Friday, 15 January 2010

Strange O’Clock

“Interviewing” me yesterday, Jimmy Jangles asked a great question.

“Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever had a beer?”

I fear my own answers weren’t anywhere near strange enough. But I know you can do better.

So, what are some of the stranger places that you’ve ever had a beer?


Gore’s books cause warming in Britain

What’s the highest and best use of Al Gore’s books?  The Freedom Action organisation has a pretty shrewd idea:

Gore’s Books cause Warming in Britain
    “Washington, DC., January 8, 2009 – It has been reported in the London press that poor old-age pensioners are having to resort to buying books at thrift shops to burn to keep warm during the prolonged bitterly cold weather in the United Kingdom. In response to this humanitarian crisis,Freedom Action is calling on former Vice President Al Gore to join an effort to collect and airlift copies of his science fiction bestsellers to British people in dire need.
    “ ‘We are collecting copies of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Our Choice, and Earth in the Balance and will send them to Oxfam in the UK to distribute for free to vulnerable people trying to survive the cold weather,’ said Myron Ebell, Director of Freedom Action. ‘We call on Mr. Gore to co-operate in our effort to relieve human suffering by providing copies of his books for burning in stoves and fireplaces.’
    “ ‘It is appropriate that Al Gore’s books should be used to help keep poor people warm,’ Ebell explained, ‘since the principal reason the British government is totally unprepared to deal with the brutally cold weather is because they have fallen for the global warming myths propagated by Gore himself in his bestselling books. Burning Gore’s otherwise worthless books to keep people from freezing is their highest and best use.’ ”

Thanks to Owen McShane for spotting the story.

And not incidentally, if you’d like to than Owen for all his work with the Climate Science Coalition and elsewhere—and have a Great Day Out in the process—then why not join him on 28 February at The Great Day Out at the Farm.  The farm in question being Alan Gibbs’s—so if you get bored you can laugh at the sort of stuff con artists have got him to buy.


Friday’s Summer Six-Pack: Books, blogs and burghers

Six more delicious desserts from the Archives trolley here at NOT PC.  Seen any of these posts before?

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Warmists, lies, and 3000 deaths per day from malaria.

    Stop obsessing about global warming says the Neo-Jacobin, an obsession he says that "threatens to marginalize and overlook more pressing problems for humanity in the here and now – like, for example, the fight against malaria in Africa, and other Third World countries."

    “Environmentalists constantly bang on and on about forcing the most powerful leaders of the Western world to do this, that or the other, in order to ‘save us all from global warming’, but meanwhile in the real world, the body count for malaria in Africa alone is a million per year, and rising. What makes me really angry is that these deaths need not have occurred. In fact, all those death lead right back to earlier environmentalists political obsessions – the banning of pesticides [and in particular of DDT].”
    But, say warmists, global warming is itself exacerbating malaria! Isn't it? Well, says malaria scientist Paul Reiter in yesterday's International Herald Tribune, no it isn't. Not only is the self-claimed warmist consensus a "mirage," but the idea that warming is causing the disease to spread is what Reiter calls an "unsubstantiated claim." That's scientist-speak for "the bastards are lying."
The claim in the Blair Government's Stern Report, for example, "released with much fanfare in late October, predicted increases in temperature will produce up to 80 million new cases of malaria."
    “This claim relies on a single article that described a simplistic mathematical model that blithely ignored the most obvious reality: Most Africans already live in hot places where they get as many as 300 infective bites every year, though just one is enough. The glass is already full.”
    Here’s another “unsubstantiated claim,” one of many made by Al Bore in his movie An Inconvenient Truth, "which claims that Nairobi was established in a healthy place "above the mosquito line" but is now infested with mosquitoes because— naturally--of global warming." Notes Reiser:
    Gore's claim is deceitful on four counts. Nairobi was dangerously infested when it was founded; it was founded for a railway, not for health reasons; it is now fairly clear of malaria; and it has not become warmer.”

    In other words it's a lie, just like all the other warmist's lies. Says Reiter, "We have done the studies and challenged the alarmists, but they continue to ignore the facts."
    Ignoring the facts while ignoring real issues. That's so like a warmist, isn't it.

LINKS: Climate change in Africa? Fight malaria instead - A neo-Jacobin
Malaria is alive and well and killing more than 3000 African children every day - World Health Organisation
Dangers of disinformation - Paul Reiter, International Herald Tribune
Global warmist - Urban Dictionary
RELATED: Global Warming, Science, Health, Environment, Politics

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Extreme tree-huggers

If you're wondering what sort of people get so upset about exotic plantation pine forests being converted to productive dairy farms-- upset enough to do this, and this --  then here you have the answer; it's the sort of people who do this:

Morons.  Reminds me of this Nick Kim cartoon:


UPDATE:  Don’t laugh.  Jeff Perren reminds us that tree huggers grow up to be coal industry destroyers.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

NZ's 'independent' anti-nuclear stance

    nuclear-005 New Zealand has enjoyed few really prominent international moments in the sun -- the most celebrated by the chatterati is that 'glorious moment' in the mid-eighties when the country thumbed its collective nose at one of the world's superpowers: telling our ANZUS treaty partner and former ally the United States we wanted no more of its nuclear umbrella, and to go take a hike.
    New Zealand's  foreign policy turnabout was taken in the very midst of the Cold War -- it was celebrated then as a courageous sign of independence and is celebrated still as an outstanding and iconic example of New Zealand's vigorous and free-thinking independence.
    As we now discover, however, tt was nothing of the sort.  It was neither rational, nor independent.
    The knee-jerk anti-American, anti-science anti-nuclearism still infects the country's thinking today, to everyone's detriment.  And far from being an assertion of New Zealand's independence, an article by Trevor Loudon and Bernard Moran from Australia's National Observer magazine confirms the anti-nuclear position to have been a strategy cooked up in Moscow. 
    The 'peace movement' was the chosen trojan horse -- "We have many clever people in the Soviet Union," a local peace activist attending a course in Moscow on how to destabilise a country was told, "but no one has even been able to come up with a weapon potentially as powerful as the peace movement."  The stalking horses were three Labour MPs who still bestride the local political stage.
    That 'peace activist' quoted above was actually an SIS agent called John Van de Ven who was interviewed in 1990 by Loudon and Moran, upon whom they rely for their account.  Van de Ven was told by his tutors that then Soviet leader (and former KGB chief) Yuri Andropov had "initiated a strategy for taking a social democratic country out of the Western alliance, by utilising the 'correlation of forces' provided by the peace movement and the trade unions. New Zealand was given a high priority by the Soviets, for its strategic propaganda potential -- show the strategy worked here, and you demonstrated you could apply the same pressure to less distant dominoes like Denmark.
    The immediate  result of the strategy (and one still evident today) was the Soviet infiltration of the peace movement and the trade unions, and consequently of the left wing of the then Labour Government as well. As the late Tony Neary of the Electrical Workers Union related to an audience in 1987

    "In the New Zealand trade union movement, those who mutter about Reds under the beds must be joking. The Reds are already in the beds and have been there for some years. By now they are sitting up and getting breakfast brought in."

nuclear-001    The "Reds" were as thoroughly in charge of NZ's anti-nuclear groundswell in the seventies and eighties as they were of the US State Department in the thirties and forties.  The anti-nuclear legislation they brought about here knocked New Zealand permanently out of ANZUS and the western alliance, and it still paralyses both our relationship with the US and our ability to produce clean energy.
    Given its long-lasting and entirely negative results, it's as crucial to understand the mechanics of how it came about as it is to understand that those who learned this methodology are still about. In the Oxford Union debates David Lange famously shot back at a heckler that he could "smell the Uranium on his breath"; it remains unfortunate still that he couldn't smell the borscht on the breath of his foreign policy advisers, or didn't care that he did.
    If you want to understand how the Soviets made the local peace movement and the Labour Party their puppets, then read and digest 'The untold story behind New Zealand's ANZUS breakdown' from the National Observer.

Labels: Energy, History-Modern, History-Twentieth_Century, New Zealand, Politics-World, Socialism

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Books for a 21 year old

    A friend asked me to recommend four books to a twenty-one year old boy with a brain but few if any passions; an interest in science and how the world works, but little enthusiasm for really investigating it; and a reading ability that allows him to consume lots of reading matter, but of a type that is mostly of little substance and no challenge.
    I hit on the following list:

  • Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead opens up a world in which great passions are played out on a broad stage. More than one person has found that this book has given them a reason to live -- this scene on its own for many readers gives the inspiration it itself describes. Great for readers old and young, especially as an antidote to today's fashionable cynicism and too-cool-to-move languor.
  • The more analytical twenty-one year old might prefer to read Rand's Atlas Shrugged first. "Might" because Atlas touches the parts other novels don't even acknowledge, and explains how all those parts fit together to make the world move ... or not. An analytical brain looking for or needing inspiration should eat this up, as they will the adventure story that keeps building and rebuilding on itself. Magnificent fuel for a young fire needing a spark.
  • A teacher recommended Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon to me when I was just a teenager, and although I didn't read it until much later it would have fitted the teenaged me like a glove, as it should any youngster with even a passing interest in politics and idealism. This perfectly crafted novel proves, as Nat Hentoff famously described it, "that dishonest means irredeemably corrupt all ends, no matter how noble." And that doesn't just describe the Stalinism of the story, as we older ones soon come to realise.
  • If science fiction is already your youngster's bag, then Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love should be their introduction to adult science fiction. The long life of protagonist Lazarus Long and the struggle to give the old Lazarus meaning in that life allow Heinlein to muse rhapsodically on themes of life, death and sex, and what it all means for each of us.

So there you have it. Don't buy that twenty-one year old a book or CD voucher (they'd only waste it). Buy them something to introduce them to the life of an adult, and to show them it's all worth it.

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

How to write a good blog post, #1: 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.

    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 much 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.  Or link them.)
    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 hanging around 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. So leave them a moral. "It's enough to make you vote Libertarianz" is an obvious one. "Politicians are scum," is another. “Need does not create an entitlement,” goes deeper. 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 just go right ahead. If you don't, your comments section will soon be filled with them anyway -- best you get in first. :-)
    And if people complain then just remember Oscar Wilde’s advice: the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.  And if you don’t want to be talked about, then what are you blogging for?

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

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Burgher - Rodin

One of the magnificent 'Burghers of Calais' group, by Auguste Rodin, that I used to love spending time with in a park just south of Westminster.
TAGS: Art, Sculpture

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Thanks for reading.  As your reward, here are three great guitarists. The John Butler Trio:

The great Joe Pass:

And the immortal Django Reinhardt:

Labels: ,

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Google Shrugged

From Liberty Scott:

Google says no to the Communist Party of China
    “. . .  the announcement by Google that it will pull out of China unless it can provide a free open uncensored service is astonishing. It has justified it on the grounds that there have been hacking attempts at Gmail accounts from China, and presumably it has little recourse to the Chinese authorities to prosecute this. However, it is a brave move in the country that has now got the largest number of internet users in the world.
    “Google has apparently stopped censoring, which must be causing great angst amongst the Chinese government and the Communist Party. Previously censored articles and images of Tiananmen Square, critiques of Mao Tse Tung and support for Chinese dissidents, Taiwan and indeed much porn will now be easily accessible.
    “More important than that, Google has let all users in China know of its policy. It has called upon the 300 million or so Chinese internet users to note what their government is doing . . .   kudos to Google. It [has] declared its hand as being the search engine for a free world, it [has] shown how a private company can frighten the world's largest authoritarian government . . .”

Go Google.  Perhaps they’ve learned something from last year’s Tea Parties about saying “no” to government goons?

Labels: , ,

MACHINE OF THE DAY: Inflatable jacks—perfect for earthquake rescue

Our ‘machine of the day’ today has to be the amazing rescue air bag. An inflatable jack.  So simple, yet such an effective way to rescue people trapped under wrecked cars or buried under tons of rubble.

Just like they are in Haiti (where the only good news today is that their tax office now lies in ruins).


capt_photo_1263417015962-1-0 It’s especially effective if a building’s floors have “pancaked”--when the columns collapse in a quake, and the floors fall, sickeningly, in sequence, one on top of another.  With people trapped in between. Just like that pile of rubble on the right that used to be a six-storey building.

But you’re no less trapped under the one below.


capt_eef7439a8ab54a728e1d6f634dc6dc67_aptopix_haiti_earthquake_xra110 Instead of using your regular hydraulic or scissors jack to lift the rubble (with their point-loads and inherent instability0 or the agony of hacking through layers rubble with pick and hammer, these inflatable babies can be slid underneath and inside the layers and easily inflated: safely spreading the load as they lift so they don’t  disturb the debris any father, or set up dangerous new load paths to endanger other folk who are trapped. 

You can lift gently, simply, and always be controlled and stable—even during aftershocks.  The bag is always its own “safety mat.”

Brilliant!  The mind’s ingenuity applied to the rescue of human life.

I hope there are truck loads of ‘em on their way to Haiti right now.

NB: I can’t finds any clips showing the inflatable jacks in use in earthquake rescues.  I guess everybody’s always too busy.  But here’s a few clips showing ‘the power of the bag’ for lifting vehicles.  You’ll have to extrapolate.


As you see, they come in all sizes, large and small. And they can be used so delicately, they’re just the thing for moving your Polaris rocket:



SUMMER SIX PACK: Breakfast with some masters—and a villain!

Another six-pack of posts from my blog archives  for your summer reading pleasure. Enjoy!

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Friday, June 17, 2005

The miracle of breakfast

_quote There'll never be a perfect breakfast eaten until some man
grows arms long enough to stretch down to New Orleans
for his coffee and over to Norfolk for his rolls, and reaches up
to Vermont and digs a slice of butter out of a spring-house, and
then turns over a beehive close to a white clover patch
out in Indiana for the rest. Then he'd come pretty close to
making a meal on the amber that the gods
eat on Mount Olympia.”
- O. Henry

    Of course, O. Henry wrote those words nearly a century ago, and even then was writing them with a bit of a wink. We need neither long arms nor a big breakfast table to feast on this breakfast of the gods -- we enjoy it now, as O. Henry did then. All that's needed is the division of labour and the freedom to trade; the long arms and 'invisible hand' of the market do the rest.
    As Adam Smith said, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest." The butcher, the brewer and the baker "direct [their] industry in such a manner as [their] produce may be of the greatest value," and we are the beneficiaries of their labours -- each "intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention."
    There's nothing miraculous about Smith's 'invisible hand,' it is simply the recognition that when each producer trades the fruits of their labour, they each win by that trade. In the words of the economists, when I trade my apples for my neighbour's oranges to the goods are moved from 'lower value' to a 'higher value'; that is, I value the oranges more than my apples, and my neighbour values my apples more than his oranges.
    The sum result of this and every voluntary trade is that both traders win - everyone kicks a goal! -- and from each trade new wealth is created thereby: the economy is greater for the sum of the higher values achieved, and my breakfast table is richer by some freshly squeezed orange juice. The same is true when I pay for butter from Vermont to be brought to my breakfast table: the chain of trades necessarily increases the wealth of all involved.
    Frederic Bastiat identified the miracle himself when observing that sleeping Parisians worried not about their next breakfast:

    “On coming to Paris for a visit, I said to myself: Here are a million human beings who would all die in a few days if supplies of all sorts did not flow into this great metropolis. It staggers the imagination to try to comprehend the vast multiplicity of objects that must pass through its gates tomorrow, if its inhabitants are to be preserved from the horrors of famine, insurrection, and pillage. And yet all are sleeping peacefully at this moment, without being disturbed for a single instant by the idea of so frightful a prospect. On the other hand, eighty departments have worked today, without cooperative planning or mutual arrangements, to keep Paris supplied. How does each succeeding day manage to bring to this gigantic market just what is necessary - neither too much nor too little?”

     Bastiat of course knew the answer to this seemingly complex puzzle: what ensures that Paris is fed is freedom. More specifically, the freedom of every individual to think, choose, act, produce and to trade his produce with other individuals. By working to satisfy his own needs and wants, the free individual produces new values, and makes life better for all of us who have ourselves produced something to trade with him.
    The 'miracle of breakfast' is that it is really no miracle at all. It is the fruit of freedom.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

“Drug use is not a victimless crime”

    "Drug use is not a victimless crime" argued a friend recently. Drug users harm themselves and other people too, said my friend; they are all victims.
    Well, as I've explained before, yes it is a victimless crime. Drug use may well make of the user a 'victim,' but as long as nobody initiates force against another, no crime is involved. As I explain here, a crime is when somebody does initiates force, or its derivative fraud, against someone else:
    Cue Card Libertarianism – Force
    In fact, that's what moral governments are set up for: not to protect us against ourselves, but to offer protection for each of us against the initiation of force by others. This gives us the 'moral space' in which to live our own lives in our own chosen way, as I point out here:
    Cue Card Libertarianism – Government
    Being free gives no guarantee of success. Freedom means we are free to succeed, and also free to fuck up. 'Free to get it right' means you must also be free to make mistakes. And being free means we must take responsibility for our actions and our mistakes, as I argue here:
    In Dreams Begins Responsibility
So if you want freedom for yourself to win or to fail, then you must accept that same freedom for others too, which means you must accept freedom right across the board. You may disagree with another person's choice of recreational activity, but you are not morally entitled to bring down the weight of government force against them just for that.
    Freedom is not something that you can cherry-pick; not something from which you can pick or choose according to your own prejudices; freedom is indivisible: allow a government to take freedom over here, and you have given it the power to also take freedom over there. Pretty soon freedom becomes challenged and tied up in all directions, and big government gets biggerand better at tying us up. By athat standard, any man's battle for his own freedom is our own battle too.
    So a 'victimless crime' is one in which no force has been initiated against anyone else. If you choose to inflict harm against yourself that's your business. ~If~ you do. Drug use is a victimless crime--the classic textbook example of a victimless crime-- as I say here:
    Cue Card Libertarianism – Drugs
    Further, in the present environment of prohibition, it's no accident that organised crime and petty crime is intertwined, nor that organised crime is heavily involved with providing something that is illegal.
    It's interesting that people such as Eddie Ellison, former head of the Scotland Yard Drug Squad, says he and many other British policemen have now come to the conclusion that practical policing means that drugs should be made legal. Making them legal, says Eddie and other practical policemen like him, removes drug profits and the control of drug quality from criminals and corrupt policemen, and slashes the costs enormously -- removing the need to steal to pay for drugs, and removing the criminal connection between drug supply and drug use.
    Removing drug laws from the books means police can concentrate on protecting you and me from real crimes that ~do~ involve the initiation of force, instead of spending time, energy and effort on people committing 'crimes' only against themselves -- 'crimes' which are never going to stop: If it's not possible to keep drugs out of prison, then how in hell are you going to keep them out of people's home?
    Frankly, too many people have a blind spot on this subject. Admit it. You do. Arguing for legalisation of drugs is not an endorsement of consuming drugs, any more that arguing for freedom of religion is endorsing going to church. It's simply arguing for freedom.
    People will still say, "don't expect me to be happy paying for other people's lifestyle choices."  Neither should any of us be made to, and there perhaps is the nub. None of us should be paying for the lifestyle choices of drug users, but nor should we for the lifestyle choices of racing-car drivers, skydivers, alcoholics, left-wing academics, people who eat too many pies or church-goers. The problem here is not with drug use per se, nor with the misunderstanding of victimless crimes: the problem lies in the ethic and existence of the welfare state, which demands that you do pay for the lifestyle choices of others.
     When I hear the objectors to drugs call for the demise of the welfare state, I'll know they've understood the issue.
   Here's the crux of it all: As long as people are using drugs without initiating force against anyone else and they're taking responsibility for their actions, then what they do is entirely their business. It's not yours. It's not mine. And it's not the business of Jim Anderton or any other Drug Czar either.
If users or suppliers ~do~ initiate force, then they should be convicted for that, and without any bullshit about 'diminished responsibility' either. But convictions for crimes in which there is no physical coercion is a victimless crime. That ain't hypocrisy, that's the truth of it. Drug use is a victimless crime.
    So now let's let's translate the objection that my friend really has to legalising drugs. She says "Drug use is not a victimless crime," but what she really means is this: "I don't like drugs." Fine. Her business. I don't like Pink Floyd. But I don't demand that anyone write a law about it, nor do I ask for the criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding Pink Floyd users. There are many objections one can make about Pink Floyd users, but making them criminals is not a valid action.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Sometimes breast isn’t always best

    Liz Weatherly, a mother of three from Torbay, is spearheading an effort to have the Human Wrongs Act amended to protect women who breastfeed on other people's property from being asked not to. The petition follows in the path of much other legislation ensuring that that the views of property owners are ignored, so she has every chance of succeeding.
    Weatherly began her campaign when she was asked by an Auckland Early Childhood Centre  not to breastfeed her nearly-three-year-old at the centre without first discussing it with the centre's owners. Instead she removed her child from the school, waited a year and then called the Holmes Show, who she told she was "not after publicity."
    Yeah right. Don't mention the word 'grand-standing.'
    Ms Weatherly has never apparently heard of the word 'weaning' either, so perhaps I could point her towards it now. While there, might I suggest that Ms Weatherly and her supporters read and reflect on the independence of the child, and the concept of private property, and the nature of choice.
The rest of us can read this: 'Why doesn't she just use a baby's bottle?'

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Tugendhat house - Mies van der Rohe

exterior1_v tugendhat-CRTugen1930deSandalo

045_0002    One of European modern architecture's early classics, this house was designed by Mies for for textile factory owner Fritz Tugendhat in Brno Czechoslovakia, 1928. 
    If it looks familiar, it's because so may of today's 'classics' are simply stylistic recyclings of Mies' early work—which were at their best were simply unstylish recyclings of much of Frank Lloyd Wright’s early Prairie Houses.
    The villa was seized from its Jewish owners Fritz and Greta Tugendhat by invading Germans in 1939, and was never returned to the family.


Labels: Architecture, History-Twentieth_Century, Mies Van Der Rohe

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Friday, September 26, 2008

'A System of Architectural Ornament' - Louis Sullivan


    "In these little masterpieces of poetic imagination,' said Frank Lloyd Wright in 1949 of Louis Sullivan's ornamental drawings produced around half-a-lifetime before, "the poet in him shines forth on the record as a free, independent spirit characteristic of the free of all time."

    “'Wright,' he would say [when Wright worked under Sullivan] concerning details which I was trying (as yet by instinct) to work with T-square and triangle ... 'bring it alive, man!  Make it live!'  He would sit down at my board for a moment, take the HB pencil from my hand and, sure enough, there it would be.  Alive!
    “... He did "make it live." 
    “...Say this greatest feature of his work was esoteric.  Is it any the less precious for that?
    “Do you realize that here, in his own way, is no body of culture evolving through centuries of time but a scheme and "style" of plastic expression which an individual working away in this poetry-crushing environment ... had made out of himself?  Here was a sentient individual who evoked the goddess whole civilizations strove in vain for centuries to win, and wooed her with this charming interior smile -- all on his own, in one lifetime too brief.
    “... Although seeming at time a nature-ism (his danger), the idea is there: of the thing not on it; and therefore Sullivanian self-expression contained the elements and prophesied organic architecture.  To look down on such efflorescence as mere "ornament" is disgraceful ignorance.  We do so because we have only known ornament as self-indulgent excrescence ignorantly applied to some surface as a mere prettification.  But with the master [Sullivan], "ornament" was like music; a matter of the soul...

    The ornament shown here comes from Sullivan's 1924 book, A System of Architectural Ornament, According with a Philosophy of Man's Powers.  Giles Phillips from MIT has a complete collection of the book's twenty plates, and a Flash presentation of the System based on a study of Sullivan's Guaranty Building (above) here at his website.

sullivan-plate-06 sullivan-plate-10 sullivan-plate-17

Labels: Architecture, Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

East Germany in East Auckland

    Back in the twenties when the villas and bungalows that many Aucklanders love so much were being flung up across Auckland, and town planning and zoning regulations were still just a twinkle in a busybody's eye, about that time a young Swiss poseur called Le Corbusier began promoting something he called the Radiant City. Here it is below.
    If you find 'radiant' the thought of row upon row of grey, unappealing concrete boxes full of bourgeois-proofed worker housing hovering above a barren and hostile landscape, then you'll find Corbusier's city is just the thing for you and your authoritarian worship -- and perhaps you should move to the former Soviet bloc where decidedly radiant bourgeois-proofed cities jam-packed full of this kind of wall-to-wall worker housing were thrown together, and into which people from Leipzig to Vladivostok were thrown. East Germany’s Halle-Neustadt shown below is an example of this appallingly inhospitable place -- ‘Hanoi’ as its residents
soon came to call it.
    Corbusier's 'radiant city' was also very popular with western planners after the war when zoning regulations and town planning took hold with a vengeance. The plans were never popular with the people who had to live in them however. The Pruitt Igoe housing complex in St Louis (below) was eventually blown up when it became apparent that like many 'brave-new-world' housing projects blowing up was actually the only solution for it.
    As the schemes for worker housing became increasingly uninhabitable, the plans for radiant cities drawn up by planners quietly began to be shelved, but the town planners themselves were harder to get rid of, and they began to look around for other pastures to pollute.
    Jane Jacobs pointed out in The Death and Life of American Cities that some of the places so hated by Corbu and the planning fraternity actually worked very well. The ‘mixed use’ of streets of terraced housing and brownstones in places like Manhattan she pointed out are very good places to live, with private houses often cheek by jowl with shops, cafes, and the like all an easy walk away. People choose to live in such places because they like them.
    So too with the explosion of the suburbs – people everywhere including NZ like living in their own house in the suburbs. But planners hate suburbs. Too bourgeois! And they never really understood Jane Jacobs. They drew up plans that zoned the hell out of everything, ensuring that ‘mixed-use’ became a dirty word, and restricted the density of suburban subdivisions, thus ensuring more of the sprawl they are so against.
    Planners hated suburbs all the more for the sprawl they themselves created. American suburbs are “a chaotic and depressing agglomeration of building covering enormous stretches of land,’ said, not a planner, but a book titled ‘The New Communist City’ produced by Moscow State University, whose graduates has designed Halle-Neustadt. Western planners agreed with those graduates, and bought into their “search for a future kind of residential building leading logically to high-density, mixed-use housing.”
    Thus was born a new movement called ‘Smart Growth’ that eager young planners have subscribed to in droves. Portland, Oregon is the home of this drivel, and as an eager young Portland planner told a reporter in the late sixties, "We got tired of protesting the Vietnam War, read Jane Jacobs, and decided to take over Portland." They did, and the city is only now beginning to recover.
    With the zeal of those for which there is only ‘one true way,’ smart-growth advocates gloss over Jacobs’s’ key point that choice is the key to what makes some places work and other places just suck, and they declared that everyone must live in the one true way prescribed by the planning profession. In Auckland we now have a document to ensure that everyone will.
    ‘Plan Change 6’ from the Auckland Regional Council sounds like it could have been written by that same team of Moscow State University graduates who built Halle-Neustadt, and it reads the same way. The document has been written with one eye on the Radiant City and the other on the public transport network that exists only in the heads of city planners.
    Under ‘Plan Change 6’ no growth or activities will be allowed outside the Metropolitan Urban Limits, or outside existing town centres without the express permission of ARC planners. None. Countryside living according to this document is “unsustainable” and “undermines public transport.” How they must hate people making choices for themselves! This provision is in essence a plan to end countryside living and to make rural New Zealand a National Park.
    Meanwhile, inside the Metropolitan Urban Limits plans are taking shape to force developers to build the slums of tomorrow. All development must take cognisance of the ARC’s plans for the public transport that doesn’t really exist and that few care to use. Minimum densities and minimum heights are prescribed for developments near transport ‘hubs.’ ‘Sprawl’ and private cars are the enemy, and gross intensification is the answer prescribed by the ARC planners.
    If you felt yourself wanting to Sieg Heil as you read all this then go right ahead – you’re on the right track with where it’s all heading.
    Under ‘Plan Change 6’ from the ARC, as the old joke goes, whatever is not illegal has become compulsory. Countryside living is to become banned; new suburbs discouraged; high density intensification the wave of the future. And the very villas and bungalows that are loved so much and were thrown up back before planning was born are now to be protected in heritage zones, even as council plans strive to ensure that such swathes of ‘unsustainable’ suburbia are never built again.
    And the choice of people to live where they want in the manner of their own choosing will once again be taken from them by the zealots of central planning.
    O brave new world! O worker housing! "Oh," as many Aucklanders might now be thinking, "My God!"

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

'The Homecoming Marine' (1945) - Norman Rockwell


    I must confess that I’m not an admirer of the paintings of Norman Rockwell, but I do admire the masterful analysis of art. Nick Provenzo's illuminating discussion of this Rockwell classic, of what seems at first glance just a simple naturalistic painting, is a signal lesson in how to begin analysing a figurative painting -- or any real artwork. It's first rate.
    The key is to understand that nothing in art is accidental -- the artist has chosen everything with some purpose in mind. Everything is intentional; it's the viewer's task to answer the why.

Labels: Art

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Thanks for reading.  Here’s two sisters singing Offenbach:


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Interview your blogger

Tim Blair has a good idea, and since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery I thought I’d copy quite shamelessly imitate: so I’m going to let you interview me.

Got any questions? Fire away in comments. Personal, political, professional ... ask anything*.

(*Does not imply that all questions will be answered. Or published. May not be used for the purposes of gambling. Offer void in South Australia.)

I don’t expect anything like the 137 questions Tim got. But breaking double figures will show much you love me.  Or not. ;^)

Those bloody lawyers

As regular readers will know (that’s both of you), my general opinion of lawyers as a species couldn’t be lower.  And every time I work with one my already impossibly low opinion comes out even lower, even—or even especially—when they’re supposed to be working for me.

I’ve just had another such encounter with one, leaving me to think that as a breed extermination may not be too unkind.

But before I do anything hasty, perhaps you readers (that’s both of you again) could tell me that I’m wrong.  Perhaps you can tell me about lawyers you know who aren’t either venal, dishonest or shambolically inept – or yourself.

And while you’re thinking about making a story up for me—which you’ll have to, since there’s no way it can possibly be based on fact—let me tell you my favourite lawyer joke.

    Chap walks into a lawyer’s office, and says, “How much do you charge?”  Says the lawyer, “One-hundred and fifty dollars for three questions.”
   “One-hundred and fifty dollars for three questions?!” says the man, aghast. “Jeez, that’s expensive isn’t it?!”
    “Sure is,” says the lawyer.  “Now what’s your third question.”

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Occupiers of private property must be told to clear off [updated]

Appeasing idiocy only rewards more of the same.  Here’s today’s lesson.

Last Waitangi day Wikitana and John Popata assaulted Prime Minister John Key as he was entering the Waitangi marae, for which they were convicted and (after glowing encomia from the likes of Hone Harawira) each sentenced to the hard labour of 100 hours' “community work” for their violence.

The lesson for the two thugs was that high-profile violence pays: a moment of violence against the Prime Minister bought them fame, headlines and mana amongst the braindead—at the price only of some risibly supervised “community work.”

Clearly emboldened by their fame and the “mana” bought at so cheap a price, less than a year later and short of a headline they’re doing that “work” in their community right now, occupying someone else’s private land in the Far North to protest . . . oh hell, who cares what they’re protesting: There they sit on someone else’s land (with the blessing of the local tribe, Ngati Kahu, and the iwi’s “negotiator” Margaret Mutu) chewing chicken bones, spitting venom and sending the rightful owner broke.  And here’s what these thugs “demand” for trying his patience:

"No land to be sold at Mahaetai [Taipa], so you property investors or house buyers don't buy land here, and we want our land returned to Ngati Kahu for nothing."

“Success,” say the thugs, “might be measured in buyers keeping away.”

Our success, the local police are never likely to say in response, will be measured by the extent to which we uphold the individual rights of rightful land owners.  That’s what the police should be saying, but never will.

They should have said that the very moment these thugs first trespassed.  Their “occupation” should never had hit the news: the police should have done the job they’re paid for at the precise time they were notified of the trespass. Instead the thugs have only become further emboldened by the ease with which they’ve discovered they can thumb their nose at the law, and they’re now hosting the country’s journalists on someone else’s lawn.

It’s time for Mr Key, the man who brought Hone Harawira’s party into coalition, to take a stand on one thing above all a civilised government is obliged to do: to protect the property rights of a citizen who’s been made a pawn in the power politics of a pair of idiots-a citizen who is, no doubt, losing big money every day that those vermin are out sitting on his lawn and he can’t sell off his subdivision as he planned to. (This selection of properties in the area will give you some idea of the money that is now hostage to these lunatics.)

For twelve months now John Key and his Government have tried to be all things to all people. He’s been given accolades for bringing the Maori Party “inside the tent”: flying their flag; doling out ministries; giving Maori Party leaders billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to spend.

And in return . . .  taxpayers, have got nothing. In return, Hone Harawira offers the country the Maori Party Salute. In return, they demand a a swathe of the Conservation Estate to buy their votes for a $100 billion cap-and-tax scheme.  In return, they give their imprimatur to any rag-tag Gog & Magog able to mutter “post-colonial traumatic stress disorder.”

Time for Mr Key to realise what he’s bought with his appeasement and our involuntary largesse. Time he tells Hone to bring his thugs into line.  Time he tells Margaret bloody Mutu that any “negotiations” she’s engaged in will be extinguished if she doesn’t get her thugs off someone else’s land.  Time to tell them all that’s not negotiable. And time he tells the police to do the job they’re supposed to do, instead of wasting it harassing noisy but harmless bloggers.

Time, in other words, he does the bloody job he’s supposed to do.

UPDATE: “Shades of Caledonia,” says Eric Crampton.

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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

SUMMER SIX PACK: Whaling, voting, & ‘The War on What . . . ? ’ and the importance of popping Mr Popper

Six more still topical blasts from the past for the summer readers of today, demonstrating the importance to every blogger of a sound set of archives.  Enjoy!

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Barbed wire for Kaikoura's whales?

    Japanese whalers have announced plans to go whaling again (read here), following which both scaremongering nonsense and legitimate concerns have been raised--oddly enough both of them appearing here at the Greens' FrogBlog.
    The legitimate concern is one raised by Whale Watch, as expressed by Conservation Minister Chris Carter, that the ocean represents an unprotected commons that is crying out for protection. However, in whinging about this Chris unwittingly offers the germ of an answer, "These are our whales too."
    This goes unerringly if unwittingly to the point of the problem, and puts its finger on the solution: for Kaikoura Whale Watch to make an ownership claim on "their whales," thereby protecting their whales, depoliticising the question and thus avoiding the unedifying prospect of seeing pictures of Jeanette Fitzsimons picketing Japanese supermarkets and surimi lunch-carts.
    So how to make an ownership claim on "their whales?
    The solution to the imminent and watery Tragedy of the Commons represented by out of control whale-harvesting is similar to the problem solved by nineteenth century cattlemen by the imperfect means of branding, and eventually by the invention of barbed wire. It is one of recognising and legally protecting the property right in these animals.
    And no, it’s not easy to protect property rights in big fish, but then there was a time when it wasn’t easy to protect property rights in cattle either, particularly on America’s great plains.  But that was before barbed wire.
    Branding and barbed wire were inventions that allowed the cattlemen to identify "their cattle" and to ask the law for its protection for them. The solution for those who wish to protect "their whales" is essentially the same  -- a technological advance that allows them to identify to themselves and others which whales are theirs, and which therefore have the full protection of law.
    Electronic branding? GPS-power 'barbed wire'? I don't know. The cattlemen embraced the new technology of barbed wire to legally protect their herds (read about it here); whale watchers might consider devising a similary moron-proof technology to allow legal protection to be afforded to their migrating 'pods.'  If they want legal protection then frankly the technology of demonstrating “their” marine life is up to them; but if they can produce something, then the law should by rights recognise and protect their property.
    Perhaps Minister Carter, the World Court and the IWC could kick things off by announcing that should such technology be devised and introduced, that full legal protection will be afforded to those like Kaikoura Whale Watch who can make a claim that a common law property right in "their whales" actually exists, a right acquired over years and fully deserving of protection.
    As they say, it's a start.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Putting freedom beyond the vote...

    There are some things that are so important they should be put beyond the vote. That's the proposition I want to offer you this morning.
    Consider this for example: Western countries around the world express concern at how waves of Islamic immigration could put at risk the freedoms we take for granted -- or at least the freedoms that some of you take for granted, such as the right to free speech, the separation of church and state, and the blessings of secure of secure property rights.
    As long as there was widespread understanding of and support for these important bulwarks of liberty, the secure retention of them was relatively assured; but as ignorance overtakes knowledge and the population changes any of these things of importance can be easily taken away by citizens'-initiated referenda, government vote-buying, or the easy, knee-jerk clamour of populism.
    There are some things that are so important that they need to be beyond the vote. You might disagree with me on what exactly those things should be, but I invite you to consider that some are so important that they simply must be. The only secure way to put things beyond the vote is with a Bill of Rights that defines those rights to be protected, and a written constitution that chains the government up to protect them.
    By contrast, New Zealand's present unwritten constitution and our toothless Bill of Rights offer insufficient protection from the venality of vote-buying and the turbulence of the modern world.
    Voting isn’t everything. Democracy is not liberty. Some things are just so important that they need to be put beyond the vote. A written constitution is how you put them there.
    When you do, you can move beyond democracy and go for liberty instead.

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January 26, 2009

Saving those whales with good hard sense

Peter Cresswell's picture

    THERE’S NOTHING LIKE an argument about whales to make everyone lose their marbles.
    One local blogger, for example, has posted various thoughts on morality and animal rights, and on her former membership of Greenpeace, and how that (somehow) pertains to Greenpeace's opposition to the Japanese whalers presently in the South Seas. “Go Greenpeace” she says. “Stop the hand-wringing and break out those guns.” (I paraphrase, of course.)
    Unfortunately, she offers no argument for her position, just simple assertion and a quote from Jeremy Bentham. But since Betham himself wasn’t even even in favour of rights for human beings ("nonsense on stilts" is what the stupid man called the idea) our blogger friend struggles to get her argument off the ground.
    No wonder, since animals don’t have rights anyway.
    The simplest short explanation why animals don't have rights is that they don't understand them -- as PJ O'Rourke pointed out you can tell the lion all you like that it's wrong, but he's still going to rip the guts right out of Bambi. And what do you do when that happens? If Bambi has rights, then you have to throw the lion in jail.
    And if animals really do have rights, then what would happen when you and your family tuck into Daisy the cow? Would you really expect your dinner to conclude with a visit from the police and atrip to jail? (Perhaps in a cell next to the lion—in which case, who's going to tell the lion about your rights?)
   Fact is, no matter how much you love cuddling animals and much as we may wish it otherwise, rights pertain not to animals, but to species who survive not by slaughtering each other but by trade. Who survive by virtue of their mind.  Who use their conceptual faculty to produce and to plan long range. Who bring new values into the world and who have the right to keep the values they produce. They pertain to species who need the protection of law to protect the products of their mind, and as far as is presently known ours is the only species that does so; if whales or any other species want their rights recognised, then let them show up in court and argue for them.
    It's not like whales don't talk to each other enough -- all that bloody singing that they do all day.

    NO, MUCH AS WE animal-lovers may wish it otherwise, animals have rights only by virtue of our ownership over them:  You kill my cat and I'll see you in court (and probably outside as well). But kill a stray cat, and all we can do is judge you by what you've done. How we treat animals is one way to judge a person.
    And maybe, in all the moral indignation about the whales, we forget that New Zealanders ourselves aren't too bad at slaughtering animals for food (as I pointed out the other day). Writing in The Dominion however, former MP Stephen Franks reminds us:

    “We are lathered in moral indignation about whaling. Yet as a nation we live off the proceeds of slaughtering up to 40 million cuddly young animals a year. Japanese think lambs are impossibly cute.”

The Green Party blob objects that Franks "has missed the point. New Zealand has a huge industry in farming sheep. As we all know sheep are generally bred for either their wool or their meat. They are not an endangered animal. Whales on the other hand are."
    There are two responses to make here. Minke whales, which the Japanese are hunting, are not endangered. Numbers in the Southern Ocean are in dispute, and are probably not as many as the 760,000 claimed in 1990, but even if much less that is not the sort of order of magnitude one sees if a species is dying out.
    But some whales are endangered. This is true. So the second point to make is that perhaps if whales were farmed, they wouldn't be so endangered. I've mentioned this point here many times (just check out some of my posts on Conservation) but developing a property right in whales is perhaps the best way to ensure they don't die out. As a headline describing the work of conservationist and crocodile farmer Dr Graham Webb once summarised: "Eat Them. Skin Them. Save Them." Or, as you might say if you're a Kaikoura whale tourism operator, 'Watch Them, Photograph Them & Save Them.' Pay your money and make your choice, and all that's needed then is a legal and a technological breakthrough so you can demonstrate which whales are yours, and a change in attitude.

    SO AS I SAY above, there is no case at all for protection of animals on the basis of their rights, but there is a strong case to be made for the protection of animals based on human rights -- specifically on the real, human property rights of ownership. As Dr Graham Webb has long argued, "The proposition that wildlife conservation can sometimes be enhanced through allowing and even promoting the harvesting of wildlife is a sensitive issue," but it is a necessary one to consider.
    While you’re considering it, consider that there is a very good reason that cows and lambs and chickens are not endangered, but kiwis, kakapo and some species of whale are. Ever thought about that? The value of cows and lambs and chickens, and much else besides, is recognised and protected in law, and that protection is in favour of those to whom the animals are a real tangible value, and who own them. The notion of the 'intrinsic value' of animals is not required since real value is protected, and the bogus notion of 'animal rights' is not needed as real, human property rights are protected. As that headline says, 'Eat Them, Skin Them, Save Them.'
    But no-one (yet) owns kiwis, kakapo and whales.  And these are the sort of things that are dying out.
    Graham Webb's discussion of the proposition of property makes the point that recognising a property right in animals makes for 'sustainable conservation' [PDF download]:

    “...An increasing body of conservationists believe local people should not be treated as the enemy of conservation (Hutton and Dickson 2000). They should be active partners, at the frontline. To achieve and sustain this, they need to receive tangible, sustainable benefits for their efforts. In most cases, the only sustainable way of providing those benefits is through using wildlife for economic gain. That is, conservation through sustainable use (CSU).”

    Graham's own crocodile park outside Darwin is a great example of one way this can work. The private conservation projects here in NZ and the various Southern African private wildlife parks are other good examples of private 'sustainable conservation' that succeed by eschewing vague ideas of non-existent 'intrinsic values' or of animal rights or of simply wishing we'd all just be nice to God's creatures , and instead by answering the question, "Of value to whom, and for what?" and then proceeding to protect the property rights of those to whom there is a recognised right and a clear value.
    And if it's just whales you want to protect, then Zen Tiger has yet another solution. Like Ruth, he's on the side of the whales too, only unlike Ruth he's come up with a viable plan: Eat more McDonalds:

.    “..the last hope for the Whales is MacDonald's. Their plan is to substitute the demand for whale meat with demand for a Big Mac. By all accounts, Japanese youth are increasingly turning away from Whale to Big Macs, so it seems to be working.
    “We need to speed the process. I suggest two more initiatives . . . “

Read on here to find out his own cunning plan for how eating more cows can help save the whales.

Linked Articles:
Cue Card Libertarianism - Rights
Opening a whole new can of whales - Not PC
Barbed wire for Kaikoura's whales - Not PC
Eat Them. Skin Them. Save Them.
Conservation and sustainable use of wildlife — an evolving concept - Dr Graham Webb
My secret flaw - Zen Tiger
Conservation from Not PC

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

War on what, exactly?

    What’s all this nonsense about a war on terror?  That makes neither semantic nor tactical sense.
    Six years to the day after war was declared on the west by means of terror and murder in Manhattan and Washington, Yaron Brook argues at The Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center that calling the present war in which the west is engaged a "War on Terror" is as foolish as calling the Second World War a War against Kamikazes, or a War on U-Boats.
    This is not a war against a tactic, he says; the west is at war with an ideological enemy and the conflict should be called what it actually is: a war on Islamic Totalitarianism.
    See his short argument here:


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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What's wrong with Ron Paul?

    Who's the scarier presidential candidate: Ron Paul, or the Rev Mike Huckabee?
    Both Jonah Goldberg and Gus Van Horn consider the question, but with opposite results. Despite Ron Paul's "disastrous" foreign policy and his sometimes scary coven of supporters, Goldberg plumps for Huckabee as the scariest – Huckabee, says Goldberg, s a "compassionate conservatism on steroids," and "an all-around do-gooder who believes that the biblical obligation to do "good works" extends to using government -- and your tax dollars -- to bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth."
    That’s frightening enough, so Ron Paul would have to be plenty scary to bet that.  And he is,as Gus Van Horn explains:

    “The Reverend Mike Huckabee is dangerous for wanting to mix religion and politics, but at least he is honest about wanting to do so. Paul pretends to be a secular candidate, and does the same thing. In that sense, he is more dangerous to our secular republic than the Reverend, because he will fool some who would otherwise oppose the agenda of the religious right.
    “And I haven't even touched on the fact that as a libertarian, Paul is a poor proponent of individual rights generally and, in particular the philosophical arguments for them espoused by Ayn Rand, who is often mistaken for (or smeared as) a libertarian.”
     Phew, more than a few points there to wrestle with. On the first point, Paul's opposition to abortion shows he deserves the charge of smuggling in religion, and place him firmly at odds with any claim to being an advocate for freedom. "Abortion on demand," says Ron Paul, "is the ultimate State tyranny." On June 4, 2003, speaking in the House of Representatives, Paul described "the rights of unborn people” as “the greatest moral issue of our time."
    The ultimate State tyranny? The greatest moral issue of our time? The man's either unhinged or blind, but however good his pronouncements on economics might be (and they’re normally very good), it's clear that he's far from the secular freedom lover many would like him to be. At the very least, continues Van Horn,
    “This means in sum that Paul, as an allegedly secular candidate who is, as such, dismissed as a threat to personal freedom in America, functions as a Trojan horse for the religious right even as he pretends that personal freedom is as obviously good and uncontroversial as breathing on a regular basis. (Personal freedom is good, but this is neither obvious nor uncontroversial.)”
And here we get straight to the second point. What about his claims to being a lover of freedom? What exactly is Paul's vision of "a free society"?  On that subject, this Open Letter to Ron Paul is an eye-opener, written by one Duncan Bayne in response to this article by Paul criticising the BATF & FBI assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco. Says Bayne:

    “While I agreed with many of your criticisms of BATF and FBI tactics & strategy, it became apparent to me that your article was not primarily concerned with those criticisms: the main thrust of the article was to whitewash the monstrous evil committed by David Koresh and his followers. You wrote:

‘The community of faith that once lived at Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, believed the promise of a free society.’

“This is the "community of faith" that sacrificed twelve-year old girls to Koresh so they could serve as his 'wives' - some of whom bore his children. If that level of barbarism - a religious community complicit in the slavery and rape of young girls - represents anything approaching your idea of what is a ‘free society,’ then I don't want you having any say in how society operates.”

    Too true, and here we get to the root of the Objectivist argument against irrational libertarianism.  Without a rational philosophical foundation, argue Objectivists, without a decent "philosophical infrastructure," politics is a dangerous pursuit of empty words, floating abstractions, and range-of-the-moment compromises. How can you call libertarians allies in freedom, ask hardcore Objectivists, when libertarians such as Ron Paul can't even agree on what the word "freedom" stands for?  And how can you call someone an advocate of freedom at all when their vision of a "free society" apparently includes the the freedom to rape twelve-year-old girls?
    It's clear, just as Van Horn charges, that freedom is neither obvious nor uncontroversial. In fact, personal freedom can and does (and must) be predicated on the base of reason, not of subjective whim. As Michael Berliner points out in this article on Ayn Rand,

    “She understood that to defend the individual she must penetrate to the root: his need to use reason to survive. ‘I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism,’ she wrote in 1971, ‘but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.’ This radical view put her at odds with conservatives, whom she vilified for their attempts to base capitalism on faith and altruism. Advocating a government to protect the individual's right to his property, she was not a liberal (or an anarchist). Advocating the indispensability of philosophy, she was not a libertarian.”
The point could hardly be clearer. Van Horn concludes:
    “The fight for freedom is, as I have pointed out, a war on two fronts: the political and the intellectual. Of the two, the intellectual is the more fundamental, and cannot be lost. The longer enemies to freedom like Ron Paul can masquerade as friends, the longer it will take for people to become aware of the actual requirements for a society that respects individual rights.”

And that, in 'short,' is the argument.  When he takes off the tinfoil hat and talks Austrian he’s damn good. But when he’s just got the tinfoil headwear, he’s rotten.

paul UPDATE:  Robert Bidinotto's New Individualist magazine goes even further in repudiating Paul's candidacy. The cover (pictured right) gives you an idea of the opprobrium in which Paul is deservedly held; the cover story by Vodka Pundit Steven Green

    “focuses solely on Congressman Paul's growing public prominence as a self-proclaimed spokesman for the ideas of liberty -- and on the impact that his representations of those ideas are having on a national audience. This article expresses concern for the fate of those ideas, and not for his fate as a candidate for public office.”

As this post on Bidinotto's blog makes clear, even apart from as the views and authorship of those Ron Paul newsletters, his credentials as a spokesman for liberty are such that his further advocacy can only damage the cause -- as more and more are realising as his campaign swiflty unravels.

    “[The] revelations about Cong. Paul's more outrageous views and his intimate association with a disreputable fringe cult within the libertarian movement have touched off an explosion of media scorn and expressions of outrage in recent days -- much coming from the more responsible libertarian circles. For example, the editors of Reason magazine -- who, in sharp contrast to The New Intellectual, published a glowing cover feature about "the Ron Paul phenomenon" in their latest issue -- are now expressing their disgust and distancing themselves from his candidacy. (Here are comments from the magazine's editors, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. Reason contributor Jesse Walker weighs in here, and former contributor Tim Cavanaugh here, while past editor Virginia Postrel comments here and here.) Likewise, Cato's David Boaz offers his own repudiation here. (I could cite many, many more denunciations from various prominent libertarians.)
    “In the meantime, many commentators are also taking Cong. Paul to task for views that thoroughly refute his claim to being a consistent champion of individual rights, liberty, and the Constitution.
    “Steve Green's article in The New Intellectual cited Paul's highly restrictive position on immigration (to the right of Tom Tancredo), his hypocritical support of pork-barrel earmarks for his own congressional district, his opposition to various free-trade agreements (like NAFTA) on wacko-conspiratorial grounds that they surrender U.S. sovereignty to Evil International Institutions, and his appalling, blame-America-first version of "non-interventionism" in foreign policy.
    “To that, Wendy McElroy points to Congressman Paul's pro-federal-interventionist anti-abortion bill (read her whole commentary), which would deny women the right to end a pregnancy and even deny the courts the power of judicial review in the matter -- a clear violation of separation of powers, which is a curious position for this self-proclaimed champion of the Constitution.
    “But what can you expect from a religious conservative who, on Lew Rockwell's website, rejected the Jeffersonian principle of a "wall of separation" between religion and government? As the congressman put it, ’The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers.’”
    “Read Bidinotto's full post here (complete with links), and a link to Steve Green's article here.”

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pop goes the Popper

    SWORDS ARE CROSSED SO frequently here in the comments section over the merits or otherwise of Mr Karl Popper that regular readers should find much to savour, if not much on which to agree, in three related and masterful pieces linked herein.
    Philosopher Karl Popper is often taken to be a pre-eminent defender of both science and liberty. In the first two of the three linked articles, Nicholas Dykes shows Popper is neither:

    Popper's whole notion of knowledge rests on uncertainty; in his view one gains knowledge in the same way one might pull oneself out of a swamp by one’s own hair, with all the contradictions involved.
    And he steals concepts he has no right to: observations for example are held by Popper to be unreliable, but he relies on them for his process of falsification. He insists on the soundness of deductive logic for producing knowledge, but allows his premises to be produced by any means whatever. He insists on “radical uncertainty,” and at the same time on the certainty of his own flawed position--and in the end we can see that what he calls “uncertainty” is simply the sum total of his own ignorance of the process by which knowledge is actually acquired.  
    His “radical uncertainty” betrays him, and us.   

    CONTEXT-DROPPING IS THE leitmotif of Popper’s theory of knowledge. Ii ft is to have any meaning at all, it comes from the unacknowledged context of the certainty of perceptual identification. What does Mr Popper think you're doing when you're falsifying something, if not checking the evidence in reality?
    Aristotle maintained that nothing comes to us as knowledge except by way of the senses. That’s still true—and contra Popper that’s still our starting point for all knowledge.  We make observations, we collect perceptions and integrate these into concepts.  That’s the human way of thinking and acquiring knowledge: and the knowledge we acquire this way can be vast. We know for example that the earth moves and that the sun doesn't, that atoms exist and that gravity bends light; and we know these things not because this information is directly available to us via perception, which it's not, but because we can integrate conceptually all the information that is directly available to us -- the vast number of relevant perceptions and observations of reality, which we integrate into non-contradictory identifications that these things are so.
    That's real knowledge, which we're able to check.  It begins with observation, which is integrated into theories that we can check by further observation.
    But Popper read Immanuel Kant instead of Aristotle, and he maintained that none of this was possible. (To get a handle on the philosopher dubbed “the all-destroyer read four more piece from the archives, Kant Can't, Kant Couldn't, Kant Didn't, and Kant Really Wasn't -- the first by Lindsay Perigo, and the last three by yours truly. Or if you’re an Atlas reader, there's always Dagny Taggart's answer to Kant.]
    Kant’s radical uncertainty became Popper’s. In essence, he just took half of Kant's "system" (the half that had synthesised David Hume) and he made it his own. 
    Popper maintained that perceptions, the starting point of our knowledge, represented its end-point; that perceptions actually represent "theories about reality" (the very idea is absurd context-stealing).  He got this from Kant.
    Observe Popper's concept-stealing. Observe his ignorance of the correct hierarchy of knowledge. Observe that every theory, every item of knowledge must have a starting point, including Popper's own so-called knowledge of knowledge itself. And understand that Popper's starting point for knowledge—his starting point for reliable knowledge—rests ironically in the imagination. His own.
    He talks about a "problem of induction," but his problem is only that he doesn’t understand induction.  He thinks induction is merely simple enumeration, which it isn’t, and he relies instead on deduction—as if these two things can be split. Which leads to one of his own primary problems: what we might call a "problem of deduction" – if induction and observation are out, then where do we find our premises, our starting points, on which we can perform our feats of deductive logic? 
    But this bothers him for barely a moment. He maintains we must simply make them up, from our imagination, and if we are any knowledge at all under his framework, we too are required to make such wholesale conjectures.
    Imagine driving a car by this shambolic process, let alone devising a scientific theory!
    So much for certainty, and logic, which he replaces instead with flights of fantasy (fantasy that only makes sense when scientists actually do begin by a process of observation and integration, a process to which Popper himself simply turns away from as if it were unseemly.)
    So Popper has problems getting knowledge off the ground, and  it turns out he als has problems tying it down as well. Just as he has no right to the knowledge with which we should properly begin our deductions, neither has he a right to the knowledge by which he insists we check our deductions – to refute them. In other words, no right at all to the knowledge we need to use for his famous falsification process.
    Frankly, he is hung by his own gallows: he says that knowledge of reality itself is impossible, yet his own theory purports to claim knowledge of reality at both ends.
    And frankly, I'm happy to take him at his word -- that he has no knowledge of reality.  Or at least no knowledge himself of how to successfully get it.

    WE CAN SEE THAT Popper’s whole theory of knowledge is flawed at its root, and his whole “defence” of science therefore is based on rationalisations, leaving scientific knowledge mired in floating abstractions. No wonder philosophy departments like teaching it to young scientists, who they hope to flummox. Moreover, Popper’s celebrated process of "conjecture and refutation" can be understood as being both internally contradictory and opening the door wide to subjectivism, to the nonsense of "consensus science," and ultimately to the post-modern bullshit of Thomas Kuhn and his “paradigm shifts.” 
    His major work in which his so-called defence of science can be found was titled “Logic & Scientific Discovery,” yet ironically he divorced the starting points of logic from reality, and insisted that scientists don’t discover—they merely refute.  So as a defender of science we can see that he is all but hopeless, insisting essentially that scientists are made blind by their own human method.
       It was Kant who first asserted that, in essence, we humans are limited by our means of perception; that we are blind because we have eyes, deaf becuase we have ears, and deluded because we have a mind. According to Kant, (in Rand’s words), "Reason's validity is then switched from the objective to the collective."
    And Popper follows this same approach. "Objectivity," according to Popper, does not lie in recognition of facts, instead it "lies in the fact that [scentific statements] can be inter-subjectively tested." [LSCD 44] As Dykes notes, "[Popper] later stated this differently: "It is the public character of science ...which preserves the objectivity of science," [POH 155-6] but it maintains the same notion: that for him consensus will always trump objectivity.
    This is where today’s scientists get their "science by survey" and their whole "consensus science' nonsense, and it opened the door to the "inter-subjectivity" of Kuhn and his followers.  Hell, it left a gap a whole continent wide for Kuhn to to drive through and exploit, which he did.

   POPPER’S IDEA THAT SCIENCE may be distinguished from non-science primarily by the virtue of "falsifiability" is seen to be important, but on its own woefully insufficient as an an essential defining characteristic by which to winnow the bold from the bullshit.
    Popper is worth reading, says Dykes -- "full of valuable insights, astute observations, and stimulating, sometimes inspiring prose" -- but in the end the Philosopher's Stone of explaining and defending science eluded him. Dykes concludes by suggesting, albeit briefly, what Popper missed, and what might have made his project complete.
    Popperians offended by the demolition might at least take comfort in Diana Hsieh's point: "Of course, Dykes knock-down arguments don't just apply to Popper, but also to the similar ideas in Kant and Hume and others in the history of philosophy." (And they might also reflect, as Diana has, that Popper's flawed philosophical base makes him a less than worthwhile advocate for liberty.)

THE THIRD PIECE, WHICH I'd strongly recommend you read in conjunction with Dykes' piece, is David Harriman's account of Induction and Experimental Method. It’s the perfect companion piece, by a writer perfectly suited to write it.
    Harriman is both philosopher (in the Objectivist/Aristotelian tradition) and a physicist at Caltech, so this is a topic on which he is eminently qualified to write. The piece is a chapter of his forthcoming book on the subject:

    “[It] examines the key experiments involved in Galileo’s kinematics and Newton’s optics, identifies the essential methods by which these scientists achieved their discoveries, and illustrates the principle that induction is inherent in valid conceptualization.”
Modern science began with Galileo, says Harriman, in particular with Galileo's methodology.
    “The scientific revolution of the 17th century was made possible by the achievements of ancient Greece... The modern scientist views himself as an active investigator, but such an attitude was rare among the Greeks. This basic difference in mindset—contemplation versus investigation—is one of the great divides between the ancient and modern minds. Modern science began with the full development of its own distinctive method of investigation: experiment. Experimentation is “the method of establishing causal relationships by means of controlling variables.” The experimenter does not merely observe nature; he manipulates it by holding some factor(s) constant while varying others and measuring the results. He knows that the tree of knowledge will not simply drop its fruit into his open mind; the fruit must be cultivated and picked, often with the help of instruments designed for the purpose.”
Scientific investigation and philosophical induction, argues Harriman, are characterised not just by falsification (as Popper would have it), but also by by a clear understanding of identity, by causality (ie., identity in action), and above all of the importance of integration.  We don’t just observe that things happen, we identify the nature of what they happen to, we induce their causes, and we integrate this new knowledge into our wider knowledge. It is these three—the law of identity, the law of causality, and the efficacy of integration--that skeptics like Hume never understood, and would-be scientific defenders like Popper never bothered to learn.
    “Cognitive integration [says Harriman] is the very essence of human thought, from concept-formation (an integration of a limitless number of concretes into a whole designated by a word), to induction (an integration of a limitless number of causal sequences into a generalization), to deduction (the integration of premises into a conclusion). An item of knowledge is acquired and validated by means of grasping its relation to the whole of one’s knowledge. A thinker always seeks to relate, grasp hidden similarities, discover connections, unify. A conceptual consciousness is an integrating mechanism, and its product—knowledge—is an interconnected system, not a junk heap of isolated propositions. Galileo integrated his knowledge not only within the subject of physics but also between physics and the related science of astronomy...”
The precision necessary for scientific induction is mathematical, says Harriman.
    “While discussing concept-formation, Ayn Rand explained that ‘perceptual awareness is the arithmetic, but conceptual awareness is the algebra of cognition.’ She ended [her]discussion with a challenge to the skeptics: Those who deny the validity of concepts must first prove the invalidity of algebra... A concept can function as a green light to induction only if it is defined precisely—and, in physical science, the required precision is mathematical... The cognitive integration necessary to validate a high-level generalization in physics is made possible only because the discoveries and laws are formulated in quantitative terms. Thus progress requires that the key concepts be defined in terms susceptible to numerical measurement. Such measurement is both the primary concern of the mathematician and the primary activity of the experimentalist.
    “Thus induction in physics is essentially dependent on two specialized methods. Experimentation provides the entrance into mathematics, and mathematics is the language of physical science.”

It's impossible to recommend this highly enough. (Unfortunately, the full paper is only available to subscribers to The Objective Standard -- which is partly why I've quoted here as much as copyright allows -- but as I've said before, subscription to this quarterly is worth every penny.)

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Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed another romp through the archives.

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