Friday, September 28, 2007

Beer O'Clock: Mata Artesian

Refreshed from the recent BrewNZ, a SOBA Stu brings us this week's (slightly early) Beer O'Clock...

BREWNZ GOT ME THINKING about the next big thing. It always does. So over my next few 'Beer O'Clock' pieces I'm going to highlight a few beers that are still flying under the radar. Not one of them fits the current trend of "world-beating, hoppy, fresh, delicious ales" that Capital Times beer writer Aaron Watson rightly states New Zealanders do so well. These are all excellent beers, however, and, importantly, they are all relatively widely available across this great little country.

Weary from the full flavours from the flurry of fashionable hoppy ales at the beer awards, this week I rest my tastebuds with a Kölsch. A beer described, unspectacularly, by the Beer Judging Certification Program as "a clean, crisp, delicately balanced beer usually with very subtle fruit flavours and aromas."

Out of Aotearoa Breweries in the 'romantic' forestry hamlet of Kawerau, Mata Artesian has a distinctive modern flash of branding that could well turn-off the cynical customer. This is a beer, like Taakawa's "Indigenous Ale" that looks like it's packaged for tourists. Don't be put off.

Artesian pours a lucent yellow gold with an airy, virginal white head. It throws off a delicate mix of 'green' fruity esters with a slightly sulphurous mineral note. In the mouth it continues the complex, gentle approach with apple, pear, honey and wine gums featuring the medium sweet, slightly earthy, malt-balanced flavour. A very mild bitterness and medium carbonation cleans out the palate nicely, making it ideal as either an aperitif or a lawnmower beer.

Technically Mata Artesian shouldn't be called a Kölsch, given that the style is an appellation protected by the Kölsch Konvention (which restricts it to the 20 or so breweries in and around Köln, Germenay). Methode Kölschois anyone? Whatever you call it, it's a top drop from an emerging little brewery.

A couple of bronze medals in 2006 beer awards have been followed up with silvers in the same competitions in 2007. Expect this beer to come onto the mainstream radar within the next year or two. You can say you heard it first at Not PC - from some guy riding a pantomime donkey.

Finally, news for all you home-brewers: SOBA's National Homebrew Championship is on! One lucky (and skilled) brewer will have their recipe brewed commercially at Hallertau Brewbar, just north of Auckland. See the SOBA website for further details, and be in to win!

Slainte mhath, Stu

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Have the best weekend

Best wishes to everyone for a great weekend!

Go Tonga! Go Fiji!

And go Geelong ... go the Cats!

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Labour-lite back down. Again.

Yesterday I described National's health discussion document as timid. "With so little to get excited about," I said, "no wonder attention focussed instead on National's so-called secret plans to remove the cap on GPs' fees, a necessary but insufficient lifting of a restriction that should never have been imposed in the first place."

Today, words like simpering and spineless might be better descriptions of John Boy's Labour-lite and Phony Tony, his health spokesthing: they've already backed down on the "secret" proposal to loosen the leash even just a little bit on GPs.

Pathetic. One would say they lack the courage of their convictions -- if they had any.

Said Colin Espiner the other day,
There have been too many “me-too” responses from the Opposition lately, on everything from KiwiSaver to foreign policy to nuclear energy to climate change. Sooner or later, it has got to come up with some policy of its own. Preferably policy that differs from that of the Government.
Looks like "later," if ever. It's looking more and more like the epithet "hollow men" was used one leadership regime too early.

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Hollywood hygiene

Why are some of Hollywood's leading actresses so obsessed with their bowels? And why does Cate Blanchett want to drink her own urine? Mark Steyn wants to know.

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'Kill the Bill' campaign launched


Announcing this morning the launch of a website that will be illegal after 1 January 2008:
The Free Speech Coalition was formed to fight the Electoral Finance Bill’s grave threat to free speech. It’s aim is to inform the public through an advertising campaign of the impact of the Bill, if passed, on our rights and freedoms...
The Coalition has been formed as a Trust, with trustees David Farrar, Bernard Darnton and Cameron Slater, who have all blogged on the effects of the Bill.
The Coalition aims to spend every dollar we get on an advertising campaign against the Bill.
You can help Kill the Bill.
If you have any interest at all in opposing this bill that will ban free speech for one-third of your life, then head over there now with your wallet out -- and help KILL THE BILL!

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Finally Spring - Danielle Anjou

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

More voting advice on the local elections

Liberty Scott gives you the voting advice on local elections I failed to give you the other day, which is not a bad performance really, given that he's in the UK.

His advice largely centres around the buzzwords sustainability, communities, renewable, climate change, peak oil, free, partnership, accessibility, foreign buyers, and public ownership, and the frequency of a candidates' use of any or all of these buzzwords except as terms of derision. "In essence," he advises, "avoid anyone saying these things - they're after your money. When was the last time you saw a council candidate who said that if elected LESS would be done?"

I'd wager if you went through Andrew Falloon's convenient Election Links Site showing links to all known council candidate sites, you'd find very few promising less would be done under their stewardship, and you'll find yourself instead hip-deep in platitudes, buzzwords and empty promises.

But let me know if you find otherwise. Or, if you're one of the good guys, give yourself a plug in the comments. We'll know if you're faking it.

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There's a problem with the sea ice

We're all gonna die. The latest 'proof' of our imminent demise is receding Arctic sea ice -- a recession oddly enough that (despite what you hear) is doing nothing to slow down expanding polar bear populations up north.

But the "warming" that is supposed to catastrophic is also supposed to be global, so why are we not also hearing about the levels of sea ice down south in the Antarctic? Simple: sea ice isn't receding down there, it's expanding. And why are we hearing only about about Arctic sea ice when the extent of global sea ice fluctuations have shown little change over 25 years. There's a simple explanation, says James Taylor; the Arctic sea ice scare is yet more misleading alarmism:
Alarmist Front Group Launches Misleading Campaign Regarding Sea Ice
A public relations campaign funded by such leftwing activist groups as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Pew Charitable Trusts is seeking to mislead the public about global warming by highlighting retreating Arctic sea ice. Predictably, the public relations campaign selectively cites the relevant science and only tells half of the story.
In a September 25 press release titled 'Arctic Ice Melting Faster Than Expected,' a front group called SmartPower reported that Arctic sea ice is receding and asked, "How many of these dire predictions can we afford to ignore? This report is yet another in a series of scientifically factual studies th at once again serve as an important call to action," the press release added.
What the press release conveniently failed to mention is that while Arctic sea ice is currently receding (though likely not as much as it receded in the 1930s and 1940s), Antarctic sea ice has expanded to record levels, and is continuing to expand.
So, does common sense tell us there is proof, or even strong evidence, of planetary warming when the sea ice at one pole is receding and the sea ice at the other pole is growing to record levels? Only in the looking-glass world of global warming alarmists with public relations money burning a hole in their pockets.
Look forward then to lots of shots of Antarctic sea ice expanding to record levels in your local newspaper, in the National Geographic and on TV3's 'Socialism at Seven.' Not. Expect instead to see more shots of falling ice shelves up north and lots of shots of fluffy penguins down south. And no discussion at all about pressure groups making geographically selective "record level" announcements about the thin slices of time over which most of this research is carried out.

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'Shoot 'em' email puts shooting cop in jeopardy

I started a post the other day commenting on an email apparently doing the rounds of police inboxes, an email
that recommends officers shoot people armed with knives.

Under the heading "Why Cops Shoot Guys With Knives", the email contains stomach-churning photographs of a police officer with massive slashes to his back, chest and stomach.
The text of the email exhorts officers to shoot anyone with a weapon. "If you've got a knife, then you should die ... period."
The email has been forwarded to more than 30 officers and then to addresses that appear to be members of the public.
My comment was along the lines that while police have as much right to defend themselves as anybody (a right that should be recognised for all of us, including those who carry knives for that purpose), and that since police put themselves in harm's way on our behalf they should be expected to have to defend themselves more often, but given all that this email would only make things harder for good policemen.

It will makes things harder because, my post said, when or if a policeman does shoot someone in self-defence who comes at them with a knife, or club, or some other weapon -- as Constable John Abbott did with full justification in Waitara a few years back -- then any prosecution is going to use that email as a strong argument that any such force was pre-emptive, and any twelve men and women in a jury are likely to believe them.

It's a shame I never finished the post, because such a tragedy is already entering its First Act with the shooting overnight of a man wielding a hammer in a domestic dispute in Christchurch.
The policeman who fatally shot a man wielding a hammer last night feared for his life, police say...
Head of the Canterbury police, Superintendent Sandra Manderson said at a press conference this morning that the threats made to the policeman were "serious enough" for a shooting to take place.
"Obviously very serious indeed. Obviously (the man) was relatively close (to the police officer) because he feared for his life" ...
The officer would not be working for a while, but had not been stood down "at this stage".
Asked if she backed the actions of the officer, Ms Manderson said: "We are doing an investigation."
I really do feel for this policeman, because whoever wrote and sent out that email and whoever made it public have now made it almost impossible for him to ever get a fair hearing. Perhaps both author and publicist could contemplate that as he sits on suspension awaiting the outcome of that investigation.

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Removing GPs' shackles just a start

National's release of their rather timid discussion document on health has been taken over by "revelations" that National intends to remove the cap on GPs' fees, and Helen Clark's lurid accusations of "a secret agenda." As I've always said when such accusations are levelled, "I wish!"

The system under which we live is neither socialism or capitalism, but something economist Ludwig von Mises calls a hampered market, a sort of mongrel mixture of capitalism and socialism -- and no market is more hampered or has more socialism (or more waiting lists) in it than NZ's health industry. An agenda to remove the shackles and some of the socialism would be fantastic if some party were to offer it, but uncharacteristically bold for Key's mob. And it's nothing like what's on offer.

What is proposed is remarkably amorphous, but seems a very limited freeing up, if at all. Talk of "partnerships," "smarter use" of facilities, lots of words like "adaptive, innovative and forward looking," but few details about how those delightful buzzwords might be applied in the area of actually delivering health services.

With so little to get excited about, wo wonder attention focussed instead on National's so-called secret plans to remove the cap on GPs' fees, a necessary but insufficient lifting of a restriction that should never have been imposed in the first place. We don't need caps on the price of clothing, hamburgers, beer, computers or newspapers; in each case the moderately free market sets rates, and keeps them down by the competition of the market. With low (or capped) prices, new entrants to the market are discouraged and supply goes down (just as we've seen in the market for GPs, especially in areas where costs are high); set your prices too high, however, and you invite new entrants to increase their market share at your expense.

The market is the great leveller, when (that is) it's allowed to work unhampered.

That said, the market for GPs is very far from unhampered. In fact the whole market for primary health care is seriously hampered -- to the extent almost of being in chains.

The level of National's timidity in proposing to unhamper that market (presuming that's the intent of the buzzwords) can be measured by a recent thinkpiece from 'The Economist' magazine titled: 'A spoonful of medicine helps the medicine go down,' which points out that
One of the many sources of high medical costs in the United States is the de facto monopoly of the American Medical Association in the distribution of licences to practice medicine.
The article explains that the American Medical Association has been "in a bit of snit lately by the emergence of medical clinics in drug stores staffed by nurse practitioners -- nurses with advanced degrees -- vested with limited powers of prescription," and in the same manner as one competitor will frequently seek out government force to close down his competitor, the American Medical Association has been trying to have these new medical clinics closed down.

Too much competition for them, you see. Prices being lowered by the market, you see. Not something the American doctors' trade union is happy with, you see. But to see 'The Economist' coming out in favour of removing this monopoly should be a lesson for many in how restrictions lessen service. (As one commenter says at the 'Economist' site: "It's interesting that in many industries without true monopolies (drugs, oil, etc.), the public blames the non-existent monopoly power for the problems there. But when there is an actual, honest-to-goodness monopoly like this one, there seems to be no mention of it at all.")

There's no need for the sacrifices, waiting lists, and shackled providers endemic under every hampered and socialist system, you see, sacrifices seen in abundance right across die-while-you-wait health systems such as ours. Anything to begin getting the socialism out of health would be a great thing. Tax credits for spending on health insurance for example. Or giving keys and the shares in local hospitals to communities to administer as they choose. Or removing the protectionism from the monopolies that are all-too endemic in all forms of disease prevention, health treatment and physical therapy.

Removing the cap on GPs' fees would be a very, very small start in that direction, if that is there are restrictions removed from new entrants into the market for primary health care to help keep GPs' pricing feet to the fire.

UPDATE: Naturally, David Farrar has more details of the discussion paper [and a link to all 51 pages]. Says Dave of the proposal to remove caps on GPs' prices:
Labour’s [imposition of] price controls on GPs has been part a 20 year battle by Helen Clark (she tried in the 1980s) to effectively nationalise GPs and make them de facto state employees. We’d be like the UK National Health Service and I suggest anyone who trumpets that service should be forced to go and use it.
The reality is we have a huge GP shortage, especially in rural areas. The thought of GPs making themselves filthy rich because they are the only GP in say Haast is a joke. We have real problems getting GPs into rural areas, even with the massive influx of foreign trained GPs.

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The Two Bathers - William Bougereau

Part of the Great Bougereau Debate at the Art Renewal Centre... [click to enlarge].

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wellington: Found again.

An update to an earlier conundrum: NASA had lost Wellington. Fortunately, Climate Audit has found it for them.

NIWA don't appear to be celebrating.

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Drink up. Don't forget.

Turns out again that Auckland University research proves again that one of my favourite drinking stories is true: alcohol increases memory. [Hat tip Lance]
"Low levels of alcohol promoted neutral memories, such as remembering objects," said [researcher] Dr Kalev. "However, contrary to popular belief, we also found that excessive levels of alcohol enhanced memories of highly emotional stimuli, meaning the concept of `drinking to forget' is unlikely to be true. Our work suggests that heavy drinking actually reinforces negative memories."
Looks like Tom Waits will have to rewrite 'Warm Beer & Cold Women.'

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Labour-lite abandons Orewa principles

Another proud moment in Labour-lite politics today is reported (enthusiastically) at No Right Turn.
The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back on Doug Woolerton's Principles of the Treaty of Waitangi Deletion Bill, and recommended that it not proceed...
This Bill was one of the few good things to come out of Winston First: the suggestion to remove from all NZ legislation the impossible-to-define "principles of the Treaty," a clause written into and polluting so much of NZ's legislation since 1986 with indefined and inefinable mush. As the NZ First minority view in the report succinctly explains,
the terms “the principles of the Treaty” or “the Treaty and its principles” ... are relatively recent additions to New Zealand’s statutes and have added great confusion and a huge amount of expensive litigious activity because they have not been adequately defined.
So, what's the connection with Labour-lite? As I/S points out,
National's flip-flop on the principles of the Treaty is now complete. Having been enthusiastic advocates of excising the Treaty from legislation just a few years ago, they are now strongly defending it.
Another sell-out, and a sell-out so cheaply -- and on something so important.

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Captain Umaga

Tana Umaga's book excerpt covering 'the O'Driscoll incident' and all the resulting spin and follow-up tells me that the 2005 All Blacks had a captain to be truly proud of, and the Lions didn't. As I said at the time.

If the All Blacks do lift the World Cup in a few weeks time, it will be in large part because he brought back to them the hard-arsed winning attitude that was pissed away under Taine and Mitch and Reuben.

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Revolution in Rangoon?

The spirit of freedom is abroad, and has landed momentarily (and we might hope, permanently) in Myanmar/Burma, in the person of thousands of Buddhist monks who are defying the thugs in the ruling military junta and staging the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades.

Let us hope the military junta don't repeat their murder of 3,000 protestors in those student protests two decades ago.

Let us hope too that if the anti-government protests are successful in overturning the military dictators, the spirit of freedom will be guided more by rational political philosophy than feel-good Buddhist bromides, or else Myanmar/Burma will remain as mired in poverty and authoritarian rule as it has been for most of the modern era. Let us hope.

But don't think you can go there and help the monks overturn the thugs. Liberty Scott reminds us that if you and your friends wanted to help confront the dictatorships in Burma (or in Zimbabwe or Syria for that matter) as a private citizen, then Helen Clark and the Labour government, supported by the pacifists in the Greens have banned you doing that.

After all, the state is sovereign isn't it?

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Dismembering Telecom

Yesterday I celebrated the two-week parliamentary lay-off with Mark Twain's words: "No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session."

I was wrong to celebrate. No man's life, liberty, or property is safe when the legislature isn't in session either.

What I hadn't counted on in my all-too premature celebrations was David Cunliffe's desire to be noticed -- and the gap in the parliamentary programme gives him that -- and the Clark Government's complete disregard for property rights,

He's seen his chance. While Labour-Lite timidly put their toe in the water suggesting, just maybe, that we might -- just possibly -- be allowed to buy shares (but not all of them) in companies that the government has no business owning at all, Labour itself is forging ahead announcing plans to dismember one of New Zealand's biggest private companies.

And Labour-Lite will have nothing to say in defence of that company. Count on it.

UPDATE 1
: NBR has some details of this vandalism by government, Telecom being told by the Net Nanny it has "20 days to provide the government with detail about how it will separate into three operating divisions." You can look elsewhere for those who are salivating at the statism -- and you won't need to look very far.

UPDATE 2: Those around the place excited about this dismembering and bemoaning Telecom's underinvestment in the network they've being stripped of might want to think about who's responsible for said underinvestment: themselves. As I've said before, "No one but an idiot or a cabinet minister would expect to see businessmen or women making a long-term investment in infrastructure when theft of such an investment is imminent, or the breakup of that investment is on the cards."

See all posts on Telecom here.

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Diana & Her Nymphs Surprised by the Fauns - Peter Paul Rubens, 1638


[Click to enlarge.]

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Two weeks holiday

Time once again to pull out our Mark Twain and meditate on the joyful fortnight ahead of us: "No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session."

Which means that with junkets, jaunts and assorted revels overseas on offer, NZ's parliamentarians are leaving in droves to make the most of their two weeks away from the House -- which means that for two weeks we'll be relatively free of their moronic intrusions into our life.

Thank goodness.

It would be worth paying their salaries and expenses just to keep them away for much longer.

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Offensive?

"Offensive"? Far from it.

Christchurch Casino needs to get a life.

Columbia Uni president grows a pair in introducing Ahmedinejad

All but publicly lynched, deservedly, for inviting Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to speak at Columbia University, president Lee Bollinger found a pair when it came time to introduce a man accurately described by The Anti-Idiotarian as "a psychotic, clinically insane murderer who is the head of the top state sponsor of terrorism, a sick, anti-Semitic megalomaniac."

This is a man, said Bollinger in his introduction, who exhibits "all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."

After several minutes excoriating the man sitting just feet from him, he concluded “Today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for,” Mr. Bollinger told Mr. Ahmadinejad. “I only wish I could do better.”

'Kate' at Columbia was live-blogging the affair. Scroll down past Ahmadinejad's self-praise and avoidance of direct questions to see what Bollinger had to say to him. The Associated Press summary of the affair is here.

UPDATE 1: Taking advantage of the free speech at Columbia he prohibits at home, Ahmedinejad slithered around and through questions about state murder, state-sponsored terrorism, and his out-and-out lying on everything from the existence of homosexuals in Iran (who he is doing his best to eliminate) to the existence of the Holocaust. Liberty Scott sums up the slithering well.

UPDATE 2: Oops, looks like Kate was posting the New York Times' live blog of the event. No matter.

UPDATE 3: CNN have edited video of Bollinger's opening speech: 'Not a Warm Welcome.' It follows the car ad.

UPDATE 4: You Tube have a more complete video account. Here's Part 1 and Part 2 of Bollinger's verbal flogging of the dictator. [Hat tip Daniel W.]

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Local voting

People have now got their council voting papers, and people around the place are telling everyone which way and for whom they're voting.

Here's what I did with mine when I got them: I binned them.

I binned them for the same reason I think it's pointless having libertarians standing for council: because (putting it simply) the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act have between them unleashed councils to to become the bloated out-of-control rates monsters they've become, and because between them they make it impossible to slay the bloated monsters they've created -- and because any decent person who does try is embarking on a misbegotten quixotic quest on which their energies are all too quickly sapped.

Sandra Lee's Local Government Act handed power on a plate to councils, giving them complete freedom to charge around like a spotty boy in a sweet shop and to give you the bill for their profligacy, but that particular dragon has to be slayed all at once in Helengrad, not piecemeal around the provinces.

The Resource Management Act imposes duties on councils and community boards that will have even the most rational liberty-minded councillor or community board member tearing out their remaining hair within weeks, and that dragon too needs to be slayed in its place of birth.

The best you can hope for in your area are bumbling time-servers who aren't as psychopathically incompetent as the average -- and there are few ways of knowing that in advance.

So, don't vote. It only encourages them.

I salute the emotions behind good people who do want to 'think globally and slay the beast locally,' people such as Blair, who says in response to this post at IP's, "It seems like every damned decision and bureaucratic Gordian knot devised is for the sole benefit of those who like a decent view while drinking their coffee. Meanwhile, lives are ruined and carefully made investments are flushed down the toilet on account of ... latte-sipping chardonnay socialists and their NIMBY supporters."

Sound sentiments, but the dragon needs slaying wholesale, not retail. Taking on the local government dragon at local level is not a labour for Hercules; it's a labour for Sispyphus.

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Galerie des Machines - Contamin & Dutert


Built for the 1889 World Exposition of Paris, Contamin & Dutert's Galerie des Machines was an early and influential architectural expression of capitalism and industrial power: twenty-three winged iron arches resting on small joints, creating (in Christian Norber-Schulz's words) "a revolutionary effect of dynamic lightness" and a space measuring all of 420 by 115 metres -- a huge space for the day. [Click the pic to enlarge.]

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Monday, September 24, 2007

A million a month?

Muriel Newman's latest newsletter boasts her NZCPR website "is now getting almost a million hits a month." Now Muriel often has good content, but as I filed her newsletter and read that number again I thought, "That's a lot of hits. I wonder if she's right."

Lindsay Mitchell thought the same thing, but she did something about it. She asked blogger David Farrar. With just over 170,000 visitors a month his Kiwiblog site is probably the most visited NZ political blog, and certainly the only prominent one for whom reliable site stats are made public. Explains Dave, "hits" isn't a measure of visitors, it's a function instead of how many files there are on your site's front page. Who knew? He suggested that for a meaningful measure of a site's success, Lindsay check out Alexa traffic rankings, which she did. When I checked today, Alexa was ranking some prominent NZ political sites as follows (numbers reflect Alexa's ranking of the site in world terms):

Scoop, 41,667
David Farrar's Kiwiblog 60,424
Russell Brown's Public Address 179,932
Lindsay Perigo's SOLO 218,369
The Greens' Frog Blog 232,026
ScoopIt 253,291
Not PC 326,803
No Right Turn 497,535
Whale Oil 727,950
Jordan Carter's Just Left 989,176
Muriel Newman's NZCPR 1,299,144
Ian Wishhard's Briefing Room 1,352,239

So Muriel ranks better than Wishhard (which is gratifying) but not as well as some others, this blog included. And at 326,803rd in the world, I can assure you that while Not PC's statcounter ticks over quite nicely, thank you, with about ten to fifteen percent of David's lordly total, I don't get anywhere near one million hits a month.

But that's not for want of trying.

UPDATE: Just rechecking those figures now for a later post, 29 December 2007, most of those figures are much the same, but Whale Oil in particular has rocketed up the rankings, and Wish-hard and No-Comment-At-No-Right-Turn have taken a plunge. Here's today's rankings, with a few newbies thrown in for comparison ...

Scoop, 44,617
David Farrar's Kiwiblog 73,703
Russell Brown's Public Address 184,037
Whale Oil 184,185
The Greens' Frog Blog 224,151
ScoopIt 252,433
Lindsay Perigo's SOLO 254,748
Not PC 345,207
Indymedia 388,857
SubStandard 533,395
Kiwibogbog 654,832
No Right Turn 930,659
Jordan Carter's Just Left 1,167,893
Muriel Newman's NZCPR 1,178,343
Ian Wishhard's Briefing Room 2,316,121
Anarchia 4,139,662

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A curriculum without content delivers students without knowledge.

How bad is the state's new education curriculum, soon to be enforced in all schools public and private right across the country? When even the teacher unions know that things "have gone too far" with the state-enforced education curriculum, then it might just be possible that things really have gone too far.

It is quite literally the curriculum you have when you don't have a curriculum: it is explicitly a curriculum without content. The new curriculum "will teach pupils how to hold a conversation or ask for help rather than remember facts, historic dates or periodic tables."
The new curriculum, to be released in November and introduced in 2009, focuses on the process of learning, rather than content.

For example, social science students will be marked for taking action to make their community a better place to live, rather than remembering facts about a society on the other side of the world. Science students might be tested on whether they know how to design an experiment, rather than whether they remember what the result should be.

Mary Chamberlain, overseeing the project for the Education Ministry, says that although people are "rattled" by the changes, "there's no use (students) being little knowledge banks walking around on legs. We've got computers, we don't need people walking around with them in their heads... People just have to get used to that."

Mary Chamberlain is an example of the educational model she proposes: someone who has nothing at all in her head. Miseducating a whole new generation in her image is not the answer; removing her and her ilk from the miseducation of NZ children is clearly urgent.

Even the teachers union, the PPTA, called this "a paradigm shift that has gone too far." Roger Moses, principal of Wellington College, explains why: with its focus on "skills" rather than knowledge, this will he says see New Zealand children growing up ignorant.

But none of this is new: the process has been going on for years -- this latest promise of miseducation simply continues a process that has been under way for years. Writing in 'Free Radical #76,' George Reisman summed up the Chamberlain view: "With little exaggeration, the whole of contemporary education can be described as a process of encumbering the student’s mind with as little knowledge as possible."

Nonsense like Chamberlain's does not emerge fully grown. In the following excerpts from his article, Reisman explains where this nonsense comes from, and what has already been the result. Settle back and read his incisive dissection of modern miseducation. It's good:
It is sometimes observed that most of today’s high school and college graduates have very little education in science and mathematics and thus do not understand and cannot properly appreciate modern technology. There is considerable merit in these observations, but the problem goes much deeper. Namely, from the earliest grades, the prevailing methodology of contemporary education systematically encourages irrational skepticism ...

To explain how this is the case, I must briefly digress into the history of philosophy.

At the end of the eighteenth century, Immanuel Kant foisted on the intellectual world a distorted version of what reason is, namely, a faculty divorced from knowledge of the real world and limited to awareness of a world of mere appearances created by the human mind itself. ...
For many years now it has been Kant's distorted 'Romantic' version of reason that has been foisted upon students worldwide. Ms Chamberlain and her comrades now wish to make that explicit. Reisman explains how the undercutting of education is explicitly based upon the undercutting of knowledge espoused by 'Romantic' era philosophers.
Romanticism ... follows on the direct foundation of Kantianism... In its essentials, the philosophy of Romanticism is the guiding principle of contemporary education. Exactly like Romanticism, contemporary education holds that the valuable portion of our mental life has no essential connection with our ability to reason and with the deliberate, controlled use of our conscious mind—that we possess this portion of our mental life if not in our sleep, then nevertheless as small children. This doctrine is clearly present in the avowed conviction of contemporary education that creativity is a phenomenon that is separate from and independent of such conscious mental processes as memorization and the use of logic...

Now, properly, education is a process by means of which students internalize knowledge: they mentally absorb it through observation and proof, and repeated application. Memorization, deduction, and problem solving must constantly be involved. The purpose is to develop the student’s mind—to provide him with an instantaneously available storehouse of knowledge and thus an increasingly powerful mental apparatus that he will be able to use and further expand throughout his life. Such education, of course, requires hard work from the student. Seen from a physiological perspective, it may be that what the process of education requires of the student through his exercises is an actual imprinting of his brain.

Yet, under the influence of the philosophy of Romanticism, contemporary education is fundamentally opposed to these essentials of education. It draws a distinction between “problem solving,” which it views as “creative” and claims to favor, and “memorization,” which it appears to regard as an imposition on the students, whose valuable, executive-level time, it claims, can be better spent in “problem solving.” Contemporary education thus proceeds on the assumption that the ability to solve problems is innate, or at least fully developed before the child begins school. It perceives its job as allowing the student to exercise his native problem-solving abilities, while imposing on him as little as possible of the allegedly unnecessary and distracting task of memorization.

In the elementary grades, this approach is expressed in such attitudes as that it is not really necessary for students to go to the trouble of memorizing the multiplication tables if the availability of pocket calculators can be taken for granted which they know how to use; or go to the trouble of memorizing facts of history and geography, if the ready availability of books and atlases containing the facts can be taken for granted, which facts the students know how to look up when the need arises. In college and graduate courses, this approach is expressed in the phenomenon of the “open-book examination,” in which satisfactory performance is supposedly demonstrated by the ability to use a book as a source of information, proving once again that the student knows how to find the information when he needs it.

With little exaggeration, the whole of contemporary education can be described as a process of encumbering the student’s mind with as little knowledge as possible. The place for knowledge, it seems to believe, is in external sources—books and libraries—which the student knows how to use when necessary. Its job, its proponents believe, is not to teach the students knowledge but “how to acquire knowledge”—not to teach them facts and principles, which it holds quickly become “obsolete,” but to teach them “how to learn.” Its job, its proponents openly declare, is not to teach geography, history, mathematics, science, or any other subject, including reading and writing, but to teach “Johnny”—to teach Johnny how he can allegedly go about learning the facts and principles it declares are not important enough to teach and which it thus gives no incentive to learn and provides the student with no means of learning.

The results of this type of education are visible in the hordes of students who, despite years of schooling, have learned virtually nothing, and who are least of all capable of thinking critically and solving problems. When such students read a newspaper, for example, they cannot read it in the light of a knowledge of history or economics— they do not know history or economics; history and economics are out there in the history and economics books, which, they were taught, they can “look up, if they need to.” They cannot even read it in the light of elementary arithmetic, for they have little or no internally automated habits of doing arithmetic. Having little or no knowledge of the elementary facts of history and geography, they have no way even of relating one event to another in terms of time and place.

Such students, and, of course, the adults such students become, are chronically in the position in which to be able to use the knowledge they need to use, they would first have to go out and acquire it. Not only would they have to look up relevant facts, which they already should know, and now may have no way even of knowing they need to know, but they would first have to read and understand books dealing with abstract principles, and to understand those books, they would first have to read other such books, and so on. In short, they would first have to acquire the education they already should have had.

Properly, by the time a student has completed a college education, his brain should hold the essential content of well over a hundred major books on mathematics, science, history, literature, and philosophy, and do so in a form that is well organized and integrated, so that he can apply this internalized body of knowledge to his perception of everything in the world around him. He should be in a position to enlarge his knowledge of any subject and to express his thoughts on any subject clearly and logically, both verbally and in writing. Yet, as the result of the miseducation provided today, it is now much more often the case that college graduates fulfill the Romantic ideal of being “simple, uneducated men.”
Such a process of miseducation is so far advanced that few now really see it, particularly not those already miseducated. Ms Chamberlain and the other writers of this proposed 'curriculum without content' are banking on the miseducation of earlier generations to blind everyone to what's happening right in front of their nose. Continues Reisman:
Contemporary education is responsible for the growing prevalence of irrational skepticism. The students subjected to it do not acquire actual knowledge. They have no firm foundation in a base of memorized facts and they have not acquired any solid knowledge of principles because their education has avoided as far as possible the painstaking processes of logical proof and repeated application of principles, which latter constitutes a vital and totally legitimate form of memorization. Such students go through school “by the seat of their pants.” They are forever “winging it.” And that is how they go through life as adults. It is impossible for them to have genuine understanding of anything that is beyond the realm of their daily experience, and even of that, only on a superficial level. To such people, almost everything must appear as an arbitrary assertion, taken on faith. For their education has made them unfit to understand how things are actually known. Their failure to memorize such things as the multiplication tables in their childhood, makes it impossible for them to understand whatever directly depends on such knowledge, which, in turn, makes it impossible for them to acquire the further knowledge that depends on that knowledge, and soon. With each passing year of their education, they fall further behind.

Ironically, their failure to memorize what it is appropriate to memorize ends up putting them in a position in which to pass examinations, they have no other means than out-of-context memorization—that is, memorization lacking any foundation in logical connection and proof. Because they have never memorized fundamental facts, and thus have no basis for developing genuine understanding of all that depends on those facts, they are placed in the position in which to pass examinations they must attempt to memorize out-of-context conclusions. It is because of this that a growing proportion of what they learn as the years pass has the status in their minds of arbitrary assertions. They are chronically in the mental state of having no good reason for most or almost all of what they believe. Thus, in their context of actual ignorance masked by pretended knowledge, they are prime targets for irrational skepticism. To them, in their mental state, doubt of everything can only seem perfectly natural.

Such students, such adults, are easy targets for a doctrine such as “environmentalism.” They are totally unprepared intellectually to resist any irrational trend and more than willing to leap on the bandwagon of one that caters to their uncertainties and fears. Environmentalism does this by blaming the stresses of their life on the existence of an industrial society and holding out the prospect of an intellectually undemanding and thus seemingly stress-free pastoral existence, one which is allegedly “in harmony with nature.”

The destructive work of contemporary education carried on against the development of students’ conceptual abilities from the earliest grades on is compounded, as their education advances to the higher grades, by the teaching of a whole collection of irrationalist doctrines that constitute the philosophical substance of contemporary liberal arts education... These doctrines constitute a systematic attack on reason and its role in human life...
If one wishes to use the expression “intellectual main stream,” and borrow for a moment the environmentalists’ alleged concern with the cleanliness of streams and such, these doctrines may justifiably be viewed as intellectual raw sewage comparable to what can be seen bobbing up and down in a dirty river. They and the methodology of contemporary education have totally fouled the “intellectual mainstream.” The kind of education I have described—-if it can still be called education, consisting as it does of an unremitting assault on the rational faculty and every rational value—-is responsible for the hordes of graduates turned out over the last decades who have had no conception of the meaning and value of the Constitution and history of the United States, of the meaning and value of Western civilization itself, or indeed of the meaning and value of membership in the human race. It has been responsible for the decline in the quality of government in the United States, as, unavoidably, many such mis-educated graduates have found their way into the halls of Congress and the state legislatures, and into major offices in all the other branches of government, and, of course, into all the various branches of the news media and publishing...

Thus, in what may prove to be the greatest tragedy in all of human existence, we see at the end of more than two centuries of man’s most dazzling success, the proliferation of heirs who as adults possess less than the mentalities of children. We see a culture of reason and science being transformed before our eyes into one which more and more resembles a culture of primitive men.
Such a transformation is not inevitable, but as long as the fundamental tenets of the miseducators remain largely unchallenged, it will continue.

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Some questions after another great sporting weekend

Are all the Northern Hemisphere rugby teams just reluctant to show their moves before the Quarter Finals? Or are they just plain crap?

Wouldn't it be revolutionary if a team ran out with a plain single-coloured jersey with a simple white collar? There are plenty in the crowd that teams could borrow.

Wouldn't it be great if we had three locks, instead of just two.

Has Isaia Toeava been teaching Sitiveni Sivivatu how to catch?

How long since the All Blacks had a decent opponent? With the business end of the last four years now just a fortnight away, would you really call them match-fit?

On the other hand, is Doug Howlett back to his best?

Who else wants to see Nick Evans at full back and Mils at centre?

How good were Tonga! Exactly how deep is South African rugby strength?

How disappointing were Samoa. (But how good seeing Loki Crichton outkick Jonny Wilkinson.)

Here's a trifecta for next weekend: Fiji to beat Wales, Tonga to beat England, Argentina to beat Ireland and just two Six Nations teams to make it to the Quarter Finals. :-)

If that joyous state of affairs were to come true, then who exactly should be classified as "minnows"?

Is there anyone outside those Six Nations nations who won't be cheering for Tonga or Fiji or Argentina?

If Geelong beat North Melbourne by 106 points two weeks ago in that AFL Qualifying Final, and Port Adelaide beats North by 87 in Saturday's Preliminary Final, is that a guide to next weekend's Geelong-Port Final result? Or is the Catss one-point loss to Port in Round 21 last month a better guide?

Or do we just know this is going to be a damned good AFL Final?

Go the Cats!

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Marcel Marceau

Best comment seen on the death of Marcel Marceau:
A moment of silence, please.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday readings: Faith is the destroyer of knowledge

Four readings this morning musing on the relationship between religion and knowledge .

First Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) in his medieval best-seller 'Spiritual Exercises' [hat tip Thrutch]:
To arrive at the truth in all things, we ought always to be ready to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it.
And Tertullian, another prominent theologian back in the early days when people were making up the Gospels, who wote of religion and the resurrection myth that
it is believable because it is so foolish. . . it is certain because it is impossible.
You just can't make this stuff up. In the same tradition is this line from a pre-modern destroyer of knowledge, German nutcase Immanuel Kant, who declared that
I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.
As Christopher Hitchens has been heard to say, religion poisons everything. Observed Ayn Rand:
The alleged shortcut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit, destroying the mind.
Worth thinking about.

UPDATE 1: If you want to see how a prominent contemporary theologians arguing that white is black, have a browse through some of the pseudo-scientific sounding drivel spouted by the so-called 'Intelligent Design' school, or the word games of Alvin Plantinga -- an 'analysis' here for example of the "Free Will Defence" that puts the 'sophist' back into sophisticated.

UPDATE 2: Commenter Matt F. has provided many word games in the comments section here in an attempt to defend what I would characterise as the indefensible. There are more word games at his blog fromMatt, who seems to take Mr Plantinga as one of his models. Matt is himself a contemporary theologian, albeit not yet well known or prominent, but this is what he does professionally. It might be cruel to Matt to attribute to him views which aren't his, but that means however that if he takes his Loyola seriously, his job is "to believe that what seems to us white is black, if the hierarchical Church so defines it."

One has that sense when debating him.

Now Matt has repeatedly accused many of us here of erecting strawmen with which to attack religion -- which is an interesting wriggle considering I was quoting some of the church's own founders and defenders -- so I was interested to see the account he has over at his own blog about the exchanges here, since what he's erected over there is a whole field of stunted little strawmen.

Given that Matt is, as I said, a professional theologian, I'm frankly disappointed that what I would call his basic standards of debate are so low, and his thickets of misdirection so tangled.

It is instructive, however, because it indicates how difficult a discussion is when one participant hears only what he wants to hear, just how disappointingly low are a professional theologian's standards of evidence, and how of necessity they need to be in order to believe the "foolish" and the "impossible."

Here's just a few of Matt's strawmen in the most recent posts on his blog which, since the substantive responses should be obvious enough, I'll mostly just point out rather than answer (yes, some grammar has been corrected to make the comments as understandable as I can make them):
  • Says Matt: "In recent correspondence with non-believers I have repeatedly met with the following argument. This is usually touted as a kind of self-evident mantra. [1] There is no proof that God exists [2] It's irrational to believe something unless you have proof. Therefore: [3] Belief in the existence of God is irrational."

    Now he may or may not have been referring to exchanges here at Not PC, but if he is then proposition 2 is misstated. What I've said here is that a proposition without proof is flatly arbitrary, and the arbitrary is out. Arbitrary statements don't even get to be called irrational; they don't even get to the table. Matt then goes on to base a whole post on this misstatement.

  • Matt begins another post: "Not PC has a blog on "How Faith destroys Knowledge". The basic line of argument appears to be as follows: three famous thinkers appear to hold that faith and reason are at odds and that faith is the preferable stance."

    First, as all assiduous listeners of Monty Python are aware, "an argument is a connected series of propositions intended to establish a conclusion." What I posted above was not an argument. It was one post with four quotes, one point and an invitation to think about it; some thoughts for a Sunday on how faith undercuts reason. It was not an argument, however I'm happy for Matt to keep providing evidence for it as a proposition, since it seems to me that his methodology provides abundant evidence for the point.
    Second, the "thinkers" quoted (whose "fame" if at all is irrelevant, and whose thinking is at the very least highly suspect) wrote in a time when clarity was valued. They did not "appear to hold" those views. In fact they did hold them. Specifically they held the view that faith is antagonistic to knowledge and reason, a divorce which those thinkers approved.
    Third, Matt seems to ascribes to me in his tangled way the idea that faith is the preferable stance. As any reader of this blog will know, that is the opposite of the case.

  • Matt again: "PC also makes some fairly dubious clams. He cites Tertullian as a Fidest and states that the Gospels were written around in the third century AD."

    No, irrelevant as it might seem, in fact I make no such claims. I do not "cite" Tertullian as "a Fideist." I simply quoted what he said. And what I call him is "another prominent theologian back in the early days when people were making up the Gospels."
    You'll notice too that I do not "state" that the Gospels were written "around the third century AD." Tertullian's dates were 155-230 (ie., the second to third centuries). The earliest surviving copies of the Gospels were dated from the fourth century, and were probably written somewhere in the second or third (arguments about for the age of their composition still rage). However, quite apart from being irrelevant to any current argument here, from the distance of the twenty-first century what I said is more than accurate enough. And it wasn't "stated" as a "claim."

  • He carries on in this manner, ascribing to me all sorts of things I haven't said and positions I haven't taken, eg,"First, [PC] provides some counter examples to anti-evidentialism..." and "Second, he offers some criticisms of the Kalam Cosmological Argument...". In other words, he faults me for insufficiently countering in the comments section two very specific theological sallies, when my response was simply to two fairly general and poorly argued points.

  • There is more of this, as you'd expect, but what he's working up to is this, right at the conclusion of his substantive post: "I suspect however that PC has not read Christian thinkers he has read Ayn Rand and various libertarian caricatures of Christian thinkers. On the basis of these caricatures he denigrates Christians as irrational and politically dangerous."

    Now Matt is entitled to suspect what he likes, and he may think what he likes about who and what I've read, but it's frankly surprising to see such firm conclusions drawn on the basis of one post containing only four quotes, one point and an invitation to think about it. And this from a professional theologian.

    And this is the reason I've taken the time with these trivialities here, since the rigour with which we demand evidence for our views is the measure of our commitment to the reality of those views.

    One would be sorely tempted to point out that Matt's apparent disdain for standards of evidence is hardly surprising, since christians are used to making up their minds based on scanty or non-existent evidence -- which was the partial point of my the original post, if you'll recall, and also of many comments -- and fortunately for us Matt himself provides us with an tip that is like a signpost for those of us curious about christian epistemological standards. Says Matt: "you can rationally believe certain things, in certain situations, without evidence."

    You really couldn't make that up.
UPDATE 3: Matt has another go. Make of it what you will.

UPDATE 4: Links fixed. Matt's professional description amended.

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