July 28, 2017

Horse 2302 - Inequality and No Responsibility

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2017/s4708394.htm
Rising income and weath inequality is hollowing out the middle class around the developed world. Creating vast armies of working poor and leading to stagnant economies and political polarisation. It is the pre-eminent issue of our time. 
There's no question about that. The economic model that has delivered the inequality is trickledown economics which is basically tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for the powerful and wage suppression for the rest. 

Unquestionably. Capitalism needs to be saved from itself. That's what people like the Governor of the Bank of England are saying. It's what the financial institutions around the world are saying. Capitalism is thoroughly discredited at the moment because it's produced rampant income and wealth inequality. 
I've talked about inequality all of my political life but what I've discovered when I was Treasurer was just the extent to which powerful vested interests would try and drive policy to make outcomes even more unequal. 
- Wayne Swan, 7.30 program, ABC1, 26th July 2017.

Former Treasurer Wayne Swan is one of the more interesting politicians of the last two decades in that he has spent a great deal of time in office trying to speak to the underlying structures and motives of how an economy and government works, rather than just manipulating it for political power.
He stepped into the position of Shadow Treasurer under Mark Latham and continued to be there under in the Shadow Cabinets of Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd before taking on the role proper when Labor won government in 2007. Bizarrely, he ended up being the proper person for the job of Treasurer during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and continued right through the premierships of Rudd, Gillard, and Rudd again.

The above interview from earlier in the week, will probably go unremarked on by most of the media, because as someone who has returned to the backbench, unless you say something shocking, obscene or ridiculous, very little will be said of it at all. There is something of value here and it's part of a longer, deeper and perhaps far more troubling and worrying story which is yet to come.

Before I begin this though, I present a brief history of governance and power.
I can't speak for contexts beyond the UK, the US, and Australia because I'm not really all that familiar with the political history of countries beyond those but the wider historical narrative seems to draw mostly consistent parallels, so perhaps I needn't worry.

Prior to about 1832 and the Reform Acts, the only people who had any right to vote and any say in the executive of the nation was the landed gentry and a very select group of men who wielded influence. In total this amounted to know more than about 2% of the population. Following the passage of the Combinations Acts, which made it illegal for workers to combine into blocks of negotiating power, the once dormant working class of working people began to rise up and complain about their ill treatment. This resulted in the rise of the chartists, the trade unions, and the suffragette movement, until eventually the franchise was gradually extended wider still and wider.
At the same time, capital had shifted from direct ownership of the land and the abomination that is direct ownership of people as slaves, and into machinery and manufactory equipment. During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the opening of the twentieth century, the various groups that had pushed into the franchise began to exert political power to make conditions safer for people to work in.
Politically though, the class that owned capital and royalty above them, were moving towards nationalism and in 1914, a bloody mess which lasted for four years was triggered by the assassination of an archduke of a country which was mostly irrelevant and brought into play a whole bunch of treaties and counter treaties.
In some parts of Europe, the working class managed to usurp the previous class of capital and morph into them with the rise of state communism and sovietism, but capital continued to run mostly unfettered until there was a massive and sudden collapse of demand and credit which resulted in the Great Depression. This was only really truly broken by a second wave of nationalism, the rise of facists taking control of political power and a second bloody mess.

The welfare state as we know it only came after the capital class had been sufficiently degraded so that it longer exclusively controlled political power. The simple and rather basic argument was that if full employment could be achieved and utilised in the destruction of people and property on a massive scale, then there was no reason why in peace time that it couldn't be put to use in improving the lot and lives of working people and building property on an equally massive scale.
From the 1970s though, following on from an oil crisis which sent dramatic shocks through credit and aggregate demand, the capital class which had been sufficiently rebuilt in the intervening thirty years, began to reassert itself and set about dismantling the welfare state and privatising anything and everything which had been built. If we move forward yet another thirty years and the direct memory of the two bloody messes which saw the physical destruction of people and capital has almost faded entirely and apart from the lingering problem that the working class still retains the franchise, we are steadily returning to a set of political and economic conditions that existed before the two bloody messes.

The very existence of the welfare state came at a price. 115 million people lay dead across Europe, to fight in an argument which they didn't create and probably shouldn't be held responsible for. At the same time as people were being destroyed, untold millions of dollarpounds were also destroyed when buildings, factories, industries and even entire cities were reduced to smouldering piles of rubble.

The British Labour Party's manifesto of 1945 quite nicely gives a handy summary of what underpins why the welfare state came into existence:

http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/lab45.htm
In the years that followed, the "hard-faced men" and their political friends kept control of the Government. They controlled the banks, the mines, the big industries, largely the press and the cinema. They controlled the means by which the people got their living. They controlled the ways by which most of the people learned about the world outside. This happened in all the big industrialised countries.
Great economic blizzards swept the world in those years. The great inter-war slumps were not acts of God or of blind forces. They were the sure and certain result of the concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few men. These men had only learned how to act in the interest of their own bureaucratically-run private monopolies which may be likened to totalitarian oligarchies within our democratic State. They had and they felt no responsibility to the nation.
Similar forces are at work today. 
-  British Labour Party's Manifesto, 1945

There's an interesting sort of concept in there - responsibility.
One of the things which I find almost galling and certainly gauche is when people want to start asserting their rights. Rights of themselves are fine but if we remember that one of the most fundamental concepts in both economics and indeed politics is the notion that people are selfish and looking out for their rational self interest (and I think irrational a great deal of the time). The idea that we might be responsible to each other as members of a society is almost never discussed and in the grand debate of equality and inequality, or what is reasonable or unreasonable, the expression of responsibility is mysteriously absent.

We are currently witnessing the reassertion of a class of people, who derive their income and power through the accumulation of capital at a faster rate than the ability of working people to generate said capital and because people have an incredible capacity to normalise the world and over attribute their own work to their position, it makes sense that there would be a decoupling of responsibility from power. From the perspective of one who already has power and who controls capital, the natural inclination is to assign morality with results - people are poor because they have failed to perform rather than the effect which results from income and power accumulating faster than people's ability to generate said capital. The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power, as it were.
I suspect that as the twenty first century rolls on, that as capital shifts into machinery which replicates intellectual ability, that we will begin to see another period of rising inequality as we saw in the nineteenth century, for precisely the same reason. Only this time, because actual governance has long since shifted away from the state and into board rooms, there probably won't be a replication of similar movements to the chartists, the trade unions, and the suffragette movement.

"had only learned how to act in the interest of their own bureaucratically-run private monopolies which may be likened to totalitarian oligarchies within our democratic State"
- 1945

"tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for the powerful and wage suppression for the rest"
- 2017

I ask you, does 2017 sound suspiciously like 1927?

The only source of power since the beginning of the history of the world, is the ability to control people, the land, and the resources which lie on top and below it. The future story of governance and power will also lie on that same ability. The unanswered question will be to what degree future generations of people can make​ the powerful feel as though they have any responsibility to the nation at all. At the moment, the answer appears to be less and less.

July 26, 2017

Horse 2301 - News Should Not Be Sport (And Sport Isn't Really News)

Speaking as someone who follows the news in much the same way as I follow sport, I often see the various items in much the same light. This is also reinforced by the way in which news is often reported. And to that end, I am deeply disturbed by the way that news and in particular politics is reported.

Once upon a time, in the land that they call "the past"; which is a land which has its borders permanently closed and to which you may never return, the reporting of news was done by people who had to develop the skills to be able to both report on what has happened but also write some meaningful prose that was fit to print. By the time that radio and television had arrived, those skills had been honed and pieces to microphone and to camera were sometimes as worthy in the art of thesp as the grandest performances under the praesidium arch. Pieces from foreign correspondents needed to be economical with words but still accurate, and long form​ journalism quite rightly deserved accolades.
However, some time after the invention of the 24 hour news channel and the 24 hour news cycle which has been specifically tailored for it, it has become ever apparent that the demand to fill what would otherwise be dead airtime, has engulfed the newsroom; to the detriment of all. If there are well reasoned pieces, they are reserved for the fixed bulletins but the rest of the day has been filled with that most dreaded of beasts: the pundit.

I was in the bank for a full 45 minutes one day late last week; on a day when their computer network unilaterally decided to become a notwork. A lot of the time that I spend waiting in line in bank queues usually sees me as the unwilling target of children's entertainment; with Dora the Explorer posing questions of an imaginary audience and then staring blankly at the camera in pretence of waiting for a child to speak, or Peppa Pig going on inane adventures to find a missing bath plug or some such, of perhaps the Paw Patrol going on an equally inane adventure searching for some missing object. On this particular day though, I was in the bank watching Sky News to see someone at a news desk stare blankly into the camera while they were waiting for an announcement from Peter Dutton which was never forthcoming. Enter the pundits.
There was an ex politician from the state parliament from Victoria who I'd never heard of before, and two journalists from The Daily Telegraph and The​ Australian, both of whom I find deeply troubling and secretly wish that their entire life's work could be thrown into the Memory Hole of the Ministry Of Truth from Orwell's "1984". This panel was set up exactly the same way as one might find before or after a football match, with the journalists spouting drivel and the host doing his best to put on a face as though he had stumbled into a discussion of uncommon wisdom and​ profundity. To be honest I would have preferred Dora the Explorer to be speaking because she at least has the decency to shut up. These two columnists, who were faced with the abyss of dead air time filled it with little more than their own ideological agenda in lieu of actual on the ground reportage which was never forthcoming.

You could have replaced the ex politician with a former full forward from Collingwood, the two news pundits with journalists whose work usually occupies the back and not the front pages of the newspaper, changed the graphics from Sky News to Sky Sports and I don't​ think that I would have been any the wiser. For all I know, they could be using exactly the same set because with flat panel screens, the background can be changed with the push of a button.
From a technical​ standpoint it makes perfect sense that you'd want to have television programs which are directly interchangeable. In this case, the cameras, sound gear and the lighting wouldn't even have to move and I imagine that you'd be able to hot bunk programs all the day through. From a truthiness and newsworthiness standpoint, this is the equivalent of feeding the news watching public chips and gravy forever.
The problem as I see it isn't a technical one but the fact that the television programs are interchangeable to the point that not even the hosts or the guests seem to know the difference. It's bad enough that political punditry passes itself off as journalism when really it is just commentary without a sense of its own cadence but politicians themselves think that they are sports people and have forgotten that making policy has lasting implications for more than just the duration of the match in progress.

I will admit that I am not a journalist and that I wouldn't know how to craft a well reasoned piece for television, radio or print, if I was slapped in the face by Randolph Hearst himself but I do know that the best of these things that I've written, take time to develop before they bloom and grow. The sheer time that it takes to write a thing, reread the thing and make final corrections on the thing, produces a better result than someone spouting whatever they can think of at the spur of the moment.
It used to be in the days when there was only one nightly news bulletin or one edition of the newspaper, that political journalists would have the necessary time to craft their pieces and edit them. That space still might exist in the creation of those bulletins and with distinct interview type shows such as 7.30 or Lateline but it is absolutely impossible for a rolling news program. This isn't the television equivalent of PM on Radio National but of the myriad of breakfast and drive programs; if you then add an element of shock-jockery, then not only has the art of producing political news as craft been thrown out the window but it has also been bashed with cricket bats after it has not the ground.

Addenda:
It's not just news as sport which I find disturbing but sport as news which I find equally as disturbing.

To wit, Liverpool FC played Sydney FC in a post season tour match and it was broadcasted on ABC2. ABC2 were given practically zero notice that they were going to broadcast the match and hastily compiled a panel of hosts who were hopelessly out of their depth. Given that this was a match of literally zero consequence, it scarcely mattered though. This caused something of a furore, especially in News Corp newspapers, and the ABC became a collective punching bag.
Speaking as a Liverpool fan, I had no problem at all with the way that the match was covered. I even had no problem with Aaron Chen's pieces to camera as someone who was bemused and confused by the whole affair. This was a football match; it wasn't like international diplomacy was being conducted. The abject seriousness with which sport is treated sometimes, is ridiculous. Treating sport with the reverence of a funeral or of a court proceeding, is misplaced. The​ whole premise of sport is that it really doesn't matter. "Football isn't a matter of life and death, its much more important than that" might very well be the sentiment expressed by Bill Shankly but he would have been fully aware that the people who stood on the terraces week in and week out, had complicated lives outside of the ground. Sport matters so very much precisely because it is fluff.

July 25, 2017

Horse 2300 - In Defence Of Non-Fixed Terms

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-23/malcolm-turnbull-bill-shorten-fixed-four-year-parliamentary-term/8735690
But on Sunday morning, Mr Shorten told the ABC's Insiders program the current system was stifling reform, and federal parliaments should run for a fixed term of four years instead.
"The federal political system seems out of whack in that everything is so short-term. The average life of a federal government is two-and-a-half years — not even three years," Mr Shorten said.
- ABC News, 24th Jul 2017

Federal Opposition Leader and devil may care comedian Bill "I'm not really doing anything" Shorten, has decided that despite our country doing perfectly well for 117 years, and despite there being a constitutional convention in 1897-98 which argued about the subject at length, that Australia absolutely needs fixed four year terms for politicians; for reasons that are hitherto unknown, unexplained and as yet unimagined.
This whole thing smacks of wanting to appear to be doing something, even if it's not actually anything productive. I guess that the news narrative was so immensely boring at the moment that the attitude of "we need to be doing something; this is something; therefore we need to do this" is on full display.

Australia arrived at its constitution through one of the most protracted and argumentative processes of any country. Prior to federation, Australia was a collection of six Crown Colonies which didn't really much like each other and made very little attempt to get along. The idea of federation had been Micki about for two decades before it finally happened and it took so long that Fiji didn't bother to send delegates to the last convention and New Zealand voted against joining.

Australia's Constitution is very much misunderstood by a great many of Australians. Presumably they want to see some sort of bill of rights and they notice that the Australian Constitution doesn't have one attached. The reason for this is that rights at common law are assumed to exist unless hedged in by legislation. The framers of the Australian Constitution saw that the experience of the American Constitution, limited people's vision as to what their rights were and so by not including one, Australians retain a broader vision with regards to their rights.
From this basic assumption, the Constitution of Australia does almost nothing more than define what the parliament is, what it has the power to make laws for, how it operates, what's it is made up of, and how often the terms for the members of parliament are.
In framing the Australian Constitution, a grand series of pitched arguments took place. Particularly people like Henry Parkes, Alfred Deakin, Joseph Cook and​ Edmund Barton, were informed by the way in which Westminster System parliaments worked and how the American Congress worked. They also looked at how those institutions didn't work and what the most likely source of problems were. The Reform Act of 1832 and the work of the chartists, the trade unions, and the suffragette​ movement, meant that Australia would open with a greater degree of representation of the people than either the House Of Commons in the United Kingdom or the Congress in America. This meant that the franchise wasn't the most singular and pressing issue of the day but rather, the term length of politicians and on this front, the United States' experience directed most of the thinking.

The House Of Representatives in the United States has fixed terms of two years. As a consequence, the members of the House are almost in perpetual campaign mode. Although it is indeed a good idea to have politicians answerable to the people on a very short chain, it often means that the House doesn't get very much done. Harry Truman famously called the 80th Congress the "Do Nothing Congress" when immediately after World War 2, the House seemed to dither on every single possible piece of legislation for fear of recriminations from their constituents in the 1946 House election.
The United States Senate, which is a house of review and is supposed to provide equal representation for the states and was such a good idea that it was copied across the border in Canada, has a fixed of six years and in conjunction with the elections for the house, one third of Senators are up for election at a time.
The constitutional conventions in Australia looked at what did and didn't work in the United States and retained the fixed term of six years for Senators but they decided that two years was too short for the house to accomplish anything, and Presidents like James Buchanan who lost the Union and Andrew Johnson proved that four years was too long to wait to get rid of someone when the Senate failed to impeach him. That story might yet be playing out again with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Australia retained one feature from the British House Of Commons which was considered useful at the time and which Mr Shorten seems to have forgotten. By leaving the sitting term specifically vague, it means that the lengthy wait for an election to roll around is almost entirely eliminated. Governments in Australia such as Queensland and New South Wales seem to enter election mode roughly eight months before the election instead of doing any actual proper governing, which is what a government is supposed to do. It does indeed mean that a sitting government does have the call for the date of an election but if a government is doing a job which pleases the people, then surely calling an election and gambling upon their goodwill is their prerogative.

I think that our Federal democracy in Australia has through 117 years proved to be both stable and reasonably predictable. I think that almost entirely by accident, we've ended up with one of the best systems of government in the world and I for one, don't see any advantage in mucking around with a thing that works so well. I am suspicious of attempts to change the system because the case is almost never made for how it will improve the system. The one thing that needs to be remembered is that the country will outlive the terms of every sitting politician and that changing it for short term benefits, usually ends up doing harm in the long run.

July 21, 2017

Colt 2299.1 - Is This The Real Life?

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/20/trump-reportedly-set-to-name-anthony-scaramucci-new-white-house-communications-director.html
Former hedge fund star Anthony Scaramucci is set to become the new White House communications director, Axios reported on Thursday.
President Donald Trump will be announcing the news later, the publication said, citing unnamed sources. NBC has also confirmed the news with multiple sources.
- CNBC, 21st July 2017

Scaramucci? Scaramucci?!
Will he do the fandango?

Thunderbolt and lightning!
Very very frightening (me).

Galileo?

Galileo?

Galileo Figaro?


Magnifico!

I'm just a poor boy nobody loves me. He's just a poor boy from a poor family.
Spare him his life from this monstrosity!

July 19, 2017

Horse 2299 - For My Next Number...

I got asked on Monday by a client to write a thing about what numbers I think are "good" and "bad". He pointed out that in the building where he lives​ in Chatswood, that because the owners of the building are Chinese, there is no floor 4 and no floor 13 in the building. Instead the floors count up 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 77, 88, 888 and 88888. 4 is seen as evil because the word in Chinese sounds like the word for "death", 8 sounds like "money", and 7 is also lucky. I was asked if I saw numbers as being lucky, unlucky, good, bad, evil, or whatever, and I think that I was a disappointment  to him because it made no difference to me whatsoever.

One of the things which Mrs Rollo will accuse me of (and perhaps quite rightly) is that I think about numbers too much. I have a job where I basically play with arithmetic all day long and to be perfectly honest, doing tax returns, preparing financial accounts and filling in Business Activity Statements is logically no better than doing a complicated sudoku - it's all about fitting numbers into grids.
I have previously written that I wish that the whole world would switch to a dozenal number system and that the number 14 is the first boring number because it isn't prime, triangular, square, cubic or abundant; so I have form when it comes to this sort of thing. So it surprises me not when I get asked to write a thing about the goodness or badness of numbers. Which numbers do I like, which ones do I hate, and are there any good or bad numbers?

Let me start out by saying that I don't care about whether numbers are "good" or "bad"; the concept doesn't make sense to me either. I personally like to type numbers like 987, 456 and 321 on the keypad but that's because I get to do a flourish on the keypad; those numbers are like trills on a piano. I also don't happen to have a case of synesthesia, as someone once asked me, where someone gets to see colours associated with numbers, though I think that that would be pretty neat.
I can imagine 2 being blue, 3 red, 4 purple, 5 orange et cetera but that is because of my existing associations with pool balls; I used to have a 3 ball as a gearknob in a red Ford Ka.

I suspect that the reason why people think that I have a favourite number, or an opinion on whether or not numbers are good or bad is because they must be trying to map some kind of cultural expectations over numbers and by extension, someone who works and lives in that world.  They​ very fact we call all numbers which can be cut into two "even" and those numbers which can not "odd", seems to imply an expectation of symmetry on numbers. I can understand this I suppose but it still doesn't really explain why there are seven days in a week, why we tally things off in groups of five, or why three is a magic number.
I totally understand why 100 is culturally significant when we consider amounts of money or that mythical point in cricket when the scoreboard adds an whole new column but even then, the number of deliveries in an over is six, as is the number of runs one scores for clearing the boundary with one shot. As for the goodness or badness of the numbers themselves? I don't think that that proves anything at all.

I don't really find the thought that numbers as abstract concepts posses a personality either. 16 isn't bossy, 12 isn't angry, 7 doesn't hang out at cool parties, 1024 isn't secretly into musicals and keeps a record collection behind the fridge. Why anyone would think that I think about this sort of thing is a mystery to me. I could invent back stories for all the numbers but what would be the point? Whilst it is indeed true that many languages assign gender to inanimate objects, I think that that is a function of needing a set of rules for grammar and I think that the gender that objects are assigned is mostly arbitrary. I don't see what advantage there is to calling a table a girl, or the Euro a boy, even though I'm perfectly happy to accept that motor cars and ships are female. I don't see any inherent gender in the number 18, 33 or 582, any more than I can answer the question of what colour Wednesday is.

One of the things I like about "2001: A Space Oddessy" is the description of the monolith which features as a continuing motif. Its dimensions are described as being 1:4:9 and that it would be foolish to think that they ended there. I think that if we ever find aliens in the universe (which although is a non zero chance, is close enough to zero to be taken as acceptable fact) that the most likely point of universal agreement will be in the subject of mathematics. The rules for mathematics seem to apply in all circumstances and forever. Now that's quite apart from whether or not numbers themselves are "good" or "bad" or even what sort of personality you want to apply to them.

July 17, 2017

Horse 2298 - "Broadchurch" Is a Doctor Who Arc

As I write this, the Doctor Who fandom will probably be losing its collective mind over the announcement that Jodie Whittaker has been named as the 13th Doctor. This will be heralded as some landmark in television when in reality, all that has happened in that an actor has filled a role. Quite frankly I think that this is one of the most spoilery of spoilers because the next episode won't come out until Boxing Day and if filming was to start tomorrow, then the next series wouldn't air until January of 2018 at the earliest. Keeping everyone in suspense for six months would have been a good thing but I suppose that the BBC is counting on the fact that there would have been leaks from the set and so this is flood mitigation.

Of course this just leaves the fandom to come up with insane theories and counter theories, which given the nature of the show, might eventually find their way into it. Indeed the Twelfth Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi, is something of an ascended fanboy; having letters to the editor in the Doctor Who magazine published.

Naturally, I have my own insane theories, one of which is being proven all the more. That is that, all television shows with any actor from Doctor Who are in fact Doctor Who stories; I have expounded upon this before (See Horse 2294). One of the rather amusing consequences of announcing Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor is that the TV series "Broadchurch" ceases to be just a 10th Doctor story, with the Doctor assuming an alias with the companion of DS Ellie Miller but it becomes a 10th and 13th Doctor story with Beth Latimer suffering the trauma of losing her son and that's the reason why the 10th Doctor tangles up the timeline and investigates. If time is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, then that also explains why Rory poses as a church minister.

- Rory poses as a Minister; being quizzed by the 13th Doctor.

This also opens up an unexpected line of insane theory. If Beth Latimer is the 13th Doctor, then we know who the Doctor's children are. If we know who the Doctor's children are, then we can guess who the parents of Susan Foreman are, and that would explain why she as the Doctor's grandaughter ended up in the TARDIS before the very​ first episode of "An Unearthly Child" in 1963. Presumably Susan is Chloe Latimer's daughter because she who must have been married at some point in the past's future. Of course if they end up commissioning a fourth series of Broadchurch with Peter Capaldi in it, then this insane theory gets triple locked down.

Invariably the announcement of a new Doctor also means that there will be a companion who will be cast and I suspect that director Chris Chibnall will want to install a rather dim witted young man in the role. It would make sense for the power dynamic to be exactly gender opposite because in this case the companion needs to be a great steaming pillock so that the Doctor can be shown to be brilliant. I am rather annoyed that Bill was killed off in the series just been but this does mean that there is an entirely clean slate to work with.
I have also heard a rumour that the TARDIS console room is going to get a refresh and I hope that they go for something with panelled wall and circles all over them like the 3rd and 4th Doctors had, or build a console room which is cluttered with half finished polymath experiments and stacks of broken equipment and haphazard piles of books.

I think that the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor is perfectly fine and that The Doctor is a woman is almost a non event. What is of greater importance is that if the publicity shots are anything to go by, the Doctor is a ginger; which has been a long standing complaint of the Doctor.

July 13, 2017

Horse 2297 - You Should Obey The Unjust Law

Floating around in the ocean of Twitter this week, came the following question from John Tasioulas who is the Yeoh Professor of Politics, Philosophy and Law at The Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London.


I happen to like questions of this sort because​ you can keep on flinging thoughts towards it, like throwing spaghetti at the wall, and eventually you arrive at a reasonably sensible answer provided you don't mind the mess left over from all of the mental spaghetti that you've thrown. My initial thought was that this was a fait accompli and that I'd just bang on the the pot of spaghetti and say that if something is unjust then it shouldn't be allowed to stand.
Indeed, someone has already spoken quite eloquently on the subject; no less than Martin Luther King Jr. in his letter from Birmingham Jail during that rather important year of 1963 which would eventually lead to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
- Martin Luther King Jr. 16 Apr 1963*

That's it. Game over. Kick over the boiling pot and leave it for the howling dogs to lick up. However, the more that we stir the spoon around in the boiling spaghetti pot of ideas the more we find ourselves having to untangle some pretty curly sort of dilemmas, which threaten to break into fragments as easily as this metaphor of imaginary spaghetti.

The first issue that need to be addressed is the question of who gets to decide what is a just or unjust law. Let us assume for a second that I am a madman who really really likes killing people and feels no remorse for it whatsoever. In my mind, the impediment of the law which declares that killing people is a crime, is fundamentally unjust because it prevents me from doing a thing that I really really like doing. Remember, I am a madman and so issues like the harm principle mean nothing to me and so in my mind, the question of what is just, merely comes down to what I am allowed and not allowed to do.
Do I as an individual have the right to determine what is and what is not just? Moreover, should I be allowed to have such an ability? Any sane person must conclude that the answer to this has to be a very very strong and emphatic 'no' if for no other reason than the coherent functioning of society. It is therefore a good thing that I am not allowed to decide these things and also a good thing that I am not really a madman.
One of the good things about the Rule Of Law is that it applies equally and fairly to everyone; without fear or favour. Not only do individuals get to decide what is and isn't just at law unless they have been placed in very particular positions of power to do so but there is no right not to obey the law. Nobody has the right to decide unilaterally that the law does not apply to them; not even the head of state, lest they lose their head. Equally, in the same way, I don't think that individuals have the right not to follow the law, even if they unilaterally decide that the law is stupid or unjust. The law might very well allow or not allow something but if every individual had the individual right to determine what laws did or didn't apply to them, then you may as well just legalise everything and return to the state of nature which is brutal, nasty and short.

The second issue that I have is more of a mechanical one which relates to how law is decided and springs forth. Apart from the law of equity in which judges decide what is fair (and in ye olde times, basically on a whim), and common law in which what has gone on in similar cases should inform what happens in new cases through the principle of precedent, the job of parliament is to enact statute law; which trumps the lot. Statute law is neither the rules of whimsy or of collective memory but hard rock rules. When a judge decides to throw the book at you, that book has the hefty weight of statute law behind it, where as the law of equity or common law is like throwing a sock full of custard at someone and the result is equally as messy.
The thing about statute law is that because it is made by parliament, it is contestable. Contests frequently abound when people look at the law, such as the old contest between labour and capital, differing sets of public interests, and even issues which are informed by religion. Whenever you have a contest, it is almost guaranteed that there will be conflict and because of this, it makes far more sense to me that this conflict is played out in the theatre of parliaments rather than a theatre of actual violence.

That last question about what theatre that the conflict which arises from the conflict over what is perceived as a just or unjust law or set of laws, is almost always in my opinion, never properly solved in a theatre of violence. Invariably the supposed solution never actually addresses the injustices but creates groups who have further resentments. This isn't to say that I don't believe in concrete action, because marches and strikes and public demonstrations all serve a useful and proper place in the moving forward of society; its just that actual change happens either through the legislature, or the ballot box, or when power is directly spoken to.
Secondary to this, if a whole regime is unjust, then while a revolution whether it is peaceful or otherwise might immediately satisfy the whims of people in the moment, unless there is a plan to work out how to exercise power once the event is over, the act of revolution might not achieve anything which is very long lasting. There are multiple occasions in the tragedy of history where a wild revolution has broken out and things revert back to something approaching something similar to what was there before the revolution ever took place. To wit, the American Revolution was started over a taxation dispute and the new nation was plagued with revenue problems, the French Revolution and all the ideals it fostered would eventually peeter out and another monarchy would be installed, but Ghandi's suggestion of nonviolence would eventually precipitate the Republic Of India which all things considered is amazing that it holds together at all.

It seems to me that if there is an unjust law, or laws plural, or an entire unjust system, then the best approach is to live with the system and to set about changing either the law or the system via the most peaceful means possible. If that means placing people into legislatures, then so be it.
The parable of the Wind, the Sun, and the Old Man's Coat comes to mind here, where the gentlest approach often makes the biggest and most permanent change.
Obey the unjust law insofar as much as is possible and change it as peaceably as possible. As far as I can tell, the alternatives to laws which are unjust are either laws which are just but which do not yet exist, or a descent into no law at all and that benefits nobody.

*http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

July 11, 2017

Horse 2296 - A Real Laugh Riot


On the north-western shore of Lake Ontario stands the City of Toronto. Toronto, the Good. Toronto: Canada's largest city, the fourth largest in North America, and the site of the 1855 Clown Riot.
Yes, you heard that correctly, Clown Riot.

In the summer of 1855, the Star Troupe Menagerie And Circus of one S.B. Howes was in the good city of Toronto, to display the usual sorts of circus attractions. Under the Big Top was the usual fare of lion taming, elephant dancing, horse riding, acrobats, and yes even clowns... especially the clowns.
Being in the middle of the summer and in the days before television and the cinema, the circus being in town was a big deal and so everyone who was anyone was there. The circus did so well that they'd sold out all the tickets on the opening night of July 12 and hoped to do so for the rest of the run.
Of course where you have a city on a lake, you have public houses and taverns, more than 150 of those, and you also have houses of ill-repute. It just so happens that one evening after the employees of the Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus had finished for the night, they went out to see the attractions that the City of Toronto had to offer.

Some of the clowns ended up in an establishment which was frequented by the local fire department and it seems that fire-fighters, just didn't see the joke of having a whole bunch of clowns suddenly show up.
Nobody knows how the fight started but in one particular house of ill-repute, the clowns and the fire-fighters closed ranks. The clowns though, were able to fight so well that the fire-fighters got kicked out of their usual haunt and this is where things took a turn for the worse.
It seems that the fire-fighters were annoyed at not being able to make use of their usual entertainments of dubious virtue and having just been beaten in a fight on their own patch of turf, they were out for full on revenge.

On Friday 13th of July 1855, the fire-fighters apparently got in touch with local members of the Orangemen. This had become a de facto Protestant v Catholic argument and the combined forces the Toronto Hook & Ladder crew and Orange order, set about with axes and torches, pulling down tents and sitting the Big Top on fire.
By now a full on pitched battle was in full swing; it took the Mayor of Toronto, to finally disperse the argument and convince the circus to leave town.

Naturally, the police who came and investigated proceedings, failed to identify anyone and nobody in the fire brigade or the Orange Order was ever charged. This caused a public outrage and it did eventually bring about a change in city policing some three years later; which also included some formal training for police officers where formerly there was none at all.
Inadvertently, an actual clown riot, changed the face of Canadian policing forever and that is nothing to be laughed at.

July 07, 2017

Horse 2295 - Please Ignore The Label

Earlier in the week I was in a meeting and acting as the minute taker, and at around about the half way point when our minds were all wandering off to play in the long paddock, someone thought​ that it would be nice if they got us coffee. In the list of orders of cappuccino, latte and one hot chocolate, mine was the only long black and so I was asked what I thought of the coffee, seeing as I was the only one who tasted it unadulterated; to which I replied that it wasn't really that great. The chap then admitted that he'd never had the coffee from that place just on its own and that he'd always ordered it with syrup or dusted with chocolate in a cappuccino.
Apparently this coffee was supposed to be from a label of some glory and fame, it was a single estate coffee which had been grown on one side of the hill, and had won some medal at a coffee trade show or some such (which kind of makes me wonder why you'd want to add syrup to it at all). For all of the tickets that it had on itself and that other people had put on it, it was basically no more than warm brown liquid in a cup. Maybe if it was freshly drawn through the bucket of the espresso machine it would have developed a crema or perhaps the volatile hydrocarbons wouldn't have settled but as far as I was concerned, I was disappointed.
The meeting rolled on beyond lunch and I went to the bank and the post office and my boss thought that he'd one up this chap by getting us all another coffee from a different place. This time it had come from a place of not much note at all and wasn't boasting about the medals that it hadn't won. What was it like? That was the question that was on everyone's mind and suddenly I became the subject of much curiosity with several men in suits staring at me. What was it like? It was roasted nicely, with a wee hint of smokiness to it; and it had a flavour that was like a rugby team of angels had all decided to run across your tongue before it fizzled and disappeared. You kind of get a similar sensation if you put Dr Pepper in the microwave. My boss mentioned that getting coffee from this place was like a crapshoot because you either got something amazing or something that was complete and utter dross.

The point of this story is that yet again, it's being proved to me that the enemy of the brilliant is a label. Just because something has a fancy label is no guarantee that you're going to find that little spark of brilliance. This has been confirmed in my mind by the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald when it placed an $8 bottle of wine from Aldi ahead of many labels which have a famous name. In some cases, a bottle of Vino​ di Plonki might very well be more wonderful than a bottle of Chateaux De Fou Fou. I've driven quite a number of BMWs over the years and while they're all very smooth, my little Ford Ka was more fun than all of them and so is the Mazda 2 that I have now. I've seen my boss go through several IPhones but his Kindle is still singing along as sweetly as the day it left the factory.
Don't even get me started on the phenomenon of shops near where I work that sell burgers for a price beginning with a 2; when we know that some of the best burgers come from independent fish and chip shops where the person behind the counter is someone who is wizened through years of practice. In my general experience, the words "gourmet" and "artisanal" placed as a description of a product are indicators of only one thing; that the thing is overrated and overpriced.
Granted that some things earn a reputation by being very very good for a very long time but the reason for that is that in general, they've found their little patch of brilliance and haven't fiddled with it. In those cases, it wasn't the existence of a famous label which built the reputation but the building of the reputation which lends credence to the label.

More poignantly though, the reputations of who are and aren't popular, who are and aren't charismatic, and who are and aren't seemingly important, is actually almost entirely irrelevant. If you are at a party and there are lots of people, then it is often the quiet ones in the corner who are the most interesting. You might find yourself having to draw them out from their shell but you might end up finding someone who is just quietly brilliant. In organisations of more than a dozen people, it is often the quiet ones who do the most important work but recieve almost no adulation for it.
There isn't some magical guarantee that the person who is labelled as some dynamic speaker isn't a total berk and prat. The title of Sir or Doctor is also no guarantee that the person is necessarily kind, noble or friendly either.
I think that we also have a tendency to dismiss people more easily than we should as well. Now that I completely understand that there will be people who rub us the wrong way and there will be those who we just don't get along with (as well as some people who are just outright toxic, offensive or otherwise) and there are people in the world who for whatever reason, everyone else has determined require an extra degree of patience and grace to deal but to perpetuate this serves highlight our own flaws.

The whole reason why labels are worth anything at all is because they are the marker of past quality. As with so many things, past results are not necessarily indicative of future performance and just because you slap a label on something doesn't necessarily make it good.

July 06, 2017

Horse 2294 - Doctor Who: "The Taxidermist And The Explorer" (Series 10, Episode 13)

I have a personal grand theory about Doctor Who which is as daft as it is delightful, as brilliant as it is balderdash and as unlikely as it is unprovable. Nevertheless because of the fact that it can not be disproved, then it stands to reason that it must be completely true. The theory is probably my own unique headcanon and as far as I'm concerned, I am not changing it - it is thus:
Any time that you see any actor from Doctor Who in any other production at all, those things are instantly part of the Whoniverse.
This has some really really strange ramifications; which as far as I can tell do not break the laws of space and time but rather because time is a big timey-wimey ball of stuff, only serves to prove that the theory is even stronger.

The show Worzel Gummidge is actually not an independent show but a really complex Third Doctor arc, which clearly falls somewhere between "The Sea Devils" (LLL) and "The Mutants" (NNN). Likewise, Broadchurch is also not an independent show but an arc of Tenth Doctor stories which are possibly no later than "The Waters Of Mars" (4.16). It also means that The Thick Of It and In The Loop are Twelfth Doctor stories and presumably falling somewhere between "Hell Bent" but before "The Pilot". Unfortunately the alter ego of Malcolm Tucker is so foul mouthed that I won't watch the arcs but the explanation that something terrible must've happened in between the loss of Clara and his arrival at the university, fits nicely.

This also means that Father Brown must be the continuing story of Rory Williams' dad Brian after Rory and Amy got stuck in New York City in 1936 and can never be retrieved. I suspect that Brian was so distraught that becoming a priest in the 1950s and solving crime was a worthwhile distraction.
The only proper way to explain Victoria is that after "Hell Bent", Clara has assumed the role of the British Monarch as indeed Ashildr has also assumed the role of Arya Stark in Game Of Thrones.

Which all brings me to the two screen grabs that I managed to get from the arc "The Taxidermist And The Explorer", which comes after the end of "The Doctor Falls".

- This time Nardole appears to have gotten the chameleon circuit to work on the TARDIS.

- Not a lot of men can carry off a decorative vegetable.

In the "The Taxidermist And The Explorer" (Series 10, Episode 13), an explorer in the 1920s accidentally find a species of talking bears; one of who later grows up and returns to London, which inadvertently sparks off an evil scientist's plans to have the bear taxidermised and placed into a museum. Admittedly The Doctor only has a minor role in the story but it is his information, which ultimately seals the evil scientist's fate.
We see The Doctor go through an absolutely terrible set of wardrobe, the like of which hasn't been seen since the Sixth and Seventh Doctor but there is a nice touch where he explains that he is prepared to eat sandwiches made from meat that expired a week ago.

Wait.

What?!

Oh.

Everyone else seems to think that this is a movie called "Paddington". Well not any more, it's a Twelfth Doctor story now!
Like I said, because of the fact that it can not be disproved, then it stands to reason that it must be completely true.

July 04, 2017

Horse 2293 - The Opaque Story Of NPR And Funding Public Radio In America

On the latest episode of Hello Internet*, CGP Grey and Brady Haran were discussing the almost mystifying instructions that NPR give out when asking for donations​ from the public. The reason has to do with the hideously complex nature of what NPR actually is and the myriad of minutiae of how the thing is put together.
Unlike the BBC in the United Kingdom, or the ABC in Brady's country of origin Australia, although NPR itself is a single corporation, the number of radio stations which run under its banner are not. The NPR network is not a singular government owned entity but more like a federation of loosely radio stations which all fly roughly in a similar direction.

NPR has a head office in Washington and just like PBS, it produces national news bulletins and programs and really that's as far as the national organisation goes. NPR as a national syndicator owns no transmission facilities and no public radio stations, as the model used for public radio is quite different to a single government owned and operated entity.
Every single one of the local public radio stations in the United States is its own little corporation and although they might receive some funding from the Federal Government through the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, they still find much of their funding from advertising and the goodwill of the general public who donate money. Just like PBS, NPR affiliated stations also receive funding from "viewers like you", or rather listeners like you.

Within that broad affiliation, the various radio stations are free to buy in content from wherever they like or wherever they can get it; that also includes rival public radio networks such as the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), the American Public Radio Network (APR), other national broadcasters from other countries such as the BBC, ABC, CBC, Deutsche Welle and whatnot, as well as independently​ funded organisations like the Maximum Fun network of podcasts.
The show "Car Talk" which was produced by WBUR in Boston, Massachusetts, was sold independently to some stations such as WNYC but sold via NPR to other affiliate stations throughout America. NPR Morning Edition was produced is produced in the head offices of NPR and is sold via the NPR network. 99% Invisible is produced by Roman Mars for the Radiotopia podcast network, is distributed by PRX and airs many NPR stations who choose to buy it in. As an Australian in the United States, I found it both familiar and singularly weird to hear Just A Minute from BBC Radio 4 on an NPR station, early in the morning and not late at night.

Not only do you have a massively complex web of little independent radio stations all with their own independent governance, who all kind of buy programming from each other, but to compound complexity upon complexity, the fifty states in the union also have their own right to levy income and sales taxes. This means that the treatment of donations with respect to taxation, is going to change for every state in the union as well.
In that respect, it makes complete sense to ask patrons to fund their local public radio stations because from a purely logistical standpoint, that is more direct in making the system work, than throwing money into the national funding pot and them letting the Corporation For Public Broadcasting spread it around the place. A local radio station which produces some content which can then be sold either on PRX or into the NPR network is better placed to negotiate its own prices when it comes to buying programming in. In this respect, that explains why WBEZ in Chicago is reasonably well known; it produces "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" the NPR News quiz and "Invisiblia". Supporting the local public radio station which may or may not buy all or only a portion of its programming from NPR, helps to ensure the viability of the whole network because it's harder to pick off a whole bunch of independent little corporations than one big one that lives in the pocket of the federal government.
The solution for overseas listeners is to either support their local public radio station in their own country so that it continues to buy in the programs it wants, or to try a more direct approach and kick a few bucks towards the radio station which produced the actual content in the first place. Perhaps overseas listeners might also like to sponsor the independent networks like Maximum Fun or Radiotopia who also produce content.
As an aside, this is one of the reasons why I am grateful to the Great British taxpayer. Through their licence fees, they fund the BBC and by extension Radio 4, Five Live, and the BBC World Service.

So why ask listeners to support their local public radio station? Mostly because the world is complex and doesn't respond well to simple answers and this is the simplest answer available. As NPR is a syndicator and producer of programs rather than an actual radio station, it doesn't make a whole heap of sense to ask listeners to fund programming unless there's a terrestrial broadcaster to play it over the airwaves, or else NPR would be like PRX or Maximum Fun; it wouldn't really be public radio anymore.

* Hello Internet with CGP Grey and Brady Haran - http://www.hellointernet.fm

June 30, 2017

Horse 2292 - No Year's Eve Celebrations

Today being the 30th of June is the last day of the financial year. Once upon a time in the land that they call the past, this would have been a hectic day where all kinds of things were taken stock of, where all outstanding invoices were collated, and where all of the entitlements and partially paid accounts had giant lines drawn through them. Indeed, when manual accounts were kept in ledgers and figures were copied studiously and meticulously from one book to another, I imagine that the 30th of June would have been a day of much yelling and running in places that have a lot of accounting work that needs to be done.
Today though, in an age where computers aren't people but machines (yes, there used to be jobs called "computers" once upon a time in the land that they call the past), quite literally sets of accounts can be prepared for any date in the year that you'd like to nominate; even those imaginary dates which only exist in the minds of accounting programs like the 39th of Treizember.

Probably because I live in the world of accounting, people often assume that this is a time of imagined celebration and to be perfectly honest it could be if there were enough people who were willing to join you but that will simply never happen. The truth is that accountants at this time of year are busily thinking about the usual sorts of things that happen at the end of every quarter and nobody else particularly wants to celebrate with you. The imagined celebration remains precisely that and in that regard the day works out to be as sad as someone who remembers their departed relative's birthday. If you really want to make an accountant happy and feel that they have something to celebrate, then maybe you should consider taking them out for coffee and cake, or scones with jam and cream and a pot of Lady Grey, or scotch whisky which was put into the barrel last century.

Curiously both accountants and football fans share the knowledge that all years contain a slash; tomorrow for instance,​ is the first day of the year 2017/18. If you are reading this in America, you will of course begin to internally yell at me that you use the calendar year as the accounting year but I say that that is patently daft because the 1st of January occurs bang in the middle of the Christmas holiday period and whoever thought that this was a good idea obviously has never had to live with the consequences. If you are reading this in the United Kingdom, then your accounting year also contains a slash but begins on the 6th of April because once upon a time in the even older past, New Year's Day used to be the 25th of March and then in September of 1754 there was a calendar reform which made the date leap forward 11 days; which incidentally is also the same reason why the October Revolution in Russia is celebrated in November.

All of this means that next week, I will start inputting things into the accounting program that I use as 01/01/2018. It also means that for many clients I will start inputting adjustments with dates such as 01/13/2017 and I can keep on going until the truly imaginary date of the 50th of Vingtember (50/20/2017). I don't think that I've ever needed a whole eight months of imaginary dates in which to make accounting adjustments but the fact that they exist merely serves to prove the fungibility and arbitrariness of the calendar.

The world continues to spin and in theory you could pick any point on its circuit around the sun as a designated cake day. You could divide the year up into thirteen periods of 28 days (plus 1) like Kodak did, you could divide the year up into four quarters of 91 days (plus 1) like I would for a forever fixed calendar or you could operate in Eternal September like the internet does. Just don't assume that your accountant is actively celebrating anything because unlike once upon a time in the land that they call the past, the new year which begins tomorrow actually begins with the push of a button. It is the same as answering "OK" to a dialogue box that asks you if you are sure, or the warning that I get on my scanner at work when without fail it tells me to replace the pick roller and I have to select "ignore". That is unless you'd like your accountant to celebrate; in which case that's something that you need to take stock of.

Aside:
July, August, September, October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May, June, Onzember, Douzember, Treizember, Johnember, Paulvember, Georgember, Ringoary, Vingtember.
There are twenty months in the accounting program that I use and it does allow you to name them as anything you like. If you can choose anything then why wouldn't you want a little bit of surreal happiness?

June 29, 2017

Horse 2291 - The Ill Thought Out Proverbs Of Rollo The Bonehead - Part 1

1. Listen on an listen carefully dear student, for it turns out that writing proverbs is a particularly difficult thing to do. You have to write something pithy, economical and utterly brilliant and do it concisely. Largely because words are free, I will usually choose to write a thousand words to paint a picture rather than simply taking a picture which is worth a thousand words because the latter is disposable.
2. Proverbs are a vehicle to deliver wisdom to the simple and mysteries to the learned. You will do well to learn many and to deliver many.
3. These words of mine are not the words of a learned man but a fool who has been given a tablet. Please feel free to take, to learn, to mock, to steal, to reuse and to take down and used in evidence against me in a court of law.

4. To take from a single source is to plagerise but to steal from many different sources is called research.

5. People will often quote the things that other people have said because they were too stupid to think up those things for themselves.

6. Old age confers an air of wisdom upon many who haven't necessarily earned it.

7. Not everything that the elderly say is wise. Not everything that the young say is silly. Truth and wisdom have many keepers.

8. The wisest person who appears to be lost deep in thought is probably thinking about lunch.

9. People with glasses appear wiser than they are and often don't have a clue what is going on either.

10. There is literally nothing in the world that can not be improved with either a cup of tea or a swift bang with a fist.

11. Many wars should have been improved and ended with a cup of tea.

12. Flattery often comes before someone wanting to extract money from you.

13. There is a point where people are so rich that they lose all regard for manners and compassion.

14. The richest people in the world are those people who manage other people's money, cream the rewards off of the top and then chastise the people who actually worked to produce those rewards.

15. Dogs are idiots.
16. That isn't an opinion, it is a statement of fact and although there are cases to be made that they can be taught to do intelligent things, this is because dogs see themselves as a subordinate rank in your household. Dogs are privates in your very small army and always want to carry out your orders but this does not mean that they are smart by any stretch of the imagination.
17. Cats will deal with you on their terms, they will express their displeasure and huff at you, they will find entertainment in annoying you, they are by nature incredibly selfish and aware of their own grandiosity, and they can be vindictive and revengeful.
18. Still get a cat.

19. Pizza eaten in a bus shelter on cold and rainy day where the rain is pelting down and coming in sideways, is tastier than pizza eaten on a fine day.

20. Kung Fu is almost never the answer to international diplomacy. If it was though, there might be fewer wars.

21. The cruelest acts in the world are often perpetrated by those people with the kindest voices.

22. Beware the kind voice that can promise you the world because it can also take away everything you have.

23. Don't hold onto things so tightly that when they are taken from your hands, it rips your skin away.

24. Absolute and perfect anarchy is the only form of government which works exactly as intended.

25. Mediocrity is the refuge of the masses because life is mostly made up of moments where not much happens.

26. People respect someone who speaks their mind; no matter how empty that mind happens to be, how idiotic or outlandish the thoughts that they have, nor how impervious to the truth that those thoughts are.

27. You can put eggshells down the garbage disposal. You probably shouldn't put an entire bag of corn flakes or whole artichoke down there because it is wasteful and isn't good for the the garbage disposal.

28. A man once walked into a public house which promised a pie, a pint, and a wise word for only five dollars. He ate the pie, drank the pint and wondered where the wise word was. He asked the landlord for the wise words and the landlord said: "Don't eat the pie."

29. It is the mark of insincerity of purpose to seek a high born Emperor in a low down tea house.

30. There are three things which can not be tamed; four which do not respond to reason.
- a cat.
- the mind of someone who has already made it up.
- plans which have gone awry.
- a petulant teenager.

31. Even if wisdom is shouted from the rooftops, most people will still be swayed by anyone promising them things for free.

32. It is impossible to unboil an egg.

33. Make friends with those who are stronger than you and you will be safe. Make friends with those who are weaker than you and you will be loved.

34. Steel doors can not be broken down by hurling rocks at them. Steel doors will be opened voluntarily for you if you come bearing cake.

35. Sometimes you can choose to be happy or right but not both.

36. It is better to be a dog in a time of peace than a man in a time of war.
37. It is better still to be a cat in someone's lap, than a dog in an outside doghouse.
38. Most dogs are happy about this though. Dogs are idiots.

June 26, 2017

Horse 2290 - Goods And Sexism Tax

Speaking as a man, I am eminently unqualified to write about the vast majority of issues pertaining to women's health. As the possessor of mismatched chromosomes, I can not speak about the lived experience of fifty percent of the population and to do so would be the height of affrontery. However, as someone who lives in the world of numbers and taxation, there is one particular issue upon which not only do I think that my opinion is valid but I feel so strongly about it that if you disagree with me, I will declare you to be completely wrong.

Last week, the 76 august servants​ in the red chamber of our parliament turned down amendments to the Goods And Services Taxation (A New Tax System) Act 2000, which would have exempted feminine hygiene products such as tampons and sanitary pads from GST. The set of amendments proposed by Greens senator Larissa Waters was opposed by both of the two major parties 33-15; which basically stopped the changes dead.
In a week which saw the first speech in the Senate by a woman while breastfeeding her baby, that same chamber struck down the amendments which would have moved all of those items into the same category as fresh food, water, and medical products, and removed the 10% GST which they currently attract.
And 'why?' do I not hear you ask because this is written text and I've just placed these words in your head. The reason given by several balding men in suits, is that they aren't 'essential' and that as such, placing them into that same exemption from GST in the legislation is a category error.
Now I don't know about you but having lived with three of these apparently mysterious creatures to the minds of those in the Senate, I can tell you that as an outside observer, that in my lived experience, that the events which necessitate the use of such products is not voluntary. What I find particularly galling is that Finance minister Mathias Cormann made a statement that tampons should be included at GSTable items because they are 'luxury' items. I don't know what world be lives in but a natural and unpleasant bodily function doesn't sound like very much of a 'luxury' to me. If he is able to verify this through personal experience then maybe I'm prepared to believe him but if not, I think that he is as eminently unqualified to speak on the issue as I am.
As far as I can tell, the GST on these products collects only a minimal amount of GST and serves no real purpose other than to be a de facto tax on women.

In principle I hate consumption based taxation because by definition it falls most squarely upon those people who spend a higher proportion of their income. The actual burden of consumption taxes falls most heavily upon poorer people who spend more of their income in the simple act of living than richer people and the elderly who have retired and are in that stage of life of dissaving. When you combine this the fact that women are on the whole likely to be earning a lower income than men at every stage of life, more likely to outlive their partners and that 100% of the burden of this component of GST falls on women, then the only possible conclusion that I can draw is that the GST on tampons and other feminine hygiene products is both cruel and discriminatory. I'm adamant that my opinion is correct and I don't even have to pay the tax because as a man, I just walk right on past that section of the supermarket aisle.

What infuriates me about this series of amendments failing in the Senate is this needed to be brought up at all. When they were standing around in both houses of the parliament seventeen years ago and arguing about what should and shouldn't be included under the umbrella of the GST, this should have been a no brainer. Instead, it passed the eyeballs of 226 people (mostly men) and then the Governor General and still wasn't picked up. Legislation is all about making rules and then writing exemptions to those rules and I think that it is either an act of wilful negligence or outright culpability that the parliament who could have acted deliberately chose not to.
The fact that this was introduced in the Senate and still failed, means that it won't be referred to the House and the blatantly obvious mistake still remains, except now it is no longer a mistake but the result of an active choice. What do I know about this subject though? Speaking as a man, I am eminently unqualified to write about the vast majority of issues pertaining to women's health. Speaking as an accountant? Yeah. Parliament is wrong.

June 21, 2017

Horse 2289 - Forget Mere Hospitality, We Have Obligations To Refugees

In case you missed it, yesterday was World Refugee Day; the day which was proclaimed by the United Nations in 2001 to commemorate the day that the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees¹ was passed.
In the Senate, two motions were rejected. The first was put forward by Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi to withdraw Australia from the refugee convention and this was defeated 6-50, the second was a motion by Greens Senator Nick McKim to close the tropical gulags that Australia keeps on Manus Island and Nauru and bring every man, woman and child to Australia and this was defeated 9-43.
The only motion on the subject of refugees which passed was a feel good fluffy non-binding resolution which asked the parliament to take a "reasoned, principled and facts–based approach to the issue of asylum seekers and refugees" and for an increase to the number of refugees that Australia would take in to 27,000 by the year 2025; which is beyond the term of everyone currently sitting in the Senate.

- This is what voting to retain cruelty looks like. 

I have to admit that everything about this rubs me the wrong way. I already find practically everything that Ms Hanson says to be either malfeasant, cruel or just plain idiotic, and the fact that Mr Bernardi tabled the motion to unbind Australia from any and all obligations that the country might have under the refugee convention, has just converted me into an angry political adversary. What I find even more horrible about this is that his Australian Conservatives party has absorbed the Family First Party and has just strengthened a disturbing trend in something that claims to be the Christian right but clearly stands opposed to scripture.
Notwithstanding the fact that Joseph was forced to flee the province of Iudea with Mary amd Jesus to Egypt, because of the decree that all male children in Bethlehem and its vicinity under the age of two years were to be killed, this seems to deny the fact that Bible is pretty clear that the poor and the vulnerable should be treated with respect and dignity.

To be clear though, perhaps it's worth looking at what the  Australian Conservatives have to say about themselves:
https://www.conservatives.org.au/principles
The values, customs, conventions, and norms of the Judeo-Christian tradition are the foundation for western culture and provide the appropriate framework to inform and guide a free society. Without adherence to these enduring structures and an associated rejection of moral relativism, society induces its decay.
- Australian Conservatives website, retrieved on 21st Jun 2017

If you want to invoke the "values, customs, conventions, and norms of the Judeo-Christian tradition" then it might be an idea to look in the Bible because presumably, that should specify what they are.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
- Romans 12:13-16 (NIV)²

I might be accused of taking this out of context, but when you consider that Paul goes on to write that people should feed their enemy, give them something to drink if they are thirsty, not to repay evil for evil and to overcome evil for good, I think that I'm fair safe ground.
Admittedly my grasp of Koine Greek which this was written in isn't brilliant but there's one word here which I find particularly interesting because English is absolutely incapable of grasping the full definition of the word. In this passage it is rendered as "hospitality" but in the Greek it is φιλοξενία or "philoxenia".

Philoxenia is made up of two roots, "philo" which means "brother" and "xenia" which is usually rendered as hospitality but the concept doesn't translate well. A more correct rendering would probably be closer to "guest friendship" and involves a whole bunch of conventions. Xenia almost always implies an obligation on the part of the person whose home it is because to refuse to extend guest friendship might inadvertently raise the ire of the stranger, who might be someone important. Indeed the Trojan War was supposed to have been started because of a violation of the rules of Xenia. An abduction of the host's wife further complicates the issue but the point is still that Xenia is about the following of the rules of obligation and not mere hospitality.

Now the reason I make mention of this is that the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is also not the extension of mere hospitality but is a policy document replete with the obligations which the nations who sign up to it voluntarily bind themselves.
I think that it is pretty obvious that someone who has crossed the seas and had placed themselves in great peril, hasn't done so because the conditions back home, if indeed there is a home to go back to, are all that brilliant. Granted there probably is a case to be made that some people are trying to migrate illegally but we live in a nation where the rule of law exists and the default position should always be to test cases before judgement is passed.
At any rate, if someone is fleeing persecution and/or war, they're hardly our enemy and even if they are, the "values, customs, conventions, and norms of the Judeo-Christian tradition" explicitly state that we should feed them, give them a drink if they are thirsty and overcome evil with good. Mere hospitality seems to me like an entirely inadequate thing if we've signed up to something which demands a full case of philoxenia. That might include the friendly and generous reception of strangers who have fled peril but it certainly does not include leaving people in inhumane conditions with no real hope.

I am happy to see that the Senate voted to turn down Ms Hanson and Mr Bernardi's motion to pull Australia out of the Refugee Convention because that deserved to be quashed. I am equally disappointed and annoyed that the same the Senate voted to then fart all over the Convention that they'd just voted in favour for by effusion to close the facilities on Manus Island and Nauru. If that's representative of who we are as a nation, then we're a malfeasant, cruel and just plain idiotic one.
There's another lovely Greek word which describes all of this - Hypocrite.

¹1951 Refugee Convention - http://www.unhcr.org/protect/PROTECTION/3b66c2aa10.pdf
²Romans 12 - https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12

June 20, 2017

Horse 2288 - Will No-one Rid Us Of This Meddlesome Charlatan?

As it stands​ there are at least two lawsuits claiming that President Donald Trump has broken the amoluments clause of the US Constitution, separate House and Senate investigations going on into the interference of Russia in the Presidential campaign and connections to the Trump team, and former Director of the FBI James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have also testified before the Senate into actions of President Trump. Clearly what's going on is an absolute horrorshow but this kind of thing is likely to repeat itself over and over again until the next Presidential Election or the incredibly unlikely event of Trump's impeachment. The former is more or less guaranteed if someone runs against Trump in the 2020 Republican Primaries and the latter is unlikely because in impeaching the President, the members of Congress face their own electoral wipeout in the 2018 House Election; the portion of the people who voted for "President Trump" would most likely see his removal as a betrayal of justice and they'd respond accordingly through the ballot box.
And yet there was an interesting contrast across the Atlantic in the fallout from the British General Election. Almost immediately after the election, when the Tory party lost a great deal of its advantage in the House Of Commons, it immediately had to start thinking about making a deal with the DUP to retain power, people were calling for Prime Minister Theresa May to be removed from Number Ten and someone else given the job.

I have been reading through the Federalist Papers which were written by Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, and the overwhelming tone that I get from them is that while the framers of the US Constitution wanted to keep the boundaries of power in check, they also wanted to retain a military style of command with someone like a General in charge of the day to day running of the administration of government. I suppose that this made complete sense when you consider that they probably had George Washington in mind when they wrote the Constitution and it probably worked incredibly well when he ran for President unopposed. Mind you, in 1800 the political infighting almost instantly turned into a horrorshow of its own once Washington decided that he'd had enough and wanted to go home.
Meanwhile across the sea in merry old England, the mother of all parliaments at Westminster already had been through a difficult time and had been reborn after England's own Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. Its solution to the question of how you remove someone who is sitting in the seat of power is not only simple but as Westminster's children have proven, is sometimes necessary.

The procedure for removing the President of the United States is both protracted and arcane. To date, not one President has been successfully impeached, though a few have come close. Andrew Johnson's impeachment was put to a vote in the Senate which failed, Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and there simply wasn't the wood to get Clinton impeached and that attempt also failed. In my lifetime, in Australia, there have been no fewer than four Prime Ministers who have been removed from office and replaced mid-stream by the parties that put them there. One of Tony Benn's questions to ask power was "How can we get rid of you?"¹ and I think that the Westminster System of parliamentary government consistently answers this question eloquently.

The United States Federal Government vests the entire of the responsibility of the executive in a single pair of hands who lives outside the Congress. Ostensibly this is supposed to ensure a separation of powers but owing to the fact that to pass budgets, the President needs approval from Congress if it originates from them or the Congress needs approval from the President if it originates from them, it is like both ringmasters of government in this three ring circus are pointing Smith And Wessons at each other.
Meanwhile in a Westminster​ parliament, the executive​ is vested in the cabinet which sits inside the parliament. Unlike the United States where the President can literally select anyone they like, irrespective of how brilliant or rubbish they might be and for any cabinet position, the entire cabinet which also includes the Prime Minister must come from the elected members. There is literally nothing in the Australian Constitution which says that there even has to be a Prime Minister and it isn't impossible to conceive of a situation where there isn't one, or a situation where the Prime Minister is from the Senate and not the House Of Representatives, and likewise there is also no specified way of getting rid of them if they turn out to be total muppets or tyrants.

The Prime Minister or Premier in a Westminster parliament is the leader of the cabinet and by convention is the leader of the majority party on the floor of the House Of Representatives, House of Commons, or whatever the lower house happens to be called. If America had a Westminster System of government, then the Prime Minister would be current house leader Kevin McCarthy and his opposite number as the Leader Of The Opposition would be Nancy Pelosi. Donald Trump would be the Governor General and although he would still be the commander in chief of the armed forces, he wouldn't be appointing a cabinet, he wouldn't have any executive power at all and his role of the history of Westminster parliaments around the world is anything to go by, his position would be mostly symbolic except for exceptional circumstances. In Australia you might know who the Governor General is but you'd be hard pressed to think of anything that any Govenor General has ever done in 117 years outside of dismissing a government and sitting Prime Minister more than 41 years ago.
If we assume for a second that America did have a Westminster System of government and through a series of equally as bizarre events, Donald Trump did somehow get to be Prime Minister of the United States, then I bet by now that there would have been a spill motion and his party would have dumped him like a plate of cold cuts at the National Vegetarian Convention. Australia has shown Prime Ministers the exit door in 40 days, in 7 days and in the case of Billy Hughes in one very confused morning in 1940, three hours.

There is no way in comprehension that Donald J Trump would have made it this far as Prime Minister had the United States been a Westminster parliament because the culture and expectation that bad leadership can and should be ejected, would have been part of the system. Nixon knew that his welcome had been worn out and he resigned. Entire arguments can be made against what James K Polk did but he got stuff done and then went home. Mr Trump thinks that he's doing a great job and will not resign and the Congress will more than likely not impeach him either for fear of losing their own jobs in the 2018 midterms.
Unless cases to do with the emoluments clause of the Constitution are successful then the only way that Trump will be leaving the White House is by the same way he entered it, through the power of the ballot box. Arguably this shows both the strengths and weaknesses of both presidential and parliamentary forms of executive government. A President who is outside of the system might have able to rise above the petty squabbles of the parliament and that probably has happened in the past if you consider Presidents like George Washington and Franklin D Roosevelt but even​ Washington despite being President before the age of political parties was still somewhat tied to the faction of Adams and Hamilton. At its worst, the President is as partisan as the rest of the whole shouting match and as Donald Trump has demonstrated, that leads to ever increasingly exclusionary politics rather than government by the most talented.
A cabinet inside the parliament is always going to face the opposition on the floor of the parliament and so the result will always be adversarial but at least the government is internally stable. Yes, it might be able​ to depose and replace the leader of the government in great haste but that's ultimately better than a Congress and President who are in constant war and can't get anything done.

If America had had a Westminster System of government, then Trump would have been out on his ear by now and this current period of chaos would have been over. There still would have been a great deal of antagonism and angst but it would have been a different and more stable form of angst. Stable government where everyone is feeling pain is easier to cope with than three and a half more years of complete and utter horrowshow insanity.

¹Tony Benn's five essential questions of democracy:
- What power have you got?
- Where did you get it from?
- In whose interests do you use it?
- To whom are you accountable?
- How do we get rid of you?

June 17, 2017

Horse 2287 - The 2017 Holden Astras: Yes, That's Plural

General Motors Holden as from 17th October 2017 is a brand only. With the end of the J300 Cruze production already halted forever and the last "Commodore" to roll out of the factory later this year (I don't care what they choose to slap the nameplate on, we both know that it ain't a Commodore), the General apparently feels as though they can stick whatever badge on whatever and the Australian public won't notice.

To wit:


The top of those two cars is the Chevrolet Cruze J400. The bottom of those cars is the Opel Astra K. Yet magically in Australia, they are both the new Holden Astra. They share a nameplate and that's it. They share no other component whatsoever.
The sedan has a longer and narrower wheelbase than the hatch and the engine in the sedan is the LE2 as opposed to the A16SHT in the hatchback. They share no similar body panels and this is evident with everything from fold lines, to where the window meets the A-pillar, to the light clusters. There hasn't even been much of an effort made to make the two cars share a common design language in the grille either. These two cars are about as similar as two completely dissimilar things in a pod.

Holden have been playing this kind of game with the Australian public for years though. The Astra nameplate has sat on:
- Nissan Pulsar N12
- Nissan Pulsar N13
- Opel Astra F
- Opel Astra G
- Opel Astra H
- Opel Astra J (but only as the OPC variant which was even more confusingly labelled GTC and VXR)
and now:
- Opel Astra K
- Chevrolet Cruze J400
These two cars which are both sold under the Astra nameplate, replace none other than two cars - the Astra and the Cruze.

On the Holden website, they are gloriously obfuscatory about the whole thing. Rather than admit that there are two very very different cars which share nothing but a name, they describe them as the "New Astra Family" and when you follow the links through you get the message:
Now available as a sedan or hatch, discover the right Astra for you.
This seems to imply that they are the same family of cars, when apart from the D2XX platform, they share little else. Probably and I don't know for certain, Australia's hatchback Astras will be coming from Ellesmere Port in the UK and the sedan will come from the Gunsun factory in South Korea. If that's a "family", then it's a family which doesn't talk to each other that much.

Compounding this is the issue that Adam Opel GmbH, which also owns Vauxhall, was bought by Groupe PSA which primarily makes Peugeot, Citroën and now DS as a stand alone brand. I suspect that what that means for Holden is that the Astra K has a limited life within the GM suite and that by about 2020 it won't be available. If that happens, then Holden will be left without a small hatchback between the Barina and... well they also won't have the NG Commodore either because by then, Opel will have been long gone.
Holden might be selling the "Astra" nameplate on a car in the future that will be once again not an Astra and once again the car that is actually an Astra will not be available here. That is if Holden manages to manage its transition from "Australia's Driving Future" to "Just another importer" after they've burnt all the goodwill they've built up in the blink of an eye.
I mean come on guys, you're not really trying any more, are you?

June 14, 2017

Horse 2286 - The Other Election 2017:Puerto Rico Statehood - Yeah But No.

Amidst the noise and confusion of the British General Election which has produced a hung parliament, there was another election taking place which has produced a decisive result but which will most likely be ignored. The people of Puerto Rico have voted 97.18% in favour of statehood but this along with the very government of the island faces some very real struggles.

One of the biggest problems that the island of Puerto Rico has is that it lives in the ambiguous part of US constitutional law which makes it an organised unincorporated territory. It is organised in the sense that it has a degree of self government but unincorporated in the sense that not all of the US Constitution applies. It is a US territory and has been since 1898 after the US went to war and won it off of Spain, but thanks to the passing of the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act of 1917 which has basically left the island in a weird constitutional holding pen for a century, it still hasn't become a state.

Puerto Rico's​ government is currently​ going through something of a budgetary crisis. Play, crisis isn't exactly the word; on the verge of bankruptcy is closer to the mark. It if was a sovereign state, then it could implement some kind of policy, to do with bonds issues or perhaps revaluation of its currency to try and resolve this but because it is a territory of the United States, many of the options which are available to sovereign nations just aren't open to Puerto Rico. In applying for statehood it is hoped that a lot of the rights and privileges which flow as a result of that, would become available but this process faces one massive obstacle - the United States Congress.

The process for admitting new states into the union is fairly straightforward. All that the US Constitution has to say on the matter is contained within Article 3, Section 4, and like any other piece of legislation it requires the approval and consent of Congress. Although the process for admitting new states into the union is straightforward, the politics of doing so is not.
As a state of the union, Puerto Rico would be entitled to a number of House members in keeping with the size of its population as well as being entitled to two Senators because it would be a state. I figure that it would be entitled to roughly 5 House members on admission and it would instantly be more powerful on the floor of the House than 21 other states. Once you also factor in Puerto Rico's tendency to favour Democrats over Republicans, this also comes very much into play.

The bottom line is that unlike Alaska who had virtually nobody living in it and was (and still is) a mostly Republican state at the time of admission to a mostly Republican Congress, and Hawaii which also has a very small population, they were admitted into the union has states because they wouldn't dilute the power of the existing sitting members all that much. Admitting Puerto Rico into the union has the effect of diluting the power of every currently sitting member of the Congress and it would take someone very special indeed to consider the wishes of a few millions of people over their own political benefit. This represents a definite conflict of interest, with the same people who stand to lose the most being the ones who hold the power to make the decision.

What I suspect will happen is exactly what has always happened for one hundred years: precisely nothing. The United States' manifest destiny has only extended as far as acquiring territory; it has never really been concerned with the people who were there first. That goes for the Native Americans, the First Nations of Alaska, the Kingdom Of Hawaii which was annexed, and continues to other jurisdictions such as Puerto Rico, Guam, the Marshall Islands and American Samoa. I think that it is something of a betrayal of justice that the United States which prides itself as being a beacon of democracy, vehemently refuses to resolve issues of sovereignty within its borders.
The people of Puerto Rico don't even have the legal right to put it to the Congress for its decision. Although Puerto Rico sends one member to the House Of Representatives, that member may speak but has neither voting rights nor the power to introduce legislation. Depending on your point of view, that is either the best job in the world because it is a position with zero actual responsibility or the worst job in the world but it is a position with zero actual responsibility and power.
As such, I am doubtful that any bill which raises the question of the proposed statehood for Puerto Rico will be put forward at all.