May 23, 2017

Horse 2275 - Do Not Go Gentle Into That Digital Night

Last week, Mrs Rollo and I went to Port Stephens to do not very much, and I have to say that it was absolutely glorious. Port Stephens isn't exactly the most rural of places, what with a McDonald's at the end of the road, and the RAAF not very far away. I'd say that where we stayed in Lemon Tree Passage, was probably closer to the centre of Newcastle in a straight line, than our house in Western Sydney is to the centre of Sydney. Yet even if this is true, I found that the television reception was rubbish and that a picture was coming in only about half of the time. At home in Western Sydney, television reception is just as bad and we've found that online services such as ABC's iView and SBS OnDemand have been invaluable in being able to watch something which we could have already seen it it wasn't for the fact that it wasn't coming in because television reception is rubbish.

Herein lies one of the great disappointments of digital broadcasting. Due to the nature of the beast, that digital television is sent at higher frequencies and that the information contained is far greater, a break in reception doesn't result in fuzziness like old analogue television did, but complete loss of picture and continuity. One of the great technical limitations of digital broadcasting is that you need a direct line of sight to the transmission tower and that can be interrupted by something as simple as a hill of a raindrop in the way; if there happens to be a storm somewhere between you and the tower, which in our case is more than 35km away, or you happen to be unfortunate enough to live in a valley which is also true in our case, then digital television is mostly a complete failure.

This isn't the case for analogue broadcasting. On a cloudy day, even with a cheap quality radio, it is possible to pick up 4BC from Brisbane, 774 ABC Melbourne, 5AA from Adelaide, or perhaps NZFM which I assume is coming from Auckland. AM Radio with its longer wavelengths in particular, was able to exploit this fact brilliantly, when in the days before commercial radio was allowed in the UK, pirate radio stations broadcasted from ships which were outside the statutory limit, and Radio Luxembourg's​ biggest audience was the UK.

To stop the technical problems with analogue radio, the national radio networks like the BBC were allocated blocks of broadcasting frequencies, such as Radio 1 taking up the space between 97-99 FM and Radio 4 from 92-94 FM. In time, when RDS or the Radio Data Service was broadcast alongside the radio content itself, car radios could find a frequency and then automatically retune themselves if they found another stronger frequency. The thing is that there are lots of towns and cities in the UK, so when digital broadcasting came along, digital television already had loads of towers that they could use and digital radios could use a similar system to retune themselves to find the nearest and or strongest signal.
Australia though, isn't the UK.
Australia is a vast unwieldy place where distances aren't measured in kilometres but hours and days. Digital broadcasting from dinky little towers just doesn't work for the vast majority of the country; that explains why I got rubbish reception in Port Stephens and why in the middle of Western Sydney, why I just happen to live in a hole where trying to receive digital broadcast signals is mostly a waste of time.

This is why I hope that the Federal Government decides to dither as long as possible when it comes to finally making the decision to switch off analogue broadcasting in Australia. Digital television already proves itself to be useless in a lot of places. Rather to be more accurate, the system would work perfectly fine if it had been implemented as it had been done in the UK where there are lots of repeater towers but because it is broadcasters themselves who own their towers, there is no economic incentive to do so. A city as big as Sydney needs as few as seven sets of broadcasting towers but we only have the big stacks in the eastern suburbs and a few regional towers which surround the greater metropolitan area.
If radio makes the switch to digital only, then massive areas of the country will be plunged into broadcasting darkness and eventually​ within the cities, if you happen to be unlucky enough to live in a valley, or behind a big hill, or perhaps a brand new block of flats, then you can kiss radio goodbye as well.

I have mostly gotten used to the fact that I can't watch the ABC, SBS, Channel 9, or 10 at all, and only get Channel 7 some of the time but if the radio also goes digital only and doesn't work most of the time as well, I will not only be annoyed but annoyed in glorious digital stereo silence.

May 20, 2017

Horse 2274 - Election 2017: A Result Too Easy To Predict

I have spent the last few hours busily plugging numbers into various swing calculators with the results of current polling for the upcoming General Election on June 8 in the UK. Under all possible scenarios except for one, I have the Conservative Party being returned to power with either a vastly increased majority or with the worst possible outcome, returning to the mayhem of a hung parliament as happened in 2010.

Currently the parties have the following seat counts:

Con - 330
Lab - 229
SNP - 54
Lib Dem - 9
Other - 10
N.Ireland - 18

I'm including Northern Ireland as a thing because although the members of those seats come from a strange sort of mish-mash, they remain as sensible as a sack full of wet mice.

If we assume the current polling data; taken on a nationwide basis, then the following happens:

Con - 365 (+35)
Lab - 200 (-29)
SNP - 55 (+1)
Lib Dem - 7 (-2)
Other - 5 (-5)
N.Ireland - 18 (0)

This is exactly why Teresa May called the election in the first place. If this election is supposed to be a doubling down sort of second referendum on Brexit, then although Ms May has some members of her party which are probably against the whole idea of pulling out of Europe, for the most part the Tories have pulled seats away from the Lib Dems who are still on the path to oblivion but more importantly away from Labour who have been as much in opposition against themselves as they have been against the Tories.

Something incredibly strange happens when you plug the exactly the same nationwide polling data into the swing calculators on a region by region basis:

Con - 318 (-12)
Lab - 230 (+1)
SNP - 59 (+5)
Lib Dem - 15 (+6)
Other - 10 (0)
N.Ireland - 18 (0)

This has the Tories losing seats around the northern fringes of London and Birmingham, the Lib Dems clawing back some of the seats that they lost in Devon and Cornwall, and most mysterious of all the SNP actually winning seats south of Hadrian's Wall.

If such a scenario, however unlikely were to pan out then we'd have an immensely strange set of circumstances. Because 326 is the number of seats required to form government, either the Tories would have to negotiate with someone with the Lib Dems being the most likely option, or you'd end up with some massively insane set of negotiations taking place for Labour to hold government. If somehow Labour and the SNP were to form a shotgun coalition, they need all of the Lib Dems and all of the others which includes indies and Plaid Cymru, and then they'd still need to negotiate with the insensible sack full of wet mice which are Northern Irish members of the Commons. Jeremy Corbyn has enough trouble trying to hold together his own party; so tying to hold together a coalition as wild as that scenario would require, is the way of insanity.

I know that this is going to sound incredibly naive but I don't think that the release of the party manifestos, be they deliberate or by early leaks, has really made a lick of difference to people's voting intentions. The truth is that Labour still controls what's left of the working class north, the SNP still has a strangehold in Scotland and the whole difference comes about because of those seats in the West Midlands which flipped in 2010, except now they're reverting to the Tories rather than this weird sort of flirting with the Lib Dems and UKIP. On UKIP in particular, as a one issue party who have only won a single seat in the House of Commons (in the Clacton by-election of 2014), they've achieved what they wanted and I think that that will more or less cease to be a thing and those voters will have largely joined the ranks of Tory voters.

It doesn't matter which way I play with the numbers, or which set of figures that I use, I see no real way for Labour to take government. William Hill currently have the Tories sitting at 1-33 while Labour is all the way out at 17-1. To put that in perspective, the absolute longest odds that Donald Trump was put at winning the Presidency was only 7-1. 

I have a horrible record when it comes to predicting political results (I've gotten two presidential results wrong in a row) but this is so ridiculously one sided that even Blind Freddy can see that the Tories will walk over in the election and that Teresa May need not bother to pre-book the moving van because on June 9, she'll still be the resident of that rambling house with the most famous black door in the world. 
I'm going to predict that Teresa May will remain as British Prime Minister and that the final result will look something like:

Conservatives 345 def. Labour 233.

May 19, 2017

Horse 2273 - Christians And Arms: Or, Trying To Make 23 Greek Words Say More Than They Do

There is an incident described in all four gospels, which speaks of the moment when Judas comes with the servants of the chief priests of the temple, to arrest Jesus and put him on trial for blasphemy. Of the four gospels, only John records that the one who struck and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant Malchus was Peter, and both Matthew and John both record that Jesus rebuked Peter for lashing out in violence.

Of these four records though, only Luke records a small exchange which has apparently become the basis for the justification as to why Christians should be armed. I however don't think that this stands up to scrutiny and that people are trying to make 23 words in Greek do far more than they were ever intended to do.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.
- Luke 22:36

For a start this comes in a far broader passage of scripture. As with reading any document, it is simply idiotic to read one line of something and then say that you've reached a conclusion. Context as always is everything.

Immediately before this, Peter expresses a hasty claim that he was ready to go with Jesus, both to prison and to death; Jesus then issues the fateful warning that by the end of the morning, Peter will have denied ever knowing him; thrice.
To put this back into context, the whole exchange is given below:

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
- Luke 22:33-38

An astute reader should recall a comparison back to chapter 9 when Jesus sent out the twelve to preach the good news of the impending kingdom and God and to heal the sick. Presumably the comparison is given to suggest that a future task is going to be more difficult and on the face of it, having weapons for one's defence seems prudent.


If you bother to read verse 38, two swords among eleven people, against an incoming mob of people armed with swords and clubs seems woefully inadequate. On the face of it, either Jesus is an absolute idiot or perhaps a more sensible reading of this would suggest that this is meant as a metaphor. That would make logical sense considering he's spent a great deal of his ministry speaking in parables and word pictures.

Also, Matthew's account records Jesus' rebuke of Peter:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 
- Matthew 26:52

Again, probably everyone in the ancient world would have been quite familiar with this pithy proverb, having remembered this as Agamemnon's closing words in Homer's Oddessy, after having returned from Troy as the victor and then being murdered by Aegisthus, the lover of his wife, Clytemnestra. If that's really how you'd like to be remembered, as someone who was interminably violent and finally murdered, then you might want to rethink your choices.
The Greek word μάχαιρα which is used for "sword" throughout the New Testament is a generic catch all word for swords and knives which might have included anything from basic kitchenware right up to a standard Roman gladius.

Go back and reread that passage. Verse 38 which contains those words "That's enough!" almost seems like a hint of exasperation or annoyance rather than an acknowledgment of pleasure. It's the sort of thing that someone's mum yells when she's finally fed up with her ankle biters getting out of hand.
At any rate, I just don't think that it makes sense to stretch out what could be a metaphor, to an instruction; in the light of the rest of the New Testament and especially what has been previously written as direct instructions by Jesus:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
- Luke 6:27-31

Unless someone can specifically make the case that Jesus actually instructed that his followers to come be armed, then I'm going to write it off as bunk.

When it comes to the issue of whether or not Christians are allowed to have arms, the New Testament is respectfully silent. Outside of the gospels, there are no instances of any followers of Christ actually bearing any arms and when it comes to actual directives on the matter, there are none.
Paul writes twice in his first letter to the Corinthians that "everything​ is permissible but not everything is beneficial" and although that's not a discussion either way, it certainly provides direction.

At the end of chapter 12 in his letter to the Romans he writes:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
- Romans 12:17-21

And later in that same letter he goes on to write:
Whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
- Romans 13:9-10

Now I don't know about you but I just don't see the ownership of arms as compatible with the aim either loving or doing good to one's enemies. I don't see how it is conducive to instilling a spirit of peace either.

Invariably someone will raise an objection that someone might want arms for the purposes of going hunting or perhaps in a sporting context. There might very well be justification here but those are very different grounds than what is usually postulated. Besides which, in an urban environment where the incidence of wild animals roaming around is minimal, the only thing which people are likely to be hunting is other people, and again, I just don't see that as compatible with the aim of either loving or doing good to one's enemies.
Either way, in most cases, the justification is still bunk.

May 18, 2017

Horse 2272 - The Minister On The Bus Goes Cut, Cut; Cut

The bus drivers of the Tempe, Burwood, Randwick and other southern Sydney bus depots have gone on strike for 24 hours today because the NSW Rail And Bus Union wants to protest as loudly as possible, their objection to the Berejiklian Government's plans to privatise NSW's buses and then hold a franchise process for the provision of bus services. Last night, the Transport Minister Andrew Constance was adamant that the government would not change it's position and that it wouldn't be strong armed by the union.
To the Transport Minister Andrew Constance and the Premier Of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian, I have this to say: Please resign immediately. If you do not want to run the government of New South Wales, then please get out immediately.
When Frances De Groot of the New Guard upstaged the then Premier Jack Lang, and slashed the ribbon at the opening ceremony for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with a sword and on horseback, he did so "in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales". To be perfectly honest, I can't think of a more visible display of brilliance in this state's history. Right at the opening ceremony for one of Sydney's two most iconic landmarks, we had a protest which should serve as a permanent warning to every government who wants to live at Macquarie Street, that they should be subject to the people of New South Wales and that those same people of New South Wales don't like to be dictated to by someone in an office block.

There has been talk of recycling capital by this government, which as far as I can tell means that their intent is to flog off every single asset owned by the people of New South Wales, to their friends, who will then jack up the prices for the services which are provided whilst at the same time providing a worse quality of service.
Specifically the excuse put forward by the Transport Minister Andrew Constance that there has been an increase in the number of complaints about travel times and late running services, is a reflection that there has been a chronic shortage in the provision of Infrastructure for the past forty years and that this should be taken as a signal to properly fund infrastructure and build more; not sell off what already exists. The fact that Sydney had the world's second largest tram network in the world, and tore it up and still hasn't replaced it, should be seen as a filthy black stain on the NSW State Government and all governments from Cahill onwards have been criminally culpable in their refusal to put back that which was stolen. The subsequent privatisation of the various utility companies, should also be seen as direct theft from the decent and respectable people of New South Wales and I personally would like to see several former state government ministers and premiers brought before the courts for prosecution of corruption and larceny at a grand level. This intent as announced by the Transport Minister Andrew Constance, is no different to any of those former instances of thievery.

If we assume for a second that the bus networks are making a loss, then that should be seen as a public good. The whole point of a public service is that it provides a service to the public. A public loss making entity such as this, provides a service many times that of the losses incurred because of the value of the goods and services which are produced as a result of people going to work. As for the notion that there might be obvious loss making bus routes, there is the fact that they happen to pass through places where people rely on them.
If we assume for a second that the bus networks are making a profit, then that should also be seen as a public good. Public services which return revenue to the state government in terms of profits, help to defray the cost of government.
On either side of the economic argument, the provision of a public good should be seen as something which is good for the public. Placing something which should be the responsibility of the government into private hands, instantly makes that thing subject to the demands of the market, which prunes those things which are unprofitable. It should never be forgotten that the market is only capable of determining one thing and one thing only: price. The market can not and does not understand or care about the usefulness and goodness of anything unless there is a dollar amount attached. If this is the basis by which the usefulness and goodness of the bus networks has been determined then this only serves to prove that the current Transport Minister Andrew Constance knows the price of his portfolio and knows nothing about its value. It is exceptionally rare that a cabinet minister retains same portfolio for more than a decade, but the decisions that a cabinet minister can make can have effects that rattle on for many decades. Long after Andrew Constance's tenure as Transport Minister has expired and been forgotten, the ramifications of a decision like this will continue to affect the lives of ordinary people.

There is also the rather annoying problem that the state government doesn't expect any savings from the sale of the bus networks as private contractors are still paid statutory amounts from providing a service. The only goal as far as I can see is that privatisation is an attempt to break up the union and in doing so weaken the opposition Labor Party's voting base. There doesn't seem to be any changes predicted to immediate bus service levels caused by this change, merely the company and conditions that the driver work for.

This is why I am absolutely 100% behind the decision of the NSW Rail And Bus Union to go on strike. The drivers haven't necessarily gone on strike because they want more money but because the very viability of the bus network itself is at stake. As far as I'm concerned, not only should they be on strike but they should be parking a whole bunch of buses right down Macquarie Street and blocking the street entirely. If possible the entire public gallery should be filled with bus drivers. Strike action mostly only happens when one party refuses to yield; in this case, the state government has simply made an announcement without warning and it's not just a slap in the face to the union but a boot to the head of the "decent and respectable people of New South Wales".

May 11, 2017

Horse 2271 - What A Bunch Of Bankers We Are

There is a strange sort of hypocrisy in the world and it is most evident in commercial media and especially among rich people. One of the popular narratives which is frequently told, seemingly without question, is that everybody who receives any form of welfare payments from the government is a bludger and a parasite. The inference that we're all supposed to draw from this is that the government should stop time funding these people and get them off of welfare because they are unproductive.
The latest barrage of attack the war on welfare has to do with drug testing for recipients of unemployment benefits and other disability payments. While I agree that the government has the right to make sure that the money is being spent prudently and wisely, the people who turn to drugs as a pitiful form of self medication, usually do so because their lives are otherwise awful. However, instead of treating this as a public health problem, spending on treatments and health care to sort this out is being cut at the same time; which means that the propensity for someone on drugs to find help and get off them is reduced. If this be the case, they are more likely to turn to drugs to self medicate. This is obviously a cruel cycle and the government wants to wash its hands of it.

The phrase which is often bandied about is that the government should be more careful when it spends "other people's money". To be honest I agree with that with one proviso, that the people who say this and consider government spending as spending "other people's money" should all be forced to leave this country immediately. I believe that as a nation there is no "other people's money" and there is "our money" and if people are so resentful of the idea of the commonwealth of nationhood, they should leave. Curiously though, there is one sector of the economy which derives its entire income and all of its profits from "other people's money" and yet it isn't criticised at all but rather it is praised; that sector is the financial sector.

I want you to imagine a very very small bank; I mean really really small. This bank is run by a ten year old boy named Will and operates on a table out the front of his house. This goes right back to the beginning of banking, where even the word "bank" itself is derived from the old Italian "banca" which also means a table or bench. If it helps, think of something like Lucy Van Pelt's booth from the Peanuts comic strip.

This very very small bank collects the kids' money from the local neighbourhood and in return promises to hold it in safe keeping. For every dollar that they give Will, if they keep it with him for a month, he gives them 3 cents in addition to their dollar. However, Will also lends money to other kids in the neighbourhood. What they do with it is of no concern to him as long as at the end of the month they pay him back the money plus 6 cents for every dollar that they have borrowed. Provided that Will can return money back to the kids who want it back and provided that he can collect more back from the kids who have borrowed from him than those that have given him their money, Will can make a profit.
The only difference in principle between the Bank Of Will and a big bank like the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, the National Australia Bank and ANZ, is a difference in scale. The other thing of note is that Will doesn't really have to work to make a profit. He doesn't sell anything like lemonade or psychiatric advice but the kids who have borrowed money from him have to do real work out in the real world to pay him back the money plus 6 cents for every dollar that they have borrowed. They might mow people's lawns, or sweep someone's driveway, or maybe do chores around the house, whatever, it is of no concern to Will.
Will's entire business model lives in the gap between having to pay back kids' money plus 3 cents for every dollar, and collecting money that other kids have borrowed plus 6 cents for every dollar that they have borrowed. If Will could only find some way to automate the system so that he didn't have to sit out the front of his house at the table, he would be laughing.

If we scale this up by a factor of literally billions, then although we might have said that Will is a little punk who doesn't really work to make a profit, we're perfectly fine with the concept that banks pay us back not 3 cents for every dollar that we have given them for safe keeping but 3 cents for every thousand dollars that we have given them. We're lucky to get 3 cents back. Worse, if you're like most people, the banks will charge you what amounts​ to rent for having your money live with them. They are still perfectly fine with making other people pay back 6 cents plus every dollar that they have borrowed; maybe 20 cents or more if they have borrowed money through the magic of credit cards.
It seems that we're also perfectly fine as a society for the entire financial system to live in the gap between the difference between the rates of what they give us for keeping our money for safe keeping and collecting more from the people who have borrowed from them.
Essentially the entire financial system doesn't produce anything of actual value but lives in the gap between the charge out and charge in rates of interest. Just like the very very small Bank Of Will, big banks mostly don't care about what borrowers do with the money as long as they are able to pay it back plus however many cents plus every dollar that they have borrowed. Also just like the Bank Of Will, that money is paid back by people having to do real work in the real world. Now tell me who the bludgers and the parasites are.

If all of the economy was being run as a single business entity, in one massive shopfront. If we believe the narrative that people on welfare payments are bludgers and parasites, then we should perhaps immediately not include people who are paid the old age pension: after all, these people have already put in a lifetime of work. If you also not include those people who have genuine disabilities and who are unable to work, then the actual number of proper bludgers and parasites is about 2% at an overly stated estimate. A shop that has theft of 2% would find that troubling but not necessarily outrageous. If you look at the ASX200 and see what proportion of the economy is made up of an entire sector of bludgers and parasites, who in essence live in the gap between the charge out and charge in rates, then apparently that doesn't seem to trouble us and yet that is an entire sector who not only lives off of the proceeds of "other people's money" but "other people's work".
But as long as we keep punching down on those people who turn to drugs as a way of self medication, instead of treating the problem as a public health issue, then that's fine. What a bunch of bankers we all are.

May 10, 2017

Horse 2270 - Budget 2017: The Morrisoning

When the parliament sits with a slightly different set of protocols, which is what happened last night, when you have one speaker who is able to speak uninterrupted, they are then able to sound remarkably sane. When Scott Morrison delivered the introductory speech for the Appropriation Bill No.1 (2017), he did so as one who sounded as though he had proper authority, rather than someone trying in desperation to be heard.
What was also notable about the delivery of the first budget bill was the absence of the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Instead we had the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce sitting behind the Treasure and on the left, and on the right was the Minister for Education Christopher Pyne. Julie Bishop was relegated to the bench immediately behind them and also in shot was Peter Dutton. Depending on your point of view, this would have looked like everything right with this country or everything wrong with this country, in one picture.
A Budget delivery speech is primarily about marketing and the image that the government is trying to project. In that regard, the overall tone of Mr Morrison's speech was one that could have come out of the mouth of practically every Treasurer since federation. This was not an alarmist speech but something which was measured and provided you remove your partisan tinted glasses, actually rather a bit dull and that indeed was the point. This speech was about delivering the message that it is business as usual and one that firmly stepped out of the shadow of former Treasurer Joe Hockey's "budget emergency" speech of a few years ago. There were a few things of note and this is a summary of what stood out to me.

This budget is based on the key assumption that wages are likely to grow at about 2% over the long run. Although a few bones have been thrown the way of targeting tax evasion by large multinational corporations, there isn't really much in the way of increasing revenues via increased taxation except for that which happens naturally. This is mostly a sensible idea as it means that all of the headline rates of income tax remain the same and so for the vast majority of people, no change whatsoever is perfectly acceptable and predictable.
With regards small business, that is businesses with a turnover of less than $10m, the rate of company tax is set to fall slightly and the ability to write off assets which have a capital cost of $20,000 or less, within the tax year, remains. I personally find that having the small business company tax rate as a different rate to the normal rate, annoying. This means that when it comes to dividends which are paid by these businesses to their owners​, that the shortfall between company tax and their marginal rate of income tax widens. If they are both kept in concert at 30%, then back of the envelope calculations are easier and explaining things to small business owners is also easier.

Mr Morrison outlined several funding packages for infrastructure spending which included improvements to the Bruce Highway in Queensland, expressway and road improvements in Western Australia, duplication of the railway line heading into Geelong in Victoria but the biggest ticket item was the announcement of the Melbourne to Brisbane Rail Project at a cost of $8.4bn, which is to be commenced in 2017/18 and completed by 2026/27.
The thing with major rail infrastructure announcements​ is that as a nation we have heard many over the years that have ultimately come to nothing. This one hasn't been floated in an airy fashion but by including it in the budget, there's a chance that it might actually happen. I find it interesting that if you look at the proposed route of the lines, they almost exclusively pass through electorates which are currently held by the National Party or by the LNP in Queensland; that also includes the electorate of New England which just happens to be the seat of the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Go figure.
There was also an amount which has been allocated for the Western Sydney Airport which is to be built at Badgerys Creek. The cynic in me wants to say that this will be an excuse for the Liberal Party of the year 2031/32 to sell it off again. On that note, Mr Morrison also indicated that he wants the Federal Government to buy the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme from the NSW State Government; which also makes me wonder if that will also be sold off by future governments.

There was some nice rhetoric surrounding the Medicare levy with that set to increase and perhaps more importantly, the freeze on the rates paid by the Federal Government to doctors and GPs has also been lifted. I find it a little worrying that a separate fund will be created to administer the Medicare levy because again, I can see such a thing being sold off by future governments.
When it comes to direct welfare payments, the government is still in damage control mode over the issue of automatic debt collection notices and depending on which​ side of the political divide you happen to sit on, the announcement that there is to be enforced drug testing of welfare recipients is either going to make you cheer or make your blood boil. Personally I think that it is prudent that the government would want to see that welfare payments are wisely spent and I hope that there are public and mental health services which are tied to this but equally I can see this being used punitively and a way of chucking people off of welfare and onto the garbage pile.

Lurking in the deep dark dank depths of this budget are increases to the amounts that we're paying to put asylum seekers and refugees into tropical gulags to hopefully rot, snips at the budget for the ABC, further swipes at the budgets for universities, and perhaps most worrying of amounts paid to the Australian Secret Intelligence Service are all labelled "nfp" or "not for publication", due to supposed national security concerns. I find it deeply disturbing that my tax dollars are spent on being deliberately cruel to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, I find it scary that the Liberal Party yields to the demands of its friends in business when it comes to the ABC and the sooner that Michelle Guthrie is removed the better, I find it unbelievably stupid and short sighted that instead of investing in both the labour capital and cultural capital of the country through the vehicle of further education that this government wants to kneecap the very thing which improves future taxation receipts, and I find it insulting that I am not allowed even to know what the number is that we spend on the dark art of spying.

I will of course need to spend several days looking into the minutiae of the budget because being such a hefty tome, it is often the picture painted by ten thousand words which is important rather than just the snapshots. On the face of it though, this is a mostly dull budget and deliberately so by design. If this budget had been presented by Anthony Albanese, then The Australian and the Daily Telegraph would have cried that it is death incarnate but as it has been presented by Treasurer Scott Morrison, then it will be given glowing reviews in today's newspapers. But it's still mostly dull.

May 06, 2017

Horse 2269 - Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory: The Stupidity of the A-League Finals Series

Please tell me why the Grand Final tomorrow is a thing.

I have never understood why in Australia, after you play a season which lasts for ten months why there is a need to play one more match to find out who the champion is. The regular season already has a league table; surely simple logic says that if you finish at the top of the league, then you should be the winner. How hard is that? The team with the most points at the end of the season wins. 

Yet for some reason which is still hitherto unknown to me, other than the possibility that the administrators of the various sporting codes in Australia think that the general public are more stupid than a cauliflower which has been left on a kitchen bench for six months, we still persist with the notion that the championship must be awarded a grand final.

Consider the regular season:
Sydney FC - Played 27. Won 20. Drew 6. Lost 1. Points 66.
Melbourne Victory - Played 27. Won 15. Drew 4. Lost 8. Points 49.

How hard is that?

Sydney FC, who has ended up with more points than any other team in A-League history, scored more goals than any other team in A-League history and conceded fewer goals than any other team in A-League history, is still forced to prove that it is the champion by playing another championship match. Suppose that Sydney FC does lose tomorrow. Then what? The team which led the entire season is not the champion because they lose one game which by rights should be happening in thfirst place? That's ludicrous.

I can totally understand in a Cup competition where you have teams being knocked out at every phase that you would end up with a final; such is the nature of the beast. A knockout cup where the loser of every match goes home must by definition have only two teams that make it through to the end. The World Cup is also essentially a knockout competition with a series of pools at the beginning.
I can also understand the case in the United State where in a competition like the NFL, where you have the winners of two conferences playing each other for the right to be called the champion. That's like having a a knockout competition with a complicated series of pools at the beginning.
For a league though, where everyone plays everyone else both home and away, then you shouldn't need a finals series. The end of the regular season already gives you a sufficient number of statistics to work with and in the case where two teams end up on the same number of points, you can dig deeper into goal difference or if that is equal, the number of goals scored, which is what happened in the 1988-89 First Division in English Football. A finals series is just plain idiotic beyond that point.

Perhaps it might have made sense when there was no Cup in Australia but now that the FFA Cup has been instituted, a finals series now just looks like a broken pencil - pointless. The FFA Cup should be allowed to take its place in the minds of the public and be allowed to grow in stature like other Cup competitions around the world.

To give you an idea of the level of disdain that I have for finals series, cast your minds back to the 28th of August last year. In the AFL, Fremantle beat the Western Bulldogs by 20 points, to condemn the Bulldogs to 7th on the AFL ladder; yet on the 1st of October, the Western Bulldogs won the Premisership by beating the Sydney Swans who had finished on top of the league ladder in the regular season. Now I don't particularly like the Swans but even I will admit that that is a horrendous travesty. A team which finished 7th does not and should not ever be called champions of anything.

During the 2016-17 regular season of the A-League, Sydney were never pushed out of the top spot of the ladder ever. Their only loss came on the 18th of February at the hands of the Western Sydney Wanderers; apart from that Sydney FC would have gone through the season undefeated. For that to be allowed to be thrown away in just one match, completely devalues the A-League. If Melbourne Victory wins tomorrow, then what in Big Blue blazes was the last eight months for? You may as well as a coach, deliberately try and finish 6th because the league is of zero consequence anyway.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd end the A-League season at the end of the A-League season. As Australia gets three places in the AFC Champions League, two sport would be awarded to 1st and 2nd in the league and the other would be awarded to the winner of the FFA Cup.
That makes sense. The A-League should be the league, the FFA Cup should be the cup, and the current finals series should be confined to the dustbin of history like pointless piece of irrelevant stupidity that it is.

May 04, 2017

Horse 2268 - Blackpool v Leyton Orient: It Isn't Football

This weekend, Blackpool FC will play its final game of the season against the absolutely dead last team on the league ladder, Leyton Orient. If Blackpool wins this last game of the season then it has pretty much secured seventh spot on the ladder; which is good enough to qualify for one of the places to play in the playoffs for promotion to the amusingly named third tier of English football, League One. Now obviously I'm happy at the prospect of picking up the easiest three points of the season but I don't at all feel happy about the treatment that Luton Town management has given its own members. Leyton Orient are guaranteed to drop out of the Football League proper and into the National League (formerly known as the Conference) and to heap insult upon injury upon misery, it is largely the fault of their management.

Leyton Orient haven't suffered the same sort of absurd fate as the old Wimbledon FC did but their management is equally as terrible and are as criminally inept. At the last home game of the season at Brisbane Road, fans staged a mass pitch invasion before they were all ejected and the rest of the match was played behind closed doors.
O’s supporters invaded the pitch at Brisbane Road with five minutes of their match with Colchester United remaining. The Orient fans refused to leave the field despite repeated requests and continued to chant for chairman Francesco Becchetti to leave. Eventually at 5.47pm the game was declared as abandoned, but just under an hour later it restarted again and finished close to 7pm.
- East London Advertiser, 3rd May 2017.

At Bloomfield Road this weekend, the Football League and Blackpool FC had threatened that there would be no away ticket allocation but they've subsequently come to their senses and have made a small selection of tickets available for those fans who bother to make the trek to the Lancashire coast. Already on the Blackpool forums and message boards, there are sentiments of solidarity as Blackpool fans have been through similar sorts of nonsense in the past.
Leyton Orient fans will be able to attend their team’s final match in the Football League at Blackpool after the EFL reversed a decision to suspend ticket sales to away supporters for the match at Bloomfield Road on Saturday.
The EFL initially approved Blackpool’s request but on Tuesday announced that a revised allocation of 1,000 tickets would be made available to Orient fans.
- The Guardian, 3rd May 2017

Yes I'm selfishly hoping that Blackpool wins this match but not because I don't like Leyton Orient. Truth be told I'm completely ambivalent towards them. To their fans though, I want to join in their sense of anger and frustration because this is about something far bigger than just a football team being relegated. This is about a community who have banded together and have been deeply let down by interests who are more concerned with money than the game.

Football as indeed all sport is intrinsically stupid. Whether its football teams or various kinds of races or tests of strength, sport is about asking who is the best at a thing and then having a go at finding out who is best at the thing. All of the fun, intrigue, interest and whatnot is built around the stories which are built up. The only reason that Liverpool and Everton hate each other is because they are next door. Holden and Ford have been locked in battle because they produce what is essentially the same product. The Olympics works as a thing because there are already stories built with interlocking rivalries because of that far more complicated story we call nationhood. Even if it is only a few dozen fans who follow a local parish team, their connection to the club and each other is as valuable and as important as when the national side plays.

This is what management does not understand at its most fundamental level. Running a football club like a business and trying to pull money out of it or saddle it with debt, is to betray the underlying story. When the management of Wimbledon FC upped roots and tried to replant the club in Milton Keynes, they failed to understand that a football club has connections to both place and the history of the place and people. Leyton Orient's problem was that in running the club as a business, they failed account for the people who make the thing what it is. Season ticket holders aren't customers, they're fans.
The FA should have also realised that shutting the fans out of an away game is going to solve nothing. Leyton Orient fans' beef is with the management of Leyton Orient and not necessarily the eleven players out on the pitch. As it is, many of the players who have turned out for them recently have been academy players, and it is nonsensical that Leyton Orient's fans would be angry with a bunch of kids who had nothing to do with the club's woes.

The only good thing that I can see coming out of this whole insanity for Leyton Orient is the blessing in disguise in the form of bankruptcy when the club gets relegated and the management loses interest. If the club goes bankrupt, then hopefully a phoenix club will rise out of the ashes of the old, with all debts forgiven and with the current management gone. If that were to happen then they'd probably suffer even more for going into administration but what would come out of it would be a new club owned by its fans through the Leyton Orient Fans Trust; which is what should have happened in the first place. If that happens, I hope that Leyton Orient becomes something better than what they are now.
I also hope that they come back as that new club, owned by the fans for the fans and not Francesco Becchetti.

May 03, 2017

Horse 2267 - Dare To Think The Unthinkable: PM Barnaby Joyce

"I don't know if Liberal governments always do a good job. I don't know if Labor governments always do a bad job. I do know that the National Party always tries to do its best for its constituents."
- Barnaby Joyce, on ABC Radio, 1st May 2017.

Barnaby Joyce is probably the current clown prince of Australian politics. He isn't exactly a political brawler and nor is he a grand statesman but given that he is a member of the National Party, he doesn't really to be. I get the distinct impression that the National Party and by extension Barnaby Joyce, occupies a sort of strange pragmatism in politics because federally they're almost guaranteed never to gain power in their own right and although there have been Country/National Party Prime Ministers, they've always come about because their coalition partners have undergone a political implosion.

The National Party itself is ironically named because it is not a unified national party. In four of six states, it runs as it always had done, in Queensland it has entered into formal union with the Liberal Party and in Western Australia the WA Nationals are struggling to remain in coalition with the rest of the party. Queensland is the exception but there's a very good reason for that.
As far as I'm aware, Queensland is the only state where the National Party has formed government in its own right without the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party really only represented a few inner city electorates and the during the premiership of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the National Party asserted itself and jettisoned the Liberals. Rather than remain as relevant as an Easter egg still left on the shelves in June, the Liberal Party more or less surrendered to the National Party in Queensland and they rebranded themselves as the Liberal National Party to take advantage of whatever political benefits that they could gain from the publicity by association with the federal parties.

This brings me to Barnaby Joyce himself. He used to be a Senator for the state of Queensland but moved downstairs to the House of Representatives and became the Member for New England as a National Party member and not a Liberal Party member. This says to me that Barnaby is more concerned with getting things done rather than wanting some tilt at the top job, because as a National Party member his chances of becoming Prime Minister are about as likely as Satan ice skating to work under normal circumstances.
If you look back through the list of Australian Prime Ministers, there have been two Country/National Party Prime Ministers and they were Sir Earle Page, Arthur Fadden and John McEwen. Earle Page was installed after the sudden death of Joseph Lyons, Arthur Fadden took the job after the forerunner to the Liberal Party, the United Australia Party, tore itself to pieces; and John McEwen got the job after Sir Robert Menzies retired from politics, Harold Holt wandered off into the sea and both the Liberal and Country parties also wandered around from side to side like brainless sheep. Unless Tony Abbott mounts a coup and deposes Malcolm Turnbull, or Turnbull decides that he's had enough and leaves, and the Liberal Party again implodes and finds itself bereft of sensible leadership, then just the sheer numbers within the coalition will always mean that there will be a Liberal Prime Minister over a National one.

I think that this is a pity. Precisely because the Liberal Party mostly represents people in the cities, and especially those people with connections to money, it is far too myopic to realise that Australia is a wide brown land. The Liberal Party was formed in 1945 by 80 members who met in the Sydney Town Hall and they included Sir Robert Menzies, the power brokers of the United Australia Party which had just recently ceased to be, people like Sir Keith Murdoch, and the IPA. Even just this week we had former Prime Minister Tony Abbott extolling the virtues of the IPA at one of its functions and then crowing about it all over social media. The National Party isn't beholden to forces like that and it has far broader concerns than just moving the great big pile of money from one place to another and taking a cut.

The National Party tends to care about things like infrastructure, health, and education etc. as means to improving the lives of people and in particular farmers and people living in rural areas. It likes the idea of reducing taxation and regulations insofar as much as this also achieves that same end. Of course it also tries to be nice to major primary producers and mining companies because it sees those entities as useful means of providing employment and driving the economy of the country; for this reason, the National Party often comes into conflict with its own members as it tries to play an internal balancing game. The Liberal Party in contrast doesn't seem to give a rip about those issues at all, as long as the coin keeps on rolling in.

Again we find ourselves back at Barnaby Joyce. I think that the National Party chose him as leader of the party because he is the most visible and memorable. The nearest political equivalent that I can think of would be if Boris Johnson was leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK if they were still in coalition with the Tories. Boris Johnson would most likely make a terrible Prime Minister but he'd be the most famous in recent memory. Likewise, a Barnaby Joyce premiership would probably be equally as terrible but at very least it would all be a lark while the ship of state was on fire. As leader of the National Party, Barnaby has been placed somewhere where he can be seen but where he can not cause very much mayhem. Probably his most famous acts involved deporting Johnny Depp's two dogs Pistol and Boo; which by the way was exactly the proper thing to do, it's just that Barnaby had all the subtlety of playing croquet with a sledgehammer and an egg.

One of the unwritten and dangerously unthinkable things about Australian politics is that if the National Party wasn't so formally entangled with the Liberal Party and flew its own course as the WA Nationals do, then it potentially could be the perpetual kingmakers. Because Duverger's Law says that single member constituencies tend towards two party politics, then the National Party have aligned themselves forever on that side of the divide. Since government is formed from a majority of members on the floor of the parliament, then they could in theory decide to flip allegiance to the other side and depose the Liberal Party. A smart leader of a party like the Nationals could in theory threaten to cross the floor on matters of supply and then demand a greater say in the executive of the nation. Again that's not likely but given Barnaby's proven capacity for poise, grace and tact, it's not like there's anything to lose.
There's a thing which is imaginable and really really weird - Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce leading a National Labor coalition government. Of course it's not at all likely but given that 2017 has already shown that everything we know is wrong then thinking the unthinkable and watching the clown prince become king doesn't seem so impossibly impossible any more.

May 01, 2017

Horse 2266 - No FIFA, You Don't Get To Crow About This

In a week that saw FIFA facing legal action over bribery in US courts and further proof that the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were also open to corruption, FIFA's Twitter account was blissfully unaware of all of this and was busily spruiking the upcoming Confederations Cup in Russia. They are counting down their top 50 moments of tournaments past, as propaganda for the one to come; yet even here we find controversy.
No 49 on the list was from the 2001 Confederations Cup when minnows Australia beat the then World Cup champions France 1-0, thanks to a scrappy goal following a free kick, from Clayton Zane. Presumably FIFA wants to show that this is one of those rare pieces of magic that can only happen in sport: after all, Australia hadn't even qualified for the 1998 World Cup where France had become champions.

I'll admit that it was a nice bit of theatre but in the grand scheme of events that were happening at the time, the fact that this happened at all is utterly disgraceful.

Before 2006, Australia was in the Oceania Football Confederation. Apart from New Zealand and Fiji, the population of the all the nations in the confederation combined, is less than the population of the local council where I live in western Sydney. When the national champion of the Fijian Football Association has been teams like Suva Foodtown FC which is made up of employees from the supermarket in downtown Suva, that should speak volumes that perhaps the viability of the entire confederation should have been called into question. To this day I still think that Oceanian should play as a single combined team in the Asian Football Confederation and New Zealand as only nation that can stand up by itself should also join Asia, but all of this is an aside.
For the 1998 World Cup in France, Australia didn't qualify for the tournament because of a series of idiotic events.

The Oceania Qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup put the six teams of the confederation (6 of 14 who bothered to enter) into two groups. Australia was put into Group A along with the Solomon Islands and Tahiti; the winners of the two groups would play each other. The results of Group A were as follows:
Australia 13 - Solomon Islands 0
Australia 5 - Tahiti 0
Solomon Islands 2 - Australia 6
Tahiti 0 - Australia 2.
Australia: Played 4, won 4, goals scored 26, goals conceded 2.

Australia would then go on to play New Zealand away and home, for the right to play the fifth placed best side in Asia. Those two matches went:
New Zealand 0 - Australia 3
Australia 2 - New Zealand 0

The fifth best side in Asia was Iran. Iran like every other nation in the world was trying to qualify for the World Cup proper but given that they knew that Australia wouldn't be expecting the task to be easy, the pitch that the Iranian Football Association had prepared in Tehran was more akin to a concrete council car park than a football pitch. If a local under 12s team in Sydney had to play on such a horrible ground, there would be complaints made to the local council.

That match went:
Iran 1 - Australia 1.
The goals came from Leeds United striker Harry Kewell who singlehandedly was paid more than the entire Iranian team and Khodadad Azizi, who was already something of an Iranian legend of the game.

The return fixture in Australia was held on the MCG; which although was a horrid venue to play football on because of the ground being chopped up by Australian Rules football which was normally played there, it was still a world away from the previous fixture in Iran. That match went:
Australia 2 - Iran 2.
The goals came from Harry Kewell and Aurelio Vidmar, and Karimi Baghari and Khodadad Azizi.

Owing to the idiotic away goals rule, Iran qualified for the 1998 World Cup because it had scored two goals in Australia, as opposed to Australia only scoring one goal in Iran. This meant that Australia didn't​ qualify for the 1998 World Cup despite a record of:
Played 8, won 6, drew 2, goals scored 34, goals conceded 5, lost 0.
Let me just stress this - Australia despite winning the confederation and being the only undefeated side in the whole world in the qualifiers for the World Cup, still didn't qualify.

The whole absurdity of the existence of the Oceania Football Confederation was highlighted when during the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup (which Australia also didn't qualify for), they defeated American Samoa 31 - 0. This remains the highest score and biggest margin in international football; which is ridiculous because it shouldn't have been allowed to take place.

I find this comment by FIFA, particularly galling.
Clayton Zane’s precise strike in the 60th minute handed Australia an unlikely victory, although the loss did not prevent the French from going on to win the tournament.
Unlikely? Rubbish!
The fact that Australia beat France 1 - 0 in one match should be seen as entirely unremarkable and I suspect that FIFA are trying to spin this as proof of their good management in fostering the game but the fact remains that they've basically been drowning Oceania Football in tropical sea of apathy by keeping their boot firmly on the neck of the confederation.
Football Australia aren't a whole lot better because after the 2006 World Cup (which Australia did qualify after beating the fifth best side in South America), they jumped ship out of Oceania and into Asia and have done nothing for the good of the confederation that they left behind.

If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, then by all means Oceania would play an internal tournament but for them to even have a hope of playing on a bigger stage, they should be playing as a single team in the same way that the West Indies do in cricket, or the USSR used to in football.
And FIFA, you don't get to crow about this. It's your bad stewardship that meant that this stupidity of history occurred. It's a complete mockery of your slogan "For the good of the game."

April 29, 2017

Horse 2265 - The United States of Melania
The flag of the US, in its current design since 1960, has 13 stripes and 50 stars.
The stripes each represent the 13 original colonies which declared independence from Great Britain.
The stars are each state, and the number has increased as more states entered the union.
Which is why it's bizarre that the flag on Melania's card only has 39 stars.
The official flag has never had 39 stars. The flag of 1877  had 38 stars, and was used for 13 years until was updated again to include the five states which joined in the intervening years.
- The Independent, 27th Apr 2017.

Mrs Rollo and I are currently working our way slowly through the rather famous courtroom drama series Perry Mason. As the original black and white series (one colour episode in 271) ran from September of 1957 to May 1966, it spanned a period in history when the United States' flag went from 48 to 49 and then 50 stars. We haven't got that far but I'm sure that I'll enjoy it like a vexillological nerd when I finally notice the switch.
On the subject of the 49 star flag, it's curious but the only photographs that I've ever seen of it, all had President Dwight D. Eisenhower in them.

This 39 star flag which appeared on the official birthday card to First Lady, Melania Trump, however is new and insane:

I'm sure that whoever threw togther this birthday card made an honest mistake and that someone should have proofed this before it had gone out but for me it highlights those immortal words of Abraham Simpson:
Dear Mr. President, there are too many states these days. Please eliminate three. I am NOT a crackpot.
- Abraham Simpson, "The Front", The Simpsons (1993)¹

Maybe this mistaken birthday card inadvertently makes an incisive piece of social commentary. America as a thing was started upon the basis of a taxation dispute and although some of it was a good idea when it started, it has gotten way out of hand in terms of increased geography, and the fact that there are a great many more states than there logically needs to be, is demonstrably a Bad Thing².

In the spirit of improving United States' geography, in Order to form a more perfect Union, I shall eliminate not eleven states. Not two or five or seven, but eleven!

1) Rhode Island
Who do you think you are kidding, Rhode Island. For a start, you're not even an island; and if you have town names like Quonochontaug and Woonsocket, it's pretty clear that you're not taking this thing seriously.

2) Texas
You should be your own thing. You got messed with. Nobody messes with Texas. Remember the Alamo? No, it doesn't mean cheap car rental. It means that the Lone Star State should be inspired to be the Lone Star Nation!

3) Two Dakotas?
Seriously? Please eliminate one. I don't care which one. Some people thought that Dakota was going to be admitted into the union as one state; that would have been sensible.

4) Hawaii
It should be its own kingdom. It used to be before it was annexed. The state's motto is "Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono" which means "the Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness" and I don't know what's righteous about invading a kingdom and stripping them of sovereignty unilaterally. What can I say except "you're welcome"?

5) Wyoming
Nobody lives there. I've checked. Quite literally nobody will miss Wyoming if it's gone. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does anyone care? No.

6) Alabama
You've consistently proved that self-government is not something you can be trusted with. You've also proved that a whole stack of Civil Wrongs does not add up to heap of Civil Rights.

7) West Virginia
You should join ordinary Virginia.

8) New Jersey
Why do you think that you're New York? Why don't you just join them?

9) Delaware
Hello, we're in Delaware.

10) Idaho
If the only thing you're famous for is spuds, you have a problem.

11) Tennessee
You're famous for endless music festivals, amazing whiskey that's aged in American White Oak barrels, and bluegrass music but have a look at your borders.I think that Tennessee became a thing after someone accidentally got a bit spirited, tore a map and had to repair the map. Quite clearly this whole state looks like someone left a piece of sticky tape on the map. This state is a clerical error.

12) Missouri
"I'll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missourah!"³ That sounds like a perfectly good enough reason to me to pitch Missouri out.

England has 48 Ceremonial Countys, India has 29 states and 7 union territories, Japan has 47 prefectures (if you include the two urban prefectures of Osaka and Kyoto and the metropolis of Tokyo), and all of those are too complicated. America's 50 states is equally as complicated and although making school children remember the 50 states and their capitals is one of those things that instills a sense of civic pride and achievement, a school child in Australia who only has to remember 6 states and three mainland territories has a far easier job.

If we follow the above plan and pitch out those twelve states then add back Puerto Rico which should have been a state as long ago as the 1920s then...

50 - 12 + 1 = 39.

And Melania Trump's card is correct.
Problem Solved.
But seriously Rhode Island, what the heck are you doing? You're not even an island.

²Just like George IV. He was a Bad Thing.

April 28, 2017

Horse 2264 - Tout Le Monde à bord, Le Train Fou!

1812, 1848, 1870, 1914, 1939... What comes next in the sequence of numbers?

I don't know enough to work through all the reiterative calculations but an online dohickey thing tells me that the next two numbers should have been 1970 and 1998. Eagle eyed readers will of course realise that these aren't just numbers but dates and dates of the opening of catastrophic European wars at that. Mostly they are the continuing squabble between French and German people and the Germans, in yet another example of perpetuating the stereotype of ruthless German efficiency, even have a word for a hatred which is carried over from generation to generation - Erbfeindschaft.

It should be apparent to all and sundry that the reason why the pattern of numbers wasn't continued with 1970 and 1998, was because of the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later morph into the European Economic Community and finally the European Union.
In 2016 as the world took a step to the right and closer to madness, mostly older British people decided to inflict Brexit upon their children and now in 2017, France has decided to listen to the call of the void and has chosen l'Front National candidate Marine Le Pen as one of the final choices in their presidential election. If France does decide to take that next step into the dark, then presumably Le Pen would also put the question of France's membership of the European Union to the people and if that happens then all bets are off and we can spin the wheel of insanity. Wheel Of Insanity turn turn turn. What is the lesson that we won't learn?
The course of history was altered by the iron curtain which had fallen across Europe and it must be said that among the myriad of reasons why there was no 1970 or 1998, was because that Germany had been snapped in half and once Prussian fervour and work ethic had been separated from Bavarian know-how and productive effort, then Germany as a thing wasn't the same as before.

Contained within the founding documents of the European Coal and Steel Community is the open admission that Europe has the potential to become a giant ball of seething hatred.
The French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed to put all French and German production of coal and steel under a single common authority; so that the likelihood of another war would be reduced.
The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.
- Robert Schuman, 9th May 1950.

In context, this document only came into existence after a hundred million people were destroyed as the result of an unresolved argument between Queen Victoria's grandchildren. That isn't hyperbole either. For five years, Europeans scared the land as they invented new ways to destroy people who looked like them, at two hundred yards. Twenty years later, after one mind had gone maniacally wrong, they devised new ways of dropping ordinance on each other, in a more technologically advanced episode of destroying people who look like each other. Quite clearly this had to stop.
The European Coal and Steel Community made no bones about the fact that by entangling and sticky taping Europe together with red tape, the ability for it to go for yet another round was reduced; it worked. When you overlay an organisation like NATO over the top, it was like taping red duck tape over the giant ball of seething hatred.
My fear is that if Marine Le Pen wins the French Presidential Election, that she will want to consider undoing the layers of red tape and long after she has departed politics, and after everyone who was around that could remember the past has been by the years condemned, that those who come after the event and can not remember that past by virtue of not being there to do so, will cause the future to repeat the past in yet another even more technologically advanced episode of destroying people who look like each other.

The more immediate and much more boring part of this story is what happens to France in the meantime​. I think that it can be argued that that very French brand of socialism with the slogan of Liberté, égalité, fraternité, has been pretty good for France. Say what you like about the inefficiency of French industry, French products are still pretty desirable, even if they can be expensive and/or quirky. France's electricity company EDF is the biggest electricity provider in the UK (thus further proving that Thatcher was criminally disasterous for Britain) and France's PSA Group which runs Citroën, Peugeot and Renault has recently acquired Opel from GM. I'm not saying that France will immediately turn into a mess but I am wondering what sort of changes will happen to France as it steps to the right.

Or else nothing could happen at all.
Owing to the fact that France conducts an all-open jungle primary before dwindling the number of candidates to two, this result has thrown up two third party candidates.
Emmanuel Macron formally codified his En Marche! party after running as an independent and previously as a member of the Parti Socialiste.
Meanwhile Marine Le Pen who is standing as a candidate in the party which her father founded, is also a third party candidate, with L'Front National only having a single seat in the French National Assembly and two in the Senate.
If the presidential election in 2002 is anything to go by, Le Pen is in trouble. Jean-Marie Le Pen scored a paltry 17.8% of the vote and lost to Jacques Chirac who scored more than four times the number of votes as him. If a similar thing were to happen, the world would breathe in and then breathe out far more easily and then wait five more years and go through it all again.

In my not very well paid opinion, if Macron wins the election then safety of Europe and by extension the world, will last a little longer. If Le Pen wins the election, then France is likely to be on the path to exiting the European Union far sooner and I think that reopens Robert Schumann's fears from oh so many years ago. To be perfectly honest, the fact that the currency union has lasted this long is surprising to me because of every other time that this sort of thing has been tried and failed, like the Latin Monetary Union, but the European Union itself has been remarkably robust precisely because it was designed to entangle and bind all of the European powers together in red tape. Undo all the tape and what you're left with is the old old problem of fifty odd countries, speaking an absurd number of languages and that has never worked well in the past.
In the words of the great philosopher and scholar Sonic The Hedgehog, when advising children about taking a ride in a spin dryer: Don't do it. It's dangerous. Stay safe.

April 24, 2017

Horse 2263 - Have I Heard S-Town Yet?

In the grand tradition of Betteridge's Rule Of Headlines, the answer to that question is "No". No, I have not heard S-Town and if it is anything like Serial where despite weeks of questioning of all of the people involved, it still achieved nothing, then I don't want to listen to D either.
This isn't to say that you won't find it enjoyable. People like what they like and don't like what they don't like. If you like S-Town then that's cool; it's just that I've already been bitten by these producers.
I still love podcasts though.

As one small particle who moves through this conurbation of Sydney as it breathes in and out, I have a lot of time on my hands. A lot of it is spent tapping away at my tablet and yet more of it is spent standing up with my eyes closed and listening to podcasts. I've been listening to podcasts for a long time now. I'm probably mistaken but I suspect that the name podcast was first coined by the great and powerful BBC who back in 2003, saw this new fangled MP3 thing as a way of making shows that had been on regular broadcast radio available to either listen to again or save for later listening and to me that was and still is important.

For me it meant that the staples of the Friday Night Comedy slot, which include The News Quiz, The Now Show and Dead Ringers would now be available for me to listen to in the car on Monday morning; as would the Monday night shows of Just A Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, The 99p Challenge and The Unbelievable Truth would be available later on in the week. To this day, my Saturday mornings are still filled with the Friday night comedy show from BBC Radio 4 and then NPR's Planet Money before I sweep the house and pull out enough cat hair day week to build a new cat.

I tried to build a top ten list of the podcasts that I listen to but that's weird. These ten been selected because of their interestingness instead.

NPR Politics Podcast (
As the title suggests, it is a weekly or sometimes more than weekly podcast which looks at the political news in America. During the 2016 Presidential Election, this was one of the only news sources that bothered to explain the long game of politics rather than just the "he said/she said" cut and thrust of politics. NPR has always had to tread very carefully when it comes to reporting on politics and like PBS it often comes across as the only sane one in the room. With correspondents who walk the floors of Congress and the White House, this is a show packed with wonks.

99% Invisible (
Roman Mars came from the world of public radio and those sensibilities are obvious. This podcast about architecture and design is obviously made by someone who started in public radio and found a way to get out of the time constrained box. A piece which might have filled up four minutes on All Things Considered, will now be spun out to 22 and be given enough time for the story to be told. If you want a story about sinister looking Family Court buildings, the buildings that used to be Pizza Huts, those grass verges which exist in freeway overpasses or something about "the fancy shape", this is where you'll find those and more like them.

Hello Internet (
Brady Haran and CGP Grey are both professional YouTubers and the first dozen are sort of about working in the industry but that notion quickly feel by the wayside and what is left is a classic "two dudes talking" podcast. This podcast is often about Brady the optimist and explorer who wants to make and create new stuff and Grey the pragmatist who wants to make the perfectly crafted thing despite not really having the skills of a filmmaker. You very quickly get the impression that here are two friends who are good mates but who should never be allowed to go on a road trip of anything longer than three days because it would end in the death of one of the protagonists.

NPR Car Talk (
Tom and Ray Magliozzi are two mechanics who answer people's questions about their cars and car repairs. There have been phone in radio shows in the past but none as joyous as this because neither Tom or Ray had really any idea about how to do a radio show. If you were the producer of a radio show, you'd have fired these guys for their unprofessionalism as they laughed and guffawed their way across the airwaves and yet that's why the show is so utterly brilliant.

CBC The Irrelevant Show (
American humour tends to lie more in the
use of sharp witticisms or perhaps the incisive put down and this is almost certainly due to the fact that it is people groups on the outer who define comedy in America. British comedy plays more with the use of language, the surreal and the clash of class, where having someone tear themselves down is far funnier than being dragged down. Canadian humour as embodied in The Irrelevant Show steals from both traditions. This sketch show has its stock and trade in the theatre of the absurd.

Dear Hank And John (
The brothers Hank and John Green are hosts of various things on YouTube including Crash Course, SciShow and their own channel Vlogbrothers. This podcast is self described as answering people's questions, giving dubious advice and giving you all the news from AFC Wimbledon (which is a third tier, English football club) and Mars (which is a cold, dead rock in space). As with all Agony Aunt style columns in the newspaper, this podcast is a fourth wall mail slot program.

We Got This (
Imagine the most intractable dilemma that you can think of and then imagine an hour of discussion of trying to resolve it. Which is the best Muppet? Who is the best President? Pirates or Ninjas? These questions and many more like them, are the basis of this podcast.
Which is the best? How should you do this? People of the world, you know what you need to do. Subscribe to this show and don't worry everyone, they've got this.

ABC RN - The Minefield (
If you thought that you knew something about how intelligent Waleed Aly from Channel 10's The Project is, then you've only really scratched the surface. He and Scott Stephens discuss moral and ethical questions which arise from the news and other issues floating around. This is a show which does the work of philosophy and asks what is the nature, goodness or fitness of the things they are discussing. Whether it be the nature of free speech, the fitness of democracy, the ontology of governance or a myriad of other things, The Minefield is probably the most intelligent half hour of radio which is currently being produced in Australia.

Judge John Hodgeman (
John Hodgeman is perhaps best known as either the PC from the Mac v PC adverts, or perhaps as an eccentric millionaire on late night television. In his role as judge of a fake internet court, he decides the fate of people's problems. Want to know if you're allowed to install a hot tub in the backyard? Are beanbags or daybeds  actual furniture? If you are 16 years old, are you allowed to have a motorbike? Is a hotdog a sandwich? The decisions in all of these cases have been handed down by Judge John Hodgeman and the universe has wrapped itself around accordingly.

Presidential (
The Washington Post's Lillian Cunningham set out on the mission of producing 44 episodes looking at the lives of each of the Presidents and seeing what if anything could be learned about leadership. She looked at things like style and tone and inadvertently also touched on the grander story of American history. This series was recorded in 2016 in the run up to the election and although it has finished, it does lend itself to making comparisons of presidents past and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

There are of course far more podcasts that I listen to like The Partial Historians which is about Roman history, More Perfect which is about the US Supreme Court, The Party Room on Australian politics, The Great Detectives Podcast and Radiolab which is about almost everything. It's been asked of me on a few occasions why I don't do a podcast of my own and the reason put simply is that I don't know anyone who'd be up for making the sort of program that I'd want to produce. With only one voice, shows like The Memory Palace or Le Show are possible but the writing needs to be exceptionally tight.
I haven't heard S-Town but if you have some other suggestions for me to listen to, then please drop a comment in the box below. I'm sure that the trained monkeys that operate the internet will deliver it to me in double quick time.

April 21, 2017

Horse 2262 - Hello Facebook, From Twitter (And Blogger)

"You should like that reply. You do know Facebook etiquette, don't you?"

I asked a question on Twitter recently, knowing that someone on either Twitter or Facebook would know the answer, and within five minutes I got 22 replies which were all identical - "Yes." After seeing all of those replies coming from Twitter; I didn't really think to check Facebook. The truth is that I know very little about Facebook etiquette and that's mainly because I took a deliberate position a long time ago about how I'd use the two platforms.

Facebook acts as both a brag book of the things that your friends and family do, an echo chamber where you don't really hear from people who disagree with your political views and much to my annoyance, a place where you get invited to play games which I'd rather not play (I'm looking at you FarmVille). Mostly because I know a fair amount about how my brain operates (only as a user; I have no idea of how either the software or the hardware which runs it works at all), I know that Facebook could very easily become a massive time sink for me; as well as a source of sadness as everyone else has a lovely time on holidays and I do not.
Twitter on the other hand as a platform which was originally developed with the short messaging service on people's mobile phones in mind, is a place where everything runs far more quickly. Being the sort of lyrebird that I am, my Twitter feed is mainly composed of journalists, news outlets; as well as a few friends. My Twitter feed takes from sources on both sides of the political divide and thanks to the beautifully wonderful mechanic of the hashtag, you can peer right into the middle of some of the world's biggest flame wars.
If I fly Facebook Airlines I am reminded that I am not allowed beyond the curtain but if I choose to fly Air Twitter, I am reminded that we are flying on a Liberator bomber with no seats and which is constantly being shot at from all sides. On Facebook Airlines you are given carefully curated meals which everyone eats quietly (and then takes photographs of) but on Air Twitter the only thing on the menu is buns, so that the eternal bunfight goes on and you must contribute a bun¹.

An old proverb says that a picture paints a thousand words. I don't know how true that is because in our image saturated world, I am not sure if that holds up any more. I would rather read or write a thousand words which build or construct a picture than press a single button to do it for me. That isn't to say that photographs can not and don't have serious thought put into them; a photograph can be an extremely curated thing.  Facebook lends itself to a slideshow of carefully​ curated photographs but Twitter by virtue of only being 140 characters per message meant that the vast majority of users very quickly learnt that it was better suited to posting links where you'd find those thousands of words instead. Maybe this speaks to those key learning methods; I know that I am an audio rather than a visual person.
On the subject of "likes", there seems to be more of a neediness on Facebook than on Twitter. Twitter is far more cool about whether or not you like something. If you say something on Twitter or make a thing or find a thing, then the single heart button says "that's cool" and​ everyone moves on. Facebook gives you a range of emotions and then people expect you to feel all the feels. I have eyeballs where reds have decided to naff off and so I don't have the same sort of visual colour palette to see the world through as everyone else does. I also suspect that I don't have the same emotional palette to see the world through either. I have 16 colours where the rest of the world has 32-bit processing and potentially 2 million colours.

And then there is Twitter's most famous user: Donald Trump.
Godwin's Law says the longer that a conversation goes on, the more likely that either Hitler or the Nazis will be mentioned. If I may be so bold to hold out my own eponymous law, then Rollason's Law would say that the longer that a conversation about Twitter goes on, the more likely that Donald Trump will be mentioned. To be honest I don't know how many followers Donald Trump has on Twitter but I bet that it's more than Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or Zayn Direction has now (please insert the latest hip and happening pop star here)².
In contrast, I bet that there aren't that many people who are actively friends with Donald Trump on Facebook but I bet that he's mentioned more there than he is on Twitter. Again I come back to this but Facebook appears to feed into people's confirmation biases more than Twitter does. Facebook's revenue model relies on looking at what you like and then giving you more of that. This seems to me like giving a fat kid cake and then wondering why they don't want to eat vegetables. I suspect that because Twitter users are fed a constant diet of bitter melon and thistles, they're less likely to be as trusting of what comes through.
This has been of much discussion over the past few months, where users of Facebook have found that family relationships in particular are somewhat strained and discussions are heated. In that strange world of 2006, these sort of conversations were tempered by people's expressions and tone of voice around dinner tables but a decade later, text is unable to convey restraint and everything becomes the extreme version of itself. On Twitter, right from the start people knew that they could stare directly into a firestorm and this was just part of the landscape.

There's a thing that I actively don't like about Facebook and that is the way that it embeds video and doesn't​ return revenue to the video's creators like Twitter does. Twitter has no proprietary player and YouTube videos will either be embedded as is or will click you through to YouTube. Facebook will not. I want YouTube creators to keep on making stuff that I like and to do that, they need advertising revenue. I personally love advertising for two reasons: firstly it pays for my entertainment and secondly, it pays for the food on creators' tables. If Facebook's own player doesn't return revenue to video's creators, then it may as well be stealing the bread from people's table.

If you are reading this blog post, then according to my analytics, you are more likely to be a Twitter user than a Facebook user. My Twitter output is set up so that undirected tweets get posted to Facebook in lieu of me needing to log in there. That's why you'll occasionally see strings of hashtagged tweets appear; especially during QandA on ABC 1 on Monday nights. As an aside, QandA has often been the world's No.1 trending thing on Twitter; much to the confusion of many people throughout the world³.
Do I know Facebook etiquette? Well, not really. Facebook is a social network whereas Twitter is more of a snark network which also serves as  news platform. This is more asking if I am a dog person or a cat person; I know I am a cat person. Follow me on Twitter, my handle is @rollo75 The cool cats are on Twitter; they generally don't like very much.

¹Apologies to "O Me! O Life!", Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1892) -
²Trump is no.42. Beyonce: 115 (yes), Lady Gaga: 8 (no), Justin Bieber 2 (no), Zayn Direction 63 (yes).
³We'll take that as a comment.

April 20, 2017

Horse 2261 - The Batman In The Rye

Over the Easter long weekend, I saw a film at the drive-in and finished a book that I'd always intended to read. The film was The Lego Batman Movie which I enjoyed very much and the book was JD Salinger's 1945 novel "The Catcher In The Rye" which I didn't enjoy at all.
In that great tradition of making connections which aren't supposed to be made, throwing out punchlines that were never there, and jumping headlong into a lake of conclusions without first checking the depth, this is a thousand odd words on why Batman was better.

Long long ago in an English department's storeroom, far far away, there was a teenage past version of me who was constantly annoyed that of all the books that we could be reading and had class sets for, the English teachers always seemed to pick the most frustrating they could find. We could have had Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, we could have had 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell, we could have had something swashbuckling like The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas but no, we got snore fests like Emma by Charlotte Bronte, The Crucible and Death Of A Salesman by Arthur Miller and although Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens was interesting I still found the explanation of The Poor Laws of 1834 in the back of the book more interesting than book itself. Of course we studied Shakespeare but I must have been unlucky or something because I missed out on Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, as well as Hamlet and Othello, but instead got As You Like It and A Midsomer Night's Dream. The contemporary novels that we must have got, I can't remember by name except for My Place by Sally Morgan and it left so little impression on me that I have no idea what the book was even about now.
I have this theory that English teachers have some unspoken pact, whereby they all have decided to inflict pain upon their current students as way of vicariously getting back at the horrible things that their own teachers did to them.

Since leaving high school I have read Catch-22, 1984, The Three Musketeers, To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as a stack of crime novels which are much taller than I am. One of the books which I hadn't read though, was The Catcher In The Rye and like some weird completionist, it was on my mental list.

The story basically revolves around a kid with the odd name of Holden Caulfield; which sounds to me like it should have been the replacement for the Torana. Holden has decided to drop out of boarding school and with all the forethought of a typical teenager, he sells his stuff and takes a train to New York City. While there he bums around the city and in the meantime blows a bunch of cash, accidentally has a prostitute sent to his hotel room, proceeds not to have sex with her because he wanted someone to talk to and then when she realises that nothing is going to happen she shafts him for more money, he goes on a date with a girl who ends up hating him, and he sneaks into his parents' apartment and ends up taking his kid sister out for the day.

I guess that it is supposed to be framed as a classic bildungsroman where the main character learns something of themselves and of life but apart from Holden swearing like a trooper, smoking a bunch of cigarettes and getting into places under age, he learns nothing and at the end of the novel we're left with the thought that he's probably going to run away out west. I don't know if we're supposed to feel sympathetic or antagonistic about Mr Caulfield but somehow I feel neither and if anything I've been annoyed. Yet again I'm back to my own seventeen year old self and am wondering why this book is consistently set on lists of texts that are given to high school students. This book hasn't reached Brave New World at status in my mind because it hasn't provoked me to hurl the book across the room but it has joined a list of books that I have no intention of reading in the foreseeable future.

In stark contrast was The Lego Batman Movie. The film started out with Batman being praised by everyone in the world but being deeply alone and cut off from everyone. He is threatened with the prospect of working with the police and takes it very badly and his nemesis The Joker is appalled by Batman's inability to hate him as the worst criminal of all. A plot follows where The Joker releases all of the worst criminals in the world from an interdimensional prison, Batman inadvertently adopts Robin and he ends up having to learn a lesson about working with others and letting people into his life. The film is replete with cross references from just about everything​ in the Batman franchise ever and it takes the point of view that everything is canon. As someone who has only seen the 1989 Tim Burton film and has had no real background of the 80 years of print media, this film was accessible, even to someone as clueless as me.

Both Holden Caulfield and Batman are deeply unlikeable characters who paradoxically know that they are deeply unlikable. Holden takes pleasure in "horsing around" with people in spite of their objections and Batman is a showoff to a fault and I don't think that I'd enjoy being friends with either of them. If The Catcher In The Rye is held up as a great piece of literature because it plays with the form of the bildungsroman, then although it achieves what it set out to do, I'm still not impressed. The Lego Batman Movie collects all of the necessary plot tokens and then cashes them in in exactly the way you'd expect from a movie and yet still manages to play with the form of the superhero movie.
Both of these things take delight in the very media of which they are products. The Catcher In The Rye is mostly written in the passive voice which those same English teachers who are trying to torture you, will tell you is an unmitigated disaster of a way to write a novel. They will want you to use an active voice which places everything in the present but I suspect that this is the reason why Salinger wrote the novel like this. Holden's biggest problem throughout the novel is that no adults will listen to him and the only one who does in the novel, has intentions of doing something really pervy. Apart from Holden's little sister Phoebe, the only adult who listens to Holden Caulfield is you, dear reader. Batman in The Lego Batman Movie both opens and closes the movie by breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. Again, the movie is self aware that it is part of a great cloud of Batman canon and steals from everywhere within that canon.

I suppose that if I had read Catcher In The Rye when I was seventeen I might have empathised with Holden Caulfield but as someone who is more than double that in age and some again, I do not. Neither do I think I empathise with Batman, whose desire to rely on no one but himself stems from a traumatic childhood where both of his parents were killed. The real irony with these two characters is that Holden wants to be listened to but as a reader I kind don't want to, and Batman doesn't want anyone to help him and yet as a viewer I want him to be helped.

Commerical success isn't necessarily the mark of goodness but it's interesting that no movie adaptation of The Catcher In The Rye exists. Partly this is because the estate of JD Salinger has thus far refused to endorse any movie adaptations but mostly I'd suggest it is because Holden Caulfield is not a fun character. On the other hand the story of Batman has possibly been told more any other character on screen except for Romeo And Juliet and I think that this is because we find Batman to be more compelling. Am I going to rush out and complete my personal viewing of the Batman canon? Probably not. Am I likely to read another book by JD Salinger? Probably yes. Does that mean that Holden Caulfield is a better character than Batman? No. The Lego Batman Movie is some masterpiece of cinema either but I'm still likely to watch it again before I reread The Catcher In The Rye.