October 05, 2015

Horse 1999 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 25 - John Howard

XXV - John Howard

John Howard was elected to the seat of Bennelong in the 1974 election whilst Gough Whitlam was still Prime Minister and was part of the faction which backed Malcolm Fraser over Billy Snedden. After being Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, he was then appointed as Treasurer in 1977; which he held until 1983 when Hawke came to power.
Following a brief spell of Andrew Peacock as Leader of the Opposition, Howard held the position of Opposition during the unsuccessful 1987 election campaign.

Politicians generally have one of two broad reactions to losing an election, they either never try again or they go away and learn and by the time of their next tilt, they come back better. Howard was of the latter of the two and following Dr John Hewson who tried to introduce a 15% GST at the 1990 election and an eight month stint by Alexander Downer which came to nothing, in January 1995 Howard was again made party leader and was rewarded with a comprehensive victory in the 1996 election, winning 94 seats.

Howard's first challenge as Prime Minister would happen when a gunman went on a killing spree at Tasmania's historic Port Arthur prison, killing 35 people and injuring 23. The Howard Government acte quickly and almost without opposition from the other side of the chamber, the National Firearms Programme Implementation Act 1996 was passed and restricted the ownership of many automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

A further series of complications arose for the Howard Government following the High Court's desision in Wik Peoples v Queensland which held that native title rights could co-exist with pastoral leases. In response to this, native title legislation eventually took more than two years to rattle through the parliament; with more than 200 amendments being made as the bill was passed back and forth between the two houses.

It is on the economic front that Howard is most remembered though because under his premiership, the taxation system of Australia was fundamentally changed.
In Howard's first term as Prime Minister, his government undertook some highly unpopular spending cuts and made changes to industrial relations regulations which deeply angered those on the left. In conjunction with these spending cuts came the partial sale of government telecommunications company Telstra; which would eventually lead to its full privatisation.
Having previously promised that a Goods and Services Tax (the GST) would "never ever" be part of Coalition policy following the supposedly "unwinnable election which previous PM Paul Keating somehow won, Howard called a snap election on 3rd October 1998. Although the Coalition lost the popular vote by a narrow margin and 14 seats, they still retained 80 seats to Labour's 67 and took that as a mandate to pass the GST legislation.
Again, months of negotiations followed including the last significant thing that the Australian Democrats ever did and wrangle that fresh food would be exempt of GST. The "A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999" or GST act, was passed in mid 1999 and came into operation in July 2000.

Howard's government probably would have faced difficulty in the 2001 election if it wasn't for the events on 11th September 2001, when two planes crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York City and one into the Pentagon in Washington DC.
Following an incident when they Norwegian freighter MV Tampa was refused landing in Australia because it was carrying 438 rescued refugees (who were mostly Hazaras of Afghanistan), this changed the public's view of the Howard Government and suddenly it was seen to be strong.
Howard promised military support to the United States with the War in Afghanistan and the subsequent "War on Terror" as it came to be known, when Australian troops were also sent to help in the US-led "Multinational force in Iraq".

With the Afghanistani and Iraqi wars still in swing, Howard's Government was rewarded with a fourth term in the 2004 election but it would be the last. From 2006 and onwards, with the change in the Senate, the Coalition won control of both houses of parliament and the new sets of industrial relations changes which collectively came to be called "WorkChoices" which sent industrial disputes through the new Workplace Authority rather than the old Australian Industrial Relations Commission which became largely impotent.

Even with net debt which was cut to less than zero in 2007, this came largely on the back of a commodity boom as a result of the growth of Chinese demands for minerals. Had the Howard Government not embraced a program of asset sales, this would have never have happened. Howard's Government during this time also made five sets of income tax cuts in six taxation years.

In the November 2007 election, Howard's term came to an end; having been Prime Minister for 11 years and having been in Parliament for 33 years. After his time in parliament, the Australian and New Zealand cricket boards unsuccessfully nominated him as their candidate  for president of the International Cricket Council, in 2008 he was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) and in 2012 he was appointed as a Member of the Order of Merit (OM) by Queen Elizabeth. He has subsequenty published several books.

October 03, 2015

Horse 1998 - One Day In September: Saturday, 33rd September 2015.

I must admit that I feel somewhat strange today. Today is October the 3rd; yet owing to a result of several programming errors, the Australian Rules Grand Final is on today. I think it quite odd that the "One Day In September" this year is in October. Also, with this weekend being the Labour Day long weekend, which celebrates the eight hour working day (which nobody has worked, for a very long time), it should be the weekend of the Bathurst 1000 but it isn't owing to a dispute between multiple parties almost twenty years ago.
Not that I'm complaining, mind you. Hawthorn has made another Grand Final and thus the flag winning glory trail continues... unless it doesn't.

For years in Australia, the Spring calendar followed a familiar pattern. The New South Wales Rugby League Grand Final was held on the second last Saturday in September. The VFL Australian Rules football Grand Final was held on the last Saturday in September. The 1000km motor race at Bathurst was held on the first Sunday in October; which is the same weekend as Labour Day in NSW. This meant that sometimes, people could watch the Australian Rules final at the MCG on Saturday and then had to make a mad dash up the Hume and Olympic Highways before arriving at Bathurst for the Sunday.
This should be one of those immutable things, like the Indianapolis 500 which is held on the Memorial Day weekend in the United States or the Melbourne Cup horse race which is held on the first Tuesday in November.
Something awry happened somewhere. This year the Australian Rules Final is held on the first Saturday in October, the Rugby League final will be held tomorrow which is the first Sunday in October and the 1000km motor race at Bathurst will be held on the second Sunday in October. Has the world gone mad?

As with so many things, you can largely blame this on television. Television, that thing that used to be a harmless little box in the corner which has now grown into a wall panel and which once upon a time was content to give you a window on the world, has now become a vehicle to "monetise" the audience. No longer content with showing us lovely things to watch, including live sport, television companies now want to extract ever increasing amounts of money from your wallets and if you don't hand over a small fortune to the licensed bandits with their fancy picture palaces, they promise to take away what used to be free to watch and they'll muck with the calendar as well.

In the case of Rugby League, News Corporation and Optus fought so hard over TV broadcast rights (hoping to sell subscription services to customers) that they mucked about with the sport so badly that after two full years of legal wrangling the competition was snapped into two for the 1997 season.
News Corporation again stuck its nose into  Australian rules football and whilst it realised that it could bully about the AFL Commission as easily as it did the Australian Rugby League, this still resulted in the Fox Footy channel on pay-TV.
Mostly it is because of the demands of television that what should have been two dates fixed on the calendar as legendary, they have both been thrown aside and stomped on.

Whilst News Corporation has recently bought the rights to premier motor racing broadcasting in Australia which includes the V8 Supercars and Formula One, and is currently setting about destroying the viability of both just so it can feather its nest, the reason for the change of date for the Bathurst 1000 has nothing to do with them.
That is as a result of a previous argument over television involving the Seven Network, Network Ten, the Australian Racing Drivers' Club and the organisation now known as V8Supercars and formerly called the Australian Vee Eight Super Car Company (AVESCO). Again for a couple of years there were two 1000km races which were held at Bathurst before one of them collapsed; leaving the current race not being held on its traditional Labour Day weekend.

Suiffice to say, I hate the rampant monetisation of sport because the story which happens again and again is that greed becomes the driver and the whole thing is killed. Formula One is currently undergoing something of a crisis to that end, with long time Grands Prix being struck off the calendar because event organisers aren't prepared to stump up the ever increasing amounts of cash demanded to host an event. We have already lost the French, German, Argentine, Sammarinese, Portuguese, Dutch Grands Prix and even the new Korean Grand for precisely that reason.

As I watch the 2015 Australian Rules final and hope that Hawthorn as it attempts to become only the fifth side to win three flags in a row, I remember that this is the weirdest last Saturday in September of all because it's actually in October.

Hawthorn 16.11 (107) def. West Coast Eagles 8.13 (61)

Following Carlton, Collingwood, Melbourne (twice) and Brisbane, Hawthorn is now the fifth team to win three premierships in a row.

Sometimes, everything is glorious and nothing hurts.

October 02, 2015

Horse 1997 - Big Brother Is Tracking You (With GPS)

This morning I am/was making/made (in the future past present tense) a count of all the surveillance cameras that I've been watched over by. Including cameras at train stations, on trains and the bus, as well as cameras facing George Street in the city, I have been lovingly watched over by no less than 14 cameras. In theory these cameras are there for our security and safety but in reality, they have been placed there to identify perpetrators of crimes after the event so that people who suffer damages can sue.

The M30 bus in particular is GPS tracked which means that if you have an iDevice, you can follow the bus on an app; which I imagine is jolly good fun if you like playing with that sort of thing.
My tablet which also comes with some sort of GPS thingy, has this feature where it will display your position on Google Maps. Your position is marked on the map with a little triangle and you can even set it up to record where you've been by leaving a trail. This is incredibly amusing because the arrowhead reminds me of the opening of the BBC comedy Dad's Army and it makes me want to start humming "Who Do You Think You Are Kidding, Mr Hitler?"

All of this sounded fine and lovely until I saw this on the top of a pizza box:

Domino's now also has an app which allows you to follow your order from their shop directly to your door. Again, this sounds like a marvel of the age but I wonder what else is going on. Fast food companies aren't generally renowned for their excellent pay and conditions; so why would they suddenly care about the safety of their drivers. As always, the devil is in the detail and you have to ask what the monetary benefit is in tracking their drivers.

Speed Tracking and Driver Alerts look to me as though Domino's are looking for ways to get out of any possible insurance claims that may arise as a result of drivers doing their jobs. By tracking speed they can get out of having to pay any claims that might happen of they can prove that the driver was speeding. I'm not exactly sure how following sudden braking would invalidate an insurance claim but I'm sure that they'd have their lawyers working on it. If there was cause for sudden braking, that immediately allows a lawyer to cast doubt on the case and ask the question of why the delivery driver was braking.
By keeping tabs on 'Unplanned Stops' the local manager can also keep track of any slacking off that the driver might do. I'm sure that it must happen that a delivery driver would visit their friends either because they were making a delivery to them or because they happened to drop by along the way. Granted there is a case to be made that delivery drivers are doing a semi dangerous job because they are out late at night and they are dealing with the general public but if you were to look at the balance of who and what a firm cares for, is it more likely to be a lower paid employee or the bottom line on a Profit and Loss Statement?

This phenomenon isn't unique among service industries though. GPS technology which keeps track of how someone is driving (I assume that's how this works) can also be fitted to the cars of the general public.

QBE's Insurance Box claims to offer savings on the basis that someone is a 'good driver'. Really? Please forgive my suspicion but since when did an insurance company start caring about how well someone drives? Insurance by definition is a monetary hedge against a bad thing from happening and so it stands to reason that an insurance company would want to avoid paying out when that bad thing happens. If the Insurance Box is keeping track of speed and braking then there's a very strong possibility that they can avoid paying out on claims if they have the proof that the driver was speeding at the time of an incident or if they can cast doubt on the case.

I was once in an "accident" in which I supposedly ran into the back of a Toyota Camry coming home from work. The chap's insurance company AAMI claimed that I had left the scene of the "accident" without giving the driver my details. I had come over the brow of a hill and saw him stopped and so I did come to a screeching halt but fell short by almost thirty feet. This chap then must've taken down my number plate details because the first thing I knew about it was that I was being phoned up by AAMI who had contacted my insurance company.
Even though my little Ford Ka was completely unmarked, because AAMI had already made repairs on his Camry, I was unable to prove that I wasn't in the "accident"; so my insurer was on the hook for an accident which I didn't even have.

Given this, my opinion of insurance companies in general is lower than a snake's belly and so when I see things like GPS trackers in cars and buses, I have to wonder in whose favour the game is being rigged.
Whose safety are these firms really concerned for? Is it the fate of their employees or of their golden children who all share the name Dollar?

Having said all this, if everyone was forced to compulsorily carry black box recorders in their motor cars, I'm pretty sure that the standard of driving would increase by loads as people realised that their insurance claims weren't being paid out.

October 01, 2015

Horse 1996 - Some Modern Life Hacks For Overworked People

Here at Horse, which is a publication of the University of The Absurd and the School of Half-Baked Ideas, we are often asked by the general public (and by often, I mean never) to come up with tips and life hacks to make your dreary little lives better. Of course, being an astute publication whose readership extends all the way into the tens (not of thousands, just tens) I simply had to address this issue and write a post about practical tips that you can use to make your life better and easier:

Rich People:
Let's face it, being rich is a burden; I am prepared to shoulder that burden however massive and since charity begins at home, why shouldn't it start at my home? Why not send you outrageous fortune to me?

Potato Crisp Buyers:
If you want to buy crisps that no one else likes, buy salt and vinegar crisps.
If you want to buy crisps that everyone likes, buy cheese and onion. Everyone likes cheese and onion.

Sticky Rice:
Nobody likes their rice sticking together and becoming gluggy when they don't want it to. The way to stop rice from sticking together when you want it to is to boil each grain of rice separately and individually set them aside for later use.

Don't throw out that old toothpaste tube. Simply refill it with a new tube.

Formula One Teams:
Are you like McLaren and spending a fortune for not much reward? Have you got very few points even after throwing millions into development?  Why not simply rebrand yourself every few years? It worked for Tyrell/BAR/Honda/Brawn/Mercedes-Benz.

Poor People:
It seems to me that the reason for your poverty is a lack of money. Why not simply get more money?

If there is an elephant in the room which your wish to avoid, stop holding meetings at the zoo.

Spectacle Wearers:
If you want to avoid excessive wear and tear on your glasses, just take them off when you're not looking at anything.

Collingwood Supporters:
Stop it. It's silly. That is all.

University Students:
If you want to stop those horrible and nasty smells coming from the kitchen, how about cooking something nice for a change?

Home Heating:
If you live in a house that gets cold during the winter, just put up a poster of Fiji on the wall. Its always nice and warm in Fiji.

If you're having trouble applying for a Visa, try applying for a MasterCard instead.

Job Seekers:
The best way to make a good impression at an interview is to practice speaking before you get to the interview room. Try impersonating Mathias Cormann, most people can make a good impression of him.

If you have rowdy children who constantly demand to be entertained, give them a jigsaw to play with. Just remember to switch it on and leave it running first.

Never make eye contact with anyone. Never speak to anyone. Put earphones in your ears, even if you aren't listening to anything. Stare down at your tablet and try to avoid humanity at all costs.
Or smile at someone. You migt even cheer up their deary day.

Horrible Man In the Grey Suit On Platform 3 at Wynyard:
Stop pretending to read the newspaper. Everyone in the whole station can see that you're leering and checking out that lady. Stop it. Walk away.

Claim that your bags have been tampered with when you arrive at immigration control at the airport. Customs staff will be so surprised by your honesty that whilst they try to reassure you that all is well, they won't notice the contraband that you're trying to smuggle in.

Four Cylinder Car Drivers:
Loud exhausts don't convince anyone that you have a performance car. Fit amusing whistles in your exhaust so that everyone will think you're driving a clown car. Either that or just stop pretending that you have a performance car.

Salsa Chip Dippers:
Double dipping is not allowed under most circumstances except if you're the only one eating chips and salsa. In most cases, if a chip breaks and is stuck in the salsa, it must only be retrieved by use of a new chip. Otherwise, said chip must remain in the salsa forever.

British People:
If you find a foreigner or are in a foreign land and want someone to understand you, speak to them in English and only English. If they still don't understand, speak to them louder and louder and louder until they do. If they still don't understand, stick the Union Jack in the ground and claim their land for Britain. This policy has worked in all previous cases such as India, Australia, Canada, America etc. and the consequences often take years to sort out.

Rich People:
Being rich is expensive but I can save you money. Don't throw out that expensive silverware. Simply wash it and you can even reuse it. If you polish it up, it's as good as new. Better yet, get some servants to wash and polish it for you instead of throwing it all into the streets for the street urchins to find.

September 30, 2015

Horse 1995 - Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn - Poles Apart and yet Still Alike

The almost unavoidable circus that is American politics and the race for the Presidency which concludes with the election some fourteen months away, has thrown up a potential candidate who is either so appalling as to be ludicrous, so self aggrandising as to be laughable but so very rich as to be unbuyable. That is of course Donald Trump and he himself is trading on that political currency that he is so rich that he can not be bought by either the political machines or by Wall Street.

Across the pond, another equally unbuyable leader has emerged as leader of the Labour Party in Jeremy Corbyn. This is a man who is rumoured to have fallen out with his previous wife over sending their children to a private school but I don't know if that's just part of the convenient narrative which has been spun, or if it is genuinely true, or whether it is a half-truth wrapped in a palatable and tasty lie. Corbyn like Trump is presumed to be unbuyable, not because he is rich but because he is so far to the economic left that money is irrelevant.

Although we in Australia like to be egocentric and think that we matter, in the grand scheme of things, the world leaders who actually wield the most power are those of China, the US, the UK, Germany, Russia and then countries like France, Italy, South Korea, India, Japan and Australia always seem to end up in orbit around them. The US-UK relationship is far more important than the United States' relationship with Australia and that couldn't have been any more obvious than when Barack Obama promised PM Rudd that he was going to visit Australia after becoming President and then proceeded not to for a long time.
Those US-UK relationship pairs are usually most visible in times of shared war, such as Roosevelt & Churchill and Bush & Blair but also show up when economic policies align such as Reagan & Thatcher.

This brings me back to the combination of Trump and Corbyn; which I think will never happen for machinations surrounding the dates of elections but it's worth thinking about*. Trump and Corbyn couldn't occupy economic positions further apart, if they tried. Trump would probably privatise government itself if he could; whilst Corbyn has already made rumblings that he'd like to renationalise the railways and the electricity companies as well as open some of the mines that Thatcher had closed.
Yet there's something almost familiarly similar about them. In the winner takes all system of democracy; which has been copied by precisely zero other countries in the world, which the United States uses, Donald Trump is trying to win firstly the Republican nomination and then the presidency in a method which seems almost to fight the party itself. In the winner takes all by winning 36% of the popular vote which translates into 50.7% of the seats in parliament which then gives you 100% control, Corbyn has been handed the reigns to a party which has lost and lost badly.

Jeremy Corbyn is curious among modern politicians in that he actually stands for something. Although he has a history of being anti-Thatcher, he did so whilst being a critic of social inequality and poverty and arguing that the state has the power to change people's outcomes. He is also a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Amnesty International and Stop The War.
Trump on the other hand whose policies appear to be whatever comes of out his mouth at any given moment; coupled with an attitude which is mainly ad hoc, says what he thinks precisely because he can not be bought. Like most Republicans he looks like he favours tax cuts for the rich and like a select few Republicans he wants to change the rules about who can become a US citizen and he wants to ask serious questions about the welfare state. In particular he has made mention that he'd like to deport as many as 11 million people back across the border to Mexico and I don't know if this is pandering to the Republican right but again, this policy is mostly unplanned as to the nature of its implementation.
Corbyn on the other hand has won the leadership of a party which found itself in the wilderness following the end of the Blair and Brown premierships and then found itself untrusted by an electorate which punished the Liberal-Democrats and which rewarded the Scottish National Party but returned the Tories to an even bigger majority in the Commons, which kept Labour outside in the cold. Corbyn is from the left of a party which moved right and then tore at its patches as it moved left again.
The question is what exactly that Trump and Corbyn can teach their respective parties and about what the electorate has to say about it.

If nothing else, even though Trump is as wacky as a box of ferrets and could very well be 109 ferrets in a man suit trying to pass of as human (now that I've said it, you can't unthink it), and even though in practical terms Corbyn stands as much chance at bringing any of his sweeping goals to fruition as I do in winning the upcoming by-election in North Sydney for the Banana Party, both Corbyn and Trump bring a genuineness that's not been seen in politicians for maybe two decades. In what might be seen as either extreme or at least very different politics to what we've seen for two twenty years, if nothing else both of them are going to make the parties reassess what they stand for if indeed it is anything.

*The next Presidential Election is November 2016 and the term runs from January 2017 until January 2021. The next British General Election is in 2020. Together this means that even if Trump wins the 2016 election that the initial overlap would only be during 2020 and January of 2021. If for some insane reason that Trump not only wins the 2016 election and the 2020 election, then the Trump-Corbyn pair would last until January of 2025. This is of course assuming that Corbyn even survives as party leader until the 2020 election, which itself is highly unlikely.

September 29, 2015

Horse 1994 - What Kind Of People Are You?

English is a language which is the bastard child of Germanic tongues, Viking tongues and then got infected with Norman and later French tongues. This unruly child with a penchant for theft, then proceeded to steal words from just about every language it came in contact with and every language it could find. Thus the phrase "I'm watching kangaroos on television whilst in my pyjamas and eating potato chips" contains words which have roots in at least eight languages.
To cope with this penchant for theft, larceny and stealing, it helps that English uses the Roman script. Admittedly neither J or U appeared in Roman but that's a very big story which I'm not concerned about here.

Chinese though, which is as diverse a group of languages as the set of Romance languages, uses a standard set of  logograms which are called 'Hanzi' in standard Chinese. Being logograms though, the ability of the script to absorb new words is not as flexible as in English; which leads to some strange sort of results.
I thought it interesting when I was looking at the front page of the Australian Chinese Daily and saw a picture of David Cameron (presumably about that story about Lord Ashcroft's book) and noticed that he was described as being 英国人. I knew what those last two characters were but had to look up the first. The results were surprising and they made me think about how Chinese people might think about everyone else in the world.

Chinese - 中国人 - "Middle Country" people
This is obvious. If you look at a map of the world published in Australia, then Australia is in the centre. An American map of the world has America at the centre and the English even went so far as to send the Prime Meridian through the Greenwich Observatory. 0º passes right through London.
It is natural that Chinese people see themselves as the Middle Country. Humans are an egocentric lot and Chinese people are no different.

Japanese - 日本人 "Origin Of The Day" people
Having studied Japanese, I know many 'kanji'. Kanji literally means 'Han characters' and they presumably date from the time when Japan was a puppet state of China. Japan calls itself 'Nihon' which means the 'origin of the sun' and even their flag is commonly called 'Hinomaru' which means the 'circle of the sun'. The Land Of The Rising Sun is nominally the first Asian country to see daylight;' so it makes sense that the characters reflect that.

Korean - 朝鲜人 "Towards Freshness" people
Yeah... I'm struggling with this one. I'm hoping that I've made a hideous translation error because this is just crazy bonkers cloud cuckoo land stuff. 

Indian - 印度人 - "Print Degree" people
Again because I don't speak a word of Chinese, I'm really struggling with this. I always thought that China was the land that invented paper but maybe Indian paper was just really renowned. Indian documents in the Kharosthi language have been discovered from as far back as the 4th century BC and I do know that India was the source of many pigments for ink - hence why it picked up the eponymous 'India Ink', I suppose.

Mongols - 蒙古人 "Ancient Illiterate" people
This does not surprise me at all. It's worth noting that the barbarian neighbours to the north succeed under the Mongol leader Kublai Khan, in crushing the existing ruling Song dynasty and setting up the Yuan dynasty in 1279. That 'great' wall suddenly isn't looking so great any more.

Italian - 意大利人 - "Meaning Big Profits" people
Marco Polo certainly wasn't the first European to visit China but he was the first to write detailed accounts about his trip there. If the story is true, Marco Polo was welcomed into the courts of Kublai Khan and probably made a great deal of money through trade. Does this mean that the Chinese saw the Italians as patsies from whom easy profits could be extracted? More than likely it's just 'I-da-li-ya' that has been transliterated.

American - 美国人 "Nice" country people
French - 法国人 "Law" country people
German - 德国人 "Moral" country people
These three epithets I find intriguing. Are Chinese people trying to bestow honour upon other people in the world? These sorts of descriptions are the kind of thing I'd be looking for if I wanted my own special logogram. Who doesn't want to be called 'moral', 'lawful' or 'nice'?

English - 英国人 "Hero" country people
I don't know if this was applied to the English before or after the Opium Wars but if it is after, maybe this is a piece of sarcasm. "Yeah English people, you think you're heroes don't you? Real smart". 

Australian - 澳大利亚人 - "Proud Big Profits Inferior" people
Admittedly Australia is probably too new a country to have its own logogram and so like the name 'Tangbao' for Malcolm Turnbull, Australia gets something that sounds similar "Ao-da-li-ya'. It's kind of unfortunate that the set of characters which describes Australia when transliterated, also describes Australia pretty well. We are the country full of inferior boorish people from whom big profits can be made. Dig up our dirt and then make it into stuff before selling it back to us. Big, dumb and stupid - that's also how New Zealand sees us as well.

Our new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been nicknamed 'Tangbao' 汤包 in Standard Chinese, which is a rough interpretation of how his surname sounds. Tangbao are either sweet custard filled buns or gelatinous soup filled buns. The literal meaning of 汤包 as far as I can make out means 'soup package'.
This very much reminds me of JFK's "I am a doughnut" speech on  June 26, 1963 when he said "Ich bin ein Berliner". Is a soup bun better than a doughnut though?

September 28, 2015

Horse 1993 - Chris Brown Denied A Visa

The Federal Government has followed through on its threat to block US R 'n' B singer Chris Brown from entering the country because of his history of domestic violence.
In 2009, Brown was convicted of assault and threatening to kill his then girlfriend, singer Rihanna.
He was sentenced to five years' probation.
- ABC News, 27th Sep 2015


I have no real idea of who Chris Brown is exactly and I'm pretty sure that R 'n' B is not the same Rhythm and Blues that Fats Domino, Johnny Otis and Bo Diddly might have played. In short, I have no idea of who this person is and I'm pretty sure that I probably wouldn't like the sort of music that this person plays. I do know that if the Federal Government has denied Chris Brown a visa, on the grounds that he has a history of domestic violence which includes assault and death threats, then I'm in agreement with the Federal Government. That sort of thing is unacceptable. Story. End of.

I have never tried to apply for a visa into Australia for obvious reasons but I have gone to the United States under their Visa Waiver Program. On the I-94W document, which people wanting to visit the United States must fill in under the program, it asks the question:
Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or been controlled substance trafficker; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?

'Moral turpitude' is one of those really daft sounding things at law which just leaves you scratching your head. This probably explains why so many people look dazed as they enter passport control upon entry into the United States (or that they've just spent 14 hours on a plane).

Helpfully the US State Department has this to say about 'moral turpitude':
9 FAM 40.21(a) N2.2 Defining “Moral Turpitude”
 A conviction for a statutory offense will involve moral turpitude if one or more of the elements of that offense have been determined to involve moral turpitude. The most common elements involving moral turpitude are:
(1) Fraud;
(2) Larceny; and
(3) Intent to harm persons or things.
- U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual Volume 9, 22nd Aug 2014

Crimes of moral turpitude have been defined by US law as those crimes which are committed against someone's person, family relationship, and crimes relating to sexual morality.

According to Black's Law Dictionary, assault is a crime of moral turpitude and is defined thusly:
Assault (this crime is broken down into several categories, which involve moral turpitude):
- Assault with intent to kill, commit rape, commit robbery or commit serious bodily harm
- Assault with a dangerous or deadly weapon
Assault (simple) (any assault, which does not require an evil intent or depraved motive, although it may involve the use of a weapon, which is neither dangerous nor deadly)
- Black's Law Dictionary 9th Ed. (2009)

Whilst it's very easy to get bogged down in legal definitions, this makes it pretty clear I think. This Chris Brown person, would most likely have not been allowed to enter the United States under the I-94W Visa Waiver Program and I suspect also would not have been given a Visa to enter the United States without the waiver. If he would not be allowed to enter the United States, why are people surprised that he isn't allowed to enter Australia?

It was the new Minister for Women Michaelia Cash who stated quite clearly why she thought that the Minister for Immigration would deny a visa, all the way back on Thursday of last week:
"People need to understand, if you are going to commit domestic violence and then you want to travel around the world there are going to be countries that say to you, 'You cannot come in because you are not of the character that we expect in Australia'."
- Minister for Women Michaelia Cash, as quoted ABC News 27th Sep 2015


I must admit though, then we get comments from Miranda Devine in today's Sunday Telegraph, which I'm sure are deliberately designed to rile people up.

Demonising men, and pouring taxpayer money into permanent meddling bureaucracies, will do nothing to alleviate domestic tragedy.
It just increases government’s role in our lives, and further disempowers vulnerable men.
Worse, the underlying narrative is about disrespecting men.
Turnbull claimed: “one in four young men think it’s OK to slap a girl when you’ve been drinking”.
- Miranda Devine, The Sunday Telegraph, 27th Sep 2009

In the time that I spent as a court recorder which did involve going to Bourke, Bathurst and (shock horror) Parramatta, I saw plenty of cases in various courts in which domestic violence had occurred. Let's get this absolutely clear - the number of women that I saw who were on trial for perpetrating domestic violence was nil. Zero.
I really do not know which so called "vulnerable" men are being disempowered here. Granted that domestic tragedy occurs within the four walls of a household, where the reach of government should for the most part stay outside of but common consensus says that the first duty of government is the protection of its citizenry; if that means calling for active protection of half its citizenry then that's a good thing.

Let's bring back shame. Shame is one of those concepts which seems to have fallen out of favour because society feels uncomfortable about it but in this case, that's all the more reason to being back shame. Shame is the voice of the conscious of either an individual or all of us collectively, expressing regret for wrongs we have done. A little bit of shame before an event, just might temper society and hopefully prevent domestic violence from happening in the first place. Actions should have consequences.

Say what you like about Malcolm Turnbull politically but less than a fortnight into the job as Prime Minister, he's already said something which is important and should be obvious to all:

Let me say this to you: disrespecting women does not always result in violence against women. But all violence against women begins with disrespecting women. We, as leaders, as a government, must make it and we will make it a clear national objective of ours to ensure that Australia is more respecting of women. Women must be respected. Disrespecting women is unacceptable. It is unacceptable at every level. At home, at the workplace, wherever. And I'd say that as parents, one of the most important things we must do is ensure that our sons respect their mothers and their sisters.
Because that is where this begins. It begins - violence against women begins with disrespecting women. And so this is a big cultural shift.
- PM Malcolm Turnbull, 24th Sep 2015

Maybe the apostle Paul in his letter to the Colossians said it in even more economical terms:
Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
- Colossians 3:19

How do you love someone if you're assaulting and threatening to kill them? Okay, so maybe Chris Brown isn't being judged by the standards of scripture but it seems that he is being judged by the standards of several nation's law (Oz, NZ and the UK):

In June 2010 Brown was refused permission to enter the UK on the grounds of being guilty of a serious criminal offence.
Yesterday, Immigration New Zealand confirmed Brown's rejection from the UK meant he could not enter New Zealand.
- New Zealand Herald, 18th Sep 2015.

I for one like the fact that we're being shown some leadership from the top. Even if denying Chris Brown a visa doesn't of itself achieve a lot, it does start the national dialogue on what we as a nation are prepared to accept. What Mr Turnbull said is worth repeating:
Women must be respected. Disrespecting women is unacceptable. It is unacceptable at every level.

September 26, 2015

Horse 1992 - The Little Voices

One of the projects that I've worked on recently was writing a Purimspiel (Purim play). Our church is making a pass through of several of the smaller books of the Bible and I happened to notice that the weekend after we finish the book of Esther, will be the thirteenth day of the twelfth month which is numerically the day on the Jewish calendar which Jewish people celebrate the festival of Purim, which commemorates the liberation of the Jews from the plot of Haman. The nation of Israel uses a different calendar to us and Purim usually falls sometime in March but it was still an interesting coincidence and one that warranted running the idea of  Purimspiel up the flagpole.
The reason that I make mention of this is because Mrs Rollo is currently reading a Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Dickens once remarked that he heard little voices in his head for all the characters he was writing; knowing the sort of showman that he was, I don't know if this implies schizophrenia or if this was just for emphasis. Rest assured that I don't hear little voices in my head other than my own internal monologue; which is entirely my own creation but I can attest to the sentiment that when writing, you tend to want to imagine the voices of your characters in your mind as you play with them in an imaginary theatre.

Esther is one of those books of the Bible which lends itself to dramatisation because its structure resembles that of a comic farce. It has an idiot king, a mad bad villain and the hero of Esther is the only sane person in the story. It also contains the elements of a tragedy, with Haman setting up the conditions which lead to his own downfall. As a piece of literature to use as a base from which to work from, it is excellent.
Now probably because I have listened to so much comedy and drama on the radio over manu years, in writing the script for this Purimspiel, I have a whole cast of pretend voices in my head for everyone. King Xerxes for instance sounds like a deranged Richard III or perhaps like Marcus Brigstocke as King Stupid, whilst scheming Haman has a slippery sort of voice like Valentine Dyall from Dracula, and Esther sounds more like X in Anna Karenina (she also played X in Outnumbered). I am quite quite sure that if a production is put on of this, then my preconceptions will be instantly shattered like a sledgehammer passing through a pane of glass and all the little pretend voices that I've assigned in my head with instantly disappear.

I suffer from this sort of thing all the time. To illustrate this, merely writing the phrase "Good news everyone" instantly recalls the voice of Professor Farnsworth from Futurama in my mind. Give me an epic classic with a cast of hundreds of characters and in my mind, I will have crafted distinct and different voices for all of them. I don't know if other people also do this but I wonder if that's one of the reasons that when a movie is made of a book, people are frequently disappointed. Almost always, the book will be better than the film and I suspect that is because that on some level, the silver screen can never hope to match the richness of vision that our mind's eye has imagined into existence. I will confess though that the obvious exception for me was Tolkien's "The Lord Of The Rings" trilogy because I find Tolkien's writing so incredibly tedious that even bashing my head with the book is a better experience than reading it; so of course the movie would be better than the book in such circumstances.

Probably because Dickens's work as a court attendant had brought him into the world of so many different characters, he could bring a small distillation of them to life in his prose. Tolstoy was also able to do likewise because in the cold Russian winters when everyone was kept indoors, it allowed people's minds to engage with the written word far more easily. As a hack writer who blasts forward in 1300 word bursts of noise and confusion, I don't have that sort of fluidity to be able to make those sorts of characters appear on stage in the theatres of people's minds; nor can I make them dance like macabre marionettes and so I'm perfectly aware of my place. That would be the pinnacle of writing though.

I did find though that in vomiting hundreds of words of dialogue at a time though, that as I was writing, the characters would almost want to interject and be as annoying as possible. On the first draft, King Xerxes assumed a more regal kind of role who was unaware of his own power but this just seemed too lifeless to me. By the third draft, I'd turned him into a a self-aware fool in my mind and this made things far easier as well. By also imagining how I wanted this to be staged, with only three microphones and a hidden area, I was also able to play with the issues that might arise with having a very large cast. Also, by imagining the whole thing as a radio play, I could also play with the way that characters interacted with each other and in the process have dramatically slashed the necessary budget needed to put on such a thing.

I think that when writing a script especially, you need to have a degree of imagination for the voices that you want to give your characters. People is the real world have their own tone, metre, pitch and vocabulary; so I don't see why a set of made up characters shouldn't also have likewise. The first reader of any document is the person engaged in writing it and in my case, if the voice doesn't sound believable, then I doubt if a consequent reader or listener will find it believable either.
Even when I'm writing a blog post such as this, I usually do so in silence or with some slow music playing (like the Windows chimes at 8000 times slower) because my brain simply can not process my own internal monologue and another voice at the same time. I think that it would be impossible for me to write something whilst listening to a podcast for that reason.

I don't know if what I've said is true for any other writer. I might very well be the only one in the world who makes up internal voices for all the characters that I either read or write and if I am, I think that I must be one of the luckiest people in the world because everything is like a stage play for me. All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players- so dance for me, my pretties!

September 25, 2015

Horse 1991 - New Zealand Goes To The Polls To Select The WRONG Flag.

Here are the four flag designs that eligible voters will rank in the first binding postal referendum this year, between 20 November and 11 December.
From the 10,292 alternative designs suggested to the Panel, four have been selected to be ranked by New Zealand in the first binding referendum this year.
- The four alternatives, The NZ Government Te Kawanatanga o Aotearoa

These are the four flags (with the possible addition of one more) which are to be put to the people of New Zealand in a referendum to change the national flag. Now I'm not saying that of themselves they aren't lovely but I am suggesting that due to meddling on high, they are all the wrong flag which should be submitted. I would have thought that to everyone in the world who has more than half a dozen working brain cells that the only option which should be put in the referendum is this:

Look, the way I see it, the New Zealand flag committee had one job and that was to faff about for a while and then submit a black flag with a silver fern on it. That was it. Guard New Zealand's triple star from the from the shafts of strife and war, whatever. Story. End of. Referendum. Done.

The whole point of having a national flag originally was to mark your ships, armies and territory so that it could easily been seen at a distance. Flags began life as identifiers so that an army didn't accidentally kill their comrades. All of that changed quite some time ago and camouflage on the modern battlefield basically ensures that no one has any idea who anyone else is. This means that the only use of flags in a modern context is either for diplomatic ends, or reasons of national pride or propaganda. Politicians love to conduct interviews whilst standing in front of as many flags as they possibly can and a national flag can indicate that some diplomat is staying somewhere.
This means that the only common use of flags is one of national pride and this usually happens, not on the battlefield but the sporting field. To this end, New Zealand which as a little nation who sensibly doesn't fight in many wars that aren't its concern, punches well above its weight. If it wasn't for the rugby, cricket and netball teams and maybe the odd appearance in the Olympics and in other endeavours like motor racing, New Zealand would be happily hidden under its long white cloud, going to the dairy and buying a packet of pineapple lumps, and the rest of the world would be totally oblivious to its existence. Because these four flags don't really scream 'New Zealand!' as loudly as the black flag with the silver fern, although they might display all the qualities of good flag design, they are less than useless.

Had that gone to a referendum it would have been game over. Instead, the NZRU have claimed copyright on it and have made a right pig's breakfast of the whole thing. What the NZRU should have done is stand aside and admit that the silver fern on black transcends rugby and just admitted that even they are too small to control the fate and destiny of a nation but no, they had to go and ruin it all for everyone. Thank you New Zealand Rugby, I'm about to confer the worst insult that I can possibly think of upon you - you behaved like a pack of Australians.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also showed that he has the spine of a jellyfish when he said that he was happier that the black flag wasn't chosen because it resembled ISIS. Guess what, John Key? The terrorists have won. Yes ISIS is, as our now deposed PM Tony Abbott said with alarming frequency, a 'death cult' but they will pass.
New Zealand as an independent dominion has been around for 108 years and the existing flag has been around longer than even Australia's. ISIS will probably not be around beyond the end of the decade because of internal squabbles and splintering. The All Blacks have been part of the story of the land of the long white cloud since 1905 their New Zealandiness has shaped the character of the nation, no matter how much they complain about their right to copyright now. As PM, the Key Government could have told the NZRU to stand aside and told ISIS that New Zealand is not afraid but instead, we've just been given whimpering on a grand scale.

These other four flags are okay I suppose but are they the best possible flag for the nation? No. They are as I suspect, flags chosen by a committee because they have in mind, the purpose of losing the referendum. Now I'm not usually one for conspiracy theories by given the level of acrimony, bile, acid and gall which was thrown about in the Canadian Parliament before they finally settled on the correct flag for Canada, I wonder if when faced with the problem that the flag committee wasn't allowed to pick the correct and proper flag for New Zealand, whether or not they haven't just decided to throw all the toys out of the pram and chuck a tantrum. If any of the four designs proposed actually gets up against the current national flag, then I don't see another flag referendum coming up for a very long time; if they happen to win, then the new New Zealand flag will be the subject of well deserved derision forever.

The only proper and sensible choice for the New Zealand flag is the Silver Fern on a black background and that's it.

Unless New Zealand decides to go with another flag which is so utterly and delightfully bonkers that it broke the space-time continuum, just like this link - http://a/%%30%30

Deranged cat raking its garden
Designed by: Jeong Hyuk Fidan from Canterbury

Who doesn't love a cat that rakes its own garden?


September 24, 2015

Horse 1990 - Reforming The Senate Voting System

I think that the number of different voices that we have in the Senate, that is the upper house of the Australian Parliament, even if they are completely bonkers is one of the best features of the Senate. One of the problems with the method of elections in the Senate is that  because we have proportional representation and group ticket voting, candidates from micro parties are elected because of deals made behind closed doors; which the electorate is almost entirely oblivious to. I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with micro parties but something is wrong with a system that allows candidates with only 0.2% of the popular vote to be elected to the house on the hill.

In voting for the Senate, we use a single transferrable voting system with proportional representation. A candidate needs a certain quota of the votes before they are elected; which I think in theory should make sense but in practice is something of a logistical nightmare. The problem is that when you have a ballot paper which is usually more than a metre long, which voters are trying to fill in with a stubby little pencil, in a cardboard voting booth which is only 60cm wide, and then you expect then to number a great deal more than a hundred boxes; with labels that are so small that for some elections voters have had to be supplied with magnifying glasses, you can hardly expect the average voter who finds filling in a tax return a chore to be able to fill in a ballot paper.
From a practical standpoint, this forced the advent of ticket voting above the line in 1984 but in the thirty years that have followed, this has resulted in creative election strategists who work to carve out deals underlying that magical 1 above the line. Number every box below and you decide where every single one of your preferences goes but number one box above the line and those preferences then fall under the control of the group ticket writer.
It is in that space that strategists work to secure preference deals which has resulted in some truly bonkers candidates being elected by an unwitting electorate. This might have been initially fine in the days when there weren't that many micro parties but as time has gone on, it appears that the micro parties have got better at gaming the system; which is always going to be an inevitable outcome of any system which is put in place.
In the 2013 Senate election for instance, David Leyonhjelm who is a prime exponent of gaming deals, was probably both a member of his own Liberal Democratic Party and the Stop The Greens Party which also appeared on the Senate ballot paper in New South Wales. He was probably elected on the basis of a combination of back-door deals and the donkey vote because he appeared in the first column and the first box on a very very big ballot paper, rather than actually being popular and campaigning.

I think that the solution is as obvious as the nose on my face. If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, my solution would be to do away with numbering one box above the line only. Ticket voting is fine but I would have it such that all of the boxes above the line would be numbered and the preferences which flowed on as a result would only apply to the individual groups.
Suppose a voter wanted to vote for the Banana Party, the Insane Jackhammer Party, Eclipse Party, Regressive Party and Burn The Forests Party in that order; and that for the purposes of this example each of the parties were fielding seven candidates. They would then number:
1 - Banana; and the preferences would flow 1-7,
2 - Jackhammer; and the preferences would flow 8-14,
3 - Eclipse; and the preferences would flow 15-21 and so forth.
I would even allow provisions that where an voter has put down a few preferences, say from 1-11 on the ballot paper, then the preferences would still flow in order but starting from 12; with already numbered candidates not included again in the list.
This might result in fewer candidates from totally bonkers micro parties being elected but it would probably help to decrease the level in informal voting. Of course over time it would naturally result in a totally new set of behind the scenes voting game chicanery being played but at least it hands a further degree of control back to the voter.

The major parties' biggest problem with the micro parties appears to be that they hold the balance of power in the Senate. In the days of a purely two party system, complaints were hurled at the fact that on most occasions the Senate was hostile and that a party which forms government thinks that it has a mandate to rule as it sees fit.
Ever since Australia moved from a broad system of appointment of Senators by the States to the infinitely more democratic method of appointment that we have now (which was implemented in 1949), the level and noise of complaints by the major parties has only increased. In 1984 which saw the addition of extra Senators from ten to twelve per state, it meant that suddenly there was six senators being elected at a half-Senate election and the numbers play in such a way that when you get down to the actual arguments in the ballot box over that last 16% of the vote (assuming that the other 84% already resulted in the appointment of major party candidates), that the minor parties have a field day.
From the 1970s to the 1990s this 16% was almost the exclusive domain of the Democrats whose job according to leader Don Chipp at the time was to "keep the bastards honest". Their last piece of lasting influence on legislation was in the debate over the GST and it must be said that in the late 1990s that politics was generally far more conciliatory than it is now. Even Paul Keating who threw so much mud in the parliament that one would think that the national colours of Australia were three shades of brown, probably won the 'unwinnable' 1993 election because of his reasonableness with his statement that if Dr John Hewson's Liberal Party was swept to government, that Labor would respect the mandate and pass the legislation through the Senate. Now in the days where political discourse has been reduced to that of a perpetual Celtic/Rangers Old Firm derby and where the balance of power is held by the fruits and nuts, the two majors are more inclined to blame the system rather than their own toxic politics.

In Westminster democracies, Party Politics more or less began in the 1830s. By 1901 and the Federation of the Australian colonies into the Commonwealth, politics had already coagulated into distinct globs. The micro parties because they are so chaotic, are kind of a return to the sorts of politics which existed before the 1830s and this scares the majors. From a practical standpoint, when voters mostly have no idea where their preferences are flowing, this is bad for democracy.
I as always will continue to vote below the line. My preferences are valuable.

September 23, 2015

Horse 1989 - Cat Poo

In this blog post I take you from the ranty to the minutiaery (if that wasn't a word, it jolly well should be and is now).
I have two cats. Rather, I am the curator and servant of two cats. One thing that has puzzled me for a while is the question of why cats cover their poos and wees but no other animal that I can think of does. I've had a dog before and I can tell you that he would leave his piles of nuggety foulness where ever and it suited.
This covering behaviour is also not prevalent in big cats either. Lions and tigers, jaguars and ocelots also do not cover their poos and so if this is not present in other animals and isn't even present in other cats, what's so special about the domestic house cat that compels them to cover their poos and wees? After living with cats, I can tell you that they will show affection for you but to say that they are covering their poos and sees out of some sense of consideration for you, is nonsense. Cats are incredibly selfish and so the thought that they might do anything for you at all is also nonsense.

Thinking about lions and tigers, does as it turns out, give a fair clue as to the answer of this apparent cleanliness. Granted that our two cats do spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning themselves; Kipper in particular has turned it into an obsessive compulsive tic to the point where he'll even wound himself in the process of all this licking and biting, but that's not got anything to do with the answer. Lions as "king of the beasts*" feel no need to cover their poos and wees because as the very top of the food chain, they fear none and dread nought.
Lions feel as though they can poo and wee where ever and when ever they feel like because of their sense of entitlement and power. All of the other animals who cower in literal fear, of being eaten, will see a great steaming pile of lion poo and know that there is a lion somewhere. Poo and wee in the animal kingdom is the way of marking territory and claiming space; which is not that far removed from people's use of flags. If lions had developed the technology to go into space and land on the moon, then there wouldn't have been an American flag up there but one giant mound of lion poo. If Kenya suddenly announces that it has intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, then be very very afraid because there won't be nuclear weapons being sent from Kenya but massive payloads of lion poo, as they make claims of territory.

The kingdom of domestic house cats is a little kingdom. Cats will wee on things to leave their messages around the place, which is usually "I am here" or "I would very much like to engage in cat love", but cats are relatively little animals and their desire is not to be eaten by big animals like lions or tigers. Cats cover their poos and wees not out of a sense of cleanliness, consideration or cleverness but out of a sense of self preservation.
Although that might sound idiotic, remember that domestic house cats are living in a house with creatures that tower over them; which can pick them up and which amazingly have an ability to consistently bring home meat. A person, weighs more than eleven times that of a domestic house cat and so the biggest predators around, in the eyes of the cat, are their people. There might not be any lions or tigers around but the instinct which saves little cats out in the wild, is still prevalent in urban environments. Nature was so very deadly that we decided that we'd had enough of it and moved out, cats hitchhiked with us but nobody told them that a house isn't that deadly.
When our cats do go out into the backyard, they hear the deep and very loud growls and barks of a couple of German Shepherds next door. Inside they fear people as the dominant thing and outside I assume that they must think that the dogs next door are the biggest monsters.

Cats display all the technical signs of psychopathy; which are a distinct lack of empathy, precisely zero remorse for anything and outright bold and antisocial behaviour at times. The thought that they fear me because I am a big thing, that's sensible. A small furry thing with a sense of its own ego not wanting to be near its poo, that also makes sense. Thought that they might be covering their poo because they feel some kind of cat compassion or niceness just doesn't make any sense to me.

*Autocorrect wants to change "beasts" to "beats" and I can just imagine Aslan with a set of decks scratching out some heavy house music with his claws - Jungle is massive. Tigger is more of your happy hardcore kind of cat; he likes 190bpm music.

September 22, 2015

Horse 1988 - From The East Coast Twitterati

Before the Canning by-election comments were made about the "East Coast Twitterati" being out of touch with West Australian politics and the implication was that journalists in particular were out of touch with issues which dominated the local campaign. To some degree this is schizophrenic because whilst it is true that every election is a by-election, even in a general election we still only vote for the local candidate, to some degree every by-election is a poll in the confidence that the public has in the national government.
That aside, I think that the complaint about journalism in Australia being dominated by the east coast is valid but I'll go one step further and say that it's not just the east coast cities which dominate the national political dialogue but the eastern side of the big two east coast cities.

Apart from the West-Australian, the Adelaide Advertiser and the Courier-Mail, the big newspapers in Australia are the Herald-Sun and The Age in Melbourne, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph in Sydney and whilst the Australian pegs itself as a national newspaper, its pretty well much a Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra newspaper. I didn't include the Canberra Times because let's be honest, although Canberra is the nation's capital, it really is just a big provincial centre and I think that Parramatta in Sydney's west probably contributes more to the national dialogue than Canberra does. Apart from the monkey house on the hill, Canberra is a sleepy town in which everything is permanently shut except for the cinemas which still have the sing-along version of Frozen playing on every single screen.*
I would wager a shiny shilling that of those five newspapers from Scuderia Fairfax and Team News Corp, that all of their journalists except those who have been exiled to Canberra live in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney.

Sydney which is a radial city with spokes for the arterials, is helpfully demarcated into the west and the east by either the ring of roads which Ryde Rd lies on Pennant Hills Red depending on whether you want to include places like Normanhurst or Epping. Either way, I seriously doubt whether anyone writing for the Sydney Morning Herald or the Daily Telegraph lives in Sydney's west. Even though the Daily Telegraph once proudly boasted "We're for the West" I don't think that anyone from the DT would willingly even go west of Strathfield unless they were forced to. A place like Sefton may as well be on the moon for all the journalists in Sydney know.
Likewise in Melbourne, apart from a few people who might live in the postcode of 3000, I doubt whether any journalist who writes for the Herald-Sun or The Age lives west of Sydney Rd. Docklands stadium is probably as far west as they get and the way the the trains and trams are designed, trains from the east go round the city loop and back out to the east again and so there's not even the chance of falling asleep on the train and accidentally ending up in a place like Tottenham. I bet that Spotswood according to Melbourne's journalists, should be ejected to the moon. In fact in secret documents** that Horse has obtained under the 30 year rule, the rocket tests at the Woomera site in the 1950's and 60's were about launching Spotswood and landing the whole suburb on the Sea of Tranquility. The reasoning was that according to the journalists and the politicians, that the people of Spotswood would be too thick to notice until their Centrelink payments stopped.

Even in the heyday of newspapers, journalism had barriers to entry which ensured that people from the western suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney did not get through. In those days if you couldn't read you became a tradesperson, if you could read you became and engineer and if you actually went to university then you were of no use to anyone in the west; so you moved.
Especially over the last 15 years when journalism has been reduced to the lowest possible denominator (no Huffington Post, the reason that I refused to write for you is that "exposure" doesn't pay the electric bills or the rent), journalism has started to eat itself and so the number of positions for columnists has fallen through the floor. Unless you do have a name like Johnathan Holmes, Annabel Crabb, Miranda Devine, Andrew Bolt or Peter Hartcher, neither Scuderia Fairfax or Team News Corp is likely to hire you. The ABC might, provided you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao or Margaret Thatcher as the corporation lurches from left to right whilst being yelled at by Team News Corp.

I was reminded of the view that the country has of the east coast Twitterati again over the weekend when I was sent some lovely abuse on Twitter. Australia unlike the United States doesn't really have the two echo chambers where the two side of politics self-affirm that they are right and the opposition is the enemy; instead we have #AusPol where both sides constantly yell at each other from the safety of lounge chairs. #AusPol is like two mad uncles roaring at each other in the attic and occasionally the odd axe gets thrown around. #AusPol apart from being the fastest political news source in the country, is also a 24-hour flame war - flame wars are great. They keep you warm at night.
Anyway apart from being labelled something distinctly Saxon in nature, I was accused of being part of the east coast Twitterati set: that mythical group of people sitting around in cafés sipping lattes and/or European beers with umlauts and lightning bolts in the letters of their name.
The truth is that I live so far in the western suburbs that I can literally see the Blue Mountains from the local railway station. Even 20 years ago, the members on the electoral roll out here would have included a few hundred cows (having won the franchise in the Bovine Electoral Act 1924) and a dog named Kevin (who votes National because he likes Barnaby Joyce's policy to keep out Pistol and Boo). The. Chinese restaurants out here still have faux 1970s wood panelling on the walls and spaghetti still mostly comes in cans.
No one who writes for either the Daily Telegraph or the Sydney Morning Herald would likely be able to find my suburb within five miles except for maybe Mark Latham who is as mad as a cut snake and probably still thinks that Paul Keating is still Prime Minister.

I suspect through that if one of the duumvirate of newspaper groups were to offer me a packet of money to write for them, I probably would accept it and maybe even move east. I don't think I'd move very far east though, maybe as far as Harris Park; good luck if the east coast Twitterati can find that on a map. If you can, there's a shiny shilling in it for you.

*This fact is made up. It might be entirely possible by now that the cinemas in Canberra now have Minions on a perpetual loop.
**So secret that these were also made up and don't actually exist.

September 21, 2015

Horse 1987 - F1: Vettel Paints The Town Red (Round 6)

Before the race even began, rumours began floating around that the bitter divorce of Red Bull and Renault was finally coming to fruition. In Monza, after Mercedes had spent all of their "development tokens" and came out with their B spec car for 2015, the Red Bulls looked even more inadequate and down on power than before.
Red Bull announced that they and Toro Rosso were going to but Ferrari customer engines in 2016 and 2017 and that the Volkswagen-Audi Group had preliminary contracts in place to buy the team. If this were to happen, they would keep the Red Bull sponsorship but as yet the name of the team has not been announced. If this does come to pass, then I rather hope to see the name Auto Union revived. Renault in the meantime have tabled plans to buy Lotus outright again.
The other rumours which are out there include the new Haas F1 team putting out feelers to procure the services of Romain Grosjean and Sergio Perez when they arrive in 2016. Haas intends also to be a customer of Ferrari engines but I haven't as yet found any solid announcements which confirm this.

The nature of the concrete lined street circuit in Singapore is such that it tends not to produce interesting races. The very longest straights are still quite short and the braking areas at the end of them tend not to be large enough to allow drivers to dive under each other. The grand prix at Singapore tends to be processional and this year's race was no exception.

Owing to the fact that the straights are so short, the Singapore circuit tends not to be a power circuit and so the driveability of the chassis come into play. In qualifying, Hamilton and Rosberg found themselves behind both sets of Ferraris and Red Bulls with Vettel, Riccardo, Raikkonen and Kvyat all ahead of them.
McLaren appeared to have found something new from their cars with Alonso and Button appearing in Q2 for the first time this season and qualifying in 12th and 15th respectively.

Apart from one of the Toro Rossos bogging down at the start, the order remained as was until the first round of pitstops when on lap 10 Grosjean came in, then Alonso, Sainz, Nasr, Maldonado on lap 11, Hulkenburg on lap 12 and Kvyat and Massa on lap 13.
When Massa exited the pits on lap 13, the almost unsighted Hulkenburg who thought that he had enough space to easily turn in on Massa at turn 3, found that he didn't and was hit in the rear left by Massa who had nowhere to go. Hulkenburg was sent backwards into the wall and later given a three position penalty at Suzuka (which for the purposes of this blog is a non-championship round because it will not be shown live on free-to-air television in Australia) and Massa would eventually retire on lap 31 with differential issue resulting from the collision.

Felipe driving by. 
Felipe driving by.
Felipe driving by until he's hit by a Force India.
- Nico Hulkenburg does not want to wish Felipe Massa a Merry Christmas from the bottom of his heart.

Danill Kvyat who must be the unluckiest driver of the grand prix, pitted on lap 13 before the incident occured and would suffer a similar fate later in the race, fell back to 6th when on lap 14 Vettel, Riccardo, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Rosberg all pitted under the safety car.
On lap 19 when the debris had been cleared it was all systems normal and Vettel began to ctrol the pace in front of Riccardo and Raikkonen; maintaining a pace which saw all three of them covered by less than 3 seconds for the next twenty laps or so.

On lap 27, Lewis Hamilton complained loudly that he had a loss of power and began a slide down the order with Rosberg, Kvyat, Bottas, Perez, Nasr, Alonso, Button, Massa, Verstappen, Grosjean, Maldonado, Eriksson, Sainz and Formula One debutant Alexander Rossi in the Marussia making his very first overtake for position all passing the ailing Hamilton. Hamilton's day finally came to a sorry end on lap 34.
Maldonado came in for a second set of tyres on lap 28; Eriksson and Sainz did likewise on lap 29 and there was a short break until Perez and Nasr both came in on lap 35.

On lap 36 the end of the race started to take shape as Perez passed Grosjean by threading the needle underneath one the grandstand complexes and Button who had stayed out enjoyed the dizzying heights of 6th place before Kvyat reasserted the position.
On lap 37, Verstappen joined the club of the unlucky when he pitted from 14th and a safety car was called after a spectator somehow made their way onto the circuit.
Vettel, Riccardo, Raikkonen, Rosberg and Bottas all changed tyres and with that, that phase of the race was over.

On lap 41 when racing was resumed, Jensen Button ran into the back of the hapless Maldonado who appeared to break the rule of trust that Formula One drivers have that once you exit a corner, you accelerate out of it. It could have been a mechanical issue on the part of Maldonado though.

Sainz out drove Nasr on lap 41 and both he and Verstappen fought past Maldonado a lap later. Four laps later Verstappen and Sainz made short work of Grosjean, with Verstappen's job being made easier when Grosjean out braked himself on lap 47 and ran out of room.
On lap 53, Button ran out of gears when his gearbox decided to become a box of yuks and refused to work any longer.

Nasr and Eriksson both found their way past Maldonado who dropped to 13th on lap 56 and Nasr made his way past Grosjean on lap 60.
On the final lap of the race, Grosjean pulled the car into the pits with a problem and did not finish and Toro Rosso asked 17 year old Max Verstappen to stand aside and let Sainz through for 8th.  In a display of teenage petulance, Verstappen emphatically refused to with a very loud "No!" across the radio. One wonders what, if any action, Toro Rosso will take.

Apart from Hamilton who did not finish and Kvyat who lost two spots, the top positions remained unchanged for all 61 laps. Vettel won pole position, led every lap and won the race and would have ended up with perfection except that Riccardo stole away the fastest lap.

Vettel's performance was stellar and one wonders if the tide has turned albeit too late, or whether this is just a blip in Mercedes silver steamroller. The heat from following behind cars isn't something which the Mercedes have been tested in much this year; maybe they are a little bit fragile. Rosberg's performance in fourth would tend to deny this though.

Race Results:
1. Vettel - Ferrari
2. Riccardo - Red Bull
3. Raikkonen - Ferrari
4. Rosberg - Mercedes
5. Bottas - Williams-Mercedes
6. Kyvat - Red Bull

"The John Logie Baird Television Was Better in 1984 Memorial Cup" at the end of Round 6 in Singapore looks like this:

Race Results:
1. Vettel - Ferrari
2. Riccardo - Red Bull
3. Raikkonen - Ferrari
4. Rosberg - Mercedes
5. Bottas - Williams-Mercedes
6. Kyvat - Red Bull

"The John Logie Baird Television Was Better in 1984 Memorial Cup" at the end of Round 6 at Singapore looks like this:

"The John Logie Baird Television Was Better in 1984 Memorial Cup" at the end of Round 6 in Singapore looks like this:

37 Hamilton
37 Rosberg
24 Vettel
8 Massa
11 Riccardo
11 Raikkonen
7 Kyvat
7 Bottas
4 Grosjean
2 Perez
2 Nasr
1 Hulkenburg

The Constructor's Championship is thus:

74 Mercedes
35 Ferrari
17 Red Bull
15 Williams
4 Lotus
3 Force India
2 Sauber

September 19, 2015

Horse 1986 - Between Corporations and Socialism

With the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the leader of the British Labour Party and his decidedly leftist leanings, cries shot up from all over the land about collectivism and socialism, either there being too much or not enough, with calls for Corbyn and the Labour Party to renationalise industries to fears that Corbyn intends to renationalise industries.

One of the most strident articles which I saw come out against socialism was this piece in the Independent. One line in particular, I found particularly amusing:
Personally I couldn’t disagree more with Corbyn’s economic policies. I am an unrepentant free market fundamentalist with an unapologetic contempt for socialism in all its varieties. 
- Kristian Niemietz, The Independent, 18th Sep 2015.¹

Let's take this on face value and say that Dr Niemietz means exactly as he says; that he has "an unapologetic contempt for socialism in all its varieties". Presumably he opposes all public roads, hospitals, schools, the police, the fire service, the judiciary, public broadcasting, the defence forces, he hates national parks and would prefer that democracy is dismantled and return to a system akin to that before the franchise was extended to normal people and that the government should be run by those who have the most money.²
That's what an unrepentant free market fundamentalist should be in favour of and anything less than an all out plutocracy he has an unapologetic contempt for.

There is a problem though. So called free market fundamentalist have one very big blind spot that they will not admit to. Socialists advocate a collective means of ownership or control over production and economic management. When you think about the free market though, the biggest players in the market place are not individuals but corporations. A corporation by definition is a collective means of ownership or control over production and economic management of something. Even the word corporation is derived the Latin word "corpus", which means a "body". It's exactly the same root where we derive the word "corpse" from, which is also a body albeit a dead one.

The first company to issue stock was the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) or the United East Indian Company (founded 1602) which is usually referred to in English as the Dutch East India Company to distinguish it from the British Empire's own East India Company (founded 1600).
I should point out that following the great wave of bubbles which saw the passing of the British Bubble Act 1720 and which remained in force until 1825, basically saw the end of the first generation of companies and it was until the Joint Stock Companies Act 1844 that the idea the modern corporation arrived.

In context, it was mainly the rise of the railways (particularly in the United States) and the invention of easily produced steel which launched the Industrial Revolution proper and saw business massively outgrow the abilities of a single individual to raise sufficient capital which investments in machinery required.
Truth be told that corporations which now extend beyond national borders, often think themselves beyond the confines of law, even though they may sometimes generate massive negative externalities such as pollution and disregard for labour conditions, they are generally efficient because if they are not, they find themselves suffering a spontaneous massive existence failure.

Adam Smith in his 1776 work "The Wealth of Nations" had something quite scathing to say about companies and corporations and which looks like it could have been written during the height of the Global Finanical Crisis of 2008. One immediately thinks of the recklessness of investment bankers who suddenly cried to the public purse when their plans all exploded in their face and the rank hypocrisy when bailed out, gave bonuses to their own kith:

The directors of such companies, however, being the managers rather of other people's money than of their own, it cannot well be expected that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which the partners in a private co-partnery frequently watch over their own. Like the stewards of a rich man, they are apt to consider attention to small matters as not for their master's honour, and very easily give themselves a dispensation from having it. Negligence and profusion, therefore, must always prevail, more or less, in the management of the affairs of such a company.
- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776

One one hand Dr Niemietz has a contempt for socialism in all its varieties, when socialism is a collectivist means of ownership. One the other hand Dr Niemietz as an unrepentant free market fundamentalist probably also approves of corporations, when the corporation itself is also a collectivist means of ownership.

It's interesting to look at the descriptions applied to corporations throughout the world. They tell a rather pointed story.

In Australia we have two descriptions:
- Pty Ltd - Proprietary Limited
- Ltd - Limited
Proprietary is one of those delightfully archaic word which means "ownership". In this case, the proprietorship and the liability that someone can be held to, is limited to just the shares that a person owns. Note that Proprietary is different to propriety, which is moral rightness; even though they both stem from the same French root from which we get the word "property". Proprietary Limited companies and indeed Limited companies often fail to show any propriety in their business.

In the UK the terms almost seem to be exactly backwards to that of Australia with:
- Ltd - Limited
- plc - Public Limited Company
A Limited company is Australia is one that people in the general public can buy shares in but in the UK, they may not and so the distinction has to be made.

Canada is a little bit more discrete:
- Pte Ltd - Private Limited
- Ltd - Limited
A Private Limited company implies that the shares are not for sale to the general public. This might also imply a shadowy refusal to show responsibility to the general public as well.

In Germany the labels are typically German in that they are functional and straightforward:
- GmbH: Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung - Company with limited Liability
- AG: Aktiengesellschaft - Shares Company

The names that France applies to corporations definitively makes them sound shadowy and secretive:
- S.A.: Société Anonyme - Anonymous Society

In Italy the names for corporations gives them a sort of semi-superhero sort of feel to them:
- S.p.A.: Società per Azioni, - Company for Actions

If you look over those words such as "private", "anonymous" and "limited" in connection with proprietary, I wonder if this has shaped the mentality that corporations often adopt.

The original Clause Four of the Labour Party's constitution read:
To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
Those words of common, popular, equitable, seem to me to be generally good things for society. I also like the idea that things like roads, hospitals, schools, the police, the fire service, the judiciary, public broadcasting, the defence forces, national parks, electric, water, gas, railways etc are owned by the general public.

I will concede that socialism is nominally less efficient than free markets with the allocation of goods and services in some areas but in other areas it is demonstrably better. One only needs to look at the costs of health care in the US as compared to Britain to notice that, or to look at the price of a railway ticket in Britain as compared to France to notice that same thing.

It was Margaret Thatcher who famously said that "The trouble with Socialism is: sooner or later, you run out of other people's money". The sentiment here is that people in charge of others' money do not exercise as much care with other people's money as they do their own. The thing is though, that private, anonymous corporations tend to act in ways which are not equitable; they also act by being in charge of other people's money.
Socialism which is collectivist, implies that most elusive of terms, a Commonwealth.

²Actually I'm pretty sure that this is the case, given that Dr Niemietz is a member of the Institute of Economic Affairs, which is a free market think tank like our own IPA.

September 18, 2015

Horse 1985 - On My Thalassophobia And Aquaphobia

Even though I live on the wrong side of the world, one of the things I like to do before I close my eyes is listen to the 0048 Shipping Forecast from BBC Radio 4 (see Horse 1898; also the Shipping Forecast on the BBC website). This is despite the fact that I really really really hate the sea.
That "big blue wobbly thing that mermaids live in" and which covers about 71% of the earth's surface, is a nice place that's out there somewhere; so long as it stays there. As far as I'm concerned, the sea is a horrible place, which is full of bitey things and stingy things and the sea itself is trying to kill you by drowning you.
The sea as far as I'm concerned, can take a flying leap and jump in itself. "Get in the sea!" I say to the sea. The sea isn't a lone culprit though. The sea would be fine it if were made out of rocks. I think that I would quite like to go to the Sea Of Tranquility and drive around in (on?) it for a bit. No. The reason that I hate the sea is because the sea is made out of water and water drowns people; specifically me.

In my slightly more than three and a half decades upon this planet, I have travelled in aircraft which are no safer than a packet of chewing gum with wings, fractured bones, had surgery on tendons, been punched in the face, been involved in motor accidents, struck by lightning, been in hostile countries that have questioned my passport and have been ill enough that I thought my skin was creeping. I have worked for government agencies, banks, a furniture factory, an abattoir, the courts, the military, the police as well as private enterprise. I would be perfectly happy to jump out of a working plane and I have stood in places that the public is not normally allowed to go, including on top of the sails at the Sydney Opera House. My tolerance for pain is above average; my ability to cope with stress is also I think, above average.
Yet the two things which I can not do, is bear the sight of blood and I can not swim.

One of the benefits about working at Australia's Wonderland (which was a defunct theme park in Sydney's west which has long since been replaced with an industrial estate) was that after I'd spent hours walking around as Yogi Bear or Huckleberry Hound, I could go on all the rides I wanted to for free. Big roller coasters such as the Bush Beast or the Demon were fine, as were the rides which were designed to make you spray your lunch all over the inside of them, like the flip over upside down pirate ship ride or the whirl 'til you hurl Tasmanian Devil or Funnel Web. I could not stand to go on many of the water rides though, for fear of drowning.

One fateful day in December, which is traditionally the month in which people in Australia start hurling themselves into the sea at every opportunity because the temperatures rise into the mid 500s and everything and everyone slowly melts into oblivion, I decided to take a ride on a ride called "The Mountain Cascades"; which was basically a quarter mile of water slide with giant inner tubes in.
The ride lasted about 40 seconds and whilst gravity drew me down the cascades as a passenger, I was happy enough but as soon as I reached the end, I was unceremoniously dumped into a pool of water. Of course most people queue up to see pictures of themselves being flung into the air before they hit the water, but because I couldn't swim and still can't to this day, I did my best impression of a six foot rolled up carpet being dumped into a river. I might remember someone yelling at me but I don't know if that was because they were yelling at me to get out of the water so that the next rider wouldn't hit me, or because they were yelling at me on the side of the pool because they were waiting for me to regain consciousness.
In short, I hate water park rides, I hate public pools, I have a severe dislike of people's pools in their backyard, I hate creeks, rivers and the ocean. Don't expect me to have a nice time at the beach either. An appropriately safe distance for me to be from the water's edge is about three miles and in the Rose, Crown & Thistle with a copy of the newspaper and depending on the time of day, with either a long black coffee or a tall black stout.

Despite various attempts in both primary and high school by well meaning teachers, I could not be taught how to swim. Personally I think that this is because I was scientifically bred over fifty generations to live in a land of eternal rain and exquisite complaining but through historical accident, I've ended up in a land which has been hidden in the summer for a million years.
I could have died on the fields of Culloden, been gassed on the Western Front, or I would have even accepted to be instantly vapourised by an atomic bomb, over spending a week at the beach. The very thought, I find irksome.

I completely understand the type of terror that people being waterboarded must feel. Having almost drowned on the odd occasion myself, I think I kind of have an inkling of what that must be like. Of course, now that you know this and you happen to be from a terrorist organisation who is intent on extracting information from me, please know in advance that I am a total wuss and if being waterboarded, I would confess to everything that everyone in the world has ever done. I'd instantly rat everyone out, I'd divulge every official secret that I knew but they would be useless because you'd have no way of knowing what the truth was because I'd be rambling like a total madman.

FDR said in his Inaugural address upon becoming President of the United States in 1933 that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance" and whilst that's mostly true, there are lots of rational and irrational things to be afraid of. In my case, it just happens to be the fear of drowning and I think that although it is quite a lot neurotic, I don't mind. In 99.9% of my life, it's a non-event.

My dislike of blood though. That's not so much a fear but a violent psychosomatic reaction. Seeing blood just makes my colon want to twist itself into pieces and my stomach want to empty its contents on the floor in a hurry.