August 31, 2012

Horse 1356 - They Are Among Us


A new breed of alien has invaded our public transport systems; worse than the Stinky Foody, even more annoying than the Platform Penguin who stands around and causes you to miss that train you've just run up a flight of stairs to catch, this breed of bad beast arrived almost anonymously; silently sitting.
If you hadn't noticed and maybe because you have just decided to give up against this vile opponent, I am referring to... The Bag Sitters.

In the late 00s they'd been kept away by rising incomes and rode in the footwells of people's motor cars. Then as the GFC, rising costs of petrol and ironically, improved train rolling stock, they made their sneaky appearance.
This post, is the last futile call of humanity before they become sentinent and kill us all.

Exhibit 1:

This man who we will refer to as P27, is unaware that next to him is a potential killer. Happily tapping away at his computer, perhaps typing "LOL" or "THIS ROXORZ DA BOXORZ" or whatever it is that the cool kids are typing these days, he hasn't noticed that a Bag Sitter has quietly taken up residence next to him.
The Bag Sitter has no other purpose it would seem than to take up space that another commuter would like to sit in. Early in the morning, many commuters wake up dazed after a.night of being kept awake by their sprogs, goons on motorcycles, and bin collection people who find their highest joy in making enough noise to wake the dead.
I can report that this Bag Sitter successfully kept all commuters from sitting in that space all the way to the city.

Exhibit 2:

This Bag Sitter has developed an unhealthy relationship with this commuter, T28. Not content with just taking up the space itself, it has used dome sort of freaky mind control over this lady and has kept her away from the window; thus spoiling her view of this stunning conurbation we call Sydney.
Our poor subject T28 also shows signs of Stockholm Syndrome, for it is obvious that the Bag Sitter has snuggled right up to her. T28 never even once made any attempt to shift the Bag Sitter even when asked by a standing commuter.
Thus this Bag Sitter was successful in its mission to keep commuters standing whilst it was seated, all the way to the city.

Exhibit 3:

Here the Bag Sitter has had to make a comprise. Commuter N29 had been sitting quietly from north of the Harbour Bridge, commuter W29 who was actually carrying this Bag Sitter, plonked it in between them and thus the bag sitter was able to take up a seat in a crowded evening train.
Evening trains have the first problem of having Platform Penguins standing around doorways; thus impeding a would be passenger's progress and it is almost like a dull torture when you find out that you're forced to stand for anything up to 45 minutes on a train after previously standing for half an hour on a bus.
N29 departed the train and had to undertake a macabre obstacle course, with a sort of bent knees motion. Commuter W29 did not move throughout this exercise.
Thus, this Bag Sitter completed a rare double of keeping other commuters standing, whilst impeding the passage of one who had been previously seated.

Exhibit 4:

Bag Sitters have not just invaded our trains, they have also violated our motor omnibuses with their horrible hideousness. This tale is from a Metrobus en route from Mosman to the City.
Commuter C30 held an inane conversation with someone in marketing about "the show". The Bag Sitter which is just in shot here valiantly defended the space and even though the aisle of the bus would eventually be packed with commuters being bustled fro and to by the movement of the bus, commuter C30 was oblivious to any of their feeble requests to move said Bag Sitter.
In such cases, the Bag Sitter develops a symbiotic relationship with a commuter because the Bag Sitter needs a place to sit and the commuter needs to feed their inherent obliviousness.

Exhibit 5:

Commuters R31 and S31 were double teamed here by a Bag Sitter and a Box Sitter. In cases like this, there is no hope at all for the commuter. The Bag Sitter and Box Sitter played this so well that because of their complete domination of two commuters. Clearly there could have and should have been space for six commuters to sit but because of the  Bag Sitter and Box Sitter, only these two remain seated. Other commuters remained standing in the aisle and several others looked upwards from the vestibule areas at the doors of the carriage.
Commuter R31 (pictured here with the brown pants) has obviously been affected so badly by his experiences with Bag Sitters in the past, that in the box is a Pod Coffee Machine. Coffee Pods for said machines really take advantage of brain dead commuters because not only will they pay hundreds of dollars for a machine that makes slightly worse coffee than a Moka Pot, but the coffee in said Pods sells for more than $110/kg.
I was still standing when I got off the train at Seven Hills, which means that the Bag Sitter and Box Sitter  successfully kept all commuters (including me) from sitting in those spaces all the from to the city.


Obviously there is something wrong with the state of commuting if aliens such as these Bag Sitters are able to take spaces on crowded trains and buses whilst commuters stand. We need to combat these aliens on their own terms and lay waste to their war of nastiness.
You can help wage this war by keeping vigilant for the appearance of Bag Sitters. If you are in possession of a Bag, then stow it under the seat and thus, you'll help to ensure that it will not infest free seats on commuter trains and buses. If you do happen to find Bag Sitters, then you can do your part by either employing your pointing finger of shame and shouting "Shame On You!",  employing your wagging finger of shame and giving the commuter the "Naughty Naughty" wag or finally, taking surveillance photographs and letting the world know.
We need to take Tony Abbott's suggesting and modify it to Turn-Back-The-Bag-Sitters; hopefully this scourge will end soon. If you are reading this in 2062 and the trains and buses are full to the ceiling, then please take a moment and spare a thought for this lone voice, shouting into the long dark night of the Bag Sitters.

August 30, 2012

Horse 1355 - Paul's Roman Citizenry and The Law

I now have an app of the entire Bible on my phone now and just like any kid with a new toy, I've gone sort of crazy with it. After reading through all of the book of Acts in three days (thanks to the Sydney metropolitan area being so vast), the really weird thing that struck me was the almost bloodthirsty nature of the Jews and surprisingly, the ambivalence of the Romans due to their adherence of law.

Paul has disputes in multiple cities, is thrown into prison a lot but upon mention that he is a Roman Citizen, the attitude of the Romans changes entirely.
It got me thinking and asking that most annoying of questions... "Why?"

According to Plutarch who lived in latter half of the first century AD, the rights that a Roman Citizen could expect to enjoy included, the right to make legal contracts and to hold property , the right to vote, the right to sue in the courts (and the right to be sued), the right to stand for civil office and the right to have a legal trial.
Most of these sound strange to us, mainly because they seem obvious to us (even as little as 120 years ago people fought very hard for the right to vote), that last one, the right to a trial even more so. It does help to explain though why Paul ended up in Rome though.

The Roman Empire wasn't secular but it was exceptionally tolerant of the religious practices going on within it. It pretty well much equated local gods with the panoply of the Roman system and let people retain their practices. Occasionally, it would absorb local festivals into its calendar and found it useful to do so if it meant that tribute and taxes were still being extracted from the conquered peoples.

Paul's basic problem was that the Jewish leaders essentially had a power issue. Various Jewish groups of rabbis simply had to label "the Way" a sect, for if they didn't then people might see and learn about Christ for themselves, thus eroding their power base and with it, potentially their incomes.

At the risk of painting the Romans as a peaceful nation, the one thing you can say about them was that they were sticklers for discipline, order and law, to a fault. Quite frankly, the military machine demanded it. How could you get an army under direct attack by sword, pike and spear to maintain its composure unless the army had been drilled ad nauseum? Literally a soldier's life depended at times on how well the unit could follow orders. This disciplined adherence to the law flowed into normal society because it was the soldiers themselves who provided law and order in lieu of what we would consider a modern police force. Also, instead of a sitting judiciary in the same way we find ourselves today, the Romans didn't exactly have professional judges but rather their governors made legal decisions directly.

Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to them, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 
- Acts 18:14-15

In Corinth in Acts 18, the proconsul Gallio takes the opinion that because the dispute fell under Jewish and not Roman law, he really couldn't be bothered with it. At first this sounds like dereliction of the law but if you consider that Gallio wasn't trained in Jewish law, he hadn't studied it and had no background in its traditions, then his decision to tell the Jews to deal with it themselves is perfectly valid.

As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”
- Acts 22:25

In Jerusalem in Acts 22, a problem arises that Paul who was a Roman citizen was about to be flogged. Paul questions the centurion standing close by and this triggers two minds to explode at the weight of law. The centurion probably has no legal training but knows that the law is a good thing to follow, and the commander above him probably didn't really care about a Jewish squabble but feared punishment from above if his superiors found out that a Roman citizen had had their rights violated. Take note:

Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
- Acts 22:29

I find it interesting that the commander isn't necessarily worried about whether or not justice was being administered, or even taking any compassion for his prisoner, but the mere fact that a Roman had been put in chains irked him, for it violated his personal sense that the law as a concept had been desecrated.

In Acts 25-26, the operation of Roman law is even more blatant. Paul as a Roman citizen not only had the right to appear in court but to appeal to a higher court and even to Caesar and his representatives. This aspect of law continues today with our own court system.
Again at the end of chapter 26, we see two aspects of Roman law at play. Firstly, the pluralism of the Romans allowed Jewish law to hold sway in some facets but a Roman citizen would only be tried under Roman law. Secondly that one of the rights of a Roman citizen was the right to an appeals process; again something which we take for granted but something which after the end of the Roman Empire would not be seen again until the middle ages.

After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”
Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
- Acts 26:31-32

Almost in the same breath though. Agrippa concedes that it was only because Paul was a Roman that he had and rights of appeal at all. The text does not convey though what sort of mindset he had though. This line can be read with sarcasm, contempt, amazement, or even a rolling sort of disappointment (the original Greek is also of no help here) but whatever the tone it does illustrate something which is often overlooked by scholars.

Every piece of commentary which I read during this, focussed on the spiritual, theological and doctrinal issues that the text presents. Very little thought is given to the overall climate of Roman law which exists here.
Paul was a Pharisee which meant that he had read and studied law. Acts is written by Luke who as a physician approached what he saw with a scientific mind; recording what he could verify.
Yet the very fact that Paul was a Roman citizen meant that he wasn't just summarily executed but thrown into prison to be dealt with later.

Paul's imprisonment meant that Luke had the time and presumably space to find more verifiable evidence and whilst in prison or under house arrest, Paul was a prolific letter writer. Those two men by themselves wrote most of the New Testament and if Paul hadn't had the right of appeal then it probably wouldn't have existed in the form that we know it at all.
I really don't know what sort of debt we owe to the Romans and their almost adherence to the law as they saw it. I do know that it's seriously undervalued though.

August 24, 2012

Eddie Merckx vs Lance Armstrong - Stats

Precis: to refute the claim that "Lance Armstrong IS and WILL ALWAYS BE the greatest cyclist of all time"
If we are to make such a claim then there had better be a statistical basis behind it.

This then, by the numbers is:
Eddie Merckx vs Lance Armstrong

Tour de France 
General Classification
5 - 7
Points Classification
3 - 0
Mountain Classification
2 - 0
Combativity award
4 - 0
Individual Stages
34 - 22

Giro d'Italia
General Classification
5 - 0
Points Classification
2 -0
Mountain Classification
1 - 0
Individual Stages
24 - 0

Vuelta a España
General Classification
1 - 0
Points Classification
1 - 0
Individual Stages
6 - 0

Multi-Day Stage Races
4 - 5

Single-Day Races and Classics
30 - 4

Merckx 122 - Armstong 38

Horse 1354 - When To Write Off Liverpool's Season

My blog has for a very long time been marked on a sort of annual basis with lamentory posts marking the end a of Liverpool's season, or rather the point when I write off the title as unwinnable yet again. That point is usually when they go 10 points behind the league leaders because history has shown that only one club in the history of English football has ever come back to win it; lamentably the club that suffered the idiotic indignancy of giving up 10 points was none other than Liverpool. Season 2012/13 will be different because a different set of fixtures apply.

Having already fallen 3-0 to West Bromwich Albion on the opening day, in an abysmal display in which Agger was red carded, Liverpool played with ten men and no heart. Since Chelsea have already come out firing and potentiallly could be 9 points ahead in a mere 8 days, the first three home fixtures will be utterly critical. The first three home fixtures are against title defenders Manchester City, one of the old foes Manchester United and once pretender Arsenal. Quite frankly if Liverpool score anything less than 7 points from these three fixtures (being 2 wins and a draw) then you can guarantee that the quality to last the season just does not exist.

Liverpool sides during the 1970s and 80s would win the season on points tallies in the mid 70s. Manchester United and last season City have raised the stakes such that if sides want to win titles then they can't afford much more than half a dozen losses per season. Ending on 70+ points will certainly win a European Champions League berth but you cam not expect to win the title on anything less than 80 in the 21st Century.

In seasons past, Liverpool could rely on strikers scoring 20 goals in a season. Luis Suárez, could only muster a paltry 11 goals and in an age of proper proper professionals, that simply is inadequate.

A bright note is that last year they had a defensive record only bettered by Manchester City but (and this is telling) still finished a hopeless and lackluster 8th. Having gained a place in the Europa League by virtue of being in the FA Cup Final last season (and failing there too), there is a pull on the squad for mid-week games, and the temptation for new manager Brendan Rogers will be to play a stronger side in the Europa League and in the process weaken the side for regular league fixtures. The problem with this is that if the season ends as badly as it did last year then only Cup wins will guarantee spots in Europe because eighth is oblivion. Even there the season looks to be starting badly. Liverpool's first Europa League journey was to Edinburgh and Tynecastle to play Hearts. The scoreboard shows 1-0 to Liverpool and they walk away with an away goal but Hearts scored it for them with Andy Webster's shin deflected for an own goal. Really as far as building a season goes it should be treated as a scoreless match because they looked dour and toothless.

So even more than usual, the first three home fixtures will be the litmus test, the test by fire, to see if this Liverpool side is worth anything. Anything less than 7 points from those three matches and I'm going to write the season off before the end of September, which is something I haven't done... ever.

Gerrard is now in the tail end of his career and as far as I can see there isn't really anyone else who will step up and fill that talismanic role. I expect that if Carrol can be convinced to stay then he will rip sides to pieces and maybe if Suarez learns to keep his fool mouth shut, then he'll also do well but apart from Skrtel and Johnson, the current Liverpool squad is as good as any in the top 6 but not better. Football in the top flight is mostly made up of players who are really quite good but to win a title you really do need more than a few who are absolutely stellar and I just don't see that. It is scary to see a side fielded with kit numbers in the mid 40s on the park. Either that says that there is loads of depth in the squad or more likely that first team players are injured.

On Sunday they face Man City at Anfield and I think that that will be the opening display of their firepower or complete lack thereof.

Horse 1353 - Exporting The NHS To The World
Health Minister Anne Milton follows a similar logic, because she's announced that the Health Service will be encouraged to make profits by setting up businesses abroad, to take advantage of the NHS brand's "worldwide reputation".
- Mark Steel, The Independent, 22nd August 2012

Mark Steel wrote a very interesting piece in The Independent this week about exporting the NHS brand to the rest of the world. To take this suggestion a step further, maybe it actually is worth exporting the NHS, or better yet, simply abandoning it altogether.

"The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear. Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion.
Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available."
- Winston Churchil, to the Royal College of Physicians in London in March 1944.

Churchill who was a Tory of all things, still saw the benefit and utility of having a population which being maintained by a national health service, would and should go onto be more productive. I suppose that in an era where production itself has been exported, the need to maintain the quality of the British labour force isn't there any more.
The date of this speech gives you two insights into both why the NHS was created and why Churchill had he been a politician today, would never have been PM and possibly not even a Tory.

Churchill even when he formed his National Government was already a senior politician, he was 66. He came from an exceedingly wealthy family and as such grew into the mould of the classic "statitst" Tory. Since the word conservative means to conserve or protect the status quo, Churchill fits perfectly into the role of maintaining British dominance in business and British power.
He had a distinct problem. Britain had been at war for 5 bitter years. The British people had fought long and hard and unfortunately for a Tory, Churchill felt a great deal of gratitude towards them; something which today would have been a distinct disadvantage in the modern Conservative party.

The NHS in context forms two great pillars of purpose. The first given the context of war was to provide fit, healthy people who would valiantly be blown to pieces, and secondly to provide fit and proper workers to work in factories.
That second point is quite interesting. The NHS in that role is about improving and maintaining the quality of the labour force. Labour being a factor of production is one of the inputs of generating income, wealth and future capital.

The need for labour in the 21st Century is as strong as it ever was. Labour still generates income, wealth and capital. The biggest difference between now and Churchill's day is that that labour no longer needs to be in Britain. Thanks to the global economy which has been developed over the past 60 years, it's just as easy to build Widgets and Gadgets in Bangalore or Ouagadougou  as it is in Sheffield.
If the economic reasons for maintaining labour no longer exists in Britain, then the NHS is a drain on the economy.
British businesses under the governments from Wilson through until Callaghan  might very well have been inefficient but it took Thatcher to finally kick the rest of the economic machine to pieces. The only part of the economic machine of Britain that still works efficiently is "The City" and they don't want to pay for any government services if they don't have to, let alone a service which improves and maintain a labour force which no longer produces goods and services.
Basically if you don't need to maintain the labour force, then why spend the money to do so?

Maybe the NHS should be exported. I mean if the government is going to abandon the British people as it seems so intent on doing, then also abandoning the services which maintain their well being must surely be the next step.
At very least export the brand. You may at least pick up some value for it before it's well and truly trashed at home.

August 23, 2012

Horse 1352 - Telling Stories

To illustrate the power of a story, I now relate something which stayed with me a very long time.

I remember in high school, an economics teacher of mine, when discussing supply and demand and substitute goods (actually comparing apples and oranges), was interrupted by a petulant student asking "what about bananas?"
Perhaps to shut the kid up, he said that bananas are a herb (not a fruit and therefore not comparable in this case), and so without question for probably 15 years I believed this to be true.
Botanically speaking, a herb is a plant product derived from the leafy part of the plant. Tea is a herb because tea leaves are leaves. A spice on the other hand is a product which comes from the woody parts, the seeds or the fruit. Coffee which comes from the central pit of the coffee cherry is not only not a bean but is technically a spice.
This brings me back to bananas. Bananas are the fruit of the banana plant and for this reason, are not an herb but if you were to dry out the fruit, they'd be a spice.

The point of me telling this story actually has nothing to do with bananas, herbs or spices but rather with the concept of a story itself.

Memory is a somewhat nebulous thing and even science in all its wonder still is not really entirely sure of the mechanisms by which it is laid down or retrieved. We do know that certain chemicals can inhibit the laying down of memory, and we're also aware that if certain chemical pathways are destroyed or inoperative for whatever reason, memories do not get retrieved.
What we can say for certain is that we're very much more likely to remember a story that raw facts. If I were to give you the list of numbers 177, 6194, 519, 30 and 18,121,605 the chances are that if I asked you to remember them in half an hour are slim to nil, but if I re-order the same digits to 1776, 1945, 1930, 1812 and 1605, those digits now appear as dates and more importantly, the stories which go with them; even if you know very little about each of the stories in question. It is easier to "remember, remember the fifth of November, of gunpowder, treason and plot" than the raw date of 05-11-1605 and maybe even the name of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up parliament.

There's something fundamental about stories and the way they become part of one's personal narrative. People keep photographs, not only to remember what someone or something looked like but because they're tangible reminders of the past. A photo might hold the memory of a holiday, or when a relative or friend visited.
People often say that if their house burned down, the first thing they'd retrieve would be their photographs. So powerful are photographs at being the touchstones of memory, that sometimes even a wander through an old album will make people laugh and weep.
Sometimes photos hold the collective memory of society, like the photo of the man standing in front of the line of tanks. Granted that people don't to this day know who he was, but the image is so powerful that it became the story.

Stories are fundamental to us because ultimately they tell us either something of how the world works, how we fit into it, perhaps something instructive and how to live better in it.
It is not by accident that the vast bulk of morality teaching, be it found in scripture like the Bible, the Koran, the books of Mormon, in secular literature like Aesop's fables, folklore tales, etc. all take the form of stories. An order such as "do not put your hand in a fire" seems like a pretty straightforward sort of statement but if there was a story in which someone was burned, people tend to learn more from that, then there is the rather obvious statement that experience is the best teacher, but no-one really wants to learn from experience if they don't have to.
On the religious front, Jesus spoke in parables which I have heard described as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. The point is that these stories have survived for two millennia where as a contemporary like Livy (Titus Livius) who wrote Ab Urbe Conditae, remains in relative obscurity. Livy intended his work as sort of an attempt to use history as a moral essay, where as the parables of Jesus are far more mundane sorts of stories but brimming with more colour. Clearly a story in order to be successful has to be told properly and simply.

When we think of literature which changed the world, few would argue that people like Isaac Newton and John Snow shouldn't be held up on a pedastal but I know few people who have heard of  Principia Mathematica and even less people who have even heard of Joseph Bazalgette, but without them we wouldn't have calculus, discourses on the nature of gravity one hand, or basic stormwater systems on the other. In short, we would not have satellites on which information is transmitted and we would not have sewers which are commonplace and potable water, so you probably would have died of cholera by age 35.
In stark contrast, the works of Shakespeare, Austen and Dickens, still sell in massive numbers, and really all they contributed to the world were stories.
In the late 20th Century and the beginning of the 21st with the rise of computer games, the most successful and highest selling titles are not simulations or even sports games but rather, games where there is a very strong element of story and not just killing off the antagonist.

This takes me back to my economics teacher and bananas. Okay, the story may have in fact been wrong but the truth is that it took another story by way of Bill Bryson's book "At Home", to make me question it. Of all things he was discussing the role that spices had in the development of the kitchen in people's houses and mentioned off-hand what a spice was. This made a connection in my mind to a story which had been laid down in my memory some 17 years ago and had laid dormant.

The point being that without the story in the first place, I probably wouldn't have remembered something even if it did happen to be wrong and so I suppose that there was even a degree of utility in a wrong story than had there been no story at all.

August 21, 2012

Horse 1351 - Our Number's Up

Numbers. Billions and billions of them. Billions and billions of trillions of them. Most of us use number in our day without even realising it; numbers like 20, 4 and 47. Take a walk around your local supermarket and you see numbers like 250, 750, 74.67 and 10%.
Numbers are all around us, permeating our lives and even working away quietly in places we can't even see. Few people give thought though to the very scary truth that one day, we just might run out.

In agricultural societies most people only needed small numbers like 6, 7 and maybe if you were a farmer, numbers like 100 or 349. People used to use small numbers in trade and life was more or less simple. In fact the largest numbers which were known to be in use by high ranking officials were only in the millions.
THe ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for one million was this:

This is a man seemingly exasperated or perhaps terrified of the number he now holds. Numbers like one million were know to be so dangerous that normal Egyptian citizenry were not normally allowed to read, lest their brains fall out. It's a strange thought I know, but we shall return here.

The Sumerians used a Sexagesimal number system which instead of the number 10 as its base, used a base of sixty and the Babylonians improved on this by using a base of 360. The Greeks and Romans though who had far more militaristic ends for numbers reverted to a base of ten. They even formed their armies into groups of 100s; calling the officers in charge "hekatontarchos" in Greek and a "centurion" in Roman. Today we only really refer to centuries when talking about groups of years or perhaps runs in cricket.

The Romans though had a distinct problem. Their writing system only allowed them to properly deal with in thousands. The Roman notation for one thousand was a capital M.
This is an interesting aside but Abraham was promised that his "descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore", and the Pharaoh who would not let them go complained that they were uncountable. Although this is obviously due to there simply being a lot of people, the inability to count large numbers (the Romans could only count 1000s and the Hebrews only had a notation for 900), meant that at least they were aware that there was a problem.

During the Dark Ages, it was Arabic and Indian people who developed our current number system. It wasn't until gold started to return from the fringes of empires which were being built by the European powers that numbers bigger than a million were even required. At first only governments needed millions to deal with sums being drawn on budgets, but soon it became apparent that private parties were beginning to use them.
The American War of Independence started out as a taxation dispute, in which millions of pounds were being argued over. Many many lives were lost and the new nation, forged on the fields of battle still to this day has a national debt which runs into trillions.

Charles Babbage built the first computer (albeit mechanical) for the computation of astronomical and mathematical tables, and as science reached the middle of the 20th century, computers and eventually pocket calculators could be bought to handle ever larger volumes of numbers and calculations.

The problem with numbers being progressively larger is that people's brains simply can not deal with them or take them in. This is evidenced by most people's inability to remember anything larger than their own 10 digit telephone number; most people often can not remember their Tax File Number.
I suspect that if one were to behold all of infinity at once, that they would probably die instantly through shock or at very least be hideously mentally scarred. As it is, most people who work with numbers on a consistent basis, people like scientists, accountants, maths teachers and engineers, are on the whole, not normal. Some people like train spotters and B-road enthusiasts are really quite strange indeed and I wonder if this is further evidence of the hidden and dangerous powers of numbers. Already we have branches of mathematics looking at irrational and imaginary numbers, so this can't be a good sign if even the science of numbers is describing itself like this.

The fact is that we are using numbers so much now that we could be facing eventual calamity. Computers themselves are known as "number crunchers" and reduce millions, billions and increasingly trillions and quadrillions into a stream of 0s and 1s. Somewhere down the line we are going to start losing 0s and 1s and this can already be seen in government accounts and budgets.
Joe Hockey as Shadow Treasurer was accused of having a 70 billion black hole, and numbers smaller than 1000 are routinely dropped from the books of accounts of multi-national corporations.

We are being warned of an impending energy crisis, a future food crisis, climate change, and housing shortages but no-one in the media seems to want to talk about an impending number shortage.
We tell children in school that numbers go on forever but the same thing was said by Allessandro Volta who invented the battery and as we all know, batteries eventually need replacing because they "run out".
The point is that as limited and small beings we are aware that we can not handle very big numbers and we're unaware of how far they go. If numbers and mathematics are contained in one giant set, then we are in danger of using them all up. Crunching numbers means that machines have to be developed to make new ones and even though people do derive fortunes from pushing numbers around spreadsheets and computers, there might come a day when there are simply no more numbers left to use.

Please think of the numbers. Don't waste them.

August 18, 2012

Horse 1350 - Assistance and Protection

In the front of Julian Assange's passport and indeed every Australian's passport, there is a blurb which reads...
The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, being the representative of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, requests all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hinderance and to afford him or her every assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need.

Take careful note of this. The Australian Government merely requests that  every assistance and protection  be rendered to its citizens, it does not promise that if its citizenry are in trouble or distress overseas that it intends to actually do anything about the problem; even if one of its citizenry faces almost certain arrest, imprisonment and torture without charge, for I can guarantee that that is what will happen to Mr Assange.

Currently, Assange is holed up at the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. Not less than a week ago did this great city espouse the ideals of brotherhood and tolerance, and yet here we find that it is on the brink of destroying those ideals, violently and virulently.

Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963) states that:

1. Consular premises shall be inviolable to the extent provided in this article.


Note that although the embassy and its grounds do not enjoy an exemption from the laws of the land, and the grounds of the embassy are not the sovereign territory of the sending country, the Vienna Convention does state that the premises does enjoy the right not to be inviolated; this is important.
Currently the British Government stands on the precipice of destroying the spirit of the Vienna Convention and has entertained the idea of sending in either the Police, MI5, MI6 or even the military to arrest Assange. Not even during the height of the Cold War when the USSR and the USA had nuclear weapons pointed at each other; not even during the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis when we could have come as close as 15 minutes from nuclear war, did either side think about invading each other's embassies. Even on the dismal side of the Iron Curtain, places like Poland, East Germany, Albania and Czechoslovakia still respected embassies if people sought asylum and protection there. From the stories that I've read concerning Germans in particular being reunited with their children and parents, the respect afforded to West German embassies in places like these was vital.

The problem is that Australia, the UK and Sweden are all very experienced boot lickers of Uncle Sam. When Sam says "go here", our governments all say: "Yes sir, thank you sir. Three bags full sir. Don't be mean to us, we're so hideously ugly".
I mean I don't actually know if the Swedish sexual charges against Mr Assange would hold up in court (though I suspect, given other reports I've read, they would not. BEar in mind that the prosecutor Marianne Ny inititally withdrew closed the case since "no crime had been committed"), but I do know that the US would be waiting for him in X Airport, and instead of a "diplomatic mail" sack such as is being discussed to ferry him out of London to Ecuador, it would forcibly be a burlap sack he would be thrown into the second he set foot on Swedish soil.

I must labour the point here but quite apart from whether or not Assange is guilty or not of a crime which he hasn't formally been charged with and of which we know not, not only will justice not be done, it will not even be seen to be done.
If there is weight behind the case in Sweden, for whatever reason, the whole entire case I suspect is being used as a front by the US Government to prosecute an equally nebulous crime.

America I'm afraid "has form" when it comes to violating international laws, and justice and decency generally, and Australia has form when it comes to abandoning its citizens in their darkest days.
It all makes me wonder what the point of that blurb in the front of the passport is actually for.

Maybe on the next draft of the blurb they could put "contains silica gel - do no eat", it would be as useful.

August 17, 2012

Horse 1349 - Plain Packages... Very Plain

The introduction of plain olive packages for cigarettes is seen as a bit of a breakthrough by our flame haired matchbox model PM and her bespectacled sidekick; certainly we will probably see further reductions in the take up of smoking, however as this chapter of history closes, we also see the passing of some rather memorable liveries.

In the 1970s and 80s especially, tobacco companies splashed their logos and colours all over racing cars. JPS had black and gold Lotii, Marlboro's red and white chevrons appeared on McLarens, and Guy Ligier's very very French, Gallic and blue F1 cars ran either Gitanes or Gauloisse adverts depending on who was prepared to court them at the time. We could also mention Camel, Rothmans, Mild Seven, Sobranie, West...

Kerry Packer's portable picture palace not only brought coloured clothing to that most genteel of passtimes, cricket, but also forever changed the boundary fences from white pickets as seen in people's gardens to golden walls bearing the names of Messrs Benson and Hedges. Meanwhile, Winston and Winfield would lend (throw piles of money) their names at sporting trophies for NASCAR and Rugby League.

Magazine adverts implored us to think of out "T Zones", whilst the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel rode off into the desert on their motorcycles.
All in all, society had a lovely time quietly puffing away indoors; then huddled outside when the law changed, and even I can remember at concerts, the fug would be so thick that you could cut it with a rolled up newspaper and still see where you'd swiped.
People may have died of lung cancers, emphasismer, heart diseases and other miasmas but then again, so did King George VI; so that made it all right royal and proper.

Curiously I wonder how many lives that tobacco advertising saved.
Motor Racing is hideously expensive; tobacco sponsorship not only coloured race cars for the best part of three decades, but inadvertently through advances in materials technology, engine and braking improvements, we probably now drive around in safer and more efficient motor cars than we would have otherwise done.
The money which flowed in from those selfless martyrs, who died for my entertainment (through helping to  pay for motor racing sponsorship), probably helped to pay for the development of better brakes, engine technologies like valve timing and most importantly the beginning of proper crash testing.

When the world wakes up on that new day of olive tobacco packaging, society gains better health and live longer lives, but it also loses something of its cultural past, although not much to be honest.

Horse 1348 - We're Fine It It

After witnessing Picnic & Sportsday in London, in NSW we now turn our attention to local government elections. To be totally honest, I have no idea who the candidates are apart from their handbills and don't really know what the biting issues are which plague my local council area. Everything as far as I can tell works reasonably well and local government services are all really quite very good... And I'm fine with that.
Politics generally in the 21st Century is far more sedentary, settled and dare I say it, civil, than the 20th and 19th. Politicians themselves are not being asked the massive questions any more and the voting denizenry of various countries are for the most part, fine with that too.

Elections in Australia, Britain, Canada etc. and hillariously in Belgium have all of late returned hung parliaments (in the case of Belgium, it took 535 days before a government was formed). This isn't because of some massive impasse of politics but rather the general stoppage of really big ideas being presented to the general public by parliaments, and we're fine with that.
Looking back the other way, problems which were presented to parliaments even as little as 150 years ago, included issues such as cholera outbreaks, mass starvation, poverty, infant mortality, wars being fought by expansionist powers in the name of securing resources like minerals, land and slave labor, but most of these things have been more or less sorted out. The issues that we now present to our parliaments involve exceptionally low numbers of "illegal" migration and arguments about who should build infrastructure. Very little discussion is brought to parliament about the matters of life and death itself any more, and so politicians themselves are no longer legislating on these issues but have morphed into becoming little more than administrators, and we're fine with that.

The average pundit now shows up once every 3-5 years depending on the level of government, quietly grumbles about having to show up at all (but is either blissfully unaware or willfully ignorant of the people who in fought and in some cases died for their ability to show up in the first place), makes a few almost illegible marks on a printed ballot paper, next tothe names of people they've never heard of, then equally as blissfully goes away and spends the next 3-5 years quietly grumbling that "the government should do something", and that something usually involved giving them more money... and they're fine with that.

Collectively if politics is uninspiring and dull, it is because we're all fine with the way the system currently works. If we don't like the major political parties, we do have the right and ability to vote someone else in but we don't because we're seemingly fine with it.
Ordinarily I'd suggest that the electorate needs to stand up and take responsibility for its politicians, parliaments and governments but I'm beginning to think that they already have done by default; even if it involves quiet grumbling. Otherwise, we would not be fine with it and actually change them all, and maybe in ways that were done in the 20th and 19th Centuries, and more recently in the Arab Spring.

Overall though there doesn't need to be a revolution to change the system of government we have because by default... we're fine with it.

August 16, 2012

Horse 1347 - An Idea That Will Save the World (Reply)

Dan Norcross of Test Match Sofa has appeared on the 24hrLondon Tumblr blog (which describes itself as a snapshot of London, its culture and identity etc.) and made some rather interesting comments. The distinct problem with them though is that for the most part they make sense and articulate; both of which are rare in the supposedly modern 21st Century.

His point about going to war to defend a resource which had the money been properly spent in the first place wouldn't have required defending so voraciously, represents the classic economic question of "opportunity cost", that is what was forgone in order to achieve the desired outcome.
Suppose Britain hadn't gone to war in Iraq (illegally and under the premise of a lie), then they collectively would not have spent more than 20 billion pounds and not wasted the best part of ten years. Further suppose that money had been spent on researching alternative fuels and energy technologies, what would we be driving around in now? Moreover, what sort if other energy solutions would have been found?
As it stands already, Britain should in theory be completely self sufficient when it comes to oil, because so much if the North Sea oil reserves lie within its territorial waters. Curiously it is reluctant to defend this claim and readily sells rights to which ever supermajor happens to court the government of the day.

The idea of harnessing wind and wave power seems sensible to me, given that it is at least as I can work out for all intents and purposes limitless. Physics does suggest that there should be a loss of momentum of the planet but given that the earth is so very big, it surely borders the negligible. The reason why such a plan won't happen is that this would require actual investment, and since the British Government is so anti providing any services at all these days, it's not going to happen.
Private firms won't do it unless there is a profit in it and no firm is going to invest in something where the date for the return on investment is probably later than their investment cycle.

The thing is though that oil is in fact something worth defending even if not for the purposes of energy or running our motor cars with. Crude Oil and in singularly Middle Eastern crude, is where we happen to get our greases and more importantly, plastics from. Owing to the vagrancies of carbon chemistry, it is easier to crack long chain carbon chemicals than to add together short chains; these two broad product categories are the main drivers for the price of oil.
Plastics in particular are almost ubiquitous in modern society. Where once wood and quite possibly metals were used to build things, plastic has found its way into virtually every manufacture that isn't edible and provides many of the packages for products that are. George Carlin suggested jokingly that that's the reason why the earth allowed us to be created and why we're going to be phased out, the earth wanted plastic for itself.

The last point about buying up the Australian coast to be somewhere warm reflects a very British outlook. However by following a very simple plan, Britons needn't worry about this at all.
If we assume that global warming is a real thing and not something that "Lord Monkton" and his bonkers pals repeatedly shout down as a giant mad hoax, then all the people of Britain need to do is buy British and get Range Rover Smogmaster 6000s (I'm sure the name can be worked on later). If global warming is used to proper advantage, then maybe one day, Skegness will need to change its slogan from "Skegness is so bracing" to "Skegness is lovely and toasty".

August 14, 2012

Horse 1346 - A Gold Medal Performance from London

Once the streamers, the balloons and the bunting have been put away and the joys of the last two weeks fade into distant memory, England will emerge from the dream and face a post Olympic hangover. Unlike the hangovers of say Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney or Athens (which was so much of a bender that they've invited Europe to help clean up), London will do what London always does and quietly sweep the economic mess to the rest of England.

If you draw a line from Bristol to The Wash, you split England into roughly two equal population halves but two very unequal economic halves. Helpfully, the blue motorway signs up and down the sceptred isle indicate "The North" and "The South" and tell you which part is bright and beautiful, and which part houses those dark satanic mills (or used to before they were all closed).
It is fitting in the eyes of the great wen that is London (home of the Houses Of Parliament and "The Square Mile") that this great city shouldn't be forced to actually pay for what it causes, and so Governments in their benevolence decide that The North should instead. It will accomplish this conjuring trick with further reductions in services and exporting horrible, dirty and smelly factories to places like Vietnam and Thailand; and of course that mythical beast called China which seems to be able to magic up anything you ask of it; including little plastic red buses, black taxis and Union Flags that can be flogged off to tourists.

Mrs Thatcher had the right idea. During the early years of her tenure as PM, from 1980-1985, 103,600 jobs were lost in the City of London; The North lost 1,037,000 in comparison which is only a shade over tenfold, so what were those disgusting creeps like Scargill complaining about anyway? The fact that The North never really recovered isn't an issue is it? Poor people are too illiterate to read the Financial Times and too stupid to work out what's going on because the Comprehensive Education System threw them overboard at about the same time as their real wages were kicked to pieces.
As a result of the events of the past four years with the Global Financial Crisis, the Eurozone Crisis and other malaise like the Parliamentary Expenses Scandal and the Leveson Enquiry into the media and ethics, you can't honestly expect that the City of London should want to, or is even likely to accept responsibility for any of these things even if it caused them. Not whilst it can claim that it brought the nation together, united under the banner of Team GB, and has held such a lovely Sunday School Picnic and Sports day. Sure, nobody else but the City of London and possibly Stratford will have benefited from it all but since The North is mostly where all the poor people are (because they can't afford to pay the rent within the M25 any more), then it scarcely matters really.

Besides which, the economy is a demand driven system and the people of The North can't very well demand much on those horrid wages anyway.
In an economy where people are competing against each other, there are winners and losers and the one thing that Olympics have taught us, is that Second Place is the first loser.
The City of London is the gold medal winner of the London 2012 Olympic Games, and It's only fitting, right, proper, and very very British that it should get the glory.

So when the £11bn demand notice comes in from the creditors, it will invariably be everywhere else but London who ends up paying for it. That's probably a good thing since the tourists can't really leave London because the trains don't run properly, thus ensuring that their dollarpoundeuros remain in London where they belong (both the dollarpoundeuros and the tourists).

August 10, 2012

Horse 1345 - In Search Of The Roundels

What we are looking at in this photograph as indicated in the bottom right hand corner is a photograph of Town Hall Station which was taken the day before the opening on 27th February 1932. What makes this photograph particularly interesting is the use of the "roundels" which were used as station signs. Similar roundels were used at Wynyard and a photograph of one of those is shown below (courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum's collection).

Whilst these two photographs show an interesting glimpse of the subterranean past of this swirling metropolis we call Sydney, I think that they show something far more sinister.

Although Sydney has quite a number of attractive buildings, far too often, when things are being refurbished, they are simply destroyed or swept aside like so many scraps of waste paper, strewn to the dustbin of history. Newtown station is currently undergoing an "upgrade" and its replacement is a steel and glass affair which is being built with the bottom line in mind rather than any aesthetic value.

Town Hall and Wynyard stations themselves are cases in point. Town Hall had a concourse upgrade in the early 1980s but the now aging tile work looks, faded, out of place and drab; meanwhile Wynyard received a colour scheme in the same upgrade program but was treated to two very dour shades of brown. In both cases the steel formwork from which the stations are built are clearly visible, which gives both of them a forlorn industrial sort of look; reminiscent of long closed factories. Presumably they were originally going to receive the same sort of cladding as either Museum or St James before the depression hit and the then Premier of New South Wales, Sir Bertram Stevens, handed the power of income tax to the Federal Government; so perhaps this explains why there wasn't very much to preserve in the first place.

Currently the stations signs at Town Hall and Wynyard are the same as most other stations in Sydney. They are blue and white rectangular things which I suppose look unified from the aspect of maintaining corporate unity and identity, but again they are merely industrial pieces, which are cold and uninspiring. The sign for Town Hall is very very anonymous and could easily be for any suburb in Sydney.

I am very much jealous of other networks around the world such as the London Underground, the Paris Metro and the Moscow Metro (the Moscow Metro is possibly the grandest and most gorgeous  railway systems ever invented) but again it makes me wonder why if Sydney wants to hold itself out as a World City, why it settles for second best when it shows itself off.
Even I concede that whist I don't much care for the The Opera House, it was built and approved by a group of town planners who were looking forwards and trying to make a statement about the city. Recently during the Olympic Games in London, one of the newest additions to the skyline is 30 St Mary Axe which is better known as "The Gherkin". I think that for what it is, it deserves to stand on that site equally as long as the Royal Albert Hall or even the buildings of Christopher Wren, so that's not to say that modern architecture is all bad.

I suppose that what I'm trying to say is that although we needn't necessarily try to ape other underground networks around the world, it seems to me that pieces of infrastructure which are used by possibly a million commuters a week between them, that Town Hall and Wynyard stations should be made a little more friendly, more cosy and not so much restored to their former glory but beautified to reach the potential which they never saw.

August 09, 2012

Horse 1344 - Going Underground
Parramatta Road would be carved open and an eight-lane motorway dug beneath in plans being developed for a huge expansion of Sydney's tollway network.
The plans, being drawn up by the government's infrastructure adviser, Infrastructure NSW, envisage three new motorways in Sydney, to be paid for partly by a new tolling system across the city.
But they would cost $10 billion to $15 billion in government money, as well as tolls. And the scale of the projects would make any other big investment in transport beyond the north-west rail link unlikely for decades.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 5th Aug 2012

I think that there's something all a bit Pavlovian about this; and by Pavlovian I don't mean a meringue based dessert or even anything to do with a certain Russian ballerina, but rather the man who conducted a series of experiments into classical conditioning involving bells and dogs. O'Farrell's Government has rung the bell and already we're salivating and wagging our tails; waiting for whatever morsel they decide to drop to us poor pathetic dogs of New South Welsh denizenry.
I suspect like the vast majority of times that the bell has been rung, that we'll all start salivating on cue, hundreds of words will be written in the press, maybe some words of invective will appear on radio and television and then in three weeks time, this will disappear, never to be seen again.
If there's one thing I've learnt, or rather have been conditioned to expect by successive waves of governments both at Federal and State level, is that just like on the football field, even if you see someone holding up strip with their name on it, don't believe anything until they appear on the pitch; thusly, don't believe any announcement for some new venture until the day it opens to the general public.
Anyway, onto the purported "project".

The idea that a "cut and cover" proposal would be made in the 21st Century seems downright daft to me.
The Metropolitan Line on the London Underground was built between 1860 and about 1899, opening up London's streets. This at the time was seen as incredibly disruptive and given that this was in an era before widespread motor-car and motor-bus use; so, to try such a thing now on a major aterial road is to increase the problem many many times over.
The thing to note about the Metropolitan Line in the 1860s is that it was a two line railway, with an up and a down line. An eight-lane motorway would obviously have to be far wider which would probably involve tearing down every single building along the route, and/or running the two directions of four lanes on top of each other. This wasn't even attempted on the Eastern Distributor which was opened in 2000.
The most likely configuration for an eight-lane motorway would be two build a hole four lanes wide and sufficiently deep enough to build three decks of roadway, with the two directions of motorway stacked on top of each other and then finally the return of Parramatta Road on top of that. At bare minimum you'd need a hole at least deep enough to allow semi-trailers and B-doubles to pass through, and then you'd need to double that to allow for both running directions and further to that all of the utilities services would need to be diverted. It just seems like far too much effort for no real net gain to me.

The other major problem that I find with this proposal isn't to do with any technical problems which an eight lane motorway might throw up, but the fact that it's even being proposed at all.
You'd think that a motorway would decrease congestion on the face of it, but the experience of the Warringah Expressway, M2, M4 and M5 all show is that motorways don't really do a lot in decreasing congestion all that much. Just like a long pipe full of water, stuff that flows into the pipe, has to flow out of it at some point, and if the end happens to get clogged, then the pipe simply fills up. That is precisely what happens every single morning on the Warringah Expressway, M2, M4 and M5. The obvious thing to do would be to stop putting so much into the pipe in the first place.

It seems to me that a train service which would take cars off the road to the tune of about 10,000 an hour seems like a far more efficient use of time, money and effort. Also because a train tube can be built using either the Greathead Shield and/or Tunnel Boring machines and can be put sufficiently deep enough not disturb either the buildings or the services attached to those builings, then the only reason that I can see why it shouldn't be built (assuming that the money has been committed) is purely political.
Then again, being the classically conditioned Pavlovian scum that I am, I wouldn't assume that this was anything but a purely political announcement, and timed so that any construction work if it ever came to pass would conveniently commence after the next election. I note careful use of the words "20-year state infrastructure strategy", which indicates that it won't be opened until 2032 at the latest and of course gives ample time to can this project just like every other time it's been announced since 1947 as part of the County of Cumberland Planning Scheme.
Actually I don't even need to make this point, because I've already written something on exactly the same subject five years ago in Horse 813.

So then what are we to make of all this? Is this proposal like so many before it, simply not going to happen at all? Even if this daft proposal was to be built, I fear that it is misdirected. If we assume that the world passed peak oil production possibly circa 2010, that then future of this piece of infrastructure is rather bleak. Widespread motor car use might not be even be plausible in the future if petrol prices suddenly spike. For a city like Canberra which was built almost 100 years ago, and even the US Interstate System which was proposed under Eisenhower, the future as they saw it never foresaw the end of the motor car as a thing.
Besides which, if you look at the history of Sydney anyway, most development which occurred even and including right up to the 1990s mostly happened along railway lines, rather than arterial roads. Since the building of infrastructure today, shapes the face of the future, it seems to me that the utility of building underground railways would be more useful to the people of 2062 than a motorway.

For me, the key phrase of this article is this:
But they would cost $10 billion to $15 billion in government money...
It's worth remembering that the $10 billion to $15 billion is really our money because government spending itself is really just another form of collective purchasing. The question I suppose from a philosophical standpoint is, how do we want our money spent as a state? If the majority of people want the motorway right now, then I guess we can't really begrudge them. Although I think that the words of Hermann Göring are particular instructive at this juncture:
We have no butter... but I ask you, would you rather have butter or guns? Preparedness makes us powerful. Butter merely makes us fat.
Is the exercise in building this motorway the same as buying metaphorical butter? I don't know.

August 06, 2012

Horse 1343 - I Dismiss "Failure"
"I think sometimes we just need a can of 'harden up' and be told the hard truth, which is you're not doing enough, your attitude sucks, you're not going in with the right mindset, you're spending too much time on Twitter and social media up late at night when you should be asleep,"
- Former Olympic swimmer Lisa Curry, on ABC Local Radio 04/08/12

Lisa Curry has supposedly said with these words what the nation was thinking, or rather what the nation has been told that that's what it should be thinking. Words like "humiliation" and "failure" have been flying around the press at the moment and that's normal in the realm of sport: that in the heat of the moment whilst you're still riding the wave of disappointment to bring out the knives and commit emotional seppuku. Yet the what's almost never pondered except in the sport of football, is the more obvious and logical suggestion that other teams are simply better.

The inverse of the maxim "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" is also true - "For where your heart is, there your treasure will be also". I use the word "Treasure" in this sense in an almost entirely monetary fashion but again it also holds in an emotive sense too.
The blunt fact is that Australia's "Treasure", that is, where it mainly puts its money and emotional effort is into Australian Rules and Rugby League Football. These two sports command the lion's share of Australia's monetary "Treasure"; curiously coming third is V8 Supercar racing. There are no Olympic gold medals for these sports.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that essentially Australia is a one-trick pony. Apart from swimming and occasionally the odd medal that appears in something like shooting or cycling, even if people are Olympic athletes and have trained their whole lives, Australia doesn't really throw much treasure to Olympians in comparison. The AIS biggest financial concerns are in swimming by quite a long way, with a bit of token cash given to diving, track and field, rowing and cycling. It has recently dropped its payments for weightlifting, water polo (men), volleyball (women), wrestling, shooting, archery, boxing and golf. Closely related to this is an interesting phenomenon, which requires a bit of unpacking.

The most common ages for a breed of new Olympians to come onto the scene is bewtween 17-24. The thing is though that these people are not bred in isolation. You have to look into the conditions which inspired these people to decide to dedicate their lives to becoming an Olympic athlete in the first place.
The single biggest spike to inspire children to become an Olympic athlete is the announcement that the Olympic Games will be held in their country; this happens 7 years out from an Olympics. 10-17 year olds will in that magical 17-24 age group by the time that the games come. The host nation which obviously wants to put on a good show invariably spends a lot of money in that interim. Curiously, there is a spike in the number of medals won for a nation, not at their home Olympic Games but at the next one; this is true for every Olympics post-1948 with the exception of  the LA Games of 1984 when the Soviet Union boycotted them.
The nation most likely to do comparatively well at the 2012 games should be the nation who hosted the 2008 games; since Beijing hosted the 2008 games then we should expect to see China do rather well in London (lo and behold, they are). The thing is that there is only one Olympic gold medal for any given event; so where China has taken medals, nations like Australia will invariably miss out. That's pretty well what we've seen at the London games thus far; doubly so because Britain as the host nation is also "pinching" medals from Australia too.

So where the media likes to write this off as a "national humiliation" (Sydney Morning Herald), or an "epic failure" (Daily Telegraph) or even a "disappointment" (The Age), I think to do so is to ignore fact. A "national humiliation" in my eyes would be if someone was found to be cheating through drug use or otherwise, an "epic failure" would be if someone had given up and a "disappointment" would be if someone had deliberately gone out to lose.

If you really want to look at sporting failure, then the England football team which has failed to win any tournament in 46 years or Liverpool who hasn't won the League in 22 years are stand out examples. In the case of Australian sport, the 1976 Montréal yielded no golds, one silver and four bronzes. That's probably as close to a case of  sporting "failure" as you're going to get and it prompted the creation of the AIS in the first place in 1980.

Of course our Olympic athletes are disappointed; they would be if they'd spent most of their lives training and working away not to be rewarded. They already feel the pain of loss; they do not need the media jumping all over them just to sell copy.