June 30, 2011

Horse 1207a - Mr O'Farrell Replies

A Tweet worth mentioning:

Barry O'Farrell
I must admit that I was a little surprised by this. I can't say for certain if this was Mr O'Farrell himself, or someone from his office but maybe it illustrates a worthwhile point. We live in a democracy and are free to say whatever we wish, we also have the repsonsibility to hold our leaders to account. If we say nothing though, our voices will never be heard.

Horse 1207 - Selling The Railways Mr O'Farrell?


THE man hand-picked by Barry O'Farrell to drive the future of NSW transport and infrastructure is in favour of privatising the state's rail system and supports congestion charges to get drivers off the roads.
Paul Broad, named the first chief executive of Infrastructure NSW this week, is an unabashed fan of Jeff Kennett's reforms to the Victorian transport system and believes NSW would benefit from something similar.
Asked if he would support more private involvement in Sydney's rail system, run by the government-owned RailCorp, Mr Broad said: ''I don't want to pre-empt it, but obviously a personal thought about that is that you would. I think that the private sector in Victoria has done extremely well in part of their rail network. So I do think there's opportunity for that.''

I was severely incensed when I heard this on the radio this morning. Just like everything else that governments have sold off in this country never to return to public hands, I fail to see how any proposal to sell off the railways is any way shape or form approaching "good government".

The views expressed by Paul Broad the new chief executive of Infrastructure NSW, I think are at odds with the position to which he has been appointed. The media release from Infrastructure NSW says that:
“NSW has been crying out for a body like Infrastructure NSW – for the first time this State will have an independent body laying out a strategic direction for infrastructure delivery.
No longer will any area of NSW be taken for granted – or be promised projects as pre-election bribes that are never delivered - as Labor did for 16 years.”
Yet within two days of Paul Broad's appointment, he's already talking about selling off the railways. This would be a joke if it wasn't so pathetically tragic and scandalous.

Fixing the transport network of the state was one of the issues which brought the O'Farrell Government to power in the first place. I suspect that Mr O'Farrell recognised this when he named himself as Minister for Western Sydney. The people of the West and especially the North West have been crying out for decent public transport now for 40 years.

As for Mr Broad's comment that NSW would benefit from something similar to the Victorian experience, did Victoria really benefit from selling the railways and tramways? Not in the slightest.


PRIVATISATION of Melbourne's public transport has cost taxpayers $1.2 billion more than if the system had remained in public hands, according to a analysis by transport experts.
And if Connex and Yarra Trams are given franchise extensions, taxpayers will pay $2.1 billion more by 2010 than if the system were publicly owned.

Clearly not.

Perhaps I read Mr Broad's comments incorrectly. What does he mean exactly?
"I think that the private sector in Victoria has done extremely well in part of their rail network. So I do think there's opportunity for that."

Well, on reflection I would agree with him. The private sector in Victoria has done extremely well. They have gashed open the wallets of Victorians for more than $3 billion since the transport system went into private hands. As for the people of Victoria? Well, they've been left with a slightly worse service and pay more in rail fares.
I guess the people of Victoria don't matter then do they?

"I actually admire what Kennett did. And I think we did a fair bit of that in Nick Greiner's time"

Can I just remind Mr Broad of "what Kennett did" and apparently what he "admires"?

During Kennett's time as Premier of Victoria, 350 public schools were closed, $29 billion of state assets in gas and electricity alone were sold to private enterprise (and as a direct result the price of electricity and gas more than tripled in the four years that followed), 66,000 public servants lost their jobs and after the imposition of a poll tax in 1992, the biggest strike in Australian industrial relations history occurred when 4.5 million people stayed home.
Yet Mr Broad thinks that this is admirable? Even today you can still see the evidence of Mr Kennett's legacy. The town of Kennett River to this day consistently has the name Kennett crossed out with spray paint within hours of a new sign being erected in their town.

Well done... just well done.

Dear Barry, if this is your attitude to the people of NSW then I severely hope you are deposed from office before your term and you never darken the doors of Parliament House again.
One of the biggest symbols of the City of Sydney is the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was completed during the Great Depression and still to this day shows the vision that governments had almost 90 years ago.
When Francis de Groot upstaged Premier Jack Lang in 1932 when the bridge was opened, he did so "in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales." Policitians would do well to remember this. The decent and respectable people of New South Wales are in effect your employers. We do hold the power to install and remove governments; that is worth thinking about should we wish to retain your services beyond 28 March 2015.

June 27, 2011

Horse 1206 - Philip Morris Threatens to Hold the Australian People to Ransom

Prize cancer and death merchants Philip Morris have threatened to take the Australian Government to court for damages if it suffers a loss of business as a result of the introduction of plain packaging of cigarettes. Now whilst I tend to agree with the argument that they will suffer a loss of business as a result of the loss of brand identification, I personally take umbrage at the fact that they intend to sue the government.

"Failing that, we aim to go ahead with a compensation claim for the loss to our business in Australia that would result from plain packaging,"  
- Philip Morris Asia spokeswoman, Anne Edwards 

I really don't like it generally when people sue "the government". "The Government" in this sense is usually seen as some sort of nebulous concept, but we need to remember that the government sector takes its revenue from us as taxpayers. To make up the shortfall because some multi-national corporation has got it in its craw and seeks damages will mean that that money has to be taken from somewhere, and the only two options are that the government sector spends less or that we taxpayers pay more in tax.

PM Julia Gillard has said "We're not going to be intimidated by Big Tobacco's tactics, whether they're political tactics, whether they're public affairs kind of tactics out in the community or whether they're legal tactics," ; I wish her all the goodwill I can muster in this issue.

I also object to the utterly stupid adverts being peddled at the moment, decrying the so-called "Nanny State". Take note at the end when they're forced at law to admit that the adverts have been authorised by Imperial Tobacco. Is this honestly how Imperial Tobacco views the public? As a bunch of borderline morons? What do they take us for? Seriously!

I really hope that Philip Morris loses the court case and that they have to pay hideously expensive court costs. As a taxpayer, I object to being taken for a ride by filchers, racketeers and shysters.

To Philip Morris: You are not worth another word, else I'd call you knave!

Horse 1205 - Aint Worth A Hill Of Beans

Quite recently my boss was on the telephone to a client and remarked that a particular report which someone had submitted "wasn't worth a hill of beans", that is, it was worthless.
I pondered this for far too long to be honest and this post is the result of my question to find out what a Hill of Beans is actually worth.

P.G. Wodehouse in his 1921 novel "Indiscretions of Archie" from 1921 wrote:

“Here have I been kicking because you weren’t a real burglar, when it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans whether you are or not”.

Perhaps the most famous us of the phrase comes from the 1941 film "Casablanca" in which Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart) says:
"Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”.

The first question we need to address in finding out what a hill is worth, is to find out what constitutes a hill.
As discussed in the 1995 film "The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain", a mountain is a hill which is taller than 1000ft; by inference a hill is less than 1000ft.

Interestingly I can't seem to find a common law definition of what a hill is; not even the Ordnance Survey Act of 1841 defines a hill. The definition of a "top" though appears to be "all elevations with a drop of at least 100 feet (30.48m) on all sides and elevations of sufficient topographical merit"
Certainly if you were to create a pile of beans 100 feet tall, that would probably be "of sufficient topographical merit" and so this is the working definition I've chosen.

This was backed up by a comment which I'd recieved on the topic from a forum board:
"It would depend if you are including hillocks in your definition, in which case pretty much any height you like. Exclude hillocks and I'd suggest you're looking at ~100ft / ~33m.

However, the problem you'd face is getting your beans to form a hill shape without a suitable container. They'd naturally tend to form a lake, rather than a hill. So maybe the movie needs to be remade or at the very least re-dubbed with the phrase "lake of beans".
- Dave Brockman, 22nd Jun 11.

This last point was quite instructive I must say. Obviously it stands to reason that if you were to build a hill of beans, you'd want a self-supporting pile.
Experiments with tinned baked beans led me to believe that beans in tomato sauce do react differently depending on how hot the liquid sauce is. In general, the viscosity of a simple liquid decreases with increasing temperature, so it stands to reason that if you're cooking baked beans on a stovetop, they will have a greater propensity to form a lake. Likewise at colder temperatures, baked bean sauce will tend to coagulate.

Fortuneately, the Commission Internationale du Genie Rural or CIGR, has already conducted studies into the shape of a pile that beans take:
Of course you tend to ask "why" such a study needs to be made in the first place.
The answer has to do with bulk handling of cargoes. Bulk handlers of foodstuffs and minerals need to be aware of the shape of piles they build with their bulk cargo; it's also important when building things like silos, railway hoppers and conveyor belts.
The shape of of the cone made by a pile is described by something called the "Angle of Repose". This report from the CIGR indicates that the Angle of Repose for coffee is 35° and for Baked Beans in tomato sauce it's 25°. Always wanting to check my figures I emailed H.J. Heinz Company and SPC Ardmona and they both have confirmed the figure of 25°.

The next question is how much it would cost to build a 100ft pile of beans. Again Dave was rather helpful:

If you were intending to use them for construction rather than sustenance I would suggest that you use Tesco Value, which are 28p for 420g, according to mysupermarket.co.uk

28p/420g works out to be A$1.01348/kg

Interestingly I find this to be the cheapest source of baked banes in the world. Franklins No Frills baked beans which cost 77c for 425g comes to A$1.83333/kg and nowhere in the US, NZ or South Africa, came out as cheap.

The next section involves maths. If you want to skip this bit, then please just scroll down:

To find the radius of the cone requires simple trignometry. A cone can be described as solid formed by a rotating right triangle through 360°.

A/sin a° = B / sin b° = C / sin c°
A/sin 65° = 100 / sin 25°
A = 214.4506920 feet.

Volume of a Cone (the hill of beans) : V = 1/3πr²h
V = 1/3 x π x 100ft² x 214.4506920ft
V = 4,815,968 cubic feet
V = 136,373,027.625L

Beans however are not sold by volume but by weight.
If you assume that beans are not compressible, then if follows that they pack into a tin at the same rate as they would into a pile. After measuring several baked bean tins in the supermarket, I find that the standard baked bean tin is 75mm across and 110mmm tall.

Volume of a Cylinder (a bean tin) : V = πr²h

V = π x (75mm)² x 110mm
V = 154,687.5mm³
V = 0.1546875L for 420g
V = 0.368303514L/kg

This means to say that at 0.368303514L/kg in a volume of 136,373,027.625L there are 50,226,666kg of beans.

At the Franklins rate of $1.83333/kg a Hill of beans would cost:

If the hill was made of Tesco Value at A$1.01348/kg, the Hill of beans costs:

Going back to Rick Blaine's comment in Casablanca that "the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world" then this is probably true.
Gail Kelly the CEO of Westpac is reportedly on a salary of A$9.5m a year. It is estimated that she has a net worth of A$32.9m.
It probably follows that the problems of three "little" people, ie people of low net worth, don't amount to the value of a Hill of Beans. However if you were to take three people like Wayne Rooney, Michael Schumacher and Gail Kelly, then you might be exceeding the value of a hill of beans.

On reflection a hill of beans is actually worth a considerable amount of money. I wouldn't fancy climbing it though as you'd get Tomato Sauce in your socks.

June 21, 2011

That's a nice Tnetennba

Tnetennba: Noun.
A word whose function is purely to attract traffic to a website; a gratuitously used keyword whose presence is aimed at attracting the search engines attention and improving the website’s placement in search results.

Horse 1204 - Is Facebook Killing English?

This question came from a forum board which I frequent:
Do you think the advent of social networking (Facebook etc) has killed the forum boards or is it a more specific decline based on subject matter? Or is it that people aren't as good as writing as they were?

I don't necessarily see this as a specific problem to do with forums but a symptom of a far-wider ranging miasma of declining rates of functional literacy generally.
I will attribute some of the blame at the feet of Twitter, MySpace and the Book of Faces because where once were pieces of text in which some degree of thought used to be employed, there are now shorter grabs of 140 characters or less in some cases. However I don't think that social media by itself at fault but society as a whole.
This is the distilling of a process which has been going back hundreds if not thousands of years.

The Bible records in both the book of Nehemiah (chapter 13) and the letter to the Hebrews (chapter 9) that "all of the law was read to the people". Now I'm assuming that probably refers to "the law" as contained in the Book of Leviticus, so "all of the law" amounts to 27 chapters which have to be read in a public place.
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul rambled on for so long that one poor chap fell asleep and fell out of a window (Acts 20).
If you look at the great age of the novel, books like Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace, Austen's Mansfield Park, Charles Dickens' Bleak House or even James Joyce's Ulysses, are all hefty tomes which are vastly more complex than the radio serials which began in the 1930s or television programs which all fit nicely into half-hour blocks.
Whereas once people would be content to stand out in a field and tend livestock, watching as each day told a unique story (I earnestly believe that it was shepherds who invented the game of cricket), people's attention spans which used to last hours now barely last seven minutes, and 140 characters of a twitter post is a logical extension of this whittling away of patience.

I think that because people generally don't have anything like the same amount of patience that people had in the past, coupled with the fact that they simple aren't engaged to anywhere near the same degree as they once were with the written word, that people's language skills have suffered as a result.
I work as a forensic accountant and so deal with legal firms on a semi-regular basis and it staggers me at just how poor so-called "professional" correspondence has become. I see errors in spelling and grammar which should make the average 8th grader cringe (but sadly doesn't) and whilst I will accept that English might not be the first language of some people and concede the fact that the language does evolve, it is still not an excuse for the hideousness which I see quite often in written English from people who should know better and especially from people who's very profession lives in the realm of producing and gleaning information from written English.

A poor standard of English has even infected mainstream media. There has been a noticeable decline in the quality of writing in “newspapers of record” like The Times and The Daily Telegraph etc. and I’m willing to bet that that is consistent across the Anglosphere.
In Australia, our own Sydney Morning Herald has been on the slide in my lifetime but I'm glad to say that Sydney's Daily Telegraph has actually improved in quality since the days that it merged with The Daily Mirror, though I think that that has more to do with the influence of AAP than anything else.

George Orwell decried "ugly and inaccurate" English in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” and although he was more concerned about media and politicians using language to conceal their intent and advocated the use of Plain English, I take his point to some degree but also disagree with him on other points.
I happen to like using florid language partly because I take joy in "the flower of English". I like the ability to select and mould paragraphs to change the colour and tone of meaning. So in that respect I differ from Orwell quite strongly but I totally agree with him in that if you don't properly craft your pieces of writing, then the language itself suffers a ever so slight devaluation; if you multiply that by the billions of poor pieces of writing being produced, is it little wonder we're floating in a sea of fetid stench?

There is also the fact that we live in an increasingly Post-literate Society in which people no longer read for pleasure as much as they used to. As a result of this, I suggest that people are voluntarily choosing to become more stupid, through laziness and a refusal to learn anything, which includes the ability to use the written word properly. I also note a decline in numeracy to the point where a lot of people find long division difficult. This is encouraged by a distinctly anti-intellectual, commercial and hedonistic media sludge.

So in answer to the original question, I don't think that "the advent of social networking (Facebook etc) has killed the forum boards" but rather that this an expression of a systemic failure of wider society of which forum boards are a very small cross-section... and the real tragedy is that because society is generally more stupid than it used to be, they won't understand what I just said.

June 20, 2011

Horse 1203 - What Does The England Test Side Believe About Itself?

The thing that really bothers me about the current England Test Team is that even after defending The Ashes by beating Australia 3-1 in Australia and outclassing Sri Lanka to the point where Sri Lanka have looked slightly less than apalling, England still seems to lack self-belief and confidence in themselves as a Test side.

The worst innings that England has had in the current series is 335 for 7 declared. Making 335 is a reasonable score in the first place but this isn't even a proper close of innings, this was England declaring early so they could have a fighting chance at winnning a match; even then Ian Bell was scoring at a strike rate of more than 130 when the declaration came.
Jonathan Trott made 203 in the 1st test at Sophia Gardens in Cardiff and took 1/5 in the 1st test at Lord's. There have also been centuries to Cook Bell and Prior in the series, whilst Sri Lanka have only deposed all of England's wickets in an innings once. Chris Tremlett's 6/48 in the 3rd test at The Rose Bowl is the only five wicket haul by bowler in the series but that's because wickets are being spread around rather than faulty bowling.
At least one batsman is  performing per innings and the bowling is entirely adequate. Normally this should instill hope into a squad but remember, this is England we're talking about.

This is an England side which is obviously in a state of confusion. England hit the bottom in 2006/7 with a disastrous tour of Australia losing 5-0, and since then they've risen like the phoenix and have turned into a Test side which whilst it might not be full of any real stand-out stars in particular, it is a very good side which I don't think has quite figured that out for itself.
Especially over the last 20 years, England in just about every sport has been rubbish. When England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, we didn't know what to do about it exactly and now that the England Cricket is looking competent and winning matches with alarming regularity, neither the team itself nor the fans quite know how to react to this.
Just to remind you again, this is England. England isn't supposed to win anything! England is the nation which invents and codifies sports, gives them to the world and then sits and mopes when everyone else in the world practices them and gets better than them. For the England Test Cricket side to start winning matches, cuts against the veyr principles of being English, namely standing about complaining about the weather and going in at teatime to knock off a plate of Jaffa Cakes.

Thankfully the scent of failure is just over the horizon.

I predict that India will start the tour by smashing county sides to pieces on relatively small grounds like Taunton, and that the England Test team will be looking at this and then have the wind taken out of their sails.
Players like Gambhir and Dravid will have scores which are over-inflated (150-190) and when they come to Lord's on 21st July, I'm worried that Finn and Broad will be scared into a state of... being the England Test Team that we've come to know over the last 20 years because of the dark shadows that those scores will cast.

Maybe England will select John Bull himself to play for them in the First Test against India but I think it more likely that when faced against India, England will just collapse like a flan in a cupboard and it will be just like old times again.

Horse 1202 - Pravda

"people should just calm down about some of the media frenzy around this"
- Anthony Albanese, to the ABC, 20th Jun 2011.

How can people calm down if they're constantly being told to worry about it?

Mr Albanese is of course talking about the continuing media stupidity that surrounds Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and the PM Julia Gillard. Despite repeated attempts to tell the media that there is no leadership spill, no-one seems to be getting it and I think that this is because of a case of bad faith by the people running the newspapers in Australia.

Consider the following:
"both Sydney's The Daily Telegraph and Brisbane's The Courier-Mail featured the same piece on the re-made Rudd. "A year in her shadow" was the sting for the magazine piece in the Telegraph, pushed along by Gillard's unhelpful anniversary interview comments where she repeated why she had, in the words of the Telegraph headline, "knifed Rudd"."

This came from this morning's Australian which is a News Corp newspaper; it speaks of a piece which featured in both the The Daily Telegraph and The Courier-Mail (which are also News Corp newspapers) and basically it admits where its story came from. In case you missed it:
"in the words of the Telegraph headline"

Not a piece of investigative journalism, not a leaked memo and not a press statement. News Corp papers in this case have simply made something up where it suited them to do so.

Fairfax newspapers are just as guilty for doing this. The Sydney Morning Herald, Melbourne's "The Age" and the two online Fairfax newspapers the Brisbane Times and WA Today all ran this story with the following headline:

Rudd muses in church over 2010 sacking

Yet if you read through the article itself we find the following quote from Kevin Rudd himself from the radio station Hope 103.2:

"I was musing in church ... the key thing is not to sit around and mope. The key thing is to get out there and make a difference with the resources that you have at your disposal today.
Whatever your calling and whatever your lot is in life, to take those talents and take those abilities and use them to the utmost. That is what you try and do.
None of us are perfect and we all fall short of the glory of God."
- Kevin Rudd, played on Hope 103.2, 19th Jun 2011.

I was listening to the radio when this came on and this in context had nothing whatsoever to do with a supposed leadership spill. Although Fairfax media may have used an exact quote, they tried to make it say something which it never did.

On one hand you have News Corp openly admitting to just making stuff up and on the other you have Fairfax misusing someone's words. Either way both of the major newspaper companies are engaging in something even older than they are... LYING. We may as well be living in Stalinist Russia because at least everyone knew that Pravda was lying.

Of course it makes you wonder why the media is putting so much effort into trying to destabilise the Labor Party and the Federal Government. What is the real story going on?

The simple thing would be to look at media bias.
Both Fairfax Media and News Corp are roughly right leaning conservative news outlets. Fairfax generally favours the Liberal Party and although News Corp doesn't come out in Australia and directly say it, they do openly support the Republican Party in the US and the Conservatives in the UK, so it follows that they should also do likewise in Australia.
The real issue is what is the biggest concern of right leaning conservatives in Australian poltics at the moment? The answer to that is the Carbon Tax.

To put it mildly, both major newspaper companies have an audience which would oppose any increase in taxation except maybe The Daily Telegraph whose readers have the average IQ of a tin of baked beans.
By openly making stuff up and/or lying about the context of what is going on, the act of destabilising the Government is not only an act of defiance but also embodies another adage which goes back more than two thousand years: Divide et Impera, divide and rule.
Caesar, Napoleon, Sun Tsu, Boccalini and Machiavelli have all written about this law and if it was good enough for them, it is good enough for Fairfax Media and News Corp... but it doesn't serve the people of Australia.

So then, to Fairfax Media and News Corp on this the 20th of June, 2011:


June 16, 2011


Malcolm Turnbull who appears to be the champion of sticking his fingers in his ears and yelling "LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING" has yet again written an article in the Business Spectator arguing why the Australian Government should collectively do nothing, citing South Korea as an example of why governments should continue to do nothing.


But the idea that bandwidth supply creates its own demand is a vast oversimplification. It completely ignores the critical role of other factors such as price, quality of service, availability of applications and competition among providers.
And it turns out it is exactly these factors that in Korea are proving more powerful than mere availability of high speeds.
The latest figures from Korea Telecom reveal that after five years of rolling out fibre-to-the-basement (a far less costly version of NBN Co’s fibre-to-the-home architecture), demand for the highest bandwidth plans it enables has gone pear-shaped.
- Malcolm Turnbull, the Business Spectator, 16th Jun 2011

Holding a double degree in arts and law, it's obvious that Turnbull does not understand several important things which are critical to his position as Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband. Namely anything to do with the technical details of the position, nor anything to do with the economic principles which he is arguing against.
Also being a firm member of the Liberal Right, he simply refuses to believe that governments as rule are capable of delivering anything but at the same time doesn't understand the basic concept of market failure.

Market Failure is a concept whereby the allocation of goods and services is not efficient; obviously there is nothing more inefficient than a total failure to provide any goods and services at all.

Telstra by it's own admission stated in a pamphlet in it's "BACK" Campaign in 2006 that it didn't want to invest in high speed broadband because Federal Government rules didn't allow it to. Whilst this was never tested in court, I suspect that this may have been a blatant lie because there wasn't even a hint at a suggestion as to what laws it would be infringing.

At the time the then Executive Phil Burgess, said that:
"Today we have a Minister for Communications who says there's no reason why we should be too concerned about broadband, after all 80 per cent of the people can get eight megabytes. Eight megabytes isn't enough."

The Minister for Communications at the time was Helen Coonan. Right through her tenure as minister from Jul 2004 to Nov 2007, Coonan was attacked and badgered by both Telstra and Optus in the media. Yet somehow through all of this, not a single yard of cable was laid with any capability approaching anything like the sorts of speeds which Telstra had complained about.
This is a perfect example of Public Infrastructure not being provided and illustrates exactly the concept of market failure.

Just this morning the final National Broadband Network agreement with Telstra is being hammered out as this post is being written and will be sent to Telstra's board for approval within the week and to Cabinet next week.

I think this also illustrates the point that for a project of this scope and size, only a government department has the capability of rolling it out; yet Malcolm Turnbull as the Shadow Minister appears to be willfully ignorant of what is going on before his very eyes. "LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING"

The truth is that in countries which are more friendly to having governments build things, real progess is being made.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has promised that 70% of France will get 100Mbps Internet within 10 years. The thing is though, you don't have idiots like Malcolm Turnbull or even prize chump Tony Abbott to oppose the plan. When France says that it will build something on this scale IT GETS DONE.
One only needs to look at SNCF and their TGV trains which speed across France at more than 500km/h on regular services to realise just how stupid the stance by Turnbull actually is.

Even Spain despite its sovereign debt problems is aiming to build a national broadband network from scratch which will deliver a baseline of 1Mbps to all households within 24 months.

Heck even the United States which surely is the stalwart of free enterprise has "The National Broadband Plan" and although they might argue about Universal Health Care, even they recognised the need for Universal Service to broadband.

So important is The National Broadband Plan that the first point of the plan is:
"At least 100 million U.S. homes should have affordable access to actual download speeds of at least 100 megabits per second and actual upload speeds of at least 50 megabits per second by the year 2020."

To be totally honest the US endeavours on rolling out its National Broadband Plan make our own NBN Co look hideously pathetic and small.

The truth is that Broadband will be the major networks and highways of the 21st Century, and yet somehow Mr Turnbull actively wants to keep Australia behind the rest of the world.

S.51 of the Constitution says:
"The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:
(v) postal, telegraphic, telephonic, and other like services;"
I think that we should hold people like Mr Turnbull to account and ask him precisely WHY he wants to defeat the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth.

I suspect that his answer would only be "LA LA LA I'M NOT LISTENING"

June 14, 2011

Horse 1200 - Please Build a Legend, Holden

I do realise that this is a gratuitous excuse to put a picture of a BMW M3 GTS on this blog because to be perfectly blunt, I do think that it does look quite cool, however this post addresses something a little bit more than this. It's the big letter M on the door I'm concerned with. That M stands for Motorsport and that's something more important than how cool the car looks. Motorsport as a rule actually improves the breed.

If I look back through the mysts of time and try to pick the two coolest touring cars in Australian motor racing history, there are two obvious stand outs: namely the Ford Falcon XC Coupe and the Holden Torana A9X hatchback.

These two cars were both modified versions of cars you could buy from a showroom at any time. If you had the cash spare, you could very easily walk into a Ford or Holden dealership, plonk your money on the counter and drive away with a car that wasn't that far removed from the road car.
With a modern V8 Supercar, the cars are so far removed from the road-going versions that apart from the bodyshell in the case of the Falcon and not at all in the case of the current V8 Supercar Commodore, the cars they race are pretty well much prototypes; hence the reason why I mentioned the BMW M3 GTS in the first place. The M3 GTS is a development of sorts from the regular M3 and vicariously the 3-Series rep-box. Admittedly it's far far far removed from sat a

The M3 GTS has forced the hand of development at BMW. Faced with challenges to make the cars last 24 hours, BMW has over the past few years turned a relatively "fragile" car into a robust racer.
The V8 Supercars have been playing the same basic formula now since 1993, and in principle haven't really undergone anything like the developmental process that the BMW M3 GTR has, and nor are they really "pushing the envelope" that far either.

It seems to me that Holden and Ford in Australia are playing with dinosaur technology. Basically the single-cam pushrod V8 from Holden dates in principle from GM's "small block" V8 of 1968 and the Falcon's Windsor engine dates from 1962.
Why in 2011 are they still playing with engines more than 40 years old?

I think that the Le Mans 24 Hours would provide a proper challenge for Ford and Holden. Holden "tried" with their 427 Monaro to have a go at a 24 Hour Race but it wasn't really a proper test because the rules were bent to allow it to compete... and win. Ford on the other hand haven't really made a proper effort at Le Mans since the GT40 of 1969.

As it is, Craig Lowdnes was racing for Team Joest in an Audi of all things; at Bathurst no less in the 12 Hours this year. The first Ford across the line was an FPV Falcon GT in 13th and the first Holden was an HSV spec Astra. An ASTRA?! What is this? Being beaten in your own backyard is disgraceful.
If an Audi R8 can come to the Bathurst 12 Hour, what's  to stop Holden from going over to Le Mans and having a go in the 24 Hours?
I think that there is a case to be made to send three 7L HSV Maloos to Le Mans to try and beat the BMW M3 GTS and the Corvette C6. I think that it would help to rekindle the flame of competition and even if it wasn't all that successful, the coolness factor and the legend which would result from Utes at Le Mans would stretch on for years to come.
Obviously you could draw from the existing componentry of V8 Supercars for the suspension and drivetrain etc. and maybe develop a bit of a long-tail body kit for it to give you the downforce to cope with Mulsanne, but I know that the potential is there just waiting to be unleashed.

If someone is from Holden and you are reading this*, then please do it. Get the HRT or 888 to build them for you. Heck even send Bob Katter as an ambassador with them with his big hat, whatever happens, we'd all win.

*If you are from Ford and you're reading this, then I have less faith in FoMoCo generally to support motor racing. Sorry, but that's the way the cookie bounces... or the ball crumbles.

June 10, 2011

Horse 1199 - BMW X1

My boss drives a BMW 3-Series (E46) which has come to the end of its respectable life and is to be replaced. The problem is that the current 3-Series (E93) costs more than $50,000 and so has priced itself out of the market.
Consequently was I asked to go and test the 3-Series' cousin which sits on the same platform but costs more than $7000 less, the BMW X1 (E84).

Admittedly I am sort of prejudiced against SUVs generally and my first impression of the X1 was the same as most of them; that is, it is a jacked up estate car. However even this is a little deceptive.

The X1 has a boot which is 420L-1350L in capacity; this compares the normal 3-Series estate which is 460L-1385L. Again the question of why not simply pay for the estate and again the answer of $15,000 savings springs to mind.
The engine choices for the X1 aren't as varied as the 3-Series but most people will opt for the 320i anyway and the engines are similar enough to be irrelevant.

If BMW pride themselves on being "pure driving pleasure" then I'm afraid that the 2011 X1 hasn't really done anything different at all to the E46 from 13 years ago.
It is a very smooth car indeed but unlike the Peugeot 206 which I drive or even the Mini which is also built by the BMW Group, it just doesn't feel dynamically exciting at all; certainly does not live up to the "pure driving pleasure" tag. No, this is the car for driving home in traffic in an "I don't care about driving" sort of way.

I didn't bother to put my foot down all that hard because the man from the dealership sat along side me but it did all the normal things you should expect. It takes off smartly as you'd expect from a rear wheel drive car and stops without being jarring.
The grip levels I assume should be excellent in the wet considering that the particular model that I drove sat on 35-spec, 17 inch wheels. Those are the sorts of wheels and tyres which you used to only find on high performance sports cars and yet somehow the engineers at BMW have still managed to give you a smooth ride. I would suspect though that the damper rates must be set pretty soft to do that and it makes me wonder if they'd need replacing more often because of it.

The BMW X1 is probably the best car in the small SUV class as it should be for that sort of price but to be totally honest, it doesn't anything which any competent 2L hatchback can't do for a better price.
The X1 will probably find its market amongst people who either want a small SUV because they like that sort of car, or by people who simply want a car with a BMW badge on it. For those people I would suggest buying a BMW 120i because they'd be getting exactly the same engine in an easier to drive car.
The point is that it doesn't quite confirm my hypothesis that most SUVs in general are jacked up estate cars, because it doesn't even fulfill that role as well.

If you are considering an X1 and don't really care about the badge buy a Volkswagen Golf 118TSI wagon. It will do the job better and will leave a further $13,000 in your pocket.

June 08, 2011

Horse 1198 - Pay-As-You-Drive - A Poor Solution

THE man who brought Manchester its congestion tax said Sydney needs a road pricing system - starting with green hybrids and electric cars which avoid a fuel tax.
Jack Opiola, who has had Barack Obama's ear as a pioneer for GPS road tolling, said registration and fuel tax should be scrapped and motorists charged depending on how much they drive and when.

Mr Opiola, who will address government and private roads industry groups at the Roads Australia conference in Sydney today, said the revenue could be invested back into roads instead of being lost in government coffers.

"Everybody pays their fair share. And we are starting (in Portland, Oregon) with vehicles that are not,"

"It would make people conscious of their trips, and in that way it is a good substitute for the gas tax, you could vary the price by time of day or by zones for the city where there can be a higher charge in the peak periods,"
- Daily Telegraph, 8th June 2011.

I sincerely hope that Mr Opiola who has suggested scrapping the Rego and Fuel Taxes is ignored and goes back to America having changed nothing. Whilst the idea of turning motoring into a completely user pays system sounds like a good idea, I wonder if Mr Opiola has actually thought about the implications of specifically whom the tax is going to hurt and who the burden of such a tax falls on.
I would further suggest that Mr Opiola being an American also has little grasp of either the culture or infrastructure of Sydney and that his idea is grounded in ignorance.

Sydney and its environs sit in a great basin bounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth by the ocean. It stretches roughly 80km north to south and another 80km east to west. However, the provision of the types of infrastructure throughout that broad square is vastly different across the map.

In the eastern suburbs and towards the City of Sydney in the first 100 postcodes (2000-2100) there is a concentration of the provision of public transport. There are far more buses, train lines and ferries within these postcodes than in the rest of Sydney. Also because these suburbs are closer together, the distance which people would need to travel by car to get to where they are going would also be less.
The further you go to the west, north, south, north-west and south-west of Sydney, the provision of buses, train lines and ferries is either restricted to corridors ribbons or else is entirely non-existent.
Coincidentally there is a distinct correlation of household incomes to the provision of more buses, train lines and ferries. People who live further to the west, north, south, north-west and south-west of Sydney, do so because their wages are less and because the distances they need to travel to get to where they are going is also more.

If a tax is imposed directly on the distance that people drive, it is unashamedly borne by the poorer people of Sydney, who because of the hideous incompetence of governments stretching back more than 50 years, have been forced by virtue of the lack of provision of services, to drive further in the first place.
And what does Mr Opiola suggest that the revenue raised from a pay-as-you-drive tax be spent on? Not more public transport which would encourage people to drive less but more roads! Rather than addressing the problem, this jacked up nincompoop actively suggests to perpetuate the problem.
I can understand where he is coming from. Being an American, which is the land of "free enterprise" and where the provision of public transport quite frankly languishes in the 1890s, he has never lived in a situation which encourages anythigng else other than the use of the motor car.

All one needs to do is look at the example of Paris in which one is never more than 500m from a Metro station, or the French national rail corporation SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français) to see how fast and efficient train services can be run. SNCF run regional trains called the TGV which stands for Train à Grande Vitesse or Train of High-Speed and they are. TGVs in some parts of France peak at speeds of 500km/h and average speeds of 275km/h. Such a speed means that you could go from Sydney to Melbourne in a little over three and a half hours, which is even faster than current air travel. But does Mr Opiola suggest that this is where the revenue from a pay-as-you-drive tax be spent on? Not a bar of it.
The worst thing is that this self-appointed guru, keeps on touting his rubbish all over the world. Governments will tend to want to be seen to be doing the "right thing" over the next 20-40 years as climate change becomes more of an issue, yet Mr Opiola's solution to a 21st Century problem is stuck in the 1980s.

I never thought I'd defend Rego fees but here I go. Rego fees as a roughly flat tax across the population of motorists, represent an "access fee" to use the system. They are already charged a usage fee via the taxes contained in the price of petrol. The current system already addresses the issues which Mr Opiola has identified and in a better way because it charges motorists for the access of the road system even if they don't actively use it.

Bet you never thought of that Mr Opiola.

June 03, 2011

Horse 1197 - "Meowgate" and "Schoolyard Politics"


In case you have been living on Mars (and even then you would have picked up the TV and Radio transmissions), Senator Penny Wong quite rightly put Senator David Bushby in his place after he made a "meow" noise during a Senate estimates committee hearing and accused her of being sensitive.

"You meow when a woman does that ... that's a good idea. It is just extraordinary.
The blokes are allowed to yell but if a woman stands her ground, you want to make that kind of comment. It's sort of schoolyard politics, mate."
- Penny Wong, 1st Jun 2011.

Now whilst sexist remarks are obviously a bad thing, would it have been OK if say Julie Bishop had made the remark?

"When people are carrying on in Question Time and getting personal and vicious, it's just a little thing I do. It's . . . suggesting the girls should put the claws away."
- Julie Bishop, as quoted in The Daily Telegraph, 03 Dec 2008

Would the comment have been allowable if the situtation had been reversed, with Senator Penny Wong criticising Senator David Bushby's manliness or lack thereof?

In both cases it sits squarely in the realms of an Abusive argumentum ad hominem attack and I'm afraid that these sort of things have been employed in parliament since the day it began.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating virtually made a political career out of it, and would quite often attack anyone whom he didn't agree with, like these two attacks on the then Opposition leader John Howard:

"But I will never get to the stage of wanting to lead the nation standing in front of the mirror each morning clipping the eyebrows here and clipping the eyebrows there with Janette and the kids: It's like 'Spot the eyebrows'."
"I am not like the Leader of the Opposition. I did not slither out of the Cabinet room like a mangy maggot..."

Even during what is arguably the single most famous speech in Australian political history, we have what amounts to an abusive ad hominem:

"Well may we say "God save the Queen" because nothing will save the Governor-General. The proclamation you have just heard read by the Governor-General's Official Secretary was countersigned "Malcolm Fraser", who will undoubtedly go down in Australian history from Remembrance Day 1975 as Kerr's Cur."
- Gough Whitlam, 11 Nov 1975

Heading back even further into the realms of political history we can find abusive ad hominem attack in the British Parliament as well. British PM Benjamin Disraeli said of Robert Peel that:

"The Right Honourable gentleman is reminiscent of a poker. The only difference is that a poker gives off the occasional signs of warmth."
- Benjamin Disraeli

If you really want the ultimate example of "schoolyard politics" though, you need to look at Oliver Cromwell who whilst as Member of Parliament for Cambridge had a pillow fight in the House of Commons and after he had signed the warrant for King Charles I's execution had an ink fight with Henry Marten with the quills they'd been using (It's true, look it up).

Senator David Bushby's remarks were uncalled for but the truth is that before this event, he was a nobody in Australian politics and will probably return to being a nobody. As far as insults go, it wasn't even particularly creative either. Maybe he should have started a food fight or something... Brendan Nelson almost did...

... well not really.

June 02, 2011

Horse 1196 - Life of the Party


That's right but Fairfax never gets told up so and - well, they don't tend to share our stories with us. And I think the interesting thing, though, about the Punch and Judy Show, and it is this, and I think this is the damning indictment on both major parties, is that in each of them, Labor and Liberal, you have a person who is overwhelmingly, in poll after poll after poll, judged to be the most capable, competent, desirable and visionary person to lead the party and in both cases that is the one bloke who in no circumstance will ever be allowed to lead that party out of personal envy and spite for purely personal political - personal political reasons and that is, of course, Kevin Rudd in Labor and Malcolm Turnbull in the Liberal Party and they're being locked out of the leadership out of pure spite, when they are clearly the most well equipped to lead either party.
- Joe Hildebrand, Q And A, ABC1, 31st May 2011

On Monday night's Q And A on ABC1, Joe Hildebrand made the above comment which I think is basically sort of true. As it stands neither Rudd or Turnbull are allowed to lead their respective parties because of something as petty as personality and factionalism.

Political parties in the modern sense didn't really start to make sense until about the time of George Canning and Robert Peel in the 1830s. Members of the cabinet were selected on the basis of their ability to do the job.

Such an idea in today's parliament would be unheard of, and when you have factions within parties, it becomes even more convoluted.
Of course this then begs the question who who the best theoretical people are for the various portfolios, assuming you could install any member to any position you wanted. I thought about this and came up with the following:


Kevin Rudd - Foreign Minister:
Kevin Rudd is the best communicator in the Parliament. This is the prime reason why he was made Opposition Leader going into the 2007 election, and has been displayed again and again during his time as Foreign Minister.
Clearly Kevin is the sort of chap you want to project the character of the nation. Now whether he does that better in the capacity of Prime Minister or Foreign Minister is debateable, but the point is that if you want someone in a position of vision rather than minutae, Kevin is your man.

Malcolm Turnbull - Finance Minister:
If you look back over his career we find that he's been chairman of OzEmail, Goldman Sachs Australia, Axiom Forest Resources, FTR Holdings Ltd and is the only politician on BRW's 200 richest list. He's been Treasurer before which begs the question why would I have him as Treasurer again.
Here I think it's a case of what's best for the country, and one of the remits of the Minister for Finance is reviewing governmental spending programs, tendering, and government financial accountability.
As the best political brain in the parliament and also clearly the sharpest head for business, Turnbull is the person you want if you want to ensure the viability of government programs.

Wayne Swan - Treasurer:
Swan proved himself more than capable during the height of the global financial crisis, and though the $900 "cash splash" was seen as perhaps wasteful, it did mean that Australia was the only country in the OECD not to go into recession during the GFC.
His book "Postcode: The Splintering of a Nation"  (2005) is a pragmatic but chilling sort of read which suggests that this rather understated man, not only has the mind for being Treasurer but he's also concerned for the well-being of the citizens of the nation; that is so incredibly rare amongst politicians, that it would be scandalous to waste.

Julia Gillard - Minister for Health and Education:
I think that Ms Gillard is in a curious position as PM. Somehow I think that a major reason why she was placed there was because her opposite number in parliament is Tony Abbott. Before the 2007 Julia was Shadow Minister for Health; again as opposite number to Tony Abbott who was the minister. During the First Rudd Ministry she was also Minister for Education.
Gillard is basically a creature of the Labor left (which is odd considering that she was installed as PM by the Labor right); as such, she'd be best suited to a position also of the left. Health and Education are portfolios of social policy and since this is about finding a fit for the job, Ms Gillard is best suited there.

Which leaves the position of Prime Minister itself vacant. Does there even need to be such a position? The phrase "First among equals" is a good way to describe the Prime Minister and the Constitution doesn't even define the position at all.
It makes logical sense that there should be a chair of business, and ideally such a person should have some force of personality but it's also worth noting that the Prime Minister is a minister without portfolio, so it might be best to find someone who has a broad view.
Of the current crop I'd pick...

Joe Hockey - Prime Minister:

For the budget reply speech it is usually customary for the Shadow Treasurer to deliver the reply, but this was done by Tony Abbot and not the Shadow Treasurer Joe Hocker nor the Shadow Andrew Robb. Why the heck would I pick Hockey for PM then?

The best response I can suggest is the words of Mr Hockey himself with regards leaked emails from the Liberal Party whips:
"I would say to people they should put their ambitions for the nation ahead of their own ambitions.
This is not about individuals, it is about giving Australia real leadership and, from my perspective, I believe the best way to do that is as a team; to put aside individual aspirations and focus on what is in the best interests of the team."

Now of course you could suggest that this is just Mr Hockey trying to protect the interests of the party but isn't that what you want from a leader of the nation, someone who'll hold the cabinet together?

I think that Joe Hockey has a similar sort of character to that of Robert Menzies who if he wasn't Australia's best PM, then was No.2 behind Curtin.
Hockey is certainly more conciliatory than Tony Abbott ever will be and has a robust understanding of political history in Australia as this shows:


So for my money Joe Hockey would be the PM, though given "envy and spite for purely personal political reasons" which seem to be endemic of the house at the moment, I don't think it likely in the short term and certainly with the conditions I've just stated, it's impossible.