November 30, 2012

Horse 1408 - Boring Boring Adelaide

Make comments about Sydney and Sydneysiders being obssesed with property prices and how freakily inept the government is and that you're either jammed in like sardines on public transport or stuck on a 14 kilometer carpark called the M2, M5, M4 or M whatever it is, and people nod their head in agreement with you and roll their eyes.
Make comments about Melbourne and Melbournians and that you can not literally escape AFL coverage either on telly or print, or that despite the fact that the city thinks that it is all cosmopolitan and liveable, the second you go more than 10km from the city centre, public transport is non-existent and there's roadworks every fifteen metres because of a pothole which was caused in 1973, and people start using four letter words and blaming Jeff Kennett for everything.
Make comments about Adelaide being "boring" though and half the internet wants to slice you in two wit' bread knife. I discovered this much to my chagrin via Twitter this week.

Thinking Adelaide is dull and uninteresting though, isn't just a matter of opinion, it seems that the world is full of evidence as this being fact.

John Safran in "Not The Sunscreen Song" wrote:
"Travel as often as you can, live in New York City once, live in Northern California once, never live in Adelaide... It's a hole. "

Ben Folds wrote of Adelaide that:
"Dropping in from outer space, takes a day.
Now I see the Bogans, at the motor race.
Here you know the world could turn, or crash and burn
And you would never know it."

Google's auto-complete function in its search bar provides an amusing little insight into Adelaide. If you type in "Adelaide is", then this is the result you get:

I used to visit Adelaide quite a fair bit with my job with the law courts. Helpfully, Adelaide addresses in the centre of town are either all numbered so that the even numbers are on the north or east side of streets and odd numbers are on the south or west side of streets. Also, they appear to be mostly increasingly numbered the further you got away from King William St. The other thing which is obvious from a map of Adelaide, is the green belt of parks (and cemetery) and the quincunx which amusingly is worth 26 points in Scrabble.

Despite Colonel William Light's brilliant planning when he laid out the city, Adelaide has the worst metropolitan rail services in the country, is the only capital city not to be served by electric trains and due to the complete and utter failure of government forethought, destroyed the vast bulk of its tram lines in 1958.
To compensate though, Adelaide has a weird network of bus-track things called O-Bahn and as far as I know, has the world's only one-way tidal motorway, which is nothing short of an annoyance if you happen to be at the wrong end when traffic is going the other way. At least you don't sit in traffic jams though. Nope, I tell a lie. I got stuck on Wattle St in the city's south once, when two chaps in utes decided to stop in the middle of the road and have a chat. Also, although speed limits are sometimes posted as 60km/h, it's not infrequent to be doing 30km/h because someone just feels like moving slowly. In that respect Adelaide is more like a big country town than Brisbane is.

People from Adelaide still find the O-Bahn confusing though.

Adelaide also has a unique habit of being completely shut at 4:05pm on a weekday. I had quite a number of experiences of walking out of the building in Angas St, wanting to buy a snack and discovering that everything had closed.
Rundle Mall doesn't fare much better; although shops are supposed to be open from 9am to 7pm, the only ones who bother opening beyond 4pm are Myer, David Jones and Woolworths. Even then, Myer and David Jones call closing time at 6pm and kick everyone out as quickly as they possibly can, for fear of the customers actually wanting to buy something.

The people of Adelaide are friendly; simple folk. They aren't fussed with competing news outlets and Adelaide's single daily newspaper pulls no punches when it yells to the world what it thinks that its function is, right across the masthead - The Advertiser.
The big oval in Adelaide where cricket is played is called the Adelaide Oval and the big park where football is played is called Football Park. It is a little like Melbourne in that the big news stories revolve almost entirely around Australian Rules Football and actual news stories fill up the first 9 or so pages in the newspaper.
Back to Australian Rules Football though and confusingly the state competition is called the South Australian National Football League, which suggests to me that perhaps that they don't quite understand the concept of the word "national". Mind you they also don't understand the word "river" either, for the River Torrens is usually barely more than a glorified creek.

South Australia itself is the most urbanised state in Australia with 73% of all South Australians living in Adelaide. If a capital city is reflective generally of the state, then the fact that most of South Australia is comprised of mind-numbing expanses of not very much, then perhaps it's asking a little bit too much of the state to produce an interesting capital. Sure, it's a very nice capital city but it's still a tad boring.

Horse 1407 - "Fun Utility Vehicle"? Say What Now?

Adverts like this make me wonder just how far down the rabbit hole we've gone; making words do things that they shouldn't and giving substance to pure wind.
FUV or Fun Utility Vehicle - granted, it is probably more fun than an SUV but so is every sports car (which this is not) and in its defence, it is a vehicle, but a Utility? Hatchback maybe.
Then again I disagree with the term SUV in the first place.
SUV: Sports Utility Vehicle. Ok, so "vehicle" isn't in dispute but the first two most certainly are.

Sports - No-one in their right mind would call a two and a half ton behemoth like a Toyota Land Cruiser a sports car. It would be utter idiocy to round  McPhillamy Park at 200km/h over the top of the mountain. I suppose that technically you could build a BMW X6 V8Supercar under the Car Of The Future regulations but it would be so top heavy, it would probably tip over as Jamie Whincup's Commodore came up the inside.
There are big 4WDs in the Dakar every year and for rally raids across open desert where there are no roads at all, they are in their element but you're never going to see one in the WRC against a Citroën C4 and certainly never at Le Mans up against the Audi R18s and Peugeot 908s.
Sports cars, they most certainly are not.

Utility - I'm not particularly sure about the validity of this.
If you were to compare a Mazda CX-9 against the Mazda 6 wagon which both sit on the same platform, I'm reasonably sure that you'd find more usable space in the wagon; mainly because the CX-9 being a much taller vehicle, sits on larger wheels thus requiring greater intrusion of the wheel wells into the available boot space.
If SUVs have supposedly more utility, then why have I never seen a Ford Territory as a taxi? I still see plenty of Falcon wagons as taxis despite then Falcon wagon being discontinued last year.

Things that we do call utilities usually have a bed at the back to haul stuff about in. The very idea of a utility came from a farmer's wife wanting to drive to church on Sunday but haul pigs to market on Monday. Even today although you can get an HSV Maloo with more power than common sense and a dress kit with skirts and spoilers, the vehicle will still take a set of tradie's tools, or a fridge or even half a dozen pigs to market should the need occur.
Toyota have of late even tried to pitch their Hilux as an AUV or Action Utility Vehicle but the public haven't taken to it because quite rightly it is seen as daft.

So if SUVs are neither Sport or Utility, then where and why did the three letter acronym come about when everyone was using the term Four Wheel Drive to fulfill the same function?
I went to the library to check this out and right up to the December 1998 issue of Autocar magazine, adverts for Range Rovers which surely must be the top of the SUV tree, referred to them either as "wagons" or as "estate" cars. The names  "stationwagon" and "estate" pretty well both describe the fact that the intended purpose is to drive them either on an estate (obviously rural) or on a station. Both terms imply either uneven and boggy ground and a vast amount of space. In most places and especially the UK, estates are almost exclusively owned by either the aristocracy or the recently monied gentry.

I can't say that I know exactly who the culprit is, though the reason for their popularity lies solely at the feet of US auto makers.
The story begins with a series of oil crises in the 1970s coupled with increasing levels of smog over California and specifically Los Angeles. In response to this, the US Dept of Transport passed laws which effectively drove the 7 and 8 Litre V8 monsters off the road and into the pages of history. They then enforced harsher emissions standards on cars under so called CAFE regulations. Trucks though were exempt.
If you were American and you still wanted a very big thing on the road, you'd move to buying a big pickup truck instead of the whales of cars you used to. Technically SUVs weren't cars but "trucks" and as such fell outside the operation of CAFE emissions and smog laws. The big three auto makers saw this and eventually there was the Cadillac Escalade and the Lincoln Navigator which technically remained trucks to avoid the CAFE regulations.
Throw in some clever marketing and suddenly the weren't pickup trucks or utilities but Sport Utility Vehicles even though as discussed they're neither sporty nor very utilitarian.
I can't say for sure but I'm guessing that the term probably started to appear in about 1993 at best guess.

Anyway back to the MINI (all-caps) Countryman which they're trying to give the moniker of FUV to.
Vehicle is a given. You could use it as a henhouse but that comes in about 25 years time.
Fun is entirely subjective and so can't really be argued against because it is entirely the opinion of the individual. If you were to find the funnest car though, I'd say the the regular MINI because if its smaller footprint is more chuckable into corners and therefore more fun. Outright sports cars are more fun but they already have a name: "sports cars".
This leaves "utility"; as a smallish hatchback, although it will carry a washing machine or a fridge, that's it. No tradie would use this as a work car.
If anything is to be called an FUV or Fun Utility Vehicle, then the best cars to wear this tag would be utes by HSV or FPR. Tricked up Falcon and Commodore utes. They are seriously fun things to drive, they're genuine utilities and they're vehicles.

Maybe its just time to call things out for what they are. The MINI Countryman is a hatchback that thinks its a wagon but has an identity crisis and tries to pitch itself against big four wheel drives. They themselves are just jacked up wagons or estates and the only true Sport Utility Vehicles are racing V8 Utes.

Now then, if I can convince someone to get me a Land Rover Defender 110, I'll go bush with it and show you what a Fun Four Wheel Drive looks like. I bet within three days it would be completely covered in mud.
Let's see you do that with a MINI.

November 29, 2012

Horse 1406 - Who Won Between Israel and Palestine?

The Australian on its masthead of Friday 23rd November asked the question of the conflict between Palestine and Israel "Who Won?". It then quite sensibly on page 10 in its reporting, avoided answering the question. Depending on the tone of how the question is asked (which isn't easily conveyed in print) this could either be a direct or rhetorical question. If it isn't a rhetorical question, then the answer is either "everyone" or "no-one".

The basic problem which still confronts both Israel and Palestine is that they still both exist.
Although Palestine doesn't say it officially, both Hamas and Fatah which are its two main political parties, are offshoots of the former PLO. Both are committed to the destruction of the Israeli state and the Israeli people.
Israel whilst claiming it has the right to self-defence continually, still has a belligerent habit of deliberately antagonising Palestine and her people. It never apologises ever for building settlements in nominally Palestinian land and equally as in this conflict, actively goes about disrupting Palestinian politics via the instrument of assassination.
Murder and bloodshed are the "tools" of both sides of this conflict and whilst both often like to make murmurs of peace, their actions betray this. Every time these sorts of conflicts flare up I always find myself condemning both sides.

I hold the view that this rolling series of conflicts is not a "war", though it might be considered to be warfare. "War" is usually a definable series of conflicts with a command structure like Generals and Admirals who have objectives with distinct endings. "Warfare" which this is, has no obvious objective or ending other than the perpetual rolling and display of power for power's sake.
I really don't think that the governments of Israel or Palestine are ever committed to real and lasting peace because that would mean an erosion of the political and power base which the respective governments enjoy. It is far easier to whip up political support when people are in a frenzy. Keeping people fearful is quite an effective way of maintaining power and its even better if that fear is generated by an outside party because you can then appear to be responsible and chivalrous when you choose to attack them.
Israel in essence chooses to ignore the 1967 boundaries and Palestine has never agreed in principle to the terms of the 1948 instrument which created the modern state of Israel in the first place.
Really if you want to be pedantic about it, the land should by rights belong to Britain who won it through a definable war in 1923 from the Ottoman Empire.

History has shown that only one solution to this conflict properly works; that is the imposition of an even worse foreign belligerent power who cares naught about the petty brotherly squabble that rages forever.
The Roman Empire was able to establish relative peace in Syria, Palestina and Arabia, and the Eastern Roman Empire and finally the Ottomans still basically imposed brutal rule over the region from a seat of power in Constantinople.

Really the only proper modern workable solution is one which would be utterly abhorrent to both sides of the conflict, and that is:
Shut up, put up, get over it.
End the conflict by tearing down every internal boundary between Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Palestine. Send everyone in government from both sides to a Pacific Island and never ever provide any means of escape, ever. If people want to continue the conflict, let them do so by bashing each other over the head with bits of driftwood.
Rename the new nation "Abraham", since both Jews and Arabs claim him as their father. Give full and unqualified representation to Arabs and Jews in the new parliament. And finally, destroy every weapon and ban all firearms except in a common military.

I really am sick of hearing every excuse imaginable; anyone who tries to defend the butchering of innocent people for any reason over the last 64 years is an idiot of the most stupid, pathetic and moronic persuasion. How the continuance of bloodshed, rage and violence is supposed to be an agent for peace, is really quite beyond me. If you punch someone in the face, their natural reaction will only be wanting to punch you back. Multiply that by more than half a century and the road to peace looks very very very far off in the distance indeed.
I'm sorry but I can not honestly think of any just cause why this continues other than the selfishness of a few people who must get some sort of perverse joy in watching people blown to pieces.
I don't really see any difference between a rocket that lands in Jerusalem or Gaza City. People's lives are destroyed and to be honest, I think that if they were given the opportunity to live quiet, peaceful lives without fear of bombs raining down on their house, they'd prefer to, and that goes for everyone on both sides if this conflict and indeed every conflict.

The answer to the question of the conflict between Palestine and Israel "Who Won?" is either:
1. "Everyone" because it is sort of over for  now.
2. "No-one' because nothing was solved and it cost people's lives and the destruction of property for precisely zero benefit.

November 22, 2012

Horse 1405 - Multiples Of 6 And Primes

"I don't like to be pedantic (well, actually I do)," writes Geoff Poulton, of Westleigh (all primes adjoin a number divisible by 6, Column 8, since Monday), "but the rule should be 'all primes greater than 3',", and while we did deal with that on Monday, Geoff goes on to explain why the rule works. "Since all such primes are odd, both adjacent numbers are divisible by 2. Also, in any group of three consecutive numbers, one MUST be divisible by 3, so this has to be true for one of the two numbers bordering a prime (since this can't be true for the prime). Since this number must also be divisible by 2, it's divisible by 6. A corollary is that for paired primes (differing by 2 like 41 and 43) the number in the middle is always divisible by 6." We've had a torrent of correspondence on this subject, which we will carefully dole out over the coming days in bite-sized chunks.
- Column 8, Sydney Morning Herald, 21st Nov 2012

I saw this in Column 8 and thought that if this proposal is true, there has to be a way to prove it; thankfully there is an exceptionally easy way to do this and it isn't all that complicated.

Pick any number: I pick 247 because as I typed this on the bridge overlooking Military Rd in Mosman, the number 247 bus went underneath.
247 in expanded notation is 2 hundreds, 4 tens and 7 units. 2 * 10² plus 4 * 10¹ plus 7 * 10°

There isn't really any good reason why 10 is so magical. You could use any number system and maths still functions perfectly. If that seems hard to wrap your head around, the Mad Hatter's hat cost 10/6, that is 10 shillings and sixpence.
10 * 12¹ plus 6 * 12° = 10 shillings and 6 pence (pennies being the base unit)
Mrs Rollo is 5'7" tall, 5 * 12¹ plus 7 * 12° = 5 feet and 7 inches (inches being the base unit)
A T20 cricket match at the 5.4 over mark is 5 * 6¹ plus 4 * 6° = 5 overs and 4 balls (balls being the base unit)
People have been using all sorts of bases for numbers whenever it suits them for reasons of usefulness. In this case I'm picking base 6, since that's what's being asked.

The first thing I notice is that apart from 2, all even numbers are not prime. 14 = 2 * 5 for instance.
The second thing I notice is that apart from 3, all numbers ending in three are not prime. 53 for example is 15 * 3. The multiples of 3 beyond 10 are 13, 20, 23, 30, 33, 40, 43, etc. Still confused? Start thinking in base 6.
Having established that all multiples beyond 3 are not prime and all even numbers beyond 2 are also not prime, the only possible end digits that primes can exist in are 1 and 5 and since 1 and 5 happen to be either side of 10 in base 6, all primes will occur adjacent to multiples of 6.

Either Ernie or Bert must be prime. They are adjacent to a multiple of 6.

Geoff Poulton's explanation that for paired primes (differing by 2 like 41 and 43) the number in the middle is always divisible by 6 also holds true. 42 in base 6 is 110; 41 and 43 in base 6 are 105 and 111 just as I'd suggested.

November 21, 2012

Horse 1404 - RuddBull: Such a Beautiful Dream... But Only A Dream

On Monday night's edition of Q And A on ABC1, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull outshone Judith Sloan and Heather Ridout to the point where you began to feel sorry for them. Both Judith and Heather are both incredibly interesting people to listen to and I've heard them both on Radio National and ABC News Radio but on Monday, it was decidedly unfair that they play second fiddle to Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull. I do hope they both come back on Q And A in the future.
Both Rudd and Turnbull gave off airs of men who looked to have been stomped on by their respective parties. Both of them as ex leaders of their parties had.pretty well come to the conclusion that for the moment that neither of them would leaf their parties again and neither of them would hold the job of Prime Minister.

The question was inevitably posed as to why they don't form their own political party. In fact if you'd been following Twitter for both the duration of the episode and for the next eight hours, #Ruddbull was still trending Australia wide.
Obviously you can't very call a political party centre-rightbut the question remains, why don't they?

Rudd and Turnbull see eye to eye in a great deal many issues. They both believe in education as the means of improving the stock of labour in the country, though they disagree on how it should be delivered. They both agree that broadband and the internet will be the highways of the 21st Century and again they disagree on its delivery. They even both agreed that a carbon trading emissions scheme was the best mechanism for dealing with that issue because it would have used the market itself to find the most efficient pricing structure.
The reason why they see eye to eye on so many issues is pretty obvious. Both of them are pragmatic people and the net outcome of a plan is important. Turnbull's left meets Rudd's right and they'd be able to find an agreeable solution on a lot of issues and in a lot of circumstances. They're both fairly close to the centre of the Australian political spectrum, which is broadly to the right of the theoretical centre of politics generally as it has been since about 1976.

The question as to why they don't form a new political party isn't then one of ideology then but of pure pragmatism.
Assuming that they did form a new party. Ideologically speaking, they'd bite the centre out of Australian politics. If it were possible tomorrow, they'd pull maybe 25 members from both Labor and Liberal and then have to fight for the remaining 26 seats for outright government. If they didn't get that though, they'd find themselves in the position of forming coalition with either Labor or Liberal, thus alienating part of the electorate which voted for them and at best it would last maybe three election cycles.
There's also the very real problem of what happens to any of those members. Suddenly very safe seated members if they'd switched would find that they'd never be readmitted to the party which they'd been in for maybe more than 20 years and with the double whammy of having to fight that same party for their own seat.

Andrew Catsaras on ABC Radio National in interview with Waleed Aly last night suggested that the public like two party politics. I suggest that what the public like in this particular case is irrelevant. Joining the new Ruddbull party would be akin to political suicide and there'd be a good chance that such a person would never have a job in politics again. There's very few people who would deliberately resign with only a possibility of gaining the same job again.
The question of why don't they form a new party isn't even a particularly new one. There were suggestions pretty well much like this during the era of Bob Hawke and Andrew Peacock, although given that Hawke had been head of the ACTU it was also like so much smoke, a chasing of the wind.
Perhaps in the days of non party politics, the idea wouldn't have been so crazy. When Robert Peel and Lord Melbourne came up against each other, parties weren't very heavily delineated; they certainly weren't registered corporations with constitutions, marketing machines and permanent staff.
Not even the great shift in Australian politics which saw Menzies pull lots of members into the then brand new Liberal party out of the old United Australia Party was quite this hard. The United Australia Party and the Nationalist Party of Australia before it were both grounded in centre-right conservatism. Ruddbull would be pulling from the centre-left as well and would be far harder to establish.

Ruddbull as a party would in people's minds emotionally fill the centre and win government tomorrow. The problem is that the real world would start knocking at the door very quickly.
Durveger's Law says that with any single member constituency system, it tends towards two party politics. It's not very hard to see why this is the case. The simple fact that there is a government and there are members of the parliament who are not in the government, draws a very very black line down the middle of the parliament. Even if you have six or seven parties battling for control, the system is such that it eventually settles; one only needs to look at the period in Australian politics from 1901-1911 to notice that the experiment has already been performed.
You will from time to time get a third party who sits in the balance of power and the Australian public are sort of fine with that in the Senate at least. The Greens sort of fill it now and the Democrats did in the 1990s. Somehow I think that neither Turnbull or Rudd want to resigned to third party politics.

For Turnbull, staying in the Liberal Party means a spot in a Liberal cabinet. It is possible over the long game of politics that he'd have another shot at the leadership too.
Rudd on the other hand is less likely to again be Prime Minister but at the moment, he still sits in the Government and has a chance at regaining a cabinet post if the political winds change.
The pragmatists in both of them see the value of staying in their party because at very least it means staying in their seat. Just like playing poker if you have a chip you have a chair and not having a chair means that you're out of the game. They'd both rather stay in it me thinks.

November 20, 2012

Horse 1357 - addditional

In Horse 1357 which was published on September 3, or just over 9 weeks before the 2012 Presidential Election, I made the following prediction: that Romney would win the election 275 over Obama 263.
When you compare the Electoral College results and note that Obama won 332 to Romney 206, it would appear on the face of it that I was hideously wrong. However if you look on a state by state basis, it looks very different indeed.

It would appear that I picked every single state in the Union except for Florida and California. Florida I had expected to turn Republican but obviously the Latino vote was retained in that state. California which I said would be 6.1m Obama and 6.1m Romney in Horse 1396 turned out to be 6.4m Obama and 4.1m Romney. Less Californians turned out than I anticipated.

It's also worth noting that with the exception of the single vote from  Nebraska's 2nd congressional district, every single state of the union ended with a result identical to 2008. That doesn't show anything particularly interesting except for electoral intertia, that is that things show a tendancy to keep doing whatever it is that they're already doing.

Still, 48/50 states isn't bad is it? is it?

Horse 1403 - The Fiscal Cliff, Come On Over

Forgive me if I don't understand the fatalistic gibberish nonsense spewing forth from the vomitoria which make up both the American media and political dialogue of late. The "message" which they're so desperately trying to stay on is a so called "fiscal cliff", which sounds as idiotic to me as Kambrook's "electric water unraveller" which also does not exist.

The basic problem is that the United States has a massive debt problem caused by not less 180 years of continuous borrowing to pay for the costs of government. Indeed the country itself was started over a taxation dispute and the underlying issue is that people and companies simply do not want to pay tax. The states initially signed over $75 million which was incurred during the War of Independence and the US Government did achieve a net zero debt in the 1830s but the Civil War of the 1860s, two World Wars and lots of other wars have ensured that it has never been paid off since.
Compound this with a Social Security program which will start to become very expensive as the post war Baby Boomers start to draw on government pensions, which nowhere near enough money was set aside for; rather like General Motors which nearly went to the wall because of that very problem.

Given the massive debt, you'd think that the solution would be to raise taxation and reduce spending to at very least begin to make a dent in the debt. The problem here is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge which sort of prevents vast numbers of members of the Congress from ever voting for such things.
Instead the "fiscal cliff' are a range of Bush-era tax cuts which are due to expire and automatic spending cuts. These two things are precisely what should be done to reduce the debt in the first place but wouldn't have been done and will continue not to be done if people get their way.
This whole fiscal cliff problem is like finding the biggest and drunkest man at the bar, filling him full of very cheap whiskey, giving him a range of guns, telling him that people are out to get him and then filling him with more cheap whiskey and caffeine so that he's paranoid and starts smashing people who look different but not letting him sober up to realise that his wallet went missing some time ago and the bar has been keeping a slate. Eventually he's going to sober up, be forced to pay up, end up with a massive hangover and find that the people he's smashed are angry and still want to pick a fight with him.

I rather think that it is a very good thing that America goes over the fiscal cliff. For a start, I don't believe that it is a cliff but that it's more like a small dip in a river that a canoe gets snagged on.
The Democrats can claim that because the Republicans won't negotiate on taxation cuts, that the cliff is a necessary check on the prudency of political process. They'd lose some things that they'd fought for such as the bottom 10% tax bracket and changes to childcare transfers but they'd still be getting tax increases at the top which the Republicans wouldn't have agreed to otherwise.
The Republicans can claim that they didn't break their pledges not to raise taxation because an automatic expiration is a different thing to actively voting for increases. They can appease the Republican Right which includes the Tea Party (which given the incredible right shiftedness of American politics anyway, means that they're extremely massively fiscally to the right) and thus keep their "brand" intact.
In the light of partisan politics and a refusal by both sides to negotiate anything sensibly, the fiscal cliff seems to be about the best result which can be hoped for.
The 113rd Congress is not markedly different to the 112th in makeup. At least from a legislative perspective, it means that the people have decided by default for a continuance in the amount of gridlock. The fact that Obama has been returned as President says that they want the executive of the nation to continue what it's doing.
I don't know what sort of seismic shift in politics it would take to move either party but I don't think that we're going to end up with a spirit of compromise.

Obama looks unflappable on the issue. Either this indicates that he's adopted a wait and see approach, or perhaps more obviously he simply can't devote the energy to the issue at the moment, what with rocket fire being exchanged between Hamas and Israel. Maybe it could mean that he also thinks that doing nothing and going over the fiscal cliff is the best possible outcome as well.

I do know that December 21 is the key date here because Congress shuts down for the Christmas break and by the time it reconvenes on January 7, the canoe will already have gone over the cliff.
Personally I don't think that there's anything bad on the other side except for the usual jungle which contains the normal bears and bulls on Wall St, and the elephants and donkeys in Washington; no-one wants to listen to the wise old owls any more... so over the cliff we go.

November 16, 2012

Horse 1403 - Best Parliament In The World

If I have been taught anything over the past month it is that the Australian Federal Parliament and its peculiar form of Westminster Government is probably the best in the world. I find it remarkable that for 112 years, we've had stable and boisterous government and I think that by accident and design, we've stumbled on a good thing.
I think that this comes down to a few key factors.

1. Compulsory Voting
Mitt Romney himself made that now famous gaff that he didn't have to worry about 47% of the population because they would always vote against him. There is a very large kernel of truth about that but if he had been in Australia it would have been very very different.
Unlike voluntary voting which exists in the US and the UK, compulsory voting sends a great many more of the apathetic masses out to vote. Also unlike the US and UK, parties and politicians have to work far harder to entice a far larger amount of people to vote for them. Romney's comment about the 47% probably equally works the other way; twice 47 is 94 which means that election results in the US swing on only 6% of voters. In Australia, swings of more than 15% are commonplace and even sitting Prime Ministers can not automatically assume that they will even retain their own seat; this is something which most politicians in the US and UK never have to deal with, so they don't; to the detriment of good governance.

2. Shorter Terms
I think that one of the powers which is utterly central to proper democracy is the power of the people to fire governments through the ballot box if they don't like them. Governments should always remember that they only rule via the consent of the people and a very simple way of doing this is to keep them on their toes.
NSW has shown that when you have a bad, mad and sad government in power, five years is a terrible amount of time to have to suffer whilst it careers out of control. The UK which has only just adopted a five year term will soon learn that exact same lesson and I think that the effects will be horrible. Five years is far too long a period to have to sit through and the only people it benefits are the sitting members themselves, which is most likely why they voted for it.
The US experience with four year fixed terms fares no better. Even with the mid-term elections which occur in the even years between a year when both the President and Congress are elected, you can still end up with gridlock. The 112th Congress is set to be the least productive since WW2 and the 113th which begins in January is not markedly different in composition from it; therefore it in all likelihood will be just as unproductive.

In Australia though, there are mechanisms to both unseat a government before term, for a government to call an early election if they think that the winds are blowing the right way and because the maximum length of a parliament is only three years plus the issue of the writs etc. Australia is able to depose unpopular and unworthy governments far more easily. This means that the Government and Opposition have to formulate policy which is palatable to the electorate and adjust that policy more often or else suffer sitting on the other side of the chamber. Although the name Shadow Cabinet sounds darker, edgier and cooler than the Cabinet proper, there are no cool weapons at their disposal and so an Opposition generally  works harder than a Government to formulate new policy.

3. The Cabinet In the Chamber
One of the features which we inherited from the grand old lady of Westminster was that the Cabinet itself is selected from sitting members in parliament. This means that every member of the Cabinet has to have been voted there by someone in the country because the only way you even get into either chamber is through the ballot box.
The Cabinet in the US is made up of people who are selected by the President. This means to say that the executive of the United States is made entirely of unelected persons save for the President and Vice President. How this is tolerated in a land which prides itself as being a bastion of democracy is beyond me. This looks like a perfect avenue for corruption to thrive in, to me.

The other problem which faces the US which never occurs in Australia is the prospect of government shutdowns because a budget can not be passed. The remedy for this in Australia is that when governments are unable to pass a budget, a loss of supply occurs and we have a new election.
Even in the midst of the 1975 constitutional crisis which was caused by a delay in supply, we still saw an election called because the Governor General in my opinion quite rightly dissolved parliament under his undefined reserve powers. At very least it shows that the system has workable controls.
In the US because the Department of Treasury (as indeed all departments) has the Secretary sit outside of the chamber, they're subject to the machinations of a sometimes hostile and toxic Congress. In Australia though, the Treasurer is part of the sitting government which is by definition made from a majority of members in the lower house; so half the job should in theory already be done save for members of the government crossing the floor.

4. Election of the Upper House.
The framers of the Australian Constitution when faced with six colonies who would become states and who were frequently both at each others' throats and couldn't normally agree on anything, decided to take the best of the US system and afford equal representation in the Senate and more importantly make it an elected body.
The effect of proportional representation as a voting system has led to a greater plurality of voices in the upper chamber which the lower chamber could never achieve through single member; preferential voting and ensures that there is a proper check on legislation in parliament, unlike Queensland for instance which abandoned its upper house and now has governments who are able to pass legislation in complete impugnity; free from the prying eyes of someone checking their work.
In contrast, the House of Lords in the UK which is an unelected body, is incapable by definition of representing anyone and basically acts as a.holding pen for otherwise unelectable ex-Members of the Commons and people who are unemployable in the real world. Being a Lord I imagine must be about the easiest job in the world because if you behave reasonably, you can have yourself a nice government wage for life without ever going through the utter bore of elections like those Commoners do.

5. Preferential Voting in the Reps and Proportional Voting in the Senate.
A sitting member in the House of Representatives because of preferential voting must at some point during the counting achieve 50% of the vote. In a first past the post system like the UK which still has somewhat meaningful third parties, it would be possible for a member to be voted in on just 34% of the vote with the other two candidates scoring 33% each. If for example the Horrible Party won a seat over the Lovely Party and the Nice Party with those sorts of figures it would mean that despite almost two thirds of voters in active disapproval, they still get in anyway. Basically the only parties who support the first-past-the-post method are those parties who are in power but stand to lose significantly. Preferential voting requires parties to work harder.

With proportional voting in the Senate, even smaller parties are represented. Although there is sometimes talk of small parties holding the balance of power being somehow bad for democracy, this very statement almost denies the fact that the vast bulk and actual power to determine the direction of policy is still held with the majors. A member of a party with only one seat in the Senate can not seriously expect to direct policy about them like some weird legislative traffic cop. The power of one vote might seem like a lot but how does it compare with the power of thirty.

In closing:
I'm sure that there are a host of other things I could say here but I don't think I need to. Ultimately good governance results in stability and Australia's parliament produces precisely that; even with the bickering which goes on but that's more about politics than the system itself.

November 15, 2012

Horse 1402 - Why Didn't They Pick Monty?

Occasionally through reasons unknown to modern science, a nation via a mysterious act of randomness will produce a cricket player who although does well in their own country, is utterly perfect at playing on the pitches of some foreign land. Terry Alderman was like this for Australia in that he excelled on the softer pitches of England, Graeme Gooch performed better on the harder pitches of the West Indies and Australia.
Monty Panesar although already being a fine English cricketer, it seems was bred for playing on the sandier pitches of the sub-continent but for some reason known only to the ECB, they have picked Samit Patel over Panesar.

Monty has a first class average a full eight runs lower than Patel and I suspect that the reason for this, is more to do with him working harder at his bowling than Patel.
Actually if you take a more detailed look at Panesar's bowling we find that 66 or his 142 Test wickets have all either been Bowled or LBW; that should have been crucial in Ahmedabad and England have been made to look foolish.

He also has something which given the whole debacle with Kevin Petersen, would have been vital - cheerfulness.
England has this nasty habit to completely lose heart in the field when they are being tonked to all parts nether and yon. Monty though, is able to keep his head when those around him are losing theirs, all the while keeping a smile on his face.
Even after one session on the opening day's play when Gambir and Sehwag had put together 120 without loss, you could already see that this was an England side which had dropped their heads as though they'd already been beaten. I can almost guarantee that Monty would not have done that.
Cricket is a fickle beast and even a side which is 330 without loss can be 337/7 just four overs later. I know this because I've seen Monty unchain that beast and let it run rampant. He is one of only a select Englishmen to have taken a 10-wicket Test haul.

Admittedly Yuvraj Singh has always looked a little weak against spin and I'm not sure exactly whether Pujara has faced quality spin at Test level but the fact remains that both of them remained not out at stumps and both looked quite settled; their reward was an unbeaten partnership of 40 as India ended on 323/4.

Quite frankly it should be about 285/8 because the best possible spinner for the conditions, isn't even playing in this match. Swann has done well with 4 wickets but if Bresnan is going for 5.6 an over in a Test Match, what is the point I ask you?
I'm looking at a second day probably full of dour cricket from England. India will go on with the solid start that they've made and will more than likely go beyond 500 on a pitch which they should have made 200 less than that because England didn't pick Monty.

Horse 1401 - Scottish Independence Is The Parting Gift The Tories Always Wanted

The single biggest problem facing English (British minus Scotland) politics over at least the next 3 election cycles ('15, '20, '25) will be the lack of any sort of cohesive opposition to the Tory Party at all.
Polls this week indicate that support for Scottish independence is growing and that by the time of the referendum, Alex Salmond will more than likely get his wish for the Cross Of St Andrew to be flying free and without peer over Scotland.

Once Scotland leaves though, the numbers in the parliament will change significantly. With all the seats currently held by the SNP and Scottish Labour gone, the Tories on current numbers wouldn't even need to be in coalition with the LibDems. This basically says that even if every MP were to retain their seat following the '15 election, that the Tories could kick their lapdogs (er LibDems) outside forever.
There are as it stands 650 constituencies in the United Kingdom, 59 constituencies reside in Scotland, however the Tories hold a grand total of one seat in Scotland. The Tories hold 306 seats in Parliament which in 650 is only just over 47%. If Scotland votes "yes" to independence, those seats immediately disappear leaving 591; 305 in 591 is a majority in their own right of 9 seats. The Tories could easily eject the LibDems from the Coalition and because the Cabinet would remain intact, even if a motion of either no confidence were tabled on the floor, or an attempt was made to block the budget, owing to Standing Order 66 which states that  "the Commons would not vote money for any purpose, except on a motion of a Minister of the Crown" it would be disallowed.

I suspect that the LibDems are facing political oblivion. The party under Clegg seems happy to sit in coalition with the Tories and I suspect that the reason why they continue to do so is that they know that any snap election called before the term will result in voter backlash against them. The MPs of the party who currently hold seats in the parliament, know that they're in borrowed time and no politician likes the prospect of losing their own seat.

Labour themselves have their own problems. Unlike the 1870s-1920s which saw the formation of modern trade unions as a concept, Labour doesn't really have a base anymore. 
The biggest problem is that since what little that was left of manufacturing in the UK was smashed to pieces by the Thatcher Government in the 1980s, there has been a generation which has grown up which hasn't really been represented by any political party. With the Blair Government in the 00s, Labour as a party has had its reputation damaged possibly irreperably.

On a more permanent basis, Labour and the LibDems even if they tried to form an Opposition Coalition would face the monumental task of unseating vast numbers of nominally Tory constituencies.  Personally I think that the numbers are such that it would take at least two election cycles beyond '15 for another shift in British politics for a serious opposition to even raise its head; that is also assuming that both Wales and Northern Ireland don't catch the whiff of independence and demand to taste it themselves (though to be fair NI. always seems to send MPs in permanent opposition anyway because of an even deeper seated Irish Question).
Assuming that Labour and the LibDems did try to form an Opposition Coalition, they have 217 + 46 or only 263 seats together, after the 41 Scottish Labour and 11 Scottish LibDem seats were removed.

This might sound daft but I had to search back through the lists of results of elections all the way back to 1955 when Anthony Eden's government won the general election to find the last occasion when the Tories won more seats than either Labour or the then Liberal Party. Historically Labour only replaced the Liberals as the major opposition party to the Tories in the 1922 general election and only won government as late as 1924. The modern Liberal Democrats grew out of the Liberal Party who themselves were Whigs, Peelites and "Radicals" before about the 1850s.

This all generally suggests that Duverger's law which suggests that in a single member constituent system, a two-party outcome is the most likely, still holds. In conjunction with the fact that the UK has a hopeless first-past-the-post system, that Labour and the LibDems will be stealing votes off each other; ensuring that unless one of them dies or they merge, both will suffer. Hence my suggestion that it will take 3 election cycles to sort out and why I don't think that there will be anything other than Tory Governments until the General Election of 7th May 2025...
... plenty of time to destroy the NHS and kill the BBC, which is what Mr Cameron and his friend Mr Murdoch wants.

November 13, 2012

Horse 1400 - Wasting Billions of Dollars, By Making Billions of Cents

I know that this on first hearing is going to sound utterly stupid but I believe that I have a way to save the US Government billions a year and get people to spend more money, thus driving the retail  engine room of the economy harder.

1. Kill the Penny, Kill the Nickel.
My maths (yes I don't live in the US, so I am perfectly aware that math in the US is an uncountable noun, which is ironic) tells me that with a copper clad nickel penny, it should cost roughly 2.4c to make. For every single penny that the US Mint makes, it does an amazing magic trick and makes roughly 58% of its outlay disappear.
The nickel which is a five cent coin, costs almost 11c to make. Again 54% of the outlay is magically destroyed, never to be seen again.

It gets worse. The penny is estimated to cost roughly 1.4 cents to handle in a transaction. Even more worse, about 95% of all pennies are only fourfold use. They make a trip from a bank, to a shop, to a wallet, to a shop and then back to a bank when they are destroyed. Billions if not trillions of the little brown parasites spend years in jars in people's homes, before they're all taken back to a bank and then destroyed.
The tale isn't that much better for the nickel which has on average fifteen uses but eventually it too usually ends up in some hoard before being taken back to a bank and then destroyed.

An US Penny: commemorating Captain America or something.

If the penny and nickel were both killed forever, then the US Mint wouldn't be literally throwing billions of dollars away for something which in practice, people find annoying anyway. In my travels across the US, the only real use I ever saw for the penny was in "spend a penny, take a penny" trays so that people could feel community minded and for the tail end of tax on purchases which for some reason that I quite frankly fail to see, isn't included in the price of the goods you've just bought. For an outsider it is pure madness.
I think that by killing the penny and nickel, millions could be saved in productivity and time could be spent doing something more useful like idly chatting to the shopkeeper.

2. Kill the Dollar Bill
Possibly the same reason why the penny and nickel haven't yet been sent to the currency graveyard is the same reason why the US Dollar Bill hasn't also been sent there - sentiment.
Almost every dollar bill that I ever saw, was either beat up to the point where you couldn't use it in a vending machine, or was less than a month old. The average life of a cotton fibre banknote is about seven weeks or so the Reserve Bank of Australia tells us in their website for polymer banknotes. I regularly find coins in change from 1966 which was 46 years ago.
Before I contradict myself and point out that the penny is a coin, may I remind you that at just 5% which is a fairly conservative rate of inflation, the US Dollar now has the same buying power of less than a cent of 100 years ago. This is important.
People are strange creatures and although economics likes to assume that they're rational beings, the truth is very very different. There exists a phenomenon called the "Denomination Effect" which says that people are more likely to spend smaller units of currency. There exists a sort of strange inhibition to spend a fifty dollar note which doesn't really happen with a five or a one. It also extends to coins and notes. Curiously people are more inclined to spend a coin as opposed to a note, even if the two are of identical value.

Lady Liberty: Incensed by the waste

By switching to a Dollar Coin and to keep ten billion dollars in circulation, even if you assume a 3% loss through damage, loss or hoarding, for five years you only need to produce 11.6 billion coins. To keep ten billion dollars in notes circulating over the same period requires the production of 37.1 billion banknotes. Admittedly this is also true for the five and ten dollar notes so only sentiment holds them back as well.

In December 2011, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy F. Geithner directed that the United States Mint suspend minting and issuing circulating Presidential $1 Coins.   Regular circulating demand for the coins will be met through the Federal Reserve Bank's existing inventory of circulating coins minted prior to 2012.   
- US Mint Website, as at 13th Nov 2012$1coin/index.cfm

Then What?
Would either of these policies lead to inflation? The experience of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada only this year which ditched its one (and two) cent coins would suggest that the overall impact of such a policy would be almost negligible.
Generally the main use for pennies, nickels and dollar bills is for low valued transactions anyway. Transactions like these are almost exclusively for consumable items, so by spinning those wheels of the economy faster, in theory it should create a small bump in overall consumer spending, which is after all the very point.

As for sentimentality, I don't really know if Mr Lincoln would be very happy about having his face on something which is seen as an annoyance; Mr Jefferson fares not much better with his face on the nickel and Mr Washington would probably object to the fact that his face is constantly being beaten up on the dollar bill. Only Ben Franklin who is smugly smiling away on the hundred appears happy with his lot.

November 10, 2012

Horse 1399 - Share A Coke And A Song...

... from 1066

Coca-Cola is running a neat promotion at the moment where if you buy a Coke and send in the relevant codes, you get to download a song from the year marked on the bottle or can. It is all very jolly.

At the beginning of 1066, the old king Edward who had a constant habit of doing really petty things, so  unworldly and pious was he and consequently he confessed to practically everything he'd done; evenb without being accused of anything. Complete chaos ensued after he died because the one thing he didn't confess was who was going to take over.

Eventually King Harold II became king and I remember just before my 18th birthday, in October of 1066, his government was looking for anyone to join the army so that we could drive back a French invasion force. They'd arrived at the Pevensey Vehicle Licensing Centre in late September and with a flurry of new tax discs on their horses and carts, they made for the city of Hastings' presumably for fish and chips.
No-one really likes the idea of being hacked to pieces in a field, but the landlord and local sheriff said that if we didn't, we'd be stabbed anyway and driven off our cabbage farm. Everyone knew that he was being paid £6 to raise an army which is a fantastic amount but we also knew that he'd be pocketing the lot for himself, so reluctantly we made the long trudge from our pathetic little farm, down a lot of narrow muddy, rutted roads in the English rain.

It was cold, wet and boggy and just outside the town of Hastings at a rather appropriately named place called Battle. Our mostly English army was led by that prize git King Harold and sponsored by the salt company Saxa (we will forever be called Saxans from now on). We met another mob led by the French king William The Bastard and his army with the most confusing roll call in history on account of every one if them being called Norman.
We started out by building a fort out of pointed logs at the top of the field and holed out there quite nicely. Most noblemen have their castles but being a rag tag rabble, we couldn't really build such a thing with only hours' notice.
As a stop gap defence, we did this neat trick of putting all our shields together, so that they formed a wall. Our "wall of shields" meant that their archers who were shooting their arrows from the field below, didn't really stand a chance.

Then for some odd reason it looked like they just gave up and retreated. Harold's idiot brother decided that we should go after them and after coming down the hill, we broke ranks, lost our wall of shields, and were massacred in the flat open fields by William's cavalry. Give up the high ground and you lose half the battle, which is precisely what we done did.
Not only did England get run by William and his Norman barons who couldn't even be bothered to learn English but we've been taxed to the eyeballs to pay for a war we lost. William gave himself a neat Christmas present by crowning himself King of England on Christmas Day 1066 and keeping with the tradition of naming things incorrectly had an embroidered cloth made (not a tapestry) in England (not in Bayeux).

So then, if you are looking to download some songs from my youth, have a look for these:
"What's it like to see a Wall of Shields?"
"We're kings of the hill" 
"Chase the Scaredy Norman"
"Don't call me Norman. My name's not Norman it's Norman"
"Why why why, did you get an arrow in the eye?"
"Mud, Merde, murder"
"You call him Conquerer, we call him Bastard"

You might want to download these songs soon because we're all being forced to learn Norman French or get stabbed and they're saying that by 1100 all the Saxon barons will be killed, which will sort of be strange justice for sending us to fight but not paying us, so we won't be able to download them anyway.

November 08, 2012

Horse 1398 - The Generic Company Name Stadium

I suppose that as a fan of sport I should really care about the names of stadia but because some multi-million or billion dollar company has paid to stick their name all over them, the truth is that I don't.

If Sydney FC are playing at Aussie Stadium, I still have no idea where the heck it is. I know where the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Sydney Football Stadium are but Aussie Stadium doesn't tell me anything.
I haven't even got a clue where the Telstra Stadium or Dome are and I'm not entirely sure which city they're in either or even if they are the same thing or not.

Docklands, the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium and the "G" are all pretty obvious and even the strangely named "Gabba" which is in the southern Brisbane suburb of Wollongabba still gives a solid indication of where it is.
The WACA isn't immediately obvious until you find out that it stands for the Western Australian Cricket Association, in which case it can be in no other place than Perth because there's vast expanses of diddly-squat in the rest of Western Australia, so it can't very well be anywhere else.
You'd have to be off your trolley not to guess where the Adelaide Oval is and even if the name Bellerive  Oval doesn't immediately jump out at you, you can guess that it must be in a suburb called Bellerive in some city somewhere.

Even to this day, I still am not entirely sure which one of the two big tennis venues on the same complex is the Vodafone Arena and although I have gotten used to the idea that Optus Oval is actually Princes Park, I still can't find it on a road-map but Princes Park is that green blobby thing in Carlton.
During the current A-League season, I've again heard that teams play at Suncorp Stadium. Yes I admit that I eventually learnt that it is Lang Park but I still don't know what was wrong with the name Lang Park. Queensland Rugby League had spent the best part of a century writing the name of Lang Park into legend and even 30 odd seasons of State of Origin football has meant that Lang Park is a formidable name but Suncorp sounds more like the name of a preschool with pictures of bunnies and kittens on the walls than the place where peoples faces are thrust violently into the turf.

I make mention of this because when the Central Coast Mariners ripped apart Sydney FC 7-2, the ABC which as a rule doesn't mention the name of a sponsored stadium, also didn't mention the name of the Central Coast's home ground. I've even stood in both the northern end and southern flanks of the venue but still have no idea whatsoever of what the heck it is called.
Someone must have paid to put their name all over it but what is the point of spending all that money if it achieves nothing?

Even if you spend lots money trying to rename a stadium, people are still mostly going to call it something based on where it is.
The Arsenal Stadium was never called that for its entire history and was always referred to as Highbury. The Liverpool Football Ground is always called Anfield or sometimes Fortress Anfield if the commentary wants to build up the hype and to this day the stadium in Homebush in Sydney is always called Sydney Olympic Park irrespective of who decides to put their name on it. I hear that some company has sort of tried in vain to put their name on the Showground when the GWS Giants play there but I don't think that the name will take.
If the increasingly unlikely to be built, 41,000 seat venue at Doonside ever gets the go ahead, I don't think that the name Blacktown International Sportsground would ever catch on but my suggestion for the name "Bogandome" probably would catch on because it describes the region so well. It certainly wouldn't the name of a firm which is subject to change every time a contract comes up for renewal.

November 07, 2012

Horse 1396a - Additional

It is official.

I am officially bad at picking election results.

Here's to another couple of years of gridlock where the Democrans and Republicrats will refuse to work with each other, where partisanship is rampant and where the 113th Congress will be as unproductive as the 112th.

Horse 1397 - Why I Love The Australian Electoral Commission

It's days like today that an organisation like the Australian Electoral Commission really should be praised for the work that it does. Elections in Australia seemingly go off absolutely flawlessly; without fail.

During the very late stages of this US Presidential Election circus, some radio stations which I like to listen to online, have taken calls from people voicing their distrust of voting machines; often suggesting that they can be rigged.
In Australia the AEC is able to run nationwide voting, on paper and in the case of federal elections, even have the results of the entire eastern seaboard counted before the polls have closed in Western Australia.
With paper ballots there is never any accusation of machines not working and even with the occasional tablecloths of ballot papers that upper house elections tend to generate every so often, the amount of informal ballot papers which are made is only very minor; even then, the majority of those are deliberately spoiled with such witty repartee as "I am Thor, I will eat your children", "Spoiler Alert" and "**** Voting" (as a volunteer counter, I have seen all of these).
On a paper ballot with preferential voting, people can work out very easily that they vote 1, 2, 3, 4... for the people they like. With a single non-transferable vote, it would be even easier; requiring the voter to do nothing more complicated than marking the appropriate box next to the name of their chosen candidate. How easy is that?

Yet due to an even more dysfunctional relationship between the states (if you thought that just six states was a mess, try fifty), all of them having a republican form of government (which is distinct from the Republican Party) and all of them having both their own voting commissions and technically their own method of voting, any attempt to transfer even the simple act of running a national election to a national organisation would cause a fight between the states which would make our COAG meetings look like a Sunday School Picnic.
There is such a thing as the Election Assistance Commission but due to the incredible amount of bickering and "he said, she said" schoolkid slapping, the roles of the four overseers can never be filled and because of the utter toxicity of the members the Congress to each other, it can't be closed either. I read on the GOP's website, a piece citing this as evidence of waste by the Obama administration and calling it a "Zombie Agency"* but the numbers on the floor to have it abolished pretty well tar both sides as being incompetent and both at fault on this issue.
In comparison, Australia's Electoral Commission is able to run elections efficiently and without hitch.

It also sort of helps that elections are held on a Saturday in Australia. There is always talk of people queuing for hours to vote in America and the news likes to show those queues but here in Australia, even with compulsory voting (which I also approve of - See Horse 1386) if you go in the afternoon; after lunchtime, the queues are non-existent. During the last NSW State Election, I'd bought a sausage sandwich from a stall run by the primary school which was hosting the polling place (which is yet another reason why elections should be held on Saturday - the smell of an election in Australia is sausages, or bacon if you arrive at 8am) and I was sort of annoyed that there was no queue because it meant that I accidentally dripped barbecue sauce on my ballot paper (first world problems).
The fact that the election for arguably the single most important office in the world is held on a Tuesday and in November when places like Chicago and Seattle are already experiencing temperatures which even the penguins think is a cruel joke (about the only people in the world who like those sorts of temperatures are Geordies, Siberians and Canucks), is yet another mark against a system which quite apart from the weirdness of the Electoral College, is quite frankly daft.

I already think that Australia has the best system of government in our form of Westminster parliament, the best rules when it comes to compulsory voting and the best methods of deciding our members with preferential voting in the lower house and proportional voting in the upper house.
The delicious icing and the cherry on top is the Australian Electoral Commission, which is oh so very very good at doing its job that other countries have even asked it for assistance in running their elections.

Some come on America, it is delicious cake, you must eat it. Let the Australian Electoral Commission run Election 2016. Our election cake is so delicious and moist but your cake is a lie.

*In our copy of Risk:Legacy, North America was renamed Zombieland. The nuclear fallout landed in Alaska and there are bio-hazard markers on the continent. Perhaps it is fitting that the EAC is a "Zombie Agency". Maybe in 2016 or 2020 Zombie FDR or Zombie Lincoln** will run for office.

** Zombie Lincoln would be useless as a vampire hunter. Though given that 2012 has been painted as the election between Zombie Socialist Obama and Vampire Capitalist Romney, the truth is weirder than fiction.

November 06, 2012

Horse 1396 - California Will Decide This, I Think

When the votes start coming in, it's important to remember that the US Presidential Election is not win by the popular vote but by a system called the Electoral College which awards states 1 vote for every seat which they have in the Congress (both houses included). Although states are free to award Electoral College votes with whatever method they like, the vast majority award them on a winner takes all basis.
To take office, a candidate needs 270 of the 538 Electoral College votes and because most states are awarded as chunks, candidates tend to work hardest in those states most likely to swing for them and ignore the states which are safe either for or against them.
For this reason, California has been assumed to be Democrat and neither Romney nor Obama have really paid it that much attention despite it being worth 55 of 538 Electoral College votes; because California is a prize worth 10% of total vote, perhaps more attention should have been paid to it. I think that there is a fair chance that California may flip to being a Republican state and with it, the Presidency would go to Romney.

As it stands, California has 34 Democrat and 19 Republican House Delegates and both of its Senators are Democrats as is the Governor. Preliminary polls have shown that Obama has been typically polling in the low 50s whilst Romney is in the high 30s. However, when picking a president, the rules of the game change considerably.

In 2008 Obama was able to mobilise a great many people who otherwise would not have bothered to vote at all. 2012 is different to 2008 in that with the Global Financial Crisis and meddling by the Congress, Obama's Presidency simply hasn't been able to deliver what he promised. Since a great deal of people are politically illiterate, it's easy to blame the President for the machinations of Congress than anything else.

Obama is likely to lose ground in south Los Angeles right down the two spines of the I-110 and I-710. Places like Alameda, Lynwood, Compton, Carson, Long Beach and Lakewood are going to be far redder than they were four years ago. The San Bernadino Valley from Pomona and eastwards along I-10 could be another strip in LA which is likely to flip to red.

San Francisco ever since about 1992 has been staunchly blue but I suspect that apathy in this election combined with a more local advert campaign, is likely to see a greater turnout of Republican voters. The other big patch of increased Republican turnout will be in San Diego. San Diego is the eighth largest city in the United States and although it has a very large proportion of immigrants from Mexico, with Mexico being just across the border, those areas surprisingly are showing a greater Republican preference than they have in the past.

I found it curious that this year there was an unofficial event called "Pulpit Freedom Sunday" in which 1,477 pastors signed up to preach on politics, in defiance of a 1954 law preventing charitable groups from making candidate endorsements but this year, the IRS officially announced its ambivalence.
San Diego in particular and California generally, has the greatest numbers of pastors who signed up for this, and although they didn't explicitly suggest that people vote for Romney, it was another avenue of encouragement.

I think that California is the sleeping giant in the 2012 Election and that come Wednesday, it won't be so much the smaller battleground states which will actually make the difference but the big 55 jobby that everyone forgot about and neglected.
Watch closely for where the red eats into the blue in California. In 2008 the difference was 8.2m Obama vs 5.0m McCain. 2012 in my opinion is likely to be 6.1m Obama and 6.1m Romney (which is a smaller overall turnout than 2008). I honestly think that the final margin in California will be less than 10,000 votes, will more than likely be challenged and for the first time since 1988 when George HW Bush thumped Dukakis 426-111, Romney will win but only just by 275-263. If Romney doesn't win California then I think that the results with show Obama winning 318-220.

This is from PBS. Have a go, it's fun:

November 05, 2012

Horse 1395 - The Gridlock Man

More than anyone else, the person singularly most responsible for the result of the presidential election on November 6th is a fellow that most people in the United States haven't heard of; that person is Grover Norquist.
Grover Norquist is not a member of Congress, he is not a publicly elected member of any level of government and nor is he a politician. Norquist is a lobbyist; I think arguably the single most obstructive lobbyist in US political history.

Apart from being a board member of the NRA which is responsible for some of the most paranoid, short-sighted policy which exists, Norquist is also a founder and president of a strange organisation called "Americans for Tax Reform".
Amercans for Tax Reform as a group believes in limited government and as far as possible, refusing to make any compromise whatsoever on any policy which would increase income taxes. He was largely responsible for getting 95% of all Republican Congressmen to sign the "Taxpayer Protection Pledge" which in its own way has not insignificantly been responsible for the complete log jam in passing legislation through the Congress.

The pledge states simply that
ONE - oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and/or businesses
TWO - oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.
You can read specifically about the pledge here:
Or more generally about Americans for Tax Reform here: 

If you look at most legislatures, they function with at least some degree of compromise and negotiation. The really hard fact is that no sensible fiscal policy in the United States can ignore the absolutely massive national debt and solving that issue must involve both increases on taxation revenues and cutting government spending. Even if the level of government spending was slashed to zero (I'm seriously talking about cutting 100% of government spending) and the level of taxation was maintained, it would still take until 2019 to pay off the national debt. In the interim you'd have no defence of the nation and cripple the infrastructure of the country; however it's very difficult to argue that that is not the current situation.
The current Congress in terms of numbers of laws passed, that is the number of bills that have actually escaped the two houses and made it to the President's desk for signature is less than half of those passed by the Newt Gingrich led vendetta against Bill Clinton's presidency. Harry S Truman dubbed the Congress that he faced the “do-nothing Congress” but even they managed to achieve roughly sixfold the amount of congressional productivity that the current barnacles have managed.
Somehow (and I'm still yet to understand just how this is allowed to continue), there has been a sort of mystical narrative which suggests that Obama has failed in his goal of change but completely ignores entirely the obstructive role which the Congress has played.

Unlike a Westminster parliament where the executive is formed out of sitting members of the government and the government itself is formed by a majority of sitting members in the parliament, the US system has a cabinet which is unelected but selected by the President and sits distinct and separate from the parliament (Congress). This means to suggest that unlike a Westminster parliament, government is not only not formed on the floor of the lower house but in the case of the 112th Congress, a  majority of sitting members are of a different political stripe than both the President and Cabinet.
Basically when you have a Congress which at the moment is largely Republican and of which most members have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, you're going to end up with a Congress which is openly hostile to any reforms which raise taxes and because they happen to be a different political stripe than both the President and Cabinet, are also naturally openly hostile to them.
Since politics itself is increasingly becoming concerned with the exercise of naked power rather than the actual concern for good governance of the nation, most of the Congress current aim is to openly be as hostile as possible to any legislation that the President and Cabinet might put forward.

"You know that if the president were to be reelected he would not be able to work with Congress, you know there would be more gridlock… the president just can't work with Congress, he's proven that time and time again," 
- Mitt Romney, via Reuters, 3rd Nov 2012

Romney's statement isn't so much a statement that he intends to work with Congress better but rather a statement of fact. If Romney is elected as President because he would be a Republican President who would have to work with a  largely Republican Congress, he wouldn't need to negotiate with them to pass legislation. Meanwhile if reelected, Obama finds himself with the half of the same Congress until 2015. Assuming that most of the Congress is likely to be reelected then it would retain its hostilities and its commitment to the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, then any attempts to raise taxes will continue to be met with abject hosility.

If the ATR's own website is anything to go by:
Grover G . Norquist, a native of , has been one of most effective issues management strategists in Washington for three decades.

Mr Norquist has probably been more responsible than anyone else for the actions of the hostile Congress for the past two years especially. As one of Mitt Romney's friends and both from Massachusetts, he's also going to be largely responsible for the character of the Congress for the next two years as well. Whether Romney or Obama is elected will determine whether or not the 113th Congress will be friendly or hostile. Whatever the result, you can bet that Grover Norquist will be somewhere close to the centre of the swirling maelstrom and either lobbying to obstruct and cause even more gridlock should Obama be returned or lobbying to shove as much legislation through as is possible if Romney is elected.

In reading through the ATR's website I found the delightfully Orwellian doublespeak named organisation called the Alliance for Worker Freedom which in its words is:

"AWF is a special project of Americans for Tax Reform dedicated to combating anti-worker
legislation and promoting free and open markets."
To achieve combating anti-worker legislation the "AWF continues to push for the repeal of all state collective bargaining laws" and the "AWF opposes minimum wage laws because they infringe upon the employer’s right to set wages". 

I personally fail to see how "Worker Freedom" is promoted by the removal of worker's rights to bargain collectively and to bargain for reasonable working conditions. If you want to see what the iniquity of power of labour agreements can achieve, the story of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory makes for chilling reading.
I also find that employers have an inherent right to set wages incredibly arrogant and suggest that if that's where the United States is heading, then I seriously fear for the safety of the country and you can expect massive civil disobedience in a generation's time.

November 02, 2012

Horse 1394 - Auntie Gets Angry

"The thought of having to listen to the predators who purport to be producing commentaries from a sofa or armchair without paying a penny to the England and Wales Cricket Board for the rights is too ghastly to contemplate. The sooner they are nailed and swept offline, the better."
-  Christopher Martin-Jenkins, in The Times, 31 October 2012

After the considerable fight between the BCCI and the BBC with regards the amount that the BCCI want to charge the BBC for the use of media centres in India, Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote a piece in the Times which among other things took a swipe at (the Sofa - found at
The argument from Christopher Martin-Jenkins and indeed Johnathon Agnew et al. is that the Sofa is freeloading on broadcast rights. The legal and indeed ethical question though is far more murky.

Link to the Times article:

The Sofa positions itself as an "alternate cricket commentary". Almost from the outset of any argument which is put forward here, it must be conceded that we are not talking about a large corporation but essentially an amateur operation. The Sofa quite literally operates out of only a few rooms in London; yet somehow that scares an organisation which has 23,000 employees and revenues of £5.086 billion.
The twenty first century and the arrival of the internet has meant that even amateurs can reach an exceptionally large audience with very little outlay. On one hand I've seen the complete death of record shops on the high street but on the other, I know of a few musicians who have mastered their own music in recording studios and thanks to the ability to self-publish, have gone on to make a reasonable amount of money but not enough to call it a source of employment. To be honest even this blog which is written by me in my spare time, manages to attract 2000-4000 hits a month even if the comments I attract are sparse.
The big questions in the light of this then are: What are broadcasting rights? What do those rights entitle you to?

Broadcasting Rights in the UK (the Sofa and the BBC are in the UK), as far as the Broadcasting Act 1996 and the Communications Act 2003 are concerned seem to only extend as far as the inside of a sporting venue. I had a look at further provisions of the Broadcasting Act 1996 and specifically s97-s105 which explicitly concern sporting events, and those provisions are more concerned with television and the availability of a free to air broadcast. Nothing in either of the two acts can even prevent someone from setting up a card table outside the ground and conducting a broadcast there, except maybe the laws of trespass; and of course the laws of sanity which dictate that someone sitting outside a cricket ground with a card table and broadcasting equipment would look decidedly daft. In fact it's probably best that they do go home and do it there.

From a more professional standpoint, Australia's ABC has been doing precisely this with Roy & HG's coverage of Rugby League and the AFL Grand Final, on occasion it's been ridiculously obvious that they were making comments from the TV because they'd even occasionally comment on the adverts on Channel 9.
The question of the legality of making comments based on TV footage basically gets zero mention because it would be like trying to regulate people chatting in their own houses and broadcasting that sort of thing happens all the time on YouTube. If you want to think of an equivalent example of this, it would be like me sitting at home, listening to parliament and writing witty and pithy political commentary. There are no specific laws about this either. I could for instance watch the proceedings in Parliament from my house and set up a radio program called "Order In The House, From The Couch" however it probably wouldn't be all that popular except with die hard political junkies.

Broadcasting Rights do get you a chair and a box inside the ground and in the case of television rights, have specific provisions to be the only entity with cameras for broadcast but that seems to be it. Copyright law defends the right to profit from any footage or sound recording which is made but that extends to all radio stations and indeed anything at be it video, audio, print or text which has been published.
The Sofa is neither copying the BBC's audio; nor is it re-transmitting Sky Sports's footage of cricket. It can hardly be found to be in breach of copyright if it doesn't copy anything. As for the comment that it doesn't pay a penny to the England and Wales Cricket Board, the question can easily be answered that the ECB doesn't provide The Sofa with facilities inside the ground, so why should someone pay for a non-existant service? The Sofa already pays for its Sky Sports subscription and so really Martin-Jenkins is in effect calling for double charging.
I for instance note that Martin-Jenkins' article itself sits behind the News Corp pay-wall, so to even read his article requires a subscription. I don't know what this says exactly but I'm equally sure that the Times doesn't pay a penny to the England and Wales Cricket Board when its columnists write about the game. This to me has similarities to the defamation case of Pot vs Kettle.

This isn't even a similar situation to the days of "radio pirates". Pirate Radio stations in most cases were operating and not paying royalties for the music they were playing. A station like Radio Luxembourg for instance could broadcast from an entirely different country and provided they had paid the royalties for the music they were playing, the law could do nothing to stop them.
In the case of radio commentary, original content is being generated on a continual basis. There is in fact nothing to stop someone from doing precisely the same thing for football, or motor racing. The reason why people don't is that it takes discipline and dedication to something which for all intents and purposes, still basically an amateur thing. BlogTalkRadio which operates in the US provides a hub for these sorts of stations and has stations with diverse subjects like cookery, baseball, hiking, politics, various fandoms for TV shows and university stations.
It's not even like the BBC are above doing this themselves. Right through the 1980s, Murray Walker and James Hunt would be doing commentary on Formula One races, not at the track and not even in Television Centre but in Broadcasting House. The fledgling station Radio 5 which came along in the early 90s, rode on the coat tails of the Beeb's own footage and did their commentary from that.

I think what scares the establishment is that the views being stated are uncontrollable. The BBC likes to use its considerable might to assert its media position with regards these sorts of things, mainly because it has to. Without throwing its weight around, its competitors like Sky Sports etc. will again call for the BBC's abolition or privatisation. Given the last 30 years and the attitude of both Conservative and Labour governments to destroy every single piece of infrastructure that's still held in public hands, surely anything at the gates whatever it may be needs to be attacked, despite of the apparent threat therein both real and imagined because it's only really by dumb luck that the BBC and NHS haven't been wiped out already.
What I find rather strange is the worry that the EBC or the BBC which is funded by British licences payer anyway, should worry about a great loss of income streams. I myself live in the far flung reaches of the Commonwealth in the ex-convict colony of Australia and had it not been for the existence of the Sofa, I would not be listening to a lot of England test matches at all. The idea that someone in Australia should buy the rights to an England-India test series in India is preposterous. The theory that someone is losing a revenue stream from me when I wouldn't have been able to listen to the series otherwise is also preposterous. As it is, the BBC prevents anyone from outside the UK to listen to Five Live during test matches, football matches  Formula One races, so really it's already like the BBC is giving everyone who currently isn't on the Sceptred Isle a very Steve McQueen two-fingered Longbowman Salute. It certainly is not cricket and doesn't even want you to hear the radio description of it either.

More generally both the Bill of Rights Act 1689 and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defends the right to free speech. This basic right has allowed anyone to publish pretty much any sort of content in the UK with the exception of highly offensive material or material of a serious breach in national security. I hardly think that the vast bulk of waffle on the Sofa constitutes material of a nature so offensive or material so internationally sensitive that it can not be published. There is the distinct possibility that because they don't want to reveal their location on air, that they're secretly in the offices of MI6 but somehow I doubt it. I will admit that mentioning Suetonius during cricket commentary might be irrelevant but that's distinctly different. Actually most of Aggers, Blowers and CMJ have to say most of the time is waffle and irrelevant, such is the nature of a game which can take five days to play and still not acheive a result.

The real unwritten complaint that CMJ and Aggers had with the BCCI and the BBC, was that if the BBC couldn't get their box in the ground at a cheap enough price, then they were considering simply not bothering. In particular it would have meant that CMJ and Aggers would have missed out on a holiday to India and that's just unacceptable.

November 01, 2012

Horse 1393 - Farcenal 7-5

Arsenal's 12 goal "thriller" against Reading has been touted in the media as one of football's greatest comebacks. Actually I see that something in the world of football stinks.

Theo Walcott scored Arsenal's fourth and the equaliser in the 96th minute. What I find particularly interesting about this was that it was during four minutes of added time. As a result of my rudimentary education, I can tell you with reasonable certainty that 90 + 4 = 94 not 96. I don't mean to take anything away from Theo Walcott but he should never been allowed to score that goal because the match should have already have been ended.

However, McDermott was irked by Walcott's second goal, which came after the minimum four minutes of added time shown by the fourth official had expired.
"Obviously it doesn't help that the referee added two minutes on to the four minutes of injury time to make it six," he said. "You can't tell the time as wrong as that, but he did."

- BBC Sport, 31 Oct 2012

How do to a magic trick: Score in the 96th minute, when only four minutes were added on

Owing to the fact that the rules declare that the referee is the sole arbiter of time with respect to the football match, it seems to me that this result was engineered to produce a more desirable outcome.
It is worth more to the FA that Arsenal go through to the next round of the League Cup because they can get a higher cut from ticket sales if the match is played at The Emirates Stadium and not the Madejski. Sky Sports like the arrangement because they can sell more advert time on telly if Arsenal and not Reading is playing in the next round. Bookmakers probably like it because there is a lower payout rate if Arsenal win.
On that last note, of the twenty clubs on the Premier League, five are sponsored by betting companies. A further four are sponsored by finance companies which is kind of the same thing more or less but with the blessing of the state.
You can't honestly tell me that given the amount of money both in football and the many billions which are wagered on the results on a weekly basis, that it is beyond the FA to direct the man in the middle to do his part in fiddling the result.
What had happened before the match even started was that Arsenal underestimated Reading who lie a lowly nineteenth in the Premier League and selected a squad which wasn't even their third choice players: Arsenal fielded some players with kit numbers in the 50s and 60s. Quite frankly, when they went 4-0 down it would have been an embarrassment to the club and I bet that at half-time Arsène Wenger would have blown his stack. The second half saw Arsenal players play as though they were in serious trouble and possibly be fired if they lost.
Reading on the other hand who do not have anything approaching quite so deep a reserves list, had no choice but to play on and win. Financially they stand to suffer if they face the drop and the League Cup is sort of an insurance policy.

I suppose that you could go on and read the ins and outs of the match if that takes your fancy and there are news outlets who can do a far better job than I but this 7-5 result speaks more to me about what didn't happen on the pitch than what did.
What did happen in this 12 goal nonsense of a football match is in my opinion just the tip of a massive iceberg of endemic and pandemic corruption in the game. Although I can't prove my supposition from the other side of the world, the fact that this result happened in the way that it did, that Manchester City played a match against Swansea in which 12 minutes were added on, which is an English football record, or even that teams like Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have won so many matches deep into injury time over the last five years especially, begins to suggest a trend.
I even note that this morning, Chelsea were handed a handed a 94th minute penalty, when only three minutes were going to be added. Perhaps Manchester United weren't following the script they'd been handed?

Football is a game and in this case, everyone's on it.