Saturday, 21 April 2007

Is going green bad for business?

Is going green bad for business? Yes, says Peter Schwartz from the Ayn Rand Institute in this video interview on CNBC ahead of Earth Day. "'Going green' is cowardly appeasement," says Schwartz bluntly.
You're trying to mollify an ideology that is opposed to your fundamental values. Environmentalism does not want to protect nature for man, it wants to protect nature from man... Environmentalists want to sacrifice man for nature, and to nature... Appeasing environmentalism is self-destructive for businessmen.
The video link is here: Going Green:Bad for Business. Can the invisible hand of the market deliver a 'sustainable nation'? I answered that one myself a few weeks back.

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Friday, 20 April 2007

Beer O’Clock: Brugge Tripel

Beer wisdom this week from Neil at the RealBeer Blog:

Saying that I like Belgian beer is about as big an understatement as saying that Muralitharan possibly throws the ball. I positively love Belgian beers so it is always good to see a new one like Brugge Tripel become increasingly available.

Brugge Tripel (8.5%) is made by the Palm brewery in Brugge (also known as Bruges). This is the capital and largest city in the province of West Flanders and it boasts a great deal of history, architecture and culture.

There are a number of allegedly notable people from Brugge most of whom I haven’t heard of (such as Guido Gezelle and Philip the Good). In fact, the only names I really recognized on the list of Brugge notables were William Caxton (the printer) and Dr Evil (the villain from Austin Powers).

I went to the Palm Brewing Company website to find some more information about this beer. It is a multi-lingual website – you can read it in Dutch or French. How handy! Eventually, I managed to find the English version which was much more helpful. [link below]

For me, Brugge Tripel is a well-balanced, well-made example of the Belgian Tripel style.

An abbey tripel like this is a very strong, Belgian golden ale brewed in the style of a Trappist Tripel by a secular brewer. Leffe Tripel is the best known example (if not the best example) of the genre which is traditionally pale, hoppy, strong and dry.

This particular beer is triple fermented and bottle conditioned so there will be some living yeast in the bottle. The brewer excitedly notes “Some yeast may come too while serving. No problem, yeast is healthy, it is vitamin B!”

I’m not sure whether this golden beer with a strong rocky head “truly evoques [sic] the very best of Bruges” as the brewer claims but it certainly has an appetizing yeasty, spicy nose with a hint of perfumey hops. The beer is thick and full in the mouth, strongly alcoholic with a pleasant orange sweetness cleared out by a long, quite dry finish.

LINKS: Brewery
RealBeer Blog



You might have heard the recent controversy over some sledging in top level Aussie Rules in which a player broke the "sledging taboo" by "using a child target." Former AFL player Tony Shaw -- who's been known for a fair bit of successful sledging in his own time -- reflects on the recent sledging, why some players are targets for it, and whether sledging should have taboos. [See The Silly Science of Sledging.]

His point, perhaps, was summed up once by former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell. We view a mental weakness the same as a weakness outside off stump, he said: Something to exploit.

I trust all the Black Caps' mental weaknesses will be well buttoned up come Finals time next week. Let's hope so.


British parents oppose Al Bore's propaganda in their schools

Marcus notes that there are heartening signs in Britain of resistance to government funded enviro-propaganda. From the Guardian:
Government plans to distribute [Al Bore's] documentary An Inconvenient Truth throughout British schools have met with staunch opposition from a ... group of parents in the New Forest. The education secretary, Alan Johnson, announced in February that the film ... will form part of a climate change pack that will be sent out to every secondary school as an aid to promote discussion on global warming. But a group of concerned New Forest parents have labelled the documentary inaccurate propaganda that breaches the Education Act 2002 and are threatening legal action. Their spokesman, Derek Tripp, today told the Telegraph newspaper: "The film goes well beyond the consensus view and is not therefore suitable material to present to children who need to be given clear and balanced, factually accurate information."
He's right, you know.

Does evil exist?

Does evil exist in the world? Yesterday's post in which I quoted Dr Michael Hurd on the evil of of the Virginia Tech killer kicked off a discussion about the nature of evil, and whether or not we can judge someone as evil.

Can we? Well, I say that we can, and that it is something we each need to understand. As Andrew Bernstein says in his recent examination of evil, "it is crucially important to understand the nature of evil. Evil must be examined – as an act of self-preservation – to keep it from poisoning one’s soul with the slightest bit of pessimistic despair. In the face of evil run rampant, it is crucially important to protect [what Ayn Rand called] the benevolent universe premise."

But first, let's clear up something about the nature of evil. The religionists' monopoly on morality has confused many, many things about the subject, and one them of them is this very question: whether and how evil exists. Despite what many christians will tell you, 'evil' is not some supernatural 'Satanic' force that's out there in the world, any more than God's goodness or Wotans' power or Alberich's evil curse are some sort of force in the universe.

Fairy stories like these can help illustrate morality, but we shouldn't let them form our morality for us. Rational morality -- an examination of what's good and what's not -- does not pertain to and nor is it derived from the supernatural. Morality pertains to life here on earth. Good and evil reside in the actions of individuals who perpetrate good or evil acts.

Good (as I argued at length in a recent post) pertains to those actions and to those moral principles that when acted upon lead to the advancement, the furthering, or the flourishing of human life on earth. Life is the standard which lies at the heart of a rational morality -- individual, human life. According to this principle, all that which supports or promotes an individual’s life is good, and all that retards or destroys man's life is not good.

But 'not good' is not yet 'evil.' Evil is something much, much worse. Evil isn't just the mistaken, the error-ridden, the minor stuff-up -- that's just bad. Evil is a passionate dedication to destruction; a concerted commitment to the anti-life; a deliberate defiance of facts and reason and human values: a spitting in the face of existence.

Objectivists argue that the good requires a commitment to facts, to rationality, to productiveness. Evil men stand opposed to this: opposed to reality, to the rational, to every value on which human life depends. "The principle is clear," says Andrew Bernstein, "irrationality is self-destructive... Because of this, evil is metaphysically impotent: it cannot build, grow, create, or produce. Achievements require commitment to the laws and facts of reality. Evil requires the opposite."

But this poses an obvious question: If evil men cannot even sustain their own lives, how do they acquire the power to destroy? Andrew Bernstein answers this and much more in his superb five-part examination of Villainy: An Examination of the Nature of Evil -- including a controversial argument: that it is most moralists who are most responsible for most of the evil in the world.

I highly recommend it.

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Longer or shorter?

As a blogger, some posts are popular and some aren't. There's no way of knowing in advance which one will be which. Some posts are sent out into the world with great hope, posts of which the blogger feels particularly proud; posts perfectly and lovingly crafted; posts that the blogger feels really nails a topic.

Sadly, readers often tend to disagree. They'll often ignore the lengthy, lovingly crafted arguments and click instead on that nifty one-liner, or on the post of the dancing dead budgy posted on the same day somewhat further down the page -- and of course the customer is always right. If that's what they want, then that's what they want.

So what should a blogger do? Should I spend more time on longer, more thoughtful posts like yesterday's 'It's Not Easy Being Green' -- which began as a short note to myself, and quickly blew out to a lovingly crafted 2,000 words once I started typing in earnest -- but which attracted no comments and no links, or should I concentrate more on one-liners and dancing budgies?

Just thought I'd ask.

No need to see killer's boasts

Speaking for myself, I have to say that I didn't appreciate seeing several minutes last night of a murderer's 'video manifesto,' made on his way between killing two people and heading off to kill thirty more. I don't really need to see it, any more than I need to see self-justifying boasts to camera from other mass killers in other parts of the world -- and if I was a family member of one of those killed by this evil bastard, I'd be justifiably pissed off to see his boasting splashed across my TV screen while my loved one lies dead at his hand.

If you'd been the NBC/TV3 news editor, would you have shown so much of the killer's unhinged eulogy to himself? Would you have boasted, as TV3 did, that viewers could see much more of his video at their website? Or do you agree with Virginia Police Superintendent Steve Flaherty, the officer in charge of the investigation, who was "disappointed US channel NBC, to whom the tape had been sent, chose to show the disturbing footage."
He said: "We are trying to determine what happened and as much as possible, why, why this terrible tragedy occurred. I just think that a lot of folks are not used to seeing that type of image.
In my submission, nor should "folks" need to become used to seeing it. Choosing to splash so much of it across so much of the airwaves was a very poor decision.

Santiago Calatrava in Valencia

There may be no wind in Valencia at present, but there is Santiago Calatrava's architecture to enjoy.

Here's some more of his work around his home town, including the City of Arts and Sciences, and the new Opera House (left, below).

Talking about Calatrava's work, Theodor Heuss contrasts it with the technology that some critics disparagingly call it :
The fate, and perhaps the purpose of technology is to grow old ... Art does not age: whatever it is, however old it is, it has an immanent presence and a direct effect on people.
Calatrava's art undeniably speaks for itself. And it speaks beautifully.

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Thursday, 19 April 2007

Virginia Tech: A string of failures -- and one glaring failure tops them all.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, Nicholas Provenzo notes that "like most disasters, it seems that the [Virginia Tech] massacre wasn't caused by just one failure, but by a string of failures."

Perhaps "caused" might state it too strongly, after all it wasn't those who failed who pulled the triggers, but there was one signal failure that does top them all, as Dr Michael Hurd points out.

Hurd notes that same failure in all those had observed the killer in the weeks before the massacre -- the killer's room-mate; the killer's creative-writing teacher; the killer's poetry teacher -- all of whom saw something that deeply disturbed them, but all of whom failed to act. Specifically, says Hurd, what they failed to do was to pass judgement.
Come on... You can say it. Go ahead, I dare you. Say it. He was EVIL. He was BAD. He was not quantitatively different from your average, stressed out college student...he was qualitatively different. He acted with choice, no less so than the 9/11 killers, the Columbine killers, or the Oklahoma City killers. It's not mental pain or anguish. It's hatred and evil.
Yet as Hurd indicates [notes Provenzo], look just how reluctant these three individuals are to describe evil--that is, a substantive threat to the living and the good--as the thing it is.

If the take-way from this tragedy is that people like Cho--that is, the viciously amoral and depraved--are helpless victims who only needed our "love" and "compassion" understanding" to deter them from their path, I think we will only pave the road for the next unspeakable tragedy. There are people who choose to be utterly nihilistic, and it is our right to defend ourselves against them.
Evil exists, and it's right both to identify it, and to defend yourself against it. On that last point, more at my 32 Dead post. We are entitled to take nihilists seriously when they say they're intent on destruction.
You can't be friends with a nihilist hell-bent on destruction. Evil is not the same as emotional conflict. If you still don't understand this in the aftermath of the tragedy, then you're never going to understand it; and the way is paved for another one, and another one after that. Killers flourish in a psychological atmosphere where their potential victims think like this. This man didn't need counseling, and never would have benefited from it. He needed to be stopped, back when he was stalking women and making threats, and otherwise violating the individual rights of those on a campus.
But he wasn't stopped, and all because of a failure to pass judgement. To conclude here though, here's a timely quote from Ayn Rand's essay "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" (contained in The Voice of Reason):
The next time you hear about a crazed gang of juvenile delinquents, don't look for such explanations as 'slum childhood,' 'economic underpriviledge,' or 'parental neglect.' Look at the moral atmosphere of the country, at the example set by their elders and by their public leaders.
What is the moral state of a culture in which it is too politically incorrect to pass judgement?

Chipping away at a women's right to choose

Religious conservatives in the US Supreme Court have their hooks into abortion with what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg correctly called in her own minority decision an "'alarming decision' [which] was an effort to 'chip away' at a woman's right to abortion."

The ruling marked the first time since Roe v Wade that the court has upheld a ban on a specific abortion procedure.
Details here at the Washington Post.

As Lindsay Mitchell says, "Some battles are never won." In this case, it's a battle between the rights of a woman to her own body, and the non-existent rights of a not-yet human clump of protoplasm, to whom the religionists wish to sacrifice any woman unwilling to accept their own religiously derived proscriptions.

Abortion is pro-life. It's true. This decision is not.

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Wellington's best modern buildings?

The best modern buildings in Wellington? Tom Beard's doing a list of own favourites as we speak (here's numbers ten, nine, eight and seven already) ahead of the Architectural Centre's own 'Best' list being issued this weekend (this follows their Ten Worst list issued recently).

Feel free to disagree strongly.

That's his number ten on the left, by the way, which I have to confess was one of my own favourites when I lived in Wellington, and for similar reasons to Tom's:
That's not due to its detailing or materials, and while its dark horizontal ribs and textured concrete have their own appeal to purists, the truth is that if it were half the height or twice the width it would be unremarkable at best.

No, it's the daring proportions that make it so eye-catching and even elegant. Rosemary Howell put it well when she wrote that "its exceptionally slender design was an attempt to minimise its visual intrusiveness, and yet it is precisely this which makes it such a spectacle on the Wellington skyline".

There's a lesson in that for today's high-rises: efforts to limit the visual impact of buildings by restricting their height often result in a worse aesthetic outcome for the city.
Regular readers will already be familiar with my own number one...

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It's not easy being green.

WE ALL KNOW ABOUT food miles by now, don't we: a simplistic programme dreamed up by the European Union mandarins under which energy used to produce food is ignored in favour of energy used to transport food, with the result that more 'embodied energy' is present in food made 'virtuous' by being sanctified under an EU food miles programme -- and that unless a few NZers get off their arses now to refute this nonsense, New Zealand food with less embodied energy will be more difficult to sell to Europe in future.

'Food miles' is a metaphor for almost every green programme: a protectionists' wet dream; an accounting sleight of hand achieving the opposite of its intended result, and one that harms consumers and selected producers into the bargain -- and one that requires a large bureaucracy to administer. Truth is that the full context of most green schemes often shows a different picture to the snapshot offered by a feel-good environmental programme. It's not easy being green.

RECYCLING IS ANOTHER EXAMPLE of a feel-good programme with little tangible effect; another accounting sleight of hand that looks at the small picture, and ignores the larger context. Fact is that all the money, time and energy used in recycling is barely offset, if at all, by the very few savings in energy that are achieved by recycling. And further, notes Cato's Jerry Taylor, it's bad for the environment. Paper recycling for example:
"Fully 87% of our paper stock," says Jerry Taylor, comes from trees which are grown as a crop specifically for the purpose of paper production. Acting to 'conserve trees' through paper recycling is like acting to 'conserve corn' by cutting back on corn consumption." To cap this argument Taylor presents a National Wildlife Federation study shooing that recycling 100 tons of newspaper produces 40 tons of toxic sludge. "Thirteen of the 50 worst Superfund hazardous waste dumps were once recycling facilities," says Taylor.
The full context often shows a different picture to the snapshot offered by a feel-good environmental programme.

KYOTO? As Tim Blair notes this morning, "New Zealanders, Canadians, and Germans already know Kyoto is a crock. Now they’re joined by Turks." Is a projected 37 percent drop in GDP worth it, wonder intelligent Turks, for something that even if the science is correct, is supposedly for a prevention of warming by 0.0015 degrees C -- or, as Bjorn Lomborg repeatedly points out, "simply going to postpone warming for about six years in 2100?"

Shouldn't that bother people who think about these things?

HOW ABOUT CARBON EMISSIONS? Surely that's a simple thing to sort out isn't it? Simply pass laws reducing industrial carbon emissions -- stopping the production of new coal-burning power plants and the like -- and we're home and hosed, aren't we? Well, maybe not. First of all, if you ban or make more difficult the construction of new more efficient power plants, what kind of power plants do you think will be left pumping out power? It's not going to be the newer, cleaner plants, is it?

And second, do you know where the greatest growth in carbon emissions has been over the last decade? No idea? Here's the answer:
A recent study by the Global Carbon Project has shown a sharp rise in carbon emissions globally since the year 2000. The study said carbon emission was rising by less than one percent annually up to 2000, but was now rising at 2.5 percent per year, mostly as a result of rise in charcoal consumption and a lack of new energy efficiency gains.
The "lack of new energy efficiency gains" is what I talked about in that first point. But what's that about "charcoal consumption"? The burning of charcoal is a uniquely third world means of producing low-quality energy that is on the increase -- it is on the increase because other, more efficient means of energy production are being made more difficult and more expensive to produce and to construct, especially in parts of Asia and Africa where the increased charcoal burning has reportedly been happening.

What the third world needs is more power plants and more wealth, but the apostles of "low carbon emissions" make both impossible, and in doing so they actually make carbon emissions higher. As I've said before,
If decreasing or slowing down carbon emissions is really important to you, then I suggest you support the deregulation of energy production and the increased production of new energy -- especially in the third world.
What do you think the apostles think about that?

BUT WE CAN PRODUCE all the power we need from alternative means, say the apostles -- by means of sun and surf and wind. Well, maybe. One day. One day many, many years in the future.

Each of those has serious problems of capacity for a start, problems made clear in that both of the first two forms of energy require taxpayer subsidies even to investigate them as serious and ongoing forms of production -- here for instance is a picture of Jeanette Fitzsimplesimons in Lyttleton yesterday as part of her fatuous Climate Defence Tour, praising an experimental wave machine as something for which taxpayers should be made to pay up.

"Jeanette," says the breathless caption, "praised the wave machine as a symbol of ‘new energy vs. old energy’." What distinguishes them it seems is that 'old energy' actually produces energy, whereas the 'new energy' which we are expected to rely on once the apostles close down the 'old energy' is still experimental, still requiring your money to prop up, and barely scratching the surface of the sort of capacity required for a modern industrial nation. Said Australian PM John Howard recently, and accurately:
Let's be realistic. You can only run power stations in a modern Western economy on fossil fuel, or, in time, nuclear power."
Warned Alan Jenkins from the Electricity Networks Association two years ago,
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.
Well, what about wind power? While it's embraced almost like Gaia's virgin birth by one bunch of apostles, another spurns it with all the sem-religious, RMA-bugging NIMBYism they can muster. This news headline yesterday for example followed hard on the heels of a similar 'victory' in Makara: Spiritual argument wins wind farm case: Opponents of a wind farm planned for a ridgeline west of Hawke's Bay are celebrating after winning an Environment Court appeal.

So what's left from all this energy posturing from the apostles? Answer: More 'old energy' coal burning. If I might paraphrase myself, by trying to decreasing or slow down carbon emissions by means of bans, restrictions and reverse subsidies, the result is even more carbon emissions than would have been the consequence otherwise.

Do you think that bothers the apostles at all?

AND HOW ABOUT CARBON NEUTRALITY? Carbon neutrality, says many people, is achieved by planting trees to offset one's own naughty carbon-producing activities. Simple ... or is it? Turns out that under examination, this is less effective than first thought. From whom are the resulting 'carbon credits' bought? (Can you buy credits from yourself, like Al Bore does?) In what latitude are the trees planted? (Plant them in mid to high latitudes and they actually help increase global warming!) And are more trees better for global temperatures, or worse? (A recent climate model suggests that chopping down the Earth's trees would help fight global warming!)
[T]he model calculated that the atmosphere's carbon-dioxide levels would roughly double by 2100. This is a much greater increase than happens in a business-as-usual simulation, but it would, paradoxically, make for a colder planet. That is because brighter high latitudes would reflect more sunlight in winter, cooling the local environment by as much as 6°C. The tropics would warm up, since they would be less cloudy, but not by enough to produce a net global heat gain. Overall, [the] model suggests that complete deforestation would cause an additional 1.3°C temperature rise compared with business as usual, because of the higher carbon-dioxide levels that would result. However, the additional reflectivity of the planet would cause 1.6°C of cooling. A treeless world would thus, as he reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, be 0.3°C cooler than otherwise.
Turns out then that trees affect the world's temperature by means more complex than just the carbon they sequester, but the facile idea of carbon neutrality ignores the larger context and simply looks at the smaller picture. It's another accounting sleight of hand that makes many people feel better about their own virtue (I'm buying carbon credits, so I'm alright, Jack), but on closer inspection turns out to be another programme that won't achieve what it says it does.

Shouldn't that bother those who say it will?

BUT AT LEAST WHILE we're pondering all that, if we're driving a Toyota Prius we're at least doing good while feeling good, aren't we? Maybe not. As Fairfax County, Virginia, discovered with their fleet of hybrid cars and trucks, you do save on fuel bills with your hybrid, but when you look at the total energy cost of a vehicle, its whole 'life-cycle energy cost' -- the energy consumption from design, through manufacture, use and to final retirement and disposal -- then your Prius doesn't look half as good as your Corolla. Not even a quarter as good. Notes David Schare, on the back of a mammoth study done by an independent auto analysis group that looked at the full life cycle costs of your car:
[For a] full-size 28 mpg Toyota Avalon energy costs are $1.99 per mile, compared to $2.86 per mile for the Prius and $3.54 per mile for the Ford Escape. That means a County Prius causes 44 % more global warming than my big car, and the County’s Escape causes 78 % more global warming than my Avalon.

In further comparison, the County could have purchased Toyota Corollas that get nearly the same actual suburban mileage as the Prius, but at a true “green” life-cycle energy cost of $0.72 per mile. This means the Corolla causes one fourth the global warming than the Prius with about the same day-to-day gasoline costs.
Oops! Seems once again that looking only at the smaller picture produces different consequences than if you look a little more broadly.

Perhaps that's why, as Schnare notes elsewhere,
when Fairfax County wanted to head down the road toward reducing carbon emissions their Environmental Manager complained that he didn't have enough money to do the audit necessary to find out what their carbon footprint looked like and wasn't going to do anything on the issue, having other more immediate problems to solve. Thus, any state that claims it knows its carbon footprint ought to be asked for the basis of their estimate (and for fun, the cost of creating the estimate).
Maybe think about that next time you hear a politician tell you she wants to make the country "carbon neutral."

IT'S NOT EASY BEING GREEN, particularly if you want to ignore the real effects of your simplistic programmes, and the unintended consequences of your activities. Perhaps the real inconvenient truth here is that economics and property rights between them might have more to say than all the nonsensical feel-good programmes dreamed up in all the world's environmental think tanks, and promoted by all the world's politicians and former vice-presidents.

After all, economics has been defined as the science that studies infinite wants in a world of scarce resources. That must surely have something to say about things? And effective property rights under a system of common law is demonstrably the most effective method yet devised of 'internalising externalities' -- of reflecting back to owners the real environmental consequences of their activities. (See for example: "The Invisible Hand of the Market Doesn't Deliver a Sustainable Nation": True or False?)

Between them, strong property rights and real price signals are far more efficient at telling us all the real consequences of our own activities and of our own choices-- and they offer the added benefit that they're not just real rather than made-up; they're not just efficient; they're not just moral, but they're good for freedom as well.

That's not something one can say for all the silly schemes it takes to be 'green.' The biggest long-term cost of all of them is not just for the environment, it's in their cost to the human environment -- the cost to us all of shackling industry and productivity; of the time wasted in fruitless feel-good stupidity; of the larger state needed to administer all these programmes (with the various threats that implies) and in the loss of freedom to live our own lives in our own way.

As Fred L. Smith says, "The threat posed by humans to the natural environment is nothing compared to the threat to humans posed by global environmental policy." As I've said before, when they come for you they'll be carrying a clipboard, not a gun -- and the person carrying it will probably be called Jeremy.

UPDATE: Updated to add two more glaring anomalies, further tributes to the Law of Unintended Consequences.

[Cartoon courtesy The Free Radical]

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Kimbell Art Museum - Louis Kahn

A neutral background for the art being displayed, and natural light from above to flood the space.


Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Shane Jones, MP, on Labour's democracy rationing proposals

The Clark Government's proposals to take advantage of the outcry over their own corrupt election spending takes two forms: democracy rationing, which includes a ban or severe limits on private donations to political parties, requiring instead that the taxpayer fund political parties in a manner that favours the two big parties; and speech rationing, placing severe limits on political criticism in election year.

Note that the Clark Government democracy rationing proposals provide an exemption for unions. Newstalk ZB interviewer asked Labour MP Shane Jones why:
INTERVIEWER: "Why would you exempt unions?"

LABOUR MP SHANE JONES: "They're valuable and long term supporters of ours, etc..."
You can hear the interview here [hat tip DPF]. Question and admission comes 1:45 in. Links to banana republic electioneering welcomed in the comments section.

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Super 14: Too much, too early, too boring.

No, I've hardly watched the Super 14 either this year, along with many erstwhile semi-regular Super 12 viewers [See NZ HERALD: Television Viewers Give Super 14 the Boot] . Too much of it, it starts way too early, and this year it's just far too bloody boring.


On violence

Two points to ponder, and on which I'm sure most of us will agree:
  1. Violence is bad.
  2. But wishing it away won't make it go away.
I've noticed that many people commenting on the current tragedy, and on other issues including both smacking and the threat of Islamic totalitarianism, have great difficulty distinguishing on the one hand between force used to commit violence, and force on the other hand that is used either to avert disaster or in self-defence against violence. It should be obvious that if one is barred either legally or culturally (or by Philip Alpers) from using force either in self-defence or to avert disaster, then force in the more violent form is going to predominate.

Note too that defending yourself and your loved ones does not mean that you have to 'carry heat. 'Ayn Rand noted that have the right to retaliate by force against an initiation of force. But if men wish to live together in a free society, they must delegate that right to government. Personal retaliation is improper, because in a free society the government functions under objectively defined laws- laws that state what constitutes a crime....If everyone wanted to excercise his 'right' to retaliate by himself, project the chaos of arbitrary whims and total irrationality that would rule the country...(incidentally, if somebody pulls a gun on you, you have the right to fight back. But this isn't the right to initiate force; it's the right of self-defense.)

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Virginia Tech updates

Rather than post anew on the tragedy at Virginia Tech yesterday, I'm simply adding updates to my original post, just a little further down the page, called '32 Dead.'

Please feel free to post your own thoughts and contributions there.

NB: Tim Blair suggests keeping track of updates at PJ Media, which is updating continually; "also see two link-filled items from Instapundit."


So who else has had a problem getting on the internet this morning? And what problems has it caused you?

Billboard bans

Submitters mostly say otherwise (when they're allowed to speak), but several Auckland councillors still want to ban billboards, Glenda Fryer among the most enthusiastic.

Billboards have been banned in São Paulo since the start of the year, turning it from a vibrant world city to ... well, to this:

As billboard-banner Councillor Glenda Fryer might say, it looks so much better than all the awful colour, bright lights and energy you see at Times Square and Shinjuku, Tokyo, doesn't it.

Stupid bitch.

[Hat tip Section 14 and MikeE]


Dulwich Picture Gallery - John Soane

John Soane's Dulwich Picture Gallery, 1811 -- the world's first public picture gallery -- designed in a playful 'toy-like' form of functionally stripped-down classicism, one wholly devoted to the function of hanging and displaying paintings for delightful public viewing.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Royalties, paintings and peasants

The first time National's Liberal Blue Chris Finlayson has to stand up and be counted and he's left instead standing around scratching his bollocks in indecision: Minister for the Arts Helen Clark and Minister for Helen Clark's Hand Bag Judith Tizard between them cook up a bizarre scheme in which a 5 percent royalty is imposed on on paintings resold within seventy years, and "National's arts spokesman, Chris Finlayson, said he was aware of the copyright debate, but [um, ah, well] had yet to decide which approach he favoured." "Christ Chris," says Lindsay Mitchell, "Being Liberal means promoting choice over government compulsion. No?" No?

Finlayson's leader's flaccidness is obviously catching.

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A challenge for warmists

Think Al Bore is right? Think sea levels are going to rise dramatically?

Then rather than working to shackle the rest of us, rather than going to work as a council planner for example and stopping people taking their own risks on their own beachfront property, then how about putting your own money where your mouth is? How about betting on your belief? You can do it, you know.
An online gambling service has started taking bets on global warming, including whether it can submerge some of the [US] East Coast's top vacation spots. [Source: Forbes]
And there's good money to be had if you're a warmist, and you actually believe the warmist litany: odds of up to 300-1! Said Reed Richards, a spokesman for gambling site, "About 3,000 placed bets during the first three days on online booking. Most gamblers on the site have put down money that Manhattan will be submerged before New Year's Eve 2011. "Don't ask me why," Richards said -- he's just happy to make money off morons.

A commenter at a free-market list I inhabit has this suggestion:
[This is] a fine chance for all those with scientific certainty to enrich themselves. I would hope that Al Gore would pick up on this and bet some of his utility bills on his predictions and then buy carbon offsets with his winnings. Same for environmental groups. If they are as certain as they say they are, they should be challenged to bet and thus gain a huge windfall for financing their causes.
Why wouldn't they accept such a challenge? And what does that mean for their own belief?

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32 dead.

At least 32 dead from gunshots in a "gun-free zone."

32 students dead who had no-one to defend them.

32 dead who had nothing with which to defend themselves.

MikeE says it for me:
Think about this for a minute. All it would have taken was one student or teacher who could have legally owned a firearm to stop this. One bullet. And 32 students would still be alive today. Gun control, and gun free zone laws denied 32 people a right to life.
32 people dead whom the law had disarmed, and whose would-be defenders were disarmed.

UPDATE 1: Eric Olthwaite points out below the tragedy that a year ago a Bill placed before the state legislature to give those students the right to defend themselves was defeated. Details here at the Free Students' blog.
Virginia Tech was famous for being a “gun free zone”. In June of 2005 a student, who had a gun permit, had a firearm on him when he went onto campus. He was disciplined as a result. At that time the governing board of the university approved another policy which made things loud and clear, they would never allow employees or students to carry firearms for self defense. The governing board openly, publicly, loudly, announced to the world they had disarmed every person on the campus.

Every person except, of course, any person who didn’t mind violating the law . . .
Much, much more detail on this at the Free Students' blog.

UPDATE 2: Blair quotes a comment made on the Guardian website (ironically enough) on the many misconceptions around American gun law. It's worth re-quoting.
"As a American and a NRA member let me clarify some of the misconceptions ... about gun laws in the USA. Nobody can purchase a gun without a background check to see if they have a criminal record. For handguns there is a waiting period from the time you purchase it to the time you receive it. It varies by state but between 3 and 14 days is the law. Longguns (rifles/shotguns)have an instant check were you call into the FBI in Washington, DC and they have the final say on if the deal is approved. In many states handguns are registered. Some states its difficult to get a permit for a handgun. Usually easier for a long-gun. There is a "black market" where individuals sell guns to each other without going through a background check. Just as there are with anything that is government regulated. So its not like you can pick up a 9mm Glock with the bubble gum at the local market checkout as some posters have implied.

On a side note.....a couple years ago a local schoolgirl here was found to have a tiny folding pen knife on her person and the school went crazy and tossed her out and everyone made out like she had brought a bomb to class. My father who is 72 commented to me that when he was going to school way back in the 1940s that all the boys had pocket knives and traded them and carved wood at recess and it never ever crossed anyone's mind to stab each other.

To those that think that culture has nothing to do with the violence today should remember that there were never these killings in the 20s,30s,40s,or 50 even though the same just as deadly guns WERE literally available at the checkout of many country stores in the USA. High capacity shotguns and .45 automatic handguns were invented in the early 1900s. Available everywhere. No background check. Just cash and you could carry it out. But there was nothing like the crime commited like there was today. Would stricter gun laws stop it? Perhaps it would in some instances. But one thing is clear, today's tragic events occur at this time in history not because of the easy access to guns but for some other reasons that have not been addressed. Gun control might prevent some crimes but guns simply aren't at the root cause, as history shows that these type of killings are modern in nature and never occured till about 20 years ago despite even easier access to just as deadly weapons." [Emphasis mine]
UPDATE 3: Irony alert here. Following the implementation of Virginia Tech's "gun free zone" policy in June 2005, Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker declared he was "happy to hear" the bill allowing licensed students and security guards to arm themselves was defeated. "I'm sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly's actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus."

Safe! As a commenter said here, "So its not just that no one there was able to defend themselves but also that the gunman didn't even have to worry about the possibility." As another commenter noted, "The Universities in the USA would choose to be gun-free zones regardless of the Federal, State, County or City ordinances. Do not forget that the Universities are the nurseries for every left-wing canard, including the idea that you can legislate a 'gun free society' into existence."

Seems you can't. You can legislate guns out of the hands of law-abiding people, but you can't legislation murder weapons out of the hands of outlaws.

UPDATE 4: Here's a list of the most tragic twentieth-century peacetime school killings, in order of atrocity, just so we've got some context, and we're talking from the facts.
One tragedy not on that list is the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law in 20o1, in which a disgruntled former student shot and killed three people. The reason the death toll wasn't higher? As the Free Students' blog explains, when students Tracey Bridges and Mikael Gross (an off-duty police officer) heard the shots they immediately ran to their cars to retrieve their handguns locked within, and within minutes the two had him disarmed and restrained.

Fortunately for those whose lives they saved, the Appalachian School of Law had not been declared a "gun free zone."

Nor did the shooting at Pearl High School, Mississippi make the list. Another disgruntled student shot two students when Assistant Principal Joel Myrick, after ret
rieving his handgun from his locked car, stopped him on his way to kill more. Again, the Free Students' blog has details, along more stories where armed resistance put an early stop to wild killing.

: David Weigel at Reason makes an interesting observation:
Reporters take the "too many guns" tack after tragedies like these not because they're liberal, but because it fits so nicely into the "Are your kids next?" formula. Like in the stories about toys that can kill your children, tainted meat that can kill them, and MySpace pages that can kill them, these stories are like fertilizer for factual errors.
Nice idea, but I have haven't heard many arguing, "Unless you arm yourself, then your children will be be next."

Also worth reading, says Weigel, "is Roger Simon's explanation of why reporters are bringing back the gun control debate but the Democrats aren't."

UPDATE 6: Reason's Jacob Sullum notes another of the many knee-jerk responses from people ready to use any tragedy to advance a cause:
The response from Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, is ... puzzling. Helmke bemoans "how easy it is for an individual to get powerful weapons in our country." In what sense are the handguns Cho used, a .22 and a 9mm, especially "powerful"?
And speaking of "using any tragedy to advance a cause," how about that Barack Obama, eh? Less than twenty-four hours after the shooting, and he's already mouthing off:

"There's also another kind of violence that we're going to have to think about. It's not necessarily the physical violence, but the violence that we perpetrate on each other in other ways," he said, and goes on to catalogue other forms of "violence."

There's the "verbal violence" of Imus.

There's "the violence of men and women who have worked all their lives and suddenly have the rug pulled out from under them because their job is moved to another country."

What a fuckwit. As Radley Balko says, this
isn't just ignorant, it's exploitative and offensive... Words aren't violence... Jesus. Couldn't the politicians wait a full 48 hours before propping up the dead for campaign speeches?
UPDATE 7: Lubos has news and reflections, and a collage of some of the dead:

UPDATE 8: MikeE posts an account "written by a student at Virginia Tech, who could legally carry a concealed firearm anywhere else but campus - and his thoughts afterwards": Unarmed and Vulnerable is the title. Says Mike (i paraphrase slightly),
This is for everyone who has claimed that it's nuts to think that people should have the right to defend themselves because the police will do it for them -- ignoring the fact that the police have never, in the world's history, stopped a school shooting. What has stopped the shooting is either armed intervention by students or teachers, or the eventual suicide of the gunman.
It's the opposite of 'hit and hope' really, isn't it.

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"How has a false threat overtaken a real threat?"

Our friend at the Architecture and Morality blog asks a good question: "How has a false threat (extreme climate change) overtaken a real threat (terrorist states with nuclear capabilities)?"
I am reminded that the first stage of grief is denial. We saw a pretty clear case of denial this week when the House Armed Services Committee banned the phrases “global war on terror,” and “long war.” As the offensive “surge” seems to be working in Iraq ... it seems House Democrats need to deny any ... signs of progress. The best way to do so is to ignore the reality in which we are engaged: a long, global war on terror. It reminds me of the victim in horror movies who repeat lies to themselves over and over for comfort: “He’s gone,” or “It’s going to be okay,” or “It was just a bad dream”, all the while the audience knows a madman with a knife is hiding behind the curtains. So while they are quite literally denying the real war, they are embracing a false one.
He's right, isn't he [read it all in It Was a Long Cold Global War on Terror/Terrorists/Terrorism], but he does make one error: as Yaron Brook points out so tellingly in the panel discussion and article to which I linked on Sunday, the war in which the west is involuntarily engaged is a war against the followers of another world-changing, life-hating ideology, specifically Islamic totalitarianism. In defining the enemy more clearly than the US President has done to date, Brook points out, it becomes clear that the enemy can just as easily be found close to home, as it is he suggests in organisations such as the Council of Islamic Relations.
I wish Bush would take his own rhetoric seriously, [says Brook]because understanding this fact about the killers is crucial to achieving victory in the war. Only when the political aspiration of Islam—the imposition of its religious dogmas by force—has been shown to result in the deaths of Islamists, not their victims, will we be safe. Only when the cause of Islamic totalitarianism has been thoroughly discredited, will victory be achieved.
Islamic totalitarianism is a genuine threat. A real threat. But back to that false threat for a moment, and on this Tim Blair is right on the money with a story he's spotted in The Washington Post:

Young children are easily scared, which makes them particularly vulnerable to the politics of fear peddled by apocalyptic earth doomers. The Washington Post seems to get off on this:

The boy has drawn, in his third-grade class, a global warming timeline that is his equivalent of the mushroom cloud.

"That’s the Earth now,” the 9-year-old says, pointing to a dark shape at the bottom. “And then,” he says, tracing the progressively lighter stripes across the page, “it’s just starting to fade away."

Alex Hendel of Arlington County is talking about the end of life on our beleaguered planet.

What sort of parent would decline to intervene at this point? ... Alex would be in therapy if he’d drawn a graph illustrating the increase in Islamic terrorism and staged a similar “death”.

For many children and young adults, global warming is the atomic bomb of today. Fears of an environmental crisis are defining their generation in ways that the Depression, World War II, Vietnam and the Cold War’s lingering “War Games” etched souls in the 20th century.
At least they’re not bothered by 9/11. Maybe they’ve never been taught about it.Unfortunately, that is entirely possible.
Fake threats are always easier to deal with, aren't they, than confronting the scary reality.

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Scottish Parliament Buildings - Enric Miralles

The Scottish Parliament Building, by the late Spanish architect Enric Miralles.

Surprisingly, and delightfully, organic.

RELATED: Architecture

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Monday, 16 April 2007

Just say ... what?

What do teens do when adults tell them not to have sex? Answer: Ignore them. The Washington Post reports:
A long-awaited national study has concluded that abstinence-only sex education, a cornerstone of the Bush administration's social agenda, does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom.
Quel surprise. Notes Reason magazine:
The Feds spend $176 million per year on the failed program. Harry Wilson, a top official in the Department of Health and Human Services, told the Post that $176 million:
"is not that much money when it comes to offering an alternative to the other message."
Not that much money? After all, the money is really just symbolic and needn't actually accomplish anything, just so long as it garners votes from religious conservatives.
Oh yes, the old "symbolic spending," where being seen to spend rather than seen to succeed is what counts. But Reason notes something else too that might bring conservatives up short: it's not just teenagers these days who are enjoying pre-marital sex -- God love them -- "a new report, Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003, finds that most Americans have been enjoying premarital sex for a long time." Goodness gracious. We've all been going to hell in a handcart for that long!

Anybody like to suggest either results or stories would be different here in NZ?

LINKS: Some abstinence programs mislead teens, report says - Washington Post
Surprise--Teens Ignore Adults Who Tell Them to Not Have Sex - Reason magazine

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Open Letter to Mark Burton: Democracy Rationing

Dear Sir
I heard your recent comments in support of so-called 'Campaign Finance Reform' on The Radio Network. As a New Zealand citizen and taxpayer, I wish to register a differing viewpoint.
This disgusting plan of Labour's to not only help themselves to public money to pay for election campaigning, but also to place restrictions upon personal donations to political parties, is another direct assault on the right to exercise free speech. It should be no business of yours, mine or anybody's as to whom individuals, businesses or organisations choose to support financially. None.
How dare you try to stifle that right.

Further, how dare you use public money, ie our money - not your own, to tell us who to vote for? Do your own damned fundraising - outside the trade union movement.
Don't for a second think that the electorate doesn't realise that Labour is furious because the Opposition raise more funds privately, although God knows why anyone would support them. The Nats are only one step up the Stupidity Ladder from your lot. But I digress. The point is that the choice to fund any political party must remain with the individual or organisation alone.
This Stalinism following hard on the heels of last year's election-spending rort is really too much. Your party has again demonstrated its abject lack of morality.

Susan the Libertarian

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Who's Christopher Monckton?

For those who don't know the chap who wants to debate Al Gore (about which debate I've blogged here and here), Lubos Motl has chapter, verse, and links to most of Christopher Monckton's writing on the subject, which is superb -- as Free Radical readers will already know.
[Monckton, left] has ... decided to dedicate a lot of time to a widely discussed "scientific problem" and to look at the evidence behind the popular theory of the so-called "global warming" a bit more carefully... His conclusions more or less mimic the conclusions of a vast majority of those people whom I know and whose IQ exceeds 120, who are able to think critically and apolitically, and who have looked at the technical aspects of this whole set of ideas: the "global warming" paradigm is based on roughly 10 hypotheses about the climate and its interaction with the humankind. For the policies derived from these hypotheses to be wise, more or less all of these hypotheses must be simultaneously satisfied.

However, one half of these hypotheses are almost certainly untrue, one third of them is very unlikely, and the rest is unproven.
Read on for a good summary by Lubos, and if you haven't seen them before, some links to some excellent debunking of the warmist litany by Christopher Monckton.

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Too much!

I like this, from Vigesimal Pundit:
"An MSN-Zogby poll says that many Americans think they’re paying too much in taxes even though research shows the average tax burden is light compared with other developed countries."

Interesting. I've also heard that for some reason, paraplegics would like to get the use of their limbs back, even though other people are totally paralyzed from the neck down.


Sunday, 15 April 2007

Beta to Zeta

Blogger has just peremptorily changed this blog to the Beta version, and a few things have disappeared, including the 'Recent Comments' field that used to be conveniently down the right of the page. I have no idea if I can retrieve it or not. Stay tuned.

: I've retrieved all the comments going back to Friday, and manually pasted them in. Let me know if I've missed any from before that you found particularly useful, or wanted to reply to.


Totalitarian Islam's Threat to the West - online panel discussion

"From the Iranian hostage crisis to September 11 to the London subway attacks to the Iraqi insurgency—it is clear the West faces a grave threat from a committed enemy. Conventional wisdom holds that the enemy is a rogue group of fanatics, who have hijacked a great religion in order to justify their crimes. It tells us there is no way to permanently eliminate these violent groups, that we have entered an "age of terror" and that we must give up the desire for a decisive victory.

"But is the conventional wisdom right?"An expert panel discussion at UCLA titled "Totalitarian Islam's Threat to the West," examined the question, and came back with a very firm answer. Watch Daniel Pipes, Wafa Sultan and Yaron Brook from the Ayn Rand Institute "provide new and illuminating answers to the most important questions of our time: Is the West ready to concede victory so easily? Are the terrorists a fringe group of fanatics, or are they part of a much wider ideological movement? What threat do they pose to the West? What can the West do to ensure victory? Is peace possible?"

The video of the event is here. Naturally, any such event attracts protest, but this time they failed to shut the event down. Coverage of the panel discussion and the protest is at LGF, Infidels are Cool, and Student of Objectivism. [Hat tip Thrutch]

UPDATE: Overwhelming interest in this presentation has the video server at full capacity. If you are having trouble (and it's working fine as I type this), then keep patient, and maybe bookmark the link and come back later when most of America is asleep.

UPDATE 2: Yaron Brook's article in the latest issue of The Objective Standard,
The “Forward Strategy” for Failure, "examines the Bush administration’s so-called war strategy and shows that its manifest failure is a consequence not of good ideas poorly implemented, but of the morally corrupt ideas motivating the administration." [Note, this article has been made accessible to both subscribers and non-subscribers.] It's backed up by several seriously good analyses along similar lines, many of which have also been made available to non-subscribers.
RELATED: War, World Politics, Religion, Objectivism


Does anyone need another libertarian straw man?

There are so many straw men flung at libertarians that we must almost be eligible for some sort of agricultural subsidy. (This, in case you missed it, is irony) Jonathan Pearce at Samizdata and some of the Samizda commentariat have between them collected up some of the most common (some of which came verbatim from this Guardian comments section):

  • Free marketeers do not believe in law and rules of any kind.
  • If you are a skeptic about global warming and other alleged environmental terrors, you care nothing for future generations and might also be in the pay of Big Oil.
  • Libertarians believe in the idea that humans are born with a mental "blank slate" and hence pay no heed to inherited characteristics of any kind.
  • For capitalism to work successfully, everybody has to be obsessed with making money all the time.
  • Capitalism can only survive in an expanding economy.
  • Libertarians are uninterested in preserving certain old traditions and cultures.
  • Libertarians tend to be loners and discount the importance of community life.
  • If you've done nothing wrong then you have nothing to fear from a state-sponsored identity card.
  • By opposing state ownership, libertarians are taking things away from people - education, healthcare, food from their mouths etc.
  • Libertarians talk as if every family lived on its own forty acres, and that everyone is more or less an equal player.
  • Libertarianism ignores the collective power of modern corporate capitalism.
  • Libertarianism is fantasy. The world needs pragmatic political and economic thought, not some deeply rationalist philosophy that has never, and will never, reflect the reality of the world we live in.
  • Both Marxist and libertarian may congratulate themselves on their superior and enlightened understanding of how society ought to be run...
  • ...It's a case of 'every man for himself', and devil take the hindmost...
  • An easy example of market failure in this regard is homeopathy ... yet the stuff still sells. This is is not rational behaviour.
  • Libertarians deny human nature ... in the Libertarian fantasy, once Libertarianism is brought about ... everything with go swimmingly.
  • The problem with economic libertarianism, is that it has to repress the human instinct to organise into collectives.
  • Libertarians would prefer to revert to a state where hired help was cheap and the person
    cleaning the street lived in a slum and had a life expectancy of 35.
  • Libertarians evidently want a pure abstract system where people make choices purely based on me me me.
  • Libertarians are all selfish bastards who want to see people dying in the street
  • Libertarianism lauds union-busting,but ignores the power of corporate collectivism.
  • The market was created and is sustained by 'government intervention'.
  • You don't believe in public education? You must want everyone to be uneducated!
  • A Libertarian is just a dumb conservative who wants to be able to do drugs and cheat on their wives without feeling guilty.

More straw men there than a thousand-acre field in Kansas. Read rebuttals of most of those canards here in the original post and the comments thread, and feel free to post any others in the comments below.

Sunday morning hymn: 'All things scabbed and ulcerous'

A hymn this bright Sunday morning from the pen of Eric Idle, sung to the tune of ... well, it should be obvious enough:

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot

Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom.
He made their horrid wings

All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid--
Who made the spikey urchin?
Who made the sharks? He did!

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.

UPDATE: Speaking of God's beautiful creatures, the Creation Science Academy for Kids presents a short run down of God's Beatiful Creatures.
It is a beautiful universe that God has created for us and today we will take you on an adventure of learning. Some of these creatures are so strange that only someone as wise and almighty as God could have imagined them! Creatures like the Boto, the Candiru Fish, Arthropleura, and dof course the wonderful Giardia bacterium.
All part of 'God's great plan,' eh?

Bring on the nubiles!