September 19, 2017

Horse 2323 - The Extinction of Male Primary School Teachers

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-18/male-primary-school-teachers-extinct-in-australia-in-50-years/8956770
The number of male teachers is dropping so dramatically there will be none left in Australian primary schools within 50 years unless governments take action, researchers say.
Australia's first longitudinal study of teacher numbers has found the number of male primary school and high school teachers has fallen 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively since 1977.
- Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop, ABC News, 18th Sep 2017.

I have been asked in the past why I never became a teacher. While this is a well meaning question, it misses out on rather obvious facts that teachers are a breed apart, and that it requires storehouses of patience and understanding to deal with a classroom full of other people's children.
Teachers are a special kind of people who need the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job, the voice of Churchill, and the authority of Thatcher. Think about it, you are basically the manager, disciplinarian, and entertainer of a score and a bit of children; in addition to having the responsibility of imparting knowledge. To become a teacher is a noble and special calling and demands a noble and special person to do the job. I am simply not that person and even if I was, I still would never do it.
Why?
Because children are awful and their parents are worse. Children are demanding and impetuous but parents can be vengeful and downright nasty.

The demands of the job already act as a pretty powerful filter, to eliminate potential candidates to join the profession. If that wasn't bad enough, the world itself has changed and become less trusting, which quite rightly it should be, and far more litigious; that by itself is more than enough to eliminate each and every male candidate.
Probably the research will want to speak about societal projections of gender upon employment and whether or not a particular job is seen as not being as masculine as something else. To be fair, society has shifted when it comes to some professions such as nursing and aged care but when it comes to teaching, once you add the element of there being children involved, very high profile cases in the media have changed society's perception of what is and isn't acceptable. This article is no different:

Dr McGrath said men were being turned off teaching because of low pay and the perception it is a feminine profession.

However, the teaching profession can eliminate each and every single male candidate who wants to enter the teaching profession with just the mere hint of a single word "rape". It never needs to be uttered, it never needs to be hinted at, it doesn't even have to be true. There is an underlying assumption in society, that every single male between the ages of 18-65 is a potential rapist, and that by itself is more than reason enough to disqualify every single male candidate who wants to become a teacher.
Make a misstep as an accountant and you can fix it quite easily. If you are a tradesperson like a plumber and you commit some serious error, the industry will usually accommodate you and you can find another job. If you are a teacher though, and even if you have a perfectly clear record of service, just the mere suggestion of impropriety and your whole career can be destroyed, even if the claim was absolutely baseless and​ it was brought forth by a parent because little Judy or Johnny was an intolerable little git and you gave them a failing mark. I don't know of many professions where the baseless vengeance of people can destroy someone's career and livelihood, and sully their reputation so quickly and easily. My advice to any owner of mismatched chromosomes who wants to become a teacher is, Don't! 

In principle, the labour market is broadly the same as markets for other goods and services. The big difference with the labour market is that individuals tend to specialise quite early on in their careers and that means that labour itself, isn't exactly all that fungible. The labour market has barriers of entry and the barriers to entry to the supply of labour as a teacher are quite high. It requires a university education, it requires a certain kind of character, and the pay isn't exactly as generous as you would expect for someone who has to deal with sometimes unfriendly and even dangerous children.
Throw in the extra barrier that you may be accused of something hideous, which is unfounded and completely untrue, but which society has already become judge, jury, and executioner,  and what you get is the market for labour responding in the most appropriate way by withdrawing supply. If a perceived barrier to entry to a market is sufficiently high, nobody should be surprised if potential suppliers to that market are unwilling to jump the barrier. The fact that there are less male teachers in the profession, should be seen as nothing more than a logical solution to the conditions of entry to the market.

For all the talk about gender equality in the workplace and what are perceived as female and male oocupations, you can say anything you like but when society screams even louder, you'd best listen. Men, you're not welcome as teachers; get out and stay out; or better yet, don't get into it in the first place.

September 18, 2017

Horse 2322 - Na-na Na-na Na-na Na-na, Na-na Na-na, 1966 Batman! or Why I Like The Cheesiest Batman Of All


If I may be so bold that I'll just say something: I like 1966 Batman.
Since the death of Adam West, SBS on Viceland and on OnDemand, has been playing 1966 Batman and I have been really enjoying it; the weird thing is that I have been enjoying it unironically.


1966 Batman was pitched to CBS as a comedy series and immediately that poses problems for hard core superhero fans. If the last decade of cinema has been anything to go by, those fans want something darker and edgier and yet 1966 Batman is neither of these things. It is gloriously self aware of how naff it is, from the absolute earnestness of the acting and especially Adam West's, to the fact that everything is unnecessarily labelled, to the fight scenes which are badly choreographed fisticuffs overlayed with "Pow!", "Socko!" and "Splat!" title cards and blasts on the trumpet, to the iconic theme song which by any possible objective measure is rubbish.
In principle you have a superhero comedy show, which actively cheapens the idea of a superhero television show and makes a mockery of the genre. Perhaps that's why I like the idea of 1966 Batman so much. 1966 Batman is from the outset a comedy series, so it has no need to either take itself seriously, nor explain itself, nor maintain a hard sense of internal logic. It is what it is and is better for it.

Comic book fans like any proper fans of anything, are obsessively obsessive. They love their chosen fandom unironically and so there is something noble in that. However, when it comes to superhero comics, I was never one of those people.
I could never be that obsessively obsessive.
The reason, I suspect, is that I was never prepared to put in the effort to be as obsessive as the genre demands. Superhero comics are incredibly dense pieces of media with expansive back stories and internal references. For someone trying to enter that from the outside, it seems almost impregnable and this probably helps to explain why so many of these modern films need to include a back story. The amount of time and effort which it takes as an investment into those references and back stories, was more than I cared to spend. Although having said that, I don't think ill of anyone who has done so because people like what they like and to buy in on something unironically is a fun thing.
On the other hand, the investment required for 1966 Batman is minimal; it makes no attempt to explain any of the back story at all. The reason why millionaire Bruce Wayne has decided to become a vigilante is never given. The reason why Bruce Wayne has adopted Dick Grayson as a ward is never given. The reason why Dick's aunt Harriet Cooper has come to live with them is never given. The show makes no attempt whatsoever to explain anything within the universe and as someone watching it from the outside, who isn't a fan, it makes the series incredibly accessible. I don't need to know a whole bunch of stuff in order to watch this show.

Another element of 1966 Batman which I find especially appealing is that I know that it knows that I know that the show is naff. Critics might rag on the inclusion of labels for a whole bunch of things, but that shows to me that whoever made the series, must have been versed in the visual language of the comic books to begin with. The show is an attempt to bring the style of 1940s, 50s and 60s comic books to the small screen and it does so by riffing on the existing visual language that it was given.
As a fan of radio shows such as The Goon Show, Round The Horne, Dragnet and more modern fare like Doctor Who, Poirot and Undone, I understand the need to throw away the "show, don't tell" rule when the need exists. I also rather like the overacting of The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin and the rest of the villains. The show has an utterly brilliant internal visual and audio style, which is designed to let you know that the villains are villainous and the heroes are heroic. From Cesar Romario's ham acting, to the camera angles which are always tilted when the villains are coming up with their terrible schemes, 1966 Batman knows what it is.
The premises are often "villian of the week" steals some valuable jewels and while that is a trope as old as the hills, that still plays into the style and language of the genre. It means that every pair of episodes is self contained and even that is kind of like two halves of a 48 page comic, with the staples in the middle.

I couldn't very well write a post about 1966 Batman without mentioning the Batmobile. It doesn't matter which iteration that you're talking about, the Batmobile is surely one of the icons of the mythos and almost nearly deserves to be included as a character in its own right. I have seen at the library, a coffee table book of about 500 pages, which only looks at the history of the Batmobile; that's how important it is.

I have no idea how CBS managed to get Ford Motor Company to give them the Lincoln Futura prototype show car but that was a stroke of genius. Batman's car is obviously Batman's car and yet it is both plausible and ridiculous at the same time. Within the series, where styling cues have moved on from the fins of the 1950s, the Batmobile itself looks dated against the squarer cars which were contemporary. Within the series, the Batmobile looks dated and yet precisely because it is all swoopy and clothed in 1950s futurism, it is perfect. I suspect that at the time, they knew that a golden age of car styling had passed and had the Batmobile been a 1966 Chevrolet Impala, it would have looked stayed and stodgy.

I also like how because of the limited budget, the producers of the show mostly dispensed with high tech gadgetry and the entire of just about everyone's arsenal is a collection of spring loaded devices and smoke bombs. I like that when Batman and Robin need to climb a wall with the Bat-rope, the visual effect is obviously that they tilted the camera sideways. I even like the diabolical laughter, diabolical dialogue and diabolical acting in the show.
Presumably if you were going to make a Batman television show in 2017, you'd want to have a good visual effects team, you'd write the show to be dead serious, and Batman himself would be brooding and sombre. That's fine I suppose but all of that requires a willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the audience. 1966 Batman enters through the stupid part of someone's brain and the amount of effort to enjoy the show is minimal.

This is the thing about the superhero genre in general. I don't really relate to the characters because the world is so unreal as to be unenterable for me. I don't care that Superman has super strength, sight, hearing and whatnot because he's as dull as dishwater. I don't care that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. I understand that the X-Men are all outcasts and I kind of see the motives in that world but again, it's not enough to make me want to care. I can make a pretty good case that although Superman supposedly embodies everything that we are supposed to be, he himself is an insufferable git. Peter Parker comes off as a whiny little swat, except in the animated series where because he had no dialogue, he ventured into the realm of the surreal. The X-Men are an ensemble cast who are designed to tick boxes and the only one of any interest is Wolverine but even then, he's too boring to make a series about.
Batman isn't a superhero. In 1966 Batman, he makes no attempt to be one either. No, Batman is a rich dude who just happens to own a lot of stuff. In every single version of the story, Batman's super power is buying things; Batman after it is all said and done is just a dude. In 1966 Batman, he is a rich dude who happens to own a bunch of really stupid stuff, which also happens to include a nuclear reactor. He also isn't particularly good at being a superhero either. He rather earnest though.

Just like one of those old video games where if you go out one side of the screen you pop back out of the other, 1966 Batman is so twee, the acting is so obvious, the dialogue is so disasterous, that it is a work of brilliance. It is absolutely tied to the date which it was written in but that doesn't matter. 1966 Batman is gloriously dumb and just over fifty years later as the world has tilted towards permanent outrage, darkness, and takes itself way too seriously, I'd go so far as to say that it is the best thing currently on television.

September 15, 2017

Horse 2321 - The Toyota C-HR: Simon Ella Rides With You

Once upon a time in the land that they call the past, Toyota was known for producing reliable and yet boring motor cars. From the Camry to the Corolla, the Yaris and the Hilux, a Toyota was a car that you bought if you wanted to go from A to B but didn't care about style. On the scale of exciting to bland where the inverse was reliability, Toyota was on one side and Alfa Romeo was on the other. Toyota drivers never ever wanted to see their mechanic and a Toyota was like having a brown bread sandwich where the filling was another slice of bread; Alfa Romeo drivers were on a first name basis with their mechanic and an Alfa Romeo was like a Vindaloo Hot Pot with Bordeaux, Tiramisu and seven shots of espresso - the end result was nasty but boy, was it ever fun.

Recently though, Toyota have gone halves with Subaru to create the GT86/BRZ, made the Camry look a little bit nicer by putting jam on the sandwich, and have made a compact utility vehicle called the C-HR. I personally don't understand the term CUV because it isn't exactly a utility and is more like a big hatchback. The C-HR looks pretty nifty and I imagine is pretty cool in the eyes of Toyota drivers but somehow it manages to be less cool than the Nissan Cube and a little less practical to boot.


One of the inherent problems with jacking up a station wagon or a hatchback is that because you've raised the height of the vehicle above the ground, that also raises the height of the tailgate. Sure, you might get a slightly deeper boot space into which you can stow even more of your stuff, the physical effort of lifting it higher becomes real tiring real quick.
I don't have sprogs but even I can see the logistic ramifications of hauling them around. If they are really wee tackers, then you're going to need a stroller to carry them around in, when you leave the vehicle. Even if you have one of those super space age strollers that I see the impossibly plastic people of Mosman carry their offspring in, the kind of stroller made from titanium and with wheels that belong on a mountain bike, that thing still weighs something and it's simply easier to lift it into a normal station wagon than it is a CUV or SUV.
I had a look inside the boot of the Toyota C-HR and to be honest, it wasn't that much of an improvement over a regular normal Corolla. This is where style has triumphed over form, to the detriment of practicality. Also on this note, when your​ sprogs get a little older and start toddling around under their own power and you get tired after chasing them around, in a normal station wagon you can just lie down and have a kip, whereas​ in a CUV or SUV that's impossible.

I wandered down to the closest Toyota dealership from where I work and decided to sit inside the vehicle. The front seats are perfectly acceptable and the C-HR looks like any other modern car. However, as the photograph shows, that rear window which is one of the styling cues of the car, is utterly terrible if you happen to be a small child.
When I was a wee lad myself, my sister had just moved from being in a booster seat to sitting without one. For a while she became incredibly car sick on many trips and this was partly solved by moving her to the front seat but the ultimate cure was time and her becoming taller. This meant that she had a better view of the world outside and that is incredibly important.
I sat in the back seat of the Toyota C-HR and imagined that I was an eight year old child. As I looked out of the vehicle, the only thing that I could see was sky. That seems to me like a recipe for much puking in the future for the owners of the Toyota C-HR. Congratulations, in chasing style over form, you've invited that tricksy fairy Simon Ella* to wave his magic wand and spin the spell of spew in your car.

I won't pretend that I've driven the C-HR but if is like the rest of Toyota's wares, I imagine that it will be competent but boring. Before I bought the Mazda 2 which I currently have, I drove a Yaris and really didn't like it at all, I drove a Corolla and thought that it was acceptable but I wouldn't have one through choice.
Toyota knows the kind of market that it is selling to. It knows that its customers want a brown bread sandwich where the filling is another slice of bread. It knows that people who want to buy a Toyota want to jump in and forget about everything. Toyota builds cars for people who want their motoring to be the same as buying a toaster; they don't ask much, they simply expect their cars to work.
In this segment of the market, there's the Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Honda HR-V, Renault Captur, and a whole bunch of options for people who want to make the dumb choice of getting a CUV rather than a station wagon or a normal hatchback. All of them make a mockery of the letter U in SUV by being less useful and of less utility than the other sensible options but the Toyota C-HR manages to combine that lack of utility with a lack of visibility for the kids in the back seats.

If you are a single person who still wants to go out and buy this thing, then go ahead and do it: people like what they like and I ain't going to stop you. The instant that you have children though, a whole new gammet of questions and decisions open up. It's just that the Toyota C-HR answers these questions badly.

*Simon Ella is one of the lesser known fairies. Unlike the Sandman who sprinkles his magic sand to help the kids get to sleep, Simon Ella is the man who runs around and dips his butt in salads and shaves carrots in the pile of spew that you've just made. He is the reason why people are afraid of Simon Ella poisoning and why there's always carrots in your spew even though you haven't eaten any carrots.
Simon Ella is the brother of Citröen Ella who uses the power of citrus to keep flies and cats away and who haunts some motor cars; hence the reason why they become lemons. 

September 14, 2017

Horse 2320 - The Royal "We" Were Not We

In name changing news, this week marks the centenary of King George V changing the family name of the British Royal Family from the very very Gerry name of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the not at Krauty name of Windsor. What I find almost utterly incomprehensible about this was that it happened in 1917. The proclamation was issued in July 1917, and then not ratified until September.

In the summer heat of three years' previous, in 1914, the archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which was famous for absolutely nothing whatsoever apart from collapsing faster than a house of cards built on a flan in a cupboard of a Bangladeshi textiles factory, decided that it might be fun to go for a drive in an open topped motor car in the somewhat unhappy city of Sarajevo. He died swiftly of lead poisoning thanks to the delivery of a bullet at high speed, thanks to civil disobediant and all round anarchic champion of 1914, Gavrillo Princip.
Thanks to the "don't shoot an archduke" clause which was buried among hundreds of lines of text in treaty and counter treaty, the Triple Alliance of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Germany and Italy squared off against the Triple Entente of France, Russia and Britain. Denmark declared war on itself and Switzerland announced that everyone had a few too many screws loose in the cuckoo clock and didn't want to join in the continent wide bloodbath. Before 1914, nobody knew what an Archduke was and that remained the case after 1914 but you knew that if you shot and killed one, the consequences were massive.

The reason for the whole sort of general schamozzle was that practically all the nations of Europe were ruled by the inbred grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Kaiser Bill of Germany was the cousin of King Georgey 5 of England and so naturally, they perhaps weren't as keen on severing all ties with their family as the public might have hoped. George spent roughly three years thinking about changing his name while millions of Britons became worm food across the fields of Belgium and France.

It wasn't have been slaughters which had taken place at Gallipoli, Passchendaele, the Somme, or whatnot, because I doubt whether the count of yet another thousands of men destroyed made any difference at all.
No, the thing which finally forced a change of name was when the Luftstreitkräfte finally laid their hands on a bomber which was called the Gotha G.IV, started crossing the English Channel and bombing the streets of London directly. That sort of thing does little for good feelings when it is plastered all over the newspapers.
In 1917 though and to much aplomb and column inches in the great and powerful Times, George V ended the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and began the house of Windsor. Probably Prince Edward was delighted and Albert stuttered his way back home to the palace; grateful that his last name was shortened from six to two sylables.

It is perhaps fitting in 2017, that the eldest son of William and Kate, who will eventually be King Of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is also called George. At the moment, as he begins going to primary school, he will simply be known as George Windsor​ but eventually he will learn in due time that his Great Great Great Grandpa is the one who changed his surname by choice. It wasn't because they were immigrants to a new land but because​ the dance of history with its many turns and flourishes had for a small moment in time, thrown cousins against each other in a game of continental conflict and brinkmanship.
Little blonde Georgey Windsor has a name which is short and simple and more importantly, of the same stock which saw John Bull and his mate Tommy rise out of the earth, rather than a triple barrel Krauty name like Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. What's curious is that as Britain heads for the exit door of the European Union, the value of this name might be somewhat less than it otherwise would have been. I can't say what the future of the supranational conglomerate is, which lies just forty miles on the other side of the channel but if it again thinks about throwing itself into another slaughter fest, then little Georgey​ might want to consider changing his name back again if it gives him any sort of leverage in diffusing a conflict. A future German leader might not be as affable to George Windsor as they might be to George Saxe-Coburg-Gotha even though they are exactly the same person.

Aside:
I have a name which is uncommon enough to be interesting. Even so, if Kim Jong Un starts kicking off and starts chucking about his nuclear nonsense, then I might think it fun to change my name to Anders Rollosson and claim refugee status in Åland.

September 11, 2017

Horse 2319 - RUOK, RUOK Day?

Later this week is the mental health awareness day called RUOK Day. That doesn't have anything to do with ROUS Day which is the day in which we're made aware of Rodents Of Unusual Size, nor does it have anything to do with RUFC Day which is the day in which we're made aware of Rotherham United Football Club. RUOK Day is the day which people are encouraged to ask other people the question "Are You Okay?" in the name of suicide prevention.

The day sounds reasonable enough in principle because suicide prevention and mental health issues are serious matters but as someone​ who knows several people with mental health issues, I can't help but feel that any useful point that the day might have had has long been completely obliterated.
To be fair, I'd rather be made more aware of rodents of unusual size like capybaras because they're so very very cute, and be made more aware of Rotherham United Football Club because they would steal column inches away from rugby league. Anything that makes the public more aware of lower league English football can only be a good thing.
However​, speaking as a curmudgeon who isn't particularly persuaded by fake made up awareness days, I really really don't want the to be aware of the utter tokensim of RUOK Day which transform mental health from a serious issue to one of faux touchy feely awareness which is shrouding an underlying commercialism.

Let's assume for a second that you're all happy and healthy and everything is going along pretty nicely for you. On RUOK Day, you don't want to be seen as an ignorant person and so you go around the place, such as your work, school or what not, ask the question "Are You Okay?" and then you can go on with your pretty nice life, having ticked the box of societal expectations and going back to ignoring the issue for the rest of the year. This is especially useful for psychopaths and workplace bullies because having ticked the box of societal expectations, they can carry on with their merry course of being horrible to people.
The opposite is also interesting. If everything is not going along nicely at all, then you don't want to be seen as a worry wart or a downer, and besides which, for the rest of the year nobody wants to broach the subject anyway. Your answer to the question "Are You Okay?" will be "yes" because nobody really wants to deal with the ramifications of you answering "no"; even if it is completely true. If everything​ is not okay, then mysteriously that person becomes the subject of counseling and a problem to be fixed, rather than actually addressing an underlying problem that you might have a few rogue psychopaths running about the place.

There are two broad camps on RUOK Day: those that don't care but want to be seen to be doing the right thing; and those who would prefer to be left alone because they live with the unpleasantness of mental health issues on a daily basis.
As for me personally, I have possibly the best of all worlds in that because I work for an exceptionally small firm, I will never be asked the question and secondary to that, the vast majority of people who I come in contact with, wouldn't ask me the question in the first place because it would never occur to them. I could be simultaneously fine and falling to pieces and nobody would ever even find out. If I was suffering from some kind of mental health problem, then thankfully, I could deal with that privately​ and not have it dragged out in front of a large organisation, as the exhibit in a freak show.

If you are genuinely concerned about someone, then do something about it under the cover of monotony. Wait for everyone to forget about RUOK Day and go for nice coffee and cake with them in a quiet place; without the fanfare of an exploitable made up awareness day. If you do truly want to care for someone, then put the effort in and care for them. Of course, if you do happen to be a psychopath then this is probably lost on you anyway, so by all means use RUOK Day as a signal to the world that you ironically have something wrong with you and that people should be fearful of you.
RUOK Day seems to me to be the embodiment of slacktivism, where people who ordinarily don't give a tinker's fart are given a reprieve and have their apathy reset to zero for free. There are 364 other days in the year and if you genuinely want to care about the mental well-being of someone, it's those days when nobody else cares which are more important. It should be an ongoing process rather than an event.

September 08, 2017

Horse 2318 - Going Postal Is Okay According To The High Court.

The High Court of Australia handed down its verdict yesterday concerning the validity of the Abbott Turnbull Government's plans to hold a plebiscite postal vote on the subject of same-sex marriage. The High Court was answering an appeal which doubted the legality of such a thing and barely spent any time at all in turfing out the appeal on its ear and back into street from whence it came, by giving the appeal a 7-0 thumping.
Before I get to the reason for their decision, this post is a broader sweeping survey of how we got here in the first place.

Once upon a time in the great southern land and before there was an Australia, the six colonies had their own records departments and the subject of marriage was handled under common law. In the brand new shiny Constitution, the things that the brand new shiny Commonwealth of Australia could make laws for, were spelled out in Section 51; specifically Section 51 xxi.

Legislative powers of the Parliament:
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:
(xxi)  marriage;
- Section 51, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900¹

That's all that the Constitution has to say on the matter - one single, solitary word. It doesn't define the word; it doesn't specify any sort of direction, no, Section 51 xxi merely says that the Commonwealth of Australia has the power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to this thing.

And then nothing happened.

The Commonwealth of Australia although it had the power to make law with respect to the subject of marriage, found no reason to do so because the six states who used to be colonies, had their own records departments and were handling the issue under common law.

And then nothing happened.

Until... 1961.
From the end of Ben Chifley's fiery premiership, the Australian Government under Robert Menzies became a slow burner. We bumbled through the 1950s and then in 1961, the Marriage Act was passed. Now bear in mind that this was at the beginning of the decade and well before the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the freaked out flower children and a generation lost in space. The Marriage Act 1961 was passed in an era of brown suits, brown furniture, brown motor cars and brown sauce and chips. So why did the Menzies Government decide to act?

Communism.

This sounds positively ridiculous in 2017 but not quite 60 years ago and in the shadow of World War 2 (book now for World War 3, tickets from Ticketmaster from only $59), the world had organised itself into the glorious free market capitalists who were manipulating foreign governments for political gain, and the evil socialist communists who were on the dismal side of the iron curtain and manipulating foreign governments for political gain.
Australia which has always been a tin pot little country which wants to cosy up to which ever big brother will be nice to it at the time, saw that the glorious free market, capitalism, and freedom, was threatened by a bleeping tin ball in space, and then a bleeping tin ball in space with a man in.
I know that this sounds unhinged but if you read through Hansard for the debate surrounding the Marriage Act 1961, then you find that communism and space are used as the justification for the act. The Menzies Government decided that if it was going to take a stand against everything that the evil socialists stood for, including luxury gay space communism, then it needed to make a symbolic act and the Marriage Act 1961 was the easiest way to say that they were doing something without really doing anything at all.

And then nothing happened.

The twenty-first century kicked off with a couple of planes being slammed into the World Trade Centre in New York, another one slammed into the Pentagon, in retaliation against the glorious free market capitalists who were manipulating foreign governments for political gain. Suddenly the west found itself with a brand new set of enemies, who just happened to be the same people that they'd paid off to fight the evil socialist communists in the decades before. The found itself in two wars for the price of five, against an enemy who they could only classify as being vaguely brown and Islamic.
The Howard Government as part of its continuing war on brown people, was worried about a potential flood of refugees who might escape their countries as a result of the west bombing them. One of the tactics that it decided upon was to change the Marriage Act 1961, to limit the definition of marriage to just a man and a woman, to stop the possibility of Islamic​ refugees from bringing multiple wives and children into Australia.

And then nothing happened.

The current​ debate surrounding the Marriage Act 1961, is mostly the result of an internal conflict within the Liberal Party and a set of attempts to appease the right of the party. The Labor governments under Rudd, Gillard, and Rudd again, attempted to do nothing but found political traction trying to force a subject which they didn't really care for in government.
Under the premiership of Tony Abbott, the opposition Labor Party decided that it would try and force a free vote in parliament which it knew was never ever going to fly, and in reply the Liberal Party decided to tear itself to bits and promised a plebiscite to change the Marriage Act because they knew that the Labor opposition wouldn't let that pass. Having said that, the Turnbull Government was still able to secure funding to the tune of $160m to hold a plebiscite in Appropriation Bill No.1 2017 and this is where we are today.

The High Court challenge to the postal vote on same-sex marriage was doomed before it began because the legality of it was absolutely watertight before the ship was launched. It isn't a referendum because it doesn't change the Constitution. This isn't a plebiscite because that was never going to pass the Senate. What it is, is an exercise in collecting statistics; which is also authorised under Section 51 xi of the Constitution.

Legislative powers of the Parliament:
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:
(xi)  census and statistics;
- Section 51, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900¹

The reason why the challenge failed on funding grounds​ was because funding had already been secured and no new Appropriation Bill needs to be passed. The reason why the challenge failed on constitutional grounds is because of Section 51 xi. Since it is the High Court's job to look at the legality of a thing and the legality of this postal vote is technically correct which is the best kind of correct (even if it is the worst kind of politically stupid), then of course the High Court was always going to return a 7-0 result².

¹Section 51: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/coaca430/s51.html
²The High Court's decision: http://www.hcourt.gov.au/assets/publications/HCATrans-176-2017-09-07.pdf

August 31, 2017

Horse 2317 - The Proper Response To A Statue Should Be More Statues

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/an-additional-plaque-bill-shortens-plan-to-neutralise-captain-cook-debate-20170828-gy5ioc.html
As the debate over Australia's historical monuments continues to rage, Labor leader Bill Shorten has advocating balancing history – by adding additional plaques.
In what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull labelled a "cowardly criminal act" reminiscent of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the statues of Captain James Cook and former Governor Lachlan Macquarie were vandalised over the weekend.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 29th Aug 2017.


Can I just start out by saying that a memorial is not of itself, history. Memorials, which include statues and monuments, are erected after the fact; in an effort to either remember an event or to tell a story about it. Memorials and monuments are political statements and to suggest anything otherwise, is to tell a lie.
Secondly, this isn't anything even remotely like the erasure of history which occurred in the Soviet Union and under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. Stalin wanted to remove the all traces of the past, whereas this graffiti on a public monument is calling for people to remember a past which has already been suppressed. If there is anyone who Malcolm Turnbull should be accusing of erasing the past, then it's the entire of Australian society up until about 1992.

The monument in question of Captain James Cook, states that it was erected to commemorate Cook's discovery of the east coast of Australia in 1770 is no different. At the base of the statue, there is an inscription which reads:
This statue was erected by public subscription assisted by a grant from the New South Wales Government, 1879.
Remember, memorials and monuments are political statements which are erected against the backdrop of a particulat political climate and this is no exception. In 1879, the Colony of New South Wales as it was, had only properly achieved self goverment 13 years earlier.


I think it interesting that this was erected during the first term of the Premiership of Henry Parkes; who was instrumental in a great deal many things in Australian history; including the push for the six colonies to be federated into one country. Parkes was a very strong opponent of the transportation of convicts to Australia, he campaigned for self-government for the colonies of Australia, he sent petitions to the British Government in London demanding universal suffrage for Australians.

I suspect that the funds for this statue were probably raised in the months and years following the centenary of Cook's voyage in 1870 and it probably took some time to accrue the necessary monies. The New South Wales and Sydney of 1879 when it finally went up, wanted to see itself as having greater importance in the world; so finding any kind of founding narrative was instrumental in the telling of the story of New South Wales to itself. James Cook was seen as an adventurer and a jolly good chap, despite him actually being a grumpy little Yorkshire man. Any notion that there was any history before Cook's arrival would have not even been considered by the New South Wales of 1879.

I don't know what Parkes' view of Aboriginal peoples of Australia was but when asked was was being planned for them in the 1888 centenary celebrations of the founding of New South Wales, Parkes is reported to have said "And remind them that we have robbed them?"
This is the climate in which the statue was erected. This was a colony looking for an identity of its and yet still very much wanting to fit itself into the greater story of the British Empire, which at the time was seeing its limits grow wider still and wider. That time has passed and has been consigned to the dustbin of history. The British Empire isn't really a thing anymore and the former colony of New South Wales is now a state which is part of a very different country.

The interesting thing about books, films, paintings, sculpture, monuments, and indeed any piece of art is that once they are released into the world they no longer belong to the creators but rather the people who buy them, consume them and interpret them. I can be affected by a book, song, play, artwork and it will be entirely different to how you are affected by that same piece of art. That same principle applies to the same person if they are 15, 35, or 75 years old. That same principle applies to a society as it moves along and changes, and reinterprets its past. The statue of Captain James Cook will mean something different to someone living in the New South Wales of 1879 to someone living in the New South Wales of 2017. There is absolutely a right for society to question and evaluate its past; which again is different to the sort of thing that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is suggesting.

One thing I find particularly disgenuous about this whole debate about how we choose to look at the past, how we choose to reinterpret it, and how we choose to memorialise it through statues and public holidays is the way in which the right tries to pass this off by saying that there needs to be more of a focus in addressing the issues faced by Aboriginal people and then having raised a fuss and distracted everyone from the argument, they go back to the default position of not caring about the lot of the issues facing Aboriginal people. Discussion is successfully shut down and the injustices remain. Not only do the outward signs and political statements, which includes statues and monuments, remain but the chance for redress is deliberately destroyed. We continue to remind people that we have robbed them by continuing to remind them that we have robbed them.

Not only that but in the case of Australia, we actually have the audacity to proclaim a public holiday for the date in which we officially stole the country. I can think of no other country in the world which does this. Australia already has a public holiday on the day that the country started but that coincides with New Year's Day. We could make July 31st a public holiday, which is the day that Western Australia was the last colony to vote to join the federation and celebrate the fact that Australia was started with a vote and not a war but that apparently is too much effort.

If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else then I would implement what I think is the perfect solution to the issue of the statue of Captain James Cook. My solution would be to erect two other statues, which are close to the statue of Captain James Cook and in the same style and in direct opposition to it. I think that I would pick statues of both Bennelong and Pemulwuy and have them as a physical reminder that the land was already occupied and already had custodians and guardians, long well before Captain Cook showed up.
Just like the statue of Fearless Girl who stares down the Stock Market Bull in New York City, or the statue of Oliver Cromwell who stares down Charles I outside the House of Commons in London, or even the wee little statue of Trim the Cat who watches over Matthew Flinders on Macquarie Street, the message of the present is more powerful if the messages of past are physically challenged.
The way that you challenge ideas is to place other ideas up against them. The way that you should challenge ideas and political statements of the past is by placing new ideas and political statements up against them. I wouldn't balance history by adding additional plaques but by adding additional statues.

August 28, 2017

Horse 2316 - On The Cheapness Of Text (And Probably 20th Anniversary)

If you are reading this blog post on its native website, then you are looking at white text on black. If you have picked this up on some other reader, then it will be displayed in whatever the settings of that thing happens to be. The third possibility is that you are reading this in the future and through a series of highly unlikely events, I have picked up a book dead and this has been printed on dead tree product. I make mention of this because already in tapping this into my tablet computer, I have typed and deleted many characters; a process which even as little as the beginning of this century, would have been impossible.
In just my lifetime, computers have gone from being a thing which only big businesses​ had, to something which lots of people had, to something so ubiquitous that we're actually bored of the modern miracle which sits in our pockets. There is quite literally more computing power sitting in the palm of people's hands, than the banks of computers which was able to get twelve people to land on the moon.
Rather than just marvel about how wonderful computers are, I want to return to the opening lines of this post and specifically look at just text itself, or rather our relationship with it.

Let's go back to the days before moveable type. If you wanted to write anything down or read anything, the whole process had to be done by hand. This made​ books hideously expressive and only the richest of people or perhaps scholars got to use them. There were such things as slaves which people could write notes on and there have been strips of wood found to right throughout China, Korea, Mongolia et al. which have handwritten correspondence from hundreds and thousands of years ago. Still, those slates, strips of wood, and the papyrus and vellum which made books were all the direct product of human hands and I think that there's something special about that.

I don't know about you but the only thing that I ever seem to hand write these days are notes for myself​. I'm not really inclined to write many personal letters because I'm not sure who I'd be writing to anyway. Any official correspondence at work or something which I have to read later, is almost always tapped out on a computer somewhere. There's something to be said about the lost art of letter writing and there a number of reasons for that, including that you can just call someone on the telephone but it's still most singular that for many people, their most treasured of personal possessions are the letters that they once received oh so long ago.

Jump forward in the story to about the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century when Billy Shakespeare was doing his thing. This is well after the invention of the printing press and moveable type but I bet that every single member of Billy's theatre company was given hand written copies of the plays that they were performing, which were probably handwritten by the bard himself. Now this is wild mass speculation but if you were the writer and director of theatre company, it makes sense to me that you'd want to copy out all of the play so that you'd remember it. Dare I suggest that each of the members of the cast of a play, might have written out their own copies of the play for exactly the same reason.
When players in a modern production of a play or other kinds of thesp get their scripts, I wonder how many write out their own copy. Probably not many. Having written a play, I can tell you that if I had to get someone else to read my chicken vomit of handwriting, they'd want to organise some kind of vendetta against me.

Speaking as someone who prefers the printed word to that found on a screen, I am one of a dying breed of those who prefer black ink on murdered tree product than the absolute regularity of text on a screen. If I've gone to the investment of buying a dead tree product, I find that I'm actually kind of more engaged with it. I prefer fighting the physicality of a newspaper than anything which you'll find online; it is the same for books. If I read a novel or something factual, I'm more likely to remember what was contained therein than if I'd read the same thing on a screen. I have tried using a Kindle and reading PDFs on a tablet and there's just no fundamentally wrong about it. Plus, if you have real books, you can display your horde like a macrophage displays bits of everything it's killed.
My tablet computer is handy because I can delete things ad nauseum but it's still a cold and impersonal thing. The internet has opened up the ability to publish things to an audience of millions but I suspect that if people wrote each other a letter, they'd find that to be far more precious than someone pressing the like button on Twitter or Facebook. I don't know how many people keep their emails for years and years but I suspect that it can't be many. Pressing the Delete key on a computer is a simple act and going through your inbox and deleting hundreds at a go, is also pretty easy. Nobody displays their emails like a digital macrophage at all.

Text is the vehicle by which many ideas are driven around in. A lot of us have the ability to write and publish things instantly but most of us are just content to send small parcels of text that only contain small items. Because the barrier to entry is so small, text has almost become the most worthless thing on the internet. People won't pay for news even though it is expensive to gather and produce, they won't pay to send message by Twitter and Facebook despite them being really really useful, buy they will sign up for things that they can not produce themselves, like television and movies and pay for them.
As text is so incredibly cheap and disposable, the amount of effort put into the vast majority of pieces of text that are sent around, is minimal. Quite rightly, nobody is going to pay a dozen dollarpounds for the collected Facebook posts of an average user. I have seen a book for sale with selected Tweets from Donald Trump, with running commentary throughout; I think that that has more to do with his position and power, rather than the actual value and content of the Tweets themselves. Nobody would have paid for a book of selected Tweets from him in 2014.

On a more personal level, I have seen the rise of blogging platforms, watched as people realised that putting words and ideas together is not as easy as presumed, and then seen the blogs which were kept so assiduously, slowly fall silent and die off through lack of effort. I think that it's fair to say that of all the people that I knew who kept blogs of note in 1997 when I started this, that none of them have posted within the last twelve months and most of them haven't posted anything within the last twelve years.
To be honest, I have no idea when Horse No.1 was published
other than to say that I definitely know that it happened before the beginning of the 1997/98 Premier League season; which was definitely twenty years ago plus some time. Again, the price of text was so cheap and the available audience was so massive that many many blogs filled the space. Within a decade though the true cost of doing any piece of writing, which is time and effort, was a price that was too much to pay for most people. A lot of that crowd has since moved on to Facebook, which has become an advertising behemoth and hoovers up revenue left, right, and centre; to such an extent that dead tree publishing is but a shadow of its former self. It is now only the nerdiest of people and perhaps scholars who regularly use books and other real print media.

Aside:
Autocorrect sometimes suggests words that I have never heard of. Half way through this, it suggested the word "Hordoleum". I hope that a Hordoleum is a museum, an amusem, a bemuseum, or a mausoleum, which is where one displays one's horde. I imagine that a Hordoleum is a specially curated pile of tat which has a target audience of one. 

August 25, 2017

Horse 2315 - Travelling Without Moving

I don't think that I am a particularly atypical commuter across this swirling massive connurbation that we call Sydney, in that I travel 28 miles one way to get to work. At 56 miles a day, for at least 48 weeks of the year, that adds up to more than 13,000 miles every year. Yet for the vast majority of that travelling, I am seated; as though I was in a movie theatre.
Relative to me, apart from the gentle bouncing that happens in what would be considered one of the most boring fairground rides of all time (and consequently the most successful outcomes of public transport), all of the scenery of Sydney is dragged past the windows at speeds which regularly hit triple digits. When a train is doing 60mph, for every second that passes, 87 feet of scenery is pulled past the windows; that means that I only get a passing glance at anything on the journey. If I want to specifically look at something, there has to be planning in advance and even then, the glance is only fleeting. Yet, here we are in a metal box on rails, where if you replaced the windows with big television screens and put hydraulic jacks underneath the box, you could recreate the whole experience and most people wouldn't really be any the wiser. It really would be a boring fairground ride and demonstrates perfectly that strange concept which people much wiser than I, have called travelling without moving.

On an aeroplane, which is basically a fart filled metal tube of people, which is thrown into the sky and above our heads at five hundred miles an hour, the effect is even more pronounced. Up there the ball of the earth turns slowly underneath and the colours which are obviously made by factories, are dragged past the windows which are smaller than what you find on a commuter train. You're travelling without moving for so long that in some cases you can literally watch the entire Star Wars trilogy and still be within earshot of the same few people the whole time.
On a train though, if you're on the same one every day, then in many respects it is like on that fart filled metal tube in the sky, except without children.
On the train I usually get in the morning, I know that I am the man in the coat and hat with glasses. Sometimes there is another man in a chequered hat with glasses and I expect that we could team up and investigate murders in a crime drama. There are the twins at the far end of the train who look as though they could have played rugby for Australia, in some imagined past. There is a lady in her late twenties who appears to be doing some sort of medical course because she constantly has a book with complicated anatomy diagrams that look more like Britain's motorway network than any kind of system in the human body. There is a man with a pair of big can headphones which puts out unfamiliar dance type music and he is forever drinking energy drinks; probably to keep the sleep out of his eye. There is the Beatrix Potter type lady who has a crocheted bag with a massive flower on the front and paintbrushes which are always poking out.
I see mostly the same people every morning and yet, I bet that if I said a word to any of them, they would all be weirded out. I mean, I would be if some random person came and spoke to me on the train in the morning.

We are all characters who inhabit a specific space at a specific time. Apart from the odd phone call which sometimes breaks the silence and the occasional rapscallion who pierces the quiet with music that is way too loud (all the single lettuce, all the single lettuce), we a microcosm of the city, hermetically sealed in a box of our own farts. Because we inhabit a neutral space, I don't think that any of us are particularly inclined to want to disturb each other. We live in our own little aural bubble; which is occasionally peppered with noises of the train itself.
I can describe a half dozen people that I usually see on the train and yet due to that phenomenon of traveling without moving, I can not mentally picture some things outside the window because they whizz past at 87 feet a second. I don't have a good idea of what Pendle Hill Station looks like yet, after it has been torn down and rebuilt; there is one particular shop in Auburn which I am intrigued to find out what it sells; and there is a Chinese restaurant in Parramatta which I can see from the railway line that I really want to go to but can not explain why.
What goes on inside people's heads is impossible to know unless they tell you something; which means to say that on one of the decks of the train which you can see, there as many as fifty black boxes which are unobservable. I kind of feel that at sixty miles an hour, that even though you can see the world which flashes past outside, you don't really get a chance to observe that either. Granted that you can see trees, buildings, cars, the occasional person walking around, and you can read the signs which whizz past for a moment, travelling through a place doesn't give you any idea of the character of the suburbs and communities; nor of the individual lives which all fit together to build them.

If you could replace the windows with big television screens and put hydraulic jacks underneath this fart filled metal box which we all find ourselves in, it would near enough as make diddly squat difference as to be negligible. Buildings are put up and torn down, people go! about their business, cars move in and out, trains whizz past each other at sixty miles an hour, and none of us are really moved by any of it but we are travelling; even if it is only travelling without moving.

August 23, 2017

Horse 2314 - Section 44 Revisited

As long as the issue of Members of Parliament and their relationship with Section 44 of the Australian Constitution continues to bubble along in the background of Australian politics, there will continue to be questions about its fitness for purpose. If Section 44 is found to be unfit for purpose, then to change it will require a referendum and the normal rules of having a majority of votes in a majority of states will apply.

So then, let's ask the question. Is Section 44 fit for purpose?

In the 1890s when the Constitution was still being drawn up, I suspect that the idea of what citizenship actually was, was mostly different. When Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, South Africans and Indians were asked nicely and then sent to Europe to fight in the protracted and bloody conflict which very quickly became known as The Great War, they were done so on the presumption that they were all British subjects. In fact, the idea that there even was a seperate Australian citizenship which wasn't even solidified at law until after the war to end all wars spawned another war and it happened all over again.
This means that we have to go back and look at what the framers of the Constitution were thinking.

The whole idea of the nation state kind came together after yet another round of European wars in 1848 and countries kind of coalesced together, on the basis of shared language and culture. Germany was still a bunch of independent states when they fought the French in 1870 but they'd more or less come together by the time that Franz Ferdinand decided to take a morning drive in Sarajevo.
By the 1890s we had a pretty good idea of who wasn't us, and if you'd said that a British subject from Toronto or Leeds had an allegiance to a foreign power when the Constitution Of Australia Act was passed in 1900, you might have found yourself in an asylum for the insane. The notion would have been incomprehensible to a British subject in relation to another British subject at the time of federation in 1901. Further to that, the idea that you needed a passport to travel from country to country wasn't a thing until after 1918. When Churchill said that "it is the God given right that an Englishman can live wherever the hell he likes", it kind of was almost a statement of fact.

Turn the wheel of history on for several decades and although the idea of what citizenship actually was, changed, the underlying sentiment which went into Section 44 did not. Although the framers of the Constitution might not have had the same notion of who constituted a citizen, they had a very strong notion of who was not one. That would have included other empires such as the French, German, the Austro-Hungarian, the Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Mexican and what not. It would have also included the Americans who of their own accord and much fighting left the British Empire and would have also included Aboriginal peoples who although had been in Australia longer than everyone else, still did not have citizenship extended to them.
As the century rolled on and the idea of the nation state solidified, the idea of who was and who was not one of us also changed but Section 44 remained as an unmarked booby trap apparently. After the Second World War people started moving around the world with far more ease than they ever had before and in the case of Australia, the country practically threw its arms wide for a while, provided that they were someone who mostly looked like us (whatever the heck "us" is), until that we quite rightly seen as the racist policy it was.

That is the fundamental question which Section 44 tries to address. You don't want law which is made by "them" (whoever them is) and you want law which is made by us (whoever "us" is). The problem which Section 44 probably never ever thought of is, if the nation would eventually be composed of people from everywhere, that would put definite strains on what the definition of "us" is. Australia in 1900 was a nation composed of people who almost exclusively came from inside the British Empire and the subsequent laws which followed even went so far as to impose difficult barriers to entry of people from outside, from coming in. In 2017, where the nation is now composed of people who have come from everywhere, does such a limited definition of who is "us" make for something​ useful when it comes to making law?
It is important to remember that Section 44 of the Constitution does not put any limitations on people who hold dual citizenship from living in society. We haven't decided that on becoming an Australian, that all ties to foreign nations be severed. That requirement that legal ties be severed only comes into operation when someone wants to become a member of parliament and have a say in the law that affects everybody else.

This I think is the crux of the reasoning. The administration of power as vested in the parliament isn't merely in the hands of the 1% but the 0.001%. There are only 226 members of parliament and potentially any one of them could be the Prime Minister. I don't think it unreasonable that when you have the power of making law which can very much affect the lives of a great deal many people, that it is incumbent that you should have those people in mind. The people who make laws for all of us (whatever "us" happens to be) should be legally bound to be one of us and only us.
Section 44 also inadvertently acts as a barrier to incompetence. If a whole bunch of people end up getting removed from the parliament because they hold dual citizenship, I can't say that I feel particularly sorry for them. If you desire to be one of the 0.001% who makes laws on behalf of everyone else, then the very least that you should do is read the rule book which lays out how to make rules. If you want to run the excuse that you didn't know that you were a dual citizen, or more shockingly that you didn't know that this provision existed in the Constitution, then really shouldn't be a member of parliament. Section 44 imposes a responsibility test upon someone who desires a responsible position. It's not like Section 44 is something which is new, it's been there since 1900; before the nation of Australia was legally a thing. If you can't be bothered to read the Constitution, which just happens to be in the bookshop in the front foyer of Parliament House and costs a fiver, then you shouldn't be allowed to be on the floor of the chambers where you will be bound by it.

Do we need to prerogue parliament as has been suggested? I don't think so. If this ends up tumbling a lot of bumbling people out of the parliament, then so be it. There are rules to determine what happens with vacancies in both the House Of Representatives and the Senate; that may involve by-elections​ and if someone wants to re run for parliament, then maybe they aught to read the Constitution before they contest for the seat again. If there really is a problem with the existence of Section 44, then the Constitution itself details the procedure for changing the document; thus we end up where this piece started.

I don't think that Section 44 is a bad thing. The very notion of what citizenship actually is, is vastly different now to what it was in 1900, but the idea that a very few select group of people charged with the responsibility of making​ laws for us should be legally bound to us and only us, hasn't really changed at all. Section 44 should stay; especially if it means that those who shouldn't, shouldn't.

August 22, 2017

Horse 2312 - Hats On!

In the space of less than a week, I have had two conversations with strangers and one with a friend about my hat.
I will readily admit that coolness and I are not​ the greatest of friends, so for me to assert that my hat is cool, is a futile exercise. Nevertheless, people will like what they like and I make no apologies for liking hats. I don't​ mean baseball caps either, for while they are of an entirely different  tradition and almost exclusively used for the express purpose of branding, I think that they qualify as being a different thing. Having said that, the ubiquitous New York Yankees hat is quite rightly and unequivocally​ an icon in its own right, and has traveled far broader and wider than just to the heads of New York Yankees fans. I don't think it would be difficult to find someone wearing a Yankees hat on the other side of the world from the Big Apple and who doesn't​ even remotely like baseball.
I digress though.

The hat that I most often wear is a black cheesecutter, which I bought from a shop called the Headwear Depot on D Street in San Diego. There's nothing inherently special or remarkable about the hat at all and that is probably its greatest strength. Precisely because it has no obvious identity, I've worn it with suit jackets, my big black scary Crombie coat, football shirts, button down shirts &c. and it doesn't look out of place with anything.
It is of itself, completely neutral but being something which is uncommon, distinctive.
I like that. It might not be cool but I think that it is classy and if not classy, then timeless.

The thing about the cheesecutter as opposed to its cousin the flat cap, is that for some​ reason the cheesecutter is classless while the flat cap is very much working class. The flat cap is perhaps most associated with the working classes across the northern part of England and in particular the mining communities of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The cheesecutter on the other hand, can be found in London, New York, Chicago, Melbourne, Tokyo... practically any major urban centre in the world. Trendy versions are made by Kangol, Burberry, UniQlo, The Gap, Zara, as well as in cheap variety stores. You could pay $5 for a cheap cheesecutter and while you're not going to have a name brand under the brim, nobody really cares or knows anyway. The cheesecutter is possibly the most democratic of hats without even trying. Mine though, has no trendy branding on the outside of it and as such, it retains that classless quality.
Especially in the winter, I have seen cheesecutters on quite a number of people. It along with the beanie, could very well be the unofficial uniform of commuters who are standing in the cold, while their blood retreats from their extremities. Admittedly there are more people who wear hoodies but almost none of those people ever put the hood up, for fear of looking like a petty thief or other nefarious knave. Also, due to the kind of flat nature of the top of the cheesecutter, it is easy to wear a set of big can headphones over the top.
The cheesecutter isn't the only hat isn't the only hat that I have. It isn't the cheapest and it isn't the most expensive hat that I have either. It is the one that I will wear most often though.

One of the hats that I found in a clearance bin at a surf shop, is a kind of grey trilby. I have no idea of what kind of hat it was supposed to be and it had been marked down quite a lot because apparently you can't sell trilbys to surfer and skaters types. It did require me turning down the brim at the front but I quite like it because it sits at a jaunty angle and has kind of an Inspector Gadget sort of look to it. This grey trilby is in that gritty tradition of Dick Tracy, Lt Tragg and Phillip Marlowe. It is the kind of hat that one would wear if they were investigating a hideous crime and encountered a dead body.
To that end, I was wearing it while walking down to the bank one day and out of nowhere an old lady asked me if I was a detective. That set of events says several things all at once, including that old people reach a point where they simply don't care what they say anymore, that I work in a suburb where the average age of the population means that they can probably still remember gold rush, and that both of us are probably the sorts of people who expect that on television, a murder in a small village will be solved by a TV detective in 90 minutes or less.

I also happen to own a black bowler hat. The bowler hat is very much aware of its place in the whole class structure. It is a hat worn by someone working in an office but not necessarily by someone who wants to be seen​ to be seen. People like lawyers and industrialists, managers and socialites, get to wear top hats or in the case of Isambard Kingdom Brunel a stovepipe hat. I on the other hand, know that I am an operative and a member of the grand class of technocrats and bean counters. I know that a top hat would be mostly too lofty for me​ despite the fact that I would wear one if given the chance.
Quite frankly I have long suspected that I was caught in a hideous rip in space and time and ended up being born about 80 years too late in history. When I look at Poirot, I see the 1930s with the telephone and radio but not television or the internet, and tweed, bakelite, art deco and jazz, to be kind of a good idea. Poirot can wear a bowler hat but for him that is a step downwards; whereas for me, it is a step made with all exactitude.

I have bucket hats, various baseball caps, and​ a pork pie hat which is a shade too small for my head and sits up there like a chicken on top of a rockmelon and yet despite being spoiled for choice, I will naturally gravitate towards a hat which is brandless, classless, and clever.
Broadly speaking, I think that too many people are wearing not enough hats and that not enough people are wearing too many hats. I look at old photographs of railway stations, sporting fixtures, public events &c. and see a sea of hats which once were commonplace an now are not. If I am the last man wearing a hat in a hatless future, then so be it. It will be a cheesecutter, too.

August 21, 2017

Horse 2311: Be Here Now - 20 Years Then


I have heard it said that what ever music was number one on the charts when you were seventeen is the most likely to stick with you. I don't have a good explanation for this except to say that there must be something particular about hormonal teenage brain chemistry that burns deeper than at any time in a person's life. Indeed popular culture gives these years a sort of overly romantic saccharide, which I think is the cultural equivalent of diabetes.
Having said that, the music that did top the charts when I was seventeen was immediately post grunge and during the middle of a Britrock explosion. Blur, Soundgarden, Supergrass and Oasis for a very short period of time and this is what I stepped into. The thing is that as a fan of Oasis, I still thought that Liam Gallagher was a wingnut and as I have gotten older and have heard more songs written by Noel Gallagher where Liam isn't around, especially in the High Flying Birds, the more that I have thought that Noel really never needed Liam.

Be that as it may be, Oasis Sat nicely in my music collection next to Blur and the Beatles and in my car stereo, Oasis was more likely to appear on mixtapes than either of those two. I suppose that while the kids in my grade at school were enamoured with bands like Nirvana, the noise which was coming out of Northern England was far more interesting to me.

On the 21st of August 1997 (it was 20 years ago today), Be Here Now was released and at the time it was the biggest selling album on pre-release in history. What we got upon hearing for the first time was unlike the angry sound of Definitely Maybe or the wall of sound where every level was turned up to eleven with What's The Story? (Morning Glory), and this cocaine riddled, overdriven soundscape of noise and confusion that revelled in its own self importance. If viewed as a prog rock album, then it's fine but by any other filter, it's about half an hour too long. Songs that go beyond seven minutes in length had better pretty spectacular because if they aren't, they fail miserably.
Of the Oasis catalogue, Be Here Now was destined to live at the bottom of most people's lists of favourite albums. If you're on a road trip, the sheer scale of it blends into the miles and it is only then that you really appreciate just how massive the album actually is. Imagine then my surprise when I heard this coming out of the speakers and through the floor, from the hairdressers' shop below our offices at work; which makes a vast difference to the usual cavalcade of Disney tunes from Frozen and now Moana. Objectively, the fact that I am in my late thirties and I know all the words to Libireé Delivreé (Let It Go) in French, is not something that I would have wished for.

Some might say that music has a way of transporting us back to a point from long ago but I must have missed that memo. I'm simply not chained to the places I never wished to stay. For me although every one of these songs is familiar, they are at the same time brand new and I think that's mainly because I don't hear the voice of Liam Gallagher.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfM4qNkuveQ
-  Be Here Now Full Album - Mustique Demos

In these demos which were apparently recorded in Johnny Depp's studios, Liam is delightfully absent. Instead, the only voices we are those of Noel Gallagher and here, as indeed as always, the elder of the brothers Gallagher just sounds warmer. This is the voice of a musician who is working away at his craft, rather than the Mancunian whine of someone who wants to be a rock star but isn't prepared to work for it.
It's not like any voice track is perfect either. Being a set of demos, the lyrics still aren't sorted and the sounds of guitars still haven't been mixed to any standard that you'd find on a proper studio album but with what little equalizer ability that I have on my tablet, I can still climb around a lot of the technical deficiencies of the recording. In fact the version of the recording that I'm currently listening to on my tablet is unique to me, in that I passed it through a pop and click filter and then a hiss filter. It still isn't approaching studio quality but if the album had been released in 1997 and it was more in the spirit of this, it would have been a thousand times better than the version which was actually sold to the public.
It makes me wonder if Liam had never been part of the band, would there really have been that much of a difference? I think not.

So what do we have here? All songs that were on the album are present except for the All Around The World Reprise, which by its inclusion on the final album was obviously trying to ape the reprise at the end of Seargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club. They're all here but in a different order.

Be Here Now
With the exception of What's The Story (Morning Glory), Oasis albums have names which either don't appear as lyrics anywhere on the album or even further to that, don't appear as names of songs either. The lyrics for this song are still in flux but the sound of the cheap woodwind instrument is present here.

I Hope, I Think, I Know
In the first batch of CDs for Australian release, this track had a manufacturing defect and if you took the CD back to the store they'd replace it for another copy. As a result, the first time that I heard this song in its entirety was about a week after the rest of the album. This version sounds mostly the same as the final version but the most immediate thing that I've noticed is that all of the guitar fills and solos are different. Noel Gallagher remarked on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs that he didn't really need to take any discs on the desert island because if he had a guitar, then he would try to play everything from memory. He also admitted that he can't read music and so that means that it stands to reason that every single time he plays a song that it will be different because he's either had to play it from memory or make it up on the spot.

Don't Go Away
The final version of this song was supposed to be one of the sweeter tracks on the album but is tortured by Liam's whine. In this outing, the guitars aren't driven as hard and the voice of an acoustic guitar is more to the front. Now that this is being sung by Noel in a lower register than Liam did, the song is closer what it was supposed to achieve.

Stand By Me
The problem about having these two tracks side by side is that it becomes really apparent really quickly that they they share the same DNA. The punchline in this song as is also the case in the final version is that sequence of chords which counts out the beat in the chorus. Apart from this it sort of lumbers along and either this or the previous track could have been left out entirely and no one would have minded. Noel sounds sweeter in version of the song than Liam could have ever done and yet it is still a hulking slow thing that doesn't achieve what it's supposed to.

D'Ya Know What I Mean?
Conspicuous by its absence is the album's opening of a Spitfire taking off. On the album, this was one of the few songs which benefitted from having everything turned up to eleven. This version strays into synth pop and almost sounds like a 1970s advert for Fanta. I still think that the lines:
"I met my maker; I made him cry.
And on my shoulder he asked me why,
His people won't fly through the storm,
I said 'Hey listen up, man. They don't even know you're born.'"
Are some of the best in the whole Oasis catalogue.
The opening phrases of this song are supposed to remind you of Wonderwall which was published in 1995 and served to help as the opening to final version of the album but it seems strangely unnecessary here. As the fifth track in this set, it sounds like it should be the theme tune to some Danish crime drama which comes on at 11pm.

Stay Young
There is something about this song which no matter how many times I've heard it, gives me one of those AMSR responses. The most obvious thing that is missing is the mellotron. In its place, the drum track which sounds as though someone has affixed a tambourine to the drum stand is a nice touch.

The Girl In The Dirty Shirt
The problem with not having Liam in these demos is that you don't get Noel singing highlights to accompany him. Instead we get Noel double tracked and accompanying himself, which doesn't produce as nice a contrast. Also, the absence of the piano is kind of a let down but that's the sort of thing to expect from a demo.

It's Getting Better (Man)
This song still sounds as big and as brash as it always did. There's a weird thing where Noel ends all of the lines in the verses by moving upwards to flat but if this was played back, then this would have made itself apparent; hence the final album track. Most of the second half of this song always sounds like it's just Noel and whoever was in the room just sort of faffing about; that aspect remains and it's still fun.

My Big Mouth
I don't know how many times I've heard this song over the years and apart from the fact that it sound like someone's opened a fresh can of rock, it's been given a side dish to of word salad. This song benefits from being pared back to the shorter length here. Of all the songs on the album, this is the one which has the biggest boots and kicks the hardest.

All Around The World
The film clip for this song was some sort of Yellow Submarine thing and only helped to underscore the fact that the final version of this album was overdone in its sense of self importance and grandiosity. I once saw a very small portion of this song used in an advert for a mobile phone company which has to be about the ultimate insult. At 5'26" it still too long but it's got nothing of the nine minute behemoth which appeared on the final album.

Magic Pie (not here)
Conspicuous by its absence is Magic Pie. The album track was a mad rush of guitar solos and someone pumping away at a mellotron and fitted perfectly with the rest of the album. For it not to make an appearance here though, fills me with a little bit of sadness; as though one of your toys has gone missing.

Therein lies the heart of the matter for me. This collection of demos without Liam's voice, transports me back to a past which never existed and with a sense of misplaced nostalgia for a thing that never was. This album is like something which has fallen through a crack in the space time continuum from a 1997 which I didn't get to live through. I wonder if in a 2017A, if there's another me who is pondering a similar problem but with a version of the album that does have Liam's voice. Somehow I suspect, that I got the better part of the deal.

August 18, 2017

Horse 2310: Pauline Hanson - An Object Lesson In The Law

Yesterday in parliament, isolationist, nativist, racist, and islamaphobe, Queensland Senator Pauline Hanson, sat in the floor of the chamber of the Senate, while wearing a burqa. For what reason she did this, I don't know because neither her website, nor anything she said, gives the reason. At best guess, I can only assume that it was to prove something about security but even then, she passed through security clearances on her way to enter the building; so if anything, all it proves is that the security protocols an practices employed by Parliament House are working properly.



This was set against a background of a number of parliamentarians questioning and being questioned about their eligibility to sit in parliament, subject to citizenship requirements of Section 44 of the Constitution. Looking at the broader global context, this also comes amidst a week which saw neo-facists, Neo-Nazis, and other Ku Klux Klan like elements protesting in Charlottesville Virginia, over the removal of statues of Confederate General Robert E Lee, and the use of a motor car as a weapon in a terrorist attack against a counter protest, killing at least one person and injuring others.
With those things in mind, it makes​ the motives for why Senator Hanson would choose to wear a burqa in parliament, harder to ascertain. It does however provide a specific object lesson on two points of law. One which defends Senator Hanson's actions, which incidentally might have also made them self defeating, and the other which very much proves that if she intends to take any action because of the religion that she dislikes, that it is doomed to failure.

Under the doctrine of reception, there are specific rules which determine which laws passed in the United Kingdom and England, previous to new laws in Australia either replacing or repealing them, will apply in Australia. One of these is the Bill Of Rights Act 1689, which was passed under the reign of William and Mary, immediately after the Glorious Revolution. The Bill Of Rights Act 1689 does a number of things, but the part which is important and relevant here, is Section 9.

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/act/consol_act/bor16881wams2c2306/
That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.
- Section 9, Bill Of Rights Act 1689

If Senator Hanson wanted to prove some point by being ejected from the Senate Chamber because she was wearing a burqa, then she will have failed on that notion because of Section 9. The right to free speech and by extension the right to free expression, allows for Senator Hanson to make statements and dress how she wants. In the past, and especially immediately after lunch, there have been times in both chambers where members of both the House and Senate have worn gym clothes in the chamber, because they'd been for a run at lunchtime. The rules of parliament don't care what someone is wearing at all.
Given that Senator Hanson is perfectly allowed to wear a burqa in the Senate chamber in absolutely impunity, the responses to Ms Hanson were not framed with reference to the law. There were two speeches given to Senator Hanson; one by Tasmanian Senator Jackie Lambie and the other by the Attorney General George Brandis. Both of these speeches spoke to the decency and the deeper moral question of what Senator Hanson had done, rather than the legality of it.

The other object lesson which was ironically delivered by Senator Hanson, was to do with the Consideration itself. Presumably in her extreme dislike of Islam, Ms Hanson would want to bring about a change of law to do something about it. Section 116 of the Constitution prevents this though.

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/coaca430/s116.html
Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
 - Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 (UK)

If Senator Hanson wants to bring about a change of law which bans the wearing of the burqa in Australia, she will very quickly find out that the Constitution itself prevents such a law from being passed. If parliamentarians had bothered to read the Constitution (available from the parliamentary shop in the front lobby of the building for only $5), then they would have seen this. It would be the duty of the President of the Senate to stop the passage of such a bill, before a division was ever called for. If in the absolute crazy series of events that meant that the parliament disobeyed the Constitution, held a division on the subject and it passed, the bill would be handed back down to the House Of Representatives and it would be the duty of the Speaker to stop the passage of the bill, before a division was ever called for.

So there you have it. Two pieces of law in operation which both explain why Senator Hanson was allowed to do what she did but not allowed to do what presumably she wants to do. I think that both Ms Lambie's and Mr Brandis' response to Senator Hanson's​ act of tomfoolery and knavery were both perfect in execution. The right to free speech also comes with the ability for everyone else to judge that same free speech; in this case it was free but foolish.

August 17, 2017

Horse 2309 - I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

In the opening two decades of the twenty-first​ century, we have gone from a place where the beginnings​ of the internet only really connected computers by text, to the point where it is possible to watch and send video in real time. The technology which powered the banking system and other dispersed institutions which required connected computing, has now come to us in the palm of his our hands but instead of just sending very small packets of data that might only contain a few characters, we're sending whole strings which are so long that entire libraries of text can be sent in mere minutes.
In conjunction with this and in an effort to drag ever more profit from the wallets of consumers, software companies have begun to change their selling model from one where you bought a product and could then just use it, to one where you need to pay a subscription for its ongoing use. The subscription model is obviously better for firms because they get both a higher profit margin and a more reliable revenue stream but there is still the pesky problem of the general public being able to use the product and then opt out of paying the subscription fee. Thankfully, in the minds of software companies, the invention of the cloud means that they can now change their programs to make them impossible to use unless the consumer is connected to the cloud. If they can handcuff users to the cloud then profit margins should increase even further because there is no means of escape unless consumers stop using the product.

I hate the cloud.

In many respects, the cloud is a little bit like a protection racket which works in tandem with people who are addicted to a thing. You might think it a bit extreme that I've likened the cloud to substance abuse but in the same way that a dealer might send someone around to your house to mess up your stuff if you neglect to pay them, software companies who distribute their product by the cloud now have the ability to shut someone out and damage their business if they too neglect to pay. That program which in the past, you happily used without worrying about much, is now connected to the servers of the company in a way that didn't happen before.

Maybe I've been a little bit harsh but there is a second and equally insidious reason why I hate the cloud. It is monumentally slow.
Even if you have the fastest internet connection in the world, the cloud is still far too slow for my liking. If you're streaming video, then the protocols of the internet work pretty well. If you are inputting individual and small points of data into a server, then it becomes very tedious very quickly. The round trip time for a transaction on an accounting program that I use and our server in the office is about as long as it takes to blink. That same program in the cloud, has a round trip time of about two seconds. If there are thirty points of data on a page, then that adds one minute to inputting everything on a page. That's fine if you only have a small amount of data to input but if you have sixty or seventy pages of stuff, suddenly there might be a whole hour in a day which you have to wait around doing nothing while the servers think about serving you. If you could compress that hour into a solid block, then you could think about doing something else while your data was being processed but it isn't and it is chopped into tiny little pieces and sprinkled throughout your day, like sprinkling little bits of paprika in a chocolate cake.

With respect to the actual accounting program that I use, the cloud hasn't added a shred of extra benefit other than allowing people to connect to it from anywhere. I understand that that could be extremely useful if you have multiple users at various sites but in general, and with accounting specifically, most people don't want to do the accounting; what they want to do is the business of doing business and that means generating invoices. Naturally if you've installed the ability to put many doors on a building, there are many ways to get inside and while encryption and password protection might save you from malicious outsiders, quite often it is the insiders who will do the most damage to a system. The biggest single problem with opening access to a data set, is not an attack from the enemy without but the enemy within and unless all passwords are changed, the second that someone leaves an organisation, you may as well have left the drawbridge down on the castle.

I suppose that one of my personal peeves with the cloud is the same problem that existed before it ever existed, and that is the indifference of other people. As stated above, people in business don't really want to do accounting and what they do want to do is the business of doing business. It used to be that someone would give us their stuff, sometimes literally a haphazard pile of stuff thrown in a shoebox, and we'd be asked to input the data from the sources given. It has happened on at least a dozen occasions now, where someone has said that they've given us access to their data but when you go on the cloud to actually look at it, they haven't inputted anything at all. From a workflow perspective, we still start at the same point in time but now we have the added hurdle of the cloud to contend with. I have had someone tell me that try thought that it was better that they have access to their data so that they could see what was going on, while completely oblivious to the fact that there is no data to look at until someone has been through the effort of inputting it. The difference now though, is that the cloud added unnecessary time to the process, when we used to just pass the complete file to them to look at, at the end.

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without mentioning the terrible horrible annoyance of what happens when the cloud isn't working for whatever reason. The internet connection might be out, the company's​ servers might be out, lots of people might be trying to get on all at once and that slows the system down, there might be a malicious person somewhere outside who is doing a direct denial of service or some other kind of attack, the possibilities are myriad. In the dark dank donk days before the cloud, you would have just switched on your computer and used the program in question. If for some reason, the program won't work because of issues with the cloud, then you may as well run around in the jungle and eat bananas for all the difference it makes. If the network becomes a notwork then you don't do any work, and if IBM has taught us anything it is that people should think and machines should work; if they don't work, you don't do work, and that doesn't work for anyone.

Admittedly, I am not old enough to have worked in an environment where computers weren't connected to each other. I am old enough to have worked in a bank where the only data being sent forth and back was batches of transactions and only every so often. The interface at the terminals was in green monochrome and due to the fact that the policy was to keep separate sets of data separate, if you wanted to look at something that wasn't directly connected with transactional banking, you needed to go somewhere else. Bank servers weren't connected to the internet, and so online banking wasn't even remotely dreamed of as being a thing. Instead of millions of users, there were at most only about a few thousand and even back then, there were still connectivity issues.
The cloud hasn't really improved anything that much. What it has done, is turned you into the bank teller but you don't get paid a wage for doing the job. Higher profit margins for companies but not really an order of magnitude of increased benefits for customers - Welcome to the cloud.