Tuesday, 16 February 2010

“Creativity With Beauty and Joy” – David Knowles

Creativity with Beauty and Joy
122cm x 183cm

In this painting I have created an extended metaphor of the philosophy that permeates all of my Art.

It is an interpretation of The Legend of The Three Graces.  But I abandoned the popular Christian based story of ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’,  and instead went to the original story in Greek Mythology.

Creativity, Beauty and Joy

Beauty is 'Aglaea'. The youngest, known as 'the golden one' or 'the shining one'. Full of splendour and brilliance. In the golden dress.

Joy is 'Euphrosyne'. Known for her happy disposition, with charm, mirth and grace. Wearing blue.

Creativity is 'Thalia'. The oldest, known for her imagination and ideas, and her flourishing abundance as a young mother. In the centre in red.

This painting characterises to a large extent how I see my art, and is consciously allegorical.

An uplifting sense of positive expectation in a sun-filled, optimistic world.


And it is for sale!

[Guest Post by David Knowles. Visit him at http://davidknowlesart.com]

Clinton: Iran Becoming Military Dictatorship

[Guest Post by Jeff Perren]


File this one in the "ya think?" folder.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that the United States feared Iran was drifting toward a military dictatorship, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps seizing control of large swaths of Iran's political, military, and economic establishment.
So, during the past 30 years, when has it been anything else?

Ok, I grant you that there are technical differences between that and a totalitarian theocracy that rules by ethical guilt induced by a soul-killing religion coupled with the ever-present threat of coercion by Revolutionary Guards. But, as Ira Gershwin might have it, potay-toe, potah-toe.

Personally, given the choice between an 870 AD-style dungeon and a 1970s Chilean jail, I might have to flip a coin. But that's just me.

[Cross posted at Shaving Leviathan.]

Save the Tasmanian Devil?

[Guest Post by Jeff Perren]

Almost certainly NZers know more about this than I do. Still, I thought the story was worthwhile mentioning. According to this Los Angeles Times report, Tasmanian Devils have been having a pretty rough time of it the past decade.

The facial cancers that are devastating populations of Tasmanian devils in Australia are a nerve tumor that escaped its original host and became a parasite of the cultural icon, passing from one devil to the next by bites when the animals are fighting or mating, researchers reported Thursday.

So, flash poll: Are they as cool as they seem to me, or are they really a bane down under? (Or, up top, if you insist I avoid 'geo'-chauvinism.)

Based on the photo, I'd go with "worth saving" (solely by private donations, of course).

Welfare Strikes Again

[Guest Post by Callum McPetrie]

The welfare state and "multicultural" government policy of many European governments has yet again led to riots. As reported in Stuff:
   "Dozens of immigrants from North Africa rioted during the night in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood in Milan, smashing shop windows, overturning cars to protest at the knifing death of an Egyptian, Italian police said."
This certainly isn't anything new; in fact, it's the second in Milan this year! And of course, we all remember the famous Paris riots of 2005, when large numbers of poor immigrants from Paris's suburbs went on a rampage. In all parts of Europe, many immigrants (including second and third generation immigrants) are not assimilating into European society, and many are living in the poor suburbs of cities like London and Paris. Likewise, the immigrants are not just from one part of the world - the Egyptian in the story was killed by a South American. Why is this so?

A quick glimpse will show that many of these disenfranchised immigrants live in state housing. Unemployment is extremely high - a New York Times article written before the recession reveals that the unemployment rate in a Parisian suburb with a high number of immigrants, Les Bosquets, was about 40%. Likewise, these suburbs have high numbers of young people, with birth rates several times the national average across Europe.

So, these disenfranchised immigrants are, by and large, products of the European welfare states. Likewise, heavy labour restrictions - particularly so in France - are preventing immigrants from working their way up the social ladder. Without any way to get up, many young immigrants turn to crime and gangs to make up for lost self-esteem. This can also lead to the spread of dangerous ideas such as jihad, among Muslim youth. The welfare state and French-style social democracy provide a disincentive and make it harder to climb the social ladder and assimilate into the local culture, be it French, British, Italian or Greek.

Monday, 15 February 2010

On Travelling with a Toddler

[A guest post by Bernard Darnton, last seen here several months ago as Not PJ. He disappeared overseas for several weeks last year and finally feels ready to talk about it.]


Our motives for displacing our eighteen-month-old daughter and hauling her around the world for several weeks were sincere. We wanted her to share a Christmas with her English grandparents. We wanted her to meet her English cousins for the first time. We want her to become a well-rounded, well-travelled child comfortable with the food, the customs, and the multi-lingual babble that animate our planet.
So enamoured were we with our motives that we failed to realise that every expression of good intent laid a cobblestone on the road to hell.

Flying a Long Way

Spiritually, Christchurch is as close to England as it's possible to get. Physically, you need to venture to an icy sub-Antarctic outcrop inhabited only by seabirds and conservationists to get further away.
Traversing that vast physical gulf requires crossing into the unreal conveyor-belt world of mass international travel, each step mediated by a passport, a departure card, or a boarding pass. The first step on the conveyor belt is the Singapore Airlines check-in desk bearing a paper slip encrypted with the abbreviated details of airport codes and seat classes.
Singapore Airlines is the enormous beating heart of a tiny island nation. Aircraft stand at the gates of Changi, wingtip to wingtip, together for a few brief moments. A heart beat later they will be spread across the globe, arteries stretching from Christchurch to Rome. A second beat and they will have returned, carrying the human corpuscles that bring oxygen to Singapore's tourist economy.
But a heart beat for an international leviathan is an eternity to a toddler. An adult can pass the time by exercising or dulling the mind. Looking at a flat projection of the continents and guessing the Great Circle path; imagining the topographically and politically induced deviations from that route; then flagging down the drinks trolley for another dose of VSOP. To the toddler there are no such diversions. With a ten-minute attention span and carry-on baggage cruelly limited to seven kilograms, even a Saint Nicoline sack of never-before-seen goodies stands no chance of filling the temporal chasm that awaits.
Meal times provide a welcome relief from the tedium but a child on one knee and a meal tray on the other instigates an unwinnable game of whack-a-mole.
In the pure and orderly world of mathematics, small children only have two hands. However, small children do not inhabit a pure and orderly world. One hand grabs a knife, one lunges for the fork. Another hand pokes its fingers into the individual serving of strawberry jam, while yet another tightly grasps an explosively pressurised thimble of milk, whose tiny dimensions belie the quantity of fluid it contains.
Between meals the reading light winks, seemingly at random, and we are repeatedly visited by flight attendants inadvertently called by those same exploratory hands.
One of the less noble motivations for travelling with a toddler is the steeply discounted ticket price for under-twos. A thousand-and-one times during the interminable flight I wished that my wallet had been prized open wide enough to accommodate an extra seat but, in reality, the extravagance would have been wasted because the familiar contours of a parent will always be more attractive than a mostly empty airline seat. For the parent whose contours have been favoured, the ever changing contours of the child mark the passage of time as the nanoseconds slip into microseconds and the plane inches its way across the map.
Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, it's over, like an executive pardon to the condemned prisoner expecting a death warrant. Gears whine to extend the flaps as the wings clutch at the slowing air, the scale model world below undergoes a phase change back into real landscape, and finally we feel the welcome shudder as our aluminium cocoon once again becomes land-borne.


Displacement alters a toddler’s sleeping habits. Away from the familiar cot, the familiar blanket, and the familiar shelf of toys, what remains is the family. From the foreign environment of the hastily-erected travel cot, our bed looks like the Promised Land. Out of consideration for our hosts’ eardrums we become indulgent parents.
For an adult, the act of going to sleep involves snuggling into a comfortable position, stilling the body and calming the mind. For a toddler it is a task more akin to breakdancing as she explores all possible orientations in a wide-ranging search for a preferred sleeping position. If she eventually settles on an alignment compatible with her parents', some minutes or – luxuriously – hours of sleep may be had before the exploration resumes.
At a certain point it becomes futile to continue the quest for sleep. In that tired wakefulness the hours crawl by, neither opening nor closing my eyes provides any respite from the infinite darkness of the never-ending night.


Biologists have a simple word to describe the ecological role fulfilled by small children: “vector”. They succumb to illness with wearying regularity and inopportune timing. For a child sickened by the stresses of unchosen travel, Rome is not a place to absorb the faded glory of a once-great empire; it is a place for recuperation and copious laundry.
My once indefatigable immune system, without a non-self-inflicted sick day in ten years of childlessness, also submits to the disease incubated in our midst. Viral legions besiege my organs and begin their sack. They are defeated but not without heavy collateral damage to the itinerary. The cultural experience has become a sightseer’s checklist.

Becoming a Philistine

A toddler's timetable is not tuned to the contemplation of priceless and ancient works of art. The Vatican Museum is home to millennia-worth of craftsmanship and plunder. Any of its numerous galleries would reward a lifetime of study. Or a day trip for those in a hurry. But with all clocks set to toddler time Giotto, Caravaggio, and da Vinci hold no interest.
The Egyptian room, packed with three-thousand-year-old treasures, is skimmed. Raphael, the Etruscans, the ancient Greeks, and the early Christians are passed over completely. The cartographic room, home to ancient and medieval maps of the known world and imaginings of the rest, a place where the previous childless I would have spent hours, barely noticed. Given the chance to see the world through the eyes of the wise men of a different time and place, I chose to see nothing. A quick glance at the ceiling, a second glance to hunt for a familiar landmark. Sistine Chapel. Done. And all in time for the day's primary goal, the afternoon nap.
I only wonder what the rest of those stampeding through at the same pace had to do so desperately at one o'clock.
The Castel Sant'Angelo is a medieval fortress, situated on the banks of the River Tiber, enclosing the mausoleum of the emperor Hadrian. During our week in Rome we visited Sant'Angelo four times – not because of the magnificence of the fortress and its approaches, nor because of the importance of Hadrian, but because its surrounding park contains a children's playground with swings, a rocking dolphin, and a slide.
The mysteries of Hadrian's tomb and the castel remain mysteries but the playground is well-trodden territory because swinging on the swings was one of the few holiday activities that made our young charge genuinely happy rather than inducing her to mere tolerance or simple sleep.

Serving as a Warning to Others

It is said that we all have a purpose in life. It is quipped that some people’s purpose is to serve as a warning to the rest of us. Or should that now be: the rest of you. Do not be seduced by the ten percent airfares. Do not be cajoled by distant grandparents; let them come to you. Do not be persuaded by images of foolhardy parents carrying their infants on treks along the Silk Road or through the Vietnamese highlands. It can be done. But it shouldn’t be.
The preceding catalogue presents one side of the story. On the other side, we have indelible memories of faraway places. We have visited places that most people will never see. We briefly reunited a family separated by continents. But would it have hurt to wait a couple of years until our daughter could tell us what she thought of the whole imprudent idea?

AGW Scientists: "No Plans to Leave Oz Just Yet"

[Guest Post by Jeff Perren]

It's been a busy week for AGW warriors.

First, the IPCC is arm-twisted into acknowledging that their claim about melting Himalayan glaciers was based on some rumor started by an eighth grader trying to get back at his teacher for a homework assignment on climate change. Then, they have to backpedal after overstating the area of Netherlands land under sea level — being off by roughly a mere double the amount (55% vs 26%).

Now, much beleaguered Phil Jones has come out of the closet to say that perhaps, after all, all was not as it should have been with East Anglia climate science. He acknowledged:

[T]wo periods [prior to the present] in recent times had experienced similar warming [to the current one]. And he agreed that the debate had not been settled over whether the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than the current period.

Considering the source, this is positively mirror-Clintonian in its breathtaking honesty.

Still, he stuck to his guns to the extent of asserting "[H]e had not cheated over the data, or unfairly influenced the scientific process."

Yeah, never mind those hundreds of CRU emails suggesting otherwise or the massive fudging of computer code. Just the inherent fuzziness that invariably accompanies leading-edge science.

Worse, "he said he stood by the view that recent climate warming was most likely predominantly man-made." Ya gotta wonder what evidence would make him think "most likely not..."

Honest Phil puts it all down to weak data organization skills on his part. Uh, huh. With that level of skills in equities trading a floor broker could expect a visit from the SEC, if not the Justice Department.

However, the most hilarious quote from the news report is undeniably this one: "I have no agenda."

Right. Never mind about those emails discussing how to remove editors from journals, and the like. No more than the normal give and take among reasonable men with differing points of view.

Toto, stop pulling on that damn curtain, will you!

[Cross posted at Shaving Leviathan.]

GUEST POST: Quacks, quacks, quacks

Given the popularity of that smackdown of homeopathic quackery by the Skeptics’ Vicki Hyde the other night, here’s a guest post on similar quacks put together by regular commenter Falafulu Fisi (and Vicki Hyde) a few years back when they were all over the telly.  It was an episode of 20/20 that finally kicked him into print . . .

Recent weeks have seen the screening of several documentaries about mysticism and so-called faith-based practices. TV3’s 20/20 profiled Taranaki medium Jeanette Wilson in a piece called "Back from the Dead";  another was an hour-long special investigation of the self-described Grandmaster Aiping Wang. Investigations they weren’t. Both documentaries displayed a complete lack of journalistic balance of this growing multimillion-dollar ‘faith-based’ industry. What cried out for solid, robust treatment was presented instead as just breathless entertainment. 

We watched Wilson and Wang make unchallenged claims for their treatments that challenge modern human knowledge - claims that contradict proven concepts and knowledge in fields as diverse as Physics, Philosophy, Psychology, Probability and Statistics. Instead of going to a recognised university to get opinions from each of these departments, we saw reporter Melanie Reid describing Wilson’s performance as “astonishing” and citing how impressed she was with both Wilson's presentation - "she looks just like Lady Di!" gushed Reid - and her accuracy - "she was coming up with specific names and relationships." Ooh ah!

Claims for “accuracy” are actually well-covered by a field called statistics. It is a pity Reid seems never to have heard of it, for the sort of hit-or-miss high-school level descriptive statistics used by Reid is not the proper way to test the validity of a claim or hypothesis. In proper statistical testing, a hypothesis is first formulated and then rigorously tested with a method called DOE (design of experiment). Since claims like the ability to talk to the dead would be dependent on many variables, a discipline called multivariate (many variables) analysis would also be applied. Following this, the hypothesis can be either confidently validated or rejected following such an analysis. Indeed, this writer is already confident that had 20/20 sought expert advice from the Auckland University Statistics department the result would be both a sure rejection of the validity of the psychic ability of Jeanette Wilson, and better television viewing.

Of course the very powerful images selected by 20/20 were chosen precisely because they make great entertainment for the unthinking. They didn't screen many of the more unimpressive readings, for example when Wilson asked a lady twice if her father had died, or the cases where she used the same names and stock phrases over and over again.  

While 20/20 did include a very brief critique, it was disappointing that the programme chose to focus extensively on one very emotional, but content-free reading in what they called a "test" of the medium's ability. The real tests of such skills have to be carefully planned in order to avoid naïve or misleading interpretations, and once again statistical hypothesis-validation must be applied. If 20/20 had divided the audience into different ethnicities and then asked Wilson to do a performance with groups only of Polynesians or Asians for example, it might well demonstrate a shortfall in Wilson’s techniques. As common names such as “Falafulufisi” or “Semisi” will probably be unfamiliar to her, I would suggest the hit rate for her guess work will likely be almost zero or quite low. This is just one way a proper statistical test should have been conducted.

Faith-based practitioners come in a range of makes and models - Clairvoyant, Psychic, Palm Reader, Spiritual Surgeon, Crystal reader/healer, Numerologist, Channelling Medium, Tarot Reader, – and cover a vast field of alternative therapies - Herbal Medicine, Holistic Therapy, Homeopathy, Naturopathy, Spiritual Healing and so on. 

For the most part, all use a collection of staple techniques well documented in many books such as Peter Huston's Scams from the Great Beyond. An example is that of fishing for names, where the medium will ask a client if a common name such as John "has any meaning for them." Asking leading questions designed to elicit information or agreement is another common tactic aimed at building confidence in the performer and making it appear as if they are revealing hidden knowledge. Telling a middle-aged audience member that their parent or grandparent is watching over them is another technique playing simple demographics, as it is more than likely that such people will have older relatives who have died. Neither Wilson nor Wang offer anything new in the way of technique.  

Wilson’s website for her ‘Taranaki School of Reiki’ informs us that “Reiki energy has a consciousness of its own and knows just where to go and what to do.” Faith practices frequently use the term “energy” to refer to some non-tangible entity that conveniently sits above or outside the ‘Laws of Physics’ meaning that the laws of Physics can somehow be defied. However, there is no such non-tangible entity as energy outside the ‘Laws of Physics.’ Energy is a concept well-defined and understood by Physics and all its physical properties accord with the Laws of Physics, which are observable, quantitative and measurable – none of which can be said for Wilson’s flights of fancy.

Grandmaster Aiping Wang’s interview included the claim that followers can be taught to heal themselves by “making connection with the energy of the universe” as well as by flying. Good luck. An Aiping Wang follower did say that he did really ‘believe’ he could fly His ‘belief’ is hardly relevant however – he either can or he can’t, and the proof of his claim would be simply to demonstrate the skill. He chose not to grant us this boon, but instead cited as proof of something that that there were lawyers, doctors and highly educated professionals in the group. This is a typical comment from people who wanted to justify faith practice as genuine, but it proves only that there are suckers everywhere. 

Claims such as yogic-flying, psycho-kinesis, bending of spoons by the power of the mind and so forth are all claims comprehensively answered by science and the sceptic literature. Were these things to occur as described, physical laws would be broken in all cases – amongst others Newton’s third law of motion, energy conservation and momentum conservation respectively. 

Some faith-based practitioners have jumped on the theory of quantum mechanics as a means of validating their claims. One website suggests that the phenomenon of quantum mechanics offers proof for the human mind’s psychic ability since, it suggests, “the mind is operating at a quantum level.” This particular website points to recent ground-breaking experiments conducted at the University of Innsbruck. In these experiments, instantaneous communication between sub-atomic particles at a distance has been inferred. Such a phenomenon is indeed ground-breaking, for it implies that faster-than-light communication is possible – something Einstein had ruled out in the 1930s.

Much more investigation is needed however to completely integrate and understand what the results imply, however these faith-based practitioners are not waiting for the science – they’ve already claiming that this instantaneity of communications is the explanation for psychic phenomena and the ability to see the future. The human brain emits some sort of quantum particles called “psychotrons” that enable us to communicate with the dead, they say. Now, except for their presence in the dreams of the demented, such quantum particles have never been detected. Never. But the claim for them is an instructive one for the way it illustrates the methodology – or lack thereof – of these practitioners.  

Science proposes its hypotheses based on logical deduction or inductive reasoning, which it then sets out to test. For example, the quantum particles known as ‘quarks’ were deduced on paper some twenty years before the first experimental observations confirmed their existence. By contrast, the ‘psychotron’ has simply been dreamed up and its existence is just wishful thinking. Neither deductive nor inductive reasoning has been undertaken or claimed, and no evidence has been given of their existence.

Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman used to dismiss anything about the world that was not accessible to scientific method. Author and philosopher Ayn Rand went further: she showed that when presented with a claim that is purely arbitrary then that claim must be rejected. An arbitrary claim is one made entirely without proof, such as that there are green spiders on Mars or that we can talk to the dead. Since one can’t disprove a negative, the onus is on the one asserting the claim to offer some evidence. If none is offered, the door to such a claim must be closed – the arbitrary is out.  

If, in this case, the medium had definitive proof of the after-life, this should have been world-shattering news.  After all, with this sort of capability, it means there should be no unsolved murders, no missing children and all faith-based practitioners would be so wealthy from stock-market success they would hardly need to dabble in the day-to-day tawdriness of the faith-healing circus. The world would certainly be a better place, and that's something about which there could be no doubt. So where’s their evidence?

It doesn’t exist.

So why worry about these faith-based practitioners? 

There is no problem with Granny reading the tea leaves, but when vulnerable people are being exploited, it would be ethically wrong not to be cautious about such extraordinary claims without seeing extraordinary proof. That exploitation can take many forms, whether causing unnecessary heartbreak for distraught parents of missing children, fleecing little old ladies out of their retirement savings, false hope for dying cancer patients, or breaking up relationships through inappropriate advice - all of which we have seen occur here and overseas. Wishing doesn’t make it so, and no amount of wishing otherwise can change that.

Most reports on the latest medium or psychic doing the rounds are treated very lightly, but the ‘gee-whiz’ method chosen recently by 20/20 can have dangerous consequences. Readers and viewers are better served if the journalist takes the time to think critically about what they see - and you may find it avoids the clichés and makes a more interesting story and better television. 20/20’s own John Stossel has made an award-winning career out of proving this last point.  

We might all hope that one day we'll find someone who actually can speak to the dead - we'd all like the comfort of knowing that death is just a transition to another life. But if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck …

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Larry Elder Gives Paul Krugman a Fisking

[Guest post by Jeff Perren]

In a recent Investors Business Daily editorial, Larry Elder gives Paul Krugman a very thorough – and soul-satisfying – fisking. Granted, that's easier and easier these days, but it's pleasant to watch nonetheless.

Elder begins:
In a November 2004 interview, Krugman criticized the "enormous" Bush deficit.
"We have a world-class budget deficit," [Krugman] said, "not just as in absolute terms, of course — it's the biggest budget deficit in the history of the world — but it's a budget deficit that, as a share of GDP, is right up there."
The deficit in fiscal 2004 was $413 billion, or 3.5% of gross domestic product.
Back then, a disapproving Krugman called the deficit "comparable to the worst we've ever seen in this country. ... The only time postwar that the United States has had anything like these deficits is the middle Reagan years, and that was with unemployment close to 10%."
Then, Elder goes on to — yeah, I know, shooting fish in a barrel – show how the nature of Krugman's complaints are highly dependent on who is in office.

Elder then observes:
The projected deficit for fiscal year 2010 is over $1.5 trillion, or more than 10% of GDP. This sets a post-WWII record in both absolute numbers and as a percentage of GDP. And if the Obama administration's optimistic projections of economic growth fall short, things will get much worse.
Yet, the winner of the Fauxbel Prize in Economics appears unphased.
"[F]ear-mongering on the deficit may end up doing as much harm as the fear-mongering on weapons of mass destruction."
It goes without saying — or should among this audience — that Bush was a profligate spender to the point of idiocy, not to mention no friend of economic liberty, in general.

Still, it's good to see Krugman being flayed with his own words for his utter hypocrisy, even if hypocrisy is the least of the Progressive's sins. (They're much more dangerous when they're completely sincere.) And, given his perch from The New York Times, it can only help to have the toad's inconsistencies openly revealed.

Sometimes, even the non-cynical among us can enjoy a moment of guilt-free Schadenfreude.

[Cross-posted at Shaving Leviathan.]

Truth in religion?


More brilliance at Jesus and Mo.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

I’m off!

Yes, my droogs, the rumours are true. The good news for you is: I’m heading away.  The bad news: I’m coming back.

But fear not fearless followers of pithy prose and liberty links. While I’m away, not writing home every day, I’ve lined up a stellar cast of stalwarts to host you here at NOT PC.  There’ll be guest posts aplenty, of a quality so high that not only will you not even miss me, you’ll likely never want to have me back.

And as you can see, some of the invitees are so keen they’ve started posting already.  (Onya, boys.)

So see you later.  I’m looking forward to diving into the warm waters of Whangaumu Bay, near Tutukaka, and into a stack of books. Mind you, I think I might have overdone the pile just a little.  Again.


Mr. Obama, Please Do Nothing

[Guest posted at Not PC by Jeff Perren at the kind invitation of Peter Cresswell, the lazy bastard esteemed proprietor, who is off this week cavorting shamelessly enjoying a well deserved rest.]

Michelle Malkin discusses the pending 'jobs' bill, or as she calls it (accurately) Porkulus II, and labels it a boondoggle.

Her outrage is well placed, though she doesn't point out that even if it resulted in zero fraud and the money went for exactly 'the right things', it would still be the wrong thing to do. That it is the wrong thing is suggested by Obama's recent statement on the subject: "What I won't consider is doing nothing in the face of a lot of hardship across the country."

To repeat for — what is it now? — the hundredth time: that's exactly what is wrong with his entire approach to governing. He should take his cues not from FDR but from Coolidge, who understood the value of the Federal government doing nothing in the face of economic hardship.

(Coolidge was, by the way, roundly mocked for it by the leftist columnist Walter Lippmann, who later said to FDR: "The situation is critical, Franklin. You may have no alternative but to assume dictatorial powers.")

Or, better still, Obama should listen to James Madison who said (when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees),
“I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” [4 Annals of Congress 179, 1794]
Now, in theory, the 'jobs' bill isn't charity. More accurately, it's the same absurd Keynesian-inspired approach that has failed time and again. (Interestingly, Allan Meltzer of Carnegie Mellon suggests that Obama doesn't even have Keynes right. But never mind that now.) But the idea behind it is the same: that the Federal government should step in to 'help' when private business 'isn't doing enough.'

It should be no surprise that the idea has failed whenever it's been tried, because when the Federal government does nothing outside what it is supposed to do, the citizens have the freedom to do what they think best.

When they have that, they typically do far from nothing — and the something they do is far preferable than anything Obama will ever do. More importantly, they don't violate the rights of everyone in the country when they do it.

If Obama really wanted to 'do something' helpful, he could encourage Congress to begin repealing Sarbanes-Oxley, eliminating capital gains taxes, gutting the EPA, phasing out Social Security, and Medicare, and in general shaving the leviathan down to bare Constitutional bones. Not surprisingly, in those areas — and thousands more — Obama would prefer to do nothing.

[Cross-posted at Shaving Leviathan where I hope you'll join me daily for more provocative commentary on contemporary culture and politics.]

Friday, 12 February 2010

What happened to small government, Mr English?

Hi, I'm Mark Hubbard, and I've got a guest spot here at NOT PC this week while Peter is away.  I'll use it now to vent on two topics that have arisen today.

1. This government doesn't understand small government, despite electioneering on it.

The most frightening statistic I learned last year was this (and this before the recession really started to bite, with the private sector layoffs resulting from it): In New Zealand there were 1.75 million people working in the wealth-creating private sector. 1.75 million people having to pay the tax, alongside corporates, to pay for the livelihoods of 1.75 million wealth-destroying bureaucrats in the State sector, beneficiaries and retirees.

That's one for one, and that's a huge Nanny State. Put another way, there were 1.75 million private sector wealth creators having to carry a population of 4.13 million.

Quite apart from the philosophical issues surrounding freedom of the individual, and his or her woebegone pursuit of happiness in a State of this size, mathematically this state of affairs is simply not possible, hence even at that stage, the country was having to borrow a quarter of billion dollars per week (and guess who has to pay the interest and principle tab on that).

So can libertarians and freedom lovers take any heart from Bill English's comments this week on restraining the public sector? No, of course not: Bill's speech is as slippery as temporarily signing yourself out of your own Family Trust in order to gain an advantage at the cost of the taxpayer.

His comments as reported in the NBR
    "Restraint on the public sector has not even started properly yet, Finance Minister Bill English told MPs today. Appearing before Parliament's finance and expenditure select committee, Mr English said government departments had been told before Christmas what sort of increase in their baseline budget they would get in the 2010 Budget. That is earlier than usual: such moves are usually made early in the new year. And most are getting a nil increase he told MPs, although 'three or four are getting some extra.' He did not say which."

Pathetic. There is no reduction of the State even envisaged in this gutless proclamation. It's past the time we needed such 'restraint', this merely means, at best, containment from Nanny's continued growth, keeping her at her current revoltingly obese size, and not even that: some departments are still to get more!

It's way too late for containment, the size of Nanny State must be slashed, and ruthlessly: small government, that's what National stands for, and we have the opposite of that. Bill English should be announcing on 20 May that one in three bureaucrats must go find a real job, with a commitment to further reductions after that. And that the number of government departments, DHB's, and all rest will be reduced from over sixty five to at the most seven. Seven Bill says, why, that's impossible! Sorry Bill, Switzerland, with a population bigger than New Zealand, has just seven government departments. So in the May budget, lets aim for that. Think of the tax cuts we could have on such a reduction, and no need to increase GST, or attack mom and dad's investment in property.

Chances of this happening?

Nil. We're still ruled by the socialist B Team.

2. A sensible approach to Cap-and-Trade

Don't do it. From The New York Times
    "Citing financial worries, the State of Arizona has backed out of a broad regional effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the West through a cap-and-trade system.
In an executive order issued last week, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, said a cap-and-trade system ­ which would impose mandatory caps on emissions and allow pollution credits to be traded among companies ­ would cripple Arizona's economy."
Note those last words: "would cripple Arizona's economy."

And yet New Zealand's ETS is still legislated to start July 1 this year, with no political will to change it, despite the Warmists' argument melting quicker than the polar ice cap, which is not melting at all. So on top of GST increases, add increased energy charges to your personal budgets. For a country where households are much more indebted as a percentage of disposable income than the United States this government is set to make the lives of hard working individuals in New Zealand even more uncomfortable.

Friday morning ramble

    In no particular order, here’s another ramble round a few things that caught this liberty-lover’s eye this week.

    • Simon Power. Law student turned politician turned instant medical expert.
      “Simon Power's dismissal out of hand of important proposals in the Law Commission's Review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 says just one thing: that craven political posturing is more important than preventing harm to New Zealanders.”
      The Death of Evidence – RUSSELL BROWN
      Simony – DIM POST
      Law Commission favours more realistic drug laws – WILL DE CLEENE
       Guess we need a new Justice Minister then – ERIC CRAMPTON
    • r512859_2787727 Peter Garrett. Rock star turned  Australian cabinet minister, turned soon-to-be-ex-minister.
      How can he sleep while their roofs are burning?
      Read Heater Garrett

    • “We see with interest that Tariana Turia understands that the Foreshore and Seabed issue can only be settled with an acknowledgement of property rights and due process through the courts.
      Pita Sharples, it seems prefers the so called ‘communist solution.’ ”Dr Sharples said Maori did not have a concept of ownership prior to Pakeha arriving in New Zealand. . . ”  Very interesting. Very interesting indeed.
      Tariana Turia sound on property rights – ROAR PRAWN

    • Tau Henare throws a few “biggotted” toys out of the cot.  Cactus throws them back, with interest. The Hand Mirror and Busted Blonde stand back appalled.
      MP Facebook Dork Of The Week – CACTUS KATE
      MCP Watch: Tau Henare – HAND MIRROR
      Oooops – ROAR PRAWN

    • The Hand MIrror offers a timely reminder: “Just in case you didn't know, and I'm going to write this nice and big now: Sensing Murder has never solved any murders. That is all.”
      True story.
      A timely reminder – HAND MIRROR

    • Kris Sayce wonders whether the ASB’s Ralph Norris might be a graduate of the same university as ANZ Bank’s Mike Smith: the Pinocchio University?
      Could it Be True Not One Single Taxpayer Dollar Ended Up With the Banks? – MONEY MATTERS

    • Roger Douglas writes the speech that Phil Goff should have delivered this week.  It’s, well, for the guy who introduced and then raised GST, it’s really bloody good. It begins:

          “The most general apology that I need to make on behalf of the Labour Party is for confusing the intention of a policy with the outcomes it produces. I am sorry for thinking that the mere intention of helping those who were least well off actually did help them. I have now come to realise that, more often than not, those most harmed by a policy are those it was usually intended to help.
          “First, let me apologise to the thousands of young people who have lost their jobs because of our support for abolishing the youth minimum wage. . . ”

      Read The Speech That Goff Should Deliver – ROGER DOUGLAS

    • Today could be a pivotal day in Iran. It “marks the 31st anniversary of the coalescing of Iran’s Islamist revolution. But on this deeply symbolic day, which Tehran usually spends glorifying its militant, tyrannical rule, millions of Iranian citizens will likely attempt another show of mass defiance and repudiation of the regime.”
      Pivotal day in Iran – VOICES OF REASON

    • “The government has released a series of aerial photographs of the September 11, 2001, Islamic terrorist attack on America. The photo set, appropriately presented and captioned by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) here, taken from a helicopter by Greg Semendinger of the New York City Police Department (NYPD), was made available to the public following an ABC News Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing. The record of this atrocity, currently the worst attack in U.S. history, speaks for itself.”
      New Photographs of 9/11

    _quoteDoes even Mr. Obama listen to his speeches? The public does - at least
    to this extent: They understand that when he's attacking the tired old
    Washington games, he's just playing the game, but when he's
    proposing the tired old Washington solutions, he
    means it. That's the only Barack Obama on offer.”

    - Mark Steyn, ‘Talking the Talk

        _quote The choices are 20 percent unemployment for six months, or
    10 percent unemployment for three years. . .”

    - Friedrich Hayek in 1982, counselling balancing
    budgets and ending credit inflation as a means by which to end that crisis swiftly.

    • “The bounce in the growth momentum of both real and nominal GDP is due to the Fed's massive money expansion. It is an illusion. Neither the Fed nor the government can grow the economy.”
      So just in case you were wondering . . .
      This Depression is Not Over – Frank Shostak, MISES DAILY

    • “Most economists, including yours truly, have been saying that the huge budget deficits the country is running will result in inflation. So, where's the inflation? Inflation normally lags changes in the growth of the money supply by one to two years. The big monetary expansion took place in the last half of 2008. So if the economy follows past trends, one would expect to see growing inflation by the latter part of this year.
          “There are several reasons why inflation does not occur simultaneously with a sudden growth in the money supply…”
      Where Is the Inflation? – Richard Rahn

    • The collapse of Greece is the world’s economies in microcosm.  “They increased spending in the boom years and now cannot find the political courage to cut the budget, just like the US.”
      Mired in debts and government deficits, the talk is of a Euro-zone bailout. “Yet, the whole debate is misleading: Greece is already being bailed out by the rest of the union.”  “The future of the euro is dark because there are such strong incentives for reckless fiscal behavior . . . ” The house of cards is collapsing. The world’s economic fuse box is starting to blow. The metaphors are piling up.
      The Bailout of Greece and the End of the Euro – Philip Bagus
      The Big Fat Greek Government – Mark Thornton

    • “The fiscal crisis in Greece is fascinating political theater, in part because the Balkan nation is a leading indicator for what will probably happen in many other countries. The most puzzling feature of the crisis is the assumption in other European capitals, discussed in the BBC article below, that a Greek default is the worst possible result. It certainly would not be good news, especially for investors who thought it was safe to lend money to the government, but there are several reasons why the long-term pain resulting from a bailout would be even worse. . . ”
      Maybe Greece Should Go Bankrupt – Daniel J. Mitchell

    • You want short-term, destructive behaviour for the short-term appearance of economic stability? Then Greece is just a warm-up for the bigger failures to come.
      No Exit in Sight for U.S. As Fannie, Freddie Flail – WALL STREET JOURNAL (EUROPE)

        _quote We are witnessing the tragic spectacle of the deficit-ridden rescuing the bankrupt with an outpouring of more … red ink—and the taxpayer is left holding the bag.… By extending credit to countries beyond their ability to repay, the final bankruptcy is worse…. There is no point to a bailout that increases world debt when the problem is too much indebtedness already.  Countries are in trouble because they cannot service their current obligations.  The strain on them is not eased by a bailout that loads them up with more.”
    - Former US Secretary of the Treasury, WIlliam E. Simon, writing as if yesterday, instead of in the Wall Street Journal in 1983.

    • Meanwhile, good news for falafel eaters:
      Mediterranean Diet May Hold Key To Avoiding Stroke, Dementia
    • “Wall Street analysts and financial pundits are struggling with a ‘conundrum’…. Retail sales posted an unexpected increase of 3.3 percent in January compared to a year earlier. Furthermore, labor productivity rose a seasonally adjusted 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, exceeding expectations and implying a fall in per unit labor costs.
      “Yet, on the same day as these statistics were released, an unanticipated and substantial rise of U.S. jobless claims was reported. The concurrence of these data presented the conundrum: Why are businesses not taking advantage of their rising sales and declining labor costs to increase employment and output and earn higher profits?
      “The answer, as Mises told us, is that entrepreneurs and workers only belatedly and painfully free themselves from the false and frenzied optimism fostered by the inflationary boom, especially one that turns into a runaway bubble. Once people finally do recover a sober view of reality, a deep and abiding pessimism sets in and makes entrepreneurs especially wary of embarking on new and seemingly profitable ventures. As Mises explained it . . . ”
      Read on : Mises Solves Current "Conundrum"--60 Years in Advance

    • 6a00d8341bf72a53ef012877890e8d970c-300wi A fascinating essay here by the son of architect Richard Neutra (the designer of the house in which Ayn Rand wrote the Fountainhead screenplay), which examines the “internal architecture” of his legendary father through a 1958 Berkeley psychological study. [Hat tip Prairie Mod]
      Neutra Territory  - DWELL.COM

    • “Every investment prospectus warns that ‘past performance is no guarantee of future results.’ But suppose that an investment professional's record contains nothing but losses, of failed prediction after failed prediction. Who would still entrust that investor with his money?
          “Yet, in public policy there is one group with a dismal track record that Americans never seem to tire of supporting. We invest heavily in its spurious predictions, suffer devastating losses, and react by investing even more, never seeming to learn from the experience. The group I’m talking about is the environmentalist movement. . . ”
      No More Green Guilt – Keith Lockitch
    • Town planners in Denver are saying “Everybody Must Get Zoned.” “At 639 pages, the old zoning code was considered horribly complicated and cumbersome. Weighing in at 730 pages, not including 76 neighborhood maps and six Overlay District maps, the new zoning code is being called an improvement. It is a control-freak fantasy, with detailed rules for every aspect of city life.”
      Everybody must get zoned: Kenny Be looks at Denver's new zoning rules

        _quote Zoning is a progressive political idea that essentially collectivizes
    land use decisions by creating a ‘public’ right to land use. When
    communities adopt zoning, they are essentially nullifying private
    property rights in favor of community control.”
    - Bill Fischel, ‘The Economics of Zoning Laws: A Property
    Rights Approach to American Land Use Controls

    • Was the "pioneer spirit" the “product of faith."  Hell no! “The "can-do pioneering spirit" is the product of reason, not faith.
      Whence can-do?
    • How about some practical ethics? "With Ayn Rand's Benevolent Universe premise as a starting point, Tod discusses various ways to answer one of the tough questions: What Should I Do With My Life?"
      How to Decide What You Should Do With Your Life – A BLOG BY TOD
    • How about taking a Hotel Hell Vacation?  Motella has the story.
    • Progressives and Pragmatists.  They’re one and the same, you know.  So where does that place Obama?
      Is Obama a Pragmatist? 
    • Anyone else sick and tired of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of bleeding needs?
      Stop the Maslow Madness – William Green
    • Sarah Palin speaking to 600 “Tea Party Nation” people creates a national media frenzy. Asks Tea Party Patriots, an organization with a reach of millions of members and over 1,000 voluntarily affiliated tea party and 912 local groups: “WHY WOULD 600 PEOPLE AT A RALLY CREATE A MEDIA FREENZY?”  Says The New Clarion: “I’m convinced that this event was covered to designate the Tea Party movement as a right wing Republican movement. I doubt it will work because the parties I attended last year were mostly independent voters with some Repubs and Dems as well. But they may get some mileage out of it. Stay tuned.”
      Hijacking the Tea Party Movement? - THE NEW CLARION
    • Thrutch reckons this interview interview with Mark Pincus, founder and chief executive of Zynga, a provider of online social games, is a great condensation of the principles of rational management.
      Are You a C.E.O. of Something? – CORNER OFFICE
    • Are these the funniest reviews of Avatar you’ve seen?  They’re less a review than an evisceration! “From the sick genius behind the 70 minute review of “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace”, an equally insightful and hilarious two-part review of Avatar.”


    And finally, here’s George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (click on part 2 once it finishes).  Have a great weekend.

    Thursday, 11 February 2010

    “The Sky Above” - David Knowles

    The Sky Above



    The more things change, the more statist stupidity stays the same.  As if she were writing yesterday, instead of in December ‘08, allow me to reprise a short post the late Anna Woolf wrote  when she was still very much alive and kicking about the swift fall from grace of a former uni acquaintance.

      Monday, 8 December 2008

      Steven Joyce goes left

        Taxi security reviewed after killing
        "Transport Minister Steven Joyce will review the use of distress buttons, video cameras and safety screens to separate drivers and passengers."
        Does the government have rules on the use of buttons, cameras and screens? If they do have these rules then the only thing Joyce needs to do is get rid of them.
        But let's presume that they rules don't exist - why is the government wasting time and resources on this matter - surely it is the responsibility of the taxi driver what security he would like. Just like they decide if they are going to have a Navman or CD player or air freshener. Just like I decided to have an alarm system installed in my home - the neighbour didn't and was burgled on the weekend - she will now install an alarm.
        Or is Joyce thinking about using our money to pay for taxi security? Please no - that would be a major slide down for this successful entrepreneur. Didn't take long.

    You could say she’s come back from the grave to haunt him.

    A homeopathic overdose

    Cactus Kate emailed to say I should watch Sceptics’ head Vicky Hyde flaying homeopathic mutters on TVNZ’s Close Up.  Cactus said it was brilliant. I did. It was. 

    Skeptics “overdosing” on homeopathic remedies.  Like shooting fish in a barrel. Hilarious.

    More hilarity on new age bullshit here.

    Fitzsimons’ Values Party: They won the nuclear war!

    “Credit cards and a Maserati,
    Don't go to films
    ‘Less he knows they're arty
    Likes Womens’ Lib
    And the Values Party,
    He’s a Rasta, he’s New Wave,
    Don’t do nothing
    Less he’s told exactly how to behave . . . ”

    - ‘Rebel,’ by Toy Love / Chris Knox(1978)

    A_260209NZHDPFITZSMONS10_220x147LAST NIGHT JEANETTE FITZSIMONS brought down the hemp curtain on her thirteen-year Parliamentary career. When an MP gives their valedictory speech, all their colleagues and the whole commentariat comes out in force to review their career.

    But I’m not going to do that now.  No more than I did last week.  Instead, what I want to review (just briefly) is the ‘career’ of the Party with whom she was first associated.

    Back in the early seventies there was a political party called the Values Party. (“She likes Women’s Lib and the Values Party. . . ”)  Non-threatening, non-violent and never any hope of winning a Parliamentary seat, they ran a programme based around saving the whales and the Tangata Whenua; around multiculturalism and mediocrity; promoting state support of everything except the production that would pay for it; attacking the “obsessions” with competition, money and personal gratification and promoting instead the spiritualism of sacrifice and “sustainability”—long, long  before any of these ideas were politically fashionable.  They were the original politically correct “rebels.” And they made them fashionable.

    Tripping over their sandals, banging their head on their wind chimes, reeking of patchouli and clad in the inevitable tie-died macrame, at the the time they only appeared to be a threat to themselves, but a careful review of the Values Party programme would show that the Values Party have been one of the most successful parties of the last four decades. They never got an MP within a hippie’s roar of Parliament, but just take a look at the core Values programme (conveniently laid out for us by Claire Browning). and review for a moment how the ideas they brought to the fringes of the political table four decades ago are now front and centre in so much of what passes for political debate today:

    Politics -- MMP, and open government, including freedom of information, now given effect by the Official Information Act.
    International relations -- an independent foreign affairs stance (eg, ANZUS withdrawal), an anti-nuclear, nuclear-free stance, anti-apartheid in sport.
    Law -- New Zealand’s highest court should be a New Zealand court not the Privy Council, Fair Trading and Consumer Guarantees policies.
    Race relations and status of Maori -- strengthening Maori cultural identity and tino rangatiratanga, a Maori Minister of Maori Affairs.
    Status of women -- a suite of policies to remove discrimination and gender bias against women in employment, healthcare, public participation (eg, jury service), and in the home (eg, deploring gender stereotypes, and proposing matrimonial property reform).
    Individual responsibility for moral behaviour -- eg, homosexual law reform.
    Immigration -- a cautious multi-racial population-replacement immigration policy (as opposed to Eurocentric).

    The foundation planks of the Values’ manifesto gave birth to the nostrums of ecological collapse due to climate change; to the soft fascism of political correctness and the collectivism of failure; to the mush of multiculturalism and the mainstreaming of “minorities”; to the “politics of enough” and a  “redistributive philosophy” in which the state would recover and share around the wealth of “the excessively greedy or fortunate”; to anti-capitalist assaults on consumerism and industry; to the greening of socialism and the throttling of capitalism--and they brought these all to the mainstream.  They didn’t just gave birth to the Greens, they gave birth (almost unobserved by the mainstream) to the political agenda of the last forty years.

    What was wildly “way out, man” then is just mainstream and taken for granted today.  That’s the extent of their victory.

    THE VALUES PARTY PROGRAMME was so wildly successful because their members, and many former members, all  understood they were involved in a battle of ideas—at a time when most of their opponents would barely be said to have an original idea between them.  And they had patience. They knew that to capture the mainstream they had to capture the young—and that to capture the young they had to capture the education system, so they could tell those youngsters how to behave.

    And so they did.  And then those youngsters grew up, and took with them those ideas they’d imbibed when their brains were still tender.  It was always a battle of ideas—a battle in which they still give no quarter.

    As Ayn Rand put it, “a political battle is merely a skirmish fought with muskets; whereas a philosophical battle is a nuclear war." I very much doubt whether Ms Fitzsimons would ever put it quite like that, but she would be one of the few in the present Parliament who would understand.

    Because, you see, you could always smell the ideological uranium on Fitzsimons’ breath. You could always smell it on her colleagues.  Which is why the Values Party won the nuclear war. 

    They won it because, for the most part, while their opponents  were fussing about with the tactical weapons of pragmatism and politics—by refusing to confront the fact that bad ideas can only be fought by better ideas—the strategic nuclear weapons launched by the Values alumni were already having their victories.   While their opponents were figuring out the tactics of political musketry, the Values’ troops were (in the words of Chris Knox’s song) preparing everyone to be “told exactly how to behave.” Not for them fussing about with poll numbers, seats and cabinet rankings. They always knew that in the end it didn’t really matter how many MPs you sent to parliament, but how many ideas.

    And that’s why the Values Party won.

    The lesson, for most of us, should be obvious.