Saturday, October 01, 2005

Final count

Just announced: Special votes have now all been counted. National lose one seat, leaving an overhang of only one seat There are no other changes. Welcome to Helengrad.

Books around the house

Here's a bunch of what I'm reading at the moment. If you're not interested, just turn the electronic page.

Putting Humans First: Why We Are Nature's Favorite, by Tibor Machan

Ludwig von Mises: The Man and His Economics, by Israel Kirzner

Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo

The Business of Ecology, ed. by Leigh Cato

The Essential Hemingway, by Ernest Hemingway

Music and the Mind, Anthony Storr

I'm enjoying all of them immensely. Do you generally have more than one book going at once? It's always worked that way for me.
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Unintelligent design, Part 3

Continued from yesterday.... Do you remember the Scopes Monkey Trial, which was immortalised in a play and two exceptional films titled 'Inherit the Wind'? Creationists in Tennessee passed a law banning the teaching of evolution in schools; when the law was challenged in court, both Creationism and its defenders were shown to be, as Bill Lawrie would say, completely lacking in logic.

The 'Intelligent Design' movement is in many ways a rearguard action against this embarrassing loss. ID attempts to move on from the obvious idiocies of Creationism by wrapping myth in an aura of scientism rather than poetry. Despite the aura, it is still a movement attempting to give respectability to stupidity. Tom Cruise's Scientology almost begins to look sane by comparison.

"Every living cell contains many ultrasophisticated molecular machines," says ID proponent Michael J. Behe. So? There is no logical connection, nor any shown causal connection, between naturally occurring complexity and a Creator that brought that complexity into the world. Just because machines of man-made complexity are products of intention and design is no reason to extrapolate this intentionality into naturally occurring entities or processes. Crikey, that's been pointed out since Greek scientists began their inquiries nearly 2,500 years ago. As Benny Hill used to say, "Why you no 'rissen!"

Ayn Rand pointed out there is a profound confusion in a claim such as Behe's: a confusion between things on the one hand about which there is some choice, that is, things that are man-made, that someone has chosen to design and to produce, and might very well have chosen to produce otherwise; and another class of things that in her words are "metaphysically given," that is, entities or processes that exist in nature, and whose properties are given by the nature of the entity, and about which neither choice nor free will can apply. The key to the difference between these two classes of entities is that human beings have free will, whereas nature does not.

Man-made things are generally as someone chose them to be (I exclude here my numerous failed efforts to produce a decent home brew); natural things by contrast are as their nature determined them to be (in the case of home brew, manifestly determined to piss me off).

Was existence itself brought into existence by a Creator? There's no evidence for that claim, and nor is there any need for it. Nor is there any evidence for the claim of there being a Creator -- and as I said Thursday, if you say that existence was brought into existence by a Creator then you have the 'infinite regression' challenge of explaining how the Creator who brought everything into existence came into existence herself. There is no evidence for a Creator; there is however abundant evidence for existence. That existence exists is axiomatic, meaning that no explanation is actually needed to explain its presence. As Ayn Rand put it:
"To grasp the axiom that existence exists, means to grasp the fact that nature, i.e., the universe as a whole, cannot be created or annihilated, that it cannot come into or go out of existence. Whether its basic constituent elements are atoms, or subatomic particles, or some yet undiscovered forms of energy, it is not ruled by a consciousness or by will or by chance, but by the Law of Identity."
Proponents of 'Intelligent Design' completely fail to grasp that point. (And they aren't the only ones.) It is somewhat hard to grasp, it's true, but it's much harder to grasp the fact that otherwise intelligent people believe in an Intelligent Watchmaker who somehow brings order to the universe through his very will. Because here's the thing: if we do see an 'order' in existence, if things look orderly to us, then we might reflect that the 'order' is what we ourselves bring to the judgement of existence; existence itself is neither ordered nor disordered, it is just what it is, and it could be no other way.

That's right. Things couldn't be any other way than what we are -- there is no alternative existence in which all possible forms of existence were worked out; if anything were substantially different, if for instance the weight of the Hydrogen nucleus were something other than what it is, we would not be here to talk about it. Things would be different, and we wouldn't be here to talk about it over a Martini.

Further, to ask 'what caused existence' is itself a silly question. Existence does not require a cause; causality is inside existence, not vice versa. Causal explanations do back to what exists, not the other way around. The universe itself, meaning all that exists, has no cause -- if you insist on poetry, you might say that existence is its own cause. Nathaniel Branden summarises the point:
Existence is all that exists, the non-existent does not exist; there is nothing for existence to have come out of and nothing means nothing. If you are tempted to ask, ‘What’s outside the universe?’ recognize that you’re asking, ‘What’s outside existence?’ and that the idea of something outside of existence is a contradiction in terms; nothing is outside of existence, and ‘nothing’ is not just another kind of ‘something’—it is nothing. Existence exists; you cannot go outside it, you cannot get under it, on top of it, or behind it. Existence exists, and only existence exists: there is nowhere else to go.
So there you go.

In any case, who is this all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-perfect designer that ID proponents posit as the Prime Mover of it all, and that millions around the world worship? According to just some of the evidence produced by those who support the notion of a Creator, their personal choice of God is responsible in the past for razing entire cities to the ground in a fit of pique [Gen. 19:24], encouraging child rape [Gen. 19:8], and sending bears to kill the children of disobedient followers [2 Kings 2:23-24].

So, both all-powerful and all-loving then.

Indeed, if she does exist, then God has been busy since Boxing Day. The Asian tsunami killed 200,000 or so, and an all-powerful Being must also have designed -- or at least allowed to happen -- a series of weather patterns that devastated vast swathes of the God-fearing USA. What a great sheila, huh? What a Loving God. Or at least, what a creation, since the only place this entity exists is in the minds of those who need to believe in, or to explain, something they can't, or won't, understand.

Let's move on from the imperfection or unattractiveness of this 'all-perfect' God that's been created by some as a super-position of their own selves. Instead, let's examine the imperfections of her 'creation', the creation that Intelligent Design bunnies praise so highly: what about, for example, our own bodies -- those temples of perfection that God created in her own image and likeness. As an examination of either your own body or your neighbour's will demonstrate (put her down!), it's certainly 'irreducibly complex' (and decidedly pleasurable if you do it right), but WTF is the point of all those coughs, colds, cataracts, cancers, the appendix (what's with that?), gout and all those ongoing chronic spinal problems and arthritis as those bodies get older? What sort of bad design is all that anyway? Baaaad Watchmaker. And what's the deal with people being born with spina bifida and multiple sclerosis, and all those birth defects and congenital deformities? And what sort of way is that to give birth? Who designed the birth canal for goodness sake! Just who is this Creator trying to punish, and for what...?

Now, as sober reflection will demonstrate, there is no supernatural being 'punishing' anyone. The whole idea of a supernatural Creator is just absurd on its face; we are how we are because that is who we are. Our nature was not chosen for us by an Intelligent Designer; our nature is given to us by the Law of Identity: we are what we are, and once we understand that we can, if we understand how to do so, change some things, as long as we do so in a manner consistent with our Identity. There is no more evidence for a Creator or any supernatural Prime Mover than there is for green spiders on Mars, and the onus of proof for those asserting the existence of either is on those who assert that there is.

Nor do we even know anything about this Designer. Apart from the 'evidence' adduced above, all we have boils down to assertions she is all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing, immaterial, immortal, and infinite, and exists outside what we understand to be the universe. Frankly, this amounts on its face to nothing more than an embarrassing admission that we know nothing about this entity. To say that this is a useful description of the Chief Designer is an admission that 1) we don't' really know what she is specifically, but that she is unlimited in some way we're quite unable or unwilling to specify; and 2) that we're happy to accept the multitude of contradictions that these mutually contradictory descriptions require. The acceptance of the existence of a Designer demands faith, and it demands too the denial of reason.

Bertrand Russell was once asked what he would say if he died and found himself in Heaven, and God asked him why he was not religious during his life. Russell said he would reply, "Not enough evidence!" That's what this whole case boils down to. There's plenty of evidence that existence exists, but none at all for a Designer who created it all, and not a skerrick to suggest that the existence of which we do have immediate first-hand experience even needs a causal explanation. After all, wave your hand around and there it all is. Hard to explain all that stuff away, but hard to explain something about which there is not a scintilla of evidence, only a mountain of wishful thinking called faith.

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There is one single reason for the birth of the Intelligent Design chimera, and that is to smuggle Creationism back into American schools and so allow the continued indoctrination of impressionable young minds with supernatural nonsense. By giving equal measure to science on the one hand, and to faith on the other, its proponents hopes to give belief in faith and the supernatural some legs for a few more years. It's not intelligent, in fact it's completely transparent, and it amazes me that in the Twenty-First Century such stupidity still gets house room.

And that's my last word.

This is the last of a 3 part series. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.
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Friday, September 30, 2005

Pop star or porn star?


Pop star or porn star? Guess right and you get fifty points. Guess wrong and, well, you still haven't really lost out, have you.

A great game for a Friday night. Linked game here.

Eaten by absurdity

NEWS STORY, BBC: A man is believed to have been killed by a crocodile in northern Australia - the second fatal attack there in less than a week. The 56-year-old man was scuba diving with a friend on the Cobourg Peninsula, in the Northern Territory. In a separate incident last Saturday, Briton Russell Harris was killed while snorkelling near Groote Eylandt.

Would anyone are to reconsider any viewpoints expressed in some earlier discussions here at Not PC? I said in Protecting a predator when decrying a ban on hunting sharks, "This directly pits the anti-concept of 'intrinsic values'-- which environmentalists employ to say things should be protected 'as is, where is'--against real human values, such as the value of human life, from which all real value is actually derived...A similarly stupid three-decade Australian ban on hunting crocodiles has seen numbers jump from 5,000 to 70,000, and an increase in savage croc attacks." This was met with opposition which ranged from saying I was "swept up in ... hysteria" to questioning whether this is such a big deal. The issue was engaged again in A new environmentalism: Putting humans first, where a new ethic and an alternative to blanket protection was discussed.

What's wrong, I ask you, with 'farming' wild animals so that everyone wins, instead of protecting predators and having human beings killed. Some debate on that matter has already been joined following these deaths. Graham Webb says very sensibly that opposition to ending the hunting ban is "absurd when you have animals eating people..."

"How would Melbourne or Sydney people go with crocodiles in their backyards? I can tell you, they would lose their patience very quickly," Professor Webb said. "Nothing is to be gained from being cruel to animals. But our conservation program up here is at stake because landowners have to have an incentive to put up with crocodiles -- it's important that landowners see crocodiles as an asset."

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Lawyers seek more sucking off state tit

Lawyers are threatening to pull out of legal aid work because the poor dears don't think they're pulling down enough of the taxpayers' money. Story from The Press here.
In 1997, a senior legal aid lawyer was paid between $150 and $180 an hour, compared to a Crown counsel rate of $183. In 1999, the senior lawyer rate dropped to between $130 and $160. Since then, Crown counsel payments have risen to $216... David Ruth, a member of Christchurch criminal lawyer lobby group Just Cause, said equality of legal representation for all was starting to become an issue. Unless legal aid rates were adjusted, he feared many senior criminal defence lawyers would go elsewhere, taking their experience with them...
Do you really think firms like Deborah Manning's McLeod & Associates would forego further opportunities to pull down $2 million from the taxpayers, as they have done already for the Ahmed Zaoui case? Who are they kidding. Here's three possible solutions to Mr Ruth's please: One is to drop the rate for Crown counsels as well; another is to nationalise all the bloody lawyers; the third is one proposed by H.L. Mencken that I suggested a few weeks back to the Ass Editor of the Law Society journal, who was panhandling politicians in a similar manner before the election. Oddly enough, I never heard back from the chap.

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Unintelligent design, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.... Speaking of myths, as we were yesterday, here's a candidate for 'The Emperor's New Clothes, Part 2': The Challenge of Irreducible Complexity' by Michael J. Behe is touted as an "Intelligent Design position statement" by its author. Sadly, it's neither intelligent, nor evidential in the way the author intends.
How can we decide [says Behe] whether Darwinian natural selection can account for the amazing complexity that exists at the molecular level? Darwin himself set the standard when he acknowledged, "If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down." Some systems seem very difficult to form by such successive modifications -- I call them irreducibly complex.
That's really the crux of his argument. As an argument it's poor, and it sets up a false alternative: either Darwin or Behe's Creator. But we don't even need to point out the logical error he's committing, because as we see Behe fails even to get his argument off the ground:
Irreducibly complex systems appear very unlikely to be produced by numerous, successive, slight modifications of prior systems, [says Behe] because any precursor that was missing a crucial part could not function. Natural selection can only choose among systems that are already working, so the existence in nature of irreducibly complex biological systems poses a powerful challenge to Darwinian theory.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. H. Allen Orr responds to this nonsense rather too politely:
Behe's colossal mistake is that, in rejecting these possibilities, he concludes that no Darwinian solution remains. But one does. It is this: An irreducibly complex system can be built gradually by adding parts that, while initially just advantageous, become - because of later changes - essential. The logic is very simple. Some part (A) initially does some job (and not very well, perhaps). Another part (B) later gets added because it helps A. This new part isn't essential, it merely improves things. But later on, A (or something else) may change in such a way that B now becomes indispensable. This process continues as further parts get folded into the system. And at the end of the day, many parts may all be required
Orr is too polite because Darwin himself explained this process with regard to the human eye. The eye, he conceded, might at first sight be considered too complex to have been formed by natural selection. However,
if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.
Science has proved Darwin right on this point as on every other. As James Watson explains, evolution is not a Theory, it is a Law. As the youngsters say on such matters, "Deal with it."

This is Part 2 of a three-part series concluding tomorrow. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.

[UPDATE: Links fixed. Please explore the links before commenting -- you will find many of your questions are already answered there.]
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Global warming and the war in Iraq: The Link!

There is a link between global warming and the war in Iraq that I haven't seen picked up before, and is not without irony. The link is provided by the concept of risk, and how it relates to the arguments given for action in each case.

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

Linked article: Global Warming: Pro and Con

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My God Daughter

I don't have children -- "fortunately" I hear many of you cry -- but I do have a god-daughter (or is that 'God Daughter'?). Leonella Acquaye will be four this week, and I've never even seen her. Currently, she and her family are moving between Moscow and Accra, Ghana, where her father Philip is just starting up as a contractor. I know he's going to do well, and he deserves to. All the best, Phil, and happy birthday Leonella.

Here's a picture of some sheep and some landscape so you can see what you're missing by not coming here instead.

Halle Berry. Spot the difference...


One has been airbrushed, and one hasn't... can you tell which one. Or why, for sighing out loud? Bloody philistines.
Photographer Glenn C. Feron has plenty of other airbrushed examples at his site, all with a fancy 'mouse-over' arrangement that I couldn't import. Have a look.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

'Maori Health' author interviewed

bFM's Noelle McCarthy has a useful interview with Peter Cacciopoli, discussing what he and Noelle call the 'libertarian' view that Maori have a right to ignore the political busybodies and health nazis and to live their own lifestyle as they see fit. Cacciopoli is the co-author of the Kotahitanga Community Trust's book called Maori Health, which has attracted opprobrium and outrage in equal measure.

Not PC has had occasion in the past to praise the Kotahitanga Trust, whose school newsletter proudly declared some months ago "We believe it is more important to teach Maori kids to read, write and count than it is to ensure that ineffective state providers are protected by the Crown from competition." The school has now been closed By Order of the Ministry. Looks like there are some people who do understand the importance of weaning themselves from the State, even if the State would rather they didn't.
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Confiscation alert in Wellington

NEWS STORY, 'The Dominion': Hundreds of Wellington and Hutt Valley properties, including prestigious inner-city ones, have been listed as possible settlement options for one of New Zealand's biggest urban Treaty of Waitangi claims... The properties are all currently or were previously owned by the Crown and are subject to a part of the State Owned Enterprises Act 1986 that is known as a Section 27[B] memorial.

Once again today another blogger has both news and commentary that I couldn't really disagree with; Gman deservedly excoriates both the decision and the timing of its announcement: "Gee, they waited until after the election to let this get out didn't they?" You think? And as he says, how bloody treacherous that the National Party-- remember 'One Law for All' -- are singing 'Silent Night' on this one.

Chartwell homeowner John Williams was amazed, however, to hear his property was subject to a Treaty claim. "I don't understand where the claimants are coming from." He said he bought his section in 1982 and had lived there since 1991. He had no plans to sell. "I'm very happy here."

However, it does seem from the report that at least some of the present land-owners have a beef elsewhere than just the usual suspects. The 'Section 27B memorial' was added to Richard Prebble's 1986 'State Owned Enterprises Act' in 1988, at which point all new titles in the area should have included the rider that "in specified circumstances, the Crown may take back or “resume” a property to be used in settling a Treaty claim." If land-owners or their lawyers who arrived after 1988 didn't know about this, then they need to get themselves a better lawyer.

Those who bought before 1988 however, like Mr Williams above, have a beef at a culture and a Government that has neither respect nor understanding for private property rights.

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ACT join National?

The National Whig proposes that ACT join National. In my opinion, they might as well; as long as ACT stays at the softcock end of the principled spectrum their policies will continue to be picked up by the Nats, so they may as well just merge and be done with it. There's bugger all difference between them now anyway.

My question for ACT's libertarians still applies: if ACT can't support the five measures I suggest, why support the party anyway? What's its raison d'être anymore?

PS: Isn't it time for Dick Prebble to realise he's a retired MP now? How about he shut the fuck up with the incessant post-election commenting and just shuffle off the stage gracefully. Or has he found now he's stepped down that he just can't bear to leave the limelight behind?

Why Scott likes Tony Blair

LibertyScott has summarised the reasons he can't not like Tony Blair -- the double-negative is intentional. His reasons are mine.
1. Blair is principled; 2. Blair is unashamedly willing to confront those who oppose him and argue out of principle. Yesterday I watched Blair’s speech at the British Labour Party Conference on TV (the BBC still covers political party conferences for nuts like me), and I came away inspired.
Find out why by reading on.
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Hacking Blogger to get categories

As you might notice, I'm going to try and implement Categories here at Not PC to make the archives more accessible -- the Classic blogs down there on the sidebar can only endure so many more new entries before they start to take over, so categorising all of them seems the way to go.

I'm going to start with the workaround for Blogger posted at FreshBlog. Feel free to suggest improvements.
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Unintelligent design, Part 1

The comment by Berend and the landmark US trial have prompted me to delve into the subject of so-called 'Intelligent Design,' a title that seems to me to beg the very question it seeks to prove. 'Intelligent Design' is Creationism in a lab coat: this idiocy was once thrown out the front door of intelligent debate; it now tries to come back in wearing new clothes and some slick shades, but the same old hand-me-down quality is still evident.

Why do these fundamentalists bother? They do so because fundamentally they haven't gone past the primitive explanations of primitive man.

Several Millennia ago, primitive man saw lightning, floods and other phenomena he couldn't explain and decided that the explanation for what he didn't understand was that 'a god -- or even several gods -- caused it, organised it or was otherwise responsible for it. This 'explanation' simply gave him a name for that which he couldn't yet explain, but by pushing explanation back for another day it brought into being the psychological phenomena of supernaturalism.

And pushing it back caused another problem: if a god was the cause of the lightning, then who or what was the cause of the god? Another god? And the cause of that god? Seemed like this wasn't an explanation so much as an infinite regression; an excuse for not simply admitting, when faced with utter ignorance of the seemingly incomprehensible, "I just don't know." Nothing wrong with not knowing, but an awful lot wrong with just making stuff up to cover your ignorance.

The explanation provided by primitive man to 'explain' things is still with us -- God did it! -- even as the reasons for honestly saying "I don't know" have diminished exponentially. Proponents of so-called Intelligent Design today claim for example that "there are natural systems that cannot be adequately explained in terms of undirected natural forces and that exhibit features which in any other circumstance we would attribute to intelligence." William Dembski for one believes that "an object must be the product of intelligent design if it shows'“specified complexity'.” 'Complexity' supposedly confounds explanation, and opens the door for idiocy.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of intelligent minds around to combat the idiocy. James Watson of Watson-and-Crick fame -- the chaps who discovered the secret of DNA -- had this to say recently on how science liberates us from the supernatural :
One of the greatest gifts science has brought to the world is continuing elimination of the supernatural, and it was a lesson that my father passed on to me, that knowledge liberates mankind from superstition. We can live our lives without the constant fear that we have offended this or that deity who must be placated by incantation or sacrifice, or that we are at the mercy of devils or the Fates. With increasing knowledge, the intellectual darkness that surrounds us is illuminated and we learn more of the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

Let us not beat about the bush — the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a "theory" in the same way as string theory is a theory is wrong. Evolution is a law (with several components) that is as well substantiated as any other natural law, whether the law of gravity, the laws of motion or Avogadro's law. Evolution is a fact, disputed only by those who choose to ignore the evidence, put their common sense on hold and believe instead that unchanging knowledge and wisdom can be reached only by revelation.
He's right, you know, and his article provides sound argument for Darwin's Law, and an acerbic criticism of the New Creationism. Have a good read. As he says, "We can only hope that a time will soon come when rational, skeptical thought renders the creationists' stories as what they are — myths." Too true.

This is Part 1 of a three-part piece. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow.
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Man meets Dragon

Wagner's Siegfried, image from Act 2 of 1952 Bayreuth production. Enlightenment Man meets a modern dragon. Stark symbolism.
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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Green charm offensive was the latter

'Greens ready to show their horns,' was yesterday's Herald headline. Apparently they did, and business didn't like them.

Despite Rod Donald telling Kim Hill he was a "radical capitalist" a week before the election (remember the election?), the Greens failed yesterday to charm invited business representatives in a bid to make themselves acceptable as a cabinet option in a Labour-led coalition. Story here.

"Unimpressed," "a wasted opportunity," "a lot of people will agree to disagree," and "the Greens [do] not understand business" were just some of the comments from those attending the meeting. "Frankly, the Green Party policies on trade, on roading, are just not acceptable," said one. So that obviously went well then.

Apparently Rod Donald is not a unicorn, as he bizarrely described himself yesterday.
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Taxing profits stifles oil production

Several years ago when the West was in the grip of the Oil Shocks, Ayn Rand asked her friend Alan Greenspan what would happen if all the taxes were taken off the oil companies, including the taxes, regulations and government-imposed disincentives discouraging exploration. Greenspan laughed and said we'd have oil shooting up from under our feet. What he meant was that with a drastic drop in the costs of exploration and developments, known fields that were either marginal or uneconomic would leap into production as the financial barriers to production were removed, and exploration for new fields would leap ahead.

Seems like he's still saying something similar thirty years later (though infinitely more nuanced), only few seem to be listening. James Glassman is listening; he's one of the few arguing against the foolish notion that taxing the "windfall profits" of oil producers will somehow ... well, somehow make oil cheaper. If that sounds stupid, it's because the proposal comes from a bunch of politicians, in this case the US Senate (Collective noun: A simpleton of Senators). As Glassman points out:

The United States has tried this before, between 1980 and 1987, and the results were hugely counter-productive, according to a 1990 Congressional Research Service report... "The WPT reduced domestic oil production between 3 and 6 percent, and increased oil imports from between 8 and 16 percent," says the report....

Energy companies are in a very risky business. They (and the investors and lenders who back them) commit hundreds of billions of dollars annually to searching for oil and gas, and to building or expanding refineries, ports and pipelines. These projects take many years to complete and the pay-off down the road is highly uncertain. It's tough enough to make investment decisions in anticipation of market conditions that can change overnight, but why spend vast sums to develop energy if -- as a reward -- government hits you with a special tax? So, with a Windfall Profit Tax (WPT), oil companies cut back.
When governments tax tobacco, everyone gets excited that this will discourage smoking. Why then when governments tax oil exploration and oil production do people exhibit surprise that this discourages both. You'd have to be a simpleton not to see the wider implication -- or maybe just a Senator.

Linked article.

[UPDATE: "The price of oil remains high only because the cost of oil remains so low." Peter Huber and Mark Mills explain the numbers involved with oil exploration and extraction in January's Wall Street Journal -- "The market price of oil is indeed hovering up around $50 a barrel on the spot market. But getting oil to the surface currently costs under $5 a barrel in Saudi Arabia, with the global average cost certainly under $15. And with technology already well in hand, the cost of sucking oil out of the planet we occupy simply will not rise above roughly $30 a barrel for the next 100 years at least."]
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Which State?

How 'bout that. If I moved to the States, I'd be a Noo Yawker. I know 'cos a quiz told me so. Good thing really, since Louisiana is underwater, and Utah is full of Mormons. Go on, try it yourself. See which State you should move to .

You scored as NEW YORK.

NEW YORK 84%
LOUISIANA 50%
NEVADA 50%
UTAH 34%
WASHINGTON 33%
FLORIDA 25%
WYOMING 25%
California 8%

[Hat tip About Town]

Socially responsible alcohol sales, and other bollocks

NEWS ITEM: The Warehouse is mulling a move into alcohol sales as it gears up to launch hypermarket stores selling groceries.... Such a move would be a big break from The Warehouse's past, when founder and largest shareholder Stephen Tindall ruled out alcohol sales.

Should The Warehouse sell alcohol? What will this do to their 'triple bottom line'? And isn't Stephen Tindall a hypocrite to consider allowing this when he's [gasp] a founding member of the important-sounding NZ Business Council for Sustainable Development and a supporter of Dick (Mother) Hubbard's equally wet NZ Businesses for Social Responsibility?

My answers to those questions are below. But first, consider this: What 'social responsibility' do businesses really have? Hubbard, or just "Dick" as he prefers to be known by his employees and his psychotherapist, says businesses should be "giving back to the community" and the like -- but what the hell do they think their businesses do all day, for goodness sake? Steal from everyone? Kidnap consumers and make them empty their pockets? Find people happily unemployed and chain them to machines, desks and checkouts against their will? Turn all those blighted areas with unhappy, destitute people into happy, wealthy places full of enterprise and enjoyment? How dare they!

How silly. As Roger Kerr once said, "The business of businesses is business"; anything else is surely peripheral. Adam Smith pointed out, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest."
By pursuing his own interest [an individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.
What 'social responsibility' do businessmen really have when all is really said and done? Milton Friedman once famously declared in an article whose title summarises its point, 'The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.'

If you disagree with Uncle Milt's assertion -- or even if you don't -- then you may enjoy a debate on that very question between Friedman and John Mackey, the founder and CEO of Whole Foods, and a self-described "ardent libertarian." Joining them is T.J. Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductors and famously dubbed "one of America's toughest bosses" by Fortune magazine.

Linked debate here. [Hat tip SOLO]

So now my answers from above, in order: That's their business, not yours, and it's probably good business; who gives a shit about that nonsense; and, yes he is. If Tindall pontificated less and exercised his greatest talent more -- that is, the ability to make piles of money -- he would be doing us all a much greater service in the long run.

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Kim Jong Ill? Or Kim Jong Dead?

As the boys at Cox and Forkum have noted, where the hell is Kim Jong Ill? Anyone seen him about lately?

As they say:
North Korea is constantly in the news because of its never-ending cycle of nuclear blackmail (which our politicians help perpetuate), but there are never reports about Kim. Where is he?
Good question.

The Big Sleep

Classic film noir: sharp, stylish and as beautiful as a split lip. Not a plot line to fall asleep to, but with dialogue this cracking, who could. Famously, Bacall became Mrs Bogart between re-takes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Ideas matter

I was ruminating on the exchange and thoughts below, and I felt a certain sadness at the seeming lack of interest many students and too many twenty and thirty-somethings have in ideas. Have a debate on campus, for example, and unless it's just a rowdy 'abuse-the-PM' handbag-fest, all you get is a succession of blank stares. Ideas are not fashionable. They're uncool. It wasn't always that way on campus.

So I was reflecting on that, and I came across a relevant observation of Ayn Rand's:

There is a fundamental conviction which some people never acquire, some hold only in their youth, and a few hold to the end of their days—the conviction that ideas matter. In one’s youth, that conviction is experienced as a self-evident absolute, and one is unable fully to believe that there are people who do not share it. That ideas matter means that knowledge matters, that truth matters, that one’s mind matters. And the radiance of that certainty, in the process of growing up, is the best aspect of youth.


Its consequence is the inability to believe in the power or the triumph of evil. No matter what corruption one observes in one’s immediate background, one is unable to accept it as normal, permanent or metaphysically right. One feels: “This injustice, or terror or falsehood or frustration or pain or agony is the exception in life, not the rule.” One feels certain that somewhere on earth—even if not anywhere in one’s surroundings or within one’s reach—a proper, human way of life is possible to human beings, and justice matters.

I feel sad for those who've never felt that.

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Don Adams dies

Don Adams, star of the first (and still the best) spy spoof Get Smart has died at 82, which rather dates those of us who watched it as a kid.

Tips for modern life

Phil Sage has lots of tips for modern life. Here's some of my favourites:

DON'T waste money on expensive ipods. Simply think of your favourite tune and hum it. If you want to "switch tracks", simply think of another song you like and hum that instead.

RAPPERS. Avoid having to say 'know what I'm sayin' all the time by actually speaking clearly in the first place.

WORRIED that your teeth will be stained after a heavy night drinking red wine? Simply drink a bottle of white wine before going to bed to remove the stains.

SOLDIERS Invest in a digital camera to avoid all that court martial tomfoolery after a trip to Trueprint.

MURDERERS Need to dispose of a body? Simply parcel it up and post it to yourself via NZ Couriers. You will never see it again.

EMPLOYERS Avoid hiring unlucky people by immediately tossing half the CVs into the bin.

MEN When listening to your favourite CD, simply turn up the sound to the volume you desire; then turn it down three notches. This will save your girlfriend from having to do it.

BLIND PEOPLE Give yourself at least a chance of seeing something by not wearing heavy dark glasses all the time.

ALCOHOL makes an ideal substitute for happiness.

DRIVERS. If a car breaks down or stalls in front of you, beep your horn and wave your arms frantically. This should help the car start and send them on their way.

CAR thieves. Don't be discouraged when nothing is on view. All the valuables may be hidden in the glove box or under a seat.

DEPRESSED people. Instead of attempting suicide as a 'cry for help', simply shout 'Help!' thus saving money on paracetamol, etc.

Read them all here. [Thanks Phil]

"Prohibition causes harm"

Q: Which current caretaker PM said this:
Prohibition is certainly not stopping people trying marijuana.
Prohibition is costly, both in terms of social harm and the economic costs of enforcement. Prohibition may actually act to drive families apart as parents react adversely to the illicit habits of their children.
Prohibition actually causes harm by involving otherwise law-abiding citizens who are marijuana smokers in the criminal scene.
A: Helen Clark, in the days before she needed to placate Peter Dunne. Blair from the Mild Greens has posted a comparison of what she says about prohibition now -- "one does hesitate before doing anything that might be seen to encourage the use of other drugs" -- and what she said about it just over ten years ago (but he's confusingly posted her more recent comments twice).

No doubt those bossyboots busybodies who scored "social conservative" on the latest quiz doing the rounds would be happy at her apparent change of mind.

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Researching the cursing brain

Some of you might remember George Carlin's list of Seven Dirty Words*. You might also have heard his wonderfully enlightening eulogy to the word 'fuck.'

Now, if either or both offended you -- or if seeing the 'f' word just one line above offends you -- then consider this:
Researchers who study the evolution of language and the psychology of swearing say that they have no idea what mystic model of linguistic gentility the critics might have in mind. Cursing, they say, is a human universal. Every language, dialect or patois ever studied, whether living or dead, spoken by millions or by a single small tribe, turns out to have its share of forbidden speech,
Even old Will Shakespeare was not averse to the odd curse or three, and as for the Bible:

"The Jacobean dramatist Ben Jonson peppered his plays with fackings and 'peremptorie Asses,' and Shakespeare could hardly quill a stanza without inserting profanities of the day like 'zounds' or 'sblood' -- offensive contractions of 'God's wounds' and 'God's blood' -- or some wondrous sexual pun." The title "Much Ado About Nothing," McWhorter said, is a word play on "Much Ado About an O Thing," the O thing being a reference to female genitalia.

Even the quintessential Good Book abounds in naughty passages like the men in 2 Kings 18:27 who, as the comparatively tame King James translation puts it, "eat their own dung, and drink their own piss."

Our researcher concludes that studying cursing offers an ideal opportunity to probe "the tangled, cryptic bonds between the newer, "higher" regions of the brain in charge of intellect, reason and planning, and the older, more "bestial" neural neighborhoods that give birth to our emotions." There could be something in that.

* [ Hat tip Mark, who has the list of dirty words for you. Go on, look. You know you want to.]

How to comment

I've added Lifehacker's 'Guide to Weblog Comments' to my sidebar. As TinCanMan says, there is a lot of truth in it. If you're just another obnoxious, anonymous comments-pony, then get wise and read up.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk


A generation have grown up quite happily with this beauty as their neighbour.

Says the British Energy website:
With an output capability of 1200MW the station is capable of supplying around 2 million households.... Over the course of its ten year life Sizewell B has made some significant environmental savings. By using nuclear power instead of a fossil fuel mix Sizewell B has saved the following waste products... and avoided the consumption of a significant quantity of valuable gas:

CO2 avoided 56.6 million tonnes
SO2 avoided 333 thousand tonnes
NOx avoided 142 thousand tonnes
Fly ash avoided 2.45 million tonnes
Gas avoided 9.9 billion m3
No wonder some environmentalists are 'going nuclear.' And as a fan of industrial architecture I think it looks good. The one thing that strikes you on visiting is how peaceful it all is.

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We've got the power

Resource consent has been granted to convert the mothballed Marsden B power station to run on coal. Stuff story here.

No news as yet as to how long it took to gain the consent, nor how much it cost, but there were "almost 16o conditions" attached to the 35-year consent, and an appeal promised by those opposing the consent -- which naturally includes both Greenpeace and the Green Party, presumably unhappy at the derelict plant being recycled for productive use, or indeed any sign of productive enterprise at all. Northland Regional Council says "the restrictions are some of the toughest ever imposed in Australasia," and they say that like it's a good thing. (I've quoted before Ayn Rand's observation on the injustice of the productive have to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce, and it seems time to do so once again.)

I've also noted before the restrictions on industry arising from the RMA's strangling of new power-stations, and the warning from the Electricity Networks Association (ENA) that the principal objective of having enough power to meet demand is steadily being eroded. "It's very hard to invest in coal [because of Kyoto], nuclear's a sort of four letter word...hydro is suddenly becoming too hard...what's left?...we can't do everything on windpower," warned Alan Jenkins from the ENA a few months back. Industry is the country's lifeblood, and if there's no power, there's no industry.

Solar, wind and microgrids won't cut it, at least not as long as every project from little to large gets caught up in the maw of the RMA. You'd think that, just once, there'd be some voices celebrating some productivity instead of trying to stamp on it.

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Maharey's brainchild wins Bent Spoon Award

The Skeptics have issued their Bent Spoon Award for 2005.

The Bent Spoon Award, named after spoonbending charlatan Uri Geller, is won this year by Steve Maharey's brainchild (I use the word with caution) the Tertiary Education Commission for their decision to fund Bay of Plenty Homeopathy College's diploma in animal health. The reason for TEAC, you will recall, is to increase the quality of tertiary education.

Previous winners, including Phil Goff and Jeanette Fitzsimons, were not apparently available for comment. The Herald story also has the first winners of the Bravo Awards for
"critical thinking in a public arena."

If you're in Rotorua this weekend, you could do worse than head to the Skeptics conference for a session or three. It includes sessions on:

  • misleading language and jargon
  • the fascination with reading human influence in geological features (did anyone say Ark?)
  • the "intelligent design" debate
  • a skeptical look at genealogical research.

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A sad lot of wimps

I'm probably expected to be upset because the Whig and his associates far and near have called Ayn Rand "boring." Oh, yawn. This from a group that still reveres New Zealand's most boring speaker for several generations, Roger Douglas, as "The Godfather" (tell me that's irony, please) and who are outraged today at an MP engaged in principled protest against the RMA -- "all the participants should be prosecuted," whimpers the Wimp.

What a sad bunch. Says Cathy: "I just don't fucking get libertarian philosophy. And I don't care that I don't get it." Fine Cathy, just stick to fucking married men then; that's about as much revolution as you seem able to handle. As for ACT's Liberal Project -- about which Cathy clearly has her knickers either in a twist or stuck to the wall -- the actual content was always a sad and boring joke, but at least someone in ACT did once recognise that if you want support for what passes for your ideas, then you do have to try and expand the market for those ideas beyond the 7% peak ACT once enjoyed. But quite how anyone could confuse the Liberal Project's tepid offerings of warmed-over inanities with real red-blooded libertarianism, which explicitly seeks a revolution inside people's heads, is beyond me.

What is perhaps even sadder however than Catherine Judd thinking the Association of Compulsion Touters were ever by any stretch 'liberal' is that the latest crop of young ACT conservatives confess that ideas per se bore them rigid. Remind me again what libertarians are supposed to have in common with these people?

AFL Grand Final saved by a mark

The Sydney Swans may play the worst form of AFL football to watch -- okay, they do play the least entertaining form of AFL football ever devised -- but the Swans-Eagles final came down to one last-minute mark (photo right, story here, video of final minutes here) and the ugly Swans came up with the pill and the Premiership.

I'd like to congratulate them, but if this is the future of footy, I might have to start watching golf*. It was like watching England pay rugby, only more so. Footy was the loser on the day.

And if, like most NZ media, you have no idea what I'm talking about ... then shame on you!
--------------------------------------------------
* Yes, yes, I'm joking. Sheesh. The worst afternoon spent watching AFL is still way better than the best afternoon watching rugby league -- who cares which pack of brainless munters are in the NRL Final? Not me. And golf isn't even a sport; it's recreation.

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Green streak widely reported

This is the best coverage Keith Locke has ever got: AP reports of his near-naked journey have been aired from Taiwan to Tuscaloosa, incuding reports in Boston, London, New York, and Chicago. Never in the field of human reportage has so small a package received so much coverage. Sheesh, the story has even been picked up in New Orleans. I guess they do need some light relief.

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More Nat calls for sell-out to Maori Party

As we've noted before here at Not PC, the one-law-for-all policy was flagship National policy -- the one bright light in a sea of capitulation to marshmallow middle-grounders. Rodney Hide, the Blue Team's water boy, has already tested the waters for a sell-out to get the Maori Party paddling in the Blue Waka, and this morning the Herald reports that "several Auckland National Party officials are behind a move to soften what they believe has been its overly hard-line stance on race issues."

Some people will do anything for power. No surprise to find that at least one of those behind the push to sell out those who voted National is a former ACT member and Hayekian
Michael Kidd. Blathered Kidd in the Herald a few weeks ago: "Cultural expression leads to the increase of self-worth and confidence, and implicit in Hayek's argument is that all groups should be assisted [by the government] in the ability to be themselves." I think reading that would make even Hayek sick.

MP talks RMA revolt

Environment Waikato are looking to get out the big stick over a community clearance of mangroves at Whangamata. "Obviously we have a range of options available to us under the Resource Management Act in terms of enforcement," said the council's spokeswanker.

Popular Coromandel MP Sandra Goudie, who helped in the clearance, says the "regional council will have a revolt on its hands if it tries to take legal action against her or anyone else involved in an illegal chainsaw attack on mangroves." Good on her. Speaking on Newstalk ZB:

She says the mangroves have taken over an area locals used to enjoy as a water skiing spot, and efforts to clear them have been bogged down for years by the Resource Management Act. She says it is political correctness gone mad and she has no regrets about taking part in the action. Sandra Goudie says the locals are frustrated by the red tape, and decided to take action themselves.

Herald story here.

The great immoral electoral divide

From the 'some-people-have-too-much-time-on-their-hands' file:

Ton Beard has crunched the numbers, and he's found and ranked the most 'immoral' voting booths in the Wellington region. Stand up please all those people who voted in the booths at Cannons Creek's Glenview School, and at "the infamous Aro Valley Community Centre."

(Feel free to comment below on his method of measuring immorality, by which Red+Green=Immoral, Blue+Purple=Moral, and Yellow+Blue=Irrelevant.)

Hercules takes on Panama


A poster from 1912 celebrating the construction of the Panama Canal--a magnificent engineering achievement, and one of my favourite stories of human accomplishment. The poster depicts the construction as 'The 13th Labour of Hercules.'
[Hat tip SOLO]

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Calvin Klein and friends.

Note Keith's discreet thong, provided by Calvin Klein. Clearly not a Naomi Klein reader then. Some people might suggest too that there was a somewhat better endowed candidate present to have kept the Green Party's promises. Of course, I couldn't possibly comment.

The view from and of Keith's behind


Keith Locke MP in Newmarket in his undies, just across the road from where Tuku Morgan made his own fateful underwear purchase. What is it about Newmarket, politicians and their undies?

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Some of the minders and the media scrum. Posted by Picasa

Keith Locke steps out...

.. and Rodney masks look on.It wasn't naked ("Thank goodness," said passers-by), and I didn't see him run, but it was through Epsom as promised, and he did wear undies and body paint. Galt knows what was in the briefcase--maybe his lunch: some meat and two vege.

More photos later.

[UPDATE: All the, ahem, raw images of the Green Streak are here if you want to download them and start photoshopping. Feel free to send me any of your efforts: send them to organon at ihug dot co dot nz.]

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Who can you spot in the crowd?
A bagful of organics tucked neatly inside a posing pouch.

Holidaying in Phaic Tan

Anyone planning their next holiday could do worse than consider Phaic Tan, where they promise Sunstroke on a Shoestring. Check out the Phaic Tan web guide to help put your holiday together. From the introduction:
For too long now Phaic Tan has been closed off from the outside world, a country visited each year by just a handful of hardy travellers, aid agency workers and hostage negotiators. But now, thanks to this fully up-dated Jetlag guide, everything you need to know about planning a trip to Phaic Tan, birthplace of the trouser press and irritable bowel syndrome, is here.
Vist soon. Brought to you by Jetlag Travel Guides - For the Undiscerning Traveller.

The inaugural Locke nude gift

I've just heard the news that Keith Locke, MP, will be doing the nude dash down Broadway at 2pm this afternoon. Abhorrent though the thought is, I'll aim to be there, camera at the ready.

Don't say I never make sacrifices for my readers...

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The 'cathedral of power'

Gilbert Scott's Battersea Power Station: commissioned in 1933, abandoned in 1983, and sadly (like the once-majestic Meremere Power Station on the banks of the Waikato) derelict ever since. Known in its day as the 'cathedral of power,' and a London landmark since the day it was built. Like the Meremere station in its day, this is great industrial architecture.

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