Monday, 20 July 2009

Bigger than Ben Hur!

I bet you never realised just how many of the “biggest grossing movies of all time” were produced before the latest decade of blockbusters and brainless garbage – and just how few in the last few years.

In fact, when you adjust for the falling US dollar – which has lost around ninety-five times its purchasing power in the ninety-six years since the Federal Reserve has been “looking after” it – turns out only one film in the past 15 years even makes the top 10, “and the highest grossing movie of the 21st century - The Dark Knight (2008) - ranks 27th overall”!

Click the link to see what are the real top grossing films of all time.

Monday Morning Ramble #37 [update 5]

Here’s another bunch o’links I’ve been wanting to talk to you about  for a week or so . . .

  • Liberty Scott asks if government censorship of the internet in the name of child porn is a “trojan horse for censoring more than material produced in the context of a real crime.”  Given that the Department of Internal Affairs is intending to take your name, rank and IP number if you access any one of a list of sites that only they are allowed to know (a little like playing Russian roulette with an opponent who’s also making up the rules as you go), you have to wonder.
    And Emma Hart (who believes “the Censor's Office in New Zealand does a very good job”!) is nonetheless sufficiently concerned about government “filtering” of the internet to believe you should be to.
  • MacDoctor suggests we should all be more thoughtful about Chief Justice Sian Elias’s ‘Blameless Babes‘ speech. But his own thoughts, which are representative of many, is that the menu of alternatives for the justice system is exhausted by it being either Restorative, Rehabilitative or Retributive.  Like many others, including Ms Elias, he doesn’t realise its primary purpose is to be Protective – of us.  Not to reduce the number of criminals, but to reduce the number of victims.
  • Warmists are waving the white flag.  While the politicians are insisting “the science is settled” and moving to strangle industry in the name of fighting global warming, leading warmist website Real Climate (“Climate Science from real climate scientists”) is waving the white flag.  Recognising that we’ve now seen a decade of cooling (“or at least flat lining”) instead of the runaway warming their models predict, they’re now retreating to a fallback position: that “the era of consistent record-breaking global mean temperatures will not resume until roughly 2020.” Far enough away to save their careers, perhaps.  See their wriggling at: Warming, interrupted: Much ado about natural variability.
    Anthony Watts gives the obituary for warmist science: “Imagine, twenty-two or more years (1998 to ~2020) of no new global temperature record. What would that do to the debate? . . .  Policy makers and the public can handle uncertainty, its the nonsense they have trouble with.
    And Mickey’s Muses makes it explicit: “I think I hear the fat lady singing.”
  • Meanwhile, Doug Reich “debunks the myth that stimulus programs and/or cap and trade actually will ‘create’ employment, so-called ‘Green Jobs’."
    Read Obama's "Green Jobs" Through a Broken Window.
  • And what about those "well-intentioned idealists" we call environmentalists? Says Doug (again) at The Rational Capitalist, "Given the deadly consequences of implementing the U.S. Cap and Trade Bill, among other environmentalist and leftist proposals, can anyone argue that these people are ‘well-intentioned idealists’?"
    Read Lethal Exposure and see if you still can.
  • Speaking of politicisation of science, Spiked Online weighs in on the “politics” of Swine Flu: “This politicisation of swine flu is bad for our health. There are two swine flus: the real disease, which is proving manageable, and the fantasy catastrophic disease invented by officialdom.” 
    Read This politicisation of swine flu is bad for our health.
  • And now on to the politicisation of economics.   Rational Capitalist Doug Reich invites you to try this at home: “If you want to understand why “stimulus” programs do not work in the sense of generating economic growth, try the following experiment at home or at your place of business.  Go up to someone and hand them $20 and tell them that by giving them this money, you intend to “stimulate” the local economy and observe what happens . . .”  Read on for a simple way to understand stimulunacy: Obama: Please Try This at Home.
  • What about the politicisation of childcare?  Activism on the anti-smacking law shouldn’t overlook that just because something’s legal doesn’t make it compulsory – and just because it’s been made illegal, it doesn’t make it right.
    Fact is, non-punitive discipline of children is possible, but it’s hard.  Kelly Elmore gives a great account of just how hard it is to deal with a tantrum without resorting to what we’d all like to do at such times: Horrendous Tantrum, Desire to Punish, and What I Did Instead.  Good reading.
  • And the politicisation of food?  Executive director of the Organisation for Rare Disorders, John Forman, is aghast at the cancelling of compulsory folate in bread.  He wonders “"Who is going to take responsibility for a couple of classrooms of kids that are not going to be there - every year?"  Says Elliot Smith, the answer is “My Wife.”
    UPDATE: Lindsay Perigo applauds the cancellation: “"There can be no argument about this," says Perigo. "It's solely a freedom issue, not one of the health benefits or risks of adding folic acid to bread. People who want the stuff should go visit their pharmacist, not foist it on the rest of us. . . The point now is to ensure that the wishy-washy John Key doesn't backslide on this, and that the government generally moves in the direction of favouring freedom over fascism in *all* matters. 
    “In the meantime, if bakers wanted voluntarily to enhance the health of the nation, they might consider adding prussic acid to the bread of politicians and journalists with socialist agendas," Perigo concludes.
  • Caught up with the NBR-versus-bloggers kerfuffle yet? National Business Review owner Barry Colman appears to think that bloggers are destroying his business model. Excuse me, that’s  the "huge band of amateur, untrained, unqualified bloggers” who, he says “have swarmed over the internet pouring out columns of unsubstantiated ‘facts’ and ‘hysterical opinion’" who have destroyed his business model.
    Blogger and trained economist Paul Walker destroys that argument in short order,  and then trained international economists pick up the threadBernard Hickey explains why Bazza’s business model needs work (following which Cactus returns the favour).
    Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is celebrating, rather that denigrating, the work of economics bloggers (which rather supports Paul Walker’s argument), and the National Business Review will shortly begin charging for “subscriber-only” content.
    [UPDATE: Russell Brown weighs in.]
  • I guess I should post a link to my own thoughts on the blogger-MSM divide, posted a few weeks back: Just the Facts, Ma’am.
  • Working woman Cactus Kate explains why the most profitable career path for New Zealand women is now . .  wait for it . . . housework
    And she points out why Obama Goes Where White Men Fear .
  • 6a00d83451d75d69e201157217da8b970b-320wi If you thought that the television coverage of the last local election was appalling, then the research of Massey University’s Associate Professor Margie Comrie agrees with you.  Bryce Edwards has details: Television coverage of the 2008 NZ election.
    UPDATE:  What about the newspapers? “How well did the daily newspapers cover the 2008 election campaign? Did readers get good, substantial information to make informed choices between parties? Or did the papers focus on the personalities and events, and more superficial aspects of the campaign? Was the ‘horse race’ given greater coverage than policy? Was ‘there a structural bias towards coverage of the major players?’”
    Bryce Edwards summarises the research on these questions too – and you might be surprised by the answers. 
    Read Newspaper coverage of the 2008 NZ election.
  • colors Here’s a great optical illusion website, full of cool illusions like this one on the right. (If you see embedded spirals of green, pinkish-orange, and blue, then you might like to know that, incredibly, the green and the blue spirals are the same color.)
    Do optical illusions like this somehow challenge our claims to objectivity?  Not at all.  As the One Reality blog explains, “The senses are in fact infallible.  And optical illusions themselves are marvellous demonstrations of this fact.”
    Read Optical Illusions.
  • Ever had your photos ruined by some schmuck who’s either intentionally or inadvertently invaded your frame?  Then the photobomb website is for you, everything from videobombing to jagerbombing.
    Check it out: This is Photobomb:  Photojackers of the World Unite! [hat tip Noodle Food]
  • If you’re in Auckland and you know enough facts about whiskey (or whisky), then you could win a double pass to The Whisky Shop Tasting.
  • Ed Hudgins posts an uncharacteristically good piece celebrating the fortieth anniversary of man first walking on the moon – and explains why NASA’s finest years are behind it, and the future for private space exploration.  Read When We Walked on the Moon.
  • English grammar—it’s not just for good writing, it’s also essential for good reasoning. But it's a subject, notes the Grammar Revolution website, “that fills many of us with frustration, but it doesn't have to.”  Head to the the Grammar Revolution website to find exercises, lessons, and sentence diagrams that will turn you into a grammar pro! 
  • Following up on the July 4 celebrations, Titanic Deck Chairs hosted a spirited set of debates about the American Constitution, the motivations of the Founding Fathers, the understanding of natural rights at the time, the importance of ideas as drivers of history and other light topics. 
    See Debates on the Founding Era, Debates... Part 2, and the post that started it all, ARCTV - Ridpath on Patrick Henry.
    UPDATE: And on the same theme, Stephen Hicks recently interviewed two Adams and Jefferson scholars, Professors Brad Thompson and David Mayer, for his Rockford College  Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship. Watch videos of the interviews with Thompson on John Adams and Mayer on Thomas Jefferson.
  • Gus Van Horn “sends the pope a thank-you note for bringing up the moral basis of capitalism.”  Read A Recycled Encyclical?
  • Roderick Fitts,has a new blog focused on his investigations into induction [hat tip Titanic Deck Chairs]. Here’s two goodies already:.
    1. Roderick Fitts presents Aristotle on Induction posted at Inductive Quest, calling it his “first stop on his grand adventure to understand induction."
    2. Roderick Fitts presents Induction's Bad Reputation posted at Inductive Quest, calling it “another stop in which I discuss my problems with ‘induction by simple enumeration.’ I'm with Francis Bacon on this issue, and suggest that you should be too!"
  • All that inflation of the monetary base has to go somewhere.  Right? At present banks everywhere are putting it all under their mattresses until the rainy day is over – to the frustration of politicians worldwide – but just wait ‘till they start injecting it all into the markets!
    Which is why everyone is watching the twitching of various price inflation indicators, and why –perhaps – those price inflation indicators are being tinkered with again.
  • Bernard Hickey argues NZ’s rising debt is due to investment, not extra consumption.  He attracted some good commentary.
  • greenspan-bubble “No one saw the economic collapse coming?”  We know that’s nonsense by now – but now people are starting to examine why those who got it right did get it right.   One recent study suggests that those who use “financial accounting models” rather than “equilibrium models” did best. 
    Read "No One Saw This Coming": Understanding Financial Crisis Through Accounting Models.  The comments are interesting too.
  • No wonder the Austrian school of economics is on the rise.
  • What’s Austrian Economics?  This interview with Austrian economist Richard Ebeling is an easy introduction.
    (On a personal note, it was Ebeling’s brilliantly concise Austrian Economics: A Reader that was my own introduction to Austrian economics, so I retain a certain affection for him.)
  • What’s the lowdown on crude Keynesianism?  Simple, says William Anderson: Keynesians like Paul Krugman do “not differentiate between private and government borrowing.” Business borrowing is primarily done for capital investment, whereas government borrowing is done so governments can spend more than they take in with taxes – the former is investment, the latter is consumption – “yet Keynesians seem to believe that the only benefit business borrowing provides is the spending that takes place, so if government does the borrowing and spending instead, then all the better.”  Sounds like insanity?  It is. 
    Read The Lowdown on Crude Keynesianism.
  • On a related note, Bernard Hickey notes an ASB survey showing “rental property the most popular investment choice again for 1st time since ‘07.”
    “We've learnt nothing,” he says.
  • Gold versus fractional reserve banking.  Henry Hazlitt compares the two.
  • What’s gold up to now?  David McGregor at the Sovereign Life blog offers his thoughts.  He’s a bull.  Jim Rogers isn’t so convinced.  The IMF’s big gold sell-off makes him a bear.
  • Tax 001 Ever wondered how many NZ workers to how many NZ beneficiaries?
    Answer: in 2004, the ratio was 2.5 to 1.
    Now? It’s more like 1:5 to 1.
    And that’s not counting those “workers” who are beneficiaries as well – i.e., those whose wages are paid by the taxpayer.
    Are we at a tipping point yet?
  • And finally, more Richard Feynman brilliance has been released to the ‘net, this time by Bill Gates, who brings you all seven Messenger Lectures that Richard Feynman gave at Cornell in 1964.  [Head here to find out how to watch them].
    Czech physicist Lubos Motl says Gates “considers these lectures to be best ever. He has hoped to bring them to the public for 20 years. Now, two decades and 40 billion U.S. dollars later, he has realized his dream. :-)
    ”The seven parts discuss
    1. Law of gravitation: an example of a physical law
      (includes a funny provost's introduction)
    2. The relation of mathematics and physics
    3. The great conservation principles
      (a clever mother, unlike most, counts the blocks)
    4. Symmetry in physical law
      (includes special relativity)
    5. The distinction of past and future
    6. Probability and uncertainty: the quantum mechanical view of Nature
    7. Seeking new laws”

That’s another ramble for another week, folks.
Enjoy your Monday!


  • Tim Blair posts on another fortieth anniversary this week that America’s longest-serving beneficiary would like us all to forget:
  • Left? Right? Which side of the divide does this party sound like: “protectionist laws limiting the import of foreign goods. . . giving workers shares in their bosses’ companies. . .  nationalize the public utilities, railroad companies and so forth. Economic protectionism. Worker cooperatives. State ownership. . . “  Sounds like “far right to you”?  As Mark Steyn says, “On closer inspection, Europe’s “far right” doesn’t seem to go very far at all.”  [Hat tip Tim Blair]
    che_killsRead The New Right, er, Left.
  • And Tim Blair also links to the gratifying news that Stephen Soderbergh’s filmic eulogy to one of South America’s most-celebrated mass murders, Che, was “a complete box office failure.”
    Because “the fans of a sworn enemy of private enterprise and bourgeoisie property laws” headed out in their droves and downloaded pirated copies” -- an irony that is completely lost on the film-maker.
  • From the Chicago Black Sox to Tonya Harding, sports cheaters are the ultimate second-handers says Stephen Hicks, linking to the fifteen top cheats in sports history.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Beer O’Clock: A Gimlet for Mr Chandler

It’s my pleasure to repost by permission a piece written by Robert F. Moss of the Raymond Chandler site, the Chandler blog and the excellent non-fiction work, Raymond Chandler: A Literary Reference.  It originally appeared at The Rap Sheet as part of their series celebrating novelist Raymond Chandler, and brings together two of my favourite things.  Mix yourself a tall one, and read on.

A few months ago, I commemorated the 50th anniversary of Raymond Chandler’s death by mixing myself a gimlet and reading passages from The Long Goodbye (1953).

It was a melancholy exercise. Chandler died of bronchial pneumonia at the Scripps Clinic in San Diego, California, on March 26, 1959. By all accounts, his last few years were ones of great sadness and confusion. His wife, Cissy, had passed away in 1954, just after Chandler completed The Long Goodbye, which many critics (myself included) consider his best novel. Without Cissy he was adrift. He resumed heavy drinking, and in February 1955 attempted suicide.

Chandler was more active socially during his last five years than he had been at any time since marrying Cissy. He split his time between La Jolla, California, and London, England. In England, he was treated like a literary celebrity and mixed with what he called “the St. John’s Wood-Chelsea literary-artistic crowd,” which included Natasha and Stephen Spender, J.B. Priestley, Ian Fleming, Dilys Powell, and Leonard Russell. But, he also suffered from depression and continued drinking, which alienated his new circle of literary friends and left him hospitalized on several occasions. He struggled to complete Playback, his final novel, saying “my heart was too sad to let me capture the mood and gusto and impudence which is essential” for a Philip Marlowe story. His finished that book in December 1957, and it was published the next summer, during the final year of his life.

109143 Gimlets are the appropriate drink for remembering Chandler, and a treat to enjoy during the coming warmer months. In The Long Goodbye, Philip Marlowe and a dissipated playboy named Terry Lennox create an uneasy bond over gimlets at Victor’s bar. The gimlets Lennox and Marlowe drank weren’t the real thing, as Lennox himself points out:

We sat in the corner bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. “They don’t know how to make them here,” he said. “What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice and gin with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.”

Marlowe and Lennox’s brief friendship is founded on the recognition that they share a personal code of behavior in a world that has lost its moral standards. For a few months, they meet regularly at 5 p.m. for drinks. Then, one morning at 5 o’clock, Lennox shows up at Marlowe’s doorstep, holding a gun. Marlowe asks no questions and drives him to Tijuana. Later, after learning that Lennox has committed suicide in a Mexican hotel room, Marlowe receives a letter that Lennox mailed just before his death, containing a veiled confession to murdering his wife, a $5,000 bill, and a request to “drink a gimlet for me at Victor’s.”

Gimlets weren’t in the first draft of The Long Goodbye. In 1952, as Chandler was revising the novel to prepare it for publication, he and Cissy took a month long trip to London. He discovered gimlets on their return voyage aboard the RMS Mauretania. He liked them so much that he worked them into the final version of the novel.

Chandler’s formula of 1/2 gin and 1/2 Rose’s seems pretty steep, since a gimlet is basically a martini with Rose’s Lime Juice rather than vermouth. The 1954 Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts, published in London the year after The Long Goodbye, cites the Savoy Hotel’s recipe of 3 parts gin to 1 part Rose’s. Esquire also notes, “A true Gimlet must be made with Rose’s bottled lime juice, which vanished like nylons during the war but is now seen around again.”

Many recipes today still call for lime juice mixed with powdered sugar, and some call for lemon juice, but these are poor substitutes for Rose’s Lime Juice, which has a pale yellow color and sweet, candy-like taste that is hard to duplicate. Lauchlin Rose, an Edinburgh shipping provisioner, formulated the original lime-and-sugar syrup in the 1860s to preserve limes for British sailors, who were required by law to take a daily dose of lime juice to prevent scurvy. Rose’s invention was a nonalcoholic alternative to the older method of preserving limes in Demerara rum, which prevented scurvy just fine but led to tipsy sailors falling out of the riggings. Ironically, the general public found Rose’s Lime Juice to be splendid when mixed with gin, and today it’s a bar staple.

The origin of the gimlet itself is less certain, but it became popular in Hong Kong and other tropical British colonies around the time of World War I, and it took hold in London during the 1920s and ’30s. When Chandler discovered it on the Mauretania, it was just re-emerging from its war-enforced obscurity because of the unavailability of Rose’s Lime Juice.

For Chandler fans, gimlets will always be a sentimental drink, conjuring up a sense of melancholy and loss. They are best drunk in a cold, dark bar while it’s hot outside, re-creating Marlowe’s moments of cool reflection amid the sun-blind heat of a Los Angeles summer. The gimlet’s flavors are an appropriate combination for Chandler, whose writing and personality could be simultaneously sour and syrupy sweet. That combination is reflected in Marlowe’s relationship with Terry Lennox, too.

It takes the private eye a little while, in The Long Goodbye, to get back down to Victor’s and fulfill Lennox’s request to “drink a gimlet for me.” When he does, he finds that the barman has ordered a bottle of Rose’s Lime Juice and can now make those drinks the proper way with no bitters. “With the lime juice it has a sort of pale greenish yellowish misty look,” Marlowe notes. “It was both sweet and sharp at the same time.” He meets heiress Linda Loring in Victor’s that afternoon, beginning an on-again, off-again relationship that’s continued in Playback and would lead to a few chapters of a novel fragment called The Poodle Springs Story (later completed by Robert B. Parker as simply Poodle Springs) in which Marlowe and Loring get married. Marlowe has one more run-in with gimlets and the memory of Terry Lennox before the tale is played out ... but there’s no need to spoil the novel’s ending.

In the letter to his agent that accompanied the manuscript of The Long Goodbye, Chandler wrote, “I didn’t care whether the mystery was fairly obvious, but I cared about the people, about this strange corrupt world we live in, and how any man who tried to be honest looks in the end either sentimental or just plain foolish.” Chandler himself was quite sentimental and even foolish in the last years of his life, but in his writing he remained honest to the end.

During his lifetime Raymond Chandler was never secure in his achievements, and he was plagued by the suspicion that he had wasted his talents in a subliterary genre. Fifty years later, both literary scholars and the public at large have put such concerns to rest. His best books--The Big Sleep (1939) and The Long Goodbye--are on the short list of the greatest American novels ever written. Through the character of Philip Marlowe and through his contributions to film noir, Chandler has made a lasting imprint on American popular culture, and he remains the most vivid chronicler of Southern Californian life between 1930 and 1960. The gimlets we drink in his memory may be potent and a little sour, but they are also very sweet. And what could be a more fitting way to remember a great American writer?

READ MORE: “Writing The Long Goodbye,” by Mark Coggins. [Warning: Contains spoilers.]

* * Keep an eye out for more pieces here at NOT PC linking great writers and their drinks * *


Since the cool kids aren’t doing what cool kids are supposed to be doing, and since it’s Friday, let’s remind each other of one of the the joys they’re apparently rediscovering:  The simple pleasure of vinyl.  Just one of the things you can do with an LP that you could never do with an MP3 is . . . this:

6q8zaqo Hold up a record cover in an imaginative pose, and hey presto, you’ve got  ‘Sleeveface  art’ :
sleeveface3 sleeveface-thumb-434x271 LORETTA LYNN 8gdy4nr Cash Elvis 89kzvdd

You can see lots more of it (or submit your own) at the Sleeveface site (hat tip Bits on the Side).  Be warned however, the results can sometimes be disturbing:


Justice isn’t working

Justice It’s said by someone who should know better [see her 16-page speech here in PDF] that New Zealand must reconsider its whole approach to imprisonment and to the way we “create criminals.”

That we must consider the view that “imprisonment is a symptom of social failure”; that we must look more at the causes of crime rather then the effect of crime on its victims; that instead of locking people up the justice system should instead “find out why blameless babes become criminals”; that “effective rehabilitation” of criminals has suffered since “leadership of the debate about penal policy has passed from officials and professionals . . .  to advocates for victims and safer communities.”

In a complete reversal of cause and effect she asserts that “providing only a prison at the bottom of a cliff is not a solution” because the existence of that prison ensures “criminals will just keep on falling into it.”  In a complete insult to all of us she appears to put criminals and their rehabilitation ahead of the victims of crime and safer communities. And in a complete reversal of the principles of justice she wrings her hands on behalf of “blameless babes” who become criminals and get locked up, while failing to even consider what these “blameless babes” have done to get locked up, and to whom.

This is said by New Zealand’s Chief Justice Sian Elias in an address to the Wellington branch of the Law Society.  It is not her speaking in a personal capacity – it is our Chief Justice ‘speaking with her robes on.’  It is a disgrace.

“Society creates criminals,” she quotes a mentor approvingly, “society must look at the conditions that create them.”  That’s all very well, Ms Chief Justice, but before considering how “society creates criminals,” shouldn’t we – and you – first understand the damage that criminals do the non-criminal members of society. And since you’re the Chief Justice, shouldn’t you at least have some grip on what “justice” actually means?

In that light, I invite Ms Elias to to reflect on why we have a justice system in the first place.  Which is to say, if we follow Thomas Jefferson, to reflect on why we institute governments at all.  To paraphrase Mr Jefferson:

We hold these truths to be demonstrable in reality: that because the mind is our species' means of survival and full flourishing, human beings are individually possessed of certain inalienable rights, which are the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of private property and happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among people . . ; that all laws legislated by governments must be for the purpose of securing these rights; that no laws legislated by government may violate these rights . . .

Seems pretty straightforward.  Almost self-evident, you might say: that we all have rights; that government’s job is to secure those rights; that all laws legislated by governments must be for the purpose of securing these rights; that the agents of government must be agents of right, not of wrong.

So what sort of things violate our rights then?  That’s pretty straightforward too: assault, burglary, fraud, murder, that’s the sort of stuff we want protection from.  That’s the sort of thing for which “governments are instituted among people”: to protect us from our rights being violated: to ensure  “safer communities” (to use the phrase that soured in Ms Elias’s mouth) – i.e., communities in which you and I are safe from being assaulted, burgled or murdered by “blameless babes” and rehabilitating criminals – and the protection of our most basic rights.

This is the primary purpose of governments, and it delineates by extension the primary purpose of the justice system – which is neither to rehabilitate criminals nor to punish them, but to protect us from those who do us over.

Sure, if the rehabilitation of criminals can make us safer then by all means give it a go. And if punishing criminals by hard labour and long sentences will keep them off the streets and away from threatening our loved ones and our property, then that’s something to encourage.   But let’s not overlook the fact that the primary and principled purpose of the justice system is not to reduce the number of criminals, but to reduce the number of victims.

“Our prison system isn’t working,” you say? If it’s keeping at least some criminals off the street, then to that extent at least it is.

Quote(s) of the day: On justice

Mercy to the guilty is injustice to the innocent.
- paraphrased from Adam Smith

It is not justice or equal treatment that you grant to men when you abstain equally from praising men’s virtues and from condemning men’s vices. When your impartial attitude declares, in effect, that neither the good nor the evil may expect anything from you—whom do you betray and whom do you encourage?
- Ayn Rand on justice

General debate

Feeling frustrated?  Mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore?

Anything you want to get off your chest?  Anyone you want to admonish?

Then have at it! Here’s your chance.

‘Villa Modern’

Prefab or Group houses built to standardised designs don’t have to be dull – and the way the building regulations are going here in EnZed, they might soon be the only affordable way that home-owners might ever live in an architect-designed home.LELAND HOUSE -- the only economical way to get a flower instead of a weed out the system.

Here for example are three houses produced by a crowd of US home-builders called Villa Modern [hat tip Prairie Mod] offering “a combination of modern influence infused with some of the traditional forms and elements that most people associate with a comfortable liveable home.”

M. FARADAY HOUSE“The modern home designs here are inspired by the art and architecture that began in Europe in the early 1900's and was characterised by clean lines, broad windows and open floor plans. Incorporating the historic design concepts into today’s lifestyles the houses represented are liveable, sculptural, and dramatic.

Modern influenced, but moderately affordable.JENKINS HOUSE

“Inspired by historical precedent in modern design, and a lean towards flexible open living spaces, these designs reflect a more  sophisticated value on home design and statement,” they say.

They’re not exactly site specific, but they indicate that mass-produced needn’t mean demeaning.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Interest rates: high? low? how the hell would Alan know? [update 2]

Eric Crampton noticed a little, shall we say, inconsistency from His Alan-ness of the Reserve Bank:

A week ago the RBNZ berated banks for interest rates being too high; today, Bollard berates consumers for responding to interest rates being too low. Which is it?

Well, how the hell would Alan know?  It sure as hell beats his pair of jacks.  Fact is, without a real market, how would anyone?  The problem is not just with our local Reserve Bank Governor – the problem is universal. As Jesus Huerta de Soto points out in his book Money, Bank Credit & Economic Cycles,

6a00d83451eb0069e20115720667e2970b-800wi     the theorem of the economic impossibility of socialism, which the Austrian economists Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich A. Hayek discovered, is fully applicable to central banks in general, and to the Federal Reserve . . . in particular. According to this theorem, it is impossible to organize society, in terms of economics, based on coercive commands issued by a planning agency, since such a body can never obtain the information it needs to infuse its commands with a coordinating nature.
    Indeed, nothing is more dangerous than to . . . [believe] oneself omniscient or at least wise and powerful enough to be able to keep the most suitable monetary policy fine-tuned at all times.

So without a real market for money, we can never know what the 'real ‘price’ of money, i.e., the interest rate, should be.

What we do know however, but only after the fact, is when the central banks get it wrong.  For instance, “the relative price stability experienced under Greenspan” was not a good thing -- summarises Peter Boettke, it “is actually problematic, rather than a sign of the perfection of central banking practice.  During this period of time, the US realized tremendous productivity increases due to technological innovations, and also new trading opportunities in China and India.”  What we should have seen with those tremendous productivity increases was not “stable prices,” but gently declining prices. As Huerta de Soto writes:

The absence of a healthy "deflation" in the prices of consumer goods in a period of such considerable growth in productivity as that of recent years provides the main evidence that the monetary shock has seriously disturbed the economic process.

In short, the central banks don’t know what interest rates should be when things are bad (high? low? how the hell would they know?); but neither do they know what the hell they’re doing when things are going “well.” 

And when they get it wrong, and keep right on getting it wrong, we all suffer.

UPDATE 1: Just to make the point more plain: the pursuit of so called “price stability” (which generally involves a fair degree of meddling with CPI definitions) provides neither an anti-inflationary panacea (particularly not when housing prices are booming at a time of so-called stability) nor a guide to interest rate levels. M.A. Abrams makes the point clearer:

    In an economically progressive community (that is, one where the real costs
of production per unit are falling and output per head is increasing), any
additions to the supply of money in order to prevent falling prices will be
hidden inflation; and in a retrogressive community, (that is, one where output
per head is diminishing and real costs of production are rising), any
contraction of the supply of money in order to prevent rising prices will be
hidden deflation. Inflation and deflation can occur just as well behind a stable
price level as when the price level is rising and falling.

It rather puts several current controversies (inflation or deflation? rates up or rates down?) into perspective, don’t you think?

UPDATE 2: From the farting-against-thunder file comes this research from Canada’s Sprott Asset Management on the massive US budget deficit and bond issuance problem, which Bernard Hickey reckons is “a must read.”

It says global interest rates will rise [anyway] as the US nears default on its debt. Sprott says there isn’t enough money in the world to pay for the US deficits and its looming Medicare and Social Security crisis as baby boomers retire. . .

  • “…the future solvency of the United States as a nation state is currently in jeopardy [says Sprott]. It is in far deeper trouble than the mainstream press cares to admit. There are simply not enough new buyers of debt on this planet to support the spending programs of the United States government - and it appears that current holders of debt are beginning to sell. Because it is impossible to balance the budget from outside sources of capital, the only source of funds left for the US, in all reality, is continued money printing. The Federal Reserve’s policy of Quantitative Easing is failing. The US budget is ludicrous, spending is out of control, spending promises are out of control, the world knows it - and we know it. For all the pundits who see the economy improving over the next year, we invite you to explain to us how this debt crisis will resolve itself without significant turmoil.”

Moral of the story (if you haven’t learned it already): Even central bankers can’t fake reality for ever.

UPDATE 3: As Mr Crampton says, Larry White’s free banking regime has much to recommend it.

In an alternative universe we could have seen economic recovery in February [updated]

ObamaChangeJar Joseph Keckeissen offers an alternative universe in which the bailouts didn’t happen and TARP was thrown back; in which the money supply wasn’t bloated up with “quantitative easing,”and the budget wasn’t inflated with stimulunacy inanities. No more rescues. No more trillions -- “those who have received any bit of largesse promptly return their ill-gotten loot to the Treasury,” and the bankruptcy courts were authorized to get on with their jobs without fear or favour.

This is an alternative universe in which we would have seen recovery in February.

    There would be no more impatient dilly-dallying on the part of investors, waiting for the government to decide who are going to be the recipients of the new trillions in handouts, and causing daily upsurges and downfalls in the unsettled Dow.
Assets would have fallen to their normal worth, the present discounted value of their future returns. No need to wrestle with mark-to-market account. . .
Mr. Geithner wouldn't be stressed to invent new ways to cajole folks to contribute to the buyout of overvalued securitized junk. Nor would there be the least excuse for more G20s to be needled into bastardizing their overbloated monetary systems. Mr. Bernanke would have stopped acting the role of Santa Claus, distributing the government-invented moonshine to the denuded former greats of Wall Street.
The corpses of the erstwhile automobile empires would have breathed their last, their good assets now transferred to the hands of newer more responsible entrepreneurs. The prior executives would be moving over to Cheapside and brushing off their overalls, perhaps in line to join a new remodeled UAW, in search for some job where they couldn't mess things up any more.
The bankruptcy courts would be finishing up their exequies for the deceased former titans of the packaged debentures. The tombstones of the new economic cemetery would display the once great names of Fannie and Freddie, of Citi, of AIG, of Merrill Lynch, along with the hapless Lehman Brothers, interred several months before. And so many more financial cadavers would have been laid to rest, their memory duly to be forgotten, as perpetrators of a fake capitalism now buried and forgotten. . .
Washington would finally be silenced, even if the Fed were not yet duly junked in the process, and the Treasury's overbearance would be bridled as the rest of the uneconomic trash was being flushed out of the system.
The Case Shiller indices would have completed their downfall to a level that future homeowners could devote the traditional 30 percent of their money incomes towards purchasing their long-wanted love nests. New families would be rushing in to fill the vacant home sites.
True capitalism would be alive again; employment would be rising up to normal. The waiting lines would no longer be for unemployment checks, but rather to be first to enroll in the new jobs daily being created. The new savings of the American people, shocked by the catastrophe, would now offset the strangling of the market rate of interest on the part of the monetary gymnasts, and would reflect the new flow of healthy capital ready to be invested in solid new ventures. The Dow would be healthily aglow with daily increments. All the bubbles would have burst away.
Happy days would be here again! We'd once again be rolling in prosperity!
But why hasn't this happened?
Why is the world still in acute misery, even expecting the worst yet to come?

Because in this universe, none of this happened.  Washington wasn’t silenced.  Ben Bernanke wasn’t strangled.  Instead of following the lessons of the Great Depression of 1920-21 (you know, the one that no one remembers because of the so-swift recovery), political functionaries instead made sure we got to enjoy a rerun of the Great Depression that everyone does remember.  Faced with the choice of short, sharp pain or a long-drawn-out blood-letting, “the authorities” ensured we have to endure the latter.

The Visible Dead Hand has returned to strangle our future, at the expense of the “invisible hand” which could have transformed it.

It makes one almost wish for an alternative universe in which the roles were reversed.

UPDATE:  Sadly, in this universe, the pain continues:

U.S. Foreclosure Filings Hit Record 1.5 Million in First Half.

When Apollo made our giant leap -- forty years ago [update 3]

When man first shook off earth’s pull and planted a flag on the moon – the object of centuries’ impossible dreams – it was marked, famously, by Neil Armstrong’s “small step for (a) man, a giant leap for mankind.”  It was, said Ayn Rand, an unabashed symbol of man’s greatness.

CLICK TO ENLARGEWhat [Apollo revealed], in naked essentials—but in reality, not in a work of art—was the concretized abstraction of man's greatness. . .  The fundamental significance of Apollo 11’s triumph is not political; it is philosophical. . .  Frustration is the leitmotif in the lives of most men, particularly today—the frustration of inarticulate desires, with no knowledge of the means to achieve them. In the sight and hearing of a crumbling world, Apollo 11 enacted the story of an audacious purpose, its execution, its triumph, and the means that achieved it—the story and the demonstration of man’s highest potential.

Hard to believe it was all forty years ago this week!  The New York Times marks the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon with “an in-depth look at the historic journey.” 

CLICK TO ENLARGE Check out photos taken by the astronauts in space and pictures of the  spectators at the launch. Read about the awe-inspiring days  of the space race and examine its cultural impact. Tell your story of the moon landing and share family photos that were  taken during those eight days in July 1969:

And Popular Mechanics magazine has outdone themselves with “dovetailed interviews” of all involved in the Apollo 11 moon landing. [Hat tip to the Tizona Group Blog, which also has extensive coverage of the event by The Onion – a must-see!]

We can celebrate the achievement, but still deplore the taxpayer funding --  and the government involvement.  (Where is D.D. Harriman when you need him, i.e., The Man Who Sold the Moon?) Both Daily Pundit and Samizdata however hold out hope that the government-run monopoly on space travel/exploration is doomed. “Maybe not as fast as we would like, but eventually. . .  And that is a good thing.”

Sure is.  “It has often been said, even by vocal proponents of free enterprise who claim to hate government subsidies, that while private citizens are good at settling or homesteading, the government is good at exploring. They argue that we have always needed the government to do the exploring, to pave the way for the private settlers. [Ron Pisaturo’s reply is]: Recognize private property for exploring, and you will see that private citizens make better explorers than do government employees.”

UPDATE 1: Brad Taylor’s Blog has pictures of the SpaceX Falcon 1 launching a commercial satellite without coercive taxation.  Way to go!

UPDATE 2: He’s a busy lad. Brad also has a piece on the future of space, and it’s SpaceSteading -- “transforming space from a government-owned bureaucratic program into a dynamic and inclusive frontier open to people.”  Proponents are determined, they say, “to convert the image held by many young people that the future will be worse than the present, and we reject the idea that the world’s greatest moments are in its past.”

UPDATE 3: And I’ve just received this note which I’ve yet to check out, so take it for what it’s worth. Apparently, so I’m told, the only official NASA documentary film capturing the Apollo 11 mission in 1969  Moonwalk One has been restored, “ delivering the most incredible HD quality and 5.1 sound mix version allowing Theo Kamecke the original director to create his long awaited Moonwalk One – The Director’s Cut.”  My emailer tells me that “All broadcasters across the globe have been given permission to download and broadcast the files from this web browser file transfer site:,” and also that Moonwalk One – The Director’s Cut is “exclusively” on sale from moonwalkone.comIf you try the links, let me know how you get on.


Since there’s been so few good summaries of John Key’s “major” speech yesterday detailing “the problems and solutions for New Zealand’s economy,” I’m going to go with the Dim Post’s pithy effort. Here’s The Shorter Key:

“I have a very good understanding of the problems facing New Zealand. I have no idea how to fix them.”


For overseas readers concerned about scary reports you’ve been hearing [CNN, BBC, AP] there is little damage after major Fiordland quake:

The only reports of damage are some isolated power outages, a burst water main in Winton,  cracks in some buildings and products falling off shelves in shops. It also downed some phone and power lines.

Southland readers are welcome to give reports.

NOT PJ: Comics in the Clinics

A funny thing happened on the way to the hospital, explains Bernard Darnton…

_BernardDarnton We may have a die-while-you-wait health system but at least now in Canterbury you’ll die laughing. A “clown doctor” program begins at Christchurch Hospital in September.

I assume in these recession-bitten times that it’s cheaper than using normal doctors. Clown camp goes for six days and costs $475 whereas medical school goes on forever and costs an ulna and a tibia. If laughter truly is the best medicine we could expand the programme across the country and transfer all our hospitals’ assets into Clown Health Enterprises.

The Press reports that, “Clown doctors already operate in clown-care programmes worldwide.” I assume that’s “operate” in the general sense of “perform some kind of activity” rather than the more hospital-specific “cut people open and do intricate things to their internal organs.” The last thing you need when you’ve got a burst appendix is for the surgeon to turn your intestines into a balloon giraffe.

What are the clowns up to? (It’s a question we often ask here.) If they’re not performing facelifts to give people permanent smiles, what specialist medical care are these clowns providing?

The Press quotes Dr Thomas Petschner, who introduced the clowns to New Zealand, saying that the clowns’ aim was “to increase the wellbeing of the patients and to restore the healthy powers in the sick person.” Dr Petschner is also pioneering the use of clown translators.

When they’re not restoring the healthy powers, part of the clowns’ job is to “demystify painful or frightening procedures.” Maybe we should also get clown tax collectors. At the very least they’d be able to communicate easily with the clown accountants who run New Zealand’s finance companies.

Clipboard01 If the clown doctor programme is successful I expect comedy-related treatment across the entire medical profession. Michèle A’Court would make a good anaesthetist. If I catch swine flu I demand a consultation with Mike King; I know I’ll be treated humanely before being slaughtered and sliced up for bacon. The whole thing could be topped off by appointing a clown as Minister of Health. This last idea may not be original.

Other industries could be transformed as well. The Greens could go one better than their “four wheels bad, two wheels good” policy and demand the transfer of all of New Zealand’s freight onto unicycles. Even accounting for the enormous shoes the industry’s footprint would become miniscule.

For the time being, the clown doctor programme is limited to entertaining sick children but the possibilities for putting clowns in charge of all parts of public life are endless. The results might not be any better than we get now but at least we’d know what we were in for.

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *

‘Captives: La Hollande’ – Martin Desjardins (1637-1694)


Says the Artcyclopedia site about this group, of which this figure is one: “This stunning group of sculptures represents prisoners taken by France during the Holland War. Here is the captive known as La Hollande. The Louvre Museum website has images of the remaining three captives.”

This has to be the pick of them, by far.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Hitler’s plants grow this high [updated]

Here’s a picture that puts the recent Labour Party-Hitler kerfuffle into some context.  It’s the English soccer team playing in Berlin in 1936, giving the Nazi salute to you-know-who.  Blindness, thy name is stupidity.


The Australian website I pinched the picture from has a couple of other embarrassing sporting photos too, including what it calls Australia’s “darkest sporting moment.”

UPDATE: By the way, Hitler’s found out about all those YouTube videos making fun of him, and boy is he pissed off! [Hat tip Noodle Food]

Al Gore: ‘Not Evil Just Wrong’ [update 2]

New film out soon.  Here’s the trailer [hat tip I Love CO2):

Here’s the site for the film:
not_evil_banner_280 And here’s its blog.

Which has the news that he’s trying to rewrite history.

And here’s the news that The Goracle was greeted by protesters in Melbourne.  (And he bringeth rain.)

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Boxing, banks and boring Bill

richardmcgrathIn which Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath takes his regularly irreverent look at some of the past week’s headlines.

  1. ‘Next Decade A Demoralising Trudge’ – English – Bill English essentially tells an audience to abandon all hope of meaningful economic reform on his watch. Yes, folks, it will be three more years of the same old failed Keynesianism from Mr Glum. Don’t expect any change in personal or corporate tax rates before 2017. That’s correct: 2017.
    Bill, here’s a heads-up: you will probably be warming the Opposition benches long before then. If you want to save your sorry ass, you could do a lot worse than lifting the income threshold for taxation to $50k and getting rid of GST. You could do this tomorrow. Of course, you will need to cut government spending by tipping public servants out of their sheltered employment, and privatising most government departments - but the voters will thank you. 
    Remember the voters?
  2. Chocolate boycott supported – A wildlife centre in Christchurch is following the lead of Auckland zoo and dropping Cadbury products, in response to Cadbury putting palm oil in its chocolate.
    Now, I don’t necessarily agree with the logic behind this (apparently orang-utans are being pushed out of South East Asian rainforests as palm oil is harvested) but it shows that people are capable of spontaneous voluntary, co-operative, goal-oriented action – without bureaucrats there to manage them. A number of individuals acting in a co-ordinated manner creates an ‘invisible hand’ that can have far-reaching and powerful effects – without the state needing to be involved. Peaceful protest - without coercion, property damage or threats of physical violence against people. Just as it should be.
  3. U.S. Budget Deficit At $1 trillion” – Well, gee, when you bail out banks and car companies; attempt to ‘stimulate’ the economy by spending money you don’t have; and block the normal corrective processes of the free market (that tend to weed out delinquent companies and redeploy their personnel into more secure jobs) – you do tend to end up with a national debt described by economists as “mind-boggling.” Naturally, some unnamed senior Democrat is promoting another round of handouts.
  4. Swiss Banks’ Veil of Secrecy Slips” – Ghouls from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service harass U.S. citizens for operating Swiss bank accounts, and threaten the banks themselves. So far they have extorted $780m out of Swiss bank UBS by threatening to charge them and their customers with tax evasion and money laundering. All part of the grand plan to shut down “tax havens.”
    But what are these “tax havens”? They are national jurisdictions that steal less of people’s earnings than various socialist governments such as those in the U.S. and European Union. The people who use these havens to escape arbitrary and confiscatory levels of taxation in their home countries are reviled as tax evaders. Their only “crime” is to wish to retain a greater proportion of their legally earned wealth then the politicians and IRS thinks they should be allowed to keep.
    How dare they, the greedy capitalist pigs!
  5. wtaGuns & Hoses Slug It Out – In Masterton last Saturday night, twenty pugilists from the local Fire Service and Police fought a series of bloody battles – a titanic struggle that was eventually won by the fire fighters, raising thousands of dollars for two local charities. 
    That’s me in the photo mopping the face of courageous Mike Drummond, whose eyelid I later stitched back together. Most of the eighteen men and two ladies who faced off in the ring that evening had trained long and hard, including one policemen who lost 25 kg along the way.
    I salute these gladiators, one and all, for the long hours of training and preparation, and for an entertaining spectacle on the night.          

See y’all next week!
Doc McGrath

* * Read Richard McGrath’s column every Wednesday here at NOT PC * *