October 31, 2012

Horse 1391 - ACT Now!

The ACT election has thrown up the result of Labor with 8 seats, the LNP with 8 seats and The Greens with 1 seat in the ACT Legislative Assembly. Most commentators would see that the Green member would join Labor in a coalition to form government but they equally could do so with the LNP in theory.
There is a third option which I'd find more favourable and fun and that is the idea of a Unity Government, with all members forming government.

Due to the way that the Westminster System operates. there is almost always the government and an official opposition. In NSW at the moment where the Labor Party suffered a wipeout to such a degree, it is debateable as to what the actual point of having an opposition is at all, for they ate unable to push even slight changes on legislation brought before the house but this isn't really in the scope of this post.
In most lower houses of Westminster parliaments, there government and opposition usually spend a great deal of time basically ripping into each other and that's partly as a result of the mechanics of adversarial politics. Really it acts like a perpetual divorce case, or the two sets of supporters and ultras at a football match. They yell, rant and chant cant at each other and then go home.
It makes for interesting radio and I suppose does provide ten second sound bites for the news but I don't know if it improves the political discourse or dialogue of the country; nor do I think that it necessarily solves problems all that well.

In a Unity Government because all members on the floor would be in the government, they would select the cabinet from all available members and to a far greater degree would have to argue through the merit of legislation rather than the usual slanging match down party lines. This isn't to suggest that those forces within the parliament would somehow magically disappear but I think that the acidity of the dialogue would be toned down.

The very idea of party politics has been going on for millennia. There were arguments based on party and factional lines in the Roman Senate; so I don't see it going away in a hurry.
In Westminster herself though, as little as 150 years ago, when the difference in ideology of the parties was significantly different (about the time of Peel, Russell, Canning, Lord Melbourne), members on the floor were far more erratic in how closely they associated with the government. Sitting members of the government would more freely cross the floor in both directions. Even in the first decade in the Australian parliament, before Labor and the Conservative parties squared off, there were Protectionist Party, Anti-Socialist Party and Free Trade members who regularly added colour to proceedings.
If we look at multi party parliaments like Belgium or Italy, there is a pulling and pushing of forces which shapes legislation to a far greater degree than in the regimented world of strict two party politics that Westminster parliaments have a strong tendency to produce. Even in the UK currently where there should be a vociferous LibDem voice railing against the Tories with whom they share government in coalition, they have almost respectfully fallen silent.

It seems a little odd that two party politics which results in a great deal many more words being said, results in a narrowing of voices. Personally I think that parliaments work best when there is a bigger plurality of voices all adding spice to the pot.
I suspect that the Greens will form government in the ACT with Labor but I'm not sure if that is even best for the ACT. Stable government does help a state/nation/local council etc. achieve practical outcomes and allows both the supply and administration of government to continue but again I ask what we want from our parliaments. Do we want mere administrators? Do we want parliaments which sort things out? How does that sit in relation to say, the proposed changes in the  ACT Human Rights Act or Public Transport usage?

 Do we want dialogue that has more than just two voices?

October 30, 2012

Horse 1390 - The Sword of Damocles - Falls on Holden?

BUENOS ARIES, Argentina – General Motors will invest $450 million between 2013 and 2015 to expand its Rosario Automotive Complex to build an all-new global Chevrolet vehicle, Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said Wednesday.
Akerson was joined by Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; GM South America President Jaime Ardila; and GM Argentina President Isela Costantini.
“This new model to be based on a global platform will run in addition to the models we are currently manufacturing in our plant and will allow us to supply the regional and domestic market with even more high-quality, high value Chevrolet products,” Costantini said.  “It is a huge vote of confidence for the entire GM Argentina team and the country.”
- GM Media Release, 24th October 2012.

A wiser man than me said that where one's treasure lies, there their heart would be also. If you want to follow the intentions of someone, merely follow the money. This announcement by General Motors is a signal of intent, which should put the Australian arm on notice because the Australian arm are probably surplus to requirements.

Because "this new model" is "to be based on a global platform", we need to look at which global platform is logical and eligible  The only global platform not currently tied up in 2014 is the Zeta which underpins the Holden Commodore and the Chevrolet Camaro.
This announcement ties in perfectly with the end of the model cycle of the Holden Commodore and due to the scale of the investment, it can be assumed will be the end of GM manufacturing in Australia.
This announcement is basically a death warrant for the Australian car industry, because without GM and Ford who are hesitant to continue the Falcon, there will be no underlying service and parts industry.

Given that the Commodore was already suffering from flagging sales and lost its top spot quite some time ago (the Falcon isn't even in the top ten anymore), there really isn't any point renewing the model cycle when average earnings of a full-time worker in Australia are about A$69,000 a year but in Argentina it's about 78,000 Pesos or about A$15,900 a year.

“Local car makers face tough economic conditions with the high Australian dollar, higher prices and disruption in the local supply base and increasing competition and segmentation in the market,” 
- George Kapitelli, GM Media release, 7th May 2012.

The fact that wages are higher in Australia and that the dollar itself is being propped up by the "dig stuff out of the ground" sector, the idea that manufacturing anything in Australia is fast becoming both a pipe dream and a hazy memory. Manufacturing cars is a very capital intensive occupation and the decision to invest not quite half a billion dollars should not be seen as a mistake; it is quite deliberate. Like any other firm, General Motors is looking to cut input costs and it would appear that the attractiveness of lower wages and probably a greater degree of funding assistance from the Argentine Government, makes this decision a no brainer.

It should be noted that the Australian Government pumped $275 million into the Australian arm of General Motors and to be honest, I don't think anything close to that has even been returned in taxation let alone any attempt made to pay any of it back.
In my opinion, I think that the Australian people have been shafted by Detroit again and I'd like to see the Australian Government sue the company for every cent.

As it is, every single car apart from the Commodore and Combo Van are Chevrolets with the bow-tie removed and a lion tacked in its place. There is no real reason for Holden to even exist anymore apart from cultural reasons and the fact that the Commodore which is still built here, holds some sort of place in the nation's psyche. Holden never can seem to guarantee that they are going to continue for more than a few years and this announcement by GM, I'd suggest with almost absolute certainty is an end to the mystification.

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin...

October 25, 2012

Horse 1389 - FF Is The Best Number

I was fiddling with the modem last night because we again had a line dropout, and I found myself in that magical land of nostalgia when it started doing self-checks and counting in Hex.
For those of us who still remember the days of reel to reel and tape drives on computers, hex code is one of those little windows into the past and the hidden and scary world of the machine's brain.

Everyone by now knows that a computer uses binary, which is a fancy way of saying that it is made of switches that can either be on or off, 0 or 1. However even in a four switch machine (four bit) the length of numbers gets very long; very quickly.
0000 is 0, 0001 is 1, 0010 is 2 etc. but if were to write 10 we get 1010, 13 is 1101 and 15 is 1111. When we get to 16 we need another digit.
In hex though 10 becomes A, 13 is D and 15 is F. In hex, a single digit can discreetly refer to a group of four binary digits and that is incredibly useful.
Take for example the IP address It is three groups of numbers all with 256 positions. In hex it becomes B0.A8.00.01 which instantly tells you the binary string in short hand.
1100 0000,1010 0100, 0000 0000, 0000 0001
That is a string of digits which is 32 characters long, and it sort of shows why a decimal broken into packets is still not as useful as the values in hex. If you were to compound the problem with ever increasing binary strings such as the switch from 8 bit to 16, 32, 64 bit computing and beyond, decimal becomes increasingly useless if you want to look at discreet packets or binary strings.

The modem was busy counting to itself with a hex counter which I imagine was 32 characters long (I didn't bother to count the actual number) and I could see it work its way up the line ticking off numbers and then A-F before ticking over the next digit.
I used to see this all the time on my old Vic-20 had an amazing 18KB expansion box which aided loading times no end but I've generated text files bigger than that and I suspect that the modem itself probably has computing power many orders of magnitude greater than it but it was still sort of like returning to an old country house which has been long forgotten.

We just don't see hex codes much any more. GUIs mean that stuff sits deep behind shiny sliding things and as we progressively become less curious, shiny sliding things will hide more and more stuff from us. Don't believe me? Check out Windows 8. Better yet, imagine the future through looking at television and film. Both Captain Kirk and Dave Bowman spoke to their respective computers.
We still do occasionally meet hex codes though, when picking colours on a computer. The value #000000 says to me that there are three sets of paired four digit binary bits and all of them are off. #FFFFFF is pure white which makes sense since it is the addition of red, green and blue colours, with all binary bits in the on position. Incidentally.the regular decimal number for that is 16,777,215 which apart from being a big number, bears no real relationship to what it represents, whereas every F is 1111, and there are six sets of those.

Looking back in all seriousness, my actual favourite number when playing with computers was 255 or to be more precise FF. Tape drive computers would sometimes have a little counter to tell you how far along they were in loading a program. FF in hex is 1111 1111 and an 8 bit counter can not hold a number bigger than that. After FF came along and showed its face in the screen after maybe ten minutes, came the fun of throwing newspapers at old ladies in Paper Boy; watching Godzilla, King Kong and Mothra smash buildings and eating people in Rampage; or best of all, trying to beat Brazol with Engled or Germiny* in Super Soccer.

I guess that the closest people mostly get to the joy of FF in computing now, is a percentage bar which fills up when installing or downloading things. That seems more to me like being at a party and someone is offering champagne - "Would you care for a champagne?" "Yes, I can't think why not" - and then the computer goes away and does its little update dance; meanwhile you continue to have a jolly time.**
It certainly isn't like installing Windows or Office where the estimated time to finish bounces around more than a rabbit going up and down inside a beach ball on a jumping castle in an elevator.*** I'm sure that those numbers bear no resemblance to reality.

*According to the game Super Soccer  the capital of Engled was Londen, Germiny was Bon and next to Germiny was Bad Germiny.
**I imagine that this is what happens at these parties. Until someone yells "There's been a murder" and we all blame the gruff gentleman who always turns out not to have done it.
*** If anyone wants to perform this experiment, then feel free. I'm sure that it would be worth at least a million hits on YouTube.

October 24, 2012

Horse 1388 - Pay By The Kilometre, or, Let's Tax The Oiks More

"The road to hell is paved with good intentions"
- Old Proverb
"It is? Why doesn't it have a toll on it yet?"
- The Current NSW State Government


To reduce congestion, imagine the government charged by the kilometre
- By Professor David Hensher. First published in The Conversation. 12 October 2012

Professor David Hensher, the founding director of the Institute of Transport and Logistic Studies at Sydney University, has again submitted his scheme to Infrastructure NSW, to charge motorists 5c/km rather than the existing registration system because he believes it will cut the amount of traffic congestion. I think that this is a top idea and will do its part in smashing oiks, which I can only assume is the point of the plan.

A pay-as-you drive scheme sounds perfectly reasonable on the basis that if you use the roads more, then you should pay more. It's then important to realise who the actual burden of paying such a tax if it were to be implemented would happen to fall on though.

The people who need to drive the furthest distances are obviously those people who live the furthest away from where they need to go. If you need to drive to work, then the people who tend to live the furthest away from work are those people who tend to earn less in the first place.
If you earn less, you tend to be living somewhere where house prices and rents are cheaper. Moreover, the less well to do areas tend to be on the fringes of the city where services aren't as developed and where rents are cheaper. Market forces with are such that properties which are able to command higher prices (or if you happen to be stupid enough to rent, presumably because you were pathetic enough not to be able to buy property in the first place), are properties which are closer to existing infrastructure like schools, shops and buses and railways, which by virtue of living further away from you'd also be charged more to get to.
This is just if you happen to live on the fringes of Sydney. If you live outside of the Sydney metro reason where distances can be massive (because most of Australia is just mind-numbing miles of nothingness) then you'll be asked to pay a tax for something which you don't even cause.
If there are exemptions for living outside of the Sydney metro, then I have no choice to assume that this is a tax designed to specifically burden poorer people. I don't have a problem with that but let's call it for precisely what it is, an attack by an evil government. This is Mr O'Farrell trying to exact tribute without service.

Never mind the fact that there already is an effective pay-as-you-drive system, with excises and GST being charged on petrol and diesel. This also explains why people out in the west and south-west are more likely to drive smaller cars than the luxo-barges and baby-carrying-tanks which I see near where I work.

The irony behind all of this is that the people who actually need to travel the least amount by road, also happen to be the best connected by public transport. It is my experience that the people living closer to the city and who would be paying the least amount of tax because of it, are also the people who could most afford to pay it. It is a strange irony that three of the four richest suburbs of Sydney also happen to have both a railway line and several bus routes running right through them; yet the people who live in those suburbs are less likely to use them for fear of accidentally getting the smell of oik on them.

You'd think that the solution to traffic congestion would be something like improving public transport, say, installing a train line. A peak hour train removes 2000 cars from the road. You'd also think that the self-appointed Minister FOR Western Sydney would have listened to the people of Western Sydney, especially those the the north west who have more or less given up trying to ask the Government (of both colours) to listen because it really is like bashing you're head against a brick wall.
When originally asked what sort of infrastructure the people of Western Sydney wanted, one survey said that they most wanted heavy rail. Instead they were given the M2, then the road was tolled, they then got a second motorway to nowhere in the M7 which was also tolled, despite the survey saying that they would have preferred a railway line in the first place.

There are a few other things which specifically make this proposal a tax on oiks. It mentions that the tax would only apply during the peak. It has the dual effect of specifically taxing oiks who want to go to work but also lets people drive for pleasure untaxed, how very delightful. Someone in a can-kicking oiky job will pay for the privilege of having the gall to drive to work, whereas some man in a suit in an office is allowed to take a lovely jaunt on the weekend, maybe through wine country, without paying the tax.
There is a neat little peculiarity in income taxation laws which allows motor expenses to be claimed as a tax deduction but the costs of getting to work are not an allowable deduction. Every accountant knows that 95% of car usage by most businessmen actually has nothing to do with generating an income or is simply the cost of driving to work but the ATO isn't seriously going to audit everyone because the costs of doing so would be hideous. As far as the NSW State Government is concerned, that would entirely be a Federal issue and not even remotely their concern at all.

I reckon that it's even odds or better that Professor Hensher lives in a postcode with a number less than 2100, and perhaps also likely that he lives in a postcode with a number less than 2050. This means that he personally lives in an area which would be nicely connected to either a railway line or a very nice bus network.
He also happens to work at Sydney University which is only a short walk from the second most connected railway station in NSW, as well as being serviced by buses which run down Broadway down one side and City Road down the other.
With such a cosseted existence, it would be easy to make the mistake that everywhere in Sydney is as well connected to public transport, without bothering to do proper research. Also being from Sydney University, he probably doesn't get very many oiks lectures because the really properly oiky students either went to UWS if they could afford to go to university at all.

So in future as I sit in another drain of a motorway doing a paltry 7km/h, which was built because Infrastructure NSW didn't build a railway line again, I'll pay my oiky tax as a penalty for having the cheek to live further away from work; meanwhile I'll take pride in the fact that at the weekend a better class of people will be able to go on oh so lovely and pretty drives in the country tax free.

Horse 1387 - What did we pay for? Can we UNpay for it?

Can someone please explain the logic of the Australian Government spending more than twenty five million dollars for a seat on the UN Security Council? It's not like it's even a permanent seat either.

Being on the security council it was suggested by Ms Gillard on ABC Local Radio on Friday (19th Oct), would bolster Australia's image on the world stage and better position Australia in the future but it still wasn't made clear exactly what that position was, is and will be, or more importantly why Australia needed to spend the money to be there.
The only thing that I can think of is that somewhere in the corridors of power, someone was passing love notes, namely America, and this was done to either even up the number of favourable seats on the UN Security Council, or because they'd like a friendly voice in the UN Security Council to help justify the next war that they're planning (which I think will be with Iran in either 2014 or 2018 depending on the results of the current Presidential election).

Let's not sugar coat this, despite the myth that we've been forced to swallow for the past 65 years, Australia is not the 51st State of America as the media sometimes likes to portray it. Bush and Blair spoke of the "special relationship" which the US and the UK (51) have, US foreign policy has for almost the entire of the 21st century thus far been about smashing Arabic countries because of a commitment to Israel (52) and even China (53?) gets more said about it than Australia does. If anything we're probably also less important than Puerto Rico (54) and manufacturing in Mexico (55) and Canada (56). This ranks Australia as number 57 or possibly 58 if you also include the importance of the EU.
Even though Australia ranks so lowly in America's thoughts, we've sent troops to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq ('90), Afghanistan and Iraq ('03). Dead Australians lie strewn around the globe because big brother America said "jump" and we asked "how high?".
If you want proof of just how unimportant Australia is in the eyes of Big Brother, when Obama became president, he promised to visit Australia. That was in 2008 while Kevin Rudd was still the Prime Minister and it didn't happen until November 2011, by which time we'd had another federal election.

So I find it a little bit strange after 61 years since ANZUS was signed and America started telling us what to do, to think that the Australian Government should need or even want to sit on the UN Security Council. Is it prestige, or perhaps Bob Carr likes the corn relish that goes with the chicken crimpy biscuits that they have there, or something else? I can't imagine that it is to do with actually saying anything on the world stage because that would be like us growing a backbone and we certainly cannot have that. For more than three times my lifetime, Australia has had a decidedly invertebrate foreign policy; during that time we have switched big brothers though.

The thing is though, it need not be this way. After the First World War, the Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes travelled to Paris for the conferences to do with Germany being asked politely to pay for the war. Hughes was a upstart; larrikin of a man who was also a little bit deaf. During the conferences, if there was something he didn't like, he'd pretend not to have heard it and cheekily made people repeat what they'd said or rather made people change what they'd said until he got what he liked. I seriously doubt whether any modern Australian diplomat would have the audacity to do such a thing now. The US President, Woodrow Wilson, was offended by Hughes' demands at the conference for a mandate over New Guinea; Hughes' basically told Wilson where to do and probably gave him the money for the bus fare to get there.

No, I suspect that the reason why Australia wanted a seat on the UN Security Council so badly, was that we're trying ever so hard to be America's lap dog, to wag our tail, to heel when we're to told to heel, to bark when we're told to bark and to sit and take a nap on that UN Security Council seat when we're told to. We're there to yap loudly against China, to growl at the meanie Ms Merkel and bite and snarl at the evil evil bad people (which will again be none of our business) when Mr Mittens* Romney sends us to Iran and maybe Pakistan in 2014 or 2018, depending on if he gets elected this year or four years hence.

*The Mittens and O show has been ruder than the Paul and Joe show. The Paul and Joe show was civil, whereas Mittens likes to speak of irrelevancies and weirdly spoke of "binders full of women" and that he "likes coal" and Big Bird but he hates PBS.

October 23, 2012

Horse 1386 - Why Compulsory Voting is Necessary

Peter Lewis in the Opinion section of the Daily Telegraph writes an interesting piece in favour of voluntary voting, as opposed to the compulsory requirement to vote which currently exists in Australia.
He argues that giving people the right to choose to vote or not, forces political parties to engage with voters and that it makes the public feel that their vote matters more because they have chosen to cast it. I personally think that this is fundamentally flawed logic; moreover that this appears in the newspaper because an agenda is being pushed.

That Article can be found here:

To look at the American system as Mr Lewis had done and then overlook the large portion of the American public who do not vote, is not a thorough examination of said system. When people choose not to vote, it is usually an indication that they either do not care or more importantly, feel that they are not represented at all by the field of candidates. Arguably the people who feel the least attached to politics are the people whose voices need to be heard the loudest because they represent a failure of the system. If those voices are never heard because the option was given not to speak, then the lessons are never learned at all. Politics tends to follow the first law of thermodynamics, that is, that objects and politicians are lazy, they like to keep in doing what they're already doing unless something forces them to change.
Remove the impetus for change and the exascerbation of non engagement by politicians only accelerates, which is precisely what you get in America.

Mr Lewis goes onto assert that the Australian system has produced a "sausage machine" whereby student hacks become regular political hacks and wait their turn to become MPs. Whilst this may be true that the political machines in Australia have to some degree produced career politicians, he asks us to compare and make a contrast to the American system as though this somehow magically does not.
Perhaps Mr Lewis needs to be reminded of the last 11 months. We've had both the RNC and the DNC lay on extravaganzas to elect their respective candidates and by the end, nearly $7bn will be spent on advertising during the 2012 election campaign collectively. What does this represent if it is not the product of at least two highly organised machines? The other thing to note with so so very very much money being fed into the parties by corporations, businesses, individuals and weird conglomerate super PACs, those parties are going to want something to show for it. Is it by accident that John Kerry in 2004 happened to be the husband to the heir of the Heinz empire, or that the Bush's were tied up in Haliburton, or even Romney being a founder of Bain Capital? A local candidate in Australia might have come from their local political party mechanics but as at 2012 they're still more likely to have engaged with the community by actually being in it than an American equivalent.
As for the suggestion that the American system requires candidates to not as strongly rely on "rusted on" voters, has he spoken to people in the United States? Arguably the amount of rusted-on-Ness reaches levels which would make Australians cringe. You even get churches and charities declaring their rusted-on-ness, which given the level of yelling about the separation of church and state in America seems strange.
This also seems to ignore the long history which some families have in sending members to the Town Hall, the State Capitol and the Congress.

There is a strange sort of assertion that in Australia our politicians lack a dynamism because the public compulsorily votes. Personally I don't see this at all. You can walk into any of the state parliaments in Australia when they are sitting and even at Federal level and see people argue very vitriolically and vociferously. I don't know if it is true for all of them but certainly the NSW Legislative Assembly has the nickname of the "bear pit". At Federal level, you try and tell me that it is not a dynamic and at times fiery place. Mr Lewis appears to deny fact itself.

Mr Lewis though does accidentally give the game away and hides his aims in plain view. He openly admits that there might be a correlation between lower incomes and non voting. Perhaps secondarily as he says that Labor would suffer from voluntary voting but let's be more honest shall we?
Peter Lewis is director of the political consultancy firm EMC. His primary interest is to retain his job and sell his services (he needs to eat and pay the bills too). Being in political consultancy, he's going to suggest ways that parties can either cut costs or retain his services (no business person ever suggested to fire themselves). The easiest way to cut costs is to cut loose entirely that portion of expenses which are the most troublesome. In this case by advocating voluntary voting, he more or less like Mitt Romney did that a portion on the electorate isn't worth bothering about.
The truth is that with a less motivated poorer section of the electorate, that also provides easy benefits when it comes to governments abrogating responsibility to them.
The truth is that even an apathetic public who is forced by law to vote, still wields more effective power at the ballot box than a public who has the choice not to. As a consultant to political parties, his work dovetails nicely into every political party's aim - to retain power if they do so, to claim government if they're in opposition and to climb into power if they do neither of those things.

The really scary and almost forgotten thing about compulsory voting isn't so much that it is like a civic duty (because although jury duty and military service on occasion are both civic duties, it's just that they don't really hold power) burr rather that it introduces more uncertainty into parliaments. More specialist groups, smaller interest parties, more voices; more different sorts of political dialogue and different items are placed on the political agenda. To a greater degree power is placed into the ballot box, which is precisely the opposite argument which Mr Lewis is trying to make.
If you want proof of this in the real world, compare Canberra to the mother of all Westminster Parliaments, Westminster herself. London during 2011 suffered a series of riots because young people in particular felt disenfranchised, and Nick Clegg has made a formal apology because he couldn't keep promises that he made before the election; this is supposedly the leader of a party who was supposed to drive a political wedge between the two majors.
In Australia, we've seen just a few independents swing the entire character of the parliament. The dialogue between the two majors might be as toxic as it ever has been but between them, the independents and the Greens have still changed the direction of two parties who without reason would have continued on their own merry way and on that way, continued to ignore the electorate which put them there.
Compulsory voting provides a voice of protest against inadequate and unrepresentative swill. It provides a voice for the apathetic and the disenfranchised but most importantly, it provides a check against the power of parliament itself. Peter Lewis might say that for purer politics, we need voluntary voting but for more representative politics we really need everyone voting and how do you get everyone to vote unless some of them are forced to by law?

Horse 1385 - The Unbelievable Truth

Channel 7 is currently playing a television series of The Unbelievable Truth. Originally a radio series on BBC Radio 4, the premise of the game is simple. Contestants must present a short lecture in which they must tell lies and hidden amongst the lies they must smuggle past five pieces of true information; they get a point at the end for every truth that goes past unnoticed. Competitors gain a point for identifying a truth and they lose a point for mistaking a lie for a truth.
Consequently many players on the radio series end up with scores that are in the minus and a final score of 1 is sometimes enough to win.

I've seen two episodes on telly now and I'm still not sure if it works, or maybe it just hasn't hit its strides yet. On the telly version, people have the use of visual aids which I suppose is necessary for television but is unhelpful when it comes to the flow of the lecture.
The BBC Radio 4 show is hosted by David Mitchell, who it must be said brings a sort of annoyance to the role. Mitchell being the master of rants which usually hinge around the exactitude of things is perfect for the role precisely because he is so pedantic and nitpicky, whereas Craig Reucassel on the Channel 7 show is an amiable host and to be frank, is far too nice (which is a little strange considering that on The Chaser, he's probably far more prepared to rip into people).

The thing about the BBC and radio generally is that spoken comedy fits it so well. Aunty Beeb has a plethora of panel shows (Just a Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, The News Quiz, The 99p Challenge,, etc) and some of them have been adapted to television but because they're usually more of an intellectual battle of wits rather than visual spectacle, they often don't migrate.
A show like Have I Got News For You, which is now in its 44th season, is also a panel game which for the most part thrives on visual simplicity. Of course it helps that Ian Hislop is the editor of Private Eye magazine which I guess is could be described as the comedy print version of ABC 1's Media Watch but even that is a poor approximation.
When HIGNFY was migrated to Australia, suddenly it became this largish extravaganza, was renamed Good News Week and developed into its own sort of thing; to be honest, I still don't find it as witty, dry or scathing as the original. GNW  certainly doesn't attract politicians and journalists the way that HIGNFY does.
Actually if there was to be a proper Australian version of HIGNFY, I'd be hoping to put Mark Colvin and Joe Hildebrand in the two permanent chairs on the panel. Mark Colvin is a brilliantly restless journalist whilst Joe Hildebrand I suspect needs a proper vehicle to drive his journalism/comedy talent.

I rather think that The Unbelievable Truth would have been better off on radio. 702 ABC Sydney's afternoon drive slot with Richard Glover has an hour segment at the end of the week called Thank God It's Friday. TGIF almost without fail completely fills its studio audience on a weekly basis. I bet that it also gets a wee bit of a ratings bump at the end of the week too. This means to say that there exists a market for radio comedy, it's just that it needs to be built.
If it ran on Friday nights where Norman The Quiz usually does, I bet that it would do well; such a program could be carried nationally the same way as ABC Grandstand shows do. I also would get that the podcasts of a Friday night comedy show would start to be downloaded en masse in the same sorts of numbers as the Beeb's are.

Maybe I'm just a little annoyed that the ABC has missed out on getting a show which it could have done better and cheaper. Maybe I'm a little miffed that the ABC didn't put this on the radio first; maybe just maybe, I'm disappointed that David Mitchell isn't the host. Whatever it is, the show isn't quite yet believable and that's the unbelievable truth,

Horse 1384 - Are Bloggers Journalists?

"Welcome to Media Watch, I’m Jonathan Holmes and tonight a special program, venturing into the world of the so-called mummy bloggers (a term many of them dislike). With the mainstream media, including the women’s magazines, struggling, women’s blogs have produced some spectacular success stories."
- Media Watch, 22 Oct 2012

There are some underlying questions entrenched in this episode of Media Watch namely:
"Are bloggers journalists? Should they engage at a political level? Many journalists are dubious. So are some of the bloggers.

Before you can ask "are bloggers journalists?" the more basic question of "what is a journalist?" needs to be addressed; since we deal in the realm of words, what better place to ask this question than the dictionary?

1. (noun) a person who practices the occupation or profession of journalism.

2. (noun) a person who keeps a journal,  diary, or other record of daily events.
- from the , 10th Ed, 2009

(noun) a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or televsion
- Australian Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 4th Ed, 2004

I know that this is going to sound somewhat crazy, but I thought I'd look at a few of the blogs mentioned in Media Watch and see if they fit the criteria laid down by the dictionary. Is the person keepaing said blog actually a journalist?

My name is Eden Riley. I am a blogger.
I've been featured on Mumbrella, Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian, Hoopla, Crikey, National Radio, Channel Ten, Mamamia, Kidspot, and more.
- Edenland, PR Page (as at 22nd Oct 2012)

Or perhaps, this off-hand comment which conveniently blows the case open:
Why do bloggers get paid? Because of the people reading their site. Simple. 
- Edenland, First Rule Of Blog Monetisation, 14th May 2012

The question of whether one does something for money or not isn't of itself cause to make it one's profession. If someone happens to win the lottery for instance, then if we apply the provisions of the Income Tax Assessment Act (1997) it isn't strictly income until it becomes a regular source of income. It is reasonable to suggest then, that what determines the difference between a journalist and someone who happens to be occasionally paid for what they write is a matter of regularity. If Eden Riley in this case prouldy boasts that she has been featured by two newspaper companies, the national broadcaster and a television station, the chances are that in this specific case, she probably is a journalist, albeit one who doesn't write about anything I'm particularly interested in.

Nikki Parkinson from "Styling You" wrote:

We are journalists, yes. But we are more than that.
As bloggers we are independent publishers.
We are the sub-editor, editor-in-chief, the advertising manager, the marketing manager, the 
circulation manager, pay roll, admin and the tea lady.

- quoted via Media Watch

In Nikki's case, she writes more about the sprit of the second definition contained within the Collins; namely that a journalist is "a person who keeps a journal,  diary, or other record". That's also fine.

I think that people who keep a blog are journalists, be it under the first or the second definition of the Collins or under the description of the OED. I think that the vast bulk of blogs are exceptionally small scale which is perhaps why when you do hear of the one in a million that is commercially successful that people sit up and take notice but the truth is that the success rate probably really isn't that much different to most businesses.
Also, I think it's worth noting that the vast majority of people don't even have the patience to sit through anything more than a few paragraphs anymore. Twitter and Facebook have helped in their own small way to the slow death of serious journalism.

The second question which Media Watch didn't really address (because I don't necessarily think that it was the prime scope of this episode was:
Should they engage at a political level?

I will suggest that these "so-called mummy bloggers" probably don't engage in political journalism because it doesn't interest them. It stands to reason that any good writer like anyone who plays music, has a fire in their belly so they'd better stick an instrument in front of it. I also don't think that these "mummy bloggers" are going to write about the possibility that Sebastian Vettel might move to Ferrari in 2014, or that Scotland might vote to dissolve the United Kingdom in its current state, or that Labor in the ACT might gain an eighth seat in the ACT Legislative Assembly at the expense of The Greens' leader Meredith Hunter.
I would wager that political journalism doesn't interest mummy bloggers because it isn't fun for them. Personally I don't understand why you'd want to post pictures of your children on the internet but then again I don't visit these sites anyway.

Should bloggers more generally engage at a political level? Absolutely. Does it even matter that they're dubious? I don't think so, most of the population at large is dubious. Dubious bloggers/journalists are no more than the mirror providing a reflection on society.
The first major boom or journalism in England at least was called the "Augustan Age" and went from about 1710 until about 1730. Journals and pamphlets were being written and published the guilds, various craftsmen and farmers, shopkeepers, smiths and toolmakers, and even merchants, bankers and other entrepreneurs. Samuel Johnson whose work the Dictionary of the English Language appeared in 1755 but he also wrote essays and pieces for The Rambler, The Idler the London Gazette etc. Thomas Paine's 1776 piece Common Sense was a pamphlet and that helped to spur on a nation to find its feet. The point it that people since the advent of reasonably widespread literacy have and will continue to write about what interests them.
The question isn't so much "Should they (bloggers) engage at a political level?" but rather "Why shouldn't they?"

Oh yes, if anyone asks, I'm free to be sponsored if you like... Ford? May I have a new Fiesta for free? Aunty? Can I have a job mucking about at 700 Harris St? Maybe I could weasel my way into Media Watch itself?

October 22, 2012

Horse 1383 - If X , then Y must resign.

If X , then Y must resign.

Abbott said it to Gillard; Gillard said it to Abbott; Bishop said it to Swan; Gillard said it to Bishop; Abbott said it to Swan; Macklin said it to Hockey; Barnaby Joyce almost said it to himself. When Peter Slipper was on the verge of resignation, Ms Gillard had a glorious fifteen minute rant at Mr Abbott... and said it again.
I don't think that calling for the resignation of someone in government unless in the case of serious misconduct or criminal act, achieves anything.

A member of parliament is elected by their local constituency. This means to say that either the majority of the people in the area that the MP is supposed to represent, or in the case of proportional representation, a sufficient proportion of people have consented to that person being their representative.
If Ms Gillard suggests that Mr Abbott should resign, then does she mean to say that she knows better than the majority of people living in the seat of Warringah? Likewise if Mr Abbott calls for the resignation of Ms Gillard, is he saying that he knows better than the people of Lalor?

We do not elect Ministers of the Crown; in fact we do not even vote for the government of the day. We only vote for our local MP and their power and right to be in parliament is derived from their electorate.
In the 2007 election, we did not vote out a government. We voted for our local members who then formed a government. The people of  Bennelong directly appointed Maxine McKew to replace the former PM John Howard but they didn't formally elect the new Prime Minister either.

I think it strange that Gillard and Abbott in particular keep on calling for their opposite number's resignation. If they mean that they should resign in some other capacity, say as leader of the party, or as head of the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet then this also makes no sense.
I suppose that you could ask for the opposite party to choose a new leader but that would be like trying to ask a cat to look at itself in in the mirror - even if you asked nicely there's no guarantee that it would do so and even if it did it would be because it wanted to rather than because you asked.

 The "If X , then Y must resign" line sounds theatrical and grand if you happen to like going for ten second sound bites on the six o'clock news but it doesn't really add much to the political discourse of the day. It certainly is not the rousing "out of the depths of sorrow and of sacrifice" sort of parliamentary speech that Mr Churchill would have said; nor is it really the same as the scathing bile filled yet witty fights that we had from Keating and Howard.
Ms Gillard is certainly capable of brilliant oratory and we've only really seen that a few times on the floor of the house. To the best of my knowledge Mr Abbott has never delivered such a speech.

I will readily admit that politicians are endowed with their own unique method of speaking be they a firebrand, or someone who is quite methodical about hitting all the points that they have to make (and let's be honest, Wayne Swan isn't the most dynamic speaker but he is the best person for the job of Treasurer on both sides of the chamber) but this almost fallback line of "If X , then Y must resign" is bordering on the verge of childish.

One of the consequences of having a house which is so finely balanced is that in theory, there should be a greater flow of the duopoly of voices from both political tribes. What he should also find as we found in NSW, is that the chamber will naturally tend towards a further degree of disorder. One writer called it like "a couple of mad uncles bickering in the attic" and I suppose that there's a ring to truth about that but what is really being lost in all of this is that if there are two evenly uncles bickering in the attic, the argument isn't going to be ended merely by asking the other to be quiet.

The  absolute essence of the "If X , then Y must resign" argument is "'no, you shut up' ; 'no, you shut up'". Nobody listens and fewer problems are being solved. Asking your opponent to be quiet denies the core of political dialogue. It is the triumph of politics over government and the problem with politics is that is gets in the way of and replaces good government entirely.
Section 51 of the Constiution of Australia states that "The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to" and then lists a heap of legislative powers.

 "If X , then Y must resign" says that "The Parliament shall" but not that the Parliament will "make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth" and if the Parliament will not, then surely the entire parliament must resign.

October 19, 2012

Horse 1382 - The Cuban Missile Crisis' Unsung Hero

Fifty years ago this month, whilst John, Paul, George but not Ringo (he was bad) sang "Love Me Do" , JFK and Nikita Khrushchev were busy letting each other know that love was certainly not the order of the day. After JFK had ordered nuclear capabilities in Turkey and had failed spectacularly with the "Bay of Pigs" invasion, Khrushchev had arranged with Fidel Castro to host nuclear missile launching silos and platforms in Cuba. On 16th October 1962, a U2 spy plane had taken surveillance photographs which showed that Khrushchev had the ability to strike the East Coast of the United States with nuclear missiles.
I don't know precisely how close either JFK or Khrushchev got to "pressing the button" but I do know that the unsung hero which averted nuclear war was a piece of technology which has changed the world perhaps more often and with more force than any other weapon ever unleashed... a letter.

Both JFK and Khrushchev had underneath their fingers, the power to exterminate life on this planet. The famous Red Telephone which connected the White House to the Kremlin had not even been set up by October '62 and so this form of communication wasn't yet an option. In fact the famous "hot line" which was in reality an actual Red Telephone for most of its existence, wouldn't even be installed until after the "Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Line" which was signed on June 20, 1963.
Even after it was installed as a result of the missile crisis,  it is still doubtful whether in all the years of its operation whether it was used for anything beyond making calls to test if it worked and to give instructions for a series of chess games.

The US State Department has released all sorts of exchanges between Kennedy and Khrushchev and they make for fascinating reading. A quick look at some excerpts from these letters and telegrams is in order, and a link is provided here:

“If we can come now to the conclusion of an agreement on cessation of all nuclear weapon tests we will make good for the peoples of our countries and for the peoples of the entire world.
We prefer to conclude now a treaty on cessation of all nuclear weapon tests. But if the Western powers are not yet prepared for that even taking into account the suggestions put forward at the Pugwash conference we, as I have already told you, are ready in this case also to make a step toward the Western powers and to conclude at this time a treaty on cessation of nuclear weapon tests in three environments: in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water.”
- 56. Message From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, Moscow, September 28, 1962.

If we read something like this, it paints a very very different picture to what we might expect. Khrushchev appears far more conciliatory than the press in the west would suggest. This is a man who after making cuts to conventional weapons budgets, though for a while that he could achieve the same ends through missiles. I think that by September of 1962, Khrushchev was only too aware of the abject hell that could be unleashed by the push of "the button". It was hard enough to manage domestic policy and agriculture without having to worry about the threat of the nuclear boogeyman.

Obviously Khrushchev would say one thing and do another. Whilst he appears on one hand to want to agree on the cessation of nuclear weapon tests, he still wanted to rattle the sabre and show that if he wanted to, he could still in theory push "the  button". Whilst the above statements were being made, R-12 Dvina missiles were being delivered to Cuba.

"If ... we are attacked, we will defend ourselves. I repeat, we have sufficient means with which to defend ourselves; we have indeed our inevitable weapons, the weapons, which we would have preferred not to acquire, and which we do not wish to employ."
- Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, to the UN General Assembly, October 7, 1962.

If Cuba openly declared that it had "inevitable weapons", then it must have got them from somewhere. The US started flying U-2 spy planes to find them and on October 14, 1962, it found them.

"DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: A copy of the statement I am making tonight concerning developments in Cuba and the reaction of my Government thereto has been handed to your Ambassador in Washington. In view of the gravity of the developments to which I refer, I want you to know immediately and accurately the position of my Government in this matter.
It was in order to avoid any incorrect assessment on the part of your Government with respect to Cuba that I publicly stated that if certain developments in Cuba took place, the United States would do whatever must be done to protect its own security and that of its allies.
Moreover, the Congress adopted a resolution expressing its support of this declared policy. Despite this, the rapid development of long-range missile bases and other offensive weapons systems in Cuba has proceeded. I must tell you that the United States is determined that this threat to the security of this hemisphere be removed. At the same time, I wish to point out that the action we are taking is the minimum necessary to remove the threat to the security of the nations of this hemisphere. The fact of this minimum response should not be taken as a basis, however, for any misjudgment on your part."
- 60. Letter From President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev, Washington, October 22, 1962.

From Cuba, the R-12 Dvina missiles could in theory strike Washington D.C., New York City, Mexico City, The Panama Canal etc. Khrushchev stated on the 23rd that they "are destined exclusively for defensive purposes" and had openly admitted that they shipping missiles to Cuba. Kennedy issued a shipping quarantine order on the 23rd:

"I hope that you will issue immediately the necessary instructions to your ships to observe the terms of the quarantine, the basis of which was established by the vote of the Organization of American States this afternoon, and which will go into effect at 1400 hours Greenwich time October twenty-four.
Sincerely, JFK."
-62. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union, Washington, October 23, 1962, 6:51 p.m

Naturally as you'd expect, Khrushchev told Kennedy to go away.
"Mr. President, if you coolly weigh the situation which has developed, not giving way to passions, you will understand that the Soviet Union cannot fail to reject the arbitrary demands of the United States. When you confront us with such conditions, try to put yourself in our place and consider how the United States would react to these conditions. I do not doubt that if someone attempted to dictate similar conditions to you--the United States--you would reject such an attempt. And we also say--no.

The Soviet Government considers that the violation of the freedom to use international waters and international air space is an act of aggression which pushes mankind toward the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war. Therefore, the Soviet Government cannot instruct the captains of Soviet vessels bound for Cuba to observe the orders of American naval forces blockading that Island."
- 63. Letter From Chairman Khrushchev to President Kennedy, Moscow, October 24, 1962.

The key letter in the exchange whilst they were flying forth and back was from Khrushchev on the 26th:
"This indicates that we are normal people, that we correctly understand and correctly evaluate the situation. Consequently, how can we permit the incorrect actions which you ascribe to us? Only lunatics or suicides, who themselves want to perish and to destroy the whole world before they die, could do this. We, however, want to live and do not at all want to destroy your country. We want something quite different: To compete with your country on a peaceful basis. We quarrel with you, we have differences on ideological questions. But our view of the world consists in this, that ideological questions, as well as economic problems, should be solved not by military means, they must be solved on the basis of peaceful competition, i.e., as this is understood in capitalist society, on the basis of competition. We have proceeded and are proceeding from the fact that the peaceful co-existence of the two different social-political systems, now existing in the world, is necessary, that it is necessary to assure a stable peace. That is the sort of principle we hold."
- 65. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State, Moscow, October 26, 1962, 7 p.m.

"If you did this as the first step towards the unleashing of war, well then, it is evident that nothing else is left to us but to accept this challenge of yours. If, however, you have not lost your self-control and sensibly conceive what this might lead to, then, Mr. President, we and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when that knot will be tied so tight that even he who tied it will not have the strength to untie it, and then it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.
Consequently, if there is no intention to tighten that knot and thereby to doom the world to the catastrophe of thermonuclear war, then let us not only relax the forces pulling on the ends of the rope, let us take measures to untie that knot. We are ready for this."
- 65. Telegram From the Embassy in the Soviet Union to the Department of State, Moscow, October 26, 1962, 7 p.m.

I really don't know how close the USA and the USSR came to all out nuclear war and I shudder to think what would have happened if it ever came to be (would I even be here to write this at all?) but the letters which literally flew back and forth did their part in making sure it never did. These letters are the unsung heroes of the Cold War, saving more lives than possibly both World Wars combined.

The pen is not only mightier than the sword but mightier than even two arsenals of nuclear weapons.


I can though guess how close the military got. On October 26, 1962, the USS Beale dropped depth charges on a Soviet Foxtrot submarine names "B-59" armed with a 15 kiloton nuclear torpedo and which was running out of air because the air-conditioning system had failed. The three officers on board Valentin Savitsky, Ivan Maslennikov and Vasili Arkhipov had the authorisation to fire their nuclear torpedos if all three of them came to a concensus. Valentin said "yes", Ivan said "yes" but Vasili Arkhipov said "no" and his protestation caused B-59 to surface for air.
Vasili Arkhipov, a man who practically no-one has ever heard of, probably made the single most important decision of anyone in the entire of the 20th Century.

Horse 1381 - Flamin' Galahs

There is an old story that says that the best way to cook a galah is to put it into a pot of water, along with peas, carrots, celery and the other vegetables, add a lump of granite, and then boil; when the granite has turned soft, then the galah is ready to eat.
Now I don't know if this is a story with any basis in fact because galah meat is really tough, or whether it's trying to make a point about the supposed stubbornness of these birds but I do know that the poor old galah has taken a bit of a bum wrap over the years.

Galahs like the cockatoo are seed eaters. Also like the cockatoo, they have a distinct habit of scratching the ground to get at the little seeds that they want to eat. I don't know if this makes them any more or less messy than say a cockatoo or parrot but I wouldn't think so.

I've remarked in the past that when the people of the First Fleet spent those first few weeks in this new and bewildering land, that hearing the sounds of a cockatoo in the late evening must have seemed very scary and weird to someone who had never heard anything remotely close to it before. The galah on the other hand doesn't make such an awful din and when you get a large flock together, they're really quite orderly.
With their grey wings, white caps and fantastic pink waistcoats, in large groups they look like the meeting of aldermen or perhaps one of London's clubs that appeared in the late 18th century. No human could get away with such an outfit unless they were either on a sporting field, or unless they happened to be Jeff Kennett. If you replace the pink for blue and they grey for yellow and you pretty well much have the kit for the West Coast Eagles AFL team.
Unlike the mynahs which like to dive bomb my cats and who attack much larger birds by ganging up on them, galahs are far far far less violent. I can't honestly recall seeing a galah ever being in an airspace war with another bird, even though I suppose that it must happen at some point.

I will concede that they're not the most majestic of birds when flying but they're still quite pretty and look purposeful. They're also quite a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for. When we tell people not to be a galah, we mean for them not to act so foolishly. Galahs though, know how close they can get to people and also know that they can stand on the central median strip of a divided carriageway in safety and impunity. They do like to sit in the wattle tree out the front of my house and will regard me quietly as I trundle forth and back with the lawnmower because they know that after I've mowed our sorry excuse for a lawn, that their job to scratch for seeds has been done for them and all they then need to do is have a snack. No other kind of bird that I see in the front yard has worked this out.

I quite like galahs. I do know that I'll never own one or even pat one because they are practically untameable but there's something a little gladdening about that. A wild bird which is free to do what it pleases and takes no orders from anyone is more regal, more grandiose and more majestic than the qualities which we foolishly try to impose on it. Perhaps galahs think that we're the fools and in some weird galah language they have the expression "flaming humans"; or at least I like to think they would.

October 18, 2012

Horse 1380 - The Spirit of Ecstasy

I saw this Rolls-Royce this morning and part of me died a little inside. This slab sided, brick of a machine isn't even remotely "nice". The hood ornament on the front of a Rolls-Royce has two names: the first is "Emily"; the second is the "Spirit of Ecstasy".
This Rolls-Royce did not fill me with "Ecstasy". I'm not even sure if Emily would be happy.

I can understand perfectly, the need to make cars more aerodynamic, sleeker and to cut through the air efficiently. Making cars slice more cleanly through the air increases their fuel efficiency, which saves the owner more money and collectively makes us all more prudent with the limited resource of petroleum.
What I fail to understand though, is why if you happen to be paying more than a million dollars for a motor car, why they couldn't have made it even just a little bit pretty?

I will more than likely never own a Rolls-Royce and so I suppose that the question of why my opinion even matters is more than valid. The thing is though, that even if I'll never own a Rolls-Royce I am still part of a society which does. The very name Rolls-Royce has become sort of a metonym to describe something of the highest quality and the sad fact is that even if you can afford to buy one of these, you still can't but a nice looking car. If the super-rich cannot buy a motor car which looks nice, then what hope do the rest of us have?
Part of the very point of owning a car such as this is to make people jealous and to make a display of ostentatious wealth. If even a Rolls-Royce cannot do that, then I'm sorry but it has failed in its raison d'être.

I come from a generation (possibly the last) to ever see utterly beautiful machines on the road. Cars used to be styled by men with pencils, sculptured by people out of clay and finally if you were wealthy enough, assembled by hand.
Stylists like Pininfarina, Bertone, Issigonis etc. could make metal sing. Wild looking cars like the 1959 Cadillac expressed a vision of the future of unbridled optimism, the Jaguar D-Type which was obviously built for purpose managed to stride valiantly against the wind. Even the original Mini and the Mark 1 Ford Cortina proved that style could be given to the family hack. Cars of the 1970s like the Falcon Coupe and the Holden A9X Torana look like they'd rip your head off and use it as a football. Even right up until the 80s and 90s, cars like the Opel Carlton, Peugeot 406 and the Alfa Romeo 155 showed that even a corporate executive who drove a repbox could still travel in style.
Cars of the late 00s and early 10s have usually all been trying to look edgey with swoopy hard cutting lines, and whilst this looks fine on a computer, it lacks an arist's hand, a craftsman's touch; dare I say it, soul.

Cars are designed almost exclusively on computers these days, there are no pencils, very few use of clays any more and certainly none of the individual working of sheet metal that Carrozzeria Scaglietti himself would have beaten the ever-loving life into (not out of) of the Ferrari 250 GT California.
Legend has it that when the people at Jaguar had made the full size clay model of the Jaguar XJ6 (XJ40 1986-1994), when the clay was left to dry it sagged and the designers liked the downwards slope  of the boot so much, they left it like that for the final production model.
The thing is that this hard edged design trend doesn't just apply to cars, it can be found in architecture, in industrial design for household appliances and even Windows 8 when it comes out at the end of this month will be hard, straight edged and cold.

Since a company like Rolls-Royce is going to spend the money for a designer to to the design work anyway, how about giving the artists a chance? A car company like Rolls-Royce especially cannot rely on a motor racing program like Mercedes-Benz and it cannot really generate the halo effect from producing hypercars. Rolls-Royce should be about producing jealously and envy in other people. Whilst envy is one of the seven deadly sins, creating beauty is not.

Why can't Rolls-Royce of all car companies make "nice" things? And if they don't anymore, then who will? When are we going to next see a brand new Rolls-Royce for which the "Spirit of Ecstasy" is truly a descriptive name and when again will Emily be happy?

October 15, 2012

Horse 1379 - The Peace SIgn... Upside-Down?

Over the years, I've heard all sorts of explanations about where this sign came from but none of them seemed to hold much basis in fact.
There is the suggestion that it is an anti-capitalist sign; being a corruption of the Mercedes-Benz three pointed star which has been cut down the middle. I couldn't really find much of an actual historical basis for this though.

There was also the theory that the thing in the middle is supposed to be a broken cross with the arms in a fallen position and that it is not just an peace symbol but an anti-Christian symbol. This works nicely with the rise of the hippie movement of the late 1960s and the rejection of all authority including the church but it still doesn't really explain why it was seen in the late 1950s, some ten years beforehand.

I found the reason for the peace symbol in an unexpected place. I was in the middle of writing another piece to do with the upcoming fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis and who should pop up in the notes I was reading but Gerald Holtom.
Gerald Holtom was a prominent player in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. This is important. If we look at the semaphore signals for N and D, N is a flag straight up and one straight down and D are the two flags held at the quarter marks below horizontal with straight arms. In other words, the peace symbol is actually the semaphore for ND or Nuclear Disarmament.
A ceramics manufacturer Eric Austen made the very first peace sign, or rather the first badge for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958 in from Gerald Holtom's original design. In some ways the sign is supposed to be reminiscent of an individual in despair. We have to remember that in 1958, the threat of nuclear weapons being used loomed large.

Setting this aside by way of background and this sign which is the peace sign upside-down can be taken in a number of ways from an anti-peace sign, to something else subversive, to something as simple as that it was done by some vandal.
I'd like to re-appropriate this sign and suggest that this looks like something else.
If this looks like a person with their arms held aloft in the air, then this can be taken to mean someone with a lot of joy. It could also mean someone with their hands held up, ready to serve, provide assistance or in worship.

If the peace symbol is supposed to be originally the symbol of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, then it has sort of failed. The USSR may have dissolved more than 20 years ago, but the United States, the UK, France, China, Russia, the Ukraine, India, Pakistan and Israel are all confirmed as having nuclear weapons and Iran if it doesn't have them, probably wants them.
The world was in short supply of joy, service, worship and hope in 1958 and perhaps as the threat of nuclear weapons again rears its head, we need to be reminded of these things. If there is still a severe shortage of those things in the world, we should take this as a pithy reminder to start spreading, doing and producing those things.

Horse 1378 - Boardo

I played a game of Monopoly at the weekend; not surprisingly it resulted in unhappiness (I won). The reason I won is purely down to knowing one of the basic mechanisms of the game; this is where we begin the story.

Monopoly is played with two six-sided dice. There are 36 ways to roll two dice but there are 16/36 ways to roll numbers between 6-8; that is almost one half of the total possible dice rolls.
The most commonly landed on space is "jail". There are Community Chest and Chance cards which direct you to go there, a square on the board which sends you there and if you roll three doubles, you also go there. The next commonly landed on space is Go because of operation of the Community Chest and Chance cards.
It therefore follows that the most profitable squares to own on the Monopoly board are the ones 6-8 spaces away from Jail and Go. These spaces fall in the brown set (Bow St, Marlborough St, Vine St) and the light blue set (The Angel Islington, Euston Rd, Pentonville Rd).
I weaseled my way to owning the brown set.

If you think about other games, they provide interesting mathematical thought puzzles.
The game Candyland which is usually only played by anyone over the age of 8 because they want to play with someone younger, requires zero decision making because quite literally every move is directed by the cards. Candyland is a classic zero player game because the player can make no difference to the outcome of the game and although the result is unknown before the start, it has a predetermined outcome.

A game like Sorry which also is directed by cards, has decision making but not the chance element as directed by dice. The order of movement is directed from the outset. If the unturned card is a 5, it will always be a five.
Snakes & Ladders on the other hand has chance but no decision making. If you roll a 3, you move three spaces and are directed to move upwards or downwards by the directions on the board; that's it.

I like card games but again we find something interesting. There is usually quite a complex decision making process but either the order of the cards in s central stockpile is fixed or in the case of trick taking games, once a card has been played, it is gone. If I have in my hand the King of Hearts, then unless you are playing with multiple decks, no-one else does. A lot of card games including those at casinos can have elements of card counting to them.
I've found Bridge players to be exceptionally excellent at tracking each and every one of 52 cards in a deck. Of the group whom I usually play Bridge with, there are two ladies who on the surface have lovely conversations about their family and like to gossip, however we suspect that secretly, they have named every card in the deck. If for example "Maria and Todd aren't getting along" we can infer that the person holds the Queen and Ace of Spades (Black Maria being the queen, and the German word for death is Tod which described the "death card" or the Ace of Spades).
Games like Poker which is shown on television almost as a sport, is more about a psychological showdown of players than about the cards which they happen to possess.

Recently on this blog I have spoken of the game Risk. The board itself is a largish network of unevenly joined spaces, the reward system is uneven, there is a high element of decision making and there is an element of chance. As far as fixed square board games go, it is very complex and is only really matched in terms of complexity by tabletop war games.
Tabletop war games are possibly the ultimate expression of complexity if you include them as board games. In most cases, different troops have different movement rates, they aren't restricted in terms of direction that they can move, different games have inbuilt reward and punishment structures and in a lot of cases even the size of the dice are unequal (D4 up to D100 and beyond).
This is when describing a game mathematically starts to become useless and instead of looking at fixed positions we start to look at general trends. Taken to its most complex, game theory itself is sometimes used in applications far beyond mere board games and is applied to such things as behavioral psychology, economics, epidemiology etc. all of which are a far far cry from a game like Monopoly.

Then there are quiz type games like Trivial Pursuit which I happen to hate. These games generally reward so called "knowledge". My problem with quizzes is that they tend to act like Sorry or Snakes and Ladders in that you either do or don't know the answer to the question. There is no skill or decision making involved other than rolling a die and moving a piece.
Games like Taboo, Balderdash and Pictionary which are based on Victorian era parlour games tend to be much more enjoyable because even if you possess no skill whatsoever, you can still find fun in the inherent comedy of the game.

Aside: I should explain the title to this post.
Boardo is the second most complex game in the world. It ranks only behind Mornington Crescent in terms of unfathomability.
Boardo is a board game with its origins a tangled fusion of snakes and ladders, Monopoly, chess, Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble, in some versions with optional card games thrown in as well. Players take it in turns to roll the dice (although not always) and make a move, in the logical direction, to their destination. Once there, they have to obey the rules that pertain to that location. Play must not go against the grain, nor can anyone farkle three times in a row without immediate suspension from the game.
Link: http://kevan.org/morningtonia.pl?Boardo

October 13, 2012

Horse 1377 - Abortion is Murder

Abortion is murder.

Story. End of.

No correspondence needs to be taken into, no argument needs to be formed; nothing more should be said on the subject. Unfortunately more is said, and quite loudly too.
Almost without exception, in every single debate or set of questions posed to a candidate for the US Presidency, someone will ask where the candidate in question stands on the subject of abortion. It's almost as though the state of the economy, the impending debt problem, the questions of unemployment and lack of basic healthcare fade into the background. This single question has the potential to make people jump up and down and holler until they're blue in the face.

On Thursday night American time (about lunchtime Friday in Australia) Joe Biden and Paul Ryan squared off   in a debate as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had done the week before; as with any Presidential or Vice-Presidential debate, the question was yet again asked.

Paul Ryan had this to say about the subject:
"All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother"
- Paul Ryan 11th Oct 2012

I think that that is a pretty solid sort of principle to be working with. There have been so many arguments when it comes to the issue of abortion as to when a "group of cells" is human or not. Is it even possible to make an empirical judgment? If it is not, then logically Paul Ryan's position that life begins at conception is the only logical one to take; this is what makes Paul Ryan's comment so poignant.

If we expand our scope beyond the borders of the United States, it is worth having a look at the legal framework which we find ourselves operating in. Two of the purposes of the law are to act as a safeguard and as a standard; once you set up the standard you can then start making empirical judgments based on that standard.
If we are to be talking about an international standard, we'd need to find what international law says about such an issue; fortunately this has already been established.

In November of 1989 the United Nations opened the Convention on the Rights of the Child for signature and by September of 1990 it had gained enough signatures to be ratified and legally binding.
I find this particularly interesting:
"The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights."

As of the time of posting, there have been 193 countries to have signed the  Convention on the Rights of the Child but only 140 countries to have ratified it. Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of the countries to have signed it but not to have ratified it is the United States. Personally I find it galling that the United States champions itself on human rights issues but refuses to ratify the vast majority of international conventions because of an arrogance which says that no international law should trump that of the United States; it is largely this reason that this debate exists in the United States at all. It should also not exist in Australia; the only reason it does is because of unconscionable people.

Take note of this from the preamble of the Convention on the Rights of the Child:
'Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth"'
- From the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Link: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm

I have read through the preliminary documents and it is obvious that the writers of the document assumed that there should be no legal difference between the rights of a child after or before they were born. For them there was to be no legal distinction drawn.
It is therefore safe to assume that the United Nations through the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has taken a legal position equal to that of Paul Ryan. If it is not even possible to make an empirical judgment as to when a  "group of cells" is human or not, then the clause "before as well as after birth" can only logically taken to mean that a "life begins at conception" and if this is true, then all of the rights that a child must also begin from that point.

If we look closer to home, we find that in New South Wales at least, the Crimes Act 1900 says in Sections 82 - 84 that if a woman herself or someone else either procures (s.84) or administers drugs (s.82 and s.83) or any instrument (s.82 and s.83) or other means to procure to abortion, they shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years. The very fact that it's mentioned in the Crimes Act 1900 means that it is a crime at law.
Link - http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/ca190082/

The Crimes Act 1900 simply doesn't bother to deal with the issue at all. It simply states what is an is not a crime. The flipside to a negative, which is what the The Crimes Act 1900 is, is that there must be a corresponding right or freedom which is being defended.
In that respect, basically as far as the UN is concerned and the Crimes Act in NSW quite properly defends:
Article 6
1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.
2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.
Link :http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm

How can you suggest that  that every child has the inherent right to life and that the state should ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of a child if people are given the right to kill a child before they are born?
The fact that this debate even exists at all I just find abhorrent. The whole argument of "pro-choice" I see as a synonym for "pro-death" and "pro-murder". I don't frankly see how you can legally advance the cause of one person to kill another when that person who is unborn and has no choice whatsoever in the matter and who should be "entitled to special care and assistance," and have "appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth".
I challenge anyone to reply with any coherent argument against this, because I have looked into the abyss and have found nothing.

October 09, 2012

Horse 1376 - Alan Jones, Advertisers and Free Speech

"Advertisers trying to go about their business and exercise their choice as to where they spend their money and with whom they want to communicate have chosen over many years to advertise on this program"
- Alan Jones, 2GB, 8th Oct 2012.

I have heard all of Alan Jones' almost nine minute rate about cyberbullies and how supposedly people voicing their concern, has resulted in turning the dialogue of the nation into a dark place. To be honest I wouldn't have expected anything different at this point in time and it illustrates the other side of the coin we call free speech.

I have heard over and over again of the need for Australia to have a Bill of Rights and how free speech needs to be protected. Never mind the fact that the right to free speech is in the Bill Of Rights Act 1689 (which thanks to various statutes of adoption forms part of the legal framework of this country) and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Australia is a signatory.
Because the right to free speech and expression is very much ingrained into the life of this country, there is really very little need to write yet mote legislation which might inadvertently limit the scope of the right.

The right to free speech and expression it should be noted, pretty well much gives people licence to speak their mind. I note that Alan has done this on multiple occasions, even calling for the Prime Minister to come to harm.
The other side of this is that although the right gives people the ability to say pretty well what they like, it also gives people the right to consume that free speech and judge what they have said. Since free speech is like a marketplace of ideas, consumers of free speech have the right to accept or reject what they've heard. We see this when it comes to politics, religion, science and even entertainment.

So then, advertisers as corporate people who have the right to exercise their choice as to where they spend their money and with whom they want to communicate, also have the right to withdraw their money and communicate elsewhere. Since advertisers rely on the public to spend their money and buy what is being advertised, they will look to see what sorts of profits and benefits will be gained for doing so.

In this case, the public who have been accused of cyberbullying, have basically threatened to withdraw their monies from advertisers. Obviously it stands to reason that doing so threatens the profitability of those businesses.
The difference being that if a corporate person (ie. a company or other advertiser) withdraws their money, it is taken by Alan Jones to be a business decision but if the public do likewise, it then becomes cyberbullying.
In slightly different terms he suggests on one hand the right to free speech and expression should exist for companies and advertisers but not for individuals. That in itself is kind of hypocritical because he in effect says that he himself does not have the right to free speech and expression whilst defending the right to free speech and expression which enabled him to say that.
The mind boggles.

As a consumer of free speech, I find Alan Jones to be dull and don't usually listen to him anyway. As a consumer of free speech with the right to judge the content if that free speech, I find it terribly horrid.
I still however defend Alan Jones' right to say whatever he wants to and more importantly be judged on the basis of what he has said, however horrid it may be.

Just don't expect me to buy.

October 08, 2012

Horse 1375 - Graffic Traffic Design

Jamie Whincup and Paul Dumbrell wrote their name into the record books yesterday with a win at arguably the world's greatest touring car race, the Bathurst 1000.
Being the fiftieth running of the event at Bathurst, a number of cars including the second place X Falcon, were wearing liveries echoing those which had competed before and whilst it was great to see, I think it illustrates something important.

A car whizzing down a piece of tarmac at 300km/h is a moving billboard. If you want a billboard to successfully do its job and sell the product or service in question, it has to communicate a message effectively and more importantly, simply.

James Moffat and Alex Davison's "Tru-Blu Steel Tubing" Falcon illustrated yesterday that you do not need swirly; funky graphics to make a car memorable. In that case, even the colour of the car itself communicates the message simply and so well, that even 31 years after the original car driven by Dick Johnson had won the race in the hand , it still lived long enough in the memory to communicate that message.

The point about simplicity of message or lack thereof is proven perfectly by Greg Murphy and Owen Kelly's Pepsi Commodore. I completely understand that Pepsi want to appeal to "da youff" market but you can not make anything memorable if you change the livery for every race and in the case of Pepsi generally, by changing the corporate logo. Pepsi would be better off in my opinion, to change back to their logo from the 1960's. Their marketing on their bottles in the supermarket does this and it seems to work well for them.
I think that it is a mistake to ever change the logo of a company unless it either reflects its history or because the company has undergone a merger. General Electric (GE), apart from being the only original component on the Dow from day one, has for the most part retained its logo, or at very least evolved it slowly. The same also goes for Ford, which has retained the same script in the blue oval which appeared on the Model T as early as 1906.

The Craig Lowndes and Warren Luff Commodore ran a colour scheme echoing the Marlboro colours run by the late, nine times winner of Bathurst, Peter Brock.
So strong was the colour scheme of those Marlboro Toranas and Commodores of the late '70s and early '80s that even the chevron on the bonnet had to be turned upside-down. The power of good graphic design has even recently been acknowledged at law, with the move to sell cigarettes in plain packaging.

If there is another thing to be taken away from the race yesterday, it is that having big numbers on the door is as important as the logos emblazoned on the car.
Motor Racing like all forms of sport is in part about the unfolding of a story. Since stories themselves are about telling messages and the cars and drivers in the story are its characters, then giving each car a proper identity should be an essential part of telling that story.
NASCAR in the United States has known this for years and even in the country which developed and refined advertising further than any other, the numbers on the doors of the cars in a NASCAR race are massive and obvious even at a distance. So strong is the branded message of a number that even they are considered as assets and are bought and sold for millions of dollars.
Again we note Peter Brock who after being paid to run 05 on his car to tie in with anti-drink driving advertising (whilst still running cigarette adverts on the car), continued to run the number for X years after the Victorian Dept of Transport had ceased to pay him for doing so.
I know it sounds odd but I really find the little yellow numbers in the rear window annoying. If as per the regular season that say the number 1 was taken by another team, Triple 8 Engineering which runs the Vodafone Commodores would be numbered 88 and 888. That's fine on television but if you're at the track, they just blur into a yellow blob and you have no idea which one is which.

I rather liked the retro aspects of cars yesterday. I think that V8 Supercarsm specifically and the teams generally should take notice of certain aspects of graphic design though. If you are communicating a message at 300km/h and want it to be effective, then please please please, first make it legible.

NB: All photos stolen from the V8 Supercars website: http://www.v8supercars.com.au

October 07, 2012

Horse 1374 - Happiness Is A Warm Puppy... is it?

From: http://www.happyscience.org.au/learn-the-spiritual-and-religious-teachings/master-ryuho-okawa-s-world-tour.html

If you suspect that it's going to be a weird sort of blog post if I start linking to a website called "Happy Science", then you'd be right. I saw this poster whilst getting off the bus near Wynyard yesterday and just had to write something about it.
By the way, Mr Okada does indeed look quite happy.

Ryuho Okawa is making a speaking tour of Australia later this year and will be asking the question "how happy are you?". Presumably if you're not happy he will be giving his advice on how to achieve happiness in this hectic age we live in.
Before you needlessly spend your hard earned cash (which by the way would probably make Mr Okada happy), I will now dispense the secret to happiness. It is really ludicrously simple.

1. Have your material needs met.
Before I'm roasted about how materialistic this sounds, I'd like to draw the distinction between actual needs and wants. Humans needs basically extend as far as being fed, clothed, housed and living in adequate safety; that's it. People don't need cars, or washing machines, sofas, electric tin openers, stereos etc. Those things are nice to have but people can and do survive quite happily without them.
The biggest sources of material unhappiness, revolve around the issues of poverty, war, domestic violence and crime. Eliminate those things and you're well on the road to happiness.
There is an old saying that "money doesn't buy happiness". The truth is that you can prove empirically that it does right up to a certain point; and then it doesn't any more. That point almost but not exactly coincides with the point where one's basic needs have been met. Conversely and if you'd like to conduct the experiment on yourself, invite a robber to come around and steal your stuff. Eventually you will reach a point at which the amount of stuff stolen genuinely has long lasting effects on your happiness.
It is also worth pointing out at this juncture that humans are incredibly adaptable. When a norm has been established both upwards or downwards with respect to material comfort, any immediate changes will be noticed more or less immediately. Over the long term though and people's expectations will change to meet that new level of comfort reached.

2. Love and be Loved.
Sociologists, religious groups and even humanists will concede the point that humans are social creatures and have the inbuilt need and desire to love and be loved and for validation. Virtually everyone seeks out friends and is part of at least one connected group of people, no matter how small.

Basic Christian theology speaks of God's love and a relationship which is broken and then attempts made to repair that relationship, as does Jewish theology which is for the most part congruous save for their lack of belief as Christ as the Messiah.
Islam speaks of people's relationship with God as being first and foremost. Islam also suggests that this relationship also determines the basis of their other relationships with their fellow human beings, family, community, and even the state itself.
Buddhism in principle does not believe in a personal God or a divine being but it does speak heavily of the relationships which we have with other people.
Hinduism talks of a vast pantheon in which it's possible to relate to a whole host of different gods but also talks of the importance of loving your fellow man.

The point is that I've yet to encounter even a single religion which doesn't stress the importance of showing love to other people and/or the creator's love for their creation. What is in debate are the questions of "who" and "how" to love rather than whether it exists or not.

As daft as this sounds, be it the Christian model of the church, or the local community, or the family unit, or even something broader like a nation, people have a need to contribute and belong to something bigger than their own experience.
We can find evidence of this by examining virtually every aspect of culture we desire. Plays, songs, TV shows, novels, art etc. all tend to display the idea that people are meant to interact and befriend other people and their creator (pick any religion) to some degree.

That's it.

No... actually that is it. 

Every single text that I've ever read seems to come down to these two fundamental aspects 100% of the time. There doesn't seem to be any particular magic pill, no 39 steps, no program to sign up for, that really is it.
Most of the causes of unhappiness seem to revolve around either the lack of material well being or the lack of love, both as a noun and a verb. Admittedly temperament does have a part to play in all of this but that only goes so far as to explain reactions to what's gone on. In essence, provided that you are fed, that you love and loved, then that really is all you actually need to be happy.