Friday, 31 October 2008

"Corporate" Prisons

Myopia and Prejudice

"Bomber" who posts sporadically at Tumeke! has recently favoured us with an ideological broadside against the idea of prisons being managed by corporates. It is not worth much--except as an illustration of the prejudice and cant of those who substitute slogans for thought.

Here follows the fisked piece: firstly, an excerpt from the NZ Herald:

More prisoners will have to work under a National government, and the money they earn will go towards a victims' fund. Those who refuse will lose their right to parole. National leader John Key announced plans to boost work and rehabilitation schemes yesterday, and confirmed it would allow the private sector to run prisons again. Mr Key said a National government would spend $7 million a year boosting the number of inmates in industry-based work from 2500-3500 by the end of 2011.
Mr Key said prisoners were usually paid between 20c and 60c an hour but were charged out at market labour rates.

Then follows one long sentence from Bomber:

So we enter the time of the corporate Gulag,

One would have thought that a "corporate Gulag" would refer to a place where companies and their managers were incarcerated under harsh conditions, but in Bomber's lexicon it means a prison being managed by a private company, contracting its services to the Corrections Department. Presumably, Bomber's lexicon also has "state Gulag" to refer to prisons staffed by employees of the Corrections Department. We doubt it. The terms "corporate" and "Gulag" are used to vent spleen, not analyse or critique.

Prisoners forced to work at what is effectively slave labour where smug National Party supporters get to race past motorways where chain gangs sing spirituals under a hot South Auckland sky,

Under the current "state Gulags" prisoners work for between 20 and 60 cents an hour; the product of their labour and services is sold at market rates. Presumably, under the present system, Bomber and his mates race smugly past prisons where chain gangs are currently working, and they feel good about it, by virtue of it being a "state Gulag" not a corporate one.

National is proposing that the difference not be ploughed back into the "state Gulag" system, but be put into a fund to be used to compensate victims.

so hateful has our social policy become it has been warped into this abortion, exactly as it has been in America with the same vested interests of longer prison sentences and larger prison slave work force,

One of the most abiding myths amongst left-wing commentators is that because the private sector must make a profit in order to survive, its motivation is intrinsically and necessarily exploitative and evil. State entities escape all such evil motivations. As soon as a bureaucracy is formed it is systemically righteous by definition. All possible self-serving and evil motivations disappear.

So, privately run prisons have a vested interest in keeping people in prison as long as possible, and having as many of those prisoners working in slave labour as feasible. Really. Presumably Bomber has chosen to overlook the fact that prison sentences come from courts, not prisons. Time in prison is finite. Corrections cannot unilaterally alter the terms of a prison sentence. So, a rather large non sequitur, Mr Bomber.

Secondly, National is proposing that labour be voluntary. No prisoner can be compelled to labour (as at present), so hardly the emotive "prison slave work force" Bomber describes. But, National is also proposing that if a prisoner chooses not to labour and effectively work for the restitution of his victim(s) he would not be eligible for parole. In other words, working up to forty hours a week offers the potential of a shortened sentence--the precise opposite of what Mr Bomber is alleging. Ooops. Don't let the facts get in the way of a myopic idological diatribe.

Private prisons don’t give a toss about rehabilitation, they care only for longer sentences (meaning the prisoners stay longer, meaning they get more money to hold them)

Mr Bomber is fixated upon this recurring fetish over evil motivations being intrinsic to privately run prisons. He argues that the profit motive incentivises them to have more prisoners and longer sentences, so the prison management company gets paid more. Dearie me. Firstly, let's deal with the cant. So, Corrections does not have a similar evil incentivisation. What about the senior managers of state run prisons--the bigger the prisons, the greater their responsibilities, the higher their salaries? Of course. What about the Corrections unions? The more prisoners, the more prison staff, the more powerful the union, the bigger the bargaining power. Corrections is utterly at risk of the same evil, corrupt, self-serving practices. In fact, far more at risk than privately run prisons because their motivations are systemic--part of the system.

With privately run prisons, the discipline of needing to make a profit offers much more flexibility in motivation. Contractual terms can be set to offer the company more revenue if defined outcomes are achieved. Thus, any perverse motivations can be far more effectively managed and controlled by contractual terms.

Secondly, the blind prejudice: are we to understand that private firms contracting services to the government are likewise compromised, such that all outcomes create greater problems? Take for example the State education system contracting private firms to clean schools. Is Bomber going to argue that such arrangements are inherently evil because private school caretaking firms are incentivised via the profit motive to keep schools dirtier for longer, so they get more work and earn bigger profits? Really. Is that the way it works? To be consistent he must argue that way--but this is both ignorant and absurd.

Or, take private diagnostic labs. Bomber, if he were to be consistent, would have to argue that all private diagnostic labs contracted to the public health system are evilly incentivised to misdiagnose, overtest, destroy records, repeat work, etc. all for the incentive of more profit. Or take consulting specialists contracted to public hospitals. Clearly, this must be wicked in Mr Bomber's warped world view because private specialists have an incentive to botch operations so they have to be repeated, thereby getting bigger fees--or perform operations that are not necessary, increasing their profits. What a strange warped Alice-in-Wonderland world Bomber lives within.

and while holding them they get to implement prison labour as a cheap workforce, they make money off the labour of prisoners –

Actually, Bomber has this completely around the wrong way. Under the current system Corrections uses prison labour as a cheap workforce. In Bomber's terms, currently prisoners are currently slaves of the State--something he conveniently overlooks. The margin on their "slave labour" is currently paid to the government. Under the system National is proposing neither the State nor any private prison management firm would benefit from the margin on prisoners' work--but the victims of crime. Seems much fairer and appropriate to us.

see how in that equation how the Private Prison doesn’t give a toss about rehabilitation and why only the state should be allowed to incarcerate you against your will and not a corporation?

Once again Bomber graces us with two wonderful non sequiturs. Since under National's proposal both bureaucratically run and private sector run prisons won't benefit from the work of prisoners, there is no argument against privately run prisons per se. But in neither case, does that policy have any possible bearing at all upon rehabilitation whether in a bureaucractically or private sector adminstered prison. If anything, the terms of the policy actually encourage rehabilitation, assuming that meaningful work disciplines will help assist prisoner rehabilitation.

And, true to form, he ends his diatribe with one last non-sequitur--namely, that privately run prisons mean that the state is not the incercerator, but a corporation. This is a juvenile confusion between an principal and an agent. Maybe if Bomber had attended a privately run school he would have learnt the distinction years ago. Or, maybe not. There is such a phenomenon as invincible ignorance.

Some Interesting New Blog Pieces

Strategic Voting

Dr Michael Bassett has published an informative and compelling essay on the two starkly different choices facing us this election. He writes:
So the choices on 8 November are rather stark. On the one hand we can have a more economically literate government than the present one, a ministry containing both experienced people and new faces, which can get to grips with the country’s slow growth, rising inflation and galloping indebtedness. On the other hand we can have a five-party monster made up mostly of extremists with so many weird agendas that you can kiss goodbye to New Zealand’s reputation as a reliable place for investment.
He calls for strategic voting in Epsom and Ohariu and explains why it helps both National and the country. His concluding shot: "We are stuck with a voting system that requires careful strategizing and encourages corruption. Let’s get rid of it once we have managed to fire this awful government, that has become the worst in half a century." Read the whole piece, here.

Democratic Crocodile Tears

On a completely different topic, The Inquiring Mind fisks a Wall Street Journal opinion piece on Barack Obama's crocodile tears over the mortgage melt-down and how Democratic politicians are succumbing to the fallacy of false cause. We have commented on this in previous days--for those interested in this issue, the WSJ article is worth a read. Read the full article, with Inquiring Mind commentary, here.

A Polemical Primer

For those of us interested in debating global warming, Australian Joanne Nova, who describes herself as "a veteran believer in greenhouse gases from 1990 to 2007) has prepared a primer for debating the issues and focusing upon the real not the ephemeral. This "Skeptics Handbook" will be invaluable for those involved in debating over the office water cooler or in the pub. The promo to her handbook invites us to "Rise above the mud slinging in the Global Warming debate. Here are the strategies and tools you need to cut through the red herrings, and avoid the traps."

This is a superb resource, and can be found here. Her website, which addresses a wider group of issues, is also worth bookmarking.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Polar Bears About to Take Over?

Things Are Not What They Seem

Global Warming (aka "Climate Change") has filled our empty lives with lurid tales of clear and present dangers. Funnily, almost every dire prediction is turning out to be false or inaccurate. Here's a beauty. Remember the breathless pronouncements that polar bears were likely to become extinct because the Arctic polar cap was melting. Yup, one more evidence of the destruction that man was wreaking upon the tottering, vulnerable planet.

Well, it is more likely that mankind is the species about to become extinct, as the bears take over. Maybe it will be the legend of Beowulf all over again. Maybe we had better send out a call for a thirteenth warrior! Where is Antonio Banderas when you need him? The western Hudson Bay (Ontario, Canada) has just completed its annual polar bear survey. Yes, these bears are so much in control that they have engineered an annual tax-payer funded census all of their own. We have to wait every five years to get one. Tom Nelson reports.
Manitoba Conservation does an annual aerial survey from the Churchill area to the Manitoba/Ontario border, roughly the inland range of the polar bears of western Hudson Bay. In late July (the 22nd I believe), they flew the range and counted around 34 bears. Most were still out on the bay feasting on seals. In fact, there were still two little bits of ice floe in southwestern Hudson Bay on August 22nd...! This means that many of the bears stayed out on the ice until mid-August, almost a month later than usual (or at least, earlier than usual for the last decade, but simply similar to the 'glory days' of the early eighties).

So, almost all of the bears visiting Churchill are in really good shape (around ten to twelve in buggyland right now). This seems to have translated through the larger population with 266 polar bears being counted on the fall aerial survey in September. This is the largest number of bears recorded in the history of this survey. Isn't that crazy?!? Life is good for the bears!

Of course, this also leads to the cut in quota for Nunavut's Inuit. Arviat, an economically challenged traditional Inuit town just north of Churchill (and when I say just north, I mean 250 miles) has had their quota wiped out. From 23 polar bears harvested last year, political pressure (not research) has led the government of Nunavut to cut it to three bears. All three bear 'tags' have now been used in self-defence kills (partially because we relocate bears north from Churchill... but that's another story). So, no commercial hunt, no income, no community pride for Arviat... hmmm...
So, rumours of the demise of polar bears have been greatly exaggerated it seems--along with a whole lot else.

While we are doing out weekly global warming post, let's pause, once again, to consider the use and abuse of language. George Orwell taught us in Nineteen Eighty-Four that totalitarians,propagandists, and those who want to rule the world pay a great deal of attention to language--but not in the way that one might expect. The ploy is to take otherwise anodyne phrases and fill them with new meaning and content, thereby making the horrible and unbelievable more acceptable. Thus, Orwell coined the term "newspeak". For example, according to newspeak , oppressive government became "Big Brother" in an attempt to make it nicer and easier to accept.

Up until about 2002, the Anthropogenic Global Warming prophets and doomsayers routinely used the phrase "global warming" to denote the impending apocalypse. But that phrase was too specific and begged lots of questions. It was decided to replace it with the more vague and less confrontational "climate change". This is a classic newspeak manoeuvre. "Climate change" is less confrontational and argumentative than global warming--and therefore is easier to discuss, propagate, and promote. Besides who can argue against climate change: the climate is changing all the time: all historical statistics and measures confirm this.

Whenever protagonists of any kind prefer less precise, more general terms to encase their arguments they are involved in intellectual legerdemain--aka, a coverup. the more precise the language, the more focus and narrowed the argument, and the more vulnerable to refutation and disproof.

We have resolved never to use the newspeak phrase "climate change", unless to mock and expose. We are also resolved to call all opponents on its use whenever "climate change" is deployed. "Oh, by 'climate change' you mean global cooling. No. Why not? Your failure to use careful and precise language shows that your thought processes are careless, imprecise and fuzzy. Unless you sharpen up your act considerably, you don't deserve the courtesy of a moment's serious consideration."

Finally, here is a classic of the "clear and present danger" genre from Time Magazine. It is entitled "What the Public Doesn't Get About Climate Change." By Bryan Walsh

As I report on climate change, I come across a lot of scary facts, like the possibility that thawing permafrost in Siberia could release gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere or the risk that Greenland could pass a tipping point and begin to melt rapidly. (Absolutely classic: there are lots of "scary facts" out there, but they are all speculations, and therefore not facts at all. The language betrays Mr Walsh: he is forced into the subjunctive. Siberia "could" release carbon dioxide. Greenland "could" pass a tipping point. And the moon "could" be made of green cheese.)

But one of the most frightening studies I've read recently had nothing to do with icebergs or mega-droughts. In a paper that came out Oct. 23 in Science, John Sterman — a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Sloan School of Management — wrote about asking 212 MIT grad students to give a rough idea of how much governments need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by to eventually stop the increase in the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. These students had training in science, technology, mathematics and economics at one of the best schools in the world — they are probably a lot smarter than you or me. Yet 84% of Sterman's subjects got the question wrong, greatly underestimating the degree to which greenhouse gas emissions need to fall. When the MIT kids can't figure out climate change, what are the odds that the broader public will? (You mean to say that these MIT graduates aren't on board with the extreme alarmist speculations of a few. Maybe they are brighter thatn Mr Walsh thinks.)

The shocking study reflects the tremendous gap that exists regarding global warming. On the one hand are the scientists, who with few exceptions think climate change is very serious and needs to be dealt with immediately and ambitiously. (Note the phrase "the scientists" referring to an homogenous group of people, all knowledgeable, all specialists, all agreeing--with few exceptions. Sorry, mate, that is just a flat out lie.) On the other side is the public, which increasingly believes that climate change is real and worries about it, but which rarely ranks it as a high priority. A 2007 survey by the U.N. Development Programme found that 54% of Americans advocate taking a "wait and see" approach to climate-change action — holding off on the deep and rapid cuts in global warming that would immediately impact their lives. (And it's not just SUV-driving Americans who take this position — similar majorities were found in Russia, China and India.) (Clearly the public is much smarter than we give them credence. What this cognitive dissonance shows is that the public simply does not believe the propagandists. They have seen through the increasingly malodorous bovine scatology of global warming.) As a result, we have our current dilemma: a steady drumbeat of scientific evidence of global warming's severity and comparatively little in the way of meaningful political action. "This gap exists," says Sterman. "The real question is why."
(What has been put out there is neither scientific nor remotely resembling what any reasonable man would consider to be evidence. It is a bunch of projections into the future based upon extrapolations of current trends--all in the name of climate change. If the climate changes, as you constantly assert that it does, dear Mr Walsh, extrapolations into the future are worth, well, absolutely nothing.)

That's where Sterman's research comes in. "There is a profound and fundamental misconception about climate," he says. The problem is that most of us don't really understand how carbon accumulates in the atmosphere. Increasing global temperatures are driven by the increase in the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Before the industrial age, the concentration was about 280 parts per million (p.p.m.) of carbon in the atmosphere. After a few centuries of burning coal, oil and other fossil fuels, we've raised that concentration to 387 p.p.m., and it continues to rise by about 2 p.p.m. every year. Many scientists believe that we need to at least stabilize carbon concentrations at 450 p.p.m. to ensure that global temperatures don't increase more than about 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level. To do that, we need to reduce global carbon emissions (which hit about 10 billion tons last year) until they are equal to or less than the amount of carbon sequestered by the oceans and plant life (which removed about 4.8 billion tons of carbon last year). It's just like water in a bathtub — unless more water is draining out than flowing in from the tap, eventually the bathtub will overflow.

(Yup, carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are going up. But since the globe has warmed and cooled cyclically and periodically ever since its existence, and since there have been long periods when temperatures were considerably warmer than they are now, please explain why you can be certain beyond reasonable doubt that the man-made release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is the true, immediate, and only cause of global temperatures rising in the last twenty years of the previous century. Until you are able to do this, you have not got past the first step: stop wasting our time. )

That means that carbon emissions would need to be cut drastically from current levels. Yet almost all of the subjects in Sterman's study failed to realize that, assuming instead that you could stabilize carbon concentration simply by capping carbon emissions at their current level. That's not the case — and in fact, pursuing such a plan for the future would virtually guarantee that global warming could spin out of control. (Once again, we note the confused, contradictory and meaningless language. "Pursuing such a plan would virtually guarantee that . . . global warming could spin out of control." With that sort of language one could assert anything, which is to say that one's assertions are without meaning. What Walsh has just written--presumably with a straight face--has as much sense and veracity about it as the following: "If we breathe and part our hair on the right hand side we virtually guarantee that the moon could be made of green cheese." How can any of these clowns be taken seriously?) It may seem to many like good common sense to wait until we see proof of the serious damage global warming is doing before we take action. (It sure is good common sense, particularly in the light of your meaningless assertions.) But it's not — we can't "wait and see" on global warming because the climate has a momentum all its own, (Oh, so if it has a momentum all of its own, it must be entirely fatuous to argue that mankind can change the globe's climate. ) and if we wait for decades to finally act to reduce carbon emissions, it could well be too late. (Too late for what? Since the world has gone through periods when it was much warmer than at present, and since mankind, like the polar bears, adapted and flourished during such times, precisely what will it be too late for? And then, again, although it could 'well be too late' for whatever, by the same token it could well not be too late.) Yet this simply isn't understood. (Ah, Mr Walsh we and the rest of the great unwashed understand it all too well.) Someone as smart as Bill Gates doesn't seem to get it. "Fortunately climate change, although it's a huge challenge, it's a challenge that happens over a long period of time," he said at a forum in Beijing last year. "You know, we have time to work on it." But the truth is we don't.

If élite scientists (Ah, we love the phrase "elite scientists". Your slip is showing, Mr Walsh. And it is revealing a great deal.) could simply solve climate change on their own, public misunderstanding wouldn't be such a problem. But they can't. Reducing carbon emissions sharply will require all 6.5 billion (and growing) of us (non-elite, ordinary, dumb masses) on the planet to hugely change the way we use energy and travel. We'll also need to change the way we vote, rewarding politicians willing to make the tough choices on climate. Instead of a new Manhattan Project — the metaphor often used for global warming — Sterman believes that what is needed is closer to a new civil rights movement, a large-scale campaign that dramatically changes the public's beliefs and behaviors. New groups like Al Gore's We Campaign are aiming for just such a social transformation, but "the reality is that this is even more difficult than civil rights," says Sterman. "Even that took a long time, and we don't have that kind of time with the climate." (Yup, we need a vast new ideological army to proclaim the "virtual certainty" that something "might" be true. Here's the irony, Mr Walsh: we need an ideological army all right--on that we agree, but our army must be mobilised to oppose any policy, any central government action on global warming, when everyone apparently agrees--including you--that it is virtually guaranteed that anthropogenic global warming might not be true. While that remains the case it would be highly dangerous to take any action at all.)

The good news is that you don't need a Ph.D. in climatology to understand what needs to be done. If you can grasp the bathtub analogy, you can understand how to stop global warming. The burden is on scientists to better explain in clear English the dynamics of the climate system, and how to affect it. (Sterman says that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's landmark report last year was "completely inadequate" on this score.) As for the rest of us, we should try to remember that sometimes common sense isn't a match for science. (Thankfully, common sense is a match for pseudo-science. Thankfully, the more " pseudo scientists" attempt to simplify the world's climate system into homespun analogies, the more simplistic and stupid they show themselves to be. The reality is something very different--although deeply unpalatable to the "elite" pseudo-scientists of our day. The global climate system is chaotic (in the scientific sense of that term): it is complex, multi-variate, multi-factored and therefore unpredictable. The use of computer generated models, predicting climate into the next one hundred years give the appearance of hard certainty, but only to the credulous and weak-minded--you know, to those elite scientists. )

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Education on a Pale Horse

Reductio Ad Educatum Rides Again

The fallacy reductio ad educatum is ubiquitous within Athens—no more so than at election time. Those who aspire to rule over us inevitably present their stock take on where Athenian society is currently to be found. Naturally, this leads to myriads of problems being highlighted for which solutions have to be found.

Ninety percent of the time (not an accurate measure, but a figure of speech, for the literally minded amongst us) the solution turns to some form of education. The reductio ad educatum is the fallacy which makes education the answer or solution to all ills and problems. It is one of the most widely deployed fallacies in modern Athens. It is such a pervasive part of the deceit of that religion that virtually no-one can see the fallacious nature of the argument any more. It is accepted as a truth beyond contesting—it is accepted, therefore, as a matter of religious faith.

A quick survey of the newspapers over the past two days serves to illustrate the point. Firstly, we turn to widely respected Athenian prophet, Colin James. He was describing the Achilles heel of the New Zealand economy (too much lifestyle and consumption debt, coupled with very low productivity) and was criticising Labour's abysmal record in these matters. The government, he said, had been slow to focus upon the bulimic nature of the economy: when it looked in the mirror, the Labour government saw a fat, highly active economy, but it was the false mirror of the anorexic. Eventually the government began to wake up, but it was too late, according to James. He writes:

“Cullen and his colleagues came more slowly to infrastructure, savings and early childhood education and have not yet really focused on the under-3s, the critical formative years that create the education tail.” What is the education tail, you ask. It is the “long tail” of underperformers (read, failures) in our education system.

Get this!. The education system is a manifest failure and now has a long tail to prove it—which is a real worry given that, according to reductio ad educatum, as employed by Prophet James, the cause of low economic growth and prosperity is education, or the lack thereof. To solve this, what should society now do? Well, one hundred and forty years of free compulsory and secular education has not worked. NCEA is a dismal failure. Zoning is an obstruction. Adding two more years to compulsory education is putting ambulances at the bottom of the cliff.

But belief in the the reductio ad educatum fallacy remains unquestioned: with it, the Force is strong! Prophet James's solution is to extend education to the under 3's. Yes. Get them early. These are the critical “formative years.” And (state) education can, will, must make a difference in these years. It would be blasphemy to demur. A thousand curses upon the present government that it has failed to see this obvious solution to the problem of our fading economy. Next, when that fails (miserably) as it must, Prophet James will be telling us that education in-utero is where the action ought to be.

Let's turn now to the problem of crime and punishment. National has released its long awaited corrections problem. What is at the heart of changing things for the better. You guessed it. Reductio ad educatum comes galloping to the rescue right on cue. The more extreme the societal problem, the more compelling the education fallacy becomes. National is promising to increase educational courses and programmes in prisons, focusing upon numeracy and literacy. The idea is that if prisoners are educated in the basics they are less likely to re-offend. But as a spokesman for Corrections Officers pointed out, all the educational opportunities in the world don't mean a thing if people lack the inward resolve and motivation to learn.

So, nice try National. No doubt reductio ad educatum applied to criminals makes everyone feel better. Something is being done, after all. But here we get close to the heart of the problem. Athenian penology is always religious—in fact, it cannot escape employing overt religious motifs. Criminals must atone—that is, they must “pay their debt” to society. Moreover, criminals must be rehabilitated and reintroduced into society to become useful and productive members thereof. That sounds suspiciously like redemption and conversion. The Department of “Corrections” sounds a lot like parenting, discipleship, and sanctification. The fallacy of reductio ad educatum leavens the whole baker's batch. This makes sense, because for Athens, education is salvation, pure and simple. To make people better, to redeem them, to save them you have to educate them. Education has become the Great Redeemer, the Saviour of mankind.

So, our sympathies to National. The prison system is indeed a mess. It is true that there is not one solution—but lots of small incremental changes. No one thing is the magic bullet. But what National is proposing remains naïve and superficial. To make progress, Athens needs to give up on its religious dogma which asserts that “man is intrinsically good” and that the causes of evil are extrinsic and environmental. It is this fundamental religious dogma which leads ineluctably to reductio ad educatum—that is, education is the key tool of social conditioning to remove external evil influences. Therefore, with education we can create utopia and solve all our problems.

Finally, in recent days, both major parties have trotted out their education platforms. Both parties plan multi-million dollar spend ups. Both are going to focus upon the school leavers who are currently “graduating” without any qualification. They leave with nothing more than a certificate for time served. Everyone agrees that this is a disgrace. Reductio ad educatum leads everyone to say that we will solve this problem by—wait for it—wait for it—yes, you guessed it, by giving them more education. That is, more of the same. Good idea, folks. We would never have thought of that in a thousand years. And it must be good, too, because it is going to cost millions.

Well, we can hear Athenian folk saying, “So, what's your solution?” The response of Jerusalem is cautious and guarded. The response is given on a number of levels. At its most fundamental, the prophets of Jerusalem would say the solution to all these social problems is more Christians. If eighty percent of the population were faithful Christians, the vast majority of these problems would not exist. Christian parents are charged by God Himself to love, care, and nurture their children. They are obligated to educate them faithfully. There would be no “long tail” in such a society.

Such a phenomenon will eventually come to pass—but it will be by the Lord's doing, not by Athenian manufacture or design. So, at root Jerusalem acknowledges that apart from Athens bowing the knee to the Lord Himself, we have no real solution to Athenian problems.

At another level, Jerusalem is aware of a deeper spiritual malaise in Athens that will not be solved painlessly. The ordinary pattern of our Lord's government over the unbelieving nations of the world is that when a society sets its heart arrogantly against the Lord, He gives them up to taste the fruit of their ignorance and folly. And the taste is bitter indeed. It is when people find that their false gods have lied to them, deceived them, and damaged them that they can open their hearts to reconsidering the claim of Christ upon their lives. They can come to realise that even the “foolishness” of God is much to be preferred to the wisdom of arrogant men. When a culture has been humbled, its people often open their ears to hear what was once odious to them.

Therefore, Jerusalem knows that often times, when the hand of God is against a culture, and it is sinking under their weight of its own idolatry, there is little that can be done until the historical process is gone through. The role of Jerusalem is to be with Athens in its perturbation and ultimate collapse, and in humility sit with its citizens amidst the detritus of their once-proud-city and urge those who now have ears to hear the calls of the Saviour of the world.

But at another level still, it is the duty of Jerusalem to do good to all men, as we have opportunity. Now, this doing good to all men must be on Jerusalem's terms, not in Athenian coinage. In this sense, we are not unmindful of, nor unmoved by, the intractable problems evident in Athens. So, from the framework of what we know about the nature of man and his fallen state, we may from time to time give some advice to Athens. Maybe some might listen and give heed.

Key principles of policy would be those that focus upon individual motivation, incentive, responsibility and accountability. A necessary, but deeply unpalatable corollary of Jerusalem's world view is that you must let the willfully lazy, stubborn and incorrigible suffer the consequences of their actions, even to death. If someone wills not to work, he must be left to starve.

So, with the educational “long tail” for example, Jerusalem would suggest that those of school leaving age who have no qualifications be treated as responsible adults who must bear and suffer the consequences of their actions—whether for good or bad. We would suggest a five point plan:

1. People can leave school at any time without qualifications but thereby relinquish any rights to social welfare assistance of any kind for the rest of their natural lives—including superannuation.

2. People who leave without qualifications would have the opportunity to return once to special state-funded remedial schools at any time up until aged twenty, for two year courses that will focus upon basic literacy and numeracy. If students fail to achieve, then the first point will apply. Achievement would be nationally tested. State funding for remedial courses would cease at age twenty.

3. Employers would be entitled to employ any school leaver without qualifications for any wage during a defined period (until age 25)—all minimum wage standards would not apply in such cases. The only restriction would be that employers cannot “bind” such an employee—he would be free to go to another employer, offering more attractive employment terms. Once employed, the unqualified school leaver earns entitlement to social welfare assistance of all kinds, but automatically loses these, once unemployed—including any unemployment benefit. However, once an unqualified school leaver achieved basic literacy and numeracy skills, and achieved employment, the loss of social welfare assistance upon losing one's job would not apply.

4. Impecunious, out-of-work, unqualified school leavers would be entitled to welfare from their families or extended families, or from charitable organisations, without restriction—but with no compulsory claim on their part.

5. Sicknesses, ill-health, or diseases related to malnutrition would not qualify for any public health support for such people, whatsoever—until such a person had graduated with basic literacy and numeracy qualifications and had a permanent job.

If such a plan were adopted, we confidently predict that there would be no education “tail” within Athens after five years. While there would be some short term social disruption and dislocation, people would quickly adapt. That's what policies based on holding people responsible, coupled with facing consequences, and appropriate incentives, do.

But, we wryly admit that Athens is a thousand miles from even remotely considering such advice. So the fallacy of reductio ad educatum will remain entrenched and the education tail will likely get longer and larger.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Meditation on the Text of the Week

Giving God No Rest

On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the Lord, take nor rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in all the earth.
Isaiah 62: 6,7
Our older covenant fathers at the time of our Lord Jesus Christ's presence on the earth looked to heaven for help. The forces against them, both within and without Israel's borders, were overwhelming. So great was the array of hostile influences that they had come to believe the only solution, the only hope, was of direct, divine intervention in the person of Messiah to force their enemies into submission. In the end, however, they were shown to be misled and misguided. They neither understand the Lord, nor His Kingdom.

For the past one hundred years many Christians in the West have fallen into the same kind of error. A kind of capitulation to the forces of Unbelief has led to a deep conviction that things are getting worse and worse; the Kingdom of God is in terminal decline; the only hope is of direct divine intervention in human history. Like the Jews of old—in their doubt and depression—they have so distorted the teachings of Scripture so that they look for direct divine intervention in human history. They expect that Messiah will come and set up a perfect Jewish kingdom in the physical city of Jerusalem in Israel, and will rule the world using direct divine power, conquering all nations. This is the only way they can conceive of things changing for the better.

Like the Jews of Jesus days on earth, these folk will be shown to be misled and misguided.

The structure and matrix of redemptive history is patently obvious in Holy Scripture. The nation of Israel under the Old Covenant was a precursor to the real Kingdom of God which was established by Messiah. That Kingdom has the Church as its central institution, but it embraces all human reality, all the realms of creation. All power and authority in heaven and earth has been given to King Jesus, and all enemies are being placed under His feet. All that Israel once signified and represented is now overtaken and fulfilled in the reality of the risen and ascended Christ and His Kingdom upon the earth.

That Kingdom is sure, certain, fixed and impeccable. But it is a Kingdom which comes from the inside out: therefore, it can neither come nor exist by the arm of human flesh, trying to compel and force people from the outside in. This would be a satanic parody of the Kingdom—the leading representative of that Satanic parody in the world today is Islam. It is Islam which seeks to create a kingdom by forced submission from the outside.

The Kingdom of God, however, comes from the inner conversion of souls, and therefore the gradual transformation of families, schools, cultures and governments. Since God alone can convert, since faith is a gift of God, and since being born again is of the Spirit alone, no human or angelic agency can establish or progress the Kingdom. Its coming is invisible, quiet, largely silent, and profound. It is known only by its fruit. It does not rest upon human agency or devices.

Surely there are means of grace which the Lord has appointed to use in regenerating individuals and transforming families—means such as the authorised proclamation of the Gospel, the Word of God, the Sacraments, prayer, public and private worship and so forth—but none of these represent more than empty shells without the presence and power of the Spirit using these means and making them bear true fruit. Without God's Spirit they are vanities. Men cannot wield these weapons. Their success, power, and efficacy belongs to the hand of God alone using them.

When God's people see these things in Holy Scripture they are never left to despair, no matter how dark the night. God's work cannot be thwarted. Christ's victory is already irrevocable. The doom of His enemies is sure. If all the devils and all their servants were to array against one solitary soul trying to prevent his conversion, if all the governments of the world, if all the police forces and prisons, if all the torture chambers, if all the organs of propaganda, if all the bribes, all the mockery, all the lies and all the slander were poured out upon one man trying to prevent his conversion appointed by God, it would not avail. The Spirit moves where He wills, and none—even if they all act in concert—none can stay His hand.

In our text, the Lord promises that upon the walls of Jerusalem, that great city of Belief, that great city of which Christ is the Head, He will establish watchmen. These servants are put there to watch for the city and for the Lord. He charges these watchmen not to give Him any rest. They are to cry out to Him, day and night, until Jerusalem is established as a praise in all the earth.

The text is almost incredible in its implications. The Lord wants us to be very clear just how certain it is that His kingdom will triumph over all the earth. He wants us to know how clear His will is in this matter; how settled His determination. He uses the image of an earthly sovereign who wants to make it clear to his subjects that he is resolved upon a certain course of action. To make the strength of his resolve clear, he appoints watchmen to watch their sovereign, and when he leaves the palace they are to cry out to him, reminding him of his commitment. When he rests at night, the watchmen are to wake him up, shouting out, reminding him of his promises.

King Darius of old actually did something of similar ilk. He swore to have vengeance upon the Athenians, and so appointed his cup bearer to say at every meal, “Sire, remember the Athenians.” By this appointment everyone in the Medo-Persian Empire, who heard of the King's appointment, knew for certain that the king was resolved upon war with the Athenians.

The Lord uses this human device, this human institution, to drive home to us how implacably certain it is that His Kingdom will triumph in the earth. To the appointed watchmen we say, “Cry out!” Let us join with you in reminding the Lord of His oaths and vows. As He has commanded, let us give Him no rest night and day until Jerusalem is the praise of all the earth.

Monday, 27 October 2008

The S-Files

A Dead Rat Too Many

Contra Celsum nominates John Key for an S-Award

John Key is leader of the National political party which seems to be on-track to form the next government after the November elections.


When political leaders are decisive, people respect them, albeit at times grudgingly. But not always. It all depends what political leaders are being decisive about.

When National leader, John Key announced that he would not deal with Winston Peters in any post-election negotiations to form a government on the grounds that Peters did not meet the required standards of integrity and rectitude, his decisiveness was widely applauded. He was respected if not liked. It was a principled decision. It drew a line in the sand. It put Peters beyond the pale—which is where we believe he deserves to be put.

But maybe it was not so principled. Maybe it was just one more example of political machinations where truth and integrity remain far distant and unknown factors. Key's recent “decisiveness” in removing Lockwood Smith and Maurice Williamson from their shadow cabinet positions of Immigration and Transport respectively would suggest that political calculation rather than principled decisions plays far too important a role in Key's mind.

Maybe his political opponents are right. Maybe he is shifty and manipulative after all. In any event, these recent decisive actions appear to demonstrate more cravenness and cowardice than integrity. They grant credence to his opponent's mantra—that the current election is all about trust, and that Key cannot be trusted.

Of course we are not privy to any behind the scenes prior admonitions or requirements Key has made of his shadow ministers or his caucus. Maybe Smith and Williamson were disregarding clear instructions already given by the leader. If so, maybe there is an arguable case for their immediate dismissal.

But let us assume not, for a moment. Let us reflect on Key's decision to remove Smith and Williamson in terms of what we know. Both were speaking about areas of concern and of legitimate political debate. Both were speaking about issues for which they are the Party spokesmen. Smith was reflecting the concerns of horticulturalists over the flaws and inadequacies of the scheme to use temporary foreign labour to harvest our horticultural crops. These shortcomings and flaws are real. Williamson was reflecting on potential road tolling charges and made a perfectly reasonable remark.

However, in both cases political opponents seized upon the statements, as did the media, and made political hay out of them—but only by employing devices of deceit, misrepresentation, and cant. Smith was cast as a racist by the leader of a racially based political party, Tariana Turia—one of the great ironies of the election. The media fed like frenzied sharks. (A statement made by Winston Peters, the very same day, to the effect that Singaporeans, being small, were naturally gifted jockeys and that under his regime would continue to receive preferential visa treatment was completely ignored by all the brazen trumpeters. )

Williamson was musing on the potential cost of long distance toll charges. National's policy is virtually identical to Labour's—yet once again a frenzy broke out.

So Key took some decisions with far reaching and long term ramifications for his team as a way of dealing with the lies, innuendo, cant, and flat-out hypocrisy of his political opponents. He turned upon his own colleagues. Decisiveness or cowardice?

Let's roll back the cameras. Imagine if Key had responded differently. Imagine if he had insisted on a full briefing from both Williamson and Smith, then gone on the attack. Imagine if he had stood up to carry the charge for his colleagues, defending them as decent blokes, who were doing their job. Imagine if he had argued that he wanted a government where ministers were not craven cowards, under Helengrad type control, and that he expected his ministers to think and act appropriately. Imagine if he had told the country that is the kind of leadership they could expect from a Key led government--a government based upon confident leadership that did not stifle debate, responsible free speech, or reflection; a government that would not be based upon sanitized PR spin. Imagine is he had used this as a perfect example of the differences between himself and Clark and her Isengard-cavern-bred army of PR manipulators. Imagine if he had fronted his opponents down and accused them of engaging in silly political games, of playing the race card. Imagine if he had showed some genuine moral outrage and indignation at the deceit and cant of his opponents.

We believe that's the kind of decisiveness people respect.

But John Key did not do that. He swallowed another dead rat. But the consequences of such actions will be far reaching indeed. What have his colleagues now learnt? They will have learned that if they get to form a government, and if they speak in public and their words are misinterpreted by the media and by political opponents, they will be gone by lunchtime. Key will sack them. Helengrad will be replaced by Johnkeygrad, soon to elide into Donkeygrad.

Did Smith or Williamson lie, obfuscate, act unethically? Did they break the law? Did they act in dereliction of their duty? Absolutely not. But they are gone—before lunchtime. Key is starting to show us the kind of Prime Minister he would be. Put some political and media pressure upon him and he would flip-flop like a beached flatfish. Step out of line, as interpreted and defined by his political opponents and the media, and you would be fired. The end result will be a climate of fear, apprehension, doubt, indecisiveness, resentment and ultimately disloyalty in Cabinet and caucus.

Paul Keating once characterised a political opponent as a yellow streak looking for a backbone to run up and down. John Key shows signs of attracting similar disdain.

John Key, leader of the National Party and aspiring Prime Minister: S-Award, Class II, for actions that appear to have been Stupid, Short Sighted and Stupefied.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Cometh the Hour, Cometh the Man

A Day In the Life of Dave Pizzini

Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Pizzini is a busy man. He is rapidly achieving a reputation as the police officer of the moment to dish out warnings to those considering using force to defend themselves. Pizzini has now made two more high-profile arrests of people for using unreasonable force—one of those arrested is a highly regarded police officer.

Not content with his success at arresting Gilbert Road Discount Liquor store owner, Virender Singh earlier this month for defending himself and his family and his business with a hockey stick against knife-wielding thugs—an arrest for which he won widespread public acclaim—Pizzini had a busy day yesterday, making two more arrests of similar ilk.

One arrest followed an incident at a fairly remote farm at Mangatawhiri. Reports are sketchy, but apparently an armed intruder had entered the farmhouse early in the morning, threatening the life of the occupants—a mother and two children. The farmer—who happened to be a registered gun collector and a champion long range rifle shot—heard the screams from the implement shed in which he was working, about fifty metres away. His gun collection was kept in two large metal safes, with five inch walls in the implement shed.

He is reported to have opened one of the safes, remove a tripod mounted Sako with telescopic sights and take up a firing position about fifty metres from the house. He then called out, challenging the gunman to come out and leave the women and children alone. Eventually, the gunman emerged from the house, holding a three year old child by the arm. The gunman screamed obscenities at the farmer and told him to come forward or he would shoot the child.

The farmer took careful aim and shot the gunman through the chest, killing him instantly. When the police arrived, “reasonable defence” expert Dave Pizzini was called to the scene. Three hours later he arrested the farmer for using unreasonable force. The farmer will be charged with murder, and will appear in court tomorrow. He has interim name suppression.

“People just cannot point guns at other human beings and kill them, no matter what provocation they may be under,” said Pizzini. “The arrested man was a marksman and a gun collector. The dead man was carrying only a point 22 rifle. Using a marksman's telescopic sighted Sako against a point 22 rifle—which incidentally did not have telescopic sights and was 'sawn off'—is a case of using overwhelming and unreasonable force. The arrested farmer made no effort to negotiate or solve the situation by less violent means. People need to learn that they cannot take the law into their own hands like this,” Pizzini said.

But Senior Sergeant Pizzini's day was not over. Immediately after making the arrest, he was urgently called to Whangarei. Arriving by police helicopter two hours later, he was asked to assess the shooting of a distraught woman by an Armed Offenders Squad (“AOS”) member earlier that morning.

According to media reports, the woman had gone into a Vodafone store in the main street of Whangarei, presented a rifle and held one of the staff hostage, while others escaped out the backdoor. The AOS had surrounded the shop. Eventually the woman came out and confronted the police. She was challenged, aimed the rifle, and was promptly shot and killed by a single shot to the chest by an AOS sniper. The woman was carrying an air rifle.

After reviewing events, Senior Sergeant Dave Pizzini arrested the AOS member, who has name suppression. He will be charged with murder. The head of the Police Association, Greg O'Connor is livid—claiming that reasonable force had been used in the circumstances. Dave Pizzini promptly dismissed Mr O'Connor's opinion. He wanted to remind the Police Association and the public that the same standard for what constituted reasonable force applied both to the public and to sworn police officers.

While not wanting to prejudice the court case, he said there was prima facie evidence in this case that the force used had not been reasonable. The AOS had not made any attempt to negotiate with the offender. She only had an air rifle—and while these could be deadly at close range the nearest police officer was fifty metres away.

Police need to set an example, he said. “If sworn police officers were seen to be using unreasonable force, it would set a very bad example to the general public. Things would escalate out of hand, and we cannot allow that to happen. I feel very sorry for the arrested man's colleagues, but we have to be even handed and consistent in the way we deal with situations like this,” he said.

He also expressed condolences to the family of the shot victim. When asked whether he would like to send a message to the hostage and his colleagues, he said that he realised they had been through a terrible ordeal. However, they had to realise that they had acted in a provocative manner, and bore some of the blame in this situation. If they had offered no resistance, it would have likely had a calming affect on the deceased.

While they may not have intended it, when the colleagues of the hostage escaped out the back, it no doubt provoked the deceased, leading to the subsequent confrontation out in the street, and the tragic death of the woman. “They should have stayed where they were,” he said. Senior Sergeant Pizzini said that his inquiries were continuing and it was likely further charges would be laid. He was considering laying charges against the store workers who had fled out the back door, saying that they appeared to be “accessories before the fact” to murder. “These are very, very serious matters,” he said.

Police investigations are continuing: ten detectives and twenty constables have been assigned to the inquiry which is likely to take several weeks. Similar resources have been committed to the crime scene at Mangatawhiri. The Auckland regional police commander acknowledged that this would severely stretch police resources and would result in major delays in other investigations which had been underway, but which were now suspended indefinitely.

Friday, 24 October 2008

The End of Capitalism as We Know It

Are The Lights Being Turned Out?

The credit crisis appears to be easing. Maybe it's not over completely, but things have improved significantly in the past seven days. It may worsen again if a large bank or two need bailouts. But, since governments around the world have declared, “Whatever it takes” it is likely that this would just serve as a temporary blip in an improving trend.

The credit crisis was manifested primarily in the unwillingness of banks to loan to each other. Interbank lending, which is critical for banks to manage their cash flows and smooth out timing mismatches between funds coming in and going out, had virtually dried up. It was available only in terms of hours—that is, banks had to repay other banks within hours—and at exorbitant interest rates.

So fearful had bank become of recipient banks going bust that they were unwilling to lend to other banks—which in more normal times is usually a highly secure, low risk form of lending. They would rather sit on cash. Why is this such a crisis, you ask? If banks cannot smooth out their shorter term cash flows, they will stop lending and hoard cash—which is precisely what was happening. All banks borrow short and lend long. If they can no longer borrow short they will hoard cash until their long lending matures. It is a only prudent thing to do. But if banks will not lend, businesses which similarly require short term working capital to manage their cash flows, meet payroll, and cover short term liabilities, will also not be able to get credit—which will lead to bankruptcies, retrenchments, layoffs—which in its turn, would lead to yet another cycle of belt-tightening, bankruptcies, retrenchments etc.

The phalanx of measures taken by governments and central banks around the world now appear to be working. Banks are staring to lend to one another again. According to The Economist, borrowing volumes yesterday were ten times what they were three weeks ago. The Economist writes:
American banks including JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup have, in the past week, made loans to European counterparts for up to three months. And HSBC, Europe’s biggest bank, says it is providing billions in three- and six-month funding to banks.

Markets for longer-term credits for banks are also gradually returning to life as institutional investors regain their nerve. On October 17th Lloyds TSB managed to sell £400m ($690m) worth of ten-year bonds—the first such issue by a European bank since the collapse of Lehman.

Gradually the interbank lending rate is coming down as well—another sign that risks, or the perception of risks, are starting to disappear.

Meanwhile the Left Wing sees its great chance. It has loudly announced the end of Capitalism. The Free Market is now a manifest failure, we are told. Mankind now needs to move to a model of a centrally controlled economy—and we will, and are! The recent government interventions are offered as a proof of this.

But before we accept that the world has ended as we know it, let's pause and think a bit harder.

Firstly, let's remember that we live in a time filled with a cacophony of jeremiads of every kind. The end of the world as we know it is now de rigueur. It is deja vu, all over again. At least once a month, some extremist or enthusiast, somewhere is announcing the end of all things. So it pays, particularly in such alarmist times, to think analytically and carefully rather than merely to emote.

Secondly, Capitalism—that system of political economy which protects private property and the private free exchange of that property—requires crashes and busts if it is to work properly. So, the mere existence of a crash or a collapse no more argues for the end of Capitalism than the presence of disease argues for the end of doctors and medicine. There are several reasons why this is so.

Joseph Schumpeter, in his iconic work, Creative Destruction, demonstrated that technological innovation and creativity allows market dominance for a time. However, subsequent innovation by competitors will lead to the destruction of the previous market leader. The seesaw fortunes of Dell and HP are a classic example of the creative-destructive pattern at work. The declension of Kodak in the face of digital photography is another. This is one of the great strengths of Capitalism, not its Achilles heel.

Moreover, the free exchange of private property (whether of capital or labour) operates within the frame of limited information and knowledge. Omniscience does not grace markets—nor anything else in the Creation. The Living God alone is omniscient. Therefore human beings, workers, buyers, sellers, manufacturers, and consumers all act with limited information. No-one can perfectly predict the future. No-one perfectly understands either the present or the past. Most people operate and make decisions on the basis of extrapolating into the immediate future what has happened in their immediate past.

If house prices rise for the past year, most people will plan their affairs on the assumption that house prices will keep rising for a few more months. If house prices rose for the past five years, most people regard it as well nigh absolutely certain they will also rise in the next twelve months. They will enter into loan contracts, purchase contracts, building contracts, and so forth, on those assumptions. This means that the more markets heat up, the more they over-heat. The more demand rises, the more it will rise—until reality sets in, and the correction occurs. Consequently, all markets overshoot. All markets go through boom and bust.

The booms and busts are exacerbated, amplified respectively when credit is either readily available, or not available at all. Of course, lending institutions (banks) are likewise subject to the same sentiments as the rest of humanity. If their credit defaults have been low for the past five years, and if profits have risen along with their share price, management is most likely to expect more of the same next year: they manage their businesses accordingly. Therefore, in good times, banks lend more easily, making the good times even better (for a time). In bad times, banks prefer not to lend hardly at all, making the bad times much worse.

It is likely that the current imbroglio will turn out to be a quite painful bust. But it needed to be—given the explosion of unbacked, paper credit which has occurred in the past ten years. But does it mark the end of Capitalism? Not at all, unless policy makers, regulators, and electorates choose to disregard the obvious. This is possible, of course.

What we expect as a more likely outcome is that the support of central banks and governments will lessen the bust—making it less severe, although acutely felt. Governments will not face huge fiscal deficits over the medium term because most of their financial support to the banking system will be returned with gains and interest.

Finally, a more rigorous regulation of the “shadow banking system” will result, requiring far much more capital backing to derivatives and similar financial instruments. This will be a very good outcome. It will slow growth going forward for a considerable time. But it will help reduce the systemic implicit fraud which has been part of the monetary system for far too long. In this regard the outcome of the meeting of nations convened by the US President is going to be particularly significant, provided sufficient progress can be made.

In the end, Capitalism can only thrive within a special ethical framework—a framework that respects private property and private exchange. But a necessary corollary of that ethical framework is that commercial exchanges must not be allowed to be deceptive or misleading. You cannot build a political economy upon fraud and deceit. Preventing, detecting and punishing deceit and fraud is the essential and vital role of government within the Capitalist system.

If governments do not maintain that duty, Capitalism will indeed have come to an end. But, if that be the case, human society and civilisation, as we know it, shall also have passed.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

More Embarrassing Climate Data

Huge Increase in Arctic Ice

You won't read about this any time soon in the public square, but the global climate just refuses to play ball with the propagandists for global warming.

It turns out that Arctic Sea ice is now 28.7% up on the same time last year. (The Antarctic ice pack is larger than long term averages, but you won't hear much about that either). Anthony Watts presents the latest data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

It's All About the Facts, Right?

The Triumph of Nikolai Bukharin in the West

One of the most enduring myths of our age is of modern civilization's crowning glory is that it is built upon disinterested, neutral, scientific, objective inquiry. Past ages were characterised by blind prejudice and mysticism. Consequently, ignorance dominated. Modern man, it is believed, has escaped from such primitivism and truly entered an enlightened age. The modern explosion of knowledge has released captive mankind from the shackles of brute ignorance—or so the myth shrills.

But humankind has a distinct proclivity toward self-deceit. Every age has a tendency to think of itself as the biggest, the brightest, and the best that the world has ever seen. Ours in no exception. Every so often the veil of blindness is drawn back and we see our world for what it is. Sadly, this supposedly enlightened modern world is racked with blind prejudice, mysticism, ignorance, cant and hypocrisy.

Occasionally society throws up a person who combines fierce intellectual prowess with radical objective self-awareness and criticism. Michael Polanyi, one of the most formidable physical chemists of the last century, was such a person. However, he gave up his stellar scientific career as a result of a kind of mid-life crisis. He turned instead to become a professional philosopher of science, accepting a specially created chair for that purpose at the University of Manchester in 1948.

What provoked Polanyi into this career shift was a conversation with Nikolai Bukharin, leading theoretician in Stalin's Communist Party. Bukharin argued that the distinction, common in the west, between pure science (letting the facts speak) and applied science (social advocacy) was incorrect. In the Soviet Union, scientists were free to research whatever they liked, but owing to the enlightened state of Soviet society and its comprehensive internal harmony, all Soviet scientists in fact were inevitably led to lines of research that would benefit the current Five Year Plan. Therefore, when the state and its institutions controlled and directed research it was merely acting consistently with the already pre-existing harmony of scientific and social aims.

That conversation profoundly disturbed Polanyi. He knew that it spelled the end of rational scientific endeavour as we know it. But he was not provoked to change careers until this Soviet view of science began to be advocated in Britain in 1938. It was argued by the British Association for the Advancement of Sciences that the progress of science had to be socially guided. Polanyi saw that this would lead to the kind of self-deceit and ignorance prevalent within the Soviet Union. For the rest of his life, Polanyi advocated for rigorously honest scientific inquiry, which led him to espouse a philosophy of science which is both profound and humble.

While strongly advocating a rigorous scientific method in the discovery of knowledge about the material world, Polanyi remained acutely aware of the limitations of science and scientific knowledge. He called for a deeply self-critical consciousness of the tenuousness of scientific discovery, the circularity of knowledge, the “tricks” of the mind, the inaccuracy of experimental data, and of the influence of prior suggestion. He knew, however, that such self-criticism, such remorseless objectivity, is impossible in advocacy-science.

But Polanyi has lost the fight. Today, more than ever before, the Soviet model is being applied in the West to science and scientific research. Perceptions of social need and advocacy of causes dominates the Academy—which inevitably produces a quasi-religious certainty to the status-quo view. It is hard to be objective and disinterested when all around you the social, institutional, and political consensus is advocating a particular perspective. Today the vast bulk of academics invariably study a certain cluster of issues with the intended outcome of proving and reinforcing the prevailing social paradigm or consensus. Bukharin's world has come to pass.

You may think that this is extreme. Far from it. Recently, the Sydney Morning Herald carried a piece entitled, “Academic Freedom: Exit Far Left. The author argued as follows:

Have a different opinion? Think again. The debate is over. A highly politicised ideological bias exists in academia - one harmful to students, damaging to standards and which threatens intellectual diversity - according to the majority of submissions to the Senate's academic freedom inquiry.

In nearly all cases, this bias comes from one direction - the left. A prominent academic, Mervyn Bendle, in his submission says it "dominates research programs, publications and textbooks at all levels and therefore influences every aspect of education in Australia".

Pick any controversial issue today - Work Choices, anti-terror laws, Israel-Palestine, or climate change - and in academia these issues have been decided. There is only one accepted view on each - no debate is allowed. . . .

Heaven help anyone on campus, academic or student, who dares to question what Dr Bendle calls a "radical orthodoxy", characterised by "theories associated with neo-Marxism, postmodernism, feminism, radical environmentalism, anti-Americanism, anti-Christianity, and related ideologies".

Bendle argues this entrenched left-wing culture has its roots in the counterculture of the 1960s. Yesterday's radicals are today's establishment, and now they will tolerate no dissent. Resistance is futile. You will be indoctrinated.

No recent research has been conducted into the ideological leanings of Australian educators, but in the US a 1999 study found more than 70 per cent of academics identified as left wing, compared to only 15 per cent as conservative. In some humanities departments, conservatives are outnumbered by up to 30 to one. The situation is so bad the University of Colorado recently debated creating a "chair of conservative thought" in a desperate attempt to restore some balance. . . .

One former trainee teacher, Beccy Merzi, told the inquiry: "I became so fed up and disgusted by the continual barrage of criticism of mainstream values, the lack of focus on practical ways of teaching, and the continual focus on minority groups, postmodernism, gender, queer and other studies that I abandoned my teaching degree. "

But it's not only the course content that is biased - it's lecturers' conduct. Submission after submission documented educators using their classrooms to promote their political views and belittling or marking down students who disagreed.

"I have been abused and mocked by a lecturer in front of others for refusing to acknowledge the 'genocide occurring in Lebanon' during the Israeli-Lebanese war," one student, Joshua Koonin, told the inquiry.

This age is neither enlightened, nor knowledgeable. It bears the hallmarks of a Dark Age in which mysticism increasingly masquerades as truth. The pseudo-science advocacy of global warming mania is just the latest example. One only has to read the socio-political advocacy that is being published in so-called scientific magazines like the New Scientist to illustrate the point further. Bukharin's vision has come to pass. Polanyi's worst fears have been realised. The Academy is soundly compromised, although not yet widely discredited. The left wing-academy complex remains firmly ensconced and influential—for now.

The fall of discredited pseudo-academics, however, is certain. Just as the former Soviet Union collapsed from the inside as reality impinged remorselessly upon the willfully ignorant power elites (remember the years of bad harvests being blamed regularly and routinely on fifty sequential years of bad weather), so reality—providential, God-controlled reality—will increasingly squeeze pseudo-academics in a divine vice. Because God is Truth, and the history of the world belongs to Him for His purposes, eventually truth will out.

Meanwhile, we need to be working diligently to establish and promote new academies of learning and research that are not afflicted with the benighted ideologies of this current dark and ignorant age.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The Myths and Reality of Raising Children in Modern Athens

Now That's a Surprise

We live amidst live theatre of the absurd. The NZ Herald recently carried a piece from the Independent, reporting on the results of a research project completed by two professors at Cambridge University. The two august professors, Galton and Macbeath, conducting research on behalf of the UK's National Union of Teachers, concluded that classroom disruption from unruly pupils was a significant problem for teachers.

Well, knock us down with feathers. That's an unexpected finding. It must be a deep and well hidden secret if it required the rigour and deliberation of a professorially managed research project to expose it. That's the first absurdity—that the National Union of Teachers would employ Cambridge Dons to tell us what is blindingly obvious.

The carefully crafted press release used all the buzzwords of political correctness to describe the problem. Pupils lack “social skills”; schools faced “formidable challenges”; there appears to have been “a significant and inimical impact on school life from a rapidly changing social scene”. This is the second absurdity—glossing over a crisis with a patina of social-engineering buzzwords that give the vague impression that we will be able to muddle through this all right.

But, then, things in the press release took an unexpected twist. Apparently the bad behaviour of pupils stemmed from bad parenting. Parents could not control their children at home, so the schools could not control them either. Mmmm. Parents cannot control their children at home. Why might that be? Diet perhaps? Global warming? Television programming? We know a veritable plethora of child-psychologists, enlightened commentators, mentors, reality TV programmes, popular magazine articles have been rabbiting on for decades now about enlightened parenting. Is this the outcome? The end result of modern parenting is that parents lose control over their children at home. How enlightened is our age. The more “clever” parenting becomes, the less effective is appears to be. How absurd Athens has become.

The study went on to describe “highly permissive” parents who bribed their children simply to keep the peace: they had run out of alternative incentives and sanctions. Apparently, “time out” was just not doing it. The professors were also told of parents who would do anything to “shut their children up 'just to get some peace.'”

Now, every parent knows that living with children can be bedlam. Wise parents work out very quickly that the home will be torn apart if it is not well regulated and controlled. Therefore, they quickly establish some “non-negotiables” that turn around respect, obedience, and politeness. In a well ordered home there is rarely a need to raise one's voice. The home will at times likely be boisterous and noisy during times of play and frolic. But, a clear word of command, and the time of play passes, and the next activity subsumes. In such homes, children are free to live life to the full, with their energies channeled and focused. Yet respect for parents, order, authority, and structure is preserved. For many Christian parents such homes are the norm. For a rapidly growing population of Athenians, such homes are a utopian dream, never to be seen or experienced.

Where is the dividing line? What causes the fundamental difference? What tends to make one home happy and the other destructive? A Rubicon is the belief one has about the innate nature of the child. Athenian parents believe—pretty much universally—that children are intrinsically good. Christian parents believe that children are intrinsically bound up with evil (in common with all humanity).

Now Athenians have heaped up scorn upon Christians for their negative, medieval, benighted view of children. It has been mocked as a vestige of Dickensian moral turpitude to have such a low view of children. It leads, we are told, to all kinds of repression and evil child-rearing practices. But the exact reverse is the case. Lay the propaganda aside and you find that Christian families are in the main happy, well ordered, joyous, fulfilling, and affirming. Athenian families, where they have fallen under the thrall of humanist myths concerning children, tend to be disappointed, frustrated, bitter, angry, divided, and tempestuous. Anything for some peace.

Athenian propaganda would have us believe that since the child is intrinsically righteous all you need is to “get out of the way” and let the goodness flow. Any contradiction or “crossing” of a child will simply impede the natural goodness of the child and will stop them developing into perfect adults. Therefore, indulgence is often a dominant characteristic of Athenian families. Give the child what it wants is the basic mantra of Athenian parenting—for in so doing, the inner beauty and moral perfection of the child will shine.

There is a second variant of Athenian child rearing ideology. This propounds that man is an animal like all other animals. To learn how to raise children successfully, one must take a cue from the animal kingdom. Here patterns of successful survival amidst a hostile environment appear to dominate behaviour. Ethics and morality do not enter into consideration. Therefore, Athenian ideology seeks to inculcate children into an evolutionist model where children are taught to do things or think things in order to succeed or survive. From an early age, parents seek to reason with their children to ensure they learn survival habits.

“Brush your teeth, Johnny.”
“No!” (Johnny is a five year old, who has never been trained out of the two-year old mentality.)
“Look, if you don't brush your teeth, they will get rotten and fall out.”
“But Johnny, you don't want other people not to like you because you have rotten teeth, do you?”
“So, let's brush your teeth.”

How many conversations like this take place in Athenian homes up and down the country every day, a hundred times a day? Johnny is learning two lessons—bad lessons that will scar him for the rest of his life. Firstly, he can say “No!” and get away with it. In the end no-one has a right to tell him what to do. If he can out-govern his parents, no-one else can tell him what to do either.

Secondly, he is learning that the fundamental driver of human action is environmental. Right and wrong turns around what will impress those people whose regard he wants to have.

When that is the frame of reference of the child, inculcated from the cradle, by the time that the child becomes a teenager, and experiences the drive for peer approval, the scene is set for identification with criminal gangs and other sociopathic behaviour. Lawlessness ("no-one is going to tell me what to do") and an ethic of peer group approbation ("do things to gain the approval of others") is an ethically lethal cocktail.

So, for all their mocking and scorn, Athenian child rearing practice is turning out to be a dismal failure—as indeed our good Cambridge Dons have told us—and it all stems from the lies upon which Athens is built.

Christians base their child rearing practices upon a principle that each child bears the image of the Living God—and is therefore unbelievably precious and has great dignity. But another truth is present—that like all men since Adam's Fall, every child is intrinsically wicked. The fallen nature of the child has to be trained out at much as possible. Therefore, child rearing is often “going against the grain.” This is to be expected. It brings a common-sensical, matter-of-factness, into Christian child rearing practices.

Children are to be loved, but corrected. The home is a training and correctional institution, in an atmosphere of love and affection. The Proverb says: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him.” In the Scriptures, “foolishness” is moral, ethical, and religious wrongdoing. These things have to be trained out of the child. This requires correction.

Christian parents, therefore, are fundamentally personal trainers of their children. In order to fulfill that role in any way successfully they must have and maintain their children's respect. Disrespect for parents is bound up in each child's heart. Loving, firm correction drives it out.

So, in Christian homes up and down the country we get thousands of the following types of training and correcting moments every day:

“Johnny, it's time to brush your teeth.”
“Why?” (Johnny is now a three year old. He has passed through the “terrible two's” and has learnt through being corrected and trained that if he does not respect and obey his parents, there are painful consequences.)
“Because I asked you to.”
“Johnny, you know that if you do not obey me quickly and cheerfully, I am going to have to discipline you. Please brush your teeth. I will not ask you again.”
“That's a good boy.”

In such Christian homes, because the authority issues are settled, there is a framework to deal with bad behaviour. But equally importantly the home is thereby released to be able to channel Johnny's creativity and energy into exploring and discovering and learning copiously about the world.

Take a simple every day learning experience like going to the supermarket. Ever seen those failing suffering parents who have to argue with their children all the way around the supermarket over not touching, eating, throwing, screaming, yelling, kicking and otherwise creating mayhem. Contrast that with the trained child or children who in a well behaved fashion can walk with their parents around the supermarket, not touching anything (“Because it does not belong to you, Johnny”) but being free to ask a thousand questions, and have animated conversations with mum and dad about colours, shapes, brands, pictures, people, money, buying, foods, eating, tastes, and likes and dislikes—and on, and on.

When such well-trained children go to school, they will end up respecting their teachers, because if there ever is an issue over the matter, their parents will tell them to—and that will be sufficient.

Contrast this with the fruits of Athenian wisdom: Profs Galton and Macbeath tell us that “Motivating certain children, it was claimed, had become more difficult because by the time they came to school many of these children had become expert in manipulating adults. . . . Children arrive at school knowing too much and not enough.” Indeed.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Meditation on the Text of the Week

Cries of Dereliction

But for Thy sake we are killed all day long;
We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
Psalm 44:22
It has been truthfully said that the twentieth century was the most bloody in all human history. This was not due just to a higher global population, reflecting the same proportion of violent malevolent deaths. It was due to a greater outbreak of man's inhumanity to man. Two world wars and three large malevolent totalitarian societies (the USSR and its “Eastern Bloc”, Nazi Germany, and Maoist China) along with many small tinpot dictatorships led to millions upon millions of people being exterminated. If the blood of Abel cried to God from the ground, how much more the blood of the millions killed unjustly in our days.

It was also the bloodiest century for Christian martyrdom. In all of these dictatorships and totalitarian terror states Christians were singled out for persecution and extermination. But while we have seen in recent history the passing of these hideously malformed and tyrannical governments, the persecution and martyrdom of Christians has not ceased. It is estimated that from the early 1990's, approximately 150,000 Christians per year have been killed for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a rising trend.

Our text is deeply relevant, therefore, for our age. Around the world, Christians are regarded as sheep in the holding paddocks awaiting the slaughterhouse.

The psalmist is speaking of a time when the faithful were being overwhelmed by lawlessness and being killed almost at will. Psalm 44 is a psalm of anguish—believing, faithful anguish. God's people are regarded as fair game, yet not for one moment did the psalmist doubt that behind all this were the prerogatives and plans of the Almighty. None of these terrible things had occurred by accident, but by God's express will and plan. See how he confesses the hand of God bringing the suffering about:

Thou hast given us as sheep to be eaten
And hast scattered us among the nations.
Thou dost sell Thy people cheaply,
And hast not profited by their sale.
Thou dost make us a reproach to our neighbours,
A scoffing and derision to those around us.
Thou dost make us a byword among the nations,
A laughing stock among the peoples.
Psalm 44: 11—14
Mark well the active verbs. The Lord has given His people over, scattered them, sold them, made them a reproach, a laughing stock and a derision. But not for an instant does the psalmist wonder whether the Lord does not exist. Not for an instant does he think of turning aside to “more powerful” gods. He is unwavering in his belief that the Lord alone is God, and beside Him there is no other. In obedience to the first commandment, he will not give credence to, nor acknowledgement of, any other god. Rather, behind all of the calamity falling upon him and his fellow believers, he sees the hand of God Himself. Hence the anguish.

He confesses the unwavering loyalty to the Lord amongst His people. “All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten Thee, and we have not dealt falsely with Thy covenant.” (Psalm 44: 17) Despite their suffering, the people had not turned to a strange god in search of better things.

This cry of anguish—of the innocent people of God suffering at the hands of God without cause—was uttered most loudly and trenchantly by our Lord upon the Cross. It was the greatest cry of dereliction ever heard upon the earth or in heaven. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Our psalmist, however, shows us that the cry of dereliction is not unknown amongst the saints. The experience of being forsaken by God, and left to face the marauding cruelty and spiteful hatred of the wicked had been known by God's people before the Cross. It is known by the Lord's people today, as thousands across the world are killed annually, mercilessly without cause.

But their cry of anguish and dereliction—while being of the same kind as the cry of the Lord Jesus—is nothing more than a faint echo of His. For He uttered His cry out of the depths of Hell itself as He bore the full brunt of God's vengeance and wrath for the sins of His people. And like the psalmist, our Lord—even while in Hell—did not apostasize. He did not turn away. He did not stop believing or clinging to His heavenly Father. He still called Him, My God.

Because of our Lord, continuing to believe in God and cling to Him amidst His apparent desertion of us, is not only made possible, but more compelling. For in His dying and rising, Christ established a bond of eternal, impregnable, unbreakable love between God and us. Nothing in heaven or upon earth can ever, now, separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

So, the Apostle Paul, acknowledging the suffering of God's people upon the earth which still remains while enemies are being put under our Lord's feet, acknowledging that we will still utter from time to time the cries of anguish and dereliction as God allows us to be overrun for His greater purposes, quotes our text: “Just as it is written, 'For Thy sake we are being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.'” (Romans 8: 36)

If the psalmist had cause to trust and cling, to believe and to keep faith with the Lord, while God afflicted them without cause, how much more we. For God has now given the most extreme and unshakable testimony that despite our anguish we are not cut off from God's love, but that it is ever extended to us, and will never be withdrawn. He has given unbreakable proof that our suffering is not due to God despising and rejecting us. He gave us His Son. Everything else is mere echo. Nothing, now, can ever separate us from the love of God.

The blood of the martyrs continues to flow. The cries of the faithful remonstrating with our Lord continue to be uttered today. And they are heard! For Jesus sake, they are heard louder than ever before. “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness,” cries the psalmist. (Psalm 44: 26)

In the light of our Lord Jesus, we can gloss this cry, so that it is now even more powerful and irresistible in the ears of our God: “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Thy lovingkindness in Christ Jesus, your Son, Who loved us and gave Himself for us.” This is a cry the Father cannot deny, for He cannot deny Himself.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

NZ Could Not Survive Another Clark

A Written Constitution: Who Needs It?

For many years we have argued against developing a written Constitution for New Zealand, in part because the idea that the left-wing fundamentalists would effectively write the document, with a little help from the United Nations, was a frightful prospect.

We preferred the approach that if it were not broke, we should not bother to try to fix it.

New Zealand is a peculiar western democracy. It follows the Westminster system, which invests significant power in the Executive. The Prime Minister effectively controls both the Parliament and the Executive. There is no limit (beyond the ballot box) to prime ministerial tenure. However, all other Westminster democracies have checks and balances which New Zealand does not. The most common is a bicameral legislature, which effectively dilutes the legislative control of the Prime Minister. New Zealand has a unicameral legislature which means that it is vulnerable to abuse.

None of this is fatal, provided all political parties follow critical conventions which protect the integrity of the governmental system itself.

Helen Clark and her inner cabal has done more than any other Prime Minister, surpassing even Robert Muldoon, to tear this thin constitutional fabric apart. Once torn, it is almost impossible to repair.

Blogger David Farrar has documented some of Clark's most egregious breaches of constitutional conventions:

  • No consultation on quasi-judicial appointments such as Human Rights Commissioners
  • Retrospectively amending the Electoral Act to protect a Minister who vacated his seat
  • Shattering the bipartisan consensus on electoral law reform
  • Continuing to make significant appointments to government bodies within the final 90 days
  • Attacking independent officers who try to hold them to account such as the Auditor-General, Chief Electoral Officer and Serious Fraud Office Director
  • And now announcing a $150 billion bank deposit guarantee four weeks before an election, and refusing to let officials brief the Opposition
To this list, we could add such seditious acts as:

  • Politicization of the police force;
  • Granting favours to wealthy people in exchange for money (otherwise known as taking bribes);
  • Systematic politicization of the public service;
  • Riding roughshod over parliamentary conventions, such as no longer requiring that Ministers of the Crown answer parliamentary questions, merely “address” them;
  • Constructive (that is, illegal) dismissal of out-of-favour senior public servants, such as the Police Commissioner;
  • Ad hoc changes to overseas investment rules during a lawful bid by an overseas pension fund for Auckland Airport, using executive powers that did not exist;
  • Deliberately excluding Treasury and preventing it from doing its constituted duty because it would give advice that the Minister of Finance would not like—and on, and on, and on.
These breaches and seditious acts have left the unwritten conventions of our Westminster constitution in tatters. This has persuaded us that a written constitution would be preferable, and the process of drafting and adopting one is about the only way left to repair the damage done by Clark and her coterie. At least this would make all the issues overt.

Our wish list would be for far more checks and balances upon executive power. A second legislative chamber is essential. Constitutional protection for the Cabinet Manual, and the involvement of the judiciary in its development and alteration would be vital. Greater powers of judicial impeachment would be salutary. Limits upon MP's parliamentary tenure would be preferable.

If we do not take these steps now, the next time New Zealand is afflicted with a velvet gloved radical, in the ilk of Helen Clark, the damage will be greater still. Without radical remedial action, it is unlikely that the gaping breaches wrought by Clark will ever be repaired.

So, we at Contra Celsum join the ranks of those who have come to believe that we need to proceed to develop a written constitution for the protection of our liberties and the fragile fabric of our governmental system.