Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Merger news

Those of you who got your money out of the falling market early might like to run your eye over some upcoming corporate merger plans so you can get in on the ground floor and make good money in 2008.

  1. Hale Business Systems, Mary Kay Cosmetics, Fuller Brush, and W.R. Grace Co. Will merge and become:
         Hale, Mary, Fuller, Grace.
  2. PolyGram Records, Warner Bros., and Zest Crackers join forces and become:
         Poly, Warner Cracker.
  3. 3M will merge with Goodyear and become:
         MMMGood.
  4. Zippo Manufacturing, Audi Motors, Dofasco, and Dakota Mining will merge and become:
         ZipAudiDoDa .
  5. FedEx is expected to join its competitor, UPS, and become:
         FedUP.
  6. Fairchild Electronics and Honeywell Computers will become:
         Fairwell Honeychild.
  7. Grey Poupon and Docker Pants are expected to move into children's wear and become:
         PouponPants.
  8. Knotts Berry Farm and the National Organization of Women will become:
         Knott NOW!
  9. And finally .... 9. Victoria's Secret and Smith & Wesson will merge under the new name:
         Titty Titty Bang Bang

Submissions for next 'Free Radical'

It's nearly time to start pulling together contributions for the next Free Radical magazine.  If you have something you're already working on, or something you'd like to be working on -- something that simply has to be in the next magazine -- then let me know now, and start working towards the Feb 6 deadline.

You can email me at organon at ihug.co.nz.

Housing affordability: It's regulation, stupid

Since the news of New Zealand's leading position in the field of housing unaffordability is finally being digested, but unfortunately still with so many indigestible misconceptions, I thought I'd repost this concise summary of the reasons for rising housing costs produced by Pieter Burghout of the Master Builders Federation. He naturally overlooks the expected cost increases due to the senseless certification of builders and designers, but since planners, regulators and Alan Bollard have yet to focus on the real causes of that unaffordability, it's important that we do. I've retained my original introduction to the piece.

Demographia's worldwide survey of housing affordability demonstrates clearly enough that since all housing markets studied have similar tax and credit regimes but distinctly different policies on land regulation, the crucial factor in housing affordability is land regulation, not new taxes.

The problem in those markets experiencing serious unaffordability (those in which average house costs around six to seven times the average income) is overregulation of land use. Conversely those cities enjoying more affordable houses (those in which average house costs around three times the average income) is minimal regulations on land use. It costs more than twice an average household's income to buy a house in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch for example, around which "planners" have imposed artifical "urban walls," than it does in Houston, which is unzoned.

An editorial in the NZ Master Bulders' magazine Building Today highlights the problem perfectly with points keenly summarised in the graphs below (click on them to enlarge): over the last five years material costs have increased by twenty-five percent and labour costs by fifty percent (much of that due to the green-plated new building regs). Over that same time consent fees have increased by fifty percent, land costs have doubled, and levies and compulsory contributions levied by council have increased by ten times!

In dollar terms, the biggest increase is in the inflation of land costs due to regulation. In percentage terms the biggest increase is in infrastructure levies and fees. If that doesn't leave you incensed, then you're probably part of the problem. And if you think either are susceptible to interest rate increases then you must be Alan Bollard.

Because of its brevity it's worth reading Master Builders' CEO Pieter Burghout's piece in full (or nearly enough), so here it is:

Housing affordability -- it can be fixed!
...0ne of the recent, big public issues has centred around housing affordability, with nearly everyone jumping on the bandwagon and suggesting how it can be fixed.
...For certain, Kiwis have aspired, and probably always will aspire, to own their own home — their own “quarter acre section of paradise”. And that’s entirely how it should be.
...Unfortunately, the lift in house prices over the past five or so years has put the average home out of the reach of the average Kiwi family, which is not good. […]
...The construction industry, and New Zealand as a whole, benefits from having an affordable housing sector, and we believe there are a number of measures that can be taken to improve housing affordability.
...The main points we made in our submission to the [Select Committee Inquiry on Housing Affordability] are noted below. Our research, within New Zealand and offshore, validates that the key drivers of the housing affordability issue have been, in order of priority:
  • rises in land cost,
  • rises in local authority infrastructure levies and fees,
  • increasing compliance costs, and
  • increased labour and material costs.
...This analysis is shown in the graphs at right.
...And as the prices of new homes have risen, so have the prices of existing homes — because that’s how the market worksl
...If these are the cost drivers behind house price increases, then what are the things that need to be done to fix them and make houses more affordable again?
...First, the biggest factor affecting land cost is supply, and central and local government need to consider what measures can and should be taken to free up land availability, particularly in the main centres.
...Second, the biggest percentage increase in cost has been burgeoning increases in local authority infrastructure levies and fees. These should be better assessed and monitored to ensure they are fair and reasonable — rather than the “laissez faire” approach that applies currently. [It’s worth noting here that the Libertarianz submission on Sandra Lee’s expansion of local government powers pointed out at the time that good objective law allows individuals the right to do anything except that which is specifically prohibited while restraining governments to acting only on that which is specifically permitted, and that Lee’s Local Government Act reverses this important principle. The explosive consequences for the cost of local government that we’ve seen since the Act’s passing are entirely due to that reversal.]
...The construction industry can and should pay for those extra infrastructure costs that it imposes, but it’s not fair that new home owners pay inflated infrastructure levies to subsidise existing home owners who otherwise have lower rates to pay
...And third, the next largest significant increase has been in the area of compliance costs. Some of these costs are reasonable as the industry lifts overall quality levels since the leaky building saga, but some are unreasonable, and steps should be taken to reduce them, particularly:
  • consent process delays (consent, inspections and code compliance certificates),
  • consenting uncertainty and variability, and
  • producer statement uncertainty and variability.
...There have been increases in labour and material costs but, in our view, both of these are subject to strong competitive pressures across the industry and across the economy as a whole. We are generally comfortable with where these costs sit in perspective against the other cost drivers noted above.
...The final point we made in our submission to the Inquiry is that similar housing affordability issues apply in other countries, and New Zealand should take heed from the remedial measures being proposed in those countries to adopt what is applicable here.
...In nearly all the cases we researched, the three factors we have highlighted — land prices, infrastructure levies and compliance costs — are at the top of the list of things to fix. And so it should be in New Zealand, too.
...The problem won’t be fixed overnight, but it can be tackled, and we strongly encourage the Government to do so.
* * * * *
Burghout makes the point abundantly clear, don't you think? A commenter here at Not PC prescribed the solution just a few months ago:
Here's the solution: get rid of fiat money, get rid of zoning, don't fight so-called sprawl and let people free to develop according to demand, and let development "end the divide between rural and urban areas" by having the council-imposed 'Urban Wall' removed.
Good luck getting either this Government or the planners responsible for the problem interested enough to care.

Plot, character and great drama, all in less than an hour-and-a-half (updated)

Half-a-dozen of us here last night watched two films and a TV programme.  That might sound like a busy evening, but it wasn't.  It only took an hour-and-a-half.

It only took an hour-and-a-half because the two films didn't take long to watch.  Despite stars, spectacle and really big budgets both 'The Good German' and 'Black Dahlia' were execrable.  They failed the fifteen minute test, offering no good reason we should watch them any further.  If you haven't already seen them, my advice is 'don't bother.'

240px-Spooks002Not so the TV show, conveniently packaged on DVD.  With no stars and a merely moderate budget, but with a script so tight it rivalled a fish's sphincter, in its one non-commercial hour the BBC's 'Spooks' showed how good drama is done, and just how good it is when done well.

As too many directors forget, It's the Story Stupid.  'The Good German' and the 'Black Dahlia' had George Clooney and Cate Blanchett and Scarlett Johansen and a host of other so called stars who couldn't act their way out of a paper bag even if they'd been given any lines worth delivering to help them out.

 poster These two "modern noirs" are supposedly homages to the great film noirs of the forties and fifties, films like 'In a Lonely Place,' 'Double Indemnity,' 'The Third Man' or 'The Blue Dahlia' (the only similarity to 'The Black Dahlia is that they are both films), but unlike these classics today's tributes have no stories worth following, no characters worth caring about, and no actors able to impart the gravity that actors like Bogart and Stanwyck and Welles delivered so easily and (still) so memorably, and often with a touch of easy humour.  Neither 'Good German' nor 'Black Dahlia' could even manage the humour, yet these are films that deserve to be roundly laughed at.

As with so many of today's films, the films' directors seem to have forgotten the basic elements of their craft, and their actors all-too obviously never had them. Watching 'Spooks' however was damn fine entertainment, and also a simple reminder of how important those basic elements are.

200px-ThirdManUSPoster Nearly two-and-a-half thousand years ago Aristotle identified the six basic parts of any drama.  In decreasing order of importance they are Plot, Characters, Theme, Dialogue, Rhythm (or Melody), and Spectacle*.  In that order.  Without a plot to follow and characters to care about, neither spectacle nor melody can save a drama.  Two millennia and a century of film technology hasn't changed that, no matter how much CGI you might be able to afford. 

It's the first two of Aristotle's elements that truly characterise good drama -- that is, Plot and Character.  With all the technology now available to film-makers however, it's now the last two in his list that dominate contemporary films, with 'Spectacle' generally and mind-numbingly considered the most important, and a sumptuous score used to bolster the empty bravado.  “Superior poets rely on the inner structure of the play rather than spectacle,"observed Aristotle, however “the production of spectacular effects depends more on the art of the stage machinist than on that of the poet.”  It's no accident that "stage machinists" and soundtrack simpletons are highly valued in Hollywood while the "poets" are striking for better pay and recognition of their talents, and no wonder most of what's produced there is so teeth-achingly dull.  With nothing to integrate the explosions, the car chases and the lingering 'artistic' shots of most of today's films whether art-house or shit-house, there's nothing to do but either nod off or turn off.  Last night we turned off, and turned on 'Spooks' instead.

By crikey, this show is good.  With none of the megabudget resources available to most of today's film-makers, the show's creators rely instead on Aristotle's first two elements, and like the classic noir films they do them superbly: the Characters are  sympathetic, well drawn and given enough light and depth to emerge from the thematic shadows -- they are agents in both the fully volitional and the MI5 sense; and their Plots are sharp and well-integrated and relentless -- you mustn't blink for fear of missing a crucial plot point. 

260px-Inalonelyplace With 'Spooks,' the plot is always king, and this holds true for every episode of every season -- a remarkable achievement.

What makes a good plot wasn't news to noir's lions and isn't news to the makers of 'Spooks,' although it's clearly news that's now been lost in  L.A.: in three words, it's Dramatic Conflict, and Integration.  Without a decent dramatic conflict, there is no plot.  Without tight integration of all elements, you can't bring the drama into focus.  And once you have a well-written and well-integrated dramatic conflict, you don't need to spend a fortune on Spectacle.

You'd think budget-conscious producers would value that simple formula.  The rarity of shows as sharp as 'Spooks' and the flatulence of so many films shows it's something so many have still to learn.  Until they do, I'll keep ignoring most of what they produce.
                                                                          _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* Here, for your future viewing pleasure, are Aristotle's six elements along with explanatory quotes from his Poetics whence they come:

  1. Plot (muthos): “the combination of the incidents, or things done in the story.”
  2. Character (êthé): “what makes us ascribe certain qualities to the agents.”
  3. Thought/Theme (dianoia): "all they say when proving a particular point or, it may be, enunciating a general truth...”
  4. Dialogue/Diction (lexis):  "the externalisation of the internal order of the fable..."
    “What indeed would be the good of the speaker if things appeared in the required light even apart from anything he says?”
  5. Melody (mélopoia)
  6. Spectacle (opsis)

About these last two Aristotle says but little, regarding them "as having more to do with how the tragedy is performed, as opposed to its actual content."

UPDATE:  I loved novelist Ed Cline's review of the Will Smith blockbuster 'I Am Legend.'  With characteristic economy -- and a useful integration with my own post -- the review is titled "I am Plotless," and begins:

For a change of pace, offered here is a movie review. Warning: there are no plot-spoilers in this review; there is no plot to spoil... I suspected this movie would be talked about ... given the critical imprimatur. However, it is a B movie inflated by modern film technology (chiefly CGI, or computer generated imagery) with the intention of making it a blockbuster. But, fundamentally, it isn't any better than Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space.

The details or concretes one chooses to show or include in a story must have a purpose, that is, they must be integrated into the plot, they must have a demonstrable place or a role in the logical sequence of events. If they are included, but not explained, or are there just for "special effects" to impress or mislead a reader or viewer, or are included simply at the whim of a writer or director, then they violate Louis Sullivan's rule that form must follow function, or Ayn Rand's rule of essentialization. A plot itself, by Rand's definition, is "a purposeful progression of logically connected events leading to the resolution of a climax."

I am Legend is a cinematic jigsaw puzzle most of whose pieces do not connect. There is a "climax," but no logic to it. Among its many other faults, it is an epistemological abomination, and the horrible thing about it is that I don't believe the film's makers consciously intended that. Its illogic reflects the state of their epistemology. And since their epistemology (and metaphysics) is a subjectivist shambles, to them logic and causal-connections are elective elements not absolutely requisite to solving the problem of the moment.

Let us examine the film story of I am Legend, based on Richard Matheson's 1954 science fiction novel of the same title...

Click here to read all of Cline's masterful review, especially if you want to find why Plot and Character trump special effects and loud explosions -- and why Aristotle still matters.  ;^)

He is Dead

                                                           new_zealand_flag_at_half_mast

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead...
                                                          - from WH Auden, Funeral Blues

Five best places to hangout if you're a Frank Lloyd Wright fan

                                         

The good folk at the Ottawa Citizen have selected their "five best places to hangout if you're a Frank Lloyd Wright fan."  (I guess it's the sort of thing you do in Ottawa in midwinter when the snow's coming up past your navel.)

The list includes the Darwin Martin house, the Price Tower (left), the Guggenheim Museum and Taliesin West -- all by Wright, most of which I've featured here before and two of which I've visited -- along with the Falling Rock Hotel in Pennsylvania, a "chic new hotel...wonderfully close to the most acclaimed of Wright's works, Fallingwater, and his lesser known Kentuck Knob." 

One assumes this to be a subtle advertorial on behalf of the "chic new hotel" (I'm suspicious like that), but since it allows me to link again to posts on some of my favourite Wright buildings, how much harm can it do.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Pests

Mrs Smith makes a sighting in the wild of a rapidly growing pest, the genus Urban Brat.  "I wish I could say that this semi-feral species of the urban child is rare," she says, "but indeed, their population seems to be increasing. Thus, any school-leavers wondering which field to study at university, might be strongly advised to pursue psychiatry. I think this may be a booming industry in the next decade."  You've been warned.

Greenmongering pits poor against planet

                                 tata_nano_0110

Pictured above is the world's cheapest car: the Tata Nano.  The entry level model retails at just US$2500.  Its makers hope to sell over a million Nanos a year, and at that price and in one of the world's most populated markets, you wouldn't bet against them.  The market for which the Nano is intended and in which it will be built is India.  Ratan Tata, the entrepreneur responsible, told Time magazine he expects it to revolutionise life for poorer families:

Tata hopes the Nano will help millions of poor people around the world — the "Bottom of the Pyramid" in developing world marketing-speak —switch from two wheels to four.

It's impossible to overstate the boon for the word's poor of such a car.  As Brendan O'Neill says at Sp!ked Online, instead of "having to rely on overcrowded, unpredictable public transport or sweating everywhere by pushbike," "millions of people in the developed and very quickly developing world [can instead enjoy] the freedom, flexibility and – yes – status offered by a car."

This could transform India. If the railways, a byproduct of British colonialism, served India well in the twentieth century, then the rise of a new car culture could change the face and feel of India in the twenty-first. Millions more people will have steady, relatively well-paid jobs on car production lines; miles and miles of new roads and motorways will be constructed to accommodate the new motorised middle classes; and the average Joe Patel will enjoy greater speed and liberty in his everyday life courtesy of the affordable car. The People’s Car: one short drive for a man, one giant leap for mankind!

It's all good, you would think:  A win-win situation for everyone from Mr Tata to the dirt poor of India's dusty streets.  Not so.  The same kind of people who have between them made the developed world's houses more and more unaffordable bemoan this boon as "planet threatening" -- as far as the world's poor are concerned they say (just as Marie Antoinette might have said), "Let them all walk." 

   What [impoverished buyers] foolishly and selfishly think of as a wonderful opportunity to get their mitts on the steering wheel of a super-cheap four-wheeler is actually the latest instance of human destructiveness against the planet [notes O'Neill].
   ...
as one British newspaper points out, while the launch of The People’s Car has been greeted with ‘zeal’ by India’s middle classes and aspirant working classes, it has been greeted with ‘worry’ from the environmentalist lobby, which is disgusted by the ‘unbridled enthusiasm’ of ordinary Indians for the super-cheap car, and which predicts ‘a plague of ever-cheaper cars and ever-swelling clouds of climate-changing fumes.’ The People’s Car will apparently have ‘drastic consequences for pollution.' Those dirty Indians.
   Environmentalists’ discomfort with The People’s Car throws into stark relief one of their core convictions: that the developing world must not achieve the same standard of living or level of wealth as we in the West enjoy, because if it does the Earth will perish.

Once again, global greenmongering puts at risk global prosperity, this time for those who need it most.  And once again we see their global crusade pitting their planetary aspirations ahead of real people and their own push for prosperity.  "As a used-car salesman in New Delhi said when The People’s Car was launched: ‘It’s the same dream anywhere in the world. You want a good home, a good car and a beautiful wife'." But that's not a dream the "eco-miserabilists" want these uppity brown people to have.  As O'Neill concludes,

However much green activists use the word ‘rich’ and ‘middle class’ as terms of abuse, there’s no disguising the fact that these Westernised, white-led campaign groups are lecturing brown people for getting ideas above their station – or above their station wagon, in the case of The People’s Car.

In his book All the Trouble in the World, PJ O'Rourke pointed out the covert racism of all the hand-wringing about the "population explosion" back when the population was supposed to be exploding, and we were all supposed to be worrying.  That myth was largely exploded by Julian Simon in his book The Ultimate Resource, a reviewer of which  makes the same point as O'Rourke and O'Neill:

Pervading the anti-growth movement is the miasma of racism, as evinced by this extract from The Population Bomb quoted in The Ultimate Resource: "I came to understand the population explosion emotionally one stinking hot night in Delhi...The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping, people visiting, arguing and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people." You can almost hear it: "my dear, the natives, they were everywhere. Beastly, smelly people, little better than rats". The fact that these "human pollutants" have just as much right to existence as any one of us seems to escape the population doomsayers.

The doomsayers haven't disappeared, neither has their (still) unacknowledged dirty secret -- and nor have they yet accepted that reviewer's ultimate point.

Safety clothing essential

A man on the job is a man in need of some serious workwear.  This spicey, satirical commercial [moderately NSFW] got Britain's Daily Mail readers all hot and bothered when, 'twas reported, pupils at a private school discovered their English teacher Sarah Green was featured in the "'shocking soft-porn" ad for hard-wearing workwear.  Fortunately, exposure such as this from the Mail has meant inattentive pupils and blog readers like yourself who hadn't yet seen the clip won't miss out.

Welcome to the land of milk and honey ... and the world's most unaffordable housing

Several years on from New Zealand's housing affordability problems becoming all but obvious, they've now gone past being serious and becoming tragic.  Auckland and Wellington might rank just eighteenth equal in a survey of the world's most liveable cities, but measured against our incomes New Zealand cities now top the polls as the most unaffordable places in the developed world in which to buy a home.  Where it takes less that ten years work for household on the median income to buy a median-priced house in Ireland, the US and Canada, it takes the NZ's middle-income household nearly twenty years! [Herald story here.  Worldwide housing affordability study here at the Demographia site.]

Little wonder. As income levels elsewhere have been soaring, wages in this pathetic authoritarian backwater have failed to keep pace (see graph at right, and story here).  Meanwhile -- as demand for housing continues to soar -- when regulators aren't making it well-nigh impossible for builders and developers to build and develop on the land they own, planners are making it well-nigh impossible to buy land on which anyone is even allowed to contemplate building and developing. [See many, many previous posts here on Building, Housing, Sprawl, Urban Design and the RMA.]

Both rural and urban land is in huge demand for development; but the supply of land has been effectively nationalised.  Our cities have been ring-fenced by eco-zealots eager to calcify rural New Zealand into a bucolic museum, while within our cities (which represent just 1.4% of the country's land) restrictions on land supply and the development of that land is severely restricted, and the choice of housing types severely limited.  (Greater London area is about the same size as Greater Auckland, for example, yet while London houses over ten million people in a mixture of terrace housing, walk-up apartments and tower blocks, Auckland is home to just over one million -- and as Auckland's planners argue against the sprawl their policies induce, they severely restrict the density within the city that their restrictive ring-fencing demands.)

The result of these restrictions on building and on land supply is that New Zealand needs around 35,000 houses a year to keep up with demand, while home builders are restricted to producing just 24,000 houses every year -- and thanks to the explosion of building regulations and the increasing emigration of skilled builders, each of those houses costs much more to produce than it ever has, on land that is more expensive than it's ever been.

It's instructive that the most expensive houses in New Zealand relative to income are now no longer those in Auckland.  Tauranga -- whose 'planners' have enthusiastically embraced the anti-development 'sustainable' philosophy of so called 'Smart Growth' -- now has the country's most unaffordable houses.  No coincidence when you consider that the world's most unaffordable cities are overwhelmingly those who have most enthusiastically embraced 'Smart Growth.'

The real culprit here isn't the council officers or planners or regulators who make the plans that restrict the supply of land and the ability of bui9lders to develop it for would-be home-owners; the real culprits are the Resource Management Act that gives planners and regulators the power over other people's property, and a culture that assumes that local governments need planners and regulators to plan and control.

All this, and the bastards responsible still airily deny they're the problem, while proposing measures that will only make things worse

This lack of clearsightedness is perhaps because the situation seems irredeemable -- which it is, unless the red-tinted glasses of the planners and their acolytes are removed.  A similar problem is easy to see in the traffic jams that snarl up our cities, which as Andrew Galambos says are "a collision between free enterprise and socialism. Free enterprise produces automobiles faster than socialism can build roads and road capacity."

That same collision of capitalism and socialism in our daily traffic jams is ever present too in NZ's severely unaffordable housing markets: a bubble inflated by the freewheeling demands of prosperity and credit and new immigration colliding with a simultaneous suffocation of supply by the socialism of the state. At a time when greater supply is desperately needed to mop up exploding demand, 'planners' -- those throwbacks to the failed central planning regimes of socialist states -- are throttling the supply lines we do have.

It's time that unemployment was urgently increased, among the fraternity of planners who have condemned New Zealand's home-owners to half a lifetime of paying off their houses.

UPDATE:  As reader Wayne points out, with the usual suspects busy patching up their server stories, there's an unusually good thread on this topic at Kiwiblog.

Liars at large

This election year, individuals have been severely restricted in the amounts they can spend opposing government policies -- meanwhile, the Clark Government has spent record amounts of your money fitting out government departments with spin doctors to trumpet its own lies.  [Story here.]While individuals are confined to spending $120,000 over the whole year in a national campaign (or just $10,000 in a local campaign), government departments now boast a whopping 448 spin doctors -- 210 more than just five years ago, and nearly ten times the number of the mid-eighties -- who cost us the sum of $47 million, not including the cost of campaigns these lying arseholes dream up. 

This is where your tax dollars go to, while the sound of protest is muzzled.

Remember last year when a huge taxpayer-funded advertising splurge trumpeted the government's  Kiwisaver, Student Loans and Welfare for Working Families election bribes? You and I paid for that.  Remember all the lies and spin fed to you by the Clark Government-- lies and spin about smacking your children, about the Electoral Finance Bill, about their pledge card ... You and I paid for all that too, and they plan for you to keep right on paying, election after election, while being muzzled in how much we can pay to protest.

The explosion of spin under the Clark regime and of the liars who are paid to do it mirrors a similar explosion in lying and spin in Tony Blair's New Labour.  The pledge card wasn't the only thing NZ Labour borrowed from UK New Labour.  They've also borrowed their mendacity.  As Peter Oborne notes in writing of the rise and rise of political lying in Britain, the reliance on spin and the volume of its is a new phenomenon in politics.

All governments have contained liars, and most politicians deceive each other as well as the public from time to time.  But in recent years [under New Labour] mendacity and deception have ceased to be abnormal and become an entrenched feature of the British [political] system.

The institutionalisation of spin is almost complete, here as it is in Britain.

Records Ruth Laugesen in yesterday's Sunday Star Times, the number of spin doctors is at a record high.  "Government agencies have hired more new communications staff in five years than all the journalists working at Television New Zealand, Radio New Zealand, the Sunday Star-Times and the Dominion Post newspapers put together."  As Gerry Brownlee points out, this leaves them ideally placed to use the machinery of government as its personal campaign for re-election.

In the last election the Clark Government thought they could use taxpayer's money intended to run the Prime Minister's office in order to run for the Prime Minister's Office.  This was what paid for their pledge card.  This election they clearly intend to use every "communications" resource  in every government department they can lay their hands on to run for re-election.  This is the reason the Madeleine Setchell/Clair Curran employment saga was so important (the only reason): it's important to the Clark Government that the have loyal "communications staff" are in place in every department.  With the numbers Laugesen quotes, it's clear that the capture of the public service is all but complete.

  • "The Ministry of Social Development topped the list with 54 communications staff and contractors, making it bigger than Radio New Zealand's entire workforce of journalists."
  • "The biggest spender on communication contractors and staff was the Ministry of Education, with 70% of the $6.6m it spent going on contractors."
  • "There are 10 times as many government "communications staff" as there were 25 years ago, despite a smaller public service."

Not included in this number is the cost of bloggers such as the hacks at the Sub-Standard, who spin this news by arguing that it's not that there are too many spin doctors but too few journalists -- echoing a line used by Helen Clark at a journalism conference last December, and doing it on Labour's ticket.  (As Paul M. points out in the comments at Kiwiblog, the Sub-Standard is hosted on the Labour Party's server, but without the parliamentary crest that's supposed to appear on taxpayer-funded pieces of puffery such as this is, leaving a few questions for the Sub-Standard boys and girls to answer, including who exactly pays their wages, and for what purpose.)

Watch out people.  There are liars out there, and you're paying for them.

The Rise of Political Lying
by Peter Oborne

Read more about this book...

Sunday, 20 January 2008

An atheist in a foxhole

It's said that there are no atheists in a foxhole.  When it comes time to stare death in the face, one's thoughts are supposed to turn to the hereafter, and to God. This is all nonsense, says blogger Annie Fox.  With cancer placing her in that metaphorical foxhole for much of last year, she says there are most definitely atheists in foxholes - "and I’m one of them."

   Although I did not want to die so young, I was not afraid of dying. But my lack of fear is not why I’m an atheist--even if I was terrified at the prospect of dying, I’d still be atheist. I'm an atheist because that is the only rational possibility.
   I actually think I could turn the foxhole scenario around and say that on a sunny day at the beach all believers are atheists. The only reason I can fathom that they cling to their belief, is fear: fear of dying, or fear that life does not have that certain meaning, or fear that without religious structure life would be too chaotic, or fear that their family and friends would shun them should they not follow like sheep.
   What kind of horrible mental gymnastics must this take - to dispel all the facts around you and cling to the impossible, just because you are afraid - sounds like a quick path to mental illness.

The premise of religionists that religion provides "hope" in times of trouble is an illusion built upon sophistry and lies.  To found one's hope upon a fiction--in denial of the obvious facts around you--is the worst kind of fraud.  At such times, relentless focus upon the facts is what saves you, not shroud-waving and false hope.  As she concludes, one of the jobs of hospital security guards should be "to throw out religious vultures that prey on the scared and venerable in times of stress." 

Read the whole post at Annie Fox's.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Beer O'Clock: He'Brew -- The Chosen Beer

Here's something we haven't seen before: Jewish beer.  Specifically He'Brew: The Chosen Beer, along with as many bad puns and Jewish double-entendres as you could poke a matzoh ball at, starting with ...

             twojews_poster

Schmaltz Brewery's He'Brew beer, "conceived in San Francisco and brewed in New York," has now gone to eleven--which means all the way up, they say--with a selection of beers including Genesis Ale (their first creation, natch) and the Messiah Bold (the beer you've all been waiting for); the Jewbelation and the Miraculous Jewbilation -- and of course the Bittersweet (the beer brewed to commemorate Patron Rabbi Lenny Bruce). 

This is a brewing company that promises everything from Creation to Evolution, from Revelation to Inebriation.  In other words, the works!  I have no idea at all what the beer tastes like, although Rate Beer rates the new Jewbilation Eleven--"the most extreme Chanukah beer ever created"--very highly, and as marketing goes this stuff sure tickles the funny bone.

If you do nothing else, check out the brewery's Video Schtick.

L'Chaim!  To Life!

Friday, 18 January 2008

Who wrote Ron Paul's material? (updated)

I mentioned yesterday that Ron Paul's ridiculous "leave them alone and they'll go away" foreign policy was based largely on the wishful thinking of the late libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard, who, in attempting to woo the anti-war left with his own anti-war ravings, showed he was nothing if not willing to sacrifice facts and robust policy for the sake of populism and the wilful self-delusion of the post-modern intellectual.  That Paul is attracting that same support now for the same insane policy -- for the idea that if you simply stop defending yourself then the bad guys will just go away -- shows Rothbard's intellectual influence in the Paul campaign, even from beyond the grave, and  also demonstrates how Rothbard's influence has damaged libertarianism.

You see it turns out the "racially charged talking points and vocabulary" in Ron Paul's early newsletters -- for which Paul has been widely and rightly lambasted -- were largely the work of Rothbard acolyte Lew Rockwell who, when he's not friend and adviser to Ron Paul, is unfortunately the head of the Mises Institute (which Rothbard helped set up, and of which Paul is a prominent patron).  And as Reason magazine points out (see here for their investigation of the articles' authorship) they were written with the same "coalition-building" strategy in mind as was intended with Rothbard's "peace and love" foreign policy, "exploiting racial and class resentment to build a coalition with populist 'paleoconservatives'." Selling liberty by means of selling it out.  What could be less ingenious.

Paul supporters like The Whig dismiss this news simply as "the old story of libertarians trying to pander to fellow fringe groups for support, I'm afraid.  Silly boys."  That would be true enough, except that the self-destructive strategy begun by Rothbard in the Vietnam era in order to woo the anti-war left has so infected American libertarianism that it's now sadly all but synonymous with it.  If you stand for anything, then in the end you stand for nothing.  And notice too Rockwell hasn't resiled from this strategy either -- he's continued the ideological coalition with 'paleoconservatism' built up in the era in which he helmed Paul's newsletters in the direction he's taken with the Mises Institute (with Paul in tow), which when it's not publishing excellent pieces on economics along the lines you'd expect from the name on its masthead is peddling encomia to the slave state of the US Confederacy, to the hunting down of "illegals," and to the see-no-evil pacifism now espoused by the Ron Paul campaign.

In other words, it's rapidly becoming a parasite on the reputation of one the world's finest economists, just as Rothbard's libertarianism was itself largely a parasite on the ideas of Ayn Rand (whose ideas Rothbard frequently borrowed, usually without either attribution or understanding).  In fact, Henry Hazlitt's famous description of Keynes could easily be applied to Rothbard and to Rockwell, that neither is either true or wholly original -- their original ideas are not true, and those that are true are not original -- the true ideas have been filched, and the original ideas are mostly destructive. 

No wonder Ayn Rand called Rothbard and his followers "hippies of the right," and counselled rational lovers of liberty to have nothing to do with them.  That goes now for the Paul campaign as well.

paul UPDATE:  Robert Bidinotto's New Individualist magazine goes much further than I have in repudiating Paul's candidacy. The cover (pictured right) gives you an idea of the opprobrium in which Paul is deservedly held; the cover story by Vodka Pundit Steven Green

focuses solely on Cong. Paul's growing public prominence as a self-proclaimed spokesman for the ideas of liberty -- and on the impact that his representations of those ideas are having on a national audience. The article expresses concern for the fate of those ideas, and not for his fate as a candidate for public office.

As this post on Bidinotto's blog makes clear, even apart from as the views and authorship of those Ron Paul newsletters, his credentials as a spokesman for liberty are such that his further advocacy can only damage the cause -- as more and more are realising as his campaign unravels.

[The] revelations about Cong. Paul's more outrageous views and his intimate association with a disreputable fringe cult within the libertarian movement have touched off an explosion of media scorn and expressions of outrage in recent days -- much coming from the more responsible libertarian circles. For example, the editors of Reason magazine -- who, in sharp contrast to TNI, published a glowing cover feature about "the Ron Paul phenomenon" in their latest issue -- are now expressing their disgust and distancing themselves from his candidacy. (Here are comments from the magazine's editors, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. Reason contributor Jesse Walker weighs in here, and former contributor Tim Cavanaugh here, while past editor Virginia Postrel comments here and here.) Likewise, Cato's David Boaz offers his own repudiation here. (I could cite many, many more denunciations from various prominent libertarians.)
In the meantime, many commentators are also taking Cong. Paul to task for views that thoroughly refute his claim to being a consistent champion of individual rights, liberty, and the Constitution.
Steve Green's article in TNI cited Paul's highly restrictive position on immigration (to the right of Tom Tancredo), his hypocritical support of pork-barrel earmarks for his own congressional district, his opposition to various free-trade agreements (like NAFTA) on wacko-conspiratorial grounds that they surrender U.S. sovereignty to Evil International Institutions, and his appalling, blame-America-first version of "noninterventionism" in foreign policy.
To that,
Wendy McElroy points to Cong. Paul's pro-federal-interventionist anti-abortion bill (read her whole commentary), which would deny women the right to end a pregnancy and even deny the courts the power of judicial review in the matter -- a clear violation of separation of powers, which is a curious position for this self-proclaimed champion of the Constitution.
But what can you expect from a religious conservative who, on Lew Rockwell's website,
rejected the Jeffersonian principle of a "wall of separation" between religion and government? As the congressman put it, "The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers."

Read Bidinotto's full post here (complete with links), and a link to Steve Green's article here.

Tibor's new place on the web

I need to tell you that Tibor Machan's blog has shifted to a new location -- well, two new locations:

Tibor's Place on the Web, or (far more blog-like, including RSS feeds) Tibor's Space.

He tells me Google inexplicably charged him with "violating their terms," yet said nothing specific so he could fix it.  Crikey, if a mild-mannered philosophy professor like Tibor can offend Google's sensibilities, I wonder how this blog manages to slip under the radar?

Blues with 'Bulb'

Not PC reader 'Bulb' turns out to be a chap who runs a weekly blues music show called 'One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer"'from Radio WMSV out of Mississippi State University, and he's inviting you to submit your favourite tunes for an up-coming "all request" blues show.  Details at his blog. I sent him mine:

'Come Sunday' - Mahalia Jackson & Duke Ellington
'Roxette' - Dr Feelgood
'St Louis Blues' - Louis Armstrong (a hot version from Paris, 1934 that I've sent him)

And two New Zealand faves (I sent him MP3s to use):

'When Your Lights Are Out' - Hello Sailor
'Who Did All This to Me?' - Hammond Gamble

Listen up on the 'net on Sunday 28 from 8:30-11:30pm CST (which I think is Monday 3:30pm to 6:30pm New Zealand time) to see what makes the cut.

What tracks would you like to hear?

'Shin'enKan' - Bruce Goff - 1956, 1966 & 1974 (destroyed by arson 1996)

              

Tower addition & garden of architect Bruce Goff's 'Shin'enKan' house.  Photo by David Alan Milstead.  The house is featured at the 'Bruce Goff in Bartlesville' blog.

                                             

Coal and glass cullet garden wall, photo by David Alan Milstead.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Te Qaeda were 4 real

Were Tame Iti's one-hundred or so bush trainees simply amiable nature-lovers exercising a peaceful interest in bushcraft and lethal weapons, or were they an objective threat to all  of us?   Were the arrested seventeen "political prisoners" who were "kidnapped by state terrorists," or were they armed insurrectionists being schooled in "direct action" who were arrested in a copybook police action? 

Says Phil Howison in a new article looking at these questions, "the Urewera 17 Posed an Objective Threat to New Zealand," and we have the police to thank for averting that threat.  His article draws on leaked police evidence, "attempt[ing] to restore public confidence in the police by demonstrating why the alleged terrorists posed an objective threat to New Zealand's security."

I urge you to read it, and digest it.

Move along, no ideas here, nothing to see

The pale pissweak presidential hopefuls from both sides of the aisle offer little hope for anything of any stature to emerge from this year's presidential contest.  With so much at stake -- recession looming; monetary meltdown; the Islamofascist threat -- instead of a lion emerging from the political thickets of the primaries, there are only mealy-mouthed mice.  Even the victory speeches are marked by platitudes.  "Washington is broken," said Mitt Romney in winning the GOP's Michigan primary, "and we're going to do something about it.  Tonight marks the beginning of a comeback, a comeback for America."  What on earth does that mean?  Never have words so flatulent been used in a contest so seemingly important. 

It's no less vapid however than the racist wisecracks and empty sparring about 'gender politics' going on in the Democratic race -- anything it seems than confront anything meaningful.  Michael Hurd considers what all this emptiness means and `concludes that is "an election about nothing."

When candidates abandon political and philosophical ideas, the focus, in elections, tends to be on the "horse race" aspect. It becomes an election of men (or women) rather than of great ideas and issues. The Democratic race is par for the course in this respect. What's striking, however, is the Republican race. Thus far, it consists of a damn poor horse race among a few little men: McCain, Romney, and Huckabee. Each claims to be whatever the voting audience in question seems to demand of him--and none are very good at it. This is why none of them are winning, and each one comes out the victor in a different primary race. The voters realize--and I suspect the candidates themselves even sense--that none of them deserves the nomination, much less the American Presidency. These men are no Thomas Jefferson or George Washington. They're no Ronald Reagan, either. Why, they're not even Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. They're simply ... nothing. In the race for President, the Republicans--as the nominal party of limited government and strong defense in the face of terrorist attacks--ought to be the party of ideas and principle. Instead, they have withered away into irrelevance. It’s hard to believe any one of these three little men will achieve victory within their Party, much less within the nation in the fall.

He's right, isn't he.

Boot 'em all out!

I was sent this bit of doggerel.  I made one or two changes for publication.  The original, I'm told, was written by "a free-thinking 16 year old"  -- I hope she likes what I've done with it...

Christchurch marched in driving rain,
Three thousand protests were in vain,
"Protect parental rights!" they cried.
"We're protecting children," Labour lied.

"Freedom of Speech," Labour hirelings said,
But they're muzzling people's speech instead.
Meanwhile, with the taxes taken from us,
They'll use all that to run for office.

"Make them all pay!" Team Red declared.
And with Mugabe they're compared.
Correctly.

"There's too much freedom", Labour thinks,
"What else can we ban? The drinks?"
Helen didn't sleep through fireworks,
"So let's ban that!" they say, the jerks.

That's right Labour! We don't mind
We know you're only being kind,
Get rid of all our fireworks nights,
And take our freedom, ignore our rights.

It's "Nanny, Nanny!" every day
And every day they make us pay
Through the nose.

"Raise the taxes! Increase the rates!
We know that's what our country hates.
"More welfare for the middle classes!"
It's bribes like that save their arses.

Let Labour in again? Not wise.
Not when they wish to run our lives.
The only thing that can be done,
Is boot them out and have some fun.

Boot them all out. We've had enough
Of Nanny government and all that stuff.
Government in your face and in your wallet
And on your back: It's time to stop it.

Time to end it and be set free;
To put an end to tyranny.
Permanently.

And since Labour-Lite is no great shakes --
They're spineless whimps -- flakes and fakes --
So if freedom from tyranny is your real ambition
Then you're going to need to get some Libz in.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

An Open Letter to Not PC

In reply to Monday's post on communism's Gramsci-inspired "long march through the culture," The Hive has an open letter to Not PC.  It's called An Open Letter to Not PC.  Feel free to respond.  This should add one more point to their ranking of twenty-fifth most popular link from Not PC.

The highly deluded Ron Paul

Presidential candidate Ron Paul's brand of do-nothing foreign policy is deservedly eviscerated by Bret Stephens in today's Wall Street Journal, and unfortunately it demonstrates why not everyone waving a libertarian banner is a libertarian's friend.

Paul's remedy for the world's ills is for America to leave them alone.  Leave them alone and all the terrorists will go home, wagging their tails behind them.  This is not a policy, it's wishful thinking.  And it's not libertarianism, it's the same brand of fantasy-laden pacifism espoused by Ron Paul's hero Murray Rothbard -- a pacifism that led Rothbard to conclude at the very height of the Cold War that the Soviet Union was not expansionist, was "devoted to peace," and so posed no threat to the United States who should therefore disarm completely. Talk about rationalistic delusion in pursuit of foreign policy.  It's the sort of foreign policy you find espoused either in lunatic asylums, or in Keith Locke's and Ron Paul's foreign policy teams.  But I repeat myself.

Stephens reminds readers of George Orwell's observation of English pacifists that pacifism is a doctrine that can only be preached behind the protective cover of the Royal Navy.  And it's worth observing that Thomas Jefferson's rational foreign policy of "trade with all, and entangling alliances with none" -- a policy badly mangled by Paul -- led inexorably to the building up of the US Navy to sweep the North African coast of pirates threatening the world's trade routes. 

What's truly unfortunate, as I've had cause to point out here before, is that to the extent that Paul is successful in having his deluded brand of do-nothing foreign policy equated as being libertarian, he is doing serious harm to rational libertarianism -- to the basic recognition that the right to self-defence requires the means of self-defence, both at home and abroad, particularly at this time when threats from abroad are so malignant.  It is wrong, as Stephens does, to identify this necessary protection with the Leviathan state, but it is Paul's irrational libertarianism that encourages him to make that connection.

It is for reasons such as these that a rational libertarian has to conclude that Ron Paul is not a friend of liberty, and that the extent his candidacy is successful in capturing public attention is the extent to which he damages liberty's cause.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Canadian publisher standing up for free speech

levant_main1Until this morning when several readers drew my attention to his battle before the Alberta Human Wrongs Commissariat in Canada, I had no idea who Ezra Levant is.  Pictured right, Ezra Levant is a hero.  Like The Free Radical and several of NZ's newspapers and TV channels, Ezra Levant's magazine The Western S tandard republished the Danish cartoons that outraged Islamofascists around the world (that's one below), but unlike local magazine editors like myself the Standard's editor was hauled before the state for his temerity in expressing this particular political opinion.  Levant himself summarises the case here.

I would hope I would be both as brave and his eloquent if I were to be placed in his shoes.  We've all learned a lot about free speech and its many enemies in the last few years; it seems Levant has learned every lesson, and on his blog and in the many YouTube videos of his ninety-minute interrogation by Alberta's Human Wrongs Commissariat, he gives an object lesson in free speech, and in facing down the scum to whom the words 'free speech' are as unwelcome as pesticide is to a room full of cockroaches.

DanishCartoon06 These are confrontations the defenders of western culture cannot afford to lose. The right to freedom of speech is a precious one that must be defended.  As Lindsay Perigo said in publishing the cartoons in The Free Radical, free speech cannot be defended, and will only be betrayed, "by apologetic weasel-worders appeasing militant, murderous morons whose savage pseudo-sensibilities have been stirred, not by sticks and stones, but by words. May men of righteous rationality reignite the flame of reason and fight an unapologetic philosophical jihad in its holy name, that it may illumine the globe and save the world from another Dark Ages."

It is brave men such as Levant who carry that flame.  As he says in introducing his Opening Statement, "This is what an interrogation in 2008 looks like. It's not in a dungeon, or even a secure government facility. It's not done by paramilitaries in uniforms. It looks banal -- in a meeting room at a law office, with a bored bureaucrat. It's what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil"."

As I've said here before, when they come for you it won't be with a gun but with a clipboard.  Watch Levant in action and see what it takes to resist.

It's exclusive

Sir Ed's funeral would be better off as a humble private function rather the all-exclusive "state funeral" planned, says Annie Fox.

I thought the idea of a state funeral is that members of the public could attend, if not actually in the building, then out on the lawn. But the lawn outside the Church in Parnell is small and at a guess could hold one thousand people - maybe two thousand - well even at a wild guess five thousand. Hardly the solution for the tens of thousands of people that would like to attend.
So it appears that the funeral is really just for friends and family plus the ruling elite - is this what they mean by state funeral?

Simple answer: Yes.

Moore constitution, fewer bananas

Once again former Prime Minister Mike Moore is successful in provoking Herald readers towards a better New Zealand, this time towards rejecting the monarchy and creating a constitutional republic.  New Zealand's implicit constitutional arrangements have been broken, he says -- broken by the Clark Government -- and it's essential to get the explicit chains of a written constitution around the bastards before it's too late.  We're living in a banana republic, writes Moore (echoing Darnton), but without even the benefit of bananas:

"I once opposed having a constitution because of our European traditions and enlightenment values, which we reject at our peril."  He's right there, but now he's now all for change because these age-old principles and values are being eroded before our eyes.  The electoral system has been changed to the Mickey Mouse Politics of MMP -- and we never got the promised referendum on MMP's future.  Rights to appeal to the Privy Council have been peremptorily removed.  Retrospective legislation was passed to give Clark and her cronies a Get Out of Jail card after stealing your money to steal the last election.  New laws have been passed to help them steal this one, abandoning the 'gentleman's agreement that such changes are only brought about by multi-party consensus.

"The present direction is visionless, dangerously ad hoc, short term and confusing," he says.  Accurately. "Democracy is about who runs the country. A constitution is about the limits of government."  So it is.  When a governments acts as it should, it's like a guard dog that protects your individual rights.  But when they're not properly chained up, we can be badly savaged and our rights abused -- more than we would have been without the dog, or the government.  The means of tying up a government is a proper written constitution that puts such chains on governments, confining them only to their proper role -- that is, to the protection of individual rights.

A proper written constitution is our check on our government. [See the Cue Card on this.]

The very best historical example of such a constitution is the US example, which helped to tie the bastards up for nearly a hundred-and-fifty years before they chewed off the  lead and got away again.  Written back in 1998, Libertarianz' Constitution for New Freeland is explicitly intended to fix the flaws that allowed the bastards to escape their chains.  I commend it to your attention.

The Great Minto Lawn Squat

Since John Minto doesn't appreciate the property rights he's blessed with, The Whig suggests we go squat on 'his' lawn in Ethel St, Balmoral in order that he might begin to understand the blessings of secure property rights he seems so eager to spurn.  Seems fair enough to me. After all, it's only a stone's thrown from the streets in which he and his goons used to block traffic in 1981.

"Remember, it's not John's lawn, it's the people's lawn!" says The Whig, At least it is according to John.  Let's give him an enlightening educational experience about the usefulness of the secure property rights he's so eager to disparage.

Sign up for the experience at The Whig's weblog.

Helengrad is here

Since a talkback caller first used the word 'Helengrad' in a call to Lindsay Perigo's radio show just weeks after Helen Clark's ascension to power in 1999, after which Perigo picked it up and ran with it far and wide,  the term has entered popular parlance as a means of describing Clark's Wellington "in an attempt to mirror cities in the former Soviet Union named after rulers - Leningrad and Stalingrad."  Its usage is so widespread it has now been added as an entry in the Macquarie DictionaryDom Post story here [hat tip DPF]. 

Little wonder it's had such penetration, since in combining Leaderene's name with the Soviet-style suffix meaning 'town' the word so accurately describes the Clark regime set up in NZ's capital city.

TFR41-Hooey

TFR41 cover I wrote about the word's origins back in 2005, and as far as I'm aware it was my own cover story in the May/June 2000 edition of the Free Radical describing Clark's and Margaret Wilson's parliamentary hui on constitutional reform that first used the term in print.  (That's the story in its original habitat above right -- click to enlarge.)

On the day that particular Free Radical arrived in parliament with the words 'Helengrad Hui' and a condom-clad Statue of Liberty on parliament's steps pictured on the cover (above), Headmistress Shipley rose in Parliament accusing Clark of being "an interfering Minister of Everything and running a 'Helengrad' regime." The chamber fell about, and the name stuck - as unfortunately has the regime.

I believe the Herald's Fran O'Sullivan and then the rest of the world took it up about then -- it hit Australian shores later the same year in an article in The Australian called 'The Siege of Helengrad' -- and now Google boasts some 12,500 hits for 'Helengrad.' As Mrs Marsh used to say, "It does get in."

Monday, 14 January 2008

"None of the above"

Gus van Horn explains why using a political quiz to choose your presidential candidate is nonsensical, and concludes it's the same reason the choice of candidates is always so poor:

The philosophical ideas that presently have the greatest currency in our culture wrongly circumscribe the terms of the political debate and consistently produce unacceptable candidates for public office.
You can't vote your way out of such a mess. You have to work so that the public will eventually make it possible to begin digging itself out -- by spreading better philosophical ideas. This means working to understand these ideas, arguing for them, and supporting those who do.

I couldn't agree more.  The change Van Horn and I know is necessary is not the sort of "change" Obama and Clinton wield as "exuberant but insubstantial" campaign platitudes; it's the sort of change that leaves a revolution inside people's heads.

The "long march through the culture," and the need to attack Trevor

Several blogs including The Hive, Quest for Security and Poneke have been all a-giggle about old Trevor Loudon and his predilection, they say, for seeing "communist fronts" everywhere, even in places as unlikely as the NZ-China Friendship Society.

Taking on established bloggers is par for the course for newer blogs like these bidding for attention, but the Hive and Poneke have enough integrity not to get their facts wrong  when they start a blog war, and they're good enough not to have to resort to blog wars to attract readers.  It's sad that they think they have to.

Gigglers like the 'Quest' bloggers are just useful idiots who know no better, but Hive and Poneke are intelligent enough, I would have thought, to know that the use of front organisations has been a pre-eminent strategy by communists for at least the last ninety years in injecting the foul bacillus of communism into the culture, and to know that if that wasn't the case it wouldn't be necessary to have people like Trevor eager to lift up the rocks of these front organisations to see what's crawling around behind the shiny public faces.

The "long march through the culture" that communism has enjoyed over the last ninety years, despite its bloody history over all of those years, was largely the result of 1)the 'moral disarmament' caused by the suffusion of religious morality and its extolling of sacrifice as a moral virtue -- a political blank cheque the communists have been ready, willing and better placed than the religionists to pick up -- and 2)the strategic thinking of (first) Leon Trotsky, and thence of one Antonio Gramsci, the co-founder of the Italian Communist Party, a talented theoretician who, as Lindsay Perigo explains,

put a distinctively modern, relativist stamp on traditional, dogmatist Marxism. He is Marx laced with Machiavelli (a Gramsci pin-up). Marx had implied the existence of truths independent of human perception; Gramsci cleansed Marx of any taint of objectivity and proclaimed that truth was entirely "pragmatic," "praxis"-driven, determined by the interests of the revolution. Marx had preached the historical inevitability of the triumph of socialism, independent of man's will; Gramsci taught that only the wilful, conscious but clandestine subversion of capitalist culture at every level—a "long march through the culture" as he put it—could effect revolution. He was frustrated that the proletariat had not only failed to rise up against capitalism but had seemingly grown enamoured of it! This infernal reactionary ourage he attributed to the bourgeoisie's "cultural hegemony," their domination of churches, schools, the media, the unions, the arts, etc. The bourgeoisie therefore had to be beaten at their own game, their institutions infiltrated by intellectual moles ... and, by a long, silent, subtle process, brought down.

The moles' agenda was not to be "revolution" explicitly, but something unexceptionable on its face, couched in weasel words with which we're all too familiar: "consensus," "mandate," "justice," "pluralism," "community," "democracy," "global [insert marshmallow noun here]," and so on. (Note the names of two of the groups associated with New Zealand's recent "terrorist camp" raids: “Global Peace and Justice Auckland,” spearheaded by communist John Minto, and “Peace Action Wellington”!)

Ever wondered why the church is riddled with atheist priests?
Think Gramsci!
Where "Liberation Theology" (Marxism set to Catholicism) came from?
Think Gramsci!
Why our schools and universities place social consensus above genuine learning and deal in the currency of Marxism disguised as mush?
Think Gramsci!
Why our newspapers and TV networks, now full of graduates from the schools and universities, do the same?
Think Gramsci!
Why "corporates" are universally despised as evil, even by the corporates themselves?
Think Gramsci!
Why the United States, the last semi-repository of bourgeois values, is "The Great Satan" to Muslim and non-Muslim alike all over the globe?
Think Gramsci!
Where the editor of Salient gets this sort of stuff from, "rebutting" my column on Global Warming:
"Go about your business now, keep consuming. The mindless corporations are protecting your interests— believe it—only lefty politicians subvert real science. Rest assured, greed is a good thing."

[For all of these manifestations of nonsense], Think Gramsci! Via Chomsky in this last instance—but remember where Chomsky got it from!

Other contemporary luminaries influenced by Gramsci include the pomowanker Foucault; and unsurprisingly, and, chillingly, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who just couldn't wait to bring his troops home from Iraq. Brown the weasel-worder, who has forbidden public servants to use the words "Muslim" and "terrorist" next to each other!

There's no question that the Left has taken its "long march through the culture" with devastating success. We are assailed by their bromides at every turn, and the Right has been mortally corrupted by them (as well as its own contradictions). Their "long march," with Gramsci at the helm, has dragged the world to the abyss of totalitarian Hell.

Thank goodness then for the likes of Trevor Loudon, who are happy to keep track of the "long march," however surreptitious the marchers, and for the likes of Lindsay Perigo, who unlike so many others knows that it's going to be a long haul back from the pomowankers and the nihilists, and via a very different path.

"We lovers of reason and freedom have to do a Gramsci of our own," says Perigo, but in favour of reason and freedom and capitalism.  This is a long march on which our culture is in desperate need. 

Who's with us?