Friday, February 22, 2008

Beer O'Clock: A 2008 promise

In which Stu from SOBA promises great things for Beer O'Clock every fortnight over 2008.

Allow me to take you on a fun and informative journey of style in 2008. It's a journey on which New Zealanders are long overdue (especially people like the smart and savvy individuals that read 'Not PC'). It will be a journey through beer styles.

In this day and age we all know that wine styles are far more complicated than 'red' and 'white'. but how many know that beer styles are just as complex, if not more so? Almost every wine drinker I know could pick a sauvignon blanc from a chardonnay but, when it comes to beer drinkers, how many could pick a porter from a schwarzbier? This year I'd like to work through some of the beer styles that we might commonly, or not so commonly, come across on the shelves and in the fridges of licensed premises in New Zealand.

Beer styles are a contentious issue. Some beer lovers complain they take the fun out of beer, while the odd brewer will insist that their beer is beyond any stylistic boundary. Both statements can be true and in many ways, and for the majority of drinkers beer styles really are are completely unnecessary. We generally drink by brand rather than style. We ask for a Heineken, a Becks or a Stella rather than a Premium American Lager. If we're lucky enough to be faced with the choice: we might ask for an Emerson's APA, an Epic or a Founder's Fair Maiden rather than an American Pale Ale. However if you like beer, and are interested in playing the field a little, the smallest amount of beer style knowledge - coupled with some appropriate packaging from our breweries - can help you out a long way.

We shouldn't be bound by style but we can be enlightened by them.

The style guidelines I'll base my beer journey on has been developed by the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) in USA (and, before you scoff with a jokes about equine-filtered American beers, the USA is the current world power and most innovative country in regards to craft brewing). The BJCP style guidelines were originally developed by home-brewers, beer lovers and judges, resulting in a slightly smaller, broader and more all-inclusive set than most commercial guidelines. Commercial competitions such as the World Beer Cup tend to develop and use guidelines based more around some of the marketing fluff; they tend to define styles more tightly resulting in slightly more categories overall,allowing more medals to be awarded, which encourages more entries and results in greater income opportunities from entries and sponsorship. "Low-carbohydrate light lager" for example (a commercial style which in every sensory aspect would fit into one of the Light Lager styles) is more a marketing gimmick than it is a true beer style.

RockyPatelBAN-wI'll leave you with a simple truth about styles and brands - and a favourite quote of fellow Beer O'Clocker Neil Miller. Beer writer Stephen Beaumont argues

Beer drinkers have been duped by mass marketing into the belief that it makes sense to drink only one brand of beer. In truth, brand loyalty in beer makes no more sense than ‘vegetable loyalty’ in food.

Can you imagine it? "No thanks, I’ll pass on the mashed potatoes, carrots, bread and roast beef. I’m strictly a broccoli man myself."

And for your information, tonight I’m drinking (and definitely recommending) Pilsner Urquell.

In a fortnight: 'When is your Pale Lager my Pilsner?'

Slainte mhath, Stu

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Why good people don't stand for council

Aaron inadvertently demonstrates the reason [hat tip Mulholland Drive]:

   We had a meeting of the Hobson Community Board meeting last night.  The two biggest items on the agenda were the community opposition to Waiata Reserve playground, and also the responses to the interest over providing a public toilet in the Little Rangitoto Reserve.

Click here to find "some good news also regarding a public toilet for families at Little Rangitoto Reserve."  It just doesn't get better than this, does it. 

PC's Special Tip: Those on pills for sleep deprivation should consider enrolling for a council sinecure at the next local body elections.

Got attitude, will travel

If all you had was twenty-five dollars, a gym bag and a good attitude, how far would you get?  Adam Shepard set out to see whether starting with in a homeless shelter in Charleston, South Carolina with only those three things to his name was enough to get him his goal of a furnished apartment, a car, and $2,500 in savings within twelve months, and without relying on either his education or his former contacts.

He made it in ten.

The most important thing he started with was a good attitude, something apparently missing with author Barbara Ehrenreich who set herself a similar challenge and then whined about her failure in her book Nickle and Dimed, which "chronicled the difficulty of advancing beyond the ranks of the working poor."  As Megan McArdle helpfully points out to Mssss Ehrenreich, "If you set out to prove you can fail, you will generally find it is not that hard. That failure is therefore not good evidence of the impossibility of success." But it does provide evidence that if you're poor in spirit then you'll likely remain poor in more tangible ways too.

It's only a small example, but it illustrates a point well made by both Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell, that most of today's rich are yesterday's poor, and that 'class' is more an adjective than a noun. [Hat tip Noodle Food]

Opposed to referenda

The Tomahawk Kid explains very well why I and many others are opposed to the Bradford-Key anti-smacking Bill that effectively nationalised New Zealand's children, but won't be signing Larry Baldock's petition for a referendum against the law.  The reason is simple.  First, because it makes no sense to support your own destroyer.

   I support Larry Baldock's action on the anti-smacking bill because ... it would return rights to those from whom they were stolen.
   Unfortunately, Larry would impose his will upon others on different topics - he gives with the right hand, and takes away with the left because he does not understand the very basic principles of property rights and the rights of the individual.

And second, while some individual referenda might promise the return of some of the rights we were born with, the idea of binding referenda itself is in the end destructive of individual rights.

   A referendum is the counting of heads - not the quality or the content of the thoughts in those heads!  It is 2 wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner!
   A referendum stands for "mob rule!" where the majority get to vote away the rights of a minority (the smallest minority of course being the individual.)

Until the most important things in our polity are put beyond the vote -- our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of property and happiness -- and only a written constitution and widespread support for these rights can do that effectively -- then binding referenda are not the harbinger of freedom, they are just another one of its desecrators.

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Mental toughness

Former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell explained once that his team saw an opponent's mental weakness as something like a weakness outside of stump: something to exploit.   As in sport, so too in life.  There's often talk of mental toughness in sport, and too often it's when New Zealand sportsmen suffer another ignominious defeat.  Champions have it.  Losers don't. 

But what exactly is mental toughness?  Sports psychologist Patrick Cohn [hat tip AB] suggests there are four key components to mental toughness:

1. Competitiveness: "This is someone who loves the heat of battle," Cohn says. "They're motivated by testing their skills against the next person. Obviously, they love to win and hate to lose. You need that. People might think, 'Well, isn't everyone competitive?' The answer is 'no.' The really competitive person digs deeper than the next guy."

2. Confidence: "Self-confidence is probably the No. 1 mental skill that championship athletes possess," Cohn says.

"Simply put, it is their belief in their ability to perform. They see themselves as winners. They think, act and behave in very confident ways, sometimes to the point it can turn people off."

3. Composure: "This one has a couple of connotations," Cohn says. "The first is: Can you keep it together under pressure at crunchtime? It's the last minute of the game, and you're trailing by three: It's how well you can stay under control emotionally and can perform when you need to.

"The other component is how well you deal with mistakes. Can you stay composed and forget about them? Or do you get upset and frustrated and thrown off your game? Athletes who are composed don't get rattled and compound one mistake into many."

4. Focus: "The idea is to give focus and attention to what's most important — and, when you do get distracted, to refocus quickly," Cohn says. "This is the key component to success in sports such as gymnastics and diving, but it's important in all sports."

As philosopher Andrew Berstein summarises, "It's a spiritual thing. It's in someone's moral character — some indefatigable quality that a person has that they're not going to be denied."

A few lessons there for more than just how we play sport.

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Credibility?

You have to laugh.  Professor Ursula Cheer says TV3 has "risked its credibility as a public broadcaster" by featuring a patsy interview with a convicted criminal on John Campbell's prime-time "news" show.

I have to ask, since when did Campbell's 'Socialism at Seven' gush-fest have any credibility?

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What does "the public" actually own? (updated)

While nationalisation of children, seabedinfrastructure and private property is still firmly on the New Zealand agenda -- and always sells well at Grey Lynn cocktail parties -- privatisation is supposedly so frightening for New Zealanders that politicians run from the 'P' word like they do from Owen Glenn when there are cameras around.  Despite failing schools, hospitals and roads (to name but three very public disasters) "public ownership" is still a sacred cow too scary to slaughter.

It makes no sense.

There is no value whatsoever in either the concept or the reality of "public ownership."  The "public" -- you and I -- has no more control over Capital Coast Health or Transpower, for example, than we do over Smith and Caughey or the corner dairy, substantially less in fact. As Madsen Pirie points out,

The public actually has more influence, via its choices and purchasing decisions, on private sector businesses than it can ever have over state industries and services.

If we don't like what the corner dairy or Smith and Caughey are selling, we can stop buying there or even sell off our shares, if we own some.   But if we don't like Transpower's bumbling with the Cook Strait cable or Capital Coast Health killing people then we've got no more control over that than the citizens of Soviet Poland had over "their" shipyards.

The point is that there is no reason at all to favour "public ownership" of infrastructure or businesses -- and in the final analysis, no reason at all to even consider "public ownership" as ownership at all since, as Pirie argues, none of the important attributes or rights of ownership inhere in the "ownership" we supposedly enjoy of our "public assets":

The state sector may have the name of the public filled in on the dotted line, but the public do not own it in any meaningful sense of the word. All of the attributes of ownership, such as control, the right to determine what use is made of it and under what conditions, is determined by the bureaucracy in command of it.

Read Pirie's account of the "public ownership" fallacy here at the Adam Smith Institute blog, and Paul Walker's discussion of his account here.

UPDATE: "It is in the very nature of government management (bureaucracy) that it will be inefficient, and prone to corruption," says today's article at the Mises Daily.  It was Ludwig von Mises in his book Bureaucracy who drew the important distinction between between "bureaucratic management" and "profit management," and who explained why the latter necessarily fails: "In public administration, there is no connection between revenue and expenditure … there is no market price for achievements."  Says John Chapman:

[Mises] explained that neither incentives nor exploitation of useful information are optimal under bureaucratic management, and by definition there could be no rational calculation via profit and loss...

Conversely, after privatization, operations and cost efficiencies improve because once incentives are in place and aligned, and people are empowered and incited (by the lure of profit) to utilize "particular knowledge" of markets, methods, competitive conditions, et al., performance improves.

Much more important even than this loss of "efficiency" is Mises warning of "a byproduct of bureaucratic management": the gradual vanishing of the "critical sense."

When one sees ministers in charge of hospitals that kill and schools that spit out illiterates having no sense of shame at the failure, what we're looking at is exactly what Mises warned about.

BUREAUCRACY
by LUDWIG VON MISES

Read more about this book...

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'Split Box' House - Melling:Morse Architects

                               

House by Gerard Melling and Allan Morse in Tuateawa Bay, Coromandel. 

There's a thorough write-up over at the Modern Residential blog.  The reasons for the house's name should be obvious.

                                                          

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cats, pigeons and throwing Owen Glenn amongst them

If poodles were pigeons, Owen Glenn would be a cat.  Whatever that means.  And whatever it means, Mr Glenn must be chortling at how the pigeons are all erupting at all the cats he's throwing out amongst them.  The rumours abound, among the most laughable being that anyone would pay Sir Horrid Maorisong one million dollars to be an MP -- or that anyone would believe it.  Or report it.  Just who's kidding whom here.

And he must be doubled over at old senior political journalist Audrey what's-her-name at the Herald who, as Three Point Turn explains, began the day by interviewing her typewriter and ended by inviting everyone involved to deny they'd been beating their wife.  Well almost.

It takes very little to get the commentariat in a stew, and very little more to sink them into a stupor.

UPDATE: On a slightly lighter note, don't miss David Slack's take on the Glenn, Owen saga: he takes the whole Honorary Consul thing literarily -- and I literally mean literarily.

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Islamist history in bite-sized chunks

Powell I'm really looking forward to starting Scott Powell's online history course on The Islamist Entanglement later this afternoon -- and it's not too late to sign up yourself.  If you’ve heard about Powell History’s unique content and method, and clients’ rave reviews (and here too!) then you might like to know he's offering students a keen deal:

    Try one.  You don’t have to commit to the whole course — a steal at $249, but still a good chunk of change.  Instead pay the discounted rate of only $20 for a single lecture.
    I guarantee you’ll like what you hear.
    And then you can take another one at the same discounted rate (limit of two!).
    Then, when you’re ready to commit to truly learning history for yourself, you can can use your payments as installments on the full price of the course.
    There’s never been an easier way to gain an independent knowledge of the past!
    CLICK HERE NOW, to get started!

But be quick.  First lecture starts in just three hours.

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Mayor Idol

Vote for your favourite mayor at Air New Zealand's site, and get cheap fares to their city.  Good gimmick.

MayorIdol

New Rand reading

If you're a regular reader here at Not PC you can't fail to have noticed I have several heroes, one of whom is novelist philosopher Ayn Rand.

Now I'm aware that while many of you are sympathetic to Rand's ideas, you have some reservations.  I'm aware too that some of those reservations are based around things you've heard about Rand's personal life.  Radio host Leighton Smith, for example, has said a few times that he's attracted to her ideas, but he thinks she's "a bitch."

Nothing could be further from the truth, as two recent additions to the web should prove. 

The first recent addition demolishes the source of most of the gossip and innuendo about Rand that people take for the truth -- most of the dirt comes from two self-serving biographies from former associates of Rand who, as author James Valliant demonstrated in his timely tome 'The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics,' cheated her financially, professionally and systematically through nearly all the time they knew her. (You might be interested in my own review of his book.)  For those, who don't already have it, James has recently made available the key chapter from his book that closes the lid on any claims these erstwhile biographers have to either veracity or integrity:  Chapter Four: The Exploitation of Ayn Rand.  If you have any interest at all, it's must-reading to see the character of those who exploited her then, and continue to exploit her memory now.

frank_and_ayn And here's the other recent bonus, and far more attractive reading: Mary Ann and Charles Sures, who knew and worked closely with Rand and her husband for nearly three decades (that's Rand and husband Frank pictured right), have made their own book-length memoir of recollections of 'Facets of Ayn Rand' available on the net.  This is not just well worth reading, it's worth bookmarking and coming back to regularly.  Says Mary Ann of the memoirs:

    We want to preserve our recollec­tions of Ayn Rand and our evalua­tion of her. Few peo­ple knew her for as long as we did — I for twenty-eight years and Charles for almost twenty. She was an extraordinary thinker and person, and we knew her in both capacities. In the years to come, peo­ple will be ask­ing the same ques­tion they ask about her today: what was Ayn Rand like as a person, in her private life? We can answer that ques­tion...
    What we, and many, many others, owe to her is incalculable. But, in addi­tion to that, we have read things about her that give a distorted picture of what she was like. We want to correct the record.

Between them, I'd like to think these two recent additions will not just just correct the record, but help rehabilitate a reputation that never had any right to be tarnished by the smears and innuendo that still put some people off reading Rand further.

The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics
by James Valliant

Read more about this book...
Facets of Ayn Rand (Audiofy Digital Audiobook Chips)
by

Read more about this book...

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Losers picking losers

It's not often Jim Anderton is on the right side of an argument, but when he accuses John Key and Bill English of pork barrel politics and a return to Muldoonist subsidies ... he's spot on.

After a dinner with managers of Southland's Alliance Group meat cooperative, John Boy and Billy Bob visited Southland a week later and pledged the group a "suspensory loan" of two-hundred million dollars to fund a mega-merger -- when or if the boys come to power.  Reports NBR:

    Mr Anderton said it would be the first subsidisation of the agricultural sector since the National government of Sir Robert Muldoon. He accused Mr Key of making policy up on the spot.
    "The result is a $200 million promise to the meat industry," Mr Anderton said. The suggestion of a subsidy to the meat sector would be in breach of New Zealand's undertakings to the World Trade Organisation and its battle to get other countries to dump similar subsidies. "We would lose all credibility," Mr Anderton said.
    The fact that a senior political figure in New Zealand was suggesting agricultural subsidies was a "big embarrassment for New Zealand," he said. Mr Anderton said the idea of a mega-meat company may have its merits, but it would stand on its own commercial case.

And so it should.  The deal offers a remarkable insight into how John and Bill view government's relationship with business -- apparently they think it's their job to "pick winners" with taxpayers' money, while they pick up their own dividend in the voting booth.

As it happens, Paul Walker from Canterbury University has two insightful posts on why governments who "pick winners" invariably pick losers; the simplest answer appears to be that it's not so much that governments picks losers, it is that losers pick on governments to help them in deals that have only a weak commercial case -- or as economists Richard E. Baldwin and Frederic Robert-Nicoud argue, "... government policy doesn’t pick losers; losers pick governments policy."

On this, see: Why do governments back losers? Two parts of an answer., and    
                      Why governments pick losers ... or do they?

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cold feet, cold temperatures.

The Hive suggests the government are getting "cold feet" on their proposed emissions trading regime.  Good.

Perhaps I can recommend replacing the whole nonsense with a very special kind of carbon tax, one that would recognise, for example, news that Arctic sea ice is not going anywhere and that the Northern Hemisphere is in the grip of its coldest winter for years.

UPDATE: Scientist Lubos Motl points the latest numbers mean we have "a new winner" in the global warming hit parade ... but not the way warmists would like to tell you:

   Just a small curiosity. January 2008 was the coldest month since January 2000 following RSS MSU and the coldest month since May 1995 according to GISS. The new numbers from HadCRUT3 [ HTML, data, graph ] identify January 2008 as the coolest month since February 1994.
  
If the temperatures [continue to] drop ... in a few months, most of the 20th century warming - and virtually all of warming that can be sanely attributed to the industry - may be simply gone.
   Nature is capable to do such things in an elegant way - without paying tens of trillions of dollars, without introducing a new totalitarian ideology, without scaring children, without elevating stomachs in the movie theaters, and without awarding a Nobel peace prize to an annoying, fat, and power-thirsty crank.
   Nature rules. And cools. It is simply cool. And yes, that's a rule.

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Cold comfort in die-while-you-wait hospitals

While the amount taxpayers are forced to pay on the government's die-while-you-wait health system has increased by billions every year, the waiting and the dying has only got worse.

Just four weeks ago figures were released revealing that up to one in eight patients at Wellington's hospitals "is the victim of a medical accident, error or mishap," and up to twenty-three patients of Wellington's Capital Coast Health were either killed or endured serious harm through inattention, incompetence and bungling. [Radio NZ story here. Dom Post story here.]

At the time, Capital Coast Health apologists issued the airy dismissal that "these problems occur everywhere" -- made no less scary by the fact the apologists seemed to think this made it okay -- and just last week Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson warned that New Zealand hospitals are "unsafe."  He's right.  Just this morning we received some confirmation that incompetence that kills is both nationwide and endemic, in news that

Mistakes led to the deaths of or serious harm to 182 patients in public hospitals between July 2006 and June 2007.

This is not good.  Not good at all.  And all while government spending on the government's health system has rocketed. The answer is clearly not more of our money. Some more substantial change is needed.

Now, it's true that these problems do occur everywhere -- that is, everywhere the state attempts to handle the lion's share of a country's health care.

In Britain, for example, studies suggest these serious or "sentinel" events as they're called regularly affect up to one in ten patients, and that this figure is normal for a bureaucratically driven state-run hospital system. One in ten. Think about what that means for a moment. It's a level of incompetence that is life threatening for one in every ten patients that enter the portals of a government-run hospital.

Think about that next time it's you or a loved one entering that hospital.

Frighteningly, this is a level of failure -- of failure that leads to death -- that state health apologists consider acceptable, and with the more excuses for failure we hear, the more it's clear just how much failure has now come to be accepted as normal. The apologies and excuses offer no comfort at all that any motivation even exists to remedy the bungling that last year killed twenty-three people in Wellington's government hospitals forty people in government hospitals around the country.  Of the horrifying figures for example, minister David Cunliffe Health Minister David Cunliffe says "the numbers are small" and insists "New Zealand hospitals are among the safest in the world."

Cold comfort.

It's not just a die-while you wait system. These figures show there are good odds you'll die if you get there as well. Perhaps that's why fifty-six percent of New Zealanders surveyed recently told the Commonwealth Fund International Health Survey that the country's creaking health system needs "fundamental change." This isn't time to sit around and make excuses. It's not time to simply change the administrators and keep the same failed system. It's time for radical action.

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Time to move?

A friend suggests I should consider moving to Australia.  At least when you're being screwed by city planners there it might be more enjoyable, he says.

Good point.

And the link is ... (updated)

George Reisman offers both a puzzle and a challenge for environmentalists.  He asks you first to identify the common link between communism, nazism and environmentalism -- and before you erupt in outrage once you've uncovered it, may I invite you to examine and reflect upon the link he identifies.  It's important.

Here's a clue: it's a particular view of ethics, encapsulated in just one hyphenated word.

Perhaps you think that to even suggest such a link is absurd?  Offensive even?  Then just consider Reisman's argument that it is neither:

Green-Hammer&Sickle-739240    The “extremists” among you openly call for the death of 1 to 6.4 billion human beings. The “moderates” among you openly call for the forced reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of 90 percent within a few decades, which would serve to reduce energy use almost to the same extent. Such a severe reduction in energy use follows from the fact that there are no presently existing large-scale viable alternatives to fossil fuels other than atomic power, which is regarded by most members of your movement as a death ray and is opposed more vehemently than fossil fuels. Furthermore, the likelihood of ever finding and developing such alternatives will be greatly reduced by Green-Swastika-Flag-725585destroying the energy sources we do have and need to increase. So what your movement advocates is mass death or, at the very least, dreadful mass impoverishment whose outcome will be tens or hundreds of millions of unnecessary deaths and a life of misery for those who survive.
    If your motivation in calling yourself an environmentalist is merely such things as that you like to see flowers bloom on open meadows, and you love trees, whales, and polar bears and the like, then you owe it to yourself to put as much intellectual and moral distance as possible between you and those who do advocate mass impoverishment and mass death...Green-UN-Flag-794113
   If you care about your moral character, don’t place an indelible stain on it by supporting a movement that seeks to destroy Industrial Civilization and all the human lives and human well-being that depend on it. Accept moral responsibility for the ideas you propound and stop standing in the service of mass destruction and death.

Read all of Reisman's challenge here, and his puzzle here.

UPDATE 1: Xavier at the Reluctant Botanist offers a contrary opinion.

UPDATE 2: Owen McShane suggests that as it becomes more and more obvious we're going to see more and more people making these connections -- and he points me to his recent paper written for Muriel Newman's webpage: Beware the Dark Greens.

    We may all be Environmentalists now – but we must beware of the Dark Greens
    Over the last few decades most of us have learned to be feminists, and are generally comfortable with our conversion. But most of us have also learned to identify and avoid being grouped with the dark side of the feminist movement that remains deeply Marxist in its roots and intentions.
    Similarly, most of us are now environmentalists. We take some pride in our efforts to care for our surroundings, and to ensure that we enjoy the world around us without despoiling it for others. However, we also need to be conscious of the motives of the “dark greens” who threaten our democracy and many institutions and attitudes we hold equally dear...

Read on here..

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Good riddance, Busy Whiskers

End communism Fidel Castro has stood down, but Cuban jails are still full of his opponents, the seventy-three thousand people he killed without either the benefit of trial or due process are still dead, and (as Humberto Fontova describes it)

a nation with a formerly massive influx of European immigrants needs machine guns, water cannons and tiger sharks to keep its people from fleeing, while half-starved Haitians a short 60 miles away turn up their noses at any thought of emigrating to Cuba.

The sooner Castro and his brother Raul join the ranks of the dead, the better.

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The Honorary Consul

Here's the first thing I've got to say about all the words written about Owen Glenn, his donations to he Labour Party, and the gongs and baubles of office he may or may not have got because of his donation: I really don't care.

If Mr Glenn chooses to spend his profits promoting a party ideologically opposed to profits, the contradiction is his to work out.  It's his business.  Once again the opposition has been distracted with a sideshow while issues of real substance go by the board -- substance presumably being considered too scary for a party so desperately short of this ingredient themselves.

And on the matter of the job of New Zealand's Honorary Consul to Monaco, it surprises me that with all the words written on this matter so many have confused the position of Monaco's Honorary Consul to New Zealand (a job I understand Richard Worth holds) with the position of New Zealand's Honorary Consul to Monaco -- a very different role, and one that brings to mind the character of Charley Fortnum, the Honorary Consul of Graham Greene's novel: a sixtyish, befuddled and more than slightly sodden old reprobate whose description seems to aptly fit Mr Glenn.

The Honorary Consul: A Novel (Simon & Schuster Classics)
by Graham Greene

Read more about this book...

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'Melissa' - Joshua le Rock

D-280

First prize winner in the drawing category in the Art Renewal Center's International 2007 ARC Salon. [Graphite on Paper, 12 x 20 inches]

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hack on blogs

The mainstream media has another look at blogs.  According to Philip Matthews at The Press, "left wingers" blog because they have to ("to do something about the Right’s dominance of the blogosphere" apparently), "right wingers" blog because they're angry, and "far-Right bloggers" -- well, they're all just "bottom feeders."  So much for the in-depth analysis of Mr Matthews.

As for libertarian bloggers like Lindsay Perigo and Liberty Scott and Lance Davey (and that's just libertarians starting with 'L'), we don't even exist -- although if we did exist I'd suggest libertarians blog because they'd like the world to be a freer place, and because they have a low tolerance for bullshit, big government and other braindead nonsense. On the latter, Mathews mostly qualifies.

UPDATE: Most of the cast who appeared in Mathews's piece are discussing it at Kiwiblog, as they are at the SubStandard, Kiwiblogbog and Sprout & Bean,

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Historian in the house

I'm very excited about something, and let me tell you what.

It's said that those who fail to learn the lessons of history are bound to be bitten in the arse by the lessons they failed to learn.  As science fiction writer John Wood Campbell used to say, "It's not so much that History repeats herself, it's that sometimes she screams 'Won't you ever listen to what I'm trying to tell you?' and lets fly with a club."

Now, like many of you I certainly failed to learn from the history that was delivered at school.  There wasn't much of it, and what there was was mostly nonsense delivered poorly.  Historian Scott Powell wants to change that: arguing that philosophy killed history (read his four-part series on that argument: Part one, two, three and four), he's put together an online history course for adults that differs markedly from any history course you've yet encountered because it recognises how we actually acquire and use knowledge -- and I'm going to 'attend' the next one, on 'The Islamic Entanglement,' right from the comfort of my own house.  That's why I'm excited.  Explains Scott,

The Islamist Entanglement is part of [an online] history program I call "A First History for Adults." I developed this program because I realized there were many adults out there who want to learn history but have no place to start. Time and time again I've seen adult students who are committed to learning about the past ask historians in frustration, "Where can I get started?" It's one thing to enjoy a book or lecture by a great historian; it's another thing to actually gain knowledge for yourself. It doesn't just happen by being exposed to someone else's expertise...

My aim is to create a presentation of history that specifically builds upon the context of knowledge of the average educated adult, and allows you to create a real foundation of knowledge. I help students create a "skeleton" or framework upon which more elaborate research and abstract thinking can be profitably pursued. Probably the most important thing that I do is eradicate as many non-essential facts as possible, and then show how the really pivotal ones can be grouped into useful historical abstractions, called "periods." It's not a magic serum, but it is the most productive way to build general historical knowledge.

Gus Van Horn sayss "History as taught by Mr. Powell is not just fascinating. It is powerful stuff!" And Diana Hsieh reckons learning history with Scott Powel is "like nothing I've ever experienced before, either in school, with my history reading, or from Objectivists."

I'm finally learning -- and really learning, not just hearing in one ear and out the other -- and integrated, essentialized history. Now, when I read more detailed accounts of some era or event, I'll not just be able to place that new material in a clear context, but I'll also be able to use his methods to essentialize, integrate, and retain that new knowledge. So I cannot recommend his "First History" course highly enough.

Learn more about Scott's history project at his website or his blog, or by reading Ed Cline's interview with him about the upcoming course.  And you can find out more about the course on Islamist Entanglement and sign up for it here and here

Oh, and if you want to prepare for the course, here's the latest posts on Scott's Middle East Milestones series on some of the key developments that have shaped the region.

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I wish they *didn't* work so hard

Poneke posts on how hard most politicians work, poor lambs, which gives an indication of just how motivated one must be to spend all that time dreaming up and implementing schemes to do us over.

Frankly, I'd rather have my MPs working less.  Much less.  In fact, I"d like to see all one-hundred and twenty-one MPs take Judith Tizard as their model, and attempt to emulate her work rate -- or lack thereof.

The country would be a much better place, I assure you.

Reason, freedom, and raising fine children

A guest post here by Brian Scurfield, who argued recently that the future of liberty depends on the idea taking root that it is possible to educate children in a coercion free environment.  He lays out his argument in this post.

What I want to argue in this post is that the way we treat our children is intertwined with the future of liberty.

Most parents want to give their children a good education and to inculcate in their children good values and respect for reason. Yet, despite these intentions, our education system has failed our children. Why is this? Is it simply a case that the problem lies with State schools and that all will be well and good if schools were privatized? While privatization would be a step in the right direction, I don't think this in itself would solve the problem. For the problem is much deeper than just a question of who should run the schools. The problem in fact lies with some deeply entrenched ideas about how children should be raised.

In their starkest form, these ideas hark back to the old idea that "to spare the rod is to spoil the child". Of course, most parents today would find this idea abhorrent, and rightly so, yet many parents are willing in one form or another to practice coercion on their children. They would argue that coercion is necessary to get their children to learn, that it is OK to coerce children because children, after all, are not miniature adults and that parents have more knowledge and experience than children.

I would like to ask these parents how you can inculcate reason if you are willing to employ coercion?

A person that employs coercion to inculcate reason demonstrates by their very actions that reason - not to mention liberty - can be overridden in the pursuit of a goal. But these things can't be overridden: Not only will you probably not achieve your goal or getting a child to learn, you will end up with a whole lot of bad and unintended consequences. Many of these you may not even become aware of.

There is a link between the inculcation of reason and freedom from coercion.

The idea that coercion should play no part at all in child-rearing apparently is an idea that many people, including libertarians, have difficulty accepting. Libertarians often pull out the property-rights argument, that it's my house and my rules. Yet this is to confuse one's legal rights with one's moral obligations. Just because you think your child shouldn't be watching that soap opera doesn't mean it is a morally right for you to simply turn off the TV. Just because you think your child should be attending Auckland Grammar doesn't mean you should force your child to go there.

You can't just raise a child any way you please. That is to deny that children are people possessed of ideas, motivations, and a will of their own. It is also to deny how knowledge is created.

Children are not buckets that you pour ideas into. Children learn best when their learning is self-directed and governed by interest. It's how you learn best isn't it? Young children are naturally inquisitive, but it is only too easy to stamp out that inquisitiveness through coercion.

Parental authoritarianism and thinking "I know best" is just as corrosive as State authoritarianism.

Furthermore, if "knowing best" gives you the right to coerce your child, then that argument will be used against you by others who claim more knowledge and more experience than you. Which, of course, it is.

It is because the creation of knowledge and the inculcation of reason are strongly intertwined with freedom from coercion that the future of liberty depends on how we treat our children. A future libertarian society is going to require lots of new knowledge, including knowledge about freedom, but that knowledge will not be won, nor that society last, if children are not allowed the freedom to control the contents of their own minds.

I believe it is possible to educate a child in an environment free from coercion. This doesn't mean that you become a doormat for your child or that what your child says goes. But how is it possible? Well, it requires lots of things. It requires acknowledgement that both you and your child are fallible, that one or both of you may be wrong, that problems can be solved through reason, that by working with your child you can find a common preference where nobody need get hurt. Yes, these things may not always be easy, but that's no excuse for not trying. The whole approach is called Taking Children Seriously.

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Minds beat stomachs

Most of you will know of the famous Paul Erhlich v Julian Simon bet.   For a decade beginning in 1968, Ehrlich insisted the population is exploding, resources are running out, and we're all gonna die. Our time is up, he reckoned:

  • The battle to feed humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines. Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. Population control is the only answer.
    —Paul Ehrlich, in The Population Bomb (Ballantine Books 1968)
  • I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.
    —Paul Ehrlich in (1969)
  • In ten years all important animal life in the sea will be extinct. Large areas of coastline will have to be evacuated because of the stench of dead fish.
    —Paul Ehrlich, Earth Day (1970)
  • Before 1985, mankind will enter a genuine age of scarcity…in which the accessible supplies of many key minerals will be facing depletion.
    —Paul Ehrlich in (1976)

Ehrlich was taken seriously at the time, and his arguments are taken seriously still by Russel Norman and the Greens.  Economist Julian Simon was one of the few at the time to call Ehrlich's bluff. Simon maintained that more people meant more opportunities, not less, the reason being (as Owen McShane summarises) "that minds outperform stomachs" -- as we get more minds with access to more knowledge and producing more and more innovations, then minds win by an ever growing margin

Ehrlich was so outraged by Simon's argument that in 1980 (by which time the paucity of dead fish should already have told him something) he accepted a bet with him.  Simon invited Ehrlich to choose a basket of goods that he insisted would rise in value by 1990 due to their increasing scarcity. Wikipedia summarises:

The essence of Simon's position in the bet was that, despite the population growth that was sure to occur during the 1980s, the effective supply of natural resources would increase during this decade because human beings would figure out how to find, extract and use such resources more efficiently.

And the surest measure of this increased supply would be lower inflation-adjusted prices of resources.

Convinced that higher population is a curse, Ehrlich accepted the $1,000 bet. He chose (for Simon gave Ehrlich the choice of which resources to bet on) a bundle of copper, chromium, nickel, tin and tungsten and bet Simon that the real price of this bundle of resources would be higher in 1990 than in 1980.

In 1990 the prices in September of that year were compared to the prices of these resources in September 1980. Simon won convincingly. The real price of each of these five resources had fallen over the course of that decade, indicating that their supplies had grown even though human population had also grown by more than 800 million during that same time.

So over the decade of 1980-1990, Ehrlich was proved comprehensively wrong -- which in the way of such people hasn't stopped him mouthing off since. (On the release of Bjorn Lomborg's book Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World in 2001, Ehrlich ranted, "If Lomborg had done some arithmetic, he could have . . . spared us a book as thick as a brick and almost as intelligent." And if Ehrlich had spared us his comment, he might have spared us forming for ourselves the fairly obvious conclusion about himself...)

There are some who still insist the result of the bet was just bad luck.  That the decade chosen was unfortunate. That concern has now been summarily dismissed by economist Don Boudreaux, who wondered recently what would happen if the same bet had happened over the decade from 1990-2000.

As Mark Perry summarises, the result would have been the same:

Simon would have won again (see chart below), since all of the metals declined in real price except for tungsten, and the average price decline of the 5-commodity group was -19%.

Case closed.  Again.  Minds still beat stomachs.  Always will.

                                     

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Mrs Thomas Gale House - Frank Lloyd Wright (1904)

                                          S098 Laura R Gale Residence (1904) 2

Mrs Thomas Gale House  by Frank Lloyd Wright (1904), in Oak Park, Chicago.

                                           A2 Frank Lloyd Wright - Gale House - Oak Park
Interpretive model below:

Plans

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Fonterra fallout

With Fonterra's reform plan 'dead in the water,' dairy farmers and commenters such as the bloggers at The SubStandard demonstrate today they understand nothing about either international trade, innovation or capital markets. Meanwhile, in commenting on the whole affair and on dairy farmers' irrational favouring of real estate over innovation, Bernard Hickey shows he knows an awful lot -- particularly about "NZ investors addicted to mediocrity."

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Silenced by sex?

Deborah Coddington defends the wetness of Katherine Rich.  Rich was right to resign, says Coddington, and right to resist her former leader's welfare policy requiring a bare minimum of responsibility in those receiving the taxpayers' involuntary largesse.

How could Rich, mother of two very small children and sitting pretty on a substantial taxpayer-funded salary, tell struggling beneficiaries to live on the smell of oily rags?

Lindsay Mitchell answers the question that Deborah clearly hoped would remain rhetorical:

If Katherine refused to say these things because it made her feel personally hypocritical or, heaven forbid, judgemental, then she was either letting her opponents silence her or she was in the wrong party...

Since National is the party of never saying what you pretend to believe in, the latter clearly can't be true.  Can it.  In any case, Mitchell sees more than a whiff of collectivism in Coddington's comments on Rich's whinge.  After all, surely it's not a matter of who says something but of whether or not they're right?

Hell, do we have to find a beneficiary to stand on a soap box before anyone will listen? In fact, that is what political parties do. They buy into this nonsense. Get a Maori or you can't credibly talk about matters Maori. Get someone who used to be on the DPB so we can talk about welfare credibly... But this is just collectivist crap. Your skin colour, your sex, your sexual orientation are NOT more important than the ideas that drive you...

Too right.  Something Ms Coddington, Mrs Rich and America's registered Democrats might all care to reflect on.

Mohammed Idol

mohammed_cartoon In solidarity with the brave Danish cartoonists and publishers of the Mohammed cartoons who have elected to republish them "as a nose-thumb against the plotters and the unspeakable wannabe tyranny they represent," and with the Danish Prime Minister who has so staunchly defended their republication with the telling remark that "in Denmark, we have freedom not only to think and talk, but also to draw," SOLO has announced the Mohammed Idol competition: your images of the "prophet" Mohammed, to be judged in various categories such as,

  • Most Humorous,
  • Best Political Satire,
  • Best Swimsuit,
  • Best Image in a Compromising Position, and
  • the Grand Prix: Image Most Likely To Get You Killed.

The winner is promised 72 virgins, gender of choice, in THIS life.  Do be careful what you wish for.

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It's saving, stupid

How many times have you seen stories telling us: "Stockmarkets surged on the back of a rise in consumer spending."  Or, more recently, "The Dow and Nasdaq slipped on Friday on concerns about consumer spending ."

What the headlines describe is sheer foolishness, but nowhere near as scary as headlines announcing "President George W. Bush has signed the two-year, $168 billion economic stimulus package, hoping to pump spending money into the ailing American economy."

No wonder the American economy is ailing when it's 'conventional wisdom' such as this that guides those who like to meddle with it.  The conventional wisdom that consumer activity is all good is not just all wrong, it's destructively and provably and always wrong.  What drives economic growth is not consumption, it's saving -- as George Reisman explains here.  It's long, but until you understand his point you're not qualified either to meddle or to comment intelligently on the meddlers.

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Obama: No change at all, really

If Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama stands for anything, he stands for "change."  Up to now, that's the only policy plank he's promoted.

Change?  In what direction?  As Liberty Scott discovers in examining Obama's economics policies, it looks like a "change" towards even bigger government.

In other words, not much of a change at all.  No wonder America's Marxists are backing him, as Trevor Loudon has been tirelessly pointing out.

UPDATE:  An anonymous commenter gets it right:

His policies are "change" as in "small change," which is what will be left of taxpayers money after he has had his bite.

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Should you ever lie to a thief? (updated)

The return of the cache of stolen war medals including the medals of Charles Upham to Waiouru Army Museum has opened a debate on the method by which they were recovered, particularly on the question of whether is appropriate to lie to thief to gain the return of that which they stole.

Put simply, do you owe a thief your honesty?

The detective in charge of the recovery Detective Sergeant Bensemann thinks you do -- at least, that's what he says.  Now that the medals have been returned by the thieves, he and his team are "honour bound" he says to stand by their promise to the thieves to pay up for their return as they agreed.

This is certainly a fairly common view of the "honourable" thing to do -- that one should never lie and should always keep your word, no matter what.  I disagree.  There is no moral necessity to keep your word to a criminal -- and no honour to be had in doing so.

The virtue of honesty is defined and described by philosopher Leonard Peikoff as

the refusal to fake reality, ie., to pretend that facts are other than as they are...   The virtue of honesty requires that one face the truth on every issue one deals with: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Considering the whole truth in this context must include the fact that, first, one is dealing with criminals, ie., those who live by dishonesty -- who make their living by appropriating the values of others; and, second, that moral principles are neither "divine commandments" nor "categorical imperatives" -- they are guides to action applying within a certain framework of conditions; "like all scientific generalizations, therefore, moral principles are absolutes within their conditions.  They are absolutes--contextually."

In other words, there is nothing within the virtue of honesty that compels you tell the truth to someone who would do you over.  You  have no obligation to tell the truth to a Gestapo officer seeking the location of your wife, or to a kidnapper to whom you're promising a  safe escape in return for the release of his hostages, or to a criminal who has returned a collection of war medals in return for reward money and some degree of immunity from prosecution.  In fact, if there is any obligation it is in the reverse direction of that one usually considers; as Peikoff explains, "lying to protect one's values from criminals is not wrong":

If and when a man's honesty becomes a weapon that kidnappers or other wielders of force can use to harm him [or his loved ones], then the normal context is reversed; his virtue would then become a means serving the ends of evil.  In such a case, the victim [or his agents] has not only the right but the obligation  to lie and to do it proudly.

I would like to think that this is the sense of honour understood by men such as Charles Upham VC -- and I'm quietly confident that Detective Sergeant Bensemann feels the same.

UPDATE 1:  The intelligent reader will have noticed that the view of honesty espoused here is based on the Objectivist ethics, a "philosophy for living on earth."  As Greg Salmieri and Alan Gotthelf point out,

Rather than deriving its virtues from a vaguely defined human function, Objectivism takes “Man’s Life” – i.e. that which is required for the survival of a rational animal across its lifespan – as the standard of value. This accounts for the nobility ascribed to production by the Objectivist ethics – it is “the application of reason to the problem of survival."

Unlike the ethics of religionists, Objectivism derives its moral principles not from stone tablets or burning bushes or caliphate commandments  -- not on what's needed to live in heaven or paradise  in some supernatural realm -- but from from the needs of man's survival and flourishing  right here on this earth.

The contrast with religious morality could not be greater: for the Objectivist, moral principles are guides to action intended to enhance and sustain one's life.  For the religionist however, moral principles are divine commandments that act like a ball and chain -- a dogmatic straitjacket commanding one's obedience, even if when talking to a Gestapo officer it could lead to your own  death or that of a loved one.  For the Objectivist, the answer to a Gestapo chief is outside the bounds of morality altogether: morality ends when the Gestapo chief's gun begins.  But for the religionist, telling the truth is an absolute necessity even if it entails the sacrifice of your life and that of your loved ones.

It's no accident then that martyrdom and self-sacrifice are considered virtues by religionists the word over, whereas with Objectivists what's valued is flourishing.  No surprise either to find that Lucyna the Catholic disagrees with me, (as does, incidentally, most of the Muslim world).

UPDATE 2: Matt Flannagan agrees with my conclusion, but disagrees with both my reasoning and my assertion that the religionist is obliged to follow divine commandments without question.  On behalf of her own religious beliefs, Lucyna disagrees with us both.  It's hard to keep up with a religionist!

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"Sustainability." Not just a meaningless buzzword

"Sustainability."  Chris Trotter reminds us in yesterday's 'Sunday Star Times' that it's not just a meaningless buzzword, it has "revolutionary social and economic implications":

It means that private enterprise must acknowledge the need for restraint: for regulations that are no longer light-fingered but heavy-handed...

"Sustainability," he concludes, " isn't just a fast track to re-election, it's a clarion call for revolution.

Isn't that what I've been warning you?  "Sustainability" has nothing to do with "future generations -- except to ensure they're both poor and enslaved.  More accurately,  it's the longed-for link for a certain kind of socialist between feel-good environmentalism and do-you-over authoritarianism: making it necessary for the productive to ask permission from the unproductive in order to produce.

Such is the dream of The Trotter, and of others just like him.

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