The Dim-Post

November 30, 2008

Ayn Rand and Obama’s Erection

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 9:26 am

rand3Every now and then I take a look at the most popular search terms people use to find my blog. For a few months now, “ayn rand” and “obama erection” have been at the top of the list.

“Obama erection” speaks for itself, but the enduring popularity of Ayn Rand is something of a mystery.

Rand was a mid-20th century author, Russian born but she spent most of her life in the US. Her books are widly popular with undergraduate university students, real estate agents and  corporate executives. Rand lived through the russian revolution, Leninism and the early years of Stalin and her books are a deranged reaction against marxism and collectivist thinking. Her books celebrate capitalism, individualism and ‘reason’ (the definition of ‘reason’ being agreement with everything that Ayn says.) Her philosophy is known as ‘objectivism’.

Objectivism is alive and well in New Zealand, where it is celebrated at SoloPassion. If you’re an objectivist looking for love you can find it at AtlasSphere, a free market-meat market for Rand fans.

New York magazine has been trawling the singles profiles of AtlasSphere and found some gems:

You should contact me if you are a skinny woman. If your words are a meaningful progression of concepts rather than a series of vocalizations induced by your spinal cord for the purpose of complementing my tone of voice. If you’ve seen the meatbot, the walking automaton, the pod-people, the dense, glazy-eyed substrate through which living organisms such as myself must escape to reach air and sunlight. If you’ve realized that if speech is to be regarded as a cognitive function, technically they aren’t speaking, and you don’t have to listen.

Sounds like a keeper.

One of the fundamental tenets of Rand’s philosophy is that company executives – far from being incompetent idiots blinded by fear and greed – are actually the titanic heroes of our age.

With that in mind, I was amused to read this comment by Citigroup director Robert Rubin in the Wall Street Journal. (Citi has just been bailed out by the US taxpayer to the tune of $20 billion dollars).

Under fire for his role in the near-collapse of Citigroup Inc., Robert Rubin said its problems were due to the buckling financial system, not its own mistakes, and that his role was peripheral to the bank’s main operations even though he was one of its highest-paid officials. “Nobody was prepared for this,” Mr. Rubin said in an interview.

Many people were prepared and made a fortune short-selling CDS’s to chumps like Rubin – who over the last two years was paid $17 million in salary and $33 million in stock options; you’d think that for that kind of money you’d damn well be prepared. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a lot of executives in the financial services industry were essentially paid huge sums to make money when the market was good and then get bailed out by the state when the market is bad. Nice work if you can get it. Rubin went on to say:

He cited former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan as another example of someone whose reputation has been unfairly damaged by the crisis.

Greenspan was a close friend of Ayn Rand’s and has been a long time advocate of objectivist philosophy, until last month when he had to admit that many of the worlds largest companies were run by idiots, and that his anti-regulation free market ideology was ‘flawed’.

It’s actually to Greenspan’s credit that he acknowledged this; the rest of the Ayn Rand cult is robotically insisting that the problems in the totally unregulated CDS market were somehow caused by ‘too much regulation’. Probably taxes are also to blame.

If you’re interested in reading one of Rand’s books I’d go for The Fountainhead‘, which compares favourably to her other epic Atlas Shrugged in that it is several hundred pages shorter, there’s only one >25 page monologe (Atlas contains three or four, including an extended polemic against Robin Hood). Also it has more of Rand’s detailed rape fantasies. Enjoy!


Filed under: media — danylmc @ 8:42 am

Bill Ralston has a column in the HoS about the Jonathan Coleman, the new National broadcasting Minister and his plans for TVNZ. Ralston is certainly an insider on this subject but its always hard to tell where his informed analysis ends and his bitter grudge against his former employer begins:

Coleman is adamant he wants to make the $15 million charter funding fully contestable, which means TV3, C4 or Prime could bid for it to make public broadcasting-type programmes, much as they do now with New Zealand On Air funding.

His position was inadvertently reinforced when TVNZ decided to axe the serious Sunday morning political show, Agenda. It was a programme that TVNZ contracted to Richard Harman’s private production company to make.

I presume the rationale is that by doing its own Sunday morning show “in house” TVNZ can greedily keep that part of the Government’s charter funding that was Harman’s profit.

A cunning plan but one that has left TVNZ with powder burns on its foot because the minister is asking himself why the Government gives TVNZ money to make public broadcasting when it axes a public broadcasting show like Agenda?

Parallel to the Government’s 100-day plan focusing on priorities like the economy and law and order is a second-tier programme that includes a “reform” of TVNZ and the wider broadcasting industry. I suspect Coleman is determined to screw more dividends out of TVNZ, remove government subsidies from it and make it completely commercial.

My fantasy is that TV2 is made completely commercial with no government funding while TV1 goes totally public interest, with worthwhile non-commercial programs – like Agenda – that nobody in the country watches except for me.

Agenda and the first five minutes of the news are currently the only shows I watch on TV – the huge amount of advertising on New Zealand television combined with my microscopic attention span makes it impossible for any program to hold my interest; I watch the start, the ads come on and I wander off to do something else and forget about whatever it was I was watching.

Yet ironically I now watch TV shows more often than I do films; its become a cliche to point out that we’re living in a golden age of TV drama but its still true. I bought the first season of Mad Men on DVD yesterday, but standing there in Borders with my 40% off DVD’s voucher it struck me how spoilt for choice I was: I still haven’t seen the final Soprano’s episodes, or season two of Deadwood, or season four of Battlestar Galactica or Lost. If I’d spent my money at the movies I had the option of seeing Death Race or Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Oh, the agony of choice!

TV has a far better product than the film industry does right now – I’d love to know why that is. I do have a theory that writers prefer to work on a long-running show, in which they get a regular paycheck and the chance to develop characters and storylines over dozens of hours, than write a movie that spends four or five years in development hell before finally getting made as an Adam Sandler vehicle.

Anyway, on the subject of Agenda, I wonder if its going to end up on one of the new digital broadcast channels, which seems to be where TVNZ sticks all of its ‘worthwhile’ programs, the problem there being that the only people in the country who have reciever boxes seem to be technology journalists. I’m not sure the country is getting a great return on our $80 million a year there, either.

November 29, 2008

Water Wasting

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 8:36 am

DPF linked to this a couple of days ago – a DomPost story about introducing a user-pays system for water in Wellington. This jumped out at me:

Wellingtonians each use 400 litres of water a day compared with Aucklanders’ 300 litres and a national average of 160 litres.

I’d be curious to hear theories as to why Wellingtonian’s use so much water – more than double the national average? That seems odd. Also:

Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast said metering, already in place in Auckland, was a proven way to encourage conservation. Anything that delayed the financial and environmental cost of a new dam made sense.

“We’ve tried for years to get Wellingtonians to voluntarily reduce their consumption but we haven’t been successful.”

Having lived in Wellington for eight years now I don’t think I’ve ever heard or seen any of these attempts to get me to reduce water consumption. Maybe that’s why they haven’t been successful?

I’m not opposed to a metering system per se; as a blogger I clean myself less frequently than the average person so I’d do well under a user pays regime.

What I would hate to see is privitisation of water delivery, something Rodney Hide, our new Minister of Local Government is keen on. While admirable in theory its not hard to see how it would play out in reality.

  • Day 1: Water services in Wellington are privitised.
  • Day 2: The position of CEO, COO, CFIO, CIO and board are filled with renumeration in the high six/low seven figure range to attract an international caliber of applicants. The roles are awarded to the former public servants who were doing the same job for a sixth of the salary. The board is made up of the consultants who recommended the company be privitised.
  • Day 3: Due to an unexpected increase in operational costs, water prices will increase by 15% per year for the next three years.
  • Day 4: Negative public reaction is overwhelming, so the company hires a PR firm to launch a massive advertising campaign.
  • Day 5: Due to an unexpected increase in marketing costs all maintanance spending on existing water infrastructure will be deferred for five years.
  • Day 6: Cost-cutting; employees that are not crucial to the core business of water delivery will be streamlined. All the engineers get sacked. The company stock price soars.
  • Day 7: Wellington wakes up to find that ‘due to unforseen circumstances relative to outside factors beyond anyone’s control’ it has no running water.
  • Day 8: The engineers get hired back as highly paid external contractors and switch the pumps back on again.
  • Day 9: The board grants their chief executives a massive bonus for their vision and leadership during the recent water crisis.
  • Day 10: Due to unexpected personel costs water prices will increase by 30% every year for the next five years . . .

Wine Tasting

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 7:23 am

Almost everything you need to know about human nature is revealed in this CalTech-Stanford study of wine appreciation:

Twenty people sampled five Cabernet Sauvignons that were distinguished solely by their retail price, with bottles ranging from $5 to $90. Although the people were told that all five wines were different, the scientists weren’t telling the truth: there were only three different wines. This meant that the same wines would often reappear, but with different price labels. For example, the first wine offered during the tasting – it was a cheap bottle of Californian Cabernet – was labeled both as a $5 wine (it’s actual retail price) and as a $45 dollar wine, a 900 percent markup. All of the red wines were sipped inside an fMRI machine. Not surprisingly, the subjects consistently reported that the more expensive wines tasted better. They preferred the $90 bottle to the $10 bottle, and thought the $45 Cabernet was far superior to the $5 plonk.

Of course, the wine preferences of the subjects were clearly nonsensical. Instead of acting like rational agents – getting the most utility for the lowest possible price – they were choosing to spend more money for an identical product. When the scientists repeated the experiment with members of the Stanford University wine club, they got the same results. In a blind tasting, these “semi-experts” were also misled by the made-up price tage.

After Rangel and his colleagues finished their brain imaging experiment, they asked the subjects to taste the five different wines again, only this time the scientists didn’t provide any price information. Although the subjects had just listed the $90 wine as the most pleasant, they now completely reversed their preferences. When the tasting was truly blind, when the subjects were no longer biased by their prefrontal cortex, the cheapest wine got the highest ratings.

Wine is one of the many subjects in life I’m totally ignorant about – but I’ve long suspected that the increasing number of wine bores in our society has less to do with an appreciation of the vine than the fact that its a publically acceptable way to be an alcoholic. Telling people you are ‘going to a tasting’ is so much classier than admitting you’re heading home alone to knock back three or four bottles of claret.

November 28, 2008

Bad Sex Writing

Filed under: books — danylmc @ 6:21 am

Rachael Johnson has won this year’s Bad Sex in Fiction award. John Updike wins the lifetime acheivement award:

Updike, famous for his close attention to sex, was shortlisted this year for his novel The Widows of Eastwick, in which an abundance of sperm greets the performance of oral sex. “She said nothing then, her lovely mouth otherwise engaged, until he came, all over her face. She had gagged, and moved him outside her lips, rubbing his spurting glans across her cheeks and chin,” he writes. “God, she was antique, but here they were. Her face gleamed with his jism in the spotty light of the motel room, there on the far end of East Beach, within sound of the sea.”

Alastair Campbell failed to get past the judges’ first post with his debut novel All in the Mind, as did fellow shortlistees Kathy Lette, James Buchan, Simon Montefiore and Isabel Fonseca.

Johnson praised the award for discouraging authors from using “awful phrases” such as last year’s winner Norman Mailer’s “soft as a coil of excrement” description of a penis. “The truth is that anyone who writes sex scenes has [the award] at the back of their mind,” she said. “It makes you even more self-conscious when you’re lubricating your book with sex.”

While vowing to attempt to emulate Updike’s achievement – “he sets the bar very high” – Johnson admitted that, as yet, her new novel is so far devoid of sexual content.

She is the 16th winner of the award, established by Auberon Waugh to “gently dissuade” authors from including “unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels”.

I’ve never read anything by Updike – except for the passage above, which is more than enough. Gross.

November 27, 2008

‘Deccan Mujahideen’ huh?

Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 10:18 pm

I take back what I said earlier. As details emerge of the terror attacks in Mumbai it is hard not to conclude that they were directed by a state intelligence or military. The prime suspect would have to be Pakistan’s notorious Inter-Services Intelligence, an agency often described as a ‘state within a state’ with longstanding links to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as Kashmiri seperatists and Islamic terror organisations within India.

If this turns out to be the case then the consequences for Pakistan and its government – which has close to zero control over its rogue intelligence apparatus – will probably be dire, especially if (as seems likely) more westerners are revealed to have been killed in the attacks.

In July of this year the Indian embassy in Kabul was attacked by suicide bombers killing 58 people, an operation that was almost certainly directed by the ISI. Last night, at the same time the attacks in Mumbai were underway suicide bombers attacked the US embassy in Kabul targeting the Thanksgiving celebrations.

It’s hard to imagine how India and the west can respond to this: Pakistan is the front-line in the war on terror and a frighteningly unstable nuclear armed state. This can’t end well.


Filed under: general news — danylmc @ 11:56 am

CST Rail Terminus. Mumbai, Maharashtra

Mumbai: In one of the most violent terror attacks on Indian soil, Mumbai came under an unprecedented night attack as terrorists used heavy machine guns, including AK-47s, and grenades to strike at the city’s most high-profile targets — the hyper-busy CST (formerly VT) rail terminus; the landmark Taj Hotel at the Gateway and the luxury Oberoi Trident at Nariman Point; the domestic airport at Santa Cruz; the Cama and GT hospitals near CST; the Metro Adlabs multiplex and Mazgaon Dockyard — killing at least 80 and sending more than 900 to hospital, according to latest reports.

The attacks occurred at the busiest places. Besides hotels and hospitals, terrorists struck at railway stations, Crawford Market, Wadi Bunder and on the Western Express Highway near the airport. Several of these places are within a one-km radius of the commissioner of police’s office.

“This is definitely a terrorist strike. Seven places have been attacked with automatic weapons and grenades. Terrorists are still holed up in three locations Taj and Oberoi hotels and GT Hospital. Encounters are on at all three places,” said Maharashtra DGP A N Roy.

Times of India. Terror Attacks in Mumbai

So far as I know this is the first time Indian based terrorists have specifically targeted westerners in an attack. This suggests to me that this is some kind of domestic group and not a Pakistani proxy – although its hard to imagine how someone without a state sponsor could pull off something like this.

India being India we’re likely to see widespread anti-muslim reprisals over the next few days; I’d also say a lot of criticism is headed in the direction of the Indian Intelligence agencies. The attacks in Mumbai appear to have been large scale, well equipped, highly co-ordinated and well planned. There’s not much you can do to prevent suicide bombers from blowing up a bus but it’s inexcusable for a domestic intelligence service to fail to detect and prevent something on this scale.

Get off my lawn!

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 9:12 am
Why if I were ninety years younger . . .

Possible side effects of L Dopa include hypertension, confusion and amphetamine psychosis

There’s a hilarious column by Garth George in the Herald today. Here’s my personal highlight:

The second major cause of violence against women and children is the belief held by too many women that they should not just be equal to men but, in all but physical appurtenances, are the same.

This is an illusion: men and women are different physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It astounds me that in this age in which knowledge of the makeup of the human being is greater than at any time in history, we will not concede that men and women are genetically programmed for differing roles.

The assumption by so many women of the roles traditionally exclusive to men has left many men in confusion, frustration and anxiety, and more are lashing out because they feel their maleness is under threat.

I find that inordinately sad. You can call me a sexist until you run out of breath . . .

Actually, the idea that woman are simply unfit to do a man’s job is pretty much the textbook definition of sexism, as is George’s suggestion that woman are responsible for violence directed against them on the grounds that they have trespassed on male authority.

But that’s only one tiny fragment – the whole thing is an admirable exercise in ignorant, reactionary hysteria and the kind of thing that editors are supposed to decline to publish on the grounds that it’s not worth the subsequent loss of subscriptions and advertising revenue.

Then Lancalot, Galahad and I jump out of the rabbit . . .

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:50 am

National have announced that they have a brilliant plan:

Mr English said the Government would be putting a heavy emphasis on the economy and expected the public to start paying more attention to it.

“A 4 percent fiscal impulse emphasis shows we are taking it seriously, now that I stress is a Treasury estimate, but it is still significant.”

Details of how the package would be presented and whether it coincided with Treasury’s update of the economic and fiscal forecasts were still to be decided, but it would not be a mini-budget.

Parliament resumes on December 8 and the package is expected to be announced within a fortnight of that taking place.

It’s good to have a plan, I suppose, but it would be nice to know what it is. I’m not sure I see the point of announcing that they’re going to do stuff, the public needs to pay attention to it, but they can’t quite tell us what it is they’ll be doing or what we’ll be paying attention to.

I was also interested in this statement of English’s:

The essential difference between New Zealand and countries such as the United States was the “extreme volatility” in their financial systems.

“They have to deal with that in the best way they can, whereas our financial sector has been relatively stable and our focus has been more on the real economy.”

We did just see the majority of the nation’s finance companies collapse, wiping out the retirement savings for much of the middle class. On the other hand, the collapse of the US financial system has been so spectacular I guess you can argue that we’ve been ‘relatively stable’.

November 25, 2008

Hello Nurse

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 11:01 pm

‘So I woke up and there was the nurse taking care of me’

‘Couldn’t she take care of herself?’

‘You bet she could, but I didn’t find that out ’til later.’

– The Marx Brothers, Cocoanuts

Idiot/Savant takes a sceptical look at the new National government’s policy to address A & E overcrowding:

The policy is based on UK Labour’s attempts to improve quality in the NHS by introducing these sorts of absurd targets, and Ryall claims that policy was a success, having led to a reduction in the number of patients waiting for than four hours from 23% to 3%. But that success was an illusion. As noted in Adam Curtis’ documentary, The Trap, faced with pressure to improve their statistics, NHS managers created a new and unofficial post, the “Hello Nurse”, whose sole purpose was to greet new arrivals to A&E so they could claim for statistical purposes that the patient had been “seen”.

It’s worth pointing out that having a nurse that says ‘Hello’ to you would actually be a huge improvement to the Wellington Hospital A & E service where they have an unheated, unstaffed brightly lit reception area in which a member of the hospital administration makes an occasional appearance to admit new patients. If they had someone there who was a nurse they could do also some preliminary triage while they said ‘Hello’.

For reasons I’ve never understood, Wellington has the worst hospital in the country by a fairly staggering margin, so patients in other districts might not be so thrilled by the prospect of someone saying ‘Hello’ to you when you stagger into the emergency ward but it would be a massive improvement for us in the capital. Bring it on!

MacDoctor has additional comments on the policy. My only response is that Capital Cost Health doesn’t appear to have a shortage of beds, it just has a shortage of doctors and nurses to look after the people in those beds.

Because most wards have to maintain a set patient to caregiver ratio the hospital dumps almost all new patients in the A & E ward because there’s no limits on the number of patients in an emergency ward.

When I went to hospital earlier this year (just back from India, 41 degree fever) I was seen after about twelve hours and told that I needed to be quarantined in the infectious diseases ward, but that there wasn’t any room there so I’d have to lie on a gurney in the hall of A & E for a few days before they could free a spot up. I decided that instead of being a vector for a pandemic I’d rather die in the comfort of my home so I discharged myself against the doctors advice and sat in my lounge watching Lost, swallowing fistfuls of codeine tablets and dripping with sweat for a week or so, before I recovered.

I’m not sure I got very good value on my tax dollar there.

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