May 05, 2016

Horse 2108 - Volvo Gets Out Of The Blue And Into The Black


Get out of the blue and into the black.
They give you this, but you paid for that.
And when you die, no you won't come back,
Because you're out of the blue and into the black.
- Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black), Neil Young (1979).

On December 9, 2013, the then Treasurer Joe Hockey thundered and dared the automakers to leave Australia. The next day the three automakers took the dare seriously and collectively decided to end car manufacturing in Australia by 2017. So that looked bad for a start.
Meanwhile on December 12, 2013, V8 Supercars CEO James Warburton, Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein and FOX SPORTS CEO Patrick Delany, practically held the pistol of corporate opportunity to the head of Ten Network Holdings Hamish McLennan and signed a six year media rights deal worth $241 million.
In the meantime News Corp, Foxtel and Discovery Communications trief to make a takeover of Ten Network Holdings in 2014. This was opposed but on June 15, 2015, Foxtel bought 15% of Ten Network Holdings after Discovery walked away from the whole thing.

And haven't Foxtel been a right royal pack of vultures? Not content with buying 15% of the company, they've been content with stealing the assets of Ten away, including the rights to V8Supercars and Formula One. Ten Network Holdings was already in trouble with a share price of 50.5c in June 2012 and falling away to just 19.0c in June 2015. The company hasn't paid any dividends since November 2011.
Hamish McLennan realised that he was in possession of a curate's egg and so resigned in June of 2015 and if you adjust for the fact that the company went through a 10:1 share consolidation in November last year, today's share price of 97.5c actually means that the company is worth just 19% of what it was four years ago. Current CEO of Ten Paul Anderson hasn't fared much better either.

In 2014, the V8Supercars' coverage on free-to-air was slashed to just six live races per year. As a result, the ratings have fallen off a cliff.
In 2013, viewer numbers of +200,000 were typical but for most of 2014 and 2015 Foxtel were getting from 40,000 to 50,000 viewers. The highlights which might come on at 08:30pm if you're lucky, draw about 90,000 viewers.
Suffice to say, this has implications. On November 30, 2014, Ford Performance Racing confirmed Ford Australia's decision to withdraw its financial support for V8 Supercars from the end 2015.
As of today, the performance division of Volvo Cars has announced that they will not support the V8 Supercar team beyond 2016.

https://www.media.volvocars.com/global/en-gb/media/pressreleases/190450/polestar-will-not-renew-v8-supercars-contract-after-2016-season
Polestar, a Volvo Car Group company, responsible for performance offers and motorsport activities of the group, has decided to not renew the three-year V8 Supercars contract that ends after the current season.

”We have enjoyed a good cooperation with Garry Rogers Motorsport and the championship organisers, but our strategy and business objectives requires us now to focus our attention to other technologies and championships in the near future,” said Niels Möller, Chief Operating Officer of Polestar.
- Volvo Cars, 4th May 2016.

You can't blame Volvo. When they signed up in 2013 for the 2014 season, they couldn't have known what was coming. From a marketing perspective, it makes perfect sense to remove your advertising from a place that it isn't going to be seen. Volvo can’t see the point if the eyeballs aren’t there. This is a rational decision for them.

Ford couldn't see the point continuing and so don't any more. Erebus never really got the backing from Mercedes-Benz that they were hoping for and have switched to Commodores.
Both the Holden Racing Team and Triple Eight Racing are off their current contracts at the end of 2016 and Holden hasn't confimed anything. So for Volvo to announce that they just can't see the point any more, should surprise no-one.

This is partly V8Supercars fault for selling out the TV rights to Pay-TV.Also, this is Foxtel Management Pty Limited’s fault for stripping Ten Network Holdings's assets away.
If you’re going to strip the ability of the viewing public to see the thing, and give us a pathetic one-hour highlights package, then you deserve to have your business model thrown up in your face like a carton of curate's eggs.

May 04, 2016

Horse 2107 - BEER UP, CIGS UP, What's Up Scott? Nothing!

I tear for journalism in this country. This was one of the only opportunities that you had to genuinely put BEER UP, CIGS UP on the front page of the newspaper and be truthful about it... and... and... you all blew it. I mean come on News Corp and Fairfax, what're you doing? Instead of going for a classic, you both decide to put funny pictures on your front page.
Sometimes I wonder if the NT News actually is the last bastion of actually Australian Australian journalism. You're not the New Yorker magazine. Bah, humbug and blithering blazes!

Scott Morrison's first budget, which isn't a budget but an economic plan, which means that it's the economic plan you have when you're not having a budget, is one of the single most glorious "do nothing" budgets since Peter Costello's "hamburger and milkshake" budgets except that this time you don't get the hamburger.
For the vast majority of people, the effect of this budget is nil.

There is a good reason why the effect of this budget is nil. If Morrison had done what his backers had wanted, then the immediate effects of the resulting cuts would be a loss in the July general election. If Morrison had gone for the traditional pre-election budget of giving away lots of presents, then this would have been seen by the electorate and the media as vote buying; so that wasn't an option either.
Instead what we get is a very calculated set of tax cuts, aimed at moving the swing needle in the election only a tiny amount. As an incumbent government, the Coalition already enjoys a statistical political advantage; so this budget is aimed at tweaking just a few numbers, which it is hoped will swing that small percentage of people upon which the election hinges.

The pushing of the 37% tax bracket from $80,001 to $87,001 isn't radical and only has an actual effect of $316 per year, per person. It has a much more symbolic act though. It moves the average income out of the 37% tax bracket and back into the previous one. The fact that the median income is way way below the average (because the average is pulled to m the right by a very very long tail) is mostly irrelevant. Mr Morrison's narrative is about shouting from the rooftops that he did something - and shouting at a select group of people.
The change in the small business tax rate from 28.5% to 27.5% is also about shouting to a very small select group of people. These two headline acts are about speaking directly to small business owners and practically nobody else, because it's generally assumed by the political strategists that these are the sorts of people who ultimately decide the fate of governments.

Rich people will usually vote Liberal and poor people will usually vote Labor. This is not about fighting over the Top Hats or the Hard Hats but the mad unhatted tea party in the middle.
There has been some scurrying around the issue of superannuation as kind of a nod to the yellers in the echo chambers. There's been the strangest cut to the ABC's budget that I've ever seen, with an increase in finding to the news service.

The thing that talkback radio was losing its mind was the increase in tobacco excise because it falls mainly on the poor. I don't understand this at all. As a public health strategy, increasing the tax on tobacco is pretty much obvious. If you increase the tax, the supply curve shifts upwards and less of the thing is sold - job accomplished. The thing that I find utterly insane about this is that it is purely a voluntary tax. Issues surrounding addiction aside, nobody forces people to go into a shop and buy cigarettes. The choked up, bleeding hearts on Alan Jones' show this morning all sounded as if they'd been wounded. I'm sorry but I just find it difficult to feel sorry.

The other thing that I found ridiculous was the harping on about the budget deficit of $37.5bn. The thing is that when governments run deficts, there is a net injection of money into the economy. For a government that wants to build infrastructure like roads and metropolitan railways, deficits are fine. Scott Morrison isn't the devil incarnate, he's just a Treasurer who has delivered a fairly dull "do nothing" budget for most people. That's fine. He's fine. We're all fine. Not even the rich are getting a free hamburger a week.

April 30, 2016

Horse 2106 - Issac Newton: Lawgiver & Lawbreaker (Mostly Rubbish)

I personally think that Issac Newton, hailed as one of the greatest men of science, was a giant huckster, a fraud, a flibbertigibbet and a shyster. He was sent to the House of Commons as MP for Cambridge University, when such a thing existed but the only recorded action attributed to him was that he complained about it being to draughty and demanding a window be closed.
As a man of position, I think that he probably had access to all sorts of brilliant minds and theories and seeing as this was the in the days well before copyright laws existed, I think that there is a fair chance that he passed of great swathes of stuff as his own.

Be that as it may, he is most famous for his laws of motion, which are:

Newton's First Law:
When viewed in an inertial reference frame, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.

In other words, objects are lazy. They want to keep on doing what they're already doing until something forces them to stop. This is true of physics and politics. A corollary of this is:

Newton's First And Halfth Law:
A student in bed will remain in bed until acted upon by a large enough panic.

This moves us onto:

Newton's Second Law:
The vector sum of the forces on an object is equal to the mass of that object multiplied by the acceleration vector of the object.

In short, Force = Mass times Acceleration. (F=ma). This true for both physics and religion. A Catholic church performing the Eucharist and undergoing acceleration, will require a greater force to stop it.

Force is not an energy field created by all living things which surrounds us and penetrates us. It certainly does not bind the galaxy together. I'm afraid that these Jedi and Sith people in that famous documentary series Star Wars, have confused Force with Duck Tape. Duck Tape has a light side and a dark side and holds things together. Incidentally, it's not proper Duct Tape unless it complies with AS 4254; otherwise it shouldn't be used for ducts.

If you do happen to be constructing a very large mass such as a DS-1 Orbital Defence Station (not a Death Star as some propaganda suggests) and accelerating it, then you might want to think about shields for your service ducts to prevent vandalism.

Of course, there is a negative corollary of this too; which states:

Newton's Minus Second Law:
Regardless of your speed and acceleration, Gary Oak will always be at least one step ahead of you.

The third law which Newton takes credit for is:

Newton's Third Law:
When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.

This is exemplified by the poet Robbie Burns who wrote "If a body catch a body coming through the rye". In such circumstances, it is best to apply the laws of trespass for entering a rye field, then arrest the miscreant and take them away in the back of a Holden Caulfield (3.0L V6 Crew Cab).

Prior to these laws being passed in 1687, the universe was a very very different place. Gravity was owned by the monarch and as such, people who lived on the other side of the world were often in danger of falling off; hence the reason why to this day not many people live in Antarctica and why Australia was declared terra nullius (nothing terrible).

Thomas Hobbes, who was instrumental in passing the legislation in 1651, which was in force before Newton's Laws, specifically the Rule Britannia which categorically said that "Britannia Rules The Waves" is quoted as saying that the universe was "solitary, poor, nasty, British, and short". That description could have also been applied to Issac Newton as well; possibly a thief.

April 29, 2016

Horse 2105 - Field Of Stupid Dreams

There has been a kerfuffle between the AFL and Football Australia over the height of the grass at the Adelaide Oval. The AFL would prefer the grass on the field to be taller because they know of the punishment that an Australian Rules match throws at the pitch. Football Australia would  like the grass to be shorter because they want a round football to glide across the pitch. Naturally this caused a ripple in most of the daily newspapers around the country but in Adelaide, the Advertiser made it sound as though the pitch was a temperamental uncle who might flip out at any moment.
This perfectly illustrates one of the oft ignored problems of Australian sport; which reads its head and shrieks a terrible din at the most inconvenient moments. That problem is thus: sporting clubs and teams are perpetual tenants and almost never own their own grounds in this country.

Think about this. One of the two protagonists in the A-League Final, the Western Sydney Wanderers, will be playing their matches for the next couple of seasons at either the Penrith Stadium (whatever the heck they call that, these days) or the Showground, or Olympic Park.
Parramatta City Council owns Parramatta Stadium and not the Western Sydney Wanderers or the Paramatta Eels, who are both tenants of the council. Even though the Parramatta Eels Leagues Club is literally within eyesight of the stadium they play at, they are still subject to the whims of the council. You'd suppose that the council isn't going to kick out two of its long standing tenants but the capriciousness of local government can not be underestimated and I shall return to this later.

On the 15th of April 1989, 96 fans were killed in a crowd crush at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Naturally after the single worst disaster in British sporting history, you'd expect an enquiry and the subsequent Taylor Enquiry made all sorts of recommendations with regards the safety of sporting grounds generally in the UK. Among those recommendations was the conversion of terraces to all seated stadiums and in conjunction with this, proper counting of crowds and proper seating allocation to ensure that grounds wouldn't again be overcrowded.
The expense of converting stadiums in the UK, fell not on councils but the clubs themselves, who mostly owned the stadiums that they played in. For the early 1990s, clubs found themselves playing at stadiums with entire stands missing (and you can see this on YouTube if you look for matches from the period) but the point remains that they continued to play football as stands were progressively upgraded, demolished and rebuilt, closed and brought up to standard and then reopened.

We've seen similar sorts of things go on at the very big venues in Australia like the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Gabba, but that's only because those grounds are administered by trusts who couldn't afford to close their doors for extended periods of time.
Unlike the UK where the clubs themselves owned the grounds they played in, Australian sporting teams are subject to the whim of government entities. In the case of the Parramatta Stadium, that means that two professional sporting teams will be temporarily homeless while the entire venue is demolished. Similar plans were afoot for the Sydney Football Stadium but that would have affected as many as four tenants; all of whom have no real power in the discussion at all.

I said that I'd return to the capriciousness of local government and so here we go. North Sydney Oval which is a delightful little ground, should be the home of at least one professional sporting team in Sydney and the fact that it isn't, is 100% absolutely certainly and entirely the fault of the utter cussedness of North Sydney Council.
For 91 years, North Sydney Oval was the home of the North Sydney Bears Rugby League Club. Admittedly there were issues surrounding their financial viability but one of those issues was to do with their inability to negotiate terms to rent the ground they were playing in. Evidently someone at the local council decided to milk the bear and so their asking rent shot up ridiculously. The North Sydney Bears played their last season in the national rugby league competition in 1999 but some of the blame has to go to North Sydney Council for their downfall. They continued to play on in the New South Wales Cup and its various iterations like the NSWRL Premier League and the current NSW Super Premiership but the damage had permanently been done.
I can say this with a fair amount of confidence because North Sydney Council played the same game with the National Soccer League club, Northern Spirit FC. Again, Northern Spirit was going through financial problems but these weren't helped by North Sydney Council again being a bunch of cusses by jacking up the rent they were charging for North Sydney Oval. Northern Spirit ended up playing their next season at Warringah Oval which was more difficult to get to but that ended up being academic anyway as they completed their journey to oblivion when the old NSL folded.
Finding details about what the largest ground which was specifically built for football is difficult. Most developments in Australia are owned by governments or trusts and so they almost always have the problem of different sports being played on the same ground depending on the season. I suspect that the largest football only ground in the country is Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide which holds 16,500 people and bizzarely, the biggest ground that I could find which was actually owned by the club itself is Marconi Stadium which holds a paltry 9000 people.

I suspect that a lot of the reason why we have what basically amount to perpetual renters of grounds in Australia is that councils themselves won't approve the building of stadiums unless there will be multiple uses and because of the fractious nature of sport in Australia, no club is big enough to raise the initial capital costs to build their own stadium. Mostly that is because we have five major sporting codes which all vie for sponsorship and not even the United States with a population of more fourteen times the size of Australia, is bonkers enough to do that.

This is why when I become an eccentric billionaire (after GM sells me their Australian manufacturing operations for a dollar and I magically turn the new company into a world beater), I'm going to buy a bunch of land in Schofields, build the Bogandome and have FC Nefarious play there. FC Nerfarious would own it's own ground and would never need to share the pitch with anyone.
Okay, I admit that I'm dreaming and I know that you should follow your dreams unless they are stupid; then you need to get a new dream but my dream is less stupid than the current reality where the A-League Final will have to be played on a totally rubbish surface because football has to share the pitch with the AFL, and it's also less stupid than the Western Sydney Wanderers being turfed out of their home because Parramatta City Council wants to demolish the entire stadium to rebuild it and as tenants, they had virtually no say in the matter.

April 28, 2016

Horse 2104 - Cool Because It's Not Cool; Which Means It's Cool

The quality of coolness in a motor car is an elusive one. There are cars which should be obviously cool and are, like a Falcon XR8 Ute, Jaguar F-Type, or the Honda Civic Type R. There are also those cars which should be cool and yet aren't, like the BMW 1-Series, Volkswagen Golf R, and the Dodge Challenger Hellcat.
Mostly SUVs aren't cool, neither are people movers and minivans but again there are exceptions. Proper Four Wheel Drive cars like like Land Rover Defender, Nissan Patrol, Toyota Land Cruiser 70 are cool, and there are some strange vans like the A-Team's GMC Windstar and the flood of fantasy that is the Mitsubishi Star Wagon Space Gear.
The general rule is that hatchbacks are cool; SUVs, wagons and minivans are uncool, and cars which are trying too hard or those cars which attract real estate agents and people in financial services, aren't cool.

There are five rules for automotive coolness (which may or may not be true at all):
1. A thing is cool if it tries to be cool and succeeds.
2. A thing is not cool if it tries too hard to be cool.
3. Some things are cool if they're not trying to be cool.
4.Some things are simply just not cool.
5. Any or all of these rules can be broken for any reason because coolness is so elusive that it won't be pinned down by rules.

Then there is this.

Alex at my church has a Toyota Corolla Wagon. Toyota? Mostly uncool. Corolla? Uncool. Wagon? Seriously uncool.
This car should by all rights be seriously uncool but it isn't. I think that it does that rarest of things and crosses the line twice and is so uncool that it's actually cool again. Partly it invokes Rule 3 because it isn't trying to be cool but mostly Rule 5 is in operation here.

A Corolla Wagon is never bought because the owner wants to be cool. Someone who deliberately chooses such a vehicle is thinking of the practical considerations of what they intend to do with it above all other concerns. You couldn't very well do a remake of "Bullit" with a Corolla Wagon. You wouldn't have the elusive unstealable "Eleanor" from "Gone In Sixty Seconds" be a Corolla Wagon. If they were making "Fast And Furious 15: Furiously Fishing For A Fiver", then the only way you'd have a Corolla Wagon in it would be if it was a sleeper car, driven by a dorky chap with glasses, pens in his pocket, a pocket calculator and a computer with a weird unexplained device plugged into it.
Not that a Corolla can't be cool. The Corolla Sprinter or the Japanese Domestic Market Trueno, AE86, or Hachiroku, firstly became a cult car because of Touge racing, then was put to work drifting, and then had the manga Initial D written about it. In contrast, Izzy's AE85 which didn't have the 4K motor, was seen as a bit of a lump and Izzy is the dorky comic relief. An WE130 Corolla Wagon has none of this mystique whatsoever and because it is front wheel drive, can't really be drifted either.
Mostly wagons are uncool. Perhaps the only wagons to have pulled off the trick of coolness are the 1932 Ford, which became known as the "Woodie " and the Volvo 850 Estate which was used to such abandon by Kelvin Burt, Jan Lammers and Rickard Rydell in the British Touring Car Championship, that it earned the moniker of "Terror Taxi". Even to this day, it is still one of the most bonkers race cars ever.

The logical fallout from this is to either question my sanity (which I can assure you never existed) or question my reasoning behind why I think that a Corolla Wagon is cool. The reason that Alex's Corolla Wagon is cool is that it definitely, absolutely and certainly is not cool. It makes no attempt to be cool and it doesn't bother to pretend that it's even trying.
This is a car which is exactly what it is. It is an unpretentious, undisguised, unashamedly unremarkable car. This falls into the same category as a tradie's van or ute. Tradie's vans, utes and trucks are cool for that same reason, they quietly go about their business of doing business. This isn't to say that such a vehicle can't be driven spiritedly. People might point to the Bugatti Veyron as the fastest car in the world but we all know that the fastest car in the world is a four year old rental Corolla; closely followed by an unmarked white Toyota Hiace van and a Ford Ranger with the words " Max's Plumbing - 04XX 72 72 90".
The fact that it is red means that it isn't just an appliance which sits on four wheels like a white car does, it isn't anonymous like grey, silver and black cars are, and it isn't ridiculously dorky like those metallic purple, green and pink cars are. Red, green and blue are acceptable because they are different without needing to about it from the rooftops.

I put this to Alex and he asked if the car made him cool or if he made the car cool. Neither - these are unconnected. This is like asking what happens if you put Fonzie's jacket on Richie Cunningham (don't you just love my hideously dated cultural reference?). The jacket doesn't make Richie Cunningham cool - he just becomes a dorky kid in a cool jacket. Neither does removing the jacket from Fonzie make him uncool. Is Alex cool? Yes, and the Corolla Wagon has nothing to do with it.

Am I cool? Not in the slightest. I am like Richie Cunningham.

April 27, 2016

Horse 2103 - Finally, Justice For The 96

The footballing significance of the 15th of April 1989, is nil. The significance of that afternoon which cut short the lives of 96 fans and affected their families, is immense.

On that fateful Saturday in mid spring of 1989, league fixtures were going on up and down the nation of England as they had done as normal. At Hillsborough Stadium though, the FA Cup tie between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, had started but there was a disturbance behind the Liverpool end of the pitch, at the Leppings Lane end.
Football in England in the 1980s was in a bad way. Stadia which had been built in some cases up to a hundred years before, were simply inadequate for modern crowds. In most cases they had risen up out of small local grouds which had been developed by adding nothing more than terraces. They had been built in an era before most people had motor cars and in some cases, they had even been built before the invention of the motor car. This meant that the catchment of fans was now far larger than anyone had ever bothered to think of.

The earliest indication that something was amiss was in 1971 when a stand at the Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow collapsed during an 'Old Firm" game between Celtic and Rangers, but that was seen as a Scottish problem and so nothing was done.
Elsewhere though, the malaise of English football continued to rage on. At Bradford Stadium in 1985, there had been a massive fire, which started in a fish and chip shop underneath a stand. The subsequent enquiry found that there had been an accumulation of rubbish underneath the stand, which was easily ignitable and the stand itself which was made of wood and then had a roof which was waterproofed in pitch, had led to the fire, which became a flame front, quickly spreading across the stadium. Again, nothing was done because this was seen as a minor problem.

The rise of hooliganism in the early 1980s which coincided with Thatcher's privatisation of many manufacturing industries, was seen as a problem for football and the solution was simply to ignore it. When Liverpool played Juventus in the 1985 European Cup Final, Liverpool fans were seen charging at Juventus fans and in the panic, a wall collapsed in the Heysel Stadium in Belgium, killing many Juventus fans. Hooliganism came to be seen as a uniquely 'English Disease' and so all English teams were banned from European competition for ten years.
In the immediate season after English teams had been banned from Europe, Liverpool were no longer playing in those competitions, would go on to win the League and FA Cup Double in 1986, being only the fifth club ever to do so.

However sometime after Heysel, especially during the 1985-6 season, in order to protect their investment of their players, football clubs began to install very high containment fences.The theory was that with the fans kept behind the fences, that the English Disease wouldn't spread onto the pitch. Even fans themselves began to refer the areas behind the fences as 'pens' as though they were no more than livestock. Even though the clubs derived their income from the paying spectators who turned up week after week (often to see your and mediocre football in a lot of cases), they felt that they had no obligation to the fans and certainly no duty of care when it came to the issue of public safety.

The events of 15th of April 1989 happened at Hillsborough but the could have happened at any stadium in the country. By 1989, really the only stadia in the entire of the United Kingdom which was up to anything resembling modern stadium standards, was Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium which had been redeveloped in the early 1970s. Not even Wembley Stadium which was the home of the FA Cup Final was particularly brilliant. It had been built in 1923 for the Olympic Games in London the following year. Fans were held in pens in crumbling stadia, more than fifty years old in most cases and it was only a matter of time before something like this would happen.

The match itself had been overbooked, since in those days there was no such thing as allocated seating and stadia only thought about how many tickets they could sell; not the consequences of overselling the ground. A crowd crush had started in narrow tunnels underneath the Leppings Lane end of the ground and because there were those heavy steel containment fences in place, the crush only became worse.

To alleviate the crush, ground staff opened a spill gate which had entirely the wrong effect and rather than fans exiting the ground, more of them began flooding into it. It soon became apparent though that this was a disastrous plan and as more and more people entered the ground, more people were literally crushed to death; that figure would finally rest at 96.

In the immediate aftermath, it was obvious that something terrible had happened but because this was still before the days of the internet and social messaging, the journalistic reporting of what had happened was still being done by telephone. News filtered through to other grounds that day and radio stations were able to tentatively report that there had indeed been a crowd crush but it was only when TV footage began to find its way to newsrooms that the public finally saw what had occurred.

The Sun newspaper went to print with its now infamous "The Truth" headline, and it accused fans of stealing from the dead and urinating on the police and ambulance staff. All of this was unfounded but it would take years for The Sun to issue a formal apology. Even so, some 27 years after the disaster, The Sun newspaper is still viewed with contempt in the city of Liverpool and if you buy a copy, you are still regarded with a hard stare and a great deal of derision from Liverpudlians.

But it was the way in which the enquiry into the disaster was handled which has really made people livid for the best part of three decades. Initially there was a cover-up by the Thatcher Government and the South Yorkshire Police, who preferred to look the other way and initially the blame for this was dissipated.

It has taken 27 years but finally the inquest into the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster has concluded that the 96 fans who died as a result of a crush were "unlawfully killed". Also, after 27 years, the South Yorkshire Police have officially acknowledged their part in the disaster when their Chief Constable admitted that they had got their policing "catastrophically wrong" and "failed the victims and failed their families".

The jury in the inquest of the Hillsborough Stadium Disaster found that the then commander of the South Yorkshire Police, was "responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence" due to a breach of his duty of care. This is in stark contrast to 27 years ago, when stadia and the police, tried to dodge the idea that they even had a duty of care.

What I find most amazing about all of this, is that the families of the victims have had to wait for this long for a proper inquiry to be held, must less for justice to finally be served and this in the face of a media who were hostile and a government and police who tried to rake over it.

After 267 days of evidence and after the jury had heard from 800 witnesses, the longest case heard by a jury in British legal history, was finally adjudicated on. Hopefully, we should finally see the beginning of closure for those long suffering families. It might have taken 27 years, but we finally have the beginning of justice for the 96.

Aside:
All 14 questions and answers:

Do you agree with the following statement which is intended to summarise the basic facts of the disaster: “Ninety-six people died as a result of the Disaster at Hillsborough Stadium on 15 April 1989 due to crushing in the central pens of the Leppings Lane terrace, following the admission of a large number of supporters to the Stadium through exit gates.”
YES

Was there any error or omission in police planning and preparation for the semi-final on April 15, 1989, which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?
YES - “The jury feel that there were major omissions in the 1989 operational order, including specific instructions for managing the crowd outside the LL turnstiles, specific instructions as to how the pens were to be filled and monitored, specific instructions as to who would be responsible for the monitoring of the pens.

Was there any error or omission in policing on the day of the match which caused or contributed to a dangerous situation developing at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?
YES - The jury said: “Police response to the increasing crowds at Leppings Lane was slow and uncoordinated. The road closure and sweep of fans exacerbated the situation.” They said no filter cordons were used, no contingency plans made and atempts to close perimeter gates were too late.

Was there any error or omission by commanding officers which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?
YES - The jury said: “Commanding officers should have ordered the closure of the central tunnel before the opening of gate C was requested as pens three and four were full.” They said commanding officers should have asked for figures and failed to recognise pens were at capacity.

When the order was given to open the exit gates at the Leppings Lane end of the stadium, was there any error or omission by the commanding officers in the control box which caused or contributed to the crush on the terrace?
YES - The jury said: “Commanding officers did not inform officers in the inner concourse prior to the opening of gate C.” They said they failed to consider where fans would go and to consider the closure of the tunnel.

Are you satisfied, so that you are sure, that those who died in the disaster were unlawfully killed?
YES - majority decision (7-2)

Was there any behaviour on the part of the football supporters which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation at the Leppings Lane turnstiles?”
NO - They were asked if behaviour may have caused or contributed. 

Were there any features of the design, construction and layout of the stadium which you consider were dangerous or defective and which caused or contributed to the disaster?
YES - The jury said: “Design and layout of the crush barriers in pen three and four were not fully compliant with the Green Guide.” They said the lack of dedicated turnstiles meant capacities could not be monitored and there were too few turnstiles. Signage to the side pens was inadequate.

Was there any error or omission in the safety certification and oversight of Hillsborough Stadium that caused or contributed to the disaster?
YES - They said the safety certificate was never amended to reflect changes at the Leppings Lane end. The capacity figures were incorrectly calculated and the safety certificate had not been reissued since 1986.

Was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday and its staff in the management of the stadium and/or preparation for the semi-final match on April 15, 1989, which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on the day of the match?
YES - The jury said: “The club did not approve the plans for dedicated turnstiles to each pen.” The club did not agree contingency plans with police and there was inaccurate information on the tickets.

Was there any error or omission by Sheffield Wednesday and its staff on April 15, 1989, which caused or contributed to the dangerous situation that developed at the Leppings Lane turnstiles and in the west terrace?
NO - They were asked if any error or omission MAY have contributed or caused the dangerous situation. They answered YES. The jury said: “Club officials were aware of the huge numbers of fans still outside the LL turnstiles at 2.40pm. They should have requested a delayed kick off at this point.

Should Eastwood and Partners (structural engineers) have done more to detect and advise on any unsafe or unsatisfactory features of Hillsborough Stadium which caused or contributed to the disaster?
YES - They said: “Eastwoods did not make their own calculations when they became consultants for Sheffield Wednesday FC.” They said calculations were incorrect and Eastwoods failed to recalculate capacities and update the safety certificate after 1986. They said Eastwoods failed to recognise the removal of crush barriers could create a dangerous situation.

After the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the police which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?
YES - They said the police delayed calling a major incident. There was a lack of communication, coordination and command and control.

After the crush in the west terrace had begun to develop, was there any error or omission by the ambulance service (SYMAS) which caused or contributed to the loss of lives in the disaster?
YES - They said ambulance officers at the scene failed to ascertain the nature of the problem and the failure to call a major incident led to delays in responses to the emergency.

All verdicts were unanimous, bar question 6.




April 22, 2016

Horse 2102 - The New York New York Presidential Primaries (So Nice They Voted Twice? But Only If The Chads Fall Off)

For weeks now, everyone who has been watching the race for the US Presidency has been looking at the remaining balance of delegates on offer and trying to figure out if the chasers on the respective sides have any realistic hope left. After the polls closed in the New York primaries, there was the beginning of certainty beginning to emerge from the swirling mists of the unknown.
On the Republican side, the delegates were allotted three per congressional district and if a candidate won a majority, they not only picked up two on the basis of proportionality but they were given the third as well. Because of this, Donald Trump absolutely knocked the New York primary face out of the park - it was up over and gone.
Trump scored the lion's share of the available delegates which if nothing else, salvages his push to win the 1,237 needed to avoid going to a contested Republican National Convention. If nobody gets to the required 1,237 pledged delegates needed to pick up the automatic nomination, then who knows what sort of yell down war ride the RNC is likely to be. The last time that this happened was back in 1980 and the only member of the GOP staff who was around at the time is now in his 90s.
On the Democratic side of the race, it's pretty well much over for Bernie Sanders. Even though he's been winning a good chunk of states of late, Hilary Clinton has carried her home state of New York by a good margin.
If you really drill down into the results of the New York primary, Trump has won 89 of the 93 possible pledged delegates. The only county in the entire of the state of New York, which didn't vote for Donald Trump, was none other than New York County; that very same small slice of Manhattan Island that he happens to live on and it wasn't even Ted Cruz who picked up those 4 delegates but John Kasich who was theoretically eliminated weeks and weeks ago. Kasich now needs just 148.5% of the remaining delegates at the RNC.

Most of the Democratic primaries which remain are closed; which means that people will have already have had to have been registered voters in order to have a say. Unlike other states which have open primaries and caucuses, one simply does not walk into a Democrat primary.
One thing that I've noticed as someone who has been watching this whole thing like a neutral watches a football match, is that once you know what sort caucus or primary it is, you can make a prediction in the same way as you would for the end of a Premier League season. The teams which are already doing well, continue to do well. Bernie tends to do better when the primary is open and Hilary does better when it is closed. Also, unlike the Republican side of the race, the process for allotting delegates on the Democratic side is always on a proportional basis. There is no winner-takes-all or winner-takes-most on the Democratic side; so there is no opportunity to flip a whole state like there in the Republican race.
With the numbers increasingly looking ever more precarious for Bernie Sanders, I'm going to suggest that unless he starts pulling out wins where he takes out +80% of the vote, then unless California does something massively different to the rest of the country, Hilary will be the nominee in an uncontested Democrat National Convention.

The road to 1,237 delegates on the Republican side is I think closed for everyone except Donald Trump and so the only question is whether or not he actually falls over the line. Trump who has 845, only needs 392 of the remaining delegates; which is 53% of them. Ted Cruz who is the nearest candidate, has 559 and so this means that he needs 678 of the remaining 733 delegates, or 92% of them. It's almost reached the point where it will be mathematically impossible for Ted Cruz to win and mathematically possible for Donald Trump to not win outright.

The numbers are even more tilted on the Democrat side. Hilary Clinton has 1930 delegates and needs only 453 of the remaining 1646. That is only 28% of what's left to play for and because the Democratic Party uses a proportional system, Hilary could afford to lose entire states by 100% and still win the nomination purely from delegates from California.
Bernie Sanders is increasingly looking at the light at the end of the tunnel and realising that it is an oncoming train. He has 1189 delegates and needs 1194 of the 1646 which remain. This puts him at 70% of the vote required and the point at which he will need more than 100% of the vote, can't be very far away.

I'm going to call this now and suggest that the general election in November will be a fight between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. If this is the case then the next guessing game will be to pick who the President of the United States will be and on that front, I have no idea at all, even how you pick that.
Right across the Anglophone world and in places which have Westminster Parliaments (which is places like Australia, Great Britain, Canada and five of the six state parliaments in Australia), it is relatively easy to apply uniform swing calculations across the electorate as a whole and predict which seats are going to fall to whom. A US Presidential Election though, does not and cannot work that way. Even if you ignore the sheer idiocy and arcane madness of the Electoral College, there simply are no reliable metrics for predicting who the President will be. Uniform swing calculators don't work because candidates generally only run once or twice (unless they are perpetual third party candidates like Ralph Nader) and even then, the fact that voting in the United States is only optional, means that the electorate is far more fractious and fickle to be reliable.

I'm even going to say that it's easier for me to predict that Paul Ryan will be the nominee for the Republicans and win the election on the 3rd of November 2020, than to try and predict the winner of the 2016 race. That's like trying to find a needle in a haystack; in a hayfield; on the Hay Plain; when you're looking out of the window of a plane and have hayfever.

April 19, 2016

Horse 2101 - Schrödinger's Election - We Are On, Or Not On

Bang a gong, we are on. It's the bout to knock the other out. It's the great spill to decide the king of the hill. It's the Top Hats versus the Hard Hats. It's the constitution, it's Mabo, it's the vibe.
The Senate has officially rejected the ABCC bill and in a stunning turn of events, has handed the Turnbull Government an election trigger, which means that we are almost certainly heading for a double dissolution election. It's the only time that there is smoke before the gun has been fired. We have entered a period of Schrödinger's Parliament: it might already be dead but no one has opened the chamber to find out.

In the Blue corner, we have the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who probably should have called an election within a fortnight of winning the premiership to lock down his legitimacy but for reasons known only to the cats of Australia, he did not.
In the Red corner we have the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten who is known for his skilled knife work and whose most famous moment was standing around looking sad, at the top of a hole, during the Beaconsfield Mine collapse.
Neither of our two protagonists have led their parties to an election before and the last time that this happened was all the way back in 1900.

The two things which make this election uniquely unique (which is a tautological tautology) is that during the period of the election campaign there will be the Federal Budget handed down (which has the potential to itself trigger an election should Labor win the election and then decide not to pass it) and the minor detail that it will be a seven week campaign rather than five (assuming that it happens in the first place).

Probably the Liberal Party will attack Shorten over the failure to pass the ABCC legislation and accuse him personally of being a pawn of the union movement but given that this failed in the Victorian state election which brought Dan Andrews to the premiership of that state, it might not necessarily be all that effective. This argument is something of an unexploded ordinance in that Turnbull could accuse Shorten of being involved with the unions but Shorten's response would be that this is obvious. Shorten first came to national prominence as the union representative during the Beaconsfield mine collapse. This sort of attack might be akin to accusing Shorten of being a member of the Labor Party.
Malcolm Turnbull can project a more positive stance by suggesting that the Liberal Party is better at economic management, which is a narrative which still seems to resonate with the electorate, even though the then Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan led Australia admirably through the Global Financial Crisis. Swan has been remarkably absent in politics for a while and I think is still the best candidate for Treasurer. In contrast, Turnbull could run a frontal campaign directly on Labor's promise to hold a Banking Royal Commission by painting it as undermining confidence in the banking sector.

Now that the Senate has failed to pass the legislation and we wait for the election trigger to be pulled, then the only action that remains for this session of parliament is the handing down of the budget in May. This in itself has an interesting set of circumstances surrounding it, which I do not understand. I don't for instance know if the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten gets a right to a reply speech on the Wednesday immediately following. I also assume (because I honestly don't know) that it will be for the new parliament to vote on the Appropriation Bills which form the budgetary legislation. If Labor wins government on July 2, one can only think that they'd think about passing a new budget. Of course I also don't know what would happen if say Labor was in government and they faced a hostile Senate. If they couldn't pass their own budget, would the Appropriation Bills which formed the previous Turnbull Government's budget still be in play and does that mean that the clock is ticking? What I'm asking is, does the future result of the election mean that we're inadvertently sleepwalking towards another double dissolution in November, under the same set of circumstances that led to The Dismissal in 1975?

If Bill Shorten loses the election, then I think that it's safe to assume that the Labor Party will probably fire him as leader. It is usual for an Opposition once they have lost an election to go into disarray and run side to side like brainless sheep. Of course that would invoke a mostly untested process, which was instituted after Kevin Rudd left party leadership and that could mean that the Labor Party is technically without a leader on the floor of the chamber until the rank and file of the party finally get around to voting for Albo (you know it's going to happen).
If the Coalition loses the electron, then Malcolm Turnbull would more than likely stay on as leader but it is highly likely that there will be a leadership challenge on the horizon in late July. Barnaby
Joyce would almost certainly stay on as the leader of the National Party because let's face it, the Nationals are too small to have highly vocal factions.

As of this morning, we have a case of Schrödinger's Election. The election is both on and not on July 2 and there is a thing inside a chamber which has the potential to kill or has already killed off a parliament. The only way whether or not you can tell if there is an election on or not, is when the chamber is opened after a division. The cats of Australia have made their choice; we just don't know what it is yet.
One thing we do know is that whatever the outcome and whoever wins, they won't suffer the same fate as Dutch Prime Minister Johann de Witt. In 1672, an angry mob killed and ate him, after lynching him and ripping his body to pieces. We might have knifing of leaders in Australia and we might pull election triggers but we don't resort to out

April 15, 2016

Horse 2100 - Never Say Sterben

Liverpool 4 - Borussia Dortmund 3

Mkhitaryan 5'
Aubameyang 9'
Origi 48'
Reus 57'
Coutinho 66'
Sakho 77'
Lovren 91'

I can not point out how ridiculously happy this makes me.

After Mkhitaryan's goal went in after 5 minutes, I was disappointed. After Aubameyang's goal doubled the lead after just 9 minutes, I was positively livid. Liverpool in the league have been directionless for some time, they lost 2-1 against West Ham in the FA Cup back in February and after losing against Man City in the League Cup on penalties, the Europa League which is basically the "second chance, thanks for showing up" cup, was their only hope at taking anything away from this season at all. Nine minutes into this fixture against Borussia Dortmund, they appeared to have thrown than away as well.

After the half time break, Origi undid some of the damage by scoring his fourth goal in three games for Liverpool but Marco Reus looked to have put the knife to Liverpool's throat by scoring Dortmund's third because of a defensive brain explosion by Mamadou Sakho played him onside.

At 3-1 down, hope seemed to have been lost until Coutinho fired in a bullt from just outside the 18-yard box; to bring the score back to 3-2.
Thirteen minutes from the end though, as Dortmund turned to a defensive stance in order to shut the match down, Sakho went from villain to hero when he lowered his head to turn in a corner from Coutinho and at 3-3, Dortmund only dug in deeper.

Perhaps the game was destined to go to extra time and penalites but a slice of brilliance and cleverness made sure that this fixture ended, after a free-kick, which led to Sturridge's back heel to Milner, who crossed it onto the head of Dejan Lovren in the 91st minute.


I know that this sounds ridiculous but already, I was think of a fixture from eleven years ago, when Liverpool were 3-0 down at half time, scored 3 goals in the second half and won a piece of silverware. This time around, they scored 4 goals in the second half and whilst they haven't yet won a piece of silverware, surely the memory of the dream of the impossible must be flooding back.

During the league season, Liverpool have been on occasion seemingly unable to score. I don't know if this is because tactically, manager Jürgen Klopp likes to keep all his eggs in one basket but on this occasion, it looked like both Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool had all their eggs in the same basket - and all of those eggs were being violently smashed all over the place in pursuit of one overly egged omelette.
Considering that this was against Jürgen Klopp's former club and that they would have had at least a fair idea of how he operates, then perhaps they should have made good on their earlier killer blows. The strange thing is that Liverpool actually remain undefeated by German opposition at Anfield; even if it took a German manager to preserve that record.

We now look to the Semi Finals, where Liverpool will meet either Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk or Villarreal.

April 14, 2016

Horse 2099 - No-One Cares About The Stairs

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold and she's buying a stairway to heaven.
This is not it.


More than likely this is one of the most boring photographs which has ever appeared on this blog.
You and I and everyone can see that it is nothing more than a photograph of a set of stairs. "Ahah!", you don't hear me say, for this is a text based medium and sounds do not travel via the medium of text. This is a photograph of something special; a world which has long past out of view and which will again hide itself away from prying eyes.

Wynyard Station in the Sydney CBD has been in desperate need of renovation for far too long. The reason for this is that in terms of passenger traffic, it is easily in the top three in Sydney. Every morning when the city breathes in, because of Wynyard's proximity to the financial and business district, it is the point through which most of the joyless business types pass. Likewise in the afternoon, it becomes the point from which the city vomits them all back into the suburbs. At five past five in the afternoon, you can sometimes barely move on the platforms for all the crowds that accumulate. At midday on the weekend though, it turns into a ghost town, with only the memories of the working week before, left to inhabit it.

These stairs though, are remnants of a past which only the observant are reminded of. They are the reminder of what once was. Currently, Wynyard Station has four platforms; they are numbered 3 and 4 upstairs and 5 and 6 downstairs. These stairs are for the permanently closed and deleted platforms 1 and 2.
Once upon a time in the lands of the past when Sydney had the largest tram network in the world, Platforms 1 and 2 served as tram platforms. The trams that headed northbound, went up the North Shore and to places like Mosman and the zoo. Platforms 1 and 2 would have been like the other platforms and breathed passenger traffic in and out. These stairs serviced those platforms.
The obvious question of why they still exist has two possible answers for me. The first is the more likely one, in that simple apathy and dereliction of care is why they were never demolished. Nobody saw a need to and so nobody could be bothered. I have a more hopeful answer though. My hope is that they were saved just in case they were needed again at some point in the future. I hope that the reason that they didn't suffer the indignation of the jackhammer is that someone was and is looking ahead to a time when once again, it will fulfill a useful purpose.

Directly above these stairs and where Platforms 1 and 2 used to be, the tunnels which once saw trams pass through are now filled, rather uselessly, with cars which are parked there. Trams which could move fifty and sixty people at a time, have been replaced by cars which remain static most of the day and given that they're likely to be driven by even richer and even more joyless business types, they will more likely than not be ferrying only a single occupant. It's probably reasonable to estimate that the former tram tunnels now have less people pass through them in an entire week than what would have passed through them in ten minutes. Someone appears to be making money though. I went upstairs to look at the car parking rates and saw that a day rate cost $48 - that's more than I currently pay for a week's worth of public transport usage, or more than I'd pay for a month's worth of lunches.

The scary thing is that these car park expenses are almost certainly being counted as business expenses; which means that you and I are in effect subsidising this inefficient waste of what could be useful infrastructure to the tune of as much as $14.40 per car per day in tax which has been foregone.
Most of the people who walk past this construction site don't know and don't care about these stairs and wouldn't even think to look at them; much less consider what could you been. Once upon a time in the land of the past, these stairs would have been dressed with wooden handrails and possibly with advertisements for Walton's, Mark Foy's, Brylcream and Bonox, in the rises. Right now, the cry out to be used again but face a future of again being hidden behind walls or destroyed entirely.

For me they are a reminder of what was stolen from this city by a past government who didn't consider the future at all and a series of following governments who haven't made good on restoring that which was lost.
The renovation of Wynyard Station is a reparation of degradation yet doesn't change the situation of devastation wrought by past impatience. In the shiny future of tomorrow when Wynyard has been rebuilt anew, these stairs will again be unseen; reminding no-one of what should be.


This is where those stairs should lead to. The fact that they do not, is the result of abject stupidity on the part of a government past and the refusal of all subsequent state governments to fix what they destroyed.

April 11, 2016

Horse 2098 - Zoom Zoom Zoom Is "Childish"

http://www.autoblog.com/2016/04/07/new-mazdaspeed3-mazdaspeed6-delayed/
According to a Motoring interview, Mazda doesn't intend to build high-performance versions of the latest Mazda3 and Mazda6. 
...
Moro is already thinking about the direction for the future performance vehicles. He calls the previous Mazdaspeed3 "childish" and thinks it's time to go a different way. "Mazda brand has become more mature, more upscale, more sophisticated, and we have a new transition of the brand to relate that direction," he said.
- Chris Bruce, Autoblog, 7th Apr 2016

Mazda's North America CEO, Masahiro Moro, announced last week that Mazda would be discontinuing their Mazdaspeed label and with it their MPS label, deriding them as "childish" and that it wasn't unbefitting of a mature motor car company.
I have seen almost universal incredulousness displayed by motoring journalists, the garagistas and keyboard warriors on social media. I can understand these people throwing their hands up in the air and going berko but I honestly think that once you move outside the echo chamber of motorphiles, the general public doesn't give even a single turn of the key. It makes zero difference to them. Mazda may just have announced that they were changing their postal address for all the difference it made.

In some respects I understand Moro's line of thinking. It's more than likely that someone in the accounting department ran the numbers and came to the conclusion that the existence of the Mazdaspeed line as a point of difference was entirely pointless. I have often thought this way about the various marketing divisions of the various motor companies in America. GM ran at least six brands at one point and quite rightly both Oldsmobile and Pontiac have bitten the dust. Ford has come to its senses and finally killed off Mercury, as has Toyota which also sent Scion to the metaphorical wrecker's yard and Honda has hinted that Acura might also be soon for the chop. If Mazdaspeed was treated internally by Mazda like one of these, then its removal is rational.
It is also possible that someone at Mazda looked at the Mazdaspeed and MPS badges and decided that they were writing coolness cheques that they couldn't cash.

 Mercedes-Benz' AMG division led the revival of the Silberpfeil as a sporting identity in the early 1990's, following an official absence from motorsport of 35 years after the 1955 Le Man's disaster which killed 82 people. AMG were the division which led the company through sports car and touring car racing and they currently run the World Championship winning Formula One team.
Nissan's NISMO division has been running their Japanese touring car and sports car team for nigh on 30 years, Toyota's TRD team ran their World Rally Championship effort, then a sports car team and then played in Formula One for a while and closer to home it could be argued that HSV from Holden has been one of the headline acts of Australian touring car racing since 1988. Subaru's star has been falling lately as its famed WRX and STI badges shone in the World Rally Championship and after they pulled out, there isn't anything to back up the desired image.

This is the problem for Mazdaspeed and MPS. Quite apart from the obvious fact that they couldn't even agree on a unified identity across markets, there isn't really much of a marketing point for them.
Mazda won the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1991 after struggling for a decade and then being a little bit lucky when it came to some rule changes. Their efforts almost immediately started to dwindle and they haven't been back since. Apart from a brief foray into touring car racing in the early 1980s and a few 12 Hour wins in production car racing in the late 1990s, Mazda haven't really done much in the way of motorsport and that's a problem. You can't really market a sporty badge if you don't compete in sport. It's a bit like going a shopping mall and seeing people who have obviously never done a day of sport in their lives, walking around in sportswear. This is probably what Moro has noticed.

There is an alternative though, the company could start making good on the coolness cheques that it's trying to cash and actually go out and compete in motorsport. The way you get to have your posters on the walls of ten year olds is by racing. And yes, that does sound childish but the thing to remember about most men in particular is that part of us never grows up at all; we only get taller.
A lot of the psychology of branding has to do with trading on the memories of the past. People remember catch phrases and jingles for a long time after the ad campaign has ended. I can't even remember the last time that I ate a bowl of Frosties but even I remember Tony the Tiger's opinion of them. I can tell you what "the real thing" is and what "things go better" with, despite both of those ad campaigns ending before I was even born. Jaguar and Alfa Romeo have a brand image which results from their efforts in the 1950s and earlier, so it's not like the marketing needs to be current to have an effect.

As the owner of a Mazda 2, I can tell you that we didn't buy the car because of brand loyalty or even because of some perceived image. Brands like BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus trade heavily on that sort of image but Mazda can't really do that. It could be taken that Moro's comments were supposed to be seen as a positioning statement but it still only really tells part of the story. The truth is that Mazdaspeed and MPS actually are irrelevant and that this is a rational action, or that they should be consolidated and or replaced with something that genuinely does show sporting intent. Basically if Mazdaspeed and MPS can't cash coolness cheques then it should stop writing them, or start banking coolness so that it can.

April 08, 2016

Horse 2097 - Rollo, MP for Jollity West

During one of the afternoons at work where the radio was on and there was talk about politics, the inevitable question arose about whether either of us would have ever gone into (or in my case go into) politics. My boss said that he just didn't like the idea of sitting through endless meetings just to achieve anything and I kind of jokingly said that I'd never get elected because the sort of political outcomes that I would want to achieve would have been considered to be boring in the 1960s but so far massively to the left today that I'd never rise through the party ranks; which would be necessary to be elected.
I mentioned that I once accidentally got some votes in an election once, and that that would be the most likely route if I was ever going to enter serious politics (which itself isn't likely).

When I was in Year 11, there was the obligatory election for School Captain, as is every school's wont to run a literal popularity contest for some hitherto unknown reason. Twenty years later I have no idea who our School Captain was but I do remember that because I'd run a campaign of "Don't Vote For Anyone", somehow I'd managed to win some votes despite not actually contesting the election and not even appearing on the ballot paper. I even made some campaign posters on the photocopier in the library, using pictures that I'd found in a book about Lech Wałęsa's Solidarność movement in Poland.
Looking slightly ahead in time, I'm pretty sure that had I been involved in student politics in university, I would have been in some anarchical society. I don't mean that I like left or right wing anarchical politics, rather that the whole thing strikes me as being dead naff and a colossal waste of time. I probably might have joined something like a Pirate Party and contested elections as a joke candidate; which in my opinion sums up the entirety of student politics to a T, or rather an Rrrr!
Unless people really are dyed in the wool supporters of a political party (this usually applies to the sort of people who'd join the Young Liberals) then the only reason that I imagine that people would want to be involved in student politics is that they think that it will look good on their CV; when in actual fact no employer really cares which political team you barrack for in the grand shouting match.

In a roundabout way, this brings me to the subject of the 2016 Australian Federal Election. I'm sorry to announce that unless you out there in Internet Land can raise the $1000 deposit needed for me to run as a candidate, then it ain't gonna happen.
In 2013 I had the mad idea of looking into how much it would cost to stand as a candidate and run for Parliament. The writs were written and the registrations closed by the time that I got round to it but this time around, I've had plenty of warning and have still come to the conclusion that it just isn't worth the effort.
Provided you are over the age of 18 and hold Australian citizenship, then if you want to become a candidate then you need to jump over two hurdles which although aren't massive, are at least arduous enough to discourage many people from running for Parliament and making the ballot paper massive (I'm talking about the House of Representatives ticket here). Firstly as an unendorsed candidate who isn't affiliated with a political party, you need to collect at least 100 signatures from the general public. Then you need to pay the $1000 deposit. This is usually enough to stop most wing nuts and weirdos from getting a spot on the ballot paper.
Of course once you have been registered as a candidate, you are then entitled to get a spot on the billing on the hustings in the debate which usually takes place in the various town halls about a fortnight before the election.
In order to qualify to be reimbursed for your expenses of the campaign, you need to achieve 4% of the first preference vote. I worked out that it you were particularly lucky wing nut who ran in an electorate with not very many candidates, then you probably might be able to pick up a few protest votes but it more than likely wouldn't be enough to claim that 4% and win your money back. Running for Parliament just doesn't seem like a very profitable proposition to me.
In the Division of Chifley which I live in, the chances of anyone other than a Labor candidate getting elected are slim to asthmatic at best. For me to consider a challenge is futile and stupid.

The begging question is why would I run for Parliament in the first place. I think that most of the people who enter politics are the same dyed in the wool supporters who joined the perpetual shouting match in university and have spent so long in yelling "Hooray" and "Boo" that they're more concerned with the game of politics than the actual job of governance. Why would I want to enter that? The truth is that I don't (maybe).

As a spectator who is watching the shouting match from the sidelines, the actual chance that I have of entering the arena is close enough to may as well be zero. Even if you do join a political party, in order to even be considered to be placed on the ballot paper, you either have to dislodge the incumbent member of win the internal squabble to get that endorsement from the party. Locally that means pulling the levers and operating the necessary mechanics to not only dislodge our local member Ed Husic but also dissuade anyone else from running as well. After all of that, the task then involves convincing the electorate to vote for you and then if you want to make a career out of it, going through the whole process again in three years' time. Once you do manage to secure the job, you then have to listen to what the electorate wants, answer correspondence, nut out and vote on legislation and then plunge into the perpetual shouting match just to get anything done. That all just seems like an expensive way to apply for a job which you're not guaranteed to hold and can be fired because of the actions of other people. For someone who already likes the idea of running as a joke candidate, that seems like an unfunny joke with a terrible punchline.

That's not to say that democracy itself is a joke. The system we've inherited from our forebears is incredibly stable and whilst I think that there are some decisions which have been incredibly cruel, some which I think have been culpable and bordering on treasonous, on the whole the fact that we largely don't notice our governments is if nothing else an indication that they work.

So you're not likely to see me thundering from the backbenches as MP for Jollity West unless I somehow get a massive cashiplasty in the wallet department. In the meantime I'll just have to continue to be a spectator and yell "Hooray" and "Boo" at the radio like everyone else and maybe even "Arrr!".

April 07, 2016

Horse 2096 - No Quarter Given At Close Quarters

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/royal-australian-mint-releases-oneoff-australian-quarter-coin-to-honour-war-veterans/news-story/029540dda9620ea0a96eb0195f5bb7f4
For the first time Australia will get its own 25 cent coin, but you’ll probably have a better chance of finding one in a collection than in your change at the local corner shop.

The Royal Australian Mint will produce more than one million “quarters” in an exclusive one-off release and although they will be legal tender, the unique gold coins are unlikely to end up in circulation as general currency.
- Daily Telegraph, 27th April, 2016.


Owing to the fact that the United States introduced decimal currency at a time when most of the world was still using fractional currency, the US Quarter is as far as I can tell, the only 25c coin in circulation anywhere in the modern world. Britain has from time to time issued Crown sized coins which are denominated at 25 pence but they never circulate and Austria did have a 25c coin but that was more than a decade and a half ago, before the invention of the Euro.

These new 25 coins, which have an effective markup of just over 1700% (assuming that the Daily Telegraph which you need to purchase in order to get them is worthless), have a chance of being circulated which is so close to zero that it may as well be zero but in principle it is if nothing else, a good idea to test the public's attitude towards currency reform.

Let's be honest, the coins which currently circulate are not really fit for purpose anymore. The 5c, 10c and 20c coins have their basis in the British Florin (two shillings) of 1849 and that planchet size is still in use as our current 20c coin. If we assume that the average rate of inflation since then has been running at 4% then that works out to be the equivalent buying power of $139.82. That sounds idiotic until you realise that Victorian Britain had coins all the way down to fractions of farthings; so a two shilling coin would have been something which would almost never have even been seen by the majority of the population. At the time of the introduction of decimal currency in 1966, that calculation puts the 20c coin at the equivalent buying power of $1.40 and if that sounds stupid, just think of how idiotic it would be to tell the people of 1966 that the Daily Telegraph now costs 15 shillings.
As I see it, the 5c, 10c and 20c coins in their current form out outlived their usefulness and worn out their welcome. Usually I'd be calling for the abolition of just the 5c coin and maybe the 10c coin but I have seen the light. We should dump all of the cupronickel coins currently in circulation, that is the 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins, and introduce the Quarter to replace the whole cursed lot.

On my recent trip to the United States, I was convinced of the usefulness of the quarter because of the utter idiocy that is the persistence of the penny, nickel and dime. Pennies are stupid and should have been gotten rid of years ago. Nickels are an annoyance. Dimes are too small and are often forgotten. Quarters though, are the principal coin in circulation and provided you can wrap your head around them instead of 20c coins, they are a good thing.
If we just did away with all of the cupronickel coins in Australia, then the only things that you'd need to worry about would be quarters. We already have no trouble with rounding up or down when it comes to handling currency and to be fair, in a world where EFTPOS is commonplace nobody even worries about exact change when computers lovingly whizz numbers beneath our feet and above our heads through the internet at the speed of light.

The United States made the mistake of introducing the dollar coin and running it along side the dollar note. The general public haven't really taken a shine to the coin because the dollar note is more acceptable to vending machines but Australia which already replaced the dollar note with the coin and ditched the 1c and 2c coins, has already learnt a valuable lesson. It is the government who controls the issue of the currency and if the government wanted to impose currency reform, then they could just do it. Although the public might whinge a little bit, in six months' time it will be so much of a non-issue that they won't care. It isn't even a case of like it or lump it, it's just lump it.

I've seen restaurant menus that already ignore 5c coins and quote prices to only a single decimal place. In due time, even 10c coins will be mostly pointless and so I think that the jump straight to quarters would be like future proofing the system. A price of $¾ might look odd to us now but given enough time it would be completely normal. New Zealand has already done this and the net effect on inflation (if that's the biggest worry about this issue) was undetectable. If there were any ill effects, they didn't show up in the official inflation, unemployment or any other official figures. On a far larger scale, most of Europe changed from their old currencies to the Euro and already some countries have got rid of the 1 and 2 eurocent coins.
If all of this is a bridge too far then can we just please please please consign the 5c coin to the scrapheap already, make the rest of the coins smaller and introduce a $5 coin in place of the note? I really hate that I'm currently carrying $2.85 in cupronickel coins, which had their planchet sizes fixed in the century before last and weigh exactly the same as twenty-eight and a half shillings because that's what they are. Obviously we'd need the new Quarter to be some manageable size; I suggest borrowing the blanks for the New Zealand 50c coin.

See a penny, pick it up and all the day you'll have good luck? No! All the day you won't have good luck because you've already suffered the misfortune of picking up a coin which has failed at the only purpose for which it was designed and that is to facilitate commerce. Our 5c, 10c and 20c coins are already an inconvenience, the 50c coin is a big metal nonsense and we'd all be better off if we were rid of them.

April 06, 2016

Horse 2095 - The 2016 Presidential Race So Far - In Haikus

Seven men start out
Nomination G.O.P.
They are all hopeful

Jeb Bush is a man
With an exclamation mark
And rich family

Santorum started
And then ran out of money
His race ended quick

Marco Rubio
Was in for a bit of time
He dropped out as well

Doctor Ben Carson
Separated conjoined twins
Also failed as well

Then came John Kasich
Also failed quite miserably
But hangs on to spoil

Ted Cruz seems to be
Only one to still hang on
And stand up to Trump

Everybody knows
Donald Trump is a train wreck
Who might win the game

Donald Trump has said
Horrid things about people
But they do not care

People vote for him
Even though it makes no sense
For democracy

Then Wisconsin came
Trump campaign in disarray
Outright disappears

When the G.O.P.
Meets for its big convention
It will be brokered

Then we all shall see
It will be a perfect storm
All hell will break loose

All the delegates
Duke it out upon the floor
Who they want for Prez

On the other side
Hilary should walk it in
Then comes angry man

Bernie Sanders is
An old angry Jewish man
Running from Vermont

Hilary assumes
Help from the establishment
Get her to the line

But if old Bernie
Keeps on being popular
He still has a chance

Hilary has lost
Six of the last seven states
She must look forward

Everybody waits
For a grand New York showdown
On April Nineteenth

April 01, 2016

Horse 2094 - The Acceptable Price of Autonomous Cars

I heard recently about an autonomous Google car which was involved in an accident¹ where it ran into the back of a stationary bus. Admittedly, I have been on a bus which has been in an accident where a flesh and blood meatbag driver ran drove into the side of a stationary bus; so it's not like this was a unique phenomenon caused by an automated thing. Insurance companies regularly report that most accidents are caused by human error, either as a result of being distracted and/or consuming alcohol or other drugs. In fact I'd say that automation is likely to reduce both the number and average severity of accidents significantly but I can still see a time in the future where people who have been brought up in an environment where they don't drive their own cars, will be incapable of doing anything when automation fails.
When Air France Flight 447 went down in the Atlantic Ocean after leaving Rio, a simple case of icing of one of the sensors caused the autopilot to change modes and when the pilots found themselves in a stall, they were either incapable or incompetent (or both) to correct the stall, even though had they done nothing at all, other autopilot systems would have saved the aircraft and everyone on board².

This is something of a paradox of automation. Human error necessitates the need for automation and automation begets incompetence and that incompetence necessitates the need for more automation.
We already live in a world where perhaps the majority of drivers on the roads can not operate a manual gearbox. If autonomous vehicles become the norm in say ten years, then are we likely to find ourselves with a new norm where the majority of drivers can not operate manual controls like the brakes, accelerator and steering wheel? If incompetence can cause a passenger aircraft to ditch into the sea, killing hundreds of souls, then surely it's possible that on a rainy day on a motorway somewhere, a similar kind of incompetence could also kill many souls in an accident. Just exactly what are the passengers in an autonomous vehicle supposed to do if a pedestrian suddenly steps in front of the vehicle and they do not have manual controls in front of them. There aren't a lot of moving things to hit at 29,000 feet but down here on the ground, there are all sorts of animals, people, shopping trolleys in carparks and many multiples of other vehicles which are moving.

As I write this on the train to work in the morning, there are probably at least a thousand other people travelling with me and all of us are blissfully unaware of the work being done by the drivers and guards on the train. I have been on a completely autonomous train and I can tell you that the experience as a passenger is identical. The difference between an autonomous train and an autonomous car though, are many many levels of complexity required to make it work. Quite obviously a railway train runs on a set of tracks, which means that the route is also fixed. Systems have been put in place which can mechanically stop a train and once a train has stopped, can switch off power to other trains within that particular block. Autonomous cars though, would not travel on fixed routes and because they'd all operate under their own power, installing a system which could shut down many of them all at once would be far more difficult to invent and far more difficult to control if it were to fail. Combine that with increased levels of incompetence and helplessness of the flesh and blood meatbags being carried along by all of these autonomous vehicles and the potential for disaster, must also increase somewhere.

The question is whether or not these are acceptable trade offs for society. When I was a wee lad, textbooks warned of the possibility that we'd run out of oil by 2010. That has not happened but at some stage it's pretty likely. That being the case, legislators in the future might like to consider banning petrol powered motor cars and if we find ourselves driving electric vehicles, the systems needed to shut those down and switch them off in case of impending disaster is simpler and easier to make a reality than for petrol powered cars. Legislators just might find it easier to coerce the public into autonomous vehicles through taxation and registration costs and so it might not be society which ends up making that choice consciously.
In addition to this, insurance companies with their armies of accountants and actuaries might also coerce the public into autonomous vehicles if the costs of insurance end to being significantly lower. This would become an economic decision rather than an emotional one, in the same way that horses and carriages disappeared from the roads in the opening decades of the twentieth century.

This then is the beast that shouted "me!" at the heart of the argument. Accidents will inevitably happen because even the most excellently designed systems will fail due to reasons of wear through use. Even an autonomous system with no human input at all will require maintenance which might not be carried out as well as it should, or eventually stop working because of grit, gunk, dust and dirt, and so at some point things will fail and break. Even though autonomous vehicles will still cause accidents in the future, I can still imagine that they will be better at driving us around than we can currently do for ourselves, and even though we might resent that we as blood and flesh meatbag will collectively become incompetent and helpless when something does go wrong, the day will come when that will be an acceptable price to pay and so we'd better get used to it and just step out of the way.

March 31, 2016

Horse 2093 - A Brief, Incomplete and Mostly Wrong, History and Future of Income Tax In Australia

Before we begin, here is a brief history lesson on Income Tax in relation to Australia.
In 1770, Captain James Cook sailed around the world, looking at the transit of Venus across the sun, and stealing countries through the cunning use of flags. Terra Australis, the great southern land, was declared empty even though there were people obviously living in it but because they didn't have a flag, the "Rule Britannia" was invoked where "Britannia rules the waves" and "no flag, no country, you can't have one" were enforced.

In 1773, the Americans decided that they'd had enough of British rule and despite paying less than 2% in levies for goods like tea and corn, they had a war with Britain to throw off their colonial masters. Fast forward six years and Britain realised that it had nowhere to dump its knaves, rogues and ne'r-do-wells and decided to dump them all in Australia; which was out of sight and pretty well much out of mind.
In 1779, Britain found itself embroiled in a war with France and so imposed it's first income tax. This remained in place until 1812, was reintroduced in 1813 and ended again after it had ended its war with Napoleonic France.

The first "modem" Income Tax was imposed in 1842 under the premiership of Sir Robert Peel, from whom we get two nicknames for policemen "Bobbies" and "Peelers", when government and society generally was asked to do things in the name of "improvement". Innovations such as postage, actual proper sewerage, and public institutions such as the fire brigade and the police, began to be provided by the government. Peel's government needed a way to pay for it all and the income tax which was first imposed in 1842 was levied at 7d./£ for incomes over £150 (which is less than 3%).
From the 1850s onwards and after the discovery of payable gold in New South Wales, the six colonies in Australia were each granted responsible government of their own and they each imposed their own Income Tax. People in Australia were subject to both the Income Tax from Britain as well as their own colonial Income Tax and this remained in place until just after federation. The British Government charged the six states for residual services until the end of the tax year ending 5th April 1902.

The Australian Federal Government found that it had to fight every year to collect it's income from the states, from 1901 until 1936 when it passed the Income Tax Assessment Act, and for a brief period of time, citizens of Australia were again subject to two sets of Income taxes but from 1942, during the height of the Second World War, the states agreed to let the Federal Government be the only collector of Income Tax in Australia and that arrangement has been in place ever since.
Since 1942, there has been an annual bunfght at the Council of Australian Governments meeting (COAG), where the state governments have whinge that some states get more from the Commonwealth in services than their citizens pay and get gypped because of it.

This week, Treasurer Scott Morrison has put forward the totally unoriginal idea that the states should be allowed to again impose and collect their own Income Tax. This would have  the net effect of removing costs from the Federal budget; which fits in nicely with the Liberal/National Party's narrative of reducing the size of government.
The problem in principle with this is that the only people who would actually like this idea are the Federal Government, the State Government, businesses which cross borders and who would be able to find arbitrage and other opportunities to spin a profit because of differences in state Income Tax and people like accountants, auditors and financial advisors, planners, knaves, rogues and ne'r-do-wells. The vast majority of people for whom lodging tax returns of any sort is already about as much fun as haemorrhoids, would hate the idea of having to lodge a second Income Tax Return because the state governments are both crying poor and can't work together.

I personally think that the underlying driver behind Mr Morrison's hint that the states should impose their own Income Tax is ultimately about lowering tax rates and eroding government services.
Income Tax and in particular a progressive income tax is hated by business and the rich generally because they increasingly find the idea that government should fund things that they don't immediately benefit from, an anathema. Lower class people tend to derive most of  their income from wages but as you move upwards in Income, more income is derived from rent, dividends, interest and wages which come from financial and managerial employment; so as less to do with producing actual real work. Progressive Income Tax mostly has the effect on taxing income which has come from other people's work. The resentment arises mainly because of transfer payments to poorer people who they deem as not worthy recipients. The biggest item in the 2015 Federal Budget was Social Security and Welfare at $154bn and most of those payments were direct transfer payments; mainly to old people.

Actually, when it comes to general assistance to the States and Territories in terms of revenues paid to them, it only amounts to $57.7bn or just 13.2% of all Commonwealth outlays. This figure is almost identical to the revenues collected by the Commonwealth through GST receipts; so really if the states want to get together and have a giant collective whinge, they may find themselves being asked to take care of a few things that the Federal Government does, in return for their ability to take in their own Income Taxes.

Ultimately I think that the meal served up by Treasurer Scott Morrison to the states is unpalatable and I would be surprised if if wasn't spat out almost immediately. It seems like a bitter thing for the states to swallow as none of them are particularly well equipped to handle the administration required to collect such a thing. If the idea survives beyond the end of budget season, I will be well surprised.


March 30, 2016

Horse 2092 - Kruse Control Advances Australia

Australia 5 - Jordan 1
Cahill 25'
Mooy 39'
Cahill 44'
Rogic 53'
Luongo 69'
Deeb 89'

Australia moved one step closer to World Cup Qualification with a resounding 5-1 win over Jordan last night; which kept them atop Group B and means that they will be a seeded team going into the next round.
The opening goal came in the 25th minute when Robbie Kruse penetrated deep into Jordanian territory, cut a pass through the back four and Tim Cahill tapped the ball into the goal from just outside the six yard box.
Fourteen minutes later, Kruse again supplied a ball for Aaron Mooy by running through the defence and turning it outwards to Mooy with what appeared to be an unsighted pass. Mooy duly took one step, looked up, gave himself another step and shot the ball past the keeper, from the left hand side to just inside the opposite post.
One minute before the end of regulation time in the first half, Kruse again became the provider when he made run down the left hand side of the pitch and turned in a lofted cross, which Tim Cahill headed into the goal.
After the half time break, the one way traffic resumed and as Australia continued to push, there was a defensive log jam and Tom Rogic virtually passed the ball into the goal from eight yards away.

At 4-0 down and with no real hope of getting anything from the match, Jordan ceased to maintain their discipline and their defence descended into farce. Perhaps in response to Kruse supplying the passes for the first three goals, in the 65th minute, Rawashdeh Yousef made a challenge on Kruse that can at best be called cynical and at worst assault. Yousef went in with both legs airborne into the calves of Kruse; and I think that it would be hard to argue that his intent was anything other than a deliberate attempt to hurt Kruse. There was certainly zero likelihood that he'd win the ball in the challenge. If I'd been the referee, I'd had given Yousef his marching orders but the referee could only find a yellow card.

Australia found a new sense of urgency and following a short period of camping inside the 18 yard box, they were awarded a throw in. On the end of a confused and frantic couple of seconds, Massimo Luongo who had only recently come on as a substitute, scored Australia's fifth goal in the 69th minute.

From here on in tiredness gradually began to take over and even though Baha' Faisal brought down Tim Cahill in the 77th minute, Bailey Wright took out Mustafa Baha in the 80th minute and both incidents saw yellow cards being issued, the free kicks which followed, provided no goals.
Yousef again became the villain when he tripped up Chris Ikonomidis but even though this probably should have been adjudicated to be his second cardable offence, he got away with only conceding a free kick.

Tom Rogic went flailing into Ibrahim Al-Zawahreh with a clumsy challenge in the 89th minute which should have made him see yellow as well but again the referee was reluctant to pull out a card of any colour.
Jordan did finally get a consolation goal in the 89th minute when Abdallah Deeb fired a brilliant strike past the goal keeper Matt Ryan; which marked the first time in almost 400 minutes of football when an Australian keeper was even required to make a save and the first time that anyone had scored a goal against Australia since October last year.

With a result of 5-1, Australia can't really say that they were tested all that much but there are still things which can be learned from this.
Firstly that Australia plays better when it pushes forward. One of the simplest things to keep track of as a fan who is watching from the other side of a television screen is how many times the ball enters the 18 yard box. Australia dominated on this statistic by 51-18. Now admittedly it doesn't say how efficient the play is, or even what a side does with the ball once they get it up there but it does give an indication of how aggressive a team actually is, as well as the obvious information about where the ball spent most of its time.

One thing that I didn't like about the Australian attack last night was the lack of variety of attack. It was almost as if there was some sort of operations and procedures manual which dictated that the ball should be taken to the edges of the 18 yard box and turned in from about 12 yards away from the goal line. The 5-1 score disguises the fact that this can be tactically worked out and if a system becomes regular enough, then any manager who is looking at match footage from previous fixtures, should be able to design a set of defensive strategies to counter it.
Australia which played a 4-3-3 formation, looked strong while pressing but also looked somewhat vulnerable at the back once the midfield had been cleared. Even though Australia topped Group B with seven wins from eight matches, their resolve and skill will be more thoroughly tested in the next round when they meet stiffer opposition like South Korea, Japan and surprise package Thailand who topped their group.