Monday, 20 December 2010

Have an earthly commercial Christmas

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 IS CHRISTMAS TOO COMMERCIAL? Hell, no! You hear the same complaint every year, but for many retailers this year and last, Christmas hasn’t been commercial enough.

And according to at least one sane person, Commercialism Only Adds to Joy of the Holidays.  “It's the season for earthly pleasures,” says Ayn Rand enthusiast Onkar Ghate, “and embracing the spectacle is no sin.”

Actually, he had me at “earthly pleasures.”

Anyway, complaining about the “commercialisation” of Christmas pretty much misses the point anyway, because Christmas is the most benevolent and frankly commercial holiday in the catalogue. It was designed that way.

_Quote Christmas as we know it, with its twinkling lights, flying reindeer, and dancing snowmen, is largely a creation of 19th-century America. One of the most un-Christian periods in Western history, it was a time of worldly invention, industrialization, and profit. Only such an era would think of a holiday dominated by commercialism and joy and sense the connection between the two.

As Ghate says, Christmas is a time of unabashed earthly joy.  That’s what’s good about it. Like philosopher Leonard Peikoff says, at Christmas time we don't say "sacrifice and repent," we say enjoy yourself and thrive!  And we do, whatever the economic climate. We get together with workmates, friends and loved ones, celebrating the year with gusto; we give gifts to people we value, whose friendship and company we want to celebrate. Toasts are made and livers threatened. Boats full of happy people cruise the harbour; laughing diners fill restaurants; shops overflow (well,most years) with people buying gifts to make people happy who make them happy; and glasses full of enlivening liquids are raised the heavens to celebrate life here on earth. 

So what's not to like about Christmas being commercial? About capitalist gift-giving between consenting adults—and even children.

Because that sort of secular celebration is the real meaning of Christmas. Christmas is not really about a chap who came to earth to deliver “Good News” like this:

_Quote_Idiot If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife,
and children
, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he
cannot be my disciple.--[
Luke 14:26]

Because even if this was his birthday (which it isn’t) that’s not something you’d want to celebrate. No, in any case, Christmas is a good old pagan holiday taken over and rechristened. So let’s take it back and celebrate it like all good pagans should—like these enthusiastic Norsemen singing a song by Verdi for which the loose translation is ‘Wet Your Throat.’

Let me leave you now with “Five Golden Hemorrhoids: A Biblically Correct Version of The Twelve Days of Christmas

Don’t panic, children

Children especially might enjoy this update…

_Quote_Idiot INDEPENDENT, UK (March, 2000):  “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past
Britain's winter ends tomorrow with further indications of a striking environmental change: snow is starting to disappear from our lives …
    According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become "a very rare and exciting event” …
    “Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said

Don’t worry children. Fast forward to today:

And don’t worry. Several feet of global warming over Britain is just one of those signs that global warming is definitely still happening.

Here’s Mahalia Jackson. Still dreaming…

Oh dear

I’ve just started packing for the holidays. And I think I’ve overdone the books again.


Thanks to all the NOT PC readers who’ve very kindly donated to help keep my library growing. You make it more difficult every year to pack my suitcase. :-)

Carols for Godless People . . .

I suspect only the British could do this: a full-blooded atheist celebration, “celebrating the majesty of the universe, and most of the things in it,” called ‘Nine Lessons, and Carols for Godless People.’

Here’s Part One of Seven… [hat tip Marcus Bachler]

Friday, 17 December 2010

The greatest story (hardly) ever told [updated]

‎"The events of any given period of history are the result of the thinking of the
preceding period. The nineteenth century [for example]—with its political freedom,
science, industry, business, trade, all the necessary conditions of material
progress—was the result and the last achievement of the intellectual power
released by the Renaissance."
- Ayn Rand

HERE’S A STORY FROM history that’s hardly ever told, but yet it’s the greatest story history could tell.

It’s a story that covers two continents and 2,000 years, and is the fundamental reason for all our health,wealth and happiness —and freedom—but most people don’t know anything about it, and couldn’t tell you why it matters.

Here’s a small part of that story, which starts for us in an unlikely place. . .

alhambra THE SEAT OF SCIENCE and civilisation a thousand years ago was in the Muslim world.

While Western Europe endured its Dark Ages—that wasteland of crosses and graves that lasted nearly a millennia, and buried more than a million souls in misery and squalor—the Arab and Persian world was making advances in medicine, mathematics, cartography, astronomy, philosophy, poetry, scientific method and more.

If you were a scientist, an artist, or any sort of human being hoping to breathe free then, from the eighth to twelfth century, the places in which you wanted to breathe had names like Toledo, Cordoba and Baghdad.

And then, it all came to a crashing halt. And within two centuries, the situation in the two places was almost entirely reversed.

What happened? What changed? And what made the  successes happen in the first place?

A fascinating 28 minute interview on Radio New Zealand with scientist Jim al-Khalili, author of Pathfinders - The Golden Age of Arabic Science, tells part of the tale—one of history’s most-interesting yet least told. And he tells a fascinating story. I recommend a listen.

al-Khalili explains how Muslim scientists flourished in a culture that then valued the “this-world” knowledge they were pursuing. But he finds it damnably hard to put his finger on the precise reason for the growth and development of this culture—talking about things like the invention of paper and “the ideas of the Greeks,” without really saying much about what those ideas were.

Equally, he finds it difficult to explain the rapid fall of Islamic science and the slow awakening of western Europe from its intellectual slumber, beyond talking about a “conservative backlash” in Islam, “the discovery of the New World” by the West (which actually happened around three centuries after Islamic decline began) and the transmission of “the ideas of the Greeks” from the Muslim world to the West.

In fact, the reason for both fall and rise is the relationship that both these cultures had with Greek ideas. Specifically, with their relationship to reason, and especially to the man they called The Philosopher of Reason, Aristotle.

Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science
(9781846141614): Jim Al-Khalili

A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future
(9780345373168): Charles Van Doren

(9780231085298): John Herman Randall

“Ancient Greece tore away the heavy shroud of mysticism woven for centuries in
murky temples, and achieved, in three centuries, what Egypt had not dreamed of in
thirty: a civilization that was essentially pro-man and pro-life. The achievements of
the Greeks rested on their confidence in the power of man’s mind—the power of reason.”
- Mary Ann Sures

ARISTOTLE WAS PLATO’S STUDENT, yet the mature philosophies of these two giants could not have been more different.

Raphael’s famous painting shows Plato pointing to the heavens, and Aristotle to this earth. It is an accurate summation of their positions. Plato looked to the heavens for the “true reality,” and found there rules for living on this “imperfect,” non-ideal plane. Aristotle saw instead that happiness on this earth was man’s highest estate, and that knowledge of the things of this earth—observing nature and drawing conclusions from it—is the means by which to begin obtaining it.

aristotle-platoIt’s said that the history of philosophy is described by the duel between Plato and Aristotle. In virtually every important sense, this is true. In both the Muslim and Christian worlds, it’s played out in the duel between mysticism, with Plato and neo-Platonism brought in on the side (literally) of the angels and of other-worldly maunderings; and Aristotle (when he’s been rediscovered) on the side of reason and a focus on success in this world.

It’s the rediscoveries of the ideas of Aristotle that have been crucial in our story.

Aristotle left behind at his death a veritable manual of scientific discovery and how to live on this earth—especially the Organon, six treatises on logic that were a virtual toolkit of logic. These were “the ideas of the Greeks” that mattered most to Muslim scientists when they rediscovered them eleven centuries later, and to western philosophers and scientists when (thanks to Muslim scholars) they rediscovered them for the west fifteen centuries after they had first been buried.

Because these ideas, while powerful enough to turn civilisations around, barely had time to be given even a full road test after their first brief time in the sun, around 300BC. Because this was very quickly becoming very much not a safe time in which to be a philosopher, and just a few short decades after Aristotle’s death his school was closed, his students were scattered, and his works on papyrus rolls were buried for safety in a trench in Asia Minor, not to be uncovered for centuries.

And while they lay buried, the light of reason which had flickered so briefly and so well was going out around the world, in Athens and Alexandria and eventually, finally, even Rome. 

hieronymus_bosch_-_the_garden_of_earthly_delights_-_hell1It was buried by pagan mysticism (which had never fully gone away) and neo-Platonism (which had been around long enough to take hold), but most forcefully and more thoroughly still by those Roman emperors who from the fourth century had already set themselves up as both definers and enforcers of religious “orthodoxy,” and the head of a monotheistic state.  (The Christian insistence on the absurdity of the Trinity, for example, dates from Theodosius’s 381AD decree dictating that all his subjects subscribe to a belief in the Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, or else.)

As if to demonstrate that without reason to deal with one another there is only force, the emperors from Theodosius on now began the systematic suppression by the sword of all non-orthodox Christianity, and of all still-surviving pagan philosophies that couldn’t be made hand-maidens of theology as easily as neo-Platonism (which could easily be bent to fill up the gaps in the emerging Christian theology).

With Justinian edicts in the 530s enforcing religious conformity on pain of death, the assault on reason and freedom was complete.

Thus began the inevitable waves of barbarism, looting and darkness that necessarily accompanies the widespread rejection of reason and a culture-wide focus on the next world rather than on this one.

“If there is a philosophical Atlas who carries the whole of Western civilization on
his shoulders, it is Aristotle…. Aristotle may be regarded as the cultural
barometer of Western history. Whenever his influence dominated the scene, it
paved the way for one of history’s brilliant eras; whenever it fell, so did mankind.”
- Ayn Rand

the-alhambraWHILE THE WEST WAS  committing intellectual suicide, the Islamist world was just beginning to wake up. It was the rediscovery of Aristotle in Muslim Spain and the Middle East that was the next light of hope in the world, and that built and underpinned the Islamic Golden Age—which at its three-hundred year peak spread wealth, riches, learning, art and happiness from Baghdad to Spain.

Just as it was built by ideas, so too however  was it killed by them—by what scientist al-Khalili calls the “conservative backlash,” a reaction against science and reason best summed up by eleventh-century theologian Al-Ghazali, who called for the Greek ideas to be thrown out, saying essentially, “If it’s in the Quran we don’t need it; if it’s not in the Quran we don’t want it.” And so out it all went. For good—or at least for ten centuries.

One of the most illustrative examples of Al-Ghazali’s “thinking” was his direct assault on causality. Things don’t act according to their nature, he said, God makes things act any way he pleases:


The connection [said Ghazali] between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary…
    For example, there is no causal connection between the quenching of thirst and drinking, satiety and eating, burning and contact with fire, light and the appearance of the sun, death and decapitation, healing and the drinking of medicine, the purging of the bowels and the using of a purgative…
    On the contrary, it is within [divine] power to create satiety without eating, to create death without decapitation, to continue life after decapitation, and so on to all connected things…   

You might think this is insane, and it is; the stuff of madness, and you’d be right; utterly illogical--which is it’s point. al-Ghazali is here simply doing God’s work:


Our opponents claim [for example] that the agent of the burning is the fire exclusively; this is not a natural, not a voluntary agent, and cannot abstain from what is in its nature when it is brought into contact with a receptive substratum. This we deny, saying: The agent of burning is God, through His creating the black in the cotton and the disconnection of its parts, and it is God who made the cotton burn and  made it ashes either through the intermediation of angels or without…

This is a God for every teenage arsonist seeking an excuse: “Well, yes, I lit the match. But it was God wot burned the school down.”

This is nothing like the “God of the Gaps” that leave God just to fill in what science has yet to discover. This is a God who holds every test tube, sparks every flame, guides every bullet, and detonates every bomb—either  with the intermediation of angels, or without.

According to al-Ghazali—whose “thinking” swept the Muslim world (and swept away reason, logic and science with it)—there is no other causal agent in the universe but God, and therefore “no unity in the world, moral, physical or metaphysical; all hangs from the individual will of Allah.”

Nothing could be more destructive to reason, to science, and to civilisation. Yet al-Ghazali’s fateful rejection of reason swept the Islamic world, which (still proudly waving his flag and that of the Quran) sank into the intellectual mire from which it has yet to emerge.

“Aristotle’s philosophy was the intellect’s Declaration of Independence. Aristotle, the
father of logic, should be given the title of the world’s first
intellectual, in the purest
and noblest sense of that word. No matter what remnants of Platonism did exist
in Aristotle’s system, his incomparable achievement lay in the fact that he defined
the basic principles of a rational view of existence and of man’s consciousness…
    If we consider the fact that to this day everything that makes us civilized beings,
every rational value that we possess—including the birth of science, the industrial
revolution, the creation of the United States, even the structure of our language—is
the result of Aristotle’s influence, of the degree to which, explicitly or implicitly, men
accepted his epistemological principles, we would have to say: never have so
many owed so much to one man.”
- Ayn Rand

STTING HERE IN 2010, it’s easy to laugh at al-Ghazali.  That’s because we, here and now, mostly take reason for granted—so thoroughly that we find it hard to understand those who don’t. That we do take it so much for granted is testament to how thoroughly western culture has supped from Aristotle’s well. But it took a while.

Because in the first ten centuries after Christian theology first gained its toehold, the west was also labouring under similar nonsense to al-Ghazali’s, and with the same existential results as the Islamist apostle of unreason would deliver to his culture. Early Christian theologians were in virtually all respects peddlers of the very same nonsense, just delivered wearing a different brand.

Paul, for example, who took violently against the “upstart” Greek philosophers whose logic he had trouble countering, took instead to attacking the very core of Greek intellectual achievement.


The more they [Greeks] call themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew … they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. [Romans 1:21-22]
The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. [Corinthians 1:25]

(He made more sense when he declared, “I know of nothing good living in me.” [Romans 7:20] On that, I can concur.)

And while Augustine, the second-most influential Christian theologian, was willing to allow reason, he also declared it may only be used to explore “truths” already revealed by his God—and even these revelations were only to be accepted on the authority of the monotheistic state. (“I would not have believed the Gospels except on the authority of the Catholic Church.”)

And Tertullian, “I believe because it is absurd.”

And John Chrysostom: “Restrain our own reasoning and empty our mind of secular learning in order  to provide a mind swept clear for the reception of divine words.”

And Lactantius: “What purpose does knowledge serve—for as to knowledge of natural causes, what blessing is there for me if I know where the Nile rises, or whatever else under the heavens the ‘scientists’ rave about?”

And Philastrius of Brescia, who was ready to declare causality itself implicitly a heresy in a fashion that Cantabrians might appreciate:


There is a certain heresy concerning earthquakes that they come not from God’s command but, it is thought, from the very nature of the elements… Paying no attention to God’s power  they [the heretics] presume to attribute the motions of force to the elements of nature … like certain philosophers who, ascribing this to nature, know not the power of God.

(T paraphrase al-Ghazali’s similar “arguments” aired above,  it would seem that Philastrius’s God has extended to him the power to think without having possession of a brain.)

Finally, to show that they knew who their enemy was, we have Anastasius of Sinai, who  was ready to declare  that the ten sections of Aristotle’s Categories were ten “heresies” representing the ten horns of the dragon in the Book of Revelation (12:4)

No wonder, under the sway of “thinkers” like these, that western Europe spent so many centuries in darkness.

Fortunately however, in the brief window before the fruits of Islamic thinking disappeared forever, western translators eager to learn the “heresies” that had been buried for so long discovered and began translating Islamic works on medicine, astronomy, mathematics, engineering … and philosophy. They discovered the Arab commentators on Aristotle, and they discovered the great works of Aristotle himself. In short, they re-discovered his manual of reason, and with it the key to begin civilisation anew.

If the industrial revolution of the nineteenth century owes its genesis to the tremendous intellectual power released by the Renaissance, as the quote at the top of the page suggests, then it’s important to realise that the intellectual power released in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was generated by the intellectual “atomic power station” of Aristotelian reason that was rediscovered in the twelfth.

The new Latin translations of Aristotle’s Organon (translated in Spain and Sicily from Arabic, which themselves were translations from lost Greek originals) were the transmission belts for the ideas that powered the new thinking of Albertus Magnus, Aquinas, and Francis Bacon; the new art of Giotto, Michelangelo and Da Vinci; the new architecture of Brunelleschi, Bramante and Palladio; the new science of Copernicus, Galileo and Newton; the new conception of human freedom embodied in the ideas of Grotius, and Locke and (eventually) Jefferson—who all of them, as reason requires, began their work by turning their eyes to observing the facts before them before seeking the causal integration that explained the facts observed: a re-use and rediscovery of reason’s method all but lost in the west since the original days of the Greeks.

To that almost fortuitous rediscovery we owe virtually all human progress of the past five centuries. That’s how important this story, and that rediscovery, is.

“The events of any given period of history are the result of the thinking of the preceding period.” That’s what this story makes so plain—that ideas do have tremendous consequences, for good and for ill.

It’s astonishing that the story is so rarely told---and so little understood when it is—told when it is told with, for example, the sort of mechanistic detail that explains the rise of Islam by the discovery of paper or the west by the discovery of the New World; or the fall of Rome by the onset of hyperinflation, or the fall of Islamic science to some undefined “conservative backlash”; without ever seeking to look beyond these outward details to the fundamental facts that caused them.

“There is no future for the world except through a rebirth of the Aristotelian
approach to philosophy. This would require an Aristotelian affirmation of the reality
of existence, of the sovereignty of reason, of life on earth—and of the splendor of man.”

- Leonard Peikoff

YOU’LL HAVE NOTICED by now that I’ve strewn a few books across your path, each of which tells a part of the story. And below I’ve added three more that between them integrate and give the culmination of the story—the first as a guide to the loss and rediscovery; the second, in which the title essay tells the tale told here in far more colourful and sweeping terms than I could; and the third, to demonstrate that the primordial struggle for reason and individual liberty are the same story, whose culmination we find in the discovery of individual rights and their implementation.

Taken together, they tell a remarkable tale. But the astonishing thing to note is how few books there are telling the story itself. When Burgess Laughlin, for example, began work on another project, he looked for a book telling the tale and found none. So he wrote his own, The Aristotle Adventure. To my knowledge it’s still the only book-length survey giving the whole context.

If you want to bury yourself in books on the greatest story (hardly) ever told, then these listed here are a good place to start.

And there’s no time like a long summer holiday to begin.


The Aristotle Adventure: A Guide to the Greek, Arabic, & Latin Scholars
Who Transmitted Aristotle's Logic to the Renaissance

(9780964471498): Burgess Laughlin

For the New Intellectual
- Ayn Rand
(Signet) (9780451163080): Ayn Rand

Capitalism Unbound: The Incontestable
Moral Case for Individual Rights

(9780761849698): Andrew Bernstein

NB: Note that not all books listed here are entirely without fault or error. I should note that those to be most careful of are Rubinstein’’s Aristotle’s Children and Reilly’s The Closing of the Muslim Mind, which are both sadly infected by the authors’ own religiosity, making them sadly unable to see the full drama of the story they’re trying to tell.

Naturally, I’d be very happy to have other books recommended that might fill in some of the gaps.

And to see the whole story in one graphic, here’s one of the charts from Burgess Laughlin’s Aristotle Adventure that makes it so valuable:


UPDATEAndy Clarkson points out

It was Arabs qua Aristotelians and not Arabs qua Islamists who are responsible for the accomplishments of Arab Muslims.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Happy Christmas

My favourite Christmas song, performed by my favourite…oh, shite, why don’t I just let you hear it.

This is great.  “Fairytale Of New York.” Sung by Christy Moore with all the passion and accuracy it demands.

And Happy Christmas.

NOT PJ: Don’t Vote.

This week Bernard Darnton considers a resolution for election year.

P. J. O’Rouke’s latest is Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards. In it he gives us his view of politics as game of “Kill Fuck Marry.”

“Kill Fuck Marry” is a game played by teenage American girls. Being neither teenaged, nor American, nor a girl, I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was on about. Fortunately the rules are pretty straightforward. One player names three people and, for each of the three doing-words you say who you’d rather do it to (and who you’d rather kill or marry).

P.J. gets us started with the “exemplary” 1992 presidential race: “We kill Ross Perot. We could hardly avoid a fuck from Bill Clinton. And we marry kindly, old George H. W. Bush.”

In New Zealand we could play with the Government front bench. John Key, Bill English, Gerry Brownlee. You kill Bill English for bankrupting us, you fuck John Key and then blackmail him for millions, and you marry Gerry Brownlee because, umm, struggling here a bit – but, hey, free wordwork!

The first third of the book is devoted to America’s political heritage, featuring giants like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Joe Biden.

If you went to P.J.’s talk in Auckland last year and didn’t drink too much you’ll recognise some of the background material in these chapters, but it’s good to have it here as, let’s just say, a reminder.

O’Rourke then turns his attention to the present day. He tackles the bailout, social security, health care reform and then devotes an entire page to climate change: “There’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” A billion people in China want a car. If you fret about climate change he suggests you go to China and tell them they can’t have one. If you survive, go to India and tell another billion people the same thing.

Throughout, the text is peppered with O’Rourke’s trademark strained analogies. That is to say, he taps the sap of the linguistic tree and vulcanises it with Spock-like rationality. He carefully blends the resulting analogy, extending it and spreading it as far it will go. He stretches the rubbery metaphor until it breaks, leaving you exhausted and carrying the bastard child of hyperbole and rhetoric.

Having described America’s political journey, P.J. describes his own. He started off as some ill-defined kind of leftie following the early realisation at college that the beatnik hippy chicks were probably not going to kill or marry him. Getting a job and the accompanying tax bill (as well as realising that his stupid haircut was unbecoming for an adult) he became the nineties libertarian - the Republican Party reptile - that we’re most familiar with. Now, allegedly as a result of fatherhood, he describes himself as a conservative.

As is inevitable with American conservatism, God gets a mention or several. It’s probably the minimum acceptable veneer by American standards but it sticks out like a televangelist’s orthodontics to a secular New Zealander.

Fatherhood hasn’t converted me to conservatism, although that “honour your father and mother” thing might have something going for it.

_BernardDarntonConservatism has made P.J. a more serious man. This book is a work of political theory with some jokes in it. It has a lot more reading and thought behind it than some of his previous books but he was funnier when he was a libertarian. Kill The Bachelor Home Companion. Fuck All the Trouble in the World. Marry Don’t Vote.

* * Bernard Darnton is Not PJ O’Rourke, but we
still let him write here every Thursday. * *

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A festival of box-ticking on the way

I thought you’d like to think about this while you sun yourselves on the beaches over the summer. It’s something that hasn’t got a lot of press, but will change the lives of many new Zealanders very soon for the worse.

A festival of box-ticking is on its way. A never-ending festival. By 2012, every professional or near-professional in the country will be fighting a torrent of government-produced paperwork. By 2012, if you don’t have a government licence (with all forms completed in triplicate) you won’t be able to

  • build a house
  • design a house
  • sell a house
  • value a house
  • rewire a house
  • lay drains
  • put in plumbing
  • design a structure
  • drive a taxi
  • see a patient
  • dispense pharmaceuticals
  • give financial advice
  • run a classroom
  • teach in a classroom
  • argue a case in court
  • register a title

This list is by no means exhaustive. (Feel free to send more examples; they are legion.)

Understand that this torrent of occupational licensing enveloping the country (the Licensed Building Practitioner and Authorised Financial Advisor (AFA) Regulations are just the latest two) is intended to mandate something called “quality.” Something that people still borrowing $250 million per week would know everything about.

You might think about this cavalcade of occupational licensing when you realise that every illiterate teacher you’ve ever met is a registered teacher; that virtually every leaky home was designed by either a Registered Architect or paid-up Architectural Designer, and built by a registered Master Builder; that virtually everyone about to become a “Licensed Financial Adviser” will know less about economics than they will about these regulations, and was until recently advising their clients to put their nest eggs into places like Hanover, St Laurence, Dorchester and Bridgecorp (and thanks a lot for the commish, boys).

Occupational licensing doesn’t help the best rise to the top—quite the opposite. (The perfumed parasites of subsidised classrooms are proof enough of that.) Instead it simply makes every licensed member of these professions virtually equal to every other, with the “most equal” (the best at ticking boxes) being given positions of authority to dictate standards and procedures to their betters—allowing the box-tickers to mooch off the do-ers, and (on occasions) to loot their would-be customers.

Understand that licensing and form-filling offers no guarantee at all of quality—none whatsoever. All it can ever be is the proxy for quality that makes these things good enough for government work.

In fact, what occupational licensing will do is to push up costs (someone has to pay for all the box ticking); put the grey ones even further into every business in the land (which will drive costs further up and good people further away); and restrict entry to new competitors (which will reduce entrepreneurialism, reduce quality, and—you guessed it—drive up costs even further for would-be customers).

So that’s a win all round, really. Not.

The most egregious of all these iniquities is really the last: the cozy system of “closed professions” that protects inertia and incompetents, and helps keeps out those who might challenge this in any way.

Want to know what it will do to the fees these professionals will charge? Well, just look at the cozy system of the legal “profession,” which couldn’t be more closed, and think just how much your lawyer charges for just sending one letter.

There’s a reason the tallest buildings in town have lawyers’ names on them. It’s one reason they like barriers to entry like this.

Many years ago, a young Norman Kirk famously built his own house (and here I quote from an unlikely source) “with his own sweat and toil, including making his own blocks, a feat now outlawed by the … complex licensed building practitioner regime, which would have required Norm to have a licence for concrete work, a licence for blocklaying, a licence for roofing, a licence for carpentry, and a licence for external plastering… for which he would not have had a hope of paying the cost of a bureaucratic supervisor for its construction.”

The irony here is that the entity whom I quote above was pointing this out only four years ago. Yet now he is part of the government imposing all this upon professionals and their would-be customers.

No wonder so many are already resident in Queensland, with more to join then soon.

Galt help us all.

Which posts were read most in 2010?

It’s that time of year again—the time when we all look back.

So here’s me looking back at the posts you read most this year. Clearly, Google has something to do with it…

  1. 'Brick Country House' - Mies van der Rohe, 1923
  2. James Cameron—a Titanic lack of balls
  3. Family Tree of Economics
  4. Computer wars: Mac vs Linux vs Microsoft
  5. John C. Pew house – Frank Lloyd Wright
  6.  SUMMER SIX-PACK: Architecture, creative destruction & some rules on objective journalism
  7. Villa Malaparte, Capri
  8. Ads you might never see again
  9. It's Easter, which means ...
  10. Whale Oil fights the good fight

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR'S: Debts, deficits, and self-defence

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

  • NZ HERALD: “Govt faces 12.6b debt hole - "Ballooning cash deficits grow faster than the government's borrowing programme…"

    THE DOCTOR SAYS: There is a major assumption one must make in order to accept what this article suggests, i.e., that the government should be allowed to borrow unlimited quantities of money to spend on whatever it wants, with the responsibility for paying this debt falling squarely into the lap of future taxpayers, some of whom are currently children or even unborn as yet.
              Bill English readily concedes that part of this deficit blowout is attributable to his government, in its wisdom, deciding to shift responsibility for the leaky homes fiasco from builders, architects, materials manufacturers, local councils and BRANZ onto taxpayers—who  had nothing to do with the construction of these houses.
              Taxpayers have also been landed with responsibility for undertaking to provide partial earthquake insurance cover for homeowners, a function that the private sector could have assumed quite easily.
              Part of the blame for the rising fiscal deficit is a "dwindling tax take." But a responsible government would have realised that bad economic times would have generated less revenue, and cut their spending accordingly—not raised it by around one billion extra per year!
              As for Bill English's comments that "We're still on track to reach budget surplus in 2015/16," what a load of abject, unspeakable bullshit. What a complete and utter crock.
              If a week is a long time in politics, then five years is never-never land.
              All he's really saying is "Please re-elect us. We might do better next time." Well, why on earth should we, Bill? Why on earth would you?
              Are New Zealanders any better off than they were three years ago?
              What radical steps have you and your party taken to tear down the walls of Clarkistan?
              What state-owned millstones have you sold off to repay the national debt?
              How many state servants have you released into the private sector to get a proper job?
              Why do you feel you deserve three more years, when you’ve done nothing at all with the last two?
             (National Party supporters: please feel free to respond on Bill's behalf. I understand he's busy spending money that productive people have earned.)
  • DOM POST: “Attack on officer no reason to arm police - "Before we rush headlng into a Wyatt Earp response to perceived violent crime in NZ, we should pause and ask some questions…"

    THE DOCTOR SAYS: Labour Party candidate for Wairarapa Michael Bott argues against police being able to defend themselves with an appropriate level of weaponry when a firearm or other lethal instrument is wielded by an assailant.
              First, he says, arming the police force "puts a distance between the police and the public" and is a "state-sanctioned threat of force to effect control." Well, Michael, that threat is there with every law the government makes. Do this, it says, or we will prosecute you using physical force to compel you to comply.
              Second, he makes the statement, unsupported by any evidence, that "the more guns there are in society, the greater the likelihood that they will be used." Evidence please, Michael, and how do you define "used"?
              Third, argues Bott, a stray bullet could kill an innocent party. True, and tragic when it happens. But so could a stray car, as per the child killed by a boy racer in Christchurch not that long ago. No reason to outlaw cars, is it?
              Fourth, Bott uses the case of Constable Bruce Mellor to argue that a gun could have been taken off him and used against him. This ignores the possibility, as Police Association president Greg O'Connor pointed out, that the assailants may not have been quite as aggressive had Constable Mellor been packing heat.
              Bott also dredges up the case of Steven Wallace who was smashing windows with a golf club in Taranaki one morning and ended up shot dead. He forgets that the police officer who shot him, Keith Abbott, did not have recourse to a Taser, which would likely have resulted in a stunning and not a shooting.
              Michael Bott would do well to remember that these days criminals are armed. Our police should not be sent into battle against scum with inadequate firepower. Just because they have access to firearms does not mean they need to use it. After all, a revolver in a police holster could be a fake, but there to provide a strong disincentive to those who might otherwise entertain fantasies of beating up or killing a cop.
              But if police are armed for their own defence, then so too should all law-abiding citizens have the right to arm themselves, and only one New Zealand political party regards self-defence as such a fundamental right that it would enshrine this right in a constitution. And as John Lott has pointed out, increasing gun ownership in a community makes people safer from violent crime.
              So, in opposition to Michael Bott, I believe the police should have the option of using firearms, and some or all of them should have our permission to carry a sidearm.
              But at the same time, the right of free New Zealanders to keep and bear arms should not be infringed by the state.

"Let's face it, politics is largely the art of deception, and
political rhetoric is largely the art of misstating issues."

- Thomas Sowell

QUOTE OF THE DAY: The “voluntary sector” . . .

‎"The 'private sector' of the economy is, in fact, the voluntary sector; and
the 'public sector' is, in fact, the coercive sector."
            - Henry Hazlitt, The Conquest of Poverty

Drug driving

Here’s a handy Christmas holiday guide to the effect of different drugs on driving.  That absinthe looks like a real killer.

NB: Klebstoff is glue.

Alle Zusammen means, you guessed it, “altogether.”

And don’t try this at home. Unless you have a big lounge. [Hat tip Gennady Shenker]

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Stephen Fry on Wagner … and there’s more!

It’s always a pleasant surprise to discover that someone you admire adores something that you do too.

So imagine my pleasure on discovering that Stephen Fry has had a life-long love affair with the music of Richard Wagner (which long pre-dates my own twenty-year obsession), and that he wanted to tell the BBC all about it!

Watch and enjoy. [7 parts, 25 minutes in total]

And then maybe you’ll be in a position to better appreciate New Zealander of the Year nominee Simon O’Neill’s debut in Milan’s famous La Scala Opera House in Wagner’s magnificent opera Die Walkure (even if he was ill for the first performance).

Here he is singing the role in 2008 with both the same conductor and singing partner with whom he made the La Scala debut:

Wonderful stuff!

GUEST POST: “All Economics Are Local”

Guest post by Kevin Brekke, Editor, Casey Research 

The title of this article borrows from that old adage about politics uttered by former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, and refers to a recent study out of The Brookings Institution that shows that all economic recoveries as well as politics are local.

Prepared by the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, the study examines 150 of the world’s largest metropolitan economies in 53 countries from 1993 to 2010. As expected, the 150 metro areas profiled are highly diverse, with per-capita measures of Gross Value Added (roughly the equivalent of per-capita GDP) ranging from under $1,000 in Hyderabad and Kolkata, India, to $70,000 in San Jose, U.S.A., and Zurich, Switzerland.

The cities were ranked based on two measures – economic output [as approximated by GDP] and employment – and during three economic time periods the study defines as: pre-recession 1993-2007; recession year of minimum growth 2007-2010; and recovery 2009-2010.

As many of you are probably already thinking, the measures of economic output and employment are somewhat co-dependent. In that regard, the authors are careful to point out an important distinction, noting that:

"Although the ranking indicators [economic output and employment] depend to some degree on one another, they do not always move in unison. On the one hand, some metros that appear quite good on income growth may not generate new jobs, reflecting increased productivity but not necessarily growing employment opportunities. On the other hand, metros can grow employment, but not the type of employment that boosts incomes and standards of living for the broader population."

The full report draws some very interesting conclusions about growth opportunities in the years ahead, and I highly recommend you give it a read. For those time-stressed readers amongst us – and who isn’t these days with so much to read and so little time – I suggest you start with the executive summary and then a quick review of the report’s charts and tables that will give you a good idea of the main points made in the report. You can access the report via the link above.

The report’s conclusion is what I want to briefly focus on here. Let’s start by looking at the 30 metro areas that have done best during the recovery years as defined in the report:


Only three cities within what might be termed “Western economies” made the list: Austin, Montreal, and Melbourne. Of the next 30 cities, 14 are from Western economies. And some of the U.S. cities that made the top 60 might surprise you, like St. Louis and Detroit.

It also becomes clear that a good showing in the pre-recession period did not necessarily ensure that a city would undergo a quick recovery. A good counter-example of this is Istanbul. Ranked #1 during the recovery, Istanbul was #143 in the recession and #44 pre-recession.

The concluding remarks in the report are important for no other reason than that they underscore a point we have been making for some time. That is that the economies in Asia and Latin America will continue as increasingly formidable opponents in the quest to grab a larger share of world growth. Quoting from the report:

    “The real story, however, was the continued rise of lower-income metros outside the U.S. and Europe relative to others.A look at the first year of the worldwide recovery from the metro perspective reveals a highly uneven landscape, but one in which lower income regions are clearly leading the way even more than before as centers of global economic growth.”


    “The past two decades have seen lower-income metro areas in the global East [Asia] and South [Latin America] “close the gap” with higher-income metros in Europe and the United States, and the worldwide economic upheaval has only accelerated the shift in growth toward metros in those rising regions of the world.”

If you’re going to have an accident, then don’t have it in New Zealand

The recent Herald series highlighting victims of the Accident Compensation Corporation makes as plain as day that if you’re going to have an accident, then don’t whatever you do have it in New Zealand.

These are horror stories. A healthy 15-year old netballer refused treatment on her knee and left to suffer. A 29-year-old builder refused payment for surgery on his back. A 43-year old woman who couldn’t even put on her bra told “we’re not doing shoulders at the moment.” A 24-year-old rugby player who suffered years of shoulder dislocations after his initial refusal, only to be finally told his injury was “degenerative.” A horse-riding 37-year old mother suffering debilitating neck pain after a car accident—pain never felt before—refused treatment because she was told it was “degenerative.” A 36-year-old builder suffering further injuries from his untreated neck injury (untreated because of ACC refusal) was then refused treatment for the further injuries because they were, said the ACC, “not caused by his treatment.” As the man in pain says, “It’s not a treatment injury, it’s a lack-of-treatment injury caused by the 22-month delay in the operation on the other shoulder.”

The daily horror stories being told in the Herald reveal that stories like these are not unusual. They are legion. That this treatment they mete out to good people is their standard method of operation.

That it’s not unusual for victims of accidents to be refused treatment, to suffer lengthy delays causing further injury, to be told that their injury is “degenerative,” to spend more money on lawyers than on treatment—to spend the end of what were productive lives in agony, while the system set up (allegedly) to help folk like this spurns any responsibility for them.

This is the cold-hearted face of government “charity.” Formerly good, productive New Zealanders left to eke out an existence on pain-killers and pity because the system supposed to help them can’t even help itself.

Face it: the whole system is as fraudulent as it is farcical. Retired “doctors” paid a nice fee for a few hours rubber-stamping the refusal of medical care, and  bureaucrats with no more medical knowledge than a Friday-night drunk, between them sit in faceless judgement upon the lives of good people, with no comeback for these inhuman and cost-driven decisions.

This is nothing new. And it is all about cost.

The costs of this scheme have been blowing out for years—blowing out not because the wealth doesn’t exist to treat them, but because the scheme as set up is simply unsustainable.

There’s no saving it or amending it, because the very basis of the scheme makes it the unaffordable, uncontrollable behemoth it is. It’s no more an accident insurance scheme than Nick Smith is an astronaut.

And even those who do have private insurance are refused treatment by their providers because (due to the ACC legislation) they can’t pay for injuries that are the result of accidents. Which leaves us all to pay into and suffer an unsustainable welfare scheme whose very title, “accident compensation,” is a misnomer. It’s not compensation, it’s dereliction.

This, people, is the face of the socialised health system of which this country is so unreasonably and illogically proud. Good people are being pushed around and trodden upon by scum—and that’s precisely the way the “system” was set up to work.

If you’re going to have an accident, then don’t whatever you do have it in New Zealand.

You’ll be entering a whole world of pain you didn’t know even existed.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca, by Félix Candela


The dramatic 1958 chapel above the town of Cuernavaca, Mexico, by architect Félix Candela.


The doubly-curved thin concrete roof shell is formed entirely out straight-line timber members—one of the unique means by which “hypar” roofs distinguish themselves both for their athletic beauty and for their relative ease of construction.


It forms a unique space, in which the view is projected past the altar to the township below in which the worshippers themselves live, encompassing therefore within their field of worship their own secular existence.

Candela02 More about the project here.

WikiLeaks, the NZ edition

As you might have heard by now, WikiLeaks has found a few, a very few, cables related to New Zealand—and the main thing to notice is that there’s really nothing to notice. Which must really annoy Messrs Hagar and Locke, et al.

Dim Post has a brief summary and a PDF of the cables. [Scoop is your back-up if that link is down.]

Highlights, such as they are:

  • The NZ/US intelligence relationship “was fully restored on August 29, 2009 (which should not be acknowledged in public.”
  • Americans find it “somewhat of a paradox” that a classical liberal and free marketeer could vote for the bill that decriminalized prostitution—which says more about American classical liberals than any kind of paradox.
  • No-one mentioned who mentioned “gone by lunchtime.”

An atheist Christmas?

Q:Is it appropriate for an atheist to celebrate Christmas?

A: “Yes, of course

_Quote The secular meaning of the Christmas holiday is wider than the tenets of any particular religion: it is good will toward men...
    “The charming aspect of Christmas is the fact that it expresses good will in a cheerful, happy, benevolent, non-sacrificial way. One says: ‘Merry Christmas’—not ‘Weep and Repent.’ And the good will is expressed in a material, earthly form—by giving presents to one’s friends, or by sending them cards in token of remembrance…
    “The best aspect of Christmas is the aspect usually decried by the mystics: the fact that Christmas has been commercialized. The gift-buying . . . stimulates an enormous outpouring of ingenuity in the creation of products devoted to a single purpose: to give men pleasure. And the street decorations put up by department stores and other institutions—the Christmas trees, the winking lights, the glittering colors—provide the city with a spectacular display, which only ‘commercial greed’ could afford to give us. One would have to be terribly depressed to resist the wonderful gaiety of that spectacle.”
            - Ayn Rand

The Rodney that super-sized your rates

When Rodney Hide began super-sizing the Auckland Council, we heard him blathering that the "efficiencies" from the exercise meant that rates could be cut.

They won't be.

Rates will be going up. By nearly six percent in some places; around nine percent in others.

You can thank Rodney Hide for that entirely predictable outcome.

_RodneyHood-ScumIt was said too that the super-sizing would give planners more power to "plan" the city according to their own vision.

They will be.

And that's one primary reason that rates will be going up.

Because when you have an ego the size of a planner, and a bureaucracy the size of this one, then everything begins to look like it should be a monument to your “vision.”

And those visions never come cheap.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the both the super-sized government and the rates increase were delivered by the leader of a party purporting to believe in lower taxes, smaller government, and restraints on political power.

Apparently not.

So given that Epsom voters will be opening their rates demands about the same time next year they’ll be opening election campaign literature—many of whom will be wondering why their MP devoted all his party’s hard-won political capital to raising their rates, and to expanding the power of planners over their lives and property—I’m looking forward to watching voters to take a very large Rodney on him at every public meeting, and in the final vote.

He will have earned it.

Friday, 10 December 2010


It’s been a WikiLeaks week.  From secrets to soap opera, the WikiLeaks story has had everything a news organisation needs to make good copy. Quarter of a million documents to sift through and expose. And then there’s Assange, The Movie

  • Does the leaking make WikiLeaker Assange “a terrorist”? Judge Andrew Napolitano says …


Econogeek Thought for the Day [hat tip Will Wilkinson]:
”Salma Hayek was put on earth by socialists to make us forget
what we're doing when searching for Friedrich photo references.”

  • While Bernanke continues to dissemble, Jon Stewart laughs in the face of disaster. Literally:
  • Obama says he and the GOP must find “common ground.” But what if there is none. And when does compromise just become sacrifice?
    No compromise possible with evil – Charlotte Cushman, T I M B E R J A Y
  • Lou Reed’s response to Jesse Jackson’s request for “common ground” a generation ago might be a model for the correct response now.
  • So, um, who is this Sarah Palin then?
    Who is Sarah Palin? - PJTV
  • It seems like a long time since he was “The One.” A rapidly-aging Obama’s now taken to lashing his own supporters. Poor baseless bloke…

  • Why is he lashing his own? Sinclair Davidson explains that it all goes back to George Bush…
    Read my Lips – C A T A L L A X Y  F I L E S
  • You want to know what the global warming lobby really want? “It’s seldom that it’s spelt out so clearly…”
    What the AGW lobby want – C A T A L L A X Y  F I L E S
  • When Andrew Bolt’s good, he’s very good: “THE great global warming scare is dying not with a bang, or even a whimper. Try a great horse laugh.
       Right now, 20,000 activists, politicians and carpetbaggers are meeting in the Mexican resort city of Cancun.
        They are there for the latest United Nations conference on how to make everyone else cut the emissions caused by, for instance, flying a population the size of a small city to a Mexican beach.
        These are the emissions we’re told are heating the world so dangerously that Europe is now gripped by one of the coldest winters of a generation.
        Indeed, it’s so bad that Vicky Pope, a warming pundit from Britain’s Met Office, was trapped in London by the snow that the Met’s climate models failed to predict, and so couldn’t fly to Cancun to explain how very hot the world in fact was…”
    The great warming scare turns into a greater joke – A N D R E W  B O L T
  • And over 1000 international scientists are happy to have their names recorded as dissenters on the myth of man-made global warming.
    Shredding the “climate consensus” myth – W A T T S  U P  W I T H  T H A T
  • The Cancun coterie fall for the old "dihydrogen monoxide" petition as well as signing up to cripple the U.S. economy.
    UN climate kooks want to cripple US economy and ban H2O - W A T T S  U P  W I T H  T H A T
  • Basic economics rebut flatulent science: “If Pacific islands are being washed away due to climate change-induced floods, how come land prices are stable?”
    Cancun: islands in the climate storm – Eero Iloniemi, S P I K E D
  • “At a time of great doubt about climate change, policymakers must magic up more ‘evidence’ of manmade mayhem.”
    Cancun: scavenging around for scientific fact – Ben Pile, S P I K E D

Quote of the week? [hat tip Kate]
"Give me your tired, your poor, Your
huddled masses yearning to watch Glee"

  • This new online NZ tax calculator reveals where your tax goes, dept by dept. Although it strangely decides that we’re all being taxed at only 16% (we wish!) interesting to see which govt department comes in as the fourth most hungry for your cash
    Tax Calculator, 2010 – S O U T H G A T E  L A B S
  • What the calculator doesn’t show is how much of your money goes to lobbyists. Betcha didn’t know the govt is giving around 100 different organisations millions of dollars to lobby the government on alcohol policies. Nice scam. So if politics is the art of the possible, what does it mean when governments pay lobbyists to lobby them?
    Anti-smoking spending  - K I W I B L O G
  • Here’s how all take-home Intro Philosophy exams should look. See how you do.
    Introduction to Philosophy Exam [PDF] - Stephen Hicks
  • Speaking of which, I enjoyed this short account of one of the most exciting (but rarely told) stories in all history—told in an unlikely venue.
     The Rediscovery of Aristotle – T H E  C H R I S T I A N  R E A D E R
  • If the Soviet Union hadn’t existed, we wouldn’t have stories like this one exposing the lunacy and the waste of central planning.
    The Absurdity of Central Planning – Bill Bonner
  • The waste continues, even in so-called “free trade” deals!
    China Free Trade Mess – Daniel Silva, I M P O R T E R’ S  I N S T I T U T E
  • Things are changing in Britain—and, goddamit, don’t they need to!
    Grant your own planning permission, government tells homeowners – T E L E G R A P H
  • Jim Rogers: "All Of You Who Have MBAs Have Made Mistakes" And You Should Be Farmers Instead
  • Congratulations to Auckland-based motivational designer and publisher Inspirationz Inc., who the American CBS network reckon produced one of the six most motivational videos released to the internet in 2010.
    “Produced by Wellington filmmaker Shahir Daud whose film Double Happy was screened at the Montreal Film Festival earlier this year, and written and directed by Inspirationz’s managing director Terry Verhoeven, IGNITE YOUR SOUL was released as part of a catalogue launch to showcase Inspirationz’s inaugural wall-art and print designs.”
    The Best Motivational Videos of 2010 – Geoffrey James, C B S  B-Net
    IGNITE YOUR SOUL! – i n s p i r a t i o n z !
  • And speaking of motivational, check out @gazal Dhaliwal's neat video for the Atlas Shrugged Video Contest.
  • Thought about what you’re going to buy your nieces, nephews and friends’ kids this year?
    Celebrate a rational holiday with the Atheist Christmas Coloring Book – M I N D  P O S T S
  • Art Carden explains the Grinch who had a Coasean Christmas.
    How Economics Saved Christmas – Art Carden, F O R B E S
  • How many opportunities have you missed out on because you spent too long tying your shoes? Don’t do it again. [Hat tip GeekPress]

  • Enthusiastic Maths Kid is back. This time, he wants to teach you how to to differential calculus. True story. See:

  • Now, I warn you, this is insidious…

  • Popular at our house round dinner times, this week… and (unlike David Cross) he can play, this chap …

  • Must be about time for brunch…

Have a great weekend!