April 27, 2011

Horse 1181 - A Royal Mess-Up

The Chaser's coverage of the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton has been pulled by the Royal Family - details below:

Just two days before Prince William and Kate Middleton are due to tie the knot, ABC TV has been forced to cancel The Chaser's one-off live coverage of the event due to what it says are restrictions imposed by the royal family.
"Our obvious choice for a light-hearted commentary is The Chaser team. Clearly, the BBC and Clarence House have decided The Chaser aren't acceptable."

If The Royal Family or in this case their agents at Clarence House have made restrictions on what can be done with the coverage, then it would seem apparant they that have some degree over the control of that footage including things like TV rights and fees payable.

What I find particularly odd was this comment from The Chaser's producer Julian Morrow:

Morrow says the move goes against free speech.
"It seems a bit crazy for the royal family to be trying to dictate the way they get represented in the media," he said.

It must be said that the ABC is not the originator of the footage but is merely a purchaser of that footage. The originator, in this case The Royal Family and the BBC acting as agents, of course have the rights to decide what happens to that footage.

This sort of thing happens all the time with live broadcasts. For example:
This memorandum reviews the guidelines for allowable use of NFL game film or tape in regularly scheduled news programs, sports wrap-up shows and continuous loop news services.   Except as authorized in these Film/Tape Usage Guidelines, there can be no use of NFL game film or tape without NFL Films’ prior authorization.
This also happens with live coverage of Australia's AFL, the NRL, with highlights for the A-League, Formula One broadcasts, the English Premier League, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA European Championships, the FIFA World cup... etcetera etcetera etcetera...

The fact that the Royal Family reserves the rights as to what may be done with the footage of what is to some degree a family event, is of no surprise to me whatsoever, and Mr Morrow's comments seem rather a bit churlish.

The Chaser by its nature is a progam which has been known to be in bad taste. No doubt they would try to finesse this under the veil of so called satire, but I think it's fairly obvious that from the outset, they'd be making sport of the Royal Family, and so I personally wonder if it is actually satire and not just a character hack fest.
The obvious solution if they wanted to go ahead with the program, would be to tell people to switch off the sound on their televisions and run the show on a short run ABC Digital station. ABC Grandstand 2 gets rebranded all the time as things like ABC Viva, ABC ANZAC, ABC Blues etc...

Not that I'd be watching or listening to their coverage anyway, because quite frankly I'd find the wedding a little dull to watch irrespective of who was taking over the top of the footage.

April 26, 2011

Horse 1180 - The Bottle Deposit

On Channel 9's sister station Go! (Sic), they have been showing re-runs of Seinfeld. On last night's episode which is from Season 7 entitled "The Bottle Deposit", Kramer and Newman embarked on a scheme to run bottles and cans for recycling from New York City to Michigan state to collect the 10 cent deposit on them. Kramer claims that he had tried it before but "couldn't crunch the numbers", whereas Newman claims that because as a mailman for the US Postal Service, that he can effectively run the scheme for free because there will be a surge of mail the week before Mother's Day, the "mother of all mail days".

I have "crunched the numbers" and have come up with the following:

The closest town in Michigan state to New York City in which the characters from Seinfeld live is a place called Temperance, MI. If Seinfeld, Kramer and Newman live at apartments 5A, 5B and 5F 181 West 81st St, New York City, then the distance which we have is 573 miles.

- If we take any normal car such as a Ford Focus then 30mpg (US) is pretty typical. To cover 573 miles would require 19.1 gallons of petrol (US).

- 19.1 gallons of petrol at a typical price for 1996 in which the episode was written would cost US$25.02.
- In order to make the scheme pay they would then need to drive back home across the same distance which would double the cost bringing the total cost to $50.04
- At a cost of $50.04 they would need to deliver 501 bottles to Temperance, MI to make the scheme pay.

There are two other things which can of course negated; namely:
1. Newman works for the US Postal Service and effectively has the truck for free, because he'd be paid to deliver mail anyway.
2. Kramer has been on strike from his job at the H&H Bagel factory for over a decade and therefore is wage would be nil.

Of course for most people these circumstances would most certainly come into play and therefore you would also need to factor in the fact that it would take about 20 hours to make the round trip, in which case it would probably just be easier to find regular employment.

However the point that Kramer makes that he "couldn't crunch the numbers" and neither could Newman,  simply just doesn't add up because anyone with a calculator and a Sixth Grade level of maths can work out the sums.

Or it could be that the writers of the show just assume that people are idiots, which is also a fair assumption.

April 25, 2011

Horse 1179 - Advance Australia Where?

The 25th of April is ANZAC Day which is a commemoration of arguably one of the most important dates in the forging of the identity of Australia as a nation. Tonight on ABC1 will be an episode of Q And A which asks another question of identity, which is whether or nor Australia needs to retain the monarchy. This in itself has been sparked by a Royal Wedding of someone who might not even end up being King of Australia if the pages and story of future history is written that way.

In research this I looked up the phrase "Republic of Australia" and actually came up with a fun result. I had made a blog post about this five years ago:
In principle my view hasn't changed at all in five years, but I'd thought I'd revisit this anyway.

The question of the monarchy or switiching to a republic is basically one of switching symbols and little else. Apart from this question I can see no logical argument which becomes the basis to make a change and if that's the only real basis, then as far as I'm concerned, it's very very very weak indeed.

The Commonwealth of Australia is a sovereign and independent nation. Since the last vestiges of rule from the United Kingdom were closed up with the Statute of Westminster 1931 (ratified in 1942), and the last few holes cleared up with regards the States and legal appeals to the Privy Council with the Australia Acts of 1986, there is absolutely no mechanism for either the parliament of the United Kingdom or the Queen herself, even if she did sit in her capacity as Queen of Australia, to pass, block or enact any laws in Australia at all.

Seeing as Australia is a sovereign and independent nation, then what possible benefits can we derive from becoming a republic? I can see precisely nil; in fact can see potential problems if we do.

If Australia does become a republic, then presumably there would be changes to the way the country is run. If a President is an elected official, them presumably this creates a mandate for them to exercise certain powers. The current Governor-General does have limited powers under the Constitution, but they have never been adequately defined and in my opinion nor should they be defined in future. The King–Byng Affair in Canada in 1926 and Australia's very own Constitutional Crisis in 1975 prove that the position of the Governor-General needs to be a fluid affair.

Currently Australia is viewed as a relatively small and harmless country, with left over cultural ties to the United Kingdom. I don't necessarily see anything wrong with that, though if Australia does become a republic, what sort of message does that send to the rest of the world?
Australia's biggest military ally over the past 60 odd years has been the United States; prior to this it was the United Kingdom. Does switching to a republic show the world that Australia as a nation is drifting towards the United States in terms of aspirations? If so, how does that affect the world's view of Australia? If we've seen especially over te past 10 years a general sort of animosity being shown to the United States and its foreign policy, does Australia realy need to throw its hat into that ring? I tend to think not.

If it is a matter of identity, then apart from military acheivements and defeats, Australia tends to define itself by its sporting acheivements. This is usually manifest on the cricket field, though the two brightest highlights that brought the nation together in my lifetime were probably Australia II winning the America's Cup and John Aloisi scoring the winning penalty in a shootout to send Australia to the World Cup for the first time in 32 years. In that respect, changing to a republic or keeping the monarchy is an enitrely irrelevant question.

Personally I would prefer that the country did nothing in moving towards becoming a republic. The system of government which we have in Australia has served us well for 110 years and I don't think we'd gain an iota by changing anything, but the potential to really foul things up is there. I don't see Canada or New Zealand particularly jumping at the chance to become a republic and I would suspect that the reasons are identical.

If anyone actually can come up with a plausible reason for making the switch, then I'd like to hear it. In fact I dare you to tell me. Maybe there's something I haven't thought of, but I doubt it.

April 23, 2011

Horse 1178 - Desperate People, Desperate Results

We have seen over the past few days at the Villawood Detention Centre, buildings razed to the ground, riots breaking out, the Federal Opposition pointing the blame at an "inadequate" government policy, and a Government which doesn't seem to have exhibited either a hard or a soft position on how to treat refugees or displaced persons.

There are a whole myriad of problems bound up with this and unravelling them is a difficult task at the best of times, so much so that it is little wonder that governments do not know what to do.

It is possible to end up with a situation where someone from Afghanistan who isn't being persecuted, crosses into Pakistan where they still will not be persecuted, takes passage into Malaysia where there still will not be persecuted, take a short journey to Indonesia where there still will not be persecuted and pay a people trafficker $10,000 plus to get onto a marginally seaworthy boat, and whilst on that boat dump their passports into the sea, when they will  be picked up by the Royal Australian Navy, sent to Christmas Island and then claim that they were persecuted and file for refugee status.

It is also possible for anyone within any of those countries (Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia) in the chain to also claim that they were originally from Afghanistan, whilst on that boat dump their passports into the sea and then be picked up by the Navy and then file for refugee status.

The thing is that  I don't doubt the desperation of any of these people.

If life is so terrible that you happen to think that it's a good idea to pay someone $10,000 plus to get onto a marginally seaworthy boat with the possibility of sinking and drowning on the passage to Australia, then by your actions you have pretty well much demonstrated that life must have been pretty bad to warrant doing this.

Of course this also happens to displace other genuine refugees from other parts of the world.

It should be obvious to anyone who even has a passing interest in the news that there are real humanitarian crises in Libya, the Sudan, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, people who have otherwise been displaced by flooding in Pakistan, as well as other impending disasters like we have seen in Japan, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Jammu, Singapore and China, all of which have an equally legitimate and equally desperate series of circumstances to claim refugee and/or displaced persons status over.

It's not that I discredit people who have obtained passage through the chain of the above events, but somewhere down the line there is a profitable business in trafficking people through dangerous waters in less than safe conditions.
It is not simply a matter of turning the boats around and sending them home, because if they've come from either Malaysia or Indonesia then they most certainly do not want the problem of dealing with people making undocumented migrations. 
It must be also said that all governments in the chain Afghanistan, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia, probably view Australia as an easy target to send people on to, and thus Australia becomes the patsy of the region. This means to say that the Government of Australia and by inference the Australian Taxpayer because of reasons of fair play and decency gets taken advantage of. Surely someone must say that this is simply not right.

I have no problem with genuine refugees and displaced persons arriving on our shores and to be honest I would advocate a rise in the numbers which Australia would sign up to accept and accomodate under international treaties. People who have come from the worst of circumstances when they arrive in a new country, generally make a real go of life and contribute greatly to the country and the community, but just because people are desperate does not give people traffickers the right to profit from them and nor should it shift responsibilty onto a country which is quite frankly being taken for a ride.

Basically I think that what amounts to queue jumping offends my sense of fair play and I really don't want to blame desperate people who make those journeys, but people traffickers who do not play fair need to be dealt with somehow... as to how, that is more difficult and I don't know if the answer is all that easy to find.

April 20, 2011

Horse 1177 - Disabled Parking Cheats

One particular Saturday morning whilst in the carpark of a certain supermarket, I encountered a lurid orange notice which had fallen off of someone's car which read - Laziness Is Not A Disability.
I really love the idea of this. Although I don't have anyone in my family who suffers from a disability, it really gets my hackles up to see people parking in places that have been specifically set aside for those who are less mobile.

Suffice to say that I found a deeply amusing sense of joy and schadenfreude when this same car which was parked in that spot without a Mobility Parking Permit, encountered the wrath of the parking inspectors and had it's wheels clamped - Score!

Yesterday I saw something in Mosman equally disturbing. There was a red Jaguar XKR with a terribly pretentious number plate "JEDI" on it, which also bore a  Mobility Parking Permit.
Admittedly it is possible that the Permit was obtained legitimately, however I tend to doubt the likelihood of someone with genuine mobility issues stepping into and out of a very low slung sports car; especially condsidering that the owner of the vehicle was a man who was more orange than the contents of a Fanta can and was running to some vitally important business meeting.
Again I love the sense of justice that someone had, when on my way back from lunch the car had a message on an A4 sheet taped to the windscreen which said "Disability, claim you have. Lying I think you are." and a picture of the the ancient and revered Jedi Master Yoda underneath.
I sense balance is being restored to the force.

Life is already difficult enough for those people who have a disability of one sort or another. Just because you can't see it doesn't mean that it's not there; for that reason I think that a tremendous amount of restraint should be shown, because you simply don't know people's circumstances. However, when it is obvious that people are abusing the system, then I think that we should start brandishing our collective pointing finger of shame and say "SHAME ON YOU".

Now if I could just do something about the poxy BMWs and Mercs with those permits... there seems to be an inordinate amount of "disabled" people in Mosman. Well, people who have the permits anyway.

April 19, 2011

Horse 1176 - Imaginary #qanda

Last night the ABC had the gall to replace Four Corners, Media Watch and Q and A with a show called Paper Giants, which was a dramatisation of the story of Cleo magazine with Ita Buttrose, Frank and Kerry Packer. To be honest, I dismissed the series purely based on the adverts, and had no desire to watch it at all, so I didn't.

Faced with the prospect of having no Q and A to watch, I did what every person suffering from withdrawal symptoms upon seperation... I made do.

These then, for your amusement are my tweets from a purely Imaginary Q and A which for all sorts of reasons would have been utterly impossible. As we all know, Monday nights on the ABC were meant for yelling at the TV and sending off tweets... and fighting in the street, boy...

- Imaginary tonight causes imaginary outrage. I can't stand what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Arthur Fadden just said

- Someone needs to tell Ben Chifley that smoking a pipe even on Imaginary is bad for people's health.

- Ol' "Ming The Merciless" Menzies has got his scary eyebrows working tonight on Imaginary he wants to create some sort of Reserve Bank thing.

- Ha ha, PM Chifley thinks that the ABC might transmit this new fangled "television" thing - it'll never catch on - Imaginary

- But why would we even want to bother holding a referendum to ban Communists? Everyone knows that it would fail - Imaginary

- Now PM Chifley is talking about letting an American car company GM build cars in Australia. What a joke - Imaginary
- Artie Fadden calls Chifley a "socialist" for wanting to introduce the PBS - Imaginary

- PM Chifley wants a referendum to introduce Universal Health Care. Is this a s.51 amendment? - Imaginary

- Frankie Forde has been very quiet on tonight's Imaginary If he ever gets to be PM, he won't be around for very long

- Yeah, well we all remember what happpened two days after Jimmy Scullin became PM don't we? Fadden you are a dill - Imaginary

- Bla bla bla "light on the hill"... yeah Mr Chifley, more like bats in the belfry - Imaginary  

-  Can't say I feel sorry for the coal miners on strike. Maybe, Chifley should send in the troops? Ming aint helping much - Imaginary

Notwithstanding the fact that Forde was PM in 1945 (albeit for only 7 days), I would think that this set of tweets probably belongs within the period 1945-1949. I then got to wondering who would have hosted this episode of  Imaginary . I think in all likelihood it would have either been Alan McGilvray or perhaps more likely James Dibble. - go on click the link, you know you want to.

Out there in the twittersphere, other people were tweeting with the hashtag of #papergiants in place of the usual #qanda on a Monday night. I don't know what this says exactly, other than the Monday night #qanda crowd is a weird mob and really miss yelling at the TV.

April 18, 2011

Horse 1175 - The Falcon Is Replaceable


With the news of Ford Australia laying off 240 workers from its Victorian manufacturing plants, I wonder if Ford are trying to give us subtle hints that the Falcon has had its days numbered.

The Sydney Morning Herald did a nice write up of the new Ford Territory and some of that is reproduced below:
Revealed: New Ford Territory
Ford Australia has unveiled its new Territory it hopes can propel it back to the top of the SUV sales charts.
The local car maker's official pictures confirm the new look captured last month by Drive of a vehicle that will gain diesel power when it goes on sale in May.
It's seven years since the Territory was launched but Ford admits the new model is more of a "major update" than a next-generation vehicle.

The Ford Territory is essentially a Falcon derivative. It shares its 4L in-line six with the Falcon, however I think that it takes its four-wheel-drive system from the Lincoln-Mercury division of Ford in America.

What bothers me is the styling cues that Ford have chosen to give it:

Car manufacturers will try wherever possible to make their family of cars look similar. It actually helps with brand differentiation if you can share styling cues across the suite of vehicles.
Ford call their current design suite "Kinetic Design" and mainly features a largish, lower trapeziodal grille, with the headlights sort of stretched back into the front quarter panels. Admittedly this first appeared on the iOsis concept car and found its way onto the Mondeo, Focus and Fiesta but it's also starting to replace the 3-bar grille on the front of North American market cars.

Personally I think that the Territory is hinting at the replacement for the Falcon, which could be the Ford Taurus.

The last time that the nameplate Taurus appeared on a car in Australia, it was the unloved Fourth Generation car, which looked very swoopy and almost melty. The current Sixth Generation Ford Taurus if it was going to replace the Falcon would more or less be a perfect fit.

The 6th Gen Taurus sits on a Ford D3 platform which it shares with the current Volvo S60 and XC90. It was designed from the outset for both front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive configurations.
Underneath the bonnet the Taurus has a 3.5L V6 engine which puts out 263bhp or 200kW on the nose, which means that it does the triple act of getting more power, using less petrol and being a lighter car. The Falcon's in-line six which has a development stretching back to 1963, only puts out 255bhp or 195kW.

Ford also have the Territory covered with the Fifth generation Ford Explorer. It sits on Ford's D4 platform which is a slightly modfied D3, and pretty well much shares the same engine line up.

Maybe it's because Australia is so far away from everywhere else in the world that the car manufacturers have been so insular. My big fear is that if Ford decides to pull the pin on making cars in Australia that Toyota and Holden will follow suit. Increasingly Holden's need to exist is on the decline, and Toyota don't really need to produce cars here, so the latest movements from Ford I think are quite worrying.
There really isn't a good reason why Australia shouldn't be able to build cars, but there really isn't a good reason why we should either. If we don't think up a reason why we should and soon, then the Great God Dollar will decide for us.

April 15, 2011

Horse 1174 - The KFC Big Bash Needs To Be Hit For Six

I've read recently about the plans for the Twenty 20 Big Bash competition that will be starting up and to be honest, I'm about as enthused as that famous pig who "Got Up and Slowly Walked Away".

I understand the reasons for what essentially amounts to debranding the six state sides because that leaves the door open to "expand" the competition later, but is anyone truly going to even care that much in the first place?
I can see two fundamental problems with destroying and rebuilding the cricket competition in this way and these are outlined below.

1. The Example of The A-League.

I can see a very long future ahead of the A-League and yet it did do precisely what the Twenty 20 Big Bash proposes to do, however it had to do so because of very different circumstances.
The old National Soccer League was rife with clubs built on ethnic division and exclusiveness. There were Italian, Croatian, Greek, Serbian etc clubs all around the country. The few clubs which did break out this which were the Perth Glory, Northern Spirit and Parrmatta Power etc, but even they could not break the ethnic hold over the competition.

The new A-League might have started with 10 completely unethnically alinged clubs, but it did play on the old state rivalries. It is not by accident that Sydney FC plays in sky blue, or that Melbourne Victory plays in dark blue, Adelaide Utd in red or Queensland Roar in maroon. Perth kept it's purple because that was already an unethnically alinged clubs and fit the new paradigm of the A-League well.

The new Twenty 20 Big Bash does not do this. None of the proposed eight teams play in colours which mean anything to the cities they represent. The Sydney Sixers will play in pink and the Sydney Thunder will play in an electric green strip. Why? Certainly nobody is going to confuse them but the only things in cricket that pink symbolises for me is either the McGrath Foundation or the West Indies World Series Cricket strips of the late 1970s. Electric Green only reminds me of the Canberra Raiders or Kawasaki.

2. Go The "Generic-City Wildcats"!

What is the most famous team in the world across all sports? I bet that if you ask most people outside of the United States, then the answer will more than likely be Manchester United. The name Manchester United has nothing to do with being called a "City Something". They might be called the "Red Devils" as a nickname, but it does not form part of their name and nor does it matter either.

In fact right through Europe, football clubs are named not after their mascots but after the place where they come from. Liverpool, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, are all named after the city they come from. In fact this used to be the way in Australia. Richmond, Essendon, Collingwood, South Sydney, Eastern Suburbs, Parramatta, never used to have a mascot officially in their names.

However when they did start to create mascots and nicknames, the reasons were almost always linked to either the cities they came from or their existing colours.

- Richmond is called the Tigers because they play in yellow and black.
- Essendon are named the bombers because of the former airport in the area.
- Collingwood are the magpies because they play in black and white.
- South Sydney wear red and green because of the colours of the waratah, and a named the Rabbitohs because during hard times, some of the players would sell rabbits as meat in the local area.
- Eastern Suburbs inherited both their "le tricolore" strip and the emblem of the Rooster from the touring French Rugby side of 1906. Easts defected to the new Rugby League in 1908.
- Parramatta gets its emblem from the name of the city itself. The Darug people called the area "Burramatta" which means "the place where the eels lie down".

The point is that neither the names Sydney Thunder nor Sydney Sixers or their pink and green strips respectively have anything to do with the city of Sydney at all. Part of the story of forming a new club unless it is being started by a bunch of friends or associates at a local level, is to reach out and connect with the area you're coming from.
Even the Gold Coast Suns which itself is a stupid name, tried to connect with the beachy sort of culture of the Gold Coast by playing in a red and yellow strip which is synonymous with the safety flags you'll find on most beaches in the country. In that respect the West Sydney Whatever-They-Are which will soon play in the AFL would have best played in black and red as a counter to the Swans white and red, and called themselves the Funnelwebs after Western Sydney's most famous residents. Black and red would have also connected the club to the club's first coach in Kevin Sheedy and thus told a story by itself.

That's really what naming a new sporting team is about. Starting any new sporting team is about starting a new story. Rivalries don't happen instantly but are woven into the fabric of that story over time. What I fear that the Twenty 20 Big Bash has done is by tearing the fabric away from the old stories of almost 120 years of cricket in Australia, it is very difficult to weave a new story afresh and that's bad for cricket.

April 13, 2011

Horse 1173 - Does Universal Healthcare Need to Even be a "Right" to Make it Sensible?

An objection which comes up quite commonly (and particularly by Americans) on forums which I frequent, is the argument that Health Care is not a "right", and therefore society shouldn't be forced to pay for it. I believe that it is this sort of attitude which has led the US Health Care system not only being the most expensive in the world to access, but also not particularly very good value for money either. The system appears to be driven by more greed, grift and corruption than an actual desire to a) create a working health care system and b) the actual health of people using it.
To subvert the question entirely, I pose a very different answer as to why a public health care system is a better option and it has nothing to do with it being a right or not.

Insurance itself is a monetary hedge against the risk of a contingent, uncertain loss. This implies a statistical risk which can be calculated and measured.

The Law of Large Numbers states that the more times you perform an experiment, then the average of those experiments will tend more towards either a theoretical or statistical average.
To wit, for a very large rolls of a die you should end up with the average ending up at about 3.5 (because (1+2+3+4+5+6)/6=3.5). Likewise, if you take a very large sample size for other events, the more times you repeat the experiment then the closer you get to the theoretical or statistical average.

For a population of people, the statistical average for something medically bad happening to them (which is why you take out insurance in the first place) tends towards the statistical average for something medically bad happening to them with an ever increasing sample size.
Since the entire population is also equal to the the entire sample size, then the statistical average for something happening, is also equal to the statistical average for something happening (unity equals unity).
Therefore from a statistical standpoint, the best sample size on which to base and charge your insurance coverage, is obviously the entire population. It follows that Risk is best spread over the entire population on this basis (you can of course do a reiterative calculation on this or perhaps a differential calculus equation, however I find that this tends to cloud the issues somewhat).

There is a problem though:
The population itself isn't uniform. There are older people and younger people. The chance of a 21 year old person suffering from an age related cancer, is not as high as a 74 year old. Also the chance of a 83 year old lady being in a serious motor accident is not as high as a 24 year old male.

It follows that the people who would want to buy insurance are also the same people most likely to drain the pool of funds. From the insurance organisation's point of view, this poses a problem. If younger people are less likely to pay into the fund and older people are more likely to draw from it, then the premiums must be invariably higher than if everyone had been paying into the fund in the first place.

Insurance by its nature suffers from negative self-selection for the above reasons. The best way to avoid this is to spread selection of payers over the widest possible base. Since the widest possible base is in fact the entire population, then for this reason the best possible selection system is also the entire population.
In theory the best possible payers into the system are those people who are also least likely to want to claim from it because it helps to spread the risk (which is after all they very point of an insurance question).

There is also the issue of "economies" of scale at play, at which the factors that cause a producer’s average cost per unit to fall as the scale of output is increased. Admittedly, this doesn't always line up with the general practice but seeing as the idea of universal health care creates a Natural Monopoly, coupled with the fact that not everyone is actually using the system at once, does then to ameliorate it somewhat.

Those same people who usually denounce the idea of Universal Health Care usually also forget that it was Sir Winston Churchill who first publicly declared the idea of Universal Health Care to the members of Royal College of Physicians in London in March '44:
The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear. Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion. Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.
Obviously to come to such an opinion, Churchill must at some point have witnessed first hand the terrible suffering of people who had been injured during the Second World War. To make an "Big C Tory" come to such a conclusion must have required a situation so bad that it crossed all ideologies. Also remember that death, disease and injury respects no class, rank, or other social barriers.

Even if you allow for the "free rider problem"* (look it up you'll learn something), even Churchill realised that allowing dignity to all members in society was a far better outcome than having people excluded from the system because they couldn't afford it.

Or maybe you would prefer that people don't have decent health care, so long as their dignity doesn't impinge on your precious rights:
If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.
- Scrooge, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (1843).

However setting this aside for a moment, it is very easy to draw a connection between the degradation of a working population even if you morally reduce them to little more than units of labour and Frédéric Bastiat's Parable of the Broken Window. It stands to reason that if the working units of labour are generally allowed to degrade through sickness and/or injury, then the overall utility of those units of labour decreases and hence the overall incomes of the nation falls; therefore not in a economic sense beneficial to withhold or deny the provision of health care to the working populace.

It is mainly for the reasons of the net insurance benefit, that extending the provision of health care on a universal basis, that people who deny that health care is a right should look at. Though if you really want include some sort of moral dimension, perhaps we should look at something else which Sir Winston Churchill said:
The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.
Maybe that is the crux of people's reasoning. Maybe they actually like to see people miserable.

*The Free Rider Problem. In a civilised and sensible society, we choose to value people 's dignity and are prepared to accept this cost.

April 12, 2011

Horse 1172 - No 2 AV - revisited

In Horse 1170 I argued that the "No 2 AV" campaign is a silly proposal because it is seemingly based on falsehoods.
Over the past few days though and as the impending referendum draws closer, it would appear that the Tories are stepping up their campaign backing "No 2 AV".

I found two snippets from the media most interesting. Both of the people in question appear to be blissfully ignorant of the circumstances which placed them into the positions which they now hold.

Firstly the UK's PM, David Cameron:

David Cameron has branded the alternative vote system "undemocratic" and "unfair" and urged people to oppose it in next month's referendum.
"It's a system - AV - so undemocratic that you can vote for a mainstream party just once, whereas someone can vote for a fringe party like the BNP and it's counted three times... It's so unfair that the candidates who come second or third can end up winning."

I don't think that Mr Cameron is in any sort of position to be arguing over what is and isn't "democratic" considering the method which he came to be the Prime Minister in the first place.

During the General Election of 2010, only 65.1% of the population bothered to show up at the polls. If you look at just the numbers of raw votes across the country, the Tories achieved 36.1% of the total vote. This means that of the total population of the UK, the Prime Minister was installed on just 23½% of the population's votes. This means that more than three quarters of the population either didn't vote for a Tory government or didn't vote at all. How "democratic" is that I ask you?
Of course it could be argued that when a coalition was formed with the LibDems, that their proportion of the vote should be included. On those figues including the 23% of the total which the LibDems gained, you still only get about 38½% of the vote which is still less than a majority of elligible voters.

Actually if you look on a seat by seat basis, then more than two-thirds of all sitting members actually came to occupy their seat on less than a third of the vote. Again I ask, "how democratic" is that?

The other worrying thing I find with Mr Cameron's statement is that somehow he seems to be perfectly fine with ignoring or deliberately trampling on the voices of 12% of the electorate.
It is true that I might not particularly like the BNP, UKIP or the National Front but I still don't think that their voices should not be heard; in fact I endorse their rights under the Bill of Rights Act 1689 etc, to their right to have a say in the political discussion of the nation (and be judged on what they say). Moreover, there are all sorts of voices which under the current system don't even shape the political discussion of the nation. There are plenty of Social Democrat, Socialist, Unionist, Green and otherwise smaller parties which I imagine which Mr Cameron would consider to be "the fringe". Does Mr Cameron that their voices should also be trampled or extinguished?
By including those parties on the ballot paper and giving people a preference, people can go to the polls and actively vote for parties which they know will lose. However, because primary votes are counted and published, the dialogue which the ballot papers actually tell the major political parties is of far wider scope than the FPTP system can ever allow. Besides which, in a democracy all voices no matter how "looney" they are have the right to be heard. Considering the horrendous parliamentary expenses scandals which had occurred in 2009, quite frankly both Labor and the Tories need a swift kick up the backside.

As for the AV system being "undemocratic", perhaps Mr Cameron should take a look at the data complied by the Economist Intelligence Unit of The Economist Group:
If the Australian system is so "undemocratic" then how is it that Australia which uses a form preferential voting system, is able to outscore the UK on the EIU's "Democracy Index" by 13 places? We are only behind Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand.

The absolute prize piece of idiocy which I found, I came acrooss via a link from of Antony Green from the ABC

The link provided was from Michael Ashcroft or rather Lord Ashcroft KCMG.

Proponents of AV would say that a majority of voters did not want Mountford. But it is also clear that many more wanted Mountford than any other candidate. What kind of mandate did the MP have, being the first choice of barely one-sixth of the electorate? I leave it to others to decide whether the outcome was "fairer" than would have been the case if only first preferences had counted.

In answer to Lord Ashcroft's comment, then yes the outcome was fairer because an AV system was been in place. If the majority of voters don't want a candidate, then how is that possibly fairer? If the majority of people vote against something as might have been the case of the 2010 General Election and an underlying reason why people voted for the LibDems, then that should have said something very profound indeed.

Also, this whole piece is bit rich coming from a member of the House of Lords. The House of Lords is an unelected body of which the sitting members are appointed rather than elected. How many people voted for Lord Ashcroft I ask you? ZERO.

Not a single person voted to put Lord Ashcroft into the House of Lords and yet he is charged with the responsibility of voting on legislation in the upper house what supposedly is a more democractic system than one voted by the preferential vote, on his logic.


As this campaign wears on, the more I am convinced that living in Australia, we happen to have what is probably the best and most robust parliamentary democracy in the world. I think a great deal of that is because that more voices are heard through the ballot box, and parties tend to adjust their policies for a wider audience. I'm sure that the preferential voting system we have is a great contributor in that.

April 07, 2011

Horse 1171 - The 2015 Cricket "World" Cup

Let's hear it for the ICC and their decision to only allow the Ten Full Members of the ICC to play in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups - Well Done to You.

No only has the ICC successfully managed to exclude, alienate and offend the vast majority of Associate Members but they also managed the double act of reducing the World Cup in stature to that of the ICC Champion's Trophy.

The reasons given by the ICC was that the 2011 format of the World Cup was unwieldy, well if they wanted a less unwieldy tournament then maybe they should be looking at the format of the tournament rather than excluding so called "minnows".

There were 49 matches in the 2011 Cricket World Cup. The 14 teams were divided into two pools of seven; each playing a round robin format and then the top four teams from each pool played a knockout. Basically any fool could have told you that playing a round robin of 7 teams each was going to be unwieldy from the outset. My solution to avoid this would have been something similar to the format used by UEFA for their Euro tournaments from 1996 until 2012*

With four pools of four, each side plays a round robin and then the top two from each pool go through to the knockout phase. This results in only 31 games being played but with two extra teams than the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
Even with four pools of five you still end up with 47 games being played but with six extra teams than the 2011 Cricket World Cup and a whole ten more than the propsed excuse for tournaments in 2015 and 2019.

By denying the so-called "minnows" the chance to play on the world stage, the ICC effectively condemns them to perpetual badness. That's neither good for the respective nations who wish to improve, nor for the image of the ICC itself which now appears to be driven by self-interest, politics and increasingly money from India.

Already I can forsee both the 2015 and 2019 Cricket World Cups being abject failures and to pinch a quote from FIFA, can that be really said to be "for the good of the game?"

*Euro 2016 will be expanded to 24 teams and even with 24 teams they will still only play 51 games which is two more than the 2011 Cricket World Cup but with more than double the number of entrants.

April 06, 2011

Horse 1170 - No2AV is Silly

The United Kingdom is going to the polls on the 5th of May to hold a referendum on whether ot not to decide using the "Alternative Vote" system to decide elections. Personally I have no idea why this debate is even being held, it seems blatantly obvious to me that the AV is one of the better systems which exist for the simple reasons that it encourages democracy and helps to shape the policies of the major parties to a degree.


AV is costly
The change to AV will cost up to an additional £250 million. Local councils would have to waste money on costly electronic vote counting machines and expensive voter education campaigns. With ordinary families facing tough times can we really afford to spend a quarter of a billion pounds of taxpayers' money bringing in a new voting system? Schools and hospitals, or the Alternative Vote – that's the choice in this referendum.

I love this argument put forward because it contains both a lie and a logical fallacy.

Firstly if you conduct an election the way Australia does there are no "electronic vote counting machines" because all of the votes are counted by hand. As for how efficient this is: in my lifetime there have been numerous elections at Federal, State and Local levels and when polls close at 6pm the results are almost always declared by about 10pm-11pm.
Secondly, how hard is it to educate people to number every box? Does the No2AV Campaign think that the electorate are a bunch or total morons?

This Argument having started on the premise of two obvious lies, then uses the logical fallacy of the "Appeal to Emotion". In this case the emotion is unfounded fear based on the premise that the system will some how cost and additional £250 million. Has this been properly costed? I would suspect not and that this argument like the two lies upon which it is based is also a lie.

AV is complex and unfair
The winner should be the candidate that comes first, but under AV the candidate who comes second or third can actually be elected. That’s why it is used by just three countries in the world – Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea. Voters should decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system. We can't afford to let the politicians off the hook by introducing a loser's charter.

Let's break this down step by step shall we?
"The winner should be the candidate that comes first, but under AV the candidate who comes second or third can actually be elected."
Consider an actual election from the Federal Division of Swan in the Australian House of Reps from 1918.

Edwin Corboy - ALP - 6,540 - 34.4%
William Hedges - Nat - 5,635 - 29.6%
Basil Murray - CP - 5,975 - 31.4%
William Watson - 884 - 4.6%

Edwin Corboy was voted into the seat under the first Past The Post System, when 65.6% of the population DID NOT vote for him. Surely that seems highly undemocratic indeed. If an Alternative Vote had been used, then it would seem likely that people would have voted for Hedges and Murray as their second preference because both the Nationalist Party and the Country Party were broadly centre-right whereas the Labor Party was a centre-left party.

"That’s why it is used by just three countries in the world – Fiji, Australia and Papua New Guinea."

This is a non-sequitur statement, that is IT DOES NOT FOLLOW. Secondly Fiji is currently ruled by a Military Junta so their voting system is probably irrelevant and Papua New Guinea is a strange place in which political parties are very fluid at the best of times and there have been numerous reports of violence at polling stations anyway.
Australia on the other hand which does use the Alternative Vote ranks at number 6 on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Index for 2010. We are only behind Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand in terms of having an openly democratic process.

"Voters should decide who the best candidate is, not the voting system."
Arguably for the reason stated above with the Swan by-election, that the First Past The Post Method does not decide who the best candidate is. Under the Alternative Voting System, votes are counted until someone has gained 50%+1 votes of the electorate. Rule by majority must surely be the best definition of democracy, no?

"We can't afford to let the politicians off the hook by introducing a loser's charter."
I don't even know what this means. I understand what each of the words mean seperately but together, this doesn't convey a meaningful idea to me. Whoever wrote this may as well have written "Wire in a fire, represent the seven games in a government for hire and a combat site." from REM's "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine...)", because it still would have had the same impact and made the same quantity of illogical nonsense.

AV is a politician's fix
AV leads to more hung parliaments, backroom deals and broken promises like the Lib Dem tuition fees U-turn. Instead of the voters choosing the government, politicians would hold power. Under AV, the only vote that really counts is Nick Clegg's. We can't afford to let the politicians decide who runs our country.

I did a quick look at the history of Australian Parliaments and found that since the introduction of the Alternative Voting System it has resulted in just 2 hung parliaments at Federal out of a possible 39 elections. 2/39 is not particularly a very big margin. Also bear in mind that a hung parliament also adequately expresses the will of the people. In the words of Paddy Ashdown the former Liberal Democrat Leader: "The people have spoken but we don't know what they've said.”

If you look specifically at the last British election, the mood of the voters was a definate wish to depose the Labour Party but it was not a ringing endorsement of the Conservatives either.

This also seems to deny the actual workings of a Westminster Parliament in the first place. Voters never vote for "the government", in practice they vote for their local member. It is the sitting members of parliament which then form the government. Historically the idea of even having a political party didn't even exist in Britain until about the time of PM Robert Banks Jenkinson in 1826 when John Cam Hobhouse coined the term "His Majesty's Loyal Opposition". In practise the party system didn't take proper effect until about the time of Sir Robert Peel in 1835.

Besides which it also ignores the fact that in a Westminster Parliament even when government is formed, it is the members of the sitting party who decides which among them will be the leader; even then the leader can change mid-term anyway.


Basically I think that whole No 2 AV Campaign is rather a bit dim. I don't really understand how a First Past The Post system reflects the will of the majority of people and even when the campaign's official website can't explain the First Past the Post system is better, then they're not helping either.
Then again, I don't need to. I live in Australia which already uses an Alternative Vote system. We're already the sixth most democratic system in the world and I think that's brilliant.

This is a nice video as well:

April 05, 2011

Horse 1169 - Will The End of the Falcon Spell the End of Ford Australia?

The Ford Falcon as we know it is pretty well much in trouble. Last month's NRMA Open Road magazine even hinted at the idea of the Falcon being replaced with a Front-Wheel-Drive car the Ford Taurus. If that were to happen then the platform which the Ford Falcon Ute is built on would also be discontinued and likely to be replaced with the Second Generation Ford Ranger and the Ford Territory would dropped and replaced with the Ford Explorer.

It really does make me wonder what Ford Australia have been doing for the past five years. Surely they should have seen that people are voting with their wallets and buying smaller vehicles. Even Holden have more or less worked an exit strategy with their Cruze and even started building the hatchback variants in Australia. Ford were supposed to have started building the Focus by now, but that fell through when they promised to build a four-cylinder Falcon... which also fell through.

To be perfectly blunt, Ford should have been watching the charts themselves. The Mazda 3 which was number 2 on the sales charts, shares the same platform as the Ford Focus. It's kind of sad from Ford's point of view to see what effectively amounts to your stablemate streaking ahead like this.


1. Holden Commodore – 3829
2. Mazda3 – 3575
3. Toyota HiLux – 2892
4. Hyundai i30 – 2654
5. Toyota Corolla – 2600
6. Holden Cruze – 2582
7. Nissan Navara – 2207
8. (=8.) Ford Falcon – 1572
9. (=8.) Mazda2 – 1572
10. Mitsubishi Lancer – 1561

It's not just an isolated trend either, Ford themselves in 2002 identified that the people most likely to buy a Falcon were people in the 50-65 age bracket or taxi companies. As those people are progressively getting older, they're less likely to need a big car and thus the sales for the Falcon have been trending downwards for quite some time.


Ford Falcon sales decline

2003 – 73,220
2004 – 65,384
2005 – 53,080
2006 – 42,390
2007 – 33,941
2008 – 31,936
2009 – 31,023
2010 – 29,516
2011?? - ... oh dear.

It also makes wonder about the "Car Of The Future" in the V8 Supercars. I tend to think that the rules will eventually lead to a common unbranded car which is then modified with grilles and front and rear light clusters etc. Potentially if the Falcon disappears then what the heck do they run? A Taurus?
In the BTCC there already is quite a potent sort of match up between the Cruze and the Focus on track, although the Astra is GM's big hitter in Britain and Europe. We're going to see the Cruze-Focus barney not on the racetrack in Australia but on the showroom floor; and when Opel hits in 2012 this will stir the pot even further.
Cruze, Corolla, 3, i30, Astra, Focus - these are the cars which Australians are increasingly wanting. Basiscally they're all about the 1.8L-2.0L and a lot smaller than the 4.0L Falcon,

The thing is though that Ford Australia can develop excellent cars. They developed the Ford Ikon which was based on the Mk5 Ford Fiesta, and the car did excellently in China, India, South Africa and Brazil. Furthermore, Ford even thought that the concept was so good that they ran with it in Europe and the current Ford Fiesta Mk6 and it's stablemate Mazda 2 both come out in sedans.

If I can see these trends from afar, then why can't Ford Australia? They may as well react to the market bacuse if they don't then the Glass House in Dearborn, Michigan is very likely to throw stones and knock Ford Australia off their perch and into the past.

April 04, 2011

Horse 1168 - The Gold Coast Aren't As Bad As We Think... Yet.

If you read through the newspapers this morning, you'll find a smattering of scathing comments about the AFL new boys, the Gold Coast Suns. Yes it's true that they got hammered by 20 goals, yes it's true that against Carlton they didn't look particularly up to scratch but there are several things that they can take away from this.

For a new club entering the competition, they're always going to find it difficult against teams which have had full rosters which have bedded in over several seasons. You can't honestly expect a side to do brilliantly out of the blocks.

Cast you minds back to 1987. The AFL had expanded with less than a stellar result into Sydney, and the newly formed Brisbane Bears took to the park. In their first season they did manage to win 6 games and avoid the wooden spoon but it was always obvious that their lack of experience was on show.
The following season in 1988; in Round 12 they came up against the side who wopuld be champions that year Hawthorn and managed a paltry 2.5 (17) all up.

The Gold Coast's effort at the weekend although they lost, still meant that they scored 7.10 (52); that in itself isn't a large score but considering that at the end of the first quarter they were only 1.1 (7) meant that the wind was taken out of their sails right from the start and so you could say that they sort of recovered a bit.
The Gold Coast sporting 12 players making their AFL debuts were never going to be a match for Gibbs, Murphy and Curnow who together utterly destroyed the Suns' midfield and spent the whole match simply feeding their forward line with free entries into the 50.

Basically this match was a totally inexperienced side up against a well-oiled machine which has only thus far been bettered by last year's champions Collingwood in terms of points scored. The real measure is if the Gold Coast can do better than the Brisbane Bears did in '87 and win more than half a dozen games over the season.

One game does not a season make unless it's that last game in September and even then as we saw last year, it still might not.