September 02, 2014

Horse 1745 - The Five Greatest Inventions Of All Time (Maybe?)

There was a television program on 7Two during the week called "Inventions Which Shook The World". I found some of it quite surprising to think that many of the devices we see just about every day were invented so long ago. I think that it's fair to say that the century in which the world changed the most during the period of 1800-1900, when the foundations for the industrial world either came to fruition or were initially laid down.
It got my mind ticking over about what constitutes the greatest inventions of all time and to this end, I'd like to suggest five:

1. Electricity
Whilst electricity is a natural phenomenon, it is the generation, transmission and harnessing of that power which I think is important.
Whilst the light bulb might have scraped away at the darkness where once only the feeble lights of candles and gas lamps struggled, electricity itself does so much more than merely turning night into day.
To this point of the day, I've switched on and off several lights (none of which actually were filament bulbs), taken a shower heated by electricity, boiled water in an electric kettle to make coffee, taken milk out of a cold refrigerator powered by electricity, walked in the twilight of electric street lamps and travelled on an electric train and you are reading this on a device which is also powered by electricity.
The story of electricity is really the story of power. Electricity basically changed the world from a coal and wood burning place to a coal, gas and nuclear burning place with the generators being far away, rather than in the things they power. Fire driven engines such as trains and stoves and steam engines which powered the wheels of industry, have practically all been replaced by much larger engines which produce power from hundreds of miles away; even the wheels of industry themselves have in many cases been replaced by virtual wheels, thanks to computers. Where once typists, accountants and record keepers occupied great rooms in businesses, a whole host of them have been replaced by a quietly humming set of electronic brains in boxes.
Even the two 'essential' services that we would like to be hooked up to our homes, are the water and the electric. Especially in the last decade, we have shown that we do not necessarily require telephone lines any more but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who would choose to live in a modern house with no electricity; this is in stark contrast to even a century ago.

2. Bricks
I am perfectly aware that buildings can be made from stone, steel, glass, wood and fabrics but I think that it's fair that the vats majority of buildings which have a life-cycle of more than about 60 years, are all built from bricks (or at least most of the good ones).
Living in a yurt sounds kind of neat for a while and whilst it's true that I live in a fibro house, I honestly don't see it surviving much beyond the year 2030. Lost of buildings have been made from wood in the past too but wood isn't really any more an invention than steak is.
Bricks allow solid, warm buildings to be built without the need for vast numbers of stonemasons. Bricks can be made on-site or carted to a site with far more ease than dressed stones ever could. Granted that skyscrapers are for the most part made from steel and concrete but it's still worth remembering that great buildings can be made from bricks - the Chrysler Building which is 77 storeys tall, is a brick building with a steel structure.
Concrete and steel though, aren't exactly the sorts of things we tend to build peoples' homes from. Unless you happen to live in a very large concrete estate, the buildings we mostly live in which are smaller, are all built from brick.

3. Numbers
Science as a pursuit of knowledge isn't exactly an 'invention' per se but rather, a long line of incremental advances, which all stack on top of each other. Mathematics as a science does have important advances such as calculus and imaginary numbers and the complex field but underpinning all of these is a little invention which is different in concept to mathematics - numbers.
Counting is something which the ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, Chinese &c. all did. Counting is important if you want to take stock of what exists in an empire and if you want to exact taxation and tribute from your citizens and subjects. However, doing maths and counting very large things with Hebrew, Greek or Roman numerals is both tedious and difficult.
I find it interesting that some Aboriginal languages for instance have no words for numbers greater than about six, beyond the vague concepts of 'little mob' and 'big mob'. I also find it completely bizarre that French which you'd assume is a relatively modern language, doesn't have a word for seventy, eighty or ninety and chooses to call them sixty-ten, four-twenty, four-twenty-ten (soixante-dix, quatre-vingts and quatre-vingt-dix).
In the fourth century AD, Indian mathematicians invented a positional decimal system, which we call the Hindu–Arabic system. Persian mathematician Al-Khwarizmi wrote a book in about the year 825 called  "On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals" and these numbers spread to Europe during the middle ages.
I would suggest that the importation of these numbers, probably helped to fuel the renaissance and the enlightenment. Science itself wouldn't be as useful without a written abacus with which to perform mathematical gymnastics which is needed for calculation, extrapolation and recording of data. Numbers are the ultimate tool which hammered science into shape.

4. Writing
In 2007, Sherman Young wrote a book called "The Book Is Dead, Long Live The Book" which stood as a marker point, declaring another milepost in the death of publishing. Yet it's existence helps to prove my point here.
Writing carries out two extremely important functions. Firstly, that information is recorded, stored and disseminated; secondly and in consequence, that ideas live well beyond the moment that they were created in and even beyond the lives of their creators. I can still read the works of Suetonius, King Solomon, Cao Xueqin or Charles Dickens and all of those people are as dead as the dodo. Furthermore, I can know that there even was a dodo, having never seen one because someone wrote about them and drew them.
Up until the invention of the phonograph in 1877, the spoken word was ethereal dissolved like a snowflake into the air itself. Thanks to writing, we have access to the words, thoughts and ideas of people from hundreds and thousands of years ago.
The nuns in "The Sound of Music" may have asked the questions of 'How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?' and 'How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?' but the answer is ludicrously simple - writing. I could tell you the story of Jack Weatherspoon who caught a cloud, then grabbed a moonbeam and used that to lash the cloud to a lamppost, in the name of publicly ridiculing the cloud. Yes, the idea sounds idiotic but now that I have committed that idea to text, it's no longer an ethereal thing which disappears forever.

5. The Wheel
This seems horribly incredibly clichéd to include the wheel in a list like this because it's not like I'm breaking any new ground at all (in fact I'm not with any of this piece). Really, the lever, wheel, inclined plane, screw, wedge and pulley were already acknowledge by scientists in the  Renaissance as the six classical simple machines. All of them are about magnifying the force inputted into a system by a mechanical advantage factor. The wheel though is of specific cultural importance.
It is the wheel which improves the loads by which humans, beasts of burden and even other machines can pull and carry by lowering resistance due to friction. Wheels allow the use of carts, carriages, trains and weapons of war derived from these. Wheels also drive the internal mechanisms of devices which further improve the loads and efficiencies of devices.
Wheels also serve as symbols of power. The chariots of the Canaanites were very formidable to the Israelites who were scared of them and chariots and carriages themselves required horses and oxen to pull them. It was the Iron Horse which helped to open up the world from the 1820s onwards and wheels within machinery are what drove factories to increase production of every sort of manufacture many millions of times over.
As entertainment, Roman chariot drivers earnt winnings which make modern sports stars look feeble. 'Scorpus' who drove chariots in the late 80s and 90s AD won ridiculous amounts of money and Gaius Appuleius Diocles who drove in the 2nd century AD reported won almost 36 million sestertii, which would work out to be about US$15 billion today. Fernando Alonso who drives for the most famous motor racing team in the world, Scuderia Ferrari, is only paid about €20 million a year.
Even during possibly mankind's greatest achievement of the twentieth century, landing on the moon, what did NASA do on their fourth journey? They sent a car up there.

Cars, Trucks, Trains, Chariots, Carriages and even Ezekiel's shopping trolley which had wheels within wheels and went wherever it felt like, have enamoured us for a long time. Apart from air and sea travel, it is wheels which opened up continents, drives products to markets and allows people to journey to new places.

This list of five great inventions is so obviously feeble that it fails to describe much at all, however I think that in principle, they shook the world harder than any of the devices in the television series. Concepts like agriculture, science, politics &c. however important they are, I don't know if they constitute an invention.
If you'd like to disagree with me, then please feel free to do so. Argument and the pulling apart of ideas is both fun and interesting to do but remember in doing so, you will have to reply in writing, using a computer which uses electricity, which is generated by a power station which has turbines driven by wheels. Maybe this is a a semantic self-referential paradox but it's still fun to think about.

September 01, 2014

Horse 1744 - Hunting Unicorns

Whilst listening to the Test series between England and India, a comment on Twitter mentioned that there are unicorns in the Bible (such is the nation of Test Cricket that side discussions often have nothing to do with the at times dour performances on the pitch).
I'm hardly a scholar by any stretch of the imagination but the thought seemed patently absurd to to me; so absurd in fact that it must have been correct because you don't make up stuff like this. Lo and behold, a search for the word 'unicorn' turns up nine matches¹. What is going on here?

Being the annoyingly curious creature that I am, I decided to check the Hebrew for these and find that the word that is consistently being translated by the King James Version as a 'unicorn' is the Hebrew word רְ אֵ מִ ים  or 're'im' which comes out in English 'auroch' which was a bovine type of animal (in the same family as cows), the last of which died in 1627. They are now extinct.
This sets up another question. Why did the translators who compiled the King James version of the Bible, choose to use a word which seems so strange? I suspect that the answer to this lies in the fact that the language of 1611 is also a very different animal to the one we now speak a little over 400 years later. This seems to me as though what on the face of it appears to be some sort of mistranslation, wasn't at the time.

The story of the King James Version or more properly the Authorised Version is itself quite complex and is set into an equally complex period of time. Elizabeth the First of England had died; leaving behind no children and so James the Sixth of Scotland became James the First of England as well.
Elizabeth's father Henry the Eighth had exacted a purge of Catholic monasteries and churches, following his own disagreements with the church in Rome and within a year of becoming King of England, James set about commissioning a new Bible in English. This was also set amidst a political environment which included the Gunpowder Plot which was an attempt to blow up the King and the Parliament.

This new version which was more or less demanded by puritan factions within the Church of England, was translated from Greek for the New Testament, and from Hebrew and Aramaic texts for the Old Testament. The fact that they took seven years from 1604-1611 to finally bring the text to publication, indicates to me that this was seen as highly serious work and further suggests to me that this was not a mistranslation for the time.

How do you write a new bible for a nation which at that stage was largely illiterate. Moreover, how do you explain concepts to people when they do not travel very far and more than likely, never travelled more than a hundred miles in their entire lifetime.
I think it interesting for instance that the entire of the King James Version uses only about ten thousand different words, whereas Shakespeare's works include about twenty-one thousand words. The there is the fact that the English language itself was in a state of flux and the translators deliberately chose words which at the time were slightly archaic to try and counteract this.
It is also worth bearing in mind that in 1611 there probably wasn't even a standard dictionary in use. 'A Dictionary of the English Language' by Samuel Johnson, didn't appear until 1755, which was still a gross of years away; even then his dictionary isn't necessarily and attempt to define words but rather to describe them (sort of). What is a dictionary anyway? Should a dictionary be proscriptive and say what should be, or descriptive and tell what already is?

Words are funny. There is no 'lead' in a lead pencil. A 'Jerusalem Artichoke' does not come from Jerusalem and neither is it an artichoke. 'Kiwifruits' come from China. When Sherlock Holmes proclaims to Watson that 'the problem is most singluar' he does not mean that there is only 'one' problem. When you go to the fridges in the newsagent for an ice cream a 'Golden Gaytime' has considerably different connotations to when it was released in 1959. I have even overheard youths on the train refer to their new 'kicks' as being 'fully sick' and 'awesome' at the same time and that to me conjures up a mental picture of a very large lake of vomit.
Think about this. A Bicorn is the sort of thing that you'd find on the head of Napoleon and a Tricorn can be sometimes found on the head of Jack Sparrow. I own a Cheese Cutter, a Bowler, a Pork Pie and I would like to have a Stovepipe. Have I made my point by now?

The translators group in 1604 was probably looking for a word to stand in place of a 'thing with horn/s' which was in common usage, in a language which at the time was still not standardised even from region to region upon that sceptred isle and had to be readily understood by everyone. A 1604 'unicorn' is almost certainly not the same as a 2014 'unicorn'; which by now has come to settle on something quite specific.
Probably in 1604, their 'unicorn' encompassed a large group of horned animals which upon reflection also included rhinoceroses, which are served very well indeed by that name.
Proverbs 30 for instance contains a word which even in modern English is either rendered as a 'hyrax' or a 'rock badger', a word which thanks to Hebrew's lack of vowels could either be a spider or a lizard and a phrase which is kind of uncertain.
The word 'bull' is used 155 times in the New International Version. Here's the really odd thing though: male cows, seals, alligators, buffalo, whales, gnus, elephants, moose, chinchillas cats, reindeer, could all be properly be called 'bulls' and yet in common usage, when we talk about being 'gored by bulls' everyone knows what you are talking about unless you talk about herding them.

Almost certainly and in the spirit that the comment was made, this was a point of trivia as if to say "ooh look, isn't this interesting?" but equally there are people in the world who would use something like this as a point of ridicule.
I think that questioning everything is a noble pursuit; even more noble though is to bother to find out the answers to those questions because merely asking them without caring what the answer is, is altogether pointless. Despite this, posterity will serve Him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!

¹https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=unicorn&qs_version=KJV
²https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?qs_version=NIVUK&quicksearch=bull&startnumber=26

August 31, 2014

Horse 1743 - The Islamic State - Over Before It Started

Laying aside morality for a moment and the utter barbarism of laying people to waste for no discernible reason that I can fathom, the Islamic State (inasmuch as it can be called a 'state', which I don't think that it is yet) will need to establish three things before it can properly live up to its self proclaimed; incorrectly described epithet. Those three things are:

1. Legitimacy
2. The Rule of Law
3. Provision of Public Services

1. Legitimacy
Suppose that the Islamic State does eventually form some semblance of statehood or transforms into something closer to that of being a nation; even if it does achieve those ends via the means of the Kalashnikov, it still needs the consent of those people which it intends to govern.
Empires of old including those at their most brutal like the Romans or the Mongols and even the British, all learned that although you could subjugate peoples and even force them into slavery by the use of brute force, to actually go about the task of governance requires the tacit support of at least some kind of organisational structure, even if it is a military one.
Usually this is done by the use of military force which acts as some form of de facto martial police force. Whilst the Islamic State has proven itself very effective at taking territory and conquering people, I'm not sure if it has even proven itself capable of doing much else yet. Even the Taliban in northern Afghanistan did show that for a while it was capable of at least a passable degree of governance even if it was savage in doing so.

2. The Rule of Law
If you were to take a survey of all the laws enacted by governments, then apart from those which govern the physical standards of things (like weights, measures, voltages &c.) then pretty much the rest of all laws hinges on property rights and responsibilities; those being the rights as they relate to rights and responsibilities as applied to one's person and those relating to property that can be owned, both real and intellectual.
The rule of law is the principle that it is the legal framework and the laws as enacted which should govern a nation and not the whim of government officials, kings or kaisers. If kings and kaisers should feel themselves above the rule of law and declare that they have some divine right, then history has proven time and time again that it has interesting ways of eventually making them submit to it.
Again, the Islamic State hasn't even looked like it has even thought of any real overarching cohesive structure apart from a top-down sort of self proclaimed theocratic absolute monarchy led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. If it wants to achieve any sort of lasting effect, then this will need to be rectified or else face descending into splintered anarchy.

3. Provision of Public Services
This is going to sound really dumb to anyone not familiar with Afghan politics before 2001 but the Taliban had actually established things like schools and marketplaces. The problem was that under the Taliban, the regions of Afghanistan which they controlled were run by 'jirga' which presumably ran like Pashtun tribal councils. The Taliban did not hold elections as they felt that political process itself was in opposition to sharia law.
The problem with the Islamic State is that if they decide to run their caliphate anything like the Taliban did with the regions of Afghanistan that they held, then it will be marked by a notable absence of state institutions; this hold distinct problems. People expect to live in places that have access to even basic provisions like water and maybe electricity. I seriously doubt how or even if the Islamic State has even thought about how or if it is going to set about making policy to do with the provision of public services. If it decides to do nothing, then that is highly likely to cause angst and unhappiness, which potentially could plunge the whole thing into a desperate rabble and general civil disorder is likely to follow.

All governments face those three issues and most civilised nations get about to answering them in one way or another. Failure to do so, usually results in a failed state.
Curiously the NGO think tank the Fund for Peace characterizes a failed state as having the following characteristics:
- Loss of control of its territory, or of the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force therein
- Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions
- Inability to provide public services
- Inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community

Apart from the last of those four, they marry up with what I've just described. The problem is that the Islamic State if it isn't actually a failed state already is a violent non-state actor and that in itself is still cause for concern.

August 28, 2014

Horse 1742 - Monkey Selfie Is Malefic Monkey Business

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/monkey-selfie-officials-rule-nobody-4088663
It was an hilarious picture which was shared around the world but also caused one of the year's most complex legal issues.
When this cheeky monkey took a selfie on a photographer's camera, it led to questions about who owned the copyright - the monkey or the snapper.
But now the US copyright office has finally made a decision, judging that neither hold any rights.
It has ruled that any work created by an animal does not belong to them or anyone else. This also includes plants, nature, divine or supernatural beings.
- Anthony Bond, The Daily Mirror, 22 Aug 2014

Dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Whilst I suspect most people will look at "Monkey Selfie" and think that this is amusing, I think that this is a terrible miscarriage of justice and sets a very dangerous precedent.
The US copyright office has now basically said that when an animal takes a photograph, copyright can not be claimed by the person who went to the effort of setting up the equipment which enabled the photograph to even exist in the first place.

Although it should sound obvious, a Professional Photographer derives their income from the sale of the images they produce; those images require effort to produce. Copyright in principle is about making sure that artists are compensated for that effort. The production of art in general as with anything requires effort, be that physical or intellectual or otherwise, in my opinion should be duly rewarded for that effort.
The issue surrounding Monkey Selfie, stems from the fact that Wikimedia unilaterally asserted because the photograph which had originally appeared in a Daily Mail article was the work of a non-human animal, then copyright could not vest with a legal person; as it could not vest with a legal person, it fell into the public domain.
What I think that this says is that Wikimedia has asserted that Mr Slater doesn't deserve to be paid for his work, despite the fact that he set up a photo shoot and owns the camera equipment, and that's bad. This also sends out a strong price signal over the value of photographs.

- apparently I am legally allowed to use this, as it has fallen into the public domain

Economist Friedrich Hayek described a "price signal" in his 1988 work "The Fatal Conceit" as something which communicates the value of something via the mechanism of changes in prices. If something is valued at zero, which is the net result of declaring something to be in the public domain because no economic rights can be derived from it, then you may as well copy something which is worthless.
The free market establishes one thing and one thing only - price. The free market does not establish what is morally or legally right. It was the free market incidentally which determines why someone in Bangladesh can be paid $4 a week to make clothing; in conditions that are unsafe. People if they can get away with it, will want to pay nothing for everything.
The problem with paying nothing though, is that is doesn't compensate people for their effort and in effect, doesn't put food on the table; doesn't keep the rent collectors or the utility companies from the door.

In this case, I am very much reminded of the opening few words of the old Clause IV of the British Labour Party:
"To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry..."
Is a labourer worthy of their wages? Why shouldn't the fruits of labour come to those that labour?

In that Daily Mirror article I quoted, Mr Slater's complaint is pretty well much that sentiment.
"It makes me very angry, I'm a professional photographer - it costs me over £2,000 to do the trip. It's my livelihood.
You take 20,000 shots to get one image that sells, it was potentially a good earner for me, I've lost over £10,000 because of it."
- Anthony Bond, The Daily Mirror, 22 Aug 2014

I'd even further suggest that this sends a very strong message to professional photographers: DO NOT under any circumstances give your camera equipment to anyone else. Never let an animal take another selfie ever again.

Linky things:
The Sulawesi Macaques who took this: http://www.djsphotography.co.uk/Tropical%20Forests/Sulawesi%20Macaques.htm
David Slater's Website: http://www.djsphotography.co.uk/

August 27, 2014

Horse 1741 - Euthanasia - Human Dignity?

Imagine for a second that the year is 2024. In the August election which has just been held, the government led by former Prime Minister Penny Wong was defeated 79-71 by incoming Wyatt Roy's Liberal Government; which also has a friendly Senate.
Medicare it is argued is too expensive to continue and the Medicare Australia Act 1973 has been repealed.

In this brave new world of market driven health care, hospitals are looking to lower input costs to drive profits even harder. In this new legislative environment, the rate of patients suddenly being euthanised has skyrocketed. How did this happen?
Back in the day whilst Tony Abbott was still Prime Minister, the Euthanasia and Patient Consent Act of 2017 proved fairly easy to pass with both sides of the chamber declaring it a triumph of "human dignity". Patients "right to die" was extended in Commonwealth legislation for the first time.

Of course the "right to die" is supposed to be safeguarded with a legal instrument of consent or via a Power of Attorney but as we all know, these things in practice are incredibly easy to obtain; both in periods of calm and chaos in peoples' lives.
Suddenly a legal instrument signed five years ago and mostly forgotten, has all the importance of a Presidential Order and all the force of an express train meeting an egg at 100mph.

It is curious, that mainly poorer people are being euthanised. One of the consequences of a market driven system is that price looms as a very large factor in decision making. Poorer people who have less market power and less of an ability to pay very large bills, can be more easily coerced into giving their "consent".
It is also strange that people who face bankruptcy as a result of expensive medical bills, also find it easier to give their "consent" to being euthanised, thus creating a bankrupt estate, where not even creditors can chase any more.

Does this sound far fetched? Remember, it is only a few short steps away and the Law of Unintended Consequences isn't very far away either.

Admittedly my moral compass is informed by my Christianity. I just don't think that anyone has the right to take a life; not even their own. It seems to be that given human nature, in every single circumstance where there is the capability to abuse the system, someone invariably will. Introduce the factor of profits that can be increased by simply eliminating expensive patients and amazingly so called "human dignity" dissolves in the wake of economic necessity.
When even death itself can be reduced to the status of a cost driver, the concept of human dignity becomes a nonsense.

In my line of work, I frequently see instances where someone has been coerced into doing something, which they never would otherwise intend to do. Once a contract or a legal instrument has been signed though, it is often difficult to show that duress has taken place or even that the terms of a contract are unfair because it is often easier to prove that there has been a reasonable degree of consent applied.
In the case of euthanasia, where someone would probably require signing a legal instrument which would end their own life, to later go back and show that duress or unfairness existed, all seems rather pointless after someone is dead.
Again, to argue about "human dignity" also seems pointless after someone is dead, irrespective of whichever God, god, gods or complete lack thereof you happen to believe in. It should be obvious to all that with euthanasia, there is no "undo"; the decision is irreversible.

John Stuart Mill in "On Liberty" (1859) said that:
"The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."
I think that the argument against euthanasia, even against some people's will, is to prevent harm to others. Does it really promote "human dignity" to reduce some people to the status of an input cost?
That world of 2024 I described is only a few pieces of legislation away. I don't want to live in that world. I hope we never ever get there.

August 23, 2014

Horse 1740 - Rollo's Challenge to Film & Television Makers

I have a challenge for the film makers and the makers of television programs because I want to see if what I propose can actually be done anymore; for curiosity's sake - that is, can a blockbuster film or major television series be produced in the twenty-first century which is G rated, which isn't a "family film" and isn't "for the children"?
I don't suggest this because of some sort of weird moral crusade against the film and television studios, it's just that, I've seen a distinct lack of imagination when it comes to the kinds of film and television which is being produced, which is on some sort of cycle of becoming darker and edgier to the point where it's all just quite a bit hokey and banal.

At the bus stop where I change from the train to the bus on my morning travel as a cut-lunch commando commuter, I happen to stand outside on of Sydney's biggest cinema complexes. I took a quick survey of all the films which were on the current roster and found that there was currently showing:
G rated - 1 film
PG rated - 2 films
M rated - 6 films
MA rated - 3 films
This means that the average age rating on a film currently on show in Sydney this week is age 14. 14 isn't quite M rated but is does mean that or 75% of films, you couldn't actually take a 14 year old in to see them.

Obviously this is all an economic decision on the part of movie makers. They're only likely to produce films which will return a profit and so from that perspective, it all seems perfectly understandable to me. The problem though is that the G and PG rated films which are usually on offer are so predictable and puerile, it makes me even wonder if said 14 year old who could get in to see the rest of the films, would even want to see the remaining three.
Although Tom Lehrer in the 1960s said that "smut, is a market that you can't glut" and whilst I might find myself ever increasingly offended by what's on offer at the cinema, I'm in a small minority and they're not likely to miss my dollars any way but when cinema turnover peaked in about 2002 and has been on the slide ever since, maybe there might be something to be made of my challenge here.

Just what is on offer at the cinema anyway? More superhero stories? Crude comedies that are poorly written? The twenty-first century equivalent of kitchen-sink dramas?
Where are the modern day equivalents of "Dial M for Murder" which was basically a film set in three rooms? Where is our twenty-first century "Citizen Kane"? In an age of political corruption and deadlock, how come we don't see a new "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"?
The basic stories are always there; there's constant inspiration being generated, why is it so very hard to produce intelligent films these days, which would still be remembered in 60 years' time. When the people of the year 2074 look back, will they remember the films of 2014? I doubt it.
This isn't even a rant about things "being better in my day" because (and let's be perfectly frank about this) in my day, which is now, the films ARE rubbish. I want better quality writing and more intelligent film making. Are the audiences of 2014 really so stupid that the film makers should treat us all like dolts?

There's your challenge. Make for me just one film in the next 12 months which is rated G and is smart enough, or funny enough or brilliant enough that I can take my grandchildren to.
Why can't we have nice things?


August 22, 2014

Horse 1739 - What If Insensitive Comments Actually Do Represent The Electorate?

I was upstairs in the heavens yesterday, whilst my boss was downstairs with a client and I heard a rant from a client which I think although was incredibly vulgar and so blue that it could paint the entire Royal Australian Navy a nice shade of azure, was equally scathing and exact with its intent.
I went along the lines that if Mr Hockey thinks that "poor people" don't drive cars because they can't afford them and that the Prime Minister Tony Abbott specifically targets Muslim people as not being on "Team Australia", that although they might be clumsy with their words, they might in fact be expressing the views held by their electorate.
Back up the bus for a second? What was this chap suggesting here? This warranted further thought.

Mr Hockey is the Federal Member of Parliament for North Sydney and has been since 1996. Mr Abbott is the Federal Member of Parliament for Warringah and has been since 1994. Both of these electorates lie on the north side of Sydney Harbour and in relatively well to do areas.
The statistical level of poverty in the electorate of North Sydney is less than 0.5%. The percentage of Islamic people living in electorate of Warringah is also less than 0.5%.
The arguments whilst insensitive (Joe has since publicly apologised for his comments), might actually be representative of what the people of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah really think. Since a Member of Parliament is firstly a local member, who is elected by their electorate; appointed by their local branch of their political party, in those respects, they are directly answerable to their local constituents. The fact that they keep on being elected, must mean to suggest that those constituents think that their local members are doing a good job at representing them.
What we're noticing here is a distinct highlighting of the concept of the "other", which is useful political device (so useful that I'm probably making use of it in this very post). The problem is that in this case, the members of the "other", also happen to be part of the same nation.

The physicality of Canberra doesn't exactly help either. When we exile Members of Parliament to Canberra (and let's be honest, that's pretty well what's going on here) we send them to a place which is physically separated from the vast majority of society. Parliament House is even separated from Canberra's own central business district. The climate of Canberra is such that on occasion is doesn't even encourage people to go outside. The lack of trains in Canberra, even means that Members of Parliament travel by car and don't even see the people of Canberra.
How are you even expected to meet the "other" if you never ever see them?

Compare this with London for instance. The Houses of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster in bang in the centre of SW1 in the conurbation of the great wen of London. Ten million souls live in London and Members of Parliament must brush past a kaleidoscope of people, if they even want to get anywhere.
If Members of Parliament take the tube, then they must travel on the same trains as the general public and even if they get escorted about by car, they still have to pass through less well to do suburbs.
To get to Canberra from their electorates, both Messrs Hockey and Abbott, would get into a car, take an expressway to the airport, passing through the eastern suburbs of Sydney, which are relatively well to do and the expressway even passes through two golf courses. Even from a purely visual perspective, they'd never even pass the "poor people" who "don't drive" or the Muslim people who supposedly aren't part of "Team Australia"; what ever the heck that is supposed to mean.

If Canberra is self-contained bubble and separated both metaphorically and physically, then what of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah? I can attest through experience that when I tell clients that I live in Marayong, most of them have no idea where that even is; the place where I work is in Mr Abbott's own electorate.
I can't even blame the people of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah for this either. Think about your own friends. I'll be that most of them live within 10km of where you do. Parents send their children to mostly local schools and people attend clubs, churches, social groups and activities which are also mostly local. In broad principles, most people who live a fairly close sort of area, also happen to fall within the same socio-economic group. Note that this isn't necessarily a rag against the people of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah; it just that this is what is. It goes for practically everyone.
The people of the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah, also don't see the "poor people" who "don't drive" or the Muslim people who supposedly aren't part of "Team Australia" because they don't need to. Why should they? Supermarkets, schools, hospitals etc. all exist in their own suburbs, so why do they need to travel when they can access those things locally?

I think of the former Prime Minister Paul Keating (who I didn't really like) who was known for his exceptionally colourful language on occasions. I don't think that he would have made these sort of comments because he was the Federal Member of Parliament for Blaxland which is deep in Sydney's western suburbs. He wouldn't have been able to get away with such comments because his local electorate would have shown their wrath with a backlash at the ballot box. This sort of thing has happened before: think of John Howard in 2007 or Sophie Mirabella in 2013 who both came under the ire of the people of their electorates; who voted with their... votes.

In 2012, US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney probably helped to blow apart his hopes of running for president by saying that "47 percent of the people who will vote for the president (Obama) no matter what" and that "my job is not to worry about those people". Again, as insensitive as that was, it probably might have been quite true.
The difference between a US Presidential candidate and someone hoping to be the Australian Prime Minister is that the Australian Prime Minister only needs to be concerned about his own electorate. Government is formed by a majority of members; of which the Prime Minister is but one. Firstly, they must represent their own electorate and in this case where the electorates of North Sydney and Warringah don't actually contain any "poor people" who "don't drive" or the Muslim people who supposedly aren't part of "Team Australia", maybe Messrs Hockey and Abbott actually are representing their electorates.
They keep on being elected; so demonstrably, they must already be doing so.

Mirrored at Medium:
https://medium.com/@rollo75/what-if-insensitive-comments-actually-do-represent-the-electorate-3ee5df4542fc

August 21, 2014

Horse 1738 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 7 - Billy Hughes


VII - Billy Hughes

William Morris "Billy" Hughes was a wiley political character who was described by his opponents as a spider, a rat and a crab. He was a political journeyman who would go on to be a member of six diffent political parties, be expelled from three of them; represent four different electorates and in two states.
Before federation, he had been secretary of the Wharf Labourer's Union, first national president of the Waterside Workers' Union and eventually during the formalisation of the Labor Party would become part of the federal party.

After Andrew Fisher's health had declined and he resigned, Hughes was appointed as his successor and followed on in that same policy style; enacting legislation including an improved pension for elderly people in benevolent asylums.

Hughes and the Labor Party disagreed violently over the issue of conscription and in October of 1916 a plebiscite was held on the issue - it failed.
The disagreement was so heated that following the plebiscite, in November of 1916, Hughes was expelled and 24 member of the Labor Party followed him to form the National Labor Party although it was never formally constituted and had no structure to speak of.
For the 1917 budget, it would depend on member of the Commonwealth Liberal Party for supply they formally merged to form the Nationalist Party of Australia.

As the Nationalist Party Prime Minister, Hughes would oversee the end of the war and attend the Paris peace conference of 1919. Legend has it that during the peace conference, when negotiating repatriations that Germany was expected to pay, if Hughes didn't like what was being said, he claimed that his hearing aid wasn't working.

Hughes signed the Treaty of Versailles and asked of the then United States' President Woodrow Wilson: "I speak for 60,000 dead, How many do you speak for?" Wilson would later declare that Hughes was a "pestiferous varmint".
Hughes also demanded that Australia have representation independent of Britain in the League of Nations, however he was opposed to Japan's request for racial equality in the organisation.

Hughes would also be instrumental in Australia's taking up of preferential voting and although the governments he led would win the 1917 and 1919 elections, the 1922 election was only finally won with the help of entering into a coalition with the Country Party; a coalition which in broad principles still exists today. In February of 1923, the  Country Party leader Earle Page made his intentions clear that the coalition with Hughes as Prime Minister was untennable and rather than risk government, Hughes resigned in favour of Stanley Bruce.

Hughes would remain a member of Parliament and would change parties again, being a member of the United Australia Party and finally the Liberal Party until his death in October 1952. He was the last member to have remained from the first parliament and at 90 years old, the oldest member of an Australian parliament ever.

Aside:
The Gillette Safety Razor was awarded a patent in 1904 but it wasn't until during WW1 that Gillette won a contract to supply American soldiers that they really took off. Schick's single edge razor was developed in the 1920s and things took off from there. 
The reason I mention this is that Billy Hughes was the last PM with a moustache. One wonders if the widespread use of the razor is a coincidence or not.

August 20, 2014

Horse 1737 - Redesigning The State Flags For Fun And Frivolity

In Hello Internet Episode 18¹ there was a passage of discussion about the United States' state flags² and how they collectively are a giant wibbly-wobbly graphical mess. A group called the North American Vexillological Association, in 2001 ranked all the US and Canadian state and provincial flags³ and the best of them showed strong graphic design standards, whilst the worst were all of the "seal on a bed sheet" design.

I had a thought about the Australian state flags and realised that if Australia does at some point become a republic, then the idea of having a defaced blue ensign with the state badge on, would become intolerable (or maybe not, there is the curious case of Hawaii which has the Union Flag in the canton despite never being a British colony or possession) and so, they would all need to change.

Fortunately though, there are already two perfectly acceptable flags in Australia which could serve as a model for new flags to replace all the state flags on that terrible day of Australia's becoming a republic. I used the ACT's flag as the template because the southern cross in the Northern Territory's flag is actually graphically different for reasons that I do not know.
The basic idea that I took, was to take the badges from the existing state flags which I do not think need to change at all and place them into the right hand field. The southern cross would remain on the left hand side and the colour schemes all came from the colours that we already associate with the states. Obviously since I'm only using Paint that came with Windows, they're not going to be brilliant and I suppose that I could have centred the badges or resized them and fiddled with Pantone colours but the point was to show the concept; which I think is obvious.
I also think that it is pretty obvious which state is which too.

These then are the 8 "state" flags, in order that they came to be:

New South Wales - 1788

Tasmania - 1825

Western Australia - 1829 

South Australia - 1836

Victoria - 1851

Queensland - 1859

Northern Territory - 1911

Australian Capital Territory - 1911



The colours were chosen on the basis of the state's primary colour, except for Western Australia because the black swan badge on a yellow field just looked silly. Tasmania got red stars on that same basis because they looked better, as did the blue stars for South Australia (and in keeping with their third colour, although it does kind of inadvertently look like I'm biased towards the Adelaide Crows).

Other than that, I think that they all look fine; maybe a little dull but importantly, obvious.

Links:

August 19, 2014

Horse 1736 - Fourteen Minutes In A Foreign Country

Sometimes Sydney has weather which would belong equally well in places like Berlin or Moscow or even Tokyo. Although Sydneysiders like to rag on Melbournians because they live in the "rainy city", the unbelievable truth is that Sydney gets more rain in a year; it's just that unlike Melbourne's drizzle, in Sydney, it just chucks it down.
Last night was one of those evenings and as I stepped off the train at Marayong, I realised that I'd left my brolly on the train. As I got back on to get it, the doors closed and I went to Quakers Hill... this is that story.

Previously, I had been to Quakers Hill Station in the early morning on several occasions if I'd wanted to get a seat by taking a train back one station but I'd never got off there at night; the whole experience is totally different.
There is a strange sort of beauty about the world underneath the cover of night. With the rain and mist blanketing everything and closing down distance of vision to only a few hundred yards, it means that the ability for street lamps to scrape away the darkness is severely limited; to the point that the street lights do not appear as they usually do but as spheres of light suspended in space; hanging on nothing.

The problem with sodium lighting is that the light which is produced is all uncannily one colour (that yellow is 589 nanometres in wavelength if you we're interested, which you're not) and it bathes the world in a horrble jaundiced light, as though someone had washed the world in nicotine stains. Nowt looks healthy at all.
In stark contrast, the pale blue lights of the railway station's fluorescent tubes, which flicker according some hither to undiscernible pattern, paint the immediate area in a pale blue; though they do not really do a better job at holding back the darkness; only their immediate domain receives their indigo hue. Unlike the sickly tones of the street lamps, they paint their domain with all the charm of a hospital corridor. This is made ever more the worse when you consider the hard shapes of the railway station; the cool, aloof tones of the tile work, the concrete form work and the unforgiving metal structures. 
It is all incredibly deceptive. The colour temperature tricks you into believing that the place is sterile but even a customary glance reveals that dust, grime and other filth has invaded every surface and not even Ajax, the champion of all grease, would halt this opponent if his hand were tilted at it.

The rain lazily didn't bother to go around me either; it decided to cut straight through, with ten thousand tiny daggers. I took refuge in an elevator which helpfully wasn't perfumed by either of those two companions, Eau de Uriné or Vasser Von Viktoria (Bitte!) 
As the doors closed, the silence was surreal. I imagine that if anyone was watching surveillance screens wiuld have been confused at the fact that I was just standing there but Big Brother I imagine, had gone home. After three minutes of silence (yes, I was watching the station clocks tick by), the lift moved upwards but when I got to the concourse level, there was no sign of love behind the doors; called by no-one.

As I stepped out of the lift and into the concourse, I saw four Opal Card posts, standing as though they were they posts for an unmanned border. I was reminded of  Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin and the starkness of the architecture of the station, whilst it strictly wasn't of the Brutalist style (as per Le Corbusier or Ernő Goldfinger) it was still pretty brutal and reminded me of the sort of thing you find in East Berlin. 

Opal Card Readers - Standing Like Checkpoint Charlie

Just like the abandoned border posts of East Germany, Sydney Trains has undertaken an equally comprehensive policy of systematically abandoning its ticket offices. Where once were stationmasters in uniforms with shiny buttons, hiding behind steel grilles, they have been largely replaced by these sleek, shiny poles. The real irony that the only splash of colour to be found is the Opal Card logo.

The actual distance between Marayong and Quakers Hill is only about three kilometres but last night in the wind and the rain, it felt as though I was in the transit area of some foreign airport. For fourteen minutes, I kind of felt as though was in a foreign country: they do things differently there.
Sometimes there is a strange beauty in starkness.

August 14, 2014

Horse 1735 - Paperclip and Big Blue Milk Crate: On Public Art


It looks like you're writing a letter. Would you like help?

Sydney City Council has commissioned two pieces of public artwork in conjunction with the NSW Government's $220 million light rail project. There has been a whole host of opinion from outrage to confusion to ridicule on these two proposed pieces and in this post I offer my two penneth worth.

I think that a major problem with public art in modern times is both that the artists who produce it and the general public who for want of a better word 'consume' it, is that the once assumed bulk of mythology which people had, no longer exists.
For instance, the J. F. Archibald Memorial Fountain in Hyde Park has the Greek god Apollo who represents the Arts (Beauty and Light), whilst Diana, goddess of purity, of peaceful nights and charity, and Theseus and the Minotaur is in another of the sections of the fountain. These things may have meant something to people even 80 years ago, would they still have the same cultural relevance today?
Even in an era where we're going about mythologising the First World War and especially Gallipoli (you can expect to hear a lot about that over the next year and a bit), there aren't a lot of people who know many of the names of the soldiers who fought in that war.
In comparison, when Britain was setting about mythologising its history, it erected statues to people like Lord Horatio Nelson, Henry Havelock and Charles James Napier.

Some student is missing a coffee table

Almost everyone who I've spoken to about this, hates this giant blue milk crate as an idea for a piece of public art; I on the other hand love it.
This unlike the Sydney Opera House, which fails to live up to its title in that it is impossible to actually hold an opera in the Sydney Opera House, does live up to its title "Pavilion" in that it will be a pavilion.

Australia has loads of big things. There is a Big Banana, a Big Prawn, a Big Pineapple, a Big Guitar, a Big Merino, a Big Axe, a Big Miner's Lamp, a Big Mango, a Big Sausage King, a Big Tap... Wake up an smell the big cup of coffee. The Big Milk Crate is about as Australian as you can get. Yes it's a Big Blue Milk Crate but... it's a BIG BLUE MILK CRATE. What's so hard to understand?

The thing I really love about this is that it's obviously just so pointless. All big things are inherently pointless. Isn't that kid of what we like about them? This goes to the whole other end of the spectrum. This isn't like the giant paper clip thing where we're all scratching our collective noggins, wondering what in blue blazes is going on, this is a big blue milk crate; we know exactly what it is.
"I'll meet you at the milk crate" would be as ubiquitous as the UK city of Liverpool's "Meet under a statue exceedingly bare". There's no symbolism here. It just is.

All of this brings me squarely to the question of "what is public art for?" and let me tell you, I am totally unqualified to answer that.
As someone who lives in a predominantly urban environment, I get to walk around and see statues of people and things in public spaces and assume that most of the time that they are in commemoration of history. Some pieces of public art completely baffle me though. There is a sculpture at Allan Border Oval in Mosman, which looks kind of like a tree bit is made up of silhouettes of magpies. I can attest, after having six stitches over the years from magpie strike that there are in fact magpies that live in that park, but it is beyond me as to why there should be a piece of public art in dedication of them.
At Federation Square in Melbourne, the public "art" which is officially called "Nearamnew" is supposed to invoke images of the outback but anyone who has tried to get across its undulating cobble stones in a hurry, just thinks that it is a public hazard.
On the other hand there is a sculpture in Sydney called "The Bounds of Friendship" which is basically two interlocking rings and is supposed to mark the voyage of the First Fleet from Southampton to Sydney. What I like about this is that there is an identical set in Southampton.
The symbolism is pretty obvious once you read the plaque and from an aesthetic point of view, it is what it's supposed to be. Again, it probably isn't pretty but it makes sense. Inherently, it's no worse than a giant paper clip thing.

Hmmm Donuts... public art... 

If it were up to me, I'd like to see someone invent a new set of symbolism which would personify Sydney (see Horse 1695) but I suspect that that is all a bit too hard. I guess I'll begrudgingly have to accept that what we get for public art is either a statue of some public figure, weird shapes which are supposed to symbolise an abstract concept (and do it badly), or a big thing.

Maybe we should just have a 400 foot tall statue of Tim Cahill, with one hand shading his eyes and the other pointing out into the distance. As the dawn rises over the city, Big Tim Cahill would symbolise...
okay I've got nothing.

August 13, 2014

Horse 1734 - The Declaration: A How To Guide

Cricinfo is useful because of the myriad of statistics it carries. No doubt it probably has complete scorecards for every Test Match going back to 1877. Of the 2135 matches to date (as at 10th Aug 2014), there is one statistic which it can not possibly determine and that's simply because it is based on future expectations - the declaration.
The question posed about making a declaration is almost never one of what has been successful but what will be successful. I believe I have the perfect guide to making a declaration in a Test Match and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with the number of runs anyone has.

The problem with Cricinfo's stats is that they deal in things like runs, overs and averages; they almost never deal with that specter at the feast - time. Time though is one of those things which a Test Match runs on. The crowd is certainly aware of it and if you look at the number of wickets which fall immediately before the end of a day's play or just before the end of session, the stats kind of also hint at this unacknowledged fact.
Having said that, it should be obvious to all that the only way to win a Test Match is to have the opposition complete two innings. That usually requires taking twenty wickets but if they have declared their either or both of their innings, that might not follow.
Making the opposition complete those two innings requires a handle on that elusive one thing about a Test Match which is known, time. It is known from the outset that there are five days in a Test Match and as such, the timetable for when you should make a declaration follows very nicely.

First Innings:
Score as many runs as possible.
The declaration should come on Day 3 and on the 45th over of the day. At that point there are exactly two-and-a-half days of play left. A first innings declaration will require the bowlers to bowl the batting side out twice and that time will be needed. If the opposition's first innings is a flop and the follow-on can be enforced, do so; a follow-on results in victory 92% of the time and not doing so only results in victory 68% of the time.

Second Innings:
Score as many runs as possible.
The declaration should come on Day 4 and on the 67th over of the day. At that point there are one-and-a-quarter days of play left. A second innings declaration will only require the bowlers to bowl the batting side out once and that time will be needed.

Third Innings:
Score as many runs as possible.
The declaration should come on Day 4 and on the 67th over of the day. At that point there are one-and-a-quarter days of play left. A third innings declaration will also only require the bowlers to bowl the batting side out once and that time will be needed.

Fourth Innings:
All fourth innings are only chasing down the target set for them. Unless the captain for some reason actually wants to lose the match, there is no reason to declare a fourth innings. I couldn't find any evidence that anyone had ever declared a fourth innings in Test history; I suppose that any captain who is foolhardy to do such a thing would immediately be investigated for match fixing.
There is an argument that it could conceivably be done at county or provincial level but only really if you wanted to rig a league table to make an impending knockout phase of a competition easier for yourself*.

Making a declaration as I see it is almost entirely dependent on time. A team which is in the place where a declaration seems like a good idea, should leave sufficient time to allow their bowlers to take the necessary wickets for victory, bearing in mind that every single batting side in theory is only ten balls away from total collapse.
If there are 450 overs in a Test Match, then there should be roughly 112.3 overs in an innings. Actual start times will vary from country to country and even venue to venue depending on if the ground has lights installed or not. The number of actual overs remaining is materially less important than time. Because cricket is very much a mind game, the declaration itself is a weapon and I think that if a side which is batting, leaves a whiff of victory lingering in the air for the opposition, that they're likely to start biting. If a declaration is left too late, then the whiff dissipates and the whole match has the danger of turning stale.
If you do happen to care about runs scored, then the average for all batsmen in test matches is 2.83 runs per over which works out to be 254.7 runs per day. The test of how many runs are needed is really a material test against that standard; which by the way is up from 2.61 runs per over and only 234.9 runs per day, thirty years ago. The question of how many runs are needed should then be drawn up against that.
The thing is that I can make wild judgements like this because I'm not actually out on the field of play during a Test Match. I am a cold number cruncher who has the benefit of looking at what works on paper; cricket is not played on paper, it is played on a green oval, by players with better skills than I... at cricket... but maybe not at maths... unless they like a really good maths person.

*In the 1954 FIFA World Cup, I think that West Germany deliberately threw their match against Hungary and lost 8-3. Hungary topped the group and met Brazil in the knockout round; whilst West Germany would go on to play Hungary and subsequently win the tournament.

August 12, 2014

Horse 1733 - Law and Order

I love the law.
No really I do. I haven't taken leave of my senses and gone mad (though that does sound sort of fun). I'll also go so far as to say that I think that everyone loves the law deep down; even if they don't know that they do.

Any particular rule in any context, nails down either a particular method of conduct or establishes some standard. Laws are either proscriptive in that they say what aught to be done, or descriptive in say how something aught to be done. Laws are a fixed node in the scheme of things which define what, how or even why things should be.
Laws are really good at nailing down what should be, because law itself appeals to our good sense for order. I think that people have an innate need for order.

The obvious example to show that we do have an innate need for order is the often vocal and loud outrage what that order is broken. Even the words we use to describe that brokenness are charged with emotion: Violated, Offended, Insulted, Broken, Damaged. When order is broken, there is a real sense of aggrievement.
As a result, we expect those to administer and enforce law and order to do so without fear or favour. Again this appeals to out innate need.
When a judge hands down a decision, we expect and hope that that decision will be precisely the same if a vulnerable person, a person of little means, the CEO of a multi-billion dollar corporation or the king came before them.

For about a decade and a half, my job has in some way been connected to some aspect of the law or another. I've been in and out of courts and they all seem pretty familiar to me. I feel quite at ease knowing that the procedures and layout remain pretty well much the same for extended periods of time.
I do however find it particularly disturbing that there are individuals who also find the court system quite familiar. Not the lawyers, judges and police officers but the repeat offenders of the law, who seem to swan in and out of courts as though they own the place.
People who repeatedly violate the law show a distinct lack of respect for the law (in plural) and for our collective good order.

Not only should the courts be the same for whoever is in front of it but they should also exact the same penalties for like violations of the law.

The oft quoted saw of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" explains pretty succinctly the concept of exact retribution; that is that the law should in so far as much as it is capable, make sure that a given penalty is equal to the crime which has been perpetrated.
However, the greater context of where it is found, not only speaks of exact retribution but goes on to speak of restoration and that all should be equal before the law.
Anyone who injures their neighbour is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.
- Leviticus 24:19-22

When it comes to people who are obviously criminals (which by the way should be only for courts to decide), I think that it is important that they have their day in court. I think that it is important that everyone has their day in court, including the most vile of offenders, because I think that not only it is important that people have their have their voices heard but also that they should be made to answer for what they've done.
Yes, there should always be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty but if someone has been found to have broken the law then it is important for an orderly society that that issue is dealt with by an impartial judge. If it is not, then individuals very quickly descend into a spiral of revenge and revenge knows no limits; taken to a logical extreme it can lead to mass bloodshed (and one only needs to look at Gaza and Israel to see that currently being played out).

All of this stems from a comment on Twitter that "A terrorist is not a citizen" which I suppose is an emotive comment. The truth is that terrorists are citizens of one country or another and simply being a terrorist doesn't and shouldn't strip them of their citizenship. Because terrorists are citizens, they should also have a right to their day in court but more importantly, we as a society have a right to make people answer for what they've done.
When people do feel aggrieved, invariably what they demand is justice. Justice and jurisprudence has to do with our philosophy of the law; what it is and what it does. To be honest, I don't care if it's terrorism, or larceny, or bribery or corruption or murder, I think that the law speaks to our innate need for order and that people should be judged according to proper procedure because without law, we have anarchy and anarchy is disorder.

August 11, 2014

Horse 1732 - 18C Stays - Good!

Last week Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that his government was going to drop its policy of trying to amend or repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Good.

Personally, I think that the only reason that any policy to change the provisions of 18C was ever pursued in the first place was because one of the Liberal Party's friends, Andrew Bolt, was found guilty of breaching the act. The solution is simple, if you don't like the law, repeal the act.
If Andrew Bolt had never been charged (or had never written his piece which caused him to breach the law in the first place), then I seriously doubt whether is would have even caused a blip on the radar at all. After all, the law had sat quietly for 36 years without anyone even saying "boo".
I also read in various newspaper that people had threatened to cancel their membership of the Liberal Party because this had been dropped. Who are these people? They were never specifically named; which makes me wonder if they even existed at all.

The existence of 18C it is argued, impinges on the right to free speech. This also opens up a tirade of indignation, complaining that Australia doesn't have a bill of rights (despite the fact that we have two in legal operation and possiblt three, being the Bill of Rights Act 1689, the Scottish Claim of Right 1689 and the  Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 - see Horse 882) and that free speech should be protected.
There is an inconvenient truth behind this though, in that the argument that 18C impinges on the right to free speech is one hundred percent correct. It is supposed to. That is the point of law.

Law exists for the regulation, standardisation and protection of society.
Standards exists for instance, to do with cabling and wiring inside peoples' houses to ensure that your house doesn't burn down because of an electrical fire. Real Estate laws exist to enable the proper transfer of property, to ensure that claims over parcels of land, real property and strata holdings aren't argued about later. There are environmental laws which are designed to ensure that our water is fit to drink and the air is fit to breathe.
Law by its nature does curtail people's rights. Law exists for the grand intent to try and protect people from being hurt.

Let's revisit one of my favourite cases in Australian law:
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/UKPCHCA/1936/4.html
"'Free' in itself is vague and indeterminate. It must take its colour from the context. Compare, for instance, its use in free speech, free love, free dinner and free trade. Free speech does not mean free speech; it means speech hedged in by all the laws against defamation, blasphemy, sedition and so forth; it means freedom governed by law."
- James vs Commonwealth of Australia 1936

Australia inherited Common Law principles from Great Britain and under those principles, one of the basic assumptions is that peoples' rights are unlimited unless hedged in by law. You are free to do pretty much as you like unless there is a law which specifies otherwise. The exercise of peoples' rights though, should not give rise to the wanton hurt of other people.
The right to bear arms (which was codified in the Bill of Rights Act 1689) is hedged in in New South Wales, by the Crimes Act 1900. The right to bear arms does not and should not give rise to the right to stab, shoot, hit or kill people.
The right to free passage, ingress and egress, is hedged in in New South Wales at least, by the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901. The right to go wherever to go where ever you feel like, does not and should not give rise to the right to walk into someone's house and sit on their sofa.
The right to drive a motor car is hedged in in New South Wales, by the Road Transport Act 2013. The right to drive a motor car does not and should not give rise to the right to drive like a hoon where ever you feel like.
To expand on that last point, if the speed limit is 80km/h, you still have the freedom to drive at 72km/h, 78km/h, 31km/h, 4km/h, or any speed you like, provided that you don't exceed that limit. People would find it hard to argue that speed limits, or even the white line down the centre of the street radically impinges on their right to drive a motor car. In fact, it does precisely the opposite. It ensures a safe environment to do so; if you want proof of this, just think about all of the journeys you've made where nothing of interest happened at all.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, specifically hedges in the right to free speech, by defining where the exercise of that free speech is likely to hurt someone.
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/rda1975202/s18c.html
Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin
(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.
- Racial Discrimination Act (1975), Section 18C

George Brandis the Attorney-General should as the chief law officer of the Commonwealth of Australia should of all people have been aware of what 18C was trying to achieve. When he infamously said that people have the right to be a bigot, that may have been true but what was never adequately explained by him, is why there is benefit to society in expressly offending, insulting, humiliating or intimidating another person or a group of people, on the grounds of  race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
As I was writing this on the train, I looked up and came to the conclusion that there was probably at least one person from six of seven continents on the train with me (I don't know how many people have ever been born in Antarctica). If I was to stand up and expressly offend or insult people on the grounds of  race, colour or national or ethnic origin on the train, even if 18C didn't exist, I'd think it perfectly justified that lots of people should be very angry with me. What benefit is there in making enemies of people?
I think that demanding the right to hurt someone on these grounds is akin to demanding the right to walk into peoples' houses, thus trampling the law of trespass; akin to demanding the right to drive at 180km/h through the streets; akin to demanding the right to stab, shoot, hit or kill people.
Okay, so maybe that's indulging in hyperbole but the question still stands as to who are these people who are demanding the right to do as they please and deliberately hurt people?

One of the paradoxes of living in a "free" society is that we are not actually absolutely free to do as we please. Rights can and should be hedged in by law because none of us ever truly are and those of us who think that we should be, often prove by their actions that we probably shouldn't be.

August 09, 2014

Horse 1731 - Super GT DTM Supercars

http://www.theage.com.au/afl/afl-news/prepare-for-supercar-racing-without-the-v8-at-least-in-the-name-20140802-zzsi6.html
V8 Supercars is investigating a future that is not tied to the V8 engines that have been the signature of top-level touring car racing in Australia for two decades.
Among the options to be considered are turbocharged four or six-cylinder motors in addition to the traditional V8s and dropping the V8 tag in a possible rebranding to simply Supercars.
- The Age, 2nd Aug 2014

As the premier category of motorsport in this country, it must be pretty scary to realise that within 3 years, two of the manufacturers will not be producing the cars for the road upon which the race cars are based. Admittedly, motor racing in Australia could very well exist without Holden and Ford (and indeed an event like the Bathurst 12hr does so quite happily), but the effects of two tribes at war with each other for almost 50 years both going missing, are unknown.

There is a solution that I see though; one which the two "older" manufacturers would learn to live with and which the current three "newer" manufacturers might well enjoy.

http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/107154
The DTM is set to ditch V8 engines in favour of two-litre turbos within three seasons as part its drive to become a global formula.
The series has set a target of 2016 to go down the same route as Super GT in Japan, which next year will adopt small-capacity, direct-injection four-cylinder turbos for its GT500 class.
The revelation of the plans comes in the wake of rules accord signed with the Super GT organiser last October, under which the Japanese series is embracing the philosophy of the DTM regulations, and the firming up in March of plans for DTM America with a start date set for either 2015 or '16.
- Autosport, 3rd May 2014

If the DTM and Japan's Super GT have decided to run to common rules, then what's wrong with Australia's Supercars also doing likewise? It means that teams could compete overseas using the machinery that they already use and that teams from other countries could play in Australia's backyard.
Currently the V8 Supercars has five manufacturers: Holden, Ford, Erebus (Mercedes), Volvo and Nissan. Of those, Nissan already competes in Japan's Super GT with a version of its GTR and Mercedes already competes in the DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters).
If there is a convergence of rules, then conceivably there could be as many as many as nine different manufacturers which would all have cross elligible cars: Holden, Ford, Mercedes, Nissan, Volvo, Toyota, Honda, Audi and BMW. Perhaps it DTM America decides to throw its hat into the ring, there might be extra GM brands and possible a few others as well.

As it is, when it comes to building a V8 Supercar, teams have to fabricate most of the cars from scratch anyway. There are common components and I suppose that having an international technical committee might muddy the waters somewhat but at least everyone would be playing by the same rules.
The VE Commodore and the VF which replaced it, is both longer and wider than the rules allow and so the racecar is significantly modified. As for the "V8 engines that have been the signature of top-level touring car racing in Australia for two decades" they may have been in motor racing but they've not been in road cars for more than a decade. The five-litre V8s last saw road use back in 2002 with the Falcon AU and the Commodore VT.
Maybe if the Supercars switched to a turbocharged 2-Litre formula, the racecars might at least begin to show at least a passing resemblance to what's on the roads. The flip side to this though is that if NASCAR in the United States is anything to go by, where the race cars share no components with road-going cars at all and still maintains its gloss, then this is hardly an issue.

The Mercedes C-Class, BMW M4 and Audi RS5 in the DTM and the Honda HSV-010 GT, Nissan GT-R, and Lexus SC 430, are all physically smaller than the cars used in Australia. Presumably, Holden would choose to their Cruze or Malibu, Ford most likely the Mustang or maybe the Mondeo and Nissan and Mercedes would simply import their existing cars. This leaves Volvo which might run their S40 or their current S60.

What I think is important is that the manufacturers actually bother to make an effort. The success of any motorsport category relies on having sufficient numbers of entrants. The Australian Touring Car Championship in 1992 only had factory support for the Holden Racing Team and from Nissan Motor Sport. Ford's official interest in motorsport in Australia had ended in 1979 and apart from brief sojourns by Jaguar and Volvo, most competitors were left to fend for themselves. In 1993, Holden and Ford actually bothered to show up.
The problem at the moment is that potentially neither Holden or Ford might be bothered to show up; especially if they don't see any commercial advantage for doing so. Ford Performance Racing which is supposed to be the main Ford team, was threatened with closure and the only other real runner in Dick Johnson Racing, faced its own internal monetary problems. If Holden pulled the plug on the Holden Racing Team then that essentially leaves us in a similar sort of place as 1987 when the Holden Dealer Team disintegrated, Ford didn't have a works team and the only factory support came from Volvo and Nissan (sounds familiar).
Maybe Supercars should think about joining the DTM and Super GT. It might be a survival tactic.

August 07, 2014

Horse 1730 - Ancient Chemistry (Was It Even Chemistry?)

In doing the research for something else, it occurred to me that not only do the meaning of words change but our understanding of what people might have thought, may have also changed. If words hold meaning and those words change, then do the underlying ideas get lost somehow?

Empedocles (c.450BC) conceived that the universe was made up of four "roots" (literally rhizomata) of earth, air, fire and water. I find it curious that these map nicely to the four states of matter which are solid, gas, plasma and liquid.
The Greeks also thought that if you were to keep on crushing things into ever smaller particles, eventually there would be the "atomon" or the "uncuttable". I also find it curious that with 21st century particle accelerators, we're still looking for (or maybe have found) elementary particles which include quarks, leptons and bosons.
Also as far as I can make out, the ancient world knew of thirteen things that we would consider "elements"; those being:
Gold, Silver, Copper, Zinc, Lead, Tin, Antimony, Iron, Mercury, Sulphur, Arsenic, Chromium and Carbon.
The Alchemists' dream of turning lead into gold is not only possible, it has been done; it's just that it is hideously expensive and doesn't make economic sense to pursue. To get at even the fourteenth element known, required German alchemist Hennig Brand, something in the order of 60 vats of urine, which he had to distill and then refine the residue. The ancient world already had a pretty good handle on the smelting of metals; so I doubt that their concept of "earth" was what we think that they think that it was.

I've batted liquid Mercury around a table top with a pen and I've even played the trick of making a spoon out of Gallium and smirking as it turns to liquid in the gentle warmth of someone's cup of tea. We've all seen ice, water and steam and so I'm wondering, if it's obvious to us that a liquid thing is made of the same stuff as a solid thing, why wouldn't the ancients have also noticed that? Just where would liquid and solid Mercury fit into the classical four roots?
Granted that science has taught us more "stuff" but are we actually any smarter? Ancient farmers knew that in order to prolong the life of a field, you had to rotate crops and then leave fields fallow for a time to rest. I think it strange that we can prove by experiment that global warming exists* and yet we still deliberately choose to buck the science.

I don't think that the ancient world was anywhere near as insensible or ignorant as we might suspect. People were more aware of the physical world around them and more than likely, knew how to interpret thing in their environment (like the weather) better than we do. I bet that they noticed far more different kinds of minerals than we do and smelled a far wider range of smells than we do, simply because they were outside and had far better practical training at it than we do.
The Greeks for instance referred to the sky as being bronze. Xenophanes described the rainbow as having three bands of color: purple, green/yellow, and red. I don't think that it was because he was colourblind but rather that there were different cultural connotations than we have. By comparison, there is no lead in a lead pencil and a Jerusalem Artichoke is not from Jerusalem and is not an artichoke.
The four roots of earth, air, fire and water, could very well have been a different sort of cultural designation for what kind of stuff stuff is, rather than the actual sort of stuff that stuff is made from. I don't know if it's fair to accuse them of being less smart.

*CO2 is 0.001977g/L whereas Air is 0.001280g/L
If we release more CO2 into a closed container (ie the atmosphere) then due to ideal gas laws, the temperature of those gases must rise. A denser gas in the same sized container should have more collisions between the molecules and therefore be warmer.

August 06, 2014

Horse 1729 - Australia's Prime Ministers - Nos. 6 & 5 - Cook, Fisher and The Great War


VI - Joseph Cook

The 1913 Federal Election saw a win for the combined efforts of the Commonwealth Liberal Party but only just. Newly appointed Prime Minister Joseph Cook, led the party to the smallest possible majority in the House of Representatives of one seat; after they had provided the Speaker of the House, the number of active votes on the floor of the chamber was deadlocked. Andrew Fisher remained as leader of the Opposition.
Not only did the government have no room in the lower house, it also found itself in the minority in the Senate. Things did not look bright.

Cook found governance with the odds stacked against him and the only piece of legislation that his government passed was the 1914-15 budget in May of 1914.
Cook decided on a plan to abolish preferential employment for trade union members in the public service, which he knew Labor would reject. After they duly did so, Cook gained a section 57 double dissolution trigger which he fired off.
He was very much a victim of history, because within the six weeks between the writs and the election itself, Europe had stepped perilously down the road to war. Fisher's 1914 election campaign stood around a simple reminder that it was Labor which has favoured an Australian Defence Force which Cook opposed. Fisher was returned as PM with a 42-32 majority.

V - Andrew Fisher (again again)

Fisher's third term in government started out as a peacetime government, passing legislation with respect to customs, trade and commodities but as the war wore on and the Dardanelles Campaign fell into disaster, Fisher found himself facing internal divisions within the Labor Party, especially over the issue of conscription. The most vocal supporter of conscription was William Morris "Billy" Hughes.

Historians like to peddle the myth that as a nation, Australia was forged in the fires of the First World War. As far as policy and politics goes, nothing could be further from the truth.
When it came to support for the war, this was taken as assumed knowledge by both sides. Neither Cook. the enemy without, nor Hughes the enemy within, provided an obstacle to Australia's participation in the war. Fisher's government wasn't just assumed to be helping Britain but was expected to. Australia for the duration of the war when it came to military policy, was dictated to by the mother of all parliaments, Westminster.

As this was the first war that Australians had fought in where both the fighting men and the general public were largely literate, they read first hand of the horrors of war from both the newspapers and their own sons.
Keith Murdoch became the editor-in-chief of the London cable service run by the Sun and the Melbourne Herald in 1915. He was especially concerned that the War Office in both Britain and Australia were censoring reports coming from the disastrous Dardanelles campaign (which included Gallipoli) and wrote to Andrew Fisher. En route to London, he was even held by the Military Police in Marseille and the letter was confiscated.
Possibly on the strengths of war correspondents like Murdoch, by December of 1915, Gallipoli was evacuated and the Dardanelles campaign abandon with a high amount of efficiency.
"The conceit and self complacency of the red feather men are equalled only by their incapacity. Along the line of communications, especially at Moudros, are countless high officers and conceited young cubs who are plainly only playing at war and appointments to the general staff are made from motives of friendship and social influence."
- Keith Murdoch, 1915

As the war wore one, Fisher's health began to decline and he absented himself from the parliament, thus creating a section 38 vacancy. A by-election was held and Billy Hughes became the Prime Minister of Labor Government. Hughes though would be a journeyman and end up representing six different political parties during his career and being expelled from three of them.

Fisher would go on to become the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom but would eventually suffer from dementia. He died in 1928 at the age of 66. but even now is Australia's second longest serving Labor Prime Minister.