Friday, 16 July 2010

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: The ‘“damn-hole”-has-been-plugged’ Edition

Biggest news of the week has to be the news coming out the Gulf of Mexico that the damn hole has finally been plugged. We hope.  So now the clean-up and recriminations—and reparation for damages!—can now commence in earnest.
For me, Don Boudreaux puts it all perfectly in perspective in another of his beautifully crafted letters-to-the-editor, this one to a radio station:
    “During today’s 1:00pm hour you played a clip of a listener who is ‘livid that Americans aren’t up in arms against the devastation that corporations inflict’ on us.  This gentleman’s anger was sparked by the BP oil spill.
    “I have little sympathy for BP, it being a firm that has often feasted at government troughs.  But some perspective is now very much needed on the costs and benefits of corporations.
    “Consider that the latest estimated cost of the BP spill is $33 billion.  That’s a lot of money, to be sure.  But this sum pales in comparison to the amount of money that Wal-Mart’s retailing efficiencies are estimated to save consumers each year: $200 billion.*
    “Oil spills are compellingly photographable – and, hence, attention-getting and emotion-stirring.  In contrast, lower prices for – which, by the way, mean fewer resources used to bring to market – clothing, children’s toys, digital cameras, camping equipment, kitchen appliances, groceries, and other goods that we routinely enjoy are not photographable in any compelling way.  The result is that the social benefits of corporate innovations and competition are easily overlooked, ignored, taken for granted, forgotten.  But these benefits are enormous.  And any assessment of the worthiness of corporations in modern life had best take them into accurate account lest we adopt policies that make us all poor and miserable.
    Donald J. Boudreaux
            * See Matt Ridley’s splendid new book, The Rational Optimist (New York: HarperCollins, 2010), p. 113.  A few
            pages earlier (p. 110), Matt observes

     “Yet for all the liberating effects of commerce, most modern commentators see a far greater threat to human freedom from the power of corporations that free markets inevitably throw up.  The fashionable cultural critic sees himself or herself as David slinging stones at vast, corrupt and dehumanizing Goliath-like corporations that punish, pollute and profiteer with impunity…”
  • “Never let a crisis go to waste, and it if looks like it may, extend it.”
    Extending the BP Crisis – Jeff Perren, SHAVING LEVIATHAN
  • This video attacking Obama’s handling of the Gulf crisis is about as partisan as you can get—implying that there was some magic Republican wand that could have been raised to deal with the gushing oil that the Democrat president didn’t have or wouldn’t use—but it does capture very well the sense that this president, moreso even than  recent presidents, sees the world in terms of opinions to be massaged rather than a reality full of absolutes.
And in other news…
  • If university funding is to be made partially contingent on whether graduates are able to get jobs after university, as Steven Joyce suggested yesterday, then Eric Crampton has a reasonable point: “If we now reckon the point of universities is the increased earning power of graduates, there's little case for state funding of university students…”
    Yeah, but will it get you a job? – OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR
  • Is the philosophy PhD student admitting that philosophy doesn't produce job options…? Maybe that has something to do with the brain damage that studying philosophy in today’s philosophy departments engenders.
    Fears for philosophy degrees – STUFF
  • This is bound to go well… “Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of rules touching every corner of finance in the biggest expansion of government power over banking and markets since the Great Depression.”
    Law Remakes U.S. Financial Landscape – WALL STREET JOURNAL
  • Who says Auckland hasn’t got toll roads? To the world’s most expensive toll bridge in Grafton, you can now add this: “Auckland drivers have been fined $4.2m in a year for using bus lanes…
    $4m bus-lane 'disgrace' – NZ HERALD
  • For some reason, many people are talking about a guest post by Jordan Carter at the progressive Policy Progress (sic) blog whining about the “failures” of the left in the face of “thirty years of neo-liberal ascendancy”—whatever the hell that means--a post that almost point by point proves Doug Reich’s thesis on liberal inanity that I posted here the other day. I’d suggest reading Jordan’s piece; followed by Phil Sage’s fisking of it; followed by Doug’s more substantive piece.  They make a nice complete set.
    Have they really changed? – Jordan Carter, POLICY PROGRESS
    Socialism is dead, long live market democracy – Phil Sage, NO MINISTER
    Liberal Despair Over Obama, Taker of the Ham Sandwich – Doug Reich, RATIONAL CAPITALIST
  • And there’s a good post-script to those book-ends that Doug recommends: an earlier post reflecting why liberals don’t even bother reading the laws that they pass.  Trust me, it’s worth reading.
    Why Liberals Don't Read Their Bills, Evade Their Constituents, but "Penetrate the Message Wars" – Doug Reich, RATIONAL CAPITALIST
  • Quite apart from the news-value involved, if this doesn’t get your irony meter going nothing will.  Communist-hunter Trevor Loudon recommends reading Fidel Castro’s comments on the potential for a looming Iran/Israel war.  Don’t know about you, but I make that at least three layers of irony.
    Fidel Castro on the Looming Iran/Israel War – Trevor Loudon, NEW ZEAL
  • Hugo Chavez continues to demonstrate that the end road of socialism is dictatorship.
    Globovision under Siege – Gus Van Horn
  • Meanwhile, Libya took time out to taunt Israel. A Libyan ship carrying “aid” and activists was heading for Gaza in a mission that Israel described as an “unnecessary provocation.” A prize if you can work out which of either aid or provocation Libya was more interested in.
    Israeli navy on alert as Libyan aid ship heads for Gaza – GRAUNIAD
    Fortunately, this time, the ship’s master agreed to divert to Egypt, where the “aid” was peacefully unloaded just a few hours ago.
    Libyan Aid Ship for Gaza Unloading Supplies in Egypt – VoA
  • Britain’s healthcare anti-system still struggles to do what its name says if should. And now “the ‘sixth major reform of the service in 20 years,” looks as likely to succeed as all the others,” says Lindsay Mitchell.  Which is to say, it’s unlikely.
    Another Mickey Mouse makeover for the NHS – LINDSAY MITCHELL
  • They’re wrong about John Key’s predications, but apart from that I like Roar Prawn’s short and sweet comment on the possibility of “boat people” arriving in KiwiLand. I like it a lot.
    Waka Bailers  - ROAR PRAWN
  • Peter Schiff thinks the US is entering the economic lull before the storm.
  • Retail spending is down in the States … but don’t despair. That’s a good thing, says Jeffrey Tucker.  “Contrary to the model of an economy without risk, uncertainty, time, or capital, this is exactly what should be happening in light of the downturn.” Bring on the savers!
    Retail sales despair – Jeffrey Tucker, MISES ECONOMICS BLOG
  • A new spectre is haunting the dis-united states of Europe, one not entirely unrelated to KArl Marx’s famous piece of imagery.  This time it’s the spectre of public debt. “The debt-to-gross domestic product ratio for the European Union is projected to reach 80 per cent this year,” and folk are starting to realise things are not going to go well. Not well at all.
    Pain ahead for indebted Europe – Henry Ergas, THE AUSTRALIAN
  • And in completely related news, the States comprising America’s United States are going the same way. “While the private economy has done a good job adjusting during the recession and paving the way for the growth we see now, we can’t say the same holds true for the government. In fact, as fiscally irresponsible as the US government has been, the next big shoe to drop for the US may be the revealed insolvency of some of its big states.”
    When the States Go Bankrupt – Chris Mayer, DAILY RECKONING
  • By the way.  Just so you know. Economics is tool difficult for bloggers.  Yes, it’s true.  A bureaucrat at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Virginia, says so.  Economist Sterling Terrell tells the econo-weasel to go to hell.
    Economics Is … Easy – Sterling Terrell, MISES ECONOMICS BLOG
  • Mind you, you can see how you’d think economics was complicated when you fall for the nonsensical chartist blather at the heart of the Keynesian system.  It’s a theory that doesn’t so much shoot itself in the foot, as shoot everyone in the wallet.
    The Self-Defeat of the Keynesian Cross – Predrag Rajsc, MISES ECONOMICS BLOG
  • Still, if you don’t want to listen to bloggers, here’s some freedom-fighting talking heads disagreeing about the reasons for the US’s economics malaise.  See how many fallacies you can spot.

  • Thanks to reader David S. for this: “A look at some of the flawed thinking that prompts people who believe in certain non-scientific concepts to advise others who don't to be more ‘open-minded’.”
  • (The video discussion rather reminds me of Howard Devoto’s noisy musical take on this question on the B-side of his 1976 ‘Shot By Both Sides’ single, the the B- and A- sides of which seem to have subsequently become, respectively, a personal mantra and a description of my place in both politics and the political blogosphere.)
    Magazine - My Mind Ain't So Open – YOU TUBE
  • An atheist takes on the Pro-Atheism billboards appearing around the city.
    ”What sort of abject cop-out is ‘There probably is no God’ … Would we say there probably are no goblins, ghosts, tooth fairies, taniwha and trolls under bridges?”
    Memo to NZ Atheists—Grow a Pair! – Lindsay Perigo, SOLO
    Ken Perrott rounds up some of the other reactions to the lukewarm atheist activism, and offers a challenge...
    Theological critiques of billboards required – OPEN PARACHUTE
  • Russell Brown tries “a waggish, attention-grabbing headline.”
    Wanna Route? – HARD NEWS
  •     “It should come as no surprise that the development of a way to grow apples that won't brown when sliced would encounter opposition. It is, after all, progress. And progress is something some folks don’t hold with. Folks who embrace the so-called ‘precautionary principle,’ that is.
        “This principle holds that no new development or activity should be allowed until the proponents can prove that no damage will occur to the environment or public health. The principle has taken hold in Europe and in some quarters of the United States, particularly among environmental and health-advocacy groups.
        “Under the precautionary principle, however, many of the millions of technological advances that have occurred since the dawn of time would not pass muster….”
    Precautionary Principle Thwarts Scientific, Societal Advancements – CAPITAL PRESS
  • GM Food Labels: Is it the Need to Know or Right to Know This is the doctoral thesis that Sue Kedgely needs to read. (Maybe someone could send it on)”
    “Label what and why?  An interdisciplinary risk analysis methodological comparison in the context of green biotechnology and food labeling,” by Dr Stan Benda
    Thesis may be secured from Thesis Canada.  Dr. Benda can be reached via
  • Should the law encourage preventive health? Well, no. (And, yes, send this one to Sue too.)
  • Just three years ago the politics of global warming was enjoying its golden moment. Now, it’s in headlong retreat. Stefan Thell explains why “the environment” is no longer a sure-fire winner.
    A Green Retreat: Why the environment is no longer a surefire political winner. - NEWSWEEK
  • Warmist Clive Crook rips the two main Climategate reports a new one.  Even a child could see the corruption on show in the Climategate emails--“an ethos of suffocating groupthink and intellectual corruption” calls it. So how come the so-called independent reports couldn’t? Because all they listened to was the case of the defence. They never even bothered to listen to the case for the prosecution.[Hat tip WUWT]
            “I had hoped, not very confidently, that the various Climategate inquiries would
        be severe [says Crook]. This would have been a first step towards restoring confidence
        in the scientific consensus. But no, the reports make things worse. At best they are
        mealy-mouthed apologies; at worst they are patently incompetent and even
        wilfully wrong. The climate-science establishment, of which these inquiries have chosen
        to make themselves a part, seems entirely incapable of understanding, let alone
        repairing, the harm it has done to its own cause.”
    Climategate and the Big Green Lie – Clive Crook, THE ATLANTIC
  • India’s Economic Times has a sober summary of the situation now:
            “Critics have lambasted the supposedly-independent inquiry by Sir Muir
        Russell because he himself is a climate change crusader. He interviewed the CRU
        scientists but not the climate sceptics whom the scientists were targeting. This has
        been called ‘a trial with judge, jury, reporters, spectators and defendant , but no
        plaintiff. The plaintiff is locked outside the courtroom sitting in the hall hollering
        and hoping the jury hears some of what he has to say.’ 
            “At the end of it all, two things are clear. First, it is fantasy for crusaders to claim
        that catastrophic global warming is established science: the emails reveal doubts
        and caveats even among true believers in CRU. Second, the International Panel on
        Climate Change must disavow its claim made first in 2001 — based on the ‘hockey
        stick’ graph of Michael Mann using historical tree-ring data — that the world is
        warmer today than ever before…
            “This is inconvenient for climate crusaders who blame fossil fuels for all warming.
        But it will provide citizens with basic information they need before deciding whether
        to spend trillions on combating a problem that may or may not be real.”
        Climategate: Beyond inquiry panels – ECONOMIC TIMES
  • More post- ClimateGate Fall-Out: After their whitewashed report, Michael Man’s employer endures a belated ad richly-deserved integrity crisis.
    Penn State’s Integrity Crisis – CANADA FREE PRESS
  • And a post-Climategate global warming debate in London brings together at least one of the major players. Oddly, both Greenpeace and Anthony Watts feel much the same about how the evening went.
    Climategate- the showdown –GREENPEACE
    Report from the Climategate Guardian debate – Anthony Watts, CLIMATE AUDIT
    UPDATE: Video of the event is available here:
  • While I’m posting links to Greenpeace, why not go the whole hog and link to the Green Party as well, you say? Okay, here you go.  We might disagree on the science, but the Greens’ Frog Blog has posted a link to a neat Google Earth plug-in showing the purported effects of a 4 degrees rise in world temperature—the very upper limit of IPCC “predictions.” Find out their worst prognostications (and let me know how the Himalaya glaciers and Amazon predictions look—given recent events they’d be two among dozens worth checking for their propaganda value).
    Google Earth – climate change edition! – FROG BLOG
    Czech physicist Lubos Motl offers a less sympathetic view:
    Alarmist politicians draw circles on Google Earth – Lubo Motl, REFERENCE FRAME
  • The Czechs do it again—giving it up for “transparency” in politics.  See what I mean: Czech MPs pose for a “glamour calendar” in shots like this one.
    (Please, please don’t try this in Wellington. I get all the wrong sorts of visions of Ruth Dyson!)
    [Thanks to reader Jeff for the link]
    Female Czech MPs pose for calendar – TELEGRAPH
  • FIFA’s rankings of the world’s soccer teams are out, and following their unbeaten World Cup campaign, New Zealand has rocketed up twenty or so places to 52.  But John Ansell reckons on the basis of games unbeaten, New Zealand should be on top of the world. Maybe just below the Octupus?
    Only NZ and octopus undefeated – JOHN ANSELL’S BLOG
  • Here’s a great web tool.  According to this analysis site, and depending on which of my most representative ten posts I paste for analysis, I write like either H.P. Lovecraft (twice!), Kurt Vonnegut, Dan Brown (three goddamn times!), Edgar Allan Poe (twice), or David Foster Wallace. Take your pick.
    A bit disappointing really (particularly all those damn Dan Brown hits), and especially so since I was always aiming at a style somewhere between PJ O’Rourke and Raymond Chandler. Sigh.  [Hat tip Fundy Post]
    I Write Like…
  • And here’s some great tips to help you unclutter. I”ll get on to actually doing them shortly. Honest.
    10 uncluttering things to do every day
  • The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra put on a great show last night in the first of their Splendour of Vienna series, with Beethoven’s Ninth being a highlight, as always, particularly with a choir that really did get it powerfully right on the night. 
    But the big surprise for me was the three lieder by Hugo Wolf.  Here’s the most dramatic of the three, a setting by Wolf of poet Eduard Mörike’s ‘Fire-Rider,’ sung with uncharacteristic feeling by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.
  • And here’s the highlight of the evening, the choral finale to Beethoven’s Ninth—the fitting finale for this (or nearly every) evening (performed here by the Vienna Philharmonic under the energetic Leonard Bernstein).
  • The list of listenable songs by free-jazz messiah Ornette Coleman is a short one. This one was recommended by estimable Aucklander Graham Reid, whose equally estimable Elsewhere website contains literally hundreds of thoughtful recommendations for intelligent listening in Jazz & Elsewhere. Start with his Essential Elsewhere, “a selection of cornerstone albums to help you build an interesting collection of diverse Elsewhere  music.”  Highly recommended.
  • And finally, I’m not sure I’m really partial the video itself, but here’s the song that was a minor ‘hit’ at last weekend’s party. By local heroes Sola Rosa, by way of a cannibalised Tommy Dorsey track.
That’s all for me.
Have a great weekend!
And if you’re in the area, check out the Cask-Conditioned Croucher’s Pale Ale now on tap at Galbraith’s, Mt Eden.  I will be.

Click for Croucher's Blog

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