July 30, 2013

Horse 1520 - Silver Arrow Streaks Superbly (Rd.10)

In the days before DRS, KERS and other acronyms, the Hungaroring was nicknamed the Hungaboring. Built behind the former Iron Curtain, the circuit is an undulating, twisty affair which seems to breed impatience in the drivers and this year's GP was no exception.

At the start, pole sitter Hamilton lept out into the lead, but behind him Vettel bogged the start in his Red Bull, was nearly taken out by Alonso's Ferrari, whilst simultaneously almost taking out Grosjean's Lotus himself. Hamilton's team mate Nico Rosberg got off to a flyer before tagging Felipe Massa's Ferrari and ruining the end fence on his front wing. Rosberg ceased to have any real impact on the result and his engine finally gave out on lap 64.

Most of the race turned on people's changing fortunes with tyre strategy. Every pitstop would file someone roughly 19 seconds further down the road and it was this aspect which had the most bearing on the outcome of the rave.
Hamilton came out behind Jenson Button and made short work of him, yet Vettel whose car was slightly understeery all weekend came out immediately behind Button; where he would remain for 12 frustrating laps.

Following closely behind was Romain Grosjean who also found getting past Button difficult, Grosjean turned in on him and the two of them scraped side. Grosjean would be given a post-race 20 second penalty but during the race, he was given a drive-through penalty after all four of his wheels left the track during an overtake of Massa's Ferrari.
Pitstops continued to dictate the order and Kimi Räikkönen in the Lotus came out ahead of Vettel, and Mark Webber who up to that point had had a very quiet race, suddenly found himself in fourth; ahead of Alonso. That's pretty much how it ended, with Lewis Hamilton taking the win by more than ten seconds.

Once again the Hungaroring lives up to its reputation for producing relatively calm Grands Prix. I think that because it has such a difference in elevation and types of corners as opposed to a Tilkedrome (Korea, Bahrain, China) that it probably should remain on the calendar. Also, the crowd figures at the circuit are quiet pleasing to see - I'd rather see packed stands than empty fields.

It has taken Lewis ten rounds to score his first victory of 2013 but with  Räikkönen finishing second and Vettel coming in third, it's going to take quite a large number of miracles if he wants to have a shot at this year's title. Räikkönen leapfrogs Alonso into second but Vettel still maintains a handy buffer at the top of the standings.

Horse 1519 - I Am Hannibal

Sid Meier's Civilization (also now known as Civ1) was released back in 1991 and is really the first "4X" style of game. Those 4 Xs being: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate (especially helpful for Daleks).
Civ1 is very much a 2D flat cylindrical world that works roughly the same as a turn-based board game.
The nice thing with a 22 year old computer game is that there are a few editors and things to help you hack into the back of the software. Armed with one such hacking tool, I proceeded to right one wrong of the game and add back, possibly the single greatest unit that never came with it originally - the Elephant* unit.
Basically an Elephant unit is a bit like what a Musketeer is later in the game. It's a slow moving piece but is reasonably useful in both attack and defence. I've set it up as follows:
Requires "Horseback Riding"; A/D/M 3/3/1. Cost 40; Gunpowder obsoletes.

Historically, war elephants have been used by the Babylonians, various Indian armies, Chinese, Alexander the Great came across them when fighting the Persians and simply had to have them, Egypt under the Ptolemies had them; lastly and most notably, the Carthaginians used them; especially under Hannibal.

I really only know a few things about Hannibal:
1. He was the Carthaginian commander during the First Punic War.
2. He attacked Rome by coming over the Alps...
3. With Elephants...
3a. With Elephants.
It was as though Hannibal had read the then 300 year old "The Art Of War" by Chinese general Sun Tzu.

"Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment — that which they cannot anticipate."

 "Seem humble to fill them with conceit. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them. Attack their weaknesses. Emerge to their surprise."

If you'd been a Roman general circa 218BC and you'd seen elephants coming over the alps, what the heck would you think? How does one even get elephants over the alps? Do you put skis on them? That'd be pretty surprising and extraordinary; certainly something which they cannot anticipate. How do you even feed elephants on a mountain trek? Moreover, how do they survive the cold?

So of course, if there was one weapon that I absolutely had to back-hack into Civ1, it would be the Elephant unit. At 40 shields, they're the same cost as Chariots and later on Knights and as such along with Militia and a lot later on Armor, are the only units I'll bother building because... Elephants... Elephants... ELEPHANTS... ELEPHANTS!

*Elephants have been mentioned sixteen times in this post; including down here. I am Hannibal.

July 29, 2013

Horse 1516a - Letters to the World, on the birth of Prince George

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have named their son George Alexander Louis, Kensington Palace has said.
- 24 July, 2013

See? By George, I was right!

The future king has now been born. If the Commonwealth countries decide to retain the monarchy and not become republics, then you'll have after Elizabeth II, Charles III, William V and then George VII. When he does become king, he'll be facing to the right on the coins.


Dear England,
I know that you have an identity crisis and it's understandable because you have a long history of having an identity crisis.
For instance, "The History of England" by Thomas Babington wasn't really just about "England" but about the whole British Empire. This is called Metonymy where a thing stands for the whole; just like when "Westminster" stands in for "The British Government", "Number Ten" for the office and or the person of "Prime Minister and First Lord of The Treasury of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" or "America" when people only want to refer to "The United States of" therein.
However, when people talk of "The King of England" they do specifically mean the The King of "England". Yes, there is a United Kingdom, so although to you share a country, a monarch etc. you do still exist with your own monarch, whom you share.

Yours sympathetically,


Dear Scotland,
If you do decide to dissolve the Union, then you'll have to work out whether to call your new currency a Pound, Merk, Ryal, Noble, Unicorn or something else. Also because James I of England was firstly James VI of Scotland, he like all monarchs will be firstly the King Of Scotland before any other nation.
You'll also have to work out if you want your own regnal numbers or not. If there's a Richard or Henry after George, I can't imagine you'd want Richard IV or Henry IX when there's never ever been a Richard or Henry as King of Scotland before.

Yours advisedly,



Dear Wales,
Under the Laws in Wales Acts (1535–1542), you're still a vanquished nation. After Charles, William will probably become the new Prince of Wales and then George after him.
I shouldn't worry too much though, England is more likely to become a republic than Scotland and I guess that you could become a kingdom which would be better than a principality.

Yours grievedly,


Dear Northern Ireland,
Yeah... you're weird. Just try not to blow yourselves up... or annoy the Republic to the south of you.

Thank you,



Dear Canada,
Keep on making coins exactly the same as those in America. That way they'll get all confused when they find them in their vending machines.
Also, you might want to give up speaking French. The French already look down on you (and the Belgians... and the Swiss), so I don't know why you want to persist with this silly language.

Veuillez agréer,


Dear Australia,
You'll probably be a republic when George VII is King, so you'd better get used to the idea of having people like John Howard, Billy Hughes, Alfred Deakin, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott on the back of coins. Deep down, you know you'll copy America and put dead politicians on them.
Please note that as the world's highest consumers per capita of magazines, you'll probably end up buying more printed photographs of little George per capita than any other country.

Best regards,


Dear New Zealand,
Hey bros. Those pakehas have a new tamaiti. That's pretty choice. Get you jandals on, let's pack the chilly bin, get to the dairy and go tramping.



Dear America,
Just a warning. Okay, so you've long since decided that being part of the empire is not for you and you've also decided that the trappings of empire such as cricket, tea, curry, lager, football etc. are also not for you, so this is a heads up to let you know that at some stage in the future, the weird coins which come across the border from Canada and get stuck in your vending machines will bear the name George VII.

We're aware of the trouble that the name George causes you. We admit, one of them was truly bonkers:

It should be noted that George III was in fact a Time Lord and didn't actually die in 1820 but travelled to the early twenty-first century, where he went on to become a noted surgeon, infectious disease specialist and renal physician. He was however still a misanthrope, cynic, narcissist, and curmudgeon.

It appears though that you have taken him to your hearts, which is weird since most English people on American television and movies usually end up playing the bad guy, Jeremy Irons in particular.

Yours satisfactorily,


Dear France,
To be honest, you're a chaotic bunch and since the Acts of Union was passed in 1707, you've had the end of your own kingdom, an empire which was also a republic, a restoration, the July monarchy, a second republics, a second empire, a third republic, the Vichy government, a provisional government and the fourth and fifth republics. Stop it! It's too confusing to keep up with it all.
Maybe you should have considered being part of the British Commonwealth when the offer was made after WW2. It would have been far less confusing and might've added some much need stability to your nation. I'm sure that the offer is still there.

Yours exasperatedly,


Dear Greece,
You didn't like King Constantine II and exiled him; he lives in London. His son Pavlos married Marie-Chantal and is now Prince of Denmark but lives in New York. Clearly you don't think much of the monarchy.
The current Duke of Edinburgh, Philip, once said of himself that he was the only Greek in England who didn't own a fish and chip shop. He married into a fairly successful family whose business looks pretty secure for a long time. Perhaps you should consider making Philip the king? That way you can share Charles, William and George in the future.

Yours hopefully,

July 26, 2013

Horse 1518 - What is Cadillac?

The easily recognizable Cadillac logo dates back to the company's founding in the early 1900s, but over the last 110 years, there has been an on-again, off-again love affair with the wreath surrounding the crest. Cadillac's current badge design has used the wreath since the 1980s, but Automotive News is reporting that GM's luxury division is planning to ditch the laurel wreath for a cleaner-looking logo.
The new logo could make its debut as early as next month on a new concept car that will be revealed at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, although the report also says that it might be until 2015 before it makes its way to a production car. Even then, it doesn't like anything has been finalized yet, as the article also says that plans could still change.
- Autoblog, 23rd July 2013

The easily recognizable Cadillac logo? Easily recognizable?!  Surely they jest. I for one would not have recognised this as any company's logo unless they said so:

Whilst it is true that a logo should speak something of the car underneath, it is the prestige, the traditions and the history that really give life to a logo. To be honest, I don't really think that this logo particularly screams "Cadillac" to me. I don't know what it says exactly but it sure ain't Cadillac.
Just what is a Cadillac anyway? Often the best way to define what something is, is to have a look at what is is not.

BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz spring to mind immediately as three marques of German luxury. BMW and Audi built their reputations on building cars which are very well appointed. Mercedes-Benz in particular became known as the pinnacle of German luxury because in addition to building cars with very high levels of trim, they also spent a fortune on technological research and development.
Seeking to apply for readmission to society after one of their sports cars crashed at the 1955 Le Mans 24 Hour Race, killing 84 people including the drive, Mercedes-Benz would spend the next 30 years leading the world in seriously paying attention to safety and crash testing. In a round about sort of way, it helped by doing its part in reinforcing stereotypes about Germany and Germans with ruthless efficiency.
Cadillac is definitely not German though.

Marques like Datsun, Toyota and Mazda, started out by building cheap and uninspiring cars. However, they did so by doing something which was common of a lot of Japanese firms in the 30 years post WW2, and that was to take existing ideas and build them to a better quality than their rivals.
Even to this day, Toyotas are still not usually seen as exciting but incredibly reliable.
Cadillac is not Japanese either.

Britain after the Second World War has built a car industry which like so much that is venerated in British society, started in people's sheds. The nation of tinkerers gave us Jaguar, TVR and Noble, as well as the garagistas like McLaren and Lotus.
British cars are famed the world over for being brilliantly designed but variable build quality depending on what day the car left the factory. British cars contain compulsory random faults, which are so random that two cars produced on the same day will have different faults. Then there's Jaguar which is noted for its amazing talent in wasting more oil than a fish and chip shop.
Cadillac isn't even British either.

So what is Cadillac?

Even if I were to show you even just this much of the car, most petrolheads would be able to tell you the Make, Model and Year. (Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz 1959).

One of the things which America does very well is ostentatiousness. This is a nation which took the game of Rugby, made it slower for television, added marching bands at half time and watches it at home with copious amounts of grilled animal and potato snacks with flavours developed in an underground chemical bunker. This is a nation which isn't afraid add unnecessary amounts of cheese to food. This is a nation where a "large" coffee isn't enough and you get enough scalding brown liquid in a bucket sized cup to be able to drown a cow.

A Cadillac should have more chrome and silverware than Buckingham Palace, more leather than an Italian furniture store, as many ornamental fins and skirts as is possible to fit, an engine so massive, loud and raucous that it will cause another 1970's style oil crisis the second you put your foot down, and be kitted out with so much bling that the amusingly illiterately named rapper Xzibit, will simply be unable to Pimp Your Ride.
The whole car should be one giant cacophony of noise and confusion. It should be full-fat, high tar, dolphin unfriendly, high-carb, eat the whales, burn the forests, mental, bonkers, crazy-go-nuts, with cherries on the top, super-extra-ultra caffeine, five dollops of cream, extra-extra-burn-your-eyeballs Tabasco and chili sauce, ten sugars and don't hold the anchovies.

To be honest, the "wreath" around the logo isn't really that important at all. What is important is that a Cadillac has to be a Cadillac. The ideal Cadillac logo would be of Chuck Berry with his guitar; on fire; standing atop a raging bull; diving headlong into a volcano.

That's what Cadillac is.

July 25, 2013

Horse 1517 - Australia's Asylum Seeker Policy

I think that we've really seen over the past few days, just why Kevin Rudd was reinstalled as Prime Minister. It's pretty obvious that the short term goal was to win the impending election and then worry about the problem of governing later.
I think that we also saw why the problem of "boat people" is so intractable - being Prime Minister is a walk in the park to being Immigration Minister. They really are on a hiding to nothing.

The Indonesian Government (quite rightly according to its position of twisted logic) sees itself as a "transit country". Indonesia is not the final goal for asylum seekers and as far as the Indonesian Government is concerned it doesn't really care what happens to them.
Australia on the other hand because it is the "destination country" has all sorts of problems in dealing with people who come out of desperate circumstances and who literally will sacrifice everything including their lives to ensure a better life for themselves and their children.

Who can blame them? If my home was left but a pile of smouldering rubble as is often the case in civil war-torn Syria, or where violence is being exacted in a confused game as in Sri Lanka, or where religious fanatics are trying to install their favourite kind of nutter to power as in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, I'd think about upping sticks and moving on too.
Then there are those countries which we've willingly aided and abetted big brother America in bombing the snot out of, like Iraq and Afghanistan.
We should remember that 30 years ago equally desperate people came from places that we helped in bombing the snot out of, like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar and I'd suggest that they've all made this country richer for their arrival and contribution to society.

I can understand the willingness in wanting to smash so-called "business models" but really that misses the point entirely. When you have next to nothing and all you want is to live peaceably and not in fear of who might come to kill you, to risk everything is in many respects the most sensible course of action. At least in a detention centre you're going to be fed and clothed, which might be a lot better than where you came from.

What I think is curious is both the dishonesty of language used particularly by the Liberal Party in the sphere of this debate and the failure of the Labor Party to call it for what it is.
- It is not and never has been illegal to seek asylum in another country. Whether or not someone is a genuine refugee should be assessed on a case by case basis, looking at the facts.
- It is illegal to overstay the conditions of one's visa, to deliberately mislead the Department of Immigration about the terms on which you arrived.
Yet the Liberal Party in particular likes to frame the language in terms of "stopping the boats" whereas the facts show that more people who are "illegal" immigrants arrived by plane.

I think its also curious that Mr Abbott likes to suggest that policies "worked" under the Howard Government. Never mind the fact that Australia did enter into two wars which were never authorised by the UN and were probably illegal (but no-one ever decided to test this in court). Never mind the fact that the people who were displaced by those actions took in some cases more than five years to filter to Australia, which by the way was conveniently after the Labor Party won the 2007 election. I wonder what Mr Abbott has to say about his part in the government in two illegal wars which in part have resulted in the people he clearly doesn't like arriving here. I also wonder why no-one has ever called him up on it.
Consider the following:

When pressed on whether he viewed the invasion of Iraq as illegal, he said: "Yes, if you wish. I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal."
- Kofi Annan, via the BBC, 16 Sep 2004

"Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men - 15 from Saudi Arabia - did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the US or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The US war in Afghanistan is illegal."
- Marjorie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, president of the National Lawyers Guild, 17 Sep 2009

Also consider the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' opinion on the Howard Government's so-called "Pacific Solution":
UNHCR welcomes the end of Australia's Pacific Solution which comes to a close today
UNHCR had strong concerns about the 'Pacific Solution' 
We welcome the prompt decision taken by the new Australian Government to end the Pacific Solution and bring the refugees to Australia. We hope that any continuation of offshore processing on the Australian territory of Christmas Island reflects the letter and the spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention.
- UNHCR, Briefing Notes, 8 February 2008

I'd concur with Mr Abbott that the Pacific Solution "worked", if being inhumane and garnering the scorn and ire of the UNHCR was the intent. I imagine that it's very easy to suggest that your policies are working when the only boats which come to your electorate are the Manly Ferry and people's yachts worth $10m plus.

Mind you, I think that the current Rudd Government's policy of simply dumping asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea is just as bad if not worse. Notwithstanding the fact that some writers like those at The Economist have said that "PNG's governments are notorious for corruption, and ever run the risk of turning the state into a fully-fledged kleptocracy".¹ I wonder how Papua New Guinea is supposed to cope with extra arrivals. There's been no mention as to what sort of facilities they have to house these people. The only reason that I would suggest that they've even agreed to it is probably some sort of kickback payments.
¹ - http://www.economist.com/blogs/banyan/2011/08/papua-new-guinea-and-australia

Really I think that this boils down to little more than some sort of greed. The bottom line for a lot of people is nothing more than the bottom line. Put simply, they don't want to have to pay for people once they've arrived and they're not prepared to pay the wages to employ them either. The current Rudd Government's ad campaign which has appeared in Fairfax and News Corp Australia's newspapers basically could have been summed up in two words: Go Away! 

Mr Abbott's constituency, the Federal Electorate of Warringah, is a moneyed and predominantly white only suburb. I have heard old ladies on the bus discussing bombing asylum seekers' boats and think nothing of it.
In contrast, I live in the Federal Electorate of Chifley which according to the last census has people from 197 countries living within its boundaries.
To be totally honest, I hope that the next generation learns to live with an even more diverse range of people. I'm quite proud of the fact that as I look around the trains and buses on my daily commute that I honestly can not guess where people came from, and that this country was generous enough to open its doors to an ever increasingly colourful palette of cultures.

Surely it makes more economic sense to house  people properly and process their applications efficiently than to leave them languishing in detention centres for years. Canada has a processing time of just 8 days. Eight?! Why can't Australia do this?
If this is merely about "stopping the boats" then why not make passage safer and commission a 3000 berth ship to do the job. Why do we need a Pacific Solution, a Malaysia Solution or a Papua New Guinea Solution? Why can't we have an Australian Solution? Why not have on shore processing and treat people with the dignity that they deserve as human beings?

I don't see the arrival of a few people who have risked everything as a threat to national security at all. If anything, the character and courage that they've shown in getting here should prove instructive and enlightening to a complacent people who are more worried about their property values - the value of people is far greater.

Never before have the words of Donald Horne rung quite this true:
Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.

July 24, 2013

Horse 1516 - Prince (name yet to be determined - possibly George), the future King of (realms yet to be determined)

It's been impossible to avoid the news that Princess Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, has given birth to a son who will be in time the future king. What he will be king of exactly is still unknown, for history itself might have several cards to play before he ascends the throne.

I like almost two generations of people, have only ever seen one monarch on the throne of England and the birth of William and Kate's baby I suppose is of some significance but possibly not to the country I live in.
Assuming that following Elizabeth II will be Charles III and after him William V, then by the time that the new baby (who I'm guessing will probably end up being named George*) grows up and does eventually become George VII*, Australia will have probably become a republic and I myself in all likelihood will have long been dispatched and met my maker.

It's also unclear as to what George VII* will be King of domestically. Scotland is threatening to dissolve the Union with England which has stood since Queen Anne and what's to say that England itself won't in time become a republic? Who's to even know what the future status of Wales, Northern Ireland and the other dependencies will be? What of the other realms in the greater British Commonwealth?
By historical accident, the current monarch is firstly Scotland's monarch. As Elizabeth I left no children, James VI of Scotland became James I of England in a personal union of the crowns. Legally the monarch is first the Queen or King of Scotland, then England. Little George* could very well be King of only one country north of the border.
If Scotland does leave the Union, they'll have to reorganise the delivery of government services such as the defence forces, schools, hospitals, taxation, roads and even have to work whether to call their new currency a Pound, Merk, Ryal, Noble, Unicorn or something else. And on that note:

The coins of George V bore the legend:
Dei Gratia: Brit Omni: Rex: Fid Def: Ind Imp
By the Grace of God, of All the Britons, King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.

By the end of George VI's reign it was shortened to:
Dei Gratia: Brit Omni: Rex: Fid Def
By the Grace of God, of All the Britons, King, Defender of the Faith

Yet by the time George VII (assuming that will be his name) becomes king, there's a distinct possibility that he could end up as just simply:
Dei Gratia: Rex
By the Grace of God, King

Little George* as King of Scotland (and the other realms) in the latter half of the twenty-first century, could very well end up being not "King of All the Britons" and because Scotland has no official state church, there is never a "Defender of the Faith" in Scotland.
Actually it remains to be seen whether Dei Gratia would even be included because as the world slowly closes its eyes and ears to religion generally, George* might end up with the rather paltry title of just "King", and there wouldn't be any need for a legend at all if that's the case.

This is all quite apart from the fact that this little child won't really live a "normal" life. Granted that newspaper and magazine sales are sliding as we move to digital media but it still doesn't change the fact that he'll be living his life to some degree in a fish bowl, with the prying eyes of the world looking on. He'll never meet his grandma precisely because of the relentless pursuit to death of the paparazzi. 
It's worth remembering though that his Great-Great-Grandpa, George VI, who had the role thrust onto him with some reluctance steered both the monarchy and helped Britain through the Second World War and the further dissolution of the empire. So even though he might be "born great" and  "have greatness thrust upon" him, it's still possible for him to "achieve greatness"; even though we don't what he'll be king over yet.

*yeah, I don't know what his name is going to be either but I couldn't very well just leave it. He's probably going to be a George or a James though. I don't think he'll be a Edward or Henry.

July 23, 2013

Horse 1515 - The Inevitable Decline Of America

The question posed to me is what do I think are the causes for the decline of America. Actually in broad terms I think that the answer is ludicrously simple but to understand the decline of America, requires one to understand the rise of America in the first place.

On of the key factors which defines which empires will rise and fall the most relative to each other is that annoying idea of Gross Domestic Product - what is the general overall level of goods and services that a country/empire can produce? In essence, all that Gross Domestic Product is, is a fancy way of saying "all the stuff we made and all the work we did" in any year.
Now whether you can force other people to work for you through direct slavery, or perhaps through the means of empire, or even get your own people to produce greater amounts of stuff through better methods and technological means, is largely irrelevant - empire building is mainly determined on how much stuff you can produce. If you look at all of the biggest world powers in history and compare them with their contemporaries, that principle works for the Egyptians, the Romans, the British, really any great empire in history you choose, including the Americans (even though they don't like to admit that they even have an empire). The American empire differs from most of the ones before it in that it isn't built on land and territory and the number of people it controls but the size and scope of the markets it can sell to.

America became top dog in the first place, because it uniquely had the ability to expand westward across a continent which the native peoples were unable to defend or control. The North American continent is tremendously rich in natural resources and more than easily could handle an economic shift from a largely agrarian society to one mainly deriving its income from manufactures.
America was doubly helped with a change in thinking of how best to finance the initial investment of ventures, through the rise of the limited liability corporation. This meant that America especially was able to continue to make new and better products (and finance the investment in capital equipment required to make them), more efficiently and cheaply. However, up until about 1940, Britain still led America when it came to the value of manufactures that it exported. Indian cotton may have traveled across the seas but it was British fabric and clothing produced in places like Lancashire which went back the other way. There is a tremendous irony that it is now Bangladesh which was formerly part of the Union of India who now makes more clothes than Britain. Britain always looked outwards to find new markets, whereas America was largely isolationist until two world wars jolted it into waking up.
America came to properly rule the roost after 1945 when places like Britain, Germany, France, Japan etc. faced a bigger task in rebuilding themselves than producing goods for export. With other countries in a period of rebuilding and the United States still retaining the extra capacity to produce many many manufactured goods, suddenly it found loads of export markets and many many willing buyers.

The thing is though that limits are eventually found. The Roman Empire merrily expanded outwards as it went along but the funds to push its borders outwards came largely from newly conquered lands. Older provinces still sent tribute and taxation back to Rome but again, empire building (of which capitalism is a form) relies on that principle. The Roman Empire basically stopped growing when it reached a point where it couldn't support so many military troops being spread over such a large area.
The British Empire became ever more successful but only up to the point where there were no new lands and markets to conquer. The British Empire was one on which the sun never set and also one in which virtually every bit of land in the world worth having, was occupied. The British Empire basically stopped growing when it reached a point where there were physically no more new lands to find.
America is no different. The empire isn't as overtly based on land but it still relies on conquering new markets; there must be a point where there are no new markets left to find.

The problem with the United States in particular is that the relentless pursuit of profit led to a more prosperous and productive workforce. Higher wages equal lower profitability and it was the oil crisis of the early 1970s that basically set the ball rolling for the end of manufacturing in the United States.
American companies now "hire" more people than ever before. Whilst GDP growth of the United States has stagnated, the profitably of US companies continues to grow. They've voluntarily chosen to move production where wages and ground rents are vastly lower.
Countries like China, Vietnam, Laos, Bangladesh and India, are now the manufacturing centres of the world and the rules of empire building - that is, that empire building is mainly determined on how much stuff you can produce - are still quietly lurking away in the background.
I would argue that because companies have voluntarily chosen to move production overseas, the wages which would have been paid domestically are not being paid to Americans, simultaneously lowering domestic aggregate demand; thus shrinking the economy at home but conversely stimulating aggregate demand via increased wages in those places where stuff is being made.

The 21st Century has been nicknamed the "Asian Century" by some commentators and that's largely predicated on the same principle - how much stuff can and will be produced. It has been estimated that more than a quarter of a billion people have been dragged out of poverty in China and India; likewise the closure of factories and the death of low skilled jobs in the United States is leading to the third-worldification of America. China and India are in part gouging their new empires out of the old.
And the process will happen again. China in particular is building infrastructure in Africa in the hope of opening up even cheaper manufacturing centres. As the nations of Africa begin to step out of the shadows of their old colonial masters, they step into the shadows of their new ones.
If and when Africa does finally begin to follow the same the rules of empire building - empire building is mainly determined on how much stuff you can produce - it too will gouge out its markets from existing ones.

The short story is that the American Empire grew for a while, reached its logical limits and then just like the Empires before it including Rome, will decline due to a combination of decadence, political corruption and military expenses. The two biggest cause though is monetary troubles caused by a larger degree of unemployment of the working classes, brought about because American business has chosen to make less stuff and do less work in America.

July 18, 2013

Horse 1514 - I Could Care Less About Rugby League (it is possible)

Last night (17th July) there was a State of Origin Rugby League match in which one group of players beat another group of players in one of the greatest contests of ALL TIME; at least until the next one.
I must confess I could care less. That is, in terms of empirical units of care, my ability to give less of them is physically possible.
I say this advisedly because if you were living in SA, Tas, NT or WA, not even Channel 9 was convinced that those people cared as much as I do, which admittedly wasn't a lot; in those states they preferred to put "Customs", "RPA" and "The Big Bang Theory" on 9 whilst the throwball was relegated to their second channel Gem. I would suspect that the people of those states honestly couldn't care less; that is that in terms of empirical units of care, their ability to give less of them would in fact be physically impossible.

I for one think that the stance of the nation as a whole is probably right about this. It's curious that the State of Origin matches probably are the highest level of the game. It's understandable as the only two other nations who play the game with any real skill, like the other states in Australia don't really care about it either.
Great Britain pays more attention to football and Rugby and New Zealand positively flagellates itself if the All Blacks do not win every single Rugby series they play. As for Australia, if the Kangaroos lose, we don't call it a "national disgrace"; in fact most people don't really care, that even goes for people who actually like throwball.

The United States learnt from England and then perfected the art of inventing sports that no-one else wants to play. Arguably the NFL's Superbowl is the world's biggest single one day sporting event. People will often drive across the country for days, just to have a barbecue in the parking lot of the stadium; even if they don't even have tickets!
America does such a good job at making people care, that even people from other countries care about the match - even the adverts.
Australia does a bad job in comparison. When the Sydney Swans lifted the AFL Premiership flag, they were treated to a ticker tape parade, whereas if say the Parramatta Worms won the Rugby League shield thing, they'd most likely at best win a presentation at Westfield (and maybe win some pretzels or something).

In terms of raw numbers, even Australia beating Iraq to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, racked up higher ratings than the State of Origin matches.
It's telling that Melbourne's Herald-Sun, the Adelaide Advertiser and the West Australian are all carrying stories about the Essendon AFL Coach, James Hird, rather than fill their back pages with the result of the throwball.
I must admit though, that I do find it amusing that after a State of Origin match, the same copy writers will write pieces for both the Courier-Mail in Brisbane and the Daily Telegraph in Sydney. These are the people who have truly been divorced from their own amount of care. To be able to write something praising and then turn around and write something deriding the same thing is a rare skill.
Maybe it is these people who truly couldn't care less, or maybe they're just good at disguising that care.

In the end, one team did beat the other by some amount of points, or ended on the same amount of points; in which case it was a draw and the series was tied. Surely in one of the greatest contests of ALL TIME (at least until the next one) that's something worth caring about isn't it? Except that that's too much effort.

July 16, 2013

Horse 1513 - The Left Hand Side Is The Right Side

Which side of the road is the proper side of the road to drive on, the left or the right?
Actually there is a right side of the road to drive on and it's not the right side, which is more properly the wrong side. The left side is the right side.

I'd previously thought that it was the Romans who gave us the answer but it seems that the Greeks & Egyptians show us what's right; for the same reasons.

Imagine that you are a Greek soldier. You have a sword and a shield. The commander of an army wants to make best use of his resources and so it makes perfect sense that he would want every soldier to carry a sword in the same hand. Since most people are already right handed, Greek soldiers like the Romans a couple of centuries later, were all right handed.
If everyone carries a sword in the same hand, then each soldier can huddle more closely together. The Romans who borrowed heavily from the Greek tradition of fighting, refined the Greek phalanx formation and turned it into their own Testudo or Turtle formation. By lining up shields as closely together as is possible, a unit can defend itself better against arrows. Thus, if every soldier carries a sword in the same hand, a Testudo can be formed quickly and efficiently; thus, reducing the time that cracks exist between shields and hopefully saving troops' lives.

Having every soldier carry their sword in the same hand also aids transportation. If chariots pass each other on the road and for some reason a fight breaks out, the driver would want to be on the side of the chariot which would allow him to defend his passengers. This means having your sword on the outside rather than in the middle had you been seated on the other side of the chariot; since soldiers are already right-handed, it is their right hand side which passes down the centre of the road; thus chariots and carriages would pass down the left hand side of the road.

This left hand side road rule would remain unchanged for centuries and so there wasn't really a need to codify it until traffic volumes rose. In England a general rule for London Bridge was made in 1756, signed into law with the The General Highways Act of 1773 and later confirmed with the  Highway Act of 1835.

In fact the earliest evidence that I can find for any country switching sides, curiously isn't America even though given the fervent nationalism of the new nation. Empress Elizabeth of Russia issued an edict in 1752 which established a keep right rule. Post revolutionary France introduced a keep-right rule in 1792 and this was later consolidated by Napoleon.

If Russia and France were indeed the first nations on mainland Europe to standardize which side of the road they traveled, then for other nations to join them also seems understandable. Also given the cordial relationship that France had with America (them both being England's enemies) then for America to join France on the other side of the road as a symbolic gesture of solidarity, is again understandable.
In America, the Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike which opened in 1795 used a keep right rule and the States of New York and New Jersey followed suit in 1804 and 1813 respectively.

The spread of left and right hand side road rules seems to follow the expansion of empire as you'd expect, with mainly ex-British and Commonwealth countries remaining on the left hand side. The anomaly is Japan who maintained a practice that samurai passed each other on the left on horseback, with their swords on their left side.

So which is the safer side of the road? Statistics suggest that there is no difference in terms of safety when you look at accidents per 100,000km traveled, or such a small difference as to be negligible. The question then is of national fervour and patriotism and to that end of course I'm going to say that the left hand side is best because not to would be to admit that the French are right; since they drive on the right, then that's wrong and left is right.

July 15, 2013

Horse 1512 - Is Something Rotten In The State Of Florida?

On Saturday 13th July, a jury of six found George Zimmerman not guilty of any crime in the shooting of a black teenager named Trayvon Martin. Not guilty of murder; not guilty of manslaughter; not guilty of anything.
I personally think that such a ruling is bonkers considering that Zimmerman was armed with a pistol and Martin was not. Zimmerman was also told by police radio not to follow Martin and he did it anyway.
Yet when a person lies dead and for 44 days no charges were laid, it makes you wonder what sort of justice is being administered. It's all quite alien to me, a mere outsider.

Zimmerman argued that he acted in self-defence and cited Florida's "stand-your-ground" law which suggests that a person may justifiably use force when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat.
I have already written about the so-called "castle doctrine" which supposedly exists as a result of English common law and which I found no evidence (see Horse 1142) but it appears as though "stand-your-ground" laws do have basis in American  statute law.
In Beard v. United States (1895), a Mr Beard killed a Will Jones who had gone "upon the premises of the accused for the purpose of taking the cow away whether Beard consented or not".
The court held that Mr Beard:
"...did not provoke the assault, and had at the time reasonable grounds to believe, and in good faith believed, that the deceased intended to take his life, or do him great bodily harm...was not obliged to retreat, nor to consider whether he could safely retreat, but was entitled to stand his ground."

Now say what you like about this particular incident but the only two witnesses were Martin and Zimmerman and of those, Martin is dead. Forensically it's very easy to say that Martin was standing over Zimmerman at the time the shots were fired but that's it.
According to the lead detective in the case, there was no evidence that Martin was committing a crime that evening, except for a "burglary tool" found in some bushes nearby which was impossible to connect to the incident.
Zimmerman sustained injuries to the back of his head and the shots which Martin suffered were consistent with being fired from underneath. As far as Zimmerman is concerned, he was being stood over and beaten but since there is no other possible means of proving otherwise, to design a prosecution case is impossible.

Therein lies the rub to all of this and why a "not guilty" verdict was reached. This entire case hinges on the legal standard that the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and the simple fact is that in this case the burden of proof which rests on the prosecution (not the defence) renders that impossible because there's doubt all over this.
Because no-one other than Martin and Zimmerman saw anything, there can be no definitive third party timeline or even collaborated story of events. There is an audio recording but it proves nothing. Since a jury can not convict someone where it can not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of the chain of events, then the verdict of not guilty is the only logical outcome.
All of this isn't helped by a case which same prosecutor won against a Marissa Alexander, who fired a warning shot to ward off her abusive ex-husband; hurt no-one but still ended up in prison for 20 years.
Nor is it helped by the fact that the six member jury was made up of women only and only one of them wasn't white. A smaller jury is more likely to less representative of "the people" when it comes to matters of race, religion, gender etc.

The truth is that I certainly have no idea of the details of what happened that night, though I suspect that the jury has a better idea (I'm think that they have honestly tried their best too). I also have no idea of even comprehending if justice has been served or not. I do know that a 17-year-old boy lies dead as a result of the operation of some incredibly stupid laws and a culture which churns out stories like this on a semi-regular basis and that in itself is a tragedy.
I do know that the outcome of this trial is going to send waves though the United States. There have been reports of Interstate Freeways being blocked and civil protests up and down the country. I also know that the consequences might not stop here.

July 13, 2013

Horse 1511 - Should a Batsman Walk?

The question being asked, mainly by the partisan Australian press, after this incident on Day Three of the First Test at Trent Bridge is why Stuart Broad did not walk after he edged the ball to the waiting hands of Michael Clarke.
Did Broad have a moral obligation to walk? Is cricket of all sports a game of gentlemen? What should Broad have done? I think that there's two reasons why Stuart Broad should have absolutely stayed. These are they:

1. The Obligation Of The Batsman Is To His Team.
Maybe once upon a time in the days of amateur sport, there may have been gentlemen which used to play the game but those days are long gone. When you have professional players whose very incomes might turn on the success of the team, to make the decision to walk is in effect short-changing your team mates.

We have seen in some Test Matches turn literally turn on just a few runs. England won the 2005 five-Test Ashes series 2–1 and the Second Test at Edgbaston was decided by only 2 runs. Admittedly Broad did only make 28 runs after the non-dismissal before he was finally removed but had this incident happened in that match, the entire fabric of the series would have changed.

What if the shoe had been on the other foot? Suppose it had been Watson in the centre and not an Englishman? Would the Australian press be calling for Watson to walk? Not a bar of it. The only reason that there is moral indignancy in the press is because they're writing for an audience and to sell copy.

2. The Laws Say So.
Law 3.1 - Appointment and attendance
Before the match, two umpires shall be appointed, one for each end, to control the game as required by the Laws, with absolute impartiality.

Law 42.2 -  Fair and unfair play - responsibility of umpires

The umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play.

Cricket is a game which being incredibly convoluted, has 42 laws, whilst Football in comparison has a mere 17. Cricket is pretty well much unfathomable unless taught at birth, so unless someone non-partisan is in charge of the game, the game could so very easily spiral into anarchy; as it is, it is already insanity, we don't need anarchy as well.

Because the match is governed by umpires, the responsibility to execute those laws should solely rest with them, even if they are incompetent. Actually on this note, even the umpire is a total dunderhead, simply because they have been appointed to that position should mean that their decision is final.
With regards Broad's non-dismissal, is umpire Aleem Dar did not give him out, then that should be the end of the matter. Surely if it's the responsibility of the umpires to execute the laws, then it follows that it's also their duty to see offences to the laws and certainly not the players on the pitch - not the batting or the bowling side.

So then, what do I think?
I think that Broad did exactly what he should have. He should have stayed his ground, as indeed he did.

July 10, 2013

Horse 1510 - A Lot Can Happen In 30 Days

As announced on the 8th of July, a plan for the Labor Party which has been devised is to change the rules which determine both how someone becomes leader of the party and the mechanism by which they're elected.
As I understand it. When a spill is announced, the suggestion is for a thirty day period of "campaigning" and then the caucus and the membership, will each get a vote; then if there is a 75% majority, a new leader will be installed.
I can see several problems with such a scheme, the most two obvious being the logistics and the time-frame.

Firstly, how do they suggest that the leadership election would take place? Would it take place at branch meetings who would then tally all votes, and then allot the membership's vote on what basis? Would it be like the election of directors at a corporation, with postal votes and proxies? What of the public's vote, would they be represented on a proportional basis or a winner takes all scenario?
Does the weight of the caucus vary depending on the numbers of parliamentarians or not? What if there was a wipeout on the floor of the house; resulting in only a few handfuls of MPs? Would a 53 member caucus be equal in weighting against the branch membership in the same way that the current 102 caucus is, and what of a 130 member caucus?

The other question comes about as a result of the fact that the term of office is not fixed in Australia (which I think is an excellent thing). The thirty day timeframe seems to me to invite danger. Just because the Labor Party is having an internal election, is no guarantee that the Liberal Party would respect this; in fact there it can be almost guaranteed that they would not.
The precedent for such a thing was in 1983 when Malcolm Fraser called an election, 30 days after there was a bust-up in Labor ranks and he hoped to capitalise on this. At the time that the election was announced on February 2, Labor literally had no leader. Bob Hawke was hurriedly installed as leader and subsequently won the election on March 5 that the former leader Bill Hayden said that even a "drover's dog" could win.
Suppose for instance that there was such a system in place as suggested by Rudd, at that time. Would Labor have won the election with literally no leader at all? At the very earliest, the leader of the Labour Party would have been announced on March 6 which was the date after the general election. On that basis, wouldn't it also make good sense as the Liberal Party in Government to call an election every single time that there was a leadership ballot on the other side of the chamber?

I note this morning (9th July at time of writing) that all of the daily newspapers on sale in Sydney (The SMH, The Tele, The Oz and The Fin) all speak about Labor's "faceless men" as though the party is an evil organisation and that the equally anonymous ranks of the Liberal Party are somehow more noble of faculty and infinite of mind; conveniently ignoring the fact that that is precisely how Abbott himself came to be leader of the Liberal Party.
Currently the "faceless men" who actually vote for the leader of the party on the floor are the members on the floor. Every single person in the caucus from both the House of Representatives and the Senate is an elected member of parliament. Faceless? Possibly not.

I think that this all comes about because of either a political illiteracy by the general public and/or a deliberate attempt to destabilise the Labor Party by the Liberals, with the media tagging along because it helps to sell advert space.
For some reason the general public have this broad idea that they have the choice to vote for the Prime Minister; perhaps in the light of looking overseas and seeing how they do it in the United States. For a start, the position of the Prime Minister isn't even mentioned in the Constitution. Admittedly sections 62 and 64 provide that there shall be a Federal Executive Council who reports to the Governor-General and that it shall be made up of the Ministers of State but there is no mention of a "Prime" Minister; there certainly are no provisions whatsoever regarding the Leader of the Opposition. Actually to be totally blunt, the Constitution doesn't even care what party the members or Ministers are from. There is even nothing to prevent a Prime Minister being an independent member, running in coalition with a major party. 

To some degree, Labor itself doesn't really know what its supposed to be anymore because union membership which used to drive the party, isn't really relevant to the bulk of Australians any more.
I also think that the Labor Party sort of likes the pomp, circumstance, hype and ceremony of an American presidential campaign; certainly Kevin 07 was such a thing and from that time people in this country even started talking about "Brand Labor". Bear in mind though that:
Watson - resigned in '04
Fisher - was pushed out by the parliament in '13
Fisher - resigned in '15
Hughes - led three parties and eventually merged with the CLP
Scullin - lost a vote of no confidence in '29
Forde - was knifed in '45
Whitlam - was removed by the Governor-General in '75
Hawke - was knifed in '91
Rudd - was knifed in '10
Gillard - was knifed in '13
That's ten out of fifteen of the Australian Labor Prime Ministerships which ended in murky waters. Even in the so-called "good old days" before intense media scrutiny, Prime Ministers were knifed, deposed, forced out of their own party etc etc etc.

I guess that because both Labor and the Coalition are now so close in terms of actual enacted policy, they have to play politics on the basis of a personality cult, simply to differentiate themselves. I don't think for a second though, that simply changing the method and basis upon which the leader of the party is selected is going to instantly bring about a new wave of stability. Politics itself is too cut and thrust for that.

July 09, 2013

Horse 1509 - Look Down

Yes, This is about manhole covers. 

- PMG: Postmaster General (1901-1975)

Before federation, the control of telephony in Australia was under the control of the states' and territories' 
governments. This led to a general sort of mish-mash of standards for telephony in Australia and it wasn't until 1901 that the Federal Postmaster-General's Department took control.
The first telephone exchange in Australia started operations in 1880 in Melbourne, with 44 lines and could be connected by a single human operator. Telephone operators were still in use at the time of federation and it wasn't until 1912 that the first automatic exchanges were installed.
Postmaster-General's Department's plates were seen all over Australia and owing to the fact that steel plate is incredibly durable, sights like this are not uncommon, even 38 years after the Postmaster-General's Department was split into the Australian Postal Commission (Australia Post) and the Australian Telecommunications Commission (Telecom).
PMG did not stand for Public Money Grabbers, Parramatta Monkey Gang or Pigs Meat & Gravy, as some sources on the internet suggest that it does.

- Telecom I (1975-1993)

The Australian Telecommunications Commission (trading as Telecom) was the half of the Parramatta Monkey Gang responsible for telephony. This rounded T logo I think supposed to suggest the two ends of the receiver of an older style telephone, I assume. It makes a great deal of sense that the logo for the telephony corporation half should be a T and the postal corporation should be a P.

- Telecom II (1993-1995) & Telstra (1995 - present)

Telecom Australia adopted this logo in 1993 to coincide with the opening up of the Telecom MobileNet service. Corporately the company was moving towards a more profitable existence and whilst on the outside it had given itself a new lick of paint (and eventually a new name, from Telecom Australia to Telstra), on the inside it was shedding jobs under a then Keating Government "rationalisation" push.
The official explanation for this logo is that it's supposed to be a T and a stylised satellite dish.
By the time that the corporation was privatised, most of the tweaking with Telstra's logos was complete. Eventually the vertical stroke on the T would be eliminated but the manhole covers don't really show that much of a distinction.

- Optus (2001 - 2013)

This brings me to Optus. The "yes" logo (which was the second logo of the company) was applied to everything which the firm owned, which admittedly wasn't at first very much. Optus started by paying rental fees for the use of Telstra's cooper wire network. I assume that these manhole covers are either for their own cable TV and internet network or as landlines for their mobile network.

- NBN Co (2009 - present)

The National Broadband Network (which was a First Rudd Ministry policy, designed to correct the mistakes of the First Howard Ministry), is only a fairly new thing. I haven't as yet seen any steel chequerplate for the NBN, but I have found two concrete manhole covers with plastic inserts in. To be honest, I don't particularly see the little plastic thing lasting long because the plastic is liable to become brittle and old, unlike a steel plate or cast iron cover (like the PMG), however the concrete could very last for millennia as evidenced by some manhole covers in Rome which date from the 1st Century AD.

I expected to find at least one Optus cover when they had their first logo and maybe we'll start to see some new ones now they they've changed their logo again. Telephony companies like Vodafone are unlikely to have manhole covers because they offer wireless and broadband via 3G and 4G networks.

It's still interesting to look down at the things which we pass over every day without a second thought. They form part of the furniture of our lives as much as other things, even though we might fail to admit it.

July 08, 2013

Horse 1508 - Vettel Sneaks Off Into The Distance (Rd.9)

- stolen from the Telegraph

After the debacle of the British Grand Prix, Pirelli went away and designed and entirely new case construction for their tyres. As a result, the German Grand Prix saw no catastrophic tyre failures at all.

Lewis Hamilton who started from pole, found himself overtaken at the start by Sebastian Vettel and curiously Mark Webber who didn't have one of his usual poor starts. This grand prix was still going to be about who made the best use of their tyres and although drivers could get as much as half a second advantage out of the Soft tyres, the race was mainly characterised by timing of pit stops.

The first oddity was Felipe Massa who completely unaided, overshot the first corner, spun, and then the anti-stall control didn't kick in. With no way of restarting the car, Massa's Ferrari would remain stopped.

Mark Webber came in to replace his Soft tyres for a set of Mediums at the first change but an issue with the rear right wheel meant that he left before the locknut had been tightened. The rogue wheel parted company from Webber's Red Bull and merrily bounced its way down pit lane before it hit a cameraman at almost 100km/h, who was facing the other way.
All pit crews are required to wear a helmet and a full fireproof suit but no-one else in pit lane is. More than likely there will be a review of safety equipment and protocols for all people in pit lane as a result of this.
Red Bull has been fined €30,000 for an "unsafe release" whilst the cameraman remains under observation in hospital.

Up front, Vettel maintained his lead despite attempts by the two Lotii of Grosjean and Raikkonen to close the distance. Hamilton who had started on pole found that he didn't have the pace over a race distance and faded to fifth place.
Fernando Alonso who had a very quiet afternoon, was able to circulate about two seconds behind the two Lotii but could never secure any advantage at all. He finished within sight of the eventual winner but still in fourth place.

Romain Grosjean was for a while let loose and allowed to chase Vettel but never got close enough in the dying stages to enter the DRS detection zone; being as close as 1.035 seconds behind. Had he been just four hundredths of a second closer, he would have been able to open his rear wing and maybe challenged Vettel.
Lotus though, pulled rank and told Grosjean to let Kimi Raikkonen pass him, to gain extra championship points. Swapping the two drivers wouldn't change the amount of points that Lotus would get for the race but it would help to limit the deficit to Vettel.

Sebastian Vettel won his home grand prix for the first time, won his first ever race in the calendar month of July and continues to roll on for what is increasingly likely to be his fourth World Championship.

July 04, 2013

Horse 1507 - The Pursuit of Happiness

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.
- from the United States Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.

This is an interesting concept. I agree that the right to one's life and liberty are self-evident but what does the "pursuit of happiness" even mean?
There is a common law precept which suggests that people have the right to "quiet enjoyment" of real property (ie physical things which one owns) and the undisturbed use of those things (which also includes land), which to be honest, I find quaint and maybe a little antiquated in tone but the "pursuit of happiness" itself, I still find to be baffling.

Happiness is a sometimes fleeting thing. One's circumstances can very easily impose a state of unhappiness upon one, and so if we assume that being happy all the time is an impossibility (or perhaps a sign of madness), then maybe the pursuit of happiness is not quite so silly.
Then again, living in such a way so as to provide only for one's happiness is a selfish way to live and the pursuit of happiness could also be taken to mean that we have a right to indulge in hedonism.

It is worth considering though, that the Declaration of Independence itself is not a legal document, nor was it ever formally presented to the authorities which it was complaining against (specifically the King), so it is more like a declaration to one's self, or a self-affirmation that the writers were doing the right thing in committing many lives in sacrifice to the creation of a new nation.

Maybe the writers were far more practical in their intent. It could be for instance that the writers saw that the  "pursuit of happiness" referred to the right that the people and indeed thirteen states had to pursue their own self-determination; that fits in with the spirit of the document. An older form of the word means to enjoy a state of good fortune, or prosperity. The impost of what the thirteen states saw as burdensome taxation was an anathema to the quiet enjoyment of the prosperity which was produces, which also ties in with the other idea that happiness is a state of well-being. Having one's happiness disturbed by an overseas power especially would certainly give cause for any nation to fight for their right to self-determination and existence, and so again, that also makes a degree of sense.

In the end, Thomas Jefferson wrote what I think is still one of the most praiseworthy documents ever conceived in the English Language, even if the actual intent of this phrase is unclear with the passing of 237 years. In the context of the Revolutionary War it would have given Americans hope and cheer, so maybe it does contribute in its own way to the "pursuit of happiness".

July 02, 2013

Horse 1506 - More Thoughts On "The Lion King"

In Horse 1232, I suggested that the real villan of Disney's animated film "The Lion King" is Nala, who through lying and manipulation was able to justify regicide.
It occurred to me though that the society in "The Lion King" must be some sort of authoritarian regime and is probably in all likelihood, not a nice kingdom in which to live.

The opening of the picture starts with the birth and presentation of the future heir Simba to the kingdom by  King Mufasa and Queen Sarabi. There is however never a suggestion as to how they got their power and why they should have any right to be the ruling family.
I assume (as is they way with most authoritarian regimes) that power was assumed at some stage by force. Unlike power in a democracy, where the people and the parliaments are bound by a compact, where parliaments derive their source of power from the people, in The Lion King, executive power rests in the person of the king. The only mechanism which is explored in the film as to how that  executive power can possibly be transferred is either by a hereditary line or through direct conquest (the latter occurs twice).

In some respects I find the idea of the executive of the nation being handed down via hereditary means as illogical as the idea of an hereditary judiciary or an hereditary playwright. Granted that someone who is born into a family of a particular trade, quite often is very well suited to carrying on that trade because they will have learnt it from a very young age and there is an argument to be made that a family business should be carried on to provide a means of subsistence for that family but when you speak of  the executive of the nation being handed down via hereditary means, it reduces the nation itself to something akin to chattel; something which can be bought, sold, fought over and won.
If a citizenry is held by its leaders to be their chattel, then eventually at some point, they will be treated as such. If the evidence is to be believed that under King Scar that the kingdom is a wasteland which is running out of food and water, then we can assume that it probably also murders dissidents and executes people who try to leave the country. There isn't however any evidence which supports the case that life is any different under King Mufasa or Simba save for what we're told; since the story is primarily about one family, they're more unlikely to portray themselves as bad.

It's all very well I suppose that the film is framed around a struggle by a protagonist who has lost what should be his and then fights to retrieve it (that's a classic narrative) but the fact that both the protagonist and antagonist are both lions, says little about anyone else (that is, zebras, elephants, hippos, giraffes, birds etc.) in the film.
Scar's hyenas whilst they might appear "evil" are in effect only operatives; working under the rule of someone else and in this case, of pain of death. We as the people being told the story, are not supposed to feel sorry for them, even though they're just as subjugated as any other non-lion in the film. There are of course precedents to historical bias right through history, going tight back to Herodotus who painted the Persians in scathing terms despite the Persians allowing a far greater degree of religious freedom and autonomy to their conquered foes, than the Greeks who wrote about them. In this respect, maybe The Lion King is a piece of revisionist lion history; perpetrated by lions whose philosophy is 'might makes right'.

At its bare bones, the story is basically one of one rival autocracy replacing another and ending with the offspring of  the first rival autocracy replacing the second. It's undemocratic, more than likely oppressive and dare I suggest, unreliable as a factual narrative within its own universe. Maybe the narrative is told the way it is because the reality of life in a despotic-lion kingdom is terrible and this truly is a propaganda film.

July 01, 2013

Horse 1505 - The Mysterious Case of the Exploding Tyres (Rd.8)

- stolen from The Daily Mail

Nico Rosberg must be considering himself one of the luckiest people in F1 after winning the British Grand Prix in less than perfect circumstances.

The two Silver Arrows of Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg completed a front row lockout in qualifying and after the first corner, only Sebastian Vettel in his Red Bull could split them. Hamilton's chances of winning the race literally exploded as his rear left tyre did likewise and in one lap, Hamilton limped back to the pits on three wheels, from 1st to 22nd, to get his tyres replaced.

Sebastian Vettel inherited the lead and more than likely would have won the race except that on lap 46, the gearbox in his Red Bull contracted a disease of neutrals and ceased to live. He pulled over to the side of the circuit, which brought out one of many safety cars and the field bunched up again.

It was then Rosberg who inherited the lead as behind him, more tyres exploded on the Ferrari of Felipe Massa, Jean Eric Vergne's Toro Rosso and Sergio Perez's McLaren, the latter of the three bringing out a safety car as bits of tyre carcass and wheel littered the Hangar Straight and needed to be cleared.

At the restart, a late charging Fernando Alonso pulled his Ferrari up from 8th to 3rd, the two Lotuses (Lotii?) of Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean faded and Lewis Hamilton who had quietly chipped away through the field, had worked his way back to fourth. Mark Webber who had yet another of his awful starts, made a sterling run through the latter half of the race, to finish second.

Serious questions need to asked about Pirelli though. They will argue that they're not to blame but rather the drainage system at Silverstone was cutting into the tyres. The problem is that once a tyre has exploded, it becomes insanely difficult to extract any evidence from it. In the case of Hamilton's exploding tyre, it looked as though the tyre had delaminated before failing.
When Jean Eric Vergne's tyre exploded late in the race, it showered debris in the path of both Lotuses and bits of stuff hit Kimi Raikkonen's helmet with a closing speed of more than 300km/h.