Wednesday, 30 January 2013

ASIAN UPDATE: Assault with a deadly sound system

Another report from our roving Asian correspondent, Suzuki Samurai—this time from his language school in rural Cambodia.
Each day in Asia I see something mental; but some sights and sounds are more insane than others. Today (Sunday) started out inspiring, then ended up surreal and downright stupid. I write this at the very culmination of the insanity.
The day started well: blue skies and the ubiquitous smiles of the locals; but today was also graduation day at the school in which I’m resident—I was looking forward to being part of it.
The school’s Deutsche sponsors were in town for the event, so the locals laid it on. Colourful sun covers, a stage, and what was the largest sound system ever devised by man for a school event. The speaker stack was 3 meters high by 4 meters long; this in a courtyard of just 40 square meters. A rather pleasant Cherman fella, who seemed to know what he was talking about, reliably told me he counted 5000 watts of amplifiers.  We could have hosted Shihad, with several thousand decibels to spare.
Now I’ve been to many, many rock concerts over the years in stadiums, clubs and pubs everywhere from NZ to Vietnam. I love my rock and punk very raucous and very, very loud, as I’m sure some of you who know me will testify. I have even been known to make the scotch-fuelled decision to be part of a last-gasp night-club adventure; even though I hate the places and their thump thump thump.  
But those places are quiet. By comparison. What I was about to experience was assault with a deadly sound system.
The graduation started as you’d expect. At 12:06  students between 6 & 16 began coming forward all smiles, handshakes, hands in palm-to-palm prayer ‘thank yous’ as Cambodians do, a photo. All great stuff. All very humbling. Time for a tear or two.This part of the show was over by about 12:54pm.
Then it started…and at maximum volume.
What erupted out of this ginormous PA system was a deafening combination of something like Khmer folk music mashed up with dupstep, and ignited with gelignite. Something like a fireworks convention in a flammable phosphorus factory. 
It’s still going. It has been going now for 7 hours straight. As I write this it is 8.04pm, and 150 small Cambodian children have going nuts to a  head-splitting racket all afternoon, all within a few meters of a sound that had me seeking respite in my room at 2.30pm.Everyone is having a good time (everyone except for me and zee Chermans). Of course, Cambodian lives are hell a lot of the time, so we can hardly begrudge their enjoyment, but this is just irresponsible & bloody dangerous for the kids’ hearing—not to mention mine—but not a soul here seems either to understand or care.    
This phenomenon is not exclusive to Cambodia however. It’s ubiquitous. You can see it in Vietnam, in China, in Thailand; at weddings, product launches, parties, shop openings, everything—including graduations. I’ve seen (and heard) MCs screaming into microphones so loudly the distortion is making it almost impossible to hear; madmen with bull horns speaking directly into the face of someone standing a foot in front of them; dancers at night clubs in which the music is so loud and the room so small its almost palpable it’s like being assaulted by dark matter. I’ve even been to a coffee shop in Vietnam at 10am in the morning, for what I hoped would be a quiet coffee and a cigarette, only to be assaulted by nightclub-level volume in a place which hosted what appeared to be business people each trying to concentrate on the material on their laptops.    
I’ve been told today that Cambodians like the music to be insanely loud to show off to their neighbours, including those in the next town, that ‘we are having a good time, with huge sounds, so we must be enormously rich.’  Q.E.D. apparently. Such notions of showing off are frighteningly popular in modern Asia: if you’ve got a bankroll you have to flash it around, drive a black sedan, be a pig to service staff, and above all else walk with a strut and generally behave like a complete wanker.
If you’re not? Then just pretend.  
Who knows who you might fool.
Suzuki Samurai posts irregularly from around Asia. Check out all his posts here.OWWW

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Cat killer killed by cat

Yes folks, the cats are striking back against Gareth Bloody Morgan—the alleged economist who reckons your favourite family pet should be killed off to satisfy his fondness for fauna.

The man who took a soccer team and killed it off to satisfy his fondness for megalomaniacal meddling.

The monetary moron who takes on farmers by calling them “retards,” and fans of his losing team “pathetic.”

The investment non-adviser who took your KiwiSaver dollars, and turned them rapidly into cents.

Yes folks, it’s clear that Captain Morgan not only lacks any basic human quality other than self-regard, any ability in the field of football or farming—or even in the field of penguins—he lacks even the ability (in what is supposed to be his specialist subject) to beat or better the market, belief in which ability would presumably have been the reason so many of you gave so much to his failing fund. 

Yet while it’s clear that while Gareth has no ability whatsoever to beat the market—as his five years of piss-poor returns amply demonstrates—we read in the Guardian today that a pussy cat called Orlando does have exactly this ability. Meaning, given Gareth’s returns, that the cat is far more likely make you money than he is.

Or to put it another way, Gareth has just been whipped by a pussy.

SUMMER SNIPPETS: ‘When Two Cultures Meet: The New Zealand Experience’

Here are a few more snippets from my summer reading, this time ‘When Two Cultures Meet: The New Zealand Experience’ by John Robinson. I feared from the title it would be painfully worthy, but couldn’t have been more wrong.  Calling itself “a direct assault” on today’s revisionist histories of colonisation, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Email: for purchasing info.

* * * *

Thomas Sowell observes that one reason we originally and voluntarily choose to associate in a particular cultural group is the hope or expectation of safety therein. Yet in pre-European Maori society, there was none.virtually the only way to resolve disputes was in battle.
Disputes could quickly build into violence.  Thus the fighting following a quarrel among some girls bathing off the beach at Korarareka [Russell] in 1830, knows as the Girls’ War, resulting in thirty dead and seventy wounded.
    “Fickle insults could lead rapidly to violence.  Shortland tells such a story of insult and retribution, illustrating the angry manner of dealing with argument and conflict. 
        ‘When a chief, Hanui, and his companion
     Heketewanga met an old chief Korako, who was sitting under a tree, Heketewanga decided to mock
     Korako by climbing a tree and peeing on his head.  Soon, Korako told his son of this, and he was very
     angry.  He gathered a war party of 340 men and set off to ‘kill those men.’ 
         [Shortland, E., 1882, Maori Religion and Mythology]
    “ They attacked the pa at Hanui and, after a fierce battle the defenders (some 600 men) were overcome and most were killed.  The rest remained as a ‘rahui’—a tribe reduced to a dependent condition by a conquering tribe and made to do the work of dependents, cultivate land for food, catch eels, carry wood etc.  The land is not in their possession.
    “Maori were traders who were ‘skilled in the arts of the market place.’  However, as during the intertribal wars, trading parties might fail to return, being killed by belligerent tribes.
    '”Thus, in the absence of any codified law or higher authority, there was no rule of law, no guarantee of safety.*  The response to a perceived wrong would be either to attack and thus to revenge that wrong or to face one another, starting with warlike challenges, and following with argumentative dispute.  The outcome would then depend on one side recognising right of the other or by one side asserting its greater strength and showing that it had the power to force its wishes. 
[There is a fascinating contrast here with English law contemporary to the development of Maori society, which had grown out of efforts, from Anglo-Saxon times on, in which the law was specifically expected to quench vengeance and prevent a long chain of killing, woundings and injuries.”: “The purpose of the verbal, combative procedure [of the medieval law courts] is the settlement of a dispute which might explode into violence if it were not channelled through a court. The law of medieval England was not much influenced by Christian doctrines of the duty of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. It assumed that a deliberate wrong would be resented … it assumed the desire for vengeance was natural and proper [and the law’s job was to draw the teeth of that desire].]

* * * * 

“The lack of certainty applied in particular to the ownership or control of land. ‘[Erueti, A. in Boast et al’s 1999, Maori Land Law writes] According to Maori land custom, no one individual or kinship group owned land in the sense that they held virtually all rights in land to the extinction of other levels of kinship or adjacent groups.  Rather, different levels of the hapu social order exercised different kinds of rights in the same area of land.’
[A fascinating almost-parallel here with ownership or control of land in a common law regime, where individual land ownership was recognised, along with rights to occupation, etc., but these were not usually or necessarily to the exclusion of other rights that might remain to, for example, logging, harvesting, birding and the like. But in the common law system, all these rights were formally recognised and protected by law in order to avoid them remaining hostage to warlike eruptions.]

* * * * 

‘…there were five ways in which rights to land were acquired in customary Maori society: ‘take tupuna’ inheritance from one’s ancestor’s, ‘take rauputu’ (conquest), ‘take tuku’ (gifting), ‘take tanaha’ (naming during discovery and exploration, and ‘take ahika’ (keeping the home fires burning). These take complemented each other and a claim of right required a mix of different take.’[Erueti, A. in Boast et al’s 1999, Maori Land Law ]”
[It is unclear, in this 1999 whitewash of Maori land ownership, in which place such a “claim” could ever be made except on the field of battle. An ivory-tower gloss is obviously being given to what at the time would basically be causes for further grievance.]

* * * *

There is a  context in which we can understand that the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi as just as important a document in freeing the slaves of this place as Abraham Lincoln's 1865 Emancipation Proclamation was in the United States:
“[In his 1990 novel Once Were Warriors, Alan] Duff pointed out not all Maori were chiefs.  A history of this country must pay due regard to the experiences and fates of all Maori, including the dispossessed, the lower ranks, the slaves—and the women.  Then efforts can be made to improve the lives of all and longer focus on righting supposed wrongs to the few chiefs who benefited from tribalism.  The glory of traditional Maori society, it seems, was the domain of only a few whereas for characters such as [Alan Duff’s’ Jake, the legacy of Maori society was one of slavery.”

“[Prior to the Treaty] there had been much profit for Maori from European visitors, but that income shrank rapidly took charge and levied its own customs duties… ‘[As historian Keith Sinclair observes] where once chiefs had levied anchorage tolls on shipping, the British now imposed customs duties; where they had sold land directly to Europeans, they could now sell it only to the Government, which resold at a huge profit.  The Maoris were poorer, and their poverty was a direct result of the increase of British power.’”

* * * *

Initial widespread Maori support for British rule quickly foundered on British disinterest in the colony and local administrative disinterest in policing and keeping order led to the formation of the Maori King movement to fill the vacancy. 
While there was considerable support for such separate government, not all chiefs agreed [however].  Temuera to Amohau, for example, would not support such a king.  He refused, saying, ‘One of our chiefs, Timoti, was the only man of the Arawa people who signed the Treaty of Waitangi, but we shall not depart from the pledge he then gave.  We will not join the king tribe.  My king is Queen Victoria.’
    “The initial intention was to work with the British in setting up a system of government.  [The Southern Cross newspaper of 1857 reported]
        ‘In the beginning the natural desire of the natives for a better system of government could have been turned to
    beneficial account by a prescient Administration.  At a large meeting at Paetai, near Rangiriri, on the 23rd April,
    1857, Potatau, Te Wharepu, and other chiefs asked the Governor, Colonel Gore Browne, for a Magistrate and laws,
    and runanga or tribal councils.  To this request the Government responded by the experimental establishment of
    civil institutions in the Waikato, under Mr F.D. Fenton, afterwards Judge of teh Native Land Court.  The new
    machinery, however, was not given time to develop into a useful system before Mr. Fenton was recalled, and the field
    was left free for the exponents of Maori independence to develop their own schemes of government.’
    “Discussions concerning the idea of a Maori King in 1857  covered a wide range of views, with a division of attitudes towards the settlers.  [Wiremu] Tamihana emphasised the Maori need for law and order, saying,
        ‘The king could give use these better than the Governor; for the Governor has never done anything except when
    a pakeha is killed; he lets us kill each other and fight.’

    “Opinion was divided [writes Cowan in 1922]: ‘there was considerable opposition to the whole movement by Maoris who became known as the Queen’s party.’  At around that time, in 1860, many Maori gathered at Kohimarama to express support for the Treaty, and for the new Christian religion, against the previous traditional barbarity…”

* * * *

When European settlers arrived in New Zealand, Taranaki was deserted (the population having been either swept away or enslaved by raiding Waikato tribes), and most of the original population of Otaki and the Kapiti Coast had been swept away or enslaved in a series of bloodthirsty raids by Te Rauparaha—a supporter of the Treaty, who holed up on Kapiti Island cynically waiting for the new rulers to give him title to all he had plundered.  But those original populations returned under the safety of British rule, causing problems in determining who should have title to what.  Not the least of the problems, which remain to this day, were the multiple sales to multiple buyers of the same pieces of land.
“In July 1860, when the situation at Waitara [in the Taranaki] was coming to a head, one of the main protagonists and a supporter of the Government, Ihaia Kirikumara, wrote a letter in conjunction with his friend Tamati Tiraurau, addressed to the settlers in New Plymouth.  This provides a summary of some key happenings, including multiple sales of land and the on-going disputes among Maori.
        ‘Friends, formerly we, the Maoris, lived alone in New Zealand; we did wrong to one another, we ate one another,
    we exterminated one another.  Some had deserted the land, some were enslaved, and the remnants that were
    spared went to seek other lands.
        ‘Now this was the arrangement of this Ngatiawa land [for which yet another Waitangi settlement has just, this
    summer, been agreed].  Mokau was the boundary on the north, Ngamotu the boundary on the south; beyond
    were Taranaki and Ngatiruanui.
        ‘All was quite deserted; the land, the sea, the streams, the lakes, the forests, the rocks, were deserted; the food,
    the property, the work were deserted; the dead and eth sick were deserted; the landmarks were deserted.
        ‘Then came the Pakeha hither … to a place whose inhabitants had left it.  There were few men here—the men were
    a remnant, a handful returned from slavery.
        ‘And the Pakeha asked, ‘Where are the men of this place?’ and they answered, ‘They have been driven away by
    war; we few have come back from another land.’  And the Pakeha said, ‘Are you willing to sell us this land?’  And
    they replied, ‘We are willing to sell it that it might not be merely barren; presently our enemies will come, and our
    places will be quite taken from us.’
        ‘So payment was made; it was not said, ‘let the place be simply taken,’ although the men were few; the Pakeha
    did not say ‘let it be taken,’ but the land was quietly paid for.
        ‘Now … the Maoris living in [slavery] and those that had fled, heard of it; they heard that the land had been
    occupied, and they said, Ah ! ah ! the land has revived … let us return to the land.’ So they returned.  Their return was
    in a friendly manner.  The thought of the pakeha was, ‘Let us dwell together, let us work together.’
        ‘The [newly-returned] Maoris began to dispute with the Pakeha.  When the Governor saw it he removed the Pakeha
    to one spot to dwell.  Afterwards the Pakeha made a second payment for the land, and afterwards a third; then I said
    ‘Ah !  Ah ! very great indeed is the goodness of the Pakeha, he has not said that the payment ceases at the first time’ …

    “Many Maori were fascinated and much pleased by the multiple sales, with repeat payments for the same land consequent on the many claims by different Maori and the desire by the British to honour the Treaty and make sure that nothing underhand occurred.  The efforts to sort through the mess at Waitara, and the outbreak of hostilities there, were crucial in the evolution of the colony. 
        “[Historian Keith Sinclair writes in 1957,] ‘It is easy to understand why the Waitara came to be an obsession, the
    fatal word in Maori and European history alike…  It must be one of the most purchased areas in the country.  It was
    ‘purchased’ in 1839 and 1840.  It was to be ‘purchased’ in 1859 and 1860 (paid for in blood during the wars, returned
    to the Maoris, and then confiscated in 1863, and bought from them again in 1873.’
   “Such multiple purchases were common in those times.
          [Writing in 1842, explorer Ernst Dieffenbach observed] ‘Kapiti and the adjacent islands have been sold over and
    over again to different parties, and posts may be found to which half a dozen different persons lay claim.’
    “Much of the South Island was sold several times, sometimes by the same chiefs and also with the purchase of overlapping rights.”

* * * * *

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Science Literacy Quiz

Darcy Cowan at Sci Blogs has a 28 question science literacy test. Unfortunately, too many of the questions confuse statistics for science*, so it’s more about statistical literacy than it is about science, but it’s still worth a few of your precious minutes.

For what it’s worth, I got 25 out of 28.

[Hat tip Kiwiblog]

* a reliance on induction by enumeration, without reference to causality, about which mere statistics is blind.

The Uses and Abuses of Social Media

Guest post by Jeffrey Tucker from Laissez Faire Books 

That headline above probably seems strange coming from me. I've been a champion of social media, and my book A Beautiful Anarchy has a chapter on each of the most popular social media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Google+, and so on.

These tools have connected people as never before, and given people the power to manage their own lives and careers in ways that were not possible in the past. These sites have made us less dependent on institutions like government and workplace bosses and liberated millions to be in a better position to build their own private civilizations.

Yet this article has one message: Shut them down. Not entirely down. Everything I've written still applies. But there are uses and there are abuses. The trick is to tell the difference and act on it.

The point came to me this weekend when I was speaking at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Antony Davies of the economics department worked with the Institute for Humane Studies to set up this lecture. It was gratifying that on a freezing cold Friday night, in the science building in the middle of campus, 150 or so people came to hear about the relationship between ethics and the market economy. I spoke for fully 90 minutes and there was more to say.
Mostly, I was happy to have the chance to visit with so many young students and professionals about trends in the market today. Many of them wanted detailed reading lists and specific references to the books about which I spoke, most of which we've made available in the Laissez Faire Book Club.

Again and again, they complained of a problem. They don't have time to read. They don't know what to read to give them the best information given their limited time. There is no shortage of material, but what should they be reading that is going to give them the fastest track to wisdom that will truly improve their lives.

This is a gigantic problem in our time. In the Middle Ages, books were only for the tiny few. They took years and whole teams of scribes to make. When they were finished, they were the most valuable possession a person could have. Actually, very few individuals owned them at all. They were the possessions of large institutions that could create and guard them, institutions like governments and monasteries. They were more valuable than buildings and even people.

imageThe world craved more books. When Gutenberg created the first copy machine for books, the company couldn't keep up with the demand. It was total frenzy on the streets, and the dawn of a new age of learning.
Today it's all different. We are flooded with information, most of it available at zero unit price. But the time and attention it requires of us carries a high opportunity cost. After talking with so many people about this problem -- a nice problem to have -- I'm struck by the real possibility that despite the access and the information flood, people are actually reading less than they ever have. A main problem is the flood and the confusion about what to read.

This is a major reason we established the Laissez Faire Book Club in the first place. Our job is to carefully curate resources and provide every possible tool to help you make the decision about whether investing your time in a particular book is worth it for you. We've put together a growing package of only the best gems from the best body of work that stand the chance of making the biggest possible difference in your life.

As time has gone on, I've come to realize that this is the most valuable service we offer. The comment I receive more than any other: "The Club has inspired me to do what I should have been doing for years."

As I spoke to these students and professionals, I would inquire further on how they tend to spend their time. The same answer kept coming back at me. They spend their time on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. They try to direct their attention to longer-run pursuits, but these venues keep pulling them back in.

  • "Oh, someone just commented on something I said"
  • "Someone just retweeted my tweet!"
  • "Someone is liking my meme that I just liked"
  • "Someone just commented on a post that I commented on."

This is a bottomless pit. Add it all up and what you have is endless hours of wheeling, spinning, and largely pointless blather. All these interruptions and comments and quick reads take a serious toll on the overall quality of your life. This habit takes something that is truly wonderful and turns in into a massive time suck that, over the long run, contributes very little to your life compared with the things you are being prevented from doing.

Am I saying that what I used to say was valuable is actually not valuable? Not in any way. And let me explain this by reference to an amazing book that I happened to be reading over the last four days. The book is The Common Sense of Political Economy by Philip Wicksteed. It is a mighty economic treatise, and the Laissez Faire Club releases the first-ever e-book edition this Friday. It is the longest, most elaborate, and most interesting book on the theory of marginal utility ever written.

The core point of marginal utility is that there is a strong and decisive difference between the total value of a good or service and the marginal value of a good or service. To look at marginal value means to look at the value of the individual unit that you are in a position to consume. This is the relevant value for understanding economics.
Something can be hugely valuable for life (water, clothing, food) yet have a very small marginal value at the point of decision making. Also, the marginal value of anything falls the more it is consumed. When you are dying of thirst, the first drink is priceless. When you are bloating from drinking gallons, someone might have to pay you to drink more. This is because we all make decisions not on the total, but based on the marginal, unit.

Reading The Common Sense of Political Economy brings the point home. It explains why I am willing to pay $3 for a cup of coffee when I could be paying 10 cents by brewing my own. It explains why plumbers make more than baby sitters even though the job of the baby sitter is seemingly more important. It explains why rap stars make more than professors even though professors are dealing in big ideas whereas rap stars are only entertaining us. It explains why banks close on holidays and restaurants stay open.

Wicksteed's book opens up a new way of looking at the world, which is why it has been chosen to be part of the Laissez Faire Club's e-book library.

Here is how social media is affected by marginal utility. Getting on there and getting your name out is gigantically valuable. Assembling a network of contacts is crucial. Having this network be portable, attached to your person, can make the difference between success and failure.

The problem is that the marginal value of each additional contact and interaction falls over time. After the 1,000th status update or comment or interruption, the value becomes zero or negative. Of course, what we call "value" is ultimately subjective, but the enterprises behind these tools are very anxious to find ways to affect your subjective sense of the value of their service. They want to convince you that the marginal value of each interaction is higher than you might otherwise think. If you go along with it, you could turn around and see your whole life sucked into a pointless endeavor.

The point of learning about the theory of marginal utility is to become more aware of the opportunity costs you are paying for all of your choices. To be sucked into the social-media vortex could ruin your ability to be productive in other ways. In particular, it takes valuable time away from serious thinking and serious reading.

In general, you will notice that young people are far more involved in social media than professionals of an older age. The usual explanation is that younger people are more hip to the digital scene and know how to navigate it better than old people. Actually, there's a better explanation that comes from the theory of marginal utility. The opportunity costs for young people's time on social media is far lower than those of older people who are actually being compensated for their time. As the young get older, if they are smart, they will spend much less time on these platforms.

So my advice to those who want to get smart, become wise, become erudite: Sign up for social media, cultivate the network, and then discipline yourself and limit your level of engagement. Think seriously about how it is affecting your life. You might find that shutting it down and allowing only limited contact is the best choice you have ever made.

A friend of mine who is an economist who truly understands marginal utility has his wife change his Facebook password every few weeks, just to help him become more disciplined and remind him of the high cost of spending his day doing seemingly interesting things that are actually completely worthless on the margin. He is thinking in terms of the marginal unit of his time and mental energy. He knows that the platforms have huge total utility but very small utility on the incremental unit. He knows this because he is an economist.

A book like Wicksteed's helps everyone think the same way. In this way, economic theory can help you use your time better, stop being buffeted about by the latest digital frenzy, and live a smarter life.

Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, the Primus inter pares of the Laissez Faire Club, and the author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo and It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, among thousands of articles.

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Kill them all, let Gareth sort them out

_McGrath001Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath hosts another weekly clinic on idiots and others in the news.

In typical heavy-handed fashion, and in a stunning display of sheer ignorance of property rights—and of human enjoyment of our feline friends—economic dunderhead and Kiwisaver failure Gareth Bloody Morgan has suggested what I can only call a "final solution" to the feline problem.

Because, he reckons, cats are "natural born killers" causing problems for native birds, there should, he says, be a “national cull” of domestic cats. All of them. 

Cats are “serial killers” says the busybody. And that fluffy member of your family from which you derive so much pleasure? According to Morgan, “It has to go.” This, he says, would be “a step in the right direction.”

_TheGarethKillerThis piece of human excrement—this excuse for a human being—this over-educated oaf with too much time on his hands (bloody-minded earnestness like his just being stupidity sent to college)—has not only forgotten that a man's home is his castle (if indeed he ever learned that principle), but his solution necessitates invading your castle by main force, dragging out your cat and exterminating it. [Try that in my house, and the first thing I’ll be doing is enacting a national cull of busybody economic dunderheads. That would be a hell of “a step in the right direction,” I can tell you.– Ed.]

Furthermore, this fellow with no interest in your own values, and none at all for your love for your family cat, has failed to even consider that property rights and the common law offer solutions to his perceived "problem"?

Those like Captain Morgan who want to preserve our native fauna—and good on them for caring—should be free to breed New Zealand birds to ensure continuation of the various species that are unique to our country. But they’re not—instead, they’re frequently prohibited from doing so. They would then be free to shoot any marauding cats that threaten the existence of their birds. They should be free to take simple common law action against owners of a particular cat who attacked a particular bird—common law offering restitution where damage was caused to the property of one person by pets belonging to a second person—or against those who dump cats in the wild with no thought to the fauna in the area.  But they’re not.

Instead, he and his ilk simply wish to kill stone dead all cats—innocent or guilty—to boldly interfere with the property of other people simply because he favours bird over cats—regardless of evidence (or not) that a particular cat attacked a particular bird. A policy of “Kill them all, let Gareth sort them out.”

How about we reverse that policy. How about we start with Gareth.

Captain Bloody Morgan and his fellow feline haters would do well to read the blog of James Delingpole, who for years has been highlighting the avian mass murder by what he calls "bird-slicing, bat-chomping eco-crucifixes"—wind powered turbines, the Green dream which violently and indiscriminately kills all sorts of flying animals.

Why isn't the captain taking time out from killing football to demand, as well, that that all uneconomic taxpayer subsidised bird-killing wind turbines be dismantled forthwith?

Or would that tamper too much with another tent of his anti-human religion.


Greens Opt For Fewer Yellow Pages
Green Party MP Gareth Hughes suggests that the Yellow Pages have had their day—in particular the backward Soviet-style diktat that demands (if Hughes is correct) that the Yellow Pages Group must, by law, publish 6.5 million copies of the White and Yellow Pages each year. Yet at the same time, to increasing numbers of recipients, these tomes are nothing more than heavy junk mail.

Well done Gareth, for suggesting that this law be repealed, and that users of telephones be given the option of either purchasing a printed copy of the 'phone books', using an online book which for most people would be a lot easier, or both. I certainly stand behind you in getting rid of this stupid piece of legislation.

Nick Smith Returns To Cabinet
Like a dead body in the last reel of a horror movie, the stinking cadaver of Nicholas Rex Smith is reanimated and the Green zealot finds himself reinstated to his place at the trough. John Key should have weighed his corpse down with an axle or two, but then John Boy never does think in abstract concepts, and nothing matters except re-election of the Blue Team in 2014.
Reinstatement of a disgraced MP, who deserved permanent exile to the back benches and de-selection in 2014, says it all really. 
And you have to wonder whether ‘twere better to have a housing minister who does nothing (the sacked Phil Heatley) than one, like Smith, who we know will only make the severely unaffordable housing situation worse!

See ya next week! 
Richard McGrath
Leader, Libertarianz Party

David Attenborough, scum

Every now and then, the veneer of environmentalism slips to reveal the malevolence beneath the green and cuddly surface.  You can see it in the list of revealing, anti-human quotes  from prominent mainstream environmentalists I assembled a few years back in the midst of a discussion about a new environmental ethic putting humans first.

To that stark and comprehensive list of anti-human vermin expressing their wish that you and I would die, you can now add David Attenborough, who smugly declares humans are a plague on the earth that need to be controlled by limiting population growth.

May I suggest if he is truly honest with himself, he go ahead and join the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

In other words, you first, David.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Obama invokes Founders, inaugurates new era of collectivism

If, like me, you woke up to the sound of Obama inaugurating himself into the pantheon of great American presidents by invoking the words of the Founding Fathers to bolster his own arguments for collectivism, then you too might have wondered how he thought he could pull off what, even in that early hour when the brain is still slightly foggy, sounded like a massive logical leap. Maybe it sounded that way too to the folk in the audience, since the applause for his phony rhetoric seemed pretty spartan.

Jon Sanders notes that this is a common trope of Obama’s major speeches, especially this one in which he sought to use the Founders to make the case for collectivism.

first referencing the ideals of the Founders, then after having imitated the soaring rhetoric of past American luminaries, changing the focus to make it sound as if the next step for American liberty is to become a socialized nanny state. (Emphasis added.)

Nice, if you can (or want to) pull off the fraud. Because the man who started his address by extolling the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness being not only self-evident but unalienable—to the individual freedom those Founders were so desperate to protect—finished up by calling for collective action on class warfare, government healthcare, social-welfare programs, climate change, social spending in other countries, gay marriage, women’s pay gap, immigration reform, and gun control.

As Sanders concludes, what we heard today was not at all a ringing exhortation to bring back the America the Founders built,

but a promise of four more years of false rhetoric and real economic pain driven by ideological fervor and demonstrable diffidence.

Mikkelsen shrugs? [updated]

Golfer Phil Mickelson may call it quits due to climbing tax rates.

[Hat tip Shaun H.]

UPDATE: Golfer Phil Mickelson Is Not Alone In Fleeing Taxes

Still bad weather for warmists

While Australia swelters in temperatures not seen since the thirties* (and close to those experienced by the convicts of the First Fleet in their first years in Sydney), Europe and the States are covered in several inches of global warming—closing airports, stopping traffic from Moscow to Boston, and causing the UK’s Independent newspaper (which back in 2000 declared “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”!) to warn today’s Britons to “stand by for icy blasts and heavy snow.”

To repeat the mantra, it’s not about short-term weather, it’s about long-term climate.

And as even long-term warmist excitement-monger James Hansen was forced to concede this week,

The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for the last decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slow down in the growth rate of net climate forcing.

That is to say, despite predictions there has been no warming for the last decade; indeed, not for the last sixteen years.

* The difference between this week’s “record temp” in a Sydney three times bigger than in 1939 and with vastly more asphalt was just 0.5 of a degree.

Conversations in Cambodia

Another Guest Post by our roving Asian correspondent Suzuki Samurai, this time two conversations with interesting fellows: the first with Phakdey (pronounced Prak-a-dey) the founder of the school I’m helping out.
S: So what made you decide to build a school for poor kids?
P: When I was about 22-23 I knew that I was lucky to get an education, and wanted to do something for my village; I knew I’d do something for poor people even before that though. We were poor when I was young; that bowl [he points at my serving of a sardine-sized fish & rice] used to have to feed four of us; most of the time we didn't have any meat or fish at all; we lived on rice & pickled cucumber. It didn't occur to me that we were poor until I was at a friend’s house one night for dinner…when I was about 8. They had this piece of meat that they were sharing, but it was a very large piece of meat - about the size of my fist; I went there again a few days later and they had another piece the same size. I went home and asked my mother why they had meat and we didn’t; she told me to work hard at school and I’d find out, and be able to buy that kind of meat; and it was from that day on that I knew that I wanted something better for myself and my family. I guess it was at that time I set off on this path.
S: So why an English school? And when did you start it. P: At school & university I studied English and teaching, it seemed to me that that was the key to being rich. I was teaching at a local high school and in my spare time, I taught about 40 kids in a classroom under my house; over time more and more students wanted to join. This went on for about 8 years, with more classes filling up our weekends – there were too many kids, but we did our best [T’s wife began to teach as well]. I met a German man one day who had moved to the village with his new Cambodian wife, he’d met her in Phnom Penh and she wanted to come home for while. He came down to the school one day and was impressed by what we were doing and offered to help by contacting his friend at an NGO in Germany; within a few months the NGO had visited and agreed to help us.
S: In what way did they help? P: First they said we needed to find a bigger place, and said that once we did they could help build a school for us. My mother-in-law gave us some land she had across the other side of the river, the NGO and I agreed that they would pay for a new building; I mean they would pay for floors 1 & 2 for classrooms, and I would pay for the top floor for us to live in. That was two years ago, and now we have 8 classrooms and 400 hundred students.
S: Do the students pay fees? P: Oh yes, well most of them do; the poorest kids are paid for by the German donors.
S: How much are the fees? P: 20,000reil [$5US] per month for juniors & 32,000reil [$8US] for high school students.
S: What is the average wage here? P: Teachers at the local high school get about $50-$80 per month. Most people (farmers) earn about $30-$40 per month. People who work at the Chinese factory about 20km away get about $60 per month, but they spend about $20 per month getting to work and buying food. The top paying job around here is $100 per month working outside about 60-70 hours per weeks at the brick works - a very hard, hot job.
S: What do local people think of what you are doing? P: Some people think I’m doing a good thing helping poor people; but there are quite a few people who talk about me
behind my back complaining that we don't help them too. I try to explain to people that we can only help the really poor; and if you’re not the poorest of the poor then you have to make your own way – but people are very jealous and won't even speak to me in the village. But I really don't care about what they think; they just want something for free.
S: How do you decide who is and isn't poor enough to get access to the NGO’s donor money? P: We are very careful. We go around the village and visit people; you can see fairly quickly who has nothing to eat, and who has no furniture etc. The villagers can’t really hide anything; everyone knows who is poor and who is not.
S: Does the NGO provide anything else apart from money for fees and the building etc.? P: Yes, as you saw the other day they bought the 30 bags of rice, and they took the really poor kids shopping for clothes. Those things happen only when either some donors are visiting, or I ask directly for some extra help.
This is a conversation with a respected local, which took place over two lunchtimes. For reasons of safety, his, we'll call him ‘G.’
S: How do people see each other? I mean to say how do people view each other’s financial situation? G: Cambodians are funny people. People who are not poor look down on people who are, and often won't even talk to them. The people like this aren’t necessarily rich, or even that much better off than the very poor. I experienced this when I was a kid: I was playing with another boy from down the road, when his father came out and scolded him for playing with a poor boy, of course that poor boy was me.
S: Did that hurt? G: Not at the time, I didn't understand what I had done to get that boy in trouble – but that’s how people are; and still are.
S: What about people’s view of the rich? G: Oh, people who are not rich are afraid of the rich.
S: Afraid? Why? G: Because when you are rich in Cambodia it means you have power, power over other people’s lives and property. Money and politics are the same in Cambodia. What's it like in your country?
S: Um, well no one is afraid of the rich, many people are envious of course; but they aren’t afraid of them because they have no power as such. G: Strange. I like that.
S: What's the number one most important thing needed in Cambodia? G: Education is number one. But Government has to change; they are so corrupt.
S: In what way? G: Well if government or a large business wants to take your land for say a big road, or building a factory, they just do; and very few people get money for their land, and if they do it’s very little.
S: What about the courts? – Are they effective? G: Hahahaha, if you can afford a lawyer who is not corrupt, the courts are controlled by judges that are friends of the politicians who are friends of the business people. The price to take a case is out of reach of people, and if enough people get together to take a case; the police will just arrest some of them…what do you call them…?
S: Ring leaders? G: Yes, ring leaders; and they can spend a long time in jail on no charge or rubbish charges if they make trouble; many are beaten up, some have been killed.
S: But the laws are there right? – To protect people and their property? G: Yes of course, but who would want to complain even if they could afford a lawyer.
S: What about contract law between individuals? Is that enforced? G: Yes, that is usually settled easily, but is still expensive. Most disputes are settled before that though.
S: So what about the police then? What do people think of them? G: Everyone hates them – they are so corrupt. But being a policeman is often one of the few jobs going. Police get paid about $60 per month, and they get extra money by taking it off people for not wearing helmets, going through red lights; and of course taking it off foreigners with no license is good money.
S: So what kinds of jobs are there for people around here? G: It’s very hard for young men to get work; they may get day work from time to time for a couple of dollars per day, or they can join the army or the police. A lot of the young women work for the factories. There are many Chinese factories now; and they prefer young women instead of men. The factory workers can earn about $60-$70 per month working long hours – it’s a long way to travel for most people though; so after they spend money on travel and food, they are left with maybe $40 per month.
S: What do you think of the Chinese doing business in Cambodia; the factory must provide much needed work? G: Yes, it is good that the Chinese factories are here, otherwise there would be no work. The Chinese are also paying for that road to be built [pointing to the road behind me]. That’s a good thing, but they are mean.
S: Mean in what way? G: Well that road is being built right through some people’s property, and they paid them nothing, they just took it one morning. And you see that some shops have had the front yard ripped right off - their customers can't get into their shops.
S: Isn't it the job of the government to protect land owners? G: I told you before, the government and businesses are in it together. The Chinese don't care; why would they if the government doesn’t.
At this point G asks me a few questions.
G: Why won't more western companies come here, instead of the Chinese?
S: I guess foreign companies need to know the law works, that things are stable, that corruption won't affect them too much; Cambodia struggles to offer that. And you might not realize this but the Chinese often have another deal going on that you might not know about.
G: Like what?
S: The most recent one was the ASEAN meeting chaired by Cambodia, where all the countries present except Cambodia and China wanted to discuss the island disputes in the region - the disputes arising from the Chinese claims to most of the region’s sea. Everyone at the meeting knew that the Chinese had put pressure on the Cambodian government not to forward the motion to discuss it. In exchange China is known to give money to your government without any questions of where and who it goes to.
G: Hmmm…
S: What do you think about that?
G: As long as we get the money.
Once I’d spent a few days with G, I felt confident enough to ask about the Khmer Rouge.
S: G you’re an educated and well read man; what can you tell me about the Khmer Rouge? G: Not much.
S: Ok, what do you know about them, and what they did? G: Only what foreigners tell me.
S: Funny, I’d heard that before from a tuk-tuk driver [who became a friend of mine last time I was here]. He said that he and his friends are puzzled by foreigners wanting to go to Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields; and that he wouldn't have known about what happened there had it not been for meeting foreigners.
Why is that? – I mean it was a monumental event in your country’s history…and not very long ago. G: We are not taught about it in school. Though I don't think anyone would really care anyway; that was a long time ago; and no one really wants to think about it.
S: What about the trials [of Khmer Rouge leaders] on TV?
G: The trials of the big four?
S: Yes.
G: Nobody wants to watch them, they are boring; anyway who are those guys…I’ve never met them, and they didn't hurt me.
S: Oh come on; you know what they did – surely you have some interest in seeing them tried and convicted? G: Yes, I suppose so. But I just never think about it.
S: Is that the same for people you know? G: Yes, no one ever talks about it. It's nothing to do with us. And anyway, people are more interested in getting enough to eat tomorrow.
S: It’s hard to argue with that last sentence.  But have you ever heard the expression: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?
G: Yes, I’ve heard that.
S: So do you think a Khmer Rouge type thing can happen here again? G: No.
S: Why not? G: Because westerners will help us and stop them.
S: Have you heard of Rwanda? G: No, why?
S: Doesn't matter, mate.
The current government has been in power since the early 80’s, formerly an avowed Marxist/Maoist party. Early in the eighties they started a publicity campaign to throw off their links with Pol Pot. They now claim to be “democratic socialists.”  There is now a semblance of a democratic political system, but opponents that get some support and worry the regime, and can't be cajoled and corrupted, have been denounced, jailed, and assassinated. The system here – if you can call it that – is not dissimilar to China’s, except  that people get to play the charade of elections.
The trials going on in Phnom Penh of former Khmer Rouge leaders has now set limits on who can be tried, and are now just for the four top remaining survivors of the regime. The Prime Minister, Hun Sen, who decreed this policy, was once a Khmer Rouge commander himself who fled to Vietnam in the late 70s for what he claims was his ‘unease’ at Pol Pot’s extreme policies. I can't help but wonder if perhaps the on-going purges might have been a factor in his leaving too. Once he’d fled to Vietnam he set about convincing the Vietnamese to invade. The Vietnamese didn't initially, but did support Sen and his band of exiles in their attempt to oust Pot. As it happened however  Pol Pot was  sufficiently stupid and evil to attack Vietnamese civilians both in Cambodia and across the border. (The previous regimes forces did this also and got pounded for it.) The Vietnamese did invade, and thankfully—by driving Pol Pot and his regime into the forest—relieved the surviving Cambodians of their most murderous regime to date. The Vietnamese gave Sen the job of Foreign Minister under the new/old regime, which he still retains.
Today, the influence of China is palpable in both what is being built and how it is being built, and in the political shenanigans that are going on. The culture is otherwise much more Indian than Chinese; the people physically look more Indian than other East Asians too; and their particular form of witch doctor worship (religion) is also derived from India.
Suzuki Samurai posts irregularly from around Asia. Check out all his posts here.

SUMMER SNIPPETS: ‘When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World’

When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest DynastyMore interesting snippets I highlighted during my summer reading, this time from Hugh Kennedy’s When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Greatest Dynasty.

Historians of the period have preserved the text of a long [and influential] letter said to have been written by Tahir [ibn Husayn, the Abbasid caliph's governor of northeastern Persia in 821, and former power-broker in the caliph’s court], giving advice to his son about how to be a good ruler… The ruler is shown to be a benevolent despot.  His authority is absolute and he is responsible, not to his subjects, but to God.  There is no sense of popular limitations to his power, and no mention of any sanctions his subjects can make use of should he abuse it.  The ruler should behave in a benign and conscientious way because he is responsible to God and will be held to account by Him if he fails.  He should also look after the welfare of his subjects because it makes sense to do so: prosperous subjects pay more taxes and cause fewer problems.  To an extent the advice is worldly and eve cynical—being a just ruler makes you richer and more powerful—but it is also about the virtuous circle, an idea Muslim political theorists were to return to time and time again: a strong but gently tyranny brings benefits to ruler and subjects alike…
    “The emphasis on moderation in all things is also striking.  It is possible that this idea comes directly from Greek philosophy, even perhaps from [Tahir’s own] reading of philosophy…
    “There are noticeable omissions in the document.  Apart from a brief mention of the use of taxation to humiliate unbelievers, nothing in Tahir’s work would give any indication that a large proportion, probably the majority, of the people over whom he ruled were Christians.  He is only concerned with how a Muslim ruler should relate to his Muslim subjects.  There is no mention of the need to convert non-Muslims to Islam.  There is also no mention of the Jihad or holy war: the Muslim community is imagined as being at peace with itself and its neighbours.”

Along with the measures [designed to appeal to a constituency of Islamist hard-liners, new Caliph Mutawwakil (847AD) brought] measures against the dhimmis (protected people), the Christians and Jews.  These did not amount to active persecution or forced conversion to Islam but rather public shaming.  In 850, the caliph issued a decree that aimed to enforce discrimination in dress in a way that is unpleasantly reminiscent of the anti-Jewish legislation of Nazi Germany.  All dhimmis were required to wear yellow on their clothes… He also ordered that all renovated places of worship be confiscated, turned into mosques if big enough or demolished if not.  Christians and Jews had certainly suffered discrimination before in an irregular and patchy way—Christians in areas along the Byzantine frontier had been threatened because the Muslim authorities were afraid they mighty ally with the Byzantines—but Mutawwakil’s decrees were the first time a caliph had adopted these measures against dhimmis wherever they were and whatever their jobs were.”

The original Abbasid regime that came to power in 750…set about patronising and developing a court culture that would establish their identity as the elite, the khassa. This culture would demonstrate their refinement and sophistication: shared cultural values would provide cohesion for the new ruling class.  The leading figures in the civil administration of the caliphate at this period … also appear as the most important patrons of literature and learning: court and culture were intimately bound together…
    “The caliphs themselves were the most important patrons.  The tone was set by Mahmun, and it is clear that patronage of science of the [movement to translate Greek science and philosophy] was his own very distinctive personal contribution to the culture of the period… His successor Muhtasim was known as a military man and creator of the city of Samarra, but he does seem  to have continued something of his brother’s patronage of writers and scientists.  His son and successor Wathiq was more interested in intellectual debate. Mahsudi speaks of him as loving research and those who undertook it, and hating those who blindly followed tradition…
    “The caliph Mutawwakil did not encourage scientific enquiry in the same way… [and] none of the short-lived caliphs who succeeded  after Mutawwakil’s assassination in 861AD had much time to develop intellectual interests…  It was not until the accession of Muhtadid in 892 that the Abbasid court again became a focus of scholarship…

Without institutions [or monasteries] to offer salaries and status, scholars were largely dependent on patrons to provide them with a livelihood, and it was in the salons of the great Baghdad families that intellectual life developed…
    “One of the most astonishing and impressive products of this court society was the movement to translate ancient Greek scientific and philosophical texts into Arabic Interest in the Greek intellectual heritage and patronage of the translators became one of the most fashionable forms of elite cultural activity, perhaps all the more satisfying because of the suspicions it aroused in the more hidebound traditionalists.  It was also one aspect of the culture of the Abbasid court that was to have a profound influence on the culture of the wider Islamic Europe and Latin Europe, long after the end of Abbasid power. [You ain’t kidding it had a profound influence! This is a major part of the Greatest Story Hardly Ever Told].
    “Immediately after the great conquests of the seventh century, the Muslims had ruled over many Greek speakers and writers.  Until the end of the seventh century, Greek had remained the administrative language of Syria and Egypt, so Greek culture was  well known.  There were also many Greek works that had been translated into Syriac (a written dialect of Aramaic which was the liturgical and literary language of the Eastern Christian, that is Jacobite and Nestorian churches) during the Byzantine period.  Many of these works were now translated a second time from Syriac to Arabic.  The Muslims were interested in those products of Greek learning which they believed to be useful.  These included works on philosophy, especially logic, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and the use of plants.  They were not concerned to translate poetry, history or drama.  Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Euclid, Ptolemy and Dioscorides were all popular authors, translated and retranslated to make them accessible to the Arab reading public.  Herodotus, Thucydides, Euripides, and Sappho all remained entirely unknown.
    “Translation of Greek texts into Arabic had begin as early as Umayyad times, and there had been sporadic examples under treh early Abbasids; Salam al-Abrash … was an early but individual example.  It was the caliph Mahmun who made the translation movement fashionable in ruling circles.”

The production of translations that were both reliable and elegant required considerable expertise, and men who proved they could deliver were well rewarded.  The Banū Mūsā [brothers originally from Eastern Iran, “merchants” for whom the patronage of culture may have been a sort of money-laundering operation—shades of the Medici family’s patronage perhaps?], leading and discerning patrons of translations of scientific texts, were prepared to pay 500 dinars salary a month to top-quality workers (though it is not clear whether this was to each individual or to the group of translators who lived in their houses).  This was equivalent to the salaries of senior members of the bureaucracy, and vastly more than those of an ordinary craftsman or soldier.  [500 dinars represents about fifty ounces of gold!]  As a result, clever and ambitious people flocked to Baghdad to offer their services…  A biographer gives us an idea of the lifestyle of gentleman academic [Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 873) a Christian from southern Iraq who worked as a translator for the Buna Musa]:
        “He went to the bath every day after his ride and had water poured on him.  He would then come out
    wrapped in a dressing gown and, after taking a cup of wine with a biscuit, lie down until he had
    stopped perspiring.  Sometimes he would fall asleep.  Then he would get up, burn perfumes to fumigate his
    body and have dinner brought in.  This consisted of a large fattened pullet stewed in gravy with a half kilo
    loaf of bread.  After drinking some of the gravy and eating the chicken and the bread he would fall
    asleep.  On waking he would drink 4
ratls [perhaps 2 litres] of old wine.  If he felt like fresh fruit, he would
    have some Syrian apples and quinces.  This was his habit until the end of his life.”
    “When he managed to find time for work amidst this agreeable regime is not entirely clear, but he obviously did for his output was enormous and his academic standards very high…”

The ninth century was the great age of the study of sciences, with Thabit ibn Qurrra (d. 901) in mathematics and Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 873) in medicine being the leading lights.  The clearest example of their intellectual curiosity and practical application can be seen in their project to measure the circumference of the earth.  This is described in some detail by Ibn Khallikan [d.1282]. It is perhaps worth recounting this in detail because the account seems to encapsulate the spirit of scientific enquiry typical of the age and, especially, of the circle of the Banū Mūsā. 
            ‘Although astronomers in ancient times, before the coming of Islam, had done this, there is no evidence
    that any Muslim apart from them had tried it.  The caliph Mahmun took a deep interest in the sciences of
    the ancients and was keen to test their accuracy.  Having read in their works that the circumference of the
    globe is around twenty-four thousand miles or eight-thousand
farsakhs [in fact, the equatorial circumference
    of the earth is 24,902 miles] … He wished to test the truth of this assertion and asked the Banū Mūsā what
    they thought.  They replied that this was certainly the case and the caliph then said, “I wish you to use
    the methods described by the ancients so that we can see whether it is accurate or not.”  They enquired
    where a level plain could be found and were told that the desert of Sinjar [in north-western Iraq] was
    completely flat, as was the country around Kufa.  They took with them a number of people whose
    opinion Ma’mun trusted and whose knowledge in this area he relied on.  They set out for Sinjar and came
    to the desert.  They halted at a spot where they took the altitude of the Pole Star with certain instruments. 
    They drove a peg into the ground and attached a long cord to it.  They walked due north, avoiding, as much
    as possible, going off to left or right.  When the cord ran out, they stuck another peg into the ground and
    fastened a  cord to it and carried on walking to the north as they had done before until they reached a spot
    where the elevation of the pole star had risen by one degree.  Then they measured the distance they had
    travelled on the ground by means of the the rope.  The distance was 66 2/3 miles.  Then they knew that
    every degree of the heavens was 66 2/3 miles on earth.  Then they returned to the place where they had
    stuck in  the first peg, continued to teh south, just as they had previously to the north, sticking in pegs and 
    fastening ropes.  When they had finished all the rope they had used when going north, they took the elevation
    of the Pole Star and found it was one degree lower than the first observation.  This proved that their 
    calculations were correct and that they had achieved what they had set out to do.
    ‘   ‘Anyone who knows astronomy will see that this is true…  They then multiplied the number of degrees of
    the heavens [i.e., 360] by 66 2/3, that is, the length of one degree, and the total was twenty-four thousand
    miles or eight-thousand
farsakhs.  This is certain and there is no doubt about it.  
        ‘Then the Banū Mūsā returned to al-Ma’mun and told him what they had done and that this agreed with
    what he had seen in ancient books.  He wished to confirm this in another location so he sent them to the
    Kufa area where they repeated the experiment they had conducted in Sinjar.  They found that the two
    calculations agreed and Ma’mun acknowledged the truth of what the ancients had written on the subject.’
The account is revealing of many aspects of eth intellectual environment of the time.  The first is the respect shown for ancient science.  People of this era were well aware they had much to learn from the achievements of the classical era (much more aware, of course, than their contemporaries in Byzantium or western Europe).  But the story also shows that this respect for the ancients was not an uncritical acceptance of everything they said: Mahmun and the Banū Mūsā wished to test the figures for the circumference for themselves.  Finally, we must be struck by the commitment to practical scientific experiment, the establishment of a hypothesis, the use of experimental evidence to prove it, and perhaps the most impressive, the care shown to make sure that the experiment could be replicated…  All this demonstrates a truly scientific approach that has few parallels in the post-classical pre-modern age.”

Like the Italy of the Italian Renaissance, the intellectual world of the ninth-century Baghdad was a world where private patrons [sometimes with wealth of dubious origins] funded intellectual life and, to an extent, competed against each other for intellectual prestige.  This may account for something of the variety and originality of the scholarly life that was one of the great achievements of the Abbasid period.  Much of this freshness and vitality was lost with the development of the more formal structures of the madrasa (theological school) from the eleventh century onwards [a direct consequence of the Closing of the Muslim Mind].

Monday, 21 January 2013

Transcripts show the central bankers’ central banker is clueless where it matters

Transcripts of the US Federal Reserve Board’s 2007 meetings reveal that the man who is now experimenting with America’s (and, by extension, the world’s) monetary health—by whom I mean Ben Bernanke, the current Fed chairman who is continuously shooting adrenalin into his patient’s heart in the decreasing hope he can induce a flicker of new life—had no idea at all in 2007  that catastrophe was about to strike.  No idea whatsoever.

Despite the world being already in the Greatest Depression since the Great Depression, this bozo and his colleagues around the boardroom table never even saw the train wreck coming.  Bernanke

noted that housing was “very weak” and manufacturing was slowing but sounded an optimistic note. “Expect for those sectors, there is a good bit of momentum in the economy,” Bernanke said.
   At the same meeting, Timothy Geithner, then president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and now Treasury secretary, said “developments of financial markets on balance since the last meeting have been reassuring. The panic has receded.”
    By December, the economy had plunged into the recession, which would officially last until June 2009. Five years later, the economy has yet to fully recover.

_BenNote that these are not dumb people. They are not bozos because they lack intelligence; they are bozos because they think knowledge of economics gives them complete knowledge of the economy, and with that the ability to tinker with it.

They are wrong. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now.

They are wrong because they didn’t even know what they didn’t know. They never realised that, as Hayek pointed out (as translated into rap) “The economy isn’t a class you can master in college. To think otherwise is the pretence of knowledge.”

Not only do these bozos not even understand what Hayek’s point is trying to tell them, all those very same bozos who helped deliver the greatest economic catastrophe in seventy years are still in charge of the recovery.

Is it any wonder there isn’t one?

Auckland is the world’s ninth-least affordable city in which to buy a house

The 2013 9th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey has just been released (here’s the link to download a PDF copy), showing all New Zealand’s major housing markets (and more than 60 percent
of all our housing) remain “severely unaffordable”—and this situation is getting worse, not better.

Auckland continues to ranks as the world’s ninth-least affordable city in which to buy a house.

The survey covers 337 urban markets of the United States (216); United Kingdom (33); Canada (35); Australia (39); New Zealand (8); Ireland (5) and Hong Kong (China). A supplemental analysis of Singapore is also incorporated within the Survey.

The Survey is based on the “Median Multiple” – where the median house price is divided by the gross annual median household income.  In affordable and normal housing markets, house prices do not exceed 3.0 times annual household incomes.  If they do exceed this standard, it indicates that there are political and regulatory impediments to the supply of new housing that need to be dealt with (further research required on dense high rise urban environments such as Singapore and Hong Kong, to ascertain the affordability ceiling).


Houses in New Zealand are now nearly 80 percent more expensive than the historic affordability housing norm of 3.0, last experienced in the 1990s.

Auckland was the least affordable market, with a Median Multiple of 6.7. Along with Auckland, Christchurch
(6.6), Tauranga-Western Bay of Plenty (5.9), Wellington (5.4) and Dunedin (5.1) were severely unaffordable.

Three New Zealand markets were seriously unaffordable, Palmerston North (4.4), Napier-Hastings (4.5) and
Hamilton (4.7). New Zealand had no affordable markets and no moderately unaffordable markets (Table 10).


There is no mystery about the supply of affordable new housing and a simple structural definition of an affordable housing market is provided within the Survey.  Detailed analysis and commentary is provided on each of the countries surveyed – with a focus on individual urban markets – their trends and political developments. Information on important international research is also provided.

The Introduction to this year’s Survey is contributed by the Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand Bill English.  Mr English explains why the New Zealand Government is committed to restoring affordable housing in New Zealand – and is focused on the four structural impediments – being –

  • Land supply
  • Infrastructure
  • Process
  • Construction costs

A recent New Zealand Television One Colmar Brunton Poll found that 62% of all and 75% of young (18 – 35) New Zealanders are demanding the Government allow affordable housing be provided.

Unfortunately, what Little Bill English proposes by way of improving affordability is much too little, far too late, and unlikely to make any impact whatsoever. And I suspect the Demographia team know that…

Monckton to tour NZ!

Monckton-OpenLetterGreat news! Leading climate skeptic Christopher Monckton will visit New Zealand this year for a lecture tour that is bound to put the wind up local warmists already in retreat.

Planning is already under way, under the expert guidance of Esther Henderson from Climate Realists, and will see him take in virtually the whole country over most of April in his Climate of Freedom Tour—so every one of you will get the chance to hear him, and (if you’ve a mind to) to challenge him.


Don’t miss out.

PS: If you’d like to bone up on his style, you could do worse than start with his 2009 Open Letter to John Key: Part One on the science of so called Climate Change, and Part Two: The Policy Responses.

Not everyone is convinced by Kim DotCom [updated]

Internet pirate Kim DotCon has managed to seduce most of the chattering classes and the commentariat, many of whom joined the oaf on the weekend to sip his cocktails and consume his canapés at the launch of yet another website to host stolen property.

John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures is one of the luvvies who’s mercifully free of the misplaced love for the convicted fraudster.

South Pacific Pictures chief executive John Barnett says the [new] site will undermine New Zealand's creative industries and encourage piracy.
Mr Barnett said he has seen nothing to suggest the new site will be any better for those who own content that may be illegally shared.

He failed to say he’d seen nothing in the character of the man already convicted of share scams, fraud and embezzlement to suggest he has any interest in running a legal operation. But he might have.

UPDATEHard News’s Russell Brown is not entirely convinced either about the oaf’s forthcoming music-share service, Megabox,

which is fundamentally based on depriving one unwilling party of revenue in order to pass it on to another, on an as-yet-unclear basis.
    The US prosecution of Dotcom and his former business Megaupload is symptomatic of the excesses of copyright enforcement. It has been improper and unjust in a number of ways. Dotcom himself is kinda fun to have around. But I don’t think we should fool ourselves into thinking that either of those things makes his grand ideas for content creators in any way fair or sustainable.

NZ Unis plunge down world rankings

The latest world university rankings by the Times Higher Education Supplement sees New Zealand Universities continue to slide precipitously.

The Times Higher Education rankings for 2012/2013 has put Caltech (California University of Technology) at #1 spot for the second year in a row (Caltech was #1 in 2011/2012 and it came at #3  spot in 2010/2011). 

Auckland University is ranked #161 on that list and that's the highest from any NZ University. They (Auck Uni) have been sliding downhill from a few years ago when they achieved a rank of  #48.  The friend who sent me the link (thanks, Si) reckons that the slide coincides with Auckland Uni’s embracing the philosophy of “degrees for everyone” and its rapid expansion into the delivering utterly useless and banal courses in departments like Maori, Pacific studies, Film, Multimedia & TV studies, etc, taking energy and probably funding away from areas of real learning. I suspect he’s right.

No other New Zealand University even made the top two-hundred. And the likes of AUT and Unitech didn’t even make the full list of four-hundred. And, out in Otara, another alleged tertiary institution continues to commit fraud on the education-buying public by using the initials of a top-five university to give itself a glimmer of prestige it neither deserves nor has earned. I suspect only the total laughability of its claim to the acronym M.I.T. stops a successful law suit from the real thing.

Here are the world’s top ten ranking universities, followed by the local also-rans:

1. California Institute of Technology    United States   
2. University of Oxford    United Kingdom   
3. Stanford University    United States   
4. Harvard University    United States   
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology    United States
6. Princeton University    United States   
7. University of Cambridge    United Kingdom
8. Imperial College London    United Kingdom
9. University of California, Berkeley    United States
10. University of Chicago, United States

161. University of Auckland
242. University of Otago
274. Victoria University of Wellington
302. University of Canterbury
346. University of Waikato
376. Massey University

Sadly, while the proportion of the population with a university degree has never been higher, the quality of those degrees has never been lower—and, conversely, the number of qualified tradesmen here has never been lower.

It’s about time the higher education bubble popped here as well.