Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Well Said . . .

 Kiwi Cargo Cult

Here is Bruce Wills of Federated Farmers commenting on the prospect that New Zealand dairy farms are going to be sold to offshore interests:
Bruce Wills, who heads the lobby group's meat and fibre division, agrees the stance is purely pragmatic. But it is also necessary, he insists, if farming is to have a future. A former banker and valuer, he notes that debt has more than doubled in the agricultural sector over the past seven years to around $47 billion.

Wills agrees the Chinese seem to be taking a long-term view of the value of New Zealand farmland, given their concerns about feeding their own population. Although Fonterra is doing its best to capitalise on the same trend, most Kiwi farmers simply can't afford to take a similar long-term view, he says.

While a few dairy farmers are indeed creaming it, most are still deeply mired in debt, says Wills.

Global Warming, Where Art Thou?

Nothing to See Here--Move Along, Please

Some updates.

Firstly, context.  Recall that we are now ten years into the new century.  Ten years ago we were told by global warming propagandists that the end of humanity had commenced.  Final meltdown was nigh, unless urgent actions were undertaken.  Dire predictions were made back then of what calamities we would face in ten years time (that is, now) if the world did not wake up and repent.

Here is the latest graph from the UAH climate centre which reports constantly the global temperature data secured by satellites and weather balloons.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Old School Marriage

Culture and Politics - Sex and Culture
Written by Douglas Wilson
Thursday, May 26, 2011

My recent post on old school marriage has generated some questions about the biblical necessity of marriage vows. I had argued that a marriage is constituted when two elements are both present -- a sexual union and a socially recognized commitment and bond (vows), which result in a particular legal status for that couple.

In order for that status to come into being, there must be a vow, or an action/set of actions that the society in question has agreed to treat as a vow. In other words, these conditions for marriage could be met without a distinct vow-making ceremony.

A Curious Case of Theft

Discombobulations And Sub-Texts

A huge debate has broken out in South Auckland.  A woman has habitually left her house unlocked as a matter of principle.  She claims that she determined years ago she would never be dictated to by the career criminals, gangs, drug dependant and other social detritus in her neighbourhood.  Her parents never had to lock their houses and protect their possessions so why should she, was her argument.  Apparently it was a kind of "human rights" thing she was running.

Predictably last week, whilst absent, her house was completely ransacked.  Everything the thieves regarded as valuable (computer, wide-screen TV, stereo system, kitchen appliances) was taken.  Her teenage son's car, left unlocked in the driveway, was also taken.  The rest of the house was trashed in what appears to be a malicious melee of wanton destruction. 

The police are investigating and reportedly have some good leads.  The detective in charge of the case sympathized with the victim and her family, but said it reinforced how people needed to take reasonable precautions with their property.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church

Jingoism and the Gospel

Regular readers of ContraCelsum will know that we have been a frequent critic of the idolatry of American nationalism--the notion that the United States is especially called by the Living God to bring His Kingdom to pass in the world.  This doctrine--albeit now deeply secularized--is that the root of  what is called American "Exceptionalism".

Now there are many things about the United States that we are particularly thankful for to God, just as there are in our own nation (New Zealand).  We have travelled reasonably extensively in the world, and wherever we go, we find things which lead us to wonder and marvel at God's goodness as manifested in particular nations and cultures.  But when any of those good gifts of our Lord become objects of veneration and nationalistic pride, the anger of the Almighty is kindled.  He is a jealous God.  He will not share His glory with another.

Many churches in the United States have got swept up with the national idolatry.  Kevin DeYoung, writing on the occasion of Memorial Day, speaks to the heart of the matter.

Darwin and Higher Breeding

Pistols At Dawn

It is presumably an embarrassment to the modern evolutionist that Charles Darwin, the founder of the evolutionist cosmology, welcomed the extinguishing of what he saw as lower human species.  He saw this ethnic cleansing as inevitable and right and natural and determined by evolutionary principles.  He wrote in The Descent of Man (New York: Penguin Classics, 2004, p.163):
At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races throughout the world.
So more advanced human beings were going to exterminate the less advanced--the fact that they would be successful in exterminating them would be proof positive of their superiority and fitness to survive. When that happened, argued Darwin, we would see a far bigger gap between apes and human beings in the evolutionary chain of being. At his time of writing Darwin thought that there were human ethnic groups that were pretty close to apes--specifically the Australian aboriginal and the Negro.

Now, of course, today such views are regarded by evolutionists as quaint, old-fashioned, or Victorian. It is more fashionable to speak of all men being equal--but this is just a modern fad.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The S-Files

Making a Community Proud

Civilization is built neighbour by neighbour.  How we treat the person next door, or the one we encounter in need not only reflects society, it shapes and determines it.  Today there is a report of three school boys in Hastings whose actions helped build our civilisation--in New Zealand.

The S-Award Committee has convened an SGM and voted unanimously to bestow the ContraCelsum S-Award upon Liam Mataira, 15, and his two friends Ben Hayllar and Tama McKenzie.

Here are the facts as reported :
Three Hastings schoolboys rescued a 12-year-old girl by threatening to attack two men who were trying to drag her away. "The other boys told them that if they didn't go away right now they would get a hiding," Hastings Boys' High School pupil Liam Mataira, 15, said yesterday, describing the rescue he had made with friends Ben Hayllar and Tama McKenzie.

"We just jumped in front and pulled her away. The men were over six feet tall. I was taller than them, but they were quite stocky. "They just started swearing. They looked like they had been taking drugs – they were all twitchy and stuff. "It happened fast. They could have retaliated and attacked us, but we had to do something to get that girl away before something happened." The rescue took place in busy Karamu Rd on Wednesday morning, as the boys were on their way to school.

The girl was going to Hastings Intermediate and the boys escorted her there afterward, before continuing on to their own school. "She was pretty shaken up; she was crying," Liam said. Ben, also 15, said the men had used language indicating that they were affiliated to the Mongrel Mob, but he had not felt scared. "They towered over me but I just felt an adrenaline thing. It all happened at once. I told them to go away and leave her alone."

Now, this is not all. 

It's Poison

Marmite Is No More

The vast expansion of the soft-despotic state has occurred primarily because of three great sucking tentacles.  These suckers have fed the beast more than any other and resulted in the great amorphous bureaucratic blob that now sits over us, crushing us with its dead weight of rules, regulations, controls, and bans.  Let's not forget the ban.  The identity of the tentacles? State education, state health and state welfare. 

Together these three represent eighty percent of government spending in New Zealand.  Without them there would be no despotic state.  State education tells us how and what to think.  State welfare feeds and clothes us.  State health protects our bodies from disease and damage.  The government ends up controlling us entirely: mind, body, and soul.  One of the great ironies of our time is that the West, which claims to be the "land of the free", is more controlled and smothered by the state than any other region or country upon the globe.  Because we approbate this smothering despotism with votes, somehow we see ourselves as free--as if a man who chooses to be a slave is any less a slave than an involuntary one. 

Every so often, however, the self-deceiving charade is made plain.  No more so than in Denmark.  It has banned Marmite!  Yup.  For reasons of public health. 
The strongly flavoured dark brown spread made from brewer's yeast has joined Rice Crispies, Shreddies, Horlicks and Ovaltine prohibited in Denmark under legislation forbidding the sale of food products with added vitamins as threat to public health.
Many well known breakfast cereal and drink brands have already been banned or taken off supermarket shelves after Danish legislation in 2004 restricted foods fortified with extra vitamins or minerals.
But Marmite had escaped notice as an exotic import for a small number of ex-pats until the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration telephoned Abigail's, a Copenhagen shop selling British food, to ban the famous yeast spread.
"I don't eat it myself, I don't like it but Marmite was one of our best selling products. Not a day goes by without someone coming in and asking for it," said Marianne ├śrum, the shop owner.
"All the English people here are shaking their heads in disbelief and say that it is insane. I agree but it is the law. It's becoming impossible to run a business in this country. We are not allowed to do anything anymore. It is the way Denmark is going. . . .
Lyndsay Jensen, a Yorkshire born graphic designer working in Copenhagen, told the British ex-pat RedHerring.dk website, that Britons would carry on spreading Marmite on their toast, even if it meant smuggling it in to Denmark.
"They don't like it because it's foreign," she said. "But if they want to take my Marmite off me they'll have to wrench it from my cold dead hands."
The sale of any foodstuff with the "addition of vitamins, minerals and other substances" must be first approved by the Danish authorities after a health scare over their effect on children or pregnant women when combined with other foods with high vitamin levels.
"Cold dead hands" eh?.  That's the spirit.  

But, seriously, isn't it wonderful that we have such enlightened and munificent governments  to take care of us? 

When the people set themselves up as gods they will demand their government bear the attributes of deity.  It is inevitable.   

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Dry Law?

 Flying Sparks

One of the more attractive aspects of government in the US is the constitutional separation of powers.  Of these powers, the Supreme Court is (at present anyway) the more interesting.  Whilst nominations to the Court have become far more politicised in recent decades than they once were, the decisions and reasoning of the justices avoid the almost universal ad hominem irrelevance found in other branches of government, focusing upon the "real" issues of the Republic. 

The New York Times has published a piece reviewing some research done on the current Bench members' legal writing styles.
The justices turn out to be a surprisingly literary bunch. Justice Kennedy, the court’s swing justice, had barely started talking when he began quoting from Hamlet, and he went on to discuss Dickens, Trollope, Faulkner and Solzhenitsyn.
Justice Ginsburg said she had learned much from a course Nabokov taught at Cornell on European literature.
“He was a man in love with the sound of words,” she said of her former professor. “He changed the way I read, the way I write.”
One test is whether the written opinions of  the justices were accessible to the legendary common man.  Here's Justice Thomas:
In the interview, Justice Thomas provided evidence that his writing is easy to grasp, including a remembered airport encounter with a man he assumed to be a law enforcement official.
“He looked like a deputy sheriff,” Justice Thomas said. “He had a little midriff going.”
“Here’s a guy,” the justice went on, “who looked like he clearly didn’t go to college, who said that ‘I’ve read all your opinions.’ Well, that’s accessibility.”
It bodes well for the health of a democracy when apparently ordinary people can read judicial opinions so avidly and the opinions of the Court are sufficiently non-technical that they can be understood. 

Chief Justice John Roberts and Anthony Scalia are said to be the strongest writers of the nine justices.  When the two end up on opposite sides of an argument, it can be entertaining:
“Justice Scalia is always interesting and fun to read,” said John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. John’s University. “He’s pugnacious, combative and smart. Chief Justice Roberts is eloquent and stylish, and he can turn a good phrase.”. . .
When Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Scalia end up on opposite sides of a decision, which is not often, sparks can fly.
Writing for the majority last month, Justice Scalia said state agencies could sometimes sue states in federal court in part because private parties can.
Chief Justice Roberts said the two kinds of suits were not comparable. “It is the difference between eating and cannibalism; between murder and patricide,” the chief justice wrote. “While the ultimate results may be the same — a full stomach and a dead body — it is the means of getting there that attracts notice. I would think it more an affront to someone’s dignity to be sued by a brother than to be sued by a stranger.”
Justice Scalia returned fire in a footnote.
“We think the dissent’s principle of familial affront less than universally applicable, even with respect to real families, never mind governmental siblings,” he wrote, adding, “Confining one’s child to his room is called grounding, while confining a stranger’s child is called kidnapping.”
With such a colourful style getting to the nub of issues, coupled with robust debate, it is no wonder that the opinions of the Court are widely read.  We, in New Zealand, can only be envious. 

What Now?

Rapture, Anyone?  No Thanks.

The "Rapture" has been back in the news again.  It is now an old, tired, hoary chestnut--but every so often "Rapture dogma" gets to do another promenade around the public square.  And so it has come to pass once again.

The folk we feel saddest about are those genuine, well-meaning believers who have been hoodwinked and misled by stupid speculations masquerading as the truth.  These folk are generally committed to Christ and dedicated to obeying Him, come what may.  They are prone to being captured by false teachers insofar as extreme demands, total loyalty, outlandish sacrifices are to be expected when one follows Jesus (or so they are taught).  To such, the more extreme the demand, the more genuinely true it will appear.

To hear from Scripture that "no man knows the day or the hour" when Christ will return is less satisfying than a certain definitive claim that "He will return in the Final Advent at 3.02pm next Wednesday, so better give up everything to do with this life and live as a fanatic for the next five days."  The latter claim has the the "authenticity" of being both extreme and dramatic, and therefore authentic--at least to gullible, poorly taught, relatively ignorant Christians.  They are like sheep without a shepherd.  And when there is no shepherd, rapine wolves can have a field day.

Rapture dogma came into vogue during the nineteenth century, first in the United Kingdom, then in the US.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Then Leave The Man Alone

Culture and Politics - Politics
Written by Douglas Wilson
Thursday, May 12, 2011

Beware of all isms except for prisms, as the fellow said. This goes double for libertarianism, and I would point you to Denny Burk's applause of Michael Gerson's critique of Ron Paul. Since I have praised Paul in this place before (and will no doubt do so again), I should perhaps offer an explanation of what gives here.

There are different kinds of libertarian approaches. One is when liberty itself has become the standard, and an attempt is made to apply that standard wherever practically or theoretically possible, and sometimes when impossible. This kind of liberty is an abstraction, divorced from any particular Word from God, although it is often assumed that God generally likes liberty. Christians like Ron Paul can mistakenly go for this, and it leads them to sometimes take surprising stands, such as Paul's support for the legalization of prostitution.

But there is another variant of a libertarian approach, one that is consistent with social conservatism, and one that I would like to argue for here. When God, as it were, "leaves us alone" with one another, we should take note of the temptations that Scripture describes under such circumstances. This is a libertarianism that is based on a scriptural understanding of what power and privilege tend to do to the hearts of men.

Darwin Versus Chesterton

 Just the Facts, Ma'am

There is an interesting essay by Denyse O'Leary in the book God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards.  The book represents a collection of essays which give a defence for Intelligent Design"ism"--by which we mean the argument that Intelligent Design offers a reasonable, if not a better, explanation for the beginning and existence of the world than Darwinian evolution theories.  The essay is entitled "Everything Old is New Again: The Older Catholic Apologists' Responses to Darwin." 

The author puzzles over why the Roman Catholic church cuddles up to Darwinism.  She observes that the media, including Roman Catholic media, defer to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as representing the official church position.
And the Academy, for its part, assures us that Darwinism (survival of the fittest, without evidence of design) is the best way to interpret the creation of the Lamb of God who was crucified to take away the sins of the world. Denyse O'Leary, "Everything Old Is New Again", God and Evolution, p.167.
She notes that this was not always the case.  A century ago Darwinism was being vigorously denounced by such English writers and intellectuals as G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and St. George Jackson Mivart.  These protagonists, she tells us, rejected Darwinism on rational grounds--including its striking absence of key evidence for Darwin's beliefs.  But absence of evidence--which she assures us continues to this day--has not stopped Darwinism triumphing in the West to the point where it has become virtually the established religion.  This historical development was not what Chesterton and his colleagues expected at all.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Fast Following

Despotism and Universal Avarice

Despotic states produce universal avarice. When rules concentrate on exacting the maximum amount from those they control, their subjects become notably avaricious too, and respond by consuming, hoarding, and hiding the fruits of their labor, and by failing to produce nearly as much as they might. And even when some people do manage to be productive, chances are that in the end their efforts will merely enrich their rulers. The result is a standard of living far below the society's potential productive capacities.

Late in the tenth century, an iron industry began to develop in parts of northern China. By 1018, it has been estimated, the smelters were producing more than thirty-five thousand tons a year, an incredible achievement for the time, and sixty years later they may have been producing more than a hundred thousand tons. This was not a government operation. Private individuals had seized the opportunity presented by a strong demand for iron and the supplies of easily mined ore and coal. . . . Soon these new Chinese iron industrialists were reaping huge profits and reinvesting heavily in the expansion of their smelters and foundries. Production continued to rise rapidly. The availability of large supplies of iron soon led to the introduction of iron agricultural tools, which in turn rapidly increased food production. . . . But then it all stopped as suddenly as it had begun. By the end of the eleventh century, only tiny amounts of iron were produced, and soon after that the smelters and foundries were abandoned ruins. What had happened?

Monday, 23 May 2011


Damned if You Do . . .

The chutzpah of the US government defies belief.  When the credit crisis hit and mortgages burnt, sanctimonious politicians criticized banks for their risky lending practices.  Reckless greed.  Must be regulated.  Blah. Blah. Blah.

What was quietly forgotten was that politicians had been pushing and cajoling banks for over two decades to engage in just such risky lending--in the name of social justice and civil rights.  The poor deserve to own their own homes--so you banks had better lend to them, or else.  Now the Obama administration is returning to the lending madness.  It is starting to crackdown on banks that are not lending sufficiently to poor people.  Spare us.

Destroying the Imagination of Your Child

Sickly Sweet Odour of Chlorine

"With a similar wise disdain for freedom, the Tormentarians [modern parents] have multiplied their "after school exercises."  What all children once did on their own, without adults to manage their movements, now relatively few do, under strict supervision.  Parents themselves have taken their cue from the schools, and enlist their young charges in all kinds of drills: for dance or music or gymnastics or martial arts, until the schedule for a typical Tormentarian tot resembles the day's lineup for the executive of a large corporation. 

"You may not, in Tormentaria, look up at the stars at night because you enjoy doing so; but you'll be admired and envied if your parents convey you to an Astronomy course, wherein you will do very little looking at stars and a lot of riding in a car, answering "present", looking at greaseboard drawings, and waiting in line to peer though a telescope. 

"You may not, in Tormentaria, run off with your pals (boys only) to some swimming hole to strip naked and jump in and swim like happy fools.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Golden Barnacles

Liturgy and Worship - Liturgical Notes
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

After several weeks in Central Europe and the UK, Nancy and I are headed home today. Jiggety jig, as they say. We have had a glorious time, and have seen a bunch of the sights, particularly those of interest with regard to the Reformation.

We have been to the church in Cambridge where the first Reformation sermon was preached in England (Christmas Eve, 1525), and we spent time in Heidelberg, where the great catechism was commissioned. We saw a display of Bibles at the Cambridge University Libary, on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, that told a fascinating and parallel story of the Reformation. We saw, in Westminster Abbey, where Cromwell was briefly interred (for three years), and the room where Luther conducted his table talk. We saw Charles Simeon's chair. We have been places where you can't swing a cat without hitting some item of historical interest.

And that interest is great. Some of the architectural and aesthetic achievments we have seen have been greater still. The glory is true glory, but there is a downside. The ship of the church has been in the water for a long time, and of necessity the barnacles have grown. They have been golden barnacles, set with rubies, but in some way and in some fashion they still need to be scraped off.

Friday, 20 May 2011

On Theological "Liberalism"

Darkest Before the Dawn

J. Gresham Machen, writing in 1923:

The present is a time not for ease or pleasure, but for earnest and prayerful work. A terrible crisis unquestionably has arisen in the Church. In the ministry of evangelical churches are to be found hosts of those who reject the gospel of Christ. By the equivocal use of traditional phrases, by the representation of differences of opinion as though they were only differences about the interpretation of the Bible, entrance into the Church was secured for those who are hostile to the very foundations of the faith. And now there are some indications that the fiction of conformity to the past is to be thrown off, and the real meaning of what has been taking place is to be allowed to appear. The Church, it is now apparently supposed, has almost been educated up to the point where the shackles of the Bible can openly be cast away and the doctrine of the Cross of Christ can be relegated to the limbo of discarded subtleties.

Yet there is in the Christian life no room for despair.

Eve Had it Right All Along

Intelligent Design Theories

We have been reading a book entitled God and Evolution, edited by Jay Richards.  Its default position is the promotion of Intelligent Design, with a collection of essays by Protestants, Roman Catholics and Jewish contributors.  In this and some future posts, we will interact with some of the contributions.

Now, on one level--the broadest referent--nobody denies "evolution"--the concept of development, change, and adaptation is  universally taught in the Scriptures and self-evident everywhere in the creation.  In a similar fashion, all Christians acknowledge "intelligent design" of the universe.  To believe that God created all things of nothing necessarily requires a belief in intelligent design.  After all, "in the beginning was the Word. . . . All things came into being through Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being."  (John 1:1-3)  the Greek noun, "logos", used here for the Word, means rational, verbal expression. 

But Intelligent Design protagonists want to say something more.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Golden Barnacles

Liturgy and Worship - Liturgical Notes
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, May 11, 2011

After several weeks in Central Europe and the UK, Nancy and I are headed home today. Jiggety jig, as they say. We have had a glorious time, and have seen a bunch of the sights, particularly those of interest with regard to the Reformation.

We have been to the church in Cambridge where the first Reformation sermon was preached in England (Christmas Eve, 1525), and we spent time in Heidelberg, where the great catechism was commissioned. We saw a display of Bibles at the Cambridge University Libary, on the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, that told a fascinating and parallel story of the Reformation. We saw, in Westminster Abbey, where Cromwell was briefly interred (for three years), and the room where Luther conducted his table talk. We saw Charles Simeon's chair. We have been places where you can't swing a cat without hitting some item of historical interest.

And that interest is great. Some of the architectural and aesthetic achievments we have seen have been greater still. The glory is true glory, but there is a downside. The ship of the church has been in the water for a long time, and of necessity the barnacles have grown. They have been golden barnacles, set with rubies, but in some way and in some fashion they still need to be scraped off.

The Land of the Long White Shroud

A Cautionary Tale

Economic development in medieval Europe provides us with many lessons. One is that, like time and tide, economic growth waits for no man. Because capital and labour are fungible—that is, mobile and transferrable—an economy which attempt to protect from free competition for both soon fades. This is precisely the threat which faces us in New Zealand.

Late medieval Venice provides a cautionary tale in this regard.

Venice was the only one of the four major Italian city-states that did not succumb to Spain. But, surrounded on three sides by Spanish possession, Venice also slipped into oligarchy and then, over-taxed and overregulated, losts its ability to compete with the English, and to a lesser degree with the Dutch, even in its home Mediterranean market. It is a cautionary tale worth telling.

In the early 1500s Venetians still dominated the fine glass industry. Their textiles were still luxurious, Spanish fleeces having proved an adequate subtitute for the now unavailable English wool. Their mirrors were in a class by themselves. So was their soap, th eir lace, and their porcelain. And Venetian printers, using secret techniques for casting lead type, were the best and most affluent in the world. Things had never been better. Fifty years later the Veneitan economy was in a shambles and still rapidly declining.

The first phase in the decline of Venice cam when some of its most valuable master craftsmen deserted, most of them to England, taking their trade secrets with them. (Labour is fungible!, Ed.) For example, some Venetian master glass makers earned more per day in England than they could earn in a week at home. They allowed the English to become competitive in the fine glass market, augmenting their rapidly expanding dominance of the manufacture of cheap glass.

The question arises as to how the English could be price competitive with Venice when they bribed their master craftsmen to immigrate (that is, enticed them away with higher wages, Ed)and also had to ship their goods much farther to compete in the Mediterranean market. This question become even more compelling when it is recognized that the English overwhelmed Venice and other competitors by selling goods of equal or superior quality and other competitors by selling goods of equal or superior quality for far lower prices! For centuries all European capitalists had embraces the principle of “selling dear”--charged the highest possible prices. But English capitalists, in “a fundamental departure in economic thought . . . [adopted] a new way of thinking about competition and prices . . . [to sell] as cheaply as possible.” That is, they took volume into account when computing potential returns. And when they did so they realized that they had unbeatable cost advantages, especially vis-a-vis Venice and other Italian industries.

One of these advantages was lower production costs. This was partly a result of lower labor costs, greater mechanization, and better organized and managed industries that were very receptive to technical innovations. In contrast, the Venetian state gave unwavering support to the various trade and craft guilds, and these, in turn, kept labor costs very high and blocked all efforts to innovate. . . .
In addition, the English had discovered mass markets for goods of lower quality, such as cheap woolens. These returns soon far exceeded those earned by luxury items. But the Venetians were forbidden to enter these markets; the government felt it far more important to maintain the city's reputation for excellence. (Compare with “maintaining New Zealand's clean, green image”, Ed.)

Even so, taxation played by far the major role in pricing Venetian goods out of the market—the government imposed excessive, and ever-increasing, taxes and duties. . . . The import duty alone allowed the English to price their woolens 15 percent below Venice. And since English taxes on industries were very low and export duties minimal, in combination with lower production costs English merchants often could make excellent profits while charging half the Venetian prices. (In today's scene, think England as Asia; New Zealand as Venice, Ed.) Of course, Venetian merchants made many attempts to convince the government to reduce taxes and to permit adoption of cost-cutting technologies. Unfortunately, when despots begin dipping into golden eggs, the goose is soon cooked. (Socialised health, education, and welfare make it impossible to reduce taxes and costs to a competitive level in New Zealand. Once our “soft-despotic” rulers begin to bribe the electorate to secure and maintain political power, and once the people are prepared to accept the bribes, it's all over rover. Ed.)

In 1635 the Venetian bailiff at Constantinople wrote: “The English devote their attention to depriving our people of the little trade that remains to them in the mart of Constantinople.” But it was not the English who overwhelmed Venetian capitalism, it was the Venetian state.

So much for the glories of medieval Italy.

Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, pp. 173—175.

And so much for New Zealand—the land of the long, white shroud--of cotton wool.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

How To Destroy the Imagination of Your Child

Step #1: Make Sure All Their Lives Are Structured--By Adults

". . . recall what the streets of Brooklyn and the Bronx were like in the summer, decades ago.  Children, as I've noted, played in the streets.  They did not need to be organized by adults.  They fashioned their own games and chose their own teams.  People told stories of how Willie Mays, then a young star outfielder for the new York Giants, would sometimes play stickball with the youths in the city--stickball, the beguilingly difficult game for kids with a narrow field and no decent equipment.  No one taught kids how to play stickball.  The necessities of the place suggested it, and the game was passed along from one generations of kids to the next, without a rule book, without umpires, and without adult supervision, save what the players got from the curious shopowners and passersby, some of whom might have liked to join them once in a while, to be young again themselves for a turn or two.

"Stickball has gone. I live now in New England, in a place packed with shallow ponds, perfect for ice staking and hockey.  It is supposed to be a popular sport in New England.  I have never seen any children playing it, not once.  Some kids play it indoors, in the rinks--in leagues, organized by adults.  New England is also supposedly wild about baseball.  You can find Red Sox jerseys and caps everywhere, even in church on Sunday.  And there are Little Leagues; not as many as there used to be, but still a few.  But it has been at least ten years, possibly twenty, since I have seen a group of kids playing any kind of baseball game in a backyard or on a dead-end street.

People will blame indoor amusements, and certainly that's a large part of it.  Television comes easy and deadens the brain.  Electronic entertainment, too, is solitary and follows strictly delineated patterns.  But that's not the whole of it, for we must remember that the premise of our educational system is that children need to be socialized into a managed world.  We talk a great deal about independence, but we loathe it as much as we loathe the blessed freedom of nothing to do.  Children no longer play because we have taken from the the opportunity and, I'll insist, even the capacity to play.  And this, if we want to kill the imagination, is an altogether healthy thing."
Anthony Esolen, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, (ISI Books: Wilmington, Delaware, 2010), p.48f

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Let's Not Play that Game

Hand Wringing Charades

Social "Development" Minister, Paula Bennett has made an impassioned appeal for our help.  Writing an op-ed piece in the Sunday Star Times, entitled "Help Me Save Our Kids", she asks for ideas on how to stop our notorious national trait of child abuse. 

She is clearly at the end of her tether.  We are familiar with the syndrome.  Well-meaning, enthusiastic Minister gets appointed to the Social "Development" portfolio.  Promises to stamp out child abuse.  Acknowledges that insufficient progress has been made by dilatory previous administration.  Experiences uplift in public support, since everyone is both angry and guilty at the way children are abused and killed in New Zealand.  Calls for Ministry to come up with creative new solutions to the problem.  New measures put in place.  Increased budgets, taxpayer's funds allocated.  Everyone experiences a "feel-good" fillip.  Child abuse continues unabated.  Minister becomes frustrated and annoyed.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Drip, Drip, Drip

 Experts as Augurs

An old saw has it that an expert is a drip under pressure.  Nevertheless our modern world loves experts--demands them, in fact.  The modern expert has taken the place of the ancient soothsayer, or rune reader.  The most worthy and vital contribution that experts are required to make is predict the future.  This is why they function in our Unbelieving culture as the modern equivalent of augurs. 

Most of their predictions are stupid superstitions, appealing to the more base human emotions of fear and greed.  The more lurid the prophecy, the more valued.  The status of "expert" buoys up its certainty and credibility.  As G. K. Chesterton astutely observed, when men stop believing in the Living God, they do not believe in nothing;  they begin to believe in everything.  Credulity characterises an Unbelieving culture, such as now dominates the West. 

There is an irony in this.  The West prides itself on its knowledge, its scientific rigour, its evidence-based governments.  In reality it has become suborned to superstitious speculations gilded with a veneer of academic rigour and research.  The role of the expert in our world is to provide the gilding. 

In a recent article in The National, Robert Matthews takes a much needed sceptical look at experts and their auguries.  It turns out that the more famous the expert, the worse his predictive abilities. 

Clive James on Approaching Mortality

The Falcon Growing Old

The falcon wears its erudition lightly
As it angles down towards its master’s glove.
Student of thermals written by the desert,
It scarcely moves a muscle as it rides
A silent avalanche back to the wrist
Where it will stand in wait like a hooded hostage.
A lifetime’s learning renders youthful effort
Less necessary, which is fortunate.
The chase and first-strike kill it once could wing
Have grown beyond it, so some morning soon
This bird will have its neck wrung without warning
And one of its progeny will take its place.
Thinking these things, the ageing writer makes
Sketches for poems, notes for paragraphs.
Bound for the darkness, does he see himself
Balanced and forceful like the poised assassin
Whose mere trajectory attracts all eyes
Except the victim’s? Habit can die hard,
But still the chance remains he simply likes it,
Catching the shifting air the way a falcon
Spreads on a secret wave, the outpaced earth
Left looking powerless. This sentence here,
Weighed down by literal meaning as it is,
Might only need that loose clause to take off,
Air-launched from a position in the sky
For a long glide with just its wing-tip feathers
Correcting for the wobble in the lisp
Of sliding nothingness, the whispering road
That leads you to a dead-heat with your shadow
At the orange-blossom trellis in the oasis.
-- Standpoint, September 2010
Clive James's recent poetical work can be found at his website, here.  

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Doug Wilson's Letter From America

The Current Unholy Trinity of Unbelief

The Deep Things of Satan

Douglas Wilson
Sunday, January 10, 2010

This secular age has an unholy trinity, an attempt to counterfeit the place that the triune God holds in the world as it actually is. This, to be distinguished from the world that these bunglers are trying to fashion right in front of us.

Their father wants power, their son wants to be the incarnation of lust, and their spirit wants to muddle everything. And thus we have the collectivist state, the demands of sodomy, and the confusions of postmodernism. These three things conspire together to make, for you, a brave new world. If you want to understand the focus of my writing, there it is. They have their unholy trinity; I have three targets.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Burrowed Into the Woodwork of Puritanism

Church Government - Elders of the Church
Written by Douglas Wilson
Sunday, May 08, 2011

Here is a small necklace of things that should be strung on the same thread, at least in my mind. To the casual observer, it might seem more like a pearl, a washer, a wooden bead, and a small metallic nut, but this is only because that casual observer is not looking at it with the eye of faith.

Let me begin with a requirement laid down by Paul for men in the ministry, a requirement that is unfortunately widely neglected (and  therefore controversial) in conservative circles. He says that part of a minister's qualification is his ability to manage his own household well, and with all dignity, such that his children are submissive (1 Tim. 3:4). In addition, he says further that what is going on in his household is a good predictor of what is going to be happening in the church (1 Tim. 3:5). Paul says elsewhere that this submission extends to submission to the gospel. Not only must a minister's children not be dissolute and rebellious, they must be faithful (Tit. 1:6). Whether or not that last word is rendered as faithful or as believers amounts to the same thing. A minister's children are his first parishioners, and they are the canary in the mine.

Now the necessary qualifications. I make a distinction between ordaining men to the ministry and defrocking them. Qualifications for expulsion should be stiffer than qualification for non-admittance -- but to the extent we want to lean on this, it is perhaps a strong argument for not ordaining men with younger children. A man strong-minded enough to insist on pursuing his call to the ministry when his younger children are two, four, and six should also be strong-minded enough to tender his resignation when his grown children are serving two to four, and four to six, in the state penitentiary.

Forwarded E-mail

In the Interests of Open Democracy

This appeared in our in-box this morning.

Please sign and send on:
As a rule, I don't pass along these "add your name" lists that appear in e-mails, BUT this one is important.
It has been circulating for months and has been sent to over 22 million people.
We don't want to lose any names on the list so just hit forward and send it on.
Please keep it going!

To show your support for the MP Hone Harawira and the job
he is doing please go to the end of the list and add your name...

1.  Titewhai Harawira

The Cultic Mind

The Gospel According to Granny Herald

The NZ Herald editorial writers have put the paper's prejudices, ignorance, and Unbelief on display.  The paper has presumed to pontificate officially about what it clearly knows little.  The occasion is a cult-watch organization taking Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church to task over his alleged denial of the resurrection of our Lord.  (Tamaki has denied the allegations.)

The editorial writer, however, apparently disbelieves Tamaki's denial, commending him for being in "good company".

Friday, 13 May 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

Seven Thoughts on the Assassination of Bin Laden

Culture and Politics - Obama Nation Building
Written by Douglas Wilson
Sunday, May 08, 2011

1. Assassination is not necessarily an ungodly tactic. Ehud was a righteous judge in Israel, and he was used by the Lord in the assassination of Eglon (Judg. 3:21). It is not to be condemned out of hand.

2. The biblical response to this kind of thing is not uniform. There is a sense in which we are to say that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 33:11), and that would include the death of this wicked man. Yet there is another sense (not contradictory, but in paradox), in which God delights to execute judgment in the earth. As believers, we do not privilege one over the other. We long for Him to judge the nations with equity (Ps. 98:9), and this means that some people are going down. Lest anyone say that this is an Old Testament mentality, I will just say that the only time in the New Testament when the saints say Hallelujah is when they are watching the smoke ascend from the ruins of Babylon. And so how do we reconcile this love of mercy and this longing for justice?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Coruscating Memories

The Rotten Fruit of Humanitarian Wars

It has become fashionable amongst the Commentariate in the West to speak of a new, enlightened apologia for war. The wars of our future, Tony Blair pretentiously pontificated, would be wars based on "our values". They would not be for grimy things like money, or territory, or national pride, or oil but would be humanitarian wars--taking up the sword to defend the human (aka Western) rights of the downtrodden around the globe. The glorious wars of the future would be those which were not in defence of any national interest. In fact, wars fought over national interests were, by Blair's definition, evil--selfish and self-seeking. Wars fought to defend the underdogs of the globe were to be noble and glorious--and not wars at all--at least not as we once knew them.

One of the reasons the UK (and Europe generally) became so disenchanted so quickly over Tony Blair's dalliance in Iraq was the rapidly growing conviction that the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein had little to do with a war over "our values" and much more to do with oil. In other words, it was an unjustifiable war, on Blair's own term. He became reviled amongst the members of the Commentariate for his hypocrisy. But the seductive attraction of Blair's "vision" lived on.

Fast forward to Libya. Here, at last, would be a noble war fought for no national interests whatsoever--only for the love of one's fellow man, defending him against a bumptious tyrant. Alas, such wars are not new. They have been fought before in the past. The outcomes have been disastrous.

Novelist James Warner illustrates by referring us to the Russian war against Turkey in the 1870, as viewed through the eyes of (Blairite) Dostoevsky and (increasingly pacifist) Tolstoy. Warning: both were professing Christians.The money quotation comes from Solzhenitsyn at the end of the piece.

Hopeless and Helpless

Urban Tragedy

The implicit promise of Unbelief's humanism is that all human problems are solvable, by man. There is nothing that Unbelieving man, applying his power and glory to our human problems, cannot achieve. The future looks unbelievably bright. Except that it isn't.

It needs to be said repeatedly that messianic idealism led directly to World War I. Then the vengeance exacted by the Allies facilitated not a little the rise of Fascism in Germany. Idolatrous humanism has lurched from one deadly disaster to another.

But sometimes humanism takes a more honest look at what is happening on the ground. Bill Moyers in a piece entitled The Straight Dope interviews David Simon, the creator/author of The Wire. The gritty HBO series takes realistic look at life amongst the underclasses in Baltimore.
What Charles Dickens learned walking the streets and alleys of Victorian London, Simon saw and heard over twelve years as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He turned his experiences first into a book and the NBC television series Homicide, then the HBO series The Corner. Next, with Ed Burns, a real-life cop turned teacher, he created The Wire. Simon’s meticulous and brutally honest storytelling made Baltimore a metaphor for America’s urban tragedy. During its five seasons, The Wire held up a mirror to an America most of us never see, where drugs, mayhem, and corruption routinely betray the promise of “ life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” that is so ingrained in our political DNA.
Simon's exposure to the underclasses in Baltimore, and the way the system malfunctions amidst them, has enabled him to understand and portray the complexity of mess--a complexity that does not tolerate easy, facile solutions.  There are no top-down, Big Society solutions any more.  The only hope is bottom-up, soul-by-soul, family-by-family.  But, despite its pretensions to deity, humanism cannot redeem the sin-enslaved, human heart.

Simon himself appears to cling to the hope that Marx or neo-Marxism is closer to the truth: that a man's fate is determined by the economic structures that surround him. 
Bill Moyers: I was struck by something that you said. You were wrestling with this one big existential question. You talked about drug addicts who would come out of detox and then try to steel-jaw themselves through their neighborhood. And then they’d come face-to-face with the question—which is…?
David Simon: “What am I doing here?” You know, a guy coming out of addiction at thirty, thirty-five, because it often takes to that age, he often got into addiction with a string of problems, some of which were interpersonal and personal, and some of which were systemic. These really are the excess people in America. Our economy doesn’t need them—we don’t need 10 or 15 percent of our population. And certainly the ones who are undereducated, who have been ill-served by the inner-city school system, who have been unprepared for the technocracy of the modern economy, we pretend to need them. We pretend to educate the kids. We pretend that we’re actually including them in the American ideal, but we’re not. And they’re not foolish. They get it. They understand that the only viable economic base in their neighborhoods is this multibillion-dollar drug trade.
The implication is that if society were to change its economic structures, the ghetto would cease to exist. The only viable "free" market operating amongst the underclass is the illicit drug market--and that has been artificially created by prohibitionist public policy.
Bill Moyers: I did a documentary about the South Bronx called The Fire Next Door and what I learned very early is that the drug trade is an inverted form of capitalism.
David Simon: Absolutely. In some ways it’s the most destructive form of welfare that we’ve established, the illegal drug trade in these neighborhoods. It’s basically like opening up a Bethlehem Steel in the middle of the South Bronx or in West Baltimore and saying, “You guys are all steelworkers.” Just say no? That’s our answer to that? And by the way, if it was chewing up white folk, it wouldn’t have gone on for as long as it did.
It is the unintended consequences which rack secular humanism.  You either do it God's way or not.  If not, the consequences of the solutions will end up far worse than the original problems.  Simon claims that the war on drugs is lost--it's just that no-one will admit it.  He also pines for an economic system that would deliver more jobs--hoping that if there were just more jobs around, the underclass would not need the drug trade to survive. Really.  Humanism cannot but cling to its superficial verities and hopes--even when it knows the complexities and has seen the systemic evils.  Somehow, these are not seen as the fruit of what is in the heart of man.  There remains some other, external cause.  Change the system.  It will be different this time.
Bill Moyers: After all these years do you have the answer?
David Simon: Oh, I would decriminalize drugs in a heartbeat. I would put all the interdiction money, all the incarceration money, all the enforcement money, all of the pretrial, all the prep, all of that cash, I would hurl it as fast as I could into drug treatment and job training and jobs programs. I would rather turn these neighborhoods inward with jobs programs. Even if it was the urban equivalent of FDR’s CCC—the Civilian Conservation Corps—if it was New Deal–type logic, it would be doing less damage than creating a war syndrome. The drug war is war on the underclass now. That’s all it is. It has no other meaning.
Bill Moyers: There’s very little the police can do.
David Simon: You talk honestly with some of the veteran and smarter detectives in Baltimore, the guys who have given their career to the drug war, including, for example, Ed Burns, who was a drug warrior for twenty years, and they’ll tell you, this war’s lost. This is all over but the shouting and the tragedy and the waste. And yet there isn’t a political leader with the stomach to really assess it for what it is.
Bill Moyers: So whose lives are less and less necessary in America today?
David Simon: Certainly the underclass. There’s a reason they are the underclass. We’re in an era when you don’t need as much mass labor; we are not a manufacturing base. People who built stuff, their lives had some meaning and value because the factories were open. You don’t need them anymore. Unions and working people are completely abandoned by this economic culture, and, you know, that’s heartbreaking to me.
The last great white hope: education.  If we just poured all that money into education of the underclass, we would begin to claw ourselves out.  Question:  education requires a fundamental aspect of mind on the part of the student or trainee--a willingness to forego satiation and consumption now for some future (probably long time ahead) benefit.  It requires hope and faith.  What makes the humanist so sure that folk in the underclasses actually have such hope, faith, and willingness to self-sacrifice and self-deny?  

Without a supernatural, divinely wrought fundamental change of heart such willingness to sacrifice is unlikely.  Simon is far more realistic than most.  But not nearly realistic enough.

The story is told  that Charles Spurgeon, the eminent nineteenth-century London preacher was interviewing a lady--a maid--who wanted to profess her faith and join the Church. Spurgeon pressed the household serving woman for evidence that Christ had changed her.  She blushed and said, "Well, now I sweep under the mats."  A little thing perhaps--but it contains the very world of Christ's redeeming work.  Or the needed perspective is illustrated by the account of the lad near Sandfields (Dr Lloyd-Jones's first pastorate) who was telling his teacher about the fine meal he had just enjoyed at home--gravy, potatoes, meat, cabbage, even rice pudding.  How come, the teacher wanted to know?  The boy's father had recently been converted--and whereas he had previously spent his wages on drink in the local pub, he was now bringing them home for his family. Small things, but a world of difference.(Iain Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899-1939 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1982), p.220f.

Simon's focus has been on the systemic nature of vice and evil in underclass society, the malfunction of civil authorities, the education system, the politicians, and the police.  It is not any one person's fault.  It is the system.  Most people in the system mean well, but the system corrupts them all. He is looking for systemic change, from the top down.  He gives us his profession of faith: "I am very cynical about institutions and their willingness to address themselves to reform. I am not cynical when it comes to individuals and people."  He lacks the perspicacity, or perhaps courage, to face up to the reality that systemic change will merely result in replacing one malfunctioning system with another.  As Jeremiah declaims: "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  Who can know it."  (Jeremiah 17:10)  Evil lies in the heart of man, and the system is but an extension of sinfulness.  Change man, one soul at a time, and in time systemic evils wane.  This is the rock that breaks the idolatry of humanism into a thousand shards.

But Simon, the modern humanist, sees things in the exact reverse.  Folk are fundamentally good; the system is corrupt and perverts them.  If we could only change the system, the basic goodness and decency in human beings would emerge from underground, blinking in the light.  This is his false religion talking.  But in the end, from his perspective, he knows there is no hope of the system ever changing.  Not really. 
Bill Moyers: But I don’t think these good individuals you talk about—the individual who stands up and says, “I’m not going to lie anymore”—I don’t think individuals know how to crack that system, how to change that system. Because, as you say, the system is self-perpetuating.
David Simon: And beautifully moneyed. I don’t think we can. And so I don’t think it’s going to get better. Listen, I don’t like talking this way. I would be happy to find out that The Wire was hyperbolic and ridiculous, and that the “American Century” is still to come. I don’t believe it, but I’d love to believe it, because I live in Baltimore and I’m an American. I want to sit in my house and see the game on Saturday along with everybody else. But I just don’t see a lot of evidence of it.
His false religion ignores universal human depravity.  Evil is deflected away from where it truly belongs--from man, the sinner to the corrupt "system"--leaving him without hope.  He has seen enough of the system to know close up and first hand that it is too pervasive, too powerful, too smothering. But the Truth remains: "if any man is in Christ he is a new creation: the old has passed away; behold, all things have become new"  (II Corinthians 5:17).    But as long as Simon clings to his naive humanism, he will never have ears to hear this--which is his, and our only real hope.

When humanists are sufficiently naive, superficial, and blindly stupid to attempt to wreak changes in "the system" to "make things right", then the damage is likely to become ingloriously monumental.  Think the Somme--lest we forget.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Sunday Sermon

Wilson's Exposition of I Samuel

Sermon: Samuel I | Intro and Background from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

It's Freedom, But Not as we Knew it, Jim

Speech Rights in the Maelstrom of Unbelief

Is free speech an important civil right? Sure is. Does this right derive from the Living God, or from human convention? In other words, when the state stops people from expressing a view or opinion is there a divine warrant for the law, or is it tyranny? Actually, it all depends. On what? On a cluster of considerations and cases.

Firstly, there is the general principle that human beings are made in the image of God and speech is an intrinsic part of that image bearing. If one were to conceive of the human race unfolding without sin--that is, the Fall having never occurred--there would be absolutely no restrictions on speech, for all speech would have been holy, just and good. When Adam named the creatures, he was able to do so perfectly. His speech was perfectly reflecting the very image of God Himself.

Secondly, since the Fall human speech has become terribly corrupted. Here is James's summary: "The tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell." (James 3:6) Since the Fall, human speech has become the engine of evil and corruption.

Thirdly, the state has no general authority from God to restrain human speech, despite the fact that much of it is evil. The state is not a redeemer. The state cannot remove human sin. It cannot make people righteous. If the state, in an attempt to make all human speech more righteous, began to exercise unrestricted control over what people say, it would have warrant to go still further--to control the evil thoughts that express the evil words. These prerogatives belong to Christ alone, and have not been delegated to the state.

Fourthly, any authority the state has to interdict human speech must be restricted to those few occasions when speech is threatening the life and limb of others. Hence, Oliver Wendell Holmes famous illustration: free speech does not give one the right to stand up in a crowded theatre and yell, "Fire!" for the sheer mischief of it, leading to the death or potential death of fellow congregants crushed in the ensuing panic.

Fifthly, all public speech enciting people to break the law of God and turn upon fellow citizens, stripping them by force of their rights to their life, liberty, property, and lawful pursuit of happiness would be legitimately the domain of the state to restrict in some measure and prosecute. Speech which impedes peoples' lawful rights and activities is also a legitimate target for restriction: hence, public slander has been a form of speech which traditionally has been proscribed.

In the post-Christian West, free-speech rights which developed out of the Christian doctrines expressed above, are not unexpectedly eroding. Take away the foundations and the edifice crumbles. You cannot maintain the liberties produced by Christian beliefs about man, God, sin, evil, and governance upon non-Christian ground.

In the past few decades traditional free-speech rights have morphed in the post-Christian West. Focus has gone on what would constitute reasonable harm and damage to others. Speech can be restricted if it damages and harms other people. What constitutes harm? Well, emotional upset for one. Speech which makes people enraged and angry, for another. Speech which offends is now restricted.

In other words, free speech liberties and rights are rapidly disintegrating. Offence, in the end, is in the ear of the hearer. This fits with our modern "enlightened" views of the state. The government in Western Unbelief has become our great redeemer, to preserve us from evil and make us all good. No wonder the state will move aggressively to control our speech. Unbelief, having denied the Living God, stupidly looks for its deity in other places. Almost invariably its eye alights upon the perceived locus of supreme power--the state. The people demand that the state control speech. Is it not a legitimate function of deity? Too late we discover that all idol gods are base and cruel. Tyranny grows; liberty erodes.

A free speech case has recently hit the headlines in New Zealand. A protester burned the New Zealand flag during an Anzac Day celebration. The courts convicted her of "offensive behaviour". But no longer.
Valerie Morse was convicted of offensive behaviour after setting the flag alight in an anti-war protest in Victoria University's law school grounds, opposite the Cenotaph, during the 2007 Anzac Day dawn service. Her conviction was upheld by the High Court and Court of Appeal. But in a decision released yesterday, the Supreme Court said earlier rulings had mistaken the meaning of offensive behaviour in the Summary Offences Act.
So, the Supreme Court found something in the law which the lower courts overlooked. Firstly, let's consider the reasoning of the lower courts.
Wellington District Court judge Oke Blaikie found offensive behaviour to mean behaviour capable of wounding feelings or arousing real anger, resentment, disgust or outrage in the mind of a reasonable person. He considered a tendency to disrupt public order was not required.
This is nonsense--but an apt illustration of how free speech rights are being eroded in the West. Firstly, there is the abstraction of a "reasonable" person. A person considered reasonable is one whom society regards as such. One man's reason is another man's idiocy. If this mythical "reasonable" person takes offence or is made angry by the speech of another, then the speech rights of the offending person can be circumscribed and restricted. It will all come down to toleration of that speech which the state considers to be reasonable.

To illustrate: blasphemy against the Name and honour of God and His Messiah is deeply offensive to earnest Christians, causing real anger, resentment, disgust and outrage. But is this reaction reasonable? Does a Christian have good reason to be so offended? No--because New Zealand is a secular materialistic society, and as such, it does not regard such religious doctrines as worthy of reasonable people. Under such an approach, a reasonable person will be whomever the government (reflecting probably the majority of citizens) determines. Restricting speech because it offends others--even though they be deemed by the good pleasure of the state to be reasonable-- is a severe erosion of the historical liberties we have enjoyed.

So, did the Supreme Court revert to the more free, Christian position with respect to free speech? No. It came out with an equally pernicious doctrine.
But the Supreme Court thought otherwise, ruling unanimously that offensive behaviour must give rise to a "disturbance of public order". Because the district court proceeded on a wrong basis of law, the conviction was thrown out
This, we are told is a new precedent.
However, Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge said yesterday's decision appeared to set a new precedent, giving protesters more right to freedom of expression under the Bill of Rights. "You can now burn the New Zealand flag any time, anywhere you like, because I can't think of a time any more sensitive with the right people in the right place than Anzac morning in our nation's capital while the morning ceremony is ongoing.
Laying aside the emotive connotations of flag burning, Bill Hodge has missed the real point. The real revolutionary doctrine "discovered" by the Supreme Court is that speech can be restricted if it disturbs public order--for then it is proved to be offensive. This highlights just how far speech in New Zealand is now restricted. If we were to stand up and declare publicly that homosexuality is a gross sin and that unrepentant, unbelieving homosexuals will not enter the Kingdom of God, one's speech could be legitimately proscribed provided people rioted in anger at our remarks.

As we have noted, since offensive is in the ear of the hearer, all that is required to stop speech is to generate a reactive public disturbance. In the old days, free speech liberties meant that the rioters would be indicted and punished for breach of the peace. Nowadays, it is the speaker who is indicted for breaching the peace. It becomes easy to shut opponents down if one is prepared to show how offended one is at their remarks by disturbing public order.

Rioting, chanting, offended Islamics can shut down all criticism of Muhammed and Allah and Islamic people. It all depends on whether they choose to take offence and express their anger in a breach of the peace. Unionists can shut down critics if they man the barricades in outrage. If they riot against offending strike-breakers, the government will now, by law, arrest the strikebreakers for offensive speech. How about the now widespread antics of anarchists smashing glass and people in the streets? If they can coherently identify what it is that offends them so, the government will move to take the offensive speech and speakers away.

In the final analysis, all it would take, it would seem, is an enraged person yelling, "Shut up, or I'll kill you" and the state will move rapidly to shut the provocative speaker down. Welcome to the wonderful world of non-Christian, secular free speech rights.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Fair Question

Statutory Rape an Exclusively Male Crime?

In New Zealand we have a 28 year old Facebook predator who has reportedly serially groomed teenagers for sex. So far the perp is free as a bird and the authorities appear to be turning a blind eye. Keeping Stock has a question:
This is one disturbed woman, in our always-humble opinion. But what disturbs us even more is the seeming lack of action by the Police so far.

Imagine this scenario: a 28-year-old MAN grooms teenage GIRLS via Facebook, and initiates sexual relationships. We have every expectation that the Police would act quick-smart to stop the behaviour, and if laws have been broken, to make an arrest. So what is the difference here?
Fair question. Are the NZ Police sexist in their application of statutory rape law in this country? Is there one law for males, and another for females?

There have been hints that the woman in question is mentally disturbed. The implication is that her alleged offending is therefore not to be taken seriously. One has hitherto held the opinion that it is the courts which make such determinations, not the police. But maybe times are changing.

Even worse, it appears a national women's magazine (Woman's Day) has done a celeb-adoration style story on this perp. Maybe they want to portray her as an archetypical twenty-first century feminist who has successfully mastered electronic social-networking. You know--serious socio-political analysis. The kind of pablum that has made Woman's Day a "must read" for every non-thinking woman.

Quip of the Day

"The SEALs killed Bin Laden and we got the 72 versions." 

A comment left on Patterico's Blog:

The Propaganda Begins

National School Testing A Lame Duck

Regular readers of our blog will know that we have remained sceptical of the New Zealand government's showcase reform--the introduction of national standards testing in reading, writing, and arithmetic in our primary schools. This is not because we are opposed to such testing in principle. Rather, it is because the imposition of national testing upon an unwilling state school system is unlikely to succeed. The government has been naive and simplistic in seeking to graft national testing on top of an intellectually bankrupt state education system.

Australia has such a national standards testing system--code named NAPLAN. It is based in part upon similar initiatives in the United States. Criticisms are now beginning to surface. A recent piece in the Sydney Morning Herald began with the headline: "NAPLAN-style testing has 'failed' US schools". Catch the drift.

The first criticism: the tests narrow down the curriculum to focus upon literacy and numeracy. Now in many human activities focus upon essentials is regarded as a virtue. But not in modern education. The only essential is the pupil in the prevailing state approach of "child centred learning". The framing of tests as "narrowing down" the curriculum is consistent with post modern and neo-Marxist theoretical constructions of education, together with the prevailing pedagogical idea of allowing children to construct their own curriculum.

National testing is seen to be forcing children into a constrained, imprisoning, mental and social straitjacket. In fact, however, everybody really knows that the rest of the curriculum is worthless and inaccessible if the pupil cannot read, write, or figure. You don't even get on the board to begin to play without these vital pre-requisites. But without reframing education into a more traditional and historical context, and publicly rejecting modern pedagogical inanity, the government will lose the ideological war. In New Zealand, the government has given little indication that it even understands that an ideological war needs to be fought. It appears to have concluded that introducing national standards is a relatively minor tweak--an administrative, operational detail. Far from it. It cuts at the vitals of the dominant modern educational paradigm.

The second criticism in the SMH article is that national testing creates perverse incentives for teachers.
Schools and individual teachers have been judged and rewarded financially for improving student test scores and punished for poor ones. This led to many of the best teachers abandoning schools in the disadvantaged areas, with some teachers accused of teaching to the test and others of helping children cheat to improve results.

What? Have not the educational unions been assuring us, proclaiming loudly from the rooftops, that teachers are dedicated professionals, of exemplary character? Now we are finding that they are not--and this puts NAPLAN in jeopardy. There are now signs in the Australian education system that Aussie teachers are as unethical as their US counterparts.
In Australia, there are signs of teachers "teaching to" the NAPLAN tests, helping students cheat and decreasing student participation rates. While the basic skills literacy and numeracy tests were designed to help teachers identify children with learning difficulties needing assistance, they are now being used as a competitive measure of school performance on the federal government's My School website. Many parents use the scores as the basis for choosing a school.
Better then to scrub the whole thing, right? Nah. When a company--any company--puts incentives for staff in place, it risks creating perverse behaviours--ripping customers off, selling them things they don't really need or want, manipulation of the system, lying and false reporting--etc. Should incentives be tossed out? No--but gaming the system must become a discipline offence--a breach of contract, something that could result in termination. Teachers, principals and schools need to know that unethical behaviour and gaming of national tests will result in breaches of contract and terminations. That would go a long way to stomping out gaming.

Is the Ministry of Education in New Zealand ready for this? They give no sign. National testing for literacy and numeracy in state schools is not a minor tweak, an easily-facilitated-add on. It goes entirely against the grain of modern pedagogy and the state education system in this country. Without a root-and-branch reform it will never be allowed to take hold. Top-down reforms no longer work, because the vested interests, the ideological educrats, have far too strong a hold.

We believe that the only way to move forward is to introduce a national voucher system--which would have the effect of putting parents back in the driving seat as the clients of the system. Now, this would also mean that some children (of uncaring, irresponsible parents) will likely fail. But rest assured, parents would be far more demanding than Ministry of Education educrats. Each school would have, under a universal voucher system, to justify its existence and its achievements to a free-to-choose marketplace of parents, who would become the customers and clients of the system. Not only would some children fail, but some schools would inevitably fail--unless and until they pulled their socks up.

A national voucher system would help disenfranchise the teacher unions. But even such a radical gordian-knot reformation of the system cannot be allowed to stand alone: to succeed it must be supported by other reforms, such as abolishing teacher registration (by which the current establishment controls the supply of teachers and has far too much say in who enters the profession.)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Douglas Wilson's Letter From America

The Need for a Sense of Smell

Money, Love, Desire - Wealth and the Christian
Written by Douglas Wilson
Friday, May 06, 2011

I recall one place where N.T. Wright said that the economic policies of Margaret Thatcher were "evil." As a good portion of the Western world is now in the process of running out of money, this set up an interesting train of thought.

Is it "evil" to be broke, to run out of money? Presumably not, because it was for the sake of such broke people that Wright was taking his stand against the likes of the Iron Lady. But that means it is not evil for a whole nation to wind up neck deep in the poverty bouillon. Right? With me so far?

Now if it is not a sin to be poor, how could it be a sin to anticipate that you are going to be poor? Or is it only a sin if you, like Thatcher, take steps to prevent it?

As the modern state continues on in a frenzy of spending (a practice bound to land on the less fortunate and defenseless eventually), it is perilously easy for tenderhearted Christians to advance the cause of economic illiteracy, and all in the name of Jesus. And even though it is part of their qualifications for high ecclesiastical office, such illiteracy is not limited to bishops.

But when we get to the level of "thou shalt nots" and "thus saith the Lords," we had better be sure we are correct. Otherwise, we will be like the printers of the early "wicked Bible," who accidentally left the "not" out of the seventh commandment. Yesterday, I saw one of those wicked Bibles on display at the Cambridge University Library. If such a mistake were to be made today with regard to the eighth commandment, there are too many church officials who would not call it wicked, but would rather hail the arrival of a more compassionate economic policy.

In contrast to this ganglion of self-deception, the Tea Party protests have done a great deal of good, at least thus far. We have seen streets filling up with citizens concerned about massive pillage, theft, dishonesty, and fraud. But some Christians may have stayed home because that kind of thing might ruin their testimony and all -- who knows where taking a stand against dishonesty might lead? Perhaps to denominational headquarters and mission agencies, and it is therefore best to let sleeping dogs lie.

It is interesting to me to note that association with Tea Party types, some of whom are libertarian pagans, is morally problematic for some Christians. A continued and much closer association with the statist pagans who mail out the entitlement checks presents no apparent problem at all. This is because the statist pagans have a big pile of swag that they dispense hither and yon, much of it to Christians whose sense for self-justifying rationalization is much better than their sense of smell.

Credibility Gaps

Economic Policy By the Numbers

The Economist has carried an interesting piece on the reliability of national economic data. It claims that the US "botoxes" its own data. If you take away the ministrations of the cosmetic data masseurs the situation in "these United States" appears much worse than the official statistics are letting on.

The Economist compares differences in the way Europe presents its official data statistics with the way those same measures are compiled in the United States. It turns out that these differences make the US appear much less saggy and wrinkly. The first comparison: public sector debt. Now this has become a focus in recent months. How much public government debt can a nation bear before it collapses in a screaming heap of public fury storming the barricades? We have seen such eructations of wrath in Greece, Portugal, Ireland and the UK. But not the US. Why? In part because the measurements of public debt in the US disguise the actual levels of public indebtedness.
Take public-sector debt. The definition used in Washington, DC, is “federal government debt held by the public”, which stood at 62% of GDP at the end of 2010. But if you instead use Europe’s preferred measure—general government gross debt, which also includes the borrowing of state and local governments and Treasury securities held by other government bodies, such as the Social Security Trust Fund—it jumps to 92% of GDP. That is on a par with Portugal’s level of public debt. Likewise, America’s budget deficit of 8.9% of GDP last year would have been 10.6% using Europe’s preferred measure.
Ninety-two percent of GDP. In other words the lenders to the US Treasury are actually living in cloud cookoo land. They have willed themselves to believe that things are just not that bad--and the official statistics provide a cover for those willing to be duped.

The second example is the way productivity is measured. The US prides itself on how much more productive its work force is--as compared to Europe. It would appear that the average US worker produces more goods and services than his European counterpart. Really? No--it's all botox.
Official figures also flatter America’s relative performance on productivity growth. The headline figures compiled by America’s Bureau of Labour Statistics are based on output per man-hour in the non-farm business sector. The European Central Bank tracks GDP per worker across the whole economy. By excluding the less efficient public sector, America’s productivity growth is bumped up.
Not so rosy, then.

The third area of data-augmentation is GDP growth--the measure of how much economic growth is occurring within an economy. It turns out that the American data suffers from a dose of irrationally exuberant cheerleading. Much in the initial GDP figures are estimations. They are always revised much (years) later when all the actual data comes in. It transpires more often than not that US economic growth figures are revised--downwards, once the actual data comes in. European statisticians appear to be far more conservative in their initial estimates, and have a track record of far fewer downward revisions.
A third cosmetic treatment is the way quarterly GDP figures are published. European press releases give the increase in GDP during the latest quarter—a rise of 0.9%, say. But Americans annualise quarterly growth, so an identical increase would be announced as a more impressive-sounding growth rate of 3.6%. Much more important, European economies’ initial estimates of GDP growth tend to be more cautious than those in America. Kevin Daly, an economist at Goldman Sachs, estimates that during the ten years to 2008, America’s quarterly GDP growth rate was, on average, revised down between the first and final published estimates by an annualised 0.5 percentage points. In contrast, GDP figures in the euro area were revised up by an average of 0.3 points. (Emphasis, ours)

Why is this important? Well, the media and the economic chattering classes always focus upon the initial (estimated) number, not the much later revised number--which is very old news indeed.
This matters because financial markets and the media focus heavily on the first estimate, but largely ignore revisions several years later.

The politicisation of numbers and data to reflect national pride? To support an incumbent government? To keep the lenders happy so that the party can go on? Probably all of the above. Let's party on while Rome conflagrates.

The dismal science and practice of macro-economics relies on national data statistics. When the data is fudged or manipulated, resulting in a more optimistic picture, we have something akin to the king debasing the nation's gold and silver coins to fund his ambitions. It was theft then. Is it any different now? Oh, wait. We forgot. The Federal Reserve is busy printing money (aka debasing the currency) in order to fund the US government's exponentially increasing debt. And its smoothing the passage of this debasement, in part, with shonky statistics.

There are lies, damned lies and macro-economic statistics. He who trusts them is foolish indeed.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Can They Be Making This Stuff Up?

The Most Adept Administration In Living Memory?

Maybe, who knows? But Michelle Malkin's blow-by-blow of the Obama Administration's pirouettes around the execution of Osama Bin Laden must make the White House the front-runner for "Best Ballerina of all Time".

The Fog of Fog
By Michelle Malkin
May 6, 2011

The official White House account of Osama bin Laden’s demise has seen more slapdash cosmetic surgery over the past week than your average “Real Housewives” reality-show star. President Obama’s allies attribute the bungled “narrative” (their word, not mine) to the “Fog of War.” But each passing day — and each new set of hapless revisions — shows that what really ails the administration is the Fog of Fog.

Errors happen. Miscommunications happen. Confusing the name of which of bin Laden’s myriad sons died (Hamza, not Khalid), for example, is no biggie.

But the hourly revamping of key details of Sunday’s raid suggests something far beyond the usual realm of situational uncertainty that accompanies any military operation. The Navy SEALs did their job spectacularly. The civilians tasked with letting the world know about the mission, however, have performed like amateur dinner theater actors in a tragi-comic production of “Rashomon-meets-The Blind Men and the Elephant-meets-Keystone Kops.”

Incapable of straightforward answers, Team Obama’s clarity-challenged civilians have led nauseated news-watchers through more twists and turns than San Francisco’s Lombard Street.

Take your Dramamine, and let’s review.

Take One: Bin Laden died in a bloody firefight.
On Sunday night, Obama dramatically told the world that “after a firefight,” our brave men in uniform “killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body.”
Embellishing the story the next morning, White House deputy national security adviser John Brennan said at his briefing that bin Laden “was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. … And whether or not he got off any rounds, I quite frankly don’t know. … It was a firefight. He, therefore, was killed in that firefight.”

Take Two: Bin Laden did not engage in a firefight.
The day after Brennan disclosed such vivid details, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney walked them back Michael Jackson-style. Bin Laden, he said in version 2.0, “was not armed.” Brennan had clearly implied that bin Laden “resisted” with arms. Carney amended the narrative by insisting that “resistance does not require a firearm.” How exactly bin Laden resisted, Carney would not say.

It’s been all downhill, uphill, K-turns and 180s ever since. Fasten your seatbelts:

Take Three: Bin Laden’s wife died after her feckless husband used her as a human shield.

Take Four: Bin Laden’s wife did not die, wasn’t used as a human shield and was only shot in the leg. Someone else’s wife was killed, somewhere else in the house.

Take Five: A transport helicopter experienced “mechanical failure” and was forced to make a hard landing during the mission.

Take Six: A top-secret helicopter clipped the bin Laden compound wall, crashed and was purposely exploded after the mission to prevent our enemies from learning more about it.

Take Seven: The bin Laden photos would be released to the world as proof positive of his death.

Take Eight: The bin Laden photos would not be released to the world because no one needs proof and it’s more important to avoid offending peaceful Muslims who supposedly don’t embrace bin Laden as a “true” Muslim in the first place.

Take Nine: Bin Laden’s compound was a lavish mansion.

Take Ten: Bin Laden’s compound was a glorified pigsty.

Take Eleven: Bin Laden’s compound had absolutely no television, phone or computer access.

Take Twelve: Bin Laden’s compound was stocked with hard drives, thumb drives, DVDs and computers galore.

Take Thirteen: Er, remember that statement about bin Laden being armed? And then not armed? Well, the new version is that he had an AK-47 “nearby.”

Take Fourteen: A gung-ho Obama spearheaded the “gutsy” mission.

Take Fifteen: A reluctant Obama dithered for 16 hours before being persuaded by CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Take Sixteen: Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and close advisers watched the raid unfold in real time — “minute by minute,” according to Carney — and a gripping insider photo was posted immediately by the White House on the Flickr picture-sharing website for all to see.

Take Seventeen: Er, they weren’t really watching real-time video “minute by minute” because there was at least nearly a half-hour that they “didn’t know just exactly what was going on,” Panetta clarified. Or rather, un-clarified.

Take Eighteen: Stalwart Obama’s order was to kill, not capture, bin Laden.

Take Nineteen: Sensitive Obama’s order was to kill (SET ITAL) or (END ITAL) capture — and that’s why the SEAL team gave him a chance to surrender, upon which he resisted with arms, or actually didn’t resist with arms, but sort of resisted without arms, except there was an AK-47 nearby, sort of, or maybe not, thus making it possible to assert that while Decisive Obama did tell the SEALs to kill bin Laden and should claim all credit for doing so, Progressive Obama can also be absolved by bleeding hearts because of the painstakingly concocted post facto possibility that bin Laden somehow threatened our military — telepathically or something — before being taken out.

Take Twenty: “We’ve been as forthcoming with facts as we can be,” said an irritated Carney on Wednesday.

And they wonder why Americans of all political stripes think they’re blowing smoke.