Friday, 24 September 2010

Friday Morning Ramble: The ‘we’re screwed’ edition

It’s election weekend in Auckland and elsewhere, and I couldn’t be less interested. In Auckland, for example,  we have a choice between a clown who talks responsibility but who can’t be trusted with his own credit card, and a buttoned-up buffoon who talks about keeping rates down after having run a record of raising rates every years, while increasing Auckland’s debt to nearly one-billion dollars. It’s not a vote either of these jerks deserve, but the reality check of a good kick up the arse.
Whoever wins, it certainly won’t be ratepayers.
So following
Bernard Darntons lead, and having diligently read through the candidates' booklet, I promptly put my voting paper in the shredder.
Anyway, I haven’t done a Ramble here for a few weeks, so there’s a bit of a backlog of good links and stories to tell. So let’s dive in…

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Here’s The Laughing Clowns getting into the religious material …

… Barry Adamson getting out some Miles Davis…

… … Jazz On the Tube celebrating John Coltrane’s birthday this week (he would have been 84) with
fifteen linked videos illustrating his wide range including Miles Davis...Eric Dolphy...Wes Montgomery...Stan Getz...Elvin Jones...McCoy Tyner...and a rare trio with pianist Wynton Kelly..

…and if, like me, you love this gorgeous piece by Ralph Vaughan-Williams, you’ll have the same dilemma of wondering whether you can endure it bracketed by the world’s most popular elevator music in order to watch the APO perform it next month

That’s all from me, have a great weekend.
PS: As it’s Grand Final weekend for Australian Football, my beer this weekend is a genuine Australian masterpiece: the Little Creatures Pale Ale.


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Thursday, 23 September 2010

‘Water-Lily Pond’ - Claude Monet


The Water-Lily Pond (Le Bassin aux Nymphes), Calude Monet, 883mm x 931mm, 1899

Now this is actually pretty cool.

In my mailbox this morning was a picture of the Mona Lisa, and another of Claude Monet’s Water-Lily Pond.  Not full-size pictures, you understand, but bigger than A4, and faithfully reproduced on a canvas simulacram.  These are nicely done.

The offer is one of those complicated Reader’s-Digest type of “send-in-this-lucky-coupon-now” pieces of runaround, but what it boils down to is that if you somehow contrive to get on their mailing list and then either make the right cancellations or the right payments at the right time, you can get several of these very fine prints for very little .

They have a website at, and you can apparently phone them on 0800-446291 if you want to get in on this.  I’ll leave the rest to you, including deciding whether or not you want to.

In the meantime, I invite you to enlarge and then stare at Claude’s painting for a few minutes. If it doesn’t come to life while you’re staring at it, I’d almost* pay for your prints myself. Because, by Galt, the old bugger knew what he was about.

* I said “almost,” alright!

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“Give back”? To whom? Why? [update 2]

gates-buffet Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are asking American billionaires to “give back” the majority their billions .  To “give back” more than half. “ Those of us who have been very fortunate have a duty to give back,” says Buffett associate Charles Munger.  A duty.

This is clearly a moral cause, wouldn’t you say? A “duty,” indeed! A duty that makes no sense.

And give back? From whom was their vast wealth supposedly taken? The concept makes no sense at all.

So far 40 of the wealthiest Americans have signed the Giving Pledge, as it's known. As people who have an enormous respect for those who create enormous wealth, Yaron Brook and Don Watkins urge them in an Open Letter in the latest Forbes magazine to think again

_Quote The premise underlying the Giving Pledge is that so long as you were pursuing your own goals and well-being, what you were doing wasn't moral. Only by making the good of others your primary aim and sacrificing your wealth to meet their needs do your actions acquire ethical significance.
    Virtually everyone today shares that view--but what if it's wrong? What if your greatest moral achievement consists, not in giving away your wealth, but in having produced it? What if morality is really about guiding you in making the most of your own life--not commanding you to serve the needs of others? What if the most virtuous thing you can do in life is to pursue your own happiness?

It’s a point that’s made too rarely, but one that can’t be made too often: There is more virtue in producing wealth than there is in giving it away—not least because without production is a central requirement of human life, and without it neither happiness nor philanthropy (nor even human survival) are even possible; more virtue in pursuing your own happiness than placing yourself in the service of others—“but, according to the Giving Pledge, what makes you happy shouldn't be your primary concern.”

Is it better to give than to receive? It’s better to produce.

Buffett & Gates seem to think their wealth is something to be ashamed of. That them having wealth is a reason to apologise to those who haven’t. That giving their wealth away will make people think better of them, and them of themselves, but keeping it and producing more won’t.

_QuoteIt is no accident that the Giving Pledge is not a call for charity but a public pledge to give [say Brook & Watkins] … 
    The Pledge treats your wealth, not as a justly earned reward, but as a gift from society--one that came with plenty of strings attached…  
    But your wealth was not an undeserved gift. Every dollar in your bank account came from some individual who voluntarily gave it to you--who gave it to you in exchange for a product he judged to be more valuable than his dollar. You have no moral obligation to "give back," because you didn't take anything in the first place.

Businessmen like Warren Buffett & Bill Gates have nothing for which to apologise, and much of which to be very proud indeed.  Not because of their philanthropy, but because of their enormous productive ability—and the products they’ve made and invested in that make each of us happier and more productive.  That’s the biggest service these two walking engines of production could provide, and already are. About that, they should feel nothing but pride.

They are naturally entitled to do what they wish with the wealth they themselves have created, but to consider their enormous wealth as undeserved and its possession as some sort of sin that must be atoned for—and to encourage others to view it their own wealth that way too—is not something about which they  should feel pride. About that, they should be ashamed.

UPDATE: Like many other people, says philosopher and business-ethics lecturer Stephen Hicks, I am troubled when I hear the phrase “giving back.”

_QuoteThe usual scenario: A successful person makes a donation to a worthy cause but downplays any praise by saying “I’m only giving back.”
    The usual gentle rejoinder is to point out that the phrase assumes that the giver has taken something from others in the first place — he’s borrowed or stolen something and in “giving back” is merely restoring it to its rightful owners. That zero-sum assumption is usually untrue: most donors have earned what they have. So the phrase “giving back” contains within it an injustice: a false accusation.
    Yet there is more to it: the phrase also denies the benevolence of the giver. If you are only giving back what is rightfully someone else’s, then you do not deserve any special praise for your action. Your benevolence need not be acknowledged or honored.
    So the phrase really is a double injustice: it implies that you do not deserve what you have and it denies you any credit you deserve for your benevolent act. (Or to put it abstractly: It is the imputation of an undeserved negative and the denial of a deserved positive.)
    So far so bad.
    But it gets worse…

For which read on, where you will not only discover why this popular use of “giving back” is injustice compounded, where there might be legitimate uses of “giving back,” and also for some  insightful comments on the link between “giving back” and the fundamentally flawed ethics of so-called “social justice and of “stakeholder” theory.

Second, I am not saying (read my lips, I am not saying) that people should not give their money away to causes which they deem worthy, and which they consider advance their own self-interested goals.

True enough, a billionaire may legitimately value a new yacht above the many uses many deserving charities might do with that money—and might legitimately value burning thousand dollar notes before giving it to an undeserving alleged charity like Sea Shepherd or Sue Bradford’s Kotare School.  But the reason many billionaires for many years have donated generously to build libraries, endow university chairs and fund teaching hospitals (and a myriad of other valuable charity works) is that, in George Reisman’s words, they are not “unthinking brutes incapable of understanding or appreciating the wider benefits resulting from such things as education and thus unwilling to support such activities voluntarily.”

In so doing, they do not give donations as alms—not because of some non-existent duty to “give back”—but because “they serve their own selfish values.” In donating to promote competent educational charities, for example, “they would provide to some significant extent both for the value they attach to living in a civilized society and to passing on such a society to their children…”


Let’s play let’s pretend again with Ahmadinejad

05.09.18.UNrehearsed-X  There’s something seriously wrong with this picture, don’t you think?  While Iran-backed guerrillas continue to attack and kill Afghanis and coalition troops in Afghanistan, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits New York to collect photo opportunities, address the U.N., and lap up adulation.

CARI.Ahmadinejad _Quote There’s so much wrong with this picture, it’s hard to know where to begin [says Elan Journo]: Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York City to gloat and pontificate, and, incidentally, attend the U.N. assembly.
    Outraged yet?  Recall that this is the head of the regime that — by the acknowledgement of
our own government — is responsible for at least one-quarter of the deaths of American soldiers in Iraq (and probably much more, as I explain in my book). The same regime that has been financing, encouraging, training, equipping Islamist fighters to carry out attacks against U.S. and Western targets across the world. The same regime that is responsible for the murder of Americans across three-plus decades. The same regime that gunned down in the streets peaceful protestors objecting to its theocratic rule.

There’s sure as hell something wrong with this picture.  Why pretend this is a man, or a regime, with peaceful intentions?

And speaking of pictures …

Myths Sissy Teenage Girlscox

DoNotReadThis-X  Obama & Ahmadinejad

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Douglas gets dirty on Key [updated]

The headline is “Sir Roger gets his act together.” The first question might to which might be, “What took him so long?”

This National-led government, to which Roger Douglas and Rodney Hide lend their support and their votes, has as a stated goal “to catch Australia by 2025.”  How’s that project going, you ask? Look at the tale of the tape:

62520_470791336759_9030741759_7130318_2695947_n At this rate we’ll be lucky to catch Tasmania.

tassies-poor-cuzzie-20082 So, as Douglas says this morning, if John Key is looking to catch Australia, it’s by a process that looks something like this:


PS: This, by the way, is an example of what ACT should have been doing all along: not giving John Boy’s government the blank cheque of their support, but pointing out this govt’s failure to do anything like what needs to be done. 

Nothing else but proselytising for their ideas is going to expand ACT’s withering market share with voters--and nothing would make John Boy’s ministers take them more seriously than support being offered only on a case-by-case basis, with their vote made conditional upon whether or not measures being voted on moved toward freedom and prosperity rather than away from it.

But that’s a horse that has long bolted.

_Quote The fact remains that National KEPT the Labour policies it railed against in opposition in full knowledge that they are bad for New Zealand's economic future.
ACT however would have been far more potent staying out of government and building support for the kind of reform National will not undertake.
Why vote ACT when Roger spouts good policy but supports a govt that does not?
What a mess.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: On property

_Quote Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property--by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort."
        - Ayn Rand, quoted by J. Brian Phillips & Alan Germani in
                                   “The Practicality of Private Waterways

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

‘Earthmover’ – David Knowles


Says artist David Knowles,

_Quote Over thirty years ago I read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. From that I developed a concept of Man as the creator of his environment, and that idea was concretised into an image of a young man controlling a large earth-moving machine.

And here he is. Man the creator. Man, the shaper of his world.  From thought to inception, not by the power of muscles, but by the power of the mind—the power to conceive and create the machinery that can shape his very environment.


How to complicate maths education

Having had success in encouraging illiteracy over past decades by removing phonetic teaching from classrooms—refusing to teach children the very abstract tools by which they can decode text, replacing them instead with guesswork and a multiplicity of random concretes—educators the world over have also been doing the same with mathematics, quietly removing (for example) the means by which children can make sense of simple multiplication tasks.

In this video, Washington State educator MJ McDermott just how thoroughly today’s educators have made a complicated mare’s nest out of simple mathematical tasks, replacing reliable and easily understood algorithms with complicated procedures and guesswork.

If you understand the phenomenon Ayn Rand called the crow epistemology, you might understand just how successfully the “new” systems being taught for multiplication won’t teach students mathematics so much as “blow their crow.” 

[Thanks to reader Falafulu Fisi for the link]

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DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Canterbury Corporatism, Garrett’s Impending Strikeout, & Our Declining Economic Freedom

_richardmcgrath Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath ransacks the newspapers for stories and headlines on issues affecting our freedom.

This week:  Canterbury Corporatism, Garrett’s Impending Strikeout, and Our Declining Economic Freedom

1. - DOM-POST: “Workers get $6m in wage subsidies after quake disruption: The government has paid out $6m in wage subsidies to 7000 workers hit by the Canterbury earthquake… the government has set aside $15m for the grants but Mr Key said it could cost up to $100m.”

The problem: At the current numbers of people subsidized, this is $2.4m a week corporate welfare for Canterbury small businesses. That money has to come from somewhere. The govt either prints it (thereby eroding the savings of New Zealanders), borrows it (saddling our children and grandchildren with debt) or extorts it from the very people it is meant to protect from arbitrary predation. In any case, lower-income workers are being fleeced to subsidise businesses and employees who were quite capable of purchasing disaster or income protection insurance for themselves. Poorer people are being taxed to fill the pockets of the rich.

My suggestion: The money to help Canterbury small businesses should come firstly from the owners of those businesses and their insurers, and secondly from people willing to donate money to them. But if it is felt the money for this corporate welfare has to be extracted by force, using threats of asset forfeiture and incarceration, the first victims of this should be the people of Christchurch City, Canterbury and the adjoining and surrounding provinces. Wonder what that would do to the chances of re-election for Bob Parker and John Key?

2. - NZ HERALD: “Anyone except Douglas, says Key: Prime Minister John Key has said he could work with anyone as leader of ACT – except Roger Douglas.”

The problem: John Key could sit quite comfortably in government with Rodney ‘Super City’ Hide and David ‘Jackass’ Garrett, but not with the man who delivered New Zealand from the Polish shipyard of Muldoonism. Anyone with lingering fears that John Key was hiding a free-market agenda behind the smile and wave will be vastly relieved to find that there is nothing there. Meanwhile it appears Mr Garrett, a lawyer, may have perjured himself in an affidavit in 2005. Hey, wait a minute, David, wouldn’t that be your third strike?

A question: What would you consider a sensible sentence, David, if you end up wearing a conviction for perjury?

3. - OTAGO DAILY TIMES: “NZ third in economic freedom survey: New Zealand ranks third in the Economic Freedom of the World 2008 survey.”

The problem: Keeping in mind that the year examined was the final year before the fall of Helengrad, we can draw some interesting conclusions about the last NZ government from the Fraser Institute’s analysis of economic liberty. It appears that our overall economic freedom diminished under Helen Clark (our rating slipped from 8.64 in 1995 to 8.22 out of 10 in 2008). In five out of five parameters, we were worse off after nine years of Helen and Michael. The most telling statistic was Size of Government, which score slipped from 7.46 to 6.14 out of 10 over the same thirteen years, even as the size it measured increased out of bounds. But that’s what happens when you bloat the Labour-voting public sector by 30%.

My suggestion: Like an engorged leech, the state sector bleeds this country. It should be gently but firmly prised off the body politic and told to make its own way in life under its own steam.

And look: Countries “liberated” through Marxist rule (Angola, Venezuela), Islamic theocracy (Algeria, Iran) and totalitarian dictatorship (Myanmar) don’t do at all well. What a surprise. Cuba, adored by Michael Moore, wasn’t even rated. Wonder why.      

When the people fear the government, there is tyranny - when the government
fears the people, there is liberty.
- attrib. to Thomas Jefferson


Colossus - Goya


Goya is the preeminent painter of monsters—appropriate for a man painting in the period in which Napoleon, chaos and his totalitarian state overtook Goya’s native Spain.

He calls this figure Colossus.*  We might call it Leviathan.

* NB: Recent research suggests the work itself was mapped out by Goya, but painted by an apprentice.


Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Dr. Rajan Fisks Krugman On Frannie Role in Crisis

Guest Post by Jeff Perren

Professor of finance at University of Chicago Raghumam Rajan, takes Paul Krugman to task over numerous errors relating to the origins of the financial crisis. Not least is his demonstration of the ways Fannie and Freddie, and the government policies that drove them, were relevant.

This gem, for example, is delicious since it shows Krugman's ongoing intellectual dishonesty, as his explanations shift.

Critics were quick to point out that Krugman had his facts wrong.

As Charles Calomiris and Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute (Wallison is also a member of the financial crisis inquiry commission) explained, “Here Krugman demonstrates confusion about the law (which did not prohibit subprime lending by the GSEs), misunderstands the regulatory regime under which they operated (which did not have the capacity to control their risk-taking), and mismeasures their actual subprime exposures (which he wrongly states were zero).” ... So, Krugman shifted his emphasis.

In his blog critique of a Financial Times op-ed I wrote in June 2010, Krugman no longer argued that Fannie and Freddie could not buy subprime mortgages. Instead, he emphasized the slightly falling share of Fannie and Freddie’s residential mortgage securitizations in the years 2004 to 2006 as the reason they were not responsible.

Here again he presents a misleading picture. Not only did Fannie and Freddie purchase whole subprime loans that were not securitized (and thus not counted in its share of securitizations), they also bought substantial amounts of private-label mortgage-backed securities issued by others. When taking these into account, Fannie and Freddie’s share of the subprime market financing did increase even in those years.

Rajan goes on to shred Krugman a half-dozen more ways from Sunday. The whole piece is well worth a read.

In the end, as the Grand Poobah says in The Mikado, it's nice to have my opinions confirmed by an expert.

Monday, 20 September 2010

ECONOMICS FOR REAL PEOPLE: The Lessons of the Financial Crisis

Here’s a heads up from the organisers of the Auckland Uni Economics Group abut what they have planned for you tomorrow evening.

Hello Everyone.
    At this Tuesday night's meeting of the UOA Economics Group we will begin looking at the financial crisis and specifically  at the lessons we can take from it.
    In last week's seminar we concluded looking at the boom-bust cycle, also known as the business cycle. It is not surprising that the current 'bust' has resulted in many asking what caused the current downturn. Many theories have been put forward.
    But are the real villains being put in the spotlight?
    Or are innocent parties being blamed?
    Was there too little regulation?
    Or too much?
    These are very important questions, because the way the politicians and policy-makers answer them will affect every single one of us for many years to come.
    Join us tomorrow night to help form your own view.
UoA Econ Group 21 Sept

PS: If you have been unable to join us for a while, you don’t need to worry about not following the discussion. Each seminar is somewhat independent of previous seminars.
Also, don‘t worry about being left behind.  The discussions are for both students and non-students of economics. And you don’t have to be enrolled at Auckland Uni either—everybody’s welcome.
         Date: Tuesd ay 21th September
         Time: 6pm
         Room: University of Auckland Business School, Owen G Glenn Building, Room 317 (Level 3)

Look forward to seeing you.

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Cost of living important. “Climate change” not so.

As this government’s Emissions Trading Scam slowly turns the screws on the prices we pay for everything, turns out New Zealanders are less concerned about the problem that Scam aims to address, and much, much more concerned about their cost of living.

_Quote A new survey suggests concern about climate change has slipped slightly from a year ago.
  The UMR Research poll done on behalf of the Greenhouse Policy Coalition … said climate change rated bottom in order of importance to people out of a list of 10 common issues – a drop from eighth out of nine issues in the same survey last year.
    Those issues in 2010 were (in order of concern) cost of living, health, education, ethics in business, environment, effect of the economy on household, taxes, employment, standard of living compared with other countries and climate change.
    The proportion of people agreeing that climate change was a serious issue fell from 42.6 per cent last year to 36.3 per cent, the survey showed.

So as global warming slips inevitably off the public radar, a research professor at the London School of Economics offers a warning that this National-led govt should heed, pointing out that, around the world, “governments which put environmental issues over economic ones are generally kicked out of office.” {Hat tip Climate Depot]

_QuoteAlthough he said he supports taking action to reduce carbon emissions, Gwyn Prins said government policies have done little to achieve that goal.
"The best climate change policy is no climate change policy," he said.

No wonder, perhaps, that in a bid to get back the mojo for big govt action on global warming climate change whatever-the-hell-it’s called this week,

_Quote Obama’s science Czar John Holdren has decided the new name for global warming, er, climate change shall be:

Because the first two didn’t work apparently.

Neither will this one.  You can be sure of it.

Since the name is constantly changing anyway, Kate over at Small Dead Animals has a contest to choose a better name.  Y2Kyoto looks good. World Weather Deception, Doomsday Consensus, and Irritable Ecosystem Syndrome look okay. And Sudden High-Intensity Temperature Evolution at least gets the acronym about right.

Meanwhile, expect the catastrophic collapse of the roof of Stadium Southland to get the warmists out worldwide trying to summon up more interest in their favourite scam, despite “the idea that winter storms and winter snow extent are increasing due to 'excess heat' [defying] any rational thought.”

Yes, sure, there are people involved already being quoted as saying Invercargill has “never had a snow fall this big before, in our history.”  Expect that line to go around the world. So you might like to know that the weekend now storm down south is simply “a 'normal' New Zealand weather event” [hat tip PM of NZ]

_QuoteInvercargill gets a snowfall of this weekend's magnitude every 10 to 15 years [says Andy Fraser, a forecaster at 45 South Weather Service based in Invercargill], but he would not class it as a freak event.
The city is prone to watery snow because it's close to the coast, unlike inland areas which get lighter snow.

Just thought you’d like to know.


Pope attacks atheists to divert attention from real crimes in Catholic Church - Dawkins

In the words of Russell Brown, whom I thank for this link, here’s Richard Dawkins’ blazing response to the Pope's "Hitler was an atheist" gambit during his British visit this week.


Rock Retractions

The funniest thing on Twitter for the last few days  is the ongoing and seemingly inexhaustible #RockRetractions thread—i.e., second thoughts on famous rock lyrics.  Like …

There's a lady who knows all that glitters is gold, and she's  buying a condo in Phoenix.

I've been through the desert on a horse whose name I didn't quite  catch.

I get knocked down. And I curl up into the fetal position and whimper.

I just passed out in your arms tonight.

OK. Actually only three people were Kung Fu fighting. And they really weren't all that fast.

In an effort to promote a more eco-friendly lifestyle, Papa's bag is now recycled.

I ain't doing shit for Mr Kite.

It was kind of a relief when her daddy took the T-Bird away.

We're gonna have a fairly good time together.

I am appropriately sexy for my shirt.

She blinded me with Chemical Mace.

Piano says "not guilty." Never touched a drop.
Click here to read more ... >>

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