Friday, 22 January 2010

Who Needs Great Art?

by Peter Cresswell

Icarus    Painting, movies, literature, sculpture, music, architecture ... all have the ability to make us cry, to make us laugh, and -- just occasionally -- to make us feel ten feet tall. Why is great art so powerful? -- why does it have this profound ability to affect us? Simply, because it speaks personally to each of us. It is our shortcut to our very souls. When we experience art that truly touches us, we don’t just feel, “I like this;” if we have souls we feel “This is Me!”
    Great art has enormous scope: it subsumes an enormous range of experience and thought and emotion, and integrates these three into a mental unit that our particularly human consciousness is able to grasp. It might be a painting, a sculpture, or a play or a building, but if it is well done we can all look at it or walk through it and almost immediately know -- without even being able to put it completely into words -- how the artists see the world around them. By experiencing the art they’ve produced, we should have a pretty fair idea of what they see as important in the world, and whether or not we too see the world in the same way. 
     Think, for instance, of the lightning-like evaluation you make when you see this painting. Or this one. Or this collection of buildings. Or these. See what I mean? The integration involved in a good work of art subsumes all the experience, thought and emotion that goes into our own view of the world and, if we identify with it, allows us to point and say: “That’s Me!” or “That’s Not Me!” (So on that score, ask yourself about your reactions to those linked pieces, and what it tells you about the way you see the world.)


    The point here is that art isn’t just a way to kick back after a difficult week -- which is one reason elevator music and abstract painting are so execrable. Art is a shortcut to our very philosophy; a way to see and to experience our deepest values, and also to celebrate them.
    Art -- good art -- shows us our way of seeing the world, while celebrating that that is the way we do see the world; more particularly, it celebrates our own individual way of seeing the world, and affirms it.
    Why do we need art to see the world when we’ve already got eyes and ears and fingers and hands with which to experience it ourselves, and a brain with which to organise those experiences? Answer: We need art precisely because of the nature of that brain, and because of the way it organises the experiences.
    Look at the way our knowledge of the world is acquired and held: our knowledge of the world around us begins with our senses, which provide us with material that is then organised by our brain into concepts; those concepts in turn are then integrated into propositions and theories. We start with sensations, derived from particular experiences, and these form the basis for all our higher abstractions: all our ideas, from ideas of love, of justice, of rights, of value ... all high-order abstractions; all derived from earlier concretes which are subsumed into concepts, and then subsumed into even wider concepts, and so on.
    This process of abstraction leading to further abstraction creates both the enormous power of the human mind, and its great weakness: its power to think in vast abstractions, and its inability to see these abstractions as one unit. That’s what art does for us: it gives us each the power to see all of our important abstractions as a single unit.
    To ‘fix’ each particular abstraction, as Ayn Rand points out in her Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, we integrate the concept into a single mental unit: a word. Each word acts as a unit that integrates the constituent units of that particular concept, which brings together and holds for us in our minds the vast material referred to by the particular concept which that word is used to delineate.
    But as we integrate these high-end abstractions into even wider abstractions, we run into a problem: the scope becomes too vast and too amorphous to grasp as a whole. For that, we need art.  Think for example of the Statues of Justice and of Liberty, and of Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People.” These don’t just sum up the concepts of liberty and justice; they offer an evaluation of them to boot.
    The relative position of our higher abstractions works of art is analogous to the position of a poem to a word; or that of a book to its chapter; or that of a piece of furniture to a building: the greater work orders, makes understandable and gives context to all the units subsumed, and brings into existence a new mental unit integrating them all. In making a work of art, we are offering a new mental unit that is at once a higher abstraction than those it subsumes, and a more concrete one. In making our abstractions concrete, it takes us back to the concretes from whence they came, but in a much more powerful form.
    Art allows us to see the totality of our worldview. If we follow Leonard Peikoff’s idea that philosophy is like a skyscraper, we can see that it is a rather oddly-shaped one. Peikoff's skyscraper begins at the lower levels with metaphysics, the nature of existence. It continues upwards with a few floors dedicated to epistemology, how we know what we know. On top of these lower floors and dependent on them are floors describing the nature of human beings and how we should live in the world as it is, i.e. ethics, and then how we should live together, i.e., the field of politics.
    Now, if we understand the true nature of art we can see that art does fit on top of the other floors, since it requires all the other floors below to give it support. But in an important sense, the upper floors of art actually lead directly back to the basement, rather like one of those strange buildings in a science fiction story in which we keep going up, yet we end up in the basement instead of the penthouse. Good art is both penthouse -- in the sense that it is a glorious summation and culmination of all that is below it -- and it is also basement, because it is both fundamentally necessary to human survival (witness the cave scratchings of even primitive men, who sought to find meaning in his world) and also intensely explicative of our own deepest metaphysical value judgments. Deep art really does go deep: right down to the bottom floor.
    Why, then, is art so intensely personal? If it’s just a higher form of abstraction, why do we so readily get up in arms over it? Again, it is because of the nature of the human mind. We are endowed not just with a cognitive mechanism, but also with an emotional mechanism. “It is man’s cognitive faculty … that determines the content of both.” The premises and abstractions we form and accept are the programming for our subconscious: based on this ‘subconscious programming,’ our emotional faculty provides us inexorably with lightning-like evaluations of the things we see and experience around us -- the extent of our emotion at these experiences is the extent of the import and resonance they have for us.
    As Ayn Rand said when identifying the nature of our emotions, they offer a lightning-like evaluation of the things around us. But our emotions do not spring from nowhere; they themselves are “an effect, not a cause.” Every single thing we see or experience is value-laden. It is our previous thinking (or lack thereof) that determines the nature of the evaluation.
    If one has finished a hard day’s work and sees a beer, one might feel a fierce thirst and a yearning to sit down and enjoy it; if one’s a poor student and sees an exam paper, one might feel nausea and a desire to escape the classroom; but if one is a human being with a healthy soul, and one hears Beethoven’s Ninth or sees Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, then one feels exalted. The difference in the feelings is determined by what it is we experience. The intensity of feeling is the measure of the extent of the intellectual and emotional abstractions subsumed.
    Why does great art move us? Because it speaks to the whole of us, and to everything we know and stand for.
    Who needs great art? You do.

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Tax “reform.” It’s not rocket science, it’s theft. [Update 3]

There’s one aspect only of the Tax Reform Group’s recommendations I have any time for: If NZ is going to be wealthier, then NZers need to consume less and produce more.

Fair enough.  The intelligent commentator distinguishes between the two: consumptive expenditure uses up stuff without replacing it; whereas productive expenditure uses up stuff in order to create more stuff.  The more productive spending, the more productive we are.  The more consumption spending we do, the less productive we are (especially if we’re consuming our capital.)

This is just basic economics, but it’s ironic that it’s being said in the same spending season as all the Keynesians are talking up spending as if it’s the cure to syphilis.

So much for the consistency of mainstream economists.

So saying it makes sense, but (even given today’s rampant Keynesianism) it’s hardly a feat like discovering gravity to say it. Because if they have the intelligence they are supposed to, they would recognise that the biggest consumer of stuff round here is the government—and recommend the government stop.

No such luck. instead they’re recommending that we give the government more.

So much for the “logic” and acumen of the Tax Reform Group.

And the government is talking up a change away from taxes on the production side at the same time as their Nick Smith is imposing new taxes on production to protect the Earth Mother Gaia.

So much for the “logic” and acumen of this government.

The Tax Reform Group insist that we give the government more (and have no fear that we will). 

They insist on soaking residential property investors for example, and commentators like this moron over at Bernard Hickey's leap into print cheering on the increased rents on tenants and the tax-man’s hand being thrust into a new pocket.  That moron is just one among many completely blind to the irony of giving tenants an accommodation supplement with one hand (which has helped push rents up to unsustainable levels), while taking the cash back with a tax on their landlord.

So much for the ability of economic commentators to know what the fuck is going on.

The only thing we can be sure of is that when anyone talks up a new tax, a legion of talking heads with nothing in them will leap up to cheer on the tax man.  Soak the rich, soak the poor, soak the landlords, soak them more. That’s just the thing to get the commentariat cheering.

This latest bunch of academic done-nothings insist on a “new” tax on land, for example — and commentators like David Farrar and Bernard Hickey leap about excitedly, announcing that this new tax will (somehow) avert the growth of future housing bubbles.  Commentators like David Farrar and Bernard Hickey say this despite evidence from all around the world that not one market that had such a thing managed to avoid any such thing; and evidence from here at home that we have pretty significant land taxes already, thank you very much.

And not only that, commentators like these two  appear utterly oblivious to the all too obvious fact that the housing bubble was itself the product of a borrow-and-spend mentality flushing out of the system under the Reserve Bank’s impimatur (what George Reisman calls counterfeit capital), coupled with a restriction on land supply created by the toxic swill of ‘Smart Growth.’ 

An inflationary demand combined with restrictions on supply!  Who would have thought you’d see a bubble!? Not these two, anyway.  And not the Tax Reform Group either. (For an extra mark, work out what will happen bubble-wise when an additional tax is placed on the suppliers of developed land.  Answers on a postcard please.)

There’s certainly more than one thing broken here, but the Tax Reform Group (and the various commentators who are mostly too dim to see past their next tax return, or the last economic report) just can’t see them. 

So instead of trying to fix the country’s woes with a new tax, here’s a few home truths the Tax Reform Group failed to wrestle with but should have:

  • that the Reserve Bank’s credit spigot needs to be capped, and the country’s town planners need to be told to take a hike. 
  • that if they’re serious about taking taxes off productivity, they immediately take an axe to their new cap-and-tax scheme. (Copenhagen’s over boys.  No need to grandstand now.)
  • that if they’re serious about lowering the the “price” of rents, and with it the value of rental property, they think seriously about calling a halt to the Accommodation Supplement.
  • that if they’re serious about reducing consumption, then they get pretty damn serious about reducing their own (and the way to start that is to begin attacking the culture that demands that need is an entitlement).

If you want some sort of “step change,” those simple things need to come first.

UPDATE 1: Slight change in text and title.  And the addition of a swear word.

    “Libertarianz  leader Richard McGrath said the National Government needs to grasp the nettle and slash state spending so that taxes can be reduced across the board.
    ““The agonising by Bill English over which taxes to cut, and which to increase, demonstrates a clear lack of direction,” he said. “This government clearly has no intention of reining in the profligate spending habits of its predecessor. And if it doesn’t stop spending, it has to keep taxing.”
    “My party can name dozens of departments, ministries and boards which could be axed tomorrow - and no-one would miss them. . .”

 Read on to see some examples.

UPDATE 3: Cactus Kate lets rip:

    “All this talk of "tax neutrality" makes me rather ill. When you are running deficits you need to cut government spending. No talk of that is there?
    “I don't understand Hickey's crusade against landlords, perhaps he doesn't own a rental property. As for the depreciation on buildings - Farrar states most buildings don't depreciate in value? WTF?
    “If anyone has sold a rental property they would know a thing as ‘depreciation recovered’; that is, on any sale in which you make a gain, you have to pay the bloody deductions back in any case.
    “Fund Managers, NZX operators, share scammers - I can understand their self-interest on the Tax Working Group. Pity others can't.
    ”I'm independent of the matter having no NZ stocks or property. All it seems like is new ways to thieve from all walks of life.
    “The suggestions are so poor that we can now only put faith in English and Key that true to form they will decide it is all too bloody hard so they do nothing.”


A Complete Hiftory of Man According to Hif Divers Delightf — PART TWO: 'Making the Geniuf Quicker'

by Peter Cresswell

Strong is a king who destroys all, stronger still is a woman who obtains all, but strongest is wine, which drowns reason. Stronger still, however, is Truth and I who speak it.

                                                     Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

    So, to summarise (from Part One yesterday, 'You Smell of Goat'): in the beginning all that existed was savagery and raw steak.  And then, with bread and beer, civilisation was ushered in. (Bread and circuses were to come later.)
    Since beer and civilisation was something to celebrate, everybody did. For the next several thousands of years human beings would celebrate the arrival of beer by being variously bladdered, blotto, blathered and blagged (to use just four of the over one-thousand English words for being bevvied).
    Talk about overdoing a good thing.
    Fact is, the world was awash in ‘wastage.’ For some centuries the main source of nutrition for most families was beer. Lunch, dinner, supper—as a ‘warm beer soup it was drunk by men and women and children at every meal including breakfast – indeed, in most cases it was the meal’ -- and the world looked like you’d expect it to look after several thousand years of a serious session.

[New scene: A medieval city under siege[1]. Plague stalks the land. Camera pans to a small shit-laden hovel with a filthy leprous woman in the foreground. Suddenly, with a loud crash, a dead horse crawling with maggots and flung by a siege catapult crashes through the roof.]
Women (turns to camera): I can’t wait for the Renaissance!

    Two things happened to bring on the Renaissance: after a millennia-and-a-half of drinking, a few scholars sobered up long enough to begin reading what all those wine-sodden Classical Greeks had been banging on about. “Hey, this is good stuff!” they instantly hallelujahed.
    Artists and popes agreed, and celebrated by producing and commissioning some of the finest erotica the world has ever seen (and in the case of the popes themselves enacting it upstairs at the Vatican). But the world didn’t see any of it (especially what was gong on upstairs): it still took several centuries and Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press for the art and thought of the Renaissance to become widely available.
    And it took one more thing too -– it needed the rest of the population to sober up for a moment to read and savour what Gutenberg‘s copier produced. And what that took, in a word, was the invention of coffee.
    From out of Islam came this great redeemer, and his name was Suleiman the Magnificent.  His rescue was quite inadvertent. When the Turks in 1529 left behind a few bags of their coffee at Suleiman’s failed siege of Vienna, we suddenly knew what to do when in the grip of a hangover, and our fuzzy brains began working again. Naturally, men began writing eulogies to the arrival of this exotic new intoxicant:

When the sweet poison of the Treacherous Grape[2]
Had acted on the world a general rape; …
Coffee arrives, that grave and wholesome Liquor
That heals the stomach and makes the genius quicker.
Coffee was the Great Redeemer:
It is a panacea…It dries the cold humours, dispels wind, strengthens the liver, it is the sovereign cure for hydropsy and scabies, it restores the heart, relives bellyache. Its steam in fact is recommended for fluxions of the eyes, buzzing in the ears, catarrh, rheum or heaviness of the nose, as you will.[3]
Coffee was great; coffee was it; coffee was the new new thing.  And what coffee produced was a new kind of man, Homo coffea, and with it a new society that frowned on the excesses of the past. One in which reason was no longer drowned in a beer tun:
The massive, heavy body types of seventeenth-century paintings had their physiological explanation in high beer and beer-soup consumption… The insertion of coffee achieved chemically what the Protestants sought to fulfil spiritually [by] ‘drying’ up the beer-soaked bums and replacing them with ‘rationalistic, forward-looking bodies’ typical of the lean cynics of the nineteenth-century.[4]

     The whole of Europe changed. People suddenly became sober and serious; thought and wit and rationality became valued; and business picked up as people stopped shooting each other and being knifed in pub brawls.
    The popular pastime of besieging each other’s cities stopped -- the Thirty Years War came to an end -- and the population began instead desperately seeking overseas supplies of this wonder drug.
    With coffee addiction came the immediate necessity of large scale foreign trade to keep the addiction fed: such was the beginning of the noble tradition of globalisation that Starbucks celebrates to this day. Coffee at once energised the brains of entrepreneur’s and gave them a goal: more coffee!
    And with it too came innovation! As Ayn Rand observed, animals survive by adapting themselves to their environment while humans flourish by adapting their environment to themselves. For too long people had concluded that all foods aside from beer quickly ‘go off’ so best just sup up and stay stoated. Although coffee itself didn’t replace the nutritional value that beer then provided, what it did do was sober people up enough to begin inventing ways of preserving foods, producing packaging and so making of food (and life) the man-made delight it had never been before. We today are the hearty beneficiaries of those sober and serious producers.

    Western civilisation rightly fell in love with coffee and the enlightenment it ushered in. Historians were so excited they capitalised the era: coffee ushered in The Age of Enlightenment. Western civilisation was again transformed for the better, industry and enterprise picked up, and in the coffee-houses of Europe two new revolutions were being planned, and executed.

To be continued ...

[1] Don’t interrupt. But if you can remember from which film this scene originates I’d be obliged.
[2] Our anonymous author clearly couldn’t find a word to rhyme with ‘hops’ so chose wine as his target. The point remains the same. And stop interrupting.
[3] The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco
[4] Tastes of Paradise : A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants, Wolfgang Schivelbusch [I swear I did not make that name up!]

NB: A special note for my American readers: You’ve probably never had a good coffee.  Friends from NZ who live in the States tell me they’ve yet to meet an American barista who can make good coffee, or who have good beans to make it with. (One is tempted to say at cafes, “could I please have a medium latte with 3 shots and do you mind if I come back there and make it myself.”)
    There is hope however.  ‘Albina Press’ in North Portland is reported to have good coffee. And ‘Mud’ in Manhattan.  Any others?

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‘My Creed,’ by Dean Alfange

Alfang 72

[Hat tip Doug Rasmussen]


Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Perigo on ‘The Vote Heard Around the World?’

Lindsay Perigo comments on the astonishing vote in Massachusetts—a shot that signals the start of a fight back.

The Vote Heard Around the World?

    Republican Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the election to fill the Senate seat formerly held by far-left shyster Edward Kennedy is a decisive indication that the American voters’ honeymoon with Barack Obama is over and they are clamoring for divorce, says SOLO Principal Lindsay Perigo.
    “Never mind their incomprehensible stupidity in entering this abusive relationship in the first place,” admonishes Perigo. “What’s important and reassuring is that they’ve awoken to the coercive, anti-American nature of their president ... and want out.
    “Mr. Obama won their hearts with his sweet-talk about change they could believe in. The actual change he has attempted to enact is from soft capitalism to hard socialism.
    “Scott Brown proudly promised to be the vote that derails Obama’s health care plan. This plan would make it compulsory for every American to take out health insurance—a shocking reversal of the relationship between the state and the individual laid out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Massachusetts voters who supported Obama in 2008 but voted for Brown today are citing health care as the reason for their switch. Mr. Obama and his fellow-socialists Pelosi and Reid have been told in no uncertain terms their Big Bossy Government agenda is not wanted.
    “It’s to be hoped that the rest of Obama’s toxic program is now equally destined for the ashcan of history. His proposed success taxes, his treasonous over-spending, his cap-and-trade scam, his decreeing that carbon is toxic, his takeover of the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy, his refusal to call terrorism ‘terrorism’ let alone name its Islamic roots, his gladhanding of dictators, his obeissance to union mafias, his diabolical determination to turn the Land of the Free into the United Socialist States of America ... let us hope his treason to liberty has been stopped in its totalitarian tracks.
    “This will require that voters, who showed themselves none too bright and none too American in 2008, keep faith with their awakening. It will require Republicans to repudiate their own socialist proclivities and present a genuine pro-freedom alternative to Mugabama in this year’s elections. It will require that the magnificent patriots of the Tea-Party movement keep up the pressure to take America back to its roots.
    “May today’s vote be heard around the world, and obviate the need for another equally audible shot,” Perigo concludes.

Lindsay Perigo
SOLO (Sense of Life Objectivists):

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Ode to the taxman . . .

. . . the sum of several thousand dollars. Ho ho.

And after that little quip, here’s another joke: the idea that the solution for what ails this country is another goddamn tax.  Sayeth the bard:

Tax his land,
Tax his bed,
Tax the table
At which he's fed.

Tax his work,
Tax his pay,
He works for peanuts

Tax his cow,
Tax his goat,
Tax his pants,
Tax his coat.

Tax his tobacco,
Tax his drink,
Tax him if he
Tries to think..

Tax his car,
Tax his gas,
Find other ways
To tax his ass.

Tax all he has
Then let him know
That you won't be done
Till he has no dough.

When he screams and hollers;
Then tax him some more,
Tax him till
He's good and sore.

Then tax his coffin,
Tax his grave,
Tax the sod in
Which he's laid.

When he's gone,
Do not relax,
It' s time to apply
The inheritance tax.

And here’s George Harrison:

[HT Owen McShane for the poem]


A Complete Hiftory of Man According to Hif Divers Delightf. Part One: 'You Smell of Goat'

by Peter Cresswell

A brief history of the world based on several things that really matter . . .

“ ‘Tis better to be a good liver than to have one.”
Tom Waits

    Man’s recorded history begins on the plains. When wildebeest and wild beasts roamed the plains thousands of years ago, early man roamed with them ... and often provided them with a good meal.
    Life for early man for most of those thousands of years was just as Thomas Hobbes described it :  nasty, brutish and short. The battle for survival was a daily challenge; the threat of imminent oblivion all that drove men forward; Hunting and gathering whatever could be scavenged the only way to fend off starvation.  In such a primitive struggle, man’s mind was of little use :  native cunning and primitive tool-making were highly valued; long-range thinking was not.
    A successful hunt was all such creatures had to celebrate:  a high point in such an existence would be to roast another wild beast over an open fire. For a brief moment in their short and brutal lives their bellies would be full, their bodies warm, and their thoughts could (at last!) roam to higher things.
    They had bought themselves time to think. What great realisations did they come to? After much skull-sweat they concluded that , in the immortal words of Tom Waits, 'twere better to be a good liver than to have one.  On such nights, and over the course of those thousands of year of struggle, there was one thought, one goal, that drove these men forwards:  the idea of beer!
    That’s right. Beer. The first step away from the caves and that precarious existence of the hunter-gather came with the cultivation in Mesopotamia of grains and cereals. With this important step man had begun thinking long-range; he had begun to plan ahead … a season … then a year … then several years in advance. Rather than roaming far and wide for whatever he could find, he could instead settle down, build a house, raise a family, have a beer, start a civilisation.
    The planting and harvesting of grains and cereals represented the arrival on this earth of man the-rational-animal; and for the first time it could be clearly seen that man’s mind was his chief tool of survival. Man had put his mind to work, and for the first time flourishing replaced survival.
    And what was all that grain and all those cereals for? Why, for beer of course! And bread. If bread was the staff of life, then beer was its inspiration. With bread came sustenance; with beer came civilisation. If the symbol of that first phase of primitive human development was a wild beast gnawing on the roasted limb of another wild beast, then the mark of the next was several pitchers of beer, and happy people consuming them.
    Beer was the first example of men expending precious time and effort producing something not just for survival, but for their own pleasure!
    And with the time bought by cultivation, men could now devise stories to entertain themselves while drinking beer. And curiously, many of these tales involved stories of extensive imbibition and getting seriously bladdered. How times have changed.
    The first of man’s great stories-and the very birth of literature--is ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh,’ a tale describing the evolution of man from the primitive to the cultured. This perhaps the first of man ‘s great creation myths, and also the first recorded instance of a great drinking songs. 
    So if civilisation began with beer, then literature began with a drinking song. (Sounds like a good story to me. ) In the epic we hear tell of the whore sent by Gilgamesh to the savage Enkidu, who teaches him what it is to be human. “She [gave Enkidu] bread to eat, because that’s what humans do, and beer to drink, because that’s what civilised people do”:[1]

‘Drink beer the custom of the land.’
Beer he drank – seven goblets.
His spirit was loosened.
He became hilarious [don’t we all!].
His heart was glad and his face shone.

    Enkidu drank beer, became hilarious, became glad – and in doing so became human.
    The Mesopotamians had their own popular drinking song. A rather odd one, suggesting that Mesopotamian lager louts liked rather fancied dressing up:

Sweet beer is in the Buninu barrel.
Cup-bearer, waiter-waitress, servants and brewer gather around.
When I have abundance of beer,
I feel great. I feel wonderful.
By the beer, I am happy.
My heart is full of joy, my liver is full of luck.
When I am full of gladness, my liver wears the dress befitting a queen.

    The only think left to add is a hiccup. And a belch. And to wonder what sort of visions the Mesopotamian liver was conjuring up!

    African myth includes an early version of the story of Pandora’s Box: in this version at the bottom of the empty casket is found, not hope exactly, but a gourd of beer. ‘Forget the afterlife and redemption by the gods,’ this story seems to say: ‘be happy with your lot, because to you is given beer.’  So beer puts the gods in their proper place for the first time:  Where primitive men would fearfully seek to propitiate the cruel and fickle gods for one more day of a brutal existence, civilised men instead called on their gods to assist in the tricky processes of cultivation and fermentation.
    It is thus no accident that religion quickly associated itself with beer: to this day, beer recipes from Belgian monks are still highly prized. Even the murderous Aztecs were not found wanting: if you weren’t completely cunted at Aztec religious rites your head became forfeit to the priests.
    The message seemed to be that as drunkenness was a gift from the gods, it must be so honoured. Now there’s a religious morality you can subscribe to!

    So beer built civilisation: it was what were getting civilised for.  The Sumerians, the Aztecs, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Romans, the Teutons … all took the happy accident of fermentation and with it made their crops last longer and their short lives better. Beer was good.  Beer was popular. Beer was the reason we were here.  The Egyptians for example used up to forty percent of their harvests to make beer. Bousa (or bouza) as one type was called (yes, it’s true!) was the staple of the Egyptian diet; the pyramids were paid for with another type known as kash.
    Clearly, t
he urge to go out to work to earn drinking vouchers and spend them down the boozer is a long-established mark of civilisation.
    In this way life was made much better for the next few thousands of years, which was important since for many other reasons life – outside beer and its associated revels – was still shit.
Aside from a few brief, glorious years in Ancient Greece -- in which philosophy, art and science were very soberly invented -- getting mothered was the only reliable pleasure to be had across most of the Dark Ages and in most of the world. To understand Europe for most of this time, think Nebraska on a slow weekend – you had the choice of either church or beer. The best you could say was that most monks were good brewers!
    In fact, much of the Dark Ages might well be explained by the fact that most of the people for most of the time were munted.  And who wouldn’t want to be. In an age when the water was disgusting and food was once again scarce and difficult to keep fresh, beer had become the chief source of daily nutrients. The average Northern European, every man, women and child, drank three litres of beer a day – and this is real beer we’re talking about, not today’s girly muck, with much higher alcohol content than the lolly-water of Messrs Budweiser and Miller. (Nordics were even harder: the daily ration for Finnish soldiers was the equivalent of forty cans of strong beer. No wonder the Vikings were fearless)

    If you’re at all interested in history then, try drinking three litres of Tennents Super or Carlsberg Elephant beer every day and see how you feel, and then think about that when you study European history because that’s what most Europeans were filling up their history with:

Almost everything had some liquor in it, especially medicines. Anything not deliberately fermented went off in the summer heat.  In winter, beer froze, causing the alcohol to separate into high-proof liquor… To make matters worse, the main non-alcoholic source of nutrition, bread, is now believed to have been plagued with the hallucinogenic fungus ergot, the base ingredient for LSD. Drunk doctors, tipsy politicians, hung-over generals: the plague, famine and war. Add a pope on acid and medieval Christianity begins to make a whole lot of sense.[2]
    How seriously did Europeans take their drinking?  Here’s one measure: The Eskimos have twenty-three words to describe snow, but the English language has over one thousand to describe getting hammered.[3] Little wonder. Being bollocksed in fact explains much English history, as for most of their history the English spent most of their time getting trolleyed. After encountering the arseholed Ancient Britons, Julius Caesar (more used to the pleasures of the grape than the hops), asked in an ode :

Who made you and from what?
By the true Bacchus I know you not.
He smells of nectar
But you smell of goat.

    High praise indeed!
   It wasn’t just the Britons yore who were getting trollied either. King Harold’s much later fall at the Battle of Hastings (on that famous date of 1066) was ascribed by twelfth-century historian William of Malmesbury to the fact that the boys were still hung-over from celebrating an earlier victory over the Vikings. Echoing the much later charge of the Light Brigade (and the more recent invasions of England’s Barmy Army and its football hooligans), Malmesbury describes the English fighting “more with rashness and precipitate fury than with military skill.”  
    Even Queen Elizabeth I indulged, supping her beer soup at breakfast and washing it down with a quart of the warm flat stuff - 'an excellent wash' she called it. When she visited Hatfield House her off-sider the Earl of Leicester hastily wrote to Lord Burleigh, "There is not one drop of good drink or here there. We were fain to send to London and Kenilworth and divers other places where ale was: her own beer was so strong as there was no man able to drink it." [4]
The Scots (or the Picts as they used to called themselves) were even more serious about getting gewgawed: they made their beer one part malt to two parts heather. The heather, it turns out, contains a natural hallucinogen called fogg, which is somewhat descriptive and explains something about the Scottish enthusiasm for their beer today -- including the Tennents Super of today - and very much about their tactics in battle.
    Arseholed they may have been for most of their history, but it was from the drunken shambolic British that we got the idea of liberty. Common law and the Magna Carta were early English makeshifts, just the sort of Heath Robinsonisms you’d put together when drunk.  It was a good start, but we had to endure half-a-millennia more before the ideas embodied within these could be properly developed and applied. 
    What kicked off their proper development was a saviour from the East: in the twelfth-century European scholars began learning from their Muslim counterparts about the great thinkers forgotten in the European Dark Ages.  The rebirth of those great thinkers was so powerful it kicked off the Renaissance—which, naturally, was enough to kick off another round of celebrations.
    Through the centuries of hangovers What Europe really need was to wake up. It needed another drink. And in the seventeenth-century Europeans learnt from Islam of another wonder, and this special wonder helped to kick off the Enlightenment …
    And for knowledge of that pleasure and what came of it you will have to wait for Part Two.

    To be continued . . .

[1] Man Walks into a Pub: A Sociable History of Beer, Pete Brown; Macmillan, 2003
[2] The Devil’s Cup: Coffee, the Driving Force in History, Stewart Lee Allen; Soho Press, 2000.
[3] Yes, it’s true! The fabulous and afore-referenced Man Walks into a Pub includes nearly 250 of these words, and author Pete Brown points out that there are a further 800-odd such words and phrases to be found in Jonathan Green’s Dictionary of Slang. As Brown comments: “It is clearly the work of an insane genius. Just so you know, the only other words that come close to having as many different slang terms as drunkenness are bonking, jobbies, wabs, the front bottom and the old chap. In itself this says more about our culture than most books could ever hope to.”
[4] ibid

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010

The New Deniers

“. . . a fairer tax system”? [update]

BILL ENGLISH HAS BEGUN his working year by talking up his plans for something he calls "a fairer tax system.”  If that bromide is to mean anything at all, then there is only one possible means by which Bill English could deliver such a thing: By not spending so goddamn much.

That, however, is not on the agenda.

Pity, because there’s plenty of easily quashed boondoggles that any responsible Finance Minister would be eyeing up with a sharpened axe:

  • Cindy Kiro's Office for the Children's Commissioner
  • Peter Dunne's Families Commission
  • Paula Rebstock's Commerce Commission
  • David Lange's Ministry for Women's Affairs
  • Jim Anderton's Ministry of Economic Development
  • The Ministry of Youth Development
  • Asia New Zealand Foundation
  • The Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs
  • The Ministry for Maori Affairs
  • The Race Relations Conciliator
  • Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand
  • Action on Smoking Hysteria
  • Electricity Commission
  • Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority
  • The National Advisory Council on the Employment of Women
  • The Department of Labour
  • Welfare for Working Families

That's just a few of the bureaucratic sacred cows that any responsible government should have in their sights when they’re talking about “fairer” taxes. If Bill really did want to relieve the burden of big government from New Zealand taxpayers, then those troughs for time-servers should all be wearing a target.

BUT CUTTING SPENDING IS not on the agenda of Sir Double Dipton.  Shuffling around the means by which he fleeces us is.

As Billy Bob and his boys have already signalled, what they mean by the bromide of “a fairer tax system” is simply a slight fall in income tax and a huge hike in GST and Land Tax—a  cynical piece of sleight of hand that will allow them to sock all New Zealanders while pretending they’ve belatedly kept their election promise to deliver income tax cuts.

There’s no possible way there’s anything “fair” about whacking up the price of land, or the price of everything everywhere.  There’s nothing responsible about making everything more expensive just to pay for this over-spending government, no matter how many worthies say otherwise.

MOST OF THE WORTHIES who talk about such things have been banging excitedly on for months about the prospect of a Land Tax—as if we don’t already have such a thing, and as if it would somehow have stopped the housing bubble from inflating.

It can only be abject ignorance that would allow any commentator to make either argument. 

No Land Tax or Capital Gains Tax anywhere in the world stopped any housing bubble anywhere—it can only be blind faith that keeps anyone insisting it will.

And New Zealand land is already subject to iniquitous financial impositions.  I look for example at a cost estimate prepared for a recent subdivision proposal in Auckland’s eastern suburbs, for which the grey ones will be putting their hands into someone’s pocket to the tune of around $40,000 per site, payable in advance.  That’s a $40,000 dead weight on which a developer will be paying interest, and a new-home buyer will have to make up.  That’s $40,000, plus GST!

No wonder the supply of new homes is already so restricted.  No wonder, with such a restricted supply, house-price inflation is taking off again (something that was easy enough to forecast some months ago). 

Now if that’s not a Land Tax that every new-home buyer is already paying, then I’m a banana.  And if there’s anything fair about whacking on higher taxes to New Zealanders who are already struggling, and consuming their savings as they do, then I’m a whole effing fruit salad.

UPDATE:  From Liberty Scott:

    “According to the NZ Herald, the Prime Minister said, ‘The Government would like to lower personal taxes.’
    “Great stuff.
    “The solution involves two words.
    “Don't increase GST …
    “Don't create new taxes …
    “Think about this John.
    “If income and company tax were reduced to a simple 20% with the first $10k tax free (hardly radical and not Libertarianz  policy), then how much MORE would that encourage a shift of investment from land to business?”

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‘Kwariitnama (Organ Pipes)’ – Albert Namatjira


Working in the late forties and early fifties, Albert Namatjira is still considered by many to have been the very best at capturing the unique Australian landscape.  This piece from the National Gallery of Austalia is a watercolour over pencil on paper.


Monday, 18 January 2010

SUMMER SIX PACK: Democracy & Freedom. War & Theft. Oh, and I’ll take a side of warming, please.

Today’s selection of good reading from the archives trolley has now been served.  Enjoy!

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Global Warming? Just ignore it.

    Politics behooves some folk to take a position on the science of Global Warming -- even if they really don't understand it.  Find a person’s politics, and you’ll find them insisting  either that Global Warming is happening and is real, or else is not happening and is a scam. And they’ll keep right on insisting, whatever the science says. That‘s neither good science, nor good politics.
    The libertarian position on Global Warming is somewhat different. It was well summed up by George Reisman at the end of his 1990 article 'The Toxicity of Environmentalism,' and his position on Global Warming is reprised today by Cafe Hayek:

    “Let’s assume that global warming is happening and that it’s caused by modern human industry and commerce. Is there a case to be made for the United States government to continue to avoid signing the Kyoto Protocol? More generally, is there a case to be made to shrug our shoulders and say ‘best not to do anything through government about global warming’?
    “I think so.”

    The best way for aspiring politicians to treat all claims about Global Warming is benign political neglect Read on here for the argument.

Linked Articles:
A note on Global Warming – CAFE HAYEK
The Toxicity of Environmentalism – GEORGE REISMAN

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Don't steal ideas!

    Copyrights, patents, trade marks—intellectual property is just as real, just as valuable, as real property. And rights to Intellectual property rights are ust as important, and just as much under attack -- and from some odd quarters.
    Greg Perkins at Noodle Food answers several libertarian critics of intellectual property rights, who argue that “intellectual property” is a contradiction in terms. There is a contradiction here, says Perkins, and it’s in the flawed way that the libertarians justify their theft of private property.
    Frankly, if you want a right to something someone else has created, then trading value for value as honest citizens do is a better method than using straw men, sophistry and theft, as politicians and (some) philosophy students do.

Linked Article: Don't steal this article - Greg Perkins, Noodle Food

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Whatever happened to your "smokestack socialist"?

    I asked yesterday if readers could identify the author of this remarkably vigorous piece of prose in praise of human production:

    “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all the preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents or cultivation, canalisation or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground - what earlier century had even an inkling that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?”
    Written in the mid-nineteenth century, their author achieved worldwide popularity in the twentieth. How rare to hear such a hymn to human industry in the twenty-first.
   I'm delighted that several knowledgeable readers identified the author as one Karl Marx -- a surprise perhaps to some who know the bearded apostle of "scientific socialism" only as the god of today's braindead man-haters. How come, you might ask, we so rarely hear such hairy-chested sentiments from socialists these days? The answer is quite simple: the abject failure of socialism to live up to the promise implied in the old fool's wee hymn to human production.
    In the beginning, everybody was (or seemed to be) a smokestack socialist.  The old style hairy-chested, smokestack socialist revered capitalism’s forces of production--those colossal steam-driven productive forces; the  subjection of nature by capital—they just wanted them shackled for themselves.  The forces that in earlier centuries had "slumbered in the lap of social labour" were erupting out of the feudal past, and were to be shackled in the promise of a glorious socialist future! Communism, said Lenin, is "socialism plus electricity"! Communism, Nikita Kruschev told Richard Nixon, will "bury the west." For many a socialist, the optimistic voice of socialism did sounded like the voice of the sunlit future. Reason and science seemed to be on the side of the central planners.
    The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of every socialist experiment ever tried, however, put paid to that dream.
    The revelation when the Berlin Wall fell that socialist Eastern Europe was no Utopia, but instead an economic, environmental and humanitarian basket case brought on a crisis for socialists worldwide—a crisis making it clear for all time that it was impossible to be an honest socialist. The laboratory experiment in West & East Berlin, and the utter misery of Eastern Europe, smacked everyone in the face like a cold halibut, and made one simple fact crystal clear: Socialism could not produce. Capitalism does. At this revelation, the smokestack socialist had three fundamental choices: either abandon his support for socialism, or for production, or for reason:
  • He could continue to revere production and human fecundity by abandoning socialism altogether (Christopher Hitchens is one of this honest breed), or he could try and shackle capitalist producers to his own socialist ends (Tony Blair, Jim Anderton and most of the Third Way 'social democrat' types adopted this approach).
  • Or: he could retain his socialism but abandon instead his praise of production and wealth. The environmental movement beckoned. In damning production he could continue the promotion of socialism as if nothing ever happened. If you've ever wondered at the take-over of the environmental movement worldwide by assorted Trotskyites, Maoists and Leninists, or by the number of Jim Anderton's former colleagues now at home in the 'Watermelon Party,' then this is your explanation.
  • Or: as Stephen Hicks so eloquently explains, he could abandon reason, science, and optimism altogether, and embrace instead the postmodern promotion of anti-reason, anti-science, double standards, and cynicism. As Hicks says in the thesis of his superb book Explaining Postmodernism, "the failure of [philosophy] made postmodernism possible; the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary." 
        In his book, Hicks charts the failure and consequent “evolution” of socialism, which helps explain the apparent disappearance of the old “smokestack socialist”:
  • Post-post-socialist


The fall of the Berlin Wall was the crisis that created this mostly misbegotten diaspora. And it's the reason now that an honest socialist is about as hard to find as an honest lawyer

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Friday, September 30, 2005

Global warming and the war in Iraq: The Link!

There is a link between global warming and the war in Iraq that I haven't seen picked up before, and it’s not without irony. The link is the concept of risk, and how it relates to the arguments given for action in each case.
    Since Irfan Khawaja spotted the link, I'll let him explain:

    “Opponents of the Iraq war have typically argued that absent hard evidence of Iraqi WMD stockpiles, we had no business using force to disarm Iraq. In the case [of global warming], however, left-leaning environmentalists argue that absent hard evidence of danger, we're obliged to take drastic action.”
     Scientists such as NASA scientist James Hansen go even further. Hansen thinks it was appropriate to sex up the evidence for global warming in order to gain attention for the unproven. Now however that the scientific gravy train is up and running (with him on it) he is revising his story. "Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue… Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic." Irfan's translation: "It might have been OK to deceive the public about global warming a few years ago, but now the game is up, so let's just tell the honest truth from here on out."
    “Hansen's ‘principle’ here is an exact replica of the Bush Administration's strategy during 2002-2003 in discussing Iraqi WMD: emphasize extreme scenarios as a matter of consciousness-raising; then, when confronted with counter-evidence, ratchet things back and try haplessly to explain that the exaggerations, while exaggerated, did after all point to a real problem requiring a solution. Then pray that no one calls you on your squalid and stupid rhetorical manuever. Of course, if you are George Bush the Fundamentalist, your prayers will fail, and everyone will forever after say things like ‘Bush Lies--Soldiers Die.’ If you are an atheist environmentalist, on the other hand, your prayers will succeed and no one will notice your brazen manipulation of public opinion. Funny how that works.
    “Anyway, our environmentalists need to get their principles straight. Does weak evidence of a high-stakes event justify drastic action to prevent the event? I think it can--in both the Iraqi and global warming cases. But one can't have one's risk and eat it, too. One can't argue that 12 years of UN reports on Iraqi failure to disarm can be dismissed as ‘insufficient evidence of an imminent threat,’ while simultaneously insisting that weak evidence of global warming has to be played up so as to justify passing the Kyoto Treaty.”

Consistency: there oughta be a law!

Linked article: Global Warming: Pro and Con

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Ian Ewen-Street is not on the environmental main highway

    Is the reportedly lazy and ineffective Green MP Ian Ewen-Street going to National a sign of anything? Anything at all?
And apart from Mr and Mrs Ewen-Street, does anyone really care? Looks like it, if you believe all those people reading so much into this move.
    Could it really be a sign, as some commentators and Don Brash have said, that National are "serious about the environment"? Or that National is a broad church--encompassing both the lazy and ineffective Ewen-Street and the similarly qualified Tau Henare? Or perhaps a sign (as Jeanette Fitzsimons indicated) that Ewen-Street was always a Tory anyway? Or something else -- or even, perhaps, nothing at all?
    For mine it's Answer D: something else.  As usual, DPF supplies the clue: "It is incredibly frustrating [says Farrar]that the hard left have captured so much of the environmental brand, and this should help correct that perception." So it's not so much that "National are serious about the environment" but that they’re serious about looking like they’re serious. And that's it, really, folks: This is all about perception, not about substance. The 'centre-right' would like to massage the perception, while the substance will barely change.
    Ewen-Street is hardly someone upon which to base any substance in any case – not at least in a freedom-loving direction. I really hope this idiot is really as lazy and ineffective as reports would have it, because the prospect of the anti-GE Green Ewen-Street and the man who called the RMA "far-sighted environmental legislation" (Nick Smith) writing National's environmental policy between them is not something from which to expect anything substantially less wet or less 'left' environmentally than what the Nats already have.
    The hard left have already captured so much of the environmental brand; so much so that lokking like you’re “serious about the environment” now means outbidding the hard left for environmental credibility.  The hard left have captured the environmental brand for one very simple reason: Because almost the entire political spectrum, including the self-described 'centre-right,' have accepted the nostrum that environmental protection requires command-and-control measures to be effective: amd no-one does command0and control like the hard left .
    But environmental protection doesn't require command-and-control, and it’s time for those who aren’t hard left to realise that.
     The best means for environmental protection is secure property rights. When the non-hard-left parts of the political spectrum begin to realise that secure property rights provide  both superior environmental protection and protection of your freedom, then we might be on the road to seeing something new. Something of substance. Something like that which is happening in the States, where alumni of property-rights-promoters like PERC have been getting their feet under the policy table.
    That really would be the right road down which to travel.  That would be an environmental main highway to get on to.
    But Ian Ewen-Street is not on that road, and neither is Nick Smith or National.
    How about you?


RELATED: Environment, Politics-National, Property Rights, Common Law

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Friday, January 13, 2006

A joke at the heart of Climate Change

    It's hilarious, really, isn't it. Why am I laughing? If you haven't heard already, here's the joke: plants are implicated in the 'global warming problem.' Here's how: Methane is roughly twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping the sun's heat -- it is the third most important greenhouse gas behind water vapour and carbon dioxide -- and a new scientific study has just discovered that "living plants may emit almost a third of the methane entering the Earth's atmosphere. The result has come as a shock to climate scientists." This is a genuinely remarkable result," said Richard Betts of the climate change monitoring organisation the Hadley Centre." [Source, The Guardian]
    I swear I am not making this up. Living plants, especially 'deep-rooted' plants such as trees, contribute about one third of the atmospehere's methane, with the Amazon Basin itself responsible for a hefty proportion. Cow farts and rice paddies are largely responsible for the other two thirds.  Notes JunkScience.Com (who note also that the potential temperature saving by the year 2050 so far achieved by Kyoto is 0.001412424 °C):

    “So, in the space of a couple of weeks we've had temperate forests harvesting too much sunlight and warming the globe, high latitude forest trees getting 'skinnier' and absorbing less carbon than guesstimated and now, tropical forests as a source of the much more potent greenhouse gas, methane. Anyone get the feeling wannabe energy rationers are getting really desperate to deny there could be any possible avenue to mitigate warming other than ceding control of energy?
    “Anyone noticed that, despite the gales of hysteria, the alleged warming of ~0.7 °C over the 20th Century is about the same as the error range on estimated global mean temperature? Anyone noticed that, while atmospheric carbon levels have measurably increased and global temperature has probably increased, crop yields have more than kept pace with human population growth from ~1.7 billion to over 6 billion while hunger has declined? Anyone noticed that during this time developed nations have returned marginal farmlands to forest and wildlife habitat? Anyone figure the global picture may not be quite as bleak as wannabe energy rationers would like to paint it?”
     Maybe now we might see an end to the environmentalists' call for an Anti-Industrial Revolution. I look forward instead to Greenpeace T-shirts like this one:

Linked Articles: The forgotten methane source - Max Planck Institute
Global warming: Blame the forests - Guardian
The assault on forests as carbon sinks continues - JunkScience.Com

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Democracy vs. freedom: A Middle Eastern case study

    "Democracy is freedom!" I hear you say? Well, no it isn't. There's much confusion abroad about structures of government, and too little understanding of the difference between democracy and constitutional government.
    Many people mistakenly believe that democracy is synonymous with freedom, so if you're saddled with that delusion yourself then you're not alone. It isn't. As Bill Weddell used to say, democracy is not freedom, it is simply the counting of heads regardless of content. And as Yaron Brook points out in The Forward Strategy for Failure, democratic elections across the Middle East that seemed to promise so much have demonstrated instead that the result of counting empty heads will often deliver the opposite of freedom. It's a lesson that we should all ponder.

    “Iraq has had not just one, but several popular elections, as well as a referendum on a new constitution written by Iraqi leaders; with U.S. endorsement and prompting, the Palestinians held what international monitors declared were fair elections; and Egypt’s authoritarian regime, under pressure from Washington, allowed the first contested parliamentary elections in more than a decade. Elections were held as well in Lebanon (parliamentary) and Saudi Arabia (municipal). In sum, these developments seemed to indicate a salutary political awakening. The forward march toward ‘liberty in other nations’ seemed irresistible ...”
     It all looked so promising, didn't it, and - let's face it - we all got excited at the sight of so many so eager to vote in places for which any idea of free and fair elections seemed just a few years ago so unbelievable. I confess, I did too. The Bush Administration's "forward strategy for freedom" seemed to be working, it seemed to be worthy of celebration - but the strategy had and has a fatal flaw. It was and is based solely on the introduction of democracy, and democracy itself is no guarantee of freedom. A majority can just as easily to vote away its own freedoms and those of minorities as it will to have them protected. Case in point: Recent history.
    "Has the democracy crusade moved us toward peace and freedom in the Middle East—and greater security at home?" asks Brook. Answer, NO! Emphatically not. For the most part, the results have been the opposite of stellar.
    “The elections in Iraq were touted as an outstanding success for America, but the new Iraqi government is far from friendly. It is dominated by a Shiite alliance led by the Islamic Daawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)... Teheran is thought to have a firm grip on the levers of power within Iraq’s government, and it actively arms and funds anti-American insurgents. The fundamental principle of Iraq’s new constitution—as of Iran’s totalitarian regime—is that Islam is inviolable. Instead of embracing pro-Western leaders, Iraqis have made a vicious Islamic warlord, Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the most powerful men in Iraqi politics...”
     How about the elections in the Palestinian territories, then? Any more success there?
For years, Bush had asked Palestinians “to elect new leaders, . . . not compromised by terror.” And, finally, in the U.S.-endorsed elections of January 2006, the Palestinians did turn their backs on the cronies of Yasser Arafat; they rejected the incumbent leadership of Fatah—and elected the even more militant killers of Hamas: an Islamist group notorious for suicide bombings. Hamas won by a landslide and now rules the Palestinian territories. Refusing to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, Hamas is committed to annihilating that state and establishing a totalitarian Islamic regime.
     Since writing that, as you probably know, Palestine has collapsed in what is essentially a civil war between Fatah and Hamas, with the price of war being paid in Palestinian bodies and an increased threat to the territories' neighbours, rather than a reduced one. No increase in freedom here either, then, or security.
    How about Lebanon, where great hopes were held for a rebirth in peace and freedom after elections that followed the drumming out of Syrian-controlled puppets? Sadly, the results there offer little cause for hope either.
    “Hezbollah took part in the U.S.-endorsed elections in Lebanon, formed part of that country’s cabinet for the first time, and won control of two ministries.11 In the summer of 2006, the Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers—and precipitated a month-long war in the region. Since the ceasefire that ended the war, Hezbollah has continued to amass weapons and foment terrorism, emboldened by its popular electoral support.”
     So no success with recent democracies in Iraq, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories then - majorities have simply voted in totalitarians and killers who've acted to snuff out whatever shoots of freedom that we all fervently believed were beginning to appear.
    Perhaps elections in Egypt provide more hope? Sadly, the biggest beneficiary of the 2005 election was the Muslim Brotherhood, which as Brook points out represent "the intellectual origin of the Islamist movement, whose offshoots include Hamas and parts of Al Qaeda. The Brotherhood’s founding credo is 'Allah is our goal; the Koran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; Struggle is our way; and death in the path of Allah is our highest aspiration'” !
    It seems that the "forward strategy of freedom" of implementing democracy in the Middle East is an abject failure - a failure made inevitable by the pathetic faith in democracy to deliver that freedom. As Brook summarises, what democracy in the Middle East actually delivered was the very opposite of freedom: it delivered more power to those enemies of freedom that the Bush strategy was supposed to snuff out.

    “The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, the Islamist regime in Iran, the Mahdi Army, Al Qaeda—these are all part of an ideological movement: Islamic Totalitarianism. Although differing on some details and in tactics, all of these groups share the movement’s basic goal of enslaving the entire Middle East, and then the rest of the world, under a totalitarian regime ruled by Islamic law.
    “The totalitarians will use any means to achieve their goal—terrorism, if it proves effective; all-out war, if they can win; and politics, if it can bring them power over whole countries.
    “Bush’s forward strategy has helped usher in a new era in the Middle East: By its promotion of elections, it has paved the road for Islamists to grab political power and to ease into office with the air of legitimacy and without the cost of bombs or bullets. Naturally, totalitarians across the region are encouraged. They exhibit a renewed sense of confidence. The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah war against Israel last summer is one major symptom of that confidence; another is Iran’s naked belligerence through insurgent proxies in Iraq, and its righteously defiant pursuit of nuclear technology.
    “The situation in the Middle East is worse for America today than it was in the wake of 9/11...”

    And worse too for the Middle East.
    Without a culture that values freedom and a constitutional structure that protects life and liberty, any nascent democracy is simply a hostage to whatever outrageous fortunes may sweep across a country, just as they did in the Weimar Germany of the 1930s. It seems clear enough that democracy alone is not enough to either preserve or introduce liberty and freedom, and it now seems abundantly clear that the strategists of the Bush Administration are entirely ignorant of that point - but it's also clear that they're not alone in that ignorance.
    Americans themselves will mostly tell you they live in a democracy, but in saying that they'd be wrong. The model of government introduced to America by its founding fathers was the most successful historic example of constitutional protections of liberty.
    America is not a democracy, it's a constitutional republic. For nearly one-hundred and fifty years the constitution introduced by the founding fathers and the enlightenment culture derived largely from sixteenth-century Britain between them provided the best protector for freedom the world in all its dark history had yet seen. It was a model introduced successfully in part to Japan after WWII, but all too sadly forgotten in the recent Middle East forays.
    No matter what you've heard, and no matter how many American strategists insist upon it, America's model of government is not a democracy. In fact, the founding fathers were assiduous in protecting liberty from the threat of unlimited majority rule that democracy delivers. What they did was put the things of importance beyond the vote, delivering to the world not a democracy but a constitutional republic. (Yes, I've repeated the point. It bears repeating.) The system of checks and balances of the United States Constitution was described by Ayn Rand as "the great American achievement." It is an achievement richly deserving of study, and (with some few modifications) of emulating.
    A nice summary of the workings of that successful Constitution is provided by a new course offered by the Ayn Rand Institute:

    “A Constitution is "[t]he system or body of fundamental principles according to
which a nation, state, or body politic is constituted and governed."
    “Paraphrasing Ayn Rand, a proper government protects men from criminals and
foreign invaders and provides for the settlement of disputes according to objective laws. A government, therefore, does three things: it makes laws (the legislative function), enforces them (the executive function) and runs law courts (the judicial function).
    The United States Constitution divides these functions into separate departments; this is the doctrine of separation of powers. It also divides governmental powers between the state and federal governments by enumerating the powers of the latter and by specific limitations on both. Thus, both the federal and the state governments have sufficient powers to secure rights and are limited in their ability to violate them.

    Simple but effective. Not democracy then but constitutional government - a constitution protecting essential liberties through a government constrained only to those protections. It's a model that failed states and would-be freedom fighters around the world would do well to understand and to emulate, as should those who unthinkingly parrot the idea that democracy alone is a saviour.
    It's not.

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Thanks for reading.  Here’s a Serge Gainsbourg song, ‘Lemon Incest’:

“The music is a Chopin air, but the lyrics are all Gainsbourg. . .” Most of your other questions about it will find answers here and here.  Most of them.


Himalayan meltdown [update]

The world’s warmists are melting down. 

Michael Mann’s Hockey Stick is pucked.

“Hide the decline” is no longer just a phrase used in Phil Jones’s emails—and the world and his wife are now hip to the legerdemain of Jones’s CRU.

And the UN’s IPCC—the scientific central planning unit to whom every warmist and his wet dream make obeisance—are now exposed as desperate, if not yet dateless: New Scientist magazine exposes the IPCC’s scientific credibility as something approaching zero.  Tim Blair rounds up the story:

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world’s glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC’s 2007 report.

But that news story must itself have had some rigorous science behind it, right? Wrong:

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Still, Hasnain is a scientist, so he wouldn’t have just been offering idle speculation, would he? He would:

Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was “speculation” and was not supported by any formal research.

Yet surely the IPCC had the sense to review this claim and not overplay it? They didn’t:

When finally published, the IPCC report did give its source as the WWF study but went further, suggesting the likelihood of the glaciers melting was “very high”. The IPCC defines this as having a probability of greater than 90%.

The London Times summarises: “If confirmed it would be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research.” Which is saying something.

Hence Blair’s headline: Ice Remain, IPCC Melts

UPDATE: Poneke has a must-read post.  In real life, Poneke is (or was) one of the country’s top investigative journalists.  His post should really be gracing the pages of one of the country’s top investigative journals . . . if we had one.

Instead, here it is: 13 years of Climategate emails show tawdry manipulation of science by a powerful cabal at the heart of the global warming campaign.  Says he in introduction:

    “This is the longest and most important article I’ve yet written for this blog and I make no apology for its 4600 words — more also than in any newspaper article. As a journalist, I believe the Climategate emails have exposed one of the most significant news stories of the decade. As the mainstream news media has so far barely gone beyond giving those who wrote them and their supporters time and space to deny their undeniable contents, I present here an extensive journalistic account of what they actually say in the context of the dates and events in which they were written, with full links to all the emails.
    “Having now read all the Climategate emails, I can conclusively say they demonstrate a level of scientific chicanery of the most appalling kind that deserves the widest possible public exposure. . . ”

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Poor William

When I was a kid I remember being forced to stand out beside the road from the airport as a car alleged to contain the Queen of England whistled past.  It must have been quite a sight. Thousands of small children and their teachers standing in ditches, fighting sunburn and waving small flags while holding up signs saying things like "Kia Ora Queenie." 

I don't think she read them.

PICT0196 How things have changed. Now, when the Queen's son shows up, only ten people manage to make it to the airport, and a reporter has to make some signs up to make it look like anyone cared.  And when the poor chap finally got to his home for the night, which happens to be next door, he had Dave Dobbyn inflicted on him.

It almost makes you feel sorry for the chap.

Still, at least his neighbours tried to make him feel at home by flying his family flag (right)*.  You have to make a Saxe-Coburg Gotha feel welcome, don’t you?

* Yes, that’s an Imperial German flag up there.  Up until 1917 today’s Windsors revelled in the surname Saxe-Coburg Gotha—making them about as German as a pickelhaube. Their  German name came from Victoria’s husband, Albert.  Their new English name came from one of their castles.