Tuesday, 5 February 2013

SUMMER SNIPPETS: ‘Parallel Motion: A Biography of Nevil Shute’

Snippets from my summer reading of Parallel Motion, a new biography of novelist Nevil Shute, author of A Town Like Alice, Trustee from the Toolroom, No Highway and many more novels showing the best of the human spirit.

Shute summed up the carefree days of peace before the First Wold War with the poem Romance by Eleanor Geach… [but for the schoolboy] Shute, as for millions of others, the attitude to the War [and to life] changed as the casualties increased…  His thoughts were no longer of a career on leaving school.  As he later wrote, he was ‘born to one end’: to go into the army and do his best before he too was killed…  The school casualties mounted almost daily with the names of older boys, whom he had known, being read out in Chapel, and realising that younger boys might one day be kneeling in remembrance of him.”

For Shute, as for the country as whole, the war had been a costly and devastating experience.  His beloved brother and many of his friends from school had been killed.  Indeed, some 320 [schoolmates] were killed during the First World War.  Shute had mentally prepared himself for the same fate but he had been spared; he was one of the reprieved.  He had a future and began to realise there was such a thing to be got out of life as fun.”

In early 1936, his aircraft design and manufacturing company Airspeed designed their new Envoy plane around the new modern Wolseley radial engine.
“So it came as a real blow when [Wolseley’s] Lord Nuffield announced in 1936 that they would cease making the engine, which had been developed at a cost of £200,000.  Nuffield’s decision arose from the system adopted by the Air Ministry.  The ordering procedure used I.T.P (Instruction to Proceed) contract terms.  This [heavily bureaucratic[ system specified a maximum fixed price which could, after investigation, be less.  Lord Nuffield got the I.T.P. contract documents for the Wolseley radial engine and realised the implications.  The terms would have required re-orientation of their offices with an army of accountants to keep track of production costs… So the aero engine project was abandoned, much to Shute’s dismay.  He regarded it as a major disaster for Airspeed, and decided that he must make an effort to see if Nuffield could be persuade to change his mind… Lord Nuffield received him courteously.  This was the same William Morris whom Shute, as a schoolboy, had watched building his cars in Longwall St, Oxford.  Recently ennobled, he was the head of a large manufacturing business that included Wolseley.  He listened carefully to what Shute had in mind and was sympathetic, but reminded Shute that he had the Air Ministry to thank for his decision to stop manufacture of the aero engines.  He was angry with the Ministry and told Shute he had ‘sent that I.T.P. thing back to them and told them they could put it where the monkey puts his nuts.’
… The Wolseley episode left a sour taste in Shute’s mouth… To his mind civil servants, with their restrictive practices and small-minded attitude, had deprived the country [at at time of impending war] of an excellent aero engine.”

1949 saw Shute piloting a tw0-seater Percival Proctor nicknamed ‘Item Willie” on the then difficult journey from London to Australia, stopping only for fuel and servicing along the way.
“[From the airfield] they took the bus into Athens so they could visit the Acropolis.  [His passenger] thought the Parthenon was one of the most beautiful buildings he had ever seen.  Shute said he preferred the Rockefeller Plaza, holding that it was a complete work of art, whereas the Parthenon was handicapped by being a ruin.”

61 days after leaving England, they cleared customs in Darwin.  After enjoying Australia climate, hospitality and friendliness  for a month he landed in Sydney, at Bankstown .  
“There he ran into trouble, not a good introduction to Sydney.  He was told he should have flown to Mascot.  He phoned the controller and said that Bankstown was his destination, that he had made forty landings in Australia and Bankstown was the forty-first: He would take the documents to the Custom House or they could come and get them, whichever they preferred.  He then rang off and went to lunch.
    “On his return, there was a message saying that unless he flew to Mascot immediately, police action would be taken… Customs [there] insisted on opening all his luggage and searching it—God knew what for, since he had been in Australia for a month… There he arranged with de Havilland for a programme of work to be carried out on Item Willie he thought would take rather more than a week… He would therefore have to stay in this unpleasant place for 10 days or so.  He wished to God he had never come south in this country, but passports, visas and aircraft permits to fly home could not be secured except in Sydney or Melbourne.  Sydney seemed to him to be an ugly, cheap city full of drunks.”

His impressions of Melbourne were vastly different, and he was to settle there the next year, just after the publication of A Town Like Alice.
“In mid-June 1950 Shute wrote to [long-time friend and adventurer Sir Alan] Cobham … saying he was packing up in England and going to live in Australia…  His decision to leave England was prompted by several factors, not least of which was a major public row over his petrol ration.  In Britain in 1950 petrol rationing was still strictly enforced [by the Attlee Labour Government], five years after the end of the War.  [Shute engaged in lengthy but essentially futile correspondence with “The Ministry” proposing an alteration in his “allocation” so he might travel for research, saying after sending one letter] he would watch for their reaction to his proposal with interest since the ability of the Government to conduct itself with good sense in such matters would seriously affect the decision he took whether to stay in England or go… Nearly a fortnight went by without a reply from the Ministry, which caused Shute to send a letter rebuking them for the delay which in business circles would be “regarded as an act of studied insolence.” … By the time he won [his third victory in eighteen months] he had made up his mind to leave England…  The row over petrol rationing, like the demise of the airship programme [which had been another lesson in militant bureaucracy], marked a turning point in Shute’s life…
    “Bureaucracy, always Shute’s bête noir, had raised its obstructionist head and inflamed his anger, vented in his letters to the Ministry…  He did not leave for the United States, as he told the Ministry, but Australia… He had been impressed with Australia during his visit there, more so with Melbourne than Sydney.  In his letter to the Society [of Authors] he said he reckoned he could get three good books out of  there which would probably take him five years to research and write, and five years was as far as anybody could see in those times.”

When Shute arrived in Melbourne there was quite a crowd of reporters at the foot of the gangway waiting to question him.  They wanted to know if it were true that he had ducked out of England to avoid high taxes.  Shute replied that the taxes in England were unpleasant and so was the current government’s experiment in socialism.  He added that he had also decided to come to Australia because everything about the country fascinated him—even the climate.”

“[In his autobiography, Slide Rule, Shute] dealt at length with the [1920s] airship programme and the rivalry between the [private] R.100 and [the government] R.101, and placed the blame for the R.101 disaster squarely on the civil servants and [Air Minister] Lord Thomson in particular.  Reflecting his experiences at that time and also probably his treatment at the hands of the Ministry of Fuel and Power, he wrote that ‘a civil servant or politician is still to me an arrogant fool until he is proved otherwise.’ …  Shute felt that a study of the accident could ‘provide data to rectify many of the ills that plague our democracy today.’” 

On the Beach was to feature a motor race towards the end and, early in 1956, Shute ordered a Jaguar XK140 sports car.  This was so that, he claimed, he could obtain first-hand experience of racing a high performance car… As he wrote in Slide Rule, ‘it is very good for the character to engage in sports which put your life in danger from time to time.  It breeds a saneness in dealing with day-to-day trivialities which cannot be got in any other way, and a habit of quick decisions.”

From his earliest days in Australia, Shute had taken an interest in the fortunes of young Australian writers…  He was on friendly terms with Robert Menzies, the Prime Minister, and also with Richard (Dick) Casey, then Minister of External Affairs… and sent off for publication … a memorandum he wrote to Menzies.  The purpose of the memorandum was to set out his thoughts, not only on creative writers, but also on artists and composers in Australia…
    “It was the purpose of the memorandum to show how Australian prowess in in the creative arts of peace might be nurtured and displayed to the world…
    “At the outset he said he did not believe it was wise to assist writers with any form of subsidy so they could write a book.  He reiterated what he said before—that is was best for the young man or woman who wanted to write to take a job in a commercial occupation and write in the evenings until the writing became more profitable.  That way the writer would get to know the characters of men and women during his or her formative years.  They were the raw material of stories…
    “A certain degree of success was of course necessary or the young writer would stop writing,  But too much encouragement from literary authorities, without corresponding support from the public, might induce in the writer an illusion that he was a superior person to the common man and a belief that, if they public would not read the pearls of wisdom he laid before them, they should be made to do so in their own interest.
    “Shute wrote [however] that subsidies from the [Commonwealth Literary] Fund should continue.  Such magazines gave useful encouragement to writers.”

In conclusion, Shute wrote that a person who was gifted with creative powers could usually exercise those powers in many fields of the world’s creative activities.  In his early years, his work on new aircraft designs was very satisfying to the creative side of his character and those years were followed by creating a new aircraft company and working it up from zero until it employed a thousand men in time of peace.  He went on to say that, compared to creative work of that magnitude, the writing of fiction stories seemed to him at the time to be ‘a pansy occupation’ and still did.  If the aircraft industry had continued as it was when he was a young man, when aircraft could fly within six months of first conception, then he might still be an engineer.”

Why does Waitangi Day belong to one race?

Why does Waitangi Day belong to one race?

It could be an annual non-racial nation-wide celebration of everything we’ve achieved in this country, which in just over one-hundred and seventy years our we and our forebears have turned into one of the best little countries in the world. It should be a celebration of the bringing to these isles of British rights and the British rule of law, which in 1840 still meant something—and which have underpinned ever since our freedom and prosperity.

If any country has something to celebrate, it’s this one. Wet instead, tomorrow will be another annual diplay of attention-seeking race-based bitching.

Bitching, this year, about “current constitutional arrangements” (there is “no constitutional safety for Maori” says a Margaret Mutu eager for a future of permanent hand-outs under a Maori-Party negotiated constitutional coup d'état).

Bitching this year, as every recent year, for all beaches to be given in perpetuity into the hands of tribal chieftains.

Bitching this year, as every year, for more handouts, more special favours for those of a particular hue, more legal standing for all those well-paid, well-upholstered tribal chieftains sitting at the trough around the BrownTable.

Bitching, this morning, about which particular misbegotten crone will get to hold John Key’s hand as he walks onto the marae.

Why do we countenance it?

And why do we let the whole agenda for celebrating the birth of our country belong to one race?

Time for something different. Time for a proper national day, and to turn this one instead into a One Law For All Day.

Which would, in itself, be much to celebrate.

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Salinger: Distinguished Ambassador For The Panic Merchants

Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath has been waiting for a break in the weather of climate misinformation.

Climate alarmist and sacked former NIWA employee Michael James Salinger has really outdone himself this time. On January 30, when the focus of much of the nation was on searing (for New Zealand, anyway) summertime temperatures and drought, Salinger opined from his ivory tower that temperatures could reach the high thirties and possibly the low forties.

If New Zealand was ever going to break its record temperature, it would be now, Dr Salinger said.

“Parts of the South Island could expect temperatures over 40,” said the Oracle.

Notice that this stranger to truth* carefully said nothing about global warming. Nothing that controversial, not openly. This was posed as just a simple prediction of temperature in a specific region of the country, a day or two out from the time period under consideration. From a visiting and consulting professor at Stanford University, no less. Whose predictions carry weight. A certainty, surely.

Living on the east coast of the North Island, in one of its hotter towns, my curiosity was stimulated. And worried.  I had fears of Masterton wilting under some seriously scorching temperatures.

So what happened?

Almost immediately, the local weather predictors rubbished Salinger's calculations. MetServices Ian Gall said he doubted whether temperatures would ever reach 35C, noting that a north-westerly wind would be required for this to happen. And WeatherWatch's Philip Duncan said simply:

I don't think it's going to happen.

He was right. The following day, Masterton's official temperature reached 32.2, the nation's maximum, but at least eight degrees cooler than Salinger's doomsday prediction. Eight degrees! Yet Jim and his fellow travellers want us to ditch our gas-guzzling forest-killing ice-cap-melting automobiles and instead ride bicycles made out of plywood because of a predicted one- or two-degree increase in global temperature over the next century! Can anyone else see the irony in this?

As I write this, Masterton is enjoying a thunderstorm and heavy rain that was too much for some of the guttering around my home, with rainwater spilling over the side despite my having cleared them of leaves a week or two ago. Sorry to have to tell you this Jim, but the heatwave is over. The temperature here is dropping to 23 degrees tomorrow and 20 the day after, and it's going to keep raining. Oh dear. So much for Jim - he can't even manage a simple weather forecast for two days ahead. Why on earth should we believe his predictions for the next century?

Furthermore, Jim doesn't even have the courage of his convictions. He wouldn't voluntarily pay a levy on his own use of carbon unless a gun was held to his head. To quote the man:

A "voluntary emissions scheme" is like asking me to pay voluntary taxes - I would probably not pay them!

And what would stop you paying of your own accord this tax you so desperately want the rest of us to pay, Jim? I know the answer: it's not the mitigation of CO2 emissions that concerns you, it's making sure that everyone (especially the rich) is sucked into paying this stealth tax. Well, something has to fund all that wealth redistribution doesn't it?

Can you imagine how many carbon credits Ayn Rand's industrialist hero Hank Rearden would need to find to keep the likes of Jim happy:

“He saw his mills rising in the darkness, as a black silhouette against a breathing glow.  The glow was the color of burning gold, and ‘Rearden Steel’ stood written across the sky in the cool, white fire of crystal.  He looked at the long silhouette, the curves of blast furnaces standing like triumphal arches, the smokestacks rising like a solemn colonnade along an avenue of honor in an imperial city, the bridges hanging like garlands, the cranes saluting like lances, the smoke waving slowly like flags.  The sight broke the stillness within him and he smiled in greeting  It was a smile of happiness, of love, of dedication.”

See ya next week!

Richard McGrath
Leader, Libertarianz Party

* Editor’s Note: You’d think Soapbox Salinger might have been more careful, having been sacked after talking in the Herald on Auckland’s so called “hottest day ever” back in 2009 -- “the highest since official NIWA records began in September 1868” said the Scare Merchant – a remarkable judgement based on one outlying reading in Whenuapai, a station which only existed from 1945 to 1993 and from 2005 to now.

Here’s Martha & the Vandellas:

Monday, 4 February 2013

SUMMER SNIPPETS: ‘Race and Culture,’ by Thomas Sowell

More snippets from my summer reading, this time from Thomas Sowell’s 1994 classic, Race and Culture: A World View.

The effectiveness of particular cultures for particular things can be of the highest importance.  Much—perhaps most—of human history cannot be understood without understanding such things as the conquest of ancient Britain by the Roman legions against a vastly larger military force, simply because the legions were a militarily superior organisation from a more advanced society.  It is not necessary to claim that a particular people or a particular culture is superior in all things or for all time.  On the contrary, world leadership in science, technology, and organisation has passed from one civilisation to another over the centuries and millennia of human history.  But neither is it necessary to deny the greater effectiveness of particular cultures for particular things at particular times and places—even if other contemporary cultures may be superior for some other things.”

Neither race nor related concepts can be used in any scientifically precise sense to refer to the people inhabiting this planet today, after centuries of genetic intermixtures.  The more generic term, race, will be used here in a loose sense to refer to a social phenomenon with a biological component, rather than make a dichotomy whose precision is illusory.”

The incidence of economically valuable skills no doubt varies from class to class, but it likewise varies from ethnic group to ethnic group and from nation to nation.  The difference is that ethnic groups and nations have an existence independent of arbitrary definitions based on skills.  Moreover, some immigrant groups begin at a lower socioeconomic level than that of the surrounding population and eventually rise above them, due to their skills, work habits, or other economic performance differences.  They have changed class precisely because of their skills, capabilities, or performance.”

Vast differences between the economic productivity of peoples from different cultures do not imply that these differences are permanent, much less hereditary.  Early nineteenth-century Germans were clearly well behind the English in industrial technology … yet within a century had surpassed [them].  So had the United States within the same span of time.  Much the same story could be said of Japan [and now China], which moved from imitator to initiator over the same span of time…
    “The normal tendency of economic processes is to disseminate technology, knowledge and skills from their place of origin to where they are lacking.  The law of diminishing returns means that the rewards of any factor of production tend to decline where that factor is abundant, and to be higher where it is more scarce.  Like water finding its own level, abundant factors tend to flow to where their scarcity makes their productivity and reward greater. Thus capital, skills, organisation, technology, or hardworking labour tend to flow to regions and cultures where they are are especially scarce.  But the very scarcity and value of these skills and traits mean that those who possess them are more likely to become more prosperous than the indigenous people of the recipient countries. Political reactions to these economic realities [on every continent and in every century] have often been very negative, and sometimes violent.”

Formal education, especially among peoples for whom it is rare or recent, often creates feelings of entitlement to rewards and exemption from many kinds of work… Such attitudes affect both the employed and the unemployed.  Even those educated as engineers have often preferred desk jobs and tended to ‘recoil form thee prospect of physical contact with machines.’  In short, education can reduce  an individual’s productivity by the expectations and aversions it creates, as well as increase it by the skills and and disciplines it may (or may not) engender…
    “It is understandable that Third World peoples who have been rules for generations by colonial bureaucrats sitting behind desk, wearing collar-and-tie and shuffling papers, should seek to imitate that role when they get the chance.  But the wealth and power of the imperialist nation that put the colonial bureaucrat there in the first place was not created by sitting behind desks and shuffling papers…
    “Both in underdeveloped countries and among many lagging groups in industrialised nations, there has developed a taste for easy, self-flattering courses such as Maori Studies in New Zealand, Malay Studies in Singapore, and a variety of ethnic studies. in the United States.  The claim is often made that the morale-boosting effects of such courses will enhance the students’ academic performance in other fields, but this claim is wholly unsubstantiated.  What is clear is that easier courses, whether in ethnic studies or otherwise, prove attractive to lagging groups…”

The stunning impact of immigrants in transforming whole economies [is not peculiar] to European immigrants.  In [most] parts of the world, modern economic development was largely the work of immigrants or foreign investors, with the indigenous population playing little or no role in the modernisation process.  [In 1914, for example, foreigners owned, in addition to two-thirds of Argentine industry, nearly three-fourths of Argentine commerce. Nor was this pattern unique in South America.] In colonial Malaya, for [further] example, Chinese immigrants provided much of the labour that developed that country’s giant tin industry, and immigrants from India manned the rubber plantations—both financed largely by European and American capital.Similar patterns of European capital and non-European immigrant labour combining to create economic development could be found from Fiji in the South Pacific to countries on the east coast of Africa and the Middle East.  Yet in these and other countries, the earlier or indigenous population has almost invariably come to resent these foreigners, whether sojourners or immigrants, who raised the economic level of their country. In a later period especially, after the actual origins of particular economic activities have faded into the mists of time, foreign groups have often been denounced for having seized control of  the nation’s industries and exploited its people.  It is as if businesses and wealth came into existence somehow and foreigners happened to take possession of them.”

Housing is a very heterogeneous product, ranging from hovels to mansions, so the supply and demand for this product in a culturally heterogeneous populations offers highly varied possibilities, as does the perception of the outcomes by heterogeneous observers.  Many observers have been appalled by the housing inhabited by people of a different class, race, or national origin.  Sometimes this has reflected simply a difference in income between the observers and the inhabitants, the latter being unable to afford anything better.  At other times, however, the hosing choices have reflected different goals, or different trade-offs among goals … [Men] living as immigrants or sojourners, for example …. saving to take money back home or to bring their families over to join them [will have a contrasting demand for housing to those who might criticise the living conditions they are prepared to accept] …
    “…. In short, for these groups such as Italian men [and middleman minorities overseas, such as the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Lebanese in West Africa, or the Indians in East Africa … or during the mass emigration of Jews that transferred the centre of world Jewry from Eastern Europe to the United States], housing choices as of a given time reflected long-run plans as well as short-run trade-offs.  All this tended to be ignored by observers shocked at these groups’ housing conditions, and especially by social reformers determined to do something about it.
    “Seldom have the crusades of social reformers been directed toward enlarging the set of options available to the groups whose housing the reformers disapproved.  More commonly, housing reform efforts have reduced the existing options, whether by “slum clearance” programmes that destroyed “lower quality” housing, by building codes that forbade construction of housing without amenities prescribed by reformers, or by other regulations limiting the number of persons living in a given space to what reformers found acceptable.  In these ways, less fortunate groups were forced to pay more for housing that they themselves chose.  Their incomes could no longer be used to maximise their own satisfactions, according to their own values, but were partially diverted to making observers feel better.”

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

ASIAN UPDATE: Assault with a deadly sound system

Another report from our roving Asian correspondent, Suzuki Samurai—this time from his language school in rural Cambodia.
Each day in Asia I see something mental; but some sights and sounds are more insane than others. Today (Sunday) started out inspiring, then ended up surreal and downright stupid. I write this at the very culmination of the insanity.
The day started well: blue skies and the ubiquitous smiles of the locals; but today was also graduation day at the school in which I’m resident—I was looking forward to being part of it.
The school’s Deutsche sponsors were in town for the event, so the locals laid it on. Colourful sun covers, a stage, and what was the largest sound system ever devised by man for a school event. The speaker stack was 3 meters high by 4 meters long; this in a courtyard of just 40 square meters. A rather pleasant Cherman fella, who seemed to know what he was talking about, reliably told me he counted 5000 watts of amplifiers.  We could have hosted Shihad, with several thousand decibels to spare.
Now I’ve been to many, many rock concerts over the years in stadiums, clubs and pubs everywhere from NZ to Vietnam. I love my rock and punk very raucous and very, very loud, as I’m sure some of you who know me will testify. I have even been known to make the scotch-fuelled decision to be part of a last-gasp night-club adventure; even though I hate the places and their thump thump thump.  
But those places are quiet. By comparison. What I was about to experience was assault with a deadly sound system.
The graduation started as you’d expect. At 12:06  students between 6 & 16 began coming forward all smiles, handshakes, hands in palm-to-palm prayer ‘thank yous’ as Cambodians do, a photo. All great stuff. All very humbling. Time for a tear or two.This part of the show was over by about 12:54pm.
Then it started…and at maximum volume.
What erupted out of this ginormous PA system was a deafening combination of something like Khmer folk music mashed up with dupstep, and ignited with gelignite. Something like a fireworks convention in a flammable phosphorus factory. 
It’s still going. It has been going now for 7 hours straight. As I write this it is 8.04pm, and 150 small Cambodian children have going nuts to a  head-splitting racket all afternoon, all within a few meters of a sound that had me seeking respite in my room at 2.30pm.Everyone is having a good time (everyone except for me and zee Chermans). Of course, Cambodian lives are hell a lot of the time, so we can hardly begrudge their enjoyment, but this is just irresponsible & bloody dangerous for the kids’ hearing—not to mention mine—but not a soul here seems either to understand or care.    
This phenomenon is not exclusive to Cambodia however. It’s ubiquitous. You can see it in Vietnam, in China, in Thailand; at weddings, product launches, parties, shop openings, everything—including graduations. I’ve seen (and heard) MCs screaming into microphones so loudly the distortion is making it almost impossible to hear; madmen with bull horns speaking directly into the face of someone standing a foot in front of them; dancers at night clubs in which the music is so loud and the room so small its almost palpable it’s like being assaulted by dark matter. I’ve even been to a coffee shop in Vietnam at 10am in the morning, for what I hoped would be a quiet coffee and a cigarette, only to be assaulted by nightclub-level volume in a place which hosted what appeared to be business people each trying to concentrate on the material on their laptops.    
I’ve been told today that Cambodians like the music to be insanely loud to show off to their neighbours, including those in the next town, that ‘we are having a good time, with huge sounds, so we must be enormously rich.’  Q.E.D. apparently. Such notions of showing off are frighteningly popular in modern Asia: if you’ve got a bankroll you have to flash it around, drive a black sedan, be a pig to service staff, and above all else walk with a strut and generally behave like a complete wanker.
If you’re not? Then just pretend.  
Who knows who you might fool.
Suzuki Samurai posts irregularly from around Asia. Check out all his posts here.OWWW

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Cat killer killed by cat

Yes folks, the cats are striking back against Gareth Bloody Morgan—the alleged economist who reckons your favourite family pet should be killed off to satisfy his fondness for fauna.

The man who took a soccer team and killed it off to satisfy his fondness for megalomaniacal meddling.

The monetary moron who takes on farmers by calling them “retards,” and fans of his losing team “pathetic.”

The investment non-adviser who took your KiwiSaver dollars, and turned them rapidly into cents.

Yes folks, it’s clear that Captain Morgan not only lacks any basic human quality other than self-regard, any ability in the field of football or farming—or even in the field of penguins—he lacks even the ability (in what is supposed to be his specialist subject) to beat or better the market, belief in which ability would presumably have been the reason so many of you gave so much to his failing fund. 

Yet while it’s clear that while Gareth has no ability whatsoever to beat the market—as his five years of piss-poor returns amply demonstrates—we read in the Guardian today that a pussy cat called Orlando does have exactly this ability. Meaning, given Gareth’s returns, that the cat is far more likely make you money than he is.

Or to put it another way, Gareth has just been whipped by a pussy.

SUMMER SNIPPETS: ‘When Two Cultures Meet: The New Zealand Experience’

Here are a few more snippets from my summer reading, this time ‘When Two Cultures Meet: The New Zealand Experience’ by John Robinson. I feared from the title it would be painfully worthy, but couldn’t have been more wrong.  Calling itself “a direct assault” on today’s revisionist histories of colonisation, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Email: trosspub@gmail.com for purchasing info.

* * * *

Thomas Sowell observes that one reason we originally and voluntarily choose to associate in a particular cultural group is the hope or expectation of safety therein. Yet in pre-European Maori society, there was none.virtually the only way to resolve disputes was in battle.
Disputes could quickly build into violence.  Thus the fighting following a quarrel among some girls bathing off the beach at Korarareka [Russell] in 1830, knows as the Girls’ War, resulting in thirty dead and seventy wounded.
    “Fickle insults could lead rapidly to violence.  Shortland tells such a story of insult and retribution, illustrating the angry manner of dealing with argument and conflict. 
        ‘When a chief, Hanui, and his companion
     Heketewanga met an old chief Korako, who was sitting under a tree, Heketewanga decided to mock
     Korako by climbing a tree and peeing on his head.  Soon, Korako told his son of this, and he was very
     angry.  He gathered a war party of 340 men and set off to ‘kill those men.’ 
         [Shortland, E., 1882, Maori Religion and Mythology]
    “ They attacked the pa at Hanui and, after a fierce battle the defenders (some 600 men) were overcome and most were killed.  The rest remained as a ‘rahui’—a tribe reduced to a dependent condition by a conquering tribe and made to do the work of dependents, cultivate land for food, catch eels, carry wood etc.  The land is not in their possession.
    “Maori were traders who were ‘skilled in the arts of the market place.’  However, as during the intertribal wars, trading parties might fail to return, being killed by belligerent tribes.
    '”Thus, in the absence of any codified law or higher authority, there was no rule of law, no guarantee of safety.*  The response to a perceived wrong would be either to attack and thus to revenge that wrong or to face one another, starting with warlike challenges, and following with argumentative dispute.  The outcome would then depend on one side recognising right of the other or by one side asserting its greater strength and showing that it had the power to force its wishes. 
[There is a fascinating contrast here with English law contemporary to the development of Maori society, which had grown out of efforts, from Anglo-Saxon times on, in which the law was specifically expected to quench vengeance and prevent a long chain of killing, woundings and injuries.”: “The purpose of the verbal, combative procedure [of the medieval law courts] is the settlement of a dispute which might explode into violence if it were not channelled through a court. The law of medieval England was not much influenced by Christian doctrines of the duty of forgiveness and turning the other cheek. It assumed that a deliberate wrong would be resented … it assumed the desire for vengeance was natural and proper [and the law’s job was to draw the teeth of that desire].]

* * * * 

“The lack of certainty applied in particular to the ownership or control of land. ‘[Erueti, A. in Boast et al’s 1999, Maori Land Law writes] According to Maori land custom, no one individual or kinship group owned land in the sense that they held virtually all rights in land to the extinction of other levels of kinship or adjacent groups.  Rather, different levels of the hapu social order exercised different kinds of rights in the same area of land.’
[A fascinating almost-parallel here with ownership or control of land in a common law regime, where individual land ownership was recognised, along with rights to occupation, etc., but these were not usually or necessarily to the exclusion of other rights that might remain to, for example, logging, harvesting, birding and the like. But in the common law system, all these rights were formally recognised and protected by law in order to avoid them remaining hostage to warlike eruptions.]

* * * * 

‘…there were five ways in which rights to land were acquired in customary Maori society: ‘take tupuna’ inheritance from one’s ancestor’s, ‘take rauputu’ (conquest), ‘take tuku’ (gifting), ‘take tanaha’ (naming during discovery and exploration, and ‘take ahika’ (keeping the home fires burning). These take complemented each other and a claim of right required a mix of different take.’[Erueti, A. in Boast et al’s 1999, Maori Land Law ]”
[It is unclear, in this 1999 whitewash of Maori land ownership, in which place such a “claim” could ever be made except on the field of battle. An ivory-tower gloss is obviously being given to what at the time would basically be causes for further grievance.]

* * * *

There is a  context in which we can understand that the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi as just as important a document in freeing the slaves of this place as Abraham Lincoln's 1865 Emancipation Proclamation was in the United States:
“[In his 1990 novel Once Were Warriors, Alan] Duff pointed out not all Maori were chiefs.  A history of this country must pay due regard to the experiences and fates of all Maori, including the dispossessed, the lower ranks, the slaves—and the women.  Then efforts can be made to improve the lives of all and longer focus on righting supposed wrongs to the few chiefs who benefited from tribalism.  The glory of traditional Maori society, it seems, was the domain of only a few whereas for characters such as [Alan Duff’s’ Jake, the legacy of Maori society was one of slavery.”

“[Prior to the Treaty] there had been much profit for Maori from European visitors, but that income shrank rapidly took charge and levied its own customs duties… ‘[As historian Keith Sinclair observes] where once chiefs had levied anchorage tolls on shipping, the British now imposed customs duties; where they had sold land directly to Europeans, they could now sell it only to the Government, which resold at a huge profit.  The Maoris were poorer, and their poverty was a direct result of the increase of British power.’”

* * * *

Initial widespread Maori support for British rule quickly foundered on British disinterest in the colony and local administrative disinterest in policing and keeping order led to the formation of the Maori King movement to fill the vacancy. 
While there was considerable support for such separate government, not all chiefs agreed [however].  Temuera to Amohau, for example, would not support such a king.  He refused, saying, ‘One of our chiefs, Timoti, was the only man of the Arawa people who signed the Treaty of Waitangi, but we shall not depart from the pledge he then gave.  We will not join the king tribe.  My king is Queen Victoria.’
    “The initial intention was to work with the British in setting up a system of government.  [The Southern Cross newspaper of 1857 reported]
        ‘In the beginning the natural desire of the natives for a better system of government could have been turned to
    beneficial account by a prescient Administration.  At a large meeting at Paetai, near Rangiriri, on the 23rd April,
    1857, Potatau, Te Wharepu, and other chiefs asked the Governor, Colonel Gore Browne, for a Magistrate and laws,
    and runanga or tribal councils.  To this request the Government responded by the experimental establishment of
    civil institutions in the Waikato, under Mr F.D. Fenton, afterwards Judge of teh Native Land Court.  The new
    machinery, however, was not given time to develop into a useful system before Mr. Fenton was recalled, and the field
    was left free for the exponents of Maori independence to develop their own schemes of government.’
    “Discussions concerning the idea of a Maori King in 1857  covered a wide range of views, with a division of attitudes towards the settlers.  [Wiremu] Tamihana emphasised the Maori need for law and order, saying,
        ‘The king could give use these better than the Governor; for the Governor has never done anything except when
    a pakeha is killed; he lets us kill each other and fight.’

    “Opinion was divided [writes Cowan in 1922]: ‘there was considerable opposition to the whole movement by Maoris who became known as the Queen’s party.’  At around that time, in 1860, many Maori gathered at Kohimarama to express support for the Treaty, and for the new Christian religion, against the previous traditional barbarity…”

* * * *

When European settlers arrived in New Zealand, Taranaki was deserted (the population having been either swept away or enslaved by raiding Waikato tribes), and most of the original population of Otaki and the Kapiti Coast had been swept away or enslaved in a series of bloodthirsty raids by Te Rauparaha—a supporter of the Treaty, who holed up on Kapiti Island cynically waiting for the new rulers to give him title to all he had plundered.  But those original populations returned under the safety of British rule, causing problems in determining who should have title to what.  Not the least of the problems, which remain to this day, were the multiple sales to multiple buyers of the same pieces of land.
“In July 1860, when the situation at Waitara [in the Taranaki] was coming to a head, one of the main protagonists and a supporter of the Government, Ihaia Kirikumara, wrote a letter in conjunction with his friend Tamati Tiraurau, addressed to the settlers in New Plymouth.  This provides a summary of some key happenings, including multiple sales of land and the on-going disputes among Maori.
        ‘Friends, formerly we, the Maoris, lived alone in New Zealand; we did wrong to one another, we ate one another,
    we exterminated one another.  Some had deserted the land, some were enslaved, and the remnants that were
    spared went to seek other lands.
        ‘Now this was the arrangement of this Ngatiawa land [for which yet another Waitangi settlement has just, this
    summer, been agreed].  Mokau was the boundary on the north, Ngamotu the boundary on the south; beyond
    were Taranaki and Ngatiruanui.
        ‘All was quite deserted; the land, the sea, the streams, the lakes, the forests, the rocks, were deserted; the food,
    the property, the work were deserted; the dead and eth sick were deserted; the landmarks were deserted.
        ‘Then came the Pakeha hither … to a place whose inhabitants had left it.  There were few men here—the men were
    a remnant, a handful returned from slavery.
        ‘And the Pakeha asked, ‘Where are the men of this place?’ and they answered, ‘They have been driven away by
    war; we few have come back from another land.’  And the Pakeha said, ‘Are you willing to sell us this land?’  And
    they replied, ‘We are willing to sell it that it might not be merely barren; presently our enemies will come, and our
    places will be quite taken from us.’
        ‘So payment was made; it was not said, ‘let the place be simply taken,’ although the men were few; the Pakeha
    did not say ‘let it be taken,’ but the land was quietly paid for.
        ‘Now … the Maoris living in [slavery] and those that had fled, heard of it; they heard that the land had been
    occupied, and they said, Ah ! ah ! the land has revived … let us return to the land.’ So they returned.  Their return was
    in a friendly manner.  The thought of the pakeha was, ‘Let us dwell together, let us work together.’
        ‘The [newly-returned] Maoris began to dispute with the Pakeha.  When the Governor saw it he removed the Pakeha
    to one spot to dwell.  Afterwards the Pakeha made a second payment for the land, and afterwards a third; then I said
    ‘Ah !  Ah ! very great indeed is the goodness of the Pakeha, he has not said that the payment ceases at the first time’ …

    “Many Maori were fascinated and much pleased by the multiple sales, with repeat payments for the same land consequent on the many claims by different Maori and the desire by the British to honour the Treaty and make sure that nothing underhand occurred.  The efforts to sort through the mess at Waitara, and the outbreak of hostilities there, were crucial in the evolution of the colony. 
        “[Historian Keith Sinclair writes in 1957,] ‘It is easy to understand why the Waitara came to be an obsession, the
    fatal word in Maori and European history alike…  It must be one of the most purchased areas in the country.  It was
    ‘purchased’ in 1839 and 1840.  It was to be ‘purchased’ in 1859 and 1860 (paid for in blood during the wars, returned
    to the Maoris, and then confiscated in 1863, and bought from them again in 1873.’
   “Such multiple purchases were common in those times.
          [Writing in 1842, explorer Ernst Dieffenbach observed] ‘Kapiti and the adjacent islands have been sold over and
    over again to different parties, and posts may be found to which half a dozen different persons lay claim.’
    “Much of the South Island was sold several times, sometimes by the same chiefs and also with the purchase of overlapping rights.”

* * * * *

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Science Literacy Quiz

Darcy Cowan at Sci Blogs has a 28 question science literacy test. Unfortunately, too many of the questions confuse statistics for science*, so it’s more about statistical literacy than it is about science, but it’s still worth a few of your precious minutes.

For what it’s worth, I got 25 out of 28.

[Hat tip Kiwiblog]

* a reliance on induction by enumeration, without reference to causality, about which mere statistics is blind.

The Uses and Abuses of Social Media

Guest post by Jeffrey Tucker from Laissez Faire Books 

That headline above probably seems strange coming from me. I've been a champion of social media, and my book A Beautiful Anarchy has a chapter on each of the most popular social media outlets: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype, Google+, and so on.

These tools have connected people as never before, and given people the power to manage their own lives and careers in ways that were not possible in the past. These sites have made us less dependent on institutions like government and workplace bosses and liberated millions to be in a better position to build their own private civilizations.

Yet this article has one message: Shut them down. Not entirely down. Everything I've written still applies. But there are uses and there are abuses. The trick is to tell the difference and act on it.

The point came to me this weekend when I was speaking at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Antony Davies of the economics department worked with the Institute for Humane Studies to set up this lecture. It was gratifying that on a freezing cold Friday night, in the science building in the middle of campus, 150 or so people came to hear about the relationship between ethics and the market economy. I spoke for fully 90 minutes and there was more to say.
Mostly, I was happy to have the chance to visit with so many young students and professionals about trends in the market today. Many of them wanted detailed reading lists and specific references to the books about which I spoke, most of which we've made available in the Laissez Faire Book Club.

Again and again, they complained of a problem. They don't have time to read. They don't know what to read to give them the best information given their limited time. There is no shortage of material, but what should they be reading that is going to give them the fastest track to wisdom that will truly improve their lives.

This is a gigantic problem in our time. In the Middle Ages, books were only for the tiny few. They took years and whole teams of scribes to make. When they were finished, they were the most valuable possession a person could have. Actually, very few individuals owned them at all. They were the possessions of large institutions that could create and guard them, institutions like governments and monasteries. They were more valuable than buildings and even people.

imageThe world craved more books. When Gutenberg created the first copy machine for books, the company couldn't keep up with the demand. It was total frenzy on the streets, and the dawn of a new age of learning.
Today it's all different. We are flooded with information, most of it available at zero unit price. But the time and attention it requires of us carries a high opportunity cost. After talking with so many people about this problem -- a nice problem to have -- I'm struck by the real possibility that despite the access and the information flood, people are actually reading less than they ever have. A main problem is the flood and the confusion about what to read.

This is a major reason we established the Laissez Faire Book Club in the first place. Our job is to carefully curate resources and provide every possible tool to help you make the decision about whether investing your time in a particular book is worth it for you. We've put together a growing package of only the best gems from the best body of work that stand the chance of making the biggest possible difference in your life.

As time has gone on, I've come to realize that this is the most valuable service we offer. The comment I receive more than any other: "The Club has inspired me to do what I should have been doing for years."

As I spoke to these students and professionals, I would inquire further on how they tend to spend their time. The same answer kept coming back at me. They spend their time on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. They try to direct their attention to longer-run pursuits, but these venues keep pulling them back in.

  • "Oh, someone just commented on something I said"
  • "Someone just retweeted my tweet!"
  • "Someone is liking my meme that I just liked"
  • "Someone just commented on a post that I commented on."

This is a bottomless pit. Add it all up and what you have is endless hours of wheeling, spinning, and largely pointless blather. All these interruptions and comments and quick reads take a serious toll on the overall quality of your life. This habit takes something that is truly wonderful and turns in into a massive time suck that, over the long run, contributes very little to your life compared with the things you are being prevented from doing.

Am I saying that what I used to say was valuable is actually not valuable? Not in any way. And let me explain this by reference to an amazing book that I happened to be reading over the last four days. The book is The Common Sense of Political Economy by Philip Wicksteed. It is a mighty economic treatise, and the Laissez Faire Club releases the first-ever e-book edition this Friday. It is the longest, most elaborate, and most interesting book on the theory of marginal utility ever written.

The core point of marginal utility is that there is a strong and decisive difference between the total value of a good or service and the marginal value of a good or service. To look at marginal value means to look at the value of the individual unit that you are in a position to consume. This is the relevant value for understanding economics.
Something can be hugely valuable for life (water, clothing, food) yet have a very small marginal value at the point of decision making. Also, the marginal value of anything falls the more it is consumed. When you are dying of thirst, the first drink is priceless. When you are bloating from drinking gallons, someone might have to pay you to drink more. This is because we all make decisions not on the total, but based on the marginal, unit.

Reading The Common Sense of Political Economy brings the point home. It explains why I am willing to pay $3 for a cup of coffee when I could be paying 10 cents by brewing my own. It explains why plumbers make more than baby sitters even though the job of the baby sitter is seemingly more important. It explains why rap stars make more than professors even though professors are dealing in big ideas whereas rap stars are only entertaining us. It explains why banks close on holidays and restaurants stay open.

Wicksteed's book opens up a new way of looking at the world, which is why it has been chosen to be part of the Laissez Faire Club's e-book library.

Here is how social media is affected by marginal utility. Getting on there and getting your name out is gigantically valuable. Assembling a network of contacts is crucial. Having this network be portable, attached to your person, can make the difference between success and failure.

The problem is that the marginal value of each additional contact and interaction falls over time. After the 1,000th status update or comment or interruption, the value becomes zero or negative. Of course, what we call "value" is ultimately subjective, but the enterprises behind these tools are very anxious to find ways to affect your subjective sense of the value of their service. They want to convince you that the marginal value of each interaction is higher than you might otherwise think. If you go along with it, you could turn around and see your whole life sucked into a pointless endeavor.

The point of learning about the theory of marginal utility is to become more aware of the opportunity costs you are paying for all of your choices. To be sucked into the social-media vortex could ruin your ability to be productive in other ways. In particular, it takes valuable time away from serious thinking and serious reading.

In general, you will notice that young people are far more involved in social media than professionals of an older age. The usual explanation is that younger people are more hip to the digital scene and know how to navigate it better than old people. Actually, there's a better explanation that comes from the theory of marginal utility. The opportunity costs for young people's time on social media is far lower than those of older people who are actually being compensated for their time. As the young get older, if they are smart, they will spend much less time on these platforms.

So my advice to those who want to get smart, become wise, become erudite: Sign up for social media, cultivate the network, and then discipline yourself and limit your level of engagement. Think seriously about how it is affecting your life. You might find that shutting it down and allowing only limited contact is the best choice you have ever made.

A friend of mine who is an economist who truly understands marginal utility has his wife change his Facebook password every few weeks, just to help him become more disciplined and remind him of the high cost of spending his day doing seemingly interesting things that are actually completely worthless on the margin. He is thinking in terms of the marginal unit of his time and mental energy. He knows that the platforms have huge total utility but very small utility on the incremental unit. He knows this because he is an economist.

A book like Wicksteed's helps everyone think the same way. In this way, economic theory can help you use your time better, stop being buffeted about by the latest digital frenzy, and live a smarter life.

Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, the Primus inter pares of the Laissez Faire Club, and the author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo and It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, among thousands of articles.

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: Kill them all, let Gareth sort them out

_McGrath001Libertarianz leader Dr Richard McGrath hosts another weekly clinic on idiots and others in the news.

In typical heavy-handed fashion, and in a stunning display of sheer ignorance of property rights—and of human enjoyment of our feline friends—economic dunderhead and Kiwisaver failure Gareth Bloody Morgan has suggested what I can only call a "final solution" to the feline problem.

Because, he reckons, cats are "natural born killers" causing problems for native birds, there should, he says, be a “national cull” of domestic cats. All of them. 

Cats are “serial killers” says the busybody. And that fluffy member of your family from which you derive so much pleasure? According to Morgan, “It has to go.” This, he says, would be “a step in the right direction.”

_TheGarethKillerThis piece of human excrement—this excuse for a human being—this over-educated oaf with too much time on his hands (bloody-minded earnestness like his just being stupidity sent to college)—has not only forgotten that a man's home is his castle (if indeed he ever learned that principle), but his solution necessitates invading your castle by main force, dragging out your cat and exterminating it. [Try that in my house, and the first thing I’ll be doing is enacting a national cull of busybody economic dunderheads. That would be a hell of “a step in the right direction,” I can tell you.– Ed.]

Furthermore, this fellow with no interest in your own values, and none at all for your love for your family cat, has failed to even consider that property rights and the common law offer solutions to his perceived "problem"?

Those like Captain Morgan who want to preserve our native fauna—and good on them for caring—should be free to breed New Zealand birds to ensure continuation of the various species that are unique to our country. But they’re not—instead, they’re frequently prohibited from doing so. They would then be free to shoot any marauding cats that threaten the existence of their birds. They should be free to take simple common law action against owners of a particular cat who attacked a particular bird—common law offering restitution where damage was caused to the property of one person by pets belonging to a second person—or against those who dump cats in the wild with no thought to the fauna in the area.  But they’re not.

Instead, he and his ilk simply wish to kill stone dead all cats—innocent or guilty—to boldly interfere with the property of other people simply because he favours bird over cats—regardless of evidence (or not) that a particular cat attacked a particular bird. A policy of “Kill them all, let Gareth sort them out.”

How about we reverse that policy. How about we start with Gareth.

Captain Bloody Morgan and his fellow feline haters would do well to read the blog of James Delingpole, who for years has been highlighting the avian mass murder by what he calls "bird-slicing, bat-chomping eco-crucifixes"—wind powered turbines, the Green dream which violently and indiscriminately kills all sorts of flying animals.

Why isn't the captain taking time out from killing football to demand, as well, that that all uneconomic taxpayer subsidised bird-killing wind turbines be dismantled forthwith?

Or would that tamper too much with another tent of his anti-human religion.


Greens Opt For Fewer Yellow Pages
Green Party MP Gareth Hughes suggests that the Yellow Pages have had their day—in particular the backward Soviet-style diktat that demands (if Hughes is correct) that the Yellow Pages Group must, by law, publish 6.5 million copies of the White and Yellow Pages each year. Yet at the same time, to increasing numbers of recipients, these tomes are nothing more than heavy junk mail.

Well done Gareth, for suggesting that this law be repealed, and that users of telephones be given the option of either purchasing a printed copy of the 'phone books', using an online book which for most people would be a lot easier, or both. I certainly stand behind you in getting rid of this stupid piece of legislation.

Nick Smith Returns To Cabinet
Like a dead body in the last reel of a horror movie, the stinking cadaver of Nicholas Rex Smith is reanimated and the Green zealot finds himself reinstated to his place at the trough. John Key should have weighed his corpse down with an axle or two, but then John Boy never does think in abstract concepts, and nothing matters except re-election of the Blue Team in 2014.
Reinstatement of a disgraced MP, who deserved permanent exile to the back benches and de-selection in 2014, says it all really. 
And you have to wonder whether ‘twere better to have a housing minister who does nothing (the sacked Phil Heatley) than one, like Smith, who we know will only make the severely unaffordable housing situation worse!

See ya next week! 
Richard McGrath
Leader, Libertarianz Party

David Attenborough, scum

Every now and then, the veneer of environmentalism slips to reveal the malevolence beneath the green and cuddly surface.  You can see it in the list of revealing, anti-human quotes  from prominent mainstream environmentalists I assembled a few years back in the midst of a discussion about a new environmental ethic putting humans first.

To that stark and comprehensive list of anti-human vermin expressing their wish that you and I would die, you can now add David Attenborough, who smugly declares humans are a plague on the earth that need to be controlled by limiting population growth.

May I suggest if he is truly honest with himself, he go ahead and join the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.

In other words, you first, David.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Obama invokes Founders, inaugurates new era of collectivism

If, like me, you woke up to the sound of Obama inaugurating himself into the pantheon of great American presidents by invoking the words of the Founding Fathers to bolster his own arguments for collectivism, then you too might have wondered how he thought he could pull off what, even in that early hour when the brain is still slightly foggy, sounded like a massive logical leap. Maybe it sounded that way too to the folk in the audience, since the applause for his phony rhetoric seemed pretty spartan.

Jon Sanders notes that this is a common trope of Obama’s major speeches, especially this one in which he sought to use the Founders to make the case for collectivism.

first referencing the ideals of the Founders, then after having imitated the soaring rhetoric of past American luminaries, changing the focus to make it sound as if the next step for American liberty is to become a socialized nanny state. (Emphasis added.)

Nice, if you can (or want to) pull off the fraud. Because the man who started his address by extolling the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness being not only self-evident but unalienable—to the individual freedom those Founders were so desperate to protect—finished up by calling for collective action on class warfare, government healthcare, social-welfare programs, climate change, social spending in other countries, gay marriage, women’s pay gap, immigration reform, and gun control.

As Sanders concludes, what we heard today was not at all a ringing exhortation to bring back the America the Founders built,

but a promise of four more years of false rhetoric and real economic pain driven by ideological fervor and demonstrable diffidence.

Mikkelsen shrugs? [updated]

Golfer Phil Mickelson may call it quits due to climbing tax rates.

[Hat tip Shaun H.]

UPDATE: Golfer Phil Mickelson Is Not Alone In Fleeing Taxes

Still bad weather for warmists

While Australia swelters in temperatures not seen since the thirties* (and close to those experienced by the convicts of the First Fleet in their first years in Sydney), Europe and the States are covered in several inches of global warming—closing airports, stopping traffic from Moscow to Boston, and causing the UK’s Independent newspaper (which back in 2000 declared “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”!) to warn today’s Britons to “stand by for icy blasts and heavy snow.”

To repeat the mantra, it’s not about short-term weather, it’s about long-term climate.

And as even long-term warmist excitement-monger James Hansen was forced to concede this week,

The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for the last decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slow down in the growth rate of net climate forcing.

That is to say, despite predictions there has been no warming for the last decade; indeed, not for the last sixteen years.

* The difference between this week’s “record temp” in a Sydney three times bigger than in 1939 and with vastly more asphalt was just 0.5 of a degree.

Conversations in Cambodia

Another Guest Post by our roving Asian correspondent Suzuki Samurai, this time two conversations with interesting fellows: the first with Phakdey (pronounced Prak-a-dey) the founder of the school I’m helping out.
S: So what made you decide to build a school for poor kids?
P: When I was about 22-23 I knew that I was lucky to get an education, and wanted to do something for my village; I knew I’d do something for poor people even before that though. We were poor when I was young; that bowl [he points at my serving of a sardine-sized fish & rice] used to have to feed four of us; most of the time we didn't have any meat or fish at all; we lived on rice & pickled cucumber. It didn't occur to me that we were poor until I was at a friend’s house one night for dinner…when I was about 8. They had this piece of meat that they were sharing, but it was a very large piece of meat - about the size of my fist; I went there again a few days later and they had another piece the same size. I went home and asked my mother why they had meat and we didn’t; she told me to work hard at school and I’d find out, and be able to buy that kind of meat; and it was from that day on that I knew that I wanted something better for myself and my family. I guess it was at that time I set off on this path.
S: So why an English school? And when did you start it. P: At school & university I studied English and teaching, it seemed to me that that was the key to being rich. I was teaching at a local high school and in my spare time, I taught about 40 kids in a classroom under my house; over time more and more students wanted to join. This went on for about 8 years, with more classes filling up our weekends – there were too many kids, but we did our best [T’s wife began to teach as well]. I met a German man one day who had moved to the village with his new Cambodian wife, he’d met her in Phnom Penh and she wanted to come home for while. He came down to the school one day and was impressed by what we were doing and offered to help by contacting his friend at an NGO in Germany; within a few months the NGO had visited and agreed to help us.
S: In what way did they help? P: First they said we needed to find a bigger place, and said that once we did they could help build a school for us. My mother-in-law gave us some land she had across the other side of the river, the NGO and I agreed that they would pay for a new building; I mean they would pay for floors 1 & 2 for classrooms, and I would pay for the top floor for us to live in. That was two years ago, and now we have 8 classrooms and 400 hundred students.
S: Do the students pay fees? P: Oh yes, well most of them do; the poorest kids are paid for by the German donors.
S: How much are the fees? P: 20,000reil [$5US] per month for juniors & 32,000reil [$8US] for high school students.
S: What is the average wage here? P: Teachers at the local high school get about $50-$80 per month. Most people (farmers) earn about $30-$40 per month. People who work at the Chinese factory about 20km away get about $60 per month, but they spend about $20 per month getting to work and buying food. The top paying job around here is $100 per month working outside about 60-70 hours per weeks at the brick works - a very hard, hot job.
S: What do local people think of what you are doing? P: Some people think I’m doing a good thing helping poor people; but there are quite a few people who talk about me
behind my back complaining that we don't help them too. I try to explain to people that we can only help the really poor; and if you’re not the poorest of the poor then you have to make your own way – but people are very jealous and won't even speak to me in the village. But I really don't care about what they think; they just want something for free.
S: How do you decide who is and isn't poor enough to get access to the NGO’s donor money? P: We are very careful. We go around the village and visit people; you can see fairly quickly who has nothing to eat, and who has no furniture etc. The villagers can’t really hide anything; everyone knows who is poor and who is not.
S: Does the NGO provide anything else apart from money for fees and the building etc.? P: Yes, as you saw the other day they bought the 30 bags of rice, and they took the really poor kids shopping for clothes. Those things happen only when either some donors are visiting, or I ask directly for some extra help.
This is a conversation with a respected local, which took place over two lunchtimes. For reasons of safety, his, we'll call him ‘G.’
S: How do people see each other? I mean to say how do people view each other’s financial situation? G: Cambodians are funny people. People who are not poor look down on people who are, and often won't even talk to them. The people like this aren’t necessarily rich, or even that much better off than the very poor. I experienced this when I was a kid: I was playing with another boy from down the road, when his father came out and scolded him for playing with a poor boy, of course that poor boy was me.
S: Did that hurt? G: Not at the time, I didn't understand what I had done to get that boy in trouble – but that’s how people are; and still are.
S: What about people’s view of the rich? G: Oh, people who are not rich are afraid of the rich.
S: Afraid? Why? G: Because when you are rich in Cambodia it means you have power, power over other people’s lives and property. Money and politics are the same in Cambodia. What's it like in your country?
S: Um, well no one is afraid of the rich, many people are envious of course; but they aren’t afraid of them because they have no power as such. G: Strange. I like that.
S: What's the number one most important thing needed in Cambodia? G: Education is number one. But Government has to change; they are so corrupt.
S: In what way? G: Well if government or a large business wants to take your land for say a big road, or building a factory, they just do; and very few people get money for their land, and if they do it’s very little.
S: What about the courts? – Are they effective? G: Hahahaha, if you can afford a lawyer who is not corrupt, the courts are controlled by judges that are friends of the politicians who are friends of the business people. The price to take a case is out of reach of people, and if enough people get together to take a case; the police will just arrest some of them…what do you call them…?
S: Ring leaders? G: Yes, ring leaders; and they can spend a long time in jail on no charge or rubbish charges if they make trouble; many are beaten up, some have been killed.
S: But the laws are there right? – To protect people and their property? G: Yes of course, but who would want to complain even if they could afford a lawyer.
S: What about contract law between individuals? Is that enforced? G: Yes, that is usually settled easily, but is still expensive. Most disputes are settled before that though.
S: So what about the police then? What do people think of them? G: Everyone hates them – they are so corrupt. But being a policeman is often one of the few jobs going. Police get paid about $60 per month, and they get extra money by taking it off people for not wearing helmets, going through red lights; and of course taking it off foreigners with no license is good money.
S: So what kinds of jobs are there for people around here? G: It’s very hard for young men to get work; they may get day work from time to time for a couple of dollars per day, or they can join the army or the police. A lot of the young women work for the factories. There are many Chinese factories now; and they prefer young women instead of men. The factory workers can earn about $60-$70 per month working long hours – it’s a long way to travel for most people though; so after they spend money on travel and food, they are left with maybe $40 per month.
S: What do you think of the Chinese doing business in Cambodia; the factory must provide much needed work? G: Yes, it is good that the Chinese factories are here, otherwise there would be no work. The Chinese are also paying for that road to be built [pointing to the road behind me]. That’s a good thing, but they are mean.
S: Mean in what way? G: Well that road is being built right through some people’s property, and they paid them nothing, they just took it one morning. And you see that some shops have had the front yard ripped right off - their customers can't get into their shops.
S: Isn't it the job of the government to protect land owners? G: I told you before, the government and businesses are in it together. The Chinese don't care; why would they if the government doesn’t.
At this point G asks me a few questions.
G: Why won't more western companies come here, instead of the Chinese?
S: I guess foreign companies need to know the law works, that things are stable, that corruption won't affect them too much; Cambodia struggles to offer that. And you might not realize this but the Chinese often have another deal going on that you might not know about.
G: Like what?
S: The most recent one was the ASEAN meeting chaired by Cambodia, where all the countries present except Cambodia and China wanted to discuss the island disputes in the region - the disputes arising from the Chinese claims to most of the region’s sea. Everyone at the meeting knew that the Chinese had put pressure on the Cambodian government not to forward the motion to discuss it. In exchange China is known to give money to your government without any questions of where and who it goes to.
G: Hmmm…
S: What do you think about that?
G: As long as we get the money.
Once I’d spent a few days with G, I felt confident enough to ask about the Khmer Rouge.
S: G you’re an educated and well read man; what can you tell me about the Khmer Rouge? G: Not much.
S: Ok, what do you know about them, and what they did? G: Only what foreigners tell me.
S: Funny, I’d heard that before from a tuk-tuk driver [who became a friend of mine last time I was here]. He said that he and his friends are puzzled by foreigners wanting to go to Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields; and that he wouldn't have known about what happened there had it not been for meeting foreigners.
Why is that? – I mean it was a monumental event in your country’s history…and not very long ago. G: We are not taught about it in school. Though I don't think anyone would really care anyway; that was a long time ago; and no one really wants to think about it.
S: What about the trials [of Khmer Rouge leaders] on TV?
G: The trials of the big four?
S: Yes.
G: Nobody wants to watch them, they are boring; anyway who are those guys…I’ve never met them, and they didn't hurt me.
S: Oh come on; you know what they did – surely you have some interest in seeing them tried and convicted? G: Yes, I suppose so. But I just never think about it.
S: Is that the same for people you know? G: Yes, no one ever talks about it. It's nothing to do with us. And anyway, people are more interested in getting enough to eat tomorrow.
S: It’s hard to argue with that last sentence.  But have you ever heard the expression: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”?
G: Yes, I’ve heard that.
S: So do you think a Khmer Rouge type thing can happen here again? G: No.
S: Why not? G: Because westerners will help us and stop them.
S: Have you heard of Rwanda? G: No, why?
S: Doesn't matter, mate.
The current government has been in power since the early 80’s, formerly an avowed Marxist/Maoist party. Early in the eighties they started a publicity campaign to throw off their links with Pol Pot. They now claim to be “democratic socialists.”  There is now a semblance of a democratic political system, but opponents that get some support and worry the regime, and can't be cajoled and corrupted, have been denounced, jailed, and assassinated. The system here – if you can call it that – is not dissimilar to China’s, except  that people get to play the charade of elections.
The trials going on in Phnom Penh of former Khmer Rouge leaders has now set limits on who can be tried, and are now just for the four top remaining survivors of the regime. The Prime Minister, Hun Sen, who decreed this policy, was once a Khmer Rouge commander himself who fled to Vietnam in the late 70s for what he claims was his ‘unease’ at Pol Pot’s extreme policies. I can't help but wonder if perhaps the on-going purges might have been a factor in his leaving too. Once he’d fled to Vietnam he set about convincing the Vietnamese to invade. The Vietnamese didn't initially, but did support Sen and his band of exiles in their attempt to oust Pot. As it happened however  Pol Pot was  sufficiently stupid and evil to attack Vietnamese civilians both in Cambodia and across the border. (The previous regimes forces did this also and got pounded for it.) The Vietnamese did invade, and thankfully—by driving Pol Pot and his regime into the forest—relieved the surviving Cambodians of their most murderous regime to date. The Vietnamese gave Sen the job of Foreign Minister under the new/old regime, which he still retains.
Today, the influence of China is palpable in both what is being built and how it is being built, and in the political shenanigans that are going on. The culture is otherwise much more Indian than Chinese; the people physically look more Indian than other East Asians too; and their particular form of witch doctor worship (religion) is also derived from India.
Suzuki Samurai posts irregularly from around Asia. Check out all his posts here.

SUMMER SNIPPETS: ‘When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World’

When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest DynastyMore interesting snippets I highlighted during my summer reading, this time from Hugh Kennedy’s When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam’s Greatest Dynasty.

Historians of the period have preserved the text of a long [and influential] letter said to have been written by Tahir [ibn Husayn, the Abbasid caliph's governor of northeastern Persia in 821, and former power-broker in the caliph’s court], giving advice to his son about how to be a good ruler… The ruler is shown to be a benevolent despot.  His authority is absolute and he is responsible, not to his subjects, but to God.  There is no sense of popular limitations to his power, and no mention of any sanctions his subjects can make use of should he abuse it.  The ruler should behave in a benign and conscientious way because he is responsible to God and will be held to account by Him if he fails.  He should also look after the welfare of his subjects because it makes sense to do so: prosperous subjects pay more taxes and cause fewer problems.  To an extent the advice is worldly and eve cynical—being a just ruler makes you richer and more powerful—but it is also about the virtuous circle, an idea Muslim political theorists were to return to time and time again: a strong but gently tyranny brings benefits to ruler and subjects alike…
    “The emphasis on moderation in all things is also striking.  It is possible that this idea comes directly from Greek philosophy, even perhaps from [Tahir’s own] reading of philosophy…
    “There are noticeable omissions in the document.  Apart from a brief mention of the use of taxation to humiliate unbelievers, nothing in Tahir’s work would give any indication that a large proportion, probably the majority, of the people over whom he ruled were Christians.  He is only concerned with how a Muslim ruler should relate to his Muslim subjects.  There is no mention of the need to convert non-Muslims to Islam.  There is also no mention of the Jihad or holy war: the Muslim community is imagined as being at peace with itself and its neighbours.”

Along with the measures [designed to appeal to a constituency of Islamist hard-liners, new Caliph Mutawwakil (847AD) brought] measures against the dhimmis (protected people), the Christians and Jews.  These did not amount to active persecution or forced conversion to Islam but rather public shaming.  In 850, the caliph issued a decree that aimed to enforce discrimination in dress in a way that is unpleasantly reminiscent of the anti-Jewish legislation of Nazi Germany.  All dhimmis were required to wear yellow on their clothes… He also ordered that all renovated places of worship be confiscated, turned into mosques if big enough or demolished if not.  Christians and Jews had certainly suffered discrimination before in an irregular and patchy way—Christians in areas along the Byzantine frontier had been threatened because the Muslim authorities were afraid they mighty ally with the Byzantines—but Mutawwakil’s decrees were the first time a caliph had adopted these measures against dhimmis wherever they were and whatever their jobs were.”

The original Abbasid regime that came to power in 750…set about patronising and developing a court culture that would establish their identity as the elite, the khassa. This culture would demonstrate their refinement and sophistication: shared cultural values would provide cohesion for the new ruling class.  The leading figures in the civil administration of the caliphate at this period … also appear as the most important patrons of literature and learning: court and culture were intimately bound together…
    “The caliphs themselves were the most important patrons.  The tone was set by Mahmun, and it is clear that patronage of science of the [movement to translate Greek science and philosophy] was his own very distinctive personal contribution to the culture of the period… His successor Muhtasim was known as a military man and creator of the city of Samarra, but he does seem  to have continued something of his brother’s patronage of writers and scientists.  His son and successor Wathiq was more interested in intellectual debate. Mahsudi speaks of him as loving research and those who undertook it, and hating those who blindly followed tradition…
    “The caliph Mutawwakil did not encourage scientific enquiry in the same way… [and] none of the short-lived caliphs who succeeded  after Mutawwakil’s assassination in 861AD had much time to develop intellectual interests…  It was not until the accession of Muhtadid in 892 that the Abbasid court again became a focus of scholarship…

Without institutions [or monasteries] to offer salaries and status, scholars were largely dependent on patrons to provide them with a livelihood, and it was in the salons of the great Baghdad families that intellectual life developed…
    “One of the most astonishing and impressive products of this court society was the movement to translate ancient Greek scientific and philosophical texts into Arabic Interest in the Greek intellectual heritage and patronage of the translators became one of the most fashionable forms of elite cultural activity, perhaps all the more satisfying because of the suspicions it aroused in the more hidebound traditionalists.  It was also one aspect of the culture of the Abbasid court that was to have a profound influence on the culture of the wider Islamic Europe and Latin Europe, long after the end of Abbasid power. [You ain’t kidding it had a profound influence! This is a major part of the Greatest Story Hardly Ever Told].
    “Immediately after the great conquests of the seventh century, the Muslims had ruled over many Greek speakers and writers.  Until the end of the seventh century, Greek had remained the administrative language of Syria and Egypt, so Greek culture was  well known.  There were also many Greek works that had been translated into Syriac (a written dialect of Aramaic which was the liturgical and literary language of the Eastern Christian, that is Jacobite and Nestorian churches) during the Byzantine period.  Many of these works were now translated a second time from Syriac to Arabic.  The Muslims were interested in those products of Greek learning which they believed to be useful.  These included works on philosophy, especially logic, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, and the use of plants.  They were not concerned to translate poetry, history or drama.  Aristotle, Hippocrates, Galen, Euclid, Ptolemy and Dioscorides were all popular authors, translated and retranslated to make them accessible to the Arab reading public.  Herodotus, Thucydides, Euripides, and Sappho all remained entirely unknown.
    “Translation of Greek texts into Arabic had begin as early as Umayyad times, and there had been sporadic examples under treh early Abbasids; Salam al-Abrash … was an early but individual example.  It was the caliph Mahmun who made the translation movement fashionable in ruling circles.”

The production of translations that were both reliable and elegant required considerable expertise, and men who proved they could deliver were well rewarded.  The Banū Mūsā [brothers originally from Eastern Iran, “merchants” for whom the patronage of culture may have been a sort of money-laundering operation—shades of the Medici family’s patronage perhaps?], leading and discerning patrons of translations of scientific texts, were prepared to pay 500 dinars salary a month to top-quality workers (though it is not clear whether this was to each individual or to the group of translators who lived in their houses).  This was equivalent to the salaries of senior members of the bureaucracy, and vastly more than those of an ordinary craftsman or soldier.  [500 dinars represents about fifty ounces of gold!]  As a result, clever and ambitious people flocked to Baghdad to offer their services…  A biographer gives us an idea of the lifestyle of gentleman academic [Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 873) a Christian from southern Iraq who worked as a translator for the Buna Musa]:
        “He went to the bath every day after his ride and had water poured on him.  He would then come out
    wrapped in a dressing gown and, after taking a cup of wine with a biscuit, lie down until he had
    stopped perspiring.  Sometimes he would fall asleep.  Then he would get up, burn perfumes to fumigate his
    body and have dinner brought in.  This consisted of a large fattened pullet stewed in gravy with a half kilo
    loaf of bread.  After drinking some of the gravy and eating the chicken and the bread he would fall
    asleep.  On waking he would drink 4
ratls [perhaps 2 litres] of old wine.  If he felt like fresh fruit, he would
    have some Syrian apples and quinces.  This was his habit until the end of his life.”
    “When he managed to find time for work amidst this agreeable regime is not entirely clear, but he obviously did for his output was enormous and his academic standards very high…”

The ninth century was the great age of the study of sciences, with Thabit ibn Qurrra (d. 901) in mathematics and Hunayn ibn Ishaq (d. 873) in medicine being the leading lights.  The clearest example of their intellectual curiosity and practical application can be seen in their project to measure the circumference of the earth.  This is described in some detail by Ibn Khallikan [d.1282]. It is perhaps worth recounting this in detail because the account seems to encapsulate the spirit of scientific enquiry typical of the age and, especially, of the circle of the Banū Mūsā. 
            ‘Although astronomers in ancient times, before the coming of Islam, had done this, there is no evidence
    that any Muslim apart from them had tried it.  The caliph Mahmun took a deep interest in the sciences of
    the ancients and was keen to test their accuracy.  Having read in their works that the circumference of the
    globe is around twenty-four thousand miles or eight-thousand
farsakhs [in fact, the equatorial circumference
    of the earth is 24,902 miles] … He wished to test the truth of this assertion and asked the Banū Mūsā what
    they thought.  They replied that this was certainly the case and the caliph then said, “I wish you to use
    the methods described by the ancients so that we can see whether it is accurate or not.”  They enquired
    where a level plain could be found and were told that the desert of Sinjar [in north-western Iraq] was
    completely flat, as was the country around Kufa.  They took with them a number of people whose
    opinion Ma’mun trusted and whose knowledge in this area he relied on.  They set out for Sinjar and came
    to the desert.  They halted at a spot where they took the altitude of the Pole Star with certain instruments. 
    They drove a peg into the ground and attached a long cord to it.  They walked due north, avoiding, as much
    as possible, going off to left or right.  When the cord ran out, they stuck another peg into the ground and
    fastened a  cord to it and carried on walking to the north as they had done before until they reached a spot
    where the elevation of the pole star had risen by one degree.  Then they measured the distance they had
    travelled on the ground by means of the the rope.  The distance was 66 2/3 miles.  Then they knew that
    every degree of the heavens was 66 2/3 miles on earth.  Then they returned to the place where they had
    stuck in  the first peg, continued to teh south, just as they had previously to the north, sticking in pegs and 
    fastening ropes.  When they had finished all the rope they had used when going north, they took the elevation
    of the Pole Star and found it was one degree lower than the first observation.  This proved that their 
    calculations were correct and that they had achieved what they had set out to do.
    ‘   ‘Anyone who knows astronomy will see that this is true…  They then multiplied the number of degrees of
    the heavens [i.e., 360] by 66 2/3, that is, the length of one degree, and the total was twenty-four thousand
    miles or eight-thousand
farsakhs.  This is certain and there is no doubt about it.  
        ‘Then the Banū Mūsā returned to al-Ma’mun and told him what they had done and that this agreed with
    what he had seen in ancient books.  He wished to confirm this in another location so he sent them to the
    Kufa area where they repeated the experiment they had conducted in Sinjar.  They found that the two
    calculations agreed and Ma’mun acknowledged the truth of what the ancients had written on the subject.’
The account is revealing of many aspects of eth intellectual environment of the time.  The first is the respect shown for ancient science.  People of this era were well aware they had much to learn from the achievements of the classical era (much more aware, of course, than their contemporaries in Byzantium or western Europe).  But the story also shows that this respect for the ancients was not an uncritical acceptance of everything they said: Mahmun and the Banū Mūsā wished to test the figures for the circumference for themselves.  Finally, we must be struck by the commitment to practical scientific experiment, the establishment of a hypothesis, the use of experimental evidence to prove it, and perhaps the most impressive, the care shown to make sure that the experiment could be replicated…  All this demonstrates a truly scientific approach that has few parallels in the post-classical pre-modern age.”

Like the Italy of the Italian Renaissance, the intellectual world of the ninth-century Baghdad was a world where private patrons [sometimes with wealth of dubious origins] funded intellectual life and, to an extent, competed against each other for intellectual prestige.  This may account for something of the variety and originality of the scholarly life that was one of the great achievements of the Abbasid period.  Much of this freshness and vitality was lost with the development of the more formal structures of the madrasa (theological school) from the eleventh century onwards [a direct consequence of the Closing of the Muslim Mind].