Monday, 18 December 2006

An inconvenient truth for carnivores

An inconvenient truth for carnivores from a study of 8,179 people, published in the latest British Medical Journal:
A Southampton University team found those who were vegetarian by 30 had recorded five IQ points more on average at the age of 10... Men who were vegetarian had an IQ score of 106, compared with 101 for non-vegetarians; while female vegetarians averaged 104, compared with 99 for non-vegetarians.
Another sacred cow slaughtered -- if you'll pardon the metaphor.

LINK: High IQ link to being vegetarian - BBC News [Hat tip Andrei]
An Objectivist tiger in a vegetarian cafe - Not PC (June, 2006)
Myths that can kill: Meat - Not PC (Feb, 2006)


Modern education: Value for money?

We may be spending more on schools, but how about the argument that teachers in general still aren't paid enough? I asked the question the other day, suggesting that without a market for education it's simply impossible to say for sure. Alan Caruba asks and answers the question in the American context, and based on the service performed, and his answer is a very firm "Hell, no!" His charge (and the problems he cites) holds true locally as well:
It is an act of thievery to take money to provide goods or services and then fail to do so. Our nation’s schools have become a great criminal conspiracy, promising to educate our children, but more often producing “graduates” without even the most basic skills, let alone a useful, wider body of knowledge.
If you doubt the truth of that charge, perhaps I can remind readers of the results of the comprehensive 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey, which surveyed adults from 16-65. The survey ranked reading levels from level 1 (very poor) to level 5 (very good); level 3 is regarded as being “functionally literate,” ie., the minimum level required to meet the “complex demands of everyday life and work.” The New Zealand portion of that survey found that for prose (the “ability to understand and use information from text”) a staggering 66.4 percent of Mäori were below this minimum level and an equally tragic 41.6 percent of non-Mäori.

There is no reason to suppose that insuperably different results would be achieved today, yet this 'service' takes children from their homes under the pretence of education, in return for which taxpayers continue to pay, and are forced to pay. How much? Through the nose.
“According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average private school charged $4,689 per student in tuition for the 1999-2000 school years. That same year, the average public school spent $8,032 per pupil.” Somehow, private schools are able to out-perform public schools when it comes to imparting knowledge and skills despite the fact their students have less than half as much funding as public school students...
The figures are commensurate with local prices. Conclusion?
The entire education establishment, frequently advocating the teaching of values at odds with those held by parents, has ruined our nation’s schools and are defrauding taxpayers by failing to truly educate the children placed in their care.
What will it take for it to become politically unacceptable to fail at this level, to take so many young minds and to have them reduced to so much mush, and at such great expense? A great scam is taking place before our eyes, and we're all too blind to see it.

Alas, while such unspeakable disasters are avoidable, they are not unprecedented historically, and a brief historical detour will help to make Caruba's point even plainer. That great humanitarian Victor Hugo wrote in The Man Who Laughed of the 'Comprachicos,' a breed of "strange and hideous nomads" from the 17th century who "made children into sideshow freaks," for which there then was some demand. Hugo described the hideous process:
To succeed in producing a freak one must get hold of him early; a dwarf must be started when he is small... They stunted growth; they mangled features... It was a whole science of inverted orthopaedics. Where nature had put a straight glance, this art put a squint. Where nature had put harmony, they put deformity.. The child was not aware of the mutilation he had suffered. This horrible surgery left traces on his face, not in his mind... During the operation the little patient was unconscious by means of a stupefying magic powder.

In China since time immemorial, they have achieved refinement in a special art and industry: the moulding of living man. One takes a child two or three years old and puts them into a grotesquely shaped porcelain vase, without cover or bottom, so that the head and feet protrude. In the daytime the vase is upright, at night it is laid down so the child can sleep. Thus the child slowly fills the contours of the vase with compressed flesh and twisted bones. This bottled development continues for several years. At a certain point, it becomes an irreparable monster. Then the vase is broken and one has a man in the shape of a pot."
Ayn Rand noted that while Hugo wrote this in the nineteenth century, "his exalted mind could not conceive that so unspeakable a form of inhumanity would ever be possible again. The twentieth century proved him wrong."
The production of monsters--helpless, twisted monsters whose normal development has been stunted--goes on all around us [observed Rand], But the modern heirs of the comprachicos are smarter and subtler... They do not hide, they practice their trade in the open; they do not buy children, the children are delivered to them; they do not use sulphur or iron, they achieve their goal without ever laying a finger on their little victims.

The ancient comprachicos hid the operation, but displayed its results; their heirs have reversed the process: the operation is open, the results are invisible. In the past, this horrible surgery left traces on a child's face, not in his mind. Today it leaves traces in his mind, not on his face. In both cases the child is not aware of the mutilation he has suffered. But today's comprachicos do not use narcotic powders; they take a child before he is fully aware of reality and never let him develop that awareness. Where nature had put a normal brain, they put mental retardation. To make you unconscious for life by means of your own brain, nothing can be more ingenious.
This is the ingenuity practiced by most of today's educators. They are the comprachicos of the mind.

They do not place a child into a vase to adjust his body to its contours. They place him into a [modern] school to adjust him to society.
Perhaps this Christmas you might reflect that it is beyond time to effect the political change necessary to turn around what should be a matter of national outrage. Forget all the alleged scandals and conspiracies supposedly buried under froth and spin -- attack the inhumanity like this that is happening right out in the open! And attack it as fiercely as you know how.

LINKS: Robbing parents to pay teachers - Alan Caruba, Capitalism Magazine
Adult Literacy Survey - Ministry of Social Development

RELATED: Education, Politics-NZ, Objectivism

Dawkins in Ireland

Whatever your view of religion, of Richard Dawkins, or of Dawkins's recent book The God Delusion, and whichever side of the theist-atheist divide on which you sit, you'll have to agree that these two appearances by Dawkins on Irish television are good intelligent television of the sort that makes NZ television seem like amateur hour.

Think how much is discussed in just twenty-odd minutes in the Late, Late Show with Pat Kenny [hat tip the Lemur], and with such wit in The Panel.

LINKS: Richard Dawkins on The Late Late Show - You Tube
Interview with Richard Dawkins on The Panel, Ireland - You Tube

RELATED: Religion

Taking the Christ out of Christmas

I hear people complaining that "Christ is being taken out of Christmas." In fact, the Vatican, poor dears, have "accused some western countries of waging "a war against Christmas" by removing Christian values and symbols from the holiday."

So what? Christ was never in Christmas, except in fiction and by order of the Council of Trent.

Jesus wasn't even born in December: he was born in July*, which makes him a cancer -- just like religion.

'Christmas' was originally not a Christian festival at all, but the lusty pagan festival that became the Roman Saturnalia, celebrating the winter solstice. This was the time of year in the northern hemisphere (from whence these traditions started) when days stopped getting darker and darker, and started once again to lengthen. The end of the hardest part of the year was in sight (particularly important in northern climes where all-day darkness was the winter rule), food stocks would soon be replenished, and all this was something well worth celebrating with enthusiasm, and with relish -- and if those Norse sagas tell us anything, they tell us those pagans knew a thing or too about celebration!

Dark Age Christians couldn't put a stop to these lusty revels, so they hit upon a solution: first they stole them, and then they sanitised them. (Just think, the first 'Grinch Who Stole Christmas' was really a Pope!)

The best of Christmas is still very much pagan. The mistletoe, the trees, the presents; the drinking; the celebrations; the gift-giving; the trees and the decorations; the eating and the singing; the whole full-blooded, rip-roaring, free-wheeling, overwhelming, benevolent materialism of the holiday -- all of it all fun, and all of it fully, one-hundred percent pagan.

Says Leonard Peikoff in 'Why Christmas Should Be More Commercial', the festival is "an exuberant display of human ingenuity, capitalist productivity, and the enjoyment of life." I'll drink to all that, and then I'll come back right back up again for seconds. Ayn Rand sums it up for mine, rather more benevolently than my brief introduction might have led you to expect:
The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men—a frame of mind which is not the exclusive property (though it is supposed to be part, but is a largely unobserved part) of the Christian religion.

The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: ‘Merry Christmas’—not ‘Weep and Repent.’ And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance....

The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying is good for business and good for the country’s economy; but, more importantly in this context, it stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decoration put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a Salacious Saturnalia!

* Yes, this is simply a rhetorical flourish. Jesus' birth may have happened in March. Or in September -- or not at all -- but it certainly did not happen in December. More here.

RELATED: Religion, History


Spirit of 76 suggests I've spent too much time recently attacking christians and John Boy Key. He's right. I need to spend equal time attacking other threats to freedom and the good life. Like lawyers.

In the service of that end, allow me to quote H.L. Mencken:
All the extravagance and incompetence of our present Government is due, in the main, to lawyers, and, in part at least, to good ones. They are responsible for nine-tenths of the useless and vicious laws that now clutter the statute-books, and for all the evils that go with the vain attempt to enforce them. Every Federal judge is a lawyer. So are most Congressmen. Every invasion of the plain rights of the citizens has a lawyer behind it. If all lawyers were hanged tomorrow, and their bones sold to a mah jong factory, we'd be freer and safer, and our taxes would be reduced by almost a half.
Wise words.

RELATED: Law, Quotes

The donkey gets the nod

John Armstrong picks the smirking knob in the middle of the donkey as his Politician of the Year with this simpering selection of apostrophes to mediocrity:

"...the killer contribution came from English, who with Key, are the only real contenders for the title of Politician of the Year."

Anyone who can remember English being punched around by singer Ted Clarke in a boxing bout on national television will realise that the use of the words "killer" and "English" in the same sentence is surely an unfortunate combination.

"Key, of course, made the big leap into leadership. But he did the groundwork last year, which made him leader-in-waiting and Politician of the Year for 2005. And judging on his form so far as leader, he will be on the shortlist next year."

The "groundwork" for John Boy Key's "leap into leadership" consisted of destabilising his leader by talking up a coup for a year -- and in this he had the active support of Armstrong and his colleagues. And as is now clear, the "groundwork" for Key's "great leap forward" in no way included any policy development, any reason for him wanting the big brass ring any more than -- similar to what Walter Lippman once wrote about Franklin Roosevelt -- that he is simply an affable man without conspicuous convictions who very much wanted to be Prime Minister. Little enough, perhaps, but more than enough to make Armstrong's short-list.

"This year the title [of Politician of the Year] goes to English, partly for the sheer political machismo and guile he displayed in securing both National's deputy leadership and the shadow finance portfolio..."

This is either satire, or Armstrong is in serious need of either a holiday or a new job. "Machismo." "Guile." And Mr Twenty-One Percent! Whatever repertorial judgement Armstrong may once have had -- and I must confess I've never seen any sign of it myself -- it's clear it has now left him.

My nomination for the year's most sycophantic so-called journalist? John Armstrong.

LINKS: Opinion - John Boy Junior, NZ Herald

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-National, Hollow Men

Sunday, 17 December 2006

How was your 2006?

How was your 2006? It's almost time to be summing up your year, isn't it.
How was your 2006? Name 3 good things about it. Name 3 bad things. (5 marks). Prove using the Principle of Least Action (10 marks).
  • Favourite movie seen in 2006: Strange Love of Martha Ivers. Classic film noir. Edgy, taut, climactic -- "a razor-witted dance of death." They literally do not make them like this any more: it was made in 1946.
  • My best book of 2006: Sprawl: A Compact History. A ground-breaking read. Ayn Rand Answers wasn't too foul either.
  • Favourite magazine: The Free Radical, of course.
  • Most work: Editing The Free Radical!
  • Favourite theatre performance of 2006: Berlin: A Cabaret of Desire. Loved it the first time, and heading back to The Silo for seconds this week. Score!
  • Favourite musical performance: The all-NZ Parsifal, no question. Thrilling. Overwhelming. Electric. Proof of what music can do, and of what it can do for you -- and of how NZ music has reached maturity.
  • Favourite architectural moment 1: Opening of and view from the new Museum Dome.
  • Favourite architectural moment 2: Impending housewarming of Organon Architecture's Hamilton House.
  • The three worst things: Politics, politics, and politics. What scum.
  • Most shabbily treated New Zealander of 2006: Don Brash.
  • Second most shabbily treated: Peter Davis.
  • Favourite political moment: Announcement of Bernard Darnton's suit against Helen Clark.
  • Most dishonest: Clark Government's get-out-of-jail-free legislation.
  • Best thing about Not PC: The steady increase in the number of friendly yet combative commenters. [Pretentious? Huh! :-) ] And the new beer columnists. And the beer.
  • Worst Not PC thing about 2006: The implosion of some formerly friendly yet combative commenters.
  • Beer discoveries of 2006: Cheap imported real Czech Budvar. The fine products of the Emerson and Limburg breweries.
  • Favourite early evening drink of 2006: Dry Martini.
  • Late evening: Tullamore Dew.
  • Holiday Drink: Hangman's Blood [see recipe at the List of Iconic Drinkers]
  • Best party: Bonfire Night.
  • Best sporting moment of 2006: The down-to-the-wire AFL final. What sporting magic is made from. (The All Blacks almost-clean sweep wasn't bad, either. Bring on the World Cup next year!)
  • Much needed at the end of 2006: A holiday!
So what was good, bad, indifferent or most memorable for you?

Today's Bible reading: Who gets to go to church?

More useful advice from the 'good book.'
Deuteronomy, 23:1 He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
Uh huh. Anyone else excluded?
23:2 A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the LORD.
Uh, right. I see now why it's called the 'good book.' No bastarding eunuchs wanted.

Saturday, 16 December 2006

Holiday reading

Just getting my summer holiday reading together.

You think I might be overdoing it?


Polemic writing: Use a sniper's rifle, not a shotgun

Okay, for those who wanted it, here it is: my tired, ten-year-old advice on how to write a press release, nipped and tucked so it now advises how to write a good polemical blog post (see if you can spot the joins). Not every blog post is a polemic, but every poster of polemic blogs might find this useful. If you don't need it, don't read it.

[From the archives...] Want to be a libertarian blogger? Great!! Here's a few guidelines to help you put together your posts:

Unlike this one, every good post needs a hook on which to hang your argument. A post is a seduction, and you have to seduce people into reading it, however you try and do it. The readers you want to seduce are busy people -- you have to find some means of giving them a way in by making it seem worth reading on. And then you have to make sure it is worth reading on.

Most people won't read beyond the first paragraph (particularly if they're reading you on a news reader), so that opening paragraph must be provocative enough to grab the attention AND to make your point in one hit -- AND try and seduce them into reading further. Make that first paragraph count. That's as much as most people are going to know (or care) about what you think.

If they want to read further, they probably want to know why you said what you said. Tell them - that's why second, and sometimes third, paragraphs were invented. Explain your position, and make those paragraphs count.

Notice I said "second, and sometimes third, paragraphs"? Don't piss around. Your readers are busy people, and so are you.

Press releases need the oxygen of timeliness to survive; not so for blogs. Press releases make the news; blog posts generally comment on the news. So unlike press releases you can get something off your chest even a week or more later -- a great way to relieve that blood pressure. But a week or so later you have to have something to say that hasn't already been said - and most people's minds were already made up on Day One.

A good post uses a sniper's rifle rather than a shotgun - it has ONE strong point rather than several, and it doesn't spray its load around: it shoots straight for its target. (If you do have two points to make on a subject, then write two posts.)

On a similar point: no flab. Put your posts on a diet. If a post was a muesli -- a bit of a stretch, I know -- then it needs lots of sultanas, and bugger-all bran. Too much filler and too many filling words and you're on your way to sounding like a Hubbard's cereal. Edit your posts, with brevity being the virtue prized above all, clarity being second.

Every post is a missionary, trying to change the world, but each one goes out on its own, without you to explain what you meant by it all. Before pressing 'publish,' read it through as if you're an intelligent reader without any clue what you're talking about. How does it sound to them? If it sounds like you don't have a clue, then you have more work to do.

Invite the reader to form your conclusions for you. If for example you're going to insult someone, by the time you've given all your reasons for despising somone your insult should just be the logical conclusion -- your reader should be able to join you in agreeing.

Argue forcefully. If you don't appear to believe what you're talking about, then why the hell should your reader?

If they've read all the way to the end, your reader will want to know why they bothered. Leave them a moral. "It's enough to make you vote Libertarianz" is an obvious one. "Politicians are scum," is another. Whatever it is, try to leave the reader some quotable one liner to remember, one that sums up what you just said.

And finally, if you want to use words like 'vermin,' 'scum,' 'maggot,' and so on, then go right ahead. If you don't, your comments section will soon be filled with them anyway -- best you get in first. :-)

Hope that helps you. Go to it!! And as my footie coach used to say: Do as I say, not as I do.


A present

Here's a family photo. Nice, huh?

Don't say I never give you presents.

Friday, 15 December 2006

Beer O'Clock: Christmas cheer

What to drink with your Christmas comestibles. Beer of course, but what sort? Stu from Real Beer is here to make some suggestions.

Christmas is upon us, a great time to bring home a selection of interesting beers to match with the different food you tend to eat at this time of year – from barbeques to banquets.

While the northern hemisphere sees a proliferation of dark and spicy Christmas ales to match their cold and dark climates at this time of year, our Christmas (hopefully) is full of sun and fun. This means we tend to drink a lot of pale lagers through this period. This year, I’ve been charged with supplying beers to match the in-laws' Christmas dinner, so I’m going to push their boundaries slightly, without scaring anyone who is used to drinking Steinlager or Tui. Too much.

First up: Invercargill Biman, from the huggable Steve Nally’s truly southern brewery, is not an easy beer to get hold of, but it will be a great partner to the old-school prawn cocktail starters. The fruity hop flavours and light caramel sweetness won’t overpower the subtle notes of the seafood, while the gentle bitterness and carbonation will cut through the sweet fatty notes of the mayonnaise based sauce. In the absence of the popular Biman (outlets can be found at the brewery’s website), Mac’s new Hop Rocker would fit the bill.

For the main: Founders Generation Ale, a hearty chestnut-brown ale from the Duncan family’s Nelson-based brewery, is the perfect accompaniment for the roast chicken. The caramelised sweetness of the skin will be complimented by the beer’s sweet biscuity notes and, at the same time, contrasted by it’s toasty background. The deeper nutty notes, coming out of the beer’s malty body, will be the perfect partner for roasted potatoes, parsnip, carrot and pumpkin. Most good supermarkets and bottle stores carry the Founder’s range, or you can find them in all trendy organic stores.

Lastly: an Emerson’s Dunkel Weissbier, from Dunedin’s highly acclaimed Richard Emerson, will match the rich Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. A dish this rich needs a beer of similar standing, and the Dunkel is spot on. Chocolate, caramelised banana and warming alcohol notes all abound on both the nose and palate, while the tart edged notes of the wheat, a light spice, and the lively carbonation, all combining in a lovely cleansing nature in the finish. Another difficult beer to get hold of, but good supermarkets and bottle stores will reward the dedicated beer hunter.

At the end of such a lovely meal I’ll sit back and think about the fabulous range of beers we have available to us in New Zealand. I might even finish the night with something a little stronger, like Emerson’s Bourbon Porter or a Chimay Grande Reserve, and think about what “Beer O’Clock” 2007 might hold in store. What a grand thought.

Slainte mhath, Stu

LINKS: Invercargill Brewery
Founders Brewery
Emerson’s Brewery
More Christmas Dinner options – Beer&Turkey.Com

RELATED: Beer & Elsewhere

Blogging a dead horse

I guess bloggers have all woken up to the fact that they're a threat to democracy, and in line with recent moves by the Clark Government (all enthusiastically endorsed by the National Socialist opposition) all bloggers are to be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, regulated, licensed and numbered? Liberty Scott has the 'details':
In response to widespread community concern about the untrammelled and biased perspectives presented in New Zealand political blogs, the Minister of Information Technology, Daffid Cantliffe announced that all blogs would be subject to a licensing regime and be subject to regulation by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.
Read on.

LINKS: Blogosphere to be placed on a fairer level - Liberty Scott

RELATED: Humour, Blog, Politics-NZ

Stern's new report: More time with the family

A double whammy this week for promoters of global warming doom.

First, we got a sneak preview of the forthcoming fourth IPCC report, from which all policy is taken, concludes that "Mankind has had less effect on global warming than previously supposed," and further revises possible sea-level rise projections down by half, down to 17 inches by 2100 -- not 20 feet, Mr Gore!

And remember the much-trumpeted Stern Report in October, a report commissioned by the Blair Government that predicted disaster for everyone if something isn't done now? Economic consequences "worse than the Great Depression"! "The economic effects could be as dire as the last two world wars," said Helen Clark! The Guardian described the author of the report Sir Nicholas Stern as "the first climate change rock star."

Now? Alas, Sir Nick, your fifteen minutes is up. If Sir Nick was a "rock star" riding high in the charts in October, now December is here he's looking more like this year's Milli Vannilli: he's quietly leaving The Treasury without even a Lordship to his name after friends said that he was" frozen out" of Gordon Brown’s inner circle. Notes The Sydney Morning Herald,
The news came a day after Mr Brown made a pre-budget statement that embraced virtually none of the recommendations of the Stern report, and dashed hopes the Blair Government would move swiftly to a new environmental agenda..
Is anyone in either the Clark Government or the National pseudo-opposition listening? Anyone? While you wait for anyone here to wake up, perhaps you can laugh at doom-mongering with this South Park clip on You Tube.

LINKS: A downgrade in what we're doing to Gaia - Not PC
Rock star of climate change frozen out - Sydney Morning Herald
Climate change author quits Treasury after Brown freezes him out - Times
Britain's Stern Review on global warming: It could be environmentalism's swan song - George Reisman
South Park/global warming - You Tube

Stern green taxes - Not PC (Oct, 2006)
The Stern Report: selective modelling?- Tim Worstall
Global warming: A godsend for politicians - Not PC (Nov, 2006)

Global Warming, Politics-UK, Politics-World

Difficult to choose...

House - Organon Architecture

House in Hamilton nearing completion...

... the gift wrapping is nearly ready to come off ...

UPDATE: "Some drawings posted," as requested. :-)

Organon Architecture

RELATED: Architecture

Thursday, 14 December 2006

Lecture tonight at the Museum Dome

Aucklanders have an oportunity tonight for an interesting lecture, and another chance to visit Auckland's new and magnificent Museum Dome.

Anyone with even a passing interest in the origins of the first New Zealanders and the how the Pacific was populated will surely enjoy 'nautical anthropologist' Ben Finney' lecturing tonight on the new light his study of traditional Polynesian navigation system has thrown new light on the study of the how the Pacific was populated.

Lecture is tonight, under the Museum's new atrium. 7pm. $10.

RELATED: New Zealand, Science, History

Another success story

Congratulations to Geoff Ross and the team at 42 Below who, as you've probably heard, have been bought by Bacardi for $138 million.

A good product, aggressive and imaginative marketing, and a willingness to get out there and take on the world have brought due reward.

Good on them.

RELATED: Beer & Elsewhere, New Zealand

Letters to the editor

Some people have inquired of me how long it takes to keep this blog refreshed, thinking it must take most of the day. It doesn't. After twenty years of on-again off-again writing and ten years of editing Libz press releases (a job now gratefully relinquished), most short posts can almost be shaken out of my sleeve. (And the odd guest post doesn't hurt either.)

Polemic writing, of which which writing for blogs is an example, is just like every other skill: it's something that needs practice to perfect. One of the best forms of training for this that I found early on is writing letters to the editor. The discipline of harnessing your thoughts to make a convincing argument in just 200 words is a great one to automatise.

Young bloggers who find they need that discipline -- who perhaps find their thoughts regularly sprawling out beyond any readable or reasonable barrier -- should give serious thought to using the medium of letters-to-the-editor to train themselves. And since newspapers generally use letters to the editor as a gauge of public opinion, the exercise is a worthwhile one in any case, even if your letters aren't regularly published.

I might post later on today a short guide that I prepared a few years back to help in writing press releases. Perhaps some of you might find it useful?


Where's my free will?

The first thing you notice through the fog of sleep is a loud, ringing sound. As you rise up through the fog of sleep you recognise it as an alarm of some sort. Your alarm clock. You focus further and realise that it's not going to turn itself off. As you force yourself awake you direct your focus to your limbs, lifting yourself out of bed, and you turn off the clock on your way to the bathroom, making yourself shake the sleep from your mind as you go. It's the start of another day.

As you shower, you set yourself thinking about what you need to do today and, as you do and as you shower, the scales of sleep slip ever further away. You understand you have an important day ahead, and you feel yourself rising up to meet it. In a few short minutes, by your own direction, your mind has changed from an inert unconscious thing, one barely able to grasp what's going on around it, to one that is now focussed upon the events of the day and is starting to make plans to meet them ... and all this even before the first coffee!

Most of us manage this process in a few minutes. Some take hours. Some will choose to stay unfocussed for days. But everyone who has ever experienced this -- which is all of us, at some time -- has experienced what it is to have free will.

Free will at its root is that process of choosing to focus, of deciding first of all to lift our level of awareness from a lower level to a higher one (or to decide not to) , and then directing our focussed attention to something on which we've determined we need to pay attention. A lecture perhaps. A book. A piece of music. A blog post on free will. Someone offering us a beer. At each stage of listening, reading, comprehending, trying to grasp a thought (as Vermeer's Geographer is doing in the picture above) we can choose to maintain attention and focus on what we're trying to take in, to weigh the thoughts and melodies and information that is coming in, or we can choose to float off in a vague fog and let everything just wash over us. The act of choosing to pay attention is a volitionally focussed act by which we first say to ourselves, "I need to focus on this, to understand this," and then acting -- choosing to act -- so as to direct our minds to that on which we ourselves have determined that we need to understand.

As I've described above, the act of focussing is voluntary, and is almost like continually turning on a car. At each stage we can choose to go either to a higher level of awareness, or not; we can choose to focus, or we can choose to drift back off either to sleep, or into a state of unfocussed lethargy. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Equally, you can lead someone else's brain to stimulus, but you can't make it respond. That person must do that work for themselves.

Volition is a powerful factor. Thoughts, values, principles are not something given to us, or imprinted upon us; rather, they are things to identify and think about and grasp for ourselves. Or not. No one can do the thinking for someone else. With sufficient will we can work towards grasping the highest concepts open to us, or we can even sleep through the ringing of our alarm clocks. That choice -- to focus or not; to switch on or not -- is contained entirely within ourselves, and from that choice made by each of us every minute of every day all human thought and all human action is the result. The fact that we are continually making this choice (or choosing not make it) every waking minute of every working day is perhaps why we sometimes fail to see that we're doing it, we've almost automatised our awareness of it, but honest introspection (if we honestly choose to do so) is all it requires to be identified.

This is the nature of the volitional consciousness we each possess, and the fact those who choose to deny free will wish to evade: that this great thinking engine resting on top of our shoulders does not turn itself on automatically. We ourselves own the keys to the engine, and it is in that fundamental choice -- to think, or not to think; to focus, or not to focus; to go to a higher level of awareness, or to drift in and out of awareness -- that the faculty of free will itself resides.

So given that very brief discussion of free will -- to which, if you like, you can add previous similar discussions here, here, here, here and here -- what then do you make of this discussion currently under way at the Humphrey's blog:

Where does this thing called free will come from?

"...if there is no God there’s no free will because we are completely phenomena of matter... we cannot be considered morally responsible beings unless we have free will. We do everything because we are controlled by our genes or our environment."
- comments by David Quinn in The God Delusion: David Quinn & Richard Dawkins debate

Logically, if you are an atheist, you will believe that we are completely influenced by our genetics and environment. That there is no free-will, that moral responsibility has no ability to manifest in any human being. If you don't believe all of that, then you cannot be an atheist and you must have some inkling that God exists.

What do you make of that? "If there's no God then there's no free will"? If you're an atheist, then "logically" -- logically? -- you can't "believe" in free will? As I've suggested above, we don't need to "believe" in free will in the same way a Christian chooses to believe in the existence of a supernatural being; instead, to identify that we do have the faculty of free will, we can simply introspect and identify ourselves engaging in acts of free will. (Indeed, you can do it right now as you weigh in your mind that last thought, and choose whether or not to accept it -- or whether to evade the effort or the knowledge. And recognise, dear reader, that if you choose not to accept it or to evade it, you've still made a choice.)

So much for needing to believe in the supernatural in order to "believe" in free will. How about the claim that we are "completely phenomena of matter" as Mr Quinn suggests? Well, no. We're not. The way our mind is constituted has produced what we know as consciousness. We are not just a bunch of chemicals: we are a particular being with a particular make-up, the manner in which each of our brains are 'wired' has produced consciousness in each of them. As Ayn Rand identified:
That which you call your soul or your spirit is your consciousness, and that which you call your "free will" is your mind's freedom to think or not, the only will you have, your only freedom, the choice that controls all the choices you make and determines your life and your character.
We have consciousness. Consciousness is endowed by its nature with the faculty of free will. What we each choose to do with our own consciousness is up to us -- and it's there that the discussion of morality really begins...

LINKS: Nature v Nurture: Character is all - Not PC
The chemistry of love - Not PC
The fatalism of entropy. The dynamism of spontaneous order - Not PC
More on value judgements in art - Not PC
Excusing the 'bash' - Not PC
Man and free will - Lucyna, Sir Humphrey's

Philosophy, Ethics, Religion

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Phoney excuses for road testing

I was going to write and research a post on the phoney excuses given by the Clark Government for the imposition of roadside drug testing, but Lindsay Mitchell has already done the job. Go read. As she concludes:
The evidence of drug-use causing accidents isn't compelling.
And check out her other writing; she's been producing good stuff recently.

Futuna Chapel, Wellington: Event this weekend

I've blogged before about John Scott's Futuna Chapel as one of my favourite New Zealand buildings, and this weekend you can visit and look around almost as much as you like: the Friends of Futuna have an open weekend including videos, stories and a 'haunting' -- and also a talk from Nick Blake on the architecture of the chapel at 8:30 each evening. [Hat tip Idiot/Savant]

If I were in Wellington, I'd sure as hell be getting along there.
When: Friday December 15th - Sunday December 17th, 10am - 10pm
Where: Futuna Chapel, 62 Friend Street, Karori
How much: Free!
RELATED: Architecture, Wellington

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

Telecom broken into again

Telecom ordered to open up lines

Taking top prize amongst all the lunacy:
"The Maori Party was unhappy that the bill did not ensure Maori gained part of the telecommunications sector which it was entitled to under the Treaty of Waitangi."
Why would you invest in telco infrastructure in NZ? Or anything, where through the wilful uncompetitiveness of your competitors, your investment may be nationalised de facto?

[Thanks to Andrew B. for this post.]

RELATED: Telecom, Politics-NZ

Billboard ban by blowhard busybodies

Anyone who ever visited Russia in its days before plutocracy will know what a world without billboards is like. Spend any time in in that drab, dull, bland, uniform, colourless world and before too long you find yourself -- with some surprise -- yearning for your first billboard.

The Auckland City Council likes that world. The Auckland City Council wants to ban billboards. Why? Because they can. Because the law gives them the power. Because, they argue, the ban and the lack of visual interest from the ban will help to make Auckland an “international city.” Auckland City Busybody Glenda Fryer argues, the ban would bring Auckland "into line" with other “main international cities with European influences.”

Clearly, the Busybody has never visited Picadilly. Or the Kurfurstendamme. Or Potsdamer Platz.

As Bernard Darnton notes: "I can only assume 'European influences' is secret code for socialism."

Perhaps Glenda and her colleagues would be more at home in Murmansk, pictured right?

UPDATE: Julian has a good letter you can send to the councillors, and their email addresses so you can send it to them.

LINKS: Auckland wants to ban billboards - Bernard Darnton, Section 14

RELATED: Urban Design, Auckland, Politics-NZ

Direct and to the point

There's more in one sentence from Don Brash than there's been in all the fluff from over two weeks of blathering by his successor. From The Don's valedictory speech yesterday:
We need to re-establish the principle of personal responsibility, re-affirm the importance of family and community, and turn our back on the politics of envy, where the party that wins is the one that can take $25,000 off a hard-working Kiwi and spread it around to win the maximum number of votes among those who aren't so hard-working.
As a libertarian I don't agree with every word (what's wrong with re-affirming the importance of individual freedom?), but there's more meat there than in a whole folder-full of John Boy's mutterings - and doesn't that explain the advance auctions of stolen goods that are our western elections?

PS: I've noticed the commentariat (and John Armstrong) continuing with their false assertion that Brash's direct, to-the-point leadership turned off voters, and with their baseless predictions that John Boy's me-too mush will therefore sweep them in like flies to manure. Let's talk about that when John Boy hits over 49% in a TVNZ poll, which is where Brash's National were just before his ousting -- clearly those voters were never listening to the pundits who told them Brash's directness was turning them off; they were listening to Brash.

Politics-NZ, Politics-National, Hollow Men

Everyone's got an energy strategy: What we're short of is energy!

Government 'energy strategy' follows government 'energy strategy.' The first 'energy strategy' released this week was touted as "an ambitious plan mapped out by the Government to fight climate change." Not just "ambitious," but fashionable as well! Not a hard-headed energy strategy to produce more of the energy we desperately need, but a feelgood one to fight a fiction -- and that will make the production of energy more difficult.

'Government energy strategy may lift power prices 20pc': That headline pretty much sums up the effect of Energy Minister David Parker's strategy of promoting untested renewables, and the construction of a further financial barrier to using power is perhaps the only part of the strategy that will happen, and it indicates pretty accurately the real thrust of the strategy -- not to produce more power, but to to produce what we do now in different ways, and to consume less.

Not so much an energy strategy then, but a strategy for not so much energy. A sort of Think-Not-So-Big.

And what of those "different ways"? It consists of the government picking energy winners -- and we've all seen how well governments pick those. The chief executives of NZ's power producers put paid to many of these 'winners' -- "underestimating the cost" was the leitmotif. Crusader Rabbit looks askance at one of the 'winners': a car you plug in. "Motorists will be charging their electric cars at kerbside power points within five years under an ambitious plan mapped out by the Government..." Spare us, please, from the "ambitious plans" of governments! Notes the Crusader:
Hospital waiting lists grow ever longer, there's no possibility of tax relief (despite a record suplus of funds ripped off from the taxpayer), pensioners can't afford to use their heaters in winter.... But these effing morons can promote a useless plan to combat a non-existent threat at enormous cost to those of us who actually work for a living.
And what then of that other strategy? Titled 'Get Smart, Think Small,' this one is produced by the Parliamentary Commissioner of the Environment Morgan Williams, and was tabled in Parliament yesterday. This one makes more sense; it suggests that "small scale energy schemes should be considered, instead of relying upon large generation projects." Why not? Alternative technologies are best tried small, and many of them have the potential to function better and more efficiently at a small scale - and working small is the best way for the market to test the alternatives, rather than building Muldoonist headline-hogging white elephants.

In fact it's only government action that has and still does discourage the flourishing of alternative microgeneration technologies. There's no reason at all that in the absence of historical, large-scale, headline-grabbing government power-generation projects that microgeneration projects wouldn't have been more common in the past, and to my mind there's only one reason microgeneration projects aren't more common now: government regulation.

The Resource Management Act hands to large power producers a stick with which to beat any potential microgenerator -- and it's a stick that the government's generators have eagerly used right from day one, hiring consultants to find and slap down new, small, private generation projects. And council District Plans written under the RMA hardly encourage the building of microgenerators; quite the opposite.

If Mr Williams was to suggest government getting out of the way of microgeneration (and of macrogeneration) then I'd suggest he really is on to something. But he's not.

Everyone's got an energy strategy. If government got out of the way of anyone who has and who wants to implement it, we might not be facing an impending shortage of power, which is our real energy problem.

Warned Alan Jenkins from the Electricity Networks Association in 2005, after the decision to minimise Genesis's water right to the Whanganui river (a decision taken "to protect the 'mauri' of the river"):
The principal objective of having enough power to meet demand is steadily being eroded. "It's very hard to invest in coal [because of Kyoto], nuclear's a sort of four letter word...hydro is suddenly becoming too hard... [oil is becoming too expensive] what's left?...we can't do everything on windpower," says Jenkins. And if there's no power, there's no industry -- and industry is our real lifeblood. So this decision demands that our own real lives are being sacrificed for the mystical life force of Ken Mair's river. Such is the RMA.
Such is result of the current state-endorsed religion of environmentalism. As I've said for some time, the Kyoto Protocol and the RMA between them are an anti-industrial dream team that will leave us without the power to power industry. It's time to wake up from the dream before it really does become a nightmare.

UPDATE: Liberty Scott has released his own four-point energy strategy today. It won't take long to read. :-)

LINKS: Government energy strategy may lift power prices 20pc - Stuff
Local approach to energy suggested - Newswire
Microgeneration - Wikipedia
Small is beautiful
- UK Microgeneration Blog
No power, again - Not PC (June, 2006)
Still no power - Not PC (April, 2006)
We've got the power - or have we? - Not PC (Sept, 2005)
No Power - Not PC (July, 2005)

Energy, RMA, Environment, Religion, Global_Warming

Racists with nukes

It's alright, don't fret just yet -- they won't have nukes until March. Phew.

But in the meantime they do have a Holocaust Denial Conference under way, and they don't care who comes just as long as they're both anti-semitic and willing to deny history in that cause.

Who am I talking about?

Iran. Ahmedinijad. A man not just with nukes ready to go in March (or so he boasts), but whose boasts include wiping Israel "off the map" -- boasts repeated on Tuesday at the 'conference':
"Thanks to people's wishes and God's will the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downwards and this is what God has promised and what all nations want," he said.

"Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out," he added.

His words received warm applause from delegates...
As Liberty Scott says in his own analysis of the conference,
Imagine if apartheid era South Africa held a conference on eugenics and racial superiority. This is the same. It should provoke protests, burning of Iranian flags and official condemnations from the Minister of Foreign Affairs to the Iranian Ambassador.
It is the same except perhaps in three respects. First, the South African's weren't promising to wipe black South Africans right off the map. And second, the opposition to Ahmedinijad has been ... silence. And sanctimony.

Tick tock.

LINKS: Iran president says Israel's days are numbered - Regime Change Iran
Ahmedinihad hosts holoaust denial conference - Liberty Scott
Cartoons by Cox and Forkum
Nations disagree on Iran nuke sanctions - The Age

RELATED: Politics-World, War

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

Paris by Night

No, not One Night In Paris -- that's a different kind of picture -- but Paris by Night: part of a 360-degree panorama of the City of Light you can find here. This tiny part of it shows the flank of Notre Dame looking towards La Tour Eiffel.

RELATED: Architecture, Urban Design.

Jesus H. Christ!

Jesus! What a nut!

Who? Pastor Becky bloody Fischer, that's who, the former head of the 'Jesus Camp' documented in the film of the same name (hold on to your head, here's a trailer), and still head of KidsInMinistry.Com -- tagline, "redefining children's ministry in the 21st Century"! The exclamation mark, by the way, is mine. You'll understand why quite quickly.

Regarding what exactly Fischer means by "redefining children's ministry in the 21st Century" might look like, this fruitcake tells ABC News in a short news item about her 'Ministry' and the Jesus Camps her Ministry used to run (pre-film) for thousands of pre-teen Christians: "I want to see young people ... as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine, and all those places..." I don't need to tell you how they lay down their lives (and others) in Pakistan, Israel and Palestine.

In fact Fatah in Palestine just gave us another lesson in their brand of radicalism yesterday when they killed three children in a drive-by shooting. Radical, huh. As Voltaire observed, people who believe absurdities tend to commit atrocities.

But back to Beckie. And her young proteges. Says one of them, "You know, a lot of people die for God and stuff, and they're not even afraid." Says another poor sap, "We're kind of being trained to be warriors, only in a much funner way."! (There's another exclamation mark.) You see, Pastor Beckie is worried that America is-- as Bill Maher puts it -- "losing the Fanaticism Race," and she wants to indoctrinate young kids to join the nuts on the other side by abandoning reason entirely -- or just "kind of" -- and embracing .. well, what exactly ... martyrdom?

The line between different brands of dangerous religious nuts is only paper thin. If this is what Leonard Peikoff was warning about before the recent US election -- and I confess, I thought he was exaggerating -- then he was right on the money. These people are dangerous. "A specter is haunting America," says Peikoff, "the specter of religion."
"What does determine the survival of [America]," said Peikoff back in October, "is not political concretes, but fundamental philosophy. And in this area the only real threat to the country now, the only political evil comparable to or even greater than the threat once posed by Soviet Communism, is religion and the Party which is its home and sponsor."
The only thing funny about it is that religious conservatives like O'Reilly can react with equanimity to Pastor Becky bloody Fischer, but so septically about a child actor making fun of religion and those "goddamn Christians." The kid's funny too (see below). But they sure ain't.

The Coolest 8 Year Old In The World Talks About O'Reilly

You can find more of those horrifying religious nuts at You Tube just by typing in "Jesus Camp," including this clip about why Harry Potter should be put to death.

And you can read more about Religion versus America at the Ayn Rand Institute Religion page.

LINKS: Jesus Camp - Wikipedia
Jesus Camp (trailer) - You Tube
Jesus Camp (ABC News) - You Tube [video]
Peikoff on the coming election - Capitalism Magazine (October 19, 2006)
Religion v America- Ayn Rand Institute
Bill Maher - Jesus Camp - You Tube [video]
The coolest 8 year old in the world talks about O'Reilly - You Tube [video]
Bill O'Reilly labels YOu Tube video as child abuse - You Tube [video]

Religion, Nonsense

Labour-lite: Getting where?

Do you remember the furore kicked up by National in the Clark Government's first term over the introduction of Hard Labour's Employment Relations Act?
National will repeal the Employment Relations Act and replace it with legislation that does not get in the way of small business and more jobs.
So said National's Industrial Relations spokesperson Max Backward at the time.
The Bill remains a radical and backward looking departure from the status quo [continued Backward]. It goes against international trends in Europe, the Americas and Australia, where most countries are freeing up their labour markets... "We've marked the changes to the Bill out of 100 and the Government's only scored 20 out of 100. That's 20% and an "F" for failure... "The Government has set up the country's biggest monopoly with this Bill. Unions will have greater monopoly powers than Telecom or the electricity companies.
That was then. Now, the new National Socialists just don't give a shit. They just don't care at all. New leader John Boy Key now says, "no change needed to industrial legislation."
The new leader of the National Party thinks New Zealand's industrial legislation is reasonable and will not need to be changed too much by a future National government.
"Reasonable. "Not changed too much." "Please kick me."

"We certainly believe in flexible labour markets," says Softcock Key, it's just that the Softcock has no plans to do anything about them. Just a few months ago even Wayne Mapp was promoting more flexible employment legislation. Not now. Not allowed to. Too much like standing on principle. Lindsay Mitchell observed last week:
The people who would persuade us to hitch our star to Mr Key's wagon are either hearing things or reading between lines. I've been paying attention and there is no 'getting' to where John Key wants to be. We are already there. Anti-nuclear, soft on welfare, and paternalistic toward Maori."
She's wrong. One week later and we're still "getting there." The National Socialists are now soft on union monopolies and inflexible labour legislation as well.

And National Party principles are, once again, exactly as rare as rocking horse shit.

[Pic from Blair. Captions welcome.]

LINKS: Employment Relations Act to be repealed "Govt. gets an "F" for ERB" - Press Release, National Party, August 2000
Key says no change needed to industrial legislation - National Business Review
National sticking with employment relations policy - Stuff
Sycophantic babble - Lindsay Mitchell

RELATED: Politics-NZ, Politics-National, Hollow Men

O'Connor "responsible, but not to blame."

Liam Ashley is dead, no one is to blame, and everyone who is to blame is invoking the Denis Marshall principle.

Denis Marshall may have been a useless waste of space, as so many of politicians are, but he introduced to public life a new political principle: Rather than resign his job as Minister after the Cave Creek tragedy -- as Ministers had been doing in similar circumstances for decades -- Marshall instead took the line that he needed to stay in the job to fix the utter disaster that his department so clearly was. At left is a picture of Marshall fixing his department. (To be perfectly fair, the Minister for Contaminated Blood, Simon Upton (left, below), may have given him the 'courage' to take this line.)

The record will show that Marshall held out for a year before eventually being quietly asked by Jim Bolger to fall on his sword and piss off. (Upton himself avoided the honourable line altogether and continued to haunt Helengrad for many years thereafter -- he now has a cosy sinecure at the OECD in Paris.)

Damien O'Connor has clearly learned from our Denis and our Simon in the tenor of his responses to the report that has just made crystal clear that a) his department is a shambles, and b) it was that shambles that lead to the death of Liam Ashley.

Says O'Connor: "My resignation won't solve the problem." "Walking away would be the easy option." "I have a job to do." "I'm a fuckwit." (Spot the responses that don't fit.)

Echoing O'Connor is his boss, Helen Clark (left), who says he is "responsible, but not to blame." Responsible, but not to blame. (Naturally, Clark already knows something about this line from her own involvement in the Contaminated Blood scandal, over which her papers are sealed for thirty years.)

The protection of politicians goes on. The attack on the English language continues. And Liam Ashley and the other victims of government incompetence are still dead.

Orwell would have understood.

LINKS: Corrections: Ashley's death preventable - TVNZ
PM: No need for minister to resign - TNVZ
Cave Creek - Wikipedia
Ban Stymies Blood Probe Clark Backs Papers Secrecy - HCV Advocate
Contaminated blood: Will Clark deliver this time? - Not PC (April, 2005)
Ministers for Contaminated Blood - Not PC (April, 2005)

New Zealand, Politics-NZ, Politics-Labour, Politics-National, Politics