Tuesday, 13 January 2009

First-of-the-New-Year Ramble [update 2]

Here’s what the boys at Brain Stab used to call a bunch o’ links; i.e., news, views and opinions around the web I’ve either picked up or been sent (for which much thanks) that you might be interested in too, most of which has appeared while I’ve been sunning myself in the Bay of Plenty.

  • Is this the biggest cheque ever?
  • What is Money? A video presentation recommended by RW.
  • Where there’s no carbon footprint, there’s no life. A timely reminder by Keith Lockitch.
  • Both the Wall Street Journal and Britain’s influential Spectator magazine are seeing strong parallels between the America and Britain of today, respectively, and the America of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, with scenes now playing out in reality that the WSJ says are “eerily similar” to those invented by Ayn Rand for her novel.
    If you’ve not yet read Atlas, then “now is a very good time to read it,” says the Spectator. Why? “Because … the reader [i.e., you] would find plenty of chilling analogies for the current economic collapse.”
    See 'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years and Britain, by Ayn Rand.
  • And more on the economic collapse … Free Radical readers who enjoyed George Reisman’s insightful take on the collapse will surely appreciate his new “series of articles that seeks to provide the intelligent layman with sufficient knowledge of sound economic theory to enable him to understand what must be done to overcome the present financial crisis and return to the path of economic progress and prosperity.”
    The first in the series addresses “a disastrous economic confusion, one that is shared almost universally, both by laymen and by professional economists alike, is the belief that falling prices constitute deflation and thus must be feared and, if possible, prevented.”
    Read Falling Prices Are Not Inflation, but the Answer to Inflation.
  • And yet more. As D.W. McKenzie points out, The US Federal Reserve is pursuing a policy of monetary inflation out of an erroneous fear of deflation. The result is now negative real interest rates in most of the developed world which, as McKenzie points out, will necessarily lead to a cure worse than the disease – a disease, as you might recall, that was caused by the Fed’s earlier massive monetary inflations to stave off the bursting of earlier inflationary bubbles.
    Read Liquidity Traps versus Inflation Traps.
  • And yet more. Are you by any chance spotting a theme here?
    According to the flawed mainstream economic theory, when resources are idle, as they are in depressions, then governments urgently need to borrow and/or print money to put these idle resources back to work. It is on this basis that the likes of Bill English and Steven Joyce are now drawing up plans to spray $7 billion of deficit spending over the economy, and the backward economics of Barack Obama that presages the fantasy of his “green economy.”
    Austrian economist Robert Murphy attacks this flawed economic thinking head on: The notion is not only unrealistic, but “even if we conceded that the government could spend money in a way that only involved unemployed resources, the measure would nevertheless be harmful and would make the country poorer.”
    In other words, it’s a dumb idea.
    Read Does "Depression Economics" Change the Rules? to find out why.
  • As most of you are now aware, the leading symptom of the collapse both here and overseas was the housing bubble.
    A housing bubble that was pumped up by inflated credit, and exacerbated by restrictive building and planning regulations that has sent the replacement cost of new houses through the roof – a bubble that has burst, leaving (in New Zealand alone) a predicted 35,000 construction workers looking for new jobs this year, a sum only slightly larger than the net increase in jobs in the sector over the last five years of the bubble.
    A housing bubble that is clear enough to everyone now, but so few saw through when they were caught up in the hype. Hugh Pavletich, who was warning about the bubble since at least 2004, looks at the “housing bubble blindness” and those who were caught up in it, and what is most urgent now.
    And I’ll give you a clue, it isn’t pumping up bogus and unaffordable infrastructure projects that will only inflate the cost of building materials and building labour.
    Read Housing bubbles and market sense.
  • And my thoughts go out to the people of western Fiji and especially those from Sigatoka, with whom we spent a very pleasant few days just a few short months ago, and who are now suffering the effects of huge rains and massive flooding.
    A Fiji Relief Account has been set up at the ANZ Bank. You can donate at any branch.
  • Chair - MICHAEL NEWBERRY        Finally, in more cheerful news, artist Michael Newberry has moved from Brooklyn to Santa Monica, where he can enjoy “a flourishing community of friends, collectors, and successful ex- and new students” and where he opens his new gallery in March – and you can take advantage of the move at his Williamburg Studio Sale sale on January 24-25th, and pick up quality art works at reasonable prices.

Here’s more:

  • PJ O’Rourke’s speaking tour to Sydney, postponed through illness, is back on for April. Annie Fox has the links and details.
  • And speaking of Australia’s Center for Independent Studies, which is where PJ will be speaking, applications are now open for the CIS’s first Liberty and Society student conference of 2009, to be held over the weekend of 1–3 May. For more details and to apply please visit: http://www.libertyandsociety.org
  • Craig Ceely has another offer worth jumping for. Says he, “Quite a few of us in the west supported Denmark during the big Muhammad cartoons imbroglio. Now, it appears, Denmark is paying us back. As the banner … says, "No Burka on Free Speech." Delightfully, there is no burka on anything in this Siemens commercial.” Head here to see what he’s talking about. Quite possibly the best use of Wagner in a TV commercial. And other delightful stuff. :-)
  • And Jeff Perren calls pseudo-economist Paul Krugman a village idiot in the sort of village Ibsen used to write about.
    Read Enemies of the People.
  • And calls Obama's economics guru Lawrence Summers for his “woozy-minded” editorial in the Washington Post, giving everyone “ample reason to hang on tightly to our wallets over the next few years. “
    “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” is Jeff’s summing up of the woozy-mindedness, “Unless perhaps it's the coming of Lawrence Summers.”
    Read The Newest Deal.
  • By the way, today in the US it’s National Delurking Day, “a day for blog readers to emerge from Lurkdom” and leave a comment on all their favourite blogs, which I’d like to think included this one. So say hello in the comments, huh?
  • And from the latest Objectivist Blog Roundup comes these next few beauties:
  • Guy Barnett presents Give Peace a Chance? posted at The Undercurrent, saying, "Doesn't everyone want peace? Can't we just put aside our differences and live harmoniously together? Find out the answer in this compelling blog post."
  • And check out Girls Gone Mild. "Virginity is all the rage these days,” says Guy Barnett, who clearly moves in different circles to mine. “This is partly [he says] because many people believe that the alternative to chastity is promiscuity. "Girls Gone Mild" analyzes this common false-alternative."
  • Doug presents How Hamas Brainwashes Children posted at The Rule of Reason.
  • Paul Hsieh points out that universal health care will create a "nanny state on steroids".
  • And Gus Van Horn presents Fascism Comes to Media saying, "Government 'bailouts' are already threatening freedom of speech."
  • And finally (and this time I really do mean it, I swear) if you’re looking for fun and relaxation next weekend then a little press release tells me the Legendary Raglan Mudsharks are having their 3rd Annual Mudshark Monday, Jan 19th 2009 in the Harbour View Hotel (garden bar), Bow Street, Raglan, 8.00pm start. The "legendary" line-up of Sid & Freddie Limbert (bass, vocals & drums), Dave Maybee (guitar & vocals), Midge Marsden (vocals & harmonica) & Liam Ryan (keyboards & vocals) promises to keep you entertained till midnight. The evening will also feature some special guests & friends of the band! As usual anything could happen, anyone could turn up (and will) so if you wanna 'shake, rattle & roll' or just 'sit back & cruise' you'll be in the right place!

salomepic UPDATE: Okay, my last note wasn’t the final one. Local opera buffs take note: A friend just let me know that there’s a whole new season of the Met’s operas-on-film now playing around the country at the Rialto cinemas.

First up is Richard Strauss’s Salome, playing at the unlikely time of 10am tomorrow morning!

So if necrophilic erotica, Biblical bloodlust and intense orchestration is what you want over your morning tea (and let’s face it, who doesn’t), then this will be the link you’ll be after.

Welcome back

Howdie all, and welcome to another year – this one to be brought to you by economic chaos out of political grandstanding. 

I hope you all had a great break?  I know I did.  Just ourselves and around two dozen of our closest friends at the perfect bach right by one of NZ’s best beaches … it doesn’t get much better than that.  See what I mean:

a man on his log with his woman

Even if the occasional ‘bronze whaler’ did try to monopolise the swimming.
Bronze Whaler at Papamoa 

A big thank you to our host, and to those of you who helped make it the perfect holiday.

I’ll be posting a short ‘ramble’ later on this afternoon as I cruise around the ‘net catching up on news and views.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear how, if you had a break, your time away turned out for you.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

NOT PJ: Whine Merchants

Bernard Darnton surveys the government's whineries, and discovers nothing but boos ...

You’d think that just once a year the do-gooders at ALAC could take a break from a hard year’s hectoring and relax with a couple of cold beers. Sadly, no. Looking irritatingly chipper the day after the ALAC Christmas party, they were straight back into the busy-bodying.

And it’s not just ALAC – the place is infested: the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council whines that “there is no safe drinking level” and it’s happily reported here, some outfit called “Alcohol Healthwatch” (a charitable trust with a reassuringly amateur website, but effectively a branch of the Ministry of Health) is constantly banging on about booze and its evils, and the Police are nagging the government to lower the drink-drive limit instead of enforcing some of the laws we’ve already got.

Where does this nonsense about “no safe drinking level” come from? Since sitting down to write this, I’ve nibbled on a couple of brandy-filled chocolates that some kind soul left on my doorstep over Christmas and I’ve noticed no ill effects. If this is living dangerously I really need to get a life. (I note from the chocolate box by the way that the French, quite sensibly and very unpuritanically, call brandy l’eau de vie – “water of life.” I wouldn’t ask a Frenchman for advice if I had an aggressive enemy on my border – take note, Israel – but if he was cooking dinner and serving drinks, then count me in. I assume that the Gaza peace negotiations are a well-catered diplomatic affair.)

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council claims that even one drink doubles the risk of injury – presumably from five eighths of bugger all to bugger all. Two more drinks doubles the risk again. With five drinks your risk is up six times. Seven drinks and it’s ten times. Chuck all that into Excel and do some formulas and stuff and it turns out that the first drink increases your risk of injury by virtually nothing – that being the initial risk – and each subsequent drink increases your risk by less than the previous one. I regularly write these columns with a few on board but even so I’m more likely to catch mad cow flu than stab myself with the cursor.

All this chatter about risk is just a way of keeping people scared. And scared people look for someone to protect them. And who better to protect them than a bloody great big government? One conveniently full of bureaucrats babbling incessantly about how risky everything is.
ALAC’s mission is to “change social norms” – to introduce a social stigma around “drinking for effect”. Their “It’s how we’re drinking” advertisements present New Zealand’s drinking culture as an unmitigated evil.

Not everyone sees it that way. For every stereotypical party-girl who gets wasted at Friday drinks, shags someone on the photocopier, and regrets it the next day, there’s a Dennis from Accounts who thinks that binge drinking is the best thing since sliced bread, unsliced bread, soft round baps, toasty warm muffins, and hot dripping crumpets.

It is criminal that the state steals from Dennis to fund a campaign to eliminate one of the few pleasures of his dull, green-visored existence. Of course, if he’s any good as an accountant he probably keeps his dough well out of the reach of the killjoys’ sticky fingers.

Drinking is fun. That’s why people do it and have done for thousands of years. For as long as people have had minds they’ve wanted to alter them. And for as long as people have made up their own minds what to do governments have disapproved and tried to herd those minds into order.

Drinking also has its costs, as the meddlers tirelessly remind us. The answer is not to socialise those costs and then berate everyone for enjoying themselves but to privatise the costs and let each of us weigh up the hangovers and broken photocopier screens against the rowdy good times swimming in the water of life.

* * Read Bernard Darnton's regular column every week here at NOT PC * *

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR'S: Public Health Bill = Totalitarian Medicine

New Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath runs his eye over the proposed Public Health Bill, and doesn't like what he sees ...

An interesting letter appeared in the 12 December 2008 edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal, written by three staff members from the Otago University Department of Public Health. In it, they point out the archaic nature of the Public Health Act 1956, a law which compels travellers on buses, aircraft, trains and ferries to notify the driver, pilot, ship’s captain, etc., if they (the passenger) have any sexually transmitted or other communicable diseases.

Yes, you read that correctly. New Zealanders are currently required to provide the master of any state-owned vehicle or vessel in which they travel with up-to-date information on their currently active social diseases. And let’s not forget it is still an offence to return library books or post letters if they have been handled by a sick person, unless they have been properly disinfected.

The writers offer two possible solutions to the absurdities outlined above. First, that we carry an electronic swipe card containing information about one’s sexual health and medical history, thus providing bus drivers with hours of amusement; or secondly, that we replace the Health Act 1956 with new legislation which would do away with the need to disclose a list of one’s currently active contagious diseases to bus drivers, but which would allow collection of the same information in more sophisticated ways and would also reinforce the disparity in power between the government and the people. And wouldn’t you know it - such a law has already been drafted: the Public Health Bill.

Generally speaking, when the government gives with one hand, it takes with the other. What it usually takes is an important little piece of freedom which you don’t miss until it’s too late.

According to the writers, a new Public Health Act will allow New Zealand to “reach full compliance with the new International Health Regulations.” These new regulations, to quote an earlier article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, “expands the range of events which must be notified to WHO”, and “expands the range of surveillance sources that WHO can use.” In other words, once this law is passed details of your private health status can and will be transmitted internationally, with or without your consent.

If enacted, the Public Health Bill will replace not only the Public Health Act 1956 but also the Tuberculosis Act 1948, a draconian law under which New Zealanders can be imprisoned and drugged using physical force. But this proposed new Act will do nothing to curb these infringements on our civil liberties; instead it will broaden the front on which our privacy can be invaded. Not only will the government have the authority to forcibly treat people suspected of harbouring infectious disease, it will “expand health emergency provisions, which currently deal only with epidemics of communicable diseases, to all actual or potential public health emergencies irrespective of the cause.” This provides enormous scope for increasing government encroachment into people’s lives via the public health system.

Not only will the state be able to act where there is perceived danger to the “public good”; the Public Health Bill also includes “new guideline provisions aimed at reducing risks of non-communicable disease.” Which means the state will have greater power to intervene when a person has risk factors for conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease that cause significant morbidity and mortality. This will not be good news for fatties, smokers, people with high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes or hypertension, and people with unfavourable family medical histories. Such people will find their private lives under increasing scrutiny, and their health providers under financial pressure to improve the overall risk profiles of their customers.

A logical consequence of the flow of money within state-run health services is that doctors and other providers will withhold or distort information that might impact negatively upon their funding. Word surfaced a few years ago of a British doctor who declined to record a patient’s blood pressure in the clinical notes because it wasn’t within the target range for blood pressure set under National Health Service guidelines. To have recorded less than perfect data could have jeopardised the flow of taxpayer funds to that medical practice, and impacted on the income of the doctor’s colleagues.

An online summary of the proposed Public Health Bill notes that “reliable flows of information are fundamental to all health policy and action”, and that “information flows are necessary to support funding of services.” Apparently the exercise of authority (i.e. use of coercion) allowed under the Bill contravenes even the minimal protection offered by the Privacy Act 2003. Too bad.

Should this Bill become law, there will be a greater requirement for doctors and medical laboratories to notify the authorities when they encounter patients with certain medical conditions. The government, of course, dictates which medical conditions will be made notifiable. The Bill aims to “build on” provisions within the current Act to incarcerate and treat with or without consent, with no right of appeal, for indefinite periods of time, anyone with a ‘notifiable’ condition. Powers that can be exercised by Medical Officers of Health will range from requiring a person to refrain from employment or travel, to “detention or compulsory medical examination.”

Medical practitioners will be able, under the proposed Bill, to approach employers and demand information about an individual – so that people can be hunted down and forcibly treated. Doctors will be able to disclose confidential information about individuals to their families and sexual partners. (Why stop there? Why not release medical information into the public domain so that the undesirables can be weeded out rapidly and ‘cured’ of their afflictions more efficiently?)

The Bill will allow public health zealots to supervise the ongoing regulation of private business owners such as hairdressers, importers and manufacturers of microwave ovens, camping ground proprietors and funeral directors. During emergencies, Medical Officers of Health will have wide-ranging powers including the ability to lock people up in quarantine, close down businesses, “requisition things” (i.e. seize private property) and redirect aircraft. The emergencies in question might have arisen in another country but that is immaterial. It’s all about the exercise of unlimited power - something for which statists live, and of which they dream.

Totalitarian medicine, as outlined in the Public Health Bill, was practiced by the Axis powers during the Second World War, in the post-war Soviet Union, and in a smattering of dictatorships at various times since then. It is a particularly invasive violation of personal freedom. At least two of the writers who propose the Public Health Bill as an answer to the antiquated Health Act 1956 - Nick Wilson and Michael Baker – are longstanding health bureaucrats. Wilson is a leading nico-Nazi. These guys will be right in their element, as the Bill is characterized by sweeping government powers of arrest, detention and compulsory treatment, at the expense of individual liberty.

As Benjamin Franklin is alleged to have said, those who would give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither. It is the government’s job to protect and defend our rights, not trample all over them. I am confident that the private sector, in a free market economy, could successfully co-ordinate the containment of infectious disease in New Zealand. But it will probably never be given a chance. The proposed Public Health Bill aims to entrench and expand the footprint of Big Government in the health industry. The Key administration will no doubt pass this Bill into law without thinking through the dangers inherent in putting so much power in the hands of so few. That’s because, despite what they say, conservatives don’t place a high priority on human freedom. Like their leftist counterparts they just love the trappings of power and bossing people around.

The obvious way to avoid having to disclose your medical history to a bus driver would be to privatise both the transport industry and medical services and allow open competition between providers. No bus company that wanted to remain solvent would dare to demand sensitive personal information from its passengers and then pass it onto a third party. Alas, privatisation of the health industry won’t be happening any time soon. The grand plan by New Zealand’s two major political parties, loyally supported by the health ministry, academics such as Wilson and Baker, and other statist scum, is to fully ‘socialise’ all aspects of health care (i.e. drive private players out of the market and then force them to pay for a state monopoly), thus ensuring a drop in quality of the service and creating price distortions that tend to make the product more expensive in the long run.

* * Read Doc McGrath every week here at NOT PC * *

Thursday, 1 January 2009

NOT PJ: Y2K Readiness Commission, the 10th Annual Report

As an atheist Republican, says Bernard Darnton, I'm not very good at public holidays but I love New Year with it's sense of optimism and renewal. Which is why I got roaringly drunk instead of worring about writing an article this week. Luckily I was leaked this document:...
We are pleased to announce that the 2008/2009 New Year transition has occurred, as in previous years, without incident. This result shows the vital role played in annual date rollover preparedness played by the Commission. The Commissioner would like to take this opportunity to thank the personnel of the Commission for their sterling work once again in preventing social and economic disorder. Without the dedicated service of Commission staff it is difficult to imagine smooth chronological succession.
A note of caution should be sounded, however. Recent research shows that fewer that 0.07% of households still have their “B Y2K Wise” fridge magnets attached to their fridge doors. Current surveys suggest that the EQC fridge magnets warning of tsunamis and the Ministry of Health fridge magnets warning of pandemic influenza have radically impinged on the “refrigerator ecosystem” reducing mindshare for cataclysmic exhortation.
Additional competition in the fridge-magnet space from HealthLine, PlunketLine, and the Quit Group (Te Roopu Me Mutu) has added marketing complexity. A coordinated approach with these agencies would be desirable.
A number of energy utilities – some privately held – are also using fridge magnets to market emergency telephone numbers. Whilst these efforts are undoubtedly well-meant it is important that regulations be put in place to ensure that these messages do not crowd out messages with broader social importance.
Fridge magnets without appropriate social messages such as Disney-character and imported Australian-mammal magnets should be banned. Products such as novelty “Kiwis next 1000 km” roadsign fridge magnets, essential to the clean green New Zealand image, should remain legal subject to approval from overseas agencies.
We are pleased to note that previous fears voiced about the survival of the agency under the incoming government have proved unfounded. Ill-informed commentators have previously implied that the Y2K Readiness Commission is no longer required, although a decade of uninterrupted success proves the contra. To counter inappropriate public opinion we advise rebranding the Commission the “Calendrical Succession Commission.”
Successful rebranding can only be accomplished via a sixty million dollar advertising campaign. The campaign should cover television, radio, and the internet – although internet coverage should avoid the months of December and January.
The focus of any advertising campaign should be the primacy of calendrical awareness. Because the messages the Commission promotes are identical to those promoted by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, differentiation is essential. Whereas the occurrence of a major earthquake or volcanic eruption cannot be guaranteed in any region in any one year, the rollover of the calendar year is assured, making the elimination of complacency a priority.
In the current environment there is constant pressure on government spending. It is essential that vital services such as that provided by the Commission are not compromised. Indeed, increases in human resources, health and safety, and building costs mean that core functions of the Commission are at risk if funding is not significantly increased for the 2009/2010 and subsequent years.
If the Commission receives further Cabinet-level support and is appropriately funded we can assure that nothing will happen for years to come.

* * Read Bernard Darnton's regular column every week here at NOT PC * *

Thursday, 25 December 2008

NOT PJ: What's the Reason for this Folly?

"All I want for Christmas," says Bernard Darnton, "is Christmas":

I wasn't one of those who bought a house near the top of the market with a hundred-percent mortgage and then extended the loan six months later to buy a bloody great big shiny new TV, so the recession has so far passed me by.

The worst effect I've seen is that austerity is now fashionable, even amongst those who aren't feeling the pinch. I hope it's a passing fad and I intend to ignore it, much as I ignore most passing fads. Not having a bloody great big shiny new TV I don't usually find out what the passing fads are until they've passed by, reached their destination, gone to the pub, and are having a lonely drink to drown their sorrows having been deserted by their followers.

Regarding the TV thing, I should add that I don't have anything against shiny expensive gadgets – Note to Santa: I quite like shiny expensive gadgets – it's just that I don't want a top notch telly when the programmes are so crap. Shite in high-definition is still shite.

The worst aspect of austerity-as-fashion-accessory is that it has invaded that stronghold of glorious consumption, Christmas. I know there are supposed to be religious reasons for Christmas – Jesus or Sol Invictus or something – but as far as I'm aware no verse in the Bible mentions the real highlight of Christmas, a fat bloke dressed as a Coke can.

This year our family has decided to cut back. That is, one person in our family has decided to cut back and told everyone else to comply. I certainly wasn't part of this daft decision, being merely a hanger-on by marriage. (And I only find out about this stuff after the fact. Mrs Darnton does all the present buying and associated carry-on at our place.)

I don't think any of us is in financial trouble. I suspect the dig-for-England mentality is just a bit of vaguely Puritan middle-class guilt. A bit like when your mother told you to eat your dinner because people were starving in Ethiopia. Which makes as much sense as putting your coat on because it's cold at the North Pole.

We are now subject to strict present buying rules, which have been laid down by the central authority. Each participant is to buy one present, addressed to a designated recipient, up to a legislated maximum value.

Excruciating Christmas morning horrors await. The primary failure of the centrally-planned Christmas is that not everyone knows the plan. The Christmas Control Authority has been too polite to tell some people that the trimmings have been trimmed. Those without inside knowledge of how the systems works will arrive arms laden and expecting full festivities. Their generosity will be cruelly punished.

The Christmas Control Authority has also become the clearing house for problematic gift-buying decisions. Those who've been assigned a difficult relative or someone they don't know well seem to believe that a bureaucracy clever enough to make up all these rules also knows exactly what everyone wants. No. Expect resources to be misapplied to the novelty sock and amusing coffee mug industries. I'm almost praying for scorched almonds.

On the upside, the atheists are going to have a good time regardless. While the churchgoers are going to church, the atheists will get in a two- or three-bottle head start to make the proceedings bearable, perhaps even entertaining. Without an explicit liquor ban, this will be the festive outlet of choice.

The question for next year is: will the failed experiment result in a return to laissez-faire or a second round of regulation to correct the problems caused by the first lot.

I wish you a raucous and regulation-free Christmas and hope that Santa hasn't been turned back from your place for the crime of overloading his sleigh.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

'Man the Enlightened Being': - Frank Lloyd Wright's Christmas Message from 1953

I like to post this Christmas message from Frank Lloyd Wright every year around this time ...
so it's probably a good time to wish all of you a great Christmas and a very happy and prosperous New Year -- that is, every single one of you who doesn't wish increased state bullying upon me and mine and on the rest of the populace of New Zealand who remains here. Just a small number of you, then.

So as the offices here at Not PC Towers begin to shut down for the holidays, I really do want to re-post architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s poetic message on “man the enlightened being” which he used to send out at Christmas time. “The herd disappears and reappears," says Wright's message, "but the sovereignty of the individual persists":

Literature tells about man. Architecture presents him. The Architecture that our
man of Democracy needs and prophecies is bound to be different from that of the
common or conditioned man of any other socialized system of belief. As never
before, this new Free-Man’s Architecture will present him by being true to his
own nature in all such expressions. This aim becomes natural to him in his Art
as it once was in his Religion.

With renewed vision, the modern man will use the new tools Science lavishes upon him (even before he is ready for them) to enlarge his field of action by reducing his fetters to exterior controls, especially those of organized Authority, publicity, or political expediency. He will use his new tools to develop his own Art and Religion as the means to keep him free, as himself. Therefore this democratic man’s environment, like his mind, will never be style-ized. When and wherever he builds he will not consent to be boxed. He will himself have his style...

Read on here for the full message: Man, the Enlightened Being by Frank Lloyd Wright, and remember to have a great individualistic holiday season. And remember this useful advice about responsible holiday drinking: Try to schedule responsibly so you get it all done before lunch.

DOWN TO THE DOCTORS' Illuminati Conspiracy Overturns Light Bulb Ban

In the New Year Doc McGrath will be regular weekly correspondent. Here's a wee taster for now...

Last week Gerry Brownlee announced, on behalf of the new National-led government, that plans by the previous administration to ban incandescent light bulbs were to be shelved. This is, of course, a fairly minor change in itself - but it offers a glimmer of hope to those who believe that people should be encouraged to think for themselves and act in accordance with their judgment.

The Clark/Cullen/Simpson troika and would-be Light-Bulb Czar David Parker thought they could chop away more of our freedom by spending three-million dollars telling people how they should light up their homes. This blew the fuse for most voters.

Weary after nine years of taking orders, they finally rejected Helen and her endless micromanagement of their lives. And so, the Blue Team once again occupy the treasury benches. Yes, this is the same Blue Team that gave us the Resource Management Abomination, and many New Zealanders are justifiably nervous at what other plans the Nats might have up their sleeves.

However, one of their first moves has been to put the kibosh on the proposed light bulb lunacy. The Libertarianz Party, while recognizing this as a small blow for freedom, is hopeful that it may represent the start of at least three years of quiet but steady deregulation, which is surely the route to prosperity and working our way out of the economic recession.

The word ‘Illuminati’ literally means enlightened ones. Fortunately, the National/ACT/Maori grouping have become enlightened on the issue of light bulbs, and have conspired to defeat Nanny and her army of interfering busybodies.

New Zealanders can choose, if they wish, to use the energy saving fluorescent light bulbs that look like coils of plasticine. I use them at home, but I’m not yet sure how much they will trim off my power bill. But at least I have a choice now. Helen Clark’s ban was an insult to every thinking person.

Look for more from Doc McGrath in the New Year ...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

SUS'S SOUNDBITE: Let's make Christmas more commercial!

Another sound bite from Susan Ryder.

I love Christmas. I love everything about it, from shopping to decorating to singing carols. It’s my favourite time of the year, as it is for millions around the world.

There’s something about putting your tree up. I put mine up earlier than anybody I know, with the exception of my sister who occasionally pips me to the post. I usually aim for the last Sunday in November, complete with my favourite festive music. My youngest sister, a mother of three, somewhat violently swears the two of us to secrecy, lest my nephews and niece pester her to get their tree up ridiculously early, too.

The music is important, because it simply wouldn’t be Christmas for us without it. The first is from Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters, originally recorded in the 1940s. My late grandfather was a huge Crosby fan and he and Nana had the record. We played it every Christmas until it quite literally warped – and even then we still played it. Several years ago we discovered it on CD, thereby preserving the tradition for the next generation, who I’m delighted to report know all the words of Mele Kalikimaka.

The second is a relative newcomer, “Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas”, introduced by one of my brothers-in-law, a musician. Aaron might look like a criminal – and he does - but he has the
voice of an angel. I defy the hardest heart to not be moved by his rendition of “O Holy Night” in particular. Occasionally we will permit an interloper on Christmas Day itself, but generally it’s just Aaron and Bing. Perfect.

Anyway, back to the tree where my decorations are like old friends who visit once a year. Some were picked up in my travels in the days when the offerings in New Zealand were severely
limited, but now, thanks to globalisation, we are spoilt for choice.

No matter the size of the tree, though, or the quality and quantity of the decorations, they come alive with Christmas lights. The lights provide the magic.

Retailers love the Christmas season and for good reason. For many, it’s the busiest time of the year with December sales representing a healthy portion of their turnover. The big annual
spend-up on Christmas gifts is an example of the market at work. Stores are stocked to the brim with goods to sell, employing thousands of staff in the process. Students are gainfully employed
as much-needed additional staff to help offset the costs of their next educational year, or to just get through the summer.

Manufacturers work hard to complete orders on time and freight companies are flat out with seasonal deliveries. The livelihoods of many depend upon the Christmas season, and yet every year we hear the same cries that Christmas has become commercialised, as if it is a bad thing.

But why is that so?

To answer that question, it is worthwhile to explore its origins. Here’s a quick look. Christmas is a Christian holiday and like other Christian holidays, it has its origin in paganism.

Saturnalia was a Roman festival in honour of Saturn, the god of agriculture. It began on 15 December and lasted for seven days of feasting and revelry, just prior to the winter solstice that
fell around 25 December on the Julian calendar. The solstice included glorification of Mithra, the god of light who several centuries later became known as the god of the sun. The Roman
Catholic Church had the habit of absorbing pagan traditions into Christendom, converting the holiday commemorating the birth of the sun god into “Christ Mass”, a ceremony honouring the birth of the Son of God.

However, Christmas-time celebrations prior to the 1800s still featured much pagan revelry among the British commoners, at times little more than wild carousals. It is believed that this
drunken revelry had much to do with Oliver Cromwell – never much of a partygoer – going so far as to outlaw Christmas in the 17th century, forcing it underground for a time. This ban was
extended to many of the early North American colonies where “violators” were fined five shillings. After its reinstatement, Christmas still bore much of its earlier debauchery, but some of
our current traditions started to appear. For example, caroling began with groups of individuals visiting houses in the community singing songs in exchange for eggnog. Gift-giving, however, was still extremely limited, and virtually unknown within families.

The traditions of several countries are involved. The Yule log came from Scandinavian mythology, “Yule” being the Anglo- Saxon term for the months of December and January. After
most Scandinavians had converted to Christianity, “Yule” became synonymous with Christmas.

By the 17th century, the Germans had converted the Christmas tree, originally a sign of fertility, into a Christian symbol of rebirth. The Dutch called Saint Nicholas, an altruistic bishop from the
4th century, ‘Sinterklaas’, who was to become ‘Santa Claus’ in the USA. In 1823 the American professor Clement Clarke Moore wrote the delightful poem entitled A Visit from Saint Nicholas,
better known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.'

But perhaps the greatest change occurred after the publication in 1843 of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, providing lessons on charity and the importance of caring for family and
friends. As a result, Christmas became a joyful, domestic holiday focusing on children in particular. It was an illustrator with “Harper’s” magazine, who first depicted Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole in the latter half of the 19th century, while Coca-Cola ran commercials in 1931 showing Santa as the children’s gift-giver, as we know him today. Rudolf, the much-loved ninth reindeer appeared in 1939 via an advertising agent on behalf of his retailing client, all of which paved the way for the commercialism seen annually for decades.

The festive colour and sparkle brightened the dark days of the long northern winters, with the seasonal sales providing welcome respite during the slower trading months.

But what of Christmas down under, occurring as it does in early summer. Is it not odd to see traditional winter celebrations imposed by early settlers upon warm, sunny days? Christmas
cards depicting robins on snow-covered mailboxes? Rugged-up Carolers sipping hot toddies?
Not at all … if that’s what you like. Whether you prefer a traditional roast meal or a barbecue outside, a formal dinner or informal brunch, a church service to celebrate the birth of Christ
or a walk along the beach, a large, rowdy family affair or a quiet day indulging your favourite pastimes, is entirely up to you.

And rather than decrying its commercialism, I prefer to embrace it for the wealth it provides and the jobs it creates. It would be a mean-spirited Scrooge who begrudged another his
income during the Season of Goodwill. Do some people overstretch themselves fi nancially? Sadly, yes. But the truth is that nobody forces them to do so. Beautiful doesn’t have to be big and bold. It never did. Yes, the Santa sleepwear is tacky. Yes, the reindeer antlers are tragic on anyone old enough to pay full price at the pictures and Michael Jackson’s 'I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus' (I really did!) drives me nuts, too. But it all vanishes in comparison with the beauty of a Christmas tree lit up in the darkness, or the enrapturing melodies of some of the most beautiful music ever written.

Not to mention the face of the little one who gazes upon the simplicity of the nativity scene in the stable where the celebration of Christmas, as we know it today, all began.

May Father Christmas be good to you all.

This articloe originally appeared in the Franklin E-News. Get more of Sus' Soundbites here. And have a Salacious Saturnalia!

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Bring back morning drinking!

Oops!  Things were so busy here yesterday that I had no time even to post a Beer O’Clock post.  Appy pollie loggies, my droogs.

So here instead is a hymn in praise of morning drinking – the perfect piece to cut out and print off and take away with you on holiday to hand out to all those wowsers who object when they hear the sound of your cork being popped at 10am.

Bring back the Breakfast Drink, by Jeffrey Tucker
     Everyone knows the rule: drink no liquor before noon. How insufferable such advice is! It has caused morning drinkers to hide their habits, deny them when confronted, and otherwise feel like they are doing something wrong or immoral or socially intolerable, a combination which leads to other forms of pathology.
     It is time for them to stand up and proclaim themselves and their habit as the noble act that it is. All over the world, there exists a grand tradition of including a bit of spirits with one’s breakfast, or at least a bit of beer or wine product. How tragic that those who struggle mightily to uphold this practice are reduced to doing so alone, enjoying their pleasure only in the privacy of their own kitchen for fear of inviting the public humiliation.
guinness donut      I was reminded of this tradition recently when a friend – a brilliant and productive young composer and musicologist who has to remain nameless – partook in his favorite breakfast, which he does every day insofar as it is possible. The food part is simple: a chocolate cake donut, with or without icing. The drink part: a pint of Guinness Stout. The method: dip the donut in the stout and chomp it down. It is the adult version of the child’s milk and cookies trick. 

Read on here for more great ideas for breakfast drinking.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Taking the Christ out of Christmas?

By popular request, here’s the return of an old favourite …

I HEAR COMPLAINTS AGAIN that "Christ is being taken out of Christmas."  Everyone from the Vatican to Fox News is complaining about the "War against Christmas" (TM) --  about the "widespread revolt" against "Christian values and symbols from the holiday."

Here's what I say about those complaints.  So what if Christ is taken out of Christmas?  Christ was never in Christmas, except in fiction and by order of the Pope.  In fact, Jesus wasn't even born in December, let alone at Christmas time: he was born in July* -- which makes him a cancer**.  Just like religion.

Fact is, 'Christmas' was originally not even a Christian festival at all.  The celebration we now all enjoy was originally the lusty pagan festival to celebrate the winter solstice, the festival that eventually became the Roman Saturnalia. This time of year in the northern hemisphere (from whence these traditions started) is when days stopped getting darker and darker, and started once again to lengthen.  This was a time of the year for optimism.  The end of the hardest part of the year was in sight (particularly important up in places like Lapland where all-day darkness was the winter rule), and food stocks would soon be replenished. 

All this was something worth celebrating with enthusiasm, with gusto and with plenty of food and drink and pleasures of the flesh -- and if those Norse sagas tell us anything, they tell us those pagans knew a thing or two about that sort of celebration!  They celebrated a truly Salacious Saturnalia.

One popular celebration involved having a chap put on the horns and skin of the dead animal being roasted in the fire (worn with the fur side inside), and giving out gifts of food to revellers.  This guy represented Satan, and the revellers celebrating beating him back for another year by making him a figure of fun (I swear, I'm not making this up).  Observant readers will spot that the gift-giving and the fur-lined red outfit (and even the name, almost) are still with us in the form of Santa.  So Happy Satanmas, Santa!

SUCH WERE THE celebrations of the past.  But the Dark Age do-gooders didn’t like the pagan revels.  These ghouls of the graveyard wanted to spread the misery of their religion; they thought everyone should be sitting at home mortifying their flesh instead of throwing themselves into such lewd and lusty revels – and  very soon they hit upon a solution: first they stole the festivals, and then they sanitised them.  Instead of lusty revels with Satan and mistletoe, we got insipid nonsense around a manger.  (Just think, the first 'Grinch' who stole Christmas was really a Pope!)  Given this history, it's churlish of today's sanitised saints of sobriety to be complaining now about history reasserting itself.

THE BEST OF Christmas is still very much pagan. The mistletoe, the trees, and the presents; the drinking and eating and all the red-blooded 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.
And so say all of us.  I wish you all, wherever you are a Merry Christmas, a Delicious Satanmas, 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 on that here.

** "A cancer. Like religion." Think that's harsh? You should try Landover Baptist's Bible Quizzes. Or Sam Harris's 'Atheist Manifesto.' Ouch! [Hat tip for both, good old Stephen Hicks]

It’s about ideas, stupid

Ideas move the world.

What’s moving the world mostly at the moment is bad is bad ideas: bad ideas (as these links explain) on capitalism and economics, on science and the environment and global warming , on political philosophy, on philosophy itself.

But one man, and one small group can have an effect (as Margaret Mead was supposed to have said, “Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”)

This post over at the New Clarion offers the excellent example of Joe the Plumber making a difference[hat tip Thrutch], including this unarguable conclusion:

Just think: one plumber who has read Mises rocked the Obama campaign for days. If one educated American can have such an effect, imagine what would happen if just 5% of Americans read good economics and good philosophy. The welfare state would be seriously challenged. It might even be over.

A few of us are gearing up in the New Year to start systematically working towards that 5% goal in this country.  It’s about cultural change, stupid.

If you’d like to be part of the project, keep an eye out here for details in the New Year.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

THE FREE RADICAL ‘Summer Reader’: The Crisis Edition

TFR80-Cover Hi to you all, and welcome to a ‘Summer Reader’ of the Free Radical.  This is the Crisis Edition, and it’s packed with great reading on the economic crisis; who caused it and how, and what politicians and their servants are doing now that will only make it all worse.

George Reisman, David McGregor, Gene Callahan, Stephen Hicks, Sean Gabb and Jeff Perren make sense out of nonsense, and order out of economic chaos.

On it’s own that’s the price of your copy back right there.  But that’s not all!

We have a world exclusive!  Right in time for the forthcoming parliamentary inquiry into climate change, Christopher Monckton –- that’s Viscount Monkton of Brenchley to you and I  -- writes an Open Letter to John Key on the politics and science of climate change, taking him to task for his stated plan to drive NZ’s economy even further into penury to pay for an environmental delusion.  This thorough debunking of “the apocalyptic vision of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change” is really one to sit and savour. (You can read some leading excerpts here.)

This is the article you need to send your warmist friends and enemies, and to quote from when you write you letters to the editor, and your submissions to the parliamentary inquiry in the New Year.

But that’s still not all.

  • We have the late Larry Sechrest’s tremendous call to take on the enemies of civilisation, which is to say the enemies of capitalism.  Taking them on begins with understanding them. Says Larry in one of his last public talks before his death, "if one couples the repugnant urge toward envy with a broad misperception of reality," it results inexorably in the headlines and press releases and what passes for analysis around the commentariat.
  • We have Lindsay Perigo’s and Peter Cresswell’s differing views and expectations of the new Key Government – and Lindsay’s spirited attack on the headbangers and the caterwaulers: those musical morons who don’t ‘get’ good music, or why it’s objectively superior.
  • We have the Christchurch man who just wants to save weka, in the face of councils and government departments who wish he wouldn’t.
  • We have Stephen Hicks’ attack on teachers who teach fear-mongering instead of science.

All this and much more, including all our regular columnists and reviews, and all the usual ribaldry, irreverence and wit.

This is almost all your summer reading right here.  A copy of The Free Radical and a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and that’s all the thinking man and woman needs these holidays.

* * Now take note that this is a mail-order only issue. To get your copy, head straight to the Free Radical Store and click subscribe now to be included in the latest mail-out, or pay online to receive a digital copy (which should be online very soon).  Or, if you just want a hard copy or six (or more)of this issue, then deposit $9(inc. p+p) for each issue to ASB account 12 3016 0561084 00 (add your name in the ‘From’ field of your online banking form), and then email undergroundpress@xtra.co.nz or fax (09)638 9445 with your details, and Shirley will have your copies winging their way to you before you can say ‘Apocalypse Not.’ * *

You need ‘The Free Radical.’  Your friends need ‘The Free Radical.’  Even your local MP needs ‘The Free Radical’ -- your politicians sure as hell need ‘The Free Radical,’ which is why it’s so urgent that you either take what you read and pass it on to them, or buy a copy just for them.

There has never been a better time to make good ideas heard.

This Christmas, give the gift of ‘The Free Radical’ to a friend or to yourself.   And enjoy.

If you like NOT PC, then you’re gonna luuurve ‘The Free Radical.’  Subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss out!

Peter Cresswell

English gives ignorant xenophobia a go

Here's the latest entry in the file marked 'The More Things Change, the More the New Govt Looks Just Like the Last':

    The Government has vetoed plans by one of Asia's richest men to buy a giant ironsands business in a $250 million deal.
    The new Government, which had criticised the Labour administration's decision to block a partial takeover of Auckland airport, sandbagged the deal because of a lack of "substantial and identifiable benefit" to New Zealand.

As Nigel Kearney comments,

    It's a sale by an Australian firm to a Hong Kong firm. There is no direct economic gain or loss to New Zealand, but the indirect gains are:
    1) Companies will be more willing to invest here if they know they will be able to sell without government interference.
    2) A company that wants to buy is much more likely to look after the business and safeguard jobs than a company that wants to sell but can't.
    Only racism or ignorance can explain English's actions. I'll be charitable and put it down to ignorance.

I’ll put it down to ignorant xenophobia.

Negative real sanity [update 3]

The US Federal Reserve – the Fed – has now set interest rates at negative real levels, which means it’s given up on a recovery by saving, and with its “blunt announcement” that it “will print as much money as necessary to revive the frozen credit markets” it’s now obvious to everyone that it’s given up on the US dollar. 

Which means, says blogger Jeff Perren, the Fed is now officially insane.

UPDATE 1: There’s a reason the Fed is insane – and most of the world’s economic ‘experts’ who comment with so much apparent authority on the Fed are all equally insane: it’s because of the power of ideas.  To be accurate, I mean the power of bad ideas. And to be specific, I mean the ideas of John Maynard Keynes, the long-dead so-called economist to which today’s so-called experts turn in times of trouble.

Check out this of the frankly frightening praise of the Fed’s frankly insane Ben Bernanke to see conclusive evidence for the charge of insanity for all of CNBC’s talking heads, and to help you understand just how much in thrall these so-called experts are to this so-called economist (so-called experts, it should be pointed out, who are wholly responsible for causing the bloody crisis in the first place).

I won’t repeat all I’ve already said about the bad ideas of this so-called economist -– if you’re keen you can read all those posts here -– except to say that popular advice in times of crisis used to be, “When in trouble or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”  That pretty much describes Keynes’s advice too, leaving somebody else at some time much later to pick up all the pieces.

So why is this the default position in an economic crisis?  Says William Anderson, “the eternal default position on economic crises – the Keynesian one – arises because academic economists foolishly have rejected Austrian Economics and the wise counsel it provides.”  “It is clear, he says

    that modern neoclassical economists are clueless in general about capital… In order to even comprehend the Austrian claims, the mainstream economist needs to discard the simplistic homogeneous notion of the capital stock, and seek a richer framework that reflects the time structure of production…
    Even accomplished economic thinkers like [Nobel prize-winner Gary] Becker seem incapable of understanding the basic Austrian notion of "malinvestment," instead mistakenly calling it "overinvestment" …
    The Austrian School are correct in pointing out that typical academic economists really don’t understand capital very well, and their few attempts at formulating a theory of capital have been failures. Yet, I believe that the mainstream failure of capital theory is due to the greater failure of economists to understand that simple good: money.
    Economists can speak of "money supply" or "price levels," but very few understand the very nature of the money economy and what happens when governments predictably abuse their monopolies of "money creation." Even the "free market" economists often stumble over the issue of money, even when they "specialize" in it, as did Milton Friedman.

All too sadly true.  So why are so many so clueless?  Why so unwilling to embrace, or even to properly address, the answers of the Austrian school of economics? Anderson’s answer:

The failure of economists to embrace Austrianism comes both from ignorance about the economy in general and the fact that Austrian "solutions" do not provide a central role for economists to be seen as heroes or "fixers" of the economy.

So in the absence of genuine knowledge, the so-called experts are competing instead in devising increasingly desperate schemes to "jump start" the economy. As Anderson says, “The blind are leading the blind.”

UPDATE 2: One of the so-called “experts” mentioned above who were heaping praise on the so-called hero of the hour, Ben Barnanke, was Paul McCulley, managing director at PIMCO, the world's largest bond fund, which is unaccountably treated with rapt respect by so-called financial “experts.”

McCulley called Tuesday's move "a glorious day in the history of central banking" in which the Fed "went all in, in poker terms, in the fight against deflation and depression."  This is just fucking insane.

Fortunately, I don’t need to write a long post here explaining why the opinions of McCulley and PIMCO should be treated with kid gloves at best, because Mike Shedlock (known as Mish) has already done a thorough job in a piece I meant to post a few weeks back.  Read it here. Mish gives McCulley a “blue ribbon for complete economic silliness.”  That’s a polite way of saying “this boy’s batshit fucking crazy.”  And he is.

UPDATE 3: The astute Peter Schiff reckons Bernard Madoff’s fraudulent Ponzi scheme offers an important economic lesson, and a candidate for high government office:

    As the multi-billion dollar Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Wall Street insider Bernard Madoff unravels in the media spotlight, the nation is being presented with a rare opportunity to understand the true nature of many of our most cherished financial structures. Hopefully we have the wisdom to connect the dots.
    Although the $50 billion loss engineered by Madoff is truly a staggering accomplishment (and was done using old-fashioned fraud rather than the mathematical wizardry that has characterized Wall Street’s recent larcenies) the size of the scheme pales in comparison to the multi-trillion dollar Ponzi structures run by the United States government. In fact, rather than looking to jail Madoff, President-elect Obama should consider making him our new Treasury secretary…

Read on here: In Madoff We Trust.

NOT PJ: Razing the Standard of Government

Bernard Darnton saw some creative writing advice that said, "Write drunk, edit sober." I think he’s half-way there…

Razing the Standard of Government

One of “Bomber” Bradbury's predictions for 2009 is that “Rodney's razor gang will slash and burn while the slash and burn is spun as moderate.” One of my predictions for 2009 is that Bomber will continue talking crap. Whose prediction would you give shorter odds to?

In the real world, Rodney's razor will turn out to be one of those girly razors made of pink plastic with lubricating strips and surrounded by moisturising soap. In fact we probably won't even notice the effects of Rodney's Intuitive Extra-Sensitive Silky-Glide Aphrodite 3000. It will completely avoid irritation and dryness. And John Key will have made sure that it's already blunt. And disposable.

This isn't meant as a criticism of Rodney Hide. Given the chance he would undoubtedly prefer something more effective. Metrosexual transformation is one thing but surely underneath the wheat-germ exfoliant and the alpha-pro-retinol eyelid cream there's still a red-blooded IRD-basher. No, this is the sad reality of life as one of several minor coalition partners. If Rodney suggested anything remotely worthwhile, National would vote with the Māori Party – and Pita Sharples is a man not fond of razors. There's a man who should get a haircut (and get a real job).

Digressing for a moment back to the Aphrodite 3000 and its supermarket-shelf siblings... There are about two hundred different types of razors these days in four hundred unnatural colours, made of all sorts of post-Space Age nanotechnology clever-bugger plastics to flex and mould to your contours (or something). There are dozens of new models every year. Who designs them all?

Nobody goes through school, diligently attending to his geometry homework (assuming such a thing still happens), hoping to be a disposable-razor designer. My guess is that lots of people want to be Formula-1 racing car designers. And then they apply to design school to hone the skills required of a cutting edge automotive design legend, dreaming of the back-handed compliment from Jeremy Clarkson.

And because of the free-student-loans bums-on-seats tertiary education system they all get in. No matter that the actual number of Formula-1 racing car designers required annually in New Zealand is bugger all. Well, less actually. Zero. The number of vapid airheads who want to be fashion designers is infinite. The number of vapid airheads who want to learn how to operate a sewing machine is bugger all. Well, less actually.

So the number of schools catering to misguided dreamers spending other people’s money multiplies. Arts colleges probably turn out hundreds of deflated designers who don't end up creating the new MacLaren or MacBook; they get shunted instead into the disposable razor industry or its soul-mate, the bloody-stupid-toothbrush industry: “If we put the bristles in upside-down it could trim your nose hair and read your horoscope too!”

We don't need Rodney “Hydroxy replenishing derma-scrub” Hide's emasculated razor gang. We need Rodney “Leatherface” Hide's chainsaw massacre. There are four hundred and god-knows-how-many government ministries, departments, offices, agencies, bureaus, commissions, boards, tribunals, registrars, and authorities out there. Any that can't be named by ten percent of voters should be closed tomorrow. Those that everybody's heard of, like the Ministry of Education, should have all the obviously useless crap like toothbrush design colleges trimmed forthwith.

* * Read more of Bernard Darnton every Thursday here at NOT PC * *

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Tipping point?

The world is warming … to common sense. European political leaders have realised that strangling their economies in pursuit of a fiction is just dumb. “Instead of standing by plans to cut CO2 emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020, the actual reductions,” says the Wall Street Journal Europe, “might be as trivial as 4% if all exemptions are factored in.”

Four percent!  Clearly, Europe is cooling on global warming.  And:

Kevin Rudd's announcement of a carbon emissions reduction target of 5 per cent by 2020 demonstrated that his pre-election claim that climate change was the great moral issue of our time, and demanding that Australia lead the way, was what Winston Churchill would call a terminological inexactitude: a whopper, a piece of bare-faced duplicity of epic proportions. But thank goodness Rudd and his colleagues deceived us [See Janet Albrechtsen: Blessed change in the climate]

Five percent! Australia too is cooling on global warming. 

The world is clearly coming round to common sense on the great global lie.  And with the forthcoming select committee inquiry into global warming here, New Zealand has the same opportunity to resile from the bullshit, and to step back from Key’s ludicrous pre-election promises to strangle NZ’s economy by up to fifty percent in order to fix a non-problem.

Thank goodness then for Christopher Monckton’s Open Letter to John Key on Climate Change.

One would like to think it could be the necessary tipping point here.

Keep ‘em in the dark, and feed ‘em the RMA [updated]

On the same day that National’s Nick Smith’s announced the members of his “expert group” of advisors to help him “review” the Resource Management Act, news broke that indicated why the Resource Management Act so urgently needs to be reviewed – if not axed altogether.

Meadow Mushrooms' Morrinsville plant -- a multi-million dollar business employing more than 180 people -- is being shut down.  “The closure has nothing to do with the recent economic downturn,” says plant manager Roger Young.  "It's only because of this (Environment Court) action."  In case you didn’t know, the Environment Court gains its powers under the Resource Management Act.

The problem, you see, is that they smell.  They smell worse than a dirty nappy on a wet dog.  The plant might have been pumping out bad smells for fifty years but, when you smell that bad, you pick up some enemies. 

Some of Meadow Mushrooms’ enemies are neighbours (four farmers in particular who moved in knowing the plant was there), some of them are trade competitors, but under the Resource Management Act both these groups acquire the power to bring down their foe – with the result that the farmers get to raise the value of their land at the expense of their neighbour, and the trade competitors get to increase the value of their businesses, but again its at the expense of this long-standing employer, the biggest in the Waikato-Piako business.

There’s something here that smells alright, and I don’t just mean the smell of rotting compost. 

There's a very real injustice that would have been so easy to avoid.  Let me remind you of the doctrine of coming to the nuisance which should so obviously have been invoked here – except of course that the RMA has made its application impossible.

The doctrine of coming to the nuisance is a common law principle of long standing.  Under common law you have, as Cactus Kate correctly points out, “Freedom to do what you want on your property as long as it doesn't impinge on others' right of peaceful enjoyment of their property,” but if you’re not impinging because you’ve initially either no neighbours on which to impinge or your neighbours have no problem at all with your emissions of noise, or smell or smoke (or with the money you’ve agreed to pay them so you can emit), then ipso facto you aren’t actually creating a nuisance to anyone, and this pre-existing situation acquires legal standing.

So if some new party them moves into this situation knowing that you’re creating a smell, a noise or otherwise creating a nuisance, then they have no legal right to complain.  Since they came to the nuisance by choice, then under this doctrine the law recognises the pre-existing situation and the acquired rights, and not the complaints that newbies might care to raise. They knew you were there; they presumably got their property cheaper because of it; then the doctrine of coming to the nuisance applies, or should do.

The Coming to the Nuisance Doctrine is an enormously powerful principle protecting pre-existing rights, and quickly establishing rights in situations of apparent neighbourhood conflict. Move next door to a clean and well-run chicken farm or a pig farm for example (even if the place has been ‘re-zoned’ since the farm opened), and under this doctrine you have no right to have them thrown out. Move next door to a speedway track, and you have no right to complain about excessive noise.

I assume you see the difference with how things presently work.

If the farm or the speedway track or whatever it is was there before you chose to buy next door, and if it’s well and properly run, then those pre-existing rights should and can and once were protected in law; and if they were still you and I and Meadow Mushrooms’ neighbours would then have a strong incentive to either make a more careful choice in future (whereas now the incentive is there to move in and force them out), or to buy out the farm, or buy easements or covenants over the neighbouring land to create the new rights they’re now acquiring by using the RMA’s big stick.

Either way, when the coercion is removed and bargaining is all that’s allowed, the tendency is for property to end up in its highest value use by peaceful resolution. This is not something planners can ever claim to have achieved.

And what this principle demonstrates, or would do over long use, is that zoning and ‘planning’ as district planners do it is not only coercive, but unnecessary. Coming to the nuisance is THE antidote to zoning and ‘planning’ and all the bureaucratic bullshit. Implement the coming to the nuisance doctrine – which would be as easy as introducing a codification of basic common law principles including this one, and then abolishing the RMA --  and then you don’t have all the conflicts, and nor do you need the whole expensive farrago that’s been created by the RMA.

Instead you would have clearly delineated property rights that can be peacefully traded until ‘equilibrium’ between neighbours’ desires and what they’re prepared to pay for them is reached, and life mercifully free of the diktats of the planners.

NOW, HAVING SAID ALL THAT about the iniquity of the plant being closed down, I’d normally be in sympathy with the owners. But not in this case.

One of the major shareholders in the plant is one Philip Burdon, magnate and former trade minister in Jim Bolger’s National Government – the same same government that imposed the Resource Management Act on us.

Talk about being hoist by your own petard.

Like I say, I'd normally be in sympathy with the owners, but Mr Burdon at least has brought this on himself.  For him, I feel no sympathy whatsoever.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THIS REVIEW of the RMA by the new National Government?  And what about Nick Smith’s new expert group –- what does that tell us about the likely course of the review? Is there any hope?

Frankly, the membership of the group tells you everything you’d expect from a man who was Minister of the RMA in the last National Government, who calls the RMA “far-sighted environmental legislation, and who said just recently that he intends to “review” the Resource Management Act to, quote, “look at how companies win the right to take private land.”

Alan Dormer looks to be the only decent one there, and he is undoubtedly the choice of Rodney Hide. His submission on the original RMA Bill back in 1991 was a cracker.

The others are as wet as a tidal wave.

Penny Webster is the Rodney District mayor who’s presided over enormous rate increases in the Rodney district, but even in straitened time doesn’t think “this shouldn't entail pruning.” [Scroll down here to see what I think of that.]

Guy Salmon is a blowhard ‘Blue Green’ opposed to any notion of property rights. He is a great advocate of Scandinavian style ‘consultation’ and ‘community values’ crap, and a personal friend of Nick the Dick.

Mike Foster ‘works’ for Beca Planning, who are effectively an arm of the Environmental Defence Society and are great advocates of the nonsense of so-called ‘Smart Growth’ and detailed structure plans.

Dennis Bush-King is from Tasman District which is a Smart Growth town with some of the least affordable housing in NZ (a feature shared by almost all of the world’s smart growth cities).

Mike Holm was a founder of the Environmental Defence Society, and a lawyer who makes a killing off the RMA..

Wyatt Creech is ... well, I did mention 'wet,' didn't I.

Neither Owen McShane nor myself got a phone call.  I can’t say I was surprised.

The last time all these people got together in a room, we were all left worse off.

At least with these appointments Smith is making his intentions plain: More of the same, only more so -- with the major change being an exemption for Government so they can get on with ThinkBig 2.0.

There should now be no excuse for any optimism from National voters about what to expect from this ‘review.’  It will make whitewash look the colour of creosote, and smell just as bad.

So if you’re thinking of making investments based on the expectation of positive changes to the RMA, then don’t bother.  You won’t get them.

UPDATE:  Speaking of Owen McShane, his latest newsletter has superb commentary on the RMA and the Meadows Mushroom malady. See Can we increase the Security of Rural Industry? and The High Risks of Growing Food.

Art & Perception

The art you like is a shortcut to your philosophy.  It really is. And you know, each time I say that here it annoys people.  I mean it really annoys people.  Which tells me that their view of art really means something to them: it touches their values – their own personal philosophy --- something deep inside themselves.

Which means the very virulence of the (over)reaction is evidence for the thesis.

You see, every choice an artist makes demonstrates his own values, his own personal philosophy, just as your reactions to what the artist has done demonstrates yours.

There’s nothing to fear about that, it’s simply the nature of real art.  That’s why art is art: it has the power to tell us something about ourselves and the way we see the world.  Not the way we might pretend to others (or ourselves) about how we see the world, but the way we really see it, and evaluate it.

“But how,” I hear you ask, “does an artist translate his philosophy into his art?” Good question.  And fortunately for all of us, artist Michael Newberry is supplying the answers in a new addition to his art tutorials called ‘Connecting Your Philosophy to Your Art.’  His first post in this new series focuses on perception, using this painting below. He asks, and answers, the question: what do you think the artist’s evaluation of the value of perception is?  What do you think it might be?  And what clues in the painting make you think so?  (Try to answer the question for yourself before looking at Michael’s concise explanation.)


Vase of Flowers in a Niche
about 1732–36
Jan van Huysum, Dutch, 1682–1749

So, what do you think the artist’s evaluation of perception is?  And what, dear reader, is yours?