Tuesday, 26 April 2011

You’ll miss me when I’m gone

No blogging today. Sorry. I’m in Christchurch for twenty-four hours with no intention of putting finger to keypad.

Feel free to have a conversation amongst yourselves while I’m away.

Or, unless you’d rather do “he said she said” about the fortunes of the disappearing ACT Party, check out the Objective Standard’s (U.S.-based) Week in Review.

Monday, 25 April 2011

ANZAC DAY: Reflections on war

War appears to be as old as mankind, but peace is a modern invention.
      - Sir Henry Maine (1822-88)

Charles Sargeant Jagger's Royal Artillery Monument at Hyde Park Corner, London

ANZAC DAY GIVES US THE opportunity to pause for a moment to reflect on war.

“It is well that war is so terrible,” said General Robert E. Lee after the slaughter at Fredericksburg, “otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”

But fond of it humans have been for most of our history. For thousands of years war has been an intrinsic part of the social and political order. For most of human history, armed  conflict has been the accepted method by which ambitions are achieved. It took more than mere wishes to change that tragic history. It was not simple pacifism that did it. It was only the realisation (developed over many centuries) that the interests of human beings are essentially harmonious that eventually allowed the “invention of peace”—however sporadic has been its application.

Wars are not natural events or accidents, like earthquakes, landslides or hurricanes. No, like economic depressions, totalitarian dictatorships and murder by concentration camp, wars are neither acts of nature nor 'Acts of God': Wars are acts of man -- of men who seek to achieve their values by violence, resisted by those who rise to defend their own lives, their values, and their sacred honour.

Wars are the result of aggression by those who see value only in force, and who see other human beings as chattel.

Let’s be clear about war’s nature. War is brutal, destructive and unutterably horrific. It is heart-breakingly tragic. It destroys homes, families, lives, ambitions, dreams. It is the ultimate in human waste. It consumes entire nations in producing equipment of ever-increasing savagery whose only object is to be shot, blown, flown and driven into other people. War, as another great general observed, is hell.

War very rarely has winners, only those who have lost the least. War, as The Age once said, "is a dangerous and terrible thing, which should only ever be seen as a last resort."  In short, war is the second-worst thing on earth.     

They are the second-worst thing on earth only because the very worst thing on earth is tyranny: an act of war by governments against those they are supposed to protect. It is with the existence of tyrannical governments that wars of conquest and campaigns of terror begin—indeed, throughout history, it is tyrannies and slave states which have always begat wars.

It is those who seek their values through violence that make war possible; it is the existence of such entities that make wars of self-defence and liberation necessary.

IT IS NOT ENOUGH simply to declare oneself against war and wish war's destruction would go away. Wishing away war is easy, though ineffective; the reason is that wishing away war’s aggressors is impossible.

Pacifism itself only rewards aggression.  Pacifism kills.  If we are to ensure peace, peace with justice, then as paradoxical as it may sound it is necessary to oppose aggression and resist tyranny. By force, in self-defence, when necessary.

When aggressors seek Lebensraum, then appeasement only rewards their aggression—and only fuels further aggression.  When barbarians unleash hatred and murder, then pretending their intentions are peaceful only invites their contempt, and their further aggression. Peace with tyrants is never genuine peace because tyranny itself respects no borders. So when slave pens are allowed to flourish, then peace means peace without safety—and peace without justice.

Peace without justice rewards the tyrannical, rearms aggressors, and is an injustice to those whom the tyrants enslave and kill—not to mention a threat far and wide.  Every semi-free country has the right to defend itself against these aggressors; every semi-free country has the right (but not the duty) to liberate the slave pen. 

As long as tyranny is abroad, then wars of self-defence will still be necessary. As long as some human beings choose to deal with other human beings with the whip, the chain and the gun -- with stonings, fatwahs and holocausts -- with the torture chamber, the dungeon and the gulag -- as long as some men continue to enslave and attempt to enslave others, then wars will continue to happen, we must continue to be ready to defend ourselves … and we should all remember to pause occasionally, even once a year, to thank and respect those who take on that job.

As George Orwell is supposed to have said,

_Quote People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

He speaks, of course, of “rough men” acting in your defence against those aggressors who would do you violence. As David Kopel concludes, speaking in this context, if you want to give thanks for peace then thank a soldier.

IF WE HAVE THINGS WORTH living for -- and we do -- then for that much at least we all have things worth defending. As Thomas Jefferson observed over two-hundred years ago, the price of our liberty is eternal vigilance. Two-hundred years later, nothing has changed. If war is horrific, then tyranny is worse.

In the name of liberty, then let us resolve to remember—and oppose—the roots of all wars. In Ayn Rand’s words:

_QuoteIf men want to oppose war, it is statism that they must oppose. So long as they hold the tribal notion that the individual is sacrificial fodder for the collective, that some men have the right to rule others by force, and that some (any) alleged ‘good’ can justify it—there can be no peace within a nation and no peace among nations.”

Take time today to remember those who fought for your freedom, both intellectually and on the ground. They did more for peace than anyone who protests for it ever has.

Lest we forget. 

Sunday, 24 April 2011

‘Atlas Shrugged: Part 1,’ The Movie - A Review by Michael Moeller [updated]

Guest post by Michael Moeller. Warning, contains SPOILERS

atlas-shrugged-still1c Over fifty years after Ayn Rand’s novel  Atlas Shrugged was first published, and more then thirty years since work first began on a film script for it, I felt Etta James’ song “At Last” playing in my head as I drove to the theater last Friday to see Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 on the screen for the first time. I was abuzz with excitement at the possibility of finding a “thrill to press my cheek to.” But alas, as the movie unfolded, my cheek felt an icy touch as the lifeblood drained from its dramatic body.

On the philosophical level, the moral outlook of the book was not comprised in any significant way. Hank Rearden states, unapologetically, that “my only goal is to make money.” The filmmakers did not turn the movie into a utilitarian apologia that self-interest also serves the common good. Or worse, with Oliver Stone once-rumored as expressing interest in making the film, one could imagine the protagonists serving up paeans to the “public welfare.” I came away satisfied at least that the philosophy was not corrupted.

On the artistic level, however, the film fails substantially as a drama. As Rand wrote in The Art of Fiction, a plot is a “purposeful progression of events” where each event is logically connected to the preceding event leading up to the climax. The events are not mere exposition, but ideas dramatized in action where the actions leave the reader wondering what will happen next. I.e., they create suspense.

Unfortunately, the movie’s progression of events lacks purpose and a coherent direction. The choice of scenes appears scattershot, thus draining the drama and suspense from the novel.
For instance, the screenwriters decided to include the subplot involving John Galt’s motor. Here, though, Rearden discovers the mysterious motor through (off-screen) investigation, in advance of his car trip with Dagny. Later in the film Rearden and Dagny examine the factory and the motor in-person. This is followed by scenes of them meeting with Ivy Starnes, Eugene Lawson, and William Hastings’ wife, which include multiple superfluous scenes of car traveling back-and-forth on desolate valley roads.

AtlasShrugged (1)Not only has the fortuitous discovery of the motor been pre-empted by Rearden’s preliminary investigation, but the scenes tracking down the motor’s owner add nothing to the back-story of the motor. The viewer knows as much about the motor at the end of their trip as he does after Rearden’s initial investigation. Those scenes simply fill precious screen time.

Instead, those scenes could have been cut. The dramatic struggle to get the John Galt Line built could have been given more emphasis, which was purportedly the focus of this movie. Instead, the effects of the looters’ polices on the John Galt Line, and the protagonists’ struggles to overcome them, are imbibed along with exposition while critical scenes to the main storyline are cut.

atlas-shrugged-movie-poster_21 For instance, as Rearden and Dagny are standing before the tattered old bridge, Dagny states she could use a new one, but doesn’t have the time to build one with only six months left. Rearden responds that she could build a new one with Rearden Metal in only 3 months, and she responds: “Let me check my budget.” She needed it, Rearden says he can do it, and then it appears during the run of the John Galt Line. That’s it.

This is merely one example of including superfluous scenes while short-changing the supposed focus of the film: the struggle to build the John Galt Line. We have the Reardens’ anniversary party with no clue as to why it is important, and the bracelet exchange was drained of emotive impact. The viewer gets a brief glimpse of characters before they disappear, such as Owen Kellogg and Robert McNamara, with no background (besides brief narrative) as to why they are important, nor does one see the impact their loss has on the operations of Taggart Transcontinental.

No Dan Conway and his refusal to sell the rail to James Taggart. No dramatization of Dagny’s struggles to find signals, railroad spikes, locomotives, her work crew abandoning her, etc. No effect of Ben Nealy replacing Robert McNamara. No Eureka! moment from Rearden when he makes the bridge feasible with a radical new innovation – right when his business is being destroyed by the passage of the Equalization of Opportunity Bill, and yet still able to provide a beacon of strength for Dagny. Just to name a few.

Thus, the prudence, foresight, and ingenuity of Rearden and Dagny are sucked dry from the building of the John Galt Line, and from their characters.

Many have probably seen the trailer of Dagny’s confrontation with the union boss who refuses to let his members work on the John Galt Line. After this scene, the movie then cuts to Rearden and Dagny boarding the train and the running of the John Galt Line. The emotive impact of Dagny’s success is lessened by not showing her small triumph when all the Taggart workers volunteer against the wishes of the union boss, so much so that they need a lottery to pick the train crew.

Imagine signing up for a sightseeing tour of New York City, and being sped through the city on a train running at two hundred miles an hour while the window shades move up-and-down at random. That’s the feel of the pace and one’s grasp of what is happening and why. In this excellent review, the author provides a much more logical and cogent progression of events that develops the main plot and subplots within a reasonable timeframe, and in a manner that adds drama and suspense.

In The Art of Fiction, Rand also emphasizes bringing the abstraction that is a character to life via concrete actions and dialogue. The characters motives are teased out by these means. And, since art is selectivity, everything said and done denotes something significant about that character that the author thinks is important to convey.

Now consider the first brush with Ellis Wyatt in the movie, which shows him in Dagny’s office with his feet up on the desk while reading a newspaper. As Dagny enters, he throws the newspaper aside, waves his arms awkwardly as if trying to balance himself on a beam, and then begins to rail against the demise of Dan Conway and this “Anti-dog-eat-dog bullshit.”

Is this dynamic entrepreneur from the novel — who had a look of “violence” and such a ruthless integrity that he would rather burn down his empire than let it be taken over by the looters? No, his mannerisms and dialogue have all the attributes of a petulant middle-manager who has not gotten his way and feels the need to ream out an underling — right after his coffee break.

Or consider the filmmakers’ portrayal of James Taggart. He appears in the movie as young, handsome, and well-dressed. In the novel, we first see Taggart with a contorted posture, balding, and the look of middle-age while in his mid-thirties. Miscasting a character based on physical appearance is not a game-breaker and can be redeemed if the essence of the character is skilfully concretized in words and action.

In the novel, however, Rand portrays Taggart as fundamentally weak, constantly evading the necessity to think, and helpless in the face of looming crises, especially when confronted by Dagny. In the movie, the viewer sees a rather poised Taggart that often overshadows a soft-spoken Dagny, played by Taylor Schilling. Dagny’s lack of onscreen presence, of gravitas, does not help the contrast. (If there's a doubt about Schilling’s performance, I urge the viewer to consider whether this Dagny would say as a young woman at a ball: “What men? There wasn’t a man there I couldn’t squash ten of.”)

But more so than the actor’s onscreen presence, the depth of Taggart’s character is victimized by scene selection. The movie shows the boardroom scene where Taggart takes credit for Dagny pulling all assets from the San Sebastian Line before the Mexican government nationalizes it. However, the movie cut the prior scene with Taggart and his girlfriend, Betty Pope. In that scene, Taggart and Pope express mutual contempt for each other after just having had sex. Taggart begins that scene lethargic and mentally unfocused, but comes to life at the prospect of undermining his sister before the Board. His self-satisfaction is quickly deflated when he receives a phone call telling him the San Sebastian Railroad has been nationalized, and then we next see him praising his own foresight before the Board.

This scene also provides a stark contrast to the sex scene with Rearden and Dagny after the John Galt Line run. Sex expressing the celebration of life, as opposed to mutual contempt and futility.

Instead of the Betty Pope scene, the movie depicts the nationalization of the San Sebastian Railroad in a news clip stating that the line has been nationalized and showing soldiers marching under some building with a Mexican flag on top of it. A scene that powerfully conveys Taggart’s motives and goals is replaced with cheap narrative. The net effect on the character of James Taggart is that he is transformed from metaphysically impotent man into a simple Hollywood cut-out of a conniving backroom dealer.

By the same methods, the movie trims down the depth of each character, including the two protagonists. The greatest loss, perhaps, is to Francisco d’Anconia, whom I regard as one of the most compelling characters in all literature.

The viewer first catches glimpses of Francisco appearing at bars/parties surrounded by an entourage of beautiful women, sometimes with cameras flashing. He has a scruffy three-day beard and semi-shaggy hair down to his eyebrows — the “cool” look one sees displayed on the cover of GQ. In his first encounter with Dagny after the nationalization of the San Sebastian mines, Dagny begins the scene by throwing a drink in his face. Francisco chuckles and flippantly says: “That’s refreshing.”

This is how the audience is introduced to the aristocratic-looking character described as “the climax of the d’Anconia’s” who’s talents had been “sifted through a fine mesh” from generations of mastery of production. Does this properly capture the man to whom it is impossible “to stand still or move aimlessly?” Is this the man who, as a twelve year old boy, used rudimentary calculus to erect a system of pulleys to hoist an elevator to the top of a rock? Or the man who began as a furnace boy at the age of sixteen and ended owning the factory by age twenty, while educating himself on the stock market to finance the venture?

Without any of Francisco’s back-story in the movie, nor any display of his unmatched ability, the viewer doesn't experience the disconnect between the productive genius and the playboy now throwing extravagant parties for the brain dead. The air of mystery surrounding his conversion has vanquished. The movie version of Francisco really could be a pop star from the cover of GQ. He certainly looks the part.

When Francisco confronts Rearden at his anniversary party, one gets the impression he was transported from another film. Not only is the dialogue awkward and stilted, as if parts were pieced together with Scotch tape after the novel’s conversation was put through a paper shredder, but his character appears jarring and incongruous because there has been no build-up illustrating his intellectual perspicacity.

Amateurism permeates even small touches of detail. The car crisscrossing the country in search of the motor’s mystery is a…Toyota Camry? In the book, it's a sleek Hammond coupe. The producers couldn't rent something like a Bentley Azure or Maserati Gran Tourismo to illustrate the heights Dagny and Rearden have reached?

limbaugh-atlas-shrugged-thumb1Sadly, this encapsulates the movie versus the book. Under Rand’s artistic guidance, one feels the dramatic motor roar to life on each page, yet the progression is expertly controlled. Hairpin plot turns on the cliff’s edge are skilfully navigated, yet invite challenge, thrill, and a suspenseful outcome. In the hands of the filmmakers, the viewer is taken on an ordinary ride from point A to point B, often getting lost along the way.

My song had changed on the ride home from the theater. Resonating in my soul were B.B. King’s words: “The thrill is gone, the thrill is gone away.”

UPDATE:  Tony White reckons there is a way to watch the film and still enjoy it.

And with Atlas Shrugged, the novel, now shooting through the roof again on the Amazon best-seller lists on the back of the film (regardless of its quality or lack thereof), it’s the ideal opportunity to to take advantage of all of this recent interest in Ayn Rand and Objectivism. Rational Jenn explains how one sassy lady is grabbing the opportunity with both hands.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Earth Day message: Sky not falling [updated]

Given that this is 'Earth Week'—a time, this year, when old religion and new religion collide-- it seems a good time to revisit the predictions made by the most prominent environmentalists in conjunction with the very first Earth Day way back in 1970. How do their dire man-hating prognostications fare looking back from forty years on? [Hat tip Ian J., from the archives of Ron Bailey.]

“Civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind."
      • George Wald, Harvard Biologist

“We are in an environmental crisis which threatens the survival of this nation, and of the world as a suitable place of human habitation.”
      • Barry Commoner, Washington University biologist

“By…[1975] some experts feel that food shortages will have escalated the present level of world hunger and starvation into famines of unbelievable proportions. Other experts, more optimistic, think the ultimate food-population collision will not occur until the decade of the 1980s.”
      • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine.”
      • Peter Gunter, professor, North Texas State University

“It is already too late to avoid mass starvation.”
      • Denis Hayes, chief organizer for Earth Day

“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”
      •  ‘Life’ Magazine, January 1970

“Population will inevitably and completely outstrip whatever small increases in food supplies we make. The death rate will increase until at least 100-200 million people per year will be starving to death during the next ten years.”
      • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“At the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
      • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist.

“Air pollution…is certainly going to take hundreds of thousands of lives in the next few years alone.”
    • Paul Ehrlich, Stanford University biologist

“We are prospecting for the very last of our resources and using up the nonrenewable things many times faster than we are finding new ones.”
      • Martin Litton, Sierra Club director

“By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil. You’ll drive up to the pump and say, `Fill ‘er up, buddy,’ and he’ll say, `I am very sorry, there isn’t any.’
      • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

“Man must stop pollution and conserve his resources, not merely to enhance existence but to save the race from intolerable deterioration and possible extinction.”
      • ‘New York Times’ editorial, the day after the first Earth Day

“Dr. S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institute, believes that in 25 years, somewhere between 75 and 80 percent of all the species of living animals will be extinct.”
      • Sen. Gaylord Nelson

“We have about five more years at the outside to do something.”
    • Kenneth Watt, ecologist

“The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”
      • Kenneth Watt, Ecologist

So what can we say about this litany of bogus apocalypse?

That it takes more than just misanthropy to interpret the future.

That predictions of pestilence should be taken with a grain of salt.

That scientists predicting disaster should be held to account for actions taken in their name—“action” consisting largely if not exclusively of govt action banning private action.

That Earth Day is a good time to remind ourselves that if life in earth in the human mode is possible, then it is possible only by exploiting the material the earth provides. That the earth itself is an immense solidly packed ball of chemical elements and compounds whose surface is all we’ve been able to scratch, and that just barely—that apart from what has been lost in a few rockets, the quantity of every chemical element in the whole world today is the same as it was before the Industrial Revolution—that it is only man’s ingenuity that turns these densely packed chemicals into resources to further human life—and that without that ingenuity and that effort we would all be in the position of human beings before that beneficent Revolution: of life being nasty, brutal and short.

And, perhaps, that man-hating worry worts will always be with us, that they existed long before the Industrial Revolution even began.

And, despite their best efforts, we are all still here—and the human environment is the  very best its ever been.

Let’s give thanks for that to every dirty mine, every smelly smoke stack, every smoky power station, every logged forest and every well-used waterway—and to every inventor, capitalist and entrepreneur who made them possible.

UPDATE:  Just to add irony to insult, it’s also instructive to know that the  Earth Day co-founder killed and composted his girlfriend.

‘Perigo!’ #5: The Don Brash Edition [updated]

image001Rumours abound over what Don Brash might be doing next. Will he start a new party? Will he take over ACT? Will he stay home with his feet u by the fire?  What, what, what, what, what?

What better time to have him face an in-depth interrogation by Lindsay Perigo. Watch the confrontation on last Thursday’s show right here, right now:

UPDATE: Brash also talks to Guyon Espiner on Q+A on Saturday. And by Miriama Kamo. Good opportunity to compare interviewers—who gets more from their guest?

Thursday, 21 April 2011

It’s Easter. [updated]

IT'S EASTER. GOOD FRIDAY. A day off. A day out. A day to get nailed up and talk about torture.

A day to sing hymns, sit in traffic and eat hot cross buns and Easter eggs. A day not to go shopping, of course, because today is one day the religionists still have control over us. A day when flunkies fan out around the country bearing clipboards,  hoping to fine someone for the crime of selling someone a pot plant, or a pint of milk. Seeking to sacrifice shop-owners to the God of zealotry.

Meanwhile, the Christians who insist on this sacrifice of shop-owners to the gods of unionism and bureaucracy celebrate the sacrifice of their ideal man two-thousand years ago.

Any way you look at it, it’s hardly a happy story to celebrate.

EVERY RELIGION HAS ITS own core myths portraying the very heart of their beliefs. The pagan Greeks told stories of their gods, those Attic super-men, consuming Ambrosia and gambolling on Olympus.  The Norse heroes told stories of their gods lustily wenching and feasting in Valhalla while waiting for Ragnarok.  And the Christians? They tell about the time when their god sent his son down to be nailed up to a piece of wood.

As a myth, it’s hardly something to celebrate.

The Easter Myth is central to Christianity, and all too revealing of the ethic at Christianity's heart. 

Art reveals that core. Look at that painting above, by Salvador Dali. A great, powerful, awe-inspiring, revealing piece of art.  What does it represent? It represents man-worship -- the presentation of an ideal.  Note how the main figure is larger than life and seemingly immune to pain or destruction; a figure, incongruously in this context, portrayed without pain or fear or guilt.

The figure at left is Dali's wife Gala, who looks up at the Christ figure with a look of literal man-worship. If we have a question here, when looking at a man nailed up to a piece of wood, it might be this: "How can you worship the destruction of your ideal?”  “Why would you celebrate his torture?” Fair questions, especially when confronted with splatter-fests like Mel Gibson’s Passion, which lovingly depict every act of torture and every drop of blood in high-definition Technicolor.

That’s what paining and film can do. How about music?  Bach’s St Matthew Passion musically and beautifully dramatises this Myth while revealing the true nature of it.The Passion’s thematic centre occurs when Jesus appears before Pilate and the mob.

_QuoteWhen Pilate asks the crowd who should be freed, Barbaras or Jesus. The crowd replies, "Barabbas!" and Pilate asks, "When what should I do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?" The crowd shouts, "Let him be Crucified!" This final shout is musically rendered in such an awful way that the hearer is almost struck dumb. One can feel the terrible doom being called down. Pilate then asks (in Part 56), "Why, what has this man done?" His question is answered by what is probably the loneliest Soprano ever, who says, "He has done good to us all, He gave sight to the blind, The lame he made to walk; He told us his father's word, He drove the devils forth; The wretched he has raised up; He received and sheltered sinners, Nothing else has my Jesus done."
    Following this is an even more poignant aria that begins, "Out of love my Savior is willing to die." After that the chorus repeats the sentence, which is made worse by what we have just heard.

Just think, Christians revere Christ as their ideal, and Bach has his chorus and soloists praise him, worship him, and eulogise Him – this, above all, was their hero (Bach tells us); a man known only for good deeds; the man they believe their god sent to earth as an example of the highest possible on this earth -- and then they and that god went and had him killed. Tortured, Crucified.

That's the story. This, says Bach in the true honesty that great art reveals, is what Christians revere: The murder of their ideal man.  

It’s an astonishing ethic to celebrate, isn’t it: the sacrifice of the ideal man just to appease and placate the mob.

THE SACRIFICE, YOU SEE, is the thing. Sacrifice is the central ethical thesis of Christianity—so important that an all-powerful god was supposed to sacrifice his own son (who is also himself) to himself just to make the important point: that sacrifice of a higher value—of the very highest—to everything that crawls on earth is central to the Christian ethics.

In the Easter Myth giving voice to this ethic of sacrifice, we are invited to praise the willing sacrifice of the man they hold up as their ideal to a mob of the vilest  sinners--sacrificed as a point of ethical and religious necessity in the most vile and bloodthirsty way imaginable.

It's of no avail whether in the Christ myth we hear that he was arrested for blasphemy, or for preaching without a police permit, or that he came to replace one stone-age form of witch-doctory for another. It's of no avail because none of those points are central to the Easter Myth, or of the central Christian ethic portrayed therein: they’re all just plot devices to get the story to Golgotha, and the god-son nailed up.

That is the vile story we are invited to admire and the ethic we are enjoined to emulate. What would Jesus do (WWJD)? Why, he would give his very life up to the mob, and his very body up to be tortured by it. Why? To save (somehow) all you miserable sinners.

The sacrifice, you see, is the thing. And just to be clear:

_Quote “Sacrifice” is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue. Thus, altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values…

That a story is celebrated in which a divine sacrifice, a human being, a son of the “all-powerful” is offered up in the most vile, most bloodthirsty way possible--to "save" a mob who, according to those same Christians, are created as vile sinners--and to "appease" a bloodthirsty and omnipotent God who intended all this to happen, and (according to the story) sent this ideal man down to earth to make sure that it did …. now if that's not a vile story, even if t'were true, then my name is Odin.

And there's certainly nothing enlightening there on which to base an ethics. And base an ethics on it the religionists certainly do. One they insist is “sublime.”

No wonder the religionists see nothing to apologise for today when priests quietly sacrifice young children to their own misbegotten lusts.

HANS HOBEIN’S ‘CHRIST AFTER CRUCIFIXION’ lays bare the reality of the sacrifice even more directly than Mel Gibson’s splatter movie.

It’s not a pretty painting, as this detail makes plain:

A good subtitle for this 1521 painting might be ‘A Christian Confronts Reality.’  That, at least, was how the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky felt when confronted with this naturalistic depiction of the battered Christian corpse in 1867: confronted with the horrific reality of crucifixion and its results, Dostoyevsky was struck by the importance of this confrontation for his faith, and inspired to dramatise in his next novel what that confrontation meant. Said his wife, “The figure of Christ taken from the cross, whose body already showed signs of decomposition, haunted him like a horrible nightmare.  In his notes to [his novel] The Idiot and in the novel itself he returns again and again to his theme.”

Holbein confronts the Christian viewer with a powerful choice: One must either believe that God raised this ravaged body from the dead, and that the Christian myth, therefore, “offers hope for humanity beyond this life”; or else accept that the dead stay dead, that such an event did not and could not occur, that reality is what it is – with all that follows therefrom. As Dostoyevsky has a character in The Idiot explain it,

_QuoteHis body on the cross was therefore fully and entirely subject to the laws of nature. In the picture the face is terribly smashed with blows, swollen, covered with terrible, swollen, and bloodstained bruises, the eyes open and squinting; the large, open whites of the eyes have a sort of dead and glassy glint. . . .
   Looking at that picture, you get the impression of nature as some enormous, implacable, and dumb beast, or, to put it more correctly, much more correctly, though it may seem strange, as some huge engine of the latest design, which has senselessly seized, cut to pieces, and swallowed up–impassively and unfeelingly–a great and priceless Being, a Being worth the whole of nature and all its laws, worth the entire earth, which was perhaps created solely for the coming of that Being!

Good art need not be a thing of beauty, but it must have something to say.  This certainly does that. If you believe the Creation myth and all that goes with it, the idea that all this was designed by something supernatural and omnipotent, then you must believe this torture too was designed. That it was intended.  That the God who once insisted that Abraham sacrifice his own son now makes the mob insist on the sacrifice of their ideal.

Let me ask you again, Don’t you think it astonishing to celebrate this barbarity?

IT WOULD BE EVEN MORE astonishing if that were what Easter really meant.  Thankfully, it’s not.

In Pagan times you see, Easter was the time in the Northern calendar when the coming of spring was celebrated -- the celebration of new life, of coming fecundity.  Hence the eggs and rabbits and celebrations of fertility. Indeed, the very word "Easter" comes from Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, and means, symbolically, the festival celebrating the rebirth of light after the darkness of winter. 

But with the coming of Christianity, the celebration was hijacked to become this veneration of torture and sacrifice.

And the story itself was not even original.  In the Norse myths (to quote just one of many similar myths) the head god Odin hung himself on the World Tree Yggdrasil—not to sacrifice himself to himself, but to achieve greater understanding. As the Icelandic Edda tells the story,

I ween that I hung of the windy tree,
Hung there for nights full nine;
With the spear I was wounded, and offered I was,
To Othin, myself to myself,
On the tree that none may ever know
what root beneath it runs.
None made me happy with loaf or horn,
And there below I looked;
I took up the runes, shrieking I took them,
And forthwith back I fell.
Then began I to thrive, and wisdom to get,
I grew and well I was;
Each word led me to another word,
Each deed to another deed.

As Joseph Campbell observes,

_QuoteNo one can miss the parallels here to the Gospel themes of Jesus’ three hours on the Cross (3 x 3 = 9), the spear in his side, his death and resurrection, and the boon of redemption thereby obtained. The phrase “and offered I was/To Othin, myself to myself” is interesting in the light of the Christian dogma of Christ and the Father as One.”

These are the stories the Christian myth supplanted.  And in hijacking the pagan celebration of spring,  they overtook a joyful celebration of growth and fertility, of peace and new understanding, and added to it a new ingredient: the ethic of sacrifice -- the murder and torture of tall poppies -- the sacrifice of the Christian's highest possible for the sake of the meanest most rotten 'sinner,' whose redemption Christ's murder was supposed to buy.

To put it bluntly, the Easter myth that Bach dramatises so well is one of suffering and sacrifice and murder, and the collusion of a supposedly omnipotent and omniscient god in the murder of his own son -- and if you subscribe to the whole sick fantasy then that is what you are required to believe—to believe in every rotten, blood-dripping detail. For in the name of religion Bach shows us that the good (by Christian standards) must be sacrificed to the rotten; the constant to the inconstant; the talented and inspirational to the lumpen dross -- the ideal to the worthless.

For Christians, then, Easter is a time to revere that sacrifice and to remind themselves (and us) of the centrality of sacrifice to their fantasy. Oh yes, there's a 'rebirth' of sorts in their fantasy, but not one on this earth realm, and not before a celebration of intense pain and suffering that supposedly bought redemption and virtue for those who possessed neither.  

As Robert Tracinski says so bluntly, "Easter's Mixture of the Benevolent and the Horrific Reveals Religion's Antagonism to Human Life." And so it does.

IT’S SAID BY SOME THAT the real point of the Crucifixion Myth is not the torture but the resurrection; not death or the manner of it, but life.  This is just nuts—but then, without the resurrection, there is no Christianity.

The myth erected by Paul on the back of some poor slaughtered Jewish prophet is intended to tell you how to live your life. To do so it offers a tale of torture grafted onto a fairy story about resurrection. (WWJD, eh?)

Even in the unlikely event the whole tawdry tale from earth to sky were proven true (and I invite you to take the Easter Challenge to tell us all precisely what happened on Easter), what would it prove for life here on this earth: It would still tell the story that the bloodthirsty Sky God who inflicted that torture on his son requires of you unconditional fawning of him, and unconditional sacrifice of yourself to others. As I said, that's just vile in and of itself, let alone as a basis on which to construct an ethics.

So it's an ethics based on a fairy story and founded in rottenness.

No wonder the early Christians grafted the tale about a murdered Jewish carpenter on to the Pagan Easter festival (which really did celebrate rebirth and fertility and new life) and then weaved the two together in this way--because they hoped to somehow that sacrifice is life-affirming instead of life-destroying. Sadly, however, all that their story shows is that unless you add a the supernatural to your fairy story, the result of sacrifice on this earth is not life and fertility and rebirth, but death, and destruction and torture.

In other words, if you want to erect a morality for life on this earth , then a good place to start is not one based upon sacrifice and suffering and torture. Not unless you wish to ensure the destruction of everything that you value.

THERE IS ANOTHER STORY that stands in complete contrast to this one however, that is in all senses its polar opposite. Unlike the anti-heroes of Bach's Passion—who murder their hero in a vain attempt to save their desiccated souls—or Dostoyevsky’s—who torture themselves with thoughts of a mechanistic “malevolent universe” in which they are somehow “trapped”—the heroes of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead shun sacrifice and suffering and the temptations of another world, and venerate instead their own human powers on this earth. 

The hero of that novel, Howard Roark, appears in court before another baying mob, in a similar position dramatically in which Bach places his own hero. Thrown to the mob and fighting for his life in court, rather than acquiesce as Bach’s hero does, Roark states instead—as clearly and categorically as he knows how—his own terms.

_QuoteI came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy. Nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim, how large their number or how great their need.
    "I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others.
    "It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.
    "I wished to come here and say that the integrity of a man's creative work is of greater importance than any charitable endeavor. Those of you who do not understand this are the men who're destroying the world.
    "I wished to come here and state my terms. I do not care to exist on any others.
    "I recognize no obligations toward men except one: to respect their freedom and to take no part in a slave society.”

This time, the hero says, the sacrifice demanded by the mob is rejected.

The contrast to the other story is stark,wouldn’t you say?

The ethic of The Fountainhead, one for which each of the leading characters fights in their own way, is one in which genius has the right to live for its own sake.  The contrast with the demand of Christianity that The Good inheres in the act of suffering and dying for the expiation of others could not be stronger, or the question more important!  Rather than demanding and worshipping the sacrifice of the highest to the lowest -- or as Nietzsche did, retaining the ethic but reversing the beneficiary of the sacrifice by demanding the sacrifice of the lowest to the highest -- the ethic of The Fountainhead insists that The Good is not to suffer and to die, but to enjoy yourself and live -- without any sacrifice at all of anyone to anyone else.

In my book, that really is an ethic worthy of reverence.

NOW, I'M ALL TOO aware that if you believe the Easter Myth, then anything I say here is going to pass right by you. 

You might call my "world view" a "mechanistic one," which is odd really because because it's that view which is taken by Dostoyevksy in the passage I cite above (where he whines about being "trapped" in a malevolent "mechanistic universe").

But the universe is not "mechanistic": it is knowable; it is not causeless; it is open to our manifest human powers—it is  not a mechanistic nightmare in which we are trapped, but a benevolent one in which we can both achieve our values and keep them, with no sacrifice at all from anyone, by anyone or to anyone.

I would have thought any honest commentator would find that idea compelling—if, that is, he weren't already imbued with the fatuous corruption of ethics that upholds sacrifice and suffering as a "noble" moral ideal.

SO IF, DESPITE MY best exhortations, if you still insist on venerating sacrifice this weekend and making yourself suffer, and especially if you're intending a bit of crucifixion yourself (or even just a mild bit of flogging or self-torture) then here are a few simple Easter Safety Tips for you from the Church, which are not unfortunately intended as satire. They include advice on how to whip yourself safely, how to flay others without major injury, and which size nails to use to have yourself fixed firmly to a piece of wood. 

And accept Richard Wagner’s sublime ‘Good Friday Spell’ from Parsifal, and a gorgeous Parsifal Fantasia, as balm to soothe your wounds both mental and physical.

And  for all the bureaucrats who are working while they insist that others don’t, here's that Nick Kim cartoon again celebrating the sacrifice of the Easter Bunny...


Have a happy holiday!

PS: By the way, did you know that Jesus was Yahweh's 111th Killing? Pretty cool god, huh?

_QuoteIt's hard to imagine something worse than a father planning to kill his own son. Except maybe a father killing his son in order to keep himself from torturing billions of others forever.
    ‘‘He that spared not his own son’ shouldn't be trusted by anyone.

UPDATE: Good Christian folk complain that “it’s not about the torture,” that “it’s all about the resurrection.”


Who are you trying to kid.

Good Xtian folk LOVE the torture.

Good Xtian LOVe the suffering.

It really is all bout the suffering—all about sacrificing human joy to human pain.

No surprise then that suffering is the very thing thing that unites the crusaders against abortion (a hatred of sex plus a love of suffering) with the crusaders against voluntary euthanasia (a hatred of human choice plus a love of suffering).

The total, evil, vicious bastards.

On this day of rebirth, Easter Sunday, in the weekend named after the Persian goddess of fertility, I suggest we replace that Xtian symbol of torture, the cross, with this unabashed symbol of human joy below. Who’s with me?

HumanSpirit Image source: Temple of the Human Spirit

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Tall-poppy Telecom slashed by government weed-eater

_McGRathLibertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath invites you down to his clinic for an inoculation against this week’s stories and headlines on issues affecting our freedom.
This week: The ongoing public dismembering of what was once NZ’s largest company.

THE DOCTOR SAYS: In other words, Telecom is whacked wit the largest fine in NZ history for acting in commercial self-defence—breaching an act that is commercially, and morally, corrupt.
    At least the Herald reported correctly that Telecom had a “dominant market position” rather than the often misused term “monopoly” - the latter situation applies only where a government uses its coercive power to protect a business from competition.
     However the High Court has, in my humble opinion as a Telecom customer, got this one wrong. Drastically, savagely and unjustifiably wrong.
    After being forced to give competitors access to its network—in effect being punished for the size of its assets—Telecom acted to protect its market share by charging its rivals an appropriately high fee for the use of its facilities.
    The High Court however, steped in abject ignorance about even basic economics, ruled that Telecom had charged “disproportionately” high prices—ignorant of the lesson demonstrated by central planners over centuries that the “right price” is nothing more than the price people are willing to pay. In this case, Telecom’s competitors paid the high fees, preferring to do so rather than not make use of its network system. In any case, because of government interference in the telecommunications sector and a mission from Minister Cunliffe on to dismember NZ’s biggest company, Telecom has always been on a hiding to nothing.
    So if ever you find yourself about to flatulently opine that businesses run governments, just think of the case of Telecom—where at present the score is around 15-o in the government’s favour.

_Quote We assemble parliaments and councils, to have the benefit of their collected wisdom; but we necessarily have, at the same time, the inconvenience of their collected assions, prejudices, and private interests.  By the help of these, artful men overpower their wisdom, and dupe its possessors; and if we may judge by the acts, arrets, and edicts, all the world over, for regulating commerce, an assembly of great men is the greatest fool upon earth.
- Benjamin Franklin

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The fact and fiction of collapse [update 2]

When the world’s economy began collapsing four years ago in a mountain of malinvested private debt—debt built on a pile of counterfeit capital—Presidents Bush and Obama rolled the dice and plumped for government debt to take up the slack. They plumped for “stimulus” to “kick-start” activity, and for corporate welfare to prop up those whose props had just collapsed.

The end result of the pile of govt cash was to only make things worse. The crash was a sign that too many malinvestments has been made—the “stimulus” only served to prop up the bad investments, and  ensure those bad positions would continue as zombies for many years to come, sucking the life out of any green shots that might have appeared in their absence.  And the creation of new government debt only served to suck out real resources from where they were needed—creating profitable new businesses—and to make the world’s govts, and this U.S. government in particular, among the most indebted in history.

All that money, poured down a black hole that only made things worse.  As some of us said it always would.  The only” growth” has been in govt debt, and in govt power.

And now, as American govt debt heads towards the abyss, the only surprise that the likes of Standard & Poor’s has called the debt “horrendous” is that anyone, anyone at all, is surprised—let alone that this long-overdue recognition of economic reality would cause commodities and  stock markets to tumble, gold to rise, and headless chickens to squawk.

And as govt power grows with each crisis and each call to “do something,” it becomes increasingly difficult to see the difference between the fact of America today and the fiction of Atlas Shrugged. See what I mean [hat tip Objective Standard]:

No wonder that Atlas Shrugged, first published in 1957, is now at number four on Amazon’s list of best-sellers

UPDATE: Some audience reactions after Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 screened in Colorado:

UPDATE 2: And Peter Schiff points out that Standard & Poor’s are always too late to the Party!

But then Standard & Poor’s is one of only three with government-granted monopolies on their “ratings.”

Monday, 18 April 2011

Perigo!, #4

In the fourth show of his new series, Lindsay talks to educator Graham Crawshaw from Windy Ridge Boys Farm about his unique reading camps for troubled boys, and the debate over Phonics and Look-Say.

It takes a civilisation …

It takes an entire civilization to build a toaster.

Or even a pencil.

Friday, 15 April 2011

FRIDAY RAMBLE: The ‘Atlas’ Weekend Edition

I have no idea yet whether it’s good, bad or (most likely) indifferent, but on the weekend that Atlas Shrugged:Part 1 opens on screens across the States, how could I not start with the principle the book most clearly illustrates:

“There are no victims and no conflicts of interest among
rational men, men who do not desire the unearned …  men
who neither make sacrifices nor accept them.”
                   - Ayn Rand

A principle that, once recognised, provides the strongest possible reason for benevolence that could possibly be imagined.
Think about it.
And now, on with our usual Friday morning show. But first, a message from Wesley Mouch:

  • Who’s Wesley Mouch? “When Rand created the character of Wesley Mouch, it’s as though she was anticipating Barney Frank (D., Mass). Mouch is the economic czar in “Atlas Shrugged” whose every move weakens the economy, which in turn gives him the excuse to demand broader powers. Mr. Frank steered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to disaster with mandates for more lending to low-income borrowers. After Fannie and Freddie collapsed under the weight of their subprime mortgage books, Mr. Frank proclaimed last year: ‘The way to cure that is to give us more authority.’ Mouch couldn’t have said it better himself.”
    Remembering the Real Ayn Rand – Donald Luskin, W A L L   S T R E E T  J O U R N A L
  • Here’s one question to ask yourself this weekend: Are you a maker, or a taker?
    Are you a producer or a moocher? – Gen La Greca & Marsha Enright, D A I L Y  CA L L E R
  • 340x_custom_1276644309238_picture_43 Whatever the success or otherwise of the film Atlas Shrugged, and reviews are already mixed, there’s no doubt that there’ll be yet another huge spike in interest in the book. And just to be ready for it all, the Atlas Shrugged website has been drastically updated with substantial new content and new resources to enhance understanding of the ideas behind the novel.
    Atlas Shrugged website 
    –A Y N   R A N D   I N S T I T U T E
  • It’s not only Christchurch earthquake victims being screwed by organisations like EQC. Japan had its own version of interventionist ineptitude.
    How the Japanese Insurance Industry Screwed the Average Person on Earthquake Insurance – E C O N O M I C  P O L I C Y  J O U R N A L
  • “Nice to have”? Or impossible to afford. I can’t help thinking that  if this economic plan had been implemented back in 2008, we wouldn’t be in the position we are now. "We call it the Don't-Spend-So-Goddamned-Much Plan" …
    Finally: A Credible Economic Plan – L I B E R T A R I A N Z, 2008
  • How many NZers would have left money with Mark Hotchin if they’d known he was so credulous?
    Suppression of market-relevant information – O F F S E T T I N G   B E H A V I O U R
  • Copyright protection on the net? Right idea, wrong process.
    An own goal  - David Farrar, K I W I B L O G
  • No wonder, when you have MPs involved. Why do people want people like this making decisions for them? About, well, about anything really?
     Katrina Shanks internet law parody by Kurt Sharpe. – S T U F F
  • Quick, download NationalMP2.o now…
    It's Upgrade Time – I M P E R A T O R   F I S H
  • “Human character (or at least behavior) was changed, and changed forever, by seventeenth-century Britain’s insistence that ideas were a kind of property. This notion is as consequential as any idea in history.”
    The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention
    – Dale Halling, S T A T E   O F  I N N O V A T I O N
  • “Unfortunately, Libertarians, Socialists and many Economists do not know the difference between a monopoly and a property right. Here are three easy questions for Libertarians, Socialists, and Economists to determine if a right is a monopoly or a property right.”
    Monopoly/Rent Seeking vs. Property Rights/Intellectual Property 
    – Dale Halling, S T A T E   O F  I N N O V A T I O N
  • As always, Paul Walker has some excellent Blog Bits. Two in particular.
    Blog Bits – A N T I   D I S M A L
  • Eric and I will have to disagree about the merits of playing NWA at a club—or anywhere else for that matter—but we don’t disagree it’s a disgrace to be arrested for it.
    Two disgraces that are, and one that isn't – O F F S E T T I N G   B E H A V I O U R
  • Mind you, it has always been so in this small authoritarian backwater.Anyone else remember how the riot squad used to “visit” gigs up in Airedale St just to bust them up?  As the Newmatics remembered, those weren’t the days.
  • “The Marxian doctrine of the alleged arbitrary power of employers over wages appears plausible because there are two obvious facts that it relies on, facts which do not actually support it, but which appear to support it. These facts can be described as ‘worker need’ and ‘employer greed.’”
    Wages and the Irrelevance of Worker Need and Employer Greed 
    – G E O R G E   R E I S M A N ‘ S   B L O G
  • “There is a sense in which the whole of Marx’s writing boils down to several embarrassing questions.” This is truer than Marxists care to admit.
    Terryfied – Don Boudreaux, C A F E  H A Y E K
  • Here is a chart of oil prices.
    216546_177936218925442_100001271958300_466275_5134679_n And here is a chart of oil prices priced in gold.
    215330_177936535592077_100001271958300_466276_6101348_n Do you think maybe there might be some kind of lesson here? [Hat tip Keith W.]
  • You’re just in time for our 2011 Gold Quiz! How much do you know about gold? Jeff Clark challenges you to test your knowledge. Also in this edition: Gold – the performing commodity; and, three ideas killed stone dead since the 2008 crash.
     The 2011 Gold Quiz  - C A S E Y   D A I L Y   D E S P A T C H
  • “Aggregate economics just doesn't work.” So why do we even need macroeconomics at all?
    Macro is not having a good day - A N T I   D I S M A L
  • Debt? Think it’s your grandchildren paying for your government’s  debts? Think again. As with war, so too with profligacy and waste…

“One now and then hears the interpretation expressed that
financing war by state loans signifies shifting the war costs
from the present onto following generations… This interpretation
is completely wrong. War can be waged only with present goods.
One can fight only with weapons that are already on hand; one
can take everything needed for war only from wealth already
on hand. From the economic point of view, the present generation
wages war, and it must also bear all the material costs ...”
                       - Ludwig Von Mises, Nation, State & Economy


  • When Denis Dutton died, it seems his magnificent Arts & Letters Daily died with him.
    Arts & Letters Daily  - C A T A L L A X Y   F I L E S
  • The book The Spirit Level is still being taken seriously as an evidential tool to argue for interventionism. Chris Snowdon explains that the “evidence” is painfully thin, and terribly tortured.
     Should We Sacrifice Economic Growth for Equality? – I . E . A .
  • A debate to watch over the weekend: “Government, what is its proper role?”
  • 4731533855_7d65790718_oBob Jones writes more politely about “leadership” than I think I’ve ever seen him write before.  But he still thinks it’s bollocks.
    The Actual Habits – Bob Jones 
    – G E T   F R A N K
  • Here’s a question answered to help you buy baby’s clothes:  “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” Can you guess how long ago that was written?
    When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? – S M I T H S O N I A N  [hat tip Noodle Food]
  • This is cool. This amazing software developed by a NZ company takes raw photo images, and constructs digital 3D models from them. [Hat tip Lyn B.]
    A R E O S C A N
  • Ho w Google works, in one simple flow chart. [Hat tip Geek Press]
    How Google Works – P P C   B L O G
  • You do know it’s okay to dislike good art, don’t you?
    Appreciating Art (It’s OK to [Dis]Like It.) – T R E Y  G I V E N S
  • And finally, there’s music for everyone this Friday. For everyone else going those “extra Miles” (ho ho) …
  • … for everyone moving on …
  • … and for everyone suffering from absent lover(s), here’s Rainbow. (I liked the comment at YouTube: “Graham Bonnet may have looked like a Miami Vice extra, but what a fucking awesome voice.”)

Have a good weekend, y’all.

PS: Time to start thing about those beers for the colder seasons. Just sayin’.

PPS: And by the way, who’s this bloke?