Saturday, April 15, 2006

UK Government Saves the World

Apparently with nothing better to do than slug another industry with yet another pointless and expensive regulation, the Communist Health Minister of Britain, Caroline Flint, will be making drinks companies put health warning labels on bottles of wine.

Despite a complete lack of any evidence whatsoever that any of these labels will prevent the consumption of a single drop of alcohol, anywhere in the country, Ms Flint wants to get in the papers to boost her image and so this regulation must be passed by our betters so she can get more exposure.

It seems there's been a terrible rise in binge-drinking, recently, and Ms Flint is determined to stamp it out, albeit with utterly pointless controls like this one.

Perhaps she could stick a warning label on her friend and master, Tony Blair, who recently introduced 24-hour drinking into Britain. Now I'm all for a complete lack of regulations in every single voluntary-trade industry you can think of, but if you did believe in governments and their right to interfere in our lives for our own good, what do you think would be the most effective way of preventing a serf from drinking 'too much'?

  • Sticking a warning label on bottles of wine

  • Keeping all alcoholic retail outlets closed at 11pm

Yup, it's a tricky one. But it would seem our joined-up government is incapable of grasping it. I wonder how many new Lordships there are in the alcohol industry?

POSTSCRIPT: I think Von Mises summed this up best. If we, the people, are too stupid to be allowed to purchase bottles of wine without government censure, why are we clever enough to vote in politicians like Ms Flint? Answers on a postcard please, to Ms Flint at Westminster marked 'Having your cake and eating it'.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Peace is War

Are you worried about Condaleeza's latest warning to Iran that only the US has a God-given right to explode nuclear weapons over the heads of civilians?

You should be. Because with the failure of the Iraqis to bend their knees to US hegemony, the only show in town is going to be an invasion of Iran to take the eyes of US voters off the continuing inflationist failure of the Republican Party.

I took a little flak a month or two ago when I suggested that the US government would be instigating an Iranian invasion, but I'm afraid the curse of Maturin is once again weaving its evil magic. The American Army will be in Iran within two years. You read it here first.

London will experience its first open-air nuclear explosion shortly afterwards. From the bunker, Tony Blair, who'll still for some reason be in power, will say the two events are unlinked. And then we'll get a really lovely Fascist military dictatorship to die for.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Chaordic Catallaxy - A Quote for all Seasons

I came across this fabulous quote this morning. Thought you might like it:

"Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior." - Dee Hock
Dee Hock is the founder of VISA credit card company.

Although not outwardly an anarchist (boo, hiss, etc.), Mr Hock did coin the term Chaordic, which seems a mightily Austrian concept to me. Whether or not the word Chaordic is simply a synonym or sub-term for Catallaxy may be debatable, but Mr Hock is a man obviously on the side of the angels. I shall burn all of my Mastercards immediately.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Gifts of Government Geeks

Calling all Geeks!

As business is a bit slack this week in the run-up to Easter, I thought I should report upon a little-discussed phenomenon, which is; what happens to Geeks when they work for government agencies, particularly those Geeks who work for 'Security' organs; i.e. those organs dedicated to increasing the security of the state by removing everyone elses?

For as thou shalt see, it is a law as rock-solid as the propensity of Bonking Jorris Bonson to matriculate with attractive wenches, that if thou shouldst work for thine government, as a Geek, thy shouldst become fat, clad in nylon, or otherwise repellent to the opposite sex, as witnessed by these government Geeks below:

Whereas if thou shouldst rebel against thy government and seek to destroy its organs from within, thy shouldst become slim, clad in leather, or otherwise irresistible to the opposite sex:

So Geeks, thee haveth been warned: Work for thy governments and thou shalt be sex Pigs. Work against thy governments and thou shalt be sex Gods. Which choice haveth thee in mind for thine Geekness? Be thy careful out there. Go forth and grep!

The Chris Tame Legacy

I never knowingly met the man, so unfortunately I can't pass any direct comment, but it was good that the Daily Torygraph did an obituary on Chris Tame, to help throw some light onto his work, which seems to have sparked something of a Tamist rethink on the Torygraph. For instance, Danny Kruger has written a great Tamist article, most of which I agree with, entitled Liberty is a subject they won't teach in Brown's nurseries. (Keep it rolling Danny. You may not be a libertarian, but I think we'll be on the same side of the barricade when the revolution comes.)

All the 800 pamphlets Kruger mentions, which somebody in the Stupid Party may read some day, can be accessed here.

As a very occasional co-traveller with the other Libertarian Alliance, it might seem a good time for the two libertarian alliances to get together. But then we are hit with the eternal problem of all anarcho-capitalists everywhere; they really do hate collectives. Which sometimes is a damn shame.

On a personal note, if I manage to leave even a tenth of the input created by Chris Tame to help us all reach a Totally Voluntary Society, when the Great Belgian Beer Brewer calls me to the Cherry Orchard in the sky, I'll have been doing well. So let us hope that his work eventually gets the results it deserves. And thank you, Mr Tame, for having provided us with so many weapons to help us attack the enemy. You will not be forgotten.

Bonkers Bonson Jorris

It's bad enough when your local MP is Bonson Jorris. But when he's nationally known as Bonking Jorris Bonson, it's enough to make you want to join the local Tory Party to help bring that monkey down, or at least help him stop slapping it quite so often.

Ok, it's a great national laugh that he is what he is, and he does do a great deal to help our charities here in South Oxfordshire, but Mr Bonson, if you're reading this, would you please mind keeping Charlie in his trousers a bit more often please? As a former front five rugby man myself I understand the temptations of strong drink and loose women, but you're becoming a public disgrace.

For my sins I know the man in the local Tory Party who finally brought down Michael Heseltine, in a local Jam-and-Raffles party coup, and I know his moods. I haven't enquired how the land lies just yet, seeing as I'm now sans politics, but don't be surprised if the blue rinses who live round our way find Bonson's antics slightly less hilarious than the rest of the country. Though knowing the old trollops, they'll probably fancy him for it. Poor old Marina. What a banana.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Austrian Pilgrimage

Albert Einstein once famously stated that God doesn't play dice. So how does the great wild-haired astrophysicist explain the double-six God threw on Manhattan island, in the mid-twentieth century, when He used the subterfuge of historical accident to fuse together two of the greatest geniuses who ever lived? If everything is relative, the fifteen minute walk between the creation points of Human Action and Man, Economy, and State is one heck of a quantum coincidence?

But enough of this footling. History is full of enough examples of the flowering effect of genius to go some way towards explaining this - one thinks immediately of the Socratic chain from Socrates himself, the first murder victim of democracy, through the Lucifer of Plato, towards the resurrection of enlightenment in Aristotle - however, as an Austrian, it is still reverentially exciting to walk the route between the two creation points of two of the greatest books ever written; I now know what it is to be a Christian pilgrim on the road towards Antioch and Jerusalem.

I took the New York subway up from Times Square to 96th Street; this was the typically dispiriting experience of public transport everywhere - escalators weren't working, the staff behind the armoured glass at the help desk didn't want to help, and everything was shabby and dirty - but I was going to get to 777 West End Avenue if it killed me.

Having emerged into the clean sunlight again, I strode up Broadway towards 97th Street and made a left turn. At this point I took an internal thermometer reading to find my heart beating much faster than usual. I was, ridiculously, as excited as a small boy who knows he's getting a bicycle for Christmas; it's a strange thing, the human brain. I could feel the power of religion pulsating through my veins and the mythological significance of the number 777; I finally understood the accusation that we Austrians are just another cultish religion. But what the heck. I walked onwards, turning up the hill towards Mecca and the long-time Manhattan apartment home of Professor Ludwig von Mises and his good lady wife.

And there it was, on the other side of the Avenue, about a hundred yards away up on my left. I stopped to take it in; I was almost too nervous to continue. Here I was, surrounded by millionaires' lackeys rambling with flocks of poodle dogs, and I found myself hitting a force field of insane resistance. Shoulders hunched, I crossed over West End Avenue to begin the assault on the summit. And before I knew it I was there.

By the way, this is the last time I mock Christians who visit the crypt at Bethlehem or the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem; yes, this was simply a pile of bricks on a hill, but this was where Human Action was written.

The numerals of 777 were located about 8 feet off the ground in a small brown serif font, on a cornerstone, and I found the actual entrance to the apartment block itself around the corner on 98th Street, rather than on West End Avenue. The sedate brown entrance awning rippled in an unruffled breeze, resplendent with a cream 777 in the same font type as the cornerstone marking. Time to look upwards.

The building had about 12 floors. As the Professor lived in Apartment 12E, if I’d got my counting right, this placed the creation point of Human Action rather appropriately on the top floor. As befits a Viennese nobleman, the 12th floor was bedecked with some rather ornate decoration topped off with a green copper cornice. Standing outside the front entrance, breaking about 57 local bye-laws on monstering residents, I once again found myself being eyeballed by a small grey-haired doorman, rather unusually one without a hat. The end of 98th street fell away, quite sharply, to my right, down to the Hudson River, which I could spy between the trees; so Von Mises, on leaving the building, would have had access to a little greenery and water to remind him perhaps of Lake Geneva, where the bones of Human Action had been constructed in Nationalökonomie

Okay, so it’s a little melodramatic, but just for a moment I could feel his ghost turning his head to the left to look at the river, as he left the apartment building; I wondered what colour the Hudson was back in the 1950s?

To escape this ghost, I decided to head back down West End Avenue to find the nearby haunt of Uncle Murray Rothbard. Which of the two was the greater genius? I suppose that’s a bit like asking a committed Christian whether God the Father or God the Son was the greater, so I’ll skip the question; I do know, however, that to visit Uncle Murray’s former home was a rare pleasure whereas to visit Professor Mises’ former home was a dutiful pilgrimage. Make of that what you will.

Sloping back down the hill, I threw one last look back to the top floor of 777 West End Avenue, from whence Human Action had emerged, the building still an Arthurian rock on a hill’s crest. Bidding adieu, I then got on with the business of skipping around all the chatting dog handlers to head back towards downtown Manhattan. One street, two streets, nine streets, and I made my left turn. A brisk walk along 88th Street to Broadway and I was almost there. I thought it appropriate that Uncle Murray lived on the corner of Broadway. When the New York government imposed the road grid on Manhattan and confiscated the land for Central Park, one of the only roads to break the planners’ rigid wet dreams was Broadway, which had originally been an Indian trail paved over by the Dutch before the British invaded from the north, breaking through the wooden wall at the southern tip of the island to overrun New Amsterdam.

So Broadway defies the controlling strictures of state imposition and thereby brings a measure of chaotic life and energy to the otherwise moribund grid, creating place, structure, and gaiety, along a tangential axis; you may have heard of 42nd Street but you have definitely heard of Broadway. Yes, this was a very Rothbardian place.

But I got my bearings all wrong, as I approached the Professor’s apartment. Hitting Amsterdam Avenue without finding the number 215, I retraced my steps, and then there it was on the corner of Broadway, with the number on a wall painted over the same creamy colour as the wall. No awning, this time, and no obvious doorman, but it still looked a solid enough building. Uncle Murray’s apartment was 2E and I hoped it was the one right above me, spreading out over the entranceway. I could hear cackling, for some bizarre reason, and felt the shade of a giant imaginary polka-dot bow tie settling over the street. I wondered now who might live behind these brown slatted wooden windows set in a creamy stone wall? Do they know, I thought, who was there before them, and if they did, would they care?

Once upon a time you could have, and often did, squeeze almost every anarcho-capitalist in the world behind the walls of Apartment 2E, 215 West 88th Street, Manhattan, New York. But now, although the pavements aren’t yet teeming with coachloads of us, we probably have enough for a decent sized conference in Hawaii. And it was all due to the efforts of these men, led by Rothbard in the Circle of Bastiat, who made their spiritual home up in this place above me.

Although I never had the privilege of meeting Murray Rothbard, it was enough this day to have made the effort to be there.

And so back into the swamp of the New York public transportation system, at 96th Street, to visit the creation point of Atlas Shrugged.

This had been a very strange and a very good day.

On the train down, I recalled the MP3 files by George Reisman and Ralph Raico describing the relations between Rothbard and Rand. What if the bespectacled one had managed to persuade the caped one to become an Austrian and bring all of her fans with her? Where would we be now with our movement? Do we need to somehow generate more Austrian fiction to try to pull more people into our belief in a Totally Voluntary society? Or is Robert Heinlein enough?

Oh well. If I get a good enough novel idea and manage to write it down I’ll let you know. In the meantime I would like to thank my business client this week for giving me the opportunity to visit Manhattan, for providing me with an apartment just off Times Square, and for lending me his limousine to take me to and from the airport.

I may not be a Master of the Universe, but it was nice to have pretended to be one for a few days. And so back to Blighty, the sceptred isle of a thousand shattered dreams to see how Gordon Brown had further wrecked my life with his communist aspiration of state thralldom for all. Roll on the anarcho-capitalist revolution. It can’t come soon enough.

And thanks to Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard it is still possible that it will come. Thank God for both of them.

The Atlas Shrugged Trail

Having visited the Upper West Side, to track down the creation points of Human Action and Man, Economy, and State - to be described later - I caught the Manhattan redline subway down to 42nd Street, then hopped on the purple line to Grand Central. I decided that if this time I was going to get the correct address for the creation point of Atlas Shrugged, I should walk to it directly from Grand Central, to pay homage in the appropriate manner.

This time, unlike Rand's later home at 120 East 34th Street, the building matched my initial expectations; it looked classy, it possessed a fine fluted limestone phallic architecture thrusting up the central column, and a 1930s art deco red brick exterior. The apartment building looked like it had been created by an architect who cared, rather than by an architect knocking out another trading position for groceries. All in all, as I stood across the street taking in the beautifully proportioned stance of the building, I could only question why Ayn Rand had moved to her later sad sack of bricks on 34th Street, once the Atlas Shrugged millions started to roll in; here was a building, on 36th Street, that even today breathes energy and virtue. Today, behind its italicized maroon street awning, it is full of eye surgeons, but like a well-fondled lady at Ascot, it still looked in its prime.

I'm afraid I had the rather mischevious thought that the only reason Ms Rand moved to 34th Street, was because it enabled her to drown in the cheaper flattery of all her acolytes who couldn't afford the grander appointments of this more magnificent edifice. Oh I know I shouldn't mock, but for a woman who professed such an admiration for sculpture, 120 East 34th Street is an early Henry Moore Earth Mother up against this far more pristine Michaelangelo's David at 36th Street.

What made the difference even clearer was the walk back to Grand Central. I really felt like I was in the heartbeat of something important. As I walked along the left side of Park Avenue, I felt like a King, a Wolfian Master of the Universe, as the grand columns of Dagny Taggart's imperial reserve marched towards me.

Striding through the clear cool air of a Manhattan evening, just to the right I caught an inspiring glimpse of the silverine arched rainbow of my favorite Manhattan skyrise, the Chrysler Building, before the classical elegance of Grand Central overwhelmed me.

Yes, Atlas Shrugged may be full of one-dimensional characters, but it is still stronger than a hatful of plutonium, and I feel sure that much of this strength comes from its creation at 36 East 36th Street. The building is full of energy, even now, and I'm sure this radiated into Rand's Remington-Rand typewriter as she pushed out the book's pages, all those long years ago.

The other horrible place she moved to, on 34th Street, is a dispiriting pile of out-of-date mince in comparison, and now I'm unsurprised she stopped writing novels and simply descended into a self-obsessed love myriad with all of her strange Canadian minions.

Having seen and compared the two buildings, her complete cessation of fiction creation now makes much more sense; Stephen King is a great believer that the place you create your fiction is centrally important to your work, and that if you find a great spot where the words flow, you should do whatever it takes to spend all your time there.

Yes, I know we could argue that the internal contradictions at the heart of Rand's statist libertarianism may have prevented her writing a sequel to Atlas Shrugged, but maybe the answer to this strange retirement from fiction is simpler; she should have stayed in the same apartment where she discovered the creative genie who helped her generate her masterpiece. Football managers don't change winning teams. Writers shouldn't either.

If ever you get the chance to visit New York, visit these two buildings yourself and see what you think. I'd be glad to hear your opinion if you do.

Monday, April 03, 2006

120 East 34th St - The Home of Ayn Rand

This long-time home of Ayn Rand, in New York, is particularly worth visiting for a reason I'll cover later. In my personal pilgrimage around Manhattan, I made this my first stop because it's very handy to get to if you've just tried to emulate Tom Hanks at the top of the Empire State building.

I never usually carry a camera when visiting such important places, as I normally want to simply hold and enjoy the moment in my memory, but here's a satellite photo I managed to dig up.

Situated between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue, the building sits on that part of 34th Street which begins a gradual descent into the East River, which I could see sparkling in the distance on a brisk sunny day, without a single cloud in a flawless blue sky. I counted about 18 floors to this rather non-descript red-brick block; Ayn Rand lived in Apartment 6G. Fortunately, however, I wasn't allowed to go any further than the green awning, which reached to the kerb, as a sign on the front of the building was quite clear about the point.

This is private property

I'm sure Ms Rand wouldn't have wanted it any other way. However, although I'm sure in every way that the apartments inside were luxurious, the red-brick façade was rather a disappointment. I had been expecting Roarkian brushed aluminium and glittering polished shards of armoured glass, a single fused point raised to the stars by Titans; but to find a slightly crumpled brick exterior and 18 bland storeys gathered together by the architectural genius of a wombat, was certainly less than I would have expected from the authoress of The Fountainhead.

But the position?

The position was everything. Just down the street from the Empire State Building, and less than 10 minutes walk from Grand Central, between Park Avenue and Lexington, this apartment building was exactly where Dagny Taggart would have chosen to pass out the hours between her trysts with all those innumerable lovers.

However, something else made up entirely for the disappointment of the building's appearance; the welcoming mat at the entrance, guarded by a suspicious looking doorman who kept his swivelled eyes pinned firmly towards this mad-eyed libertarian, bore the immortal words, 'The Murray Park'.

Now it was too much to beg that the building had been renamed in honour of the author of Mozart was a Red, but if you think the Statue of Liberty is the most ironic statue in the world, for this building, of all buildings, to be named The Murray Park, made it well worth the 45 minute walk back to my own apartment just off Times Square.


I'm sure the doorman was pleased too. I bet he's sick of people like me turning up, staring up, and looking like grinning baboons; another Rand fan or simply another New York lunatic? I hope they pay him more than ordinary doormen.

What didn't make up for it was learning back at my apartment that although Ayn Rand had spent many years at the block I'd just visited, dying there in 1982, she had actually written Atlas Shrugged at 36 East, 36th Street, a couple of blocks away; presumably when she had less cash in the bank.


But before I go there, I've got to get to the homes of Professors Mises and Rothbard, first. In my ordinal scale of values, the places where Human Action and Man, Economy, and State, were written, come a long way above Atlas Shrugged, though in the limited time I have in Manhattan the actual creation point of Atlas Shrugged still easily makes it into position three.

Sorry Ayn, to put it third, but at least I've been to the place where all your mad Objectivists spent all those years having sex with each other, smoking filtered cigarettes, and torturing mere humans with philosophical debate.

It just seems strange that there isn't any kind of monument outside, such as you would find in London. However, on reflection, with Manhattan being a beacon of private property, who wants to have a State nailing blue plaques to their buildings and putting up ugly statues outside quiet residences, anwyay? It'll only attract more nutcase libertarians like me, and who wants that? So Adieu 120 East 34th Street; Upper West Side here we come.