Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Christchurch earthquake is being Twittered

Search on Twitter using the #eqnz hashtag for the latest on the Christchurch earthquake. It’s way ahead of old media.


Friday, 3 September 2010


It’s the week that bailouts came to New Zealand, a week when taxpayers lost out three times over—one when our money was spent on stuff that’s worth less than what we paid; once when our payout ensured that the stuff would never fall to its real value; and once again because its apparent that neither politicians nor media have yet got their heads around the Broken Window Fallacy. It’s not like it’s complicated.


Because as Henry Hazlitt used to say, “the art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”  Sadly, it’s an art that is all but dead.

So as a homework exercise, work out what our economy will be now be short of because of that $1.7 billion given to people who haven’t earned it. When you do, you’ll be brighter than all those know-nothings writing about that payout as a “stimulus.”

And once you’ve done that. here’s your Friday morning roundup all ready for some good weekend reading. 

But first, Neil Miller has a suggestion: “The Pakistani Ambassador who claims the cricketers were 'set up' might be an ideal candidate for the Investor Relations Manager role which was advertised on the South Canterbury Finance website.” And, for similar reasons, maybe Bernie Madoff really does need to be appointed to the Fed.

Okay, on with the show!

  • Entitleitis is alive and well at TVNZ
    TVNZ's culture of extravagance – KEEPING STOCK
  • “No self-respecting NGO and campaign group would be seen these days without a Twitter account to spread the word (Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF have over 200,000 followers between them for example). But last week's day of mass action by British “Climate Camp” protesters showed just how badly Twitter can backfire.”
    Twitter backfires for Climate Camp – GUARDIAN
  • Maurice Williamson announces the bleeding obvious.  “Opposition to foreign investment is more about racism than overseas ownership, the minister charged with deciding whether a Chinese company can buy a large chunk of New Zealand dairy farms says.”
    Minister accuses Kiwis of racism - STUFF
    In response, Greens fail to see past the end of their nose.
    Williamson and English running racial interference on foreign investment - FROG BLOG
  • Since it’s the season to talk constitutions again in Wellington, allow me to re-post the contributions of myself and my colleagues to constitutional conventions past—including explanations for why a proper constitution is so important, and what one should look like. Why is it so important?  If I may quote myself: ”Government in essence is like a guard dog: it is there to protect us from being done over by others. However, if that dog is badly trained and it gets off the chain, we can be badly savaged -- more than we would have been without the dog. A constitution is our means of chaining up the government and training it to act only in our protection… As history demonstrates however… a bad constitution poorly written can give the erstwhile guard dog control of the back yard and the house, and rather than protecting us it then has no impediment to doing us over. Liberty, as Thomas Jefferson suggested, requires eternal vigilance.”
    Cue Card Libertarianism: Constitution – NOT PC
    A Constitution for New Freeland – LIBERTARIANZ
  • Best quip after the enviro-kook taking Discovery Channel staff hostage is shot: “Thank Gaia, they got him.”
    Objective Standard - FACEBOOK
  • “Toronto this week became the first city in the world to formally endorse the Vienna Declaration that states that war-on-drugs-style prohibitions are a costly failure…”
    The rising trend against the war on drugs - Canada – Blair Anderson, CANVASSING FOR OPINION
  • How do officials from the ruling Palestinian political party react to the murder of four Israeli civilians?  Why, they celebrate and hand out candy, of course.
    Gaza Celebrates Jewish Deaths with Candy – ARUTZ SHEVA NEWS
  • Why are so many Palestinians still locked up in squalid refugee camps? Simple: The Arab world doesn’t give a shit about them, except as cannon fodder in their anti-Israali jihad. [Hat tip Thinking man's guide to the world]
    Why Are The Palestinians Still Refugees? – Gina Bublil Waldman, THE PROPAGANDIST
  • The only lower price than today’s closing price on a ton of carbon at the Chicago Climate Exchange is ZERO. Which means the scam artists hoping to set that up and get rich have been discovered for what they are and the investors are fleeing. [Hat tip reader Keith P.]
    Chicago Climate Exchange still flatlining – employee cutsWATTS UP WITH THAT
    Carbon Dioxide Riches Disappear – CANADA FREE PRESS
  • “There is no place for God in theories on the creation of the Universe, Professor Stephen Hawking concludes in a new book.” [Hat tip Per-Olof Samuelsson]
    Creation was Godless says Hawking – BBC
  • There’s no need for the God hypothesis in biology. Nor is there any need for it in physics.
    Hawking: God did not create Universe – RICHARD DAWKINS.NET
  • The Times pits Richard Dawkins against their religion editors in arguing the implications of Hawking’s statement.
    Transcript from The God Debate – Richard Dawkins, TIMES ONLINE
  • Naturally, however…
    Hawking can't possibly be right until his results have been confirmed in an online poll - PHARNGULA
  • Why is anyone still listening to this guy:

  • Sadly, despite his manifest failure, Ben Bernanke is cranking up for Quantitative Easing II (QEII)—it’s inflation like you’ve never seen it before.
    Will the Fed Save the Day? – SEEKING ALPHA
    Former Fed Vice Chairman vs. Mish: Is the Fed Out of Ammo? – MISH’S ECONOMIC ANALYSIS
    The Fed Can't Solve Our Economic Woes – Gerald O’Driscoll, WALL STREET JOURNAL
    Quantitative Easing Ahoy! – Axel Merk, EURO PACIFIC
    Bernanke Out of Bullets, But Not Bombs – Michael Pento, EURO PACIFIC
  • And Ben knows he can always rely on Paul Krugman to sell his schtick.  And all Paul needs is a little sleight of hand with a graph…
    Proof" that the "Stimulus" Worked? – William L. Anderson, KRUGMAN IN WONDERLAND "Spending" versus Consumption: Does Economic Theory Actually Assume People are Human? – William L. Anderson, KRUGMAN IN WONDERLAND
  • Summer of recovery?  No, it’s the …
    Summer of Economic Discontent – WALL STREET JOURNAL
  • “It should be obvious by now that these economists only have the capacity to describe where the economy is moving in the short-term...they have no ability to explain the reasons behind the macro trends or make predictions that go beyond the next data release….
    ”The major mental block is that most economists believe that an economy grows as a result of spending. Any policy that encourages spending and discourages savings and investment is considered beneficial. Unfortunately, these policies, which only succeed in growing debt and government, act more as an economic sedative than a stimulant.”
    Flying Blind – PETER SCHIFF
  • Reader Daniel A. recommends this 46-minute doco narrated by Johan Norberg. “In times of crisis people seek strong leaders and simple solutions. But what if their solutions are identical to the mistakes that caused the very crisis? This is the story of the greatest economic crisis of our age, the one that awaits us.”
    Overdose: A Film about the Next Financial Crisis – CATO
  • Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water. [Hat tip Terry V.]

 T_Quotehe moral contradiction between the biblical mandate of
self-sacrifice and the factual need for human beings to pursue and
protect their life-serving values is destroying the Republican party. Republicans face a decision. They may conclude that they have
failed their faith and that they must seek redemption by injecting
religion more deeply into politics. Or they may realize that their faith has failed
them and that they must abandon the crusade, commit themselves to
individual rights, and set forth to defend freedom, limited
government, and capitalism.
    - John Lewis, “Reason or Faith: The Republican Alternative

  • And God, this symphony’s good.  Just listen to how the cellos and basses start going wild about seven minutes through this last movement.  It sounds like John Cale is back there!

That’s all for today.
Have a great weekend!

PS: It’s the first week of finals footy in the AFL this weekend—with Geelong lining up against St Kilda tonight in the first Qualifying Final.  Go the Cats!


De Rugy v Romer, Knockout in Round 1

Christina Romer Gives Talk American Recovery VUOuAStMjX1lGuest Post by Jeff Perren

The goddess Veronique de Rugy has an absolutely delicious smackdown of the totally clueless Christine Romer, soon-to-be ex-Obama voodoo priestess.

 _Quote And not only did her own reports to Congress confirm these predictions [about the the success of stimulus “relative to what would otherwise have occurred”], but the CBO agreed as well, and apparently, so did “respected private-sector analysts” (meaning Mark Zandy).
I know, you’ve heard me say it before, but I’ll say it again: A prediction only becomes true when it actually materializes. For instance, if you predict that 3.5 million jobs will be created, it only becomes true once the 3.5 million jobs are created.
You can’t claim victory if you haven’t gone back and checked that these jobs exist. Nor can you claim victory if the only evidence that these jobs exist comes from models that say that these jobs exist — especially when they are models that have the assumption that the Recovery Act creates jobs built into them....
She did mention using it to pay down the deficit, but when asked specifically about the deficit, she basically said we should spend more today and take care of the deficit tomorrow. In other words, more of the “eat your dessert now and your spinach later” mentality that got us into this mess in the first place. It’s never worked with my kids, and I am pretty sure it’s not the way to restore fiscal responsibility in Washington.

When Washington starts listening to individuals like Ms. de Rugy and not smiley-faced fascists like Christine Romer, we'll see some genuine fiscal progress there.


‘Red Vineyards’ - Vincent Van Gogh


I confess, I haven’t always been an admirer of Van Gogh, but the more I see now the more I see to enjoy. Not so much what he chooses to paint—which is little more than another peasant scene in the manner of Millet—as the depth he achieves with some few very coarse brush strokes.

He’s a painter in three dimensions, experimenting with what paint can do to make two dimensional paint give a bold three-dimensional image.

I love the sweep of the trees away from that golden orb hanging ominously above the ensemble; the slight changes in hue of the coarse pant stroke that effortlessly delineate the depth of field; the people who quietly emerge to (eventually) dominate the scene; the feeling that one can sense the earth’s curvature going on beyond the horizon; the reflections on the pathway leading to … somewhere; the house (the abode of man) that quietly competes with that golden orb to dominate the composition.

The Ultra Orange blog recommends you sit in front of this painting for six minutes to discover how it affects you. Worry not—they also have some suitable music to play while you gaze.


Thursday, 2 September 2010

SCF’s Deposit Guarantee: Not just a moral hazard problem [updated]

Turns out that Michael Cullen's Deposit Guarantee Scheme--the one agreed to by John Key before the election, and rolled over by Bill English in April--is implicated in at least two ways over in the collapse of South Canterbury Finance (SCF): causing both risky investments and, at the same time, encouraging major investors to withdraw their money.

We talked yesterday about reason number one: the moral hazard created by the scheme— —that it simply encouraged the finance company to take more risks to make the high interest payouts needed to encourage more “investors”—something confirmed by South Canterbury Finance CEO Sandy Maier, who said Tuesday that “South Canterbury Finance ramped up its risky real estate loans after it signed up to the Government's scheme that protected its investors' money.

_Quote It might have been cynical, it might have been merely incompetent ... it probably violated a lot of prudent lending criteria…

Reason number two to implicate Bill & Michael’s scheme was reported this morning on Radio NZ: that just as South Canterbury Finance was looking for more investment, many major investors were taking money out  to ensure that the only money they were “risking” was the $250,000 guaranteed by the scheme—which is to say that for the last few fragile months the only money many invested in SCF was money for which you and I were taking the risk.

Drinking at the Hitler Bar - NOT PC, 2006So it seems it’s time, once again, for the Law of Unintended Consequences to take a bow.

UPDATE: I’m sure you, like me, will enjoy the irony that some of the money frittered away in loans by South Canterbury Finance after the taxpayers’ involuntary guarantee was rolled over went to a bar in the Auckland Viaduct revelling in the name of ‘Lenin.’

[A place we’ve mentioned here before.]


“Turning back to God,” through art [update 2]

Glenn Beck says America should “try the old turning back to God thing.”  So I thought I’d try the old turning back to a time when the western world was all overrun by folk who were all over God—and for some reason (God knows why) it was a time (around twelve centuries of time) when those God-bothers were bothering any poor sap who didn’t worship their God the same way they did.

God, it was a great time to be alive.  If you could manage it…crusades

It was a time of enormous ingenuity…


And great humanity…inquisition_torture (1)  Ah yes, those were the days…

Here’s some artistic depictions of the “glorious” days gone by of a whole theology based on torture. 

Torture_Chamber_of_the_Inquisition_v2 An artist's depiction of a Torture chamber of the Inquisition, ca. 1736.360px-Berruguete,_Pedro_-_Burning_of_the_Heretics_(Auto-da-fé)_-_c._1500 Burning of the Heretics (Auto-da-fé) - Pedro Berruguetegiordano_bruno Burning of Giordano Bruno – Andre Durand303224 The Supplication of the Heretics in 1210 - Jean FouquetScene_from_an_Inquisition_by_Goya Scene From an Inquisition – Francisco GoyaPillar1-Foundations-galileo-Inquisition Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition - Cristiano Banti, 1857

Yep.  These sure are the sort of grand old times we’d all like to see again.  What could possibly be wrong in turning back to religious zealotry?  Hell, it worked so well the first time.

UPDATE 1:  It’s always strikes me as bizarre that Christians can make themselves feel better about the barbaric past of the faith they worship by pointing to the equally barbaric crimes of Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot—as if this somehow excuses their own faith of culpability for two millennia of bloodshed and butchery.

First, the crimes of of Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot in the twentieth century in no way wipe out the barbarities of the christian church in centuries past—which was as bad, if not worse, than the barbarities of Islamists today. Own up to your history, religionists.

Second, the crimes of of Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot are a testament not to the evil of atheism (which says only what one does not believe in) but to the evil of the ideas these bastards did hold: i.e., the collectivist wet dream of making out of humanity one neck for one noose.  Their evils, and the fact they took so many along with them in support, is a testament to the power of ideas to move the world for good or ill—they’re a warning that we must understand the misbegotten notions that lead to totalitarianism,and not to let these bad ideas grow. 

Third, the crimes of those bloodstained collectivists were carried out on the ethical principle of sacrifice—the sacrifice of individuals to the collective—an ethic, you might recall, that was brought into the world and championed by the founders of the christian church—an ethic that still urgently needs to be wiped out. (Not, I hasten to add, with an ethic that requires the sacrifice of the collective to the individual, but one that requires no sacrifices whatsoever!)

Fourth, religionists appear blithely unaware of the religious histories of those they decry as atheists. 

Stalin attended an Orthodox seminary in Georgia before seeing his opportunity for greater victories with the Bolsheviks. And Hitler was a Catholic who was “convinced the people need and require this [Catholic] faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement.”  Who as Paul points out, believed he was “acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord [emphasis in the original]"— And why wouldn’t he believe that, since the Christian church itself had a two-millennia history of attacking Jews as Christ-killers.

And Karl Marx, who inspired the murders of Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, was the son of a rabbinical line and a follower of the philosopher Hegel. Hegel talked about a “World Spirit” who moved history; Marx talked about religion as being “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world…the vale of woe, the halo of which is religion.” Rather than denying religious belief, he understood it and brought it down to earth—observing that the “mystics of spirit” offer a reward that never arrives called heaven, an ill-defined realm existing (somewhere) beyond this dimension and to which all today’s sacrifices are offered); he offered instead an equally illusory realm that will never arrive called “the future,” a realm of ill-defined communist nirvana towards which all of his followers’ blood sacrifices were offered, a never-arriving “somewhen” that denies the present and exists only as the goal of some never-to-be achieved struggle.

Fifth, faith and force are not opposites: they are ineluctable bedfellows.  The Bible itself is a blueprint of barbarity; the method by which one is supposed to “know” the Bible’s revelations is the very means by which knowledge is rendered impossible, honest disagreement is rendered impossible, and human bloodshed is the inevitable result.  When one holds reason as the standard by which knowledge is acquired and held, then rational persuasion is the coin of the realm for disagreement; but if one’s ideas are held by reason’s opposite, i.e., by“Faith,” i.e., by “blind acceptance of a certain ideational content, acceptance induced by feeling in the absence of evidence or proof,” then there is no peaceful way to resolve these conflicts. Sam Harris explains the virus:

_Quote The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy. Because each new generation of children is taught that religious propositions need not be justified in the way that all others must, civilization is still besieged by the armies of the preposterous. We are, even now, killing ourselves over ancient literature. Who would have thought something so tragically absurd could be possible.

Faith and force are the destroyers of the modern world—just as they were of the pre-modern.  And the greatest destroyer of these two …. is faith, because it makes the other necessary.

UPDATE 2: Paul Hsieh at Noodle Food asks “Which is the Greater Danger: Islamic or Christian Dictatorship?”:

_QuoteIf dictatorship ever comes to America, it won't be an Islamist one. Instead, it will more likely be a Christian one, but one which would arise as a direct result of our current weak approach to the real and immediate Islamist threats. Furthermore, such a Christianist regime could gain traction here in a way that an Islamist regime never could because the Christianist regime would have a superficially "pro-American" veneer.


Labels: ,

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Procrastination: The problem … and a solution!

I recently linked to a neat cartoon about how easy it is to do less important stuff when you've got important stuff to do.  You know what I mean, like when you should be studying for an exam or meeting that deadline, and you suddenly discover the windows need washing—or the spices need filing…

If, like everyone you’ve ever met, you’ve experienced this common problem, then psychologist Jean Moroney has a neat solution.  It involves more than just wishful thinking, but it only takes three minutes…

Corporate welfare is not dead

There’s a lot of people to thank, this morning.  So let’s get started.

We wake up this morning to discover that we are each unwilling investors in a failed finance company. That we have each sent a welfare cheque of around $405 to pay debenture holders in South Canterbury Finance.

Thank you Michael for creating the Deposit Guarantee Scheme. Thanks you John for conniving with him to put it in place before the election. And thank you Bill, for rolling it over in April, just when this shit was heading towards the fan.

We need to put the money in ourselves because South Canterbury Finance couldn’t find anyone else to stump up the cash to fix their cash flow problem.  And why would anyone want to, when the Serious Fraud Office has made a highly public and entirely unspecified raid  on the company’s chairman and related companies.

Thank you Serious Fraud Office.

We said that when the govt’s Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme was announced that it created a problem of moral hazard—that it would simply encourage finance company to take more risks to make their high interest payouts, and encourage more “investors” to seek out these higher interest rates knowing you and I would bail them out when there was a problem. And so it came to pass. “South Canterbury Finance ramped up its risky real estate loans after it signed up to the Government's scheme that protected its investors' money, the company's chief executive Sandy Maier said last night.

So thank you again, Michael and Bill. And thank you Sandy Maier for placing us on your hook.

We’ve seen that the property bubble was inflated by oceans of counterfeit capital, credit created out of thin air inflating prices, and making everyone think they were rich.

So thank you, Reserve Bank, for underpinning this massive expansion of counterfeit capital.

We’ve seen that at least some of the problem with South Canterbury Finance is problems within the dairy industry. We’ve seen that dairying too was part of a bubble inflated by a $28 billion pyramid of debt – a pyramid propped up by the very assets being inflated by all that debt. That many dairy farmers have been riding the bubble -- "farming for asset gains" instead of for income. About the about the “delusion of credit” that caused it, and the idea that the panacea for debt is credit.”

So thank you, economists, for putting in place the fractional reserve banking system that sees prosperity as a product of credit, whereas from the beginning of economic thought it had been supposed that prosperity was from the increase and exchange of wealth.

We’ve discovered that many of these over-valued farms (valued at far more than their capitalised income) have nonetheless attracted interest from foreign buyers, who wish to inject real resources to make them work—but have been told by xenophobes both within and without government that they can go take a hike.

So thank you, xenophobes, for being so dumb you think far land can be shipped offshore—and having the political power to tell would-be investors to bugger off.

We’ve said that the business model so many finance companies adopted of expecting new investors to backstop the positions of past loans (necessary when your borrowers are developers, whose payments are a long way off) is not a sustainable position.

So thank you, Alan Hubbard and Lachie McCloud, for not sticking to your knitting.

We’ve said that in times of financial collapse, we need to stop worrying and learn to love bankruptcies. “Bankruptcy is a normal part of economic life, covered by laws that guarantee stockholders will be compensated as much as possible. More efficient firms move in to take over what is left of bankrupt firms, buying what can be put to productive use. There is no crime in bankruptcy and, if handled quickly, little economic harm. The present financial problems would disappear quickly if the government let the markets operate and let inefficient firms go bankrupt.”

So thanks, govt spruikers, for keeping bad positions alive, like zombies, to keep dragging us back.

We’ve said the result of the financial crash is that there’s now less demand and less money to go around, and that two of the seven ways to ensure the depression continues is to “Prevent or delay liquidation by propping up shaky businesses and shaky credit positions,” and to “Keep prices up.” stop prices  falling to reflect this new reality.

So thank you, Bill English, for helping to keep values at their unrealistic levels down south, and doing exactly what the doctor ordered to keep things depressed.

And now that it’s backstopped this failed finance company, allowing its bad positions to go on indefinitely rather than be liquidated to find their true value, what’s the principle that will discourage the govt using our money to bailout out the next needy corporate casualty. “A bailout [sets] a precedent for a government helping a private company."

So thank you, one and all.

Time to end the deposit guarantee scheme. To get back to producing things instead of trying to get rich on the back of bubbles and because of inflated asset values.  And to end the fractional reserve banking system that makes bubbles out of what were once good businesses.

Labels: , , ,

U.S. Fed Stimuli = Electric Shock Therapy

Guest Post by Jeff Perren.

As the title is supposed to suggest, Federal stimulus programs that consist of spending are about as effective as that now-universally discredited method of psychotherapy, and about as insane.

Here's a bit of real world data to keep in mind when you hear Krugmanites tout Federal spending as an economic stimulus:

Big spending is another economy-killer. A recent OECD study noted that for every percentage point increase in spending among the nations studied, per capita GDP fell by 0.3% and investment by as much as 0.4%. So more government "stimulus" cures nothing.

Affleck House – Frank Lloyd Wright

3620540260_52c937ed6dConstructed in 1941, just before war hit the US, this house for chemical engineer Gregor Affleck and his family is an early example of Wright’s Usonian Houses—a series of ingenious low-cost homes for thinking Americans. A chemical engineer  who invented a fast-drying automotive paint, Gregor and his wife Elizabeth brought up their family in the house and lived there until they died.

3619720949_09e1fff4af Pictures and story of the house at the Michigan Modern site.3620540220_d05b03dd78 The house is presently being renovated by Lawrence Tech students. Just 220sqm in an L-shaped floor plan (with 200lm of shelves!) and sited in a natural amphitheatre, the house is unusual in Wright’s oeuvre in running against the contours rather than with them.  Anchored at one end visually and structurally, and bearing similarities in its arrangement to his Lloyd Lewis House of the same year, it is built over three levels to cantilever over a ravine.  A loggia (middle photo above) sits over a stream, and divides living and bedroom wings. Image (16)

Labels: ,

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Perigo on Beck’s “God thing”

Glenn Beck galvanized hundreds of thousands of patriotic Americans to show up in Washington for his 'Restoring Honor' rally, observes Lindsay Perigo. That’s the good part.

_Quote Though [Beck] was obliged to play down the political implications of the gathering, there is no doubt that this was the Tea Party out in force, giving The Anti-American President the message that his socialist agenda will soon be consigned to the ashcan of history.


_Quote As Sarah Palin so succinctly put it, the task is not to transform America but
restore it.

Um, not so yay. Why her? And what exactly do she and he mean by “restore”?

_QuoteThe alarm bells of liberty-lovers from sea to shining sea should be ringing from every mountainside at Beck [and Palin]'s sloppy exhortation to 'try the whole turning back to God thing.'

Oh. So that’s what they mean!

_Quote_Idiot"Let's try the whole turning back to God thing and see what happens," said Glenn Beck [again] on Fox News Sunday.

No, says Perigo.  "Let's not."

_QuoteThe greatness of America lies precisely in its constitutional separation between church and state. Though Beck denies he has a theocracy in mind, and claims to respect the right of atheists to their (dis)beliefs, it's hard to imagine that part of the Religious Right that does want a theocracy not being emboldened into pushing for one as part of a 'whole turning back to God thing.'

The ‘God thing’ and Americathe ‘God thing’ and freedomthey just don’t mix well.

Labels: , ,

Everything you always wanted to know about Afghanistan that one lone humorist could tell you after a 72-hour visit [updated]

What do you want to know about Afghanistan, past, present, or future?  After a 72-hour visit, PJ O'Rourke has  everything you always wanted to know about Afghanistan, but didn't want to have to wade through WikiLeaks to discover.

It's far from as flippant as you'd expect from an article about the Afghanistan war containing quips about what Scotsmen wear under their kilts.

Take this, for example, explaining both the continuing appeal of the Taliban, and the mire in which well-meaning armies have found themselves.

_Quote Someone in Afghanistan must think the Taliban on the other side are good for something too. Otherwise there wouldn’t be an “Afghan issue.”
    The Taliban offers bad law—chopping off hands, stoning desperate housewives, the usual things. Perhaps you have to live in a place that has had no law for a long time—since the Soviets invaded 31 years ago—before you welcome bad law as an improvement.
    An Afghan civil society activist, whose work has put him under threat from the Taliban, admitted, “People picked Taliban as the lesser of evils.” He explained that lesser of evils with one word, “stability.”
    A woman member of the Afghan parliament said that it was simply a fact that the Taliban insurgency was strongest “where the government is not providing services.” Rule of law being the first service a government must provide.
    The member of parliament who laughed at the clash of civilizations laughed as well at what had passed for rule of law in Afghanistan. “Sure Afghanistan is unruly,” he said. “Afghans don’t like rules. No one likes rules. And that is what we have been—ruled. We have been ruled, not governed.”
    A journalist for Radio Azadi said, “Afghans were happy in principle that Americans brought peace and democracy. But when rival tribes began to use the U.S. to crush each other, the attitude of the Afghan people changed.”
    Afghans think Americans have sided with the wrong people. It’s not that Afghans think Americans have sided with the wrong people in a systematic, strategic, or calculated way. It’s just that we came to a place that we didn’t know much about, where there are a lot of sides to be on, and we started siding with this side and that side and the other side. We were bound to wind up on the wrong side sometimes.
    We’re outsiders in Afghanistan, and this is Occam’s razor for explaining the Taliban…

Read it all here: The 72-hour expert: Everything you always wanted to know about Afghanistan, by PJ O’Rourke.

_QuoteAustralian aid to Pakistani flood victims is being distributed at a camp funded by the banned Pakistani group Jamaat ud Dawa. The group was linked to the Mumbai terrorist attacks and has been black listed by the US, Pakistan and the United Nations.

But, the UN World Food Programme is distributing aid, including some donated from Australia, at a camp which receives funding from Jamaat ud-Dawa.

As Andrew Bolt observes, it’s not just an explanation “why donations from the West are slow” but also “more proof that the UN can’t be trusted with our cash, either.”

Labels: , ,

IPCC Climate Science Chief Gets Good Advice, Finally

Guest Post by Jeff Perren.

IPCC Climate Data Fudger-In-Chief Rajendra Pachauri gets a mild spanking from some real scientists, the sort who haven't yet completely lost their scientific integrity.

_Quote "Qualitative probabilities should be used to describe the probability of well-defined outcomes only when there is sufficient evidence," said the review group, which was supported by the academies of science from the United States, Netherlands, Britain and other countries.
Good advice (although I'm not altogether sure what a "qualitative" probability would look like). Think he'll take it? Nah, me neither.

Labels: ,

Monday, 30 August 2010

Turkel House, Detroit – Frank Lloyd Wright


Frank Lloyd Wright always had an intense interest in low- and moderate-cost homes. One solution was his Usonian Automatic—a system of special owner-built concrete blocks, unique to each house, woven together to make a home—just the sort of thing that NZ’s Building Code now makes illegal—of which the Turkel House in Detroit, Michigan, is a recently restored example.Turkel02

Head here to the Hour Detroit for the story of the restoration, and many more pictures.Turkel03

And head  to the owners’ own website for more of the story.Turkel04 Hat tip Prairie Mod.Turkel05

Labels: ,

Facebook in history

If Facebook had been around for several centuries, here’s what some famous updates might have looked like. If Ben Franklin ever said “Booyah.”

FacebookHistory  Click the pic to see it all. [Hat tip Geek Press]

Oh yeah, and here’s Abe Lincoln’s original Facebook page.

Labels: ,

‘ECONOMICS FOR REAL PEOPLE’ MEET-UP: Capital & its structure

Sorry it’s short notice … but the next meeting of the Auckland Uni Economics Group is tomorrow night, and it’s going to be a goody. Once again, it couldn’t be more topical, explaining in simple terms how something that even most economists have never heard about was part of the cause of the present crisis.

UoAEconGroup-chalkboard summary

All welcome, from students of economics to students of life.

See you there!

PS: Here’s the “official” announcement for the evening:

_Quote The UOA Economics Group is coming back online for the second part of the year.  Overseas travel and study and work commitments have meant that we had to take a longer break than we had wanted, however we are now back with an interesting and challenging programme for the remainder of the year.  We will be bringing you more meetings over the coming months as we get to grip with some complex topics.
    Economic ideas, as we have seen, change the world and any student of economics must be familiar with the range of ideas that exist. This is especially important as economists struggle to explain what has happened in recent years to the world's financial system.
    We have looked at The Broken Window Fallacy, Division of Labour and Say's Law. We will now continue looking at Capital and its Structure.  This will be crucial in understanding why things have gone so wrong recently as we later examine business cycle theory and apply this to the recent financial crisis.  The theory of capital lies at the heart of economics which we will introduce in the next seminar.  Capital is a large subject but this should whet your appetite for some interesting conversations and more talking points to get you thinking. 
    Look forward to seeing you...

Labels: ,

Hubbard’s SCF: Too big for govt not to create another big balls up

Talk has now turned from the Serious Fraud Office’s Kafka-esque harassment of to Aalan Hubbard and his other companies to a government “bailout” for the company he founded and chaired, South Canterbury Finance (SCF). 

“Too big to fail”?  Surely that should mean “too big for taxpayers’ money to be wasted.” What it means, however—and I say this with much sadness—is that it’s too big for governments to ignore.  And you know what that’s going to mean, don’t you. Another balls up.

Consider the foolishly offered government guarantee scheme for failing finance companies, without which talk of “bailout” would even be talk.  Or shouldn’t be.  As many sane and sober folk were saying when Michael Cullen and John Key agreed to the scheme, “The big banks didn't need it, even at the height of the crisis, and sure don't need it now, and its only function was to prop up risky finance companies that should have failed.”  Now a big one has, and with the combination of imminent collapse and Bill’s foolishness the taxpayer now finds him-and-herself on the hook for several hundred million dollars. Thanks Michael.  Thanks John. You dickheads.

Consider too the harassment of South Canterbury Finance’s founder and chairman Alan Hubbard by the Serious Fraud Office—an investigation over issues in another company which are still not clear, which have been deliberately left vague, and which have been used as a stick with which to blackmail Mr Hubbard into handing over the keys to this company—an investigation done so poorly and so publicly that it all but guaranteed any chance of South Canterbury Finance finding another funder to make up its capital reserves was effectively extinguished. (We’ll never know whether SCF did have a chance of saving itself, but the jackboots rendered that possibility null.)

What the government should have done was not what it did. Risking taxpayers’ money with this sort of guarantee was unconscionable; putting it at risk with the Keystone Cops’ persecution of the company’s chairman was intolerable. To compound both errors now by pouring taxpayers’ money down what looks like a black hole would be beyond irresponsible—which is what it will probably happen.

What it should do now is allow liquidators to the clean out the dead wood as quickly and effectively as possible so that resources tied up in this debacle can be set free for other entrepreneurs to find a better use for them, ASAP—to use them as fertiliser for new ventures, unencumbered by whatever meddling strings the government would like to attach .

Since that’s the most logical thing to do, however, we can be almost certain that it won’t be done. Expect instead to see South Canterbury Finance effectively nationalised, using the money you were thinking of using on home improvements, debt repayment and educating your children to be used instead to prop up a zombie company that was doing moderately well until the jackboots came through the door.

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Republicanism, Rand and the Right

_richardmcgrath Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath ransacks the newspapers for stories and headlines on issues affecting our freedom.

This week: Republicanism, Rand and the Right…

1. DomPost: “Pharmacist, 70, jailed for supply of P ingredients
    In my work as a part-time medical officer at a drug and alcohol clinic I have a particular interest in reducing the harm to individuals, and to the greater community, caused by the health and legal problems associated with drug use. The legal problems associated with drug use include individual acts of violence and neglect related to the procurement, sale and consumption of drugs; as well as problems caused by the criminalisation of the choice to trade and/or personally use certain neuro-active substances.
    Support or opposition for drug laws is a political litmus test which distinguishes the conservative ("right-wing") attitude on drug use from the libertarian view.
    Conservatives believe the state owns your body, and can therefore make the rules as to what can and can't go into it, in order to stop you from making mistakes that could harm you.   
    Libertarians believe you own your body* and can thus determine input and output. 
    Conservatives treat adults as children; libertarians tend to treat adults as adults.
    Currently, the state tolerates self-regulation of alcohol and nicotine intake in adults. These two drugs cause a well-documented and well-known range of negative health outcomes.  
    While permitting the use of these substances, our government forbids the use of many others.
    This prohibition causes immense harm by arbitrarily turning peaceful people into nominal criminals, in many cases incarcerating them and labelling them as real criminals for little more that ingestion of substances of which the state presently disapproves.
    Prohibition often does turn previously peaceful people into real criminals (i.e. initiators of violence against other people or their property). It tends to make the illicit substances traded much more concentrated (and therefore more dangerous), less reliable in terms of quality (has Consumer magazine ever ranked the best suppliers of cannabis?) and far more expensive. The vendors of illicit drugs are often far less scrupulous than vendors of legal substances (witness stories of illicit drug dealers flogging their wares outside schools, for example, compared to where party pills used to be sold).
     The demand within our community for stimulant drugs such as amphetamine, and the state's determination to stop adults being able to buy it, has spawned the P industry—a marketplace that is dominated by criminals and gangs, and is supported by the politicians. The biggest nightmare for P manufacturers and dealers would not be further criminalisation of drug use in adults, but legalisation. Profits would simply go through the floor.
    The Libertarianz Party endorses drug legalisation, because it is consistent with improving individual freedom. Supporting drug legalisation is not an election-winning strategy, but as I said before, but it is a litmus test. Those who attack the Libertarianz Party for raising the issue are always reluctant to say where they stand on it.
    It is a matter of freedom. The thought of people Morris dancing in their own homes, or at Green Party conferences, repels me—but outlawing it would not stop people wanting to do it. The activity would be driven underground, to less salubrious environments run by nasty violent people, at much greater cost to all involved.
    The septugenarian pharmacist jailed for supplying methamphetamine substrate to P manufacturers is a victim of our drug laws. Locking him up will not stop people wanting to self-medicate with stimulants, it simply makes less salubrious the places and suppliers with which they have to do business.
    And anyone who claims that no-one should need stimulants should first check whether they themselves drink coffee. And how they would feel if coffee was outlawed.

2. NZ Herald: “Cullen: New Zealand should be republic
Whether or not Michael Cullen delivers his anticipated call for establishment of a republic, comments contained in speech notes indicate he has done an about-face on the issue. 
    At the time he held a cabinet post he opposed republicanism, describing himself as the last cabinet’s  "token monarchist." I guess he must have “token” vales as well.
    I abhorred Cullen during his years in parliament. Fuelled by a childhood resentment of wealth and success, he and his ilk spent their entire political careers harassing and intimidating the productive people who funded their jobs and perks. Cullen's war cry, his battle chant—“we won, you lost, eat that”—perfectly summarises his snark, biting the hand that fed him like the ungrateful parasite he was. 
    However, I come not to bury Cullen, but to praise him—faintly, and in passing mind you—for rekindling the republicanism debate. For it has long been Libertarianz Party policy to replace the current system of democratic representative government under British monarchy with a system of constitutional republicanism similar to that of the original United States. The important point is not so much the replacement of Betty Battenburg as our head of state, but an overhaul of the form of state governance itself.
    Libertarians believe government should not only be small, it should be tied up with a very short (constitutional) leash, and beaten with a very long stick if it gets ideas above its station. To ensure this, there should be separation of government powers: administration of the state bureaucracy (the executive function) should be separate from law-making (the legislative function), which in turns  needs independence from dispute resolution and law enforcement (the judicial function).
    History professor Paul Moon correctly points out that we are a de facto republic already, with a Queen that does not interefere in the political process. And, of course, with abandonment of recourse to the Privy Council, the judicial system has freed itself of all ties to Britain. Herald columnist Garth George, despite a silly title to his article, uncharacteristically gets things exactly right:

        “We might have our own Supreme Court but we need to remember that
    Parliament remains the country's ultimate court.

          “It can, the way we have it set up, pretty much do what it likes. There are
    insufficient checks and balances as
things stand, opposition parties and triennial
    elections notwithstanding. Irreparable damage can be done in three
years by
    self-interested politicians, as we well know.”

3. NZ Herald: “Matt McCarten: Death throes of the soulless party of self interest
    Every time I bring up the subject of the ACT Party, its defenders and apologists are quick to rush in and point to the Libertarianz Party's lack of electoral success. ACT, if one cares to remember, was the baby of two high profile ex-cabinet ministers from the best government New Zealand has had in the last fifty years. It received massive publicity and tens of thousands of people, myself included, voted for them.
    Over time, and especially under the leadership of Rodney Hide, its medium-term future has looked increasingly uncertain. Not the least of its problems is abandonment its found principles, the leadership style of Mr Hide, his highly embarrassing perk-lusting behaviour after years of perk-busting rhetoric, and the ongoing lack of any statement of core values on ACT's website. I'm sure they used to have some.** They were probably similar to these ones,,from which come these policies:
    But bizarrely, it now seems ACT is being tarred with the same brush with which their own followers try and daub Libertarianz.  Look at this, for example, from McCarten:

        “The [ACT Party] cultists worship at the altar of their prophet, Ayn Rand, and delude
     themselves if everyone only
focuses on getting what they want, then somehow this
     is good for everyone.”

    Heaven forbid ACT should ever endorse anything from Ayn Rand! But if it isn’t individualism and rational self-interest that underpins ACT party policy and provides intellectual fuel for its electoral candidates, then what the hell does?  Or did?
    Anything at all?
    Of course, the person throwing these accusations of self-interest at ACT MPs (as if that was an insult) is a woefully ignorant apologist for a totalitarian political movement that has been such an economic failure wherever it was tried that its luminaries murdered and starved tens of millions of people to fit them into into its straitjacket. Matt McCarten and his fellow travellers care not one iota for these facts, nor that a person's brain, his or her thoughts, and the products that derive from these thoughts and action, and the right to trade these products and to prosper thereby, are the vary basis for improvements in human standards of living.
    However, even this well-known political waka-jumper and apologist for murderous totalititarianism can point to Rodney’s Super-Sized City Council as a reason to question just where ACT is heading.
    I find it increasingly difficult myself to reconcile the megalomaniacal concentration of bureaucratic power that Rodney Hide has engineered in Auckland with the vision of smaller government and the devolution of services that ACT seemed to stand for in its earlier days. ACT’s dwindling number of supporters must be feeling equally confused.

“When the people fear the government, there is tyranny - when the
government fears the people, there is liberty.”
- attributed to Thomas Jefferson

* More accurately, your body is you. – Ed.
** They certainly did. The party’s founding principles were stated in two short sentences. And we have a prize on offer to any ACT supporter who can say what they actually were—and who wrote them. – Ed.