Saturday, April 07, 2007

Freedom to get the hell out -- is that all the freedom we have?

A popular question recently around the more freedom-loving blogs has been the issue of objecting to immoral laws. The argument goes like this: As long as you have the freedom to get the hell out, but you don't, then ipso facto you've agreed to accept the country's laws, and can't rightfully either object to them, or advocate breaking them. Freedom in this sense means, according to those who put this argument, only the freedom to move or not to move.

The argument was recently put to Diana at Noodle Food in this fashion:
Laws are instituted by some objective process, and by living in this city with other men you've agreed to abide by them. Of course, some laws are unjust (e.g. speed limits apply to public roads, thus being based on another unjust law) but since laws are objectively decided, an individual man cannot morally, or legally, spurn those he disagrees with. Clear enough, right?
She replied (in part) as follows:
The Objectivist view is not that "laws are instituted by some objective process, and by living in this city with other men you've agreed to abide by them." Laws in this country are instituted by pull-peddling majority rule, with scant respect for individual rights, even those explicitly enshrined in the [US] Constitution. The resulting laws are often grossly non-objective -- in the sense that you cannot know in advance whether you are breaking them or not...

Moreover, a person does not consent to the laws of a given government simply by choosing to live within its territory -- particularly not when significantly better alternatives are nowhere to be found. He never agreed to abide by the laws; he may have even resolved to do the opposite in some cases.

Moreover, the Objectivist ethics would never endorse the command "obey the law" as a binding normative principle, as the question suggests. Barring metaphysical emergencies, we are obliged to respect the rights of others. That respect for the independent judgment of others is a matter of self-interest: it is a means of advancing our lives...

In a fully free society, respecting the rights of others means obeying the law, precisely because those laws are just protections of rights. However, when laws violate rights, they can imperil the fundamental values of life, e.g. health, wealth, happiness. In that case, a person cannot be morally obliged to obey them. Of course, it may be prudent for him to obey them nonetheless, given the likelihood of detection and punishment. Yet it would be incoherent say that a person must sacrifice his highest value, i.e. his own life, for the sake of the ill-conceived and unjust products of majority rule.

However, that doesn't morally justify disobeying every unjust law...
Read on here for her full argument.

Dr John: Is God a psychopath?

If you knew a father who gave up his only son to be killed in expiation for the crimes and misdemeanours of other people, would you call that chap a loving father? Or would you call him a psychopath?

The Right Reverend Dr Jeffery John says the latter, and in saying it on the BBC no less he's created a very English sort of controversy between 'evangelical' and 'liberal' christians, who can argue morality until all their sacred cows come home without ever questioning its source.

Dr John (yes, that's his appelation) is taking to task the 'evangelical' view, the Calvinist view of the Easter Myth that "God was very angry with us for our sins, and because he is a just God, our sin had to be punished."
But instead of punishing us he sent his Son, Jesus, as a substitute to suffer and die in our place. The blood of Jesus paid the price of our sins, and because of him God stopped being angry with us. In other words, Jesus took the rap, and we got forgiven, provided we said we believed in him.

Well, I don't know about you, but even at the age of ten I thought this explanation was pretty repulsive as well as nonsensical. What sort of God was this, getting so angry with the world and the people he created, and then, to calm himself down, demanding the blood of his own Son? And anyway, why should God forgive us through punishing somebody else? It was worse than illogical, it was insane. It made God sound like a psychopath. If any human being behaved like this we'd say they were a monster.

We certainly would, wouldn't we? And we'd hardly be so foolish as to take such a person as any sort of model from which to take our morality, would we? Would we?

Now Dr John has an excuse for his 'liberal' God, which he postulates in opposition to the psychopathic 'evangelical' god. The cross, he says, "is not about Jesus reconciling an angry God to us; it's almost the opposite."
It's about a totally loving God, incarnate in Christ, reconciling us to him. On the cross Jesus dies for our sins; the price of our sin is paid; but it is not paid to God but by God. As St paul says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Because he is Love, God does what Love does: He unites himself with the beloved. He enters his own creation and goes to the bottom line for us... This above all is the meaning of the Cross: that God is one with us in our sufferings, and not just 2000 years ago but through all time.
But this god, if you recall, is both all-knowing and all-powerful. That's what (supposedly) makes him a god. He not only knows all that will happen, he is also responsible for all that does happen - that's what being both all-knowing and all-powerful really means. Which means that he is not just at one with our suffering, he caused it, and he knew it would happen.

Human suffering, according to this view, is not an accident, it is god-given.

Such is the god to which people pay homage, and in either incarnation it looks psychopathic. But remember if you will that this god is simply the creation of human minds, or really of human wishes. If the creation of art reveals our psychology to ourselves, what then does the creation of such a monster reveal about those who dreamed him up?

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COMPETITION: Where's PC?

Where on earth was this picture taken?


The first person to guess the wider location correctly wins a copy of the latest Free Radical magazine. And the first person to guess the precise location wins a year's subscription to The Free Radical. (Hint: what large project do you think those diggers are working on?)

UPDATE: Three prizes for three correct and blindingly fast answers. The answer, grasshopper, is on the back of those jackets we're wearing.


Congratulations to Justin, MikeE and Crog. Your magazines will be out to you shortly. :-)

There's nothing sadder

Tonight, my friendly local superette was prohibited from selling me a beer. Or any drinks at all. His coolstore doors were locked -- locked by the Easter Trading Laws that are based on a christian holiday.

He's a Sikh and I'm an atheist -- and neither of us has any time for christians -- but for him to sell me any alcohol today would be illegal. It's banned. It's banned by a law that is currently upheld by self-proclaimed agnostics and promoted by lion chasers, whose own idol was once supposed to have turned water into wine and whose death this day is supposed to commemorate. But without wine.

There's enough ironies there to turn a good man to drink . . . if only he could get one. There really is nothing sadder than a bottle store with no beer -- or at least no beer that he can legally sell.

And let's not even get me started on how the christians hijacked a good pagan fertility festival to mark the coming of spring to the northern hemisphere, and turned it into a sackcloth and ashes drama about suffering and death.

Speaking of suffering and death, let me exhort you not to be tempted to endure Mel Gibson's uber-christian gore-fest this Easter -- after which you really would need a stiff drink. If you really do feel compelled to watch something religious this Easter, please make it something worthwhile like 'Life of Brian' . . .

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Beer O'Clock: Taieri George

Beer O'Clock comes to you this Easter from Stu, from the Society of Beer Advocates.

Easter is many things to many people. Perhaps, for you, it's a time of ecclesiastical ecstasy (unlikely if you are reading this blog). Or maybe it's a time where you are not allowed to open your business or, if you do, you have to pay your staff extra money. Or rather, as it is for most of us, it's just a few days off ... a last chance to get away to the beach before winter's chilly fingers poke away the last remnants of summer.

I fit into the latter group, though I love autumn and winter so am not really mourning the end of summer. I also fit into a select group of exceptionally intelligent, witty and good looking individuals who anticipate Easter for the annual arrival of the Taieri George vintage.

Taieri George is a beer well summed up by Neil Miller as "liquid hot cross buns," it's one of New Zealand's ultimate autumn ales. This Belgian-inspired ale is chestnut in colour but unlike some dark beers is not overtly sweet or syrupy. It is only lightly hopped and, instead, is deliciously spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and a third undisclosed spice. The ale's 6.8% alcohol gives a warming finish to what is a surprisingly delicate and smooth beer. Like all the Emerson's beers it's label contains a perfectly apt, concise description: "Strong Smooth Spicy Ale." I like it with hearty winter meals, hot cross buns or just on it's own at the fireside.

When pressured at a tasting last year to disclose what the third spice is, Richard Emerson came back with a near perfect response: "Sorry, I'm a bit deaf, I can't hear you." For those of you who don't know, Richard has been deaf since birth. He's also got a great sense of humour, as well as a superb nose and palate.

Some people may recognise the close similarity between the beer's name and Otago's Taieri Gorge railway. Richard Emerson's father, George, was a founding member of the railway and also of the Emerson's brewery. The beer's annual March 6th release commemorates his contribution to the railway and brewery alike.

There we have it - I've managed, in one post, to cover off almost all of PC's usual daily topics: alcohol, art, architecture/engineering, religion, and the nanny state. What about global warming? Well, it's cold out there today but it's nothing that this winter warmer won't appease.

Happy Easter, whatever it means to you.

Slainte mhath, Stu

LINKS: Taieri Gorge Railway
Thoughts on Emerson's Taieri George
Emerson's
Society of Beer Advocates

RELATED: Beer & Elsewhere

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Celebrating a regular Easter ritual

Every year at Easter we celebrate sacrifice with time-honoured rituals that go to the heart of who we are as a society. This year will be no exception.

Yes, this very Easter -- just like every Easter past in this pathetic authoritarian backwater -- bureaucrats will be out in force once again showing who's boss: arresting, harrassing and charging shop-owners who have the temerity to open their own shops on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Tourists will be able to say that they arrived in New Zealand, but the country was closed. And those of us who live here will be able to look forward to court hearings later in the year at which people will be sentenced, fined and pilloried for the act of minding their own business.

A pity that our politicians and bureaucrats can't learn how to.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

Debating Al Bore

As the good people at Junk Science note, "Since Al Gore was offered the opportunity (in person) to facilitate serious debate on the underlying science of global climate change, 1 year, 3 months, 19 hours, 57 minutes, and 53 seconds have elapsed."

The Heartland Institute are on to that. This morning across America's major dailies they've published these ads, calling for Al Gore to front up to a debate on the subject on which he claims some expertise, but over which there is nowhere near the consensus he claims, including over his own outlandish claims (7m sea level rises and the like).

Accompanying the ads is a well-stocked website, including suggestions as to why Al Bore won't debate.

RELATED: Global Warming

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"...the arrogance of a cream puff and a 'has been' paper lion"

In his recent "Desert Sands" commentary author Ed Cline highlighted "the West's polices of vacillation, conciliation and accommodation when dealing with Islamists and virtually every other brand of totalitarianism, including Vladimir Putin's Russia, Kim Jong Il 's North Korea, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran," and he did it with reference the creator of Sherlock Homes, Arthur Conan Doyle. It's quite some read, and throws quite some light on all the Jimmy Carter-like hand wringing over the captured British marines (including Faye Turney, left).

Following on from that, today he asks,
What can account for the difference in Western policies concerning Islam between the 19th century and the present? Is there some integral relationship between a blind toleration of Islamic fundamentalism and the West's own drift toward statism and totalitarianism? Even in the 19th century, which was governed, as Ayn Rand observed, by an "Aristotelian spirit," the moral sanction men repaired to was Christianity and a derivative form of secular moral altruism that spawned the elements of statism. This was evident in Doyle's novel; it is a phenomenon that occurs in most 19th century literature. . .

[Now, in the present day,] Iran has seized fifteen British sailors and marines. What has been Prime Minister Tony Blair's response to it other than a faint baring of teeth? In a recent TV interview, he stated that he doesn't understand why Iran keeps doing these things, because such actions are only making Iran unpopular. The only "justice" he can think of in the way of an ultimatum or retaliatory response is to apply economic sanctions against Iran - with the approval of the U.N. and the European Union, of course. That, and "quiet," behind-the-scenes "diplomacy" or compromise to "tone down the rhetoric."

God forbid that he propose unilateral action, such as ordering the British Navy in the Gulf to defend itself and remove a few Iranian ships or other military targets by way of persuasion.

God forbids? Or "world opinion"? With Blair's urging, Britain has progressively surrendered its sovereignty to the bureaucrats and parasites of the European Union, which explains Blair's tepid and arguably impotent "anger."

Ahmadinejad has called "arrogant" Britain's refusal to "apologize" for the alleged violation of Iran's waters. He knows, however, that it is the arrogance of a cream puff and a "has been" paper lion.
Both Blair and Bush have been disarmed, argues Cline, and disarmed specifically by bad philosophy.
Both Bush and Blair have refused to acknowledge irrational nature of Iran, of Iraq, of Saudi Arabia - of virtually everything that imperils Western civilization, because they refuse to acknowledge the irrationality of their own policies. They have closed their minds to correction. Witness Bush's willingness to "stay the course" in Iraq, as though loyalty to an irrational, fruitless policy will somehow transform a quagmire into victory. This is how they jeopardize the existence of the West and allow Frankenstein monsters to exist, and be sustained, and set the terms of our existence.

It is not Ahmadinejad and Putin and Mugabe who are dangerous. It is the premise of Western leaders that the best morality is to be non-judgmental, to "love" (or tolerate as a difference in opinion or culture) totalitarians and sanction every brand of irrationality, including religious doctrines, and to surrender pro-life values in exchange for non- or anti-life values, such as "peace at any price," or environmentalism, or wealth -consuming foreign aid.
Surrender is not a winning strategy. Never has been.

UPDATE 1: The Times mentions that "Tehran bloggers see through the smoke and mirrors," saying this is all about Ahmadinejad.
Iran analysts believe that President Ahmadinejad is relishing the crisis because it deflects attention from his political setbacks at home and criticism that he has failed to make good pledges of a better lot for Iran’s poor.
UPDATE 2: In an hour long press conference, Ahmadinejad has said he will set the servicemen and women free. No timetable for their release was announced, but is this his way of appearing to be a statesman? To appear to take the moral high ground?

LINKS: The spreading desert sands of Islam - Ed Cline, The Rule of Reason
The fatal art of turning the other cheek - Ed Cline, The Rule of Reason

RELATED: World Politics, US Politics, UK Politics, War, Philosophy, Religion, Objectivism, Ethics

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"Fuck you."

See, I said it in the title above, and you still read on for more. You're not offended, are you. We all say it sometime, or we do if we're human -- and that's the biggest shock here really, that Smarmy Maharey has actually got some balls. That he's a human and not just a recycled glove puppet. Who knew?! Little Steve Maharey throws a genuine "Fuck you" across the Parliamentary chamber and we're all in hysterics, really, because anything genuine in that place is as rare as finding an honest man in politics.

So the faux outrage across the blogosphere at a rare and genuine piece of invective just leaves me cold, I'm afraid. So Little Steve Mahary said "Fuck you" in Parliament. So fucking what. More honesty like that -- in fact any honesty at all -- would make that place a much better one.

That he said it in response to questions about him abusing his position as Minister of Broadcasting by pressuring a Radio New Zealand host to retract a comment, now that is much more interesting. But I'll wager not one person exhibiting faux outrage at a very human gesture would be willing to back a sale of Radio New Zealand, so that no minister will be able to apply in future the pressure on the State Broadcaster that Little Steve tried to exert in order to have a broadcaster's comment withdrawn.

Any takers on that? No? Or are we just going down the same road as John Key's similarly faux outrage at the anti-smacking Bill, which he followed up if you recall by refusing to confirm that he'd repeal the damn thing if he ever came near the levers of power.

At least when Little Steve says "Fuck you" he means it. What has John Key ever said that he would stand behind?

NB: If you want to see the raw feed of this rare moment of Parliamentary honesty, tune in here, and flick through all the garbage to about 49 minutes in. Try not to stifle a yawn.

UPDATE: Vigesimal Pundit has an easier link to Little Steve blowing off steam, and Whale Oil has the whole remixed dance version thing going on.

Sea Ranch complex - Charles Moore

Charles Moore's Sea Ranch condominiums influenced a whole generation of architects - you can still see 'Sea Ranch' houses coming off the production lines today, but often with neither the deftness, the understanding or the landscape that Moore and his collaborators had at their disposal.

It's hard now to see it with fresh eyes uninfluenced by a generation of copyists, but when the first Sea Ranch condominium emerged blinking into the sunlight in 1965, it was a whole new thing under the sun, and a very good thing it was, and still is.

Milton Friedman thought so too; he was so excited when he saw the complex that he bought one himself. News on that here. Says 'corbusier' at Architecture and Morality:
Sea Ranch was probably one of the best-known examples of what is now called “green architecture”. It didn’t incorporate as many environmentally-friendly materials as what is available today, but its response to the site’s microclimate, its use of local renewable materials for its structure and exterior as well as its application of native vegetation are common “green” strategies [and common bloody sense too, I might add].

To my knowledge, Friedman was not the kind of environmentalist in the sense that he would have favored rationing production by government decree. What seems apparent from his time spent at his 'Capitaf' retreat in Vermont and at Sea Ranch, was that he enjoyed nature for its spiritual and emotional power. He seemed to relish its simplicity and calm, which probably helped ensure his long life and his undiminished sense of humor.
RELATED: Architecture, Economics

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Burton sentence can't be long enough.

Commenting on Graeme Burton's sentence, Stephen Franks says "Preventive detention is a scam: Let the courts do justice." He's right, you know. Oswald Bastable puts it like he usually does:
Slowly, sentences for serious crimes are starting to reflect that they are for serious crimes!

But are they enough?

I don't think so - the least [he should have got was an] "until you die" sentence. Weld the friggin' cell door shut and post K rations through a slot.
Works for me.

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No smacking ... and then, no teachers.

The Blair Government's anti-smacking legislation, passed several years ago, has had a belated sequel in British schools where, the BBC reports, violence is "driving teachers away." Marcus makes the connection.

RELATED: Smacking, Education, UK Politics

Thundering through France at 357mph

Ben Webster (the Times journalist, not the great saxophonist) reports from a speeding train -- and this was a train that set a new world speed record: a French TGV thundering through eastern France at 574.8kph! That's about 150 metres per second! As Webster's report says, "blink and you miss it." I wonder what Sue Kedgley and her Green train-lovers would make of that.

Just imagine being in the cab as this machine sped like a great steel arrow through the countryside . . .
Things streaked past -- a water tank, a tree, a shanty, a grain silo. They had a windshield-wiper motion: they were rising, describing a curve and dropping back. The telegraph wires ran a race with the train, rising and falling from pole to pole, in an even rhythm, like the cardiograph record of a steady heartbeat written across the sky.

She looked ahead, at the haze that melted rail and distance, a haze that could rip apart at any moment to some shape of disaster. She wondered why she felt safer than she had ever felt in a car behind the engine, safer here, where it seemed as if, should an obstacle rise, her breast and the glass shield would be first to smash against it. She smiled, grasping the answer: it was the security of being first, with full sight and full knowledge of one's course -- not the blind sense of being pulled into the unknown by some unknown power ahead. It was the greatest sensation of existence: not to trust, but to know.
Perceptive readers would recognise that quoted passage from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. What an experience that must have been; Rand the railway-lover would have eaten it up.

UPDATE: Not a bird, and not a plane -- and not exactly a train -- but as one commenter in Webster's piece points out, the Chinese Maglev achieved 580kph over four years ago, and regularly touches 430kph in service. Talk about a Shanghai surprise!

LINKS: Aboard the fastest TGV in the world - Ben Webster, Times Online
Dagny Taggart answers Kant - Peter Cresswell, SOLO
Excerpt, Atlas Shrugged, 'The John Galt Line' - Monart Pon

RELATED: Heroes

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Stephen Speicher - 1939 - 2007

A few readers here who once frequented the old TEW list will remember Stephen Speicher. Like me, you will be saddened to know he died on March 31, 2007. Obituary is here.

RELATED: Science, Obituary, Objectivism

"Not PC is in the upper quartile of annoying-ness."

Hey, I'm in the "upper quartile" of annoying bloggers. See. I bet only one quarter of you can boast that.

The Earth Hour scam

Earth Hour! The Shut-Your-City-Down-Hour. What a lot of self-aggrandising, warmist blather. Mark Steyn gets it right:
Being on Eastern Time (US) rather than Eastern Time (Oz), I’m afraid I slept through the excitement of Sydney’s “Earth Hour” when, from the Lord Mayor to the lowliest rummy lying in the gutter belching incandescent meth fumes, the entire city turned out its lights for one whole hour in order to stop global warming. You can see a satellite picture of it here. No, wait, that’s North Korea by night. Now there’s a guy who’s really doing his bit to save the planet. . .
Shut down Sydney for an hour, and supposedly make a point about global warming? Yeah, they made a point all right: the point that gesture politics sucks arse. Bruce at Salmon Sheets looks at the "before and after" photo scams published in The Age (see pictures above) which purported to show the huge effect of the shut down -- presumably if the effect was so great, they wouldn't need to tart up their photos to fit the news? And in a second scam, as Andrew Yanderlou notes [hat tip Tim Blair],
The chart [pictured right] demonstrates that during the "Earth Hour" itself, Sydney used around the same amount of electricity as it had the two nights of similar levels of electricity use at the same time.

However, "Earth Hour" spectacularly caused a massive spike in electricity use in the two hours preceding the "Earth Hour" revealing the whole concept to be little more than a public relations scam and a contributor to global warming. Presumably this occurred as people brought forward the electricity using activities they had wanted to avoid during "Earth Hour."
So neither real, nor effective then. But on top of these two scams, there's an even bigger one that an uncharacteristically pointed Ed Hudgins highlights in his piece The New Cult of Darkness, which begins this way, a much deeper and more philosophical scam that is rapidly becoming all-pervasive: the idea that human life and human flourishing is un-natural, and something for which we must seek expiation from today's prevailing nature gods.
Since early men ignited the first fires in caves, the unleashing of energy for light, heat, cooking and every human need has been the essence and symbol of what it is to be human. The Greeks saw Prometheus vanquishing the darkness with the gift of fire to men. The Romans kept an eternal flame burning in the Temple of Vesta. Our deepest thoughts and insights are described as sparks of fire in our minds. A symbol of death is a fading flame; Poet Dylan Thomas urged us to "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Thus a symbol of the deepest social darkness is seen in the recent extinguishing of the lights of cities across Australia and in other industrialized countries, not as a result of power failures or natural disasters, not as a conscious act of homage for the passing of some worthy soul, but to urge us all to limit energy consumption for fear of global warming.

This is not the symbol of the death but, rather, of the suicide of a civilization. . .
It was only a symbolic shutting down of a city, but what it symbolises is much darker than those photo-shopped pictures of a great city with its lights out. Unlike other animals who adapt themselves to their environment, human survival demands that we adapt the earth to ourselves; brightly lit cities are the greatest and most exciting symbol of our civilising success, of the life-affirming success at the production of our habitat. Hanging our head in shame at that success, however symbolically, is not heroic. It's not life-affirming. It's not something to celebrate. As Hudgins concludes:
The spectacle of a city skyline shining at night is the beauty of millions of individuals at their most human. Energy is not for conserving; it is for unleashing to serve us, to make our lives better, to allow us to realize our dreams and to reach for the stars, those bright lights that pierce the darkness of the night.
Too right.

RELATED: Environment, Ethics, Australian Politics

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"The hunting of the shark," by Bernard Levin

[What with various rooftop activities going on around Christchurch's Lichfield Lanes district, I felt duty bound to post this celebration from Bernard Levin of a similarly fun-loving lark in the dour Britain of a decade-and-a-half ago -- and a victorious fun-loving lark to boot. Read on to find out why there is a shark here pictured plunging through an Oxfordshire roof. . .] I start unkindly, I fear, by saying that Mr John Power, who is chairman of the planning committee of Oxford city council, might do well to go and boil his head in a light stock with a bouquet garni and perhaps a teaspoonful of sherry. This discourtesy is provoked by Mr Power sounding off in no uncertain manner: ". . . a victory for anarchy. . . a slap in the face for the decent and respectable people. . . seeking legal advice. . ." And what has brought him, in his municipal character, to such a state? Has someone opened a brothel next door to Balliol? Has the Sheldonian been taken over by meths-drinking dossers? Or has a band of undergraduate scofflaws had the impudence to debag Mr Power himself and paint his bottom purple? No such luck. What has brought Mr Power to the very edge of bursting is the decision of the public enquiry into the Hunting of the Shark. Over the six years of battle, you must have seen photographs of the famous fish which adorns the roof of the Oxford house of a Mr Bill Heine (to whom goes the Diamond Star and Sash of the Order of They Shall Be Mocked and With Good Reason); made of fibreglass, it is sited to look as though the shark dived headfirst at the roof-tiles and crashed through up to its gills. It makes a delightful, innocent, fresh and amusing sculpture, and people come from far and wide to see it, to admire it, to photograph it, and to smile at it. [That's her there, on the right.] But there is nothing about smiling in the analects of the planning committee of the Oxford city council, and that august body ruled that it must come down, giving as the reason that it had been put up without planning permission, or more likely just because it was delightful, innocent, fresh and amusing — all qualities abhorred by such committees. Mr Heine (if he is descended from Heinrich Heine, it is another reason for me to shake his hand) fought heroically through the years as the battle swayed this way and that, with the authorities getting more and more indignant at the impudence of a mere person defying the might of a planning committee. It had to go to a public enquiry, and eventually did, whence the sound of corks popping at 2 New High Street, Headington. For not only did the planning inspector of the Department of the Environment, Mr Peter Macdonald, rule that the shark can stay where it is, but the decision was couched in language so human, so intelligent and so wise that it ought to be painted in enormous letters on the pavements (both sides) of Whitehall. Here are some of his conclusions: “I cannot believe that the purpose of planning control is to enforce a boring and mediocre uniformity... Any system of control must make some space for the dynamic, the unexpected and the downright quirky, or we shall all be the poorer for it. I believe that this is one case where a little vision and imagination is appropriate.” Whereupon, Mr Power made it clear that he would “try to challenge the decision”, a threat that brought from Lord Palumbo, chairman of the Arts Council, this mild but appallingly true comment: “Most politicians do not know how to lose graciously.” When I am Ruler of the Universe, one of my earliest decrees will lay down that anyone who uses the words “What if everybody did it?” will be fed to Sirius, the dog star. It is the last resort of the fun-killers, the oriflamme of the pursed lips brigade, the buttress of those whose motto is “Go and see what Johnny is doing and tell him to stop it.” Anyone but a prize nana would have seen that Mr Heine’s splendid lark (I pause here to commend the sculptor, Mr John Buckley) was an exact definition of delight, particularly Shakespeare’s kind “that give delight and hurt not.” But it hurt the planning committee no end, whence the six years of battle and the preposterous comments (". . . a slap in the face of the decent and respectable people . . .") of its chairman when the battle was finally lost and won. It is not difficult to see how people get things so devastatingly out of scale; indeed it is one of the most thoroughly studied of human frailties. I poked fun at the Oxford council planning committee and in particular its chairman, but that was largely because I had a measure of that body — useful but nothing more. Now suppose you have worked hard and honestly at your job (useful but nothing more), and you dream, or once did dream, of making a mighty stir, of climbing to the heights, of being Someone. What is the inevitable knowledge that goes with what has happened to those dreams, and what can be done about it? The knowledge, of course, is that the dreams have not come true; what can be done about it is to exercise that tiny corner of the world in which you do hold sway. Man, proud man, dressed in a little brief authority... Shakespeare knew humankind, and knew that the briefer the authority the greater the vigour with which it is employed. The chairman of the Oxford council planning committee does not have the power to have anybody’s head cut off, nor to have anybody exiled to Outer Mongolia, nor even to compel anybody to do penance in a white sheet for seven days and seven nights. But he and his council do have the power (exercised, I am sure, only in strict compliance with the law) to order a man with a 25 ft fibreglass shark on his roof to take it off. And when he finds that higher authority has overruled him, he is fit to burst — whence the slap in the face for the decent and respectable people — because even that little authority has been, at least for some time, taken from him. Shun power, shun it fiercely, if you want to sleep soundly in your bed. If it is real power, the power to compel others to do your bidding, your dreams will be haunted ones. If it is the mock power of the chairmanship of a municipal committee in Oxford, you will wake to disappointment. I am not going to quote Acton, but here is Hazlitt, who in this context is even more apposite:
The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves.
You do not have to be a bad man to want power. Our chairman is plainly an honest and scrupulous man, certainly to be numbered among the decent and respectable people who have figured so largely in this story. But he has forgotten the old and tried proverb: “A man with a stuffed shark on his roof is eccentric, and quite possibly in breach of the planning rules; a man who tries to take the shark off will run no danger of being bitten, but will almost certainly make a fool of himself.” [Christchurch bureaucrats, take note.] Bernard Levin, The Times, 11 June 1992

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Slaying Keynes

"In the long run, we're all dead," said the inventor of Keynesian economics and the apostle of short-term economic thinking. We're now living in Keynes' long-run, after half-a-century of paying for his mistakes.

Those with some time on their hands, but with less time than it takes to read Henry Hazlitt's full-on slaying of the Keynesian dragon (for which, details below), might enjoy Austrian economist Hans Herman-Hoppe's The Misesian Case Against Keynes -- a shorter but still comprehensive running through of Keyne's major errors, as assessed by a student of Ludwig von Mises.

** For Hazlitt's lengthier arguments, you'll have to either buy the two books (The Failure of the New Economics, and The Critics of Keynesian Economics) or download the complete PDF of The Failure of the New Economics -- or simply read Rothbard's foreword to The Failure here to get the flavour.

RELATED: Economics, History-Twentieth Century, Books

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The science of scaremongering

Here's Dr Vincent Gray on what he calls Premature Science:

Our entire civilisation is dependant on past discoveries of science and technology. Where would we be without electricity, the motor car, television, telephones, computers, modern medicine.
All of these discoveries and developments went through long processes of ideas, prototypes, snags, and impossible obstacles before bcoming reality. Maybe somebody claimed too much too early some time but most of us did not know about them until they were actually on sale, and known to actually work.
All this seems to have changed. Every day our TV programmes and newspapers are full of claimed "breakthroughs", new discoveries which "might" or "could" change or destroy our lives, but which never seem to actually do so.
It all seems to derive for the current scramble for funds. It seems you are unlikely to get next year's grant unless you make an extrvagant claim through the media, or even by employing a public relations consultant, that what you are doing is world shattering and will perhaps solve all the world's problems.
It is even more effective if you are able to claim that the world is heading for disaster, and unless I get my money to save it you will all suffer.
I recently cancelled my subscription to the New Scientist, which used to report genuine scientific advances, but is now content to impress us, and scare us, with what might happen, or what disaster is awaiting us unless we "conserve" or stop breathing.
The Scientific American is almost as bad. Every issue seems to consists of yet another speculative theory about the origin of the universe, or about forthcoming disasters, with beautiful coloured illustrations.
What has brought this on is a request I have had to comment on the use of stem cells to cultivate human organs in other organisms for transplant purposes. What about the dangers? they keep saying.
All the above discoveries had tremendous potential and actual dangers before we actually got around to taking them for granted. The first motor cars had to have a man with a red flag walking in front of it because it was dangerous. Cars are even more dangerous today, but where would we be without them? Railways, airplanes are also dangerous, particularly in the early days.
There was the famous contest between Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse (assisted by Nikola Tesla) about alternating versus direct electric current. Edison used to demonstrate the danger of AC by elctrocuting dogs. But Westinghouse won, and we take the dangers in our stride. In The US and Japan, they even went for a lower voltage than the rest of us
The people promoting stem cells, and all the others, should carry out their development work to sort out potential dangers before they talk about what "could be" achieved and the people funding it should have enough confidence to go ahead without all this premature publicity. Let us see some actual achievement.
Which, of course, brings me round to the greatest "could be, might be" of all, global warming. Global warming is not actually happening, and although fluctuations always happen, no warming has taken plave for eight years. New Zealand has had an undoubted cold spell for the past few years. Yet they have escalated scare stories about how it is not true, that the ice is melting (except New Zealand glaciers) and unless we stop using our cars or our electricity the world will come to an end. When will we wake up to reality?

RELATED: Science, Politics, Ethics

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Smacking battle over, war still ongoing

As you'll have heard, those who have been trying to nationalise children have suffered a defeat -- the Clark Government has seen the writing on the wall, and they're backing off their wholehearted support for the Bradford Bill. The battle is won, but the war still continues with their proxies now being asked to front the conflict. The lesson is that the limits of tyranny are established by the extent to which people are prepared to resist.

Congratulations to everyone who showed Helen the political trouble she might have in backing the Bill. As Kenny at SOLO says, "A decent protest is worth far more than ten boring think tank reports" -- that's a message far wider than just this issue.

RELATED: Smacking, NZ Politics

A warmist challenge

If you want to challenge Augie Auer on global warming, then tune in at 10:30 to Newstalk ZB, where he's taking questions on Leighton Smith's show. I'll link to the audio as soon as it's available, but now's the time for warmists to challenge the head of the Climate Science Coalition's science panel.

UPDATE: Here are the links for the Augie Auer interview. Part One here, (interview begins 2:30 in). Part two here.

RELATED: Global Warming

Freeman House - Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright's Freeman House, built in 1920s Los Angeles of what Wright called his "textile block" system of concrete masonry. The photographs are by celebrated architectural photographer Julius Shulman, about whom Virginia Postrel has a run down here. His photographs, she says, portray not just "what it’s like to live in the modern house," as Shulman himself put it s humbly, but
something more powerful: an ideal of what it’s like to live in a modern house. Shulman’s photographs are not simply beautiful objects in themselves or re-creations of striking buildings; they are psychologically compelling images that invite viewers to project themselves into the scene. An architectural photograph can conjure three possible desires: “I want that photograph,” “I want that building,” or “I want that life.” Shulman’s best work evokes all three.

RELATED: Architecture

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Where can I park my MIG?

Where would you expect to find one of the world's most successful jet fighters? Obviously not at one of our Air Force bases -- not any more -- but if you guessed "parked up in a downtown Christchurch street," then you'd get the prize.

Why is there a MIG in Lichfield St Christchurch? On that, you'd have to ask Dave Henderson. After all, it's his MIG. And it's parked outside his city block.

Rodney has the picture.

Repeal the anti-smacking Bill. Yes? No? Or a wriggle?

Just to reinforce the craven inability of the new National Socialists to take a stand, John Boy Key has made his party's position on Sue Bradford's anti-smacking Bill as clear as, well, something that's not very clear at all. Asked whether National "would campaign at the next election to overturn the Sue Bradford-sponsored bill, leader John Key said..." Let's stop there to give you a moment to decide how he might have answered. Yes? No? Sadly, anyone answering in either of those two ways is going to lose this bet, and any similar bet. The Herald reports that John Boy's answer was that
the party was considering its options, though there may be limiting factors. But if a process under way to force a referendum was successful, it was something "National would take very seriously."
Spineless is just one world you could use to describe that position that you have when you don't have a position. For more humour at the expense of the spineless one, watch (if you haven't seen it before) John Key being made to look like a fool by Jacqui Brown. His inveterate dissembling is revealing.

RELATED: Smacking, National, NZ Politics, Hollow Men

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EDUCATION: "We do not regard all subjects as created equal."

Rather than discuss National's new "plan" for primary education, which as usual with recent Nat announcements sounds dramatic but delivers little (see for yourself the three rather banal points that form the centrepiece of the policy announcement), I'd rather talk about a school that actually knows what it's doing, and is delivering real success.

Lisa van Damme of California's van Damme Academy makes the chief point about the programme offered by her school that should be written in the sky above every New Zealand school. "First," she says, "I highlight the fact that ours is a core knowledge program." That is one key thing missing in recent years from New Zealand's factory schools.
Nowhere in our schedule will parents see the array of time wasters that clutter a typical grade school curriculum, classes that range from the traditional Phys Ed, Home Ec, and Wood Shop to sundry modern incarnations like Tech Ed, Sex Ed, AOL (Awareness of Other Languages), and Conflict Resolution.

At VanDamme Academy, we do not regard all subjects as created equal. We are ruthlessly possessive of the school day, and will give time only to those subjects essential to the child’s development into an informed, intelligent, rational adult capable of making good judgments and leading a fulfilled life...
Read more rare good sense at Lisa's Pedagogically Correct blog.

RELATED: Education, NZ Politics

NIWA should be shut down - Auer

Nonsensical comments over Northland's flooding show that the Government's National Institute of Water and Atmosphere (NIWA) should be shut down, says Augie Auer, chair of the science panel of NZ's Climate Science Coalition. "So simplistic, it's silly" is how Dr Auer describes the statement by NIWA climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger over the flooding.

"As an explanation of the cause and consequences of last week's Northland rains, Dr Salinger's statement ... is as unscientific as it is incorrect. "
At a time when MetService and NIWA are at such loggerheads that a mediator has had to be appointed, it's time for the Government and the Opposition parties to disband NIWA to stop its nonsense statements and return its functions to the agency where they rightly belong, MetService. At least MetService deals in the real world of observation of actual weather events, and forecasts based on those events, as well as its links with World Meteorological Organisation, as New Zealand’s official representative on that body. This is the real world of weather, as opposed to the computerised ‘statistical models’ on which Dr Salinger says NIWA relies” said Dr Auer.
RELATED: Global Warming, NZ Politics

The new Iranian hostage crisis

There are several instructive points to take from Iran's hostage-taking of British naval personnel, but perhaps the first is a simple suggestion that would take some pressure of the captives. Having watched several statements purportedly made by British prisoner Faye Turney, the Blair Government and senior media organisations should announce that they will encourage the hostages to say whatever they need to say to appease their captors, and that anything they do say that is issued by the Iranian Government will be discounted and ignored as the forced statements of those subject to unreasonable pressure -- pressure we can't even begin to imagine.

Such a coordinated statement would at a stroke remove needless pressure on the captives to stay silent, remove any point in Tehran applying any such pressure, and would instantly discount any propaganda value to be gained from forcing such statements to be made. That would be one simple thing that could be done, and more effective than all the dithering to date.

The reactions from Washington and London to Tehran's capture of these hostages has been revealing. What it has revealed has been summarised by Elan Journo at the Ayn Rand Institute.
The U.K. government and Washington are widely regarded as aggressive defenders of their interests in the face of Islamist aggression. But the present Iranian hostage crisis shows, again, how these would-be defenders of our life and freedom are pathetically timid--while our enemy is shameless and ever more confident.

"Iran is a leading world sponsor of Islamic totalitarianism and has long been waging a terrorist proxy war against the West, through groups such as Hezbollah. In Iraq, Iran's proxies have been slaughtering U.S. and British troops. Iran initiates all of this aggression--to say nothing of its nuclear weapons program--with the confidence that it has an Allah-given right to murder. No surprise, then, that when 15 British naval personnel came near Iranian waters, Teheran took them hostage--and unabashedly demanded an apology from Britain, its victim.

"What has been the British, and American, response to Iran's outrage? What has the West done in the face of such a confidently evil regime?
The response has been universal hand wringing, and an invitation to even more agression.

Remember Jimmy Carter's weak-kneed and ineffective response to the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis, a response that reinforced for an insane and aggressive Iranian regime that they had nothing to fear from a United States unwilling to stand up and defend its own people. It's only early days in the current hostage crisis, but it seems that pathetic response is now being repeated by the Blair Government in the face of an equally insane promoter of Middle East terrorism.

The world looks to Tony, and what it finds is hardly the warmonger of myth, but instead a figure of timid deference. As Elan Journo concludes, "While the British may hope that their timid, deferential approach will avoid inflaming the crisis and antagonizing Iran, they are accomplishing the opposite. The spectacle of Western nations bowing in submission is an encouragement to Iran and Islamic totalitarians worldwide."

UPDATE 1: The Neo-Jacobin takes a similar line: 'It's War, Jim, But Not As We Know It.'
Britain’s precautionary approach to Iran has only succeeded in slowly dragging this whole affair along, rather than settling it - none of this has been lost on the Iranian authorities who have used the past few days to ratchet up the political and military stakes. With a government like ours, there is one thing we can be certain of, their increasing obsession with risk, and aversion to risk, will only succeed in inviting even more ambushes, and other such 'gestures of defiance' in the not so distant future.
UPDATE 2: Marcus notes with unerring accuracy that the Iranian regime "continues as it began, with intimidation and violence." Read the litany.

UPDATE 3: The Iranian regime is like a hard-boiled egg with a thin sell, argues Victor Davis Hanson. We should tap it lightly wherever we can - until tiny fissures join and shatter the shell." See Victor Davis Hanson - Given Enough Small Taps, Iran Regime will Crack. [Hat tip, Regime Change Iran]

RELATED: WarWorld Politics, UK Politics, Cartoons

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