December 29, 2012

Horse 1423 - The Other Timelord

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission - to seek out new life, to discover new worlds and civilisations; to boldly go where no-one has gone before... or so says Jean Luc Picard.
Picard is at least the third regeneration of this particular Timelord.

The Doctor had always presumed that following the Time War which Nine tells us about, that there must have been other Timelords who had escaped. We know for instance that the Master certainly did but have I inadvertently found another?

Jean Luc Picard must have risen through the ranks to become captain of the Enterprise. Daddy Warbucks tells us in the musical Annie, that he started as a cabin boy from Liverpool before going to America and building an empire selling armaments in the 1930s. King Mongkut modernised Siam in the 1850s and 1860s so that it became one of the most revered nations of the age.
Clearly the modus operandii is the same. Slowly build an empire or work through the system so that you eventually control some important portion of it. It seems to me then that Picard, Warbucks and Mongkut are very highly likely candidates to have been the same Timelord. To find one person who is this bald and with this kind of flary eyebrows is not of itself anything noteworthy but to find three and you start to get suspicious. Who'd of their own accord or choosing, voluntarily choose to look like this? OK, granted that King Mongkut was a real person, but the in musical version they obviously took liberties in much the same way that FDR is a real person in the musical Annie.

King Mongkut died in 1868 whereas if you assume that the first Little Orphan Annie strip in 1924 had Oliver Warbucks as age 52, then he was born in 1872. This isn't linear. Jean Luc Picard was born on July 13, 2305 and this also is not linear. Thus, the only logical conclusion is that they are regenerations of the same person; hence, a Timelord.

The Doctor's main concerns appear to be fighting off monsters and rouges who threaten the universe and in particular a little blue-green dot circling a rather boring yellow star. This baldy Timelord though does not share this drive, he would rather exact power for a particular purpose's sake. It is almost as though he is a contracted employee, sent to do a long term job.

When I saw this particular comic cover in the shop the other day, I finally realised what this is a cover of:

This is not a comic cover showing just The Doctor and Picard, this is a comic cover showing us two Timelords... and yes, Oliver Warbucks does prove that bowties are cool.

December 28, 2012

Horse 1422 - Don't Lose Kamui

I find it disappointing that Kamui Kobayashi hasn't found a drive in F1 for 2013. Kamui is one of the most exciting drivers I've seen in quite some time.

Kamui's first race in Formula One was in a rain drenched 2009 Brazilian Grand Prix in which he made a Toyota dance in ways that it had never done before. While Lewis Hamilton was busily trying to avoid falling off the track in his McLaren, Kamui was fighting all the way to ninth with a car that didn't deserve to be up so high in the standings.

Over the past few seasons at Sauber, he's had cars fail on him and even been disqualified from a Grand Prix for a rear wing infringement. He's finished three seasons in 12th, which doesn't sound impressive is put into context by the fact that the Red Bull, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes and Renault/Lotus teams have all been incredibly reliable. As a driver in what amounts to a second tier team, he's been altogether consistent.
At this year's Japanese GP he became only the third Japanese driver to score a Formula One podium and the difference between him, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg was only 6 points, all of which could have swung on the reliability of their respective cars.

His teammate for 2012 in Sergio Perez, found a drive at McLaren in 2013, replacing the outgoing Hamilton. In contrast although Kamui would have brought €8m in sponsorship, he was let go by Sauber in favour of drivers who bring more money to the table. Although Formula One is the most money driven sport in existence, short term monetary gains over on track success is almost a guaranteed one way ticket to oblivion as Williams F1 can attest to, having fired three World Champions in quick succession in the 1990s and never again reaching those same heights.

I rather had hoped that Ferrari would have picked up Kamui to replace Felipe Massa but I fear that they did not because Kamui would have outshone Fernando Alonso. Kamui is then probably a victim of his own talent. He is too good to sit in a second class seat but also too good to sit alongside someone who thinks that they can win the World Driver's Championship and in a sport where the drivers have egos the size of a central European republic, that counts for a lot.

Because Kamui is out of a drive for 2013, he remains a free agent. If someone like Kelly Racing in the V8Supercars Championship thought about it, they could sign Kamui for a season and watch as his talent and feedback shaped the car beyond anything they dreamed of.
Certainly if I was any team manager in a front line championship in 2013, I'd be looking to pick him up. I just think that that raw talent is too good to waste.

December 26, 2012

Horse 1421 - Going Over The Fiscal Cliff

The deadline for the mythical fiscal cliff is less than a week away and Democrans and Republicrats still look like they are no closer to coming to any "solution". Personally I don't see why any solution needs to be made.

The basic problem that underlines the US Government is a continuous series of rolling deficits. Eventually the people who've you'd borrowed money from are going to want to have it paid back and with an increasing number of baby boomers starting to reach retirement age and moving into a period in their lives of dissaving, the call on that accumulated debt can only get worse. Nations like China also aren't going to want to keep sitting on debts that will never be paid.
New deficits require more borrowings on existing debt as well as new borrowings to cover the difference between receipts and payments. Although the analogy of the US Government borrowing on a credit card is hopelessly inadequate because most of the debt is actually held by itself and the American people in the form of US Bonds and Treasury Bills, it still poses a problem.

The Fiscal Cliff is supposed to be an automatic valve in the system, which automatically reduces spending, increases the rates of income taxes and eliminates some tax credits and write-offs. The point being to narrow the deficit gap, where legislation and budgetary measures can not. It therefore represents not a point of the unknown which the US Government was drifting towards but rather a point of begrudging inevitability.

Actually I think that the best proof that the US needs to go over the cliff and trigger spending cuts and tax increases, came from Republican Vice President candidate Paul Ryan during the televised debate with Joe Biden back on October 12.
 "We've had four budgets, four trillion-dollar deficits. A debt crisis is coming. We can't keep spending and borrowing like this. We can't keep spending money we don't have."
-Paul Ryan, October 12, VP Debate.

Although practically everyone agrees that the deficit should be cut (a surplus only exists in dreams), no-one can agree on the road that should be taken to get there. Arguing for spending cuts only, solves only half the issue, as does only arguing for taxation increases. Both of these are like trying to cut a ribbon with only one arm of a pair of scissors. The January 1 2013 fiscal cliff, answers both in a way that neither side likes.
Otto Von Bismark remarked that " the art of the possible". In this case it is the art of the obvious being obstructed by the obstinate.

Obama has frequently been hammered in the press for not achieving his goals and not coming to a solution on this. This conveniently ignores the fact that he is a Democrat president facing a Republican controlled House of Representatives. If there is anyone who should be blamed for the hostility of Congress, then it is the American people who through democratic process, collectively chose this outcome.
Since the American people chose to enlarge the government on issues like healthcare, it is perfectly fitting that the American people should also pay for it. America has a very long history of not paying for things, the very country was started over a taxation dispute which was in essence, Americans not wanting to pay for government services.

What the fiscal cliff also does is create a hard position of stability. The economic and accounting trickery which has been a feature of so many bills, pushing dates further back and bringing others forward, comes to a definite end.
It creates a date of certainty which means that if the Congress fails to do its job, then what's been glaringly needed to be done will be done automatically. It is almost bordering on a robotocracy except that the political machines didn't work in any sense.

December 22, 2012

Horse 1420 - The End Of The World (Is Still Coming For Everybody)

The End Of The World came and went. People went about their business completely ignoring the message because they didn't believe in it.
Not bothering to worry about a non existent event seems like a perfectly rational and sensible thing to do. Just suppose for a second though that the Mayans had been right. How would the world at large and people individually have changed? What might they have done differently?

Some people may have tried to live better lives in the sudden realisation that they'd have a date after which they'd be accountable to their maker. Others though I suspect, would go on an insanely hedonistic streak; trying to cram as much fun, pleasure and entertainment  into the little time they had left as was possible.
There is a song called "Die Young" which I've heard more times than I care to on the bus by an artist called Ke$ha (sic.) which apart from mentioning the words "party", "partying" and "fun" more times than necessary closes every chorus with the words "'cause we're gonna die young". Intriguingly following the wake of the destruction of 20 school children aged 6 and younger, the song has been pulled from airplay rather than having any sensible conversation about removing the guns which caused the massacre.
The point being though that if people thought that their lives were going to a sudden end, they'd suddenly react to this sudden realisation and pretty swiftly I imagine.

That is if people do know that their lives will end suddenly but what I'd they don't know?
Working in an accountancy firm, I often come across Superannuation Funds and various sorts of Testamentary and Family Trusts. We also often ask the question of people, what happens if they get hit by a bus? Worse, what happens if their whole family is on the bus and it falls off the Harbour Bridge?
People it seems, worry about their stuff and their money even more than they worry about their own soul. I will concede that if, when that hypothetical bus incident happens, that nothing happens and you just rot in the ground then not bothering to worry about a non existent event is a perfectly rational and sensible thing to do.

But what do you do? You throw a party! Eating and drinking and dancing in the streets! You barbecue bulls and sheep, and throw a huge feast — slabs of meat, kegs of beer.
“Seize the day! Eat and drink! Tomorrow we die!

- Isaiah 22:13

However, I know that things like our internal sense of justice and conscience, our capacity to love, be loved and the depths of despair that people feel when neither are achieved, our ability to imagine into the future, that consciousness is so incredibly impossible to determine where it lives and the fact that there has never even been a single atheist tribe ever discovered, mark the fact that the part that makes a human so much more than merely a bio-mechanical mass of low grade steak and mildly saline fluids, must have an existence beyond the shutting off of the machine.

I think that it's self-evident that any object which has a purpose must be fit for that purpose. If I have a kettle which suddenly decides that it isn't going to boil water anymore, or has developed a leak and gushes boiling water all over the bench top, I'm going to call that kettle to account pretty quickly; with the consequence that it's likely to find itself either as a fancy watering can (because I'm thrifty) or joining empty tins in the recycle bin.
What happens though if God suddenly shows up? The 526 bus happens to dodge the back of another car and takes out people on the pavement? The building suddenly develops metal stress and accidentally collapses? It's all very well to die young or even take four score years and ten to do it but eventually, death finds everyone and everyone gets called to account for how well they were fit for purpose.

"You’ve done well. You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!"
Just then God showed up and said, "Fool! Tonight you die. And your shedfull of stuff—who gets it?"
- Luke 12:19-20

The End of the Mayan Calendar may have come and gone with ridicule and slight sarcasm but perhaps it's fitting that Christmas is only a few days later .Christmas though contains a message which is incredibly offensive and one which people treat with contempt.
The thought that people might be held to account for their actions and that living a life to cram in as much fun, pleasure and entertainment as they can, might be shown up as being unfit for purpose is the single most offensive message ever told.
People's usual response is to go about their business completely ignoring the message because they try ever so hard not to believe in it. Eventually though death and all his friends show up and people party no more.

How would the knowledge that God might call you to account and pretty quickly suddenly change your outlook?

December 20, 2012

Horse 1419 - 500 And The Natural Order Of Things

I have played a lot of bridge over the past few years. It is a nasty card game (ie. immense fun) because which although is papered over with the mystique of being complicated through the calling conventions which exist, is really no more mechanically different to the other games of the whilst family.
500 on the other hand like Euchre, pulls a strange illusion which disturbs the natural order of cards.

Ace, King, Queen, Jack. Or if you will, Country, King, Queen, Prince. The idea makes logical sense.
I don't know why the four houses of Clubs, Hearts, Spades and Diamonds are perpetually at war with each other, so we can only assume that it is an ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

The Joker - he's the culprit. This obscene knave respects no-one and beats all and sundry. The Joker is a menace who is like a chess playing pigeon - he knocks over all the kings, queens and princes, poops everywhere and then struts around the place like he owns the joint.
This spirit of anarchy in 500 causes the Jacks to become the left and right "bauer" which is German for "farmer". When the joker arrives, you get a peasant uprising which makes the Ace the fourth card in the suit, the King the fifth and the poor Queen whose only crime was faithfully serving the nation and her husband the King, finds herself relegated from third to sixth.
It's fine if you have republican overtones but the other way of looking at this is that the plebs are still ruled by the moneyed classes. If the Joker is like a dictator who rules absolutely, then the two Jacks in effect, act as his vile henchmen.
It is the rise of unelected people who rule even over government and the traditions therein.

The off-suit Jack, who is he anyway? He's not even a member of the nation over which he rules 80% of. He's an upstart who just happens to be either mates with the other Jack or the Joker himself.
His departure from his previous nation ruins them a little and weakens them by more than 7%. If there was a sudden 7% downswing in any other economy, very pointed questions would be asked of government and whoever was in charge would find themselves on the wrong side of an angry electorate.
The off-suit Jack is like a predator CEO. He ruins companies and devalues the society in which he lives. I don't like the idea of bauers in card games because I don't much like the change in natural order and I don't like what that represents either.

It doesn't really make logical sense that an invading farmer should rank higher than the Ace, King or Queen. Yes it's only a card game and the cards themselves are little more than glossy bits of card but if you descend into anarchy, then what sort of cardboard society have you created?


Bonus Section for Advanced Players:

If you're still reading this bit, the next few paragraphs get tricky. I might have inadvertently invented a new card game... Joker help us all.

Simply having the four nations of Clubs, Hearts, Spades and Diamonds fight wars with each other is predictable. I'd want to see people wrap their heads around different card playing mechanics in the same game. Not all nations in the real world have the same system of government, so why can't we introduce this into cardboard society?

To make card games in the whist family like Bridge, 500, Euchre etc. more weird, I propose another side deck of cards. It would be also be made of 52 cards and they would be marked with Monarchy, Communism, Capitalism, Democracy (8 each) and Anarchy (4 only), the remaining 16 cards would be marked no change.

Before every hand, each of the four suits would be assigned different card rankings depending on what sort of government would be selected for them from the side deck. There'd still be a 30% chance that there'd be no change from the hand before because of the "no change" cards. The rest of them act thusly:

Monarchy would rank Ace, King then Queen (or Queen then King), Jack (then off-suit Jack), 10 etc. The Joker would be a criminal, who ranks even below 2. At the end of every hand played, the King is dead, long live the King... maybe the Queen.

Communism would be ranked Joker (The Party), the bauers who represent the workers, the King then Queen and Jacks for the party members and then the proles from 10 to 2; finally Ace is just a 1.

Capitalism would rank Ace, 2IC, 3IC etc. with King, Queen and Jacks below 8, 9 and 10 because Capitalism doesn't really care about the family. It cares even less about the homeless, who'd be the Joker. The joker is so disrespected in capitalism that he isn't even part of a suit and must be played on the last trick as a throw away card, just as capitalism generally throws aside the homeless.

Democracy would be ranked differently every time. There are 5 candidates, King Queen, Two Jacks and the Joker. There are 10 cards marked 1 through 10. Before the hand, each court card is assigned two cards face down; these represent votes. Who ever gets the most votes is top card, etc etc etc.

Finally Anarchy. All cards are simply dealt off the top of the deck and whichever order they show up in, is their ranking.
6,8,3,Q,9,J,7,4,K,A,Jo,2,5,10... is just one example of how it might play out. There are 6,227,020,800 possible combinations of ranks in an Anarchy hand, which is as close to absolute disorder as you're ever going to find in the real world.

The five kinds of government represent differing levels of difficulty too. I fed these into a 500 card game I have and after setting it to run for almost three hours, playing hand after hand and game after game, came to the conclusion that computer players are completely unaffected by it.
I suspect though that human players would find an Anarchy 7 Spades hand, far harder to play than possibly a normal 9 call. There'd probably have to be premiums placed on the different forms of government.

Of course the way you arrange cards in a cardboard society is purely arbitrary but in real society, it's arranged somewhat differently. I think that there's an object lesson here... I'm just not sure what it is.

December 19, 2012

Horse 1418 - What I Actually Think Of The Second Amendment

It's childish.
It's pathetic.
People who defend its continued veracity are like an addict who is trying to defend taking ever higher doses of drugs.
Furthermore, I don't think that its continued existence even follows the very point of the US Constitution.

The Preamble to a piece of legislation, sets out what is hoped to be achieved by laying down that legislation. Since the US Constitution is glorified as the highest law in the land, it should also be held up as the highest and best set of intents for any subsequent law.

The Preamble to the United States Constitution states that:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Is it a "a more perfect Union" when this sort of thing happens on a more regular basis than anywhere else in the world? How does giving people access to instruments of death "insure domestic Tranquility" or "promote the general Welfare" of it's citizenry? Is 20 dead children really a shining example of "the Blessings of Liberty"?

Furthermore the Preamble to the United States Declaration of Independence which although is not a legal document, sets out the reason as to why the United States decided to form a new nation. The authority it claimed was the "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America". The second paragraph is arguably the most famous paragraph ever written in the English Language. It says that:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

If the United States fought a war for independence on the "self-evident" reason that people have "certain unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness" why then do so many people have the instruments to destroy all three?

The United States poops violently all over the preamble to its constitution and has failed in the very reason for declaring its independence. People might talk about defending the citizenry from the "tyranny of government" but it seems to me that the biggest enemy of the United States is "We the People".

The proof of that is simply in the sheer numbers of people who die as a result of firearms being treated as sacred. If we assume that the United States is indeed at war with itself for a second; even if you use the most expansive estimates, a total of 90,800 people have been killed to date as a result of the two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In that period the number of people killed in the United States due to guns has been about 140,000. Who are they supposedly protecting themselves from? Other Americans?

The wording of the Second Amendment which is where the rampant right to obtain as many guns as is humanly possible stems from should have given an indication as to its intent:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Take note of the words "well regulated", they're almost entirely negated or ignored by pro-gun people in the United States who for some inexplicable reason are incapable of reading through the entire sentence.
The Bill of Rights Act which is still in force in every Commonwealth country (including Australia, so anyone who suggests that we don't have one is lying) should have given a perfectly reasonable indication as to what the right to arms should have accomplished:
Subjects’ Arms.
That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.
- Bill of Rights Act 1689.

Incidentally, what is suitable to one's Conditions and what should be allowed by Law is very different between 1689, 1789 and 2012. The Founding Fathers could have never forseen that a 20 year old would have the ability to stand in one place and wipe away the lives of 20 children in an instant. 
The Constitution itself has been amended another 17 times on top of the original 10 amendments  It's not like this is suddenly a magically new idea. Legislation should be amended to suit current conditions. If it is not an can not, then are we to assume that something as vile as slavery should be acceptable too? It took 76 years and a war for the American people to work that one out.

Basically I think that the Second Amendment is archaic and dangerously stupid. It causes more deaths in a year than being in two wars simultaneously. Basically, it's time for America to finally grow up and stop being childish.
Actually, I should probably stop using the word "childish". Children have more sense than this.

December 18, 2012

Horse 1417 - Balsamic Vinegar "Of Modena"

Whilst wandering around Coles and looking for other kinds of salad dressing, I noticed something for which I have no explanation for its existence. There were seven kinds of Balsamic Vinegar Of Modena. This is distinct from regular Balsamic Vinegar and Red Wine Vinegar.
At first I wondered it this is meant to infer that Balsamic Vinegar of Lazio or Balsamic Vinegar of Torino is somehow inferior or something. It turns out that the rules for geographical indications and traditional specialities within the EU are far more complex and stringently applied than I thought.

There are rules within the EU which put geographic protection around certain names. You can not for instance call a sparkling white wine a champagne unless it comes from the Champagne Region of France because they have applied for naming protection. It almost happened that under the same regulations that Newcastle Brown Ale was in danger of losing the name when Interbrew closed down their Tyneside brewery. People and companies take this sort of thing very seriously indeed.
Three such marks exist, being the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) and the Traditional Speciality Guarantee (TSG). All of these Balsamic Vinegars Of Modena carry a PGI which tells the consumer that at least some of the processing or production of the product has taken place within the determined geographical area, in this case Modena.
I personally associate Modena not with Balsamic Vinegar but high performance sports cars. De Tomaso, Maserati, Pagani, Lamborghini and perhaps most famously Ferrari, all call Modena their home. Somehow I don't that any of them would put the PGI label on their cars.

I assume that the various makers of vinegar decided to get together and have a meeting to choose what sort of vinegar that they all wanted to make and went with that. My problem with this I suppose is that unlike say, wine or beer or bread or cheese, you don't tend to drink loads of vinegar. Although it could be done, no-one is going to sit down for a pint of vinegar unless they were stark raving mad. How distinctive is Balsamic Vinegar of Modena as opposed to regular Balsamic Vinegar to warrant paying an extra 40% for it?
In this case Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is made from wine vinegar as per normal but instead of being aged like "Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale" which is only made from wine vinegar and then stored in barrels for a minimum of 12 years (or longer),  Balsamic Vinegar of Modena has had caramel or other flavours to simulate the more traditional product. Instead of laying down bottles for a dozen years, the makers can churn out barrel after barrel in a matter of days.

I wonder if Balsamic Vinegar of Modena another one of these trendy foodie things like truffles which is overrated specifically for the purpose of making people pay more? If Balsamic Vinegar of Modena is a Veblen Good, how would we find out without buying it?
It would be somewhat ironic if the people of Modena all bought Balsamic Vinegar from outside their city because they knew that it was a rip-off. It would be akin to the people of Batlow buying apples from Tumut because suddenly there was a premium for Apples of Batlow.

December 17, 2012

Horse 1416 - The Lives of 20 Children Will Change Nothing

20 children, the knave who shot them, his mother who owned the guns and five other members of staff. A community is in mourning; people's lives have been utterly affected forever but the American response to all this has been typically American.
Gun and bullet sales spiked on the weekend of 15th and 16th of December and talkback radio has been awash with calls announcing that the government isn't going to take away their "freedom".
America will do what America always does. There will be the obligatory three week period of flailing, wailing and self-flagellation in the media and someone will talk about the mythical notion of "closure" (as though this thing magically heals all wounds. The truth is that people sometimes never find happiness again, their lives just redefine 'normal'). After last memorial service, the media will get bored and move on to the next thing, nothing will have changed even an iota and on average, in 173 days time (so about the 30th May 2013) another gun man will lay bullets into another two dozen people. Thus the merry-go-round continues on its way.

America decided a long time ago that the acceptable price of this particular blessing of liberty was necessary to form a more perfect union. When the NRA unashamedly appears in the political campaign and both candidates for the presidency promised to keep the Second Amendment values strong, you can be fairly sure that they're not going to do anything about this in a hurry.  At some point after September 11, even the wording of discussion changed. No longer were people talking of "gun control" but "gun rights".
Mind you, this is a nation where the right to bear and keep arms is explicitly defended in the constitution but the right to even basic health care is vociferously argued against. Never mind a great number of hospital admissions in America is as a direct result of the operation of those rights.
America has a basic lack of self-control on an immensely huge scale. More money is spent on potato chips (just chips; not including other snackfoods) than is spent on healthcare. The biggest single cause of death in the United States is "diet related diseases" (read obesity), so it seems to me that if people can't be generally trusted to show self-control when it comes to the correct and proper moderation of the usage of a fork, then obviously it follows that they'll be equally untrustworthy in the correct and proper moderation of the usage of instruments of death.

A spokesman from the White House said that:
"Today is not the day to talk about gun control. There is, I am sure, will be, rather, a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but I do not think today is that day."
- Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary. 15th Dec, 2012.

Of course he is right about this. Now is not the time to speak about this issue. The time should have been yesterday, or twenty years ago, or maybe when the United States set up a full time military. The framers of the constitution I'll bet never conceived that the ability to blow apart dozens of people at a go would end up in the hands of ordinary people - 18th century legislation is hideously ill-equipped to deal with 20th let alone 21st century technology.  Meanwhile the President himself has said precisely zero on the issue because if he does, he's likely to find himself becoming the fifth president to be assassinated.

The NRA for their part are conspicuous by their silence. Their official Twitter account which usually spends its days happily ripping into anything which threatens to "take away our freedoms", has been completely silent since this tragedy. It has since come to light that two of the weapons used, actually won NRA awards for 2011.
NRA’s newsstand monthly: Rifle of the Year, Bushmaster ACR; Shotgun of the Year, Remington Model 887 Nitro Mag Tactical; Handgun of the Year, SIG Sauer P226 E2;
- From the NRA website, 27th Dec 2010

The AP reported that the Sauer at 0.223 was caliber of the rifle used and curiously "Guns & Ammo" mag thought that it was the "Best Home Defense Caliber".

Military-style rifles have always been popular in this country, but since September 11, 2001, the sales of the AR15 and its clones have skyrocketed—just look at how many companies are making them now. There are a number of factors behind this—increased exposure to the weapon system via media, fears of terrorism and the realization of just how fun the darn things are to shoot. 
- Guns & Ammo magazine, 10th Feb 2012

It all makes sense now. This was an informed purchase based on recommendations from such law abiding organisations like the NRA. Obviously it must be "fun" to empty rounds of fire into children.

Maybe that's why they've said nothing. I don't think that the NRA collectively feels either guilt or responsibility for this but the fact that they'd publish such remarks indicates to me that they're a bunch of loonies.
The NRA successfully lobbied the US Government to allow the Federal Assault Weapons ban expire in 2004 and on July 20 this year, James Holmes emptied bullets into a crowded movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12; injuring 71, with a weapon which was formerly banned.
Personally I think that the NRA should be designated as a terrorist organisation. Al-Qaeda killed just over 6000 people in the attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001; since then roughly 138,000 people have been killed by people with so-called "freedom" in the United States.

I think that the most truthful comment in the media came from former Prime Minister John Howard:

There is more to this than merely the lobbying strength of the National Rifle Association and the proximity of the November presidential election. It is hard to believe that their reaction would have been any different if the murders in Aurora had taken place immediately after the election of either Obama or Romney. So deeply embedded is the gun culture of the US, that millions of law-abiding, Americans truly believe that it is safer to own a gun, based on the chilling logic that because there are so many guns in circulation, one's own weapon is needed for self-protection. To put it another way, the situation is so far gone there can be no turning back.
- Former Prime Minister John Howard, SMH, 16th Dec 2012.

Whatever you say about his politics, he expresses a pragmatism which however tragic they are, cut clear to the centre of this.
Although the United States puts "In God We Trust" on its coins, it kicks Him out of its government institutions, yells to the point of stupidity at any mention of Him but loves to violate the Seventh Commandment repeatedly. It then hoards 286 million weapons to defend its freedoms. Clearly if where one's treasure is, there also your heart will be, then the United States should seriously consider changing the inscription on its coins to reflect reality.

Precisely nothing is going to change as a result of the killing of 20 children and five teachers. In the United States it is "The People" who continue to in order to form a more imperfect Union, abolish Justice, insure domestic Chaos, ignore for the common defence, violate the general Welfare, and live with the improperly named "Blessings of Liberty".
So much for the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

December 14, 2012

Horse 1415 - Leveson, Tweeters, Bloggers and Me
The head of the British phone hacking inquiry, Brian Leveson, has called for tougher laws to ensure online journalists are subject to the same legal obligations as mainstream media.
Less than a fortnight after handing down his report into British press standards, Lord Justice Leveson is in Australia to discuss the changing face of journalism and how it affects the law.
He said if appropriate journalistic standards are to be maintained, more needs to be done to regulate those who work online.
"We will therefore have to think creatively about how we ensure that the law is capable of equal application, and is applied equally and fairly, against the mainstream media and bloggers, tweeters and other amateur online journalists," he said.
He warned that if changes were not made, there was a risk the established media would be tempted to cut corners or bend the law as it went up against amateur online journalists.
- via the ABC News Website, 13th Dec 2012

Lord Justice Leveson spoke this week at the University of Melbourne and amongst the things he talked about was that in an age where bloggers can pretty well much publish anything, they should come under the same constructs of the law as newspapers and other commercial media outlets. I say, what a top idea. The amount of new legislation required... is nil.

Unlike radio or television, you don't actually need a licence to start a newspaper, you don't need a licence to write or publish a book and you don't need a licence to publish a pamphlet or newsletter. In addition to this, you're pretty well much free to write whatever you like, provided you don't defame someone, publish lies and untruths and/or violate the protection surrounding certain things like court cases, official secrets etc.
The weird thing is that you're even allowed to print outright slander, provided that it is only mere abuse and therefore constitutes opinion rather than fact (for want of a better word). I could for instance publish that "John Citizen is a farty, trumped up little toerag, who probably eats bricks for breakfast" because unless John Citizen could actually prove a)that his reputation had been directly damaged and b)that some portion of that was approaching an outright lie as opposed to mere abuse, then I'd be totally in the clear.
I could not publish details about the ongoing civil case of Banana v Mango (2012) because something that I publish might have a bearing on, or prejudice the outcome of the case.
I could go publish details of how Mr Xxyzz who was a former official in the Republic of Elbonia, has bought property in Fan Fan (in the state of Eastern Australia) from funds that he embezzled from the Elbonian Government, even though it has serious implications for Mr Xxyzz because it is materially true.

Now I make mention of all this in relation to Mr Leveson because I really don't see how adding any new law is going to either improve the press or bring bloggers into some sort of order.
Leveson's enquiry itself looked at the press' dealings and how it acquired information, which was sometimes via unethical means. It never once suggested in almost 2000 pages of output that the basic freedom of the press to publish whatever it feels like (within those caveats) be reigned in or controlled at all.
If say a reporter from the Morning Trumpet (which is an hypothetical four million a day newspaper) suddenly decides to publish an independent blog, the law in essence does not change. The Press Council which is a purely voluntary organisation and the internal practices of the paper in question might no longer apply, but the law itself which is independent, has not.

Pretty much any publisher has an almost unfettered right to say anything, just like their rights to say anything. Publishing in principle is not much different to standing on the street corner in front of the Town Hall and spruiking to the passing crowds.
I know I do this a lot but I again refer to the First Amendment to the US Constitution which contains the right to free speech and the freedom of the press. The US Constitution with regards the law, changed nothing by its passing. British Common Law which is the source of law in Australia, has an underlying and unwritten principle that have more or less complete freedom to act how they choose unless by operation of the law. As far as the right to free speech and the freedom of the press goes, the US Constitution only described what was already in place and because we live in a country with no written bill of rights, that freedom exists by inference. John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty' and Thomas Paine's 'Common Sense' were both written in an press environment of complete freedom and for the most part, that freedom remains untouched. If there was ever proof that a free press can shape or create a nation, the First Amendment certainly does not prove it, it was the environment which existed before they even thunk it up which does.

Although I completely understand the spirit of Mr Leveson's speech and his reasons for wanting there to be some sort of control in place over what bloggers write, I personally fail to see what improvement if any, any new laws are likely to make.
I personally think that people should have the right to say and publish whatever they like. Moreover I think that people also should have the right to choose whatever they wish to listen to, watch or read. I also think that people have the right to judge and make value judgements  both on content and the people who published them, based on what's written, spoken, filmed, whatever. People also have the right to be offended but being offended of itself isn't enough to demand the removal of publication. Some of the most offensive things written and said, changed the way society thinks and acts (both for better and worse). Of course there should be some regulation with regards about the appropriateness of the content and the space its viewed in but that's a separate issue.

Indeed Leveson himself provides ample example as to why the law with regards freedom of the press, free speech etc as it applies to tweeters and bloggers need not change even by an iota:
51. In the super-injunction example, the writ of the law was, perhaps, believed not to run against bloggers and tweeters. This is perhaps an example of the wider phenomenon I mentioned earlier: the belief that the law does not, and cannot apply to the internet. In many ways this is a pernicious and false belief: false because the law can be enforced against those who blog and tweet; pernicious because the idea that the law does not apply to some while it applies to others undermines the rule of law as it is inconsistent with the idea of equality before the law. Procedural justice requires the law to be equally applicable to all.

- Extract from Brian Leveson's speech to the University of Melbourne, 12th Dec 2012

I don't have a problem with this at all. I completely agree that procedural justice does require the law to be equally applicable to all. I don't see any conceivable reason why it currently does not. In NSW we have the Defamation Act 2005 and various acts such as the The Crimes Act 1914 and acts to do with Copyright etc. already cover civil and criminal offences. Commonwealth v John Fairfax & Sons Ltd (1980) even touches on the idea that there isn't really an official secrets act but the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Archives Act 1983 explain the obligation of civil servants when dealing with publicly held information.
Clearly there is enough legislation, remedies for breach and adequate defences at law. What really needs to be addressed is the proper enforcement of the law as it exists.

December 13, 2012

Horse 1414 - Slow News; The Future Of Print?

On Monday night, in the slot vacated by #qanda in the summer, the ABC cleverly ran a documentary called "Who Makes The News?". This looked at the relationship between politics and the media, particularly in Canberra, and also how the physical change in both technology and location affected the reporting and manipulation of the media.

Barrie Cassidy from ABC Radio National's Insiders program made the point that newspaper circulations are decreasing due to the fact that people's methods of consuming news and media generally are changing rapidly. On this subject, I achieved a personal milestone in that I had a tweet retweeted by more people than ever before.

#WMTN I think that the obvious thing for newspapers if they want to increase circulation, is to write better quality journalism. Slow news!

I find it almost a bizarre sort of paradox that with the internet being (for the moment) a primarily text based thing, with people writing posts in chat rooms, on forums, social media like Facebook and Twitter etc., that the quality of journalism right across the world is falling.
Partly this is due to the immediacy of the 24 hour news cycle and the need to feed the beast, a bit like shovelling more coal into the fire of a steam locomotive. In the old days of a daily or even weekly bulletin, writers had the 'luxury' of checking and rewriting their work. Just like a gem cutter polishes their stones, journalism used to be a polished craft.
Partly this is due to profit margins being squeezed ever tighter and editorial staff being shed, leading to more articles being left unchecked. More rough is being passed through because there's no-one to proof read and suggest changes anymore with the same degree of pedantry.
Partly it is because the readership is more stupid than it used to be. I suspect that there is a symbiotic relationship between functional literacy and what people regularly read and since newspapers have embarked on a race to the bottom, they're finding that it is really quite a long way down.

So then, if you look across the landscape, what peaks do you find? Curiously the Financial Review which costs more than four times that of the Telegraph in Sydney, gives us a possible answer.
People are prepared it seems to pay for quality journalism provided that's what they're getting. Maybe the answer to the question of the survivability of print media isn't a race to the bottom but the top.
Maybe there is hope. You'd sell less items but people would pay more for those items. If people perceive value in a slower form of reportage, maybe they'd be prepared to engage with it more.

The thing is that unlike building a motor car or a piece of furniture, the materials used, which are the tools of the English language itself, cost no more to employ. There is no such thing as a ten cent or fifteen dollar word, even though the quality of the prose that you finally assemble from those words can be worth ten cents or fifteen dollars.
Per capita, Australians are still the most voracious readers of magazines. Magazines either tend to trade in even less newsworthy subjects like gossip, or in more specialist subjects such as gardening, cookery, politics or technical things. They still tend to fight the internet in terms of breaking news to the public but they have the advantage that for new releases, they can spend the time to properly review their subjects in detail.
Journalism need not just be the art of sensationalist piffel. A picture paints a thousand words but equally a thousand words can paint a picture with as many shades as a great master.

One of the constant criticisms of modem politics in particular is that everything is reduced to a few sound bites and that the politicians themselves have a ridiculous need to stay 'on message', if newspapers themselves stepped back a little and created the space, maybe just maybe, discourse would widen.
As it stands, News Corp in particular and Fairfax as a willing co-conspirator play the game of stamping on every single toe that ever steps out. Both of them being right of centre have a tendency to stamp on more Labor toes than Liberal ones and I suppose that there is an argument that a free press does put a check on government but when the press sits outside the hen house with a giant mallet, you can't very well blame the chooks for not wanting to come out often.
I really want to see more of the whyfore and wherefore of the news. Governments and Oppositions do not develop policy in isolation but because they want to achieve outcomes based on their political beliefs. The reasons for why policy is formulated and how decisions are arrived at are more interesting and newsworthy than the 'he said, she said' hack fest which we're often treated to.
Moreover the stories and characters in the news often form a large part in how the news itself is created.

The act of buying a newspaper itself is by inference a contract by the reader to spend some time engaging with the printed word. If newspapers are to evolve into a new space in the twenty-first century, it seems to me that they'd be better off if they acknowledged how valuable their readership's time is.
I remember the days when the Saturday paper was a big massive thing of 9-12 sections. To properly read the Saturday paper took most of Saturday and part of Sunday. The Times of London was  especially chunkified and often would rival people's cats for sheer bulk and volume. Those same cats would often do their utmost to sit in the middle of said newspaper, which was often useful as they covered over Maggie Thatcher, Francois Mitterand or Helmut Kohl's face. The Berlin Wall didn't come down because of the end of Communism but because a giant cat's bum sat square in the middle of it. Obviously the Berlin Wall probably came down because of other factors but the point remains that newspapers themselves calmly reported things and the still, frozen, black letters of the printed word still had more authority than the fleeting words of television or radio. The way forward it seems to me if newspapers are to avoid being thrust into digital oblivion, is to make use of that authority and write words which can not be tossed aside so easily.

I also don't think that moving to an exclusively online platform is a particularly useful or helpful answer. I very much understand the desire to abandon major pieces of plant because it is hideously expensive to maintain but the printed copy itself provides its own advertising. Murdoch found out first hand with the experiment of 'The Daily' that without physical content and hiding behind a paywall, casual readers bounce off pretty easily. Issuing some sort of temporary pass might work, provided its sold along similar lines as Apple's iTunes. The big problem with news compared to music is that music is a multi-use product, even in the electronic state. I know of no-one who would read the same article for fun again; not even I am that sad a person.
Again we arrive at that paradox. Falling sales lead to falling revenues, which makes news gatherers wonder why they're still in the game. Falling sales leads to lower quality journalism which turns the wheel again.

There of course a business model which appears to work (and I say "appears to" because I only have visual evidence to go on) and that is the theory that if you charge literally nothing for the journalism to the consumer, then they can't very well complain about the quality. Mx works on precisely this principle and whilst I don't really like to complain about things I don't even buy (or even pick up for that matter), just the headlines which you get to glance at because we're all jammed in like sardines, are enough to tell you that the IQ required to read Mx is that of a Tic Tac (other breath mints are available). I suppose that Mx must keep a few people employed but they're required to exercise their journalism skills no further than Ctrl-C Ctrl-V. The advertisers are the ones who carry the bill for Mx and they're happy as long as their logos and adverts are thrust in front of Johnny Q Public. Just because the public is prepared to take a newspaper for free, doesn't mean that they engage with it that deeply. Many copies of Mx do not make the trip from the pile in the Westpac Centre to the train and find themselves in the recycling bins outside the ticket barriers. This means that they've been in someone's hands for less than three minutes total. That's hardly enough time to convince people to change their minds about very much.

If you look right across all media, the most popular books which are sold are novels, the most popular TV shows are dramas, comedy and sport; and the most popular radio shows in terms of sheer numbers are talkback shows; the most popular websites are social media like Facebook and Twitter. All of these are driven by peoples' innate desire to listen to stories and to tell stories, especially about themselves. I can't even claim to be any different this regard because really this blog (as indeed any other) is still basically concerned with telling stories, one way or another.
For newspapers to properly embrace the change into the twenty-first century and the digital word, their best bet I think is to slow down and take time to tell the stories of the news; leave the speed to someone else. Paint the pictures by using those thousand words.

December 11, 2012

Horse 1413 - Football and Print Media's Continued Apathy

In three days the Socceroos put past 17 goals against Guam and Chinese Taipei. Previously they had also beaten Hong Kong and drawn with North Korea, and have thus qualified for the 2013 EAFF East Asian Cup (a competition which they're only in by invite).
In the days when Australia was regularly smacking double digit wins past Pacific Island nations, the media tended to treat Australian football like some sort of poor cousin. In fact this tournament has been relegated to being shown not on SBS's broadcast stations but only streaming online. This however may tell a story which should make the media sit up and notice.
SBS's website frequently failed due to insufficient bandwidth as more users tried to connect. I don't want to suggest that SBS did a bad job, far from it, rather that the matches themselves were more popular than even they anticipated. This was after all only a qualifier for a tournament which is neither a World Cup nor Asian Cup preliminary.

The highest trending hashtags on Twitter were to do with the A-League matches going on and the Soccerroos matches. I had a look at some metrics going on and found that the numbers were as good as an episode of ABC 1's Qanda which regularly tops the world on Twitter, spiking on Monday nights. Even the Big Bash Cricket amidst all the hype and advertising didn't manage to break football's dominance on Twitter. A couple of hours later the Manchester derby in the English Premier League blew everything else to the weeds on Twitter and in terms of tweets per minute was generating figures roughly a thousand times the order of magnitude that the Socceroos match did; which is perfectly understandable considering that this was a top of the table clash being broadcast worldwide. As far as an Australian based Twitter hashtag goes, they were certainly quite active.

The reason why I make mention of this is because the daily newspapers in Sydney at least, you'd expect would be jumping on board but no. You had to turn a full nine pages in the sports section of the Telegraph on Monday before you found any football news and in the Herald it was six pages.
Obviously the Tele being a News Corp paper is pushing the barrow for the wider interests of the group (presumably in its formerly tied investment to Rugby League) but the Herald which has no such connection, merely looks silly. Both of them look out of touch with actual trends and perhaps more generally it is a symptom of print losing touch with relevance to the world.
Newspapers have long since ceased to be the primary method by which people get their news and so anyone who was interested would have already have known the result, well before the newspaper even went to copy; much less to print.
This brings me to what the newspapers actually covered. The Telegraph churned through its usual grist of Rugby League rumour despite being out of season but at least the Herald filled its space with news on cricket and golf, both of which had also occurred at the weekend.

I'll admit that I'm incredibly biased in all of this, not being a Rugby League fan living in a city which 'traditionally' is full of them but it seems to me that one of the hurdles that Football is going to have to jump over if it is ever to become the thing which I'd always hoped that it would, is the apathy of the media in Australia.
To this end I find the announcement that SBS is to cover the match of the week as well as pick up the highlights show in season 2013/14 to be one if the best pieces of news I've heard in a long time. Jokingly, 'soccer' was one of the three things always substituted in its three letter acronym but in the meantime, SBS has developed a reputation for producing more intelligent television than the commercial networks, buys more documentaries and at least in our house gets more viewing time than any other station.

I'm wondering if in season 2013/14, whether the television exposure by SBS of the A-League will be enough to tip ratings figures to the point that even the Telegraph and Herald will take notice. Perhaps in an age where because they know that the audience already knows the results by the time they go to print, we may even see proper analysis of football in the newspaper.
I can only hope so.

December 09, 2012

Horse 1412 - 2DayFM Are Not Responsible
It is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions that the nurse who put the prank call through to Princess Kate's ward should have taken her life. Just as it is an enormous tragedy when anyone takes their life. But to all those - particularly the British media - who are firing vicious epithets at the two radio DJs who are the public face of that prank call, blaming them for the tragedy, please get a grip.
What, precisely, are they guilty of?
Making a prank call? Which DJ in the history of the world hasn't made prank calls? It is part of the genre, a practice beloved through the generations and around the world, including all over Britain.
- Peter Fitzsimons, The Sydney Morning Herald, 9th Dec 2012

Predictably, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney which by nature is a popularist news paper (News Corporation has hanging issues of its own to do with media ethics, the organisation is not above hacking the phones of the dead) had this to say on the subject in its editorial "A time to grieve, not to lay blame"
"Radio hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian did not kill British nurse Jacintha Saldanha. Suicide always leaves us looking for answers- and for someone to blame."
"Inevitably this death will prompt calls for tighter media regulation. A few points. These DJs are not journalists. Broadcast media, unlike print press, are already heavily regulated by statutory authorities, here and in the UK."
- Editorial, Daily Telegraph, 9th Dec 2012.

That is a very interesting question. What precisely are they guilty of? Pulling a phone prank isn't a crime even if the consequences have led to someone's suicide. Broadcast media are as suggested regulated by statutory authorities; specifically in Australia by ACMA, the  Australian Communications and Media Authority. Through the Commercial Radio Australia division they lay down the Codes of Practice & Guidelines for commercial radio (ABC and SBS are covered by their own charters).

Clause 6.1 of the code states that:
The purpose of this Code is to prevent the unauthorised broadcast of 
statements by identifiable persons.
6.1 A licensee must not broadcast the words of an identifiable person 
(a) that person has been informed in advance or a reasonable person would be aware that the words may be broadcast; or
(b) in the case of words which have been recorded without the knowledge of the person, that person has subsequently, but prior to the broadcast, expressed consent to the broadcast of the words.

To assume that a 'reasonable person' at the King Edward VII hospital in London would even be aware of a Sydney radio station's existence let alone that their conversation would be broadcast (and later nationally across the Austereo network) is close to bordering on nonsense.

Perhaps more telling is clause 1.3:
(a) Program content must not offend generally accepted standards of decency (for example, through the use of unjustified language), having regard to the demographic characteristics of the audience of the relevant program.

I suggest that it's generally accepted as decent that you wouldn't ring up a hospital where someone is obviously sick and ask for their medical details to be broadcast on the radio. Pretending to be family in order to obtain medical details, so that you can broadcast them on radio is obviously an 'hilarious' thing to do isn't it?

Mind you, 2DayFM have a track record when it comes to breaching the codes of practice. Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O repeatedly questioned a teenage girl after she had revealed that she had been raped when she was 12. Kyle himself labelled  Alison Stephenson of News.Com all sorts of horrid insults before telling her to "Watch your mouth or I'll hunt you down."

What, precisely, are they guilty of? They being 2Day FM, are guilty of breaking the codes of practice whenever they feel like and guilty of crossing the lines of decency. Again there will be the bloodletting of a few individuals and possibly a few sackings of people which will help diffuse blame for this but this is  2DayFM's modus operandi .

There's not even so much as a display of regret on their website, although the actual page proudly boasting about the prank has been deleted. I note that NSW Police has received a formal request from Scotland Yard to look into this "non-suspicious death" because there will need to be a coroner's report.

I do agree though that we all should "get a grip". Mel Greig and Michael Christian do not appear so much to have been punished but have become scapegoats for this sorry sorry chain of events. I hope that both of them go on to find successful employment at somewhere sensible like the ABC. Someone should have been responsible at the time like the producers who put the program to air. That I would guess is what's really lacking here, 2DayFM don't really have a 'responsible' adult on deck in any sense of the word here.

December 05, 2012

Horse 1411 - Nissan Isn't Missin'

The Sydney 500 which was run say the weekend was billed as the final showdown between Ford and Holden, as though it was the end of an era. Although that might very well be true, the circumstances surrounding why that came to be are very very murky indeed.

The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport or CAMS saw as early as 1981 that the Bathurst 1000 was very quickly gaining attention as one of the world's big motor races. As early as 1979, Ford Australia had abandoned their motorsports commitment and Holden through the then Holden Dealer Team and a very very fast driver in Peter Brock, set about winning 6 from 7 races from 1978-1984. CAMS who wanted to see the race become a truly international event decided that Australia should adopt the then FIA Group A touring car regulations.

What happens when Ford and Holden let others play with them

The idea sort of worked. Tom Walkinshaw's Jaguar racing outfit entered 3 cars in 1985 and won the event, in 1986 Schnitzer's BMW and Volvo had come to play and in 1987, the German Eggenberger team won line honours with their Ford Sierra hatchbacks (but were later disqualified) as the Bathurst 1000 became part of the World Touring Car Championship.
The Sierra was so successful that it came to dominate touring car racing in Europe and here in Australia to such a degree (even Peter Brock ran them in 1989) that it took a factory effort from Japan in the form if the Nissan GTR to out-Sierra the Sierra. The Nissan GTR was to be honest, at the time, the single most technically advanced touring car the world had seen.

The car which really caused Ford and Holden's paranoia

Holden was increasingly annoyed that it was spending money to develop race cars and being beaten in its own backyard and so, with a willing co-conspirator in Ford, a new set of regulations were drawn up which would ban the Nissan and effectively close the doors to other manufacturers. No other manufacturers in the world apart from Holden and Ford were persisting with putting 5L V8s into four door sedans and so the new rules effectively locked out all cars except the Commodore and Falcon.
Mitsubishi had toyed with the idea of coming to play and a single prototype of sorts was built based on a Magna but that project was doomed (as eventually was Mitsubishi's Australian plant) and so, for 15 years all was safe and sound, and Ford and Holden had their ivory tower.

The thing which shook the tower was a little matter of the Global Financial Crisis. GM in Detroit suffered bankruptcy proceedings and Ford fared not much better. In the meantime, flagging sales of both the Commodore and Falcon began to call into question their continued existence; Ford has subsequently terminated production of the Falcon wagon.
How can there be a touring car championship with no cars to go in it?
The Car Of The Future regulations were drawn up c.2011 as an insurance policy to ensure the continued survival if the sport. The idea is to keep the same basic DNA of the cars and is an admission that the racing cars ceased to bear proper resemblance to their road going variants a long time ago.
So the 2013 V8Supercar championship isn't necessarily surprising or particularly innovative, it is however necessary.
Nissan have again joined the party with the yet unreleased Altima and Erebus Motorsports have decided to run 3 Mercedes-Benz E Class cars.
These two cars won't really share any components with the cars on the road but then again, neither do the Commodore or Falcon. All four marques in 2013 will be running purpose built race cars, which given that they're not even marketed as touring cars any more seems apt.

Given that it's taken 20 years to reach this point for Holden and Ford to finally relent and let someone else play, it makes me wonder where technology would have gone had they decided to beat Nissan at its own game at the time.
Ford took everything it learnt from the Sierra and then developed those bits into the Escort and then Focus. The RS Focus I suppose is the logical conclusion to that story.
Meanwhile, Holden may have countered with the Astra, which eventually won the British Touring Car Championship comprehensively but perhaps it too would have grown turbocharging and 4WD.
Perhaps choosing purpose built race cars with a rigid set of rules is the best way to go. Allowing too much freedom inevitably leads to a spending and technology war which is unsustainable. Who knows?

I do rather like the idea though that in theory anyone can take any four door sedan, throw some standard bits at it and go racing. I would like to see marques like Kia, Hyundai, Chery or Brilliant come and play top. Of course I would still like to see Ford and Holden throw their hat in the ring but then again, I've also always wanted them to take on the world at Le Mans, which is a far more impressive arena than touring cat racing ever was.
If they won't play in someone else's backyard, then at least letting everyone else play in ours is the next best thing.

December 03, 2012

Horse 1410 - Leveson And The Straw Man

It was a little bit surreal this weekend to read through the British newspapers' websites as they all colluded to erect a giant strawman following the wake of the Leveson Enquiry. Almost in unison they played the clarion call that the freedom of the press was important to democracy and that it is necessary to hold government to account. Whilst I agree with this entirely, it completely ignores what Lord Justice Leveson set out to do and it largely ignores what his report mainly says.

The Leveson Enquiry Into The Media And Ethics did exactly what it said on the tin, it looked into the media and ethics or rather the lack thereof. I don't think that actual utility of the freedom of the press was ever being investigated at all; nor did it need to be. What was being investigated was why the press thought it acceptable to hack the phones of the living and dead, to pry into privacy, to harass people, to pay off the police and to cosy up to government.
If freedom of the press is important to democracy and to hold government to account, then what gave them the right and ability to break the law and who exactly was holding the press to account?

Firstly I agree with that sentiment that the press and more generally the public should be able to publish whatever they like without fear of censorship. There are of course limits to that absolute freedom such as defamation and libel but you can even publish outright slander if that's all that it is.
I can for instance publish that Arthur Vanderlay is an idiot and a moron because that is only an opinion. I can not publish that Arthur Vanderlay is a thief and engaging in corruption unless I have good enough proof to show that this is true. I doubt that Arthur Vanderlay is ever likely to apply for damages though, as he is fictional.
As far as free speech and freedom of the press goes, we are talking about what comes out of the end of the sausage machine and not what went into it. Freedom of the press, freedom to publish and free speech generally is entirely unregulated in the UK. The Press Acts which in effect gave rise to the licensoing of printing presses were repealed in 1695 and although there are standards and licences covering TV and radio and Ofcom which regulates broadcast media, this doesn't apply to print. It also doesn't apply to the internet which although highlights a weakness in the law, shows that the press and print media doesn't necessarily need to fear regulation in a hurry.
In fact although the US has the right to free speech enshrined as the first amendment to their Constitution, the law in that case was only descriptive of what already existed. The environment of British law actually allowed the publication of no end of pamphlets and papers, which in its own way eventually forged that new nation. As for the press and democracy in Britain, the so called "golden age" of the 1720s simply would not have existed without the freedom of the press, and the only real reason why there is seemingly so few newspapers in the modern era is because wages and physical print costs are so high compared with the drive for profit.

For the record, I personally think that the complete lack of law in the UK with regards the freedom of the press is perfect. The press and the general public should have the right to publish whatever the heck they want, within the obvious limitation of tort law. The fact that the press is even making a hoohaa about this, is to build a strawman so that that will be attacked and they can continue to go about their business.
Long after the names Dowler, Coulson and Brooks have faded from peoples' memory the underlying issues still won't have to do with the freedom of the press to publish but the unethical practices which caused this in the first place; namely why did the press think it was free to break other parts of the law?

The Red Tops especially and the broadsheets to a lesser extent, are finding themselves in a world where physical sales of print media are falling because people can get their news from TV, radio and the internet. To counter this, rather than increasing the quality of journalism they'be been chasing an increasing diet of salaciousness and muck. The problem is that to get fresh supplies of muck, they've had to scrape even harder at the bottom of the barrel and delved into people's private lives.
The police failed in their function of policing this because they too were tangled in the muck. The political parties and by extension the government, which should have been seperate also did nothing because they rely on media to sway public opinion in their chase of reelection and power. When you have the Prime Minister himself sending texts and spending holidays with the editor of a.newspaper, although you can ask to what degree the press is being controlled by government the reverse question can and also should be asked.

So it wasn't the lack of regulation of what went to press which was the problem but rather the lack of prudence and decency in the collection of muck to go into print in the first place.
Private Eye editor Ian Hislop summed it up very well when he suggested of James Murdoch, the chief of News International that he should have been aware of the practices of his newspapers (in particular The News Of The World) that either "he was a knave or a fool but more likely a fool".
The finger should be pointed at people like Rebecca Brooks, Andy Coulson, Piers Morgan, etc. and some amount of prosecution is being undertaken through the courts but again, this isn't to do with the freedom of the press but criminal activity, the deliberate invasion of privacy and a lack of ethics.

Most commentators suspect that what will follow from this is a push by print media to form some sort of council and then for some arm of government to audit that council. If it takes three or so years to draw up the frame of reference, the climate will have changed yet again and the future government of the day will not want to appear heavy handed.
I will say this though, self regulation is as good as no regulation at all. Human nature is such that left unregulated, individuals and organisations will act exactly as they see fit; the fact that the  Leveson Enquiry even needs to exist is proof of that. Collectively organisations diffuse blame and the bloodletting of a few individuals is usually enough to ensure the survival of the group. In this case, unethical dealings by print media is almost certainly likely to occur although perhaps in a slightly modified form.
Yet again, the freedom of the press still won't actually be the real issue or the problem.

So watch over the next few weeks as the strawmen are built and ceremonially whacked because I don't think that the real issue, which is the unethical practices of the press will be dealt with beyond changing the staff at the top. Reset, regroup, roll again.

December 01, 2012

Horse 1409 - Fine Leg

On most sporting fields and in most sports, although the whole field of play is available to be used, most passages of play occur in localised areas. In virtually all codes of football this tends to be concentrated in front of the goals and in tennis it mainly occurs just in front of the base lines.
In cricket it is fairly obvious that most of the action is going to take place on the pitch and this is true for all forms of the game. In the lower grades, there tend to be a higher concentration of shots scored through "cow corner" between deep mid-wicket and wide long-on, because the skill of the batsmen is much much lower. The higher the grades, the higher the concentration of drives and glides through point to the covers between point and mid-off.
The one position on the whole field which I look on with disdain at, is Fine Leg.

Most bowlers who are looking to make the ball work for them, tend to have the ball pitching from centre stump to a width outside. The idea of course is that you want batsmen either playing at the ball and getting an edge for the wicket-keeper or slips to catch, or that if you are bowling closer to the stumps, to not give the batsman a chance to play leg glances off the toes of shins.
Really the only reason that a shot need ever pass from the area between backward of square through to the radius behind the keeper is that there was a loose delivery and/or the wicket-keeper wasn't expecting it.

Fine Leg to me is basically an admission that either the bowling is inaccurate or that the wicket-keeper is incompetent. Fine Leg is almost exclusively reserved either fast bowlers so that they can have a chance to rest between their overs, or a player who you think is so incredibly bad at fielding, that they're only one step away from not being on the field at all.
The position is probably the one with the least amount of glory on the field but also the one which will get you   a fair amount of hard stares. Even if someone fielding in Fine Leg is completely alert, there shouldn't really be any more than about five shots pass through there in a day. A poor fielder who has to go from Fine Leg to the opposite Fine Leg makes the furthest journey out of anyone on the whole field and  if you are trying to get through your overs quickly, is afforded the least amount of sympathy.

To be honest, if you do have a fielder who you think is quite frankly not up to the job, then a captain probably should put them into 3rd Slip. A fielder will then be involved in the game far more heavily and if they're only a casual or a new player will learn by example, how captains make decisions and how they set fields. If you a captain and do decide to place a fielder in Fine Leg because the whole entire passage of play happens somewhere "out there" off in the distance relative to the fielder, don't blame them if they tend to daydream because it was your fault they were there in the first place.

Fine Leg is for all intents and purposes, a waste of a fielder and a disincentive for them to want to play again. For the vast majority of us who aren't paid to play and play this at times unfathomable game, is it the equivalent of a fielding death sentence. So don't do it.