November 22, 2019

Horse 2627 - I Love The Building Of Unknown Doom

One of the consequences of living in the remnants of empire, apart from the abuse of indigenous peoples and the stealing of their lands, the installation of parliamentary democracy and English common law, is the adoption of the otherwise absurd game of cricket.
The biggest criticism that people tend to have about cricket is that it is boring; fair play to them. That opinion is based on the very real fact that the one thing that cricket affords someone who is watching both at the ground and on television, is time; and lots of it. The game of cricket is sometimes a rare glimpse into the full face of eternity; especially when the run scoring by the flanneled fools in the centre of the field borders on glacial and you start to ponder the truly inane things of the universe.

The first test between Australia and Pakistan began yesterday and it happened at about 11am opening day, that my boss who was watching the match while he was on the phone with the Tax Office, noticed a very strange building on the screen. Of course, as I am a student of the game and knowing that this match was being held in Brisbane, I knew instantly what the building was.

- Uncle Google's Maps gave us this. 

The Brisbane Cricket Ground which is known as the Gabba after the suburb of Wollongabba, lies in between Vulture Street and Stanley Street. It also lies to the east side of the imaginatively named Main Street; which is the very northern end of the New England Highway, and which terminates with the Storey Bridge.
To the west of the ground is a bus terminal that looks like a train station and also has what I think is a bus donut pad but the building in question, had to have been the Wollongabba Telephone Exchange Building; which is pictured below.

- Taken on Uncle Google's Road Trip to everywhere.

I could be really impressive and bombard you with facts about this building, such as how many switches are inside and how many gabbawatts of power the building uses but the truth is that I have no idea whatsoever and to be honest I prefer it that way.
The whole thing could be full of nuclear weapons, or Dunlop Volleys, or Chocolate Smarties, or cream, sand, angry spiders, phosgene gas, or gold bullion, and I would be none the wiser.
What you don't know can't hurt you, right? The fact is that this monolithic, windowless, brutalist, faceless, murder death cult of a building, retains an air of terror and horror because I have no idea what goes on inside.

In the grand scheme of things, I am a very small thing. While I think that it is cool to know a bunch of stuff about a bunch of stuff because I like the idea of knowledge for its own sake, I also love the thought that the world is so complex and often so mysterious that I have no idea at all about things. It is fun to see other people who have spent a long time getting excited about a thing and watching them impart their excitement on others. It is also fun to see experts  doing their thing I their chosen field. It is also fun to know that you are a dingus and to retain a sense of wonderment in the world.

As for the Wollongabba Telephone Exchange, I could just accept that it is a telephone exchange which is full of circuits and switches but even if I did that, I still couldn't tell you how any of it worked. I do have a rudimentary understanding of how electric circuits work but I still bet that there's about seven layers of abstraction and protocols required just to connect one telephone number to another.
To be fair, I think that it probably requires less brain power to just ignore it but it is more fun to imagine some kind of secret telephonic cabal in a windowless tower. The most obvious and practical reason why it is made of concrete and has no windows is that it saves money on heating and cooling and temperatures for the electric gear inside can remain more constant but there's no fun in that.

For me, the Woolongabba Telephone Exchange is a triumph of form. There are several of these windowless buildings across the country and this one in particular is the least pretentious. It makes no concession to fit into the landscape, it makes no concession to look like a regular building, and it makes no concession to give you a hint as to what's going on inside. It is stark and mysterious. It cares not for what your opinion is.

When you are watching the cricket at places like the MCG, Sydney Olympic Stadium, the new WACA and the Gabba, there are almost no visual reminders of where you are in the world; which is unlike the Sydney Cricket Ground, or the truly iconic grounds of Lord's or The Oval, which have been built as a higgle-piggledy hodge-podge. The only real reminder of where you are in the world from inside the Gabba is the Woolongabba Telephone Exchange and an apartment block which stands in between. For me, that makes it as iconic as the Gasometer at The Oval.

It is awful. It is terrible. It is ugly. It is stark. It is secretive. By no objective means is the Woolongabba Telephone Exchange a thing of beauty. Nevertheless, I like it.

November 20, 2019

Horse 2626 - Merry Coffee?

I am informed by Mrs Rollo that in America which is the undisputed champion of celebrating holidays, that the term 'Happy Holidays' is an all inclusive one which encompasses Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and even New Year's Day. Quite frankly I think that that is ace. What a top idea. I love this as a concept because as someone who belongs to the Association For The Perpetually Bewildered¹, it doesn't require as much brain power to think about.
In Australia though, Halloween is only really a thing because Woolworths and Coles want to sell lollies and chocolate, Thanksgiving is not a thing at all, and Chanukah and Kwanzaa are so small as to be not at all visible.

This means that without Halloween and Thanksgiving being in the way, marketing for Christmas begins as early as possible; sometimes as early as September in some shops.
As businesses in Australia (just like any other profit driven institution) are looking to spin a dollar in any way possible, we end up with marketing campaigns which are culturally nonsensical.
One such business is Starbucks, which is a Seattle founded company and which takes its marketing cues from head office.

Halloween is already a weird thing in Australia. In Sydney, the sun sets at about 10 past 7 in the evening; with astronomical twilight not ending until after 9 o'clock. It is really hard for the little goblins and ghouls that are walking around to look remotely scary, in broad daylight.
Starbucks, which wants to go all in on Halloween, brought their famed pumpkin spice latte to Australia, despite us having no real cultural roadmap to work out where this fits.
I am reliably informed that for Thanksgiving, which isn't actually a thing in Australia, that Starbucks has some kind of turkey spice cloves thing. I lack the ability to comprehend why this exists. This week though, I note that even the Australian Starbucks stores also have no idea what to do with the marketing push from head office.

As the phrase "Happy Holidays" doesn't really exist in Australia because two of them don't really make any cultural sense, Starbucks has decided to extend it's Christmas propaganda into mid-November and has come up with the following:


I pass this corner while on, the bus at least five times a week. Admittedly I have no reason to go to Starbucks and so I am not very likely to verify if this is a claim that they either sell merry coffee or that their coffee is going to make you merry but if nothing else, it does avoid the whole cultural holiday existence problem.
I expect that there will probably be a member of the 'taking Christ out of Christmas' crowd who will object to this but this goes one step beyond and takes the whole entire of Christmas out of Christmas. I think that that's fair as Starbucks already takes the coffee out of coffee.

This is many steps better than the confected holiday trend, where it's National Cupcake Day, or Beef Appreciation Day (and there's probably some marketing company inventing these things, somewhere) because Happy Coffee is so incredibly vague, there doesn't actually need to be a holiday. Presumably, every day can be Merry Coffee?
Probably not. There aren't really very many holidays which are associated with the word 'merry'. Merry Australia Day? Nope. Merry Easter? No. Merry ANZAC Day?No. Merry Thanksgiving and Merry Halloween also do not sound like they fit. Christmas has an unwritten almost monopoly on being 'merry', though I do not doubt that merriment is occuring at other times of the year. I say almost monopoly as Merry Unbirthday is completely acceptable; which coincidentally also features something that you might find at Starbucks (tea).

The graphics for this propaganda² (of trees and baubels) are so very obviously for the holiday that is not being named, that this is probably as close as Starbucks thinks that it can get without offending anyone. That suggests to me that if this is part of some worldwide directive, then they have thought of the possiblity that they are selling coffee in countries where Christmas doesn't exist.
Starbucks in Pakistan, can run an equally holiday agnostic campaign without offending Muslim folk. Starbucks in Japan, where Christmas is a thing³ albeit one which exists almost purely for sales purposes, can equally run this holiday agnostic campaign without offending Shintoists and Buddhists.
What I find really baffling though, is why Starbucks thinks that we in Australia would take offence to the phrase 'Merry Christmas' and why they think that they need to Bowdlerise it.

Who exactly do Starbucks think would be offended? Is it the Christians who they think are going to be offended at the commercialisation of Christmas? Is it the evangelistic atheists who want all shred of any mention of Christianity removed from public spaces?
We are a country that has Nativity scenes in shopping centres, and where the Mayor of Sydney was lambasted for not wanting to put up a Christmas Tree. I don't understand why Starbucks feels the need to not say 'Merry Christmas' at all.
I do not think that Starbucks cares enough about Christmas beyond whether or not they can sell coffee. Someone in the marketing department has thought that this is a good idea and nobody else has questioned it. I am personally not offended by then removing Christmas from Christmas but I am confused. There isn't even a good pun here; they could have gone with 'Berry Christmas' or 'Merry Bacon and Xmas', or anything with basic wordplay. 'Merry Coffee' is just plain daft.

¹Membership costs one peppercorn, a ball of string, a potato, and $49/yr. Why? Who knows?
²The first cut won't hurt at all.
The second only makes you wonder.
The third cut will pull you under.
You start bleeding; I start screaming.
³KFC in Japan sells elaborate Christmas Sets which also include champagne. - https://order.kfc.jp/menu/event-menu/party-barrel

November 19, 2019

Horse 2625 - Supercars Is One Giant Cheaty Mess Of Cheatery

Touring Car racing in Australia has for a very long time been built around bitter rivalries. In the 60s and 70s Ford and Holden put up some degree of manufacturer support to slug it to the other side and then Ford lost interest. After a period where European and Japanese developed cars won all and sundry, they took an interest again but now that nobody of any large scale makes cars at all in Australia, I don't think that we'll ever see anything like the active manufacturer support which existed in the past, ever again.
The 2019 season which has been dominated by DJR Penske, has shown that touring car racing in this country has entered some new phase; which has still not yet worked out what it wants to be. Scott MacLaughlin won the 2019 Supercars Championship in somewhat controversial circumstances, which also includes DJR Penske's use of obvious and cheatery orders to the second car at Bathurst. This whole season though, was predicated on the fact that the DJR Penske Mustang is itself a cheatery car.

Social media platforms which have Supercars boards have seen a level of toxicity which I have only previously seen among Formula One fans and NASCAR fans. Formula One has always been about squeezing every conceivable advantage from the machinery and the rules; while controversies in NASCAR mostly relate to the very high toleration of on track pugilism. The Supercars wants to straddle both worlds and the official outward appearance of trying to achieve parity between makes is why the current toxicity among race fans exists. Supercars' management for its part has been helping with a complete lack of transparency.
I also think that as a result of the Supercars Championship both heading over to pay TV and the manufacturers not wanting to play any more because they no longer see a commercial benefit for doing so (because pay TV has fewer eyeballs watching), that the community of followers which have remained burn hotter and nastier; but you would expect that as all of the casual fans have been thrown away. Supercars' management saw short term profits and decided to go with that, rather than plan beyond the end of the broadcast contract.

One thing that is obvious to me is that the fans openly know that the cars are more cheatery; but the biggest difference to previous seasons is that all the cars are more cheatery than ever before, except for the Nissans and they won't be playing in 2020.
The biggest reason why the cars are more cheatery than ever before is that the two biggest teams from both the Ford and Holden camps, are specifically built to exploit the rules which were based around cars which no longer exist. We have bespoke equipment, where the intellectual property is owned by the biggest teams; where the express purpose was to go out to win. In other words, DJR Penske won the championship in 2019 because they out cheated Triple Eight Engineering who previously had out cheated everyone else.
In 2018, everyone quite rightly accused Triple Eight Engineering of building a cheatery car because they had. VE and VF were already a bit cheatery because they had to be shortened, narrowed and reprofiled to fit the control chassis. ZB though is bespoke and cheatery from the outset.
In 2019, everyone has quite rightly accused DJR Penske of building a cheatery car because they have. As Ford wants to market its Mustang and not the Mondeo, they have had to make a car which was never going to fit around a control chassis designed for a four door sedan, do exactly that. The result is an equally bespoke bit of cheatery kit.

- Cheaty Car leading another Cheaty Car at Sandown

Then again, Australian motorsport is basically one giant line of cheatery. The Falcon GT, Monaro GTS, Falcon GT-HO, Torana XU1, Falcon Cobra, Torana A9X, Commodore VC, Mazda RX-7 13B, Nissan Bluebird, Jaguar XJ12, Volvo 240T, Sierra RS 500, Nissan GT-R, Commodore VE/VF, Falcon FG/X, Commodore ZB, and Mustang.
The whole story of top flight touring car racing in Australia is about who can out cheat everyone else at any given moment in time. The only difference now is that we effectively have a closed shop, where the number of racing entitlement contracts is fixed and the promoters themselves, are openly pandering to the two big teams.

Neither the current Commodore ZB nor the Mustang share any panels with the road cars. Neither the current Commodore ZB nor the Mustang share any technology from the drivetrain, to the wiring looms, to the suspension with the road cars.  The Nissan Altima which Kelly Racing was running and will not be running in 2020 because it was uncompetitive, was the last car in the Supercars series which was actually based upon a road car.
As it stands, the bespoke cheatery war between DJR Penske and Triple Eight Engineering from 2020 will actually be baked into the DNA of the series.
I do not know if that is useful.

I also note that in 2021, NASCAR is looking at changing to a the so-called Gen-7 car. That is useful. If everyone plays with a car which is really tightly controlled, then the cheatery cheating tends to go away, a bit.
NASCAR has already been here before. From the late 1980s when none of the cars that the manufacturers wanted to go racing with, either had V8 engines nor met the size regulations, they were permitted to modify cars; which eventually led to whole cheatery machines being built from scratch.
Eventually they had had enough and mandated what is basically a single chassis but with minor differences in the folds of the sheet metal and different light clusters and the grille up front.
I think that that is where the Supercars Championship should be headed and that they should just buy into the Gen-7 cars. Why bother to reinvent the wheel if you don't need to?

In the meantime, Scott MacLaughlin is the 2019 Supercars Champion in a cheatery car which is the latest in a very long line of cheatery cars. Good on him! He made use of the machinery given to him, he won Bathurst in the same season and I think that he is a thoroughly worthy and deserving champion.

November 16, 2019

Horse 2624 - Paying A Licence Fee For A TV Which Is Impossible To Use?

I heard something on The Now Show on BBC Radio 4 that I find simply astonishing. It was so insane that I had to verify if it was in fact true. So, in order to fact check the premise of a comedy piece on the BBC, here is an excerpt from the Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/nov/12/6000-uk-homes-still-have-black-and-white-tv-licences
More than 6,000 homes across the UK still have black and white television licences, half a century after the advent of colour on the BBC.
According to the latest figures published by TV Licensing, London leads the way with 1,311 black and white permits, followed by Birmingham with 323 and Manchester with 245.
Published on the 50th anniversary of colour television on BBC One, the figures show there were 6,586 black and white licences at the end of September this year – a fall of 575 from September 2018 and down from 212,000 at the turn of the millennium.
- The Guardian, 13th Nov 2019

On The Now Show and in The Guardian, this has been presented as fact; without questioning any further.

The reason for my astonishment is to do with another fact which I am in possession of:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-20048154
The analogue TV signal in Northern Ireland has been switched off, completing the UK's transition to digital broadcasting.
It was the last UK region to switch off its signal, bringing an end to the 80-year-old transmission technology and heralding the dawn of the digital age.
It means anyone watching TV with an analogue signal lost all their channels and Ceefax at 23:30 BST on Tuesday.
- BBC News, 23rd Oct 2012

Here's the reason for my astonishment.

Black and White television was broadcast in analogue using the PAL 625 line standard. Colour TV which was then made compatible was also 625 lines. With the end of analogue television broadcast on 23rd of October 2012 it means that everyone with a Black and White television has seen nothing for 7 years unless they have a set top box.

Who are these people?

I can only assume that they are really old people who do not want to buy a new television, or misers who want to save £102.50 per year, as the black and white annual licence costs £52.00 while the colour licence costs £154.50 per year. It also could be that whoever is paying the TV licence is still paying for an old licence and have been so ignorant that they don't miss the 52 quid leaving their bank account every year.
The far less likely option is that we have moved so far into the digital age that we have people who don't watch terrestrial TV but still want to contribute something for the upkeep of the BBC. That says to me that the BBC is considered to be really really valuable by these people.
The BBC does run 40 local radio stations by region; in addition to Radios 1-6, Asian, 1 and 4 Extra, the World Service and 8 non-English Services in the UK. It makes sense that someone would see value in that.

I really want to know what kind of person pays for a licence, for a televsion upon which it is impossible to see any broadcast unless something extra is done to it. Moreover, I want to be such a person. I like the BBC; I want access to BBC TV out here in the remnants of empire.


November 13, 2019

Horse 2623 - ABC Radio Is The Best Media Outlet In Australia

On top of the world, or the bottom depending on your point of view, there sits an island which was stolen by the people from another island. This island on top of the world, is about the size of the contiguous United States but has a total population of no more than the broader environs of New York City.
It has at various times been at the forefront of political thinking and at other times been way at the back. Its two major political parties are one that forgot what its name means and one that refers to a different aspect of its agenda that it would rather not remember.
Some of this island's civic institutions are relics from when either the people who lived there actually cared about each other (or at least pretended to) or because they fought through wars together, thought it important to give itself nice things.
One of those nice things is the ABC.

In my general experience, the people who object to the existence of the ABC tend to live in one of 204 suburbs out of the more than several thousand in the country. They are almost always in possession of an income of $89,000 and also less likely to have derived their income from wages.
They are also on average, less likely to be aware of most of the suburbs in their own city, much less the existence of the rest of the country.
When it comes to issues of bias which are levelled at the ABC, they are almost always directed at one of three television programs: 7.30, QandA, and Insiders. If you actually press the people making the accusations of bias, then almost certainly they haven't actually seen the program in question and/or if they did, then the original source of the complaint will be someone at a media company who sees potential to either profit or manipulate the political narrative more, by eliminating the ABC. Less than 1% of accusations of bias, probably have any basis in fact. On top of that, they miss the biggest reason why the ABC is valuable, deliberately it seems.

A newspaper is of itself, a trivial object. The cost of producing the physical thing, is only about 6% of the input costs. The vast majority of the expenses which go into making a newspaper, are paying the journalists and sending them into the field to collect news. There are a few jobs like the cartoonists and the opinion writers who do not have to go into the field but they still have to create the content; so that is similar. The biggest costs of producing a newspaper, all relate to the cost of doing journalism and that means putting boots on the ground.
Television is far more capital intensive and there are far more creative people producing fiction. Nevertheless, the costs of running a news bureau are among the biggest costs per half hour of content.
Radio is less capital intensive but due to fact that the equipment for doing field journalism has always been smaller and cheaper than for television, and due to the fact that radio like television is an instantaneous medium, the news that can be produced is far more current than a newspaper could ever hope to be.

The ABC, even in spite of running television networks, has a bigger regional staff than every other media outlet in the country. Furthermore, due to the amount of technical reach that AM radio in particular has, I think that it is actually the only medium which can provide the most up to date news in real time. In many towns across the country, television which has gone digital is not exactly reliable, but AM radio can be picked up many hundreds of miles away.
ABC 1 and ABC News 24 (they dropped the number 24 but I will forever call it that) are the two biggest flagships of the corporation, however when it comes to the importance of components in the ABC media landscape, I do not think that any media outlet in the country is as equipped to handle the sorts of things that ABC Local Radio does. ABC Local Radio in sheer scope makes every other media outlet in Australia look like amateur hour; with 60 stations across 53 regions, including 52 regional stations and 8 metropolitan stations.
Quite a number of commercial newspaper mastheads and local news programs for television are made in the capital cities. They might deign to send someone out to a festival but they won't send someone to something as dull as a local council meeting. Especially in a time when commercial media outlets are shedding staff in the cities, much less regional and rural Australia, the ABC has become even more valuable because it is the only media outlet actually bothering to do boots on the ground journalism.


Just in New South Wales there are 23 ABC Local Radio Stations with coverage of the area currently being affected by bushfire. In contrast Prime/7 has 6 regional news bulletins, coming out of just 2 studios. Sky News has just 1 office in New South Wales.
During the current bushfires, there has been physical destruction of both power lines and of internet cable. People might be able to get their news on their mobile phone but, with the internet down, they will have to rely on the mobile network functioning; which in a lot of cases in northern New South Wales right now, is impossible.
ABC Local Radio can be picked up on radios, which can be many hundreds of miles away from the transmission source. That means despite what detractors say, the ABC is actually the best poised to bring the news to people, in the fastest possible time; which in the case of bushfires where you have flame fronts, might be able the difference between whether you live or die.

To claim that the ABC competes with commercial media is untrue in most fields where the ABC operates. The only reason that you would want to defund the ABC is if you have an ideological viewpoint which values profits for the few over the well-being of the people of Australia.

Aside:
Radio National and News Radio are also brilliant.

I personally love that the ABC still produces actual original content for radio, rather than doing endless talkback radio or simply spinning records.
From an absolutely selfish perspective, I like The Law Report, The Health Report, The Science Show, The Party Room, as well as the two absolute gold standards of journalism in Australia of AM and PM. Commercial media in Australia increasingly refuses to make documentaries because they do not see a way of making a profit and as far as I am aware, there is no such thing as pre-recorded or researched radio being produced by any commercial media outlet in the country, save for the components which make up news bulletins. There are certainly no half hour news programs in Australia on commercial radio.

November 09, 2019

Horse 2622 - Thirty Years Ago A Wall Fell Down

As far as anniversaries go, this weekend has a surfeit of them.

The 9th of November is both the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht which was one of the most violent and destructive of pogroms in the Third Reich;it is also the 30th anniversary of the opening of the borders between East and West Germany. The 10th of November is the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street. The 11th of November is the 101st anniversary of the end of the First World War.
In those four things we have life and death, joy and sorrow, peace and violence, kindness and cruelty, loveliness and barbarity, all on display with the best and worst of the human condition.

It is the breaking one of the most charismatic walls which takes centre stage tomorrow; which completely overshadows the opening of the checkpoints up and down the internal German border.
30 years ago today, in 1989, the Berlin Wall was opened almost by accident. There were a series of confused messages which were sent through various DDR Government departments; which resulted in the official announcement at about 8pm in the evening.
Places like YouTube are full of footage of the event; so it is rather well documented but what I find somewhat amazing is that people are actually remarkably ignorant, about the geography of the place, even though they may have been there.
We had a client remark just yesterday that he couldn't understand why the people of East Berlin couldn't just go around the wall; even though he'd actually been to Berlin.

Here is the roughest of rough summaries to explain why it all melted like someone leaving cake out in the rain.
When the allies divided up occupied Germany immediately after the Second World War, the British, French and Americans were all on the left side of the map and the Soviets were on the right side of the map. Berlin was way over and deep on the right side of the map; so it was technically an exclave of West Germany which was completely surrounded by East Germany.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy's "I am a donut" speech¹, and loads of paranoia, the DDR started putting up borders and walls, mostly to keep their own citizenry inside rather than keeping people out. As far as I can tell, almost all of the walls and border construction was done by the communist east. This is about penning in Ossis rather than keeping out Wessis.

That is why asking why the people of East Germany couldn't just go around the wall such an odd question. They could literally go around the Berlin Wall if they wanted to. In fact, they could go all the way around and come back to where they started if they wanted to. Furthermore, they could take a U-Bahn train under the wall and under West Berlin and come back up again. It's just that they couldn't get out at any of the so-called 'ghost stations'.
If Ossis had gone over the Berlin Wall, then they would have been inside it and the only way out would have been by aeroplane.

- Officially there was no such thing as West Berlin in East Germany

Events like Able Archer which was a NATO exercise in 1982 scared the DDR because they weren't aware that the messages that they were intercepting were nothing more than war games.
Movements like Soldarnosc and the relaxing of borders in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, which all happened in 1989, sent officials way down the chain of command into a kind of confusion; so when the 9th of November did roll around and not even the government knew what was going on, nobody else could be expected to.

We are now 30 years away from that evening and 29 years away from German reunification. An entire generation of people literally has no memory of the DDR and they have started to have children of their own.
It is little wonder that people who have no memory because they weren't alive at the time, can only put events like that into the context of a modern history book. If would be like me trying to tell you about the events of 1948 and the splitting up of Germany in the first place.

As for the idea of the Berlin Wall itself, people tend to forget that it wasn't exactly one wall but a series of paired walls in most locations (and even some stretches where 'the wall' was actually a river), that originally started out as just a series of barbed wire installations. The walls got progressively higher and more heavily guarded but what they mainly served to do was ideologically hide the East from the West.
It must be said that actually of all the countries on the dismal side of the Iron Curtain, East Germany had it the best and was actually more progressive than the West in dealing with matters of both socio economic and gender equality. People of East Germany had televisions and washing machines and the coming down of the wall was semi akin to a kind of invasion by the West as perfectly normal industries were forced to close as a result of the reunification process.
The people of the East weren't completely ignorant of the West and as many as 600,000 people crossed the German borders as refugees. Officially only 80 people died in actual crossings of the Berlin Wall but that figure is almost certainly very hokey.

The 9th of November 1989 quite rightly deserves its place in history because the pictures are dramatic as the spectators became the spectacle, and although the whole Eastern Bloc had already started to crumble, this is the point where the physical manifestation of President Ronald Reagan's demands to Mikhail Gorbachev (who wasn't even East German) to 'tear down this wall' was made².
It kind of marks some sort of ideological victory of western liberal democracies over the command nature of soviet style socialsm; which played out nicely considering that this was framed as the Cold War.
As far as I was concerned as an 11 year old watching this play out on my birthday³, I had very little conception of what any of this meant other than that there wouldn't be two Germanys any more. I actually remember the events of the 22nd of October 1989 far more intensely as Senna and Prost came together in the Japanese Grand Prix. Equally, the importance of a united Germany winning the World Cup at Italia '90 wasn't lost on me, nor was the fact that the Soviet Union was in the middle of falling over; which is what the wall was doing.

Aside 1:
I naturally want to draw a parallel to an imagined future where the North Korean authorities open up the border to the South. In that case, there is no way around the border and so that's more like the old German internal border. I can imagine North Korean officials being incompetent and the government also being incompetent; which will lead to that border dissolving as well. Remember, it only took 11 months from the borders being opened to the old DDR ceasing to be.

Aside 2:
What I also love about this being the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall being opened is that the power of the memory of Kristallnacht is being destroyed. There might be the proverb that "those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it" but equally if the past is defamed then not celebrating it can only be a good thing. The Berlin Wall coming down represents the beginning of the process of unity.
I draw this in relation to Australia Day because I think that if we simply abandon it, then it is stripped of its symbolism. The past would still exist and there are still lessons but there is no need to glorify knavery.

¹Ich bin ein Berliner - I am a donut. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NaZ3onbUrew
²https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ei1HnWwzmNk
³https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snsdDb7KDkg

November 08, 2019

Horse 2621 - A Drink Of Empires, Of Revolution, And Bathtubs

For a brief period of time which I very much suspect was related to taxation rates, the City of London went through what has become known as 'The Gin Craze'. I think that the period ended when taxation rates changed and the people of London discovered coffee; which is why the first golden age of journalism took off in 1720s. Parliament eventually reacted to The Gin Craze and passed no less than five major Acts, in 1729, 1736, 1743, 1747 and 1751. In a roundabout way, the ending of the Gin Craze through taxation and a kind of crackdown on alcohol, was one of the causes which eventually led to the American Revolution as well.

I like gin. Gin feels to me to be more of a lazy jazz summery drink than say the warm, sitting with a cat by the fire with a curious volume of forgotten lore like whiskey, or the overtones of calypso and cricket that rum has. I think that that is why it was the preferred spirit of the British Raj in India; that and that it pairs with Tonic Water so well as a way of avoiding malaria (though I have no idea how effective that was, if at all).

I was watching a documentary history of NASCAR racing of all things; which lent a fair amount of credibility to the myth that it grew out of a culture of people building hotted up cars during the era of prohibition in the United States and lots of returned servicemen with mechanical skills who came back from World War Two. I am still not necessarily inclined to believe a lot of the myth because while I concede that bootleggers did exist, prohibition ended in 1933, the war ended in 1945 and NASCAR began in 1949.
All that aside, one of the things that they were running were moonshine which is a fancy way of saying an unknown and definitely not quality controlled alcohol, and so-called 'bathtub gin' which is made from said moonshine. I got curious and wanted to know what the rules are for making bathtub gin. Without further adieu, I now present those rules.

1. Add juniper berries.
End of rules.

I could not find anything to suggest that there are any other rules at all, for making gin¹. Neither in the literature of the early eighteenth century, nor in connection with India, nor in anything to do with mid twentieth century moonshine running.
There isn't the equivalent of the German purity laws which describe beer, for making gin; and there isn't as far as I can tell an association of gin makers. The only hard and fast rule that I could find is that gin must contain juniper berries; which makes sense considering that its name is also derived from that same berry.

I found several descriptions on the internet for making gin and determined that it was so simple that even I could do it.
The method for making gin is remarkably similar to making a cup of tea. If you want to make your own bathtub gin, you will need a neutral spirit (of which vodka is the most neutral), juniper berries (dried or fresh), and anything else that you might like to add. Sloe Gin is made by adding sloes, Rangpur Gin is made by adding the juice and rind from Rangpur Oranges, so I suppose that any berry or cherry will do, and you can even add herbs and spices, which would give it more of a taste like Swedish glögg.
We added dried junipers which I found in the spice aisle of the supermarket, mandarin peels, cardemom. We then cut the mandarin peels into tiny bits, and crushed all of the fruits and spices with a mortar and pestle, before adding the crushed pulp/bits to the bottle of vodka. We then allowed it to steep for three days before shaking it up and allowing it to settle for a further three days.


The result is the singularly best gin that both Mrs Rollo and I have had in the history of ever. Not only is it better than commercial gin but because it is made from a bottle of Aldi own-brand vodka, it is also cheaper by almost 40%. It is so brilliant that I don't think that we ever need to buy name brand gin ever again (except maybe for sloe gin because sloes are ridiculously hard to find in the shops).

If this was a commercial gin, the next step would be to further distill the liquid so that the colour and the bits didn't come through. I don't mind the colour and the bits can be strained out with a tea strainer. I think that because all of the junipers and bits have always been in the bottle, that this gin actually becomes ginnier as time passes.

¹Though there are considerable rules in the EU to describe legally what it is:
https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX:32008R0110


November 07, 2019

Horse 2620 - The Old Man And Not The Sea

Although I live way out in the bogan western suburbs of Sydney, almost smack dab in the middle of the great Cumberland Plain, I go to work in the very posh seaside suburb of Mosman. Mosman which is a one suburb local council area, has on its crest a whale and the motto in Latin of 'Tutus In Undis' which I always want to read as 'Tutus In Undies' and imagine a bunch of plumbers dancing the light fandango in a Tchaikovsky ballet.
Except for one border on the western side with Cremorne, Mosman shares no land borders with any other suburb and precisely because it is almost completely surrounded by water, the property prices are an order of magnitude larger than where I live.
From where I work, I do not have to travel very far to look at the sea. However, I do not really have that much of a desire to come here at the weekend to visit the seaside. Some people are prepared to spend that order of magnitude of money just to procure a seaside view but even if I had that kind of money, I fail to see the point. The sea is on occasion pretty but I do not necessarily need to want to live near it, nor look at it; which I will freely admit, does fill some people with joy.


I have quite a healthy respect for the sea. As long as it doesn't decide to come into my living room, I promise not to go into its living space. As a big blue wobbly thing what sharks and fish live in, the sea does a very good job at doing its thing. I don't really want to intrude on a master at work. The sea can be the sea and I promise not to venture into it.

Mind you, it is rather impossible for me to venture that far into the sea through choice; seeing as how I can not swim. People often seem shocked and dismayed at how I at the age of 40 can not swim but equally I can not do surgery, program a supercomputer, weld copper piping, nor can I cook a soufflé. I don't really have any desire to do these things either but nobody ever questions that.
My strategy should I accidentally fall into the sea, which I only can imagine would happen if I fell in after an aeroplane crashed into it or a ferry or cruise ship sank, would be to cross my arms and embrace death's icy grip due to drowning. That seems like a perfectly logical set of circumstances anyway because the conditions which would have brought it about, would have already been tragic to begin with. If I had been in a plane crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, then my chances of survival were minimal to begin with.
The sea which already does a great job of looking pretty, should be respected in doing its job; so I am perfectly happy to look at it but venture no further. I will let the pretty looking thing remain pretty by not going in it.

I remember going camping on many occasions in my youth and some of them included staying at campsites near beaches. For most Australians, the beach is this almost mythical place; which helps to define us as a country. For me though, the beach was and still is like a strange environmental torture device. Not only does that big blue wobbly thing and a number of the creatures who live it want to kill you but the sun in summer which is about three quarters of a mile, teams up with the sand to give you ten thousand tiny stabbings.
Leave me back at the pavilion or the barbecues in the park. I am happy to be engrossed in the minutiae of an overly complex plot and characters that are badly constructed of some poorly written novel and eat ice cream; rather than be next to the sea. Even as a kid, the sea and the seaside held less than nothing of import for me.

November 06, 2019

Horse 2619 - Corbyn Finally States Labour Party Policy

YES!

I think that I may have heard the first good news about Brexit in three years.

The Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, announced both in a press conference and across social media that if the Labour Party was sent into Government, then they would be looking for an acceptable Brexit deal within three months, which they would then put back to the people in another referendum; including the possibility of not leaving the EU at all.
The press in Britain has gone practically apoplectic with the news, as finally the Labour Party has made a statement about what it intends to do; and because it is being tested in the heat of a General Election, it is actually worth something.

At the 2015 General Election when David Cameron was brought to power, he did so with the backing of factions of the Conservative Party who were anti-Europe. Those factions have more or less been there since Britain entered what was then the EEC back in 1973; but became more vociferous with the popular rise of UKIP and Nigel Farage (who ironically was a Member of the European Parliament on the basis of being anti-Europe).
Probably as a result of media coverage from LBC in London in particular, 'the city' was able to drag the economic right of the Conservative Party to a position where they had the numbers to call the referendum in 2016 on the subject of leaving the EU.
The thing was that there was never an actual plan set forth on what leaving the EU would look like or any of the legal provisions needed to make it work. The question posed which was very basically reduced to a simple binary of Leave/Remain, was posed without a shred of information put to the people because it simply never existed. As a result, we have had three years of chaos and division in Britain which has brought down two Prime Ministers and caused two extra General Elections in what was legally intended as a fixed five year parliament.

The truth at this point is that neither you nor I nor anyone knows exactly what a Corbyn led Government would propose but we can assume that it would probably be mostly identical to what is proposed now, except that Northern Ireland and Ireland would have some kind of Schengen type arrangements with regards movement of people across the internal Irish-island border.

Depending on how a Corbyn Government is formed, it may need help from parties like the SNP and the DUP to get it over the line. The Irish Question which extends well back before the time of the likes of Disraeli, Palmerston, Melbourne and Peel, remains like a ratking and I don't think that Corbyn would want to disturb that question very much, lest the troubles be triggered again.
If Corbyn does rely on help from the SNP, then speaking as a very far off observer, he would do well to invite the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to Number Ten within the first week. The Scottish Question which has been hinted at, is similar to the Irish Question in Scotland has hinted that it is thinking about leaving the UK; if that happened as a result of IndyRef 2, then similar provisions might have to be set up on the island of Great Britain as well as on Ireland.

Of course, all of this could be averted if having put this to the people; with four years' worth of information about the process (having lived through it), that the people vote to remain. If the people were to still vote leave in a second Brexit referendum, after now having been in possession of four years' worth of lived experience, I would argue that that would actually finally be a legitimate vote, instead of the first one which reduced everything to a binary with no information either way.

It is still entirely possible that Boris Johnson like May and Cameron before him, wins the election. If that is what happens, then I wonder if the election actually manages to solve anything. January 31 would roll around and presumably if Johnson had an outright majority, he would be able to get whatever legislation he wanted passed (including Brexit). Since this election is ostensibly a de facto referendum on the existing Brexit process, then I might dare to suggest that a failure to get Brexit passed by January 31, would represent an utter failure of the mandate of the Johnson Government.

As someone with no real dog in the fight, my opinion on whether or not Britain should leave the EU is irrelevant. To be fair I don't think that it matters much either way except that to say that a hard border across the island of Ireland and restarting the troubles is a scenario which nobody wants. I personally would like Corbyn to be the Prime Minister, for Britain to remain in the EU and for the British Government to act and behave more kindly to both its own citizens and people who happen to be within its borders for whatever reason. Kindness and Not Dying are pretty good motives at bare minimum for government, I think.

Also: Guitar Tab - 7 7 10 7 5 3 2.


November 05, 2019

Horse 2618 - 500 Is The Best Card Game

I will confess that I do not and never have played sport for my fitness: I play to win. Fitness might very well be a useful by-product but it is never my intention. I am a firm believer in the adage "it is not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game" because, "how you play the game" should always be to win; including if you are losing badly. If you have done your best and you are still beaten, then that is because you have been bested by someone better; not through lack of trying. If you are not playing to win, then go home.
Even so-called "non-competitive" games still have some kind of win conditions. People playing at theatre sports, or comedy, still have an objective in mind; so play to win at that.

The reason why most of us can play sport with the attitude to win, is that it mostly doesn't matter if you lose. Unless you are a gambler (which is an idiotic pastime unless you actually make a proper professional effort at it) or a professional sports/game player,  then the real world stakes are nil. Play to win because you can afford to lose nothing.
That's also why I like playing board games and card games and would jump at the opportunity to do so. If you have been punished by a Draw Four Wild, have been made bankrupt by landing on four houses at Leicester Street, or swept through Asia and destroyed 46 armies and will gain an extra 7 troops at the beginning of your next turn, then playing games is bigger and better than 'grown-up' games like love and life.

Every so-often, my boss and I go to the Bridge Club in Mosman to play Bridge. Some of our clients like going there and while I am a very good player, it is still not my favourite card game. Bridge is an all too serious card game, in which people tend to play slowly and carefully. I have no objection in principle to slow and careful games (because I like Test Cricket) but Bridge is just a little bit dour. For that reason, I much prefer 500 which favours bravado, pig-headedness and sheer utter gall. Bridge is an expression of skill and poise but 500, which even has 6-player cut throat as a variant, is the purest expression of that adage. If you are not playing to win, then go home.
Although 500 shares elements with Euchre and the copyright for the rules was held with the United States Playing Card Company from 1904, it somehow became Australia’s National Card Game. I think that we are the only country which also introduced 11, 12 and 13 cards; for I have certainly never seen them overseas and people whom I have played the game with are confused the first time they see them.

500 is most glorious when if you are playing with partners, someone is carrying someone else. A terrible player who knows just enough, is the most unpredictable of all. If you have a partner who through happens to live in that grey valley of skill and ineptitude and makes you wonder what they are doing, 500 is even more of a mind-screw than Bridge. As someone who likes playing to win, and playing to win is made all the more difficult by playing with a partner who might not necessarily be the most skilled, that provides a unique challenge of its own.
500 is the most brutal of the whist type card games because it can swing so suddenly. Not only that, there can be a sense of mental pugilism and blood lust in the bidding auction before a hand. How can you force someone into going 8 tricks that they can not make, or Open Misere when they should not? Will you be shipwrecked because of your own bravado?

Due to the nature of the bidding auction before a hand, it is entirely possible to win a rubber in just one hand; likewise it is also entirely possible to completely self destruct and lose a rubber in just one hand. Most bids for 6 and 7 trick hands are the bread and butter of the game; so I find that even if you have a hand full of nominal trash, you can generally get to 6 or 7, just by taking the initiative of being able to declare what trumps are.
On that note, 500 inherited the notions of the Left and Right Bower from Euchre. The name 'Bower' is derived from the German word 'Bauer' for 'farmer'; and I think that the idea that a Jack should be higher in rank than the Ace or King patently absurd but it is what it is. I do however love the fact that the Joker came from a game called Juckerspiel, which has been documented as existing in the 1840s but nobody knows what the rules were. I bet that it informed the development of 500 over the next 60 years.

I have found by playing 500 online, that I can force people off of their calls by going straight to a 7 call. Do not dance around the subject; bang! Go straight for the kill. I will temper this by saying that I also like to make all of the tricks in trash early. If you lead with an off suit 5, then your partner immediately knows that they have the responsibility to do something with it. This might sound insane but I think that I make more tricks for the good, with the 5, 6 and 7 cards than I do with K, Q and off-suit J. On that note, it is my opinion that the 9 and 10 in any suit serve almost no valuable function.

When you haven't won the bidding auction and someone else has won the call, your job is still playing to win. The stakes of a 6 call aren't very high and you need to win 5 tricks to break it but every trick is valuable. Winning just one trick means that your opponents can not go 'slam' and win 250 points. If you can force your opponent to an 8 call, then you only need to win 3 tricks; which can be joyous, despite it appearing to be so few.
That's probably why I think that 500 is the best card game and better than Bridge. A games of 500 sits on top of a knife-edge more often; so you always have to play to win. Play to win because you can afford to lose nothing.

November 03, 2019

Horse 2617a - ⁴Footnote - You'll Never Walk Alone.


And the Liverpool signature tune of "You'll Never Walk Alone" rising from the terraces.
- Kenneth Wolstenholme, BBC 1, FA Cup Final 1965, 1st May 1965 (Liverpool 2 - Leeds Utd 1)

How does a show tune from the Rodgers and Hammerstein 1945 musical "Carousel"; which is sung after someone's husband, falls on a knife and dies after a failed robbery attempt, become the "signature tune" of a football club?

Gerry and the Pacemakers recorded the song in 1963 and it was top of the UK Charts for 4 weeks. It might have been briefly sung on the terraces in 1963 because Gerry and the Pacemakers were a bad from Liverpool but given that another band from Liverpool, namely The Beatles, were the biggest band in the world, that doesn't explain why the song should have lasted this long.

The reason why this song should last this long is because of the very long running radio program Desert Island Discs, in which people are asked to name which records they would want on a desert island with them if they were castaways.

On the 26th of April 1965, the guest on Desert Island Discs on the BBC Home Service (even before it was split into Radios 1, 2, 3 and 4) was none other than Liverpool manager Bill Shankly. He chose "You'll Never Walk Alone" on the program on the Monday¹, then on the Saturday it was being sung at Wembley; when Liverpool won their first FA Cup.

I'm just one of the people who stands on the Kop. They think the same as I do, and I think the same as they do. It's a kind of marriage of people who like each other.
- Bill Shankly.

Now you know.

¹https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p009y456

Horse 2617 - When To Write On Liverpool's Season (Keep Hope Alive)

Last night I was met on Twitter with not one, not two but three questions.
The third question I can very easily answer by fulfilling the request. Quod erat demonstrandum.
The second question is predicated on the first; so I will answer that next.

Very long time readers will note that I write Liverpool's season off as a non-event, after they have fallen 10 points behind the league leaders. In my lifetime, the earliest that I have had to do that was as early as September, and the latest which I theorectically could have written a post about this (had the internet been around then) was in a postponed fixture; which I think is the greatest match in the history of football ever, despite the fact that Liverpool lost both the match and the league in the 91st minute of the very last game of the year¹.

Currently, the league table reads:
31 - Liverpool
25 - Manchester City
23 - Chelsea
20 - Leicester City

As Leicester City are 11 points behind the league leaders, Liverpool, I would write off Leicester City's season now.
Also, Watford who are on 5 points, can still hold quite a lot of hope as 10 points above them is tenth in the ladder and well safe of relegation. Bolton Wanderers in League One who started on -12 points (no that is not a typo, that is minus 12 because they went into administration), have about as much chance of avoiding relegation as an unsuspecting watermelon has of getting out of the way of the 534 bus to Bury.

As for that second question, it is complex.
Liverpool last won the league in 1990. In those heady days, Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister, Madonna was Voguing it up at the top of the pops, and the Ford Sierra RS500 was thumping all and sundry in the BTCC. BSkyB wasn't yet a thing and neither was the Premier League.

That means that I have seen 28 seasons of false dawns, never wases and a few seasons of being tantalisingly² close. Last season, Liverpool again came close after losing only one match in the season and finishing one point behind Manchester City, who was the only team that they lost to. Even though 97 points was the 3rd highest total in the current format of the Premier League and would have won the league in every year except it and the season before, almost being undefeated was still not good enough.

What do I think about this season, which is the second question posed? In principle, I think that just like it is impossible to guarantee that a player has been signed in spite and despite of the photo shoots where they are holding up a shirt, it isn't confirmed until they are on the park. While I will not write off the season for a while, the earliest that I could still theoretically write if off is if Liverpool were to suffer an implosion and lose six games on the trot while Man City won six.

That aside, what do I objectively think about the season? As always, the glass is half-empty. Please refill it.

I can not believe that I am saying this but in the league, Liverpool have actually gone 10 months unbeaten. While that should give me cause to be happy, the threat of watching it all implode again is all too real.

The match against Aston Villa in which Villa went ahead in the 20th minute and held their nerve for more than an hour should give me cause for concern but surprisingly it doesn't. How Andy Robertson could end up on the score sheet is a question which God in his wisdom thought "Meh, why not. I've already given you ant tornados, a planet that smells like rotten eggs, Trump, Brexit, and Boris Johnson; so it's not like the universe can get any weirder." The fact that Sadio Mane then also headed the winner 4 minutes into extra-time from the boot of Alexander-Arnold, shows that Liverpool are prepared to fight.
The week before which threw up a dour 1-1 draw against Manchester United, shows that this Liverpool side is also prepared to work, just at standing still.
The 5-5 draw against Arsenal in the League Cup shows that God is definitely playing with the universe on weird mode. In that match, Divock Origi danced and spun and fired an arrow from the edge of the area to get the fourth equaliser and his second goal was a scissor-kick in front of The Kop to bring the score to 5-5. Already that's the stuff of legend because it certainly isn't normally credible.

I am hopeful but have been bitten on too many occasions to be imperious. Manchester City won the title last year by being that little bit better all the time. This year though, they have been worked out, twice.
Liverpool fell short last season but not for lack of trying. Under Jurgen Klopp, there is a real sense that every minute is valuable and last season, the hopes were kept alive; with wins being pulled in extra time against both Spurs and Palace to keep hope alive.

I am going to say this, I do not think that Liverpool actually has the best players. Granted that Mo Salah is something special but the 10 players behind him are not necessarily in that class.
Firmino, Mané, Henderson, Milner, Lallana, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, Keita etc. would all feature in first team positions at any club in the Premier League but I still do not think that any of them individually is enough to hold a team together. The current Liverpool squad is greater than the sum of its parts however, I still do not know if that sum is greater than the sum of the individuals at Manchester City. Manchester City is a team built from the chequebook; which resulted in the Domestic Treble last year. In contrast, Liverpool is a team which has been built by Jürgen Klopp.
On that note, Jürgen Klopp has done something which I had been crying out for for a very long time; which is patience. Management in the past has always demanded the finest players available to humanity here and now and then watched as they failed to shine. Klopp is waiting. I like Klopp choosing to play 4-3-3 or 4-2-4, 4-4-2, 4-5-1, or even 4-1-5 if the situation demands. I am convinced that he knows that he does not have the 11 best players in the league; so he has to make sure that the 11 players that he does have believe that together they are 1 unit.
Klopp has taken the club from 8th, to 4th, to 2nd and now all that is left is 1st.

As for making that call, 11 games into the season is still way too early. You need at least 19 before you've had a look at everyone versus everyone else and that won't happen until Boxing Day/Boxing Anti-Eve. At that point last season, Liverpool were 7 points clear of Manchester City and 6 ahead of Spurs, and still lost.
Liverpool v Manchester City will be a very good test to see which one might have the nerve to win the title. As a six point fixture³ this could be one of those matches that the title chase hinges on. It was important last year because had the result gone the other way, Liverpool would have been the 2018/19 Champions and not a 28th season loser. We can but hope though.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers⁴ -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
Though dreams be tossed and blown -
Walk on, With hope, In your heart
And you'll never walk alone.
- Emily Dickson, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II

¹https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JQochYDc6kI - Liverpool 0–2 Arsenal (26 May 1989)
²I am sure that the word 'tantalising' relates to Tantalus in Greek mythology, who after having the audacity to serve his own son at a feast with the gods, he was punished by Zeus to go thirsty and hungry forever in Hades; with a pool of water and a fruit tree being eponymously out of reach.
³While it's not actually worth 6 points, facing a direct rival is that valuable because it is not just the three points your team gets but also the three points the opposition doesn't get. A victory is in effect 6 points net than a defeat.
⁴This is such a delicious aside, it demands another sub post. - https://rollo75.blogspot.com/2019/11/horse-2617a-footnote-youll-never-walk.html

November 02, 2019

Horse 2616 - Good Light In November

October in Australia is increasingly marked in the shops with orange and black; in preparation for Halloween. The thing is though that Halloween in Sydney happens in late Spring. That means that it happens after Eastern Daylight Savings Time has been in force for almost a month. That also means that the supposed to be spooky time of Halloween, where kiddies walk around to get 'candy' from other people's houses, happens in broad daylight; where sunset is at 07:22pm and astronomical twilight happens at 09:02pm. It is all very silly.
The really weird thing about November is that by the time it arrives, it is really only then, after the footy finals and Bathurst and the arrival of the A-League and cricket, is that I am only really properly conscious that spring has arrived.
At the other end of the day, that is the beginning, sunrise is already sufficiently early enough to wake up the cats before me, and it means that by the time I leave the house to go to work, the sun has come up a fair amount.
It is gorgeous.


While it is true that I like those evenings where the sun sets into pinks and reds, the heat of the day is usually still hanging around. In the morning though, the sun has not yet had time to make everything hot; so by the time I made it to the railway station this morning, it was only 18°C (65°F) and really pleasant.
You can walk around in the stillness of the morning, before the world has woken up, in light which is made of more yellows and golds.

In the middle of winter when there is nobody around and it is so cold that all of my fingers and toes are screaming at me, my prime objective is to get on a train to escape the environment. On a day like today where that is not the case, when it is so late in the year that the magpies have stopped swooping, and where galahs, ravens, kookaburras, sparrows, wagtails, and even the mynahs, are all out doing their bird thing, it is a disappointment to have to leave.

The people that are around in the morning are there not out of obligation but because they choose to be. As such, people are generally friendlier than they are earlier in the year. There are more people who are out walking their dogs or perhaps getting in a spot of morning exercise and unlike I the dead of winter when people almost magically appear out of the fog, in the golden morning light of spring, they wave at you.
By the end of November though, those people will generally be gone. When the summer arrives in December, the temperature has already risen to unpleasantness by the time I leave for work, and the friendly people who are jogging or walking their dogs, have already been and done that.

November then is this almost liminal time of year where for two fortnights, the weather is just so and yet, I get to come home in the light. While that's nice, it still isn't that same level of perfection which only really exists on a November morning.

October 31, 2019

Horse 2615 - Christian Excuses While The Forests Burn?

I want to start out by saying that I endorse people's right to free speech. I think that people should have the right to freely express themselves and that that freedom of expression comes with caveats. I also think that the right to free speech also comes with the right to free expression of religion and the right to be free from the imposition religion.

However, there are times that I question the motives of people who make an expression of speech and religion because humanity has such a chequered past that it makes wonder what the underlying objective is.
This week, following the extinction rebellion protests in both Brisbane and Melbourne (the latter which saw a lady's legs broken when trampled by a police horse¹), the following banner went up in Blacktown:


Now although this looks relatively innocuous, the truth is that I find this kind of thing really disturbing.

My problem here is that this is really vague as to what the intent of the banner is. The splash across the top says 'Bible - Climate Truth' which is an appeal to authority however, there is in fact no direction at all, for how the unnamed entity who put this up wants you to interpret it.
If this is put up with the premise that only those people who already know what the intent of this is, then we have a lovely term for that: Dog Whistling.

When placed back into the context of where this fits into the grand story of the book of Genesis, this particular verse makes far more sense. It fits into the broader story of Noah and the ark. Specifically it comes after a passage in which God, who made everything in the beginning and saw that everything was good, puts mankind into his creation and then mankind sets about deliberately disobeying him, then going on to a trail of lying and murder. By the time of Genesis and the beginning of the flood story, the account reads:

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.
- Genesis 6:5

I have met some pretty atrocious people. To be fair I probably am a pretty atrocious person in the eyes of others. Nevertheless, I think that it would take an exceedingly atrocious set of circumstances for peoples' wickedness to be so bad that the "thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time".
In context the words which this banner quotes, comes from a broad picture where mankind goes from being the custodians of what God has made, to being so utterly terrible that God regrets having made people in the first place (6:7).

In the flood account, God finds just one person (Noah) and spares his family. If anything, the broad context is about God's sustaining grace and kindness in the face of human sin.
Immediately before the text of the words of this banner, God says:
Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
- 8:21

It goes on to describe God making a covenant with Noah in which God promises not to destroy humanity and all life:
The waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
- 9:15

Everything about this says that the text in question is about God's graciously ruling out the possibility of an utterly destructive Noah-like event that wipes out all life on the earth as we know it.

The implications of this banner are idiotic though. Whilst there is nothing necessarily problematic about the premise that God is benevolent, there is something deeply problematic about the supposition that God will look after humanity, no matter what the circumstances and that we should do nothing to mitigate the effects of our own stupidity.

From a spiritual standpoint, I don't see how this is ruling out the possibility that we humans, through our own sin, selfishness, stupidity, deliberate damage and ignorance, can cause serious damage to our world and its inhabitants. The grand story of the Old Testament in which God chooses the people of Israel, repeatedly has sets of circumstances where they tell God to get stuffed.

Right throughout the Old and New Testaments, the bible is replete with instructions not to act with cruelty or act like a bunch of selfish knaves. If you follow the grand narrative of the Old Testament, not only are people kicked out of Eden, but even after being promised a home land, God's chosen people² are eventually kicked out of that place too, because they also fail and continue to act like a bunch of selfish knaves.

"I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable."
- Jeremiah 2:7

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.
- Hosea 4:1-3

I simply find it impossible to believe that just because you can quote a passage from the bible, that that somehow excuses you from the consequences of what you have done³. I don't think that any reading of scripture provides an excuse to mankind to abdicate our responsibility to act rightly towards God's good creation.
Furthermore, I think that people who aren't of faith would look at this and think quite rightly that Christians are using their magical sky daddy as an excuse to perpetrate all kinds of evil.

For about four hundred years, we've brand new methods of burning the forests, clearing the land, putting garbage in the waters and poison in the skies. Is whoever put up this banner really trying to tell us that there are no consequences at all for any of this?

What I find doubly galling about this is how this fits into political discourse. I see this as part of a wider weaponisation of Christians for nothing more than political purposes. That particular tactic worked so very well in the United States because of some very strong mythologising which has taken place over the past forty years. It takes a special kind of knavery to make people actively not care about the most vulnerable of society and also to actively not care about the environment which sustains you.

"The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth's inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left."
- Isaiah 24:4-6

Scientists and engineers are pretty cluey people. The same people who sent rockets into space to discover what other planets were like, also ended up discovering the earth. It's only been for the last 50 years or so that we've been able to measure what is going on.
If you had 97% of economists and insurance brokers warning of a contingent risk, you would seriously consider doing something about it. I do not understand why people who claim to be Christian would want to manipulate people into doing nothing about that contingent risk. That seems pretty knavish to me.

¹and then Rita Panahi of the Daily Telegraph endorsed that and claimed that they 'had it coming'
²who aren't chosen because they were brilliant by the way

³The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.

O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!
- Shylock, The Merchant Of Venice, Act 1, Scene 3

October 30, 2019

Horse 2614 - The Impeachment Inquiry May Throw Up A Constitutional Crisis

In the tale of the seemingly neverending dog and pony show that is the increasingly likely impeachment inquiry into the crimes and misdemeanors of the President of the United States, the latest chapter has given us the beginning of a genuine constitutional crisis.

In a move which itself could amount to being an obstruction of justice, Charles Kupperman, a former deputy advisor to the National Security Secretary John Bolton, has been prevented by the White House from appearing at the House Judicial Inquiry into the Impeachment of the President. The White House has declared 'total immunity' from any subpoena that the House Judiciary Committee might issue.

This is massive.

One one hand the House of Representatives has the sole power of impeachment under the US Constitution. On the other hand, while the inquiry is in fact into the conduct of the President with regards 'high crimes and misdemeanors', there is still an unanswered question of whether or not that extends to those people under the employ of the President.
In addition to this is the secondary question of whether or not an order from the executive as vested in the person of the President constitutes an executive order.
Kupperman's lawyers in the meantime have advised him to ignore any and all subpoenas until this question is resolved; presumably by the Supreme Court who has the power to 'say what the law is' per Madison v Marbury (1803).

The reason why the House Judicial Committee wants to interview Kupperman in particular is because he was privy to certain conversations with regards the NSA, and security surrounding the personal attorney to the President Rudy Guiliani, and his dealings with the Ukraine Government. Specifically he can corroborate existing evidence that very heavily suggests that Mr Trump attempted to set up a kind of shadow foreign diplomatic channel in addition to the official ones, with the purpose of investigating the Bidens.

Before anyone questions the legitimacy of the House's Impeachment Inquiry, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said that there will be a vote on the floor of the House by the end of the week, to finally lay out the rules, terms and scope of the impeachment inquiry. Presumably this will also lay out the text of what the House can expect in regards the representation of the President, which he has previously demanded even though he would refuse to appear before the House.

Naturally the President described the whole impeachment inquiry as being political as though it was a pejorative but in reality that is like describing a lion as a big cat. Of course any impeachment proceedings are going to be political because every single major position in all three branches of government, which includes the House, the Senate, the President, and the Supreme Court, are all decided by election or appointment by people who have been elected. How can any inquiry which is conducted by an elected body be anything but political? Furthermore, if an impeachment inquiry is the check into the use of power, then by definition it must be political considering that politics itself is to do with the enactment of policy and the exercise of power.

What ever the outcome is of the impending Supreme Court decision, it will have ramifications to do with the balance of powers between the various branches of the three ring circus that is the US Government, forever.
This case materially pits the power of the executive branch directly against the ability of the legislative branch to conduct its oversight function as spelled out in the Constitution. Whereas previously, the executive branch would not have wanted to test the limits of where the separation of powers lies, this executive is not only prepared to find those limits but forever change them and if necessary, break the norms in order to solidify them for purely short term gain.

Robert Mueller famously did not subpoena the President, citing that the question of whether or not a sitting President could be subpoenaed, was still open. This case of The United States vs Kupperman (2019), still does not go so far as to answer that central question but it would answer a like question. The Executive Branch can claim total congressional immunity but my hope is that the courts strike that off. I personally find the idea that anyone, whether they be the lowest peasant to the king, as being subject to the laws of the land, as the only acceptable and reasonable outcome. If the courts do decide that the President does have the power to declare people as not being subject to the law, then the President is actually a tyrant who is backed by law.

That's not even hyperbole. Although Fox News would paint the picture that this is about overturning the results of an election, it is not. The result of the election is not in dispute. This is about the removal of an individual who thinks and acts as though he is above the law and has used the instrument of government to break it.
In this case, that same individual is also prepared to break the instrument of governments themselves.

October 29, 2019

Horse 2613 - We're Not Even Pretending To Be Civil Any More

As I work in a forensic accounting office, my job often means dealing with members of the legal profession. While I understand that the whole legal process by its nature is replete with worry (because the only reason that anyone needs to employ a lawyer to go to court is because of a serious problem relating to the law), I do not understand why the level of urgency that lawyers demand needs to be so sharp.

My boss had gone out to lunch and I took the immediate job of running 'screen', which is one of those delightful terms borrowed from American football and which means to throw bodies in front of the quarterback so that they can do their job unmolested. I am pretty good at this because I take the attitude that if you are at lunch, then I don't care if you are a lawyer, the Prime Minister, the Queen, or Martin Skrtel¹, any problem that you have unless it is immediately life threatening can wait.
The world is already so sufficiently stressful, complex and difficult, that people do not need to be switched on all the time. Lawyers especially like to offload their stress by passing it on to others because they think that sharing is caring?

One lawyer who we deal with on a semi regular basis, wanted to know where my boss was, which I then refused to answer, and then asked me why I wasn't at a dinner thing which was held last week, which my boss was at. I think that that is a strange thing to ask someone but then again, I am under no illusions that manners are the invention of the upper class to make the middle class conform while at the same time they will ignore them. I explained that I had no idea that it was on and I wasn't invited to it either (all while thinking 'why would I be invited to a function which people in the legal profession went to, anyway?).
I then sat patiently on the phone while I was given a lecture about why people like them and people like me shouldn't associate with each other, on the basis that people like me should know our place and that we should be happy to be servants. The problem with society apparently, was that too many people had risen above their station in the natural order of things and that the world was slowly being put right again with the dismantling of the welfare state.
I bit my tongue and remembered the inscription which Vespasian had placed upon the toilets in Ancient Rome "Pecunia non olet" which when translated means "Money does not stink". When I played the recording of the phone call for my boss after he had returned from lunch, he sort of shrugged and said that callousness is on the rise; which on reflection is the awful truth.

I do not see this kind of thing amongst my fellow commuters as we travel forth and back across this swirling conurbation we call Sydney. As commuters, we are literally forced to rub shoulders with each other. The train that I am on while writing this post, smells like sweat and peppermint chewing gum and horrible flavoured potato chips, and farts because these are the smells of a shared humanity. We are all tired, we are all probably just as stressed as the people above us, and many of us will flake on and take a nap on the train.
The people who actually run the world, are not here. I'm not even talking about the political class who occasionally make a show by riding on public transport because they at least have to keep up some kind of pretence that they are part of the people. The people who actually run the world, that is the people who make decisions that matter, either drive themselves or are driven to work, and as I've found out don't want to run into us accidentally².

It is instances like this which I never saw a decade ago, which makes me think that Trump, Johnson, Morrison, Macron, are inevitable. Only last week it was reported that the Berejiklian Government was going to privatise the three remaining areas of Sydney Buses that were still owned and operated by the government. This isn't being done because the Government wants to provide a better and more efficient set of bus services but rather that private parties saw a potential to make private profits and they simply do not care about the people who otherwise might own those things (the good and fair people of NSW). Instances like my experience make me think that we have entered a period of actual vindictiveness by policy; using the mechanics of government as a weapon³.

We now have people who live off the interest of interest and yet ascribe that to their own effort. I find it insane that there has been a 1.1% year on year gain on labour productivity for more than a decade, which is about 12% overall, yet real wages have only risen by about 0.1% and organisations like the Business Council of Australia have convinced governments that a 0.5% rise in superannuation is unaffordable.
Is this what late stage capitalism looks like before saccharine feudalism returns?  Australia likes to pretend that it doesn't have a class system but I am very clearly reminded that it does; especially by those of very substantial means. I wonder if France was like this before the French Revolution. If the peasants have no bread, then let them eat cake?

¹Martin Skrtel can walk into any story he chooses
²though I suspect that they might enjoy running over us deliberately and repeatedly
³it is handy to have government as a weapon in class warfare

October 28, 2019

Horse 2612 - BigWrite¹ Does Not Want To Pay For People To Write Content For Them

A long long time ago, when the internet was still mostly made of people writing code, I was writing a blog. It eventually moved from pure raw code, to a site hosted by Geocities and finally ended up on Blogger; so a few of the first hundred or so posts have been lost.
Of all the people who I knew who kept a blog, I am really the last of anyone who generates things anymore; I think that the reason for that is that writing as a craft does require a certain amount of time and skill and if you don't want to spend effort on those (because your time and effort is valuable, and life happens in the meantime), then you will not.

As with anything, there are always people wanting to make money from the thing. One website (who I shan't name) has tried to monetise the efforts of other people who write for them by charging subscription fees and I do not know to what degree that they are successful. I found it somewhat annoying that they want to charge me money to see my own stuff. Suffice to say, I did not post very much with that website.

There is one particularly knavish media organisation who wants to profit from the efforts of other people writing for them, who I will refer to as BigWrite (because I do not want to be sued), who have now contacted me not once; not twice, but thrice. I haven't yet accepted the offer by BigWrite to write for them, for the rather obvious reason that if anyone is going to profit from my work, then I would like at least one person of that collective anyone to be me. There is a pretty fundamental adage that says that 'the workers deserve their wages' and I do not think it unreasonable to be paid a wage for my own work. I am not a charity and neither is a for-profit media organisation.
I found it really weird last week when BigWrite again asked me to write for them, as yet again they do not seem all that interested in paying for the content which they want me to generate for them. I suspect that I must be on a list somewhere and that they give that list to some newbie in their office; which explains why having previously rejected their request to write for them, they want to ask me again.
As I do not want to embarrass someone who is more than likely an unpaid intern, I have withheld their name and email address. I imagine that being inside a media organisation and not being paid because they want to use the excuse that their 'experience is valuable' is even more torturous than being on the outside, looking in.

Hi Andrew,
We have recently become aware of your blog at rollo75.blogspot.com and would like to take the opportunity to connect, share thoughts, exchange content and develop ideas of mutual interest.
We would like you to submit a piece of no more than 1000 words, for evaluation, so that we can assess if you are an ideal fit for BigWrite Australia.
We look forward to hearing from you,
Jo Banana¹

("Hi" is never a good start. Since I am of an older generation who thinks that there should not be a difference between email and formal letter writing, I find this kind of casualness disturbing).

Dear Jo,
Thank you for your email and taking the time to notice my work. 
I understand that you would like for me to write for you and naturally I would be honoured to do so, however, may I enquire as to what your current rates of pay are for written pieces? How is this structured?
Could you please send a copy of your current pay rates for written pieces?
Thank you,
Andrew Rollason

(This reply is curt but still polite, I think)

Hi Andrew,
During the initial evaluation phase, our writers gain valuable exposure on a high-profile platform in return for stories which are succinct, shareable and satisfying. We are always looking for pieces that are saying what nobody else is saying, or a personal story everyone will relate to.
Please feel free to pitch a piece on any topic you like:

(They attached a form).

Proposed headline. The proposed title for your article (120 characters or less).
Your pitch. A brief summary of your proposed article followed by a final draft (500-1,000 words).
Your name. Your real name.
Your bio. A short personal or professional bio.
Your email address. Your primary contact email address.
Topic. The general topic area you're pitching to: "News", "Impact and Innovation", "Entertainment", "Lifestyle", "Voices".

We look forward to hearing from you,
Jo Banana¹

(There wasn't a direct reply to the questions that I asked; probably because that would mean admitting that they do not want to pay for the work that other people do)

Dear Jo,
Thank you for your swift reply. There is something that I am unclear about. In your email you explained that writers for BigWrite Australia are given "valuable exposure on a high-profile platform in return for stories" but you did not respond with what the rates of pay are for those stories.
Could you please send a copy of your current pay rates for written pieces?
Thank you,
Andrew Rollason

(I already feel that I have wasted my effort at this point)

Hi Andrew,
As we have previously said, during the initial evaluation phase, our writers gain valuable exposure on a high-profile platform in return for stories. 
During the initial evaluation phase, our writers write for us because they want to write it. They write because it is neither out of obligation or paid for. 
Our writers gain access to the massive platform that BigWrite provides and they also gain access to a huge audience. They do not have to pay for, advertise, maintain, or moderate that platform. We hope that you too will be happy to join our network of more than 100,000 writers.
Yours Sincereley,
Jo Banana¹

(They no longer 'look forward to hearing from' me at this point.)

Dear Jo,
As I currently understand the situation, you would like me to submit pieces for BigWrite, however you are not willing to pay me for said pieces. Have I understood the situation correctly?
Thank you,
Andrew Rollason

(I have tried to express annoyance here. I am wondering what the name for a question to which you already know the answer is called)

Hi Andrew,
Many of the writers who write for BigWrite do so because they can see the benefits in being exposed to a worldwide audience of many readers. We hope that you too, will see that benefit and choose to join us.
Thank you,
Jo Banana¹

(This is beginning to sound a bit like a cult)

Dear Jo,
Thank you for submitting your request. I regret to inform you that it does not suit our present needs.
Thank you,
Andrew Rollason

(I expect that this reference will completely go over Jo's head. I hope so. Snoopy received a stack of these form rejection letters c.1972)

I should point out that I am 100% absolutely prepared to 'sell out'. I am not in any way a purist who thinks that writing is an art form for art's sake; quite the contrary. All artists who work hard deserve to be paid for their craft. If someone wants to pay me to write, then I will happily do so for the most part. What I find annoying is that very big media companies think that they can get away with offering 'exposure' as some kind of magic trophy.
Exposure does not pay the bills. Exposure does not put food on the table. Exposure does not keep the rent collectors at bay.

Offence² but if your company is so successful, why can't you afford to pay people? Artists are not there to be taken advantage of. Writers are not there to be taken advantage of. Bloggers are not there to be taken advantage of. If you are an openly commercial operation, then you should be paying people for the services they provide.

I have one more reply.

Dear BigWrite,
Whilst I write because I want to, and like to, that desire does not extend to writing for you for free. 'Exposure' has a monetary value of nil; you have backed that up with the amount that you are prepared to pay to provide it.
You wouldn't ask your mechanic to work for free. You wouldn't ask your doctor to work for free. You wouldn't ask your plumber to work for free. Why ask writers to? 

I have the honour to be your obedient servant.
A.Rollason.

¹Not their real name.
²not 'no offence but' because I hope that I cause some