November 29, 2011

Horse 1253 - We Are (not) Ninja

Not Ninjas.

The cultural phenomenon that we recognise as the Ninja, is almost totally a fib; perpetuated by the same cultural forces which set it in the public conscience in the first place.

Historically there are very few instances of accounts of ninjas. Mostly they were recruited from the peasantry in Japanese society and were not particularly notable at all.
There appears to be a blurring somewhat between what we understand samurai to be and that of the ninja. Samurai lived by the code of "bushido" which means the "Way of the Warrior" and was marked by a very distinct degree of chivalry, nobility and honour until death. Whereas ninjas never followed such a code and the art of "shinobi" was one of covert operations and secrecy. The word shinobi means "to steal away" and reflects the "invisibleness" of the ninja.

The truth is that most ninjas would have worn hard wearing navy blue overcloaks and hoods and the reason why we portray them as wearing black in the West, comes from the tradition in Kabuki and Noh Theatre that people wearing black are invisible.
For the most part Ninjas themselves usually didn't go around killing people, that was the job of hired samurai. Ninjas were more likely to dress like farmers, priests or shopkeepers and usually went around in disguise in plain sight.
A ninja disguised as a farmer would be more likely to carry an axe or a sickle than to wield a katana (swords used by samurai).

Ninjas were probably more likely trained in the art of distraction, such as clanging pots to divert attention, so that a samurai could kill someone, than they were to actually do any killing themselves.
More Likely to be a Ninja

The truth is that our perceptions have probably been shaped more by theatre and television shows like Phantom Agents and The Samurai Shintaro* than historical fact.

*Shintaro did claim to be a Samurai though

November 25, 2011

Horse 1252 - Pegasus Clipped

Quite recently the Mobil petrol stations around where I live have started disappearing and have been replaced with 7-Elevens. This of itself doesn't really mean a whole lot other than to say that the visual furniture of our cities has changed a little. Gone are the blue and red signs and gone are the winged horses that once pranced across the horizon.
7-Eleven Australia is close to acquiring the bulk of the Mobil service stations that were originally planned for sale to Caltex.
The deal, first flagged in The Australian earlier this month, will be for less than the $302 million price tag on the 301 service stations that Caltex had agreed to buy before it was blocked by the ACCC.

7-Eleven Australia acquired 295 Mobil service stations in NSW, Qld, SA and Vic, whilst Peregrine Corporation bought 29 of them in SA.

Yes this is a business decision and the stuff that they sell you is bound to be identical, so it's not like you can develop much brand loyalty but I can't help but feel a little sadness in the same way I did when the Golden Fleece petrol stations disappeared.
Very occasionally you still see the odd sign here and there:

Unlike Ampol, Golden Fleece and Redex though, Mobil will continue to exist overseas; in much the same way as Texaco, Eneos, Elf or Total do. It's just that we won't see the red pegasuses (?) pegasii (?) in our cars anymore.

November 24, 2011

Horse 1251 - Harry Jenkins: EX Speaker of the House

Harry Jenkins, Federal Member for Scullin formally resigned this morning as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The actual resignation letter is provided courtesy of the ABC:
"As members are aware in this the 43rd Parliament, to further avoid controversial party political matters I have divorced myself from involvement with the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. In this era of minority government I have progressively become frustrated at this stricture. My desire is to be able to participate in policy and parliamentary debate,and this would be incompatible with continuing in the role of Speaker."
- Harry Jenkins MP, 24th Nov 2011

The obvious question arising from this is "why?", and I think that the answer has to do with the knife-edge position in which the House finds itself.

Currently Labor holds government but only with the support of crossbenchers. The 76–74 margin is really only certain on matter of confidence and supply. For Harry Jenkins to sit as speaker reduces that margin to just 75-74, which means that legislation can swing on the votes of a single member who decides to cross the floor.

Jenkins quite clearly states that he is frustrated at the stricture of being in a non-partisan position and that he wants to participate in policy and parliamentary debate. That is a perfectly sensible notion and one which is also more true to the wishes of his electorate which he was chosen to represent. I for one do not see how this is particularly easy to do from the Speaker's chair.

I suspect that Jenkins probably wants to move back to the floor so that he might get nominated for a Cabinet position. He is currently the longest-serving Labor member of the House of Representatives and would be the Father of the House if not for Philip Ruddock. Perhaps in an uncertain parliement, he would add stability and experience to the Cabinet, which given the Gillard Government's somewhat shaky position both in the House and in opinion polls is sorely needed.

The thing is though, I'm not sure which Cabinet position he'd take up. The Cabinet seems to be pretty well sorted so perhaps maybe there's a seismic shift yet to occur which we don't yet know about and why the Speaker did; hence the resignation.

November 23, 2011

Horse 1250 - Best Delivery Ever

This is a gratuitous advert for the folks at EMPR Australia Pty Ltd who are the people we order our toner cartridges for the Laser Printer.

On the online order form for the last set of four cartridges I ordered, I included the the delivery instruction:


This is what I got back:

Full respect to the people at EMPR. This is one of the most magnificent things I have seen in office stationery... ever.

November 21, 2011

Fun Game

I have been playing this game all morning whilst being on hold with the Tax Office.

Simply type any word into the search engine of Wikipedia and see what sort of funny results can be had by juxtaposing Jimmy Wales' face with what you've just searched for:

November 16, 2011

Horse 1249 - Why Magazines Aren't Coffee

This is a word-for-word copy of an advert from Magazine Publishers Australia* which ran in the November 2011 edition of Top Gear Australia Magazine:

Will the Internet kill magazines?
Did instant coffee kill coffee?
New technologies change many things. But not everything. You may surf, search, shop and blog online, but you still read magazines. And you're far from alone.

Readership has actually increased year on year over the past four readership releases and Australia has one of the highest consumption levels of magazines per capita in the world.
Rather than being displaced by "instant" media, it would seem that magazines are the ideal complement.
The explanation, while sometimes drowned out by the Internet drumbeat, is fairly obvious. Magazines do what the Internet doesn't. Neither obsessed with immediacy nor trapped by the daily news cycle, magazines promote deeper connections. They create relationships. They engage us in ways distinct from digital media.
In fact, the immersive power of magazines even extends to the advertising. And that's essential in every product category.
Including coffee.

They then go on to cite their source as Roy Morgan Readership surveys.

However a report in the Sydney Morning Herald from last week seems to tell a slightly different story:
The figures underscore a difficult national environment as printed newspapers and magazines continue to struggle on both the standard measures - circulation of copies sold and surveys of people who read them - as the industry waits for a combined readership measure for both print and digital editions.

Before I present my opinions, I'm going to present my inherent bias about trusting the source of the information. Firstly the advert in Top Gear magazine is presented in a magazine with the express purpose of selling advertising space in magazines. It makes sense for ACP Magazines to publish such an advert in their magazine because they have a vested interest in it, not that there's anything wrong with that; in fact it's good business sense.
The Sydney Morning Herald (and the Age) on the other hand, more closely approaches the idea of a Newspaper of Record. That is, one which is typically authoritative and neutral (despite the SMH being a broadly centre-right newspaper).
When I view an advert like this, I instantly question what the intent is and its purpose. Despite all of this however, I still think that this advert draws the wrong conclusion.

It asks two leading questions namely: Will the Internet kill magazines? and Did instant coffee kill coffee? It then presumes that because of the answer of the second question, that their conclusion which follows in the rest of the ad must be true. I don't think that this is the case though.

Are magazines and coffee remotely comparable?
Coffee is a physical product, which requires physical storage and distribution chains. Magazines on the other hand although they are in their current format a physical product which requires physical storage, could be delivered digitally quite easily.
We saw it with recorded music. As little as four years ago there were still quite a lot of record stores and even HMV and Sanity had big multi-story flagship stores on either side of the Pitt Street mall. Recorded Music didn't die but whole outlet and distribution chains have disappeared and even smaller record stores which used to exist in the suburbs also closed their doors.
To compare magazines and coffee as the advert does, assumes that magazines and coffee are like products. However, I would think it incredibly difficult to download coffee over the internet. Whereas e-books, digital newspapers and digital magazines can very easily be delivered and downloaded.

The second line of attack that the advert tries is that Magazines "create relationships" and "engage us in ways distinct from digital media". The same could be said for books but there are no end of digital reading devices such as Amazon's Kindle, the Sony Reader, Kobo and even the iPad will easily do the job.
Even for books, the network of stores and distribution chains is on the wane. Borders, Angus & Robertson, Collins Bookseller and A&R Whitcoulls in NZ have all gone into administration over the past few years.

The big problem that magazines have which the internet poses isn't to do with the format of the product, but rather the information which they present. Newspapers found themselves under attack when the internet could deliver news even more quickly than television and radio could in some circumstances. Magazines are almost always specialist publications (and yes that does include gossipy magazines) and the truth is that the internet can pretty well much deliver the information that magazines present faster than they can.
A magazine requires physical printing and distribution, and even I've proven in this very blog that I can deliver information on certain subjects faster than magazines can. For instance, I'd already reported second-hand information about the Holden Malibu several months before it appeared in either Wheels or Motor magazine.
I'll readily admit that The Motor Report Jalopnik and Autoblog are faster than magazines at reporting spy shots, and press releases than any print magazine can, which usually only come out once a month.
That's not to say that there isn't a place for magazines. Actual test reporting and data can only be collected in the real world and there's always a place for good journalism.

Maybe the major reason why the internet is killing off print sales actually has to do with the general public.
In Victorian England people could read a 700 page novel; by the late Victorian period, people were reading serials and short stories in magazines; by the late 1980s journalism was measured in column inches; now with the rise of MyFace TwitBook and BeboSpace people are reading things no longer than a couple of paragraphs. By mid-2007 the idea of blog writing was obsolete and long-form journalism generally is seen as old-fashioned.
I suspect that one reason why magazines in particular and print media generally is that people's functional literacy is on the slide.

Personally I do like to be able to sit down with a book or a magazine but I suspect I'm in a nerdy minority. From what I've seen, most people on the train prefer to look at movies of cats on their iDevices and eMachines than read anything.

Will the Internet kill magazines? Yes, but far more worrying is that the Internet will and has killed reading.

* I think I read a similar ad ("Will the Internet kill magazines? Did instant coffee kill coffee?") in the New Yorker in April 2010. I did the research and found that Condé Nast Publications ran this campaign in America starting 1 Mar 2010. It's a little disheartening to see that Australia can't even produce its own advert campaign.

November 14, 2011

Horse 1248 - Someone Left The Cake Out In The Rain

Last week I had my 33rd birthday (and no this is not some rant about how old I'm feeling) and so naturally it was an excuse to get some Cake.

We'd gone to IGA and found what appeared to be a nice Orange and Poppyseed Cake and the expiry date was the 18th of November; so following all of the instructions, we put the cake into the fridge and were expecting nice cake to eat on my birthday. I make note of the word "expecting" because when my birthday did come around, we took the cake out of the fridge and found that it had gone mouldy.
Gasp, shock, horror! (sounds of glass breaking).
What do you do with Cake once it has gone mouldy? It isn't fit to eat any more and being an Orange and Poppyseed Cake, the cats don't recognise it as food even though they will eat things like broccoli and peas (cats hate citrus).
So with nothing else doing, we decided to leave the cake out in the garden so that the Rainbow Lorikeets and Crested Pigeons could come and enjoy it. Then on Saturday night... it rained.

Why do I even bother to make mention of this story for? Because of this:

MacArthur's Park is melting in the dark,
All the sweet green icing flowing down.
Someone left the cake out in the rain.
I don't think that I can take it,
'Cause it took so long to bake it,
And I'll never have that recipe again
Oh, nooo!

This song "MacArthur Park" has plagued me for years; leaving me with questions like:
What the heck? Who in their right mind leaves cake out in the rain in the first place?

The point is that I finally do have a plausible reason why a sane person would in fact leave cake out in the rain. Not only is it plausible but it's probably quite sensible.
In my case I "left the cake out in the rain" because of thrift. I'd already paid for the cake and it would have otherwise been wasted. Maybe Jimmy Webb who wrote the song had some cake that had gone mouldy, or maybe he'd burnt it like King Alfred the Great (that's the only thing I know about him) and didn't want to waste it.

It still doesn't explain why you need to write such a dramatic song about it though; not does it explain why he'll "never have that recipe again". Surely he'd have it in a recipe book or written down or something.

November 10, 2011

Horse 1247 - Euthanasia Debate III

Whilst watching the episode of QI Series I "Illness", I learnt something which I didn't know before and I think is quite scary. Not satisfied with accepting what was said as fact, I did a little investigating.

King George V was quite ill in January of 1936. It was reported by the then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, that before the King's death:
"each time he [the King] became conscious it was some kind inquiry or kind observation of someone, some words of gratitude for kindness shown. But he did say to his secretary when he sent for him: "How is the Empire?" An unusual phrase in that form, and the secretary said: "All is well, sir, with the Empire", and the King gave him a smile and relapsed once more into unconsciousness"
- The Times, 22 January 1936 (The Times reported on this after the King had died).

The British Medical Journal reports that Lord Dawson of Penn who was King George V's doctor, at 9:25pm on 20th January:
"At about 11 o'clock it was evident that the last stage might endure for many hours, unknown to the patient but little comporting with the dignity and serenity which he so richly merited and which demanded a brief final scene. Hours of waiting just for the mechanical end when all that is really life has departed only exhausts the onlookers and keeps them so strained that they cannot avail themselves of the solace of thought, communion or prayer. I therefore decided to determine the end and injected (myself) morphia gr.3/4 and shortly afterwards cocaine gr. 1 into the distended jugular vein."

It has also been reported that King George V's last words to Dawson were "God Damn You!" which would indicate to me that under no circumstances was Dawson's injection of morphine and cocaine requested by the King.
Everything I've ever read about George V seems to indicate that he was a rather stern, severe and direct sort of character, having served in the Royal Navy and also having steered the country through various political crises and the storm of World War I.  I can assume that George didn't intend to blaspheme but meant exactly what he said with all of the venom that someone being killed against their will can muster (because euthanasia is basically a euphemism).
The polite term for this I suppose is involuntary euthanasia but the correct and proper term would be murder.

The question I have is pretty simple. Given that human nature is such that literally everything can and will be misused and abused by someone at some point, what possible justification is there for giving doctors the power to perform euthanasia, even on a so-called voluntary basis?

There are now 7 billion of us on this planet and over time this figure is expected to reach 8, 9, 10... an increased population is going place ever harder strains on medical systems and services, what is going to stop some unscrupulous doctor from going back and fudging the records if it's economically better that someone be euthanised than to keep them alive?

The legal profession is keen to point out the maxim that: "It's better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be wrongly convicted". However if the legal power was given to doctors to euthanise people then they can very easily play judge, jury and executioner all at once and since its easier to bring back paperwork from the dead than people, would you really entrust them with that power?
From an ethical point of view is it not better that doctors uphold the requirements of the Hippocratic Oath to preserve life than to presume that by ending it deliberately that the patient's needs are best met? Once that decision is made to deliberately end someone's life, it is very very difficult to reverse it.

Of course there are people who might suggest that I'm grossly exaggerating the situation but if not even the King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India was exempt from being euthanised involuntarily, then what makes anyone think that anyone else lower in status would be?

I of course don't mean to diminish the highly important, difficult, skillful and stressful role that Doctors play in society but they have entered into a profession which holds a lot of responsibility which given the opportunity can and would be misused by a rogue few. If the Hippocratic Oath itself says "Above all, I must not play at God." then I don't think it wise to give them the legal power to do so under any circumstance.

It simply isn't acceptable.

November 09, 2011

Horse 1246 - I Can Has a New A9X?

I've been watching a documentary called "Brock 78 - 30 Years: Brock Revisited" and have been yet again impressed by the brilliance that was Peter Brock, the effort put in by the Holden Dealer Team to bounce back after Ford's 1-2 the year before and the sheer "coolness" that is the Torana A9X. I thought to myself "why can't they build cars like that anymore?" and then thought "maybe they can".

The formula which produced the A9X is dead simple. Take a roughly 2L sized car, throw away the four-pot motor and then try to shoehorn the biggest possible engine into the space provided; for the Torana it meant Holden's 5L V8, but what would be a modern equivalent?

The Holden Cruze hatchback went on sale yesterday. It sports a 1.8L in-line 4 cylinder engine and is built at Holden's plant in Elizabeth, South Australia. It's roughly the same size as the Torana was and I think would fit this end quite nicely.

The perfect donor engine would come from a show car built by Holden in 2004, the Torana TT36. Under the bonnet of this car was a twin-turbo 3.6L V6. The Torana TT36 was built mainly as a test platform for the then unbuilt VE Commodore which went on sale in 2006.

The Astra Coupe showed that you can take 2L hatchback and turn into a successful coupe. The original Torana also showed that provided the finished product is put together well, it can be the stuff of legend.
Now then, if we take a Cruze, turn it into a coupe, whack a twin-turbo 3.6L V6 in it and then maybe add a duck-tail, flared arches and bonnet scoops, I think you'd have the modern equivalent of an A9X. If a race version was then entered in the Bathurst 12 Hour (because the 1000km is a closed-shop race now), then I think you'd have a pretty good chance at building a new legend.

November 08, 2011

Horse 1245 - Hiding Behind the Paywall

If you visit a News Limited website both in Australia and overseas, increasingly you'll find that news articles are being hidden behind a "paywall". The reason that they give is that quite understandably they want to derive revenue from content which they have originated and this is a perfectly valid reason. To be fair, the generation of news content is an expensive process and the intellectual property which it generates is valuable.
I wonder what the flip-side to this is though and whether or not this is going to result in either what George Orwell called a "memory hole" in which embarrassing or inconvenient documents "disappear", or something equally as serious, an inability to hold news media to account.

Consider the editorial which the Daily Telegraph ran on the 1st of November, 2011, to do with the NSW Government's sell-off of electricity assets:

SELL! That's the recommendation from the state government's special commission of inquiry into privatisation of remaining publicly-owned NSW electricity generators.
It stopped short of recommending the sale of all electricity infrastructure, including poles and wires, but on this issue a commission of inquiry is almost surplus to requirements.
In truth, we have several decades of evidence from Australia and around the world that government does not belong in the business of electricity supply or, more generally, in business at all.
Governments by their nature are neither flexible enough nor responsive enough to consumer demands to run what should be private business pursuits, kept lean and economical by market imperatives and profit motives.
Defenders of government ownership are overwhelmingly those with vested ideological or party political interests.
To say this is an outdated stance is to understate things by an order of magnitude. The overwhelming sweeping philosophy across western economies since the 1970s has been to place as much of the market as can be placed in the market's own hands.
Following these guidelines and the strong counsel of Infrastructure NSW chair Nick Greiner, The Daily Telegraph encourages Premier Barry O'Farrell to engage in a complete sell-off of government-owned power infrastructure.
Then the government can get on with the pursuit of state improvement, funded by power sales and unencumbered by running enterprises best left to private investment.

The Daily Telegraph is of course entitled to its opinion I suppose but if you look back through their online archives, it appears as though the newspaper has changed its mind:
Stunning attack on power sale by state's top treasury official - The Daily Telegraph January 18, 2011
IN a stunning appearance at the power inquiry the state's top treasury official has today attacked the government's sale and revealed tax payers will be liable for billions of dollars in costs, leaving a meagre profit.
Treasury secretary Michael Schur has revealed tax payers will be liable for a $1.2 billion debt to bail out two energy companies, Eraring and Delta, which were sold by Treasurer Eric Roozendaal.
Mr Schur told the inquiry that $600 million will be lost in dividend and tax equivalent payments from the state's coffers in just the next four years.
In addition, Mr Roozendaal had used $1.5 billion in tax payer money to buy a mine to supply coal to the now privately owned gentraders.
Mr Schur's revelations, including another $300 million lost in costs, mean only $1.7 billion is left from the $5.3 billion sale of the state's electricity retailers and gentraders
Scrap the power deals - The Daily Telegraph February 23, 2011
THE Government's electricity sale contracts should be "rescinded" despite Premier Kristina Keneally warning such a move would cost "hundreds of millions" in compensation, the parliamentary power inquiry will find today.
The findings are contained in a draft report of the inquiry into the Government's controversial power sell-off leaked to The Daily Telegraph.
The final report will be released at noon today.
The recommendations will put pressure on Barry O'Farrell to overturn the sale if elected on March 26.
Billions lost - Power deal was a sell-out - The Daily Telegraph January 18, 2011
BILLIONS will be stripped from the $5.3 billion electricity sale, possibly leaving either sides of politics just $2-3 billion for infrastructure spending promises ahead of the March election, the power inquiry has revealed.
And Premier Kristina Keneally laid down the law yesterday, refusing to give eight former power company directors who resigned in disgust at the sell-off a guarantee the Government would not sue them if they appeared.
The eight will be summoned to appear next Monday. But it is expected, in the face of the Government's threats, they will elect not to.
In 1997, then-premier Bob Carr promised an entire sell-off of the electricity industry to reap $25 billion before he was rolled at state conference.
His successor Morris Iemma proposed a $10-15 billion sale - minus electricity poles and wires - in 2008 before he met the same fate.
Now the Keneally-Roozendaal "gen-trader" model in which retailers and generation trading rights have been sold might yield just $2-3 billion.
- Sell-off bad for business
- The Sunday Telegraph January 23, 2011
Why did the NSW Government sell the State's assets in a deal that has angered taxpayers and crippled Labor just months before an election? Political writer Linda Silmalis reports.
ERIC Roozendaal had a spring in his step. After more than two years as NSW Treasurer, the quietly spoken but intensely driven former Labor Party boss was about to pull off what none of his predecessors could manage -- the privatisation of the State's electricity industry.

Admittedly the newspaper is allowed to change its mind but given that News Limited controls more than 70 per cent of Australia's newspaper readership market, it's not a difficult step to suggest that they also help shape the opinions of a great number of voters. One wonders if by writing articles like the above, whether or not the Daily Telegraph actually had a sizeable sway in the outcome of the 2011 New South Wales state election.
If all of the above articles get placed behind a paywall, it makes it harder to hold the newspaper to account on the opinions that it has published.

One thing that especially annoys me is to do with citing an article which I have read in a newspaper. If I've bought a copy of the Australian (we have it on subscription at work) and I wish to quote something from the newspaper, then it used to be that I could post the link so that people could then click through to check the validity of the thing I've quoted. Now that the Australian sits behind a paywall, not only do I have the inconvenience of having to re-type everything I want to quote but anyone who reads it also can not click through and check its validity.

People can no longer hold me to account for what I've written and in turn I can no longer hold the newspaper to account for what they've written.
If it is true that a fair, free and open press is essential in the proper functioning of a democracy, then I think that it is also true that criticism of the press is also essential in protecting that democracy.

Before I close, here is a fun educational film from 1946. I think that the points it makes are still valid... and not hidden behind a paywall:

November 07, 2011

Horse 1244 - Taken For a Ride
A RADICAL plan to convert large parts of the CityRail network to single-deck high frequency trains is closer to winning state government acceptance.
Detailed reports show senior bureaucrats have been told a multibillion-dollar overhaul of the system would be the cheapest and most efficient way to add capacity to CityRail during the next 25 years.

I'm sure that whilst the Sydney Morning Herald likes to report this sort of thing with colourful graphics and that government agencies like to appear to be doing something, the truth is that when it comes to building actual infrastructure which is costly, the NSW Government has a poor track record.

Maybe it's escaped planners that the reason why Sydney has double-deck suburban rolling stock at all was because in about 1960 a survey was done and it was decided that the easiest way to increase capacity wasn't to add more services, but to make better use of the services which already ran. The first of the Tulloch double deck trailers was introduced in 1964 with full power cars coming four years later.

When you consider that Tangaras were delivered four years late, that the Millennium Trains two years late and that the T-Card system which was supposed to be in place before the 2000 Olympics still hasn't been delivered, you can understand my skepticism that no NSW Government of any political colour has the competence to deliver... anything really.

Given that rolling stock is always likely to be late and that actual railway lines are even less likely to be built*, there is one possible statement in this article which is likely to  be accurate:

One estimate shows costs of between $26 billion and $37 billion for adding capacity during the next 25 years. Without extra capacity through the CBD, trains will soon be so crowded in peak hours that services will need to be cut.

This is new. I don't think that I've ever seen a proposal to actively cut services before. Trains will be crowed, let's solve the problem by cutting services so that commuters will be jammed into even fewer trains. That makes complete sense doesn't it?

Sadly I think that that is what will happen though. Perhaps waved away under the premise that rolling stock will be replaced, I'm convinced that this is a ploy to reduce patronage of CityRail trains. By making Sydney's trains more uncomfortable and harder to use, the government can then spend less on them and ultimately divest themselves of the responsibilty, just like they did with the TAB, State Bank, GIO, the State Government Printing Office , the Homebush abattoir and the State brickworks, FreightCorp etc etc etc.

Somehow I think that the "decent and respectable people of New South Wales" will be taken for a ride yet again.

*There is the small issue I have with announcements of railways lines. It's shocking to think that none of the following rail lines ever came to fruition:

2009 West Metro - Westmead to Central via Silverwater, Strathfield and Five Dock
2008 North West Metro - Rouse Hill to the CBD via Epping
2008 CBD Metro - Rozelle, Pyrmont, Barangaroo, Town Hall, Central
2005 Redfern to Chatswood - Chatswood, Victoria Cross, Pitt St, Central, Redfern
2005 CBD Relief Line - Wynyard, "City West", Railway Sq, Redfern
2004 Western FastRail - Penrith to Wynyard via Blacktown, Parramatta and Olympic Park
1998 North West Rail Link - Rouse Hill to the CBD via Epping
1996 Bondi Beach - Extension of the Eastern Suburbs Railway Line to Bondi Beach
1974 Merrylands to Green Valley - via Wetherill Park, Edensor Park, Bonnyrigg and Green Valley
1974 Hills District Line - Parramatta to Windsor via the Hills District
1974 Northern Beaches Line - Crows Nest, Cremorne, Mosman, Balgowlah etc.
1967 Eastern Suburbs Railway Line - to Kingsford via Bondi Junction, Randwick and UNSW
1932 Northern Beaches Line - Crows Nest, Cremorne, Mosman, Balgowlah, Manly and Mona Vale
1932 Eastern Suburbs Railway Line - Via St James station, incl. Woolahra and Oxford St.
1932 Rogans Hill Line - Rogans Hill to Westmead via Baulham Hills and Northmead

November 03, 2011

Horse 1243 - Holden - As Australian as Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet

"Senior management have confirmed it is highly likely that the 2014 Commodore will be the last one engineered in Australia,"
- Chris Walton to 702 ABC Sydney, The Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers - 3rd Nov 2011

"All I can tell you is that Holden is, for example the Commodore, 100 per cent designed, engineered, manufactured in Australia today, and the next Commodore, 100 per cent designed, engineered, manufactured in Australia, for many, many, many, many more years,"
- Mike Devereux to 774 ABC Melbourne, CEO of General Motors Holden - 3rd Nov 2011

The old adage that "there is no smoke without a fire" I think is particularly useful in this instance. Quite obviously Holden CEO Mike Devereux has the company's reputation and image to uphold and acts with the interests of the company in mind, but Chris Walton's comments are either sparked by a leak from management or perhaps at very worst spite.
The point is that if the Commodore was to be either engineered or built entirely overseas, then I'm hardly suprised by the news, as back in Horse 1217 in August, I already hinted at what the replacement for the Commodore will be.

The truth is that whilst Holden tries to palm itself off as "Australia's" own car company, its track record since 1947 has proven otherwise.

The original 48/215 (FX) was planned in 1938 to be a Chevrolet but scrapped on the basis that it was too small for the American market. Laurence Hartnett then then CEO of Holden pleaded with GM in Detroit for a locally designed car but was overridden and the prototypes were built in 1946 in Detroit.
The Torana was a facelifted Vauxhall Viva, the iconic Kingswood was a continuation of a series of cars which had been engineered in the US, the VB Commodore was basically the Opel Rekord/Senator but with the 3.3L in-line six cylinder engine carried over from the Kingswood and Torana, the VN Commodore was the Opel Omega A married to a 3.8L Buick V6 made in Bonneville and the VT was the Opel Omega B with the same 3.8L V6.
It wasn't until the VE Commodore introduced in 2006 that Holden was forced to develop an entirely new car, because there was simply no big rear wheel drive donor car to modify.

Given the history of Holden, Detroit probably sees Holden as a bit of an antiquated relic, a leftover of past lore. Truth be told that Holden itself has never built any more than 3 lines of passenger cars in Australia simlutaneously and given that the Commodore reached peak sales more than 10 years ago, it will be business decisions which finally kill the car off. Holden already realise that Australians are buying smaller cars and have started producing the Cruze in Australia. That more or less proves that even they're moving with the times.
As it is, the V8 Supercars have already future proofed the motor racing series in he expectation that neither the Falcon or the Commodore will exist beyond about 2015.

Just to undercut Mike Devereux's claims, photographs of the Malibu undergoing testing have already been taken in Victoria. No doubt that the Malibu has/was/is seeing intensive testing at Holden's proving grounds at Lang Lang in Victoria. Given that we already know that the Malibu will take the 3.6L engine already in the Commodore and already does take the 2.5L engine found in the unloved Epica, Holden would kill two birds with one stone.

If Holden was to kill off the Commodore and replace it with a 2-and-a-bit litre Chevrolet, then it's almost like going full circle. Laurence Hartnett had to plead with Chevrolet to even get an Australian produced GM car but that was more than 60 years ago. GM Holden is after all a business and exists to make a profit. If that means selling overseas engineered and built cars like they do with the rest of their line up then so be it.

Holden's most famous jingle was imported from the United States, so it's not like even that was engineered in Australia either.

Holden have released an official statement about model development in Australia:
The issues being raised in the media relate to confidential discussions with the engineering union, APESMA, as part of the enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) negotiations which are currently under way.

Of course Holden wouldn't discuss private negotiations between the firm and its employees. It still doesn't change the fact that they currently import most cars from overseas and employ far cheaper labour rates than in Australia.
The Spark, Barina, Cruze and Epica are all Daewoos which come from Korea and the Colorado is an Isuzu which comes from Thailand.

However, Holden does not comment on its EBA negotiations in the media, nor do we speculate about very long-term future models and we certainly don't intend to give our global competitors a free kick.

This is a bit of stupidity on the part of Holden considering that every single car in the company's history bar the VE was based on existing developments. Any sensible onlooker doesn't even need to look at Holden's press releases to work out what possible cars come to Australia. All one needs to do is look at the noises and press releases coming from Detroit and various motor shows and prototypes which come out to give you a fairly accurate picture.

Basically Holden have come out with an official press release because they're more or less required to do so. The truth is that the whole Australian operation could be shut down tomorrow provided someone was to do a Discounted Cash Flow analysis and Projected Budgets and they found an unfavourable result. It's a private company and as such, they'll open or close plants according to how it affects the bottom line. That's the reason why there's no assembly plant in Pagewood any more.

November 01, 2011

Horse 1242 - Telling the Government What It Should Do

The editorial in today's Daily Telegraph makes you wonder whether or not there are any copywriters working for them. One one page, they contradict themselves. After spending yesterday's editorial with the headline "Pathetic Excuses for Lack of Action" suggesting that the Government should have done something, in today's editorial it then suggests that it should do nothing... though not in as many words.

From yesterday's Daily Telegraph (31-10-2011):
The government had an obvious opportunity to powerfully address the crisis.

It could have invoked Section 431 of the Fair Work Act, forcing an end to industrial action. Instead, the government eventually took the softer option allowed under Fair Work provisions, which is why the various parties involved are now arguing in Melbourne while jets remain immobile.

Let's be specific about both the Daily Telegraph's article and the wording of Section 431 of the Fair Work Act. Section 431 states that:
"The Minister may make a declaration, in writing, terminating protected industrial action..."

Take notes of the words "could have" and "may". That means that the Minister isn't forced to do anything; it isn't necessarily incumbent or obligatory that the Minister actually do anything at all.

If we then look at today's editorial (01-11-11), we find two distinct parts:

This is to do with Qantas:
All Australians are left wondering, then, why an intervention wasn't made earlier. Meanwhile, Qantas shares are up and Joyce has won an important battle.

This is to do with the sale of the remaining publicly-owned NSW electricity generation companies:

In truth, we have several decades of evidence from Australia and around the world that government does not belong in the business of electricity supply or, more generally, in business at all.
Governments by their nature are neither flexible enough nor responsive enough to consumer demands to run what should be private business pursuits, kept lean and economical by market imperatives and profit motives.
Defenders of government ownership are overwhelmingly those with vested ideological or party political interests.

Considering that Alan Joyce is the CEO of Qantas and is paid $5 million to act as the responsible officer, shouldn't the anger by the Daily Telegraph be directed at him, or do they now suggest that he isn't responsible? If "running enterprises is best left to private investment" then do they now suggest that this wasn't the result of private investment running the enterprise?
Maybe the Daily Telegraph has forgotten that Qantas which used to be a Government-owned airline, was floated in 1993 and finally completely privatised in 1995. Doesn't that suggest that the then Keating Government acted in accordance with what the Daily Telegraph wants?
Basically you can't cry that government generally should play a minimal role in the economy and then cry foul when it does precisely that. Honestly, if the Daily Telegraph or News Ltd thinks it could do a better job, then why has it never decided to run for office?

If government does not "belong in business at all" according to the Daily Telegraph, then why do they then think that the Federal Government should have intevened in what is a dispute in a private corporation? If Qantas in fact a "private business pursuit" then why pray tell, should the Minister have invoked his Section 431 powers if it's not obligatory to do so?

There is the rather annoying facet to all of this, that if this dispute had taken place prior to 1993, then the CEO would not have been in a position to order a shutdown of the airline at all.
Secondly, if the demand for profit motive and market imperatives is so strong, then shouldn't a barely profitable international air-carrier like Qantas, simply just cut all of its overseas operations tommorrow? This air of mystique about it being a so-called "national carrier" is nonsense. Alan Joyce as the responsible officer took a responsible decision in line with that demand for profit motive. If almost 70,000 people happened to get stranded because of that decision, then they should complain to Qantas and the Unions which caused the mess, not the government. Alan Joyce made the decision, blame him.

I suppose that the Daily Telegraph is entitled to its opinions however self-contradicting they appear to be but I'd like to point out the utter cowardice of hiding behind an editorial without signing a name to it. Unlike myself who doesn't hide behind the cloak of a masthead (and am fairly transparent in my identity), the Daily Telegraph doesn't attribute its articles to any particular writer. I assume therefore that just like Alan Joyce is the CEO if Qantas, that the responsible officer at the Daily Telegraph must be the Chief Editor, Paul Whittaker. Perhaps he'd like to explain the apparant cowardice of the newspaper. Or maybe he thinks that that should be the reponsibility of Stephen Conroy.

Certainly the Opinion Page Editor for The Australian, Rebecca Weisser, the Daily Telegraph's stablemate seems to disagree with the point of view taken by the Daily Telegraph:
Alan Joyce had a choice. He either had to face death by a thousand cuts with low-level strikes, threats of strikes, threats of go-slow, leaking to the media, all sorts of things we’ve seen over the past few weeks and months have been very damaging to Qantas and he could either put up with this and for it to go on and on or he could bring it to a head.
People who work in the private sector and people who do the sorts of jobs that Alan Joyce is doing, I think it’s an extremely tough job and I think he would have earned every cent of his pay managing this deal.

Basically she's agreed with my conceit that Alan Joyce as the responsible officer, made a decision in that position; in fact she's even suggested that he has earnt the right to be paid as much as is because of it. I also note that in today's Australian the Political Editor, Denis Shanahan seems to tow the line drawn by the Daily Telegraph. Either this is collective hypocrisy on the part of News Ltd generally or willful ignorance on the part of the Editorial team at the Australian (seemingly forgetting what their Opinion Page Editor said less than 18 hours ago) but either way, on one hand they appear to be trying to tell the Government what to do and then in the same breath tell them not to do it.