September 24, 2012

Horse 1367 - And The World Is Made Of Energy

There is an advert on telly at the moment for AGL's 175th anniversary, which does an historical pan through of the company lighting gas lamps, selling gas and electric to people's homes, before finally laying out their token green credentials in making reference to their wind farms. The adverts are quite jolly and I do like them but originally I thought that they'd written a jingle for the advert. It turns out not. The song playing is a grab from The Apples In Stereo's song "Energy". The chorus of this song goes:

"And the world is made of energy,
And the world is electricity,
And the world is made of energy,
And there's a light inside of you and there's a light inside of me"

Link : The Apples In Stereo - "Energy"

Nice sentiment I'm sure but lo and behold, it's also true. Here's why:

Proposition 1:
"And the world is made of energy"


Einstein's general equation of energy is familiar but most people probably don't know what it means. It does not refer to the E=McSquared burger from McDonald's which is a square burger; and the main reason that it does not is because I've only just made that up. If you are reading this McDonald's, I am ready for my royalty cheque now.

Seriously, E=mc2 refers to the amount of energy liberated from mass when it is subject to speeds at the speed of light. (Do this again). The only practical use for this that I can think of is to do with the energy liberated from the atom in a nuclear reactor or bomb. I imagine that if we were able to somehow turn the entire of the earth into one massive nuclear device, then the energy liberated from all that mass would be immense; certainly more than enough to boil your kettle to make a nice cup of tea.

E =  5,972,190,000,000,000,000,000,000,000g x (290,000,000m/s)²
E = 502,261,179,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Joules

Of some interest is the  the Greek word "kinema"; from which it is unsurprisingly get our word for moving pictures "cinema". Things that are moving also have energy; it is also not surprising that the energy of moving objects is called "kinetic" energy. Isaac Newton described that energy with a number of equations relating to motion.

The Earth has a mass of 5,972,190,000,000,000,000,000,000 kg. In a year it moves almost 940 million km but in a second it moves at a paltry 30m/s which means that the Earth has a Kinetic Energy of:
2,900,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Joules
If we're talking about phenomenally big numbers like this, then it is true that "the world is made of energy".

Proposition 2:
"And the world is electricity"

The thing with electricity is that its only one specific way of transmitting energy. The fact that the Earth has both mass and is moving means that there is a potential to change all that energy to electricity but if you've destroyed the earth in the process of its creation, there would scarcely exist the means or point to use it anymore.

Having destroyed the Earth, there then needs to be some point to liberating all that energy. Maybe if we'd ruined the Earth beyond the point of livability then that might have some utility in powering a battle star type object but until that day, this is all a bit too dreamy for me.

Proposition 3:
"And there's a light inside of you and there's a light inside of me"

There is enough fat even in a skinny human at least to power a small oil lamp. Personally I'm not prepared to want to undertake such a task but I imagine that the thought might have occurred to Lawrence Oates on his disastrous trip to the South Pole.
I once saw a documentary on the truly bizarre phenomenon of spontaneous human combustion in which for as yet undetermined reasons, a living or dead person which just burst into flames.

Anyway, the point of the AGL advert was to attract new customers to that company and buy their electric and gas. I personally don't reality care through whom my electric comes as long as its clean and no-one else has used it. I simply can not abide with getting used electric.
In the mean time, I hope that no-one including AGL has decided to wantonly destroy the earth in making electricity or burning people, though they do mention in the advert that they've invested over $3 billion in renewable energy generation.
Maybe it could be that The Apples In Stereo are onto something... AGL has been burning people since the 1980's...


Horse 1366 - Big Brother is Watching You (he doesn't really want to)

One aspect of George Orwell's dystopic novel "1984" that journalists like to ape in an almost troperific way is the idea that with all the surveillance cameras now peering into our lives, that Big Brother has the ability to watch and control us but the truth is far less scarier than that.

I don't know what the statistics actually have to say on the subject but I would wager that the vast bulk (maybe as many as 95%) of all cameras installed are privately owned. This means to suggest that Big Brother isn't the one doing the looking but someone else; that someone else is likely to be a rent-a-cop who doesn't want to be there. I mean, would you honestly want to sit for hours on end whilst precisely diddly squat happened? It would be enough to drive you to read Jane Eyre (which is a fate worse than a fate worse than death).
Private surveillance cameras are installed with only two purposes in mind, either the protection of assets or identifying people who have stolen said assets. These cameras act not as a means of actively controlling the population but as a witness to defend against them. That is very different in principle to Orwell's nightmarish vision.

In an idealised, rose tinted world, perhaps eulogised by our grandparents, people speak of leaving their front doors unlocked in days gone by. I sort of doubt whether this was ever the case, for as long as people have been living in houses with stuff inside worth protecting, there have been locks of a fashion. The idea of armed guards to protect assets goes well into antiquity. There were guards at the Oracle of Delphi as far back as 600 BC.

So forgive me if I am a little sceptical when I hear suggestions as I did on the radio this morning that installing more surveillance cameras is "Big Brother gone mad" because quite frankly I don't think that the real world supports this theory. We wouldn't need surveillance cameras if people didn't need surveillance and the only reason we need it in the first place is because a few select nasty people don't think anything of stealing other people's stuff.
I don't think that the state either cares or even wants to care about controlling the population when as it is they can't control people's desires to liberate other people's property.
The state itself is usually trying to madly cut costs where it can, so deliberately engaging in a new range of costs when the benefits to it aren't immediately obvious, doesn't make a whole heap of sense.

The surveillance cameras in question are supposed to be installed on George St in the City, and would not be used to "control" the population but rather to help identify those miscreants who are going about causing civil damage; usually under the influence of drink, drugs or both. They haven't been proposed because the state wants them but rather that private firms want the state to foot the bill for their security costs.
Somehow, I think that the state would rather not pay either the cost to install the cameras, or the costs of maintenance, or the costs of paying someone to monitor them either.

OK, so maybe we are being watched more than ever before, but if you don't break the law, then you don't have to fear the enforcers of the law. They'd rather be at home with their families or friends, or doing anything other than watching you. If Big Brother is in fact watching you, I'm sure he's very bored.
Why do we accuse Big Brother of being more invasive, when it is our requests which cause him to do so? That isn't Big Brother gone mad but his snot nose Little Brother (namely us) who are out of control.

September 21, 2012

Horse 1365 - Boris

Boris Looking Regal - From Instinctmagazine (Without Permission)

I like Boris Johnson. I like Boris as a character, a writer and a thinker; maybe not so much as a politician though.

Boris has been Mayor of London in a period of boom and has ridden the wave of acclaim that comes from holding the Olympic Games to much success. He has also been in oversight of a city which has undertaken a new wave of transport infrastructure building with the construction of Crossrails 1 and 2.
Boris though is an old school Tory, cut from the same cloth as Lord Stanley, Disraeli and Balfour. For this reason, In the 21st Century, he doesn't fit into modern politics all that well, let alone the current Conservative Party. I suspect that he would have fit into a Churchill cabinet nicely because being an older style of conservative, he stands for preserving the grand  institutions which hold pomp and power and preserving the status quo, rather than as the current crop of Tories who would prefer to reduce the scope of government by simply applying the axe to the  budgets of everything under its control. From an academic standpoint of economics he does write about giving firms the freedom to go about their business unimpeded but he writes more about the state being cohesive enough to provide the environment for that to happen.

Polls last week came to the conclusion that if Boris were to win a seat in the Commons and make a tilt for the Premiership, that the Tories would enjoy a groundswell of popularity and win government in their own right.
This unfortunately would mean that Boris is the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is minister without portfolio and thus a Tory Johnson Cabinet would look broadly similar to a Tory Cameron Cabinet, save for Cameron himself probably being Chancellor of the Exchequor. Boris would still be selecting from the same pool of MPs as any other Tory Prime Minister.

Despite being a Tory; who are suffering a current wave of unpopularity (and who could only form government in coalition with the LibDems; following the MP expenses scandal), somehow he has managed to convince the electorate that although he appears eccentric and a bit of a bumbling fool, that underneath he is actually some sort of magnificent master of puppets, when in reality he is really only the head of a statutory legal body; one which just happens to contain "The Square Mile" and thus the vast bulk of economic decisions and power held in the UK. The Olympics themselves were bankrolled by the nation rather than the City.
Boris was also helped somewhat by PR provided by the BBC when he appeared on Have I Got News For You. He was able to do so at the time because he was only a backbench opposition MP who didn't even have a Shadow Cabinet portfolio to look after. Almost like the fable of the grasshopper who sung and danced during the summer, Boris very effectively courted the media and since becoming Mayor of London, his appearances on such programs have been reduced to a trickle. I think that it is not unreasonable that after politics, Boris should move to BBC Radio Four and shows like Just A Minute or I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, much like the late Clement Freud did, when the need to play the media game for political gain will have passed.

Then again, politics has always been about managing PR. Churchill is mainly remembered for his great speeches in the Commons rather than his time in the admiralty when he was responsible for sending thousands of men to be butchered in the Dardenelles and yet history regards him with kindness; whereas history regards  Chamberlain with disdain despite him delaying the war for two years, which was utterly critical at a time when there was no way in 1937 that Britain would have even cone close to defending itself. If the Battle of Britain had been fought in 1938, the RAF would have only have had Fairey Battles at its disposal and not Hurricanes or Spitfires.
History also tends to regard  Macmillan kindly despite Dr Beeching's axe to British Railways which effectively destroyed one of the greatest legacies of the Victorians and which the county is still desperately hurting from half a century later.
History largely doesn't regard statesmen by what they actually did until long after they have passed.

I suspect that Boris will not even  challenge for a seat in the Commons whilst he is still Mayor of London because the PR result from being in a current Tory government would be terrible. It would make sense for him to play the more boring and safer game of patience.
The election in 2015 is far away enough that he could invent some new shiny propaganda campaign (maybe casting himself as a Tory "Third Way" like Tony Blair did with New Labour) and like some valiant knight coming to save the fair maiden of politics, he'd sweep the light fantastic, skid the light fandango and take up residence at Number 10.
Then everyone after a while notice that Boris really is an old school Tory and that nothing would change insofar as much as it would remain exactly the same. A Johnson Premiership would retain the status quo and although nothing new would be done, at least there'd be a new wave of eccentric sound bites on the six o'clock news. If it never happens, Boris will have written himself into history though more for being a character than for the scope of his job, which in the grand scheme of things is materially less than it is made out to be.

September 20, 2012

Horse 1364 - Risk:Legacy - Sorry and Forgiveness

On Saturday night, there were five of us engaged in the game of Risk:Legacy. Normal "vanilla" Risk is a board game where you try to take over the world; games can last up to eight hours if two sides at the end are evenly poised. Risk:Legacy has the added bonus of actions in past games having present consequences.
The thing about games and sports generally is that they don't matter. Unless you actually happen to be gainfully employed as a game or sportsplayer, at the end of it, you go home, or the board is packed away and that's it - line in the sand, Game Over.
Risk:Legacy is a little different in that actions do have consequences but only so far as the game is concerned. Come Monday when you have to go back to work, what happened in a board game is of zero consequence.

This brings me to the word "sorry". Sorry is a word which expresses regret over an injury which has occurred to a person or people, or their property; saying sorry usually implies a request for forgiveness. When Kevin Rudd made his famous "sorry" speech in 2007, he was in effect asking the aboriginal people of Australia for forgiveness on behalf on the nation. Some Aboriginal peoples expressed a wish to hear that word "sorry" precisely because it was an admittance that terrible injuries had been made against them.
Admittedly a board game like Risk can not possibly even hope to compare with the sheer magnitude of something like this and I do not intend to diminish its importance by any stretch of the imagination but it illustrates the point perfectly, the word "sorry" and the simple request for forgiveness contains an almost unbelievable amount of power; used properly it can go towards mending and healing relationships or forging new ones.

A board game like Risk does indeed have injurious acts and circumstances which are exacted on other players, but the thing is that in the context of the game, not only are they acceptable but also, every action undertaken is deliberate. Saying "sorry" is therefore not only meaningless because nobody ever means it but also because ultimately, injuring other players positions is in fact the point of the game. Like chess, Risk is a war game. Also like chess, the reason why you can afford to play much harder and also why its bigger and better than "grown up" games like love and war, is also due to the fact that it is ultimately of zero consequence. In some respects, it is a mark of the highest nobility to play at games of war like Risk, to be laid utterly to waste and be hopelessly defeated and to say "well played" to your fellow players.
For the same reason I like to say "There is no sorry. No-one is sorry for anything... EVER." I would hope that my fellow players of a sport or game would play as hard as they can, as I also hope to do. There is no shame in being defeated on a tabletop or the sporting field.

Forgiveness however is a slightly more spiky concept. After someone has said sorry, they are not automatically forgiven. Forgiveness requires the injured party to set aside their claim for restitution, or in some cases where punishment needs to be exacted, some other willing party to pay the price.
There are of course obvious parallels to be drawn here in that we have caused God an injury of honour by violating His person through lack of respect for Him and His law and forgiveness is brought about in this case because restitution had been made through the death of Christ but the underlying point here is that for this to be exacted, there first has to be an admission of the injury and a request either implied or direct through the act if saying "sorry".
Forgiveness though rests on the fact that the person actually does decide to accept it. If they decide for instance not to forgive someone, then the person who has said sorry is left hanging. Thankfully when it comes to God we are told that  "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us"* so we aren't left hanging at all.

Back to Risk:Legacy, not only is there no sorry and there is no forgiveness, what's weird is that even the game itself does not forget because it carries scars and marks from the injuries which it sustains and they consequently come back to injure you. As far as board games go, I have never seen this mechanic in a game before and I wonder if it is (as yet) unique in this respect.
Risk:Legacy is a game which does not forgive and it does not forget, which either makes it a terrible role model or an accurate life lesson in dealing with most people. The people playing aren't sorry for their actions and nor should they be because they wouldn't play as hard. For these reasons, it's one of the better games out there, unlike "grown up" games like love and war where people who don't say and genuinely aren't sorry, for their actions continue to perpetrate hurt.

*1 John 1:9

September 19, 2012

Horse 1363 - Cutting Education Budgets To Avoid Worse Pain In The Future

"It is tough when you wind back expenditure clearly people are going to react to it, but I say to those individuals, economic conditions are tough. I can't spend money that I don't have. If I do, I'm condemning those students at school now to further deeper cuts in the future."
- Barry O'Farrell, as quoted Sky News, 13th Sep 2012.

I like what the NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell is doing here, he's playing the long game. He knows that cutting $1.7 billion from education budgets will avoid worse pain in the future. Mainly because students in the future won't be so demanding.

BHP's chief executive Marius Kloppers cited that BHP needed to find a "less capital intensive way" of doing business and that "Wages are too high in the entire country and working conditions too generous" when interviewed on 702 ABC Sydney.
Gina Rinehart suggested that "Australia is indeed becoming too expensive and too uncompetitive to do export-orientated business" and ungraciously suggested that African workers are more competitive because they will work for less than $2 a day.
Network Ten's Masterchef judge George Calombaris said that the cost of staff wages was prohibitive and that his restaurants "don't open Sundays because it's not viable" on 720 ABC Perth.

Time and time again we hear that wages in this country are simply too high and that Australian businesses are uncompetitive because of it. This is where Barry O'Farrell has played an uttter masterstroke.

Most people who attend primary and secondary schools can not vote because they are under the age of 18. The same goes for a great deal of TAFE students who are doing apprenticeships and or attending academic studies having just left school. For those students who have only recently left school and are between the ages of 18-24 which is typical, they won't be able to vote in a NSW State Election until 2015 by which stage, they won't actually be in TAFE any more.
Cutting education funding in the short term comes with absolutely no consequence whatsoever because they people who you directly affect will have either moved no or still will not be able to vote; because it comes with no consequence, there is no moral obligation to do otherwise. Moral obligation in politics seems to only extend as far as the ballot box.

In the long term, it makes perfect sense to cut education funding. Cutting education funding reduces and degrades the quality of the labour force in the long run. By degrading the quality of the labour force, it also has the net effect of reducing the bargaining power of future workers who are probably in primary school right now.
Of course the sorts of people who go to TAFE are usually those people from poorer income brackets, so it's probably for the best that they start to learn to accept longer hours, lower pay and reduced conditions now to "avoid worse pain in the future".
By drastically shifting the supply curve for wages to the right a new lower equilibrium price can be established. Shift it far enough and we will be able to compete with Africans on price because there'll be workers here who will settle for less than $2 a day or its future equivalent.

Students in future won't be so demanding and moreover they'll be increasingly ill-informed and hopefully illiterate. Admittedly there needs to be some sort of functional literacy so that people can run machines and file reports but again, these workers will merely blame their employers rather than the government. In that respect, maybe it is a good idea to cut funding from education budgets now because if he survives 2015, I'm sure that he would not want to be premier in 2019 when the ill-informed; illiterate make their anger known at the ballot box.

September 18, 2012

Horse 1362 - The Identity of Doctor Who

For almost half a century, the BBC produced documentary series Doctor Who has been beamed into our portable picture palaces and has well and truly etched its way into our collective consciousness. I think we can take it pretty well much as fact that the BBC has a network of news gatherers throughout our sector of the Milky Way and that the Controllers of the BBC have signed some sort of non-disclosure agreement with the Sub-Sector Government to ensure that Earth doesn't get technology before its time (insofar as time itself is linear and not a wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey ball of stuff as hypermathematics now knows it to be).
We can therefore assume that the person on Doctor Who is only playing at being The Doctor and that the actual Doctor is somewhere on Earth, in relative obscurity. If this is the case, then who amongst the now seven and a bit billion of us is the one person who isn't human? Who of all of us is a ring in?

We can ascertain that The Doctor is likely to be a tinkerer; someone either engaged in a technical or semi-technical field. We also know that because the TARDIS is an old and unreliable "ship", that its owner would have to be meticulous in its maintenance.
The Doctor is often shown on telly as being frequently annoyed at other people either breaking things but he himself is not above hitting things with hammers or pressing buttons of completely unknown function.

It can be pretty much taken as fact that flying the TARDIS requires skill but that because it is a time travel device, its owner would not be all that bothered about arriving late or on time because they could just ad easily change the point in the time stream that they wanted to appear in. Our suspect would therefore be likely to be accused of being tardy and have no conscience in this regard, they may even wear such a tag as an epithet.

The TARDIS itself has had many changes of interface over the years and all of them appear to be outdated for the relative time that they're in. The Doctor himself has stated amongst other things that  Stetson hats, fezes, scarves, ruffs and bow ties are "cool"; so clearly The Doctor is someone who has no fashion sense whatsoever and given the opportunity would probably own a range of downright hideous looking shirts.

Operating the central console of the TARDIS is akin to playing a very complicated instrument. The Doctor doesn't dance but we can assume that after travelling throughout time and space that he has probably picked up a good ear for music. Since the invention of the piano circa 1698, it has become the instrument of default for the majority of composers because of its tonal range and because the word pianoforte means "soft loud", it also is able to carry a lot of the functions of the various voices of a full orchestra.

The documentary series suggests that The Doctor is hiding as someone British because Gallifrey's accents mimic those of the UK. Even The Doctor himself when asked about his accent said that "lots of planets have a north" which I can only assume to mean that Gallifrey through some freaky coincidence (that wobbly-wobbly-timey-wimey thing again) has a set of accents similar to the UK; hence the reason why he'd want to hide there.

So then, we're looking for a fashion illiterate, piano playing, tinkerer who is accused of being late or slow and appears to be British. The only logical candidate in the world then is James May. This also fits together the facts that the BBC doesn't generally shoot episodes of TopGear whilst they're filming Doctor Who for "budgetary reasons".

The jig is up James, you've been ousted... James May is Doctor Who. Matt Smith is just an actor.

No one would knowingly wear shirts that hideous unless they were The Doctor would they?

All the facts fit together. His telly show James May's Man Lab is all about getting out and making things and doing things. No-one else would logically conceive that tinkering with an unexploded German 500 pound bomb was a good idea and there can't be any other reason why he likes to hang about with a person of the species Cricetinae Sapiens (Hamster people) and a companion who likes to use hammers for basic maintenance. He is an incredibly talented piano player and has presented telly programs about all manner of science, technology, toys, pastimes, culture and the decline of mankind. It also makes sense that he'd make a documentary about the moon landings and go to the edge of space in a U2 spy plane, considering that he'd been there before.
I'd also go as far to suggest that in 1963 during the Dalek Invasion of Earth, that he was able to tinker events such that Kennedy was shot just at the right time so that no-one would even notice the seriousness of the situation.

Of course it makes sense that James May is The Doctor. That is the most logical conclusion.

September 13, 2012

Horse 1361 - Leftovers

Traveling hither and yon across Sydney, I tend to write a lot of paragraphs that don't really seem to go anywhere. These are embryonic blog posts that never get completed and in the past these ideas would have simply dissolved into the ether.
This then is a selection of the detritus which has built up before I clear the rubbish:

- The thing with these conspiracy theories is that most of them suggest that the moon landings  took place in a studio. That for me is even more unbelievable.
They put a studio on the moon?!

- I'm wondering what other sorts of films could be made with supergroups of actors.
Take Nicholas Cage, Christopher Walken, Patrick Stewart and Sean Connery and put them all in the same film. There'd be more cheese than a fondue set.
Maybe add The Stig, I'm not exactly sure what he'd do but it doesn't matter because The Stig can walk into any film he feels like.

- Barry's 20 year transport plan plays the skillful gambit of having three prongs to the trident.
1. Being over 20 years, he'll be either long gone from politics or dead by the time that the expiry date of the policy has elapsed; thus removing him from all responsibility.
2. Initial build dates of the projects announced don't occur until after the next election, which either means that if his government isn't returned he can blame the other side for not implementing the plan, or if his government is returned, he can still claim that they're still within the time frame. Either way it removes him from all responsibility.
3. The good and fair people of NSW have heard so many of these plans over the years that we simply don't believe them anymore. If the people of NSW expect failure from the outset then it doesn't put any pressure on the government to carry out it's plans; thus it removes him from all responsibility.

- Time is one of those things that we can observe but have no real adequate explanation for. Why does it relative to our perception only seem to flow one way? If we actually could see it go the other way, could we for instance unbake a cake?

- When the Commodore does finally suffer the chop, since the whole lineup will be made by Chevrolet, Detroit would probably be looking over its shoulder and wondering why the lion shouldn't just be replaced with the gold bow tie.

- It seems pretty obvious to me that if science itself only hinges on what can be observed, then everything beyond that scope doesn't by default not exist. Radioactivity and magnetism can not be felt within our bodies and yet they permeate throughout the universe. Moreover did radioactivity simply not exist before 1850? What of physical things which did exist but were unobserveable? I'm reasonably sure that kangaroos existed before Cook landed at Botany Bay in 1770.
Obviously we must occupy some point in say the 7th or 8th dimensions and yet we can only really observe things in maybe five or six.
All of this assumes automatically that the entire of existence only exists in the physical realm. Logically it is not impossible for things, beings, us even, to exist in spiritual dimensions and not really be able to observe them. If we can not observe any more than the half dozen physical dimensions we occupy, then how can we possibly hope to rule out the possibility that spiritual dimensions exist? Once that door of doubt is left even a crack open then to rule out that possibility entirely is to deny logic itself.

- Even in the days of the late Thatcher and early Major governments, they were still referring to "thirteen millions" being spent on the M53. Why did the plural of million change from "millions" to "million" in such cases?

- Then again green trousers were perfectly fine for Babar, King of the Elephants.

- If graffiti is truly the manifestation of artists, then where is the artistic value in writing "Akix" a few hundred times from Croydon to Petersham?

- The Queensland Space Program would consist of 9 blokes in a garage with an esky, the probe itself would be made out of a few XXXX Gold cans (because they ain't wasting the real stuff in space) and it would be beaming back the message 'QUEENSLANDER' every eight seconds. The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico would think it was life from another planet... maybe.

- I am 100% convinced that world food production combined is easily more than enough to provide for all the world's population comfortably. I would suggest that the reason that it does not comes back to the same old issues of greed, profit, greed, logistics, greed, pure hatred of certain peoples and greed.

- Justin Bieber and One Direction are this generation's Hanson, Backstreet Boys, East 17, Monkees and Elvis. Yes I know that Elvis eventually learned how to play a guitar but the truth is that he couldn't when he started and wasn't really a technical singer either. The girls liked him... just like they do with Justin Bieber and One Direction.
The actual goodness of the product is practically irrelevant.

- Gambling is a voluntary tax paid by the stupid.

- The Mars Curiosity Rover is able to do its job in peace because it isn't interrupted by its friends sending it messages on Facebook.
'LOL rocks. Dude I am so lost.'

- Can you imagine if cats actually were voted into parliament. The Chamber Rod would need to be retro-fitted with a scooper for cleaning up poos, there would be a Minister for Sleepytime and Naps (with a distinction made at law) and cat calls such as were once made to Penny Wong in an estimates committee would have to be taken to mean that someone was trying to contact the Member for Forrest.

I don't know exactly what all this garbled mass of gibberish says about me. I must admit that when Mrs Rollo asks that question "what are you thinking?", I'd like to be able to answer with something profound, deep and romantic but the truth is that this is what I actually usually am thinking about.
Now then, about that studio on the moon...

September 12, 2012

Horse 1360 - Occupy Failure

I return to the 1899 work of Thorstein Veblen,  "The Theory of the Leisure Class" (see Horse 1358) because I think that this book held within its pages, an adequate explanation of why the Occupy movement has thus far failed so comprehensively and why it was doomed to fail from the beginning.
However, before we look at Veblen, we need to start with something smellier, something even more raw, something fundamental. Therefore, we start out this essay with one of Adam Smith's basic premises:
“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages” 
- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Vol 1 (1776)

The Occupy movement was begun by the Canadian group, the Adbusters Media Foundation and was at the time inspired by the Arab Spring. They say of themselves that:
“We are a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age. Our aim is to topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way we will live in the 21st century.”
- Adbusters website -

Given Occupy's aim to topple existing power structures and Adam Smith's suggestion that people are driven with regard to their own self-interest, it would therefore follow that either Occupy had intended to do something about how power was organised, or perhaps replace the people in existing power structures with new people and modes of thinking or more likely themselves; again Veblen addresses this:
"The reason we will not have a revolution in America is that the lower classes do not want to overthrow their managers but to join them."
-  Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899)

This of course poses a problem. The actual real power structures which exist in industrialised nations, exists not the legislatures of the land but in the board rooms of corporations and to a slightly lesser degree, lies with the ownership of those corporations. Corporations and the Company is where the four basic economic questions are asked. Namely:
1. What goods and services should the economy produce?
2. How should goods and services in the economy be produced?
3. Who should receive the goods and services produced?
4. How should the economy provide for growth? 
Unfortunately the vast majority of people who live in a nation never ultimately ask these questions directly except through the mechanisms of selling their labour and using their wages/salaries in the purchase of the goods and services being produced by the economy. People's real wages are usually their only real bargaining chip in the economy and ergo the power of that economy.

The thing is though that real wages in the United States (and I use the example of the United States because that is where the Occupy movement has primarily had any influence albeit incredibly minor)  have been falling since 1972. It seems that with real wages falling therefore, that labour itself is being punished and that the relationship of enterprise and labour is returning to a state similar to that of the mid to late Victorian period.
Veblen writes that:
"The actitivites of the moneyed class are given society's stamp of approval. Labour by contrast us regarded as undignified even by the people who perform it."

If you want to talk about class warfare and by inference the excercise of power within the existing power structures then surely that is an expression of that just there. Of course we like to view ourselves as living in more enlightened times and surely such expressions of contempt can not be found today, or can they?

"If you're jealous of those with more money, don't just sit there and complain. Do something to make more money yourself - spend less time drinking or smoking and socialising, and more time working.
Become one of those people who work hard, invest and build, and at the same time create employment and opportunities for others."
- Gina Rinehart, as quoted in The Australian, 30 Aug 2012

Or maybe:
"Furthermore, Africans want to work and its workers are willing to work for less than $2 per day; Such statistics make me worry for this country's future."
- Gina Rinehart, as quoted in The Daily Telegraph, 5 Sep 2012

Such contempt of workers and labour generally appears both incredibly churlish and mean spirited but also ignorant if the fact that the employment of labour is to some degree what gave her her fantastic wealth in the first place. It is as almost as though she had read Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management and taken the suggestion that "abuse of servants" should be taken as an instruction.
2153. It is the custom of “Society” to abuse its servants,—a faon de parler, such as leads their lords and masters to talk of the weather, and, when rurally inclined, of the crops...
Young men at their clubs, also, we are told, like to abuse their “fellows,” perhaps not without a certain pride and pleasure at the opportunity of intimating that they enjoy such appendages to their state.
- Isabella Beeton, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1865)

Given the contempt and disdain which enterprise has for labour, why then isn't there a modern political revolt by the labour classes as there was in the late nineteen and early twentieth centuries? These political movements even lend the name of Labour itself to political parties in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and formerly in places like Canada and America itself before the ideals died off.

It seems that Veblen's suggestion that  "the lower classes do not want to overthrow their managers but to join them" may hold more of a ring of truth than he envisaged. We saw in the riots across England and in particular London in 2011, not a sense that people wanted to change the system of power or indeed that the system itself was broken; nor did it appear that anything was going to be done about it. People seemed to be more interested in the material trappings of the upper class (mainly plasma screen TVs and lots of trainers) than any real desire to enact change.

I think that the Occupy movement has generally failed for precisely the same reason. Instead of the creation of a new political party, which given the presidential elections later this year in November, would have seen actual pressure been brought to bear, it dissipated.
Occupy in the United States should be fielding a candidate against Obama and Romney, it should be running for congress, it should be, well... occupying the political institutions which it sought to change. The mechanics of most modern democracies are such that that requires installing people on the floors of legislatures.
The mechanics of most modern power structures when it comes to an economic bent is such that it requires installing people on the boards of companies. Occupy should have been setting up collective investment schemes to buy shares and the seats on boards of companies that go with them. Occupy did none of those things.
Instead Occupy did exactly as I suggested it would 11 months ago in Horse 1135.
Occupy became a but a walking shadow, a poor player, that strutted and fretted his hour upon the stage and then was heard no more. It was a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury... Signifying nothing.

September 09, 2012

Horse 1359 - California - Farewell, Promised Land

After much discussion on forum boards people think that my assessment of the 2012 Presidential race is mostly correct save for California. That westerly of states defies so much of American history that explanation is required.
California right up until the end of Reagan's Presidency more or less always voted Republican. This I suppose was in reaction to the then Southern Democrats who usually won elections south of the Mason-Dixon Line. During the terms of LBJ, JFK and Nixon, California blinked red-blue-red and remained red up until Clinton when it flipped and has remained blue ever since.

The reasons for this change in the last 30 years seem to be demographically obvious. California has a largish Hispanic population towards the south and places like Angeles have either staunchly Democrat voting Black communities or in the case of San Francisco, a socially "liberal" demographic and the capital Sacremento itself, has a tendency to swing either red or blue at a whim.
On a county by county basis, the 2008 Presidential Election showed a blue tendancy down the coast.
However, go to the other side of Interstate 5 which is like a giant sort of spine running through the state and you find that most counties vote Republican.

The big problem with trying to predict the future based on past performance though is that it's a bit like trying to fly backwards. You can see where you've been but not where you're going.
California at state level is racked with a crippling amount of debt ($386 billion). Although they have chosen a Democrat state Governor in Jerry Brown, this was in reaction to previous Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. At a national level, only this week the debt passed the $16 trillion mark. Indeed it is largely symbolic and the scope of a fourteen digit number is beyond the comprehension of most people but the fact is that whoever is encumbent when debt announcements are made usually suffers in the polls as voters decide on change for change's sake. The United States to less of a degree than Australia will tend to try to "punish" the party in government at state or federal level by voting for their opposite in at the alternate level. As a rule this is insensible but on a booth by booth basis, there is a statistical tendancy for it.

Unemployment nationally now stands at 8.3% and whilst this is only a raw statistic, the real world side of it is that people don't have jobs and find it increasingly hard to make ends meet. Add to this the utterly woeful state of health care in the United States generally (if you do not have a full time job), Obama's failure to pass the legislation he intended and many black voters especially in urban areas may feel as though their kid has failed them. Rather than vote for the opposition as per Australia because voting isn't compulsory in the United States, this might result in lower voter turnout.
Pair this with a toxic media environment, in which politics itself is reduced to a slanging match and a bizzarely strange state of affairs where the religious right are whipped into a frenzy every four years with the mere mention of the code words "abortion" and "gay marriage" and the environment is laid out for a higher than normal Republican turnout at the polls.

Don't get me wrong, I think that it will be a close run thing. Obama hit statewide results of 61-37 in '08. In '12 I suspect that neither Obama nor Romney will achieve more than half the vote. I think that California will vote Obama in the range 46-48 and Romney between 47-49. This very much allows for blend and the margin of victory could well be within 50000 statewide.
The places where the change will come will be in urban areas in LA and south towards the Mexican border; especially in and around San Diego.

The thing is though that California is a "winner takes all" state. Even if the margin of victory was a single vote, California sends 55 votes to the Electoral College. In that respect it acts like a single member constituency but unlike say a parliament where a single member makes very little difference, it is a bloc vote; just the single state of California will make the total number of Electoral College votes swing like a gate on a hinge.
California in essence is like a "6 point" fixture in English Football or the second Bledisloe match in rugby. It isn't enough to determine the outcome an election season but it is critical in and of itself to be very very important.

With an increasing sense of discontent with Washington generally and a sort of negligence by both parties to address Californian issues (because it's basically assumed to be a Democrat stronghold), I wouldn't be surprised if California flipped to red under people's noses and ergo why Romney will be president.
Or to quote a much older adage "Oppositions don't win elections so much as governments lose them". The Republicans are currently in effect the opposition to a Democrat presidency and I think that Obama has lived through an economic storm. Since the commander-in-chief of the United States and the place where "the buck stops" is Obama, Romney will be president but not because he will have done enough to win the presidency but because Obama will have lost it and specifically in California.

September 06, 2012

Horse 1358 - Pod Machine Coffee and Veblen

I find it fascinating and amusing that Nestle in particular has managed to hoodwink people into making coffee in machines which cost upwards of $170 fashionable and locked purchasers of said machines into buying sub standard coffee at premium rates.

The term in economics for these sorts of goods is Veblen Goods; named after the economist Thorstein Veblen who first wrote about such goods, conspicuous consumption and status-seeking by consumers in his 1899 treatise "The Theory of the Leisure Class".

Veblen Goods are goods which defy the usual trend of demand. Usually people will tend to want to buy more of a good as the price drops. If say tomatoes are on special, consumers will on the whole want to take advantage of conditions whilst their money has greater purchasing power and they will tend to purchase more tomatoes.
Likewise as the price for a good goes up, people will tend to want to buy less of them. After Cyclone Yasi ripped through Queensland in 2010, a lot of the banana crop was totally destroyed and consequently due to bananas relative scarcity, they were supplied at higher prices.
The problem is that consumers don't particularly want to pay higher prices and so the quantity of bananas demanded fell. Bananas are a perishable good and instead of this causing a glut as is the case with most goods and services, a lot of the bananas on supermarket shelves simply rotted and were thrown away.

Veblen Goods on the other hand defy general demand rules in that as price goes up, bizarrely, the quantity demanded also goes up.
The classic example of this was Rolls-Royce in the 1970s. Mercedes-Benz produced the 450 SEL 6.9 during the middle of an oil crisis. At the time it became the world's most expensive car at £38,000 (£168,000 in 2012 terms) . Rolls-Royce responded, not by producing a better appointed or more technologically advanced car, but by simply upping the price of their Silver Shadow II from £35,000 to £40,000 just so they'd have the most expensive car in the world. Perversely, they sold more cars at the higher price.
There is also the story of the iPhone app called "I am Rich" which served no purpose whatsoever but cost $999.99. Amazingly they still managed to sell such a pointless application even though it conferred no benefit to the purchaser, save for having an icon and a splash screen reminding them that they'd spent the money.

According to Thorstein Veblen:
The rich are primarily concerned with wasteful expenditures in order to impress others with their material wealth. They busy themselves with "conspicious consumption".

The thing is with Pod Machine coffee, it really is no different to instant coffee with flavour additives. Pop the top of the pod, and you don't actually need the Pod Machine to make coffee.
The difference between Pod Machine coffee and espresso coffee from a Moka Pot is that because water in a Pod Machine is forced under pressure through the pod, a crema develops on top of the coffee, whereas with drip coffee or a Moka Pot the pressure is either nil or not enough to produce the effect. A Moka Pot will develop the full flavour of the coffee but that is a function of the water being superheated to just over 100°C.

I note that the sorts of people likely to buy a Pod Machine are those people who are vivacious and bubbly and more likely to have people over for coffee anyway. This means to suggest that the benefit conferred by the Pod Machine is the ability to brag and/or be big noted for having the machine. If this is true then a Pod Machine is an aspirational or status good and it might be also true that the people who buy said machines actually don't know that much about coffee anyway. These sorts of people probably buy flavoured and syrupy coffee at Starbucks. I had something to say about that in Horse 1192.

It seems otherwise strange to me as to why you'd want to pay more than $109/kg for coffee when you can buy bricks of Lavazza or Segafredo at the supermarket. Also if you really wanted expensive estate coffee which is produced on a small scale (usually only one plantation) then you'd buy the beans and grind them yourself, although people who do that are just as easily likely to have a full espresso machine and they can sell for over a thousand dollars anyway.
Nespresso use George Clooney in their adverts and to be honest I don't know which movies he's been in but I'm willing to bet that he probably wouldn't either own a Pod Machine or be that impressed by the coffee made by them.

Pod Machine coffee represents the very definition of a Veblen good. Conspicuous? Yes. Status-seeking? Most certainly. Demand which goes upwards as the price goes up? Curiously yes. And all of this for a product which after is all said and done, a hot beverage.
I though about certain fizzy drinks to come up with a more blatant example of a Veblen good but sadly, I failed... aw well:

September 03, 2012

Horse 1357 - 2012 Presidential Prediction

Political writers and pundits in the US like to bang on about "swing states" based on pre-polling surveys but I think that this US Presidential campaign will be won and lost on the decision of just two states, namely Florida and California.

Owing to the way that the voting system works, votes are weighted on a state by state basis through something called the Electoral College, with more Electoral College votes allocated to the more populous states. There are 538 in total with 269 required for majority and hence to win office. For the 2012 election, California gets 55 electoral college votes and Florida gets 28.
Because Electoral College votes are usually allocated on a winner takes all basis for a state, winning a state has the result that votes are not won by the opposition. If we use the 2008 results as a basis for predicting the result of 2012, then this is what I think will happen. I will however place a caveat on this.
The big problem that I have in trying to pick a result this far out is that depending on the news source, the poll results tend to be self-serving and biased. Finding a truly objective picture is somewhat difficult.

After looking at surveys in the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, PBS, the BBC and AC Nielsen, I took a simple tally and came up with a total picture. I then plugged those numbers into PBS's handy predictor and came up with this:

Based on the 2008 results with the redistrubured electoral college numbers, Obama would be on 347 and Romney would be on 191.
Since 2008, Florida has elected republican Rick Scott to be its Governor; given that Florida has an increasingly disenchanted Hispanic population who in '08 voted for Obama but in '12 probably will not bother to turn out, Florida is likely to flip to red.
California is a strange thing. After the former Republican Govenor Arnold Schwarzenegger ended his term, Californians elected Democrat Jerry Brown who has previously been Govenor from 1975-83. The thing is though that California as a state is suffering from lack of infrastructure and a mounting debt crisis; because people have a tendancy to want to "punish" political parties by voting the opposite party into federal politics, Californians are likely to also flip to red.

Assuming every other state in the Union voted exactly the same way as it did in 2008 (which isn't likely, given that the American people are angry at government and are more likely not to turn out to vote), then just these two states flipping would be enough to put Obama on 263 and Romney on 275 and thus the Presidency.

Personally I think that a Romney presidency is worse for the world at large, because I can conceivably see him taking the country to war against Iran for reasons yet to be invented, so this is more of a dispassionate expectation of what will happen than what I'd like.
And to be honest, as someone who isn't American, doesn't live there and doesn't vote, what I'd like is worth bupkiss.