December 04, 2016

Horse 2196 - Oddvent: Dec 4 - The Christmas Penguin

'twas the twenty-first night before Christmas.

December 4th is the fourth day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Tam's Day, the day that a Penguin saved a child's life, we shall now tell the story of Tim & Tam the Penguin.

Everyone has heard of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in which the protagonist, Mr Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three specters who reform him and change his attitude. In the tale, he is warned that the son of his employee Bob Cratchitt, who is called "Tiny Tim", will die unless an unnamed course of medical treatment is given to him. The tale is supposed to be precautionary and act as an object lesson for all of us to change out ways. What you might not be aware of though is that this was based on a far older legend and dates from the middle of the second century AD.

Gaius Petruvius was the Governor of the Roman province of Numida Inferior from the year 164 to 196. He was a brutal and unforgiving ruler, who exacted heavy taxation from his province and put down rebellions and uprisings without mercy. The story which Dickens drew from revolved around a man called Haki and his son Timaeus.

Haki was a goat farmer and eked out a modest living in selling meat, wool, milk and cheese. Like most farmers in the province, his was not an overly abundant living but it was adequate to keep him and his three children in a reasonable standard of living. Unfortunately the winter of 167 was singularly bitter and he lost many of his flock. It was so bad in fact, that when the taxation assessors came around in the summer, they took pity upon Haki and he escaped without having any taxation imposed upon him at all. This would have been fine if it wasn't for the further heartache of there being a flood at the beginning of the fall and even more of his flock was lost in the raging waters.

This would have been an ordinary tale of agricultural loss if it wasn't for the Governor himself, Gaius Petruvius, who took a liking to the goat meat and demanded to know specifically which farm it had come from. Haki was summoned to the governor's palace and instead of having pity taken upon him, Gaius Petruvius thought that this was a sign that Haki must have done something to invoke the anger of the gods and rather than risk what else he might bring upon the province, he ordered that Haki be thrown into prison.

Legend has it that that night, Gaius Petruvius was visited by three specters who showed him summers past, summer present and summers future and that it was not Haki's fault that misfortune had occurred but it was the fault of his son Timaeus. If nothing was done, then the future would continue to be awful and there was nothing for it: the child must die.

Gaius Petruviius organised a maniple of troops to visit the household of Haki and when they arrived, they found Haki's wife attending to the needs of the house and Haki's older two sons out on the hillsides keeping the goats. Haki's youngest son Timaeus was an exceptionally small and scrawny looking child and could be found not terribly far away from the house playing with his pet penguin Tam. When questioned as to what his name was, the child answered "Tim" and when he was stolen away, he put up so much of a protest that the soldiers decided to bring along his companion, Tam the penguin.

The child was brought to the palace of the governor and was asked several questions about what he had done which might have caused the terrible winter and following flood. This was all too much for Tiny Tim who was no more than seven years old and instead of answering the questions, he could only stand in the middle of the palace crying. Gaius Petruvius had no time for the nonsense of a crying child and ordered that Tiny Tim be quartered and the four parts be sent to the furthest reaches of the province.
Just as one of the soldiers was about to hack off Tiny Tim's head with an axe, Tam the penguin broke free of his captors and waddled as fast as he could to be with Timaeus. Gaius Petruvius was so moved to see this display of affection for the boy by the penguin that he immediately revoked the order that Tiny Tim be killed and also immediately ordered that Haki be set free and that no further impost would be payable.

From here the legend is unclear but we do know that Gaius Petruvius ordered that special black biscuits be baked in honour of the penguin and the dispute lies in the question of whether or not they should be called Tim-Tam biscuits after Timaeus and Tam, or just Penguin biscuits.

December 03, 2016

Horse 2195 - Oddvent: Dec 3 - The Christmas Hero Sandwich

'twas the twenty-second night before Christmas.

December 3rd is the third day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Sandwiches’ Day, the day that the Twelve Foot Long Hero Sandwich of Burton Country, Vermont, was officially credited with the miracle of feeding the fifty, we shall now tell the story of Jennifer Warwick, the lady of the greatest sandwich of them all.

In the winter of 1865 and after a brutal period of four years which saw the Union pitted against the breakaway Confederacy in the Civil War, the United States needed to come together to heal its wounds. As a result of there being many furnaces and foundries built for the product of weapons and equipment, there was now an excess of these things and they needed to be converted to civilian use of else be a waste. The problem is that there are only so many things that you can put a giant fire box to use as: foundry, kiln, crematorium and of course the best of all, a regular old oven.

Jennifer Warwick had seen her husband go off to fight for the Union four years before and just as she thought that she was going to have her husband return home to her, the government posted her a small medal and a certificate in lieu of him, as he had stood on a tent peg and died of tetanus. Consequently, as he had been a blacksmith and founder, she found herself in possession of the fire box but without the necessary skills to do her husband's former job; undaunted, she turned her hand to the one thing that she was renowned for: baking.
Warwick & Co. went from turning out a few loaves per day for pennies, to many hundreds of loaves per week which brought in hundreds of dollars. Word spread throughout the state of Vermont and soon she was turning out bread for people as distinguished as the Governor.

Christmas of 1865 was particularly unkind as the mercury plunged well below freezing and many ex-servicemen now had to take their next battle, surviving the winter; this was well before the arrival of the welfare state. As an act of charity for families who were in similar circumstances to her own, Jennifer Warwick announced that she would bake the longest loaf of bread that the firebox would allow, and pieces would be given away to these families. Word reached the local newspaper, The Burton Register, and a campaign was soon established among the local farmers to bring a selection of meats, cheeses and vegetables together, so that the families might have more than just bread at Christmas.

On Christmas Day, when the twelve foot long loaf of bread was taken out of the firebox and laid on a specially constructed trellis table, it was cut down the side and work began on filling it with the great provision which had been brought forth. It was unlike any other sandwich ever made; for it was filled with things that do not normally go together, including: ham, lamb, various salamis, lettuce, tomatoes, olives, chicken, turkey, avocados, mustard, mayonnaise, artichoke, beans, and five kinds of cheese from the county.
There was great joy when as the sandwich was cut into two inch divisions, fifty four people of whom the war had taken a great toll, all shared in its bounty. Some of them had been made lame, others had lost limbs; others were still traumatised from the war and were thankful that a great kindness had been shown to them. The Mayor of Burton County, Clyde Auburn, declared that:

The sandwich was so great and its provision for the veterans so remarkable, that this should surely become a Christmas tradition along with giving coal to children. Mrs Jennifer Warwick has not merely prepared a Christmas sandwich by her generosity and ingenuity but she has invented what will be known as for many years to come, a Christmas Hero Sandwich.
- The Burton Register, 26th Dec 1865.

More than 150 years later, the hero sandwich has escaped beyond the confines of the holiday season and has become something to be enjoyed all the year round. History may have passed over Jennifer Warwick but greatest sandwich, both in size and fame, lives on. Perhaps we should revive the original meaning and invite those less fortunate to come and share the Christmas Hero Sandwich once again.

December 02, 2016

Horse 2194: Oddvent: Dec 2 - The Official Drink Of Christmas

'twas the twenty-third night before Christmas.

December 2nd is the second day of the made-up characters calendar and being Moloch's Day, in celebration of the horror that is industrial disasters, this day marks the proprietor Noel Knowell.

'Hark!' the morning Herald sings,
Advertising wonderous things.
Angels we have heard on high,
Telling everyone to buy.

In the beginning of the nineteenth century, if you wanted to make anything grand, it either had to be built out of wood or iron. And because there wouldn't be electricity in people's homes or in factories, it meant that horsepower was provided by actual horses and that you needed steam power to drive factories and candles and gas if you wanted light.  The story of how Noel Knowell came to be associated with Christmas starts with just such a problem.

Just after the Great Exhibition of 1851, Mr Noel Knowell who owned the Majestic Star Department Store thought that it would be appropriate for the store to have a great beacon of light on its roof in commemoration of the star of Bethlehem. He commissioned none other than Isembard Kingdom Brunel to build the world's biggest and brightest gas light, in the shape of globe, for a light on a hill cannot be hidden.
Isembard Kingdom Brunel was a nineteenth century industrial revolutionary. Among his many achievements was the building of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the great steamship the SS Great Britain and the first tunnel underwater, the Thames Tunnel. These things are not relevant to the story of our modern Christmas celebration; his contribution comes from a much much darker place.

Brunel had had no prior experience with either building lamps or indeed working with glass at all but that did not trouble him. This was the age of industry and light and power were elements that could be tamed and brought to command by those who dared to do so - audere est facere - to dare is to do.
Brunel's lamp, which was gas lit, was built from a cage of iron and had eight sections of glass; one for every quarter both above and below the horizon. It measured twelve feet across and would be the brightest object built by human hands. The Majestic Star Department Store would have its own bright star that would give great light both day and night.

On December 2nd 1851, Noel Knowell attempted to light the beacon for the first time but unknown to all, Brunel had unwittingly built a massive gas bomb. When his pilot light on the end of a twenty foot pole excited the gas, the beacon exploded in a shower of iron and glass, the gas caused a fireball which engulfed the top level in the department store and the iron ring which formed the equator was blown across the street and into a park where it miraculously came to settle around a couple who were cowering under a holly tree and in each other's arms. It is because of their good fortune that we place circles of holly on our doors. The Majestic Star Department Store never commenced another day's trading.

Ever the businessman, Noel Knowell retreated into one of his sidelines and began to produce bottled drinks, in the still infant apothecarial tonics industry. This new venture which was founded in 1852, in partnership with a recently arrived migrant Swedish chef, Bjorn Issthe, made a host of drinks including Indian Tonic Water, Dandelion and Burdock, and Sarsaparilla but it was their Ginger Ale for which the company became famous.

“Noel Knowell / Bjorn Issthe - King Of Ginger Ale” became one of the most famous drinks companies of the day; notwithstanding the fact that in the period before the First World War where the use of drugs was completely unregulated, the drink was laced with cocaine and marketed with the tag line of "Everything Must Go"; which either seems incredibly morbid or euphoric depending on how you choose to look at it; the company chose the former.
Unfortunately, the company did not fare so well during the Great Recession of 1892 and ran into financial difficulties. The company folded in 1899 after fading into obscurity and unprofitability but not before “Noel Knowell / Bjorn Issthe - King Of Ginger Ale” had passed into the realm of popular song.

December 01, 2016

Horse 2193 - Oddvent: Dec 1 - Philip The Gravy Duck

'twas the twenty-fourth night before Christmas.

The month of December is known around the world for the telling of stories which are made up and to be honest have not a lot do to with Christmas itself. They include the tale of Santa Claus and his gang of followers like Zwart Piet and the Whipping Father, the Christmas Goat, El Caganer, Frosty The Snowman, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Lady Bertilak. They are as weird as the Easter Bunny, the Queen's Birthday Robot and the Brenda, the Labour Day Civil Disobedience Penguin.
If these are all made up, then why not make up a bunch of hooey for every day of Advent and commercialise the lot?

December 1st is the first day of the made-up characters calendar and being St Philips Day, in celebration of the Dutch electronics company, this day marks the arrival of Philip The Gravy Duck.

In many people's houses, December 1st is the day that the Christmas tree is decorated. That might mean a trip to the treemongers or perhaps a jaunt into a state forest for a spot of tree poaching, or even to the hall cupboard to set up an imitation fir tree; thus installing a fake version of a piece of vegetation on the pests of national interest register, but irrespective of what tree is used, it always means finding all of the trinkets and baubles to go along with it.

Somewhere in the midst of all the confusion; when nobody expects it and when nobody notices, everyone is visited by the first of The 24 Guardians Of Christmas Spirit: Philip The Gravy Duck.  Philip The Gravy Duck isn't actually obsessed with gravy as the name suggests. No, during the fun and frivolity of dressing the Christmas tree, he arrives and hides the gravy boat. On Christmas Day when you're busily hacking into that turkey, ham, goose or perhaps your individual Cornish Hen, invariably you will want some gravy. Much to your chagrin and annoyance, the gravy boat will be missing and you along with scores of disappointed people all over the world, will have to serve the gravy in a mug or small milk jug. Nobody ever realises it at the time and spends most of Christmas Day in a flapdoodle and this is just one of myriad root causes.

In the Christmas story, the tale of Philip The Gravy Duck is represented by the epiphany of the three wise men on January 6th. It was only then that they realised that they were visited by Philip The Gravy Duck and that his larceny was the reason that that had to use one of the inn's pewter beer mugs to pour their gravy out of. What? Did you think that they'd still be hanging about the stables after visiting the baby King Jesus? Ha! Stick that for a joke. They were attending the International Bitumen Conference in Bethlehem. They were actually three very short Scots Chinese and were called McXi, McXaoping and McChang; they were in town selling petrochemicals. They were the "Three Wee Kings Of Orient Tar".

What reason does a duck want for stealing gravy boats? The reason is twofold. Firstly, without any gravy boats, his hope is that many of his ducky brethren will be saved from the chopping block. Secondly, if you turn a gravy boat upside down, it kind of already looks like a very useful piece of premade battle armor for a duck. After Philip The Gravy Duck steals people's gravy boats, he distributes them to needy ducks the world over. Of course once the New Year has come and the need for armor has subsided, the ducks surreptitiously return all the gravy boats to their owners; which is why the police usually cancel the vast majority of their petty larceny enquirers by the end of January.

He sees you when you're sleeping; he knows if you're awake.
He knows if you've got a gravy boat; so it's him who's on the take.
Don't matter if you shout; don't matter if you cry.
Don't matter if you pout; I'm telling you why.
Philip The Gravy Duck is coming to town.

November 24, 2016

Horse 2192 - Going Back To The Electoral College

To call this election cycle in the United States "different" is to make the understatement of the century (and I don't think that that will be an understatement). When you have two candidates, both of whom were the least popular in US electoral history, thrown up by tow political parties who are probably both in a state of meltdown after six years of deadlock, then normality isn't an option.

To compound the strangeness of this cycle, Donald Trump became the President-Elect, having gained less of the popular vote but more of the votes in the Electoral College. There have now been five elections where the winner of the Electoral College lost the popular vote, six if you include the ambiguity of the election in Alabama in 1960 and possibly seven if you include the 1864 election during the Civil War.

Naturally as you'd expect, such a result brings down a firestorm of controversy if you try and posit why or how they Electoral College exists. This tweet and graphic being such an example.

Here is exactly how the U.S. electoral college system misrepresents voters in one easy to read graphic.
- via Twitter, 20th Nov 2016.

The first question to ask is why the Electoral College exists. It is an archaic system and stems from the day when it took days and weeks to cross the country and so the system was invented so that the states would send delegates on behalf of their citizens, to vote for them.
The choice of SEVERAL, to form an intermediate body of electors, will be much less apt to convulse the community with any extraordinary or violent movements, than the choice of ONE who was himself to be the final object of the public wishes. And as the electors, chosen in each State, are to assemble and vote in the State in which they are chosen, this detached and divided situation will expose them much less to heats and ferments, which might be communicated from them to the people, than if they were all to be convened at one time, in one place.
- Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 68, 14th Mar 1788.

Hamilton had a problem. It was probably already immediately apparent that no only did the people of different states have "heats and ferments" but that they were also given to factionalism. The Electoral College, whilst being incredibly racist in its overtones by wanting to only include slaves as 3/5ths of a person as it finally washed out in the constitution, was designed as a safeguard against the people. If that sounds anti-democratic to you, then you're right, it was designed to be.
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
- Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, United States Constitution, 21st Jun 1788.

You will note that the US Constitution mentions nothing about holding a general election for the President or even if there needs to be one. It is entirely feasible that Hamilton conceived in his mind, an unelected President, who would be appointed by the states.

This actually renders most of the graphic irrelevant. Electoral College votes and indeed the number of Representatives and Senators that the states get, are determined by the apportionment as a result of the census as stipulated elsewhere in the constitution. The actual legal value of any person's vote in a Presidential Election as determined by Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, is the same for all people across the Union - it is NIL.

The presumption of the graphic is the general principle that because a different set of weighting is applied to the Electoral College than the general population, then the Electoral College must be wrong. The implication is that everyone should have equal voting power. One person, one vote; that sounds fair, right?


If that were to be followed, every election would be determined by the people of California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, North Carolina and Georgia. The remaining 41 states in the Union would never have a say ever again; that's perfectly fine it that's how you want the system to work. It does mean though, that people in the cities, forever dictate to people in rural areas how the country should be governed.

A pure popular vote, means that California by itself completely cancels the smallest 16 states in the Union; even if all 16 cast 100% of their votes in the same direction. If you happen to live in any of those states then too bad; democracy hates you.

Then there are consequences like this:
Protesters have tried to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline since late last summer. They've voiced environmental concerns. They've performed sacred rituals. They've stood in solidarity with a Native American group seeking to be heard.
- CNN, 23rd Nov, 2016.

The implication is that people like like, who protest something like the Dakota pipeline should by rights be ignored. For every one person stupid enough to live in North Dakota, there are 51 people living in California. Let's put this another way, 14 times more people live in New York City that in North Dakota.
Just by itself, New York City gets 17 members of the House Of Representatives while the entire of Wyoming gets on at large. With those 17 members of the House Of Representatives comes 17 Electoral College votes. Is it right and just that people living in one big city, should override the wishes of people 1500 miles away and forever? That is the unfortunate implication.

There are loads of things wrong with the US voting system, it has managed to combine the worst aspects of non-compulsory voting, gerrymandering, winner takes all voting, first-past-the-post voting, holding elections on a Tuesday, Voter ID laws and subsequent disenfranchisement, and combined them all into one glorious steaming pile of hot mess but I don't think that means that the idea of applying different weights to people's votes is of itself a bad idea.

Yes, I will admit that the election of a man who says awful things, looks like he's been marinating in Fanta and is going to produce an absolute train wreck of a Presidency is a bad thing but that's not necessailry the fault of this aspect of the Electoral College; rather it is the fault of so very many other things. If the result of the election had gone the other way, we still would have seen the community convulsing with extraordinary and violent movements; that is not the fault of the Electoral College either.
What makes this whole thing really strange is that the people who would usually rail against the tyranny of the majority in some aspects of legislation are now calling for it in others. It simply does my head in.

To tell you the truth, I would prefer to eliminate the primaries and to have a single preferential election but I like the idea that the Electoral College tries to give extra weight to the little states who otherwise would never have any say in the democracy at all. If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd run the top seven candidates against each other and then work out a grand Electoral College preferential ticket. Those 538 Electors would then submit preferences and we'd count off the Electoral College using instant run-off voting. Of course, I think that Presidential democracies are idiotic in principle but again, that is not the fault of the Electoral College either.

November 20, 2016

Horse 2191 - The People of the World vs Mark and Hal - Best Door

One of the many fine podcasts that I listen to, of which there are many, is "We Got This" which is hosted by Hal Lublin and Mark Gagliardi. As the title suggests, they are given quandaries and questions to sort out the answers to and those questions range from the ridiculous to the sublime.
On Episode 90, they answered the question of "which is the best door?" (see the link at the bottom*) and I won't spoil the episode other than to say that the answer that they arrived at while fun, was a generic answer and not specifically "which is the best door in the world?". I shall provide what I think is the answer to this question.

It's one of those strange things that there are some iconic buildings which although are instantly recognisable, their doors are not. Any list of the most famous buildings in the world must surely include The White House, The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, The Sydney Opera House as well as the Palace Of Westminster's Houses Of Parliament Clock Tower which is more commonly known as Big Ben after the bell that it houses, but these buildings are famous in their own right and nobody can describe what their doors look like unless they are really familiar with the buildings in question.
The White House itself is an interesting case in point. People are familiar with the Oval Office, the Red Room, the Blue Room, the Situation Room and the West Wing but not many people can describe the front door to the building. Likewise, I can describe in immense detail what the Australian House Of Representatives and the Senate look like on the inside but I have no idea what the front door looks like.
Conversely, I can describe what the doors on an A-Class Suburban Train looks like in Sydney, or what the doors on my eight and nine car tube trains look like on the London Underground but the Underground is more famous for its roundels which have outlasted all other attempts to brand the network to such an extent that the roundels and Harry Beck's famous map practically are the London Underground in many people's mind's eye.

To people of an older age, perhaps "The Green Door" from the song of the same name is what has lived long in the memory. There is an old piano and they play it 'hot' behind the green door but apart from that we don't know very much about what's behind it.
Perhaps the second most famous door is the blue door on the front of a spaceship with a broken chameleon circuit and bears the label 'Police Box - Public Call' above it. Again, I'd argue that although it is famous in the British Commonwealth and some parts of the United States, that particular door is more closely related to the object itself which is mostly composed of four sides which roughly look the same.

No, in my not very well paid opinion, the best door in the world is so iconic that it is more famous than the actual building to which it is a part and the address also adds to the mystique. I think that the door is so brilliant that if I wasn't renting, I'd pull the existing front door off of its hinges and replace it with a replica of this famous door.
That door is the front door of none other than Number 10 Downing Street.

The front door of Number 10 is itself an icon. Whenever anyone visits the British Prime Minister, the photo opportunity is not of them meeting in the cabinet rooms or one of the reception rooms but of them arriving at the famous black door. I'd go so far to suggest that you could knock down the whole building and provided you kept the black door, with the fan of glass and the white number 10 affixed to the front, nobody would mind. The metal work  which frames the door is also iconic as well.

The front door of Number 10 is a case of metonymy gone mad. A metonym is when a part comes to stand for the whole and in the case of the British Government, Number 10 has come to represent the Office Of The Prime Minister and the black door on the front of that building is the visual representation of that.

It is visually solid, stern, very formal looking and because it has existed before the advent of the internet, television, radio, telephone,  telegraph and even daily print media, it also projects an air of permanence like nothing else can. The White House only goes back to 1800 but Number 10 was around at least a hundred years before that. It was behind this door where the administrative affairs of empire are imagined to have taken place and behind the same front door where Disraeli, Gladstone, Churchill and Thatcher conducted business. It is behind that same door where I in my most frivolous flights of fancy would want to live, even though I would be rubbish at the job.

I can think of no other door in the world like that. The doors on one of my former place of employment at 48 Martin Place, the money box bank, were far more grand and far more elaborately adorned with brass handles but again, people remember the building and not the door. The door to the great vault downstairs weighs 111 tons and took a whole team of horses just to pull it down the street but it remains hidden away and you have to go looking for it. The door to the great vault of that building is physically for more impressive but what lies behind it is only a physical store of wealth; not the embodiment of power.

People of the world, the front door of Number 10 is of itself so iconic and representative of so much, that it's difficult to think or any door in the world which is more famous.
If a door itself is symbolically endowed with ritual purposes, and the receiving of people from outside, then the door at Number 10 must surely be the best example of this because it is the most doory of doors and as such, it is the best door.

Asked and answered.


November 14, 2016

Horse 2190 - The 51st State Might Be A Little While Longer In Coming

Now that we've all calmed down a bit, following the unexpected result that Donald Trump will be sitting in the big chair at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from January next year; and we whiz past the fact that the Republicans will control both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 115th United States Congress, there was one result which may have passed by more people's attention and that was the D.C. Statehood Referendum.
Way down the ballot, the people of the District of Columbia voted overwhelmingly in favour for statehood.
D.C. Statehood Referendum
YES - 227,562 (86%)
NO - 37,558 (14%)
- NBC Washington, 8th Nov 2016
District voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to make the nation’s capital its 51st state on Tuesday, with pollgoers saying they hope the vote puts pressure on the next Congress and president to address D.C.’s lack of representation in Congress.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump did not take a firm position on D.C. statehood during the campaign. But in an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board in the spring, he said statehood is a “tough thing.”
- The Washington Post, 8th Nov 2016

A "tough thing" is an understatement.

This was the second referendum on statehood to be held in the district and the second time that the voters have called for the district to be admitted as the 51st State in the Union.

There are quite a number of problems which immediately arise. In Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1 of the US Constitution, even if the territory in question applies for statehood, it still says that "no new States shall be formed or erected", "without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress".

The last time that the House of Representatives voted on D.C. statehood was back in November 1993 in the 103rd Congress and even though the Democrats controlled chambers of Congress, as D.C. was then a predominantly Republican voting jurisdiction, it was roundly chucked out by 277 against to 153 for. In the next Congress, when Republicans will control both chambers of Congress, it might be chucked out again because D.C. is now a predominantly Democrat voting jurisdiction.

Even if we assume that the Republicans would be nice to D.C, there's still another bonkers crazy hurdle which has to be sorted out.

The US Constitution in Article I, Section 8, Clause 17, provides there shall be a "District (not exceeding ten Miles square)" which would become the "Seat of the Government of the United States". This outlines the principle that that Federal District not be part of a state but it doesn't say how big that that state has to be.

In theory, the Federal District could be as small as a peppercorn though I would suspect that it would need to contain the buildings which house the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches as outlined in the Constitution. If that's the case, then it's possible to draw a very small L-shaped district which mostly contains parks and apart from homeless people who might be living in them, the only family who would officially live in the whole district, would be that one particular family who calls 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue home.
If New Columbia were a state, it would be bigger in terms of population than both Wyoming and Vermont but it would far smaller than even Rhode Island which is 17 times as large. The new federal district would be less than 2 square miles.

There is an even bigger hurdle which would have to be overcome and that is a sneaky little thing called the Twenty-Third Amendment which if left unchecked, has unintended consequences.

The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct:
- A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State
- Amendment XXIII, Section 1, United States Constitution (passed 1961).

As it stands, the District of Columbia gets three electoral votes based on its population if it were a state. If it were a state it would be entitled to one Representative (which it kind of already has) and two Senators (which it does not). If D.C. becomes the 51st state of "New Columbia" and the Federal District shrinks to become just the area which includes the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court and the White House, then New Columbia by virtue of being the 51st state would absolutely be entitled to one Representative and two Senators; so nothing changes there but does that mean that that new smaller Federal District would also get three Electoral College votes, despite only having one family living within its borders? Maybe? If so, who votes for them? Does that mean that the President and First Lady get three members of Congress all to themselves?

The most logical assumption to this whole thing though is that this is oh so much yelling into the wind. The experience of Puerto Rico is that the Congress has been amazingly slow on this issue. It took California just two years following the discovery of gold for it to be admitted to the Union but despite presidents Roosevelt, Ford, Reagan, Bush (41) and Obama supporting Puerto Rico's push for statehood and despite the 2012 statehood vote returning "yes", it still has got nowhere. D.C. statehood could also end up in legislative purgatory for years and years.

Even though the people in Congress see these licence plates every day, they still withhold statehood from the District of Columbia. Don't hold your breath for New Columbia to be a state just yet. I suspect that the licence plates on District of Columbia's car might ring true for a quite a while.

November 11, 2016

Horse 2189 - Don't Blame Third Party Voters For The Result

I have heard and seen a lot of comments in the few days that have passed since Donald Trump became president elect, blaming people who voted third party for his ascendancy to the top job in America. I know that I'm going to cop a lot of flak for suggesting this but the US Presidential Election this week has proven to me that the system of selecting the President is immensely stupid and should be done away with immediately if not sooner.

Quite apart from the fact that the system threw up the two candidates with the worst approval rating history, the system itself is a relic from a time when only wealthy land owners had the franchise and women and people of colour were excluded entirely. Proof that the system was busted should have been obvious some considerable time ago when several acts and amendments had to be passed to extend the franchise to people who should have had the right already.

I should also point out that I live in Australia; that means that by accident, I live in the country with the best voting system in the world. In my opinion, if the United States does not immediately adopt the following changes,  then it deservedly will be condemned to the kakistocracy which it currently employs until it pulls its head out of the bucket of whatever vile muck it currently has its democracy head in.

In Australia, Elections and Voting are covered by the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918. Personally I think that this happens to be one of the single most brilliant pieces of legislation ever passed by a government ever and that it should be immediately adopted by the United States in its entirety.

A link is prevoded here: Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Contained within its almost 400 sections, are some of the most well thought out regulations ever passed by any parliament and given that they came during the shadow of the First World War, this is even more remarkable.

Here then, are four simple reasons to begin with, why Australia has the greatest set of electoral regulations in the world, why America needs to get its act together and why blaming third party voters makes you a terrible person and you should hang your head in shame.

Compulsory voting
(1)  It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election.
- Section 245 (1), Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Australians do not have the right to vote. This is framed quite differently at law and Australians have the duty to vote. If Australians do not vote, then a token fine is sent out.
People might like to argue that voting should be a right and not a duty and that people should have the right not to vote should they so desire. I think that that is 100% rubbish and here's why. In this Election, of the 245.2 million people who are of eligible voting age, only 55.6% bothered to show up at a polling place. This means that slightly over half the population didn't vote at all.

Don't go blaming the 2.47% of the population who bothered to show up and vote for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or others, they have indicated at the ballot box that they were unhappy with the choices set before them. Those people took their democratic voice and used it. Those people might have normally been Republican or Democrat voters and through the ballot box, these people said that the choices that were before them were unacceptable.
No, blame the 44.4% of the population who thought that staying at home and shoving chips into their faces was more important than showing up at a polling station once every few years. Okay, maybe there were some people who stayed away because they are disgusted at politics or because they think that participating in democracy by voting only validates the system but functionally, it's identical. Those people didn't make their voices heard and I'm not changing my opinion if I'm lumping passive protesters with the bone idle lazy.

Also, one of the consequences of forcing people to vote at law is that voter disenfranchisement is very much negated. If the government is bound by law to let everyone fulfill their duty, then the whole side show of Voter ID requirements, more or less goes away. In Australia where we do have compulsory voting, the franchise is viewed to some degree as an annoyance. Voter Fraud is so incredibly small as to be statistically negligible. Quite frankly, and I'm mainly looking at backwards racists and hicks, Voter ID laws are nothing more than an attempt to rig the results. They are corruption by another name and are the exact opposite side of the coin which saw voters vote many times in New York City when Tammany Hall still ran the joint, when voters would grow beards and moustaches and then vote in multiple places, and then go around again by first shaving off their beard and then their moustache.

Polling to be on a Saturday
The day fixed for the polling shall be a Saturday.
- Section 158, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Tuesday voting in the United States dates from a time when people lived far away from polling places and it took time to get there. Saturday was no good because that was the day that Sabbath followers held church services and Sunday was no good because Protestant churches held their services on Sunday. Monday was out because people needed time to get on the road to vote and that meant voting on a Tuesday.
The idiocy is that in an era when you can drive a thousand miles in a day and when they parties which are private organisations some times hold primaries on the weekend, tradition and nothing else means that the Presidential Election is held on a Tuesday; to the inconvenience of as many people as possible.

Hold the election on a Saturday when the least amount of people are affected. You shouldn't have to wait for hours to cast a vote. In the 2016 double dissolution election on July 2 this year, I went in the afternoon when the crowds had died down to a sleepy stupor and it took me more time to fill in my ballot paper than it did to wait in line. Also, because it was held on a Saturday, it meant that it was held in a local school hall and surprise surprise, no children were disaffected because it was Saturday.
Okay, Sabbath followers, some Catholics, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists might have a problem in a state like Utah; so let them vote early. It's seriously not a problem.

Marking of votes in House of Representatives election
(1)  In a House of Representatives election a person shall mark his or her vote on the ballot paper by:
(a)  writing the number 1 in the square opposite the name of the candidate for whom the person votes as his or her first preference; and
(b)  writing the numbers 2, 3, 4 (and so on, as the case requires) in the squares opposite the names of all the remaining candidates so as to indicate the order of the person's preference for them.
(2)  The numbers referred to in paragraph (1)(b) are to be consecutive numbers, without the repetition of any number.
- Section 239, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Okay America, this year you have excelled yourself with your rank idiocy when it comes to the Presidential Election. If you want to keep the Electoral College because it's easier to count then fine but the fact that the Presidential Election always comes down to a binary choice is most bigly idiotic.

If you had preferential voting, say with seven Republicans, seven Democrats and anyone else who wanted to put themselves on the ballot paper, then the sheer torture of the primaries can be done away with in an instant. On top of that, you wouldn't be left with two candidates who were literally the most unpopular in US political history.

Suppose for a second that you had four candidates:
24 votes - We Love Kittens
25 voted - Cute Puppies
25 votes - Fluffy Bunnies
26 votes - Burn All The Animals
Under the First Past the Post System, which is what America uses, then Burn All The Animals wins despite having three quarters of the electorate opposed to them. Think that that's imposible? In the Electorate of Belfast South in the 2015 UK General Election, Alasdair McDonnell of the Alasdair McDonnell was returned as MP having gained only 24.5% of the vote.

If we assume that everyone who didn't vote for Donald Trump, including the 44% of the people who weer shoving chips into their faces and didn't show up, then Trump was actually only positively voted in by 26.4% of Americans. How does this make any sense at all?

Part of the problem with only having two viable candidates at the end is that voters might end up having to vote for someone for President whom they didn't like. I am now watching some of the most vile remarks being levelled at people who said that they voted Republican, even though they probably abhor Donald Trump, because of the consequences of other things such as the Supreme Court nomination.  These are decisions that have consequences much further than just the term of one President and so what might have been a measured decision, where someone felt chained to an awful candidate, is now tarred with brush that they are Satan incarnate.

Right of voter to receive ballot paper
(1)  If, under section 200DG, the voter is entitled to vote by pre-poll ordinary vote, a voting officer must give the voter a ballot paper, duly initialled by the officer.
- Section 200DJ, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Voter to mark vote on ballot paper
Except as otherwise prescribed by the regulations, the voter, upon receipt of a ballot paper under section 200DJ, must without delay:
(a)  go to an unoccupied compartment of the voting place and mark his or her ballot paper in private; and
(b)  fold the ballot paper so as to conceal his or her vote and deposit it in a ballot-box; and
(c)  leave the voting place.
- Section 200DK, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

All voting systems can be subject to compromise. However, electronic voting where you have a black box that can't be easily scrutinised, or a punch card machine that can leave pregnant or hanging chads, and don't even get me started on running anything on the internet when it collapses (I'm looking at you Australian Bureau Of Statistics - we remember Census Night), are far less secure the. physical paper. Paper requires no fancy or expensive machines to count and it is far far far harder to compromise because of the physical difficulty of tampering with many ballot papers. Someone is going to notice if you start stuffing ballot boxes and or rub out people's ballots. Voting fraud where physical paper ballots has been used, is far harder to do and if there happens to be a dispute, it's easier to do a recount or hold a fresh election.

So don't go blaming people who voted third party. Those people more than anyone demonstrated that they voted according to their conscious; which is more than be said for the 44% of the people who sat idle. People who voted third party made their voices heard. They stood up and said that "this is not acceptable".

November 09, 2016

Horse 2188 - Trump Wins In 2016: The International Year of The Howling Moron

If I was Prime Minister Of Australia, I would immediately see if I could convince the United States to give up being a republic and come back into the Commonwealth with the Queen as head of state, reinstate compulsory afternoon tea and ban this coffee nonsense and most importantly, get rid of baseball forever and give the United States full test cricket status - that way Australia could score 538, bowl the United States out for 187 and then enforce the follow-on...

... wait for it...

Make America Bat Again!

Thank you, I'm here all week. Try the veal.

Seriously. If you think that that was a joke, then what in red, white and blue blazes have I been watching for the past few hours? In this, 2016, the International Year of The Howling Moron, I think what we've just witnessed is the biggest joke in the history of politics but nobody is laughing.

What the actual four letter expletive deleted is going on?

On the 4th of July 1776, the thirteen colonies of America, declared their independence from Great Britain and formed their own country. In the interim 240 years after only counting black people as three-fifths of a person at law, going to war over slavery and generally becoming the most belligerent of democratic nations in the world, it is probably reasonable to assume that the United States Of America might have been a good idea in theory but it has kind of gotten out of hand.

The 2016 presidential election which followed eight years of the Presidency of Barack Obama, was fought between a sociopathic, racist, sexist, xenophobe who looks like he's spent the last eight years marinating in Fanta, and a lady who literally made deals with terrorists while Secretary of State and more than likely broke Federal law by keeping a private email server and then deleting the emails when it came time for the FBI to investigate.
In this grand battle between an angry Grandpa who has said all sorts of things which by rights should have invalidated him as a candidate and an angry Grandma who is so much of a policy wonk that she's the single most qualified candidate to run for president in US history (with the possible exceptions of Washington and Eisenhower), America has collectively decided by a minority of popular votes but the majority of the arcane and bizarre Electoral College votes, to install the angry Grandpa as the next President. If this is the brave new world we find ourselves in, then left is right, slavery is freedom, ignorance is strength and orange is the new black.

I have been watching this insane contest play out over the past nine months, in the same way that I'd watch a football match as a neutral. The difference is that instead of three meaningless points or the glory of etching one's name into the side of a trophy, the prize are the keys to the office of the executive of the most powerful nation on the planet and the only one foolhardy enough to use nuclear weapons in a war. America has decided that instead of letting angry Grandma drive around and scare everyone, they've handed the keys to angry Grandpa, who by the way is the first presidential candidate since about Nixon who has been mad and bad enough to joke about pushing the nuclear button. Mind you, when you compare that to nine months of racist, sexist, and otherwise vile remarks he's made, that joke doesn't seem that much out of character. This was someone who actually said that they could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City and people would still vote for him. This as it turned out, might not have been a boast but a declaration of fact.

Strangely, this doesn't appear to be a rejection of Barack Obama. The outgoing president has just posted his lowest approval rating at 54%. That will probably increase during the so-called lame duck period as well. This also doesn't appear to be a rejection of the Republican Party as that side of politics may have feared. The Republicans will be returned with a majority in the House Of Representatives and the Senate doesn't look like total wipeout either.

If Donald Trump represents the change candidate in this election, running against the most establishment of establishment candidates of all time in Hillary Clinton, then maybe the underlying narrative isn't something like the rejection of Goldwater in 1964 but something else entirely. The only parallel that I can draw is the election campaign of prize narcissist Andrew Jackson who portrayed the image of running for the working class but still being fantastically wealthy. Maybe it could be that America is ready for a female president but that president isn't Hillary Clinton. I wonder if Michelle Obama, Madeleine Albright or Condoleezza Rice had run for President, whether they would have had to battle with the tag of being the second least popular candidate in US political history. Somehow, I doubt it.

It could also be that the American public haven't actually voted for the President but voted in that way because of the consequences of who the picks for the Supreme Court might be. After the death of Antony Scalia, the US Supreme Court was split 4-4 with socially conservative and liberal judges. The sitting Republican dominated Senate refused to give its consent to any and all candidates that Barack Obama might pick and held this out as a job for the next President. Maybe the Senate might give its consent to a Donald Trump pick but that pick would come from inside the machinery of the Republican Party. Of course, this could backfire if a Democrat dominated Senate refuses to give its consent to whoever Donald Trump might pick but we won't know how that will play out until we get there.

I don't know what the result of today's election means but I do know that America has been bashing its head on the coffee table for months and has given itself democracy brain damage. A sociopathic, racist, sexist, xenophobic, angry Grandpa, could very well be the perfect representation of what America currently is. If people think that Donald Trump has been elected because he is prepared to speak his mind, even when there's nothing in it, and he speaks what the country is thinking, then that must say that America is made up of a bunch of sociopathic, racist, sexist, xenophobes and given what we've repeatedly heard from the vox populi for the past few months, that might be true.

In the year that gave us the unlikely results of Leicester City winning the Premier League, the Western Bulldogs winning the AFL premiership, the Cronulla Sharks winning the NRL premiership, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series, Britain voting the leave the EU, the unlikely has happened again with Donald Trump becoming the new president elect.
The only thing that I can say is that the Howling Morons are howling louder than ever before and it is beyond my ability to comprehend why. What is this? I don't even.

November 07, 2016

Horse 2187 - The Australian: The Racists' Newspaper Of Choice

Reading through Friday's edition of The Australian, I saw that the Associate Editor Caroline Overington, found it necessary to defend resident racist Bill Leak, over ongoing disputes with regards certain cartoons and Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The link is provided, but I find it interesting that Ms Overington is calling for pugilists to apply for a fight in "the arena of ideas".
Come over here, and give us a good kicking, like those scallywags at Honi So it did with their satirical reworking of The Australian last week.
Don’t go running to the government. Come and join us in the arena of ideas.
- Caroline Overington, The Australian, 4th Nov 2016.

Okay then. I'll take that as an invitation.

Please explain why as Associate Editor, you think that your newspaper should have the right to publish whatever it likes; with absolute impunity? Presumably if you're so insistent on defending the rights of your staff, indeed this appears to be an ongoing issue within News Corp, then the only conclusion is that you enjoy the ability to publish racist material because you are in fact racist.

I didn't think that we were living in an area where people were judged on the basis of the colour of their skin but then again, I'm probably mistaken in my belief that all people are endowed with dignity that should be respected even if you happen to disagree with them.

Obviously a different culture exists at News Corporation, as evidenced by Caroline Overington's request for Bill Leak to refuse to produce evidence his cartoon was not racist to the The Human Rights Commission; also evidenced by Nikki Savva's casually racist remarks on ABC1's "Insiders" comment that “Anyone would think Malcolm Turnbull had killed a Chinaman.”

Alas, I open today's Australian to read that:
Cabinet ministers are pressing for action to defend free speech after the Federal Circuit Court threw out a ­racial hatred case that took years to decide, building support for a move this week to explore far-reaching reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act.
Malcolm Turnbull has been calling Coalition MPs to gauge their views on the controversial law ahead of a partyroom meeting tomorrow that could spark an ­internal brawl unless a deal is struck on a pathway to consider reforms.
- David Crowe, Rachel Baxendale, The Australian, 7th Nov 2016.

Gee, I wonder where on earth these "Cabinet ministers" got that idea. As News Corp's own website states:
The Australian website informs and leads public opinion on the issues that affect all Australians around the clock.
- The Australian wesbite as at 7th Nov 2016.

Now let's be perfectly honest here. I believe in the right to free speech but I also believe that the right to free speech should not be absolute. I am free to drive my motor car down the highway but that freedom is tempered by limits such as a speed limit which says that I can not exceed a certain speed, or a central line which limits my legal ability to stray into oncoming traffic. I would not for a second suggest that my life is significantly worse because my freedom drive my motor car has been tempered by road rules.
I would argue that all law to some degree limits some absolute freedom. Again, that does not mean for a second that our lives are worse for it. Speech which is hedged in by law does not make out lives significantly worse because it.

I shouldn't have to lecture to the people at The Australian that Racial Discrimination occurs when people are treated less favourably than others on the basis of their race, colour, descent, national or ethnic origin etc. This might have ramifications with regards doing normal things such as trying to rent a house, get a job or even just go about their lives. I also I shouldn't have to lecture to the people at The Australian that the level of power that certain groups has, is less than a multi-billion dollar media organisation which publishes daily newspapers and owns other media online and one televisio etc.
Apparently this is beyond the people at The Australian, and if it isn't beyond their ability to comprehend it, then maybe they are willfully negligent.

I seriously doubt whether the people at The Australian, or indeed News Corp generally can seriously argue that their right to free speech is being made significantly worse because of the existence of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. The only reason that they would even care about it is because they've run foul of it and don't want to admit negligence under the act.

The only conclusion that I can draw is that the reason why they want Section 18C repealed is that the people at The Australian are so monumentally inept a their job that they can't help but be racist, or perhaps they want Section 18C repealed because fundamentally, the organisation is packed full of racists. Why else would you want this removed?

Elsewhere, Jennifer Oriel even questions the very point of the Human Right Commission itself; arguing that:
The AHRC has become an activist body with no useful purpose.

No useful purpose? I can see how you might think that the Human Rights Commission has no useful purpose but only if you happen to believe that the idea of human rights is also not useful.
The thing about living in a society which is made up of many individuals, is that we are not independent and completely solitary beings. As people who live in a society, the very idea of human rights is to remind us that we have an obligation to respect the inherent dignity of other people and by doing so, prevent injury which might be caused by our actions.
Laws exist for instance, to prevent someone from punching someone else in the face, to prevent the injury of people. If you happen to enjoy punching people in the face, then maybe you might be in favour of repealing the law which prevents you from doing so.

Clearly News Corp in general and The Australian in particular, has an agenda to remove 18C and they won't stop until they get it. They have a very visible national media group from which they can broadcast their ideas and clearly if as Caroline Overington suggests, they are looking for a fight "in the arena of ideas", it is because they enjoy metaphorically punching people in the face and not having to be responsible for doing so.
Specifically, The Australian seems to have a problem with people on the basis of race but they don't want to have to admit that anything they do causes injury to others.

November 04, 2016

Horse 2186 - Little New Hampshire Is The One To Watch

As little as a fortnight ago, the chances of Donald Trump winning the presidency were hovering around about 15%, across most of the various polls and news networks. As with any election race, the polls always appear to tighten as you get closer to the deadline and that can easily be explained with nothing more than simple mathematics.
Suppose that in the run up to election day, ten per cent of prospective voters on both sides decided to switch. Obviously, the side that started with more voters numerically, would also lose more voters numerically; that switch would increase a smaller base to a greater effect than a larger one. Likewise, if there was a pool of undecided voters and they happened to split evenly, then that would also have a greater effect upon a smaller base than a larger one.
The other explanation that is often given, as stated in previous posts, is the "Bradley Effect" where people don’t want to admit that they happen to support an unpopular candidate. I suspect that a great deal of this went on in the 1948 Presidential Election when Harry S Truman won the presidency over Thomas Dewey despite never despite never leading any of the polls conducted; including exit polls on election day. If Hillary Clinton supposedly has a difficult job in winning what amounts to a third Democratic term, then Truman seemingly achieved the impossible in winning the fifth consecutive presidential win for the Democrats.

This being said, some races like California or Texas have been firmly in their own column for a very very long time and no tightening of the polls is going to have any effect on the result, unless there is a sudden and whelming flood of votes that change sides all at once.
Mostly I’ve been assuming that Clinton should have had this election in a virtual walkover but I’m increasingly having to rethink this as polls begin to shift wildly in the closing days. It could very well be that Trump might end up winning the Presidency, despite losing the popular vote and that would be as weird a result as 1948.

America is a vast and unwieldy country. It is so big that the contiguous 48 states cover four time zones and if you include all territory, the United States uses nine standard time zones. This has the effects that as polls close at night in the eastern states, people in Hawaii are still getting back from a late lunch. What this means is that watching results unfold in America can be like a slow moving story that takes far too long and you just want it to be over.
If you can’t be bothered to sit through four or five hours where not much happens, then I have the solution which I believe is the only race that you need bother with; that is New Hampshire.
New Hampshire is not a bellwether state; nor is it a state which is firmly in one column or the other. In the 2004 election when George W Bush was reelected, if flipped from Red to Blue and has remained there ever since. It flipped Republican for the 2000 election which installed Bush and in 1992 and 1996 it flipped to the Democrats in the two elections which Bill Clinton won; before that it had been solidly Republican as far back as Nixon in 1968.

New Hampshire then, isn’t a bellwether but acts more as a leading indicator and because it happens to be one of those states jammed all the way up there in the top right of the country, the results are known pretty early on.
Even though, Clinton leads by as many as 9 points in some polls. Trump is actually ahead in others. All the way back in July, Trump was leading the polls but that switched over after the party conventions had taken place. What makes New Hampshire particularly interesting, is that even though it is the 9th least populous of the states and only gets 4 Electoral College votes, those votes are notoriously difficult to switch but if you can get those to switch over, then the chances are that votes have switched in the country overall.

In the current 114th Congress which expires next January, New Hampshire sent one Republican and one Democrat to both the House of Representatives and the Senate; so if that’s any indication then the race for the presidency in the state could equally go either way.
The thing to remember about the race for the White House is that it is not one election but 51 elections all going on at the same time (DC isn’t a state but for the purposes of a presidential election it is treated as though it were one). About a third of all of the election races are almost foregone conclusions so you don’t need to worry about those; some of them like Florida dance on a knife edge and are impossible to predict; so it is places like New Hampshire which actually give the best indication of what the overall picture might look like.

November 02, 2016

Horse 2185 - The Numbers Are Even More Vague Than They're Letting On

All indications thus far point to Hillary Clinton becoming the 45th President Of The United States. The polls that I have been watching over the last few weeks, point to her picking up between 44%-48% of the popular vote, with Donald Trump getting between 37%-45%.
The Presidential Election isn't a nationwide popular vote though. Owing to the fact that the United States uses a bizarre and arcane system called the Electoral College which apportions delegates according to the number of Congress members that each state has (and DC if it was a state), and most states in the Union operate on a winner takes all basis, it makes playing with the expected numbers of Electoral College votes really easy. Also because the United States has always been polarised for a long time, lots of states remain likely to vote for the same party's candidates.

As a result of all of this, the so called "battleground" states which will determine the swing of the election, really only boil down to Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa and the biggest prize of Florida. If you watch those four states in particular, then the election result is easier to predict. Indeed in 2000, which Al Gore famously lost due to the ambiguousness of hanging chads in the punched cards which were used in the voting machines of Florida.

There is however one thing that remains difficult to predict and that is whether or not people are truthful when answering polls. There have been multiple studies which suggest that when people talk on pollsters, they might not be as likely to give an answer which is perceived as unpleasant. No racist is going to admit that they are racist to a pollster unless they are truly unapologetic. Likewise, no sexist is going to admit their misogyny or misandry openly. This is also known as the "Bradley Effect" after the 1982 gubernatorial election campaign of  Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, running in the state of California. People tended to say that they would vote for Tom Bradley to the pollster on the other end of the telephone but within the privacy of the polling booth, all of the racists could express their electoral opinion without any qualms.

What I don't know about this election is to what degree that the Bradley Effect will have. Never before has there been an election where the approval rating of both candidates been so appallingly low; and justifiably so. Donald Trump as a populist candidate, has consistently said things which under normal circumstances would have had him ejected from any major political party. Then there's the persistent and obvious shadow of everything that he's done; with the possibility that 48 days after the election (which is Boxing Day), that he could be embroiled in a rape case. Hillary Clinton is also again being reinvestigated as a result of her keeping a private email server during her time as Secretary Of State, and the possible destruction of classified information. There is a real possibility that either candidate might find themselves in prison, after winning the election.
Now I don't know what effect this has on voters but I suspect that it equates to non-zeroes in election polling results.

One of the websites that I have been looking at is Nate Silver's 538. I don't know what sort of algorithms that they use but they run many thousands of simulated elections and then make their predictions based upon the polling data from multiple sources. The thing is though that all of the polls which go into creating the simulated elections, come from either people speaking to pollsters and are thus subject to the Bradley Effect, or are online polls which tend to be self-selecting and thus contain their own inherent biases. I think that the ranges which are being reported by polls are far far fuzzier than in any previous election.

As of this morning, the chances of the winner of the vote in Ohio was predicted as Clinton 49.7% and Trump 50.3%. That would suggest that Ohio is sitting on a knife edge but the world inside predictive models and data sets which are tainted by the Bradley Effect, could be wildly different to the one on November 8 when voters are all alone in the voting booth, with the ballot in front of them. All the secret racists and sexists who wouldn't dare speak a word in the light of day, might speak entirely differently. 50.3%-49.7% which is a margin of just 0.6% could very well be 58%-42% which is 16%; in either direction.
If this is true for Ohio, then the path to the Presidency for Donald Trump might be easier than previously expected. If all of the purple states and toss up states were in favour of Trump, then playing with the Electoral College map gives several ways to get to 270. It also could be true that this is just election hype, perpetuated by news outlets to sell copy too. We shouldn't believe what is being presented because at best, all we have are guesstimates. I just don't know about the truthiness of these numbers, it all seems a bit like peering into a fog.
If you play with fuzzy numbers, you can't expect anything other than fuzzy results.

October 30, 2016

Horse 2184 - 381,654,729

Matt Parker, the stand-up mathematician¹, in his book "Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension"², talks of a maths problem which he asked someone to give him so  that he'd have something to do in the dentist's chair. It goes something like this:

Arrange the digits 1 to 9 in order so that the first two digits form a multiple of 2, the first three digits form a multiple of 3, the first four digits form a multiple of 4 etc. and finally the entire number is a multiple of 9.

The problem asks someone to generate a polydivisible number, which is a number abcdef... etc. where:
- Its first digit a is not 0.
- The number formed by its first two digits ab is a multiple of 2.
- The number formed by its first three digits abc is a multiple of 3.
- The number formed by its first four digits abcd is a multiple of 4.
- et cetera, et cetera, et cetera³

I work as an accountant; this means that as a far as mathematics goes, I am the absolute scum of the world. My whole job is virtually nothing more than the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and doing the equivalent of sudoku all day long by fitting numbers into fancy grids called tax returns.
Even so, doing this should be a piece of cake. In fact, it should be possible to go through all of the polydivisible numbers for all of the conditions such that:

Arrange the digits 1 to n in order so that the first two digits form a multiple of 2, the first three digits form a multiple of 3, the first four digits form a multiple of 4 etc. and finally the entire number is a multiple of n.

... for all of the digits in base-10,

1 digit.
1 - is one and all alone and ever more shall be so. All integers are divisible by 1 by definition; since we only have 1 digit, there is not choice.

2 digits.
12 - All even numbers are divisible by 2. Since the other way of arranging these digits is odd, that is wrong.

3 digits.
123 - All numbers which are divisible by 3, have the result that if you sum the digits, then that result is also divisible by 3. We just happen to be lucky that 1+2+3=6 and 6 is divisible by 3. Also, 2 must appear in the middle to satisfy first two digits forming a multiple of 2. This is important as it also says that for every even value of n, these positions must also be occupied by even digits.
321 - See above.

4 digits.
All numbers which are divisible by 4, happen to have the last two numbers as a multiple of 4. 4 cannot appear in the last position because 14 and 34 are not divisible by 4. This means that 12 and 32 are the only possible candidates.
If 12 and 32 are the last two digits, then 4 must appear in position 2. That means that the three digits which are available for those first three positions are 1, 3 and 4 but 1+3+4=8 and 8 is not divisible by 3.
Therefore there are no 4 digit solutions.

5 digits.
All numbers divisible by 5 either end in 5 or 0. This will be useful for all subsequent problems. However, this means that 5 must appear in position 5; since 5 is in position 5 then 1, 2, 3 and 4 occupy the first 4 positions. If there are no 4 digit solutions and 5 must appear in position 5, there are no 5 digit solutions either.

6 digits.
123,654 - All even numbers are divisible by 2. All numbers which are divisible by 3, have the result that if you sum the digits, then that result is also divisible by 3. All numbers which are divisible by 6 are even multiples of 3. Since 1+2+3+4+5+6=21 then all even answers will be divisible by 6.
5 must appear in position 5. Even numbers must appear in even positions.
This means that the only real thing to nut out is what are those central two digits such that the result is divisible by 4 and what makes the first three digits sum to a multiple of 3.
Possible candidates for those central two digits are: 12, 16, 32 and 36, since 5 must appear in position 5 and all combinations with 4 in position 2, leave results such that the first 3 digits will never sum to a multiple of 3.
321,654 - See above.

7 digits.
I know of no simple test for divisibility of 7. They do exist but if it's too hard for me to bother with, then I don't care.
Apart from combinations of 1, 2 and 3 which work at the beginning, either 147 or 741 will also work in those first three positions since 1+4+7=12 and 12 is a multiple of 3.
7 can replace 1 because 7-1=6 and that just means that the multiple of 6 that the sum adds to will be 6 more. 7 can not replace 3 because 7-3=4 and that means that the result will be out by 4. Therefore, the two candidates for checking are 3216547 and 1236547. Blunt force tells me that neither of these work. Therefore there are no 7 digit solutions.

8 digits.
38,165,472 - I have an 8 to play with now. 8 can replace 2 because of the problems discussed in the 7 digit problem and 7 can replace 1 as before. This would either mean that 8 or 2 are at the end. I only need to test 32165478, 32765418, 38165472 and 38765412. Only one of those works.

9 digits.
381,654,729 - All numbers which are divisible by 9, have the result that if you sum the digits, then that result is also divisible by 9. Actually this is a fundamental fact among all bases. For every base-n all numbers which are divisible by n-1, have the result that if you sum the digits, then that result is also divisible by n-1. 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9=45 and 45 is a multiple of 9.
I already know that there is only one solution for 8 digits and so I know that 98,165,472 will be divisible by 8 and 981,654,723 divisible by 9, but 7 is tricksy. 9,816,547 isn't divisible by 7. Boo 7.
Chuck a 9 on the end. That doesn't upset the rest of the digits.

10 digits.
3,816,547,290 - I've only got one solution for 9 digits and all all numbers which are divisible by 10, end in 0. That's not particularly exciting but there you go.

This will more than likely be familiar to every mathematician worth their salt but for those of us down here in boring boring accountant's land where all we need to do are the the four basic operations, then this is an amusing side show.

¹ Youtube channel -
² Website and where to buy -
³ Very well, your majesty -

October 27, 2016

Horse 2183 - Sometimes, Specific Words Are Used For A Reason

The deaths of four people on the Thunder River Rapids ride at Dreamworld are a tragedy and devastating for the families affected. Sometimes accidents happen which change people's lives in an instant, forever. As a society, we assign the task of dealing with this sort of mess to people upon who we confer special responsibility and I think that we should also bestow respect upon these same people who work in difficult situations that I for one would not cope with.
This explains why I found the following tweet from journalist Mark Ludlow at The Australian Financial Review, so strange.
Why ambulance and police officers use phrases like "sustained injuries incompatible with life" is beyond me. Such cold, impersonal language
- Mark Ludlow, 25th Oct 2016. (@M_Ludlow)

It's comments like this that make me wonder what the actual value of a journalism degree is. As little as a decade ago, journalists were at least somewhat concerned with the collection of facts as well as news for their reportage, but now when the news cycle has sped up so quickly to the point where the only thing that matters is getting copy out as quickly as possible, to ensure that your news organisation gets that first wave of eyeballs and clicks, then the idea that a journalist would do even ten minutes worth of research seems all too difficult.
I have not been blessed with a career in journalism; so perhaps I can look at this without looking at it through the fog of pressure from a newsroom but didn't it ever occur to the Brisbane Bureau Chief and Political Correspondent at The Australian Financial Review to be a little bit curious?

There are obviously reasons why people who are in highly responsible positions act in ways and say things in very singular ways. Granted that language is often used to obfuscate and confuse issues when it is used by politicians who want to avoid actually saying anything that they can be held to, but when people who act in their capacity as officers of the law and in matters severe legal consequence, then their language is going to be quite deliberate. If they don't use language which is deliberate, then we end up in wonderland and sleepwalking into the surreal.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ... "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

Forgive me but I would have thought that someone whose job lived in the land of words, was going to be at least a little bit careful in their use. I know that when I write a piece for my audience of tens, I will rewrite things, fact check things and sometimes cut things out if I can not find an acceptable answer. Especially when it comes to events of tragedy, the use of certain words might have legal implications, and in this case it does.
Under section 30 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 2003, a doctor must issue a cause of death certificate if they can form an opinion about the probable cause of death. It is not necessary for the doctor to have treated the person as they can consider other information such as the person’s medical history.
However, section 26(5) of the Coroners Act states that a doctor must not issue a cause of death certificate in relation to an apparently reportable death unless the coroner authorises it. Penalties apply for a breach of this section.
- Information for Health Professionals, Queensland Courts - Office of the State Coroner Queensland
(5) A doctor must not issue a cause of death certificate for a person if—
(a) the death appears to the doctor to be a reportable death, unless a coroner advises the doctor that the death is not a reportable death; or
(b) a coroner is investigating the death, unless the coroner authorises the issue of the certificate.
- Section 26(5), Coroners Act 2003 (Qld).

Quite clearly, it is Doctors and Coroners who have the legal power to declare someone dead; NOT Ambulance and Police officers. Being dead, has specific consequences from a legal perspective; for instance, I can tell you that far far more people die on July 1st than June 30th and the reason has to do with taxation purposes. Even though first responders and initial caregivers such as Ambulance, Police and Fire Officers are all people in respected positions of authority, for them to declare someone legally dead would represent a clear and very present conflict of interest. Police have sometimes been accused of racism and by giving Ambulance and Fire Officers the ability to declare someone dead, this might remove the impetus for them to save certain people's lives; that isn't the sort of power that should be given out if that kind of accusation can be levelled.

The reason why we get "cold, impersonal language" is precisely because we have professionals who are dealing with serious and grave circumstances and doing so under the gaze of others, such as those in the media like the Brisbane Bureau Chief and Political Correspondent at The Australian Financial Review, Mark Ludlow.

I will freely admit that as an accountant I know diddly squat about a great deal many things. I will tell people openly that I know diddly squat about a great deal many things and the reaction that that sometimes gets can vary from the incredulous to the abusive. I can not give legal advice, financial planning advice; nor can I give people specific advice on which shares, bonds or debentures to buy and sell; nor can I give advice on when to do so, other than for taxation purposes. If I don't know the answer, or if I do know the answer but am legally compelled not to tell the answer, then I will positively not give that answer. If for technical reasons, an official in a responsible position can not legally give an answer, then you shouldn't be surprised when they do not give that answer.

The accusation that the language which is being used as being "cold" and "impersonal" is also strange when you consider that it is coming from someone at The Australian Financial Review. People in finance and economics often use language which acts more like a thieves cant than an attempt to impart knowledge. It's also somewhat hypocritical when you consider that the single greatest catastrophe in finance and economics, The Great Depression, was triggered by a single stock trader in the New York Stock Exchange who in making a trade yelled "we have a panic over here" across the crowded trading floor.

Words are important, they have the power to hurt and the power to heal. Words also have the power to confer the legal status of being dead or alive upon someone. When ambulance and police officers use phrases like "sustained injuries incompatible with life", they do so because there are specific legal constraints upon them. As people, they feel joy, sadness and hurt like anyone else; so it behooves journalists whose job it is to think about news as well as report it, to be a little bit more curious.

October 26, 2016

Horse 2182 - The Thirty Year Light Bulb

Recently Mrs Rollo and I I were watching a documentary which was about the ways in which the consumer society which we find ourselves has been designed in such a way as to extract many of our hard won Dollarpounds, through the mechanism of not just planned obsolescence but planned disposability. One of the things mentioned was the great light bulb conspiracy of the 1924, where the big manufacturers of light bulbs (Osram, Philips, and General Electric etc.) got together and using their cartel power, imposed limits on the lifespan of light bulbs so that consumers would need to buy more because their light bulbs burned out. There is a light bulb in a fire station in Livermore, California, which supposedly has been going since 1901, and is often cited in reports and newspapers as evidence of the conspiracy.
Earlier this week, she was looking in our fridge and noticing that the fridge was old, she wondered how old the light bulb is. The truth is that I don't know but I have a suspicion that the light bulb inside the fridge could be more than thirty years old.

The fridge is so old that the brand General, isn't even sold any more. I think that General could be a sub brand of General Electric but again, I don't know. What I am fairly sure of though is that this fridge was in my grandparents' house before my grandpa died and my grandma moved to a smaller place, which means that the fridge dates from at least before 1987. Again, I don't know if the light bulb was changed in the period before I happened to acquire it but we certainly haven't changed the bulb, and if it hadn't been changed before we got it, then it might be the bulb which left the factory with the fridge. If it was replaced at some point, then it is at very least, an eight year old light bulb.

I have seen the General logo countless times and I still have no idea what it's actually supposed to be. Is it a stylized G? Perhaps a General in some sort of fancy hat? Who knows?
I haven't been able to find the Quality Assurance sticker on the back of the fridge and so, the only thing that I can say is that the fridge is at least 29 years old; to be honest, that's not bad at all.  We had a washing machine that decided that went brain dead and the cost of replacement of the computer, was more than the price of a new washing machine.
Sure, the fridge vibrates and hums a bit but that's because some bright spark thought it was a good idea to put down uneven slag tiling in one half of our house. What was wrong with nice wooden floorboards, I'll never know. It does mean that we still know that the fridge is working.

Our microwave oven has an equally interesting story. It also came from my grandparents' house and I have seen the QA sticker on the back; which proudly proclaims that it is a 1979 microwave oven. This in itself is somewhat remarkable because apart from the cost of microwave ovens back then, there was still a suspicion about the safety of microwaves and whether or not consuming food which had been cooked in that way, would lead to an increased risk of cancer. That's a little bit odd considering that in 1979, we were still perfectly happy with tobacco advertising on television, in print and in sport, when we knew that cigarettes absolutely cause cancer. The act of buying a microwave oven in 1979 might have been a progressive and revolutionary act.
Probably because most of the buttons are inductance switches, it means that there hasn't been physical movement and contact of metal tangs against each other. Physical wear is what limits the life of switches and so it would have been wise from a business point of view to have those fail, so that the customer would need to buy a new microwave. However, this was made in 1979, by Westinghouse Email and as such, it was of very good quality. Quite possibly, this microwave oven could have cost many weeks' wages in 1979; so it had to look as flashy and futuristic as possible. Hence the reason why it has a LCD display and inductance switches with no actual buttons. This very much looks like a product of the future, even if it looks dated now, with its very 1970s fake wood trim.
This was before the widespread use of LCDs in electronics and I bet that most microwave ovens of the day would have had a light bulb behind a plastic panel and a timer controlled by a spring. I note that our normal oven also has a green LCD display but that's probably from the late 1990s when the kitchen was remodelled.

Both of these appliances have moved between four houses and I can very easily picture in my mind, where they were in every kitchen that they've been in. They've seen eight Prime Ministers, five Presidents, they were around before the Berlin Wall came down, the fall of communism, the break up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Sudan, they've been around since before the War On Terror, the Global Financial Crisis, and have outlasted dictators, tyrants and other newer appliances. Just in the time that I've had them, they've outlasted four cars. I rather like it fact that they've bucked the trend for planned obsolescence by the manufacturer because it means that they haven't had to be replaced - the easiest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.