March 16, 2018

Horse 2385 - The Four Defences To The Second Amendment And Why They're All Destructive and Dumb

I am re-reading The Federalist for what seems like the twentieth time because I keep on coming across absolutely idiotic arguments about the Second Amendment online. Responding on Facebook seems like a completely pointless endeavour because as far as I can tell, the most passionate of people who want to defend this life, liberty and happiness destroying appendix of a thing, are impervious to both fact and reason.
You may as well try using logic on a brick for all the good it does. At least a brick isn't going to flood you with nonsense.

Forums on the internet aren't a whole lot better either. I especially find it galling when people say that you should "go and read the Federalist Papers" after I've just quoted a particular Federalist Paper. Believe me, I have read through the US Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the Declaration of Independence. I have also read through the Constitution for the Continental Congress Constitution which was so ineffective at being the rule set for government, that it wasn't almost entirely binned in writing the Constitution proper. Basically all it really did was create an entity which could go to war.

But before I launch into my objection to most defences of the Second Amendment, I think that a little bit of background as to how it came to be is in order.
Firstly, the US Constitution was not handed down by God; nor was it inspired by him. It was not carved into two stone tablets and then sealed by covenant. If anything is the uninspired bickering of people trapped in a room for several months, who were all individually looking for edges and advantages of their own. You can read through a kind of proxy for the arguments in the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers, and it's all kind of one giant omnishamble multi-level spew fest.
In fact if you bother to read through the Federalist Papers in their entirety, then John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and
James Madison appear to be the most eloquent group of stroppy teenagers you will ever hear from.
John Jay was never heard from again. Alexander Hamilton was so much of a stroppy agitator that Aaron Burr who had spent decades being thwarted by him, met him with duelling pistols one morning and shot the "bastard immigrant, son of a whore". James Madison was obviously so much of a madman that he thought he'd tell the British where to go, and that resulted in the British marching on Washington and burning the White House in the imaginatively named War Of 1812. (Canadians obviously had nothing better to do, as Hockey Night In Canada on CBC wouldn't be invented until late into the next century)

More importantly, the US Constitution is not a quasi religious document and it is of such poor quality that it has had to be amended 27 times. Something that needs even so much as a single do over, is hardly the stuff of religious perfection. There was even an argument about including the bill of rights because in all honesty, they don't really define the rules by which a legislature should operate. As it was, they weren't even ratified until 1791, which was a full two years into the opening term of George Washington's administration as President instead of General. When you ask most people about the minutiae of the Constitution proper, they generally have only a vague idea what it says but they'll know about those ten things at the end.
And yet that's exactly how I see Constitution thing being defended. It isn't being treated as the thing that it is, which is a not very well written rule book which doesn't really tell you how to operate a government, executive and judiciary but it is treated as though it was the word of God. The insanity of the matter is that it is seen as more important than life itself. Don't believe me? The Second Amendment by operation destroys people's actual lives. Real flesh and blood is pulped in the name of the precious Second Amendment.

These then are the four common defences put forth for why the Second Amendment should be a thing. Really, I've only ever seen variants on these four things and not much else.

1. "The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution."
I like the use of the word "enshrined" which you'll see quite often because it does afford that quasi-religious overtone to the thing. Moreover it kind of opens the door to suggesting that the person putting forward the argument has turned it into a strange religion.
Legal eagle Thomas Jefferson thought that the Constitution should be reviewed every nineteen years or so. That would indicate that he probably saw it as an evolving document and that the tyranny of the past and the tyranny of the dead shouldn't rule over the lives of the living. The fact that there's another seventeen amendments to the Constitution after the Bill Of Rights, including one which repealed an amendment, is cause to suggest that bad things in the document should be culled.
The main body of the document has also had amendments made to it; especially after the Civil War which happened precisely because the document was awful in the first place.

2. "We're not in the militia, so the 'well regulated' clause doesn't apply to us" 
Alexander Hamilton spent several of the Federalist Papers arguing that the Federal Government shouldn't have a standing army because they might use it to put down various factions of the populace. Curiously he thought that there should absolutely be a Federal Navy though. In consequence, the idea that the whole populace should be trained in firearm usage and that firearms should be well regulated, so that at a moment's notice a militia can be raised, is the whole reason why this is in there. Jefferson was even at pains to make sure that it was abundantly clear.
The objection that "We're not in the militia, so the 'well regulated' clause doesn't apply to us" is completely 100% accurate and true. Thanks to the Supreme Court and the case of Heller vs D.C. (2008) that whole opening section and clause has been struck off and the right to bear arms is taken to be an individual right because of it. The Second Amendment by action of the Supreme Court is actually materially nothing more than:
"the right of the people to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED" and you may as well add "2A 2A 2A USA USA USA" at the end. Think of the most basic destructive impulses that people have and then put a gun in front of them because that's the real world operation of the Second Amendment.
In one breath you can't extol the wisdom of your holy prophets who you call the 'Founding Fathers' and then immediately call into question their sanity; especially when the current reading of the amendment has only existed for ten years. If the 'well regulated' clause doesn't apply to you then by that same logic, neither does the right which you so vigorously defend and which is contained in the exact same sentence. The Second Amendment doesn't need to spell out specifically who the 'well regulated' clause because like the rest of the whole Constitution, it is supposed to be universally applied. To claim that one bit applies and another doesn't, is deeply dishonest. I of course realise that I've just dissented with the United States Supreme Court but 1A, so there.

3. "We can't ban guns because the criminals will still have them."
As opposed to now? One of the biggest reasons why criminals are able to have them at all is because they can get them so very easily.
At the moment, it is possible for an eighteen year old to walk into a big supermarket in some parts of America and buy guns but not be able to buy cigarettes or alcohol. How does that make any sense? Presumably cigarettes and alcohol are banned until the age of 21 is that they cause harm. The problem with this logic is that even if the intended use of cigarettes and alcohol is self destructive, the intended use for firearms is the  primarily the destruction of other people. I would wager that the number of people who buy a gun with the sole purpose of committing suicide is probably less than 1% of 1%.

The thing about the operation of law and the direction of society is that they're symbiotic in nature. They both shape each other and are in turn shaped by each other. The only reason why the criminals have such easy access to guns is that everybody's rush to claim a right to self defence through more guns, means that there are more guns which people need to defend themselves from. Take away the right and start taking away the guns and there's less of a need to defend yourself against them.
Of course instantly if you suggest this, Godwin's Law will be invoked and the discussion will always turn towards the disarming of Jews by the Nazis as though that justifies everyone being armed to the eyeballs. Even just a customary glance at that set of circumstances will tell you that the Jews in Germany would have never have stood up against the entire German people; nor would they have stood against a mechanised German army. The idea is quite frankly idiotic and the reaction of an unthinking moron.

In concert with this is the suggestion that this was somehow inherited from the principle at English Common Law of the so called "Castle Doctrine"; and the theory that a man's home is his castle (it's never a woman because that would also assume a degree of agency which most people who argue down this line nominally don't think exists because idiocy and misogyny are often very close relatives).
In all the reading that I have done over the years on this subject, I can not find an example where it's suggested in English Common Law that the Castle Doctrine actually have exists. If it were to exist then there should be case law which proves it (because that by definition is the origin of Common Law), but it doesn't; so there isn't; so the doctrine must be a big black fib.

Never mind the fact that the Sixth and Eighth Amendments talk about the right to a speedy trial and a statutory hold against cruel and unusual punishments. If someone has entered your premises, then if you've shot them, then that would violate both the Sixth and Eighth Amendments if a government agent were to carry it out but apparently the Castle Doctrine as it is applied also gives the holder of a weapon, the right to play as judge, jury and executioner, all at once.

4. "Jesus told his disciples to go and get swords."
The idea with taking a specific command to a specific person and then applying it as a general principle, is fraught with danger. It also ignores the fact that in context, Peter was openly rebuked for cutting someone's ear off.
Jesus was a remarkably consistent chap who said all sorts of things that give you a broad picture of what he thought. In his grand sermon on the mountain side, he speaks about turning the other cheek if someone has slapped you, walking two miles if they unreasonably force you to walk one, to pray for your enemies and not to resist an evil person but overcome evil with good. I don't honestly see how someone who exhorts people to be peacemakers would be happy if people arm themselves with the instruments of war.
Again, the US Constitution is not a holy document and should not be held up as such. If you want to co-opt the words of Jesus in a very specific time and place in scripture which is backed up nowhere else in scripture as a general command, then you seriously need to reread scripture, or perhaps read it properly for the first time. There is no model of any of Jesus' disciples mounting an armed insurrection against either the Romans or their fellow citizens. I find it personally maddening that the church has been turned into a vending machine for votes and used as a megaphone for idiocy.

Of course I realise that with this post I'm just pouring one cup of water into an ocean from the other side of the world and it won't really make a lick of difference; but at least I've identified the four basic arguments which constantly get packaged and repackaged again and again.
It would be so much easier and cheaper in terms of lives lost and the economic costs of firearms in the United States if the Second Amendment was repealed and there was a serious gun buyback and amnesty but until that happens, the acceptable price of freedom will continue be eleven thousand plus people a year dead; America went to war in Iraq and invented the excuse for doing so based on a cost of less than half of that.

March 12, 2018

Horse 2384 - The Terrible California Open Blanket Primary Vote

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I have an unusual obsession with voting systems. As someone who watches politics in a mostly horrified fashion, as a third party spectator with no team, I find the contests to be interesting and the aftermath to be mostly horrible. It's bad enough to get bad government but to get bad systems which result in bad government being elected, and then pretending that the systems are fine, compounds badness upon badness. For instance, it was the badness of the US Presidential election system with the Electoral College that installed the current car accident of an administration in its crash site at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Due to historical accident, I live in Australia. Also due to historical accident, Australia has one of the best voting systems in the world. We have the Single Transferrable Vote for the lower house and Preferential Proportional Representation in the upper house of our parliament. We compound goodness upon goodness by adding compulsory voting as well as holding elections on a Saturday, which means that we get everyone having a say at the time that is the most convenient for the most people. The United States Of America doubles down on its badness of voting systems all over the place and possibly one of the worst is the system which votes in Californian Senators in the US Congress.

As with every state in the union (to which a giant two finger salute has been raised at Puerto Rico for more than one hundred years), California sends two Senators to Washington. That means that they get 2% of the total number of Senators because the Senate considers all the states as equals, as opposed to the more than 12% of Representatives in the House because the House looks at relative population. As with all Senators, they sit for six years and get elected in with every third House election.

California elects its Senators with an open blanket primary system, combined with first past the post. In doing so, they have managed to perform an act of exceptionally idiotic alchemy by compounding badness with stupidity. What this means is that the election is held on a statewide basis, with all candidates running at once, and the winners of the two Senate seats are simply those who got the most votes.
That sounds fair, right? Provided you don't think about it, it's fine but if you think about it for even just a little bit, then the badness emerges very quickly.

Suppose you have ten candidates in the election for Senate seats from the great state of Hamilton. There are only 20,000 voters in this state because when building a model, it helps to simplify things so that you can see how it works. Of the ten candidates there are two from the Bad Vegetable Party, seven from the Nuts Party and one from the Rock Through The Window Party. The votes fall as follows:

Bad Vegetable Party:
Broccoli 2648
Cauliflower 2352

Nuts Party:
Almond 1944
Peanut 1983
Walnut 1924
Macadamia 1761
Brazil 1866
Cashew 1952
3/4 Inch Hex 1904

Rock Through The Window Party:
Granite 1666

Under an open blanket primary for two seats, the two candidates from the Bad Vegetable Party both win despite the fact that a supermajority of voters didn't vote for them. What if they really don't like Bad Vegetables? As the two winners are Bad Vegetables (who together only got 25% of the vote), they will naturally claim that the result is fair, even though most of the electorate went Nuts (with 66% of the vote). The people who voted for the Rock Through The Window Party also didn't win anything and even though they have signalled that they are angry and want to put a Rock Through The Window in, the voting system means that there is no obligation at all to listen to them.

It should stand to reason that under a preferential voting system, then two Nuts would most likely be elected. If there was a proportional representation system in play as well, then there very well might be a Nut are a Bad Vegetable, depending on the factionalism of the voters and the combined voting power of the Bad Vegetables and the Rock Through The Window voters.

A system which can elect two candidates despite them not even being close to achieving a simple majority of voters, is nuts, elects bad vegetables and makes a lot of people want to put a rock through the window.
Yet this is exactly the system which California elects its Senators, and the Congress compounds badness upon badness with this not being unique either.

Now usually I wouldn't care about Senate races because as previously stated in this post, I live in Australia, but as someone who lives in that curious place called the rest of the world, even I can be affected by voting systems on the other side of the world.
I don't think it an act of hyperbole to suggest that the current administration is the third worst in history. Warren G Harding's had open corruption and the best thing that he did in office was to die, so that way he didn't need to be impeached. James Buchanan who actually was the worst President, presided over a country that actually did snap in half and he passed on the office to Lincoln who had to deal with a country that was at war with itself.
Objectively, Trump is not the worst President of all time but he probably needs to be impeached, given his belligerence, bellicosity, sheer incompetence at running the office, the amount of staff turnover, probable conflicts of interest, and the whole question of whether or not there was collusion and corruption in the process of him being elected.
The rub is that it is the job of the Senate to impeach the President but if the system sends people to Washington who are voted in via a bad system and then will not do arguably the most grave of tasks that an elected body can do; because they are of the same party as the President, then democracy will have failed the wishes of the people because the system itself is not fit for purpose.

March 10, 2018

Horse 2383 - The Metaphor of Chess

I have long since lost the certificate that says that once upon a time I was the state junior chess champion. I remember those three days rather well because I really had no right to be there at all. Sure, I'd been a member of the school's chess club but even so, I went to the state championships that year as a bit of a lark, thinking beforehand that I'd be bumbled out in the first round by someone who actually bothered to do training and practice. What I found when I got there was a lot of very bright students who had obviously never come across someone who played chess in the same way that a blind baseball player might be let loose in a room full of bottles - smash everything and hope that there's something worth picking up in the mess once the swinging has stopped.
The truth is that I know that there are millions of people who are better at the game than I am, and although I may have learned a few things about it, such as openings and defences, I still see most of the game as being only the setup to the final situation which usually involves mayhem and destruction and having sufficient firepower left over to force a pin, or being crafty enough to force a pin while the game is still in it's early constipation mode.

I haven't played a lot of board games in recent years it must be said (please see me), but I still like the idea of a very constrained set of rules upon which an organised fight takes place. They myth of Chess is that is was supposed to have served as a tool to war strategy but the idea that any battlefield scenario would be that ordered is insane. It is foolish to think that chess adds any dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl
I still think that the game serves as a rather apt metaphor for society though; piece by piece, move by bloody move.

King - The King is the tallest and most cocky idiot on the board. Get him, and the game is over. He can move in any direction that he likes but ultimately he is something of a liability and because he can only move one space, his actual power is far less than he thinks he has. You might like to put an orange toupee on him if you like the idea of the nation being a republic instead. You might even like to imagine that that thing which sits on his head is a loudhailer or other broadcast device like a Twitter account. He's able to project power and offence because of the position but really he's not any more valuable than any of the Pawns.

Pawns - Half of all of the pieces on the board are Pawns. They're only capable of marching slowly forward and when they are ordered to attack, they then impede some other Pawn's progress. Nobody cares about the Pawns; if they're lost as the result of a pitched battle for space, that's an acceptable price to pay for their commanders.
Pawns are expendable; they hate the opposition for no other reason than the enemy happens to be waving the banner of another country; and the hope is held out to them that if they work hard or happen to be extremely lucky, they will be promoted to a higher station in life (but never the King) but the awful truth is that this rarely happens and most of them will end up dead.

Knights - We have noble thoughts about knights on horseback and up until the age of gunpowder there was a degree of truth in the myth. I suppose that the modern equivalent would be a battle tank or a jet fighter.
Knights are among the first to be sent out into the battlefield and are also usually among the first to die. We've conveniently wrapped up nobility and chivalry into a presentable package, to hide the fact that this sort of job also happens to be filled by the most reckless. That's kind of a natural consequence of putting someone in a uniform though.

Bishops - Once people learned how to read, the power of the clergy waned in society. In the meantime we've all collectively decided to give our modern worship and have assigned the role of the gatekeepers of truth to the monied powers of the media. I don't think that it's by accident that the Bishop moves diagonally and skirts around the majority of the battlefield. Quite aptly, the Bishop looks like a mailbox, through which we get our source of propaganda, truth and lies.

Rook - The word "Rook" probably come to use via the Italian word "Rocca" (fortress) and the Persian "Rukh" (also a fortress). The black bird which is also called a Rook, gets its name from the manic noise that it makes.
Once upon a time, the siege towers of history would have flung boulders and other assorted bits of crud like dead bodies and giant wooden rabbits over castle wall but today's siege towers of business fling terrible policy and ecomomic zombies at governments.
I have no idea how a siege tower of old could ever move that quickly but a modern company seems to be able to move funds off shore and to another board entirely, in the blink of an eye.

Queen - The band U2 were obviously not chess players when they sang: "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright. She moves in mysterious ways." Those ways aren't mysteruious, it's just that they happen to be an unlimited number of spaces in all eight cardinal and  intercardinal.
The most powerful piece on the board, there is only one of her and she alone being 6.25% of pieces controls the same amount of value as the bottom 50% of pieces.

If I return to that other metaphor that chess paints so well, it has to do with the usual win conditions - either an early checkmate caused by a constipational pin, or a win by attrition. In the latter, which is the most common among bad players like myself, the win is achieved by mutual destruction. All of the Pawns suffer and die, most of the smaller pieces such as the Bishops and Knights are killed off and the win finally comes about after the world has been burnt to be ground and all that's left are the Kings and two Rooks. Most of the economic history of the world has been like that.

For most of the history of the world, most people had no rights at all, or if they were "free", no say in their government or the conditions that they found themselves in. Apart from the names of Kings and Queens and a few select people whose names have come to us almost at random, the vast majority of people who ever lived, were disposable Pawns who could be ploughed back into the dirt from which they arose. Battles are fought, fields drip in the blood of the dead and after most battles, it is the Pawns and the Knights who suffer the most. The Queens and Towers of industry are always the ones who seem to survive to the end.
Unless of course everyone get mashed into the battlefield and all you have is two Kings pointlessly chasing each other around the place. That's largely what the climate change debate is about. Most of us will drown, save for a few idiots who be able to keep their head above water,

March 07, 2018

Horse 2382 - The Very Loud Quiet Protest

Probably since the beginning of motor racing, the perpetual story has been one of teams and drivers looking for any advantage that they can possibly find, and the motor manufacturers showing and losing interest over time, to suit the propaganda needs at any given point. Australia which is a relatively small country, is no exception; with the major motor manufacturers of Ford and Holden showing waxing and waning interest over time.
Also in the curious case of Australia, since about 1967, the dominant form of motor racing has been what essentially amounts to pitting high powered taxi cabs, family cars and executive cars at each other. Running GT cars like they do in Europe, or insane econoboxes like they do in England, never really catches the public's imagination here.

In 2018, we find ourselves at an incredibly curious junction in time. Toyota, Ford and Holden have all closed their factories in Australia; which means that the biggest manufacturer of motor vehicles in Australia is either Volgren or Custom Coaches who both make buses, or Victa who make ride-on lawnmowers.
The way that this relates to motor racing is that in this year's Supercars Championship, the three kinds of cars being run are one which hasn't been manufactured for two years and is now a legacy artefact, one which is no longer on sale in Australia, and the third which although brand new has to be imported. None of them run an engine which was ever available with that model of car.  Basically the Supercars Championship is a motor racing series for bespoke weird taxi prototypes.

The other thing of immediate note is that the cars in this bespoke weird taxi prototype series, are covered by a very specific set of conditions which are laid out in a vehicle specification document. Both the Ford Falcon and the Nissan Altima which are no longer available, are covered by existing documents but the brand new ZB Holden Commodore had to have a new vehicle specification document and this has had rather nasty consequences.

As the manufacturer, Holden has had quite a lot of say in the new vehicle to go motor racing in. Also due to the nature in which the current rules were originally drawn up which was semi exclusionary, it meant that a manufacturer could choose to withdraw approval for an outgoing model if their desire for a change in propaganda saw fit. In 2018, approval for the outgoing VF Commodore was withdrawn and anyone who wanted to run a Holden had to switch to a new ZB Commodore.
The thing is that the switch from the VF Commodore to the new ZB Commodore isn't a simple panel swap because the ZB which is a hatchback, has a vastly different rear end construction to the VF. To go from VE to VF only required a change in panels and light clusters but to go from VF to ZB means an entirely new chassis has to be built.
Naturally as Holden doesn't have a manufacturing plant Australia any more, that means that they couldn't simply pull unfinished chassis off the production line. Every ZB chassis has had to be a bespoke piece of kit and because 888 Engineering is the only team running who has any direct backing from Holden, it means that all of the ZB Commodores running in this year's Supercars Championship have proprietary hardware in them. For instance, if you open the hatchback, you find what looks like another firewall, and because 888 Engineering owns the proprietary hardware, their labels are all over the place in there.

The short story is that for 2018, instead of upgrading equipment or pulling unfinished chassis off of the production line, all of the teams running the ZB Commodore have been forced to become customers of 888 Engineering. Instead of doing a swap from one model to the next, which would have cost about $8,000, or building their own bespoke chassis to the approved specification, they've had to purchase new kit at a price of about $40,000. The only other alternative would have been to go it alone and develop a new car and get a vehicle specification document for that and given that there aren't any more manufacturers left in Australia, that task is quite a lot more massive than it otherwise would have been.  A team could choose to build a Mazda 6, but that would mean negotiating with the factory in Hiroshima, a team could choose to build a Kia Stinger but that would mean negotiating with the factory in Seoul. This process is almost certainly going to be met with all kinds of asterisks and conditions all the way down, as well as be subject to the whim of the propaganda needs of the company.
In effect, the teams that aren't 888 Engineering including the ex Holden Racing Team (having been dumped by the manufacturer like a plate of cold vomit), have been held to ransom and I don't think that contentment reigns up and down pit lane. This has led to what I think is a very subtle protest.

Garry Roger Motorsport who runs the cars for Garth Tander and James Golding, were once running Volvos before they had a public bust up and the Swedish company took the chassis back home to Sweden (incidentally, I haven't yet found any evidence that they've been run again). After being burned once, I can understand the outrage of now being held to ransom by Holden.
Throughout the weekend at the Adelaide 500, I kept on noticing that something peculiar and which was conspicuous by its absence: the little lion badge on the front of the Garry Rogers ZB Commodores. I can't say for certain that this was a protest but knowing what I know about Garry Rogers, it seems entirely possible.
I remember a few years ago that WPS Motorsport ran a visor banner which read "No Support From Ford" after the propaganda department at Ford decided to take their whims elsewhere. 888 Engineering which now is the doyenne of Holden, at the time was running Ford Falcons an replaced the little blue oval with a pink pig logo from the Hog's Breath Café.
If I was running a motorsport team and I was held to ransom by the motor manufacturer into buying a piece of kit like this, I'm pretty sure that I would have done this exact same thing. I mean I could be entirely wrong here and this might be as simple as the badge falling off at the beginning of the weekend but I'm pretty sure that that badge is part of the moulding for the grille insert; so my suspicion is that this is deliberate.

I hope so.
Holden are now just another import company. They're as Australian as football, baseball and apple pie, now.

March 05, 2018

Horse 2381 - Rocking The Spamjo, Just Like A Hoard If Vikings Did. Rocking The Spamjo, Except That They Were Talented.

Mid-life crises are really only available to those people who are relatively well off and have money to burn as though it was London in 1666. For the rest of us who need to keep our noses to the grindstone, just so we can keep on bleeding so that the wheels of industry keep on turning, the idea of a mid-life crisis is laughable. Finding things difficult is just part of normality; so you'd better take a couple of concrete pills and harden up.
Usually the only sorts of mid-life crises open to the grindstone classes are things like taking up exercise or maybe a musical instrument but I don't know if it counts in my case because I'd always chucked about the idea that I've wanted to play the guitar; after spending so much time around sound equipment for various reasons. If I was going to get a guitar, I wanted a cheap electric one so that when I was noodling around and being crap at playing it, it wouldn't terrorise the neighbours.
This Christmas just been, Mrs Rollo gave me a kit for a 3 string guitar. I don't think that either of us realised this but what she actually gave me was an open door to a small obsession. Granted that I have the musical skills of a rabid badger but even someone as ham fistedly incompetent as me can play something that passes as music on this thing.

From what I can gather, the 3 string guitar has a history which goes back way further than electricity. This is an instrument born of poverty and invention; and plays right into that tradition of blues and roots music. It easily predates jazz and the somewhat percussive and rhythmic nature of the beast probably helped to write the rules for jazz and delta blues.
The standard blues tuning for 3 string guitar is GDG. Those of you who are accomplished musicians will already know that this is a 1-5-1 tuning of an instrument and just like any other 1-5-1 tuning like EBE, chords can be played by just barring all of the strings. Of course it also means that  don't really need to worry about tuning it to anything in particular because as long as the 5th fret on the middle string and the 12th fret on the bottom string all ring out the same note, it's all cool.

Related to the 3 string guitar, which is usually made with a cigar box as a resonator, is the 1 string diddly bow. The diddly bow is probably even more born out of necessity than the 3 string guitar. As the diddly bow has only one string, it is even more of a percussive instrument than the 3 string. It is because of the diddly bow that Bo Diddly took on his stage name; after he learned his craft on one of these and then moved onto more strings.
The diddly bow which doesn't even have to be tuned to anything in particular, gives away that latent secret hiding in plain view of all stringed instruments. An octave higher is always half way and those notes of 3, 5, and 7, will just make themselves obvious with almost no effort.
Also, why I'm here I may as well answer that debate about perfect pitch and tuning. There is this suggestion that after at least Der Well Tempered Klavier by Johann Sebastian Bach, that we don't really hear music the way that people of old did. I won't go too much into it but modern music kind of slightly mushed the notes around so that notes in all keys don't run into Pythagorean Dissonance. Orchestras tune up to A at 440Hz and an argument rages in academia about what the proper frequency should be. After playing a diddly bow, I've come to the conclusion that I don't care. When you have no idea what the heck note you're starting with then all notions of exactitude just fly away. I love the scrappiness of the thing; so much so that it has kind of awakened a run of obsession for me.

I think that the deeper reason of why this has sent me on a run of obsession though, is that this is kind of instrument is of a very old tradition of garagistas and people working away in their sheds. Again, due to the fact that I also have the practical skills of a rabid badger, I like the idea of people working away in their sheds and making things. One of the best shows that I've ever seen on television was James May putting together things like a lawnmower or a record player, and that was literally all the show was - a dude in a shed; making stuff.
When I go on the internet and I can see people making stuff and then playing what they've made, that strikes two very particular dopamine receptors in my brain. I once saw a chap who made a three string electric guitar out of a shovel and let me tell you, neither you nor I will ever be as cool as he. Forget Bono, this dude makes Bono look like Nigel The Nuff-Nuff.

To feed this run of obsession and probably to strike those dopamine receptors in my brain, I've spent the last few weeks, just sort of looking in hardware stores for stuff. Now that I've had a decent look at how a guitar works, it wasn't that difficult to think about how you go about building a basic guitar; to that end, enter the Spamjo.

The Spamjo is just a diddly bow tuned to... who knows? I sure as heck don't. The beauty of it was that it didn't exactly break the bank either. All its made from are the following:

$10.00 - Bass G String
$2.80 - Wood
$4.90 - Can Of Spam (I ate the Spam in sandwiches).
$0.50 - Tuning Key
$0.15 - Washer
$0.20 - 2 Rivets

That's a working 1-string diddly bow for less than twenty bucks. The most expensive bits were the string and the can of Spam and to tell you the truth, I only wanted the can of Spam because I liked the pun because otherwise it would have just been a canjo.
The action on this thing is insanely high because I was going to use an actual nut and bolt for the nut but as the hole in the tuning key sat proud of it, that was impossible; so I had to make do. What this means that you need to play it with a slide and since I use a piece of electrical conduit for that, if you want to add that to the total price, that's only another 40 cents.

The two rivet eyelets act as the tailpiece through the piece of wood itself and the bridge in the base of the can of Spam, which itself is the resonator box. The bridge is a bulldog clip of which I have a surfeit of in the office and as with all acoustic guitars, the string is held in tension between the tuning key and the tailpiece, and that's pretty well much it. I drilled the hole for the tuning key with a screwdriver and a hammer.
Where are the frets? Given that it's a slide guitar, I've just made some pencil marks down the bit of wood after looking at a fret calculator online.
The Spamjo sounds far better than you'd think it would. That is to say, it sounds like a semi competent musical instrument. I deliberately picked the G string from a bass guitar because that meant that there wasn't a bunch of tension in the thing. Nevertheless, it still sounds pained; which is pretty much at the heart of blues music. Also, as the scale length (nut to bridge) is so much longer than the 3 string guitar, the need to be exact when it comes to finding where the frets are, is gone.

After literally building this in a park at lunchtime, I've acquired a better appreciation for why proper luthiers make certain decisions. If I was going to build a better one (this one is mainly proof of concept), then I totally want to think about angles of the headstock, proper fretboard construction, whether or not I'd want a floating or fixed bridge, the kind of tailpiece and saddle I want for the strings and even about potting my own electric pipickup.
I will never rock the world but I can rock the immediate three feet of space around me. If this is a mid-life crisis, then this has to be about the cheapest mid-life crisis out there. All y'all can have your mid-life crisis and play with your fancy sports car, I'll be playing awful blues music in the park on a 1 string Spamjo that I built for less than twenty bucks.

March 02, 2018

Horse 2380 - Always Dr.; Never Mr.

In my working career, I have worked in many places but the two most notable were the Commonwealth Law Courts and the accounting firm where I currently work. As you'd expect in these environments, I have met a lot of hurting, angry, belligerent, and downright nasty people. Due to the very nature of both money and the law, which act as conduits and proxies for the exercise of power, money and the law tends to attract a higher than normal ratio of narcissists, sociopaths, and people for whom superbia is not a deadly sin but has been twisted into a barbed weapon which is glorified.
In such an environment, you very quickly learn that everything in print can and will be used against you in the court of knavery, where the narcissists, sociopaths and superbians act as judge, jury, executioner and torturer because they find sport and fun in it. For someone like me who likes to use a thousand words to paint a more accurate picture, this is an invitation to commit career suicide on an almost daily basis; so my emails and correspondence tends to be as economical as possible, sparse and terse. You also very quickly learn to address people with calm respect in case they decide to bite your head off and you also learn never to use any gender specific titles or pronouns for the same reason.

Mr, Mrs, Ms, are all out. The risk of mistaking a Jo, Sam, Djomba, Kim, or Morgan, for any gender, is like walking around with a hand grenade with the pin taken out. It might very well be a dud and nothing will happen but it might also be quietly ticking away and ready to explode in your face at an unknown moment. Every envelope is addressed "Name Surname" and "Dear Name," and even then you still need to be careful.
I'm also extremely wary about whose name is on an envelope if I have to send multiple documents to a couple, be they married or otherwise. You can always presume that any missteps will be punished. My general principle is that if I have received a letter and documents in the mail, that the return mail is addressed to them and where you have two surnames, two pieces of mail will be sent back.

There is of course one absolutely major exception and to miss that is also to invite someone to bite your head off; that is the use of formal titles. In cases like Doctor and Professor, these are the result of many years of work or where a university has conferred the honour on someone. I always without exception include the titles of Doctor or Professor, in spite of the fact that I recently received an objection where someone accuse me of "sexism heteronormative"; which made no sense to me, considering that it was on their business card which was stapled to the letter they'd sent us in the first place.
Military ranks are even more fraught with danger and you should always include those; that also goes for "Sir" and "Lady", where the title has been acknowledged by royalty. I only have to send out one letter of those types in a year and although "Lady Name" will try to play you with tea and biscuits and will talk the hind leg off a dog, she is one of the most gracious and lovely people in the world. "Sir Name" is a superb narcissistic sociopath (please see above) and should be passed as one rounds a navigation buoy.

The other thing that I'm really afraid of is the opening and salutation of any piece of correspondence. The opening of "Dear Name" is acceptable but even then i have still had one person complain that I wasn't dear to them and that they weren't dear to me, and so with that client specifically I will open a letter with "Name," which seems to have calmed them.
Emails are also maddening and I've long since decided that "Good Morning," "Good Afternoon," and "Good Evening," are acceptable openings but for reasons which are insensible to me, those kind of openings on printed correspondence just look plain wrong.
Every letter, every email, irrespective of whether or not I barely know them or am friends with them or even my wife, will always end "Thank you,". Again, I have been bitten in the past and so I dropped any notion of using "Yours sincerely," when nobody is ever sincere about anything and the word "Yours" might imply a level of closeness which given my mistrust of humanity, is almost never allowed.

The two major exceptions to all of this is correspondence which I send to a French lady in her 90's who I'm convinced was a spy, or in the Communist Resistance, or perhaps some kind of industrial espionage agent, who is always addressed as "Mme," and an ex-Army officer where the opening is always "Dear Major," and never their first name and the salutation is always "Memento Mori," which to be honest should be the correct sign off to every piece of correspondence ever, because the grave is always open and Death will keep its appointment with everyone; no correspondence entered into.

February 27, 2018

Horse 2379 - Opening Ceremony: Dubbo Winter Olympics 2026

Long time readers of this blog will remember my idea of holding the Winter Olympics in Dubbo. This would be the "no worries" games because even though it never snows in Dubbo, I'm sure that we could solve all of the associated problems with that; no worries. The Winter Olympics is after all, 26 different ways of sliding across things; so all we'd need to do is use really soft dirt, or Teflon or whatever, and we'll solve all of those problems with technology; no worries.

That leaves only the problem of the opening and closing ceremonies, which as far as I'm concerned, always involves inventing some pseudo religious ancient spirit nonsense, and having a bunch of overly surprised and awed kiddies pointing at things, and invoking some vague concept like "the future", or other such rubbish.
The opening ceremony at the Dubbo Winter Olympics would have to be in that same "no worries" spirit as the rest of the games and as with every other opening ceremony in history, it needs to be quite quite naff.
Cue the armies of singing children, creative modern dancers, and assorted gymnasts who are all too old to complete at the Olympics.

Firstly we have the lights go dark and the sounds of a big rumbly V8 engine thunder into the stadium. Then four more V8 engines are heard and we see the lights on one of the sources of the noise which is a black Holden Maloo ute. The black Holden Maloo ute starts doing donuts in the stadium and the lights come on to reveal a yellow, red, green, and blue ute, which are also all doing donuts. As they lay down rubber, smoke starts pouring off of the tyres and the whole stadium fills up with the five Olympic colours, before they all pull line lockers and exit the stadium; leaving behind the Olympic logo in the five colours.

Next, five inflatable beer cans rise up out of the ground (again in the Olympic colours) atop each of them are colour coded bogans representing the five kinds of boganimity. One has a blue singlet, one has a green hi-vis shirt on, another is in a red flanno, another has a yellow t-shirt on with Oi Oi Oi written on it, and the last has a black roadies t-shirt for the AC/DC tour of 1983.
They all have rifles from the biathlon and a whole bunch of inflatable roos on the back of bicycles enter the stadium. The five bogans from atop their inflatable beer cans start picking off the roos, in a representation of a feral roo shoot.
Nature is angry though and after all of the roos have been shot, a bunch of emus enter the stadium but the bogans can't shoot them. They peck at the base of the five beer cans and the emus win the day as the bogans retreat, as a commemoration of The Great Emu War, which was a decisive emu victory.

Next we have a giant redback spider enter the stadium and it is chased by an equally giant thong. The thong tries to land on the spider but is never able to and as they leave the stadium, they are followed by a Big Pineapple, a Big Boot, a Big Gold Panner, a Big Merino, a Big Dunny, a Big Kangaroo (which is actually Matilda from the 1982 Commonwealth Games), a Big Clam, and finally a Big Banana.

The last act is the entrance of a Swagman who is camped in the centre of the stadium and next to a billabong. This is followed by the stockman mounted on his thoroughbred and three troopers. As the Swagman threatens to commit suicide by drowning, "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC starts playing and parachuting out of the sky is a Drop Bear. The Drop Bear lands on the Swagman and is also carrying the Olympic Flame. The Drop Bear runs across the stadium to the cauldron which is actually a Big 44-Gallon Oil Drum with holes drilled in the sides.

Of course, this being the Dubbo Winter Olympics, we don't have to worry about pesky little things like snow, ice, or rain, to out the fire and it'll burn quite nicely on the build up of fish and chip shop grease and bacon fat, which we'll collect over the next four years. We could even have a proper sausage sizzle over the Olympic Flame and put it to good use for once.

February 24, 2018

Horse 2378 - Cheesecake Is Still Not A Pie But It Might Be Evil

Cheesecake, we have to talk.

After passing judgement that cheesecake is not a pie in yesterday's post, I have subsequently been emphatically told that cheesecake is a flan, been directed to a Wikipedia page which states that cheesecake is a tart and therefore also a flan, and perhaps most worrying of all, I have learned  that there are European cheesecakes which are cooked in a pastry shell and that some are even baked so that there is a cherry or strawberry centre within the layer of the cheese substance called "quirk" and which already sits inside a pastry shell. I feel as if I've wandered into some sort of strange Mary Berry meets Xzibit land of cheesecakeception where a thing is inside a thing while being a thing.
I feel as though I've somehow disturbed and awoken the ancient forces of the bakery guardians and now they're going to exact their hateful pies of winters past upon me with squirrel and raisins, kidney and custard all at the same time.

I decided to confer with someone with eminently more expertise in the field and so I asked Mrs R who postulated that a cheesecake is probably a tart; which only confirms previous information on the subject.
By now I was really questioning the very fabric of the universe and so I took an excursion to the local library, wherein possibly the most authoritative reference in the world of comestibles, the Larrouse Gastronomique, also places cheesecakes in the classification of tarts. Intriguingly it also has a section on flans but in that section, cheesecakes are conspicuous by their absence.

What this says to me is that cheesecakes are most definitely tarts, sometimes flans but very probably not pies. What it also suggests is that there is considerable overlap between one thing and another, and that there might be some underlying spectrum of bakery upon which all of these things lie.
The fact that there are reference books on the subject says to me that there is already a great deal of academia here and the truth is that I already knew that. The deeper philosophical question is more of an ontological one, concerning the thingness of a thing and even though cheesecake is on the grand bakery spectrum, it isn't pieific enough to be called a pie.

On the subject of flans though, who do these bakery hoodlums think they are, anyway? Like pies, flans can be either savoury or sweet and they have the audacity to claim pastry cases in the frozen food section of the supermarket all to themselves. You don't find pie crusts in the freezer but flan cases. Somehow, flans managed to lobby the ancient forces of the bakery guardians into giving them the sole control of that real estate and I bet that the little knaves want to go on and claim ice cream cake in their malevolent empire.
My excursion to the supermarket today also opened my eyes to the territory war that cheesecake is fighting. Not being content with just vanilla, strawberry and banana, I found both apricot cheesecake and a weird hybrid Chocolate Bavarian Cheesecake. Cheesecake it seems, has weaponised and is moving onwards through the freezer. I shudder to think what a full mobilisation, aided and abetted by The  Cheesecake Factory would look like. That right there is the bakery-industrial-complex in full action - a dairylea triangle, if you will.

I'm sorry cheesecake. I was happy when you were just your own thing but this simply has to stop. How long will it be before you claim slices, bars and other cakes in your diabetes inducing war of conquest. Just because you are not a pie, doesn't mean that you are not nice. You can stay as a tart or a flan (or both) but you have to accept that you can not be everything in the realm of bakery.

February 22, 2018

Horse 2377 - Is Cheesecake A Pie?

As per Section 1 of Betteridge's Law Of Headlines, the answer to any question power in the headline of an article is "no". The short answer to this argument is that Cheesecake is not a pie. This court has ruled; that is all.

NOT a pie.

Ah yes, the question of "why?" The eternal six year old child in all of us is never satisfied being told that a thing is a thing. We always need to know why. Step forward into my private mind chambers, in my memory palace. Mind where you step though, I've had the trapdoor to the pit of insanity re-oiled.

If we're going to say that a thing is not a thing, then this is very much an ontological question on the nature of being. Before we go there, we need to be aware that names are deceptive. A Boston Cream Pie for example, is very obviously not a pie because in my not very well paid opinion, experience tells me that they are all cakes. If this be true that a name is no guarantee that a thing is or isn't a thing, then a cheesecake could very well be a pie.

What is a pie?
The short answer is that a pie is a bowl shaped layer of bready material (and I have to include all possible pastries, crumbled up cookie things, and even pasta) into which some other stuff is poured. That bowl shaped receptacle of bready material is generally called a crust or a shell.
That working definition is broad enough to include all manner of sweet pies, savoury pies, and historical abominations which are insane combinations of both.

Using this as a starting point, the things that we generally accept as pies are obviously pies. Fruit pies including Apple Pie, Cherry Pie, Apricot Pie, as well as Steak & Kidney Pie, Chicken Pot Pie, and variations on a Meat Pie which include curry, chili, bacon, cheese, carrot, tomato, a whole host of gravies and sauces, are all included.
I don't think that the top of the pie needs to be defined at all because a Shepherd's Pie which has a layer of potato on the top, as well as fruit pies with a criss-cross lattice of pastry, are already both obviously pies.

This does of course immediately beg the question of whether or not a Quiche is a pie and again, the answer is obviously "yes" because by definition, a Quiche is a bowl of pastry into which what amounts to an uncooked omelette is poured and then cooked. Quiche is a pie.
Also, this begs the corollary question of whether or not things put into a ramekin with a lid of pastry on top is a pie and I would argue that they are not. They fall into another category with the amusing portmanteau name of a "stewpé" because they are basically a stew with a toupé of pastry on the top.
Naturally this leads to the delicious abomination of the Scottish Restaurant's (we dare not speak it's name because that's bad luck) Hot Apple Pie. Is that thing a pie? Amazingly, yes. You have a rectangular bowl of pastry into which stuff is poured, then covered over with another layer pastry (albeit identical) and then even though the whole thing is deep fried it's still a pie because the method of cooking isn't an integral component of the ontological properties of being a pie. That also goes for its siblings the Hot Cherry Pie, Hot Custard Pie and Hot Apricot Pie.

Back to the opening question. A cheesecake is almost always a layer of crumbled up cookie things on the bottom onto which a layer of sweet cream cheese mixture is put, and a myriad of variations follow. I have never ever even once seen a cheesecake where the layer on the bottom came up the sides to form a bowl. Admittedly one could build a cheesecake inside a pastry crust but immediately you'd want to call that thing a Cheesecake Pie.
I will also admit that cheesecake could be put into a bowl like thing as per a tart but then you would have a Cheesecake Tart, which is probably as close as you get to a pie without actually being one.

Cheesecakes are of the same kind of form as Chocolate Bavarians, which are also not pies. If we start including things which are round, have a base and can be cut into slices, then this is the way of madness. Start on that path and Pavlova will want to barge its way onto the stage of pies and then there's the question of whether or not Custard or Caramel Slices are pies as well; which they clearly are not.

Cheesecakes are not pies; just because they have a base of crumbled up cookie things doesn't help their cause either. The thing that prompted this and why the question even needed to be asked was because a client of mine saw Cheesecake in the section of a menu at a coffee shop called "Pies". It's a good thing that I don't know which coffee shop it is because as a long term resident in the house on Pedant Corner, I want to mark on that menu in big red letters "Cheesecakes are not pies. See me after class."

I'm not casting ill faith on cheesecakes because they are yummy and that isn't in doubt and I don't want to be pastry racist because all of them are delicious but in the world cup of food nations, Cheesecake isn't eligible to play on Team Pie because it isn't a citizen.

February 17, 2018

Horse 2376 - Do You Want To See What "Fawning" Looks Like? I'll Show You "Fawning"

Earlier this week, an article was brought to my attention third hand and I was asked for an opinion on it. The issue in question is whether or not the US media is quote unquote "fawning" over North Korea, because of various articles which have been published over the course of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.
Specifically the article is complaining about the US media's "fawning" over a North Korean cheer squad which has been sent to South Korea.

As someone who lives in the part of the world called "Not America", I can't say that I've particularly noticed this. Certainly the ABC, BBC, NPR, Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, Xinhua, Pravda, Le Monde... and everywhere else I'm likely to see news from, hasn't been necessarily "fawning".
You get an entirely different impression from this article though:
You would think in a situation like this, all Americans would react with disdain and apprehension, this being a clear act of propaganda, but you would be wrong. While some have done so, there are certainly those celebrating these women as a sign of peace to come.
This is not to suggest that the media has been congratulating the North Korean government. However, anything less than condemnation of this ploy should be considered unacceptable. The headlines should have read, "North Korean Government Sends Cheer Squad to Olympics in Obvious Display of Propaganda." Unfortunately, most are simply not that direct.
- Haley Smith, The Daily Wire, 11th Feb 2018.

In fact, in searching for this I only found two other articles which both hit upon the idea of the media "fawning" over North Korea:
- WALSH: 7 Horrifying Facts About North Korea That Our Fawning Media Seems To Have Forgotten
- Why the Media Is Fawning Over North Korea
I shan't link to them because quite frankly, they aren't well written and to be honest, I'm not all that convinced that the media in general is displaying that much obsequiousness here.

This in my opinion, isn't "fawning". I know what "fawning" looks like. And how do I know what proper fawning looks like? Because history is a really really great teacher.

First, we need to take a trip back in time.
A weird looking lawyer by the name of Abraham Lincoln, accepted the Republican Party's nomination for the state of Illinois to be a US senator. Being 1858 though, the freight train of history was hurtling towards America and President James Buchanan wasn't really doing a lot to try and slow it down before it crashed into the worst possible giant mess.

During one of the debates in Springfield, Lincoln gave a terrible forewarning of the inevitbailty of what was to come:
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.
- Abraham Lincoln, August 1858.

The freight train of history arrived, struck the walls of division and for the next four years, America became a train wreck of a nation and within four years, as many as 2.4 million people lay dead and strewn across the continent.

What do you do about that? How do you rebuild a nation which has torn itself in two? What happens when so much blood has been shed that the rivers run crimson?

You look forward to a time when it's all over. That's what.
As early as December of 1863, Lincoln was already plotting and gaming the best way out. As a poltician, he knew what it it was like to have enemies. As a lawyer, he knew what it it was like to have adversaries. He also would have known what it was like to look forward to the end of a case and work out what the best method of arbitration was.

Lincoln's plan for healing the nation was relatively simple. It had as its basic premise that if you go on hating your enemies, then things are generally not going to be all that fun.
Not only were things not going to be fun but your enemies were very likely to want to hate you back because of the things that you'd done to them.
Probably as a result of General Sherman's "March To The Sea" in which the armies of the North swept through the South and burned everything as they went, one of the points of Lincoln's plan was to forgive all the debts of states as they were restored to the Union and reseated in Congress. This made sense because after having burned everything, thus destroying not only the means of livelihood of many people but the means by which they might pay back reparations, there was no possible way that making people who had lost the war pay for it was going to breed anything other than complete contempt.
If that sounds dumb, remember that even to this day, the people of Atlanta, Georgia, still remember the burning of their city. Asking them to pay reparations after their city had been on fire, would have been the height of stupidity.

In addition to that, one of Lincoln's requirements was that people would take an oath of non-violence and set aside their desire to take up arms in revenge for what had been done to them. It would make sense that you might demand say three-quarters or even half of the population of the South to agree to this but again, Lincoln knew that that was a mostly impossible demand and so he asked for just ten percent.
Normally if you were running a thing and you had just ten percent of people agree with you, then it's logical to conclude that you were doing an utterly hopeless and woeful job. The thing to remember though is that just a few weeks before this, the people from whom Lincoln was asking this of were literally at war with each other. In that light, ten percent approval of a thing starts to look decidedly sane and smart because it says that Lincoln was looking for any sliver of goodwill to work with.

You're probably wondering what on earth that Lincoln's plan for reconstructing the United States has to do with North Korea. The fact is that North Korea is kind of a strange enemy in that it has spent the last 70 years behind a semi self imposed wall of fear. I don't think that the media is even remotely fawning over the North Korean regime by reporting the odd story here and there about an odd cheer squad that they've sent to the Winter Olympics across the border. I don't think that the media is fawning over Kim Jong-Un's sister who has been sent as a delegate, either. No, the media is reporting on a weird thing because it is a weird thing.
Although even if the media had been fawning over North Korea, although I fail to see what that would look like, is that necessarily a bad thing? To use two bad metaphors, if tensions are running hot then you need things to cool off a bit, and if there has been a cold stand off then warming up a bit to your enemy so that you're at least on speaking terms, can only be a good thing. Remember, Richard Nixon toured China, Nikita Kruschev toured America and went to Disneyland. People might forget that although the world came dangerously close to full-on nuclear war in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the greatest inadvertant diplomats for peace was none other than Walt Disney who refused to refer to Kruschev as an enemy because it was pointless.

The eventual task of reunifying Korea again will be in all likelihood, insanely difficult. It will probably take a period of years to sort out and the job is made all the more difficult by the fact that unlike knitting together the two Germanys in the 1990s or knitting together the United States in the 1860s, there are more impoverished people living in North Korea and the disparity between the two parts that will be knitted back together is greater than the other two cases.
If that means doing a small but of fawning in the media, in an entirely different country, over a piece of culture, then that seems like a worthwhile but exceptionally small price to pay. If the two Koreas are eventually knitted back together, there will have to be more than just token fawning going on but forgiveness and formal oaths of non-violence and the setting aside of the desire to take up arms against a former enemy.
If you want to see what an exaggerated display of affection looks like, then Lincoln's plan for forgiveness and reconciliation was it. Genuine affection would mean taking active steps in trying to improve the welfare and we'll being of your enemy. Do I want to see proper fawning over North Korea? Absolutely. Would I like to see the lives of people improve? Yes please. The thing is that practical examples of affection always need to follow dialogue; that means being nice to someone even if it hurts.

If that sounds radical and weird, remember that Lincoln's plan was also so radical and weird that John Wilkes Booth hated it so much that he shot Lincoln in the head at point blank range during a production of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theatre. Andrew Johnson who followed, sort of only half carried out the plan and the ramifications were still being felt for the next century but deep down, I think we all know that a wee bit of fawning and the desire not to seek reparations from an old enemy would have been the right thing to do; and John Wilkes Booth was an idiot.

Remember, "fawning" is a deliberate and exaggerated display of flattery or affection. That has to be a better idea than doing what we've already been doing for the past 70 years and yelling at someone from behind a sofa. Fawning? Bring it on I say. Yes, even if that does mean the media reporting on a weird thing because it is a weird thing.

February 16, 2018

Horse 2375 - The Parable Of The Good American?

There was once a fifteen year old high school girl who had arrived early because she wanted to see her friends. She sat down on a bench in the school yard and took out a book to get in some quick study time, by revising what they had learned in class the day before.

As she was sitting there minding her own business, two boys with semi-automatic weapons arrived on campus and proceeded to empty bullets info everything and everyone. They killed eight students, which wasn't even enough to make the local news bulletin, injured about thirty students including the girl sitting on the bench in the schoolyard, and when the police arrived, they shot and killed one of the boys and arrested the other.

First there was the politician who said that it was all too early to talk about what had happened but that his thoughts and prayers were with the victims.

Next there was the second politician who said that we need to be doing more for our police officers who bravely stand in the line of duty.

Next there was the news pundit who accused the boys of being radicalised online and being illegal immigrants, despite neither of those things being true.

After this came the male politician who said that this was a mental health problem and that we should look at that instead of blaming guns.

Then came a female politician who agreed but when she asked for funding initiatives to help solve mental health problems, everyone else laughed at such a very silly idea.

Next there was another news pundit who looked as though he had swallowed a wasp, and was very very shouty, and accused anyone who wanted to implement any kind of gun control whatsoever as unpatriotic and bordering on treasonous.

Then came some lobbyists who agreed with the very shouty news pundit, and they paid a bunch of politicians not to look at gun control ever. They argued that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun, despite there being no statistical evidence for this.

After that, there was yet another shouty news pundit who was even more shouty and who said that you couldn't trust the government and that everyone needed to go out and get more guns to defend their family because they have a constitutional right.

All of these people either saw that there was a problem and skirted around it, or denied that there was a problem at all. They continued to do nothing while many school children went to hospital because of their injuries, some even bankrupting their families because of expensive and inadequate health insurance, and the rest of America went on its merry way.

In the meantime, the thirteen year old brother of the girl who had been sitting on the bench in the schoolyard, vowed to get revenge on the people who did this and to the world at large. He went out and bought some semi-automatic weapons and nobody cared or checked that he was only thirteen years old.

What do you think happens next? Well, all you have to do is change the ages and location and repeat roughly once every ten days or so. Nobody ever learns anything from this parable and it keeps on repeating.

What is the official statutory time limit after an event like what we saw yesterday in Florida before we're allowed to talk about the issue of gun control? The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was six years ago, can we start there?

February 14, 2018

Horse 2374 - If Gojira met Der Bergmönch

In 2018, the Supercars (formerly the V8Supercars), prompted by the fact that neither Holden nor Ford produce cars in Australia any more, have opened the door to a different engine configuration for the first time since the rules were changed in 1993 to deliberately exclude the all conquering Nissan Skyline GTR. The Nissan Skyline GTR R32 had been specifically developed to exploit the international Group A Touring Car rules and it came to dominate every national series that it was entered in, with the exception of Australia where it proved beatable on occasion. In Australia, the local response by Holden and Ford was to develop their own set of Group 3A rules which ruled in their Commodore and Falcon respectively and ruled out everyone else. Under the older Group A rules, Holden had continued to use their 5L V8 Commodore despite it being rather heavy, while Ford, Nissan and Volvo developed turbocharged cars to some success. The Nissan Skyline GTR R32 was by most accounts the most well thought out touring car, developed from the existing Skyline GTS-R HR31 but taking the RB series of in-line 6 cylinder engine and mating it to a very robust and reliable four wheel drive system. And yet I don't think that it was the best Group A Touring Car in the world, possibly.

The FIA Group A touring car rules were brought in, in an effort to homogenise the various classes of touring car racing in Europe and make them compatible with each other. Previously they had been a general sort of mishmash with no common points at all. Initially this meant that the cars to beat were the BMW 635i, the Rover 3500 SD1, and there had been attempts to make the fox body Ford Mustang and the Alfa Romeo GTV competitive. Mostly there were normally aspirated executive cars being raced against each other but being the early 1980s, a turbocharged revolution was on the horizon.
From about 1987 onwards, the Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth became the default choice for people wanting to buy an off the shelf touring car, anywhere around the world. The XR4i Turbo which had originally been run by the Eggenberger team in Germany, was superseded when Ford decided to throw a little bit of money at the project. After the failed attempt to win the World Touring Car Championship in 1987, the Sierra from 1988 onwards sort of blew everything else to the weeds. Then as mysteriously as it had started and as Ford invariably decides, they just abandoned the project.
In Britain the Sierra was eventually outlawed by banning turbocharging (though that idea has been overturned in recent seasons) and in Germany, the desire to run a car with no real factory support faded. In Australia though, Sierras still thundered around motor racing circuits despite the base model never being sold here.

In Germany, Mercedes Benz had played around with its 500SEC to no success at all, BMW's E30 M3 was useful on smaller circuits but hopelessly outclassed when it met anything that required vast amounts of power and then seemingly out of nowhere Audi decided that it wanted to play.
This is where the story gets interesting.

Audi had tasted success in the WRC with its Quattro and then developed that car into a Group B monster to go rallying in, before that series was deemed too dangerous. What Audi had learned in rallying was extremely useful and so when it came time to go touring car racing, they took their four wheel drive knowledge and found their own source of raw unadulterated power with the Audi V8.

The Audi V8 which replaced the 200 Quattro had a 3.6L V8 which probably put out 480bhp in race trim. That would have been far less power than the Nissan Skyline GTR but it wouldn't be hurt as much by the weight penalty. I imagine that in time, Audi would have thrown more development at the engine had they needed to but going around against feeble opposition, they never needed to.
In contrast, Mercedes Benz who could never make their 500SEC Group A car work, could only respond with their Cosworth 190E Evo II and BMW had their existing M3. Both were hopelessly outclassed and woefully inadequate. The Audi V8 had more brute power and because it sent that power to all four wheels, it could punch out of corners more effectively. If the Nissan Skyline GTR R32 had been given the name "Godzilla" by the press, then the Audi V8 was some other kind of Teutonic monster like the Bergmönch or Meister Hämmerling because it equally hammered the competition.

The question which will remain unanswered is who would have won in the fight if they had ever met. The Nissan Skyline GTR R32 had been beaten by the Ford Sierra and the Holden Commodore on occasion but the Audi V8 never really faced any worthy opposition. They would have never met in Japan because after Alan Moffat won the Fuji 500 in 1989 with his Ford Sierra, the organisers of the Japan Touring Car Championship simply banned anyone from outside the country from competition. This meant that teams like Calsonic never met Nissan Motorsport Australia cars prepared by Fred Gibson. The Gibson prepared GTRs were beaten occasionally by the opposition and so the eternal unanswered question is how they would have fared against another properly powerful monster which also had four wheel drive.
It's worth remembering that this is the same Audi who decided to go into endurance racing and with their R15 and R18 were quite successful; so although this is definitely a case of never was, the Audi V8 and the Nissan GTR were both built according to the same rules set and so this is a case of what might have been. Both of these monsters destroyed everything else around them, I really want to know what would have happened if Gojira met Der Bergmönch .

February 09, 2018

Horse 2373 - The Government Could Already Be Doing Your Tax Return For You

As someone who spends a great deal of time doing people's tax returns, I am consistently amazed at the incredible laziness of people. This week we had a chap come in, who had only a single PAYG Summary Statement, one bank account and no deductions and yet he was still prepared to pay us $220 just so he could get a refund.
As I looked at everything and saw that there was pre-filling data, I couldn't help but question why there isn't already a government pre-filling system. They already have all of the information, they not could just as easily send you an already finished tax return which you would look over and either agree or disagree with. Bang a drum and it's all been done.
So why don't they?

It makes complete sense to me that rather than going through the pain and effort of having to worry if you haven't declared anything, for the cast majority of people who only have one or two jobs, a few back accounts and some shares, that because the government already has the information, they should tell you what info that they have on you and you can check it; rather than living in fear about trying to second guess them.
I guess libertarians might be unhappy with the idea that the government is telling you that they have information but since they already have it because the law compels financial institutions to report their payments to people, then that argument is already moot. The big bad scary database already exists and they've already got better information than you do. Wouldn't you like to hold the government accountable for a change?

Then comes the subject of doing tax returns in the United States. Ugh.
I am increasingly becoming convinced that the rarefied atmosphere of W2, W8, 1099 and whatnot, is deliberately designed to look so hideous that you will give up and give your stuff to accountants and tax preparers. Forget David Lewis, Robert H. "Three-Fingered" Birch, The Goings Gang and Samuel Mason, today's highwaymen are Messrs H&R Block, Intuit, QuickBooks and Sage.

As an accountant in Australia who is trying to do US Tax Returns for some of our clients, I find it utterly reprehensible that there isn't a standard system of filing tax returns in the United States. In Australia, we have MyTax, which is run through the MyGov system. It's pretty simple to use and is quite secure.Most importantly, as a government run system, it means that the ATO and other government reporting agencies, can update the system and there isn't any confusion.

In the United States, no such system exists. This is crazifying in the land of 2018.You can still file on paper but unlike Australia which solved this problem more than 20 years ago, America's IRS just makes you want to bang your head repeatedly on the desk.
Why, why, why? How can a country be so incredibly, Statue of Liberty sized monumentally idiotic? As usual, follow the money.

There is a system of sorts called Free File. Practically nobody knows about it and because the system unilaterally changes every single year without telling anyone, people who may have used the service one year, then find that they asked to pay an amount of $50 for filing their taxes the next.
Filed for free with NumptyTax's Free File last year? Well this year you can't. However, since we've already got last year's information, why not pay us $50 to file your tax return?
This will be enough to hook most people because if you have someone who throws their hands up when they only have a single payment summary statement from their employer, one bank account and no deductions, then that's an easy pick off for NumptyTax.

The Free File system is run by the delightfully sounding Free File Alliance. It sounds altruistic but scratch the surface even just a little bit and you find that it is a very very crooked penny indeed:
The Free File Alliance is a nonprofit coalition of industry-leading tax software companies partnered with the IRS to help millions of Americans prepare and e-file their federal tax returns for free. Free File is the fast, safe and free way to do your federal tax return online. Free File Alliance member companies provide more than a dozen brand name tax software options at no cost.
Free File serves 100 million American taxpayers.

Or so it claims.

Although 70% of American taxpayers (about 100 million people) are eligible for Free File as the system claims, only about than 50 million returns have been filed through the Free File program since it began in 2003. We'll be generous and call it 60 million and thus wildly overstate their claim for the purpose of this.
Since 2003, there should have been roughly 1500 million tax returns filed in total. Even if you allow for the generous overstatement of 60 million, that means that at best that only 4% of tax returns have been filed for free since the system began 15 years ago as compared to the ones that were eligible.

This means to say that 96% of all tax returns that could have been filed for free have had charges placed on them by private firms. 96%?? How this isn't seen as one of the greatest crimes of the century, I have no idea.
At say $50 per tax return, this means to say that roughly $72 billion has been stolen from the hands of the public, and the United States Federal Government has absolutely willingly endorsed it.

So then, if there was a free $72 billion just lying around, who would be the logical culprits to suspect who'd want to get their thieving mits on it? How about those people who supposedly provide the service for free?
eSmart, FileYourTaxes, TaxSlayer, FreeTaxUSA, H&R Block, 1040Now, TurboTax, exTaxReturn, OLT,, MyTax, TaxActInc... all look like pretty good places to start.

And I'm not the first to discover this pile of steaming malarkey. Propublica¹ and NBC² have both written pieces on this. It appears that behind this not very well disguised front, is just the lobby group for making bribes to members of Congress.

Their bribery has been successful. H.R. 4938 which was passed by the 114th Congress was "To make permanent the Internal Revenue Service Free File program." Take particular notes of sections 3 & 4:
(3) The IRS Free File program offers Federal individual income tax return preparation and electronic filing services to more than 70 percent of taxpayers, approximately 100,000,000 taxpayers at the end of the current tax filing period, with tax software and electronic filing provided at no cost to the taxpayers who use the service or to the Federal Government from tax software and electronic filing companies participating in the program.

Offering a thing is pointless if nobody knows about it and if you keep on changing it so that it's so unwieldy that not even a twentieth of the target market uses it.

(4) By the end of the current tax return filing season, it is estimated that the IRS Free File program will have saved taxpayers approximately $1,300,000,0000 (sic.) and will have saved the Federal Government about $125,000,000 in processing costs.

Saved $1.3 billion? What a load of complete bunk. The US Congress is directly and outright lying in the middle of a piece of legislation. Under no circumstances ever, should it cost you for the "privilege" of paying your taxes. Not paying something that should cost you nothing in the first place is a net saving of approximately $0,000,000,000 by my calculations.
The fact that it saved the government $125m in processing costs is pathetic in comparison with the $4800m in costs paid by the general public who are paying for the "privilege" of paying their own taxes. It should be a reasonable cost of the administration of government to collect revenue.
Never mind the fact that the billions of dollars which could be paid as refunds is just sitting around because people don't file their tax returns.

Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution, which is commonly known as the "Taxing and Spending Clause" gives the Congress that power and I don't think it unreasonable that that power is married to the responsibility:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.
- Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the United States Constitution (1789)

As far as I'm concerned, this is an abrogation of responsibility which costs the US Taxpayer billions every year and the only reason that they won't march on Congress to demand that Congress and the Federal Government does its job, is that it is hard to see that you are being fleeced when you have the wool pulled over your eyes by the wolves.
The government should already be doing your tax return for you, which you then should absolutely have the right to dispute and amend. They already have all of the information, they could just as easily send you an already finished tax return and a refund and it certainly shouldn't cost you to file your tax returns both here in Australia and in the United States. At least we're kind of close in Australia.

February 08, 2018

Horse 2372 - Memento Mori: Quod Autem Spectat Cattus Tu

The only two sure things in life are death and taxes. Some people by virtue of being too poor never really have to worry about taxes and a few select number of people who are able to play elaborate shell games might be able to pay far less in the way of taxes than schmucks who need to work for a living but in the end, everyone from the poorest of people who can carry all their worldly possessions in a sack to the grandest of corporate emporers with many many mansions, all face death.
Although death moves at the rather leisurely pace of about one mile an hour, everyone reaches a point where not only can they not outrun death anymore but they can't even feebly outcrawl it. Eventually, death visits every door, slowly working its way through its grand list, leaving out nothing and nobody.
I am reminded of a t-shirt that I once saw with the printed message "He who dies with the most toys wins" and on the back: "but still dies."

Everything that you have ever owned will eventually break; if we pile up enough broken things from the past, we call that archaeology. Everyone that you have ever loved, everyone who you have ever been friends with, everyone who has been your rival or adversary, will die; if we pile up enough of those stories, we call that history. Yes you dear reader, even you, will die; the memory of you will also die along with everyone who matters to you and who you matter to.

I write this in the knowledge that there is a fair chance that one of my cats will die before the close of 2018. We have had him not quite ten years and we have no idea how old he was when we got him. What we do know is that he led a rough life before he came to us, and that my sister found him scratching around the bins behind a Woolworths. He might be as old as thirteen years but given that he lived life on the mean streets, he aged faster than his years betrayed.

Kipper has always been a scruffy cat. He isn't the prettiest cat in the world and he doesn't exactly have the most distinctive of markings. He's kind of a nondescript standard grey tabby, with some degree of ragdoll in him because he has always loved being picked up and his coat is uncommonly soft for a cat.  However what he lacks in the beauty department, he more than makes up with his good nature.
As quite an intelligent cat, Kipper probably learned as many as three dozen words. This is all the more remarkable if you consider that we never trained him. He probably also learned very early on that people give you things. Unlike Purranna who is skittish and very very obviously a cat, Kipper is bold in asking for things, even to the point of inventing different chirrups for different reasons.
Or at least he did.
Along with his good nature, is a tolerance for pain. I know that because his back legs don't work properly and more, it means that he can't scratch any itches; that has to be excruciatingly annoying. Despite this, he doesn't complain very much and because I am unable to help him, it is one of the most heartbreaking things in the world.

There will come a day this year when no more will I see his enormous eyes staring back. The whinges, the chirrups, the very quiet meow and the barely perceptible purr will all also be no more. The weird cry of "hewaw" at 3am in the morning, the strange grumble of him running through the house and stopping for no apparent reason, and the nightly questioning demand for milk, will all fall silent and be no more. The peculiar smell that only is his (if you've had your face close enough to cats, then you know that they all have their own unique smell), will dissipate and be no more.

As I write this, the road to the end has already begun. Probably a hard life at the beginning, an overactive thyroid and the fact that he has seen at least 140 moons, has many that he has gone lame in his back legs; yet he remains stoic about it. Hedonism sometimes has a bad rap but Epicurus is credited as saying that his list of what he needed for happiness was not much longer than a lot of cheese, a jug of wine and a few friends; really is Kipper any different? His grand list for happiness also includes dairy products, and someone to be nice to him. When it's all said and done, are we really that much different ourselves?
I totally understand the want to stare out of the window and see what's going on, to sit in the cool of the evening and to talk to the birds, and to want to have someone be nice to you. In those respects, the desires of a cat and the rest of us are no different at all.

Dear travellers, I don't know if you're worldview includes the divine and whether or not you need to make peace with your maker, I don't know if you believe that you come back again as something else, and I don't know if you think that the universe just is and will end in the inevitable heat death of all things but irrespective of what you believe, the inescapable fact is that death is slowly working its way through its list, and will take away everything you own and everyone you've ever loved.
The lights will fade, the party will end, the music will stop and we all fall asleep. I suspect that deep inside, one of the reasons why we have pets is because although we know that death is moving at one mile an hour, if we get a decade or so, then we still will have run eighty thousand miles in the meantime, and that's a fun journey and you win for a while... but still die.

In the meantime, we still have him around...

...his enormous eyes staring back.

February 02, 2018

Horse 2371 - Why Am I Paying To Send Your Kids To A Private School?

This week, after a long hot summer, was the first week back at school across the state. It only took two days into the school year but when I was on the bus coming back from the bank to the office, I saw three primary school aged kids from a private school beating up a kid from a public school.
I'm not going to do the school where these kids are from a disservice by naming them, other than to say that their school motto is "Generosity, Faith and Courage" in what is either a case of irony or insanely myopic blindness.

I make no bones about the fact that I abhor private schools. I don't like the entrenchment of class that they promote and I really don't like the attitude taken by parents who send their children to private schools when they try to convince you that their choice somehow saves the taxpayer money. I mean really if you want to be pedantic about it, as someone who doesn't even have children you're not really saving me any money at all; if anything, the fact that you've chosen to spawn a sprog places a need on the drawstrings of the public purse to educate them. On top of that, it's being done less efficiently because education is subject to the sorts of economies of scale as any other good or service which is being produced and all private schooling does is add elements of inefficiency through duplication and the profit motive.

The truth is that every single dollar which is paid in school fees to a private educational institution is a dollar which not only doesn't go into the public system but also creates demand drivers which degrade the public system. This has unfortunate consequences.
That might of course be your intent. The existence of private schools and hence school fees, creates a barrier to entry based solely on economic means. This is a method of open segregation based on socio economic principles. By sending your children to private school, you send out one of two messages. Either you feel that your children get a better quality of education than they would in the public system, which says by default that you inadvertently or openly wish that those lesser means get a worse education because they are poorer, or your disdain for people of lesser means than yourself is so much on display that you wish for your children not to have to associate with them. Either way, you help to create an entire cohort of people who feel that they are a better class of people than those who didn't go to private school and this is backed up by the purest economic signal of all.
It could also be a matter of direct signalling on your part. In the future, you wish for future employers to consider your children for employment and or other educational advantage and you're willing to purchase a piece of paper which demonstrates the economic class that your children come from. There is definitely a case to be made here because I've actually seen and overheard a couple of chaps going through people's resumes and chucking out applicants based solely on metrics like their names and where they went to school. If you're sending your children to private school on that basis, then you are endorsing that attitude and backing it up with the placement of your money.

If you send your children to a private school because you claim that you want to your children to have a religious education, then that inadvertently says something about the quality of your parenting. It says that you do such a bad job at instilling your values in your children, that by paying for private education, you expect someone else to do that job for you.
Moreover it says that you actually prefer the idea that your children aren't exposed to people who believe something else than you do. It should be obvious to all and sundry that we live in a fairly pluralistic society where people of lots of different faiths and beliefs rub against each other. By not exposing your children to different people who might have entirely different outlooks on the world, you reinforce a sense of othering which is the breeding ground of both fear and mistrust.
That sense of othering was clearly on display when I saw those private school kids beat up on that kid from the public school and even if they care nothing about the issues of religion, they certainly do know that the public school kid is poorer.
In general, people already have a tendency to associate more with people who look like them and come from the same socio economic background. That's true in the western suburbs as much as it is in a place like Mosman. In the west though, where the differences might be demarcated into zones which contain actual poverty, then sending your kids to a private school, exacerbates the problem even further.

Then there's the rather obvious fact that the state already provides education to children as part of its obligation to maintaining a cohesive society. If you have chosen to send your children to a private school when the public school system exists, I don't understand why you should expect the government to fund even a single dollar to your choice. You have outright rejected the provision of services and as far as I'm concerned, you shouldn't be able to get something special because you are deliberately selfish. I don't have children; so if I asked of you'd like to pay for a new Ferrari 458 Italia which you are never allowed to use, then you'd quite rightly tell me to get lost; yet that is exactly what you are expecting the general public to do when you ask them to fund your choice to send your child to a private school - a choice which costs tens of thousands of dollars, every single year, for more than a decade.

No wonder I saw three kids from a private school beating up a kid from a public school.
That's probably reasonable in their eyes, to see a public school kid as less than worthy of respect for no other reason than they go to a public school because that's the attitude their parents demonstrate to the world; backed up by money.