July 23, 2019

Horse 2575 - Doonside Station Needs A Lift But The Transport Minister Just Laughs Like A Knave

Ha ha ha, let's all laugh at all the people falling down the stairs.
...is the only real reason that I can think of, that despite repeated petitions to the NSW State Government, there are still no lifts at Doonside Station.

- Welcome to Doonside: Stuck In 1974.

It could be argued that because I have two perfectly good legs and am at a level of fitness which is at least fit for the purpose of playing football, that I have no need of a lift at Doonside Station. While that may be perfectly true, it is also reasonable to assume that one day, I will eventually be enfeebled to some degree, and that my current level of fitness and ease of movement in the world will not continue forever.
The Grim Reaper as a rule, moves at approximately 1 mile an hour¹; which means to say that when people become so enfeebled that they can no longer outrun him, he collects his harvest. However, most people's walking speed is between 2 and 4 miles an hour; and some people have mobility issues.

- How are you going to get down that in a wheelchair?

If you are old, or pregnant², or have a push chair or perambulator, or injured and are on crutches, or in a wheelchair, or nauseous and horky-borky-chucky-wucky³, then having proper lift access to buildings, railway stations, supermarkets, shopping centres et cetera, all become useful and indeed necessary. Even the way that we design roll kerbs, makes life easier for these people.

As a society, we really only became interested in looking at better access for people with mobility issues after the First World War, when people who had served their nation and had come back with serious injury now found that they couldn't access places. That ongoing fight extended well into the twentieth century and was/is still ongoing in my lifetime.

If you are in a wheelchair, then getting up a 200mm kerb may as well be like trying to get to Mars for all the good it does you. Yes, there have been people of limited mobility who have achieved some amazing things and ascended mountains but the way that we design public spaces shouldn't mean that they need to every time that they want to get on a train. You shouldn't need mountaineering skills to go up and down Mount Doonside Station.

- Keep Left On Stairs and Ramps? But there aren't any ramps down to the platform.

- Maybe kiddies in prams will think falling down the stairs is a fun ride?

The thing is though, that things like lift access, ramps, and roll kerbs, are all non-competitive pieces of public infrastructure and design. The provision of these things is not a disadvantage to everyone who does not need them but rather, an advantage for those moments of edge cases.
Completely able bodied people, who might be carrying goods, moving a bicycle, who are tired, or even who are just plain lazy, also benefit from the provision of lift access, ramps, and roll kerbs.
Given that there is no disadvantage to provide access to infrastructure and that there are benefits to everyone for doing so, then not doing so (repeatedly, I should add), is either apathy or malevolence.

- There are no people in this photo. Is it because people don't use something that they can't use?

It should also be so obvious that it does not need to be stated, that peoples' circumstances change. People generally get old. Some people get pregnant². Some people will suffer life changing injury. To assume that the provision of these pieces of public infrastructure is only for people who currently are in need of them, is the height of arrogance and denial of fact. 
It should also be so obvious that it does not need to be stated, that the non-provision these pieces of public infrastructure, makes life more difficult for the people who rely on them. In the case of Doonside Station, which doesn't have lift access to the platforms, then for people whose mobility is limited, then in some instances this is like the outright denial of service of the railway station. If a railway line is built for the purpose of moving people from one place to another and people do not have access to the railway station by dint of mobility issues, then the railway line has for them, failed at its reason for existence.

- Maybe someone in a wheelchair could try jumping down?

The reason why I write this post in particular, is to shame and ridicule the NSW Transport Minister into action. From what I can gather, some kind of petition has been made by the people of Doonside (on a repeat basis) for a lift since 1994. That means to say that if there were old people who needed access to Doonside Station when the campaign started, then they have in all likelihood died and been replaced by new old people.

- Nope. They would have missed that train.

As this started in 1994, which was 25 years ago, that also means that this is a bipartisan case of either laziness or stupidity. Of course I could be too generous in my estimation and this could be a genuine case of knavery on the part of the Transport Ministers on both sides of the political divide, which might be a reasonable thing to assume given that the people who we pay to govern us, might not necessarily be aware of the existence of anything outside Macquarie Street. Since they know not of the existence of the people of Doonside, and since they do not empathise with their mobility issues⁴, they do not care. Certainly based upon the evidence of the current Transport Minister Andrew Constance, that appears to be the case. Former Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, is aware of the world beyond Macquarie Street because pointing at railway stations affords her with the pleasurable gifts of fame and glory from photo opportunities. I of course note the completely not in any way shape or form non-partisan and certainly non-pork barrel fact that the new Northwest Metro just happens to end in Ms Berejiklian's constituency.

- And even it you were in a wheelchair, you're still not going to fit through that thing.

I therefore submit in evidence, photographs of the current situation at Doonside Station. I hope that as you look at them, you cackle and guffaw to yourself in the manner of a pantomime villain; because I can only assume that for the last 25 years, this has been the attitude of the Ministers for Transport. Think about how delicious it must be for the Transport Minister to laugh as old people, pregnant ladies, people with push chairs and perambulators, people in wheelchairs, people on crutches, the injured, the sick, and even the lazy, are exasperated yet again by the lack of action.

Of course this could all be so easily solved if the Transport Minister Andrew Constance actually bothered to care one iota. Until then, I will point my pointy finger of shame and give him a very hard stare. 

¹The Metric system is not in use in Hell. They still use the Imperial system, for the sole purpose of making the underworld as difficult as possible.
²Or even Gregnant: that is, pregnant with a child named Greg.
³Please wait until you have exited the lift. Horky-borky-upchuck in a lift is unpleasant.
⁴They themselves being in receipt of government car provision and therefore have no need of public transport.

July 20, 2019

Horse 2574 - Apollo: Why The Colossal Waste Of Time And Money Was Totally Worth It

I know a number of people who think that going to the moon was a colossal waste of time and money, when that effort could have been better put towards things like health care, education and whatnot. To be fair, I completely understand the sentiment because it demonstrates a practical outworking of the economic concept of 'opportunity cost'; that is, what was foregone in order to make the thing in question work. When you look at the ongoing issues that exist in the United States, of which the most obvious are health care, education, housing, and poverty, then to ascribe blame to the whole moon program as being an opportunity cost, is both sensible and rational.
The thing is though, while I understand the sentiment, I flat out reject it; and will cite the ongoing permanent opportunity cost which the United States has decided to impose upon itself and which President Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address - the creeping tide of the Military-Industrial-Complex. Set against that light, going to the moon becomes a far more sensible case, precisely because of the stupidity of the whole program.
To understand my position on this, we need to look back at the circumstances which not only created it but another more deadly opportunity cost which was foregone.

Imagine for a second that you are the Soviet Union. Humans are egocentric pattern seeking machines and so as you are watching the Allies close in on Europe and trying to work out the details of what will be the impending peace, the world is still in tension and unease.
Imagine then after securing peace in Europe, your attention then attends to the ongoing conflict in the theatre of the Pacific. The United States, wanting to put a swift end to the war, drops two extinction devices upon Hiroshima and then Nagasaki; upon what is essentially civilian populations.
If you are the Soviet Union, your intent would be to set up an Iron Curtain as quickly as possible, because the other lot not only have the ability to wipe out entire cities in ten minutes but have actually done so, twice. They then have the temerity to paint you as the bad guy.
It then makes complete sense to want to develop your own nuclear weapons program, if for no other reason than to act as a deterrent to having your own cities destroyed in ten minutes.

Then imagine that you are the United States; who after seeing what Churchill called the Iron Curtain descending across Europe, and looking at them develop nuclear weapons; which you know are going to work because both you and they derived the technology from the common source of the Nazis, and then consider what happens when they start flinging things into space.
Before you're even ready to put a man in space, they've sent up several, including people of colour and some women, which just rials up your situation at home while you're struggling with domestic issues like civil rights.
They have the potential to destroy your cities in ten minutes; so you had better get the potential to destroy their cities in ten minutes, just to even up the score.
Thus, as far as rocketry and nuclear weapons are concerned, the 1940s, 50s and the opening portion of the 1960s are a rational and logical arms race, where the principle of mutually assured destruction, although potentially dangerous and deadly, is locking in the two superpowers of the day, in a geopolitical dance of insanity and mistrust.

Kennedy's call to put a man on the moon before the decade was out, came after one of the scariest incidents in the history of the twentieth century. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, we can thank the refusal to act by a Russian submarine captain, after his nuclear missile equipped submarine was fired upon from the air. Had he retaliated with his nuclear weapons, then we would have seen that scenario of mutually assured destruction play out according to steps of the geopolitical dance.
In that light, Kennedy's charge to spend an obscene amount of money, to do an as yet technically impossible thing, should be seen as a distraction and diversionary tactic. By channeling the efforts and energy of two superpowers into a stupid project, Kennedy's plan was to take heed of the words of Eisenhower before him, and engage the exact same gears of the Military-Industrial-Complex in a task that wasn't the business of death. It was companies like McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, General Dynamics, Rohr, Goodrich, etc. who instead of making warplanes and missiles, were still making missiles but with blokes attached. Instead of flinging warplanes and missiles at each other, they flung them into space and the moon.

There was a certain kind of wonderful and inspiring collective insanity going on then, fueled in part by fear of the spacefaring and technological prowess of the Soviets; also fueled in part by the United States' own crapulence and hubris.
This whole thing was a glorious make work exercise, which was justifiable given that two world powers who were locked in a dance with nuclear weapons, both had the potential to destroy millions of people in ten minutes.
Remember, it was America who actually used nuclear weapons in war; so to accuse to the Soviets of being paranoid given that America had already used them in anger is to miss the mark.

Spending $20 billion to put a dozen clowns on the moon, in an act of flag waving, to prevent the loss of millions of lives, seems like a worthy expense to me. By the time I was born, the United States had stopped going to the moon. What was the point? The Soviet Union had by that stage, begun its inevitable slide to non-existence, and unless you include the idiocy of the Vietnam War, then the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States cost zero lives in direct nuclear conflict.
I think that that squares the ledger nicely. The fifty years since Armstrong kicked the moon, have showed a steely determination by the United States to steadfastly refuse to address the issues of health care, education, housing, poverty, etc. Of course the argument that spending so much money on the Military-Industrial-Complex still stands but as those issues seem to be more or less permanently ongoing, then it's difficult to suggest that not going to the moon would have made even an iota of difference.

I personally rather like the residual side effects of the Space Race, such as Wi-Fi, plastics, prosthetics, fly by wire, remote control systems, as well as a host of other medical technologies developed as a result of working out how to keep humans alive in the vacuum of space.
It has been said that for every dollar spent on sending twelve clowns to the moon, it multiplied four more in GDP. Meanwhile, spending lives, hardware and money in the concurrent job of fighting a war in Vietnam, has probably had no real benefits to speak of fifty years later.
What was the opportunity cost of that?

July 19, 2019

Horse 2573 - Das Boot

"My boots are in the trunk in the boot."
...was something that a client of ours said to her partner, on Wednesday.

This highlights one of the confusing things about the English language; namely that the same word means different things and the same thing can be called different words in different countries.

If this was in America, then the sentence could have been rendered as:
"My boots are in the trunk in the trunk."

Of course the word 'trunk' in addition to meaning that luggage compartment at the back of your car, as well as a portable sturdy luggage compartment, also means the base of a tree, as well as any centralised system with many branches shooting off; as well as the fleshy hose nose of an elephant.

If you were an actor type thesp, playing a pantomime elephant in a production of 'Dick Whittington' (the second most famous Mayor of London), then you might say:
"My trunk is in the trunk in the trunk."; which is equally plausible both in the wings of the theatre as well as in the actual dialogue of the pantomime¹.

That same pantomime elephant costume might have a boot on the end of its trunk like a kind of puppet:
"There's a boot on the trunk in the trunk in the trunk." or,
"There's a boot on the trunk in the trunk in the boot."

With sentences like that, you actively start to build the lyrics for a music hall type standard; which is probably justified given that you were already an actor type thesp.

If you don't happen to have a trunk in the boot, then having a trunk in the boot might indicate that you are not an actor type thesp but a wildlife smuggler; which apart from the morality of it being quite illegal, is actually quite impressive.

"Putting a boot in the boot" though, is not syntactically all that confusing at all. "Putting a boot in the boot in the boot" means that you are pretty angry with your boot, if you want to kick it².

Perhaps less confusing is that part of the car up front, where all of the enginey things are. This is the part of the car which blokes will open, purely to look at, as of to show that they know things about motor cars; when in reality all they know is the location of the enginey things.
Those enginey things live under the 'bonnet' or the 'hood'; which are both otherwise archaic bits of headwear which you will find on ladies. Just like a motor car, underneath the 'bonnet'or the 'hood' of a lady, are the enginey things which make her go. Blokes have even less idea of what goes on underneath the 'bonnet' or the 'hood' of a lady, because ladies have several layers of complexity going on that men simply do not understand. We do know that that is the location of the enginey things.

If you hear whining coming from underneath the 'bonnet' or 'hood' of either a motor car or a lady, something serious has gone wrong and this means that urgent attention is needed. Sometimes the whining might be caused by liquid hydrocarbon usage.
Likewise, if there is too much junk in the trunk of a motor car, you should probably think about a clean out. If you suggest that to a lady, you had best think about spending the night sleeping in your car.

¹It's behind you!³
²Can I kick it?⁴
³Oh no, it isn't!
⁴Yes you can.

July 18, 2019

Horse 2572 - Enforcing Insane House Rules

Can someone please explain a thing to me?

I was sent on an urgent mission to the offices of Apple, Banana, and Cherry Law¹, with a set of forensic accounting reports which we had written for them, and because the law firm was operating out of the front room of Apple's house, they made me take off my shoes.

I don't normally mind taking off my shoes when entering someone's house because as it is their house and therefore their tiny wee ickle kingdom, they get to make the rules. They might have come from a culture where that is the accepted standard, or they might be concerned about their shiny floors, or they might even be worried about getting bits in their carpets. On this occasion there was a really nice pillowy carpet and so it initially made perfect sense.
However, while I was there, a big happy stupid Golden Retriever who loves everyone, came bounding through the house as though the soundtrack to its life was the 'Spring' movement from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons', and because it had been both in the pool and bouncing around in the mud, it tracked in a heap of muddy footprints into the pillowy cream coloured carpet.
"She does that all the time," was the response to this.

My brain was shifting without using the clutch and internally, sparks were flying. Of course you have the right to make people take off their shoes when entering your house but if the supposed reason is cleanliness, when you have a big stupid Golden Retriever  who leaves far more muck than people who mostly have an aversion to messing up your house, the logic of it all not only shifts without a clutch but it drives head on into the twin lorries of hypocrisy and sense².

If you do want to enforce the rules of your own wee ickle kingdom then that's totally fine. The world outside the door is grubby and messy. In my office at work, I have to vacuum clean the place at least once a week because as someone who walks across a park ten times a week, I am personally responsible for tracking in bits of grass. You might live in a land where you have to walk across potato skins and pickled wieners and Spiderman comics, and of course you don't want the epic tales of people's magical mystery tours writ large on your carpets.
The second that you invite an agent of chaos like a Golden Retriever into your house though, I feel as though you have already ceded all claims to clean carpets and have automatically repealed the rules of your own wee ickle kingdom.

I love the thoughtfulness of a Japanese house, where the rules of taking your shoes off are enforced in pretty much every home, where they not only provide house slippers for you but they also demarcate the space of outside and where you are allowed to wear your shoes by making you step up into the house. It is like the official border crossing into your wee ickle kingdom.
On the other hand, my house has cats in it; so trying to enforce a rule of taking your shoes off would be the work of a fool. Cats³ not only do not care about tracking muddy footprints through the house, they leave muddy footprints around with rapturous abandon. I would advise you to leave your shoes on inside my house because it is simply not worth the bother to take them off.

It is possible that Apple just likes the power to enforce the rules of their kingdom. Again, as someone who has entered their house, I more or less have agreed to abide by the rules by virtue of having entered it. By the same token, enforcing rules for the sake of enforcing rules, is going to make me question either your sanity or make me judge your character. To that end, I actually kind of also understand that a legal firm might want to project that they are a stickler for the rules as quite literally legal wrangling is their stock and trade.
The more likely story though, given what I know about Apple, is that the reason why they entered law was because they liked the power kick that comes from enforcing the rules. "I'm the boss; I'm the king. I'm the one who runs everything," is actually pretty fun if your into that sort of thing; and at least in my experience of being around and adjacent to the legal profession for not quite two decades, there are an awful lot of lawyers who really like to do lawyering.

¹Not their real name because I don't want to do any advertising for them; so in the grand tradition of law and accounting,I picked an ABC type name. I also violated my promise to the people of Banana, Queensland.
²The usual goods shipped by this mental haulage company are Ă‘onsense, Over-Analysis, and Ennui.
³The nation of cats is one where everyone both wants to be the monarch and everyone thinks that they are. Cat Law is very confusing.
⁴Grab your Legal Precedents and don your Powdered Wig, it's time for "Ordinary Man: The Man On The Clapham Omnibus"

July 17, 2019

Horse 2571 - I Am Sorry, Banana

It isn't very often when I compose one of these things that the thing that I have to trawl through for references in my own work. In this case though not is the thing my own work but I'm having to do a word count through more than 2.5 million words. The word that I am looking for is "Banana"; which on the face of it sounds like a daft task but the reasons will become apparent fairly quickly.

Almost certainly because I have spent so much time around the law, I have inadvertently picked up some of the quirks of the legal profession; one of those quirks is the use of the placeholder in my pieces. Placeholders are useful because they allow you to speak about a theoretical subject without actually offending anyone. You can absolutely rip into the placeholder if you like, with disdain for things like defamation and contempt, because there isn't actually a party at the other end who might come back to give you grief.
To that end I have used the name "Banana" some 47 times over these past 22 years as the placeholder for a town name, area, or electorate, as it sounds like a sufficiently silly name that no place would honestly be called Banana.

Imagine then my abject horror when I heard about this on the 8 o'clock news on ABC Radio.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-14/four-children-missing-drive-gracemere-central-queensland-to-nsw/11308268
Four children who allegedly drove a four-wheel-drive from central Queensland to NSW have been found safe in Grafton.
Police said a 14-year-old boy, two 13-year-old boys and a 10-year-old girl took a family member's car from Gracemere near Rockhampton on Saturday night, along with fishing rods and cash.
- ABC News, 15th Jul 2019

Okay, so the actual act of some kids going joyriding is nothing particularly remarkable other than it is really stupid, but the thing that really made me take notice was this line:
"The children allegedly were involved in a fuel-stealing incident at a service station in Banana early Sunday morning."

Wait, what? How can this possibly be? Who in their right mind would honestly call their town Banana?

My initial reaction to this was that there must have been a hideous mistake and that the copy writers for the article had (just like me) been using the word Banana as a placeholder and that somehow it had escaped into the final copy by accident.
After some brief checking, some ratting around on Google maps, and a search through the local council's website, I have had to come to the conclusion that not only is Banana a real place but it is also sufficiently small enough that I might actually be insulting people on an almost personal basis.
My other initial conclusion is that reality itself is broken because the name Banana as a town name is really daft. It is a real thing, but daft:

https://www.banana.qld.gov.au


Welcome to the Banana Hotel Motel

Legal professionals and accounting professionals love placeholder names where the subjects are A, B, and C. To that end, Alice, Bob, and Charlie, are used as placeholder names for individuals on a more than sensible basis, and Apple, Banana, and Cherry, are used for the placeholder names for corporate types. I am particularly fond of the name Banana High School in place of some government run high school and St Hubris for the private school. However, now that I know that Banana is a town in Queensland, I will be loathe to use that name in future. lest the people of the real world town of Banana come after me with pitchforks in some kind of mob justice vigilante scenario.

After some further ratting around on Google maps, I have come to the conclusion that Banana is so small that it doesn't even have half of the things that I might use as an example. I can find no evidence of a football ground, a local high school or primary school, nor a post office, nor a police station. There was a racecourse listed to the north of the town but I can not find much evidence that it is the site of many horse races.

I had hoped to find a local footy team called the Banana Bananas which were playing in an all yellow kit but that sadly does not exist. It would have been in that grand tradition of silly names for teams like the Macon Bacon, Montgomery Biscuits and the Savannah Bananas which are all genuine minor league baseball teams in America. I don't know why we haven't embraced the craziness in Australia, as I can see a team called the Bin Chickens being a thing.

To the people of Banana, Queensland: I am sorry. You will no longer be the subject of my taunts any more, even though with a name like Banana, you probably should have expected it. I shall have to find a new set of triple placeholders for names of the form ABC; to that end I will probably pick Bacon.

July 16, 2019

Horse 2570 - England Won The World Cup Because Of Law

Unless taught at birth, the game of cricket will remain as unfathomable as marine surgery, brain science, and rocket biology. The fact that it has only really been taken up in a big way by the former colonies of Britain, and wants to be taken up by countries like Afghanistan, Iceland, and the Netherlands, says to me that the learning curve for the game is hard and that the most important virtue needed for the game, patience, is also difficult to learn. Or perhaps alternatively, cricket was/is the unique vehicle for all the countries of the world to attack England in the most polite and genteel way possible.
The fact that England won the Cricket World Cup in the most remarkable and bizarre circumstances, can be stated but the whyfor is far far harder.

New Zealand who had come to the World Cup with no real chance of winning the tournament, somehow spent the entire thing remaining blissfully unaware of that. They were hard done by when reality conspired against them and a ball which struck the stumps then went on to the boundary; thus turning two into six runs, which also contributed to more runs for England.

Five Live on the BBC immediately after the match had an Indian chap rail against the result, as though crimes against humanity had been committed and when he asked how England could win a match despite being all out, it took someone to go back to the Laws Of The Game to explain what had happened and why.

At the end of New Zealand's 50 overs they had set a score of 241-8 for England to chase down. England were all out for 241 and herein lies the crux of the matter.
Law 18 says:

https://www.lords.org/mcc/laws/scoring-runs
18.1 A run
The score shall be reckoned by runs.

As far as I know, this was codified oh so very long ago. I would wager that apart from Law 42 which has been tinkered with, most of the Laws Of Cricket have remained intact since before 1877 and this is no exception.

If the score shall be reckoned by runs, then the number of wickets which have fallen is irrelevant. This also explains my ongoing annoyance with the way that the score is displayed in Australia, which I blame Channel 9 for, where the wickets are placed first. The score is not 8/241 because unless you intend to lose wickets (which is a daft prospect) then everyone in the world will admit that people are trying to score runs. Perhaps a bowler can claim bowling stats of 8/241 but I would suggest that they have been bowling for an incredibly long amount of time. 241 is the score; for the loss of 8 wickets, or in the case of England, all ten.

When it came to calculating the results of the World Cup Final, the number of runs scored in both the 50 overs allotted and the super overs, was identical. It therefore made sense that if the score is reckoned by runs as per Law 18, that a count back of the number of boundaries is sensible as that is still reckoning the score by runs. The fact that you have a cigarette paper to separate the two sides is pretty heart breaking if you happen to be on the losing side but it is not like this is a new rule.

There have in fact been 25 One Day Internationals which have been tied, and there have even been a couple of tied Test Matches. In all of those circumstances, the results were tied because the matches were reckoned by runs as per Law 18.

I think that this is one of cricket's most endearing qualities. It is daft that the game is taken so seriously, when you consider that it started out before time immemorial with a bunch of farmers standing around in a field. A Test Match taps into that sense of eternity at times and people will want to disparage the game by saying that it is boring and takes to long but that is part of the charm. I like that you have umpires who stand around in white, like judges who interpret the law, as that also tells us that the rule of law is precious and bigger than the protagonists.
Cricket is a glimpse into eternity, bound by almost arbitrary laws that are practically immutable, and played according to the Spirit of the Game.

I suppose that the Captains could have come together and declared that the match was a tie, which would have been above the Law and acting according to the higher Spirit of the Game but they did not. When you have two teams who are so closely matched and the thing which separated them wasn't cheating, or underhandedness, but the operation of the Laws Of The Game, then that just adds to the story and the unfathomability of the game. The game of cricket benefits by remaining as unfathomable as marine surgery, brain science, and rocket biology, as not even its own laws can tie it down.

July 11, 2019

Horse 2569 - Pray Harder And The Taste Of Banana Might Go Away

If you go to Coles and wander down the confectionary aisle, you can buy a packet of banana lollies for $1. Rest assured, although they look like little bananas, and are even made with the same ester which is chemically identical to that in bananas, the list of ingredients tells us that they contain 83.2g of sugar per 100g and absolutely zero actual banana. A prolonged diet of these, would most likely give you a free case of diabetes and rot your teeth away; which would be fine if you don't mind getting diabetes and having no teeth.
Likewise, I have consistently found over the years, that Hillsong Church, is like the banana lollies of Christianity. They look like a big church and even flavour what they have to say with some nice words that make them sort of taste of Christianity, but they mostly contain sugar and prolonged diet of Hillsong is likely to give you a free case of diabetes and rot your teeth away. In doing research for this post, I decided to listen to a sermon on Hillsong's YouTube channel and as expected, I found that yet again, I heard an "inspiring message" which contained lots of lovely tasting words but no bible references. I mean, I guess that the aim of Hillsong is to inspire people and to lift them up emotionally, and I supposed that this does sort of anethestise the general feelings of helplessness and anxiety that people might have in an ever confusing and chaotic world but I'm just not sure if that is actually worship of the living God.
To all those people not of faith who happen to be reading this, I am sure that you've arrived at your conclusions rationally and openly see these banana lollies for what they are. We have different views of the world, but I'm sure that we can play along nicely together for a bit.

It is not often that I comment on Hillsong's stuff (notwithstanding the fact that I find what they have to say rather unpalatable) but the appearance of the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, at Hillsong Conference 2019 at the Qudos Bank Arena, sort of made me cringe a little.

Here is a video of that:


I mean, you can pray for people with mental health, veterans, people with disabilities, and families but if you actively cut their services, then what's the point.
I note that what is absent, are any prayers for the alien and the foreigner; who have come seeking asylum, and in many cases fleeing their countries in fear of their lives; presumably because that would mean that he as Prime Minister would have to confront both the actions of the government of which he is the leader of and the actions of the department which he was the head of.
I just don't know how with a clear conscience, you can pray for the nation at a public event like the Hillsong Conference, while at the same time be utterly complicit in multiple human rights breache, and not only that, enshrine them in policy. How you can stand and receive the adulation of people who purport to espouse a set of beliefs, while on the other hand actively abuse and oppress people who seek refuge in your country, is beyond me.

I know that I am instantly going to put many people off side by this but I have no problem whatsoever with the Prime Minister expressing his faith in a public event like this. Granted that I might be able to be shown that I have a hideously biased opinion here by virtue of being a Christian, but I equally have no problem with public expressions of faith by politicians of any religion or political persuasion. If my own Member of Parliament, Ed Husic, was to pray publicly in a mosque or masjid, and even if he did so on television, he would be acting in a private capacity as Ed Husic.
My problem with the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, praying publicly like this at Hillsong is precisely to do with the exercise of his faith, or rather the lack thereof, as Prime Minister. I know that Section 116 of the Constitution binds the parliament from making laws with respect to religion but it does not and should not preclude Members of Parliament enacting policy where the exercise of religion just happens to coincide with the Section 51 aims of peace, order, and good government. I really don't know why Mr Morrison expects God to act on the nation's behalf, when the nation is actively waging war against God's long standing concerns for vulnerable people. Mr Morrison himself is up to the eyeballs in that war.

One of the recurring themes of the Old Testament is that aliens and foreigners should be treated like respected guests. The Kingdom of Israel, which is the major object lesson of the Old Testament is frequently chastised for both being unfaithful to God and for being cruel to people. The story of the New Testament is mainly the opening of the new kingdom with Jesus as King, and his concerns and the concerns which should follow, have to do with how you should act but how you should love. Practical love in the New Testament actually involves radical hospitality, even to people who are supposedly your enemies.
The thing is that as a nation, refugees fleeing their homes and old country because it is just so awful, are hardly anyone's enemy, except as if the only metric through which you view people is reducing them to economic units of labour and/or consumption. To that end, Mr Morrison as the Minister for Home Affairs, declared open war on refugees and asylum seekers, and as Prime Minister of Australia, he continues the current mission of waging war against people of limited economic means.

Yet again I find myself looking at the words of Jesus' brother Jimmy.

"If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"
- James 2:16

I mean if you learn all the fancy words but never do anything to prove the case, does that do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? If it is reasonable to think that God exists, then it is also reasonable for him to act. If you refuse to act kindly, which is what we do as a nation to refugees, asylum seekers, the poor, people on welfare benefits, first peoples, and the elderly, then you can hardly expect to be treated kindly by God. There is a difference between fancy words and actually caring for people and God knows it.

Sure, you can pray for love all you like but as the Prime Minister you actually have quite a lot of power to turn that into policy. I don't care about nice feelings; I want to see action, and what I have seen from both sides of politics in this country is a very real commitment to withhold love from the vulnerable.
I note that earlier in the day that this was going on, Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer published a judgement excoriating the Federal Government after it failed to comply with a 14 June order to transfer a refugee with “serious medical and psychiatric issues” to Australia under the medevac laws. I also note that The Morrison Government has promised to repeal the medevac laws; so that it no longer has to care about providing adequate medical care to refugees and asylum seekers.
People forked over $369 to go to the Hillsong Conference and from where I sit, this looks for their $369 they got a packet of banana lollies; which everyone opened, got a sugar rush and a lovely taste of banana.

July 09, 2019

Horse 2568 - Equal Pay In Football: We're Done With The Question

The USA's demolition of all and sundry at the Women's World Cup has been, dare I say it, a joy to behold. Not only had they passed through the tournament undefeated but they had also never gone behind on the scoresheet, opened the account within the first fifteen minutes of every match except for the final, and included a shockingly impressive 13-0 thumping of Thailand.
With 57,000 people packed into the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, the final also looked like a world class event (because it was).

However, the spectacle on the pitch was to some degree of, mirrored by the spectacle taking place off of it. The Captain of the USWNT, Megan Rappinoe, declared that if they won the tournament that they would decline an invitation to the White House which caused a stir but the bigger issue was to do with the remuneration that the players are paid; which is an order of magnitude smaller than the men, despite them doing a similar job¹.
This also came to a very visible head, when after the final, the crowd started chanting "Equal Pay", in the presence of the President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, and the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

As someone who lives in that curious place called the world, I think that the subject of equal pay for women should be a fait accompli. This should be so mind-numbingly obvious that even the President of FIFA should be able to understand the issue. As a case of moral philosophy, Megan Rappinoe's comments that "We're done with this" in relation to the subject of equal pay, shouldn't even need to be discussed. As an economic problem though, this is a little bit more complex than that. The economic problem is semi attached to a technical problem and the operation of markets.

It must be said that the Women's game is in fact different to the Men's game. From an absolutely technical standpoint, the game actually looks different because of the physical difference between the sexes.
Women are on the whole smaller and less strong than the men. That means that passes tend to be shorter, clearances are also shorter, shots are less powerful, and perhaps in compensation, the game itself tends to be far more technical.
Also, as a result of the referees having more control and the players having more respect for referees, it also means that the Women's game is harder because the players are harder. I can't even count the number of times that referees will simply just wave play on, rather than calling for free kicks and penalties. Whereas the men will fall over and roll around on the floor like little whingy babies at the slightest provocation, the women will suck it up and just play harder. The next time someone says 'kick like a girl' or 'fight like a girl', think of women's football, where in terms of spirit and hardness, they tower over the men's game.
Women football players play on the same sized pitch, for the same amount of time, and they play harder and more technically brilliant than the men. If quality rather than brute force was the determinant of pay, then the women should be paid more than the men but they aren't.

Seriously, what do I have to do to be paid properly around here? Bleed?!

The problem lies in the fact that labour in this case isn't fungible. A woman playing in the men's game would be windmilled and ragdolled by the other players. For that reason, labour isn't interchangeable between men and women's football. This means that the market itself throws up a set of issues.
Football taken as a labour market, has lots of suppliers of labour but only a very select few who can command superstar wages². The labour market for football players is hideously unequal, with a very small number of players who get paid orders of magnitude more than others. When you have transfer contracts which now amount to one hundred million dollarpounds in some cases, that can only be supported by a set of customers who extend way beyond national borders. The women's game though, doesn't have that same international pull from customers... yet.

There could be a very excellent argument to be made that national associations and indeed FIFA itself, has a moral duty to subsidise the women's game with the revenues from the men's game, until there is equality in the amount of money that sponsorship and broadcasting rights flowing in. That revenue from sponsorship and broadcasting rights, is however, still determined on what the customers are prepared to pay; which ironically isn't the fans for the most part but corporations who want to pay for advertising and television companies who want to buy the footage so that they can then sell more advertising space. To some degree, this is the snake that feeds itself.

This edition of the Women's World Cup has probably collected more in revenue than any other but even so, the prize money awarded to the entire US Women's National Team is still only $4m. The US football association has announced that the 23 players in the squad will get $250,000 for their efforts, which might sound like a lot to us mere mortals but all tallied, that's $5.75m which is more than what FIFA is paying and which means that this is a loss making venture for the association that just won the World Cup; and annualised over four years (which is the duration between World Cups) that payment is $62,500 which I guess is a decent wage but only for the champions and which would only happen once or twice in a player's lifetime.
If you compare that to the men's game where you can easily have players in Europe on that kind of money per week, then even blaming this on simple economics starts to look oh so churlish. It looks downright cruel that the prize money for this Women's World Cup is a pathetic 7.5% of what was on offer at last year's men's World Cup. I think that FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, deserved to look embarassed on the stage during the awards ceremony. Megan Rappinoe opened up a can of sensibility by saying:
"Everyone is ready for this conversation to move to the next step. We're done with 'Are we worth it? Should we have equal pay?' Everyone is done with that. Fans are done with that. Players are done with that. In a lot of ways sponsors are done with that. Every player at this World Cup, we put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for. We couldn't do anything more. Let's get to the next point."

However, I think that it is unreasonable to assume that FIFA is going to do anything to remotely address the issue of inequality between the sexes in terms of pay because FIFA is a corrupt onion of an organisation with many layers of onioniness all the way to the core. If that be true, then we need to press Football Australia to be less oniony; especially if it wants us to support the bid for the 2023 Women's World Cup. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970; we need o see Football Australia make good on doing its bit, for the good of the game.

¹Statistically the US Women's Team has also thumped the US Men's Team when it comes to results; having won the World Cup four times and never doing worse than 3rd in all editions of the tournament, while the men have only managed a single 3rd place as their best result.
²Sherwin Rosen wrote about this in an article in 1980 called “The economics of superstars”. Watching sport, the movies, or music, involves something called “joint consumption” where a tiny number of sellers can in theory service the entire market. To wit, the Scottish Premier League is worth £160m where as the English Premier League is worth £3066m for next season. Taylor Swift is worth cart loads, while most bands would struggle to fill up a pint glass of cash on a weekend.

July 08, 2019

Horse 2567 - Why MAD Magazine Will Close

Buried deep within the newspaper today, was the announcement that Mad Magazine will cease publishing new material immediately and will print reprints of old stuff until December to satisfy subscription holders. After that, the magazine which began in 1952, will cease to be beyond this year.

Probably this is symptomatic of the larger issues that print is suffering, in that the whole media is dying on its feet; having had its lunch stolen by the rise of the internet. More specifically it could be that the space that Mad Magazine occupied in Satire, has also been taken away by television; it is now possible to get your fix of satire on a daily basis, rather than the bi-monthly magazine.
It could also be that Mad Magazine has just found itself inside the humour equivalent of wood chippers.

The magazine started in 1952 which was during the Cold War and immediately before the Eisenhower Administration. The level of animosity between the two big political football teams in America was still there but as the United States found itself in very peculiar geopolitical dance with a very big and obvious acceptable target for comedy, the magazine could safely make fun of subjects like communism, the floundering Democrat party and Ike's big ol' shiny bald head, in relative safety.
Even so, the issues of civil rights, and the emerging sexual revolution, were still mostly off-limits. Comedy in the 1950s was still free to play with casual racism and blunt stereotypes because the default get out clause for comedy is 'it's all a bit of fun'.

The era of the magazine which I am most familiar with, having read the hoard of editions which were in our high school library, is the 1970s. Again, the Cold War was in full swing and the Watergate Affair was very much grist for the mill. Move on later in the decade and the magazine tore into Jimmy Carter and held up Ronald Reagan as some kind of demi-god.
It is at this point where I will openly state that I have never read any edition of the magazine beyond 1992; so my knowledge of it ends with the era of the Berlin Wall coming down and Boris Yeltsin doing his famous dancing. This is kind of apt as those things also mark the end of the Cold War.

I can only speculate (and this is where we move into the realm of writing about things that I haven't read), that with dwindling sales, and the political climate moving back to levels of animosity not seen since before the American Civil War, that the magazine found itself an impossible place to generate content and drive revenue.
The internet, which is possibly the greatest window ever invented into the human heart, has shown that on both sides of the political divide, everyone is so snowflakey that the merest provocation of heat, causes everyone to melt.
Mad Magazine has probably found that if it moved too far in any political direction, it would alienate part of its revenue base; which I suspect has meant that it ran into the arms of the enemy of satire: unfunniness.

My own reading of the magazine as a late high schooler, and as someone who should have been the prime target, found a lot of the magazine unfunny. That wasn't helped by the fact that I was reading roastings of films and television that I'd never seen (and would never be able to see), as well as comics such as Spy vs Spy which were just unfunny.
My own comedy palate had been mostly informed by British radio comedies like The Goon Show, Hancock's Half Hour, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, and radio panel shows like The News Quiz (which is still going), I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (which is still going), Just A Minute (which is still going), as well as even other comics like Donald Duck, Garfield, Peanuts, The Wizard Of Id, and what not.

There is a point to be made here. Comedy is generally made of the five elements of Satire, Stupidity, Surrealism, Parody, and Vanity. Those five elements frequently overlap and play with each other. All of them have the potential to run into unfunniness really quickly; with satire and parody having the shortest expiration dates.

My guess is that Mad Magazine, having found an ever impossible task in its usual stock and trade of satire and parody, coupled with an ever decreasing print media market, reached the point where it was no longer viable to produce the magazine any more. I'm not going to lament its passing but I will say that I am surprised that there even was a market for it, this far into the twenty-first century. It was a product of the pre-television era and the Cold War; both of which faded in the cultural memory to the point where they are now found in history books. This looks as inevitable as the closing of Punch magazine.

Aside:
Even the name of the magazine became increasingly unfunny. MAD Magazine in 1952 would have been a pun on Mutually Assured Destruction, which was the unstated policy by both protagonists of the Cold War to annihilate each other with nuclear weapons, should either of them push the button. That's probably why Alfred E Newman's catchphrase was "What me worry? I read Mad" worked, in a sort of resigned fatalistic way.

July 04, 2019

Horse 2566 - Support The Troops - How Exactly?

I am an Australian. I live in Sydney. I was issued at age 3 with a set of suction cups, so that I wouldn't fall off of the Earth. I say this by way of preface to point out that I am not American and that I find that republic both confusing and insane at times.
One of those times is the annual event on the internet, where across all forums and social media (especially Twitter and Facebook), America has its super hyper patriotic holiday, where its mythologising leaks out all over the place. I think that if you do bleed red, white, and blue, that you should seek urgent medical attention because you appear to have something more serious than diabetes.
That annual event isn't reserved for Memorial Day weekend but Independence Day; which is of course, today.

If constant streams of pictures of Abraham Lincoln riding a bear, whilst holding a shotgun and the US Constitution, on the moon, while shouting 'Murica', is weird (which is totally a thing on the internet), then the thing which I find really weird and which has made a come back in 2019 with a vengeance, are pictures of ribbons with the vague directive: Support Our Troops.
My big question is: How?

As an Australian Australian who lives in Australia, I have a pretty good idea of the military history of my country. We fight in wars that we don't start and our foreign policy since before the Commonwealth was constituted, has been to go to every war that our big brother tells us to. I totally get that we are a small and spineless nation, who makes about as much impression on the world stage as the rear end of a pantomime horse.
What I don't get is that the United States of America who had a somewhat dubious and isolationist policy for the first half of the twentieth century, and which spent the second half of the twentieth century and the opening part of the twenty-first, engaging in stupid wars with virtually no net benefit except to keep the magic pianos of the arms manufacturers playing their favourite song (ka-ching, ka-ching), should then want to redirect any and all scrutiny into a faux hyper patriotism.

In my country, the notion of 'supporting the troops' extends to the idea of paying them handsomely, and providing adequate training, medical care and education when they demob. We do that through the mechanism of taxation, and through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. After the Second World War, DVA was also interested in providing low cost housing for returned service personnel, and even today it still provides things like transport for people on Veterans Pensions.
'Supporting the Troops' means practical aid as a nation, to people as valued employees. I don't get how it can be anything else.

So I just don't get what exactly the vague notion of 'supporting the troops' in an American context is supposed to be. As I understand it, the GI Bill acts similarly to our programs of demob for ex-service personnel and there is a degree to which Medicare and Medicaid provide limited services to veterans in the United States but looking from the outside, it seems woefully inadequate.
America has chosen repeatedly to do health care in particular but government services generally, really terribly, and mainly seeks to reward the rentier class for ensuring that the systems which could help the people generally and veterans especially, remain completely broken. I just don't understand what 'supporting the troops' is supposed to mean other than a display of super hyper patriotic pictures on the internet and/or bumper stickers if they are still a thing.
America seems to have a distinct class of veterans who after going where Uncle Sam has told them to go, come back seriously traumatised; which is to be expected in the horrors of war. Uncle Sam however, doesn't seem to want to care very much for ex-service personnel when they return, and far too many end up with serious mental health issues and falling into homelessness. It as if Uncle Same himself, lets people fall through the cracks semi-deliberately.
It is almost as if the preamble to the US Constitution to 'provide for the general welfare' and 'secure the blessings of liberty' are the punchline to an unfunny joke; and as an afterthought, rather than the opening salvo to the constitution of a nation.

Admittedly we don't have that kind of super hyper patriotism in Australia because it would be seen as an act of withdrawing the mictruate. If someone were to ask us to 'support the troops', then we'd probably want to know why the DoD and DVA weren't doing their job. As for the RSL Association, their local branches are mostly in rude health and have become cathedrals to the pokies.
I do not know to what degree the VA or the Legionaries in the United States have support from the government but I imagine that it is as inadequate as the current policy of supporting the troops.

The call to 'support the troops' just seems hollow to me. From the outside it looks very much like a campaign by Coca-Cola, which is catchy, and sells stickers but actually achieves very little. The Congress doesn't appear to be willing to fix any problems; as they're on the take from people who want to cause wars, so that they can sell arms.
This is case of where your heart lies, there your treasure shall be also. America likes to say 'support the troops' but her treasure is elsewhere. Uncle Sam yells louder than Columbia, who it must be said is taking a nap.

July 02, 2019

Horse 2565 - This Post Is A Crime

This post is a criminal act.

It happened when I was coming back from the bank in Mosman, that a black Jeep pulled up out the front of a coffee shop, two chaps in black suits who were armed got out, announced to a man sitting at a table on the sidewalk that they were from ASIO, and then took him away.

I have no idea who this man was, nor why ASIO wanted him but under the provisions of the ASIO Act, the fact that I have just published this, is a criminal offense and potentially could land me in prison for up to ten years depending on the circumstances.
At first I thought that this was really creepy and that it is scary that we live in that kind of a police state. As I am curious though, I was keen to know what kind of powers ASIO had and what had become criminal offences as a result of legislation.

http://www8.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/cth/consol_act/asioa1979472/s35p.html
Disclosures by entrusted persons
(1)  A person commits an offence if:
(a)  the person is, or has been, an entrusted person; and
(b)  information came to the knowledge or into the possession of the person in the person's capacity as an entrusted person; and
(c)  the person discloses the information; and
(d)  the information relates to a special intelligence operation.
- Section 35P, ASIO Act 1979

The whole ASIO Act is an object lesson in cloak and dagger. The powers conferred on officers of ASIO require zero judicial oversight for the most part and zero accountability for the exercise of those powers.

The ultimate power of who can declare that there is an ASIO operation rests with the Attorney General. Furthermore, I can't find anything to suggest that an operation has to be declared ahead of time; which says to me that they can declare it retrospectively if they want to. When you couple that with the power to detain someone without warrant for up to 90 days, the potential to abuse this power silently is immense.
The ultimate power of who can declare who is an entrusted person, also rests with the Attorney General. Again, there isn't anything to suggest that that declaration can not be made retrospectively; which says that if the Attorney General wanted to really nail someone, then they could very easily do so.

The series of offences under the ASIO Act, mean that anyone who discloses any information whatsoever about an ASIO operation (which I have just done by reporting this incident), can be imprisoned for up to five years and if
anyone's safety is either endangered or you happen to have an opinion about the ASIO officer's conduct, that penalty blows out to ten years.

The standard of proof to say that there was an offence is so simple as to be laughable, except that this is no joke. To have committed an offence under the act, you only need to have told someone about an ASIO operation. Actual knowledge about the particulars of the operation isn't even required; there only needs to be the disclosure that there was an operation.

The provisions of the ASIO Act mean that there could be a very real and serious censure motion placed upon someone. Admittedly, as a blogger who very much flies under the radar I am not likely to be prosecuted but for anyone who makes a living, this is potentially financially ruinous.

What I find really chilling about this is that it is similar powers to these which saw the offices of both a News Corp journalist and the offices of the ABC raided by ASIO. It means that technically, if the Attorney General wanted to, they could infer entrusted person status onto someone that they were raiding (without warrant) and then charge them with an offence, simply for having the audacity to report what had happened.

This goes far beyond any freedom of the press issues, this strikes right at the heart of the rule of law. ASIO now have full and unrestricted ability to enact and enforce the arbitrary exercise of power and worse, arbitrary exercise of prosecution. Moreover, they are backed by the weight of legislation. I have broken the law in posting this.

July 01, 2019

Horse 2564 - Triple M Falls Silent For #NoTalkDay

Today being the first of July, if you turn your radio to Triple M, you will hear nothing: no voices, no adverts, no music, no news, nada. The reason for this is for a campaign that they are a part of, to get people talking. People who suffer from mental health issues, or other serious personal crises, often suffer in silence, and so Triple M has also gone silent today to remind people to get talking.
I think that it is a brilliant campaign... and ultimately somewhat flawed.

In the twenty-first century, one of the great ironies is that despite the interconnectedness of everyone through the internet, there are many people who say that they have no close friends. Either through circumstance, or that weird thing that happens to people in their 30s and 40s where life tends to make that lack of closeness all the more stark, by the time that people reach 40, 50, and 60, they have fewer friends. Beyond 60, there is a natural die off of people's friendship networks as people literally die.

Probably a lot of this has to do with personality. There are just some people who although they might be perfectly pleasant, and who don't project enough of their personality that beyond functional human interaction, other people just don't genuinely care about them. Everyone tends to gravitate towards those people who are naturally bubbly and vivacious but for a lot of quieter people, they simply aren't treated as worth the effort.

Once upon a time, we used to do community as a society, a whole lot better. Active membership of clubs, associations, churches, and community groups, extends to only about 11% of the population.
As those natural connected networks do not seem to work for as many people as they once did, the level of aloneness has skyrocketed.

I am a straight white male aged 35-55. The number of people who are aged within ten years older or younger than me, whom I speak to on a regular basis (that is for more than 15 minutes, without being connected to work) is 3. As this is less than 10, that means that statistically, I am a prime candidate for suicide, which is the most obvious expression of a lack of connectedness. Due to other factors, I manage to escape the statistical black hole but I should in theory serve as an object lesson; I am also the sort of person who is statistically a listener of Triple M.

The underlying problem is precisely that. The people who are likely to commit suicide, almost never feel they can talk openly about suicide or their mental health; and even if they did, they are far less likely to actually have anyone that they can talk to.
It is an invisible problem. If you go to the A&E department with a broken leg, everyone can see that you have a broken leg but if you are broken on the inside, nobody sees that at all.

The thing is though, that whilst I might have escaped the statistical black hole, there are many people who have not. The root cause of all of this is that the world is complex and most people are too busy fighting the struggles in their own lives, to really pay that much attention and care about the problems facing other people. That isn't necessarily an act of active coldness, it is just the way it is; hence the reason for Triple M falling silent today.
The best expression of what the aim of the campaign wants to do today, would be for people to seek out the forgotten people. That in principle is a harder ask than the question posed by "R U OK? Day" where it is assumed that you are already in contact and aware of the problems of other people.

Thhis is why I think that it is ultimately flawed. The people who are lost and lonely, generally know that they are lost and lonely but don't know the way out. Their phone doesn't ring, except for nuisance calls, and they are unlikely to ring out on it. They are also likely to be hiding behind a veil of complete normality because they're hardly likely to advertise the fact that.
The aim of the campaign by Triple M today, is for you to ring them.

June 27, 2019

Horse 2563 - The Fastest Thing We Ever Made May Or May Not Be Voyager

It came up on Facebook that someone posted a photograph purporting to be from Voyager. The implausibility of it was hilarious but as with so many of these kinds of things, my mind started spinning in ways that would make theoretical physicists start to question their model of sub-atomic particles.
A little knowledge is dangerous and I knew that the visual systems on board both Voyager probes were shut down last century. They had already taken all of the useful photographs that they were ever going to, and were now hurtling through the very dark, cold, void of space with the view changing forever imperceptibly; with everything including the sun, being only points of light set against the darkness.
I sort of feel a wee bit sad for the Voyager probes. Having done their job and being more than five and a half light hours from us, they are among the fastest and furthest bits of rubbish that we as a species have ever made.

In 1977, which was before I was born, two spaceprobes named Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were sent to do the grand tour of the planets because the wheels of coincidence had turned in our favour.
Voyager 1 took the closest photographs of the two big planets, Jupiter and Saturn, before shooting off at right angles to the plane of the ecliptic. Voyager 2 which although was launched weeks before, took longer to get there and took pictures of Jupiter and Saturn, as well as Uranus and Neptune. It visited Neptune in 1989 before the scientists decided to do one last burn of the cameras and out a selfie of the solar system. The earth was famously rendered as nothing more than 'a pale blue dot, suspended in a sunbeam'; before the cameras were shut off and the two spaceprobes continued to hurtle into space at about 60,000mph, seemingly forever. They have both subsequently become interstellar objects, subject to the definition therein.

The reason why a thing with essentially no rocket power and a grand total of 470W of instruments on board, was able to visit the planets is because of a slingshot effect where due to the conservation of momentum, the Voyager probes borrowed a little bit of the kinetic energy of the planets that they went into brief orbit around before repeating the same process at the next one. It is like a kid swinging off of a Hills Hoist clothesline and then letting go, only to catch the arm of the next clothesline.
Still, at 60,000mph, the Voyager probes might not even be the fastest thing that mankind has ever made. That story could very well be as much of a testament to the human condition as the Voyager probes are.

In the 1950s after the Americans got scared after letting a bunch of atomic bombs explode on Pacific islands, potentially poisoning the water and sky, instead of saying "Hey guys, this is stupid; we should stop", they thought "Hey guys, let's not poison the sky anymore; let's let off our stuff underground¹".
It was during one of those tests, in a project called Operation Plumbob, that a steel cap which had been put on top of the blast facility was blown clean off. The actual test called Pascal-B possibly blew the manhole cover off at about 125,000mph. I say possibly because the trail of clues here is so unreliable that I don't trust the scientists' calculations (and that's saying something).

The steel manhole cover was put on top of the shaft to the surface as a safety experiment. It failed. The manhole cover was 4 inches thick but I have no idea how large in diameter. The estimated velocity is supposed to have been as high as 41 miles per second; which is 147,600mph. The manhole cover is apparently photographed in one single frame of film but I honestly couldn't find it in the book I was looking at.
The scientist in question who conducted the test has tried to debunk the theory that this was the fastest man made object but the only original calculations on the subject, have the word 'irrelevant' written on them as the manhole cover was not the subject of the nuclear weapons test. The manhole cover was never recovered.
There is a theory that the steel manhole cover was vapourised on its way through the atmosphere and whilst I concede the fact that a thing doing more than six figures of speed through the atmosphere is going to encounter a metric elephant load of friction, it would pass through really quickly.

At 125,000mph, it is going at more than 34 miles per second. Space is only 62 miles in the direction of up. I don't think there would be enough heat to vapourise a steel plate of the size suggested in two seconds. The most obvious explanation for me is that the reason why it was never recovered was that it was and still is in space. Given that this happened in 1957, before the Russians had even threatened the free democracies of the world with their bleeping ball, Sputnik, the reason I think that the steel manhole cover was never recovered was because it had been ejected off into space in a random direction and there was nothing to track it.

I really like the idea that not only the fastest thing that we've ever made as a species was also the first thing shot into space because it should serve as a warning that messing around with nuclear weapons is really stupid. Hey kids, it's dangerous; don't do it; stay safe.
If the fastest thing we've ever made wasn't sent into space though, then by default that still serves as an object lesson that along with our more basic desires, we also posses a great deal of creativity and something amazing happens when we put that to work to learn about what's going on around us.
If it didn't go into space then there's bits of a leftover manhole cover, which was blasted off the top of a nuclear weapons test facility somewhere on Earth. Perhaps we should try to learn to be a little bit kinder to the spaceship that we live on?

June 26, 2019

Horse 2562 - 30 Binary Dilemmas

1. Mac v PC
PC - I live mostly in a world where I need to get work done on a PC. My favourite video games are on PC. This means that only the incidental things to do with entertainment would be on Mac and I survive quite happily on Android.

2. Coke v Pepsi
Pepsi - I have no good reason for preferring one over the other but I like Pepsi more.

3. Cats v Dogs
Cats - Cats are their own people. You live with cats as though they are individuals with their own independent agency. Dogs are far more dependant on you. Cats will make the active choice to like you. The personalities of both cats and dogs are both bigger than the size of the creatures.

4. Ford v GM
Ford - People generally win despite the ambivalence of Ford; GM has in the past taken a more active role. The Ford equivalent in most market segments is in my opinion a better choice.

5. McDonald's v Burger King
McDonald's - The burgers are definitively better at Hungry Jack's/Burger King but they are also generally more expensive and slightly unwieldy. There is something wonderfully rank about nastiness of a McDonald's multi-stack cheeseburger.

6. City v Country
Country - The serenity of country towns is lovely. People have more time for you and more time to do nothing. When some big thing does happen in a country town there is a greater sense of community because it happens to more people proportionately at once.

7. Summer v Winter
Summer - Both are enjoyable in their own way but summer doesn't come with fingertips that scream at you because of the cold, nor does it come with your face leaking everywhere.

8. Books v Movies
Books - I think that because it takes longer to engage with a book and because it requires more emotional investment, the book will always be better than the film. The only example that I can think of where the film was better than the book was the Lord Of The Rings because Tolkien is tedious.

9. Baseball v Football
Baseball - This is giving away the obvious Americentricity of this set of questions but I think that I like the idea of baseball forming the long soundtrack of summer than I do having to sit and watch a football game.

10. Liberals v Conservatives
Liberals - I don't like the lip service that either side pays in order to co-opt politics into doing bad things. Politics should be about governing well and I think that means looking after the citizenry. Conservatives in an American context are more concerned with looking after the rich. I favour incompetence over cruelty.

11. Fly v Cruise
Fly - Flying puts you in so many more different places than cruising can. Admittedly I have never been on a cruising holiday but the idea of being on a thing which is going to make you seasick, which is like an incubator for the flu, and which has a greater risk of ending up at the bottom of the ocean, doesn't appeal to me.

12. Coffee v Tea
Tea - Coffee is almost always utilitarian and functional. The perfect cup of tea though, is amazing. You can have bad cups of coffee. You can almost never have a bad cup of tea unless it has gone cold.

13. Team Edward v Team Jacob
Team Jacob - I only really have a vague idea about the Twilight franchise and so I care not an iota about the story but the idea of a sparkly daytime vampire defies all of the standard literary rules about vampires. If you are going to play in a fictional made-up universe, then you should at least play according to the accepted fictional made-up rules.

14. Oranges v Apples
Apples - This is literally asking you to compare Apples and Oranges and then make a choice. Apples can be put or made into cider, calvados, pies, cobbler, salad, etc. What do oranges do for you apart from making sure that you don't get scurvy, and indicating that it is half time in a football game?

15. Scrambled Eggs v Fried Eggs
Scrambled Eggs - Deep down, everyone knows that they are classier.

16. Cook v Burn
Burn - Cooking over hot coals is better in every respect than cooking on a hot plate. Even when the flames are burning fiercely and the smoke gets in your eyes, even though the smoke and chemicals that are coming off of whatever you are burning is likely to give you seven different kinds of cancer, there is nothing quite like sausages which are burnt to a crisp on the outside and raw in the middle, burgers that taste like kerosene and chemicals, onions that have caramelised, and standing outside with a set of tongs in your hand which makes you look like an expert (even though that's totally not the case).

17. Video Games v Board Games
Board Games - You get more fun by sitting across the tabel from someone and staring them in the face, than you do from playing video games.

18. Snakes v Badgers
Badger - Badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger badger mushroom MUSHROOM!

19. Dinner v Dessert
Dessert - You have to stand up for what you believe in. Don't eat dinner at a restaurant - eat three bits of cheescake. Don't fill up on bread - it is designed to make you take less notice of how little dinner there is for the money. Skip both. Get the nice cake.

20. White Bread v Brown Bread
White Bread - It is a worse choice most of the time however, if you want to make a toastie in the sandwich press then brown bread is not up to task. Most of the time white bread is only marginally inferior to brown but you need to be prepared.

21. Black Coffee v Coffee with Cream and Sugar
Black - I am convinced that places like Starbucks deliberately use syrups to hide the fact that their coffee is second rate (see number 12). Do not be deceived. Demand the real thing and judge the coffee for the coffee. Do not trust the mermaids, they are false prophets who pursue false profits. They are like the Sirens in Homer's Odyssey. They will sing a song in order to shipwreck you upon the shoals of bad coffee. Get out of the blue and into the black - they give you this but you pat for that.

22. Organic v Conventional
???? - Not enough context has been provided for the scope of this dichotomy.

23. Salt and Vinegar v Sour Cream and Onion
Salt and Vinegar - So close. Salt and Vinegar is clearly the superior choice here because in the top tier of crisps flavours there is only Plain, Salt and Vinegar, Chicken, Barbecue, and Cheese and Onion.

24. Pork Bacon v Turkey Bacon
Bacon - I take offense to the use of the term "pork bacon" here because by definition Bacon is a type of salt-cured pork. Turkey bacon is a substitute for bacon; usually for religious reasons but it is still only a subsitute. Bacon does not need the qualifier because it is not only the default but the zenith.

25. Mickey Mouse v Dora the Explorer
Mickey Mouse - The Mouse has been polished to the point where he no longer has a personality. He used to be a trickster, in a trio with Donald the hot-head and Goofy the affable klutz. Dora is vacuous and stares into the camera; which gives you the impression of interactivity but there's not not going on behind those cold brown eyes.

26. Facebook v Twitter
Twitter - This is the decision of whether I want to be sad or annoyed. Facebook is replete with people taking photos and it gives you the impression that everyone is having amazing lives but on Twitter, everyone openly wishes that you are disembowled with spears if you stray outside their particular political orthodoxy.

27. East Coast or West Coast
East Coast - WNYC, WBUR, WBEZ, WAMU, WFYI... there are no K's.

28. Dutch Wooden Clogs v Chinese Iron Shoes
Chinese Iron Shoes - I am not sure that these even are a thing but they sound amazing. Just the mere mention of Chinese Iron Shoes is enough to make me think of Isembard Kingdom Brunel in some kind of steampunk Qing dynasty fantasy land. You never know when an unexpected train is going to show up. Brunel needs those Chinese Iron Shoes for his iron football match; which is played by players in suits of armor and kicking an iron football.

29. Telekinesis v Teleportation
Telekinesis - Presumably the ability to move things with your mind, also includes the ability to move yourself with your mind? If so, Telekinesis includes a slower form of Teleportation; which would make it more useful, more of the time. It'd be really useful in that restaurant when you want to move bits of cheesecake.

30. Freeze To Death In Antartica v Burn to Death In The Sahara Desert
Freeze - Some say the world will end in fire, Some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire. But if it had to perish twice, I think I know enough of hate, To say that for destruction ice, Is also great And would suffice. Freezing to death comes with the cold embrace of eternal silence as opposed to the pain of being on fire.

June 25, 2019

Horse 2561 - I Hate The Idea Of A Bill Of Rights, Because I Believe In Human Rights.

One of the concepts which I occasionally bring up on this blog from time to time is human rights. I will readily admit that I am a rampant hypocrite when it comes to this subject because whilst I will often quote various documents and legislation to prove a case, as the result of being radicalised online (by the weight of legal argument), I have come to the conclusion after many years of deliberation that I am fundamentally opposed to the enumeration of human rights.
I realise that from the outset that this makes me sound like some kind of hideous monster (and maybe I am) but my reason for opposing the enumeration of human rights into legislation, is precisely because I see the whole subject as being more grave and serious than even legislation can conceive. I hate the idea of a Bill of Rights, precisely because I view human rights as simply too valuable.

My problem stems from the fact that most people's idea of what a bill of rights is supposed to do is hideously limited in scope. I also think that it can be proven fairly reliably that when a bill of rights has been enacted into legislation, then that becomes a piece of settled law which sells the people of the future well short.
I am also consistently annoyed at the fact that people do not seem to realise that we already have one Bill Of Rights in operation in Australia¹ (possibly two¹) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is frequently cited in court cases and informs legislation.

Even though Australian law already contains what amounts to three sources of human rights law, most people's conception appears to be limited to the American Bill of Rights which was attached to the US Constitution. It is yet another case where our cultural cringe is still very much in effect and whether by imposition of will, cultural imperialism, or a desire to be Americanised, we look to Uncle Sam and not John Bull.

Let's examine that document critically. The Bill of Rights in American legislation, were tacked on to the end of the US Constitution as ten amendments. Now either that means that the US Constitution was wrong in the first instance (which is itself completely valid and evidenced by the fact that the American system of government has been copied by exactly zero other countries), or that by definition, they are amendments and should always be subject to change as per Jefferson's and Hamilton's original conception of the document.
The US Constitution is not some God-given document which fell out of the sky, "like oh my goodness, where did it come from?" but was argued out by a bunch of exclusively white men in smelly rooms in the middle of the summer. Second to that, it explicitly says in the First Amendment that:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
- First Amendment, US Constitution 1791

The obvious question is how they argued out the US Constitution without the Bill of Rights already being in operation. It is an inherently idiotic assumption to make unless the rights contained merely enumerated what they already thought were in existence; which actually makes the Bill of Rights self redundant. It is also worth noting that this amendment limits the Congress, rather than giving rise to a right.
The US Constitution was conceived by men, for men², and owing to the fact that it explicitly counted some people as property and less than men; rather than endowed them with human dignity and literally counted that 'property' as 'three fifths of a person', then citing it as a bastion of human rights is bunk.

The US Constitution exactly encapsulates the basic problem with enumerating people's rights. I think that it is perfectly valid to suggest that people's rights can and should change in the long run of history.
The Second Amendment to the US Constitution which started out by containing provisions which were useful and necessary for me the day, have through interpretation been reduced to the words 'shall not be infringed'. People will fight for that right to the exclusion of any consequences. What was appropriate in 1789 is absolutely in no way appropriate for a modern urban environment and I'm sorry but if you value that right more than the unnamed right to life that people have, then you are an unadulterated moron. Now that the Second Amendment is there, even despite the costs of money and human lives that it wilfully spends, it is impossible to remove.

In theory the most powerful Amendment to the US Constitution should be the Tenth Amendment which says:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
- Tenth Amendment, US Constitution 1791

If you do not have enumerated rights, then the basic assumption at law in a Westminster System is that they already exist. Someone ought to be free to do whatever they like as 'allowed by law' (Section 7, Bill of Rights 1688) or 'unless hedged in by law' (James v Commonwealth 1936). It is simply nonsense to think that the law should give rise to rights which already exist and which ought to exist.

If you have rights which are internally redundant and others which should have expired, and the process for adding new ones is painfully impossible, then what is the point? It would have been better to have normal legislation which can be replaced and repealed or added to as society changes.
The rights which were never stated in the US Constitution, which include the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, quiet enjoyment of one's surroundings, adequate health care, adequate housing, the right to be paid a proper wage, and rights to abortion, marriage and freedom from harassment and discrimination, are all still being contested; where as the right to bear arms which has the consequences of actively destroying people's life, liberty and happiness, is not. That discussion is practically dead, buried and cremated, as indeed are its victims.

Some of those things such as abortion, marriage, euthanasia, and discrimination, are still being contested. We aren't talking about some vague abstract concept here but rather, the very matters of life and death and how the law interacts with them. Herein lies the issue with why I hate the idea of enumerating people's human rights.
Firstly there is often contention as to what those human rights are. Secondly, there is the almost insurmountable fact that once a set of rights has been enumerated, they're almost always made nearly impossible to add to or subtract from. Thirdly, this places the interpretation of the law further into the hands of the judiciary and not the parliament.

The grand question of what we expect rights to do, is in my opinion a secondary question to the broader question of democracy. Democracy is itself a perpetually unfinished process; with the less powerful constantly having to fight. As a perpetually unfinished process, there isn't any final victory and there also isn't any final loss. Enumerating people's rights in a document, freezes that process; if you freeze the process then the things that the people should have as rights, might be easily denied to them.

If you think that the idea of not enumerating human rights is a weak idea, then consider what happened with the national plebescite on same sex marriage. Yes, the whole process was less than stellar but when the country moved, it did so quickly. Society as a thing and the voting polity, is across most western democracies nominally conservative in outlook and I mean that in the proper sense and not some notion of political point scoring (as most 'conservatives' are actually nothing more than people trying to protect the rich).
As society is nominally conservative, it means that it generally doesn't want to move particularly quickly on anything. Time and time again, the rights that society decides to confer upon itself happen at the end of some process and then after having happened, society immediately forgets that the world was any different. If that seems like a bad method of changing human rights as enshrined by law, then why do people who are calling for a charter or new bill of rights, wish to impose that upon the people of the future?

Society itself is conservative enough as it is. My great objection to the enumeration of human rights is that it solidifies one particular conception of human rights at one particular point in time and prevents the future from deciding its own conception.

If we want to look at the best expression in my opinion of why there shouldn't be a bill of rights, then we need look no further than Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who were among the original architects of the US Constitution. The US Constitution didn't even have the bill of rights originally for good reason. Jefferson wrote in a letter to Hamilton:

On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished then in their natural course with those who gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.
- Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 6th Sep 1789.

I would rather see the contestation of rights happen among the living; rather than being imposed upon the future by the dead.

¹The Bill of Rights Act 1688, and the Scottish Claim Of Right 1688. They are identical for all practical purposes.
²Australia with no enumerated Bill of Rights, extended the franchise to women some 20 years before the United States did. That's pretty impressive for a supposedly inferior legal framework.