July 24, 2014

Horse 1720 - Australia's Prime Ministers - Nos.2, 3 & 4 - Turbulence & Disagreement



II - Alfred Deakin

If Edmund Barton being a reasonable person, couldn't hold together the parliament, suffered poor health and had to resign because of it, then Alfred Deakin's first tilt at being Prime Minister was a total failure.

Barton's resignation was to coincide with the 1903 Federal Election. Deakin would officially take the leadership of the party following the election.
The Protectionist Party, again didn't manage to secure a majority in either the House of Representatives or the Senate and won 26 seats, compared with the Free Trade Party's 24 seats and Labour's 22 seats, all of which individually were short of the 38 seats required for a majority and to form government. S
The Australian Labour Party which had promised to support the government on matters of supply but nothing else, didn't see eye to eye with the Protectionists on any other issue and so the government from September 1903 until April 1904 when Deakin resigned, failed to pass a single piece of legislation.

Deakin's first of three occasions as Prime Minister, was marked with in-fighting and poltical malaise. I think that it stands as the least productive government in Australian political history.
Deakin's resignation as Prime Minister was more or less a concession that the parliament was unworkable and the leader of the Labour Party, Chris Watson, who took over the job, found it no easier.


III - Chris Watson

Born in Chile and having both German and New Zealand ancestry, John Christian Watson (Chris Watson), was the first leader from any labour movement in the world to hold executive office.

Watson was a founding member of the New South Wales Labour Party in 1891; was elected to state parliament in 1894 and was a member of the first parliament in 1901. When the Labour Party formally adopted a national administration, the caucus elected him as leader of the party. Though being the Prime Minister from the smaller party of a coalition, meant that he didn't really fare much better than Deakin before him. It didn't help that the composition of the parliament was identical to when Deakin took over the premiership following the 1903 election and would remain so until the next election.

Apart from bills of supply which were necessary to keep the functions of government going, the only act which was passed during Watson's tenure as PM was the Acts Interpretation Act 1904, which as the name suggests was only administrative and not really defining policy.
Watson found the job of Prime Minister as frustrating as Deakin and he resigned
the position less than four months after arriving in the job.

Watson would remain Leader of the Australian Labor Party until 1907 and even see the numbers bolstered but he would never again be Prime Minister.


IV - George Reid

George Reid was very much an economically liberal businessman whose Scottish tendencies were obviously apparant.
As a barrister, he developed a lightning wit, which is borne out by the rather famous quip when a heckler made a comment about his rotundness."What are you going to call it, George?" to which he replied "If it's a boy, I'll call it after myself. If it's a girl I'll call it Victoria. But if, as I strongly suspect, it's nothing but piss and wind, I'll name it after you."

Reid took over from Henry Parkes as leader of the NSW state Free Trade Party and took the logical position as leader of the party at Federal level, following Federation, and led the party to two successive election defeats.
After Barton, Deakin and finally Watson resigned the position of Prime Minister, the Labour party switched their alliance on matters of supply and Reid found himself in the top job. He knew that the leftist Labour party couldn't patch together their differences with the rightist Protectionists and it would only be a matter of time before they would also tire of the rights Free Trade Party.
Reid's premiership was mostly as fruitless as the previous two and in July 1905, his predictions rang true as Labour again shifted back towards the Protectionists.

V - Alfred Deakin II (Again)

George Reid accepted that the Labour party was looking for a more central role of government in the economy and he as Opposition Leader, set about to rebuild the Free Trade Party. Before the election of 1906, the Free Trade Party ran on a platform of anti-socialist policies and duly renamed itself the Anti-Socialist Party.

Deakin on the other hand, found that Labour was a bit more concliatory and even though Reid's Anti-Socialists won 26 seats to Labour's 26, with his own Protectionists falling to 21 in the 1906 election, the Protectionist/Labour coalition held together long enough to pass legislation to establish the Australian currency, Copyrights, Bureau of Census and Statistics, regulations to do with Quarantine, the Bureau of Meteorology, and Labour was able to dovetail a tariffs bill which had the effect of forcing private firms to pay "fair wages" to employees. The Australian Industries Protection Act although it could affect tariffs, still did not give the Commonwealth the power to rule over wages and conditions.

The Protectionists and Labour would eventually renew their old fights though and Deakin's bill for conscription in 1907 was defeated and very heavily argued against by former PM Chris Watson and future PM Billy Hughes.
In November of 1908, the stouch finally came to a conclusion when the Labour Party ended its support for Deakin, instead preferring its own leader Andrew Fisher.

July 23, 2014

Horse 1719 - 5A


Tucked away in our garage is a black and white National television set (even from before the days of National Panasonic) and curiously it has in between channels 5 and 6, the mysterious channel 5A.

5A?!

For reasons that I've never been able to ascertain, in VHF channels which carried sound and vision were stepped in 7MHz increments. Bands I and II, started in the mid 40s and 50s and kept on going into the lower range which coincided with FM radio, and then jumped 36MHz to go from Channel 5 to 5A and then 37MHz to go from Channel 5A to Channel 6.
Even more bizarre is that there is are two gazetted steps of 7Mhz in Band III which run from Channels 9 to 9A and then 10.

As I look at my telly in confusion, I also realise that I probably am officially "old". Let's just say that it's likely that the number of moons that I'm likely to see are probably fewer in number than those that I've already seen.
As we move to digital, the kids of today will never have the joy of tuning into 5A to avoid the snow and confusion on Channel 2 to pick up the ABC. How many people will remember that NBN in Newcastle was not Channel 9 but Channel 3? How about the odddity that Darwin didn't have Channel 9 but Channel 8 and for a very long time didn't even have a Channel 7?
Okay, I find the fact that 5A is a confusing thing but the fact that 9A apparently was a thing but never had a button or a turn dial space on televisions, is bonkers.

The fact that I have an old television which through change of technology is now useless, is entirely unremarkable. There must be lots of people who have old things which they haven't thrown away and no doubt, there probably is some residual value to some collector out there.
However, I'd like to express a little sadness for my old black and white telly.

"She (Random) brandished the watch at him. `You don't understand that there's somewhere this belongs? Somewhere it works? Somewhere that it fits?'
- Mostly Harmless (the fifth of the Hitchhikers' trilogy), Douglas Adams (1992)

My old old black and white telly through no fault of its own, doesn't perform the purpose for which it was intended. You can switch it on all you like but because all of the analogue transmitters are now silent, it will be intently listening for a transmission and never pick anything up ever again.
The somewhere this belongs, the somewhere it works and the somewhere that if fits is a place called the past. The opening line of L.P. Hartley's 1953 book "The Go-Between" says  "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."

The label for Channel 5A remains a curious relic of the past with an ever increasing lack of context. Channel 9A which I didn't even know existed until I'd looked this up, probably already has passed out of the collective consciousness. I am showing my age here but the things I remember most about Channel 5A were Astro Boy and Sesame Street. Channel 5A was the other station that you could watch if Channel 2 wasn't working for some reason.
Today with a uniform channel allocation across the country, the ABC now lives on 2 and 21 but that all seems a bit mundane compared with the idea that there was a Channel 5A.

Oh yes, don't forget... Channel 8

July 22, 2014

Horse 1718 - It's Full Of Stars

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/07/washington-dc-statehood-president-obama-109186.html#ixzz389kz1fk9
“I think I’ve long believed that D.C. pays — folks in D.C. pay taxes like everybody else. They contribute to the overall well-being of the country like everybody else. They should be represented [in Congress] like everybody else,” Obama said. “And it’s not as if Washington, D.C., is not big enough compared to other states. There has been a long movement to get D.C. statehood, and I’ve been for it for quite some time.”
- US President, Barack Obama, via Politico, 21st Jul 2014

http://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbrown/2014/07/17/six-californias-initiative/
Thanks to the signatures of more than 807,000 concerned Californians, an ambitious idea has moved that much closer to becoming a reality. The “Six Californias” Initiative, sponsored by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, seeks to create areas that are more governable, more productive, and more successful.
- Forbes, 17th Jul 2014

http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/10/economist-explains-15#sthash.UsrXH9QG.dpuf
Only in 2012 did statehood advocates finally come out on top: in a ballot with two separate questions, a majority voted both in favour of changing the island’s status and for becoming a state if a change did occur. Critics argued that the referendum’s design was rigged to produce a pro-statehood outcome, since even people who voted against a change in status were still asked to select a preferred arrangement other than the current one.
- The Economist, 21st Oct 2013

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/history/2012/11/texas_secession_how_the_lone_star_state_could_mess_with_the_rest_of_us.html
Put plainly, Texas agreed to join the union in 1845 on the condition that it be allowed to split itself into as many as five separate states whenever it wanted to, and contingent only on the approval of its own state legislature. For more than 150 years, this right to divide—unilaterally, which is to say without the approval of the U.S. Congress—has been packed away in the state's legislative attic, like a forgotten family heirloom that only gets dusted off every now and then by some politician who has mistaken it for a beautiful beacon of hope.
- Slate, 14th Nov 2012

Okay, let's just run through the summary.

minus: California (-1)
plus: Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California, South California (+6)
minus: Texas (-1)
plus: New Texas, Trinity, Gulfland, Plainland, El Norte (+5)
plus: District of Columbia (+1)
plus: Puerto Rico (+1)

All up: 50 - 2 + 13 = 61

It's fun to imagine new flags for the United States. Ever since 1818 when the flag was changed to have 20 stars for the then 20 states (and 13 stripes for the original 13 colonies), every time a new state was added to the union, another star was added on the next 4th of July.

"Old Glory" changed pretty regularly until 1912 when for 47 years following the admission of Arizona and New Mexico, the flag stayed at 48 stars. Alaska was added in 1959 and the flag had 49 stars for one year until 1960 when the 50th and as yet final star was added for Hawaii.

I like the American flag. In the United States its presence is ubiquitous and can be seen on not only official state buildings but on a whole host of private buildings, people's houses and draped over all sorts of things.
The American Flag is as easily as powerful at marking "Brand America" as the Union Flag is for Great Britain or l'Tricolore is for France.

But what is the likelihood of ever seeing a 61 star state flag? I'd say pretty minimal. The admission of extra states to the union is contingent on two things.
Firstly, convincing everyone in the territory which is to become a state that statehood is a good idea.
Secondly, convincing everyone in the rest of the United States that granting said territory statehood is a good idea.

New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new States shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.
- Article Four, Section 3, Clause 1, US Constitution.

Now I know that this is going to sound very wibbly-wobbly and like a tangled ball of nonsense but how a nation of people feels about itself, depends on how that nation of people feels about itself.
Most obviously that sense of itself is when a nation compares itself to another one (usually in the context of asserting independence), however if you look at the concept of statehood within a bigger thing called a nation, there's often far less of a distinction. No doubt the people of Sacremento, San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego are probably nominally fine with calling themselves Californians.

If you look at the admission of the last two states into the union, Alaska and Hawaii, they were set against the backdrop of the Cold War. Alaska and Hawaii were both physically within the realm of the reach of firepower of what was then the USSR and so it made perfect sense that they wanted "to form a more perfect Union" with the United States. I don't know how statehood would necessarily protect you against an all-out nuclear war but at least you'd have a say in congress, whilst you were being blown to pieces. It's one thing to have annihilation, you don't also need anarchy.
I just don't know if in 2014, whether the same sort of impetus exists for a potential 13 extra states to join.

For extra states to join the United States, I suspect that the biggest requirement is that it has to "feel right" and I'm not sure that that is the case.

Weird Aside:
A shop in Dallas, Texas sold a 61-star flag:
http://www.wfaa.com/news/local/Dallas-store-sells-US-flag-with-61-stars-97280689.html
"I kind of let them know there are 50 states in the United States, and they need to correct this — or at least get the Chinese supplier to correct this," 
- WFAA-TV Channel 8, 27th Jun 2010.

Naturally, Americans are very very very protective of their flag. Maybe, that the Chinese flag supplier has access to time travel... and that their 61-star flag is from the future!
(Who honestly didn't see this coming?)

July 21, 2014

Horse 1717 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No.1 - Edmund Barton


I - Edmund Barton

Edmund Barton was Australia's First Prime Minister. He almost was not; twice.

Barton became a member of parliament for the Electoral district of University of Sydney; this was before many people even had the right to vote. Barton was nominally a member of the faction in state parliament who supported Free Trade, though was appointed Attorney-General of New South Wales under Premier George Dibbs's Protectionist government (who supported the imposition of tariffs). Yet Barton doesn't even get his first mention in the history books for being Attorney-General.

On 7th Feb 1879, an England cricket tour led by England's second ever captain, George Harris, was playing against a New South Wales side at what is now the Sydney Cricket Ground. Edmund Barton was one of the umpires at that match.
The other umpire, whom it was suspected of being employed by the English in a match-fixing scandal, gave Australian batsman Billy Murdoch "run out" and a riot broke out.  which Barton helped to diffuse. The publicity as a result of that, probably helped him get elected in the first place.

As a result of being Attorney-General of NSW, Barton was a member of a delegation sent to London to help persuade the British House of Commons to pass the bills which would create the new Commonwealth of Australia. In that delegation was also Alfred Deakin and the main author of the constitution, Samuel Griffith who was the Premier of Queensland.

Barton though almost missed out on being the first Prime Minister of the new commonwealth because the Governor-General John Hope, the 7th Earl of Hopetoun (Lord Hopetoun), had thought it logical that the Premier of New South Wales Sir William Lyne, should be the Prime Minister on the grounds of seniority until a proper nationwide election was held.
Lyne though was a strong Protectionist and an anti-federalist; and many potential ministers such as Deakin, simply refused to serve in any cabinet that he might lead. Lyne in time turned down the position and Lord Hopetoun instead appointed Barton as the caretaker Prime Minister until an election was held. This in time would become known as the "Hopetoun Blunder".

When the 1901 election finally came around, Barton's Protectionist Party won 31 seats to George Reid's Free Trade Party who claimed 28; both were short of the 38 out of 75 seats required to form government in their own right.
Seeing as both the Protectionists and the Free Traders were both centre-right parties and wouldn't negotiate with each other, Barton had to secure supply on the floor of the house by forming a sort of coalition with the members from the state Labor Parties who still hadn't formally established a national administration (actually, only the Free Trade Party was the only properly national party).
In just over two years, the parliament under Edmund Barton would go from a relatively unordered group of members from six states to something that looked a bit more like the current two-party system. Essentially the parliament the parliament was made up of what would become two factions of the Liberal Party and the Labor Party as a third and minor party but as kingmaker.

Barton's Protectionist government lived up to its name and within the year it had introduced with amounted to the White Australia policy and enacted testing of immigrants to keep potential migrants from Asia and the Pacific out. Immigration tests could be done in various European languages, which since Asian migrants couldn't very well pass at the time, would not be accepted as migrants. This might sound all a bit strange to a modern set of sensibilities (on the basis of racism and common decency), considering that to pass the legislation the centre-right Protectionist party needed help from a centre-left Labor Party but it's worth remembering that in 1901, society was quite different and the Labor Party particularly in Queensland, thought that Pacific Islanders would undercut white people in terms of wages prices and thus take their jobs.
Barton's government did pass legislation to extend the franchise to women in 1902; so I suppose that in that respect they appear relatively progressive.

In addition to removing the formal customs duties between the states, the Barton Government moved on matters such as imposing tariffs on foreign goods and establishing the armed forces.

Barton's government faced a crisis when his Minister for Trade and Customs, Charles Kingston, found it increasingly difficult to negotiate legislation which would impose very high tariffs to protect fledging Australian manufacturing industries and so resigned in July 1902. This brought into question Barton's ability to lead the party and the stress probably got to him, as he collapsed in his offices in parliament. Due to declining health, Barton resigned his position as Prime Minister in September of 1903 and was succeeded by Alfred Deakin who largely left the cabinet unchanged. Barton would later go on to as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.

I think that what Edmund Barton teaches us is that politics is a difficult game. He was a reasonable man and that is evidenced by the fact that he was selected to be the care taker Prime Minister before the first election. The problem is that reasonableness is sometimes not enough. The parliament sometimes has the nickname of the "bear pit" because unwary people can get metaphorically mauled in there; Barton was one of those.

July 20, 2014

Horse 1716 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No.0 - Henry Parkes

Preface:
I find it extraordinary that as an Australian citizen, I can recite clauses from the US Constitution, name more than 30 US Presidents, name every British Prime Minister going back to Lord Melbourne and even cite key pieces of legislation that make up Britain's unwritten constitution. I can not however, name Australia's Prime Ministers with any reliability beyond Menzies' first term in office and only really a few paltry highlights before then.
I think that as a nation, we tend to look outwards to such a degree that we forget to review our own history. I see the value in remembering our own history because maybe, from looking at where we came from, we can see the seeds of where we are going. Even though I am not a republican, I think that we undervalue our own history in favour of that of the British Commonwealth; that I see as a little bit silly.
It is easy to define a nation by what it is not but when you don't even know your own history with any reliability, how are you suppose to define the nation by what you do know?

No doubt there are better and more scholarly references; written by proper political historians but the purpose of these 30 posts, isn't necessarily to provide a new history text; instead it is to correct my hideous failure to learn abotu the history of the country in which I live.

0 - Henry Parkes


I deliberately start with Part 0 because the story of how Australian came to be is as important as any of the Prime Ministers themselves. The book of Genesis starts with the words "In the Beginning" but Australia started with a tumultuous story before it even had its own "in the beginning".

Parkes was vocal in his view that New South Wales should have self-governance and set up the Empire newspaper in the 1840s and was also a strong advocate for universal sufferage. Unfortunately Parkes was also a terrible businessmen and by the time that New South Wales acheived self-governance, he'd racked up debts of £48,000 and declared bankruptcy.
Nevertheless, as a skilled orator, he frequently both resigned as local member for parliament of East Sydney and was re-elected as the local member and being the days before political parties had established themselves, he became Premier of  New South Wales five times.

Australia was and in many respects was six colonies, all of which had their own parliaments and their own established internal constitutions. They all had inherited a bicameral parliamentary structure and in operation they were more or less mechanically alike.
Arguably (pun intended) they had also inherited the also inherited very British art of arguing at great length and intensely on the floors of the chamber; naturally this was always going to spill out when they came to dealing with each other. The six states found many founts to argue from, including customs and excise, the movement of goods and people and even issues such at the telegraph and the railways. An apocryphal plaque at Albury railway Station exemplified this with the statement:
“Look on with disdain, oh people of Victoria, for you shall pass no further.”

How then and under what circumstances would anyone bring six unfriendly powers together in Federation. Moreover, why?
The idea was first floated in the 1870s and various conferences were held during the 1880s and 90s but I suspect the thing that really brought the six states together, was firstly the Boer War in which Australians and New Zelanders fought and the Boxer Rebellion, which was spun in the propaganda of they day to imply that Australia would be invaded by the Chinese. Nothing binds together a group of people than the threat of a common enemy, be it real or imagined I suppose.

It was during the conferences and eventual Constitution Conventions that the states kind of nutted together what form the Australian Parliament would take. Along with the Victorian Premier George Turner, who would eventually become the first Federal Treasurer, Parkes became more vocal in issues to do with tariffs that existed between the states. In Parkes' Tenterfield Oration of 1889, he openly called for the states to be Federated to form a new Commonwealth.
Parkes would be instrumental in the formation of the new Free Trade Party which called for the abolition of all tariffs and whilst Turner would join his compatriot Edmund Barton in his Protectionist Party, which called for the imposition of tariffs to protect Australian industry, the idea that the states should be federated remained.

During the Constitution Convention of 1891, delegates from New Zealand also attended but by the convention of 1898, New Zealand had lost interest; though the door was left open for them to join the commonwealth it they still so desired. Parkes died in 1896 at the age of 80 and so didn't live to see the 1898 convention nor the final constitution that it would eventually draft.
The Constitution Convention of 1898 is where the ideas that the Senate should have an equal representation from the states was hit upon, as a measure to stop the bigger states from bullying the smaller ones and although by that time, Parkes had died, he had already left a very long lasting impression on the formation of the nation.

Henry Parkes was married twice and had 17 children. Continuing his bad form in business, he also died penniless; though he must have been able to see the characteristics of a good treasurer in other people, as the treasury under his administration remained healthy and viable despite the recessions in the world of the 1890s.

Given that neither the role of Prime Minster was defined in the Constitution (and only really assumed to exist through tradition) and that the party political system which would eventually come to settle had not yet appeared, I don't think it unreasonable to assume that had Parkes lived to see Federation, then he probably would have been made Prime Minister of a rag-tag assortment of parties. It might not have been a unity or national government or even a coalition as we now understand those terms, but perhaps something akin to the British Prime Ministers up until about the 1870s; that is, one over a very broad range of interests.
I also think that given the very quick way in which parties solidified even in that first term of parliament, that not even Parkes with his broad vision for Federation which took more than 30 years to see fruition, would have been able to hold together so many disparate groups which were forming; including the nascent Labour Party and the seeds of the Commonwealth Liberal Party (which is a little bit different to the current Liberal Party).
Henry Parkes never got to be the 1st Prime Minister but I think that he deserves to be called the 0th.

July 18, 2014

Horse 1715 - This is The News

Beckfords Bank rose 6 cents to $31.52, The Imperial Bank also rose 24 cents to $66.72.
The mining sector did well on the back of an announcement of forward steel contracts with Plotchka. King Solomons mines close up at $44.13, Oliver Ore close on a high at $9.55 and Pentasilver announced a higher than expected which led to a 7% run and they closed at $10.88 at the end of today's trading.

More rockets struck the Bordurian capital Marxstadt as tensions continue to mount between Borduria and Syldavia. An estimated 70 people have been killed and at least two hundred have been killed, Bordurian state media reports.

The stars came out to shine last night as actress Sophia Aston made an appearance at the Royal Picture Palace for the opening of her new film "A Mysterious Engagement".

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As you may have guessed, not of the above news stories are real. Maybe there is such a thing as the Beckfords Bank somewhere in the world just to prove me wrong in spite. Maybe Borduria and Syldavia are still at war with each other (I don't know - Tintin will report on that for Le Soir), and maybe there really is some celebrity called Sophia Ashton but does it even matter?

Regular readers to this blog will very quickly come to the conclusion that I am a voracious consumer of news. Usually on any given day, I will have read The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian by about midday; my favourite radio stations are ABC News Radio, and (apart from being old) ABC Radio National. I like SBS and ABC's nightly news bulletins and television shows like Dateline and Lateline.
However, even I will concede that for the most part, most news stories from around the world, at least in relation to my own life, are completely and totally irrelevant.

I'm going to suggest something absolutely horrible hear but even with ISIS tramping through the northern provinces in Iraq; Palestine and Israel declaring a cease-fire in Round 38,209 of their ongoing and otherwise pointless perpetual conflict; almost 40 people being wiped out by a typhoon in the Philippines, none of these mean squat all in real terms with relation to directly affecting my life; even though they're all horrible for the displaced and injured people who are affected.

Equally, I do not care for the banal "human interest" stories which commercial television stations (yes Channel 7 I'm looking at you) like to dress up as news and evidently as ABC's Media Watch has pointed out on the odd occasion, the gossip magazine when "reporting" on the passing parade of soap stars and their affairs, don't care for fact checking.

Finance news is equally pointless for the most part. Merely telling us that shares in X, Y, B, C, Q and J have risen or fallen or that some indicator has moved 3% is not only completely irrelevant to the general public whose maths skills are poor. The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian will both print useful stuff like Price/Earnings Ratios and Trends, but the people who actually make a living by shifting numbers around a computer screen, already have access to oodles of information and I seriously doubt whether they are using newspapers as even a tertiary source of information.

On that front, what really gives me the irrits is that only the ABC & SBS will tend to report news through a semi-objective lens. The Sydney Morning Herald will cast judgement and The Australian will cuss and yell and try to dictate policy but report it as news.
Mostly, as far as I can make out, the commercial news stations are just another drama show like Neighbours, Home & Away, the WWE and The Herald-Sun's coverage of Australian Rules Football.
The news that actually affects peoples' lives, is the enactment of policy, whether it's done by business of government. Most of that news is never reported at all though.

July 17, 2014

Horse 1714 - Rupert Murdoch's 'Gift To Our Nation"

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/tony-abbott-praises-the-australian-as-rupert-murdochs-gift-to-our-nation-20140716-3bzwg.html
The Australian newspaper is Rupert Murdoch's 'gift to our nation'' Prime Minister Tony Abbott has told a gala dinner in Sydney to celebrate the publication's 50th birthday.
On Tuesday night, Mr Abbott – who once worked as a journalist at The Australian – said the contemporary publication is ''one of the world's very best''.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 16th Jul 2014

Let's think about that 'gift to our nation' that Rupert gave us. What was the intent of that gift?

"Please note that we are not a left-wing Labor paper nor are we tied to any particular party or philosophy. We are simply in the business of reporting, interpreting and sometimes commenting on the facts – in that order”.
- Rupert Murdoch, staff memo, 1965

You know what? I actually believe this. The Australian newspaper is not a left-wing Labor paper; it is a right-wing business paper and as such it makes perfect sense that it is not tied to any particular party. It currently aligns itself and white ants one of them but the second that that party changes its tack, it'll dump them flat on their face. That party knows that too and is very very obedient.

http://www.newscorpaustralia.com/brand/australian
It breaks stories, challenges governments and links the complex web of events and impacts across the country every day. 
The is the news brand with exclusive access to Australia’s wealthy and powerful. 
- The Australian, advert blurb, from News Corp Australia

Indeed it is. The Australian has exclusive access to Australia’s wealthy and powerful... including the current Prime Minister, who "in spirit" still works for them. Just who did he mean back in January when he complained that the ABC "appears to take everybody's side but our own'', and lacks ''at least some basic affection for the home team". Which "home team" would that be? Tony seems to think that that home team is The Australian; Don't believe me? Why, he even admitted it himself:

http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2014-07-15/address-australians-50th-birthday-gala-dinner-sydney
This, alone, should make it uniquely influential in our nation’s life.
On any particular day, The Australian is not necessarily the most influential publication in our country.
...
Back in 1992, when I was an ex-journalist and somewhat disgruntled political staffer, Paul Kelly told me that I would always have a job at The Australian.
When I tried to redeem that pledge, shortly after the 1993 election, the paper was having one of its periodic budget crises.
I never went back but like to think that, in spirit, I’d never left.
- PM Tony Abbott, to the 50th Anniversary of The Australian, 15th Jul 2014

Futhermore, The Australian which is Rupert's prized doyenne of all of News Corp's worldwide operations (splits aside), is seemingly able to dictate policy by yelling as loudly as it can into the ears of its minions; sooner or later, its minions also start signing the same song.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-07-16/mcgrath-accuses-abc-of-left-wing-bias-in-maiden-speech/5602092
One of the Government's newest - and arguably one of its most influential - senators is calling for the GST to be increased and broadened, the abolition of the federal health and education departments and the privatisation of the ABC if it fails to address concerns of left wing bias.
In his maiden speech to Parliament, Senator James McGrath, who has previously been a party strategist, has also demanded the ABC's youth radio station triple j be privatised immediately.
- ABC News, 16th Jul 2014

Who stands to gain the most from a privatised ABC? Surely not someone with a commercial interest to gain from the shift in market share. As Rupert said himself, the Australian is in the business of reporting, interpreting and sometimes commenting on the facts. Those facts are that this is the news brand with exclusive access to Australia’s wealthy and powerful. Just remember that. It has exclusive access to Australia’s wealthy and powerful; whilst the voters do not. One of its ex-columnists is now the Prime Minister and in spirit, never left the newspaper. Who does he work for? It's probably not you.
That's Rupert Murdoch's 'gift to our nation'.

Happy 50th Anniversary to The Australian; who's boss is not.

July 15, 2014

Horse 1713 - Change From Sixpence

http://www.smh.com.au/comment/column-8/column-8-20140714-zt6w5.html
From our ‘‘Arrggh, In MY Day...’’ Desk (shop assistants who can’t do even the simplest maths in their heads, Column 8, last week). Gerry Brooks, of Haberfield, tells us that ‘‘my mother was a junior shop assistant in the early 1900s in England. She worked at Mrs  Frobisher’s Haberdashery and was expected to sell one and three quarter yards of dress material at a penny farthing per yard, a farthing being a quarter of a penny. She had to do this in her head, any rounding had to be in favour of the shop, and she had to give the correct change out of sixpence!’’
- Column 8, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15th Jul 2014

Apart from the fact that I doubt whether or not Mrs  Frobisher’s Haberdashery actually ever existed (because Marjory Frobisher was Audrey fforbes-Hamilton's best friend in BBC1's comedy series "To the Manor Born"), I also think that this particular mither stems from a fear of the unknown.

To the problem at hand:
Sell one and three quarter yards of dress material at a penny farthing per yard, and give correct change out of sixpence, in favour of the shop.

Seems simple enough to me...
7/4 x 5/4 = 35/16 = 2 3/16 and rounded up that's 2 1/4.
6d. - 2 1/4d. = 3 3/4d.
Change for 3 3/4d. can be made in three coins: a threepence, a ha'penny and a farthing.

I did this in my head, from the distance it takes to walk from the newsagent to the office.

QED.

However, when I got up to the office, I thought about how difficult that this particular problem is, if you have to deal with this in decimal.

Suddenly it becomes 1.75 and 1.25 and as soon as that happens, it might run out to four decimal places. If anything, the lament that "shop assistants who can’t do even the simplest maths in their heads" becomes somewhat cruel, seeing as I work an in accountant's office and I regularly engage in recreational maths. I can't do this problem in my head in decimal... but I can in £sd.

This is the thing about imperial units. People lament now that they seem confusing but the point remains that they were all incredibly useful. A pound of 16 ounces can be cut into halves and in halves again and in halves again. There are 8 pints in a gallon and 20 fluid ounces in a pint. This is all simple simple maths.
Metric does have division by ten but I ask you, 1.75m by $1.25/m? That becomes $2.1875 which I suppose is more efficient, but anyone with a calculator or more importantly a cash register with even a simple computer in it, would be able to do this.

Also, I'm pretty sure that in early 1900s England, there would have been a question of basic literacy before we even ask questions of numeracy. It wasn't until The Education Act of 1918, that the school leaving age was raised to 14 and I wonder if a junior shop assistant who left school at 12 would have even been equipped to do this in her head.
Given that Gerry Brooks, of Haberfield, says that his mother was one in the early 1900s, then how old must he be? Fiddling with ages to be the most generous, Mother Brooks must have been born in about 1895 at the latest (assuming she'd have been 14 in 1909). Was he born in the Depression?... too many questions here.

I think that this complaint then, is not one of how difficult the mental gymnastics are but rather on the quality of junior shop assistants. That sort of thing really does belong on the our ‘‘Arrggh, In MY Day...’’ Desk, for which Column 8 has been a supporter of since 1947.
Granny would be proud.


July 12, 2014

Horse 1712 - Rejoice, "do this now; you must not stop"

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
- Philippians 4:4-6

Sometimes you reread something in a different light and what is said is significantly changed. This was one of those instances for me.

Firstly, the call to "rejoice" is a directive; because this is appears at both the beginning and the end of the sentence, we can assume that the directive is emphasised.
Secondly, because it appears as an active and present directive, the instruction means "do this now".
Thirdly, the word "always" which in the Greek is the word "pantote" (as in the poor will always be with you and appears 38 times in the new testament) defines no boundaries upon this directive. In other words "do this now; you must not stop".
However, what is really quite extraordinary about this passage, is the context from which it was written. I make deliberate use of the word "from" rather than "in" here because I think that this is utterly singular.

We can find the context from where this was written by looking back further in the letter:
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.
- Philippians 1:3-7

Paul presumably wrote this letter whilst in chains in prison in the Praetorian Guard's complex, the Castra Praetoria on the outskirts of the seven hills of Rome. The Praetorian Guard weren't particularly nice people. They were responsible for assassinating Caligula, installing Claudius, deserting Nero, overthrowing Galba in the year of the four emperors, and eventually setting up Titus and Domitian as emperor from within their own ranks.
They were so influential in the running and political intrigue of the capital of the City of Rome that it is their red festoon helmet which is what we often think of as the stereotypical Roman soldier's helmet even two millennia later. Don't believe me? It is the Praetorian Guard's red festoon helmet which appears on American Express' credit cards.
Paul would on occasion find himself in a rented house in Rome (still under house arrest) but more than likely, the letter to the Philippians was written within their high walls. It is likely that whilst under guard there, Paul would have been cut off from the outside world; save for the letters and visitors which he had, and probably even unable to see the outside world because the walls of the Castra Praetoria stand up to 70 feet high in some places.
I don't think that a Roman prison cell would have been even remotely comfortable either. I doubt for instance whether he would have even had the luxury of straw bedding for instance.

How then is Paul able to contemplate, let alone write to the church at Philippi to "Rejoice", and to "Let your gentleness be evident to all"? The very thought seems bordering on madness. The answer is contained only a few lines later:
I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
- Philippians 4:11-13

I don't think for a second that Paul found this easy. He notes that "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances". A fun way to remember the Greek word for learned is to look inside it. The word "eMATHon" contains the word "math*" and anyone who has ever done maths to any level knows that the higher you go, the more difficult and downright hair-pullingly frustrating it can get.
Learning something and especially under difficult circumstances, such as being in a prison cell; under an emperor (Nero) who was mad, bad and evil and actively wanted to kill you, surely can not have been an easy lesson. Paul points out (possibly resignedly) that "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."
Paul's exhortation to "Rejoice" then, only appears to gain another element of semi-madness. I wonder if in writing this to the church at Philippi, whether or not to some degree he was also writing a set of instructions to himself. There is a trite saying that we learn 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear and 90% of what we teach to others.

Whatever the case, Paul learned to be content whatever the circumstances and his instruction to "Rejoice in the Lord always" is a definitive one; even if circumstances are difficult; even if you don't really want to. Someone under instruction like a student or even a soldier like the Praetorian Guard rarely wants to do what they have been told because its fun but because ultimately it is to their benefit.
This directive is a hard directive but because of the word "pantote", it is a directive with out end -
"do this now; you must not stop".

*yes, I know that "math" is wrong. Mathematics is a plural; I've already written about this in Horse 1503:
Linky: http://rollo75.blogspot.com.au/2013/06/horse-1503-math-vs-maths.html

July 11, 2014

Horse 1711 - Three Stars Will Become Four

Only 8 nations have ever won the world cup (Uruguay, Italy, Germany, Brazil, England, Argentina, France and Spain). This Germany - Argentina final in 2014, then, presents two multiple winners against each other; so no new name will be written on the trophy.
But in picking a winner from these two, you only really need look back through the general trends to work out which of this pair is likely to win in Brazil.

Of those eight nations which have won, Spain is a distinct exception. Of all the rest, they either won a tournament at home or if they didn't do that would be riled up enough to install the necessary policies to win within the next two cycles.
- After Brazil suffered the indignancy of losing what was effectively the 1950 World Cup Final against Uruguay, they set about picking players who would eventually win them the title. Brazil subsequently won the 1958 and 1962 finals.
- West Germany won the 1974 final in West Germany but the humiliation of playing relatively toothless football in Argentina four years later (1978), put them on the road to three consecutive finals, which they finally won in 1990.
- Argentina who did host the 1978 Finals, would stumble in 1982 and that stirred them up to play in two consecutive finals themselves, 1986 which they won and 1990 which Germany did.
- France won the 1998 World Cup at home and came last in Group A in 2002, without even scoring a single goal. They bounced back and appeared in the 2006 final, which they lost.
- Germany in 2006 probably should have done better at home and here we are 8 years later against Argentina.
It's worth noting that this is now the third time that these two nations have met in a final and had the Netherlands made it, it would have been their fourth appearance in a final.
History suggests that the winner of the World Cup is either a host or a recent host and I suspect that this has something to do either with a home pitch advantage or more likely, a systemic approach to win the World Cup following what their respective national associations perceive to be a disgrace.

There's another curious trend. If we include North America, then every tournament held in the Americas has been won by South American nations. With the exception of the 1958 World Cup in Sweden (see the rules above) then every other world cup in held in Europe has been won by a European nation.
After checking through 19 sets of semi-finals, there is a weak tendency for teams that won their semi-final by the greater margin; to go on and win the final. In 7/19 of them, that was the case, in 3/19 the reverse was true and in 9/19 the results in the semi-finals were decided by the same margin. Given that Germany absolutely thumped Brazil, this surely has to count for something. Matches of that ilk generally don't occur in latter stages of competitions; though in the first 3 World Cups when the depth of nations simply wasn't there, this was distorted. Only 13 nations bothered to show up in 1930 and by 1938, there were still only 37 teams which applied.

It really doesn't matter which way you slice this, Germany is still the best-dressed-in-show. Statistically; even allowing for the fact that no European nation has yet won a World Cup in the Americas, I really can't foresee any other result than Die Mannschaft becoming der Fussball-Weltmeisteren.

July 10, 2014

Horse 1710 - Pot Noodle Crisis

Look, I know full well that this is very much going to appear as one of those "first world problems" and to be sure, the fact that I even am writing a blog post about this on a computer, means to suggest that I at least better off than 80% of most of the world but...
... where have all the good pot noodle flavours gone?

I work in Mosman which is one of the wealthiest suburbs in Australia and consequently, I can not afford to eat lunch at any of the vendors in the suburb. Even a meat pie which you'd think would be a cheap and tasty meal can not be obtained at all in the entire suburb for less that $5.50; considering that I at most have a budget for lunch of about $20 a week, then at $4 a day, this starts to look a little crazy (although having said that, a meat pie a day; every day, for lunch, is an idea which would put you on the train to Heart Attack City via Diabetes Town and West Diverticulitis). Of course once you buy bread the necessarily things for sandwich makings for a week, you're on the wrong side of $15 pretty quickly around here.
Which brings me onto the subject of pot noodles. These little pots of warm are about the only warmish sort of lunch that I'm likely to buy in this needlessly ridiculously expensive suburb and because Mosman is full of incredibly white-bread-rich people, all the good flavours have been phased out.

There used to be "Extra Hot Piri-Piri" by Fantastic Noodles but that has been removed and is now gone. "Extra Saucy Teriyaki" - gone. "Chilli Prawn" by Nissin - gone. Fortune's "That Red Curry" - gone. I don't know if these have stopped being made or if it's just that the supermarket in Mosman has stopped selling them because the people around here are so unadventurous that they're not going to buy them, but there are only six choices now... Beef or Chicken... from Maggi, Fortune and Fantastic.

What. Is. The. Point?

You'd think that in a nation like Australia with people from everywhere across the seas that we'd have a rich palette of flavours to pick from but no, we only have two to pick from - Beef and Chicken... they are two camps of bland. It is like a battle of ivory and cream when the rest of the world has the whole kaleidoscope of colour to pick from.
Even if you were to try and buy some sort of accompanying sauce, there isn't really a whole heap that you can put into a pot noodle. I suppose that some variety of chilli sauce or kebab sauce sounds like a good idea in theory but again, just like the problem of finding different flavours of pot noodles, the flavours of sauces which are on the shelves in the supermarkets in Mosman are also bland.

The thing is that I find this really really bizarre. It is a well known fact that the people who live in this suburb, tend not to shop in this suburb and this is evidenced by the amount of boarded up and empty shop fronts; you'd honestly think that you were living in some part of posh communist Moscow in the 1970s; because they do not shop here, I assume that they also do not go to restaurants here. This means that they must (by process of elimination) go to restaurants at Neutral Bay or the City or something. I would further assume that if they go to the city, that they must surely come into a whole world of exotic flavours there. If this is true, why then I further assume that the reason why they aren't demanding a wider range of flavours on their own supermarket shelves, is that they tend not to shop in this suburb in the first place.

Come to think of it, if you went to a supermarket in say Newtown, Cabramatta, or even Blacktown, you're probably more likely to find a more diverse range of flavours on the shelves than you are in Mosman. Those suburbs which have a more ethnically diverse population by extension have a wider palette of flavours to pick from and are richer for it; meanwhile Mosman which I can tell you just by walking around has a less ethnically diverse population than even Chatswood which is only a few suburbs away, limits itself to a paucity of flavours.

Do I really care about pot noodles though? If you haven't guessed by now, this whole post is one giant metaphor. Think about the two political parties and the kinds of flavour that we're subjected to. Think about the newspapers, the radio and the television media and the kinds of flavour that we're subjected to.
We only really get a choice of the blandest of flavours and they are unpalatable. Pot noodles are a metaphor... for something which should be better... but the people for some reason don't demand it.

July 09, 2014

Horse 1709 - Brazil 1 - Ger-MANY

Brazil 1 - Germany 7
Müller 11', Klose 23', Kroos 24', 26', Khedira 29', Schürrle 69', 79
Oscar 90'

Shares in the German dictionary and thesaurus company Langenscheidt rose sharply this morning as German sports writers literally ran out of words to describe what had happened. Words at this point can not express the utter humiliation of the Brazilian side as they had an unheard of 7 goals blasted past them in an unprecedented semi-final.
Quite literally "inconceivable". I keep using that word. I think it means what you think it means... anyone who could conceive of that before the match started was probably wearing a white coat with buckles, so that they could hug themselves all day long.
To try and describe each of the seven goals is best left up to television reporters and proper sports writers who will now go about their jobs mechanically as they try to write up what had happened and so I'll not do that. This is more of a general sort of analysis.

The two sides both started out with an intensity that was befitting a semi-final and really, Thomas Müller's opening goal is probably where I would have expected this fixture to end. A 1-0 loss at home, in itself would have been cause for alarm and disgust but Klose's goal in the 23rd minute was the opener of six minutes of mayhem.
Four goals in six minutes from Klose, Kroos (who bagged a brace) and Khedira, pretty much buried this match before half-time but it was the manner in which this happened which is of interest.

Before the match, much was made of the fact that Neymar would not be playing and that Brazil would need to galvanise itself and pull together as a team.
Already in the post-match interviews, Brazil manager Luiz Felipe Scolari has fallen on his sword and said:
"Who is responsible for this result? I am, it's me. The blame for this catastrophic result can be shared between us all, but the person who decided the line-up, the tactics was me. It was my choice."

Even before a ball had been rolled, Scolari chose a brand new back four of David Luiz, Marcelo, Dante and Maicon. Changing the back four in a fixture this important is usually a recipe for disaster because if you can't build a side from the back, then it had better have enough attacking flair to overcome this and this Brazil side simply never had it.
The back four's job was made ever more difficult by a central midfield pair of Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho who may as well have not have been there at all. This is more than likely where Brazil fell to pieces. The German midfield of Khedira, Schweinsteiger and Kroos just kept on pressing and when they didn't have the ball, tracked back and defended; this is precisely what Luiz Gustavo and Fernandinho failed to do. By not working hard enough and standing off a couple of yards, Brazil gave Germany the space to stitch together short passes and with Mesut Özil who found sneaky little jinks around the 18-yard box, Germany was able to camp for extended periods of time in the front third of the park.

There are sides which are capable of playing hold and contain football but Brazil were seemingly unable to do either. When they did manage to steal the ball, instead of building something slowly, Brazil preferred to pump the ball to an unsupported Fred, who was playing as a lone and lonely striker.
Brazil's only consolation was that Oscar sprinted through the German defence in the 90th minute and got around a German defence whose work rate by that stage didn't need to be so frantic because for Brazil to even draw, they needed to cancel out an impossible 7 goals.
It was too little and about an hour and a quarter too late.

If Scolari hasn't already handed in his resignation as Brazil manager by the time that I've read this, he probably will by the end of the day. I suspect that his last match in charge, will probably also be the last time that many of these Brazilians will ever make the Seleção. It is fitting to use the other nickname for the Brazil national football team, the Canarinho or Little Canary, because like a canary in a coal mine, it probably died and I'm sure that just like when Germany lost the 2002 World Cup Final against Brazil, they too will now hold a national enquiry into the whole structure of football.
In many many respects, this is far worse than the Maracanaço of 1950. This Mineirãnaço of 2014 broke a 62-match home unbeaten streak in competitive matches going back to 1975 and is Brazil’s worst defeat since 1934.


Whoever Germany plays in the final you'd have to rate as underdogs against this side which ran rampant. I don't know if Brazil made Germany look better but the one fact which remains out of this is that Germany looked like a well disciplined machine and if they play like this in the final, I doubt if even they could stop themselves.

July 07, 2014

Horse 1708 - 2015 AFC Asian Cup - Names and Numbers

Watching the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I'm amazed at how coordinated all of the graphics appear to be. The signs at the venue match the captions which feature in both the score in the top left hand corner and the information graphics which appear at the bottom of the screen. Those things from a design perspective all fit together and make for a complete package...

Except...

Except the players kits.

Ugh.

I'm not complaining that they look terrible but I do bemoan the fact that Adidas numbers and names look different to Nike numbers and names, as they do from Puma, Lotto, Marathon and Burrda. It's probably not really obvious until you actually look at them all yourself.
This website, Historical Football Kits, is an invaluable source for this sort of thing:
http://www.historicalkits.co.uk/international/tournaments/fifa-world-cup/2014/2014-index.html

I suppose that I'm rather annoyed at this because I've seen how having a standard font for names and numbers, not only makes the whole league look cohesive and together but it makes things far easier for consumers when it come to buying a kit.

The standardised "Optima" lettering appeared in the English Premier League for the 1997/98 season. This was replaced ten years later for the 2007/08 season.
The A-League started out with a font for its first season in 2005/06 and this was replaced for the 2012/13 season. The AFL finally standardised its numbers for the 2008 season (i think) and finally in 2014 added names to the back of kits.
In all cases a standard set of numbers and names, makes the whole package look cohesive, makes it look like it all fits together.


This brings me to the subject of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup. I really hope that whoever is in charge of this, decides that it's finally time to have a standard font for names and numbers for the tournament and that this standard font carries over into the on-screen graphics.
Personally I'd like it if all nations adopted the standard A-League font for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup because, it as the marketing says it's in "our backyard", then like everyone who hosts something in their backyard, we get to make up the rules.
Further to this, it would even be useful if at the bottom of the numbers, the logo for the tournament could be added, just like it is for the English Premier League of the AFL.

I know that this hardly sounds like an innovation (in fact it's probably 17 years old, if the Premier League was in fact the first to do this) but I honestly can't think of a reason why it shouldn't be done. We've got until January 2015 to sort this out; that's ample time.

July 03, 2014

Horse 1707 - Harris v. Quinn - Compulsory Unionism No More

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/06/supreme-court-unions-108419.html#ixzz3654Z6vY2
Public-sector unions are bracing for a Supreme Court decision Monday that could deal a major blow to their wealth and political clout.
Union leaders fear that conservative justices will use the case, Harris v. Quinn, to strike down laws in 26 states requiring teachers, police officers, firefighters and other public-sector employees to pay dues to the unions that negotiate contracts on their behalf, even if the workers don’t want to become union members.
- Politico, 29th Jun 2014

The Supreme Court of the United States in the pending decision of Harris v. Quinn (2014) might effectively strike down the ability of a workplace to demand from its workers that they compulsorily join a union. There seems to be a storm brewing on Capitol Hill and given that I'm literally on the other side of the world (and that US politics sometimes makes as much sense to me as trying to nail strawberry jelly to a battleship), I'm completely at a loss to explain as to why this was still even on the statute book.

Fair enough, Article 23 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their interests, but the reciprocal of that is surely that everyone also has the right not to join a union should they choose not to. Given that the United States still remains ambivalent to anything that the United Nations says though, perhaps this isn't all that surprising. When it comes to rights issues, the United States has a long and proud tradition of being ponderously slow to change.

Unions have an extremely bad rap in the United States and possibly deservedly so. Although unions exist with the aim of trying to improve conditions and pay for their members, they also are seen as troublemakers in America and as the cause of strikes.
Most famously, Ronald Reagan deliberately smashed the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization to pieces in 1981, following a strike. More recently, the United Automobile Workers were blamed in a trial by media, for the collapse of General Motors and Chrysler when they both underwent Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. Very little consideration was given or even pointed at management who through their incredible short-sightedness, never even once bothered to set aside the necessary funds for the retirement plans which their employees had negotiated for.
Given that I am a creature of the left and I do happen to think that unions have done some incredibly useful things in the world, such as negotiated for paid holidays, sick leave, overtime and penalty rates and even something as obvious as the installation of fire escapes in buildings and other employee safety measures, that I'd fully endorse unions (and indeed I do) but even I think that the idea of forcing people to join a union is misguided; even if they do happen to improve the lives and well-being of their members.

Whilst it it perfectly true that workers' conditions have been collectively improved by unions, they are after all, similar in principle to that of a political party; the main difference being the theatre in which they operate.
Unions are about the same general sort of thing to that of political parties and that is the control and exercising of power. Just like I don't think that people should be forced to join a political party but are free to join one should they so desire, the same principle should also apply to that of unions.
The United States has a very different set of political traditions to say, the UK, Australia or New Zealand in that unions themselves didn't form political parties to exercise political power from the floors of parliament. In those three countries the Labo(u)r parties saw that in order to exercise power, they needed to get voices into parliament and to change legislation directly.
The United States though, has never really embraced this sort of exercise of power. The two major political machines were firmly established from about the 1850s onwards and although they both may have flirted with the unions from time to time, the unions were either through choice or futility, forced to play the same game as any other interest in American politics - that of lobbying.

What honestly surprises me though, is that it is only now in 2014 that the Supreme Court has decided to strike off compulsory unionism. This is a land which prides itself on and even styles itself as "the world's greatest democracy" (and still only manages to offer two viable choices). Compulsory unionism smacks to me as being like a closed shop and I have no idea how or why such a thing was ever allowed to have existed in the first place, much less why it's survived for so long.

Addenda:
When I submitted this to the person who asked for my comments, they replied that this was not the sort of tack that they were expecting. Rather than give the game away and publish who that was, I can only say that "these are not the droids that you are looking for" and remind them that even during the construction of the DS-2 Orbital Imperial Planetary Ore Extractor Station (Death Star - propaganda, I tell you), the tradespeople on board were free to or free not to join The Techno Union if they so desired... and they all died, needlessly due to an act of senseless terrorism.

July 02, 2014

Horse 1706 - Post-Literacy

Yesterday morning on 702 ABC Sydney, Mitchell Librarian Richard Neville (yes that is his official title), was speaking to Deborah Knight about keeping diaries and whether or not people keep as many as they used to. The conclusion generally was that people do not and this sort of accelerated in a digital age.
It seems that in an ever increasing age of social media, where people have this almost insatiable desire to immediately blurt anything out that they can think of and immediately at this very instant, that the very thought of slowing down and going through the physical act of pen to paper seems daunting for people.

Now admittedly, I know that I have written about this before and run the plough through this same paddock of ideas but for the life of me, I can not find that particular post in more than 1700 of them - please forgive me if I've been here before and I bore you.
As I write this post, I can immediately think of at least a dozen blogs of people which are no longer kept. In that period immediately after Eternal September (today being Wednesday the 7609th of September 1993), the internet was invaded by many new users who took to writing home pages and the like. Even this blog's first post on Geocities was back in 1997 and that itself has died a digital death in the memory holes of time.
The point being that long before the days of Youtube, audio and video streaming, well before the days of podcasts and even before the use of MP3 files, text ruled the internet in the same way that Gutenberg's printing press brought literacy to the masses. Before then, if you wanted to publish anything, you really needed paper and a ready market.
Especially since 2007 with the rise of Youtube, the humble blog with its seemingly boring text format has died a rather sorry sort of death. More alarmingly though, is that even established print news media are also dying the death of a thousand paperless cuts. Video might not have killed the radio star but it has done a heck of a job in shoving knives into the text warrior.

Perhaps I remember a conversation that I once had about the post-literate world and the questions which arose from that. Those questions were being asked even before Eternal September even began:

Literacy: the ability to read and interpret the written word. What is post-literacy? It is the condition of semi-literacy, where most people can read and write to some extent, but where the literate sensibility no longer occupies a central position in culture, society, and politics. Post-literacy occurs when the ability to comprehend the written word decays.
If post-literacy is now the ground of society questions arise: what happens to the reader, the writer, and the book in post-literary environment? What happens to thinking, resistance, and dissent when the ground becomes wordless?
- Bruce Powe, The Solitary Outlaw (1987).

I've often lamented about falling rates of functional literacy even among so-called professionals in industries such as the legal, journalistic and literary disciplines. Again I pick on newspapers here (because their work is more obvious) but with falling profit margins and the fact that sub-editors and post-production editors have often been fired from news rooms, it's actually become quite easy to find errors in publications like the Sydney Morning Herald and Daily Telegraph; where once ABC's Media Watch would find sport in attacking the Illawarra Mercury or the Adelaide Advertiser for making spelling errors, that job is now so easy, that the fun has been lost.
The question that Mr Powe posed in his 1987 work of "what happens to the reader, the writer, and the book in post-literary environment?" is now quite answerable; we are living in those days.

What happens to the reader, the writer and the book?
The book becomes harder to purchase as the demand dries up and the number of outlets from which you can buy real physical dead tree declines. Of course you could argue that people could just as easily read things on an e-reader or other such device but the publishing networks which used to exist, which also included the infrastructure such as type-setting and sub-editing also declined and although one can publish something with this mechanism, the errors in publication which are found in newspapers and the like, sure must start creeping in here as well.
A writer could I suppose make use of the fact that without massive overheads and without publishing houses acting as very large gatekeepers on the publishing industry, that this opens the market considerably. I question though, that without those chains of distribution and marketing, how easy it is for someone trying to break into the writing business to ever make their voice heard amongst the cacophony*.
The reader is someone who really suffers in a post-literate world. Once upon a time, the big publishing houses would in effect do a lot of clearing work for you; filtering out the dross and drivel. In a world of a thousands voices yelling all at once, how do you ever find the next truly great writer? Personally, I've found myself mining classics which pre-date 1900. Classic Russian literature in particular would probably never even be written today; books like Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov are both so immensely complex that a writer probably wouldn't even bother to produce them; so what's the poor reader to do? The answer to that I suppose is buy box sets of DVDs like Game of Thrones or something (which I confess I have no desire to see).

What happens to thinking, resistance, and dissent? Thinking seems to have withered on the vine; serious resistance is infirm and lame and dissent is actively being passed off by sections of the media who wish to maintain their own profit margins, whilst their islands are being eaten away by the sea of illiteracy.
It is very true that the former literary sensibilities which once existed,  no longer occupy a central position in culture, society, and politics, and as such politics themselves have been reduced to a few sound bites and pointless slogans. Would Churchill even have been electable today, much less been able to last in modern government? Somehow I don't think so.

Richard Neville's lament that people don't keep diaries any more, is I think only a small facet of the society which we've either deliberately designed for ourselves or which has spontaneously arranged itself as a result of having instant communication devices. In an era when more information is available at the press of few buttons which was utterly inconceivable even a generation ago, we can say more but we choose to stop and think less.

*This is also where I make my shameless plug for my book, go on, buy it: 
http://www.amazon.com/2222-Medical-Mr-Andrew-Rollason/dp/1494395665

June 28, 2014

Horse 1705 - One Sunny Summer's Day In Sarajevo

Much has been written about the causes of World War one, and it must be noted that as a result of the First Balkan War, the Balkan League (Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece) drove out the Ottoman Empire; and the Second Balkan War which saw Bulgaria attack its former allies, probably laid down more root causes for yet another conflict in Eastern Europe than anything else.

The reason why Franz Ferdinand was in Sarajevo in the first place, was as part of a state tour which included opening a new museum and observing military maneuvers in his capacity as Inspector General of the Armed Forces of Austria-Hungary. Basically, the job was seen as being beneath that of the Archduke's wife, Sophie, the daughter of Emperor Franz Joseph, for her to officially represent the imperial family.
Perhaps justifiably, the people of Serbia, didn't particularly like the imposition of yet another foreign power exerting control over what they thought should their lands (or at least their slavic cousins' lands) and so when word got out that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was going on his tour which was kind of semi-deliberately designed to give the locals the angries, a Slavic nationalist by the name of Gavrilo Princip, was one of a group of about seven people called the Black Hand who intended to change Franz Ferdinand from being still alive to not still alive. All of them were armed beyond anything remotely reasonable; some had grenades and high-powered rifles. If Princip wasn't the one who was going to do Franz Ferdinand in, then at some point, one of the rest of them would have.
Princip would later state at his trial in which he would be sent to prison for 20 years (being seven days too young to be given the death penalty) that:
"I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be freed from Austria."
Gavrilo Princip would later die in prison from tuberculosis; most likely as a result of the conditions in prison.

From what I understand from here on, the chain of events was that war happened between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, Serbia called for the help of Russia, Austria-Hungary called for the help of Germany in preparation to stop Russia who were sort of allied with Serbia, Germany asked France if it would remain neutral if it declared war against Russia and France said "non", Germany declared war on Russia and the declared and alliance with the Ottomans and then after France stated that it would not remain neutral, declared war on France.
Get it? Got it? Good.

Germany tried to exact a plan called the Schlieffen Plan which involved marching through the Low Countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg before marching into Paris but the English didn't stand for that and came to the ally of France and the Low Countries and the whole affair basically came to a grinding halt, that spat out millions of dead bodies, killed a great deal of the working classes of most of Europe and would sow the seeds for World War 2.
During all of this, chemists on both sides invented ever more evil ways of killing people, the influenza virus, poor sanitation and poor medical facilities to deal with the wounded ended up killing more people than machine guns ever could and a lot of moustachioed generals got a heap of shiny medals to pin on themselves.

If all of this sounds like an over-simplification of a conflict which raged on for four years, then it probably is; but be mindful of the fact that virtually none of it really makes any sense at all.

I personally think that choosing to fight for one's country is among the most noble of professions and it incenses me when commanders and particularly politicians invoke nationalism, patriotism and religion in the name of sending other people's noble children to fight in foreign lands. I wish that I could find the quote, but I read somewhere that mens' lives are the coin of the realm of the battlefield and that that is how you buy territory and tactical advantage.
Well I'm sorry but I'm pretty sure that the parents of even the most heroic sons, would still prefer to have their little Billy returned safely home to them, than a small teak box and a Victoria Cross with the words Sgt. William Jones in place of him, if he lies dead somewhere in a field which in five years time will become the home of sheep and cows.
One of the biggest lessons of the First World War that should be really really obvious and writ large in crimson letters of the blood of almost 40 million people is that if only people had thought just a little bit harder and longer and not engaged in so-called "military diplomacy" then none of it need ever have happened.

If Franky Ferdy had got out of bed one day in June of 1914 and thought "You know what, I don't really need to annoy all these people. I think I might go home to Vienna for some tea, biscuits and Sachertorte", then June 28, 1914 might just have been another sunny summer's day in Sarajevo.

June 27, 2014

Horse 1704 - Burying Boring Things

Approval was given several months ago for an tower with sixteen apartments in it, on Military Road in Mosman and work started with a great big hole being dug for the carparks and elevator services.
Somewhere at the bottom of the hole is a bobcat of some sort and I was speaking to a workman who looked like a foreman or something, about what would happen to the bobcat. He said that a deeper hole would be dug at the bottom of the building site, that the bobcat would be pushed into the hole and then backfilled.
Quite frankly I find the idea that you'd take a perfectly useful bobcat and merely bury it to be grossly wasteful but I suppose that as this is purely a commercial decision, that it must somehow be cheaper to do that than to retrieve it and reuse it. The entire cost of the bobcat must somehow be written into the construction budget and be as easily written off as say the cost of concrete or steel reinforcement rods which go into the construction of the building.

I had heard of this sort of thing before though. I remember reading that the tunnel boring machines for the new  North West Rail Link which is being driven into the ground at Bella Vista in October later this year, will go along its merry way; in principles of tunnel boring which remain virtually unchanged since Isambard Kingdom Brunel used a shield method to excavate the Thames Tunnel, and later improved on by James Henry Greathead for the  City & South London Railway in 1884.
The boring machines will travel along quite slowly in front of a shield whilst the tunnel walls are being built behind it. This means of course that the width of the hole which is being bored through the ground, must by definition become smaller as the walls of the tunnel are built; so the boring machine, can not be reversed.
Since the machine can not be reversed, when it gets to the end of its job, it does a sharp turn and bores a hole big enough to bury itself underground and is simply just left there.

What I find both mind-blowingly bonkers and interesting to ponder, is that for every major city in the world, there must be thousands of bobcats, power shovels and other hardware which is left as discarded rubbish underground. All of that stuff is kind of like the industrial equivalent of detritus, left behind by the rotting carcasses of animals.
This concept of leaving building equipment behind, even found its way into children's literature. The picture book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and published in 1939, has Mike Mulligan's steam shovel Mary Anne, left behind at the bottom of the cellar pit that they dug for the new town hall. Rather than dig out a ramp,  Mary Anne is converted into the boiler for the town hall's central heating system.

I suppose that archaeologists in the year 4014 will probably get really excited when they find all of our rubbish and discards as they write their history pieces on twentieth and twenty-first century commercialism but I worry about people whose job it is to provide underground services like stormwater, electric and gas conduits, or even underground railways. They'll have to know where all this sort of rubbish is buried and I seriously doubt whether these sorts of records are being kept.
I wouldn't for instance like to be part of a tunnel excavation team for the brand new Abbott Line with its proposed nine car underground trains running every 7 minutes and have a 200 year old bobcat suddenly break through the ceiling.

June 26, 2014

Horse 1703 - Europe's Mad Money - Minus Interest Rates and Money Which Is Cheaper Than Free

https://www.ecb.europa.eu/stats/monetary/rates/html/index.en.html
With effect from 11 Jun 2014: −0.10

The European Central Bank which is headquartered in Frankfurt, has decided to take the incredibly unusual step of reducing interest rates from 0 to -0.1%. Let me just re-phrase that - the ECB has decided that its lending rate to banks is less than zero, which means that they will not have to pay back as much as they have borrowed.
To be honest I was shocked when I heard this and my initial reaction was that the bankers had decided to take an extended holiday to Cloud-cuckoo-land; visiting Wicker Basket and Lower Bonkers.

One of the levers which the ECB and indeed any central banking system can pull if it wants to regulate the economy is that of Monetary Policy. By fiddling with interest rates it can either create a drive for people to borrow more or less money, depending on what their future expectations are. By lowering the official interest rate to less than zero, it sends a symbolic message across Europe.

Banks generally like to park their funds in at least some form of ultra secure deposit facility. Europe was hit by the Global Financial Crisis particularly hard and some countries like Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain have made some banks reticent about extending credit.

Lowering interest rates to less than zero should have the effect that banks pull their funds out from being parked at the ECB and make them want to lend them out; after all, it its now costing them less than zero to borrow money, they can lend it out, even interest free and still turn a profit.
This in turn should have the effect of increasing aggregate demand for investment funding which is a net injection into the economy and therefore lead to an increase in consumer spending, which in itself has various multiplier effects which are expansionary on aggregate incomes and GDP.

The two most obvious injections into economies are either Government Spending or Investment Spending; since some governments across Europe are already carrying debts of more than 100% of their respective GDPs, then they aren't going to be particularly likely to want to borrow even more money themselves; since those injections of funds have to come from somewhere, the ECB has decided that it should be from private enterprise.
The other major reason why Government Spending isn't particularly likely at the moment, is that European politics has for the moment shifted to the right. Whilst countries like France and the Low Countries aren't particularly likely to privatise more infrastructure, places like Britain has; Britain has even taken tougher steps by trying to cut back on education and welfare spending. Moreover, Europeans are generally distrustful of a very large central European governmental system, and this has been reflected by hard-right and anti-Europe parties being elected as MEPs across Europe.
When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains however improbable, must be the answer here. Since expecting governments to spend money and create expansionary effects on the economy, then what else is the ECB supposed to do?

The other thing of note is that during periods of decreased consumer confidence, people tend to want to save more of their money to help them weather the storm. Savings by definition are not spent and are a leakage from the circular flow of money. Does increased saving lead to an increase in the available funds for investment and therefore the amount of investment spending? You'd think so but no; or at least not immediately.
To a great extent, economies are run by highly irrational people's brainwaves; the term "animal spirits" has been used from time to time to describe this. Investment spending isn't always driven by the cool drive to turn profits; some of it does require a turn of optimism. A downturn in confidence and optimism can have the effect of slowing economies and causing fiscal stagnation and constipation, and this is obviously what the ECB sees at the moment. It wants general inflation to run at about 2% to keep prices and demand ticking along.

Rather than force banks and governments through regulation which may or may not work, the ECB has basically decided that it is going to encourage the banks to lend money by discouraging them to park their money with them - your money doesn't have to go home but it can't stay here. Time will in fact tell if this mad theory even works at all because it may even have the bizarre effect of simply lining the pockets of Europe's banks. They may cynically take up the offer and not lend out anything but just borrow the funds and then pocket the 0.1% difference in bankers' bonuses.
But in these crazy times of starting sentences with conjunctions and ending them prepositions which is not something with which we shall not put. The European Central Bank must do something. This is something. Therefore it must do this.

June 25, 2014

Horse 1702 - Comparing Apples and Oranges

As a client pointed out yesterday, comparing apples and oranges isn't as idiomatically incomparable as is made out.
Both are:
- fruits
- grown in orchards
- have seeds
- can be juiced
- are about the same size
- cost roughly about the same
It would be better to compare apples and cement mixers or as he pointed out, or as in the equivalent the Polish phrase which means to compare gingerbread and windmills.

What I found to be really strange is that from a botanical viewpoint, you can compare oranges with cashews, some kinds of chestnuts, both frankincense and myrrh, and even maple trees.
Apples on the other hand are in the Rosaceae family which includes Roses but also, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, almonds, photnias and hawthorns.
Even more bizarre was that in Roman, oranges were callled pomum aurantium or literally golden appple; this is similar to Hebrew where they're called tapuakh zahav (also golden apple).

Now to put this into some sort of context, this came up in relation to a company which had basically short changed its employees out of a 2% pay increase whilst at the same time paid out a dividend to its directors which was roughly seven times the amount that the pay increase would have cost the company.
Again we have an issue where two things which supposedly can not be compared, aren't as idiomatically incomparable as is made out.
One of the handy things about money is that it's directly comparable. One would even argue that the existence of money as a store of value and a measure of value is the very reason why all sorts of things are directly comparable. An apple that is worth 18 cents costs more than an orange which only costs 14 cents. Not only can you make direct comparisons, but you can plan out out many you'd like to purchase and... (my notes at this point spiral off into a tangent of rage).
When you are talking about making a comparison between a wage and a dividend, the direct comparison can be made to the exact dollar. Not only are comparing things which are not apples and oranges, or even apples and other apples, it's the same as comparing identical apples. The argument being made was that a dividend isn't the same as wages because they're inherently different things but when the decision to pay one or the other rests with exactly the same person, it is a bit of a stretch to then suggest that they're so different as with the idiomatic apples and oranges that they absolutely can not be compared.

What should have been said is that the owner of the orchard decided that their workers shouldn't have the share of apples or oranges that they were promised; rather that saying that comparing dividends and wages is like comparing apples and oranges and are idiomatically incomparable.

June 24, 2014

Horse 1701 - And you will contribute a verse... What will your verse be?

O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;  
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;  
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)  
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;  
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;         5
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;  
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?  
Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;  
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
- Walt Whitman, "O Me! O Life!" from  Leaves of Grass (1900)

Or an Apple advert - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ShyrAhp8JQ

What will your verse be?

Moreover, what would your verse be if you knew that it was going to be the last? When faced with the realisation and after being told that your time upon this earth was absolutely drawing to a close, then what would your verse be? How would it change?

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.
- 2 Peter 1:13-14

Ouch. Just ouch.

To put this into context, as best as I can make out, this letter was written in about 67 or 68AD. According to tradition (which is sometimes unreliable), Peter was crucified upside down because he didn't think that he was worthy enough to be crucified in the same way as Christ. I don't know how reliable that is but Peter was probably executed in the year 68AD under the Emperor Nero, which means to say that his second letter may have been written in the last few months that he was alive and in a worst case scenario, possibly in his last few weeks.
This means that this letter, carries a sense of urgency which perhaps isn't as looming as other parts of the New Testament.

I don't know how many people read scripture and consider the literary structure of a book or a letter but the Apple advert and the Walt Whitman poem used in it, made me rethink the Second Letter of Peter.
I admit that this sounds totally bonkers but in all seriousness, it does hold a very strong, almost poetic structure about it, in the form of A-B-A.

The opening chapter is our first section A, a kind of plus sort of section. Peter offers some form of guidance to his readers when he talks about the sort of character and discipline that Christians should aim for.
If one's faith is real, he argues, it will act as a defence to ensure that you will not backslide or be deceived by people who intend to misdirect your faith for other purposes. Make efforts to add knowledge and self-control and godliness and love and you will not fail.
Of course like all of these pieces of advice, writing them down or merely hearing them isn't all that useful unless you intend to practice them: "if you do these things, you will never stumble". The word "do" is so small and yet it is often the smallest of instructions which have the biggest impact.

The second chapter is our section B, the counterpoint to the opening chapter. If guidance was offered in chapter 1, then a warning of danger is given in chapter 2.
False teachers exist and you would do well to stay alert so as not to be deceived. This letter was written at a time before the New Testament was properly compiled and so it would have been far easier for someone who sounded as though they spoke with authority to lead people astray.3
At the end of chapter 1, the hinge into chapter 2 is that scripture is reliable and the apostles as eyewitnesses to Christ's death and resurrection were also reliable but false prophets will invent stories.
These are people who are not afraid of powers and angels and things that they do not understand and they will eventually face judgement and be destroyed. Firey Peter who cut the high priest's servant's ear off, even thirty years later is still just as passionate and firey even in a letter.

Just as if you were to wrap a criticism in a complement sandwich so that you don't disheartening the receiver, the third chapter of Peter's letter is again a section A; but this time it is a reminder of hope.
Christ will return; be mindful of that fact. He hasn't delayed his return, he's got that under control; so stop worrying about it. Time is irrelevant to God, he will do things in his good time. Be alert though, Christ will return when you least expect it and those who are unprepared will be judged, found wanting and punished.
In the light of this, make efforts to be spotless and blameless; keep short accounts and be on guard - you have been forewarned.

I know that Whitman was a religious skeptic but works of literature do not belong to their authors entirely. When Whitman talks of cities filled with the foolish, and  plodding and sordid crowds, he writes to a similar sort of audience as Peter did 2000 years previous because human nature does not change.
Whitman tells us that "the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse" but Peter tells us something even harder, that the powerful play will stop, and you will still contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
Make every effort to confirm your calling and election; be established in the truth; there will be false teachers among you and they will perish...
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?

What will your verse be?