December 20, 2014

Horse 1807 - Could Inspectors Japp and Lestrade Have Met?

In a recent episode of Poirot, Inspector Japp said that he'd been working for Scotland Yard for more than thirty years and had never seen a case quite like this. Later on in the same episode as Poirot, Hastings and Japp were looking on as a coffin was being lowered into a grave, I noticed that the date of death of this poor soul was 1936.
Assuming that Japp joined Scotland Yard exactly thirty years and one day previous, then the latest date which he could have joined the Yard was 1906.
We know from the Sherlock Holmes canon that Inspector Lestrade was still at Scotland Yard as late as 1902 but the books were still being written as late as 1924. This at least hints at the possibility that Japp and Lestrade were both working for Scotland Yard at the same time.

I wonder, would Japp and Lestrade have ever come across each other? Maybe. If that is true then I would expect that not only do Japp and Lestrade know each other but I suspect that Japp would have worked as Lestrade's offsider. Japp could have logically been Lestrade's apprentice. This would explain in part why the Yard thought it useful that he was the one who ends up tailing Poirot so often, having previously done so with Holmes.

There is a major problem though. Scotland Yard (as a metonym) is the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service which serves all of central London. By 1890, which is bang in the middle of the Sherlock Holmes canon, the Met had 13,000 officers and was such a large organisation that it had to move to New Scotland Yard; which are now the called the Norman Shaw Buildings on the Victoria Embankment and later housed among other things, the offices of the Offices of the Leader of the Opposition. It is quite possible that David Cameron and Ed Miliband have worked in an office that either Japp or Lestrade could have worked albeit incredibly unlikely.

Functionally Japp serves an identical purpose to Lestrade in the novels and even goes through the same process of metamorphosis of extreme distrust to gradual acceptance of their respective detectives.
Forget trying to publish a story with your hypothesis though because although Sherlock Holmes logically entered the public domain for copyright purposes in 2000, Poirot will not until 2046. The stories of Japp and Lestrade would by that stage, very much be historical fiction and well beyond the memories of anyone alive.
The question of whether or not Inspectors Japp and Lestrade could have met remains interesting but I fear that not even Holmes would be allowed to publish a monograph on the subject for a very long time.

December 19, 2014

Horse 1806 - Britain Should Symbolically Annexe Cuba

http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy/cuba
We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. President Obama is taking action to cut loose the anchor of failed policies of the past, and to chart a new course in U.S. relations with Cuba that will engage and empower the Cuban people.
- White House, 17th Dec 2014

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/12/17/president-obama-charts-new-course-cuba-5-things-know
Change is hard -- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future -- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.
- Barack Obama, 17th Dec 2014

With the announcement that the White House has formally decided to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, there is only one course of action that I think must take place...

INVASION!

But not by the United States... By Britain.

I think that Britain should symbolically annexe Cuba for 1 day, 1 hour, 1 minute and 1 second; then hand back Cuba to the Cubans.

"Why?" I don't hear you ask because this is a device of rhetoric and it's a patently bonkers idea in the first place. Why indeed?

Because as a former British territory, Cuba might learn the ways of Cricket and Afternoon Tea and then hopefully would join the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Cricket team.

Cuba is less than 200km from both The Bahamas on one side and Jamaica on the other. It always seemed strange to me that Cuba, Haiti and Puerto Rico are not part of the West Indies Cricket Board and therefore do not have players in the West Indies Cricket team.
Put it this way, Sint Maarten is a constituent country of the Netherlands and the Virgin Islands are insular area of the United States; so why not?

One of the things I love about West Indian cricket is that even if the mutil-national team is doing badly, the people who come out to watch are still joyous. The soundtrack of cricket and especially the multi-national team is one of more or less continual drumming and singing.

England has its Barmy Army (which by the way isn't really allowed to perform at home) and India in India has a following approaching demi-god status but no-one can even lay a patch on the sheer amount of joy that is shown when the West Indies are playing at home.

Given Cuba's past and its strange confederacy with the Soviet Union and the fact that it still remains as one of the world's last remaining Communist states, Cuba has been something of a pariah on the world stage.

Can anyone honestly think of a better way to bring Cuba in from the cold? Extending the hand of friendship is one thing but declaring war at 22 yards and 95mph is quite another. Just like I would love to see China become a full test playing nation (the Chinese Cricket Association hopes to achieve this by 2020) I would really love to see Cuba at the very least join the WICB and field a team in the President's Cup and domestic T20 tournament.
Ideally they'd have players in the West Indies Cricket team and host test matches in Cuba. Just think about that for a second - a Test Match in Havana would be a thing of joy. I want to hear Timba at a Test Match.

Britain annexing Cuba for 1 day, 1 hour, 1 minute and 1 second, is itself a giant wheeze. The only reason for doing so would be to introduce cricket because for some totally bizarre and unknowable reason, cricket is only played in former territories of the British Commonwealth.
I'd like to see cricket in Cuba because I think that bringing joy to peoples' is itself a good aim.

December 18, 2014

Horse 1805 - Sony Cancels The Interview

Sony Pictures made the announcement that it I'd withdrawing the film "The Interview" for theatrical release, following as it claims, threats of violence made against the company and theatre chains declining to show it on the basis that they might suffer a backlash.
The film apparently deals with a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim-Jong-Un and from what understand, this story is dressed up as a comedy.
It stars James Franco and Seth Rogen, neither whom I've heard of and given that the film was given a rating of MA15+, and that I don't go to the cinema much anyway, it would be odd of me to write about a film I'd have no interest in except that media has turned this into something of a free speech issue.

Admittedly my initial reaction to this when I first read about it was that this was a publicity stunt. After hearing that Sony has been the subject of hackers though, I'm not so sure of that now but it still seems plausible to me. We are talking about a movie company here. Their stock and trade is to sell fiction and unless there was some external investigation, I wouldn't put it past a movie production house to write this story and release it as fact.
Suppose for argument's sake that at some point in the future, Sony Pictures either does release the movie in cinemas or it goes straight to DVD and download. Before even a frame has been seen by the public, it already has a place in history. Sony Pictures can now expect to shift more units than they otherwise would have done if the film was a flop.
If this is legitimate though, then this all comes off as being insanely 'Murican in character. The fact that this is being framed in this light and that the narrative being told by the media is that Sony Pictures shouldn't bow to terrorists, is itself the stuff that Hollywood likes to trade in.

Allow me for a second to paint a different narrative - the boring one which doesn't sell newspapers.
What if this movie was the result of a chain of bad business decisions? Now even I'll concede that parody has been around for a very long time - Chaplain's "The Great Dictator" was a veiled parody about Hitler - but what if it was only at the end of all this that Sony Pictures has discovered a little thing called tact? Anyone who publishes anything for public consumption would do well to remember that whilst the right to free speech exists, it isn't absolute. I'm not even talking about the classic example of yelling "Theatre!" in a crowded fire either. Yes, free speech is hedged in by laws such as sedition, discrimination and defamation etc. but it is also hedged in by unwritten rules of decency. If you go around writing or publishing something which is likely to cause offence, then there will be people who are likely to be offended. Whilst there is no right not to be offended at law, there is also no defence if the offence you have caused, causes people to become angry and lash out. What if someone at Sony Pictures finally woke up from their stupor of groupthink and said "guys, this is a bad idea after all"? I know that I've often written things which don't make it past my own internal filter.
What if the more sensible story is that Sony Pictures in choosing to voluntarily withdraw the movie, did so on the basis of purely commercial reasons? That narrative is boring.

http://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/dhs-no-credible-threat-to-sony-movie-launch-113618.html#ixzz3MCESxzqP
The Homeland Security Department says there’s no reason to think there’s a credible plot to attack U.S. movie theaters on Christmas Day as a protest against the Sony movie “The Interview,” despite threats from the Sony hackers.
A DHS official, speaking on condition of background, said the department is aware of a threat made Tuesday by the group that hacked Sony.
Story Continued Below
“We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States,” the official said.
- Politico, 16th Dec 2014

Although the Department of Homeland Security doesn't seen to reason to think there’s a credible plot to attack movie theatres, perhaps the most scathing reason as to why the film is being pulled is that it's simply a bad movie:

http://variety.com/2014/film/reviews/film-review-the-interview-1201376293/
North Korea can rest easy: America comes off looking at least as bad as the DPRK in “The Interview,” an alleged satire that’s about as funny as a communist food shortage, and just as protracted.
- Scott Foundas, Variety, 12th Dec 2014

It's comments like this despite how the narrative of this debacle is being portrayed in the media that maybe just maybe, The Interview is a film which should be credited to Alan Smithee. Maybe the problem is that when you have a film which reportedly cost US $44 million to make, it might be incredibly hard to undo all the publicity. Blaming hackers and threats might be the cheapest option.

December 17, 2014

Horse 1804 - These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things - 2014 Edition

I'm all too aware that my default position in writing is one of immense annoyance. I've never been particularly positive a person and I find that the greatest energy to write comes from an irritant. Like an oyster which hurts itself trying to expel a piece of grit, the thing that is finally produced is a pearl, though whether it is a pearl of wisdom or not is entirely up for debate.
This post then, is an incredibly hard one for me to write, as I send the oxen in to plough the field of happiness and instead of pearls of wisdom, dig up potatoes of joy.
These are a few of my favourite things from 2014 in no particular order.

1. The World Cup
Seeing England fail yet again was inevitable. Watching Brazil lose 7-1 to Germany was amusing. Beholding Germany outplay everyone was a thing of joy.
Germany's fourth World Cup win was the result of a ten year program In which they basically rebuilt everything from the academy level upwards. They sent scouts to observe English tactics and learnt from the lightning and idiotically frantic pace of the English game, they watched Spain and particularly clubs like Barcelona whose once sextuple side invented the mechanics for twenty-first century tika-taka, and they looked at the methodic purpose and structure of the Italian game and then by reinforcing the stereotype of ruthless German efficiency, worked them all into an eleven of Weltmeisteren.
Watching Germany play football was like watching Liverpool in the 1980s, Manchester United in the late 1990s and Milan in the middle 00s. They were sometimes vulnerable but still held the talent and the composure to beat all comers. Before the tournament I'd predicted a Brazil-Germany final as an outcome but with Brazil's implosion, it was more or less a fate accompli.

€. Psalm 38
One thing we do quite often in the church that I go to is have a reading of a Psalm. Usually they are of the type which tries to glorify God. Whilst there's very much a place for this, I suspect that Psalm 38 will never be read out in that capacity.
I suspect that anyone who looks at God's Word hard enough, will eventually draw the conclusion that they are sinful and that in comparison to a holy and perfect standard, they failed so utterly miserably that the message of the cross becomes all too obvious.
Suffice to say that Psalm 38 is not a happy one. Depending on how you approach it and the mindset that you happen to be in, it can appear to be melodramatic but it's only when you take an honest case of self reflection, that you realise just how much truth is contained therein.
Check it out (link - Psalm 38). I warn you, it is not encouraging but it is honest.

A. Mayonnaise & Chilli Sauce
Toasted sandwiches are immensely yummy. Melted gruyère and turkey, tomato and basil, peanut butter and golden syrup - obviously not all at the same time - that'd be disgusting. The best condiments for most savoury toasted sandwiches though are Hellman's Whole Egg Mayonnaise and ABC Sweet Chilli Sauce.
Neither of them by themselves occupy positions in the all-time super-offical top five of condiments in my underpaid opinion. Those spots go to things like kebab sauce and capers and French's mustard. Hellman's Whole Egg Mayonnaise and ABC Sweet Chilli Sauce are this strange buddy comedy double act which by themselves are all right but together they are a knock it out of the park; over the Vic Richardson Gates for six, kind of pair. They are a Richardson and Haynes, Yorke and Cole, Morecambe and Wise, Washington and Adams, sort of pair.
The creaminess of the mayonnaise and the tang of the chilli sauce.
Ten-hundred-tasty-doo-yumbolie.

@ Hello Internet
I don't understand why CGP Grey and Brady Haran work so well as a podcast pair but they do.
Their podcast is essentially nothing more than the "two dudes talking" format but Grey's pessimism and impatience coupled with Brady's insane optimism dovetail together so nicely.
I was listening to one episode coming back up the hill from The Spit back to work, when I was reminded of one of Grey's fantastic laments "it's not that I'm right, it's that humans are fundamentally stupid".
For 2015 I can imagine that there will be even more discussions about Star Wars, about Grey's apathy to the sport of cricket and ever more of Brady's amusement in trying to find names for minutiae.

¶. Opal Card
Okay, initially when the system was introduced and there weren't any card readers on buses and you couldn't use the system without a credit card, it had my freckles, schmeckles, heckles and hackels up. After the system was properly rolled out and it now appears on buses and trains, the whole system gets two thumbs up from me.
I love the idea that after the eighth trip, the rest is free. In a system which is capped at $3 less than the old MyMulti system which I used to abuse the life out of, abusing Opal Card in the name of finding "savings" is now one giant game.
I'm taking short trips that I don't even need to now, just to rack up the eight trips. Even just within the postcode of 2088, I've seen more of the suburb than in the nine years' previous. Instead of having to walk out and back, I can just take a bus back, knowing that it counts as a trip. What used to be $63 a week can now with blatant gaming of the system, be commuted to less than $30. That's a result.

¶ Chips And Gravy
There is a chicken shop in Woodcroft which I don't know the name of and I've never bought chicken from there but their chips and gravy are the stuff that dreams are made of.
French Fries which were invented in Belgium are sold in their home and native land, in a paper cone and with mayonnaise. If you're able to get a nice glass of Leffe Brun to accompany it at midday; whilst reading a novel, then do so.
The gravy that they make in store at this chicken shop in Woodcroft which I don't know the name of, has its base in the tailings from the chicken cooking process. I'm sure that there's a secret mix of spices in there which we're better off not knowing about (because what you don't know can't hurt you) which makes this particular chips and gravy far better than any chips and gravy has a right to be.

? Weird Thing To See
On one rather rainy sort of grey morning in November, where the wind is to lazy to go round and just cuts you in two, there was a Royal Caribbean cruise ship at the International Shipping Terminal (nothing strange about that). It was raining so heavily that from my position on the Harbour Bridge (on the M30 bus) that I could see neither the Opera House nor the pylon at the other end of the bridge; yet on the big screen on the ship which was overlooking a swimming pool, "Star Wars - A New Hope" was playing and I could see maybe forty umbrellas of people watching the movie.
Fair play to them for watching a movie which is 37 years old but in the rain and on a cruise ship? They were truly on the ship to Bonkers Land; stopping at Insensible Cove on the voyage. How I wanted to join them so.

December 15, 2014

Horse 1803 - The Sydney Siege

What was the point of the siege today? Moreover, what is the actual point of most situations like this?
In a normal hold-up, thieves will use force to take money and or goods; whilst that is hardly a way to conduct yourself, there is still a definable and obvious reason for the action. With an act of aggression or a siege like this, I'm afraid that I just don't make any connection between the act and what the intended outcome is; if indeed there is one.
The message that you're trying to convey, whatever it possibly may be, will instantly be lost in the face of a million irate people, whose day you've just disrupted. If you disrupt people as they go about their business under most circumstances, they get annoyed; if you decide to take people hostage and cause half the CBD to go into lockdown then instead of just creating an annoyance, you've probably created enemies out of the general public - you've certainly created enemies out of the scared individuals you've taken hostage.
Again, I just don't understand what exactly is achieved here.

The phrase being bandied about on talkback radio this afternoon as though it was some kernel of wisdom was "we can't let the terrorists win". The problem with that phrase is that it assumes that there's something which can actually be won. What? What is the thing that the terrorists win? It doesn't even need to be a tangible thing, I just want to know what possible thing is the intended outcome.
Where are the terrorists anyway? This is a siege in a cafe. No bullets have been fired, no property has been destroyed that we know of and no explosive devices have been discharged. Despite what the graphics on Channels 7, 9 and 10 suggest, this fails every legal definition of terrorism.

If you were trying to win the fame and ovation of the people forever, then wouldn't it make more sense to do something nice for people? I'm sure that if I had a very big message that I wanted to put out to a lot of people, I'd do so by being kind to them - it is far easier to catch flies with a honey pot. Give everyone a cool drink on their way home. Maybe give everyone a free train trip home.

Even the flag which the mad men used was unhelpful. Granted that a black flag with Arabic writing on, is used by IS but the problem is that because we happen to live in a mostly English speaking nation,  most of the population can't even read that sign. If you are trying to convey some message, then what's the point if most people can't understand it?
The flag appears to be a variation on the Shahada which says something similar to  "There is no god but the God, Muhammad is the messenger of the God". This message appears on flag of Saudi Arabia and was used for a while on flag of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The problem with this is that it is a vague sort of message used by jihadists as well as the vast majority of perfectly peaceful Muslims alike.
Various Imams and Islamic leaders have come out to condemn this action and quite rightly so but they shouldn't need to. The acts of one or two mad men are not reflective of the community as a whole.

If the point was to deliberately try and disrupt peoples' day, then that for the most part, failed spectacularly. Quite a number of places shutdown and for those people, you've just awarded them an early mark. When I got on the bus at 05:05pm, the trip across the bridge was quick and the trains weren't crowded at all because everyone had gone home.
In the case of one of the the most "first world problems" in the world, the only two things that I suffered was a rescheduling of a meeting and I was unable to send a text message to Mrs Rollo because the phone system had collapsed under the weight of more than sixty million SMSs being sent.

Something we did see were the hashtags on Twitter of #sydneysiege#illridewithyou and most encouraging #PrayForSydney. What most of haven't heard though are the conversations that have been had by the people inside and various media outlets like radio and television stations.
Quite rightly the media outlets themselves are keeping quiet about what's been said to them by the gunman even though they probably don't need to but more importantly, they haven't disclosed the locations of police units.
So what was actually achieved today in all honesty? The ire of the people of Sydney? Early marks for lots of office workers? A spot on the six o'clock news? The infamy and condemnation of the world?

I think that the best thing that can come out of this is that eventually that the hostage takers get bored and let everyone go home. I find it comforting that in various places around Sydney, Islamic leaders, Christian leaders and even Jewish leaders have all been calling for prayer. 
That would truly be the most radical reaction of all, wouldn't it? Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?

December 10, 2014

Horse 1802 - A Recipe For Success... Would That Recipe Be Copyrightable?

I remember that once upon a time in high school; back before even the days of Eternal September on the internet and you actually had to look stuff up in books and newspapers, coming across an article in probably the New York Times on microfiche, which published those "11 secret herbs and spices" and remember that it was like striking the gold of Ophir.
This week whilst listening to the BBC World Service, I heard someone made the comment that things like recipes and instructions in DIY manuals are incredibly difficult to copyright because although you can copyright text, video and audio, ingredients and proportions aren't something which necessarily can be. If you published a recipe for caramel slice for instance, the ingredients like sweetened condensed milk, eggs and sugar, are readily available and therefore can not be said to be unique; neither can the process of mixing and cooking ingredients, and besides which an egg isn't the sort of thing that you can put a patent on.
Closely related is the fact that you can't copyright an idea. You couldn't for instance write a new Poirot novel without permission from the estate of Agatha Christie but the idea of a Belgian detective is not something which can be blanket copyrighted. You are perfectly free to write the story of an orange cat, provided it doesn't share the same name as a particular bearded president of the United States.

Recipes then, are quite difficult to copyright because if we take our example of our caramel slice, even if you wholesale pinched the whole recipe from another cookbook, if you changed some of the elements slightly, you'd have what would effectively amount to being a new recipe. If you copied the whole recipe verbatim, then the text might be copyrightable but the caramel slice at the end, might not be.
Think about this, the Dynamic Ribbon Device, the particular script and the colour scheme of a particular cola drink all carry copyright notices but I don't think that the brown liquid itself does.
One particular chocolatier has managed to copyright one pantone shade of purple but the deliciously delectable brown bairn of Bourneville is not.

The real credence of a cook book then, is not to be found in the text but whether or not the recipes actually work. As much as I enjoyed reading Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, for the sheer impossibility that anyone could be expected to produce any of the dishes therein, the actual recipes probably wouldn't be copyrightable (quite apart from the fact that it was published in 1861 and so is in the public domain anyway).
This might sound utterly bonkers but Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Ainsley Harriot and Manu Fidel, have marketable books, not because of the recipes that they have written but because of the rest of the accompanying text and photographs. If I were to change a few of the recipes in Jamie Oliver's books, I could have my very own publishing career. It wouldn't be a very good one because I don't have the celebrity pulling power to sell very many copies. Then there's the rather obvious problem that if I stole Jamie Oliver's recipes, it's very much like stealing the moral low ground.

The Australian Copyright Council has this to say in its fact sheet:
http://www.copyright.org.au/admin/cms-acc1/_images/1596565075238ef3564126.pdf
You will not infringe copyright if you watch someone prepare a dish and then you write down
the ingredients and method in your own words. 
...
Copyright does NOT protect:
• ideas (such as the idea of using blue cheese to make ice-cream);
• information (such as the list of ingredients and quantities used in chocolate chilli mud cake); or
• styles, methods or techniques (such as a method of preparing chicken and casserole).
Therefore, if you watched someone preparing a dish they had created and then wrote down in your
own words the ingredients and method, you would not have infringed copyright even if they had not

granted permission.
- Information Sheet G019V09, Australian Copyright Council, Feb 2012

So then Jamie Oliver... I'm stealing the moral low-ground; safe in the knowledge that because I've changed some of the text, I'm not infringing on copyright.

Ingredients:
Shortbread
300g Self-Raising Flour
175g Butter
50g Sugar
Caramel
400g Tin of Sweetened Condensed Milk (a tin)
100g Butter
2 Tablespoons of Golden Syrup
100g brown sugar
Topping
150g Milk Chocolate

Method:
1. Steal recipe from Jamie Oliver's cook book; being careful to change some of the words so that the recipe is no longer distinctive and then publish.
2. Go to your local bakery and buy caramel slice.
3. Sit back in complete impunity; safe in the knowledge that a recipe is mostly uncopyrightable.

The bonus with this is that at the end... you have caramel slice.

December 09, 2014

Horse 1801 - Death Of Medicare By A Thousand Paper Efficiency Dividends (they're not cuts).

http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2014-12-09/strong-and-sustainable-medicare-0
The $7 Medicare co-payment measure announced in the 2014-15 Budget will no longer proceed.
The Government will instead implement a package of measures that will strengthen Medicare and help make it sustainable, ensuring Australians will continue to have access to affordable, world-class health care.
The Government has listened to the views of the community.
...
Medicare rebates for common GP consultations will be reduced by $5 for non-concessional patients aged 16 and over from 1 July 2015.
Doctors may choose to recoup the $5 rebate reduction through an optional co-payment or continue to bulk bill non-concessional patients over the age of 16.
Doctors will be under no obligation to charge the co-payment and this decision will be entirely at their discretion.
- A strong and sustainable Medicare, Office of Prime Minister Tony Abbbott, 9th Dec 2014

In this brave new world where the words 'efficiency dividend' can now be used as a verb to replace the word 'cut', PM Tony Abbott has scrapped the proposed $7 co-payment to GPs by 'efficiency dividending' the amount that they'll be paid by the Federal Government per patient by $5.
This is a master stroke in barbarism. Instead of a straight cut to health, this is being used as a bludgeon to beat the Medicare system with. Instead of the government needing to wear the blame for this, this has been now been dressed up as something which is 'optional' for doctors to charge and since the general public will tend to blame their doctor, the Health Minister and Prime Minister can walk away from this in a white coat made of Teflon.
Ahah (I don't hear you ask because text is a silent medium), but where has the other $2 for the Medical Research Fund gone? That too has been 'efficiency dividended' away, like an ice cube in a frying pan.

There is nothing new about this sort of thing at all. This is a trick which Tony Abbott has pulled before. In the run up to the October election of 2004, he went on the ABC's program "Four Corners":

http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2004/s1193609.htm
TICKY FULLERTON: Will this Government commit to keeping the Medicare-plus-safety-net as it is now in place after the election?
TONY ABBOTT: Yes.
TICKY FULLERTON: That's a cast-iron commitment?
TONY ABBOTT: Cast-iron commitment. Absolutely.
TICKY FULLERTON: 80 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses rebatable over $300, over $700?
TONY ABBOTT: That is an absolutely rock solid, iron-clad commitment.
- Four Corners ABC 1, 6th Sep 2004

Just like the current policy, ten years later, an "absolutely rock solid, iron-clad commitment" disappeared to a wisp of smoke, the second after the election was over.

In the 2005 budget, Tony Abbott as Health Minister in the then Howard Government enacted policy which raised the Medicare Safety Net threshold amount from $300 to $500 for those on lower incomes and from $700 to $1000 for those on higher incomes; also in stark contrast to a promise made before an election.
This time around though, Mr Abbott doesn't have a strong character to hide behind like he did with John Howard. Maybe it's worth remembering that in the next election in 2007, the people of Mr Howard's electorate of Bennelong 'efficiency dividended' him at the ballot box and he became only second Prime Minister in Australian political history¹ to lose his own seat.

In the press conference this morning, Mr Abbott tried to defend the decision by saying that:
“For some time I’ve had backbenchers coming to me, I’ve had members of the community coming to me saying, ‘We support the idea of more price signals in the system, that’s an economic reform, but can’t it be better for children and for pensioners?’ That’s exactly what Peter Dutton and I are announcing today,
Who are these 'members of the community' who supposedly came to the Prime Minister? How is that possible? I work in Mosman which is in Mr Abbott's electorate and I can tell you that the last time that I saw him actually out in the community, was in the 2010 campaign.

Secondly, do members of the community actually use language like 'We support the idea of more price signals in the system'? Really? If so, who are these people? The only person who I know who might speak with such mefipulous³ verbosity like that is… well… me. Even then, apart from my terrace house on Pedant Corner, I also have a shopfront in Geektown²
No one in the world talks like that; so I seriously doubt that these people exist.

Look, this really isn't even about a co-payment and never was. Even if everyone in the country visited a doctor once a month, the whole scheme would have only collected $161m per year, which isn't really that much in the grand scheme of things.
It would be political suicide to dismantle Medicare but forcing it (and the public service generally) to suffer the death of a thousand paper 'efficiency dividends' will eventually weaken the system to the point of collapse.

The dismantling of Medicare, which I suspect is the intended end game here, will produce a more expensive health care system; the experience of the United States proves that most excellently. What it would do though, is shift expenditure from the public purse to private pockets and monetise profits. That's all good and fair provided you don't actually care about the health of the nation. If you are concerned with the pursuit of profits to the exclusion of all else, then this is an excellent aim; no doubt those entities which pay political parties (and who already pay minimal tax), would quite enjoy that.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries" and yet he was the one who proposed Britain's NHS. He might be wrong though. In the twenty-first century which is very much beginning to resemble the later part of the nineteenth, we're seeing the beginning of both the unequal sharing of blessings and the unequal sharing of miseries.

¹The first being Stanley Bruce.
²Just up the A59 from Nerdsville.
³Mafipulation generally takes five minutes.

December 07, 2014

Horse 1800 - May We Please Have Some Proper Economic Modelling For Deregulating University Fees?

There is this model in economics called a "Production Possibility Frontier" or sometimes a curve; which looks at the ability of an economy to produce one of two items. The curve tries to graphically depict the opportunity cost of producing one things as opposed to another. The most famous example of this is asking the question of "butter versus guns"; which has been visited by people such as Thatcher, Eisenhower, Goebbels and Göring.
If this is presented as a dichotomy between one thing and another, does this apply to things like funding models and ownership models? The reason why I ask such a question is to do with Christopher Pyne's intention to deregulate higher education.
If higher education is deregulated, can this be presented as a production possibility frontier between private and public capital. If so, has anyone presented or even thought about the net benefit to the economy either way? I suspect not.

I suspect and I could be entirely wrong about this (because I have no data sets to back up my opinion) that public education is a more efficient delivery system than the private system. My general question is what does the production possibility frontier look like and where on that curve is investment of capital best served?
The reason for my suspicion has to to with the explosion of capital between about 1890 and 1970. Two World Wars got in the way; which changed the base line for economic growth (which is why the post war period usually looks so glorious) but my theory is that the beginning of widespread literacy in the beginning of the twentieth century is the major defining factor for the what the French call the "Trente Glorieuses" or the Glorious Thirty.
Widespread literacy could only occur if government steps into the education sector because private enterprise which has a mindset which is far shorter, can not, does not and will not invest in education unless it can spin a profit from it.

I think what they’re protesting about is the election of the Abbott government. They really don’t have the kinds of problems that they are protesting about that deserve the burning of effigies. We’re asking students to pay 50% of the cost of their education. We’re not asking for their left kidney to be donated. I think they need to get some perspective and proportion.
- Christopher Pyne, on The Bolt Report, 24th Aug 2014

The problem with education is that it has an exceptionally long lead time before results are produced. An individual might take many years before they have finished their formal education and an even longer period before they will make a return on the capital invested in them through higher wages. Governments would do well to remember that the working life of an individual, might be longer than fifty years; which is longer than 12 election cycles.
If all higher education was free at the point of delivery, it isn't like that level of investment just disappears. By investing in the human capital of the labour force, that initial investment is likely to be repaid several time over during an individual's working life.
Incidentally, you can hardly blame students for protesting against $100,000 degrees because if you actually do a bit of research and "get some perspective and proportion" if you look in the right places, you should be able to purchase a left kidney for less than $100,000. Monetarily, Pyne would be asking students for their left kidney to be donated if he could get the legislation through.
In the United States, that great bastion of free market capitalism, the average cost per year to study at an Ivy League university for 2014-15 was US$43,938 or AU$52,749. Over four years that's just under $211,000; so that remark about kidney donation is suddenly quite galling.

I wonder if Christopher Pyne as the Education Minister has ever produced a set of working models looking at the net benefits to the economy of one funding regime or another. If not, then upon what basis is the proposed deregulation of higher education based on? If it is based on the presumption of clearing expenses from current government expenditures, what will that do to a future economy in many election cycles' time and after he is no longer a cabinet minister?
Has anyone modeled the net efficiency of one public dollar as opposed to one private dollar spent in education? Is that even possible? Again, if we look at the United States which has the world's highest per capital health care costs, this might suggest that a free market isn't the best solution in determining outcomes. I don't know though if health care and education are necessarily congruous. I know that when it comes to a putting child through a government primary and secondary school, the total cost K-12 is about $65,000 but a through a private school it works out to be about $420,000. This suggests that the public system is roughly six and a bit times more efficient, despite what advocate groups like to tell you about the private schools system.
When it comes to university education, I don't even know what a set of metrics would look like but worse, I suspect that the Education Minister doesn't know either.

If Education Minister Christopher Pyne intends to deregulate higher education, could he please produce his modelling to show why such a system has a net benefit? Otherwise, could he just be honest about who is paying the piper? It'd be nice to know who was fleecing us whilst the wool was being pulled over our eyes.

December 06, 2014

Horse 1799 - "Are you a communist?"

"Are you a communist?"

I kid thee not dear reader. That was the question posed to me on the M30 bus, heading  home from Mosman; through Neutral Bay on Friday afternoon.

At first glance it makes no sense as to why this lady would even ask such a question. I was dressed in a white shirt and tie, with black trousers and I'm just not sure how that in particular suggests any predilection for being a communist. I suppose that I could be working as an undercover agent for the Stasi but that's surely got to be drawing a very long bow indeed.
Maybe if I'd been in my big black scary coat and maybe if I'd then chosen to wear badges of Mao, Trotsky and Lenin and maybe if it was 1968, then there might be a case to be made but otherwise, it's just a little bit weird.
Except if you take a look at the cover of the book I was reading:


The lady who asked me this was probably in her late 50s and after showing her the cover in more detail, she said that she quite liked Leigh Sales and that she watches 7.30 on ABC1 every night.
Proving yet again that symbols are important, if you hadn't figured it out yet, the reason that this lady asked if I was a communist is because I was reading a "little red book". From far away, I guess that I can understand the concern.

Truth be told, I've never even seen an actual "little red book". The book "Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung" is published in English but I suspect that it went out of favour with university students, firstly after the fall of communism in Europe in the 1990s and secondly after everyone started getting things like iDevices. It's probably really hard to rise up against those capitalist pig dogs and start chanting slogans for the Revolution to come whilst at the same time, tapping away at a tablet computer and wearing the latest designer sneakers.

Mind you, if we did want to start a revolution with Leigh Sales as the figurehead, would one of the central tenants of that revolution be to start asking investigative questions of people? If such a revolution were started though, apart from asking questions about government policy, it would have a soundtrack of Broadway show tunes.
Although, if Ms Sales' co-conspirator on the podcast "Chat 10 Looks 3"¹, Annabel Crabb were involved, then we could all start chanting "Little Red Cook Book, Little Red Cook Book" and taking delicious desserts round to politician's houses. I'd be up for that sort of revolution - Key Lime Pie with Malcolm Turnbull, Caramel Slice with Julie Bishop, Black Forest Cake with Ed Husic and Chocolate Coronets with Tanya Plibersek. It would be the tastiest revolution the world has ever seen.

One of the ironies about having the question asked "Are you a communist?" on the lower North Shore of Sydney is that although people who live in the area are more likely to have things like private health care and send their children to private schools, they're better serviced by public transport and are more likely to be listeners and viewers of the ABC.
"I suppose that I am a communist of sorts" I think to myself as we ride along in a publicly owned bus, across the publicly built Sydney Harbour Bridge which cost £6¼m more than 80 years ago. The bridge even got the nickname of "The Iron Lung" as it kept many workers employed as the depression began. Then as I get off the bus and get onto a publicly owned train, I also consider that had this been left to private enterprise to build, it would have never have been done.

More generally, I don't think that there are that many "self-made" people beyond those in small business and even they, they exist within a community. Society chooses to arrange itself in groups, cities, companies, families and nations because we all want to build and benefit from something which is bigger than ourselves. Immediately I think of Thomas Hobbes and that life in the 'state of nature' which he imagined is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short"².

"Are you a communist?" To a degree. I think we all are; I think we always have been.

¹ Chat 10 Looks 3. Link: http://www.chat10looks3.com/
²In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
- Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, Thomas Hobbes (1651)

December 05, 2014

Horse 1798 - Why I Love Bad Customer Service

On Monday morning I had to venture into the city to deliver some paper work, when I was asked to visit Myer to pick up a book which had been on order for quite some time. Armed with the receipt and a card which told me where I could pick up the book, I met with a person in the shop who was disinterested in helping me, who was playing with their phone and had to ask someone with more authority to find the book which was being held.
I thought about this as I made my way back to the office on the bus. Was I annoyed that I'd been given poor customer service? Not really. In fact I sort of felt a little sorry for this person, who's more than likely doing a job which they're overqualified for and of they're not, which they're undereducated for.

The top wage rate for a "Retail Sales Assistant" or what used to be known as in the olden days as a Floorwalker, at Myer is $23.53/hr. If you were to work a 35 hour week (which you more than likely wouldn't be given), then you'd be paid $823.55 per week or $42,971 a year and quite frankly that's not fun.
You'd be on your feet all the live long day, dealing with the general public who can be snarky, irritable, irascible or just plain annoying and then you're telling me that you're expected to be all sweetness and light all the time? Someone who is perpetually happy in the face of all that is either deranged or else just happens to be blessed with a personality which has given them excellent coping mechanisms.

If you're in Myer or David Jones and you do happen to be buying something worth $500, the chances are that the person working at the counter who has just sold it to you, probably can not afford it themselves. An even more sombre thing top think about is that the $500 thing was probably made by someone who can afford it even less.
In Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", Bob Cratchit was paid "fifteen bob a week". Allowing for 4% inflation you arrive at a final figure of $90,802. The poor Retail Sales Assistant at Myer is on less than half of that. Before you start criticising Scrooge for being a curmudgeon, think about the causes of why a Retail Sales Assistant at Myer is on less than half of what what Bob Cratchit was. Who demands lower prices? How are those lower prices achieved? The blame dear shopper, rests on your shoulders. The cause, is you.

The disinterested person at Myer probably might be a heck of a lot more interested if they knew that their efforts were valued by the company and more highly paid. If someone has to pay the rent or electric bills as well as those university debts which mounted up and this is what life has thrown at them, I think that they have the right to be surly.
I don't think that we as a society have a right to demand sweetness when we tell people to suck eggs, give them lemons and pour salt into their wounds*. I think that it's hideously unfair to look down on someone because they happen to be less well paid. Often the less well paid jobs are the nastiest and that's kind of a double blow.
I think that the disinterested person at Myer has a right to be surly. I'm all for it.

*That recipe produces Hollandaise.

December 04, 2014

Horse 1797 - Bring Back The Roundels Please

On the eastern side of Sydney's CBD, the underground railway stations of Museum and St James are still almost 90 years later, the prettiest stations in the entire of the Sydney Trains network. Sydney Terminal with its imposing clock tower and cathedral of steel does scream grandeur from every brick and every piece of cut sandstone but it still is not as much of a joy to stand in as the two jewels of the east.
Museum and St James are designed to look like stations of the Edwardian period of the London Underground. Museum reminds me of the Circle Line platforms of Baker St and I must confess that I don't know what St James is based on. The point is though, that they were both designed to be aesthetically pleasing, and they are.

This brings me to Circular Quay, Wynyard and Town Hall. They were built within the same time period as Museum and St James but subsequent refits have either meant that their little details have long since given way to the stern pen of accountants. These three all lost their little details that they had when they opened and Wynyard in particular looks the saddest of all; its steel supports on platforms 3 & 4 being covered over in nothing but blue enamel.
This is why I was surprised to see something return to Town Hall recently; something which I think should never have ever gone away; something which was sorely needed - the roundels.
The last time I wrote about this was back in August of 2012 - maybe someone was reading this (see Horse 1345):


Presumably the roundels of the London Underground were copyrighted in the 1920s. They are so instantly recognisable that even in different colours, they can still convey their intended design language and quite deliberately so. The Underground's roundels are found at every station, on time tables and other paraphernalia and have now extended to buses, ferries, the l
docklands Light Railway as well as the Overground.
Sydney on the other hand has never really had any overarching corporate design language and it suffers from the fact that every time there is a change of management, it either gets a minor change of signage or an attempt to make sweeping changes to everything which then fails or falls short; Milsons Point is testament to this - its T1 branding appears nowhere else on the network.

The current Town Hall refit is interesting. It has acquired some roundels (which I hope get repeated throughout the whole station) but it has also acquired several orange station signs; of which that style only also appears in Burwood of all places. The grey tile work which appeared before the roundels did, reminds me of the inside of a toilet block. Down on platform 4 which used to be in the same 1970's style as the rest of the Eastern Suburbs Railway, has also been made to wear these grey tiles and orange signs. The only concession left that it was ever part of the ESR, are they roof housings for the fluorescent lights.

My question is who is responsible for the refit and why did they think that it was a good idea to put up a few roundels (which look pretty) but then tease us with a grey and orange arrangement, that even President  Douglas McDreary of the I Love Dishwater Society thinks is dull? Why can't we have nice things? Why do you have to taunt us so, by showing us that we could have nice things but we're not going to be given any?
People from around the world visit the London Underground because it is the London Underground. No one, visits Sydney Trains because it is Sydney Trains. 

The roundels are lovely. Please sir, I want some more. MORE?!

December 02, 2014

Horse 1796 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 11 - Sir Earle Page


XI - Sir Earle Page

Earle Page was first elected to the seat of Cowper on the north coast of NSW in 1919. As a member of The Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, he was one of the founding members of the Country Party (the forerunner of the current National Party) and was instrumental in getting Billy Hughes to resign in 1922 in support of the then Nationalist government.
Page as leader of the Country Party, wrangled the post of Treasurer for himself under the premiership of Stanley Bruce and after the so-called Bruce-Page government was defeated by Labor in 1929, Page swung the Country Party's support to the newly formed  United Australia Party, with Joseph Lyons as leader.

Before entering into politics, Earle Page qualified as a surgeon and set up a hospital in his home town of Grafton, and apart from establishing the then rural credit scheme, Page also devised an investment fund to finance the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, later the CSIRO. Page was knighted for his contribution to politics in 1938; and thus was firstly Dr Page and then Sir.

On 7th April 1939, Joseph Lyons died unexpectedly of a heart attack and Sir Earle Page was appointed as interim Prime Minister by the Govenor General Lord Gowrie.
Page would not last long as PM and not quite three weeks later after the UAP found a new leader in Robert Menzies, the UAP-Country coalition deposed Page; setting up Menzies as the new leader on the 26th,

Page and Menzies had a bitter dispute which played out in Melbourne's "The Herald" newspaper in which Page accused Menzies of cowardice with regards Menzies' stance on appeasement with Germany and Menzies' dispute with wharfies and dock workers who refused to load scrap iron on boats destined for Japan; the latter gained Menzies the moniker of "Pig Iron Bob".
When Menzies was sworn in as Prime Minister, Page launched into a personal attack on the floor of the parliament and withdrew the Country Party's support of the UAP; thus leaving Menzies with a minority government.

Page would never again be Prime Minister but would eventually patch up cordial relations with Menzies; serving as Minister for Commerce and eventually as Minister for Health in Menzies second and very long stint.
Page became the first chancellor of the University of New England, then Australia’s only rural university, in 1955 and he eventually retired in 1961 having been father of the house as well as the second longest ever serving federal parlimentarian in Australian history.


Three weeks as PM is hardly long enough to make a difference but his work in and around the idea of the centre-right coalition in Australia certainly is noteworthy.

December 01, 2014

Horse 1795 - MLC Saves Someone's Retirement - Their Own


Firstly, I'm not sure if this story is supposed to make us laugh or not. The message that MLC is trying to portray is that as it stands, people haven't saved enough for their retirement and should consider putting in a little bit more. Whilst there might be some merit in their sentiment, if you work through the mechanics of the law and the actual circumstances of history, this advert ends up being a giant slap in the face to a great deal many people.

Think about the older man. He says that retirement is something that people did when he was a boy. Even if you allow for the most generous of conditions, the earliest that he could have been born was the year 1983. The caption on the display case says "Early 21st century" and even his boyhood extended even one day into the twenty-first century, it means that the absolute earliest that he could have been born was 2nd January 1983, for if he had been born the day earlier, on the first day of the century, he would have been no longer a minor. I suspect though that he is supposed to be as old as the boy in the advert and if you assume that he is that old right now, his year of birth probably lies around the year 2004.
If this man was born in the year 2004, then his eventual retirement age is likely to be 75 because the statutory age will have been pushed back by the time he gets there. If this is true, then he will be retiring in the year 2079 and already we run into a massive problem.

What sensible person honestly thinks that the rules surrounding superannuation will even be remotely the same in 65 years' time? Even the Income Tax Assessment Act of 1936 only lasted 61 as an intact piece of legislation before the Income Tax Assessment Act of 1997 came along. To suggest that by the time this person reaches retirement age, the superannuation legislation will be the same is a nonsense. If we assume that the current Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 has the same life expectancy as the ITAA 1936, then it will have been replaced by 2054.
Even in my lifetime (I was born in 1978) by the time I retire, I suspect that retirement age will already be 75; that would mean that my retirement will begin in the year 2053. Personally, I already think that retirement will have already been extinguished by the time I get there for reasons I will now expound upon.

Let's assume for a second that inflation is zero. The long term capital growth trend for the twenty-first century is likely to be about 1.9% (the 30 year postwar period was extraordinary). Immediately this poses a problem. As of today, the government takes 15% of contributions and most fund managers take 1%-2% per year of the total assets. Even if you allow for compound interest it still means that of a working productive life of 55 years, you can really only expect to have squirrled away about 4.5 years of you current salary. That's fine but 75 + 4.5 is only 79.5 which is still short of people's life expectancy of 84. Already, people are in trouble.
The even bigger problem is that the people who need to save the hardest for their retirement can least afford to do so. If you are a lower income earner, then your marginal propensity to consume will already be quite high because you're probably already pared back when it comes to your expenses anyway. If you are a woman and you decide to have children, then due to the compound effect, even one year out of the workforce will have major effects in 50 years' time.
Due to the concept of wealthy condensation, people who begin with a larger pile of money, will end up with an even bigger pile at the end of their lives. If you choose to be poorer or a woman (as if either of those are even choices that you even can make) then the superannuation system itself is one giant con.

The other big problem with the superannuation system is the fact that it exists.
Superannuation has the same problem as an insurance scheme in that it has to pay out money to people. Already as the Baby Boomers have begun to retire, there has been an increase in the number of people that the system is paying out to. The problem is that a point will be reached sometime in the next 30 years where the number of people that the system is paying out to will exceed the number of people paying into the system; this is further compounded by the fact that at the same time real wages are also falling.
Pension systems are already something of a Ponzi scheme and the only difference between a public system and a private one, such that the superannuation system is in Australia, is who controls the funds.
On that note, another problem that a private superannuation system has is that it pits various funds against each other and when you're dealing with both inflation and the 1%-2% that fund managers take, when overall growth is only expected to be in the order of 1.9% for the coming century, the only logical outcome is that most people can expect to lose in real terms.
This even assumes that fund managers actually do anything. The Observer did a study in 2012 which found that an ordinary house-cat could out perform professional fund managers.¹

Getting back to that little boy standing in front of the cabinet, if he is ten years old and his grandpa is 55 (I'm taking a guess) then this scene is at the earliest, in or about the year 2060. If this is true, then sadly this scene might be all too true. The question then is "what are MLC doing to save retirement?" Are they investing in education? Are they investing in university research? Are they investing materials development? Are they investing in sustainable technologies? Or are they investing in real estate and financial institutions as their PDSs would tell us?

Who are the couple behind the glass², in the MG? Are the MLC fund managers? Probably? The question then is one of whose retirement is MLC saving? The only conclusion that I can draw is that when MLC asks is to "Save Retirement" they actually mean for use to save theirs.

Addenda:
MLC will probably send a form reply, like this:
¹http://www.theguardian.com/money/2013/jan/13/investments-stock-picking
The Observer portfolio challenge pitted professionals Justin Urquhart Stewart of wealth managers Seven Investment Management, Paul Kavanagh of stockbrokers Killick & Co, and Schroders fund manager Andy Brough against students from John Warner School in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire – and Orlando.
...
By the end of September the professionals had generated £497 of profit compared with £292 managed by Orlando. But an unexpected turnaround in the final quarter has resulted in the cat's portfolio increasing by an average of 4.2% to end the year at £5,542.60, compared with the professionals' £5,176.60.
- The Guardian, 13th Jan 2013

²To be fair, the chap reading the newspaper also won't be a thing in future. I suspect that Fairfax won't make it to 2017 and that daily newspapers won't be a thing by the end of the decade.

November 29, 2014

Horse 1794 - Thirty Days Of Madness #NaNoWriMo

http://nanowrimo.org/about
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.
- About, NaNoWriMo

As the blurb above suggests, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a website and an event of sorts where the task is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month? Sounds difficult? Not really.
As a blog writer who already turns out posts on a fairly regular basis, 50,000 words only equates to 1666 words a day. I can tell you that the actual writing of 1666 words a day is not particularly arduous at all. It actually works out to be about 3 or four pages a day.
What do you win if you complete the task of 50,000 words in a month? This:


Not much of a prize is it?
Actually, if you were just concerned about writing 50,000 words, you could write "I am a Fish" 12,500 times and submit that for verification and you'd still win. If this is true, then the prize of a picture of a cup with a tick on it, seems rather hollow. Clearly the prize is having a 50,000 word novel and/or possibly the fame and ovation of the people forever.

Is 50,000 words enough though? If you count "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" by CS Lewis at just 36,363 words, "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury at 46,118 words or "The Great Gatsby" at 47,094 words as pieces of great literature, then clearly it is.

The question then is not one of word length but of quality and that is far harder to gauge. Most of Earnest Hemingway’s novels are pretty short and a "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote at just 26,433 words is generally considered to be a novella.

So what did I get from NaNoWriMo 2014? Two things:
1. A story which I think works pretty well in itself but more importantly:
2. A little world.

I found that as I was writing this year's novel, I had to think about how it all would fit together. This year's novel without giving too much away, required me to mentally build an entire country in Eastern Europe. I can know tell you about its system of government, what the major cities are, who the television stations are and even what some of its industries are.

Having now done this twice, I would suggest that if November is National Novel Writing Month, then October should be National Novel Planning Month and September be National Novel Dreaming Month.
I'm also aware that I tend to be more engaged and able to write if I'm either angry or annoyed. Even inside a novel, conflict is the currency that lets you buy plot coupons. If you get stuck, then get angry; use that to generate more conflict and buy even more plot coupons. That process is how I got from Day 4 and the first major milestone of 10,000 words to 26,000 and how after getting stuck and hitting the mental roadblock ate 34,000 words, I was able to buy enough plot coupons to take the story to 50,000 and claim my cup with a tick on it.

Like last year when after it was finished I thought: "Stick a fork in it, it's done", this year on the 29yj of November, I don't want to even look at it anymore. Probably in a fortnight after the storm or writing has passed and the amber glow of serenity appears, I'll revisit it and then edit it before putting it up for sale.

Being a published author isn't something I necessarily wanted to be when I grew up and even now I can see that it's not even a remotely reliable way of making a living; now that editors and publishers slush piles are practically non-existent. However, I can now say that I've written two novels, the equivalent of a graphic novel and if I were to compile a stack of blog posts, there'd be a fourth book (if Jeremy Clarkson can become a best seller by compiling columns he's already written, why not?).

What do you win if you complete the task of 50,000 words in a month? A novel; that's it; that's all; nothing more; nothing less.

Aside, this is the book I wrote in 2013. Five months after I wrote it, I decided that it wasn't terrible:
http://www.amazon.com/2222-Medical-Mr-Andrew-Rollason/dp/1494395665/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417229735&sr=1-1

November 25, 2014

Horse 1793 - A Reply To A Letter Of Schrödinger's Satire

The following might be hiding behind a pay wall. I don't know.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/last-post-november-19/story-fn558imw-1227127428205?nk=ecbf40fab18e27ead26f7de966548f0d
Imagine if you turned on the ABC to find a current affairs program called “Inquiry & Discussion”. The panel is stacked with bright and articulate commentators such as Janet Albrechtsen, Noel Pearson, Rowan Dean — and a token leftie, Gary Johns. It’s hosted by Tim Wilson. The audience is a selection of correspondents to the letters page of The Australian. Imagine that. You can’t, can you?
- Letters to The Editor, (Derek Southey, Port Fairy, Vic), The Australian, 19th Nov 2014

There's a thought, Mr Derek Southey of Port Fairy. Can I imagine such a show? Indeed I can. It is called "The Bolt Report".

Week after week News Corp Australia's doyen Andrew Bolt, who I am convinced writes columns specifically designed to annoy people because that is what sells copy, hosts a weekly program on Network Ten which I guess is supposed to counter Insiders on the ABC. It saw off other Network Ten show Meet The Press and now occupies pretty well much a unique spot in the network for political comment (if you don't include that week-nightly marshmallow fluff which calls itself The Project).

I honestly don't know if Mr Southey's letter is a work of satire or not because over the past few weeks, I have seen as guests on The Bolt Report, Sharri Markson (of the Australian newspaper),  former Treasurer Peter Costello (Liberal Party), Nick Cater (of the Australian newspaper), Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (Liberal Party), Michael Kroger (Liberal Party power-broker), Niki Savva (of the Australian newspaper) — and a token leftie, Michael Costa.
Imagine that? I can, can't I? Better than just imagining it, I've seen the sort of show which Mr Southey speaks of.

This illustrates something though. With the rise of the internet and the perceived value of journalism dwindling to little, the whole entire of the media landscape is like Ouroboros, the eel that eats itself. As the media eel pie gets progressively smaller, mastheads disappear (does anyone remember The Bulletin, Sydney's Daily Mirror or Melbourne's The Herald) and gradually the media is coagulating into two camps:
1. News Corp/Telstra
2. The ABC/Fairfax

Lachlan Murdoch was once CEO of Network Ten Holdings and Kerry Stokes' Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment Co. are probably stable enough not to be taken over for the moment but neither Channel Seven or Channel Nine even attempt to do political journalism any more. Neither Nine's A Current Affair or 60 Minutes really engage in any serious political commentary and Sunday Night on Channel Seven is kind of like the old Today Tonight but without dodgy tradesmen and washing powder comparisons.
Really only the ABC and SBS are even prepared to ask politicians questions they don't like and Andrew Bolt on his eponymous show which isn't called “Inquiry & Discussion” because his ego stands in the way, either asks Dorothy Dixers or shouts out anything he doesn't agree with, which doesn't really put anyone under the spotlight of interrogation at all. Maybe by not calling it “Inquiry & Discussion” there actually is an element of truth to this.

If Mr Derek Southey's letter to The Australian wasn't a work of satire, then does this mean that he'd like to live in a media environment like the United States where public broadcasting is severely stunted? I've been there; its terrifying.
Fox News is at times genuinely scary whilst at the same time, incredibly insular. I remember a trip I took to America in 2007 and was in San Diego and I didn't find out about a military coup style uprising which was across the border in Tijuana (only 8 miles away) until I got back to Australia.
The same sort of attack on public broadcasting goes on there as well, with Mitt Romney famously threatening to defund NPR and PBS during the 2012 Presidential Campaign.
I don't want to live in that sort of news environment. It's a fast track to the dumbing down of society.

In the end I don't know if Mr Southey's letter is a work of satire or not. If it is, then it's brilliant but if it isn't then that must mean that Mr Southey is speaking to the echo chamber. Imagine that.

November 21, 2014

Horse 1792 - Should We Now Boycott ANZAC Day On Halal Grounds?

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-20/campaign-to-boycott-halal-food-gains-momentum-in-australia/5907844
A campaign to boycott halal-certified food is gaining momentum across Australia, with groups claiming that certification pushes up prices and the money goes towards funding terrorism.
A loose collection of affiliated anti-halal, anti-Islam and nationalistic groups began the movement. 
Now, the biggest online group, "Boycott Halal in Australia", has more than 36,000 members.
Its carefully anonymous leaders keep a low profile, directing their members to swarm target companies' online profiles and boycott their products.
- Alex Mann, ABC News, 21st Nov 2014

Although the head of state of Australia is the monarch, who is also the head of the Church of England, section 116* forbids the Commonwealth from making laws which establish, impose or prohibit "the free exercise of any religion". I think that that's fairly straight forward.
The net effect of such a freedom of religion, is that people are free to be complete wingnuts, like the group "Boycott Halal in Australia".
As far as the word "Halal" goes in Islamic Law (or to be more correct Sharia), all the word means is "permissible". Admittedly this can cause some strange consequences (which can be quite horrid) most of the time, most of what is and isn't halal is either a matter of purity and or common sense.

The campaign has brought together like-minded campaigners from across Australia, including former One Nation candidate and anti-mosque campaigner Mike Holt.
Mr Holt said he was not surprised that the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company had received so much abuse.
"If they don't change their ways and start acting as patriotic Australians, they deserve what they get. It's market forces," he said.

Patriotic Australians? Patriotic Australians?! Are we now going to invoke some sort of quasi-nationalistic fervour? I hope so because I get to invoke indignancy.

Australia began as a nation on 1st Jan 1901 as the result of a referendum adopting the constitution and then having that passed as legislation in the British Parliament. As a result, Australia doesn't really get a day which is a national touchstone for patriotism. January 1 is already New Years' Day and January 26 is more akin to Invasion Day (see Horse 1441).
This leaves the only other day which is constantly invoked as a day of patriotism as ANZAC Day. Even then though, the story should give rise to mass concern by "Boycott Halal in Australia".

During the Gallipoli Campaign, as part of the British Empire, ANZAC forces fought along with Indian Expeditionary Force G which was made up of Ghurkhas and Sikhs. On the Western From, the Australian Imperial Force fought alongside Indian Expeditionary Forces which were comprised of many faiths including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.
Maybe we should change our ways and "start acting as patriotic Australians". That would involve boycotting ANZAC Day, wouldn't it?

Mustafa Kemal who would later become Atatürk (Father of all the Turks) wrote a tribute to those killed in the Gallipoli Campaign:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
This also appears on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial in Anzac Parade, Canberra.

How is it that a former Turkish army officer could write those words about people who were once his enemy? Wasn't he a Muslim?
If there were Islamic people who were prepared to fight alongside Australians in supposedly our most patriotic period in history and an Islamic leader who was prepared to extend the hand of peace after the then bloodiest series of conflicts the world has ever seen, then why is a "nationalistic group" hiding behind patriotism as a ruse for nastiness? What is to be gained?

I don't think that halal certification causes money to be funnelled towards terrorism, I do think however that groups like Boycott Halal in Australia causes money to be funnelled towards idiocy
If you want to stop money being  towards terrorism then how about a boycott of all paper products? DuPont Chemicals is the largest producer of titanium dioxide in the world and that is mainly used as the white pigment in copy paper. I think DuPont is also either the world's third or fourth largest chemical company; that includes making gunpowder, used in bullets by armies both state and terrorist, the world over.

Wouldn't it be a radical thought if instead of championing causes based on bigotry and scaremongery like "Boycott Halal in Australia", wouldn't it make more sense to petition society and governments instead for peace, reconciliation and stability?

I like this line from this article in particular "Its carefully anonymous leaders keep a low profile". Of course they do. A fish only gets caught when it opens its big mouth and even fools may be thought wise and intelligent if they stay quiet.

*http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/coaca430/s116.html

November 19, 2014

Horse 1791 - The Daily Telegraph's Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

On day in which it was expected that Malcolm Turnbull would announce "savings" to the ABC budget, the Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail as expected did their usual range of howling; not even all the dog whistling in the world could keep them quiet.

More intriguing though was the Tele's subtle use of ignorance. Usually I'd say that this sort of thing was a case of Argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance) but this is more a case of Argumentum ad ignorantiam ab ignorantibus; quia ignorat (argument from ignorance, by the ignorant; for the ignorant)

To wit:
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/cutting-costs-as-easy-as-abc-aunty-is-flush-with-assets/story-fni0cx12-1227127559702?nk=7176ce94201bf142b2260e5227876e12
The Daily Telegraph can reveal the federal government was advised the property at Lanceley Place is used primarily to park outside broadcast vans and trucks, and house storage facilities for costume hire.
Government efficiency documents have revealed the Artarmon property should be sold off to improve capital and reduce the number of program and job casualties when funding cuts are announced today. The property has been valued at between $18 million and $23 million.
...
The ABC would not confirm what the property was used for.
- Daily Telegraph, 19th Nov 2014

Okay Daily Telegraph, you "can reveal the federal government was advised" anything you like but who revealed it? Maintain the confidentiality of any sources you like but unless you provide substantive links, how do we know that this wasn't just made up?
"Government efficiency documents?" Government efficiency documents? Do you mean a white paper? Do you mean an internal procedure review? There is no mention of where they came from, which department published them and no link on the website to confirm their existence.

The thing I really find bewildering is this:
The ABC would not confirm what the property was used for.

Allow me.



That big red and white sticky up and down sort of thing is a transmission tower. ABC Tower 221 transmits television and radio and according to ACMA has a power of 200kW, which is pretty powerful. 
The tower was erected in the 1950s and the very first thing transmitted from it was the ABC News Bulletin with James Dibble reading the news of the Soviet intervention on November 5, 1956.

To miss something that's been in the same spot and can be seen from the top of the hill near my house, some 28.01km away. How is it even possible to miss something which is 170m tall and was deliberately put there because FM transmission (which is what television was carried on) works best with straight line transmission. Within digital TV and Radio, the same tower is used. 

Also:
Twenty years ago the ABC famously promoted itself as costing 8c a day. This figure is now estimated to be 23c a day.

Guess what? We have one of those adverts:


This advert is from 1988 which is not twenty years ago but twenty-six years ago. If you allow 5% for inflation, which doesn't even keep pace with AWOTE figues then that 8 cents would be worth 28.44 cents now.
This means to say that the ABC is marginally cheaper in 2014 than it was in 1988 but it now delivers content in more numerous way than it did then.

The "$20 million property in Sydney used to park trucks and store costumes" is also used to transmit television and radio, which given the title of The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is probably part of its remit, don't you think?
I think that its scandalous enough that the ABC is attacked because of an ideological bent by unelected people tilting the government's hand but when their mouthpiece publishes something which is so easily unpickable, it makes me wonder what the alternative will be if the ABC is smashed to bits as they would wish. 
If the quality of journalism is anything to go by, maybe some of us would be happier if we were ignorant.

November 16, 2014

Horse 1790 - English Votes for English Laws

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/24/english-votes-english-laws-absurdity-separatist
English votes for English laws seems at first sight a logical response to the English Question. But it is in fact incoherent. It means that whenever a government depended on Scottish MPs for its majority, as could occur if Labour were narrowly elected in 2015, there would be a UK majority – Labour – for non-devolved matters such as foreign affairs and economics, but an alternative majority for devolved matters.
But a bifurcated government is a logical absurdity. A government must be collectively responsible to parliament for all the policies that come before it, not just a selection of them.
- Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, The Guardian, 25th Sep 2014

Before I lay out my case that an devolved English Parliament, voting on specifically English laws is not a logical absurdity, I'd like to point out who Vernon Bogdanor is.
http://www2.admin.ox.ac.uk/expert/search/details.php5?id=1

Professor Vernon Bogdanor, FBA, CBE is Emeritus Professor of Politics and Government at Oxford University. He is probably the most qualified and eminent of experts when comes to the constitution of Great Britain.
Yet I still think that bifurcated government is not only not a logical absurdity but perfectly sensible; the reason for this, is Canada and Australia.

Canada and Australia, both have second tier governments. In Canada the provinces are unicameral and in Australia they are mostly bicameral. When it comes to the powers that the provinces in Canada and the states in Australia have, these are expressly laid out in their respective constitutions. Also, when it comes to the powers that the Federal Governments have in Canada and Australia, those powers are also laid out in their respective constitutions.
On top of this, Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982 of Canada and Section 109 of the Constitution of Australia Act 1900, both contain supremacy clauses which effectively renders Federal law as the supreme law of the land, which makes logical sense.
If there were to be a specifically English parliament, then not only does is make logical sense to define at law, what powers it holds but there are also precedents in Canada and Australia that show that having a codified constitution is entirely sensible. Currently, the Constitution of Britain is not a single document but a mish-mash of all sorts of pieces of legislation and convention which goes together and was not designed. Supporters will argue that it has evolved over time and suits the needs of Britain but equally, amendments by referenda to the constitutions of Canada and Australia have meant that improvements have taken place with the consent of the people.

If as Professor Bogdanor says that "a government must be collectively responsible to parliament for all the policies that come before it, not just a selection of them" then that suggests to me that rather English members of the existing British Parliament breaking away to vote on specifically English law, then his net position is to actually agree with the creation of a separate devolved English parliament, like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently have.

Moreover, the English grand committee would in effect seek to legislate on matters such as health and education, which have revenue-raising implications, without having control over taxation.
A government would not agree to alter taxes for policies with which it fundamentally disagrees. So bifurcated government would become deadlocked government.
- Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, The Guardian, 25th Sep 2014

Much of the Professors argument seems to hinge on the fact that a devolved English Parliament would not have control over taxation. Bear in mind that in Australia, the states surrendered their right to collect income tax in 1942 due to the Second World War going on; admittedly it was only supposed to be temporary and the states did try to regain their income taxing powers but were unsuccessful in doing so. Nevertheless, the arrangements both before and after 1942, worked and continue to work reasonably well.

The question then, isn't one of is it possible because clearly it is but what would a devolved English Parliament look like? To that end, I think that Australia is already a perfect model which could be applied.

Currently; for the purposes of the purposes of elections to the European Parliament, there are nine so-called Regions of England. They are: South East, London, North West, East of England, West Midlands, South West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands and North East. Functionally they could operate the same way as the Senate does in Australia; with equal representation in each area.
If there were 12 members from each of the regions, like there are 12 members from each of the states in Australia, this solves the problem of the richer regions bullying the poorer ones. Even apply the name of the Legislative Council if you like. There would be 108 members of the English Legislative Council.
Even have them elected on the basis of proportional representation; the same way as the upper houses in Australia are decided.

The lower house which we will call the English the Legislative Assembly should have roughly double the number of members (so that would mean 216) and they could be elected using the instant-runoff voting system, which the Liberal Democrats called for in the United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011. The fact that that failed is a travesty of British politics.

I'd even go so far as to suggest that the devolved English parliament should not even sit in London. It used to be common practice that parliament would sit wherever the king was and the actual debating chamber need not be a particularly large affair. I think that it would be kind of neat if a new English parliament house was built at Winchester, in the same city where Henry III often held parliament. Of course building office blocks are the sort of thing that could be done anywhere; so provided a suitable architect was appointed, this need not even be an issue.

I think that far from being a logical absurdity, a bifurcated government is not only entirely practicable but has proven to be so over many many years in other countries. Do I need to point out that the longest continuously running Westminster-system parliament in the world is not in the UK but lives at Macquarie Street, Sydney? The Grand Old Lady of Westminster's children, have by operation shown to be more sensible than the old lady herself.

Professor Bogdanor who was also against Scottish independence, appears to be in favour of more powerful central government from Westminster rather than further devolved powers. Partly I think that this is because he happens to be part of the establishment. Oxford University which receives a large portion of its funding from government grants, might find itself with a different set of arrangements if there was an English parliament.

Mostly I think that this is a case of pragmatism. Both he and I are probably very aware that no government actively wants to reduce its power. It is not in any British Prime Minister's interest; not the interests of the Commons or the Lords to grant any powers to another parliament.
The Kilbrandon Commission under Harold Wilson's Labour Government in 1969 was set up to look into devolution in Wales and Scotland and there was even a white paper issued in 1974 but it wasn't until 1998 that the Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru (National Assembly for Wales) was established and a year later the Pàrlamaid na h-Alba (Scottish Parliament) followed suit.
An English Parliament would require the legal unpicking of the powers of government and possibly the transfer of many government services; with them, power. What possible incentive is there for Whitehall to make itself less powerful? Nil.

A logical absurdity? A likely posssibiliy? Not in the foreseeable future.

November 15, 2014

Horse 1789 - The FIFA Ethics Committee

http://www.foxsports.com.au/football/fifa-ethics-report-slams-australias-dubious-2022-world-cup-bid-tactics/story-e6frf423-1227122410226?nk=b0346015cb4b32ac951774d5cbe1282d
"According to the Report, there have been communications between one particular consultant of the Australia 2022 bid team that show that the relevant consultant executed his strategy of using his purported relationship with high-ranking FIFA officials to create the appearance that he was influencing the bidding process.”
The ethics committee also said the FFA made “certain payments” to the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
- Fox Sports, 14th Nov 2014

If love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, then FIFA and corruption go together like Admire Rakti and the Shinkansen - very fast and dead on the money (in several senses of each of those words).

The initial rules for a nation to even be eligible to host the World Cup, required that the host nation have at least ten stadia, capable of holding 40,000 people. At the time of the bidding process, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States all had at least seven with plans to make minor upgrades to others. Qatar had nil.
On top of this, Qatar had to assure FIFA that it would install massive air-conditioners to decrease the temperatures inside the stadiums (which still do not exist) by at least 20°C and after it won the bid it requested to have the number of venues cut to eight because of rising construction costs.

With this in mind, several nations applied to FIFA to have its ethics committee look into both the bidding process of 2018 which awarded that tournament to Russia and the 2022 bidding process. Surprise surprise, it found that payments had been by a former Chairman of the Qatar Football Association and president of the Asian Football Confederation to the president of the Oceania Football Confederation to change his vote on where the 2022 World Cup would be held.
Even though Mohamed Bin Hammam was banned for life from all FIFA and football related activities, this latest report still clears the Qatar bid as being free from corruption.

The report also touched on suspended OFC representative Reynard Temarii and the attempts by Mohamed Bin Hammam to pay his legal fees and potentially deprive Australia of a vote.
Temarii could only be replaced by OFC as a FIFA executive member to vote on the World Cup bids if he accepted his ban from the FIFA Ethics Committee. If he appealed then the OFC’s vote would have been null and void.
...
"According to the Report, Mr. Temarii’s conduct and correspondence with Mr. Bin Hammam shortly after he received the one-year suspension suggest that Mr. Temarii was aware that his appeal would benefit Qatar’s bid.
However, according to the Report, there is no direct link between Qatar 2022 and any payments of Mr. Bin Hammam to Mr. Temarii."
- Fox Sports, 14th Nov 2014

This makes you scratch your head in total bewilderment. How is it that the "certain payments” made by the FFA to CONCACAF, if they were made, are seen as corruption but the fact that the ex-chairman of the very football association who is hosting the World Cup and was banned for life from all FIFA and football related activities, is not? I don't understand.

http://www.arabianbusiness.com/dubai-s-emirates-quit-as-fifa-sponsor-after-2014-570259.html#.VGbJifmUdBg
Dubai's Emirates Airline confirmed on Monday it will not renew its sponsorship contract with football governing body FIFA after the current deal expires at the end of the year.
”Emirates can confirm that a decision has been made not to renew the sponsorship agreement with FIFA past 2014. This decision was made following an evaluation of FIFA’s contract proposal which did not meet Emirates’ expectations,” the airline said in a statement to Arabian Business.
...
While Emirates did not specify the exact reason for ending its sponsorship deal with the football authority, this summer FIFA sponsors Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony and Visa issued a statement expressing their concerns regarding allegations of bribery surrounding the hosting of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, respectively.
- Arabian Business.Com, 3rd Nov 2014

Not to put too fine a point on it, if Emirates Airlines which operates out of Dubai has withdrawn its support for FIFA and sponsors Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony and Visa all have expressed concerns regarding bribery, what does that say about FIFA condemning the FFA whilst holding up someone else?
What of the allegations of virtual slavery in Qatar, in the construction of the World Cup venues?

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/nov/07/north-koreans-working-state-sponsored-slaves-qatar
Thousands of migrant labourers from North Korea are toiling for years on construction sites in Qatar for virtually no pay – including on the vast new metropolis that is the centrepiece of the World Cup – in what may amount to “state-sponsored slavery”.
According to testimonies from workers and defectors, labourers from the reclusive state said they receive almost no salaries in person while in the Gulf emirate during the three years they typically spend there.
- The Guardian, 7th Nov 2014

If you add slavery, to bribery to corruption, how do you trust any ruling by an "ethics committee"? Does FIFA even know what ethics are?