Friday, 1 July 2011

“Little Hitlers”


All the chatterati are pretending to be incensed about Don Brash’s characterisation of council’s clipboard-wielders as “little Hitlers.”

Oh the outrage! I’m so offended! What sort of term is that to call all those nice helpful folk at the council!

What sort of term is it? Answer: as a random trawl around the internet “reveals” (as if you didn’t know) it’s a very common one:

  • 1957, "Three Ways," Time, 1 Apr.:
    Editorial writers were saying last week that Egypt's Nasser was getting too big for his boots. . . . The tabloid New York Daily News asked: "What has this little Hitler ever done to make himself noteworthy?"
  • 2001, “"SI" Equals "System Imbecilic",” APS Physics website
    The new abomination is SI. Because the size of approved units progresses by thousands it is awkward for almost everybody. Democracy has been achieved. The Angstrom is verboten. One must use nanometers, which make molecular structures harder to think about. The Pascal (one apple-weight per desktop) is the approved unit of pressure, perfect in the eyes of the little Hitlers because it is unintuitive and unpopular. Here even scientists rebel. Many authors give pressures in atmospheres, thus using a familiar and enduring standard. Their papers will be understandable after the Pascal is forgotten-which it will be if scientists have any sense.
  • 2002, “ Rooker attacks council planning 'Hitlers' ,“ The Guardian
    The new housing and planning minister, Lord Rooker, complained today about "little Hitlers" in council planning departments and urged them to be more supportive of new developments.
  • 2005, “Unleashing the Little Hitlers,” No2ID website
    Carol Sarler, writing in The Observer, warns of the tide of petty bureaucracy that would follow in the wake of compulsory ID cards
  • 2005, “Cricket Fan Piers Lashes Out ar Council's 'Little Hitlers',” Mid-Sussex Times
    PARISH councillors have been accused of acting like 'little Hitlers' by controversial newspaper editor Piers Morgan in a row over a village cricket match
  • 2006, “The labyrinthine links of the 'Little Hitlers',” Website of the Families & Social Services Information Team (UK)
    “A significant number of (abusive) parents,” say the guidelines, “are likely to report having experienced genuine medical problems. They may or may not have been substantiated by medical investigations.” Come again? Their children may “present a rosy picture to the outside world”, “have been seriously ill” or have a medical history that started early in life. This is a charter for Little Hitler's and busybodies.
  • 2008, “Now the Little Hitlers at the town hall are getting bigger and nastier,” Daily Mail
    Why is it - and this could concern you directly, since you may be helping one of their number either into or out of power on Thursday week - that so many of our local authorities these days are swinishly vindictive?.. Little Hitlers, we used to call them 60 years ago. Now they're getting bigger.
  • 2009, “Little Hitlers,” Sunday Times
    Encouraged by Silvio Berlusconi, groups of far-right vigilantes are patrolling the streets of Italy…
  • 2010, “Why aren’t the Conservatives doing better?,” Adam Smith Institute
    I also think that there is a rich vein of public sentiment to be exploited by railing against all the incremental infringements of our liberty that we have suffered over the last decade – promising to get rid of all the bureaucratic little Hitlers that make British lives a misery would surely be a vote winner. In 1951, Winston Churchill campaigned under the slogan "set the people free". If the Conservatives want to reverse their decline in the polls, they desperately need to capture that same sentiment.
  • 2010, “Banned by 'little Hitlers' for daring to speak out? ,” Letter to ThisIsDerbyshire website
    The little Hitlers who run Derby City Council have really exposed themselves.
  • 2011,” Spoke too Soon,” Chrissie’s Place
    The traditional image of the typical council manager as a micro-managing "Little Hitler" is well entrenched in British comedy, and that is because it is so often true.
  • 2011, “Bureaucracy in America,” The Economist
    The common description of bureaucrats as “little Hitlers” (does anyone know who first used this phrase?) fails, or wilfully refuses, to recognise that we all have a little Hitler in us, or more to the point, that Hitler had a little human in him too, and that a human given power will exercise it, no matter how measly it may be.
  • 2011, commenter at CiF Watch , CiF Watch
    I am afraid I really think that was overkill on Spielberg’s part [to “demand Megan Fox be fired from ‘Transformers’ for calling the (Jewish) director of the film, Michael Bay, a Nazi]. Saying ‘X is a jumped up little Hitler’ is part of common discourse. C. S. Lewis described his prep school as ‘Belsen’. OK, poor taste, maybe deserves a talking to and a slapped wrist with a public apology, perhaps, but not firing. This is unhelpful, I think, and totally unnecessary.

Get the point?  And if you’re still pretending you don’t know what the term means:

little Hitler (plural little Hitlers), Noun (derogatory)
An unnecessarily or pretentiously dictatorial person - a jobsworth.
A little Hitler is a self-important tosspot who thinks he's in charge. Someone who makes up arbitrary and/or self-serving rules and has a tantrum if they aren't obeyed. They tend to have a park-keeper/traffic-warden mentality; rules are Law and rules come first. They can't handle people who threaten their authority.

Looks like the perfect term to call these jumped-up sawdust Caesars who tread so heavily on other people’s dreams.

My only disappointment then is that instead of proposing to abolish the Resource Management Act, the RMA, the Act that gives these little Hitlers their power, he instead offers only to “reform” it. Frankly, after nearly two decades of evidence against the RMA and its abuse of property rights, that’s just pissweak. Even Nick Smith talks about “reform.” And he doesn’t mean it either.

Ayn Rand once observed that “When the productive have to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce, then you may know your culture is doomed.” They do. And we are. And with the explicit approval of the chatterati.

Here’s Nick Lowe from his album Jesus of Cool:

Here’s Elvis Costello:

And here’s Everything But the Girl (undoubtedly the only time they’ll ever appear here, I promise!):

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Some propositions on free speech

Since the country’s going insane over the so-called “death of free speech” because of folk boycotting an opportunistic book by a peddler of cherry-picking innuendo* (indeed, it was the cherry-picker himself who called the boycott the “death of free speech”) let’s examine again some basic propositions of free speech, just so we know what the animal looks like:

Some propositions on free speech

The right to free speech means the right to express one's ideas without danger of coercion, of physical suppression or of interference by the state. 
Censorship is interference by the state in the expression of ideas. (And laws against murder, rape, assault and child sex are sufficient to cover any violation of rights in the censor's current domain.)
A private network refusing to publish your views or a bookshop deciding not to sell your pamphleted screed is not censorship - it is their choice. (Remember choice?)
A private network choosing to offend is their business. Choosing not to watch or to withdraw advertising is yours.
Bad ideas are still ideas. You should be just as free to air them as I should be to ignore them, or to pillory them, ore to refuse to give them a home.
Just as the right to pursue happiness doesn't require that you be made happy, the principle of free speech doesn't demand that anyone provide you with a platform and a microphone.
Just as the right to do what I like with my health and my life does not mean that I have to smoke cannabis, neither does the right to free speech mean I must offend. Just as I must take responsibility for what I do with my health and my life, so too must I take responsibility for what I say.
I may choose to offend, and I have the right to, but free speech doesn't mean I have to. However, anyone able to épater le bourgeosie has always been able to count on free publicity from those being épater-ed. Drawing attention to something you dislike may give that which you dislike even more attention. Think about it.
By itself, "I'm offended," is not an argument. It's just a whine.
Saying you don't like 'South Park' is not a call for censorship. Saying you want it banned would be. Saying "I don't like that," is not censorship.
Organising a voluntary boycott is not censorship. Organising a government ban however would be.
I may be offended, but I may not commit violence against those who offend me. I may boycott, but I may not behead.
Blocking traffic, threats, and forced entry are no part of the right to protest. They are respectively a traffic hazard, an initiation of force and an act of trespass.
"Hate speech" is an illegitimate package deal. Laws against "hate speech" are illegitimate. Laws against conspiracy to commit murder are not.
The right to free speech gives the smallest minority the absolute protection of the state to air their views. The smallest minority is the individual.
My freedom ends where your nose begins. My free speech ends where your rights begin. The right to free speech does not mean that I may incorrectly besmirch your reputation by telling lies about you. This would be called fraud. Nor does it mean you may shout "fire" in a crowded theatre in which there is none, and in which the exit doors have been locked. This would be called fraud with menaces.
Speech is speech, not violent destruction.
Ridicule is better than bans.
Moral persuasion is better than force.
When tyranny occurs, it can be challenged from a thousand presses - but only if free speech and a free press has been valued in the interim; tyranny can never be easily challenged in the absence of the freedom to speak out.
Free speech has been more valued in the abstract than in reality.
"Freedom but..." is not freedom.
Forcing ideas underground does not eradicate them, it incubates them. Bad ideas are anaerobic -- the oxygen of free inquiry kills them. Bad ideas can only be fought with better ones.
If you don't like it, then just turn it off.  Don't get an arm of the state to do it for you.

_ _ _ _ _ _  _

* No, there’s no more need to read this book than any other of the blowhard’s books. Like his Inwhishtigate magazine, they all follow the same pattern of carefully chosen facts, selected out of context and smothered in oodles of innuendo. Why would you read this one? You’ve read one, you’ve read them all.

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Thursday, 30 June 2011

QUOTE OF THE DAY: On RWC Bans [updated]

Just for the record, folks, it’s not a ban if the public boycotts another work of fiction by a blowhard. But it would be a ban if the govt decided to outlaw it. Alright? Great.  Just wanted to clear that up.

Because while the whole country gets itself all in a lather about a non-ban on a boorish book, the government continues to pass laws, without opposition, that will impose an actual ban on economic activity around or anywhere near a sporting event.

Latest result of them over-reaching themselves: no-fly zones, no-sign zones, a battalion of jackbooted clipboard wielders warming up to fan out around the country to say “No!” … and now a  New Plymouth school offside with the govt's Rugby World Cup laws because they want to do the same thing they’ve done for every major rugby event at Yarrow Stadium  since time began, which is park a few cars on its sports field to raise a bit of dosh for the school.

What insanity.

I loved this quote by friend Daniel Bell on a Facebook thread discussing this:

It's quite silly really. The tournament is running at a loss, pretty much everyone has admitted this now, but the original reason the Government decided to do this was apparently because of the economic benefits it would provide, yet now they're passing laws saying you can't benefit economically from the Rugby World Cup.

We really are a pathetic authoritarian backwater.

In fact (with that first paragraph in mind) make that a pathetic and confused authoritarian backwater.

Wish hard.

UPDATE: See, it’s not difficult to understand: A boycott is not a ban.

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Word cloud

Every now and then it’s fun to see what a word cloud of recent posts throws up. Like this one. Hmmm. Interesting.


Do your own word clouds with Wordle.


‘St Francis in Meditation’ by Michelangelo Caravaggio

The internet has opened up a virtual cornucopia of art history to anyone with the curiosity to seek it out. But it’s still virtually impossible to convey the brilliance of Michelangelo Caravaggio by way of a picture on the internet—impossible because his method of layering his paint and leaving them partially transparent means that when seen in the original his figures look not so much like paintings as three-dimensional holographs.

This St Francis is just another electrifying figure from Caravaggio’s brush that translates very poorly to a blog post. But here it is, nonetheless, because my memory of it makes it one of the most memorable paintings of the nobility of man I’ve seen.

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Wednesday, 29 June 2011

“Conventional wisdom” was wrong

Guest post by Vedran Vuk of Casey Research 

The current economic crisis has turned a lot of common wisdom about recessions on its head. Hence, I wanted to make a short list of these ideas. Despite the ideas' faults, many are still followed to the detriment of those who follow them. I know that I won't be able to list everything; so if you have some more points to add to the list, please send them over.

1. Hide from a recession in school - Unless one is getting a doctorate, this strategy has completely failed. Anyone entering a Master's degree in 2008 or 2009 should be done with the degree by now. Unfortunately, in the meantime, the employment situation has not improved.
In some ways, the situation for the students could actually be worse than prior to acquiring the degree. These students are now unemployed with huge loans. If this recession continues into 2012 and 2013, even the PhDs will lose on this strategy.

2. Don't hire overqualified workers - This is pretty standard recession advice for companies. Sure, the overqualified person might be great for the job and a good deal for the moment, but as soon as the economy recovers, the employee will leave the company. And the company is left holding the bag without an employee in a more competitive job market. It's a bad deal.
However, in this recession, the companies that hired overqualified workers scored big. The job market hasn't recovered at all. Furthermore, it takes unemployed workers about six months on average to find a job. If one hires an overqualified employee, they likely wouldn't be able to locate a better job searching part-time for a whole year or more. This has been a great time to get some amazing workers on the cheap.

3. Bet on the next boom - Many investors had a textbook version of a recession in their mind. There's a crash followed by yet another roaring boom. Sure, stocks recovered from their lows, but there's no raging boom taking place now. A bunch of folks are holding bank stocks ready for a leveraged play on the economy, but the banks are doing nothing but collecting dust.
This view has kept many investors away from gold as they still believe in an oversimplified version of the business cycle. As soon as the economy recovers, supposedly gold should collapse. Well, where's that recovery?

4. Fiscal and monetary stimulus creates jobs - In my opinion, never has the United States government spent so much money and created so few jobs. The stimulus didn't even put a dent in the unemployment rate, and even the president has admitted that those shovel-ready jobs weren't so shovel-ready after all. Some have called this crisis the failure of capitalism, but with these sorts of results, big government abysmally failed even more so.

5. The effects of monetary policy are relatively quick - Admittedly, this took many free-market types by surprise. The Fed printed tons of money, and it has taken inflation nearly three years to show its ugly face. Many were expecting hyperinflation as early as 2008. Even the textbooks cited two years as the time frame for monetary policy to filter through to the economy. In this case, it's taking much longer.

6. Wait out the real estate market - This one is pretty self-explanatory. No, house prices don't always go higher, but many still hold on to this hope.

Well, that's it for my list. I know that I've missed some things; so be sure to send in your thoughts.

Forget the GDP figures, we’re still all neck deep in the pooh

“Keynesian macroeconomics is literally playing with half a deck. It purports to be a study of
the economic system as a whole, yet in ignoring productive expenditure it totally ignores
most of the actual spending that takes place in the production of goods and services. It is
an economics almost exclusively of consumer spending, not an economics of total
spending in the production of goods and services.”
        - George Reisman

If GDP measurements  were a good measure of economic health, then the US economy (and, by extension, the world economy) would be in fine fettle.

But who are we kidding? Bill English and Tim Geithner might think things are growing, but it’s not, and we aren’t.

In fact, GDP Is Useless and Deceptive: There Was No Recovery—and probably won’t be until this barbarous Keynesian relic  has been thoroughly discredited.

The GDP figure is next to useless, unless you want to trumpet government’s good works.

The measurement of so-called Gross Domestic Product doesn’t measure production at all, it measures spending.

And it doesn’t even measure all the spending in an economy: Sure, it measures all the govt’s spending—every cent of it, all of which attracts the big tick from the statisticians—and it measures every cent ever spent on big screen TVs, small screen smartphones and Little Lucy’s little pony, but it only measures the tiniest fraction of  business-to-business spending, i.e., the stuff that actually is the economy.

Nice ruse, wouldn’t you say, especially since it allows the govt to posture as a saviour when it uses its own extra spending to “top up” that fraction of business-to-business spending that’s dropped—spending that comes either by borrowing from investment markets, printing new money or taxing the hell out of business folk—al of which hinder rather than help production, and all just to help fake the figures for the next quarter.

So GDP doesn’t measure production at all, it measures spending. Mostly consumption spending. Spending that doesn’t last. Which means, when you think about it, that the more money there is in the system to spend (and after Quantitative Easing I and II, there’s an awful lot of it sloshing around the globe) the more you can pump up your GDP figures.

See how the smoke and mirrors work? See how you can be “not in recession” according to the figures, while all around you is a sea of losses, unemployment and general business-to-business misery. All you have to do is pump out new money, pump up your spending and WHAMMO! everybody’s happy!

Except they’re not. Reality can’t be so easily faked. Because as James Mill pointed out almost two-hundred years ago:

“The whole annual produce of every county is distributed into two great parts; that which is destined to be employed for the purpose of reproduction, and that which is destined to be consumed. That part which is destined to serve for reproduction, naturally, appears again next year, with its profit. This reproduction, with the profit, is naturally the whole produce of the country for that year.”

But this is not what is being measured by the GDP. Instead, this “seed corn” is stolen to pump up a fake figure.

 Fact is, the figures themselves are fake:

We have not recovered from the Great Recession and thus our current economic stagnation is less a new event than a continuation of the original collapse. The basis for the so-called "recovery" was a rise in GDP, that measure of what we have spent in the economy. It's a fairly useless bit of data…
   Economic growth doesn't start with spending: it starts with saving and production and ends with spending. And that is why we should not rely on GDP to measure the health of the economy…
    So when the conventional wisdom says that the economy recovered in June 2009, it didn't.

In fact, we’re all still kneck-deep in the pooh. Just as we were this time last year.

And the GDP equation? Here’s how it really looks:


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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

ECONOMICS FOR REAL PEOPLE: ‘The Commanding Heights’

Here’s what’s happening tonight, courtesy of our friends at the Uni Econ Group:

Hi all,

In tonight’s seminar,  The University Economics Group presents the film, “The Commanding Heights.”  A sweeping political and economic history of the 20th century, it portrays the battle across the century between freedom and control--and how globalisation and free trade came out on top.

We will see the power of ideas, specifically economic ideas, and how they have transformed the world for both better and worse.

   Date: Tuesday 28 June (tonight)
    Time: 6pm
   Room: University of Auckland Business School, Owen G Glenn Building, Room 260-325

Look forward to seeing you there.

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More broken windows [updated]

Before the Christchurch earthquakes even began, Canterbury’s network of stopbanks, river control assets, and many of its bridges were wholly uninsured. From Thursday however, every part of the rest of Canterbury’s council-controlled infrastructure (and much of it around the rest of the country) will also be wholly uninsuredabout $4.7 billion worth of above-ground and underground infrastructure in Canterbury alone that isn’t already damaged.

Turns out councils’ own insurance organisation, Civic Assurance (who have already paid out several hundred-million), can’t get reinsurance for the now-risky services.

So it turns out taxpayers and ratepayers will be directly on the hook for the multi-billion dollar risk.

So it looks like those who thought insurance payouts might be like a free lunch—like the stimulus a Krugman or Keynes might dream about—were wrong.

Turns out there really is no such thing as a free lunch, and the Broken Window Fallacy really is true: there really are no blessings from destruction. None. At. All.

UPDATE: Just to update the insurance situation then post-earthquake:

  • reinsurers across the world are staying away from NZ
  • council infrastructure around the country is likely to be uninsured—with the risk picked up by taxpayers
  • one of the largest insurance companies in the country fails—and is bailed out half-a-billion dollars by taxpayers
  • the government has begun a process whereby it will be nationalising virtually every damaged home in Christchurch—with taxpayers picking up the tab that should have been picked up by insurance companies
  • it is revealed that the government’s antediluvian Earthquake Commission (who have been slowing down the Canterbury re-building) has more than two-thirds of its “investments” in government bonds—meaning little more than a “promise to pay” by taxpayers.
  • Bill English continues to borrow $380 million more each week.

Lucky taxpayers have deep pockets, eh.

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Vote for “change”?

As Lindsay Perigo used to say, one of the maddening delusions of our time is the knee-jerk idea that changing our voting system is going to protect our freedom—far more important, we would say, to put our freedoms beyond the vote altogether.

The knee-jerk idea is back again nonetheless, with a group of worthies, unworthies and former examples of both  announcing this morning a Vote for Change organisation to promote a voting system that allows voters to throw bums out the front door, without them coming in the back.

Unusually for me, I have no opinion on them, their arguments, or the various voting systems they suggest we (might) change to.

How about you?

NB: The 2011 referendum on the voting system gives you five systems to vote for.

  • More Morons in Parliament (MMP);
  • First Past the Post (FPP);
  • Preferential Voting (PV);
  • Single Transferable Vote (STV);
  • Supplementary Member (SM)

All five are summarised here.


Monday, 27 June 2011

Bavinger House, by Bruce Goff [updated]

A stunning animation of Bruce Goff’s masterpiece featured here many times before (click the button to enjoy the vid full-screen):

Bruce Goff: A Creative Mind - Bavinger House 1950 from skyline ink animation studios on Vimeo.

Sadly, it looks like the masterpiece may be in the process of being slowly dismembered by its present owners.

UPDATE: More news about the house’s apparent demise here, here, here here

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