Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Letter from Christchurch: We're still here, you know [updated]

Another guest post from my Christchurch correspondent, complete with pictures taken over the last few days.

Let me make a plea for Christchurch. And for good journalism.

Watching the media coverage of the Christchurch earthquake, one could understandably conclude that the entire city had been razed to the ground, all the city’s buildings, roads and houses reduced to rubble, and the entire population is now reduced to boiling up stones for soup while dodging falling masonry.  Not so.

TramWhy wouldn't they believe that trope, however, when the media are acting as paid doom-mongers and unpaid promoters of pessimism.  Right from the very first morning, when the media erupted into print with reports of looting (reports that surprised friends in the city who saw shops with open doors but never any looters, not one) they have continued using emotionally charged but wildly inaccurate phrases to describe our still lovely town as an “earthquake ravaged city”—even when they’re only writing a story about an All Black test!

Does this look like a ravaged city to you?

City Mall2Ravishing, conceivably, but ravaged? City Mall 1

Such headlines are better for attracting readers and viewers than they are at representing the facts. And in point of fact, they radically misrepresent the true condition of the city of Christchurch (causing even further difficulties for Christchurch businesses already struggling with recession and with a council fixated so much on “preservation” of older building stock that it only makes the city’s reconstruction harder). Christchurch businesswoman Janice Burnett, for example, offers evidence of the effect of bad reporting on her own business, saying 

_Quote businesses like McDonalds and Subway, to whom she supplies, were looking to Australia for their gherkins under the assumption that her business had been destroyed in the earthquake. Burnett said they had no idea that some of Christchurch was still standing.

And it’s not just other businesses who are reading the bad reporting.  Tourists are looking to delay or cancel holidays to Christchurch fearing, after seeing the coverage of the disaster, that their destination lies in ruins. Yesterday, for example, I reassured an Aucklander who was about to cancel their trip that contrary to reports of our demise the vast majority of the city is in good working order and open for business.  They were relieved to hear that they could continue their trip as planned.

Old BuildingThis is not to belie the disaster or ignore the tragedy, nor the significant structural damage that the earthquake has caused and continues to cause. However, as these photos can only hint at, this is not a city on its knees. It has had a severe shake, but this is not Pakistan or Port au Prince. The vast majority of  Christchurch weathered the earthquake extremely well, thank you very much, and our garden city is as beautiful as ever and is open for business.

Don’t believe half of what you hear. Come down and see for yourself!

UPDATE: More up-to-the-minute photos below of the “quake ravaged city,” courtesy Christchurch photographer Kurt Langer. (And just quietly, he and his fully-equipped studio would appreciate a commission or two at the moment, since much of the work he did have on has now disappeared. Contact him at mail@kurtlanger.com  with your commissions, or for permission to republish.)





























Abominations? Ask Laura

Speaking of irreverence, here’s something that’s been around a while but can always milk another derisive laugh…

On her radio show, Dr Laura Schlesinger said that, as an observant Orthodox Jew,
homosexuality is an abomination according to Leviticus 18:22, and cannot be
condoned under any circumstance. The following response is an open letter to
Dr. Laura, penned by a US resident, which was posted on the Internet. It's funny,
as well as informative:

    Dear Dr. Laura

    Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have
learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as
many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle,
for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an
abomination ... End of debate.

    I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of
God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided
they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies
to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this
day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of
menstrual uncleanliness (Lev.15: 19-24). The problem is how do I tell? I have tried
asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor
for the Lord (Lev.1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not
pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly
states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should
I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10),
it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are
there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my
sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20,
or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples,
even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but
may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the
same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread
(cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot.
Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to
stone them? (Lev.24:10-16).
Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who
sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

    I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise
in such matters, so I'm confident you can help.

    Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.   

    Your adoring fan.
    James M. Kauffman,
    Ed.D. Professor Emeritus,
    Dept. Of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education
    University of Virginia

PS: It really would be a damn shame if we couldn't own a Canadian.

On NOT Surrendering to stinking stupid superstitious savagery [updated]

"When we allow the possible reaction of stinking stupid superstitious savages who have declared war on us
to determine what we do or don't do in life, we have already surrendered to them."

- Lindsay Perigo

Pastor Terry Jones might have been an idiot, but he had the right idea: irreverence. Irreverence towards that which deserves none.  Irreverence, that is, towards the Koran and all the Injustice, Intolerance, Contradictions, Absurdities, and Cruelty and Violence in it, and all the violent stinking savagery done in its name.

That the savages who talk about “massacre,” “extermination,” and “beheadings”—not to mention those who carry them out—get so aroused by simple irreverence towards their Book suggests, says Paul McKeever, that irreverence is the west’s unacknowledged ‘intellectual H-Bomb’—and by that metric Danish cartoonists are still the west’s front line, while General Petraeus and Defence Secretary Gates (who complained about Jones’s planned conflagration) are the west’s Peaceniks.

_Quote Why [do] some Muslims would get so upset that some utter nobody in Florida is planning to burn some copies of the Quran [wondered McKeever on Friday]. He isn’t proposing the destruction of a mosque. He isn’t threatening to bring elections to a theocratic country. And his burning of the Quran won’t stop a single person from reading it. Why the anger? What is the threat?
    The answer is: irreverence. At its root, it is an expressed and offensive denial of something that someone else holds as a value.
    Irreverence is expressed in many ways. One of the most potent is ridicule. In his book Rules for Radicals, leftist activist Saul Alinsky wrote insightfully:

         “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it
      infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.”

   … Book burning is not ridicule, but it is certainly irreverence… The outrage we now see around the globe about Reverend Jones’ plan to burn the Quran is founded upon the knowledge that irreverence is a potent weapon in its defence against the advance of Islam and Islamic tyranny. Those threatening or implying destruction, violence, or murder will be the response to the Reverend’s conduct know, full well, that his simple act of putting flame to paper harms their cause more than any attack helicopter or stealth bomber. He is not only lighting up a book, but causing minds to switch on and attend to the task of shaking off North America’s timid moral subjectivism at least enough to condemn the belief system that, at present, poses the greatest threat to individual freedom, to the individual’s ability to pursue his own happiness, and to the ability of man to identify and harness the facts of reality…
    In reality, irreverence is the West’s intellectual H-bomb. The General, and the Defence Minister, and all of the others begging or threatening Jones not to proceed with the burning are the West’s intellectual peaceniks. Though they are quite willing to blow billions on physical weapons and electoral systems that cannot – even theoretically – fight effectively the spread of irrationality and evil, they are simultaneously calling for a self-imposed shelving of one of the West’s most effective weapons. While the Islamists teach their brethren to club Western “infidels” with “dirty kuffar” irreverence – even in mosques located in the West – the intellectual peaceniks are calling for the West to dismantle its entire stockpile of intellectual nukes; to simultaneously tolerate Islam’s irreverence for reason and freedom; to sit in non-judgmental silence for the blade to be put to our throats.
    Screw that.

So by that standard, there is only one important question to answer:  “Bible or Koran – which burns best?

Or maybe two important questions: :”Why Burn It When You Can Wipe Your Ass With It?


Oh, here’s three things you might not know (but should) about the religion promoted in that Book:

UPDATE: I’ve argued in the past that the Islamic world urgently needs its own Enlightenment to release it from its stinking superstitions, just as the west had theirs. Fortunately, more enlightened Muslims are appearing around the world.  Recent sightings include one of North America’s largest and most powerful Muslim organizations the Muslim Canadian Congress. who have spoken up in outrage against the ideology of Jihad, calling for Muslims in Canada to “stem this evil” and to address this "serious problem among Canadian Muslim youth".

_QuoteSalma Siddiqui, the Muslim Canadian Congress vice-president said in a telephone interview that she was “livid and frustrated” that young Muslim men were still being seduced by the idea of fighting a holy war in the name of Islam.
“It has to stop,” she said.

Raheel Raza, also of the Muslim Canadian Congress went even further in this article when she admitted that...

_QuoteThis is not something that comes as a total surprise . . . we have a problem…"


Story here.

And then there’s this chap,

_Quotean American Moslem activist who, through his American Islamic Forum for Democracy, champions "separation of mosque and state," calls for "reform" of his religion, and hopes to lead a worldwide pro-"individual rights" intellectual movement among the "silent majority of Moslems." (The preceding terms in quotes are all his.) Many Moslems, according to this activist, have already, "through their practice, ... reformed their faith."
Dr. Zudhi Jasser, the son of Syrian immigrants, has seen that, "the struggles faced by my family ... have followed us to the United States." He has decided to take a stand, and he can be heard below outlining his ideas and plans in a speech to the Oslo Freedom Forum 2010.

The man stands in marked contrast to the brainwashed savages pictured at the top of the post. Says Gus Van Horn, from whom I took the story, “In a time when it can often seem like every Moslem is an enemy of freedom, it is encouraging to see someone like this… Fascinatingly, Jasser notes that many Moslems are presented with a false dichotomy between "secular fascism" and theocracy regarding the relationship between their religion and the state… If Jasser is right, then perhaps his efforts to promote freedom (which he sometimes calls "the third alternative") can gain ground quickly.”

JĆ¼bergtower Hemer - Birk und Heilmeyer Architects


This 23.5m high lookout tower over the city of Hemer, Germany, takes advantage of a hill over the town.

1281452144-04-juebergtower-72dpi-375x500 It uses timber members in a simple hyperboloid structure, a structural system that spreads the load evenly through the structure, with a geometry allowing the spreading cylinder to be constructed entirely out of straight, inclined timber members—none are perpendicular.

1281452194-08-juebergtower-72dpi-528x396 Designed by Birk und Heilmeyer Architekten, with engineering by  with Knippers Helbig Advanced Engineering,  it was opened in April this year.

Read more about it at the Arch Daily site, from where these pictures come.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Economics for Real People: The Boom-Bust Cycle


If there’s any one subject in economics that too few people understand, but everybody should, it’s the subject of the business cycle.

Why do these boom-bust cycles occur? 

What drives them? 

Are they becoming more frequent? 

And can these damaging cycles be prevented? 

Tomorrow night the Auckland Uni Economics Group looks at this important subject—it’s not just for student of economics, but for everyone who’s interested, because these boom-bust cycles affect us all.  

So feel free to come along and join in.

  • Date: Tuesday 14th September
  • Time: 6pm
  • Room: University of Auckland Business School, Owen G Glenn Building, Room 317 (Level 3)
  • Visit the UoA Economics Group blog http://uoaecongroup.wordpress.com/


Ductile, a., malleable, not brittle; capable of being moulded; pliant, tractable, yielding to persuasion or advice…”

Most buildings don’t use the sort of fancy nancy systems I’ve already described like base isolation or K-braced frames. They use something more subtle and much less expensive called “ductile design”—not making buildings strong so much as making them flexible.

You might think that answer for better earthquake protection is to make buildings stronger and more rigid.  But this is no more true for a building in an earthquake than it is for a car in a crash.  The best kind of car to drive into a brick wall is not one that’s strong and rigid, but one that crumples in a way that protects the occupants and absorbs the energy of the crash. And so it is with a building: no building could fight the power of the earth by staying perfectly rigid—such strength acts like a lightning rod to the earth’s forces, inviting your building to be shaken to pieces  The best structures in which to ride out an earthquake are designed not to stand up rigidly but to absorb the earthquake’s energy by yielding gently while the earth moves—in the same way a willow tree moves with the wind instead of standing up to it rigidly.

People speak of tall buildings swaying during a high wind.  Let me assure you, tall buildings sway just as much (or more) during an earthquake, and they’re designed to.  Leastways, modern buildings are.  And as they sway, the frame of the building is absorbing the violence of that horizontal motion imposed by either wind or earthquake, and transmitting it evenly throughout the joints of the building.

It’s those joints between columns and beams where the ductility of a building’s structure is really designed in. Imagine a chest of drawers with all the drawers out and the back taken off.  That’s something like the typical structural frame of your tall building—except in a tall building the joints where uprights meet horizontals are designed to take the strain. Push your chest of drawers from the side and at the top while keeping its feet on the ground, and you’ll hear its joints creaking as they (hopefully) take the strain of your shove. In a building frame that’s been designed with ductility, those joints won’t creak (not if designers and builders have been doing their job) but will instead remain elastic as the building sways gently from side to side.

(Now you understand that a modern building is designed to move during an earthquake, you’ll be less frightened when you feel it moving.)

Naturally, the material of which your building frame is designed makes a difference to how it performs. Ductile is better than brittle. 

Steel is a naturally ductile material—at least until successive shakes turn it plastic—so is a popular material in an earthquake zone. Concrete reinforced with steel can be made ductile with careful detailing, especially at those joints.  Timber itself is more brittle than ductile, but the things that hold it together (like nails, nails plates, steel connectors etc.) give a timber frame its ductility.

Brick walls, however are not ductile (as you can see in the video below). Not ductile at all. They can be tied back to things that are, but since the brick walls and steel frames to which they’re tied move at different rates, this is not as easy as it sounds.  This explains why the Christchurch earthquake was felt so severely by the plaster facades of Christchurch’s heritage buildings, and the brick walls on which those facades were installed.

There are obviously some subtleties involved there that it took some time for even experienced earthquake engineers to discover and work out.

They discovered it was more economical not to design a typical workaday building to be completely damage-free after a quake, but primarily to ensure that people inside will be safe when the ground is moving, and when the shaking does finally stop that they can get out safely—and the building itself can be easily repaired. That If the structural frame is allowed to sway, then you need to detail walls and windows to fit inside these swaying frames so that the movement of the structure doesn’t damage these secondary elements. 

And they discovered that if a ductile building is to remain standing then its beams need to be made to fail before its columns—and that the “plastic hinges” formed as the beams do fail actually help to absorb the earthquake’s energy, protecting the rest of the building. (It was this insight that inspired the plastic “hinges” of the K-braced frames.)


Beams Not good:Posts Because you really want to avoid having a “soft storey.”

Ductile design.  One of engineering’s primary means of ensuring our buildings can protect us while resisting the worst the earth can throw at them.

UPDATE: Watch this great video:

In seismic design, designing a system to be stronger than the earthquake was typically the approach: “the stronger we make it, the safer we are.” That approach has been proved to be wrong…
Dr Stefano Pampanin from the University of Canterbury explains how the ‘smarter’ idea of ductile design originated at the University in the 1960s and is currently under further developments and refinements. Making buildings stronger is not the answer for earthquake protection.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Stimulus” = poverty

Australian economist Steven Kates is unsurprised at news of a record increase in US poverty on President Barack Obama’s watch:

_Quote It comes with the stimulus. If you produced goods and services that create no value, there is less product for people to buy. It is precisely this that causes poverty. What else would you expect?

Witchdoctors looking for Chch fix

In times of disaster, the quacks and charlatans come out. And I don’t just mean the Earthquake Commission. Turns out the fricking homeopaths have also been out ambulance-chasing.

_QuoteThe New Zealand Council of Homeopaths has stated that homeopathic products "may greatly help children, animals and adults feeling frightened and unable to sleep from the Christchurch earthquake.”

Be pretty astonishing if products promised to contain nothing but water could do anything for them beyond making their lips wet.  Fortunately, Dr Shaun Holt is on to what the British Medical Association recently called “witchcraft.”

_Quote “Having previously targeted people with HIV and cancer, homeopaths are now chasing people who have been traumatized by an earthquake with their quack potions - it is shocking", said Professor Holt. He quoted the example of the homeopathic product "Berlin wall" to illustrate his point. "Homeopaths will take some dust from the Berlin Wall, dilute it until none remains, and then sell it to help people who feel repressed".
    Professor Holt agrees with the British Medical Association's recent statement that homeopathy was witchcraft. "Making health claims about products with no active ingredient, and targeting the most vulnerable, is in my view fraudulent and unethical."

Astronomy photos of the year, 2010


The Guardian has a neat gallery of winning selections from the  year’s Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.  Taken during a total eclipse of the sun, this pic by Greek photographer Anthony Aylomamitis, called Siberian Totality

_Quote reveals the faint solar corona usually hidden by the photosphere. The long streamers and prominences show the sun's activity beyond the surface, reaching out into the solar system. Winner of the Our Solar System award

See the whole gallery here. [Hat tip Hayden W.]

“Beyond Politics: Removing the Progressive Drag On America”

Guest Post by Jeff Perren

My article, Beyond Politics: Removing the Progressive Drag On America has been published at Pajamas Media.

_Quote Fighting the soul-killing, wealth-destroying acts of progressives over the long term is going to take much more than winning an election or two. It will require neutralizing their influence throughout the culture. That’s much harder, of course, but essential if we’re to have a country that does more than seesaw between two power-hungry parties while spiraling ever downward.
The reasons that wider change is a must are not hard to find. Even where their relative numbers are low, progressives have come to dominate much more than just the Democratic Party and the major news outlets.
They control curricula for public K-12 education almost everywhere, despite the presence of a great many teachers who disagree with their views. Progressive educators’ numbers are bolstered by the roughly 70-85% of college educators and administrators who identify as liberals. They dominate credential-required education courses, and strongly influence textbook selection…
    They represent a full-scale assault on all classical liberal values: reason, objective ethics, natural rights, capitalism, and their products — freedom and industrial production. Cleaning up Washington will be the barest beginning to reversing a century-long slide in America, one that has accelerated in the last four decades.
    Ending bailouts, lowering federal spending, and tinkering with Social Security will give everyone some economic breathing room. But these actions won’t right a country that’s been increasingly tilting left for the past 40 years. And without fundamental change even those victories will be too small, and woefully short-lived…
Read on to discover the full extent of their influence, and how to begin removing it...

Please weigh in both here and there with your views on what it will take to restore America to individualism and freedom.


Saturday, 11 September 2010

9/11 9 years on

Nine years after 19 Islamists destroyed the World Trade Center and 3,000 people within them, Americans are still coming to terms with the attack, the attackers, and the reasons for the attack—and with America’s own responses to that attack, both foreign and domestic.

The foreign response has immediate, bellicose, and misdirected. The domestic response is ineffectual, confused, and (even when it is positive) moves with glacial slowness.  Nine years after the World Trade Center was destroyed, its replacement is finally—finally!—emerging from the rubble. The New York Times has a great four-part presentation hosted by reporter David W. Dunlap showing the rather sombre rebuilding.  “When are they going to start rebuilding at Ground Zero? They have!”  Thank goodness. [Thanks to reader Russell W. for the link.] Watch progress (and the lights)at the Ground Zero web cam. [Hat tip Rational Jenn]


And what about the psychological responses to a war long declared but still unacknowledged? To policy both confused and myopic? On this note, on this now sanctified day of remembrance in a war declared in the name of  Islam (but still undeclared and largely unrecognised by western leaders), this thoughtful reflection by “a liberal Democrat,” writer Pamela Sutton, is worth reading, and contemplating.

There was nothing religious about the Twin towers, but it was sacred ground to me. I have never been able to return to New York City. The pain is still too fresh; too deep. Have nine years gone by? I’ve hardly noticed…

America, likewise, is stuck in a frozen prism of confused loyalties. We’re trying to move forward and backwards simultaneously. Our country is treading through congealed slush in the ice floes of polarized vision. America has no unified sense of itself, and our actions bear this out. America is trying to win a war in Afghanistan while building mosques in New York City. Presidents proclaim “Islam is peaceful,” while driving unmanned explosive drones into Pakistani mountain villages. America is obsessed with arresting and deporting illegal aliens, while simultaneously trying to embrace Islam with open arms -- no questions asked. It’s politically correct to ask if western governmental models can work in the Middle East, but it’s a hate crime to ask if Islam can ever be compatible with western democracy. Last week in Europe I stepped back from America and took a long, hard look. What I observed was confusion…

Today I received my copy of Time magazine. The cover reads: “Is America Islamophobic?” Before flipping to the article, I have a better question: “Are Muslims Islamophobic?” The unspoken answer would be “Yes.” As American troops packed up and left Iraq on Aug. 25, at least 53 Iraqi civilians were killed and 270 wounded in coordinated suicide bombings targeting Iraqi security forces throughout their country. According to Saleh Khamis, a 38-year-old teacher in Buhriz, Iraq, these attacks are “just the beginning of the storm…

Is America “Islamaphobic?” If not, we’re doomed…

Instead of burning a Koran to commemorate 9/11, as pastor Terry Jones from Gainesville is advocating, I suggest that Americans read a Koran, along with a few basic history books. As repulsive and hateful as “Pastor” Jones of the “Dove World Outreach Center” may be, the difference between him and Islamic extremists is that he is not promoting “behead an Imam day.” Spend 9/11 in a library. America needs to understand Islam in all of its complex-refracting-Medieval-nihilistic facets before we decide it’s politically correct to embrace a religion that, for as long I can remember, has wreaked terror, death, and misogyny throughout the Middle East, North and South Africa, Central Asia, Indonesia, Israel, America, and Europe.
    On 9/11 America was blindsided by Islamic extremism; and America is still deeply confused. America is as confused as airline passengers whose plane has just been hijacked. Except the plane hasn’t just been hijacked; it’s been turned into a suicide bomb. And unless we make informed decisions about Islam, our moment of epiphany will be our last.

Lest we forget.


Friday, 10 September 2010

The disaster that is the Earthquake Commission

There’s been debates on this already at both Public Address and Kiwiblog, and probably elsewhere too, but there’s a lot of bullshit being talked about the government department that is the Earthquake Commission (EQC)—mostly about its liabilities after the Christchurch quake and what it calls its assets. Speaking frankly, there’s some numbers that don’t quite stack up, and a real question about why this particular government department even exists.

Christchurch itself has a big bill.  JP Morgan reckons there’ll be around a $4.3 billion bill to put New Zealand’s second-largest city back on its feet, or at least pull it up off its knees, of which Treasury Secretary John Whitehead calculates the government’s Earthquake Commission will have to stump up nearly half—even with their liability amounting to no more than $112,000 ($100k+GST) per house—with reinsurers and taxpayers picking up the balance.  (Nice of the taxpayer, don’t you think?)

Now, the EQC was set up after the war to socialise losses in time of earthquake or war damage. It’s like an ACC for houses: taking risk away from insurance companies and placing it squarely onto this government department. (Nice of the government to assume this liability on your behalf, don’t you think?)  Paid for by a compulsory levy on home insurance. (Nice of the government to take away your choice in the matter, don’t you think?)

So just to summarise: the government decided to assume the risk of earthquake damage, giving you (in your capacity as home-owner and insuree) no choice at all about joining their scheme, and (in your capacity as taxpayer) no choice at all about assuming the risk should the government department’s investments fail to pick up its tab. So, since the scheme is a sunk cost, you really have to hope their appointed bureaucrats would have the smarts to do the job required, wouldn’t you. Wouldn’t you? (Stop laughing at the back.)

Well, you can see just by that $100,000 figure that those bureaucrats are not exactly on top of their game; while there was a time when $100,000 would build you a replacement home (which is what the figure was supposed to cover) that time is very long ago. The grey ones at the EQC haven’t quite caught up with the inflation of the last few decades.

Since it’s had no major payouts since its inception, however, there’s been no major questions about its operations. Until now.  Cometh the disaster, cometh the questions.  Because while the drop in its liability per home means EQC is less exposed than it would be, leaving reinsurers and taxpayers to pick up the tab for which you’re paying your compulsory levies, the EQC will supposedly have built up for itself a large lump to pay for The Big One that everyone and his favourite geologist knew would be coming some time. A lump large enough to pay for this one and the one that might come soon after that, without putting the taxpayer (i.e., you and I) at risk.

So has it?

Well, “not so much.”

John Key told Q+A, and I quote,

_Quotethe Earthquake Commission has enormous funds, 15 billion dollars, largely invested offshore… [including] about six billion in cash.

So it all looks good, then. The taxpayer won’t be called on. Phew.

Except it hasn’t got $15 billion at all.  Or anything like six billion in cash.  This is is just (what’s the word I’m looking for here?) flat-out bullshit. Because as the EQC’s on Annual Report reveals,

_QuoteEQC has custody of the Natural Disaster Fund, around $5.6 billion of public money…[and because reinsurance kicks in after the first $1.5b of costs, this gives] an estimated value of up to $8.1 billion before having to call on the Crown Guarantee.


Still, that should still cover things, shouldn’t it? We taxpayers are safe?

Except when you read more closely you discover that

_Quote approximately 67 percent of EQC’s portfolio is invested in NZ Government Stock and NZ Government inflation-indexed bonds.

And as you’re probably aware, this is where the word “invested” is something of a misnomer. Because NZ Government Stock and NZ Government bonds are nothing more than little bits of fancy printed paper backed by nothing more than … the NZ Government’s ability to tax you and me.

So much for those “enormous funds.” Because when all’s said and done, on the first occasion when it’s drawn on, we discover that the Earthquake Commission has—not $15 billion—not $8 billion—not even $5 billion—but little more than $1.5 billion of actual investments to draw on, the rest of their “assets” consisting only of a promise to make you and I pay.

Nice, huh.

So while the government quietly goes about starting the printing presses to avoid us working out how we’re being fleeced (producing fancy bits of government paper they call cash to back those other fancy bits of paper they call bonds to pay a bill with which you and I should never have been faced), can we please, just as quietly, get rid of this bureaucratic encumbrance (i.e., the EQC) and leave risk and insurance where it belongs—with the insurance industry. Because once they’ve made this pay-out, the EQC is an organisation with no funds, no backing, and no reason to exist. Let the people who do know what they’re doing do it. And stop the grey ones adding an avoidable man-made disaster to an unavoidable natural one.

Net Non-Neutrality

Guest Post by Jeff Perren.

I have as article on the Orwellian-named nonsense of so-called Net Neutrality posted over at Breitbart’s Big Journalism blog.

Your comments will help me win a free trip to Iceland to study medieval anarchism. Ok, that's not true (thankfully). But your views would be welcomed, anyway.

The article begins:

_Quote "Progressives are up in arms after Google appears to have caved on Net Neutrality by partnering with Verizon to abandon their core aims. Writing at Huffington Post, Josh Silver of the ironically named Free Press laments:
‘For years, Internet advocates have warned of the doomsday scenario that will
    play out on Monday: Google and Verizon will announce a deal that the New York Times
    reports ‘could allow Verizon to speed some online content to Internet users more quickly
    if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege.’

Let us, as the postmodernists say, deconstruct this…

Read on here: “‘Net Neutrality’ — Let the Free Market Reign.”

Prison, by Piranesi


No one does dark, oppressive and threatening like Piranesi.  He draws like an angel, and produces hell on earth.  What he draws is something to learn from, then avoid.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

“The crimewave that shames the world” [update 2]

When Ayaan Hirsi Ali recommends reading a piece by Robert Fisk, it’s worth taking notice. So let’s do that.

On her Facebook page she recommends

5030390_447743t _Quote this important, horrific piece by Robert Fisk of the Independent on honor killings. Fisk writes: ‘It's one of the last great taboos: the murder of at least 20,000 women a year in the name of 'honour'. Nor is the problem confined to the Middle East: the contagion is spreading rapidly.’

This relates to the post below. When 20,000 women a year are killed in the name of “honour,” can the culture in which this is done be called a “civilization”?  Good to see that Mr Fisk is finally losing his “blinkers of moral equivalence,” and taking notice of the crime whose name the left generally dares not speak—or as he titles it:

UPDATE 1: Speaking of “moral equivalence,” Doug Reich offers today’s leading example:

_QuoteWhen a renowned Muslim cleric calls for the beheading of a Dutch politician, we hear nothing from Western leaders. However, when some reverend in Podunk, USA decides to burn some Quran's on his lawn, we get fiery condemnations from General Petraeus, the State Department, and the White House.

UPDATE 2: Here’s the second part of Robert Fisk’s important series (words I never thought I’d write):

GUEST POST: Defending Western civilization

Guest post by Marsha Familaro Enright and Gen LaGreca

    As September 11th approaches, we remember the morning in 2001 when the World Trade Center turned to rubble. It is a fitting time to consider the nature of the civilizations that collided that day—and how to defend ours.
    In their quest to establish a worldwide caliphate, radical Islamists invoke morality, claiming they have God’s sanction for performing their barbarous acts.
    To defend Western civilization, we, also, need to invoke morality. But although the world envies the prosperity we’ve achieved, it is widely seen as the product of soulless materialism, of unbridled “greed,” of unscrupulous self-indulgence.
    What moral claim, then, can we make for our way of life?
    24702_Pytheas To understand the moral values of the West, let’s turn to its beginning. In her prescient 1943 work of political philosophy, The God of the Machine, Isabel Paterson chose as the symbol of Western man a figure from Ancient Greece: Pytheas (right). This enterprising merchant left his homeland to explore Britain and beyond, seeking tin to make bronze. Insatiably curious, Pytheas also discovered the relationship between the moon’s phases and the tides, and was the first to describe the aurora and other phenomena.
    Pytheas epitomizes the Western spirit: a self-directed man whose free will determines his life’s course, a thinker who employs reason and science to understand the world around him, and a producer who seeks to sell goods in peaceful trade.
    From its founding, America was intended to be the country where Pytheas could flourish—the first nation established to protect the life, liberty, and property of the individual. It did so by curbing government power over the peaceful activities of its citizens.
    In this, the contrast between America and radical Islam could not be greater.
    Whereas Thomas Jefferson exhorts us to “question with boldness even the existence of a God,” militant Islam kills people for apostasy.
    Whereas James Madison proclaims that man has “a right to his property” and equally “a property in [all of] his rights,” Palestinian Islamists strap suicide belts on five year-olds, seizing their young lives for the sake of ancient vendettas.
    Whereas the Declaration of Independence affirms America’s devotion to life, Osama bin Laden declares: We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the difference between us two.
    “The excellence of the West” lies in its “respect for the human being, the recognition of his individuality, the liberty it has granted him,” observes Saudi Shura Council member and Muslim reformist Ibrahim Al-Buleihi.
    “Humans are originally individuals,” he continues, “but cultures (including Arab culture) have dissolved the individual in the tribe, sect, or state.” It is only “with the diffusion of philosophical ideas from [Ancient] Greece” that “the human being became an individual of value for himself . . . and not merely a means for others.” (“Profile of Al-Buleihi,” The Aafaq Foundation, July 6, 2010)
    Thus, in our civilization, a person is born free to live for his own sake and to pursue happiness. In radical Islam, a person must obey a central authority and sacrifice his life to its aims. Which society is better?  And which would you actually describe as a civilization?
    Granted the West’s superiority, why is radical Islam advancing? Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim, cites “an active propaganda campaign” in which “the Saudis invested at least $2 billion a year over a 30-year period to spread their brand of fundamentalist Islam.” (Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2010)
    Why aren’t we passionately defending our civilization? Certainly, money isn’t the obstacle. Is it because we don’t understand the nobility of our individualist foundation, including the virtue of private advancement and profit?
    We must never forget that we of the free West are all the country of Pytheas: a people of free will, free minds, and free enterprise. Our spectacular prosperity is not our dishonor, but the glory of our liberty.
    It is said that Ground Zero is “sacred ground.” In truth, all of America is sacred ground—because it is in America more than anywhere else that the individual is most made sacred.
    We of the West must assert the moral superiority of our civilization—or lose it to our enemies.
* * * *
Marsha Familaro Enright is president of the Reason, Individualism, Freedom Institute, the Foundation for the College of the United States.
Gen LaGreca is author of
Noble Vision, an award-winning novel about the struggle for liberty in health care today. Visit her website at http://www.wingedvictorypress.com/

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

‘The Soldier of Marathon Announcing the Victory,’ by Jean-Pierre Cortot

5531_1134311232211_1060216879_30323582_8045715_n You all know the  story, or should do.

This is Cortot’s evocative depiction of the moment when the soldier, Pheidippides, arrives in Athens having run his last race—bearing the news as he expires that Greece has triumphed over the invading Persian army.  Browning immortalised the story in verse.