May 21, 2008

Horse 883 - Robo Story

I have been looking for details of this cartoon for ages, and now I finally have some screen caps to prove that I am not totally bat-crap insane.

Robo Story was a 52 episode French cartoon series produced by Belokapi which first aired in 1985. In France it was shown on France 3 at 11:30 at night but didn't really gain worldwide note until Cosgrove Hall redubbed it and it was shown on BBC2 and the ABC.

he series revolved around Myrtille (or 'Blueberry' as she was known in the English version) trying to get to her space-shuttle so she could return to Earth. Her attempts were frequently thwarted by an incompotent enemy called the Wrigglers, whose leader spoke to an unseen voice and reminded him that he was "the lowest of the low"

The series employed a quite idiosyncratic style of animation, notable especially for its dark tone and sparse, industrial soundtrack. Admittedly it's not hide behind the sofa stuff like Dr.Who but if you're 8 years old and watching your favourite characters die, then it's still not very nice.

This series belongs most definitely in the 80s alongside other cartoons like Belle and Sebastian, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Ulysees 31 and Astroboy. The problem is finding copies of DVDs for all of these. The 80s were just in the realm of videotape, and so copies deteriorate much faster than the movietone film of Disney and Warner Bros. cartoons of the 50s and 60s - so I am on the hunt now.

May 16, 2008

Horse 882 - The Bills of Rights

I was listening to the ABC yesterday and one particular lady who probably meant well and went all patriotic, wound up her sense of moral indignation and decided that it was unacceptable that Australia should make a stand on China's Human Rights record (in a discussion over the Olympics) when Australia itself didn't have a Bill of Rights. How dare a country have no Bill of Rights of its own! And wasn't it high time that we had one?

People agreed with her until someone quite rightly made the point that Australia doesn't have a "Bill of Rights" it more correctly has two!


It's more or less by historical accident but the story is worth noting. But first we need to jump back all the way to 99 years before British Settlement in Australia and 102 years before the US Constitution.

The state of England after the Civil War and the period of the Commonwealth under Cromwell had seen the bloodiest fighting on English soil, which it was hoped would ensure that the rights of free people weren't encroached upon by the monarch. Perhaps in that climate, simultaneous acts were passed in the English and Scottish Parliaments. These were the Bill of Rights (1689 - England) and the Claim of Right (1689 - Scotland). For the most part they were identical in operation, except that English Law was deemed to apply to England and the empire and so the Bill of Rights of 1689 would apply to Australia under force majure.

The basic tenets of the Bill of Rights 1689 are as follows:

Englishmen, as embodied by Parliament, possessed certain immutable civil and political rights. These include, but are not limited to:

- freedom from royal interference with the law
(the Sovereign was forbidden to establish his own courts or to act as a judge himself)
- freedom from taxation by royal prerogative, without agreement by Parliament
- freedom to petition the Monarch
- freedom from a peace-time standing army, without agreement by Parliament
(specifically conscription during times of peace, though this has been further defined by the British High Court that martial law is in opposition to this right)
- freedom to have arms for defence, suitable to their class status and as allowed by law
(Note the difference between an allowance and a right. This is very different in operation to the Second Amendment to the US Constitution)
- freedom to elect members of Parliament without interference from the Sovereign
- the freedom of speech in Parliament, in that proceedings in Parliament were not to be questioned in the courts or in any body outside Parliament itself
(the basis of modern parliamentary privilege)
- freedom from cruel and unusual punishments, and excessive bail
- freedom from fines and forfeitures without trial

- Roman Catholics could not be king or queen of England since "it hath been found by experience that it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this protestant kingdom to be governed by a papist prince". The Sovereign was required to swear a coronation oath to maintain the Protestant religion.
- William and Mary were the successors of James.
- Succession should pass to the heirs of Mary, then to Mary's sister Princess Anne of Denmark and her heirs, then to any heirs of William by a later marriage.
- The Sovereign was required to summon Parliament frequently, later reinforced by the Triennial Act 1694.

The term Englishmen doesn't necessarily mean someone from England here. Historically and under various adoption of phrase acts, has been taken to mean everyone under authority of the Crown (because prior to 1701 the "United Kingdom" didn't formally exist) - note that this currently includes Great Britain as well as British Commonwealth and specifically the named Dominions of New Zealand, Canada and Australia. Also, given that the colonies in America didn't declare independance until 1776, it means that in effect that the English Bill of Rights did apply in America before they wrote their own.

The phrase "Not limited to" is also noteworthy. When framing the Consitutition of Australia of 1900 (UK) it was decided that the practice of the American model had in fact limited the rights of American citizens under law to what was explicitly spelled out in the legislation. Since Australia was to grasp its own Westminster Parliament, those rights were deliberately left glib, just so that they would never be challenged at law because the law itself was unwritten.

I note that this should form part of the basis of the rule of law in Australia, since under the Statute of Westminster Act 1931, all acts after 1931 are independant within the various countries but that the rule of law which existed, still did so unless subsquently changed.

What this means in effect is that since there has been no Bill of Rights passed by an Australian parliament after 1931, then the existing one remains in operation.

However, the second Bill of Rights which is applicable in Australia is quite wide ranging. On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - found here:

It frames the general rights of the individual and again as a result of one of the bloodiest conflicts that the world has ever seen. Australia was one of the chairs that drew up this document and was most vocal in trying to get nations to sign up to it.

So miss patriotic lady whilst it might be "high time that we had" a Bill of Rights, the fact is that we already have two, but as to the question of Australia making a stand on China's Human Rights record... we should do that anyway surely?

May 14, 2008

Cheer Up Emo Coke

Stabby rip stab stab.

Horse 881 - Australia Should Out-Corolla Corolla

People in Australia are coping with high petrol prices by buying smaller and more fuel efficient cars. Whereas in March 2008, the Commodore was still king, I note that they only shifted 25 of them across the country to private buyers.

For nearly 20 years the top two spots were held by either the Ford Falcon (4.0L) or the Holden Commodore (3.8L, now 3.6L). For the month of April 2008 the trend shows something vastly different.

Australia's most popular car is now the Toyata HiLux with 3814 sales. Corolla sales tallied 3722 units in April, while Holden managed only 3324 Commodore sales. The Falcon which for many years outsold the Commodore because it was a bigger car (think XD-EA versus VB-VL) now languishes at No.8. The trend extends further than this with the "big Aussie sixes" (Falcon, Commodore, Aurion and 380) selling 12,000 for 2007 whilst the Corolla by itself sold 15,000.

In basic terms, when the price went up people bought smaller and more fuel efficient cars. This is even more pronounced in Europe where people are taxed to the hilt and buy even smaller cars. Or if you look at America where petrol prices are far cheaper, the cars are bigger - in fact I note that Ford don't even bother to sell the Fiesta (let alone the Ka) in the US, because it's "too small".

Maybe my idea to buy Mitsubishi's ex-380 plant wasn't as stupid as you may have thought. I bet that my idea for an Aussie 2L car would sell like wildfire, based on the assumption that it would out-Corolla Corolla. Certainly, Corolla is outselling the "big Aussie Six".

May 08, 2008

Is Mother's Day a public holiday?

Horse 880 - Purple Razors

Whilst doing a spot of shopping at Franklins near where I work, I was in the aisle for razors when I spotted a "two for one" offer on Schick Xtreme 3 "for women". What's remotely remarkable about this is that after comparing the packets side by side, I concluded that apart from the colour of the packaging and the handles of the razors themselves, that they were pretty much identical. So being the "educated" consumer I am, I fronted up to the checkout and attempted to purchase said product.

Upon presenting my goods to the till, the checkout lady gave me a look as though I had contracted leprosy or broken some unearthly social code of conduct.

"You do realise that these are for women? They're purple."

I should like to point out at this juncture that I did walk out of the shop with my purchase and have subsequently found that there is a small material difference between them - the "ladies" razor comes with a strip of Vitamin E for "sensitive areas".

Sensitive areas? Do the manufacturers not realise that running a sharpened blade across one's face whilst at the same time stripping the top layer of skin, slicing through potential blackheads and invariably causing shaving cuts is potentially a "sensitive" operation? Notable characters like Homer Simpson and the Little Aussie Bleeder, Norman Gunston have made satirical comments with regards this. What could possibly be more "sensitive" than one's face?

And since when did products "for women" associate themselves with purple? Traditionally blue was for boys and it was pink which was for girls. Purple if anything suggests either unisex, or more traditionally either royalty or Cadbury (and anyone who wishes to run a razor over a Top Deck or a Dairy Milk quite frankly needs their head read). If you do mix pink and blue you do get a purpley colour, so are they suggesting that these razors have LGBT issues?

I would suggest that because a "women's" razor in theory would be used in places other than one's face (unless being bought by a bearded lady) then they've probably been built under a more stringent standard. Certainly my experience is that it took fewer strokes and there was less irritation than the "man's" razor, so if anything I'd be more likely to buy the product in future.

In the first place, don't I have the ability to buy literally anything in the supermarket? Shouldn't I be able to buy motor oil, sugar, tinned asparagus, sanitary napkins and shaved ham in the same purchase if I so desire?

No Frills has the best policy - white packaging with the word "razors" on the front. No colour, gender, eyebrow raising issues there... which would be just dandy except that the product just doesn't quite cut it.

May 02, 2008

Horse 879 - Is the MINI cool?

The Prawny Bard has finally seen the light and is going to replace his clunky and ill-styled Commodore. His question to me this morning was (and thanks largely to Top Gear) "Is the MINI cool?"

...but it has no right to be.

1. The MINI IS British.

Hang on, why should that disqualify it? Ahah, the answer to that is the same as every other British car and delves into the very creation of the vehicle itself.

In the 90s when retro was in fashion, Volkswagen released their Beetle which was a Golf in silly clothing and Chrysler bought out their retro I-don't-know-what-I-am PT Cruiser. Back in Britain the MG Rover group was in trouble. Their 100 & 200 series continued years of tradition by being total piles of steaming crap. The MINI (all capitals to distinguish it from THE Mini) was intended to sweep away both.

The car was already tooled in it's entirety and was even in ye olde worlde jalope shoppe premises at Oxford and Swindon where many Austins and Morrii (is that the accepted plural of Morris?) had wheeled out before. Thus the new MINI would roll out the same doors that the old one did. I ask you, can anything cool ever come out of Swindon?

The MINI was in theory a perfectly well conceived car. It was a 1.6L motor car without pretention and didn't have to hide what it was. Yes it was bigger than the original, but building a car that small with today's crash regulations is a much more difficult task and MG Rover weren't prepared to go there. MG Rover's troubles were already huge, and they eventually sold out to BMW. This brings me to reason 2:

2. The MINI is German.

Well it's owned by BMW. German cars in principle aren't cool. Cool is different, innovative but worst of all, has the potential to be commercially inefficient. With that last piece of surgical equipment, BMW hacked away MG, Land Rover and Rover until they were left with just the MINI which they spun into a new group and out on it's own.

BMW also hacked through he production workforce and streamlined the new company but even BMW had the tenacity to realise that the car was mechanically better than their own 3-Series. Virtually every British car ever produced previously came with its very own set of random faults. Not general faults common to the make but unique random faults specific to that individual car. To combat this BMW introduced Quality Control, something which had never before been seen in Britain.

3. The MINI isn't a Mini.

This was always going to be a problem. If you were going to name the "Icons of the 20th Century" then six things always appear on the list - Beck's London Underground Map, the Volkswagen Beetle, the Coca-Cola Bottle, the Golden Arches, the Swastika and the Mini.

This isn't about comparing two cars anymore, because the new MINI is competing against one of the very things by which the 20th Century was defined. In the case of the Mini, it goes along with Mods, Beatlemania, the Swinging 60s, it defined how rallys were to be won and when it was disqualified from the '66 Monte, the Monte Carlo Rally instantly lost its shine.

The original Mini could be dressed in the Union Flag, a checkerboard roof, a black bonnet or even a horrid lime green paint scheme and you still could not undermine how cool it was. As far as The Cool Wall goes, the car that came from a sketch on the back of a napkin was so cool that next to it, even the DB9 fridge feels like wearing an overcoat in the Sahara.

So then, set against all of this why the heck did I answer Yes?

1. It is actually cool.

So it's not the original. Get over it. The new car has to be taken on merit for what it is... a 1.6L in-line 4 and possibly a hot hatch. It's therefore competing with the Fiesta (not cool - except in XR4 mode), the Barina (also not cool), the Micra (not cool, expect if you are a hairdresser), the Yaris (not cool), and the Colt (not cool).

The packaging of the vehicle therefore has to define what it is. MG Rover went to a lot of trouble to make sure that everything was in "proportion" and styled the car before it got sent to the wind tunnel and not after. The MINI is a car rather than an appliance like the Yaris.

2. It actually is cool.

Slight shift from number 1, in that the car is cool enough that even if numptys, numbnuts, nonces and nongs own the MINI, it will still be cool. Fat buisinessmen don't want it because it's to small, and slimy corporates with oil slick hairdos instantly disappear when the step inside. That's what it's about really isn't it? No-one really cares who's inside when you're doing 110 down the motorway, all they see is the car. BMW = wanker. Corolla = boring git. Mini = cool car.

Like the original which the late great Alec Issigonis scribbled on the back of a napkin, the MINI also has one rather strange design quirk. During the final clays of the car, designer Frank Stephenson realised that he'd forgotten an exhaust pipe. So rather hastily, he stripped an empty can of Stella and jammed the beer can into the rear of the clay mock-up. The production car retained the distinctive exhaust tip.

3. It is actually cool.

Clarkson quite rightly pointed out that the car isn't Sub-Zero but set against the backdrop of other cars it is cool. For a car to remain cool even after James May owned one, it is in fact cool. Generally if a car appears in the Cool section on the cool wall then it's cool. The MINI is, and because it is, it is and therefore it is... no nyah.

Is the MINI cool? Yes.