberry, ARTIST

Don’t order all those “name brands” you see in the movies.
Hollywood's best fake products. – FAST.CO.CREATE

A tip for exam season:
When taking a test, should you change that answer or stick with what you put down first? – BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE

How much do you love a good cigar?  Then make the most of it:

“Tosca, you make me forget God!” A stunning first-act climax:

The Auckland Philharminc did a top job last night of Mahler’s 5th Symphony. Here’s the gorgeous Adagietto, with Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philarmoniker, along with clips from the film that made it “famous”:

Time for a martini or two…

[Hat tips to Thrutch, History News Network, Great Opera Videos, Richard Dawkins, Geek Press]

Thanks for reading.

Exam question of the day: The police

Today’s question was prepared by the Tumeke blog and asks:

Do we really want a Police force that turns up on your doorstep at night and asks how you intend to plea in a case while threatening more charges if you plead innocent?

Do we?

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Legalise drugs–the debate

In response to the decision by Coloradan and Washingtonian voters to legalise marijuana, the Obama administration admits that marijuana legalization can do miracles.

According to the federal government, the price of pot will plummet following legalization while remaining above the black-market level. Pot will be dangerously cheap yet dangerously expensive at the same time.

Someone’s obviously smoking something, and it’s not just the good people of Colorado and Washington.

Should marijuana be legalised all across the board? Should all states? How about all drugs?

This timely debate was entered into last week at the Intelligence Squared Debate with Nick Gillespie and Paul Butler against their opponents Theodore Dalrymple and Asa Hutchinson—pitting writer against writer and law enforcer against law enforcer.  It’s good, intelligent debate. “From wherever you stood,” summarised the HuffPost, “the opposing side offered respectable, credible views. In today's fractured culture the evening struck a blow for civility.”

Watch it tonight.

Exam Question of the Day: On the Anniversary of Helicopter Ben

Today’s exam question is set by Addison Wiggin:

Ten years ago today, a relatively unknown U.S. Federal Reserve governor named Ben Bernanke delivered what might be the most famous speech in the history of monetary policy. In an address to the National Economists Club, he said: “The U.S. government has a technology called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.”
In the speech, Mr. Bernanke invoked Milton Friedman’s idea that the Fed and Congress could simulate dropping dollar bills from a helicopter to stimulate “aggregate demand.”
Ten years on, we pose a simple question, not to Bernanke, but to you: How’s it working out?

This question is worth ten marks. Please show all your working.

How to Live Without Irony [updated]

“A life without passion is not a life - it is merely an existence.”
                     - Lesley Fieger

“"When a culture is dedicated to the destruction of values - of all values,
of values as such - men's psychological destruction has to follow."

- Ayn Rand

imageAfter the carnage of the First World War Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises about a “lost generation” who were outwardly still alive after the cataclysm, but inwardly dead.  “Give them irony and give them pity” exhorts one of the novel’s many expatriates who drift idly through Europe, wondering without caring if they might prefer it somewhere else. Or not.

For these characters, irony is a “cultivated aloofness,” “a strategy of containment and a rejection of idealism” after a war that seemed to destroy virtually every human value.

At least those gorgeous bastards had the war as an excuse.  These days hipsters cultivate aloofness for no reason at all but fashion. To fit in. To be one of the herd. To “go with the flow.”

“If irony is the ethos of our age—and it is,” observes Christy Wampole in a great op-ed in the New York Times, “then the hipster is our archetype of ironic living.”

The hipster haunts every city street and university town.. .He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny. The hipster is a scholar of social forms, a student of cool. He studies relentlessly, foraging for what has yet to be found by the mainstream. He is a walking citation; his clothes refer to much more than themselves. He tries to negotiate the age-old problem of individuality, not with concepts, but with material things…
    [Today’s hipster] is merely a symptom and the most extreme manifestation of ironic living. For many Americans born in the 1980s and 1990s — members of Generation Y, or Millennials — particularly middle-class Caucasians, irony is the primary mode with which daily life is dealt.

Where previous generations followed causes, lived with passion, stormed the barricades, this one sits around swapping ironic stories and examining its navel fluff. Being aroused by anything is uncool. Feeling actual passion for things is unwelcome. Not for them the stirring sounds  of exhortations “to strive, to seek, to find, but not to yield,” which they might once have felt when younger. Life now, instead, as adults, can be summed up in ironic tweets amounting to “Meh,” LOL, “Whatevers.”

The hipster “goes with the flow,” regardless of where it’s headed; declares that “perception is reality,” synonymous with saying “nothing is real anyway”; affirms that ideals are things “you’ll grow out of,” while not noticing that without them they have become grown-ups who neither  know what they are doing nor care.* They live  lives in the world while detaching themselves from  it, making them dead inside while devaluing everything in the world they touch—made dead and devalued by what amounts to quotidian self-immolation, a steady drip, drip, drip of what was once their passions, values, enthusiasms and loves. Wampole speaks for that generation’s destruction of themselves:

Born in 1977, at the tail end of Generation X, I came of age in the 1990s, a decade that, bracketed neatly by two architectural crumblings — of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Twin Towers in 2001 — now seems relatively irony-free. The grunge movement was serious in its aesthetics and its attitude, with a combative stance against authority, which the punk movement had also embraced. In my perhaps over-nostalgic memory, feminism reached an unprecedented peak, environmentalist concerns gained widespread attention, questions of race were more openly addressed: all of these stirrings contained within them the same electricity and euphoria touching generations that witness a centennial or millennial changeover.
    But Y2K came and went without disaster. We were hopeful throughout the ’90s, but hope is such a vulnerable emotion; we needed a self-defense mechanism, for every generation has one. For Gen Xers, it was a kind of diligent apathy. We actively did not care. Our archetype was the slacker who slouched through life in plaid flannel, alone in his room, misunderstood. And when we were bored with not caring, we were vaguely angry and melancholic, eating anti-depressants like they were candy.
    FROM this vantage, the ironic clique appears simply too comfortable, too brainlessly compliant. Ironic living is a first-world problem. For the relatively well educated and financially secure, irony functions as a kind of credit card you never have to pay back. In other words, the hipster can frivolously invest in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. He doesn’t own anything he possesses.
    Obviously, hipsters (male or female) produce a distinct irritation in me, one that until recently I could not explain. They provoke me, I realized, because they are, despite the distance from which I observe them, an amplified version of me.

Self-awareness is the beginning of self –cure. “The simple act of noticing my self-defensive behavior,” she says, “has made me think deeply about how potentially toxic ironic posturing could be.”

As a function of fear and pre-emptive shame, ironic living bespeaks cultural numbness, resignation and defeat. If life has become merely a clutter of kitsch objects, an endless series of sarcastic jokes and pop references, a competition to see who can care the least (or, at minimum, a performance of such a competition), it seems we’ve made a collective misstep. Could this be the cause of our emptiness and existential malaise? Or a symptom?

Or both?

Bewailing the cavalcade of coolness in which modern life is drowning, and offering his own antidotes to avoid what he calls “the swamp sirens,” Lindsay Perigo quotes Ayn Rand:

In her Journals, making notes for her upcoming novel, The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand said:

image"This may sound naïve. But - is our life ever to have any reality? Are we ever going to live on the level? Or is life always to be something else, something different from what it should be? A real life, simple and sincere, even naïve, is the only life where all the potential grandeur and beauty of human existence can be found. Are there real reasons for accepting the substitute, that which we have today? No one has shown today's life as it really is, with its real meaning and its reasons. I'm going to show it. If it's not a pretty picture - well, what is the alternative?"

In The Fountainhead, of course, she showed us, not just today's life as it really is, but the alternative also. And many years later, writing a weekly newspaper column for the Los Angeles Times, she said:

"When people look back at their childhood or youth, their wistfulness comes from the memory, not of what their lives had been in those years, but of what life had then promised to be. The expectation of some undefinable splendor, of the unusual, the exciting, the great, is an attribute of youth - and the process of aging is the process of that expectation's gradual extinction. One does not have to let it happen."

One doesn't - and one shouldn't. To let it happen is to succumb to spiritual death long before one's physical demise - to spend maybe half one's life jaundiced, jaded, cynical, listless, atrophied, desiccated …. Or, in the case of many of today's youth, to spend nearly all one's life like that.

Tragic. The best lack all conviction … and the world is the worse for it.  But intense passion is the effect of profound conviction, observes Perigo.

[The hipster however] says that intense passion is improper, unseemly, bad form, or in modern parlance, "uncool." "Hot" is "uncool." "Cool" - neither hot nor cold - is "cool." By implication, the best way to avoid the embarrassment of intense passion is to eschew its cause - profound conviction. So if you find yourself starting to believe in something, abandon it quickly, before you make a fool of yourself.

This is no way to live, is it. Christy Wampole offers her own antidotes to begin making your way back into the world.

What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.

Saying what you mean and meaning what you say.

Considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities.

The cultivation of sincerity.

These are all frightening prospects, right? But they offer an excellent recipe for beginning to find your way back to life.

Take as your fuel for that journey these words by Ayn Rand addressed to the hero within each of you:

"Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not at all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved but have never been able to reach. Check your road, and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours."

[Hat tip Paul Litterick]



Here’s a link to seven websites poking fun at hipsters. My favourite, from which the pics above and below are purloined, is Unhappy Hipsters.