December 31, 2013

Horse 1584 - Herod The Not-So-Great

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
- Matthew 2:1-12

Herod. "King" Herod. The man who wasn't really a king? Maybe. The man who actually was a king? Also maybe. There's some really weird things about Roman politics that I just don't understand about this.

Pompey the Great besieged and conquered Jerusalem in the year 63BC. Pompey had basically intervened in a dispute between between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II for the throne of the Hasmonean Kingdom, took both sets of thrones for himself and turned the province of Judea (if you can call it that) into a "client" kingdom of the Roman Republic. Following the events of the Ides of March in 44BC, when Julius Caesar was assassinated, Judea again became semi-autonomous and more or less ignored the conversion of Rome from the Republic to the Empire under Augustus.

Herod the Great's father, Antipater, was made procurator of Judea in 47BC; which meant that Herod inherited a fairly stable sort of power base. He was elected to be the governor of Galilee, then  elected "King of the Jews" by the Roman Senate and naturally was incredibly jealous of his title in a "client" kingdom which was relatively free from Roman Senatorial manipulation. This explains why he spent considerable money in keeping both the Pharisees and Sadducees happy in what otherwise would have amounted to a religiously based civil war of sorts.

So when you look at the circumstances which surround the coming of the magi, Herod was no doubt both incredibly scared that his power base would be lost. Second to this, the usual method of succession in the Roman Empire was the homicide of the person whom you wanted to take over from.
Herod's response here in the ordering of the destruction of possibly 178,000 is understandable I suppose but it's also incredibly lazy, selfish and horrible. I was looking this up in library this afternoon and found that the historian Justus of Tiberias calls the event "a great massacre of innocents". Josephus seems to be silent on the issue; so I don't know what that means either.

That aside, it is the laziness of Herod's destruction which strikes me the most. Rather than actually appoint his own guard to find the child king, he just orders the Magi to return with a report; they duly returned home via another route and never did so.

It appears that he died in about 1BC (which would be about when Christ was 3 or 4 years old), of chronic kidney failure. It seems that he suffered throughout his lifetime from depression and paranoia, which is also consistent with lead plumbing in wealthy Roman houses and would also explain his kidney failure. He would also go on to execute at least three of his own sons, which seems in keeping with the brutality of this monster.

I don't think that a lot of the Jewish world mourned the loss of Herod the Great; not could I find much reason to suggest why he was called "The Great". The Roman world certainly didn't find his death advantageous as this created a power vacuum which wouldn't properly be resolved and was probably one of the root causes of the Jewish Revolt of 70AD and ultimately resulted in Jerusalem's sacking and destruction.

Herod was a mad man, a bad man and a sad man - a perfect trifecta. No wonder the Magi went home via another route.

December 29, 2013

Horse 1583 - What Did You Get For Christmas? The Beginning Of The End Of Medicare?
A proposal to introduce an upfront $6 fee to visit a general practitioner has been criticised by the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
A Commission of Audit, set up by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, has received a submission recommending the co-payment system for GP visits.
Under the proposal, pensioners and concession card holders would be exempt from the fee, while families would be granted up to 12 bulk-billed visits annually.
The Federal Government says the new fee is one of several recommendations currently on the table but no decisions have been made.
- via the ABC website, 29th Dec 2013.

And so it begins...

Immediately I think of Richard Nixon's conversation with John D. Ehrlichman on February 17, 1971. This conversation is a signpost along the road of privatisation in the United States which led to the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973 which effectively ended the Public Health Service Act of 1941 and set American health care costs from 4.9% of GDP in 1960 to the situation today where it is more than 17.2% today.
Today we see what the Commission of Audit really has up its sleeve and a shadow of what is to come. Whilst Australians were bust enjoying Christmas dinner, the Commission of Audit was welcoming the ghost of Christmas Future; and if these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, then children will die.
In some respects, what we're witnessing isn't an attack on medical services but rather an attack of upon how the benefits of the economy should be shared and to whom.

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

Even bearing in mind that Winston Churchill was a Tory, the truth remains that even he saw the relative benefits of having a healthy population. Such a population would be more productive and therefore be able to generate a greater degree of profits.
The thing is that that made sense in 1944. It also made sense across the western world until the late 1970s when things were still being produced in western nations. However, it should be pointed out that the world of 2013 is vastly different to one of seventy years ago.

The history of labour relations since at least 1600BC has been basically about the same question:
How do you cheat and scam people over and make them work for you, for as little as possible?
Slavery has often been a popular option, from the Egyptian enslavement of Jews, to slavery throughout the classical Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek, Roman, Chinese, etc etc etc Belgian, French and British empires. Slavery was a brilliant method of making people work for as close to nothing as possible until enough people developed a conscience and overthrew that as an idea.
Upon deciding that you couldn't merely enslave people any more, the next best thing to do was to get machines to do it instead. Machine production advanced through ages of wind, steam and electric power and more and more goods were produced more cheaply and all went well.
The thing is though that during the 1960s and 1970s, it was found that there were people living in not much more than subsistence conditions who would work on machines for even more cheaply than people in western countries. People in countries like Japan, then Korea, China, Thailand, Vietnam etc etc etc. all would compete with people in western countries in terms of labor costs and companies simply uprooted factories and built news ones in places of even cheaper labour (only recently, Ford and General Motors have further proven this so singularly). The fact that people die in textile factories in Bangladesh is simply a repeat of what happened in the United States 100 years earlier. Factory owners don't care, it's not them who have to pay the price.
All of this leads nicely to the place we find ourselves today.

In 1944 Winston Churchill's reasoning that the population would be more productive and produce a greater degree of profits if they had adequate health care was entirely sound. The truth is though, if factory owners, company owners and executives decide to set up manufacturing in countries that aren't our own, the economic reason for providing a state health care system, disappears very quickly indeed.
If you have a population who is mainly employed in retail and service industries, then productivity doesn't really increase with a greater degree of health care. If the whole point of the Commission of Audit is to reduce the size and scope of what government provides (ask not what your country can do for you - it intends to do nothing if it can get away with it), then it stands to reason that it can not and should not fund the health care requirements of that part of the population whose "jobs" can be done by someone in another country at a cheaper costs.
From an economic perspective, why bother investing in the maintenance of labour if there isn't a good reason for doing so.
PM - PM Tony Abbott
AB - Andrew Bolt
PM: I'm just not going to pre-empt the work that it does, Andrew, but I would be amazed if, for argument's sake, we need as many public servants in the areas of health and education, for instance, that we have at the moment, given that we don't run schools, we don't run universities, we don't run hospitals, we don't run medical practices or pharmacies…
AB: Would that breach your commitment not to cut health funding?
PM: No, no. We're not going to cut health funding, but that doesn't mean that we're going to have the same back office systems that currently exist. We did say that we would reduce the Commonwealth public sector by 12,000, and that's going to be over and above the modest reductions the former government started to put in place.
- IPA, quoting the Herald-Sun, 25th Oct 2013

Mr Abbott wasn't "going to pre-empt the work" the work that the Commission of Audit was going to do but the fact remains that he more than likely already knew what the outcomes were going to be. All governmental commissions are directed like railway trains and are impartial; just like railway trains, once you lay down the lines for them that's the way they go.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that we have two classes of Australian citizens, and any proposed amendment that did in effect create two classes of citizens wouldn't be put forward by me.
- Tony Abbott as quoted in the Herald-Sun, 25th Oct 2013.

Truth is sometimes said where people didn't intend to. You may wish to accuse me of taking this out of context but ultimately society is more divided by class than race and changes to Medicare which this proposal is, stabs the lower classes in the face far harder than it does anyone from the upper classes.
The National Disability Insurance Scheme, Gonski school reforms, wages being "too high": all of these were addressed by Maurice Newman, another of Mr Abbott's appointees, in this case in the Business Advisory Council*; I'm sure the Commission of Audit would be listening oh so intently.

So, keep on stabbing poor people in the face, better yet why not just exterminate them, or place them into slavery? It's how labour problems were solved in ages past.
Better yet, defund the establishments which cost money and to which those who are badly off must go for treatment. If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.
A very 'merry' Christmas and a 'happy' New Year. Let's hope it's a good one without any fear... probably won't be.

- Australian Financial Review, 12th Nov 2013.

Addenda: It's really sneaky and slimey how this was announced on 29th Dec; the week when everyone is on holidays. It meant that this story was well and truly buried.

December 18, 2013

Horse 1582 - MYEFO - It's MY EFO, get your own dang EFO

As Mr Hockey delivered the Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, he did the usual things that an incoming small G government is want to do:

1. Bring forward capital expenditures to look like expenses.
2. Blame the previous government for any failings.
3. Promise cuts to expenditure.

Of course, being a small G government, cutting expenditure is the only solution. If you can paint as terrible a picture as possible at the first available opportunity, then the media who happens to agree with you, will equally write opinion pieces making out government waste to be the enemy.
The thing is though, if say a government was in surplus, where did that money come from? And if there happens to be a debt, then whose fault was it?

If we dare to look at the other blade on our debt cutting scissors, the one which both Mr Hockey and the media negligently never mentioned, lying to us through omission, we find this:

We find that the highest tax bracket was pushed further out from $50000 to $60000, $62500, $70000, $95000, $150000 and finally $180000. At the same time, the highest marginal tax rate was dropped from 47 cents to 45 cents. But wait, there's more!
The lowest marginal rates also decreased from 17 cents to 15 cents and then when the lowest marginal bracket was "cleaned up", the tax-free threshold was pushed back from $6000 to $18000.

All of this means to say that from 2002-03 to 2013-14, which happens to split twelve years nicely into two parts - the Howard/Costello part and the Rudd-Gillard/Swan-Bowen part - there were 5/6 years under a Coalition government which yielded tax cats and 4/6 years under a Labor government which yielded tax cats.

I took a sample of AWOTE figures at the June quarter on a calendar year basis and came to the conclusion, that across ten million taxpayers (the actual figure is now closer to eleven and a half million), that had the tax brackets only been adjusted at a rate of 4% per year, then the total extra tax collected from 2002-03 to 2013-14 would have been $143bn. The total extra tax collected for 2013-14 would have been $51bn which is still more than the $47bn* which Mr Hockey is claiming as the deficit.

"Even if there are no tax cuts for ten years, the budget will never come back to surplus"
- Joe Hockey, 7.30 ABC1, 17th Dec 2013

Of course it isn't. The budget currently suffers from a major skew, caused by previous horrendous tax cuts and no government has bothered to correct the problem. The solution is not tax cuts but a restoration of revenues; which means tax increases. Obviously there's a revenue problem here.

Mr Hockey won't of course tell you this of course. He can't. It would hurt the ears of his own electorate to hear it.
As the Member for North Sydney he is member of the electorate with the highest average income in the country. The members of his electorate on a per capita basis benefited the most from 10 of 12 years of tax cuts. Also, owing to factors like wealth condensation and rule changes to do with superannuation, they also benefited on a far greater basis than any other electorate in the country.
Meanwhile in the electorate next door, the  Member for Warringah equally can not tell you this either. The Prime Minister happens to be the  member of the electorate with the second highest average income in the country. It also contains Mosman Municipal Council which became incidentally the first area in Australia to generate more than $1bn in private domestic property sales in a calendar year (2013).

So then, what is the solution to all of this? Is it to restore income taxes to levels? Well no. It's to appoint people like Ziggy Switkowski (the man whose job it was to destroy Telstra) as head of NBN, to render that useless and then sell that off. It's to appoint Tim Wilson, of IPA fame who was fundamentally opposed to the existence of the Human Rights Commission, to be the head of that same commission and probably with the intent to render that useless and shut that down. It's to remove legal aid for Aboriginal people and to cripple Indigenous legal services. It's to destroy the outcomes of Gonski reforms, to disable the NDIS, to destroy trade training centres and to eliminate the Communities Fund.
Rather than redress the fact that the people who have benefited the most from taxation cuts for more than a decade should start to contribute a little, Mr Hockey and this government has decided that the best people who need kicking are the least advantaged in society.

This is the place we've reached in the political debate in this country.

*By the way, GDP is about $1500bn. This means that $47bn is only about 3.1% of GDP. According to The Business Spectator, the average since 1975 is only 2.7% of GDP. In other words, this is less about actual maths and more about hurting real people.

Cheese 1666 - Samuel Pepys

Up by break of day to get away the remainder of my things; which I did by a lighter at the Iron gate and my hands so few, that it was the afternoon before we could get them all away. Sir W. Pen and I to Tower-streete, and there met the fire burning three or four doors beyond Mr. Howell's, whose goods, poor man, his trayes, and dishes, shovells, &c., were flung all along Tower-street in the kennels, and people working therewith from one end to the other; the fire coming on in that narrow streete, on both sides, with infinite fury. Sir W. Batten not knowing how to remove his wine, did dig a pit in the garden, and laid it in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of. And in the evening Sir W. Pen and I did dig another, and put our wine in it; and I my Parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.
- Diary of Samuel Pepys, 4th Sep 1666 (During the Great Fire of London)

Samuel Pepys - a man who buried cheese.

December 14, 2013

Horse 1581 - Zoe's Law, Abortion and Legal Personhood

So what have we learned from this evening's programme? That some ducks have bells and some don't; that murder isn't morally wrong and, most importantly, we've learned how to tell a goblin from a hobgoblin.
- Tom Baker

I draw your attention to the following article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, late last month:
Zoe's law has always been personal for Brodie Donegan and her husband Nick Ball.
The controversial foetal rights bill was put to a conscience vote and passed in the lower house of the NSW Parliament this week, but it still needs to pass through the upper house before it is made law.
''We are happy it went through, but it's only half the battle,'' Mr Ball said.
The legislation was prompted by the stillbirth of Brodie Donegan's daughter, Zoe, after Ms Donegan was hit by a car when she was 36 weeks pregnant.
The bill for the first time recognises a crime of grievous bodily harm against an unborn child as a person.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 23rd Nov 2013.

It is worth reviewing the known facts of the case here.

Brodie Donegan was 32 weeks pregnant when she was hit by a car on the NSW Central Coast. The driver of the car was at the time on a combination of drugs including methadone.
The problem is that as the law currently stands, the driver of the car could be charged with counts of grievous bodily harm inflicted on Brodie but as unborn Zoe doesn't constitute a separate legal person because the law sees them as one and the same, the driver couldn't then be charged with a separate offence of injuring and killing Zoe.

Of course changing the law to include unborn children as separate legal persons, would meet with much controversy; especially those people who like to continue to like to call themselves "pro-choice". Legal personhood itself has all sorts of other implications (including companies which are non-living persons to begin with) because legal personhood implies and confers at law, rights upon persons.

Zoe's Law which passed the NSW Legislative Assembly on November 21 makes several provisions. It suggests that "medical procedures" are exempt from prosecution; that the mother is exempt from prosecution even if she occasions the child's death through deliberate, negligent or reckless actions and among other things that Grievous Bodily Harm against the child instead could be a charge, rather than manslaughter.

Even this has sparked off a giant wave of invective. The Sydney Morning Herald's article of 3rd Dec had this to say:
Today, NSW is largely pro-choice in its practices but not in its law. Under the latter, women are not given the right to choose an abortion but can avoid breaching the law if it can be shown that their termination fits within a recognised judicial exception.
If Zoe's law is passed by the NSW upper house next year, it may upset the accommodation that allows NSW women to seek an abortion. That law seeks to amend the NSW Crimes Act to enable a person to be prosecuted for grievous bodily harm done to a foetus.
To achieve this, Zoe's law would give legal recognition to the ''unborn child''. It would define such a child as ''the foetus of a pregnant woman'' that ''is of at least 20 weeks' gestation'' or, if the period of gestation cannot be established reliably, ''has a body mass of at least 400 grams''.
Clauses have been inserted into Zoe's law to limit its impact. However, a real prospect remains that it will also change the law on abortion, especially for a pregnancy that has progressed beyond 20 weeks.
The current position on terminations is fragile in that it rests upon a judicial interpretation of a statute that criminalises abortion. This judicial approach could be overridden where Parliament changes legislation such as the NSW Crimes Act.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 3rd Dec 2013.

I don't claim to understand all the legal implications with regards this because the further I look into it, the more questions there are. I do know however, that the argument surrounding this is far far far from compassionate:

No to Abortion, it's not murder because the person in question (the foetus) is not a legal person, nor are they alive. They cannot sustain life without the body of the mother, they cannot exist independently or even with medical assistance. Until such time as 24 (at the very earliest) weeks, they are nothing more than a parasite. If a woman does not want to be saddled with carrying a child to term, they should not be. Child carriage and birth carries numerous physical and mental health risks, and we must value the life of the person who already exists above the potential life of another. What so many anti-abortionists forget in the rabid quest to save lives is they can be ruining or destroying a life already in existence.
- comment from MissNomer, 3rd Dec 2013

I find a lot of this argument galling and inhuman. A lot of the debate which has been stirred up around this, seems to be an incredibly lazy cut and paste job from the existing argument in the United States. Some of this extends from the 'landmark' decision of Roe vs Wade (1973):
The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a "person" within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's case, of course, collapses, for the fetus' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment. The appellant conceded as much on reargument. On the other hand, the appellee conceded on reargument that no case could be cited that holds that a fetus is a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Texas urges that, apart from the Fourteenth Amendment, life begins at conception and is present throughout pregnancy, and that, therefore, the State has a compelling interest in protecting that life from and after conception. We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
- US Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, decided 22 Jan 1973

I must admit I find the decision in Roe vs Wade to be a tremendous miscarriage of justice. If a judge openly admits that they do not know and can not know the answer to something and yet is still required to make a judgement, then it is morally incumbent on that judge to provide an answer based upon either equity or the least amount of harm which will be inflicted.
I ask you, in a case of abortion, where is there more harm inflicted? Upon a mother or upon a child who as a result of action, is given a death penalty?
Here I find something quite duplicitous. On one hand if you asked people if they happened to agree with child sacrifice to the god of the harvest, they would most likely find it repugnant but if you were to suggest that a child be sacrifice to the god of convenience, people would think that you're crazy. Yet isn't this exactly what happens across the United States on a daily basis? More unborn children are killed per day than the events of Sandy Hook of one year ago. Interestingly though in the United States, the net result of both is nil. However, this is not about the United States but about the state of New South Wales, which is a very very different jurisdiction.

I find it incredibly strange that this debate itself isn't being framed within the context of human rights. Australia was right at the forefront of championing human rights with both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990.
The CRC in particular gained entry into force for Australia on 16 January 1991. It has this to say:
BEARING in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth",
- Preamble,  Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990

If the CRC didn't mean that a child should have appropriate legal protection before birth, then why even bring it up? Furthermore to this, Article 6 states that "States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life".
Now there's a thing, if a child has an inherent right to life and they need should have appropriate legal protection before birth, then where does that leave the "pro-choice" argument?

Again I've found all sorts of arguments on this:
If you seek to restrict access to abortion, then what you are is a forced birth advocate. You value the embryo more than the mother, and reduce her to the level of livestock and/or an incubator without bodily autonomy or the right to decide whether or not she reproduces. Now that is what's truly cruel and horrific.
- comment from Red Pony in the Sydney Morning Herald, 3rd Dec 2013

The "bodily autonomy" argument assumes that given that a fetus is a human with the right to life, that right does not include the right to the pregnant person's body if the pregnant person doesn't want them there. The problem with this is that except in the cases of rape, tacit permission by the mother was already given to the child for its being there. As far as I am aware, it is logically impossible for a child to spontaneously come into existence and I'm also pretty sure that said child also did not have a say at all about where it was put. As for the right of the mother to decide whether or not she reproduces, I'm kind of sure that that decision was already made; along with a father.
I'd attach a caveat to this, suggesting that fathers should not be able to get off scot-free as they so often do and that morally, they should take responsibility for children they've created; I would really like to see more garnishee orders made upon the wages of father; including and even if it puts them into a bad financial position (they should have thought of that before they chose to create a child).

If this was a criminal case of trespass, then there would first have to be proven a degree of mens rea, that is "a guilty mind". I think that it would be really difficult (in fact impossible) prove that a child knowingly, either through direct intention, recklessness or negligence caused it to stray inside a mother's womb; especially when before the supposed act of trespass, it did not even exist.

I personally find the words "pro-choice" to be grossly inaccurate. What choice if any does the child whose life is to be destroyed have? I know why those words were chosen and it's because a more accurate "anti-life" or "pro-death" isn't easy to sell to the public. The language of a debate is often used to swing opinion; the entire of politics itself lives in such a domain. George Orwell had this to say on the subject:
Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
- George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language" (1946)

In NSW, the Crimes Act (1900), already has provsions which make abortion illegal in sections 82, 83, and 84; admittedly there are perfectly reasonably reasons why an abortion should be procured such as in cases of medical import where there are serious complications which might result in death, but generally, the law as it currently stands seems to fulfill its function reasonably well.

Unlike the Sydney Morning Herald, I don't see why quotation marks should be put around the words "unborn child". If Zoe's law grants legal recognition to unborn children, then it puts the law in line with conventions which Australia is already a party to.
It is right, fitting and proper that the law should recognise a crime of grievous bodily harm against an unborn child as a person because children need special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.

December 11, 2013

Horse 1580 - Rollo's $1 Offer to Holden

DETROIT – As part of its ongoing actions to decisively address the performance of its global operations, General Motors today announced it would transition to a national sales company in Australia and New Zealand. The company also said it would discontinue vehicle and engine manufacturing and significantly reduce its engineering operations in Australia by the end of 2017.
- GM News Release, 11th Dec 2013

Now it's official. Ford has declared that it will end production in Australia and this afternoon, General Motors has also confirmed that it will end production in Australia.

Okay Australia. Stand up. Who of you out there is going to do something about it?


I don't believe that Holden should be necessarily unprofitable; not do I believe that should be necessarily unprofitable. I do believe that Detroit has decided to throw Australia under the bus (if anyone could build it) and in the light of this, I also challenge General Motors to sell ME the entire Australian manufacturing operation for $1.

So why do I think that I can do better than a multi-billion dollar multi-national corporation? Actually I don't. I think that if General Motors bothered to actually care about the people who make proucts rather than the relentless pursuit of profits, that there would have been a better outcome. 
If Detroit had allowed Australia to build cars that people actually wanted, instead of something which would have been appropriate for 1994, then would Holden have survived? I think so.


The Tiger Motor Company

I propose that I buy either Ford or Holden's manufacturing operations. The car to be produced would be roughly 4300mm long, with a wheelbase of 2700mm. The engines would be about 1.4L to 1.6L and would produce 90-150bhp.

I still think that it's possible to build motor cars in Australia. Actually I still think that it's possible to build all sorts of things in Australia. General Motors has made its cased based on a business model from 10,000 miles away and I accept that. The difference between General Motors and why I think that I could be a better job is that I'd be making decisions in Australia for Australians. Perhaps I could get Mr Palmer in it or something. The plant and equipment already exists; so it's not like it'd be all that difficult to tool up for something new.

I still maintain that I could have Australia's biggest car company in five years for the simple reason that Australian workers building cars for Australian conditions do a better job than anyone else, and I think that the general public appreciates this.

So. I'm laying my offer on the table to Holden...

$1. There it is.

Horse 1579 - Writing A Novel (NaNoWriMo)
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.
- NaNoWriMo Website

I figure that through just this blog, I've probably written something in the order of two million words; whilst that sounds like a lot, in practice it is only because that it has been built up over more than a decade and a half.
With this in mind, when someone on a forum posted the idea of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month, I thought that it would be well within my powers to do so. Only 2500 words a day for 25 days, which leaves ample time to go do other normal things - how hard can it be? Of course upon immediately asking that particular question, we move into the territory of Mr Jeremy Clarkson and invariably the answer is likely to be... That's not gone well!

Even the idea of writing a novel sounds difficult. Somewhere down the line, you have to have a reasonably thought out narrative and an end point established; even if you were to write a book like Dickens' "The Pickwick Papers" which is really a series of vignettes, it still requires you to think up something and write it.

Sometimes the vicious spectre of writers' block wanders into the room and you find yourself completely stuck. You could stare at the computer screen or the paper but that isn't terribly productive, or just give up and leave the room altogether, which also isn't terribly productive  - personally I find that a cup of tea is a good solution; actually a cup of tea is a good solution to practically every problem.
In order to beat writers' block, you could just power through like a renovator with a chainsaw; writing gibberish nonsense until your eyes bleed but that doesn't tend to produce anything of note unless you are James Joyce; in which case you churn out a 105,000 novel (Finnegans Wake) which nobody really understands (and to this day, people are even arguing over what actually happens) and which a lot of scholars regard as a work of genius.

Ultimately I found writing a novel an entirely unrewarding experience. I suppose that I could speak about the ideas of plot and setting and even character development which help to lead you through the process and I will even admit to kind of enjoying the fact that you can make characters dance like marionette puppets on the end of strings, but my biggest problem was the fact that as a narrative, I already knew how it was going to end and I'd already read and re-read many sections as I was going along.
I'm reasonably sure that every creative person goes through some degree of creator's remorse, that horrible feeling that no-one else will like it but I wasn't expecting that by the time I'd finished that I wouldn't like it. Arthur Conan Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes and even Agatha Christie began to detest Hercule Poirot in due time but I didn't expect this to happen quite so soon.
An idea comes along and you quickly try to nail it down in words before it disappears back into the ether but by the time you've done so, even if it seemed dangerous and exciting, it now looks as dull as dishwater and as tasty as rocket (rocket shouldn't be considered as food).

In the end I learnt first hand, the truth of Christopher Hitchens' comment that "Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that's where it should stay" and I of course realise buying a copy of a book that I've written would be pure vanity; that's why I don't intend to.

But the link is on Amazon:

If nothing else I can at least say that I am a published author; not that that's an achievement anymore, as any jumped up two-bit fool can spew forth 50,000 words and call themselves a a published author - the term Vanity Press even exists to describe such works.

Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.

December 10, 2013

Horse 1578 - Holden Dead
General Motors Co. GM +2.76%  is preparing a concerted attack on its most troubled international operations that would entail big output cuts at factories in South Korea and likely an end to production in Australia, said people familiar with the auto maker's plans.
GM intends to close its two Australian plants and separately slash production in South Korea by as much as 20% by 2016, these people said. The moves come on top of a planned factory closing in Germany and last week's decision to end Chevrolet sales in Europe in two years. A portion of the South Korean factory output would be used to feed the Australian market, the people said.
The largest U.S. auto maker has determined that economic changes—including high wages and labor unrest in South Korea, and a strong currency in Australia and shift to imports there—have undercut its manufacturing competitiveness in the two countries.
- Wall Street Journal, 8th Dec 2013

The Wall Street Journal which I suspect is far far far closer to the machinations of business than the Australian Government is, has all but confirmed that Holden's manufacturing in Australia will die. With the two lines in Australia, the Commodore which will be replaced by the global Zeta platform replacement and the Cruze which will continue to be built in the United States and reduce production in South Korea, being made redundant, the future of Holden as a manufacturer in Australia has been snuffed out.

This was also on the back of announcement that the Chevrolet brand in Europe, rather like the experiment of Opel in Australia is going to cease to be except for high end sports cars:
Beginning in 2016, GM will compete in Europe’s volume markets under its respected Opel and Vauxhall brands. The company’s Chevrolet brand will no longer have a mainstream presence in Western and Eastern Europe, largely due to a challenging business model and the difficult economic situation in Europe. 
Chevrolet, the fourth-largest global automotive brand, will instead tailor its presence to offering select iconic vehicles – such as the Corvette – in Western and Eastern Europe, and will continue to have a broad presence in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
- GM News, 5th Dec 2013.

With no export markets for the Cruze and no reason to continue the Commodore, GM have pretty well much by default, taken the knife to their Australian operations. With Ford already confirmed as quitting and Holden probably less than a week from officially announcing it, I wonder what that's going to do for all of the related industries like parts manufacturers.

Not only do I find it utterly galling that basically General Motors is trying to hold the Australian taxpayer to ransom to the tune of another $150m, it's downright insulting that they don't even need it:
General Motors Co.’s stock price hit another all-time high as it topped $40 a share Friday for the first time since the Detroit automaker went public in 2010.
The Detroit automaker’s shares rose 2.8 percent to $40.17 in extremely heavy trading Friday — almost twice typical volumes. The run-up in price comes as the Treasury Department is nearing an exit from the company in which it once held a 61 percent stake as part of a $49.5 billion federal bailout.
Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas said he was raising his price target for GM to $47 from $45. He said GM has lots of possible uses for the $27 billion in cash it has on hand. 
GM stock rose as the U.S. economy added 203,000 jobs in November and the jobless rate fell to 7 percent. The auto sector added 6,700 jobs to bring the total to 826,700; auto dealers added 6,500 jobs, bringing the total to 1.138 million.
- The Detroit News, 6th Dec 2013.

GM has lots of possible uses for the $27 billion in cash it has on hand? Such as what? I bet that there'll be plenty of bonuses being given out to General Motors' CEOs and upper management, whilst people who actually build their product and generate the things which they sell, get dumped on the kerbside like a Christmas puppy in April.

To some degree, I suspect that both at state and federal level, this is a case of closing the stable door after the horse (power) has bolted. I think it matters naught which side of the political divide you're on in Australia, you can have that Rangers v Celtic shouting match all you like (hooray, boo, hooray, boo) but the decision about Holden staying in Australia either has been or will be made at 100 Renaissance Center Drive, Detroit, Michigan; irrespective of what Tony Abbott, Ian Macfarlane, Bill Shorten, Jay Weatherill or Steven Marshall have to say about it.
The $150m that may or may not be being thrown about by the government is a little over half a percent of the free cash that GM has to play with. It's like turning up at a $100 banquet with a fifty cent coin; yeah, see how far that'll get you.

The most honest statement about this whole affair came from Treasurer Joe Hockey, as reported in the SMH:
In reply, Treasurer Joe Hockey offered workers no reason for comfort heading into Christmas.
‘‘The future of the car industry is in the hands of the car industry, and it’s in the hands of the car industry in the same way that it was under Labor, because it was February 2008, from memory, when Mitsubishi closed when Labor was in government,’’
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 10th Dec 2013

At this point I find myself with a different opinion to both the Liberal Party and Labor. Not only do I think that giving General Motors any more in subsidies is a bad idea but I suspect that there may be a case in attempting to sue for punitive damages, where in this case defendant's conduct has most definitively been 'calculated' to make a profit for themselves.
What's good for General Motors is good General Motors... finagle, flimflam, fleece and fudge Australia.

December 09, 2013

Horse 1577 - Awer Mabil Should Be The Socceroos' No.7

Whilst Adelaide United look like they're going to remain cellar dwellers this season, one shaft of light in the darkness is their midfielder Awer Mabil.
I don't know if Ange Postecoglou has had a lot of time to look at him since becoming Socceroos coach, but Mabil who has already played for the Young Socceroos must surely be putting his hand up for Brazil already. I think that Awer Mabil should be a shoe in for the Australian 7 kit.

I'd like to suggest that at Adelaide, Josep Gombau can not teach Mabil anything. I'd also like to suggest that the Young Socceroos coach, Paul Okon can not teach Mabil anything either. The reason for this is not because I doubt Awer Mabil's ability but quite the opposite - his touch on the ball is simply sublime; such a thing can not be taught; that sort of thing is pure talent and I just don't think that either Gombau or Okon can help him because he's already better than them.

At 18, Mabil is already a formidable player and is able to do things with the ball that senior players with far more experience can not even hope to do. Against the Brisbane Roar on Friday night, we again saw this kind of brilliance when he turned Matt Smith with a back heel to himself and ran around him (if I can find footage I'll post this - it's scary strange). He can cross the ball inwards from places which few others are even able to; he runs for more than 90 minutes and he's already got a deft awareness to know where other players are on the park, to make even difficult passes look effortless.
He runs into spaces before they've opened, turns defences, is able to send the ball through postage stamp sized holes and still makes an effort even when the rest of the side has dropped their heads. I've seen more joy and heart from Mabil than I have from a lot of players, and that's the sort of player I want in a gold-and-green shirt.

At the World Cup in 2014, Australia face a horror draw. Playing Chile and then the Netherlands and Spain, if in the incredibly unlikely event that Australia should escape the group, they'd then most likely face Brazil. Realistically to even put up a performace which is even compotent against these sides, is going to take a squad who is up to that sort of level. To be honest, whilst I don't think that Awer Mabil is quite up to the ability of playing at Real Madrid or Barcelona, he'd easily slot into somewhere into the top half of the English Premier League or the Bundesliga.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then I'd quietly suggest to Mr Postecoglou that the best four across the middle are probably Tommy Oar, James Holland, Tom Rogić and Awer Mabil. I'm not even sure that putting in a "good showing" is what Australia's aim should following the mission impossible they've been handed. If I had my way, I'd be using the 2014 campaign as preparation to mount a tilt at 2018 and a 22 year old Awer Mabil in four years' time could very well be a world beater.

Play him Postecoglou.

December 07, 2013

Horse 1576 - FIFA World Cup 2014 - Group Of Death, Australia Is Not In It

No, Australia isn't in it... they're just going to die... horribly... by 20 goals... and scoring NIL.

In the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the Swedish press (bork bork bork) labeled Group 4 the "giganternas kamp" as it contained Brazil who were expected to win the final, the reigning Olympic champions the Soviet Union, Austria who was the 3rd placed nation from the 1954 World Cup and England who at that stage were still  seen as formidable because they had never won a major tournament.
The actual term Group Of Death (grupo de la muerte) came in 1970 which featured reigning champions England, Brazil the 1962 runners-up Czechoslovakia, and Romania.

The Group of Death then, is one where at least one major nation will be knocked out during the group stage and since the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, the top nations have been seeded to ensure that they get the best run and as a result, try to stop major nations from being knocked out early.

However, where one stands depends on where one sits and because we can only see the world from where we are, we tend to assume that we're always on the wrong end of the stick. As George Vecsey in the New York Times once pointed out:
In soccer, every nation always thinks it has been stiffed into the toughest pool, the Group of Death. 
- New York Times, 16th Aug 2007

That though tends to affirm the Law of Banks* states that "the other line always moves faster", which itself is a statement of self-referential bias.

It was always going to be the fact that Australia was going to draw one seeded team, since there was one seeded team in every pool. It was also likely that Australia would face at least one other non-seeded European team, since there were seven of those for eight pools. That only left one other team in the pool and Australia by virtue of being the second lowest ranked team at the tournament would always find that every other nation which it was going to draw would be better.

If you are the second worst team in any tournament, then you should expect to be knocked out early. Unlike say the Rugby League World Cup, the rest of the world actually cares about football and as a result, there are lots of nations in the world which are simply better at it. As it is, a player like Sergio Ramos probably has a transfer value worth more than the entire A-League.
It would be like if I suddenly found myself in a grand slam tennis tournament up against Rafael Nadal. I would quite frankly expect to lose the match 6-0, 6-0, 6-0.

I don't think it's unreasonable then for Australia to lose its matches in Brazil in 2014, 3-0, 9-0 and 8-0. Both the Netherlands and Spain I think are so much better in talent and skill and with the added motivation they they'll need to score as many goals as each other to ensure that Chile doesn't accidentally take their ticket out of the group stage, that they will both hit Australia hard and often and I just don't think that any defensive back four which Australia is even capable of starting will provide a great deal of resistance.

I don't Australia is in a Group Of Death, I think Australia is a very small minnow in a pool with two very very very big fish and will be chewed to pieces. The only death then will be Australia... and Chile's.

*unlike Cole's Law which is thinly sliced cabbage 

December 06, 2013

December 05, 2013

Horse 1575 - The Inevitable End of The Australian Automotive Industry - Officially Unofficial
Holden has made the decision to pull out of Australia as early as 2016, according to senior Government ministers.
The ABC has been told the announcement was supposed to be made this week but has been put off until early next year.
However, the ABC understands that Holden has made the decision to cease its Australian productions regardless of an assistance package.
- ABC News, 5th Dec 2013

As I write this, ABC News 24 is reporting that Holden is "deciding" to cease its Australian manufacturing operations following the announcements made by Senior Government Ministers. It sounds curious that everyone is only just reporting this now, when a little over twelve months ago, GM released the following press release announcing a $450 million plan to build cars in Argentina:
General Motors will invest $450 million between 2013 and 2015 to expand its Rosario Automotive Complex to build an all-new global Chevrolet vehicle, Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson said Wednesday.
Akerson was joined by Argentina President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner; GM South America President Jaime Ardila; and GM Argentina President Isela Costantini.
- GM Press release, 24th Oct 2012

It was pretty obvious that the "all-new global Chevrolet vehicle" would be based around the Zeta Platform or its replacement. The thing is that the total global market for Zeta platform cars in the last three years has shrunk to a trickle. Apart from the Camaro and Commodore variants which includes exports to the US under the Chevrolet badge, there's no longer any point to the platform from a price point perspective.
Holden themselves remain tight lipped but you'd expect that when the sword of Damocles dangles tanatlisingly above their heads.

The sad truth is that car manufacturers around the world base their investment decisions around the likelihood of government subsidies. The current Abbott government in just 100 days has threatened to close Australia Post, cut funding to the ABC, dishonour its agreements on Education spending and now that Qantas looks like its in trouble, what is the government's attitude? Total abrogation of any responsibility that it might have.
This is the perfect opportunity for Tony Abbott himself to bash* the snot out of any unionised workers that Holden might have. Having just signed a free trade agreement with South Korea today, it's a perfect opportunity to personally hurt the members of the Manufacturing Workers Union.

What I find particularly galling is that during GM's Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, the US Government bailed out the company; yet even during all of this, CEO Dan Akerson still asked for a $2m pay increase and American workers were effectively paid bonuses from "consolidated funds" which means to suggest that effectively the Australian taxpayer contributed to American workers' bonuses; yet this is how GM decides to repay the favour?

Between a case of simple economics by a company whose management is more than 10,000 miles away and honestly couldn't give a rip about Australian workers, and a government who has made it blatantly clear that they fully intend to throw the working classes off the bus and the repeatedly run over them, I think that we can probably take it as read that Holden won't be manufacturing cars in Australia by 2017.
As I said in Horse 1217: "If it comes down to a street fight between Detroit and Elizabeth, I think I know who'd win." Well it looks like that day has finally come... Detroit won.

*Bashing things is something that Tony does best. From his days at Sydney University when he became president of the Student Representative Council, his modus operandii has been to kick anything and everything to pieces that he did not like even if that included a charge of indecent assault (no seriously, I'm not making that up:

December 04, 2013

Horse 1574 - The Newsprint Supernova

When a star is in the process of dying, the generally accepted theory is that after it has run out of hydrogen to fuse into helium, it begins to contract; becomes hotter, smaller and denser, throws off ejecta and fuses helium into heavier elements.
Is it analoguous to when a media organisation is in the process of dying?

Certainly we've seen both News and Fairfax throw off ejecta like sub-editors, in house photographers and many many decent journalists and I think that it's fair to say that News in particular is becoming hotter, smaller and denser. Instead of writing proper news articles, it now spends a lot of time, ragging on the ABC who it sees as a competitor and the Labor Party who it also sees as an enemy.
Yet whose fault is it that both News and Fairfax are visibly in the process of dying? Well...

In Australia, circulation of all daily metropolitan newspapers peaked in 1981. This is curious since television was introduced in Australia in 1956; so if the peak was 25 years later, television can't have been to blame. If the blame doesn't lie with television, where does it lie?
It's curious that in just four years between 1988 and 1992, every single daily evening edition was axed. All of them; that's going to have a significant impact on circulation figures. If people can not but a thing any more then it obviously stands to reason that number of sales of that thing will be nil; since daily evening editions of newspapers were included in total newspaper circulation figures, then those figures must fall.

I find it odd that in The Australia for instance, whilst it's busy putting the boot into the ABC whereever it can, it gladly will stand with its other boot on the flailing body of its rival Fairfax:
FAIRFAX boss Greg Hywood yesterday dismissed the threat of online competition from the ABC against his media group and News Corp Australia as "hypothetical" as he set out how he plans to manage the transformation of the business.
"We are focusing on what we do and are not interested in what the ABC is doing," he said. "We are of the view the ABC is part of the news and information landscape and has been for years and will continue to be.
"They are . . . providing information online and there's nothing that says in the ABC that it has to be via radio or television (and) if it is online so be it. They will continue to fulfil their charter through whatever technology they have available."
- The Australian, 26th Oct 2013.

The thing is that whilst Fairfax doesn't see the ABC as a threat, clearly The Australian does:
THE ABC emerges from the Indonesian spy scandal a diminished organisation, morally compromised and journalistically discredited. The problem is not that the ABC published stories which contained confidential national security information. Every decent media organisation does that from time to time.
The problem is actually the reverse. The ABC did not behave as a credible media organisation. Credible media organisations do not act as the handmaidens of competitor news organisations to amplify and dramatise their competitors' scoops. They may well report on those scoops, but the ABC did something altogether different. It emerges as an organisation lacking effective accountability and with a leadership that is hopelessly confused and amateurish about how to behave when dealing with serious national security issues.
- The Australian, 30th Nov 2013.

What better way to attack a percieved threat than with an ad hominem attack. All this goes on whilst the former editor Luke McIlveen, defects to the Australian arm of the Daily Mail's website where presumably he'll be in charge of all those stories about things that will give you cancer.

Realistically, with the split of the former News Corporation into Twenty-First Century Fox Inc and News Corp. (which includes the former News Corp's newspaper and book publishing businesses including News UK, News Corp Australia and Dow Jones & Company) on June 28 of this year, it heralded what I think are the opening signals of more things to be ejected from the group.
I've already heard rumours from News Corp Australia's offices at Holt St that the mood inside the building is becoming more and more nasty as it becomes hotter, smaller and denser.

Personally I have a theory that News Corp Australia won't last very long beyond the death of Rupert Murdoch. The Australian in particular is his baby, having been personally started by him in 1964. After Rupert goes, would the company want to keep printing things on dead trees anymore? I doubt it. I'm going to make a bold prediction and suggest that by the next federal election, there will be no physical daily newspapers in print in Australia.
Like a star is in the process of dying, print will be another bit of ejecta thrown off.

December 02, 2013

Horse 1573 - No-One Should Have A Convertible

Due to a strange set of circumstances, I was given the opportunity to drive a BMW 120i Convertible. Now I'm sure that the car is excellently put together and I will admit that it is very very smooth to drive, the experience made me realise that even though people can drive a convertible, no-one should.

Before I'd even pulled away from the kerb, I was struck by just how incredibly claustrophobic it all felt. Whilst the car didn't have any B-pillars, the inside of the hood was black and the plastic window in the back was incredibly pokey. I imagine that driving along in wet conditions might be a little like driving a truck with a pantech on the back. If that plasticy window gets foggy, wet or old, there'll be no way at all that you'll be able to see through it.
So my first act was the put the roof down; this immediately led me to the second point as to why no-one should ever drive a convertible.

What does the W in BMW stand for? Exactly. Not only is everyone else on the road thinking this, but as you drive along with the roof down, anyone with any degree of normalcy should be feeling it. Despite the impression that we get in the movies, with teenagers driving to the malt-shop with the roof down, this is simply not the case in real life. If it had been someone in their 20s or younger, you'd instantly accuse them of driving "daddy's" car and had it been someone in their 30s and older, you'd accuse the driver of having a useless job; contributing nothing to society (and in a lot of cases there'd be an element of truth to that).

I suppose that as a male drive in my mid-30s and driving along with a white shirt and tie (the uniform of corporate oppressiveness the world over), that I looked the part in the car but I suspect that everyone else on the road, secretly wanted me cut into small pieces and fed to Sakti, Kartika and Kembali, the trio of Sumatran Tigers at Taronga.

Not only is the driver of a convertible subject to the scorn and derision of other road users but I found that drivers of other European cars want to race you in the traffic light grand prix, tradies want to cut you off in traffic and I even had one lovely chap in a Falcon, spit into the car. Jean-Paul Sartre is misquoted in context with the quote of "Hell is other people" and in a convertible, you really get a first hand sense of that.

If the car had been an ordinary BMW 120 no-one would have thought anything of it. If it had been a BMW 120 coupe, then most driver would probably think that the driver was the embodiment of the W in BMW but at least you'd still have the anonymity of living in a car with a roof on. A convertible is just a little bit too exposed to be sensible and for that reason, the reason that people should have them just isn't strong enough... unless they want to look like a total pratt.