August 30, 2013

Horse 1538 - Syria, The Sixty Batman Gambit Pileup

"It is an offence against humanity and arguably is a crime against humanity. Therefore, it is now critical that the international community move towards agreement on a robust international response to the regime.
In the absence of such a response, the problem is that this regime could then take succour that it could do this again."
- PM Kevin Rudd, 29th Aug 2013

I think it's pretty obvious that if a chemical weapons attack upon its own people has been carried out by the Syrian Assad regime, then that's obviously a horrible horrible thing and an appropriate response needs to be made. The problem doesn't lie in recognising that this is a very bad thing, the problem is the gambit pileups which are going on.

A gambit in chess is when you play a trap, hoping that the other player will fall for it.
A regular Gambit Pileup involves complicated plans where I trick you into manipulating me who then manipulates you into manipulating me who then manipulates you. A Batman Gambit is a complicated plan that revolves entirely around people doing exactly what you'd expect them to do, like Batman.
A Sixty Batman Gambit Pileup... is sixty kinds of bad.

The United States is two parties divided against itself. You have Republicans who think it's a good idea, Republicans who think it's a bad idea, Democrats who think it's a good idea and Democrats who think it's a bad idea. The House and the Senate are currently cut right across party lines and getting anyone to agree on anything might well prove impossible.
Congress 113 is as dysfunctional as Congress 112 which managed to pass even less legislation than Congress 80 which was nicknamed the "Do Nothing Congress" by President Harry S. Truman.

On top of this is this rather glaringly obvious provision in the US Constitution as pointed out by Senator Rand Paul:
"The United States should condemn the use of chemical weapons. We should ascertain who used the weapons and we should have an open debate in Congress over whether the situation warrants U.S. involvement. The Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress not the President."
- Senator Rand Paul, via Politico, 28th Aug 2013

Article 1, Section 8 provides that the Congress specifically has the exclusive power to declare war. There's also the 60 day in which forces can be deployed with a 30 day pull out period without without congressional approval. This provision met with howls of derision from Congress 112 and calls to impeach President Obama during the strikes on Libya in 2011.

Of course actually doing anything to Syria might be akin to poking a hornet's nest. I can pretty much guarantee that Hezbollah for instance would take US intervention as an offence and they're wacky enough to attack Israel in retaliation.
“In the event of a qualitative strike that aims to change the balance of power in Syria, Hezbollah will fight on 'various fronts'. However, if the Western attack is limited to certain targets in Syria, then, Hezbollah will not intervene”
- Jerusalem Post, 29th Aug 2013

Even though the Arab League basically slammed Assad for the gas attack on Tuesday I think that's only them trying to take out political cover against an impending Sixty Batman Gambit Pileup - even Risk players know that the Middle East is impossible to hold.

But there's an even more bonkers and wackier player out there and they come in the form of Hassan Rouhani of Iran:
Iranian leaders also issued strong rhetoric in recent days, warning the U.S. to stay out of the conflict in Syria and threatening to retaliate against Israel in response to any military meddling. One official was quoted in Iran's Fars news service saying that Iran would "flatten the place (Israel) that is tied to the U.S.'s national security."
- ABC News (America), 29th Aug 2013

“In case of a U.S. military strike against Syria, the flames of outrage of the region’s revolutionaries will point toward the Zionist regime,” 
- New York Times, 28 Aug 2013

So let me get this straight, if western powers attack Syria for its use of chemical weapons... then Iran who isn't part of this argument, then attacks Israel who is also not part of this argument. Forgive my complete lack of understanding here but I just don't see the logic of this at all, other than that Hassan Rouhani is just as bonkers as the guy he replaced as leader of Iran.

This gets even weirder:
Dozens of Conservative MPs refused to support the Prime Minister and sided with Labour in opposing a Government motion which supported the principle of military intervention. The motion backing the use of force "if necessary" was rejected by 285 votes to 272, a majority of 13 votes.
It is the first time that a British Government has been blocked from executing a military deployment and highlights the deep mistrust of official intelligence in the wake of the Iraq war.
- The Telegraph, 29th Aug 2013.

I found this remark most revealing by the leader of the Labour Party, Ed Milliband:
“I am very clear about the fact that we have to learn the lessons of Iraq. Of course we have got to learn those lessons and one of the most important lessons was indeed about respect for the United Nations. I do not rule out supporting the Prime Minister but I believe he has to make a better case than he did today.”

There are of course major differences between 2003 and a decade later.
In 2003 Labour had 413 of 641 seats; and had a spillover of 92. In 2013, Mr Cameron heads a coalition and of 650 seats, the Tories only hold 306; by themselves they're short by 19.
Would going into another war be enough to break the coalition between the Tories and the LibDems? Admittedly if the Lid-Dems were to switch their alliance to Labour, the new coalition would still be short by 10 seats on the floor and whilst that's not enough to form a new government, it might be good enough to cause a vote of no confidence or a loss of supply. If either of those were to happen, then that is the end of the current term of government and a general election might not return Cameron as PM.

On top of all this, it doesn't matter which way you try to unravel the explanation of everyone's response on the outside of Syria (which is chaotic and bonkers), there isn't even a proper explanation of what's going on inside because there's an evil government and several intertwined religious conflicts going on at the same time.
There's at least the Syrian government, the People's Army, the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, Al-Abbas, Al-Tawhid, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah, the Syrian Islamic Front and a loose association of the Democratic Union Party, and that's all that's mentioned in this one article I've just read.

Meanwhile, even if there are or aren't any chemical weapons used, there still are conventional weapons used against ordinary people and that in itself is a stupid and pointless waste of money and more importantly, people's lives.
"It is an offence against humanity and arguably is a crime against humanity."

August 28, 2013

Horse 1537 - Hashtag #ImVotingLiberal Goes Hilariously Wrong

Twitter is a sometimes hilarious place.

The Twitter handle @ImVotingLiberal and the corresponding Facebook page have either been created by a Liberal Party supporter or the party themselves.

In the blurb for the handle @ImVotingLiberal it says:
We're young and voting Liberal on September 7, and this is why... Send us your photos to

This is an example of what they were expecting, I assume:

Or maybe this:

As you'd logically expect, Australia being the land of weird land of snark and political satire, had people who support the Labor Party hijack the hashtag #imvotingliberal to make fun of the Liberal Party and Tony Abbott. The joke didn't stop there though, the punchline just joke funnier.

After Australians started going to bed at about 10:30pm EST, the hashtag was re-hijacked by a large American audience. Suddenly, supporters of America's Democratic Party took it to mean that the hashtag was presumably in support of President Obama or something. Not long after that the hashtag was re-re-hijacked by supporters of America's Republican Party to join the land of snark and satire against them.

The word "liberal" in Australian politics (as indeed most of the Anglosphere) means set of idelogies which cover centre-right economic liberalism as opposed to the way it is used in the United States which is more closely aligned with social liberalism.

I get the impression that the American audience who saw #imvotingliberal
a) had no idea of the context that was intended for the hashtag
b) had no idea that there is an Australian Election on Sep 7
c) had no idea that one of the major parties in Australia is called the Liberal Party
d) had no idea that the Liberal Party is a centre-right pro-business party and is more akin to their Republican Party

When people in Australia began to wake up, from about 08:30am they saw what had happened. Suddenly, Australians coming from the land of weird land of snark and political satire, re-re-re-hijacked the hashtag until we have what we see now, a glorious mess.

This sort of thing isn't a new phenomenon by a long shot. The word which we most commonly use for this is "meme" which is derived from the Ancient Greek "mimeme" which means "an imitated thing". The internet and particularly Twitter which is pretty well much instant, is a perfect media through which things propagate.

"Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation."
- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976)

It's just amusing in cases like this when memetic mutation happens so quickly that we end up with something being re-re-re-hijacked in the space of less than 12 hours.

August 27, 2013

Horse 1536 - Just How Would We Pick A President Anyway?

In Horse 1500, I wrote a piece defending the position of the Governor-General and why I think that having a deliberately ambiguous set of powers has in practice proven to be a good thing. I want to know what would happen if Australia were to make that leap and become a republic.

Firstly it would be reasonable to assume that the people of Australia would probably wish for the President (for want of a better title) to assume the same powers that the Governor-General currently holds (even though the vast bulk of people, including the Governor-General in practice, don't actually know what they are).
I would think that this is probably the most sensible idea because it would be the least disruptive of governance and it would keep the vast bulk of the parliamentary systems which we have in place intact. The executive of the parliament would still remain in the House of Representatives and equivalent lower houses in State Parliaments like the New South Wales Legislative Council. In parliamentary systems where the executive and legislative branches of government are separated, it leaves the door open for the executive to be made up of people who were never elected. At least in a Westminster system, all the members of Cabinet have come from the floor of the House and therefore have been elected by someone.

Secondly, it would be reasonable to assume that, considering the main reason that that 1999 referendum failed, the people of Australia would prefer the direct election of the President.
Here we find a snag. Personally I think it would be best if the President were non-partisan and even better if they'd never been affiliated formally with any political party; however, as soon as you decide to elect anyone, the position itself becomes politicised.
One of the hard facts about politics that over time, people will naturally arrange themselves into more highly organised factions for the purposes of getting people elected; they also have the right to do so. The problem there is that concurrently with people arranging themselves into more highly organised factions, those factions which are otherwise called political parties, tend to drive out other non-affiliated candidates. 
The question then I suppose is, how do you design an election process so that it produces non-partisan candidates?

If you open up the candidacy to everyone, then its very highly likely that lots and lots and lots of people will want to run for the position. In the Senate and other upper houses to Australia Parliaments, because there is Proportional Representation you always invariably get lots of candidates. For the 2013 Senate election there are 110 candidates contesting just 12 seats. In 1999 the NSW Legislative Council had 264 candidates in 80 groups contesting 21 seats. Somewhere down the line, the threshold of madness is crossed.
- 110 candidates: not quite the 'tablecloth'

Assuming that you do open up the candidacy to everyone, then how would you whittle down the field from many to few? If you open it up to parties with only a minimum number of members, then that immediately biases the race in favour of established political candidates. If the candidacy is limited by entry fee, then it's likely that only the rich or those endorsed by political machines would ever bother to run. Is that really the best outcome?
Mind you under the current system of appointing Governors and Governors-General there is no election at all and the monarch usually acts on the advice of the sitting government of the day:
The Queen is represented in Australia at the federal level by a Governor-General. He or she is appointed by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia and is completely independent of the British Government. 
At the state level The Queen is represented by the Governors of each state who are appointed on the advice of each state Premier.
- from the Official Website of the British Monarchy.

The list of Governors-General includes mainly ex-soldiers and legal people, though it has included royalty and a former leader of the Labor Party and Treasurer in Bill Hayden. Perhaps because we don't really see the Governors and Governors-General act on a regular basis, we're fine with the way that the system works. Certainly all of the complaints that I've ever read with regards Australian republicanism have more to do with existence of a foreign monarchy rather than their representatives who are currently not elected.

If we were to look Ireland and India which most closely resemble the likely configuration of what a future Republic of Australia would look like, we find that Ireland has a direct election but India uses an electoral college system which is even more hideously complex than the one used to appoint the President in the United States.
I suppose that Australia could run some sort of electoral college system like the United States which would give 226 electoral college votes all up (150 + 76) but that would mean that if New South Wales and Victoria both voted the same way, they'd rack up 109 of 113 votes required* and that's sort of counter intuitive to the idea that the little states shouldn't be bullied by the big ones and the reason that the Senate exists in the way that it does. The idea is probably fine for the United States which has 50 states or India which has 28 states and 7 union territories but for Australia with only 6, it starts to look silly.

What about the idea that out of the 23 million of us, we just choose someone at random. Just feed every name on the electoral roll in the country into some giant machine and then have it spit out one name. If we appoint them for 5 years, who wouldn't want to jump at the opportunity to be President of Australia?
What would be so bad about a plumber from Perth, or an architect from Adelaide, a builder from Ballarat or a lawyer from Lithgow being made Grand-Poohbah of Australia? Billy Hughes mended umbrellas, Stanley Bruce was a barrister, Ben Chifley a train driver and Joseph Cook had been a coal miner before becoming Prime Minister. Australia has a proud history of ordinary people eventually rising through the ranks to public office, so why not just pull up one of us to the top spot. If becoming a republic is inevitable which I suspect it is, I'd rather someone who's done a real job rather than a career politician become head of state.

Personally I think that the idea of apathetic inertia is the best solution and that the system remains as is but if we absolutely must change to a republic for change's sake (and I see it as no more than this), then I'd rather that the position remain as anonymous and vague as the Governor-General. It would be best if they were elected by the people, or not elected at all and better if they weren't a politician.

Well that is what I think anyway.

*Electoral College makeup if Australia were to adopt the same logic as the US.
NSW: 48 + 12 = 60
Vic: 37 + 12 = 49
Qld: 30 + 12 = 42
WA: 15 + 12 = 27
SA: 11 + 12 = 23
Tas: 5 + 12 = 17
ACT: 2 + 2 = 4
NT: 2 + 2 = 4

August 26, 2013

Horse 1535 - Let the Umpires Umpire.

Australia 492-9d & 111-6d drew with England 377 & 206-5

The Fifth and final Test between Australia and England has ended in a draw and it appears that there are several people who aren't happy with the result; this after a series which was full of controversy surrounding the Decision Review System.
Let's think this through properly shall we. I know that I've written about this sort of thing before but again we come back to one of the fundamental questions of umpiring: To what degree do we allow the umpires to do their job?

It is totally appalling that they can put regulations like this together without fully thinking through the likely consequences.
Neither is this bad-light ruling the only one. The other is the one that concerns runners. You could have a situation where a team needs 10 runs to win the Ashes, and a batsman with an injured hamstring cannot come to the crease because he is not allowed someone to run for him.
This sort of thing must never happen again - a full house, a terrific finish unfolding, and the umpires being forced to bring it all to a crashing halt. It's just not acceptable.
- by Jonathan Agnew, BBC cricket correspondent, 25th Aug 2013

Why Aggers, why? You don't happen to like the result, so why isn't it acceptable? I've seen it plenty of times in football where a penalty has been given where it shouldn't, where they probably should have been given and haven't and where far too much time has been added on.
Specifically, what was so unacceptable about the result to this match?

The umpires who, having been charged with the duty of overseeing the match have acted according to what they see fit. Arguably the most important law in all the laws of Cricket is Law 3 which states that:

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 3 of the Laws Of Cricket.

Take note of those two words "absolute impartiality". The umpires whose duty it is to control the game must do so without showing any favour to either side. At parish, church, district and club cricket level where one player from the batting side must sometimes act as an  umpire, there is an obvious internal conflict of interest but at international level where neutral umpires are appointed, this is not the case.
If we actually bother to look at the facts surrounding the decision taken on Day Five of the Fifth Test by Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena, we'd find that their decision to stop play due to bad light with four possible  overs to play, was taken precisely in that spirit of "absolute impartiality". 

3.5.3 Suspension of play for adverse conditions of ground, weather or light.
b) If at any time the umpires together agree that the conditions of ground, weather or light are so bad that there is obvious and foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire, so that it would be unreasonable or dangerous for play to take place, then they shall immediately suspend play, or not allow play to commence or to restart. The decision as to whether conditions are so bad as to warrant such action is one for the umpires alone to make.

That last sentence is of note: "The decision... is one for the umpires alone to make". Remember, on the Second Day of the same Test Match, play was also called off because of bad light but in that circumstance, the light was actually better. For the umpires not to call it off, would have been to make a mockery of their own decisions previous; so this decision was therefore consistent with what had already taken place.

Really this boils down to a matter of timing and perception. To be totally blunt, Michael Clarke's decision to declare for 111 was quite frankly idiotic. Kevin Petersen proved the idiocy of that decision to declare by coming out and smashing his 50 from 36 deliveries which was in start contrast to his very pedestrian display in the first innings. Clarke's decision put the smell of meat in the air and England came prepared to have a banquet.
Okay, so had the match gone on for just four overs more, would England have won? Possibly, but does that make the decision by the umpires to apply the laws with "absolute impartiality" any more or less acceptable? If the margin had been a mere 2 runs or a massive 400 runs, would the level of outrage be different? 

I think that particularly in an age where "monetisation" of sport seems to be so much more rampant than it used to be, the level of respect given to umpires and officials is falling. Even if they do happen to be paid to do the job of umpiring, an absolutely partial audience isn't exactly the most reliable judges of the judges. Being an umpire, a judge or a referee of any sport is a thankless task and with a lot of decisions you make in administering the laws and rules of whatever sport it is, you alienate half the viewing audience. 
Umpiring shouldn't be about delivering a spectacle or even the entertainment of the public. The task given to an umpire is the administration, application and judging of the game under the laws which govern it. Why must we continue to argue with the umpires, who are doing their job as they see fit?

Let the umpires umpire.

August 21, 2013

Horse 1534 - Aboriginal Recognition In The Preamble Is The Wrong Idea - IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH AND DOESN'T GO FAR ENOUGH

There has been talk recently about whether or not Australia's Constitution should be updated to include clauses to recognise both Indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Personally I think that this in principle is a bad idea and that it should be set aside for more important; real, lasting work.
Now I know that on the face of it, I probably sound quite heartless but the truth is that I don't think that altering the preamble is the best course of action for the simple reason that it achieves nothing of lasting importance.

A preamble to a piece of legislation is either an introductory or explanatory note which sets out the purpose of that legisation. Currently the preamble to Australia's Constitution read thusly:

Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:
And whereas it is expedient to provide for the admission into the Commonwealth of other Australasian Colonies and possessions of the Queen:
Be it therefore enacted by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:--
- Preamble to The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900

In essence, the preamble to the Constitution currently states that the five states mentioned agreed to unite into a indissoluble Federal Commonwealth. (Western Australia isn't mentioned because it had only passed the referendum after the legislation had entered into the British Parliament.)
The preamble basically states that the Federal Commonwealth of Australasian Colonies has agreed to federate and that the act of federation was agreed to by the British Parliament and the Queen (Victoria).
Nothing more; nothing less.

The first and most important thing of note here and why I mainly think that changing the preamble is one giant waste of time is that a preamble doesn't actually form part of the material powers set out in the constitution. The preamble to The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act despite stating the purpose of the document because it doesn't really define anything nor empower anything and most importantly it isn't really enforceable by the courts.
What then is the point of changing the preamble if its net result is no real change in the operation of the laws of the nation?
Changing the preamble is a headline grabber for sure and it would give a lot of people a nice warm feeling but after the lights have gone out at the party, what is actually achieved? Not much really.

Of far more import is actually changing the law itself and specifically removing some of the utterly ghastly provisions which quite frankly should shame the people of the Commonwealth of Australia:

Provision as to races disqualified from voting
For the purposes of the last section, if by the law of any State all persons of any race are disqualified from voting at elections for the more numerous House of the Parliament of the State, then, in reckoning the number of the people of the State or of the Commonwealth, persons of that race resident in that State shall not be counted.
- Section 25.

Seriously?! After 113 years we still haven't removed this? This is the law of the land openly disqualifing people from voting on the grounds of race. Specifically it has been used in the past to disqualify Aboriginal people from voting and they only were granted the franchise in 1967; only then by referendum; because the people of Australia finally saw what rot it was to deny anyone the vote, let alone the very peoples from whom you stole the land.
Why has no major party spoken up about this? What is going on here?

Legislative powers of the Parliament
The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to:
(xxvi)  the people of any race , (other than the aboriginal race in any State), for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws;
- Section 51 (xxvi)

The reason for this provision was steeped in nineteenth century bigotry and racism. Edmund Barton who would later become the first Prime Minister of Australia, argued that such a provision was necessary to regulate and  restrict the legal rights of certain migrant groups like the Chinese who incidentally had done quite well for themselves in places like Ballarat.
The fact that we've retained clauses like this in the constitution now seems like somewhat of an appendix but removing them is also pretty symbolic. Also the Section 51 provisions have actually been used as per the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and in the case of policies specifically designed to "curb" Aboriginal peoples' behaviour in things like the Wik case, the Hindmarsh case and the horribleness that is the NT intervention.

The question then I suppose is, since I don't intend to include an acknowledgement of Aboriginal peoples in the preamble, what then would I intend to do? For this, I choose to look to the example of New Zealand who by the way have no constitution.
New Zealand with no constitution rather than recognise Maori people through a document which doesn't exist, has in its parliament, Maori only seats in which only Maoris may sit and  which only Maoris may vote for; this is in addition to their normal enfranchisement. The question then is not of recognition but rather representation. 
The thing is though and I freely admit this, that Aboriginal only seats is distinctly unrepresentative and may be construed as being discriminatory. It's one thing for the law to discriminate against people on the grounds of race but few people I suspect would disagree with discriminating in favour of people on the grounds of respect, reconciliation and accrued obligation.
It's not like claims that the Senate is unrepresentative haven't been laid against it before either. Paul Keating once said:

Then you want a Minister from the House of Representatives chamber to wander over to the unrepresentative chamber and account for himself. You have got to be joking. Whether the Treasurer wished to go there or not, I would forbid him going to the Senate to account to this unrepresentative swill over there...
- PM Paul Keating, House of Representatives, 4th Nov 1992

"Unrepresentative swill", a phrase which I think in true Australian style ironically holds so much hope and reason to cheer. I would suggest for Northern Territory to be granted statehood. Statehood for the Northern Territory would be granted with a couple of provisions though.
Owing to the fact that the entire Northern Territory only has a population of 233,300 which is even less than than the City of Blacktown local government area where I live, so giving them full statehood with 12 senators would prove Mr Keating's slur of "Unrepresentative swill" even further. So then, my solution would be that if the Northern Territory was granted full statehood, that six of their senators be selected from, by and for Aboriginal only candidates. As a method by way of balance, I'd also add one Aboriginal only senator from each of the other 6 states to bring the total number of Senators to 93 (being 7 states, 13 per state plus 2 from the remaining territories).

I really do not think that mere words in the preamble do justice or give proper recognition to the real world problems facing Aboriginal people today. The only way that you get proper legislation and thought for people is to give them a proper voice and that in a parliamentary context means placing Aboriginal voices right into the legislature. If politicians had to negotiate with them on real policy, then they might consider enacting proper policy which actually took the concerns of Aboriginal people seriously.
Instead of making policy with "them", "we" should make policy. "We" should be the word here.

If my idea sounds outlandish, dangerous or expensive, then take a think at the outlandishness, dangerousness and expense that the original owners of the land have had to endure for 225 years when a bunch of arrogant white people sailed half way round the world, dumped a load of criminals on their doorstep and the had the sheer gall to stick a flag in it; claiming that the land was "empty" - no flag, no country; you can't have one.

SBS ran an ident a few years back, which contains a few words I think are particularly helpful here:
And I want to suggest three things why you should bother about the Aborigines. Firstly, we belong to great family of God and he had made out of one blood all nations of men. Secondly, why you should bother about the Aborigines, we're a part of the great British Commonwealth of nations. And thirdly, we want to walk with you, we don't wish to walk alone. 
- Sir Douglas Nicholls

I do not like token words. I want proper voices heard IN parliament. I don't want to walk alone either. 

Horse 1533 - Zoom Zoom ZOOM! (Please)

One of the things I like about the really old videos of the Bathurst 500, was that the might Mini was able to beat much larger cars like the Falcon. Admittedly, BMC won events like the Bathurst 500 and Monte Carlo rally because they brought a level of professionalism to the sport, previously only seen in Formula One and sports car racing.
From an aesthetic and storytelling point of view, we like the tale of the giant killer; of David vs Goliath. The hope that the little battler can beat the monster.
So when I found this video of the Mazda 2 B-Spec, I once again began to dream of that story.

Since the Bathurst 1000 in October is now a one class race for super-taxis, the modern-day equivalent would be the Bathurst 12hr and Mazda already have a gloried history in the iterations of that race, having won 4 on the trot in the 1990s.
It stands to reason though that a B-Spec Mazda wouldn't really stand a chance against the cut and thrust of Audi's R8 LMS Ultra or the Erebus Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG though. If we were to tell this story anew, we'd want to borrow some trick bits for our potential giant killer.

The current Mazda 2 or DE, sits on the concurrently named DE platform which was co-engineered with Ford. The Mazda 2's cousin the Ford Fiesta Mk 6 sits on an identical platform but being Ford they call it their B3. The family resemblance isn't as strong as its big brothers in the 3/Focus or 6/Mondeo but the sedan versions of the 2/Fiesta give a little more of their shared ancestry.
All of this makes me wonder if perhaps it'd be possible to borrow bits from the Ford Fiesta RS WRC like the 1.6L Turbo and the four wheel drive system. There'd also be a whole suite of suspension and other components which would be pretty neat in a 2.
I also wonder what would happen if Mazda were to jam the biggest possible engine they could under the bonnet. Would we like to see a Mazda 2 MPS, with the same engine as the 3? Would we yes! Even a 2.0L normally aspirated 2 would be quite potent I should think.

Motor racing like every sport carries an element of story telling and theatre about it. Ferrari have their tifosi who are as formidable as a football crowd and just as fanatic. Ford and Holden told us the same story for years of the eternal rivalry of two entrenched camps (like Coke and Pepsi, Mac and PC, Labor and Liberal etc) and have only recently let other firms play their game. Subaru went out and claimed "cool" by going out winning rallies in the WRC and Toyota are for people who have decided that wearing beige is a good idea and that a chicken korma is too spicy.
For reasons I do not understand, Mazda don't really like to tell their story loudly. They conquered Le Mans with the fantastic 787B in 1991 by building a four rotor Wankel rotary engine which out of only 2.6L beat Jaguar's XJR-12 with its monster 7.4L V12, the Sauber Mercedes C11 with a 5L Turbo V8 and the Peugeot 905 with the 3.5L V10 that it borrowed from Formula One. Mazda worked really hard and then had their cars banned because rather than work out how to beat it, other manufacturers had a whinge and threw their toys out of the pram.

Is it time for Mazda to go back to the mountain? I think so. I'd especially love to see Mazda tell the motoring David and Goliath story anew with their plucky little 2 and if they'd allow me to dream a little harder, to drive their car for them... please.

August 19, 2013

Horse 1532 - Charlie and the Exploitative and Casually Racist Chocolate Factory

Oompa Loompa doompa dee doo, I've got another puzzle for you.
Oompa Loompa doompa dee dee, if you are wise you'll listen to me.

What do you get if you get if you kidnap some slaves;
Force them to work in your underground caves?
Why do you think that that makes it okay?
If you look the other way... Hiding from the government.

Oompa Loompa doompa dee daa, If you like cruelty, you will go far.
Just don't live in slavery too, like the Oompa Loompa doompa dee do. 

The 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" came on telly the other night; most likely as a tie in with the line of branded chocolate bars made by Nestle. Whilst watching the film, I was quite happy to see a range of early 1970s motor cars like the BMW 2002 and Renault 16 but other things which I hadn't really thought about before made themselves all too apparent, like casual racism and slave labour.

In the 1964 imprint of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Mr Wonka doesn't take Oompa Loompas back to his factory but Pygmies from Africa. I find the idea that you could kidnap them and force them to work in a factory for is just horrid and abhorrent; though entirely unremarkable according to everyone in the book.
Never mind the fact that during the 1960s, the Civil Rights movement which saw African-Americans and Black British finally and properly elevated to the ranks of "normal" society. In Australia, Aboriginal peoples only got the vote in 1967 which is totally bonkers since it was white people who stole their lands and practically destroyed a lot of their culture.
Changing the description from the Pygmies to a mythical race of Oompa Loompas in the 1970 imprint, I suppose is a token step in the right direction but it still doesn't change the fact that Mr Willy Wonka has enslaved an entire race of people, puts them to work in his factory, doesn't let them have contact with the outside world and admits through the incidents with 'hair toffee' and meals made of 'chewing gum', that he performs experiments on them.
Even the name Oompa Loompa reduces them to the status of mere chattel via the mechanism of ridicule. Is it any better today when Godfrey Bloom of UKIP speaks of 'Bongo Bongo Land'? I wonder.

It's not just the Oompa Loompas but the way that everyone foreign is viewed in this book.
The tale of the Indian Prince 'Pondicherry' in chapter 3, whilst being slightly amusing fares not a lot better when you bother to consider it.
India until 1947 had been a British dominion and portraying an Indian Prince as a bit of a dunderhead is sort of a back-handed insult of sorts. It's perfectly fine in this world to poke fun at a rich foreigner who does something utterly 'stupid' but a when a rich British factory owner sacks his entire workforce without notice or entitlements, he is to be pitied instead.

There is also the somewhat trifling matter of the children themselves. If we assume that the story is set in Britain, then its likely that all of the four other kids apart from Charlie are foreigners. Augustus Gloop is most definitely German and the impression that I get is that the other three are supposed to be American.
Charlie Bucket is portrayed as the 'good', polite and passive British child and is the 'hero' of the book despite never really doing anything noble or heroic except being quiet and complicity obedient. The implication is that 'good' British people are quiet, follow the rules and aren't really passionate about anything; whereas all foreigners are in some way greedy or otherwise bad people.

I wonder how the story would have differed had it been written in 2013. I doubt whether the level of casual racism and nationalism would be so clumsy.
The 2005 film plays more on the surreal aspects of the book and drags it further into a place that shows that Willy Wonka himself is a screwball. More disturbingly, all of the Oompa Loompas are played by just one person, which makes you wonder if some sort of genetic cloning experiment has occurred.

On a similar note, there is a warning on the inside of the Astro Boy reprints informing the reader that there are depictions of people (particularly Africans) which are no longer considered to be acceptable. The caveat is that the author is now dead and that a work should be presented as was but that the reader is to be aware of the cultural insensitivities.
There is a degree that Roald Dahl did make changes to the book of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and this still can be seen in parts when terms like a sixpence which is pre-decimal and a fifty pence piece is inserted later in the book instead of a half-crown but they hardly make up for the chattelisation of people.

In the 1971 film, there is a point of redemption though. The children I suppose to get their just desserts and their parents shoulder their portion of blame but ironically it is the Oompa Loompas themselves who deliver the strongest and best message:

Oompa Loompa doompa dee daa If you're not greedy, you will go far.
You will live in happiness too,  like the Oompa Loompa doompa dee do.

August 17, 2013

Horse 1531 - 2016 Chevrolet Impala... To Sell in Australia?

Two years ago (Horse 1217) I predicted that Holden would replace the Commodore with the Malibu. The reasoning I thought, would be that at the end of the model cycle in 2014-15, the Commodore would be replaced by a smaller car. You can all laugh and make fun of me now, I got that wrong.
Two years on and the Malibu (I guessed the bit about it being sold here though) has been slotted in below the Commodore as a direct replacement for the Epica which made as many ripples as throwing a pea into Lake Burley Griffin. I suspect though that the Malibu might do better than the Epica because of a slightly more aggressive set of styling cues and marketing campaign.

In the meantime, in their adverts for the Commodore, Holden is crowing loudly about the fact that it is sold in the United States under the nameplate of the "SS". With that last piece of the corporate puzzle falling into place, it inadvertently reveals something else: every Holden is marketed elsewhere in the world as a Chevrolet.
There is a Chevrolet Spark, Cruze, Captiva, Colorado, Malibu and whilst there isn't a Barina, that same car wears the nameplate "Aveo" in the rest of the world.

It's got me thinking. If Holden for some reason were to lose their export market for the Commodore in the same way that they did when they killed Pontiac and with it their GTO and Monaro, then Holden in Australia would be left with a similar production question that Ford faced with the Falcon. I think that its entirely possible that the next Zeta platform car might not even made in Australia at all; if that's true, then what replaces the Commodore.

Just like the Spark, Aveo, Cruze and Malibu, Chevrolet (and by inference Daewoo who mostly build them for Australia), there actually is an existing Chevrolet equivalent and it is that car which could very easily serve as the Commodore replacement.
Enter the Impala*.

The Impala is 147mm longer and 44mm narrower. It comes with the same 2.4L inline-4 which is found in the Malibu and the same 3.6L V6 which is found in the Commodore but mounted E-W and driving the front wheels as opposed to the N-S rear wheel drive arrangement of the Commodore. As a replacement for the Commodore it would logically be a direct fit.
Come 2016 when the architecture of the Commdore would be ten years old, the market might have even shrunk around the Commodore, the way it did for the Ford Falcon and it might be just as easy to just not bother to replace it. That then leaves the question of what to do about the Ute but seeing as Ford have already decided that that question is not worth bothering about, the answer for Holden is probably likewise.

Holden would then probably need some sort of 'halo' car to replace the V8 Commodore or give HSV something to play with. They could just as easily re-engineer the Impala to take the LS3 6.3L V8, or ditch the idea of the big V8 sedan altogether and play the Camaro against Ford's Mustang.
It's worth noting that the Commodore does sell in America under the nameplate of SS and the last car to wear that, was a derivative of an Impala.

There is the rather unlikely prospect that the American Impala might be replaced with the Australian Commodore and although that would give Chevrolet cause to resurrect the El Camino plate in America, they're more likely to slay the lion entirely and give Australia gold bow ties.
Unfortunately, unlike the suggestion which the Doctor makes, in this case bow ties are not cool.

*the autocorrect feature on my phone doesn't recognise the word Impala - its suggestion is the word Unpalatable, which I don't know if it's apt or not.

August 15, 2013

Horse 1530 - Why do... A-Z

The rules are simple. I enter in the words "Why do" followed by the various letters of the alphabet into the Google search engine. It then auto-fills in the rest and I answer the question. Sounds simple? Off we go!

Why do asylum seekers come to Australia?
The reason for this is pretty obvious I think. Asylum seekers because they live in pretty terrible circumstances because of war (which we might have helped cause), or famine, or ethnic or religious persecution, or even because the economic circumstances of the country which they come from, quite rightly think that coming to a stable, generous and well governed country (yes we complain about it and even the right to complain is something to be thankful for), will produce a more prosperous and stable life for them and their children.
To be perfectly honest, I think that the vast majority of asylum seekers are brave brave souls and make better citizens that a lot pf people born here.

Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?
Unlike Karen Carpenter, I reject the notion that wild birds long to be close to you or any other human, unless of course they happen to be seagulls; in which case, they're probably on the lookout for lunch.
I think that the real answer to this is probably to do with the perception. In the adage that "the other line always moves faster", the only reason that you have to complain about the speed of lines, is that you happen to be held up. If you were in the faster line, you wouldn't be complaining now would you?
If birds seem to suddenly appear every time that someone who is obviously the object of one's affections draws close, then it's quite likely that whoever posed the question was only noticing connected events to that other person appearing. The birds could have very likely been there the whole time... plotting... to kill you all! Mr Hitchcock taught us that... about The Birds.

Why do cats meow?
Have you ever tried talking to a cat? I have. Cats are as much communicators as we are and by meowing they can express a whole gamete of emotions such as happiness, anger, contentedness, puzzlement, hunger and yes, even because they like the sound of their own voice. I have seen Purranna especially, walk into an echoey room and yell, just because it's fun.

Why do dogs eat grass?
Grass isn't particularly nutritionally beneficial but it does have all sorts of irritants in it. Sometimes dogs (and cats) will eat grass because they want to puke up something, like hair or other things they've ingested.

Why do earthquakes occur?
Most primary school children can tell you that earthquakes mainly occur due to the collision of continental plates which bang against each other. Curiously though, the 1989 Newcastle earthquake was not caused by this at all but rather the sliding of plates over the top of the mantle of the earth.

Why do fools fall in love?
Why not? Fools are people like anyone else and have the same basic needs of validation as anyone else does. I would wager that every single animal has at least to some degree the same basic need to love and be loved. Why should fools be any different?

Why do gas heaters smell?
The short answer isn't gas. The long answer is that natural gas that's piped into your house is mainly made up of methane (CH4) and ethane (C2H6). Both of these in their natural states are colorless and odourless.
I have it on good authority that the smell in the gas from a gas heater is actually tert-butylthiol   (CH3)3CSH which is an organosulfur compound which is added specifically to give the gas in your house a smell, so that you can tell if there's a leak.

Why do humans have an interest in Antarctica?
There's probably many reasons for this:
1. It's one of the few places which we haven't completely ruined through our malpractice on the planet; so it makes researching the health of the planet relatively easier.
2. Antarctica is an aesthetically gorgeous place. All of that brilliant cold and white is really really pretty. I think that its good to just sit in wonder of this amazing self-contained, self-regulating spaceship which we live on.
3. When the Antarctic treaty system expires in 2059, there's going to be a massive carve up to see who can get their mits on all the lovely oil that's down there. Yeah, won't that be fun?

Why do I have no friends?
The person who is usually asking this question is either through circumstance the object of unkindness or to some degree, expecting others to do things for them. I don't know who said it but "be the friend you want to have" springs to mind. Basically, if you're kind to other people, most people will reflect that kindness back to you.

Why do judges wear wigs?
This is something I know the answer to immediately.
Firstly, as a result of smallpox when she was four years old Queen Elizabeth the First began to go bald and so she wore wigs during her reign. In France, Louis XIII went bald prematurely and in deference, the French court also adopted the practice of wearing wigs.
During the Period of The Commonwealth in England, Charles II was in exile in France and following the restoration of the Crown in 1660, the English court and late the upper echelons of society, began to adopt and formalise the practice.
The legal profession has kept the tradition alive because it suits them to maintain as part of the persona, an aloofness which is separate from society. Judges especially are separate and apart because they have to administer the law with equity.

Why do kittens purr?
More than likely it's due to the vibration of the vocal chords creating a rolling glottal stop. Scientists are still out on this one.

Why do lions have manes?
Attraction of female lions. Intimidation of animals and other lions.

Why do microwaves spin?
What? Microwaves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum. They radiate from a source but I'm not sure if the radiation itself spins.

Why do Nursing?
Nursing is a pretty difficult and quite frankly underpaid and understaffed profession. I for one wouldn't want to deal with people as they came in through Triage in the middle of the night because they'd been drunken, stupid or otherwise. Nor would I like to spend all day with sick people. Nor would I enjoy hearing people complain all day long.
No, people who go into nursing do it because they want to help people. I salute you Nurses!

Why do oz and willow break up?
I don't know. I don't even know which television show this even refers to. The only thing I can imagine is that they chose for some reason, not to love each other to that same degree any more for some reason. Without knowing anything about it, I'm going to say that it was because Oz was violent.

Why do poets use rhyme?
Can I just make something really really clear here? Just because you happen to write rhyming couplets, does not make you a poet. Good poetry requires as much skill and craft as any other quality writing.
Seriously, have a go at writing a sonnet. It's form is: A-B-B-A, C-D-D-C, E-F-F-E, G-G or  A-B-A-B, C-D-C-D, E-F-E-F, G-G and all written in iambic pentameter.
Why do poets use rhyme? Because mostly, that's the expected form which poetry arrives in.

Why do quinces go red?
Just taking a wild stab in the dark here but I suspect that if you cook them, it's going to liberate the acids in the fruit to perform some chemical reaction. Actually a similar thing happens with some varieties of sardines as well.

Why do refugees come to australia?
Didn't I already answer this? C'mon Australia, are you all just horribly xenophobic or something?

Why do stars twinkle?
No! Stars do not "twinkle".
As I sit in this room, the Bureau of Meteorology is telling me that atmospheric pressure is 1024hPa. One Pascal is by definition, a force of 1 Newton over an area of 1 metre squared.
1024 hPa is 10.24N/m²
Since Force = Mass x Acceleration, 10.24 = m * 9.8m/s²
So the mass of air covering one metre squared must be 1.044kg. Since the mass of air is significant, it must be made of a considerable amount of stuff. Any "twinkling" is caused by a movement of the junk contained that stuff which causes the light from stars to do all sorts of bendy things.

Why do teenagers smoke?
Because it's presumably pleasurable for them, because they want to fit into a group, because it's "cool" and possibly though most unlikely because they are on fire.

Why do u want to work for us?
Regular readers of Horse will realise that whilst I concede that English is a flower of a language which evolves and changes, making spelling mistakes deliberately is not something that I take kindly to. I do not want to work for an entity which is misspells the word "you". Who knows what else they might get wrong? My payslips?

Why do veins appear blue?
Warning: Science ahead!
Blood, even deoxygenated blood is always red. This actually has to do with the energy levels of light which are capable of being reflected back. Since reds are mostly all absorbed by the skin, it's only the more energetic wavelengths of light which get reflected back and those wavelengths occur in the blue range of the spectrum. Move further in that direction and violets and ultraviolets are even more highly energetic to the point that if you get enough of them, they cause genetic mutations in skin cells and cause skin cancer.

Why do wudu?
What?! What is wudu? Huh? Ok Google, I'm horribly confused now. It's 11:02pm and my brain isn't making sense of that right now.

Why do xoxo mean hugs and kisses?
The theory goes that illiterate people would sign an X to execute documents but that Jewish people in North America who objected to signing with a cross, would sign with an O.
Another theory I read has to do with sailors coming back from Hong Kong to England and signing off with XO because it was "saucy" and "hot" and or "spicy".
Ultimately whatever to reason, it means that because we have all collectively chosen it by convention.

Why do you want this job?
Are these the same people who couldn't spell the word "you" before? Do they still want to hire me?

Why do zippers have ykk on them?
Again, something I know the answer to. Yes!
YKK is the English acronym for the name of the Japanese firm Yoshida Kogyo Kabushiki.
Tadao Yoshida founded the firm in Tokyo in 1934 and the words "Kogyo Kabushiki" literally mean "Manufacturing Company". YKK to the best of my knowledge is still the world's biggest zipper manufacturer.

Why do?
We do what we must because we can; for the good of all us.

August 14, 2013

Horse 1529 - The End Of Leasing Lurks - Who's Next?

One of the things that we learn about the law and particularly taxation law is that it is hideously complicated. Since 1997 with the introduction of that year's Income Tax Assessment Act the amount of legislation which revolves around taxation has increased at least twenty-fold. Given that complexity of taxation law, it stands to reason that there should be an whole other law in operation; that being the Law Of Unintended Consequences.
Not surprisingly, an entire industry has sprung up within the space created by what is essentially a lurk and a perk and they have cried all kinds of blue murder that that lurk and perk will end.
The website and "Who's Next?" campaign is being run by something called the rather Australian Salary Packaging Industry Association. To be honest it's a bit of a bleeding hearts campaign, for what the advert doesn't admit amidst the squealing and bleating is that the perk advantaged a few select people but that advantage must by inference have been bought by the rest of us through tax avoided. Whilst tax avoidance isn't illegal, I still don't much like whinging when a business model which only exists through exploiting taxation rules, wants to change public opinion to retain that advantage for a privileged few.

A novated lease basically allows a business to lease a motor vehicle on behalf of an employee, with the lease payment being made from that employee's pre-tax income which helps to lower the amount of tax which would otherwise be assessable.
Secondly because the vehicle is effectively owned by the employer, the GST which comes about as a result of buying the vehicle and any running costs (for what is basically a private-use thing most of the time) can be offset by the employer's total GST collection obligation.
Job cuts and redundancies are already a reality. Further job losses in the motor vehicle manufacturing and leasing industries resulting in higher unemployment rates are predicted. ASPIA data has shown 35% of packaged cars are made here in Australia by Toyota, Ford and Holden.
- Who's Next website, as at 14-08-13

If we believe the statistics from the Australian Salary Packaging Industry Association, only 35% of "packaged" cars are made in Australia. Not only does this mean to suggest that two-thirds of the vehicles which are "packaged" cars are NOT made in Australia but I'm willing to bet that the vast bulk of those are also luxury cars anyway (I note that ASPIA is being cute by stating that only 5% of them are BMWs Audis and Mercedes-Benz, they do not speak of the other myriad of car brands), which means that all this time, we the taxpayer have been in effect subsidising the rich - the same people who we know also cry foul at so called "welfare cheats".
We also know that Ford in particular has announced the closure of its Australian manufacturing operations and this like Toyota and Holden, wasn't caused by the residual effects of changes in taxation law but because of the absolute advantage of producing cars in places like Argentina (see Horse 1390), Thailand, Poland and Malaysia. Second to this, the price point at which people are buying cars in Australia has fallen, as Opel found out.

According to the Department of Treasury:
This measure improves the underlying cash balance by $953.9 million over the forward estimates.
- Wayne Swan, Dept of Treasury, 10 May 2011

Let's just back up the subsidised car here. "This measure improves the underlying cash balance by $953.9 million". Nine hundred million dollars. The cost of that nine hundred million dollars would otherwise have to be borne by someone and that someone is the Australian taxpayer. Forgive me, but muggins doesn't like being taken for a ride... especially when I can't even go for a ride in the car with which I've been taken for a ride.
I already personally object to the fact that private motor car use is for the most part written off as business expenses. Small businesses with fewer than 20 employees will often have a structure where someone's car is then owned by the proprietary limited company and all of that car's expenses will be taken to be business expenses.
Never mind the fact that if governments were serious about getting people to use public transport, there'd be a tax deduction for public transport expenses such as bus and train tickets, not subsidising private motor vehicle expenses which is how the law currently operates.

All of this is quite apart from the fact that FBT law and operation was one of the components which was looked at by the Australia's Future Tax System Review (by Ken Henry):
Recommendation 9:
Fringe benefits that are readily valued and attributable to individual employees should be taxed in the hands of employees through the PAYG system. Other fringe benefits, including those incidental to an individual's employment, should remain taxed to employers at the top marginal rate (and non-reportable for employees). The scope of fringe benefits that are subject to tax should be simplified.
b. The current formula for valuing car fringe benefits should be replaced with a single statutory rate of 20 per cent, regardless of the kilometres travelled.
- Australia's Future Tax System Review, 2nd May 2010

The Australian Salary Packaging Industry Association has a willing and able partner in its fight against the government closing its lurks and perks. The commercial press which itself relies on advertising to survive, isn't likely to expose or even report something which has the potential to harm its revenue stream. It's simply not in their own interest to kill the goose that lays the rorty eggs.

Let's call this whole FBT thing and particularly the notion of novated leases for what it is, a lurk and perk, which lives inside a tax minimisation scheme. The whole industry only exists because someone looked long and hard to work out how to game the system. Cars were the one last luxury which could be subsidised through the taxation system and this loophole is finally being pulled shut; in line with a recommendation which has been known about for at least 3 years.
If your whole business model is solely about exploiting taxation law and that law (like all taxation law) is subject to change, it just doesn't seem very sustainable, or smart.

Who's Next? I hope it's other lurky-perky rorty-tory wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey tax avoiders. Is it fair that the taxpayer should continue to fund people's cars? I DON'T THINK SO*.

*I was in Italy with a friend and this woman comes up and throws my friend a baby. Then when he caught it, her other kids ran up and took his wallet right out of his pocket. So let that be a lesson to you. If you're ever in Italy and someone tosses you a baby, just swat it. Swat it to the ground and say: "I DON'T THINK SO!"
- Anthony Clark

Horse 1528 - Flushed With Pride

Drug, drug, I'm on the drug. I'm on the drug that killed River Phoenix
- TISM, (He'll Never Be An) Old Man River.

SBS1 recently ran a documentary series from the BBC, hosted by Michael Mosley; entitled "Pain, Pus & Poison" (Link from SBS: . I found it really quite intriguing if a little gory (I can't stand to see the insides of people). It got me thinking though, it's all very well to be putting pills and poisons into our bodies to help cure us of diseases and ailments, but the human body is not an entirely efficient machine.
Even if the drug someone took worked absolutely perfectly, there must be at least some trace of it passing through someone and out... the other end. What happens to those drugs if you were to multiply that by a factor say five million people in a city the size of Sydney? Where do all those lovely chemicals go? Presumably they take a free trip Malabar and Bondi.

The news a few days ago showed a... "thing" in the sewers of London which was the size of a bus and made of grease, fat, sanitary pads, baby wipes, as well as collecting the residue of poos and wees.
Amusingly as if to sugar coat the news (bad choice of metaphor, I know), it was given the nickname of the "Fatberg", as if that would somehow make the story more palatable (again, bad choice of metaphor).
If that sort of thing can accumulate in the sewers, what of all the hormone replacement drugs, pain killer medicines, anti depressants, opiates, barbiturates, cannabinoids , not to mention all the caffeine that we collectively like to pour down our throats in the form of tea, coffee and increasingly, energy drinks? All of those drugs don't simply disappear into a void but through us, down our sewers and finally into our oceans and I'm willing to bet that they'd have a much bigger effect on a 2kg fish or a 660fg bacteria than a 70kg person (the ocean though does dilute things on a massive scale). The LD.50 for a little fish or bacteria is far far smaller than even the smallest of a person, just on a sheer matter of scale.
If you don't believe that the problem is real, consider this abstract from the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health:
Caffeine has been detected in Boston Harbor seawater with concentrations ranging from 140 to 1600 ng l(-1), and in Massachusetts Bay seawater at concentrations from 5.2 to 71 ng l(-1). Sources of caffeine appear to be anthropogenic with higher concentrations in the seawater of Boston's inner harbor and in freshwater sources to the harbor. 
- Siegener R, Chen RF. Environmental, Coastal and Ocean Sciences Department, University of Massachusetts at Boston, May 2002.

We already know that agricultural runoff like Phosphates and Nitrates are known to cause blooms of algae, which in turn deoxygenate vast areas of coastal zones, thus killing fish populations; and industrial runoff has vast effects in the oceans but I couldn't really find any mass studies into the effects of our drug use washing into the ocean.
Chemicals which aren't explicitly designed to have effects on living things like Mercury, build up in the environment and can radically alter the way that fish and animals' brains work. Mercury is a known neurotoxin and has a cumulative effect; especially as it works its way up the food chain.
What effect would something like Penecillin have for instance? Would the micro flora of ecosystems be destroyed? How about anti-bacterial drugs? If they're designed to kill bacteria in the human body, that's all well and good but out in the oceans, are they breaking food chains?

Toilets and sewers are wonderful things because they remove us from our own waste products and send them far far away. When we do send our problems far far away, they become like rich kids sent away to boarding school: they grow up, they become bigger and they have the potential to harm us. The adage "out of sight, out of mind" is appropriate here because it suggests the idea that something is easily forgotten or dismissed as unimportant if it is not in our direct view and from both an aesthetic and hygienic point of view, that is the entire point of sewerage systems.
The point is that if we flush stuff away because it's bad for us, then it also follows that what we inadvertently flush away which was once good for us, might not be so good for the things living in the ocean.

August 13, 2013

Horse 1527 - Abbott To Be The Next Prime Minister

Twenty-Five days out from an Australian Federal Election and trends usually start to solidify; this time around is no real exception. Even with the inevitable bounce-back that the Labor Party has gained by the reappointment of Kevin Rudd, Galaxy, Newspoll and Nielsen polls still show a slight swing towards the Coalition.
Plugging these figures into the standard swing calculations and plotting it against trends on a week-by-week basis and I've found something rather odd. The trend line appears to be heading to an asymptotic parallel which is 2.7% in favour of the Coalition. Curiously though, the two-party preferred trend seems to give the total number of votes nationwide to the ALP with 51.6% of the popular vote.

So what does a 2.7% swing look like?
Basically it means that three "independents" will remain, Wilkie, Bandt (Green) and Katter (KAP) and that the Liberal Party will pick up 3 seats in Victoria, 3 seats in Queensland and 5 seats in NSW.

I think that it's fair to say that the final result will be:
LNP: 86 seats
ALP: 62 seats
KAP: 1 seats
Grn: 1 seats
What that means is that Tony Abbott will be appointed as Prime Minster on September 9th.
... and that is probably the least interesting thing about this election. More worrying is what is going to happen after the election.

The next Federal Election will probably occur c.Aug 2016 and with the exception of WA, all states and territories will have their own elections before it. This means that there is a possible window of opportunity in which all states and territories could have Liberal/National Coalition governments; since it's been expressly stated that the GST will not increase without the consent of all states and territory governments, that might be entirely possible from mid-2014 onwards. If so, it would see an increase of the GST from 10% to 12.5% or even 15% for the financial year 2015-16 onwards.

Of course I have been wrong before (Horse 1359).

Horse 1526 - Review The Decision Review System

The current Ashes series between England and Australia has again brought up that hoary old chestnut of the argument surrounding the use of technology in the game and the use of the DRS (which the Indian Board of Control for Cricket has refused to adopt). Questions are being asked about the reliability of the technologies used and in some quarters, whether or not they should be used at all.
I personally think that they should not be used because cricket, that most genteel of games, deserves a higher and better mode of conduct and I think that the DRS erodes that.

The DRS or Decision Review System was, as I understand it, originally meant to assist umpires in difficult decisions where the evidence that the umpire saw on field wasn't conclusive. It now is a system where teams seeking to gain an advantage can appeal to overturn the decisions of the people who are entrusted to oversee and enforce the laws of the game.
Do I think that umpires will get decisions wrong sometimes? Yes. Do I think that there are some umpires who are bad at their job? Also, yes. Is that necessarily any different to the real world though? The thing about sport is that it intrinsically does not matter. Even that reason sort of makes a mockery of the "need" for layers upon layers of accuracy - it isn't brain science... or rocket surgery.

Put yourself in the position of an umpire. It is really hard being an umpire; even at parish/village/church level, there is pressure from both sides which is placed upon the head of the man in the middle. Their own side will make them feel bad for giving someone out, even if it is the correct decision; the opposition will accuse an umpire of being biased, even if the decision not to give someone out was obvious. The poor old umpire is on a hiding to nothing most of the time, they can not morally share in the joy of a batsman scoring freely and as if to add insult to insult, they stand in a totally thankless position.

If it is a televised match, the umpire then also becomes the object of scorn from people (sometimes 10,000 miles away) who have the benefit of a myriad of technologies, ranging from replays, slow motion footage, Hot Spot and HawkEye etc. but the umpire must make their decision in real time, in full speed and sometimes trying to judge the faintest of noises from 66 feet away.
This is quite apart from standing around outside for six hours a day and if it is a Test Match, for five consecutive days. Spectators at the ground have the luxury of amusing themselves during lulls (sometimes via the over-eager imbibing of fermented vegetable products) and the players themselves are either engaged in playing the game if they're fielding or batting, but the umpire must remain a model of concentration for 540 deliveries or 600 deliveries during a One Day International. Cricket was originally a game invented by sheep farmers with presumably little else to do, yet the modern game has caused international controversy, appeared in Hansard and other parliamentary records and is literally a billion dollar industry. Is it too much to ask that we respect the people we entrust to oversee the game?

I think that there is a place for technology in the game of cricket but I don't think that the right to question the decisions of the umpires should be given to the players who are obviously self-interested. I think of the words of the football manager Bill Shankly:  "Any player not seeking an advantage should immediately seek to do so". A corollary of this is that players of any game, once given the opportunity to manipulate the game in their favour will tend to do so and in an era of players being paid many many dollarpounds it exacerbates the issue.

There is also one very special thing about cricket which I think serves to justify my opinion; that is Law 3 of the Laws of Cricket:
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. 
3.7 - Fair and unfair play - The umpires shall be the sole judges of fair and unfair play.
- retrieved from the Marylebone Cricket Club website.

Yes, yes, I'll admit it, too many laws and you have a festival for lawyers but not enough laws and you descend in chaos. Cricket though is at heart an orderly game; played by gentlemen. The Laws of Cricket include phrases which have entered the lexicon such as "the benefit of the doubt". They admit that there might be difficult decisions but suggest that the game be played with equity. Just like a court of equity, it works better and is more noble if the judge is allowed to do their job in peace.
I just think that undermining the authority of the umpires is inherently against the spirit of the game and that the DRS itself is a means to that end.

August 09, 2013

Horse 1525 - The Power That News Corp Wields But Denies
UPDATE. A News Corp statement:
Recent political commentary has perpetuated a long-standing myth that News Corp Australia owns 70% of Australian newspapers.
News Corp Australia owns or co-owns 33% of all ABC and CAB audited newspapers in Australia.
News Corp Australia newspapers are popular - over half the adult population of Australia chooses to read a News Corp Australia newspaper each week. This means that News Corp Australia has a 59% share of newspaper circulation.
All of this ignores television, radio and the myriad of online news sources which offer more diversity in opinion than at any time in history.
-via Tim Blair, Daily Telegraph, 6th Aug 2013

Tim Blair was rather quick to point out that Mr Rudd's assertion that News Corp owns 70% of the newspapers in Australia was materially wrong. Whilst this is technically true (they actually only own 146 of 443), the total market share of News Corp in terms of revenues collected is about 59% and the amount of influence that their papers wield is considerable.
Of the 35 daily newspapers in major metropolitan centres News Corp and Fairfax own all of them with the sole exception of the West Australian. In some centres like Adelaide or Brisbane, there are no daily Fairfax populist newspapers; I make this distinction because the Financial Review is sold in all states and territories but only carries a tiny fraction of daily readership.

A few days ago, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney ran with this as its front page:
Now I should point this out from the outset. It is NOT illegal for a newspaper to be partisan, it is NOT illegal for a newspaper to push its own political agenda and it is NOT illegal for a newspaper to run editorials and stories which are very biased and one sided.
The question I ask is, is it good for democracy?

I bet that if you were to take a complete survey of the Australian public, the actual level of political engagement would be far lower than those in the news suspect. How many people for instance know who the current Minister for Trade is? Who is the Shadow Treasurer? What of the Leader Of Government Business in the Senate? Moreover, how does a Bill become Law?
I think that there is a very large tendency for political pundits and those of us who follow the game, to overplay what most people actually know and more importantly what they actually care about.
It is true that if you look at the raw figures for the Twitter hashtag #qanda on a Monday night, it does usually top the list of trending items but in terms of tweets per minute, both #BBAU and #XFactorAU outnumber it twenty-fold. What this indicates is that although there are highly engaged people in politics in Australia, there are far more people who are not. I'm also willing to bet that the average age of people who tweet with the hashtag #qanda or even #AusPol is probably on the wrong side of 30 whereas for #BBAU and #XFactorAU its more likely to be closer to 25.
Okay, so maybe social media is a terrible sample because of the inherent age bias, its then worth considering that other bastion of social commentary, the world that is talkback radio.

All of this ignores television, radio and the myriad of online news sources which offer more diversity in opinion than at any time in history.

More diversity in opinion? Really? 
Here we find something very odd. If we were to look at radio stations around the country like 4BC, 5AA, 3AW and 2UE, we find a very vociferous group of people who very obviously vote to the right and these radio stations are more than happy to play to their audience.
The day that the Daily Telegraph ran this cover, it basically got free publicity in Sydney on 2GB, 2UE and to a lesser extent on 702 ABC Sydney. Its mission which was to change the political dialogue, worked absolutely perfectly; even amongst people who hadn't even seen let alone read the newspaper.

News Corp Australia mastheads account for 59% of the sales of all daily newspapers and with sales of 17.3 million papers a week), it is easily Australia’s most influential newspaper publisher by a considerable margin. That makes it very difficult to downplay the power to change political dialogue because that's far harder to quantify.
News Corp is possibly only second in scope to the ABC in sheer size of political coverage. The separation of the business into publishing and media companies didn't really do much either to diminished the size of that shadow.
News Corp even has a presence on on television, producing such shows as Channel 10's "Meet The Press" and also "The Bolt Report" which dovetails nicely with Mr Bolt's editorial pieces in News Corp newspapers like the Daily Telegraph, Herald-Sun, Courier-Mail etc.
Then there's always programs on Foxtel like "Australian Agenda" which subscribers in an indirect way, have already paid for. They too dovetail nicely with opinion already printed in newspapers.

Indeed Tim Blair was quite quite correct to state that Mr Rudd's assertion that News Corp owns 70% of the newspapers was wrong. I ask Me Blair though as to what sort of power to change the colour of the overall political dialogue that a newspaper like the Shepparton Adviser has, or that the The North West Star has. How about the Illawarra Mercury which services an area just 70km from Sydney? How about the Newcastle Herald?
Maybe these are just the whimpers of a dog which is slowly being put to sleep. Even ten years ago, I saw newspapers as commonplace on the train but now? Smartphones and Tablets are becoming ubiquitous and even physical dead-tree books are disappearing, as people read more lines of electronic ink - maybe that's what News Corp fears: people reading news from the BBC and ABC.
In the UK News International openly backs political parties, sometimes declaring that "Labour's Lost It", "The Sun Backs Blair" and most famous of all:
I don't know if the Daily Telegraph, Courier-Mail of Herald-Sun will proudly crow that they helped the Coalition if they win but I wouldn't put it past the organisation. As it is, The Australian makes no bones about who it backs and alternatively, who it thinks should be "destroyed":
Greens leader Bob Brown has accused The Australian of trying to wreck the alliance between the Greens and Labor. We wear Senator Brown's criticism with pride. We believe he and his Green colleagues are hypocrites; that they are bad for the nation; and that they should be destroyed at the ballot box.
- The Australian, Sep 9, 2010

Even so, its still odd to see News Corp complain about Rudd complaining about them when they attacked him in the first place and then claim ignorance of the power they wield.

As I was writing this, this appeared in my Twitter feed:

Obviously the people at the Slightly Twisted Refreshment Lounge in Brisbane were annoyed at what they saw was market control and bias at the Courier-Mail. I think that the fact that there is not a plurality of newspaper owners in Australia means that little backlashes like this are going to be more common.
I however, think that this is brilliant.

August 08, 2013

Horse 1524 - Where Is The Future Surplus?
An Abbott-led Coalition government would cut company tax by 1.5 percentage points within two years taking the current 30 cents in the dollar rate down to 28.5 cents.
In a boon for business, which has long called for tax relief to increase incentives and create jobs, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will travel to Adelaide on Wednesday to unveil what, at $2.5 billion a year, is likely to be the biggest single spending promise of his 2013 election campaign bid.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 7th Aug 2013

Yesterday I asked the question "Where Is The Surplus?" (Horse 1523) and today I ask a similar question, "Where Is The Future Surplus?" If this sounds like I'm repeating myself, then to a large degree I am and you should probably read the other piece if you want to stop reading now.

A Budget Surplus is when total government taxation receipts exceed payments made by the government sector; conversly a Budget Deficit is when government taxation receipts fall short* of payments made by the government sector.
For 2013/14 the government expects to spend $398bn and collect $387bn leaving a budget deficit of $11bn. Of that $387bn in taxation receipts, $74bn comes from companies in comparison with $125bn from personal income tax.

Assuming that Mr Abbott if elected does decide to drop the corporate income  ax rate from 30% to 28.5%, this represents exactly a 5% reduction in expected revenue (all things remaining constant) because company tax is assessed on every dollar of corporate income; starting from zero.
In real terms that means that in order to just keep on standing still, a Liberal Government would need to find another $3.7bn from other sources.

Those "other sources" probably include natural attrition of the public service as alluded to by Mr Abbott in his Budget reply back in May, or perhaps more worryingly, a stagnation in transfer payments to the least well off in the community or worse, a raise in the GST which is both regressive and I think, hateful (Horse 1024).

I refer to Mr Abbott's comments in the week of the Federal Budget:
''We will have a comprehensive debate about tax reform but we haven't even won a first term, let alone a second term.
Who knows what people might put up to us - then we will have a white paper, informed by the best expertise the Commonwealth can muster in the wake of that consultation, and if there were to be any changes in the second term, we'll seek a mandate for them.''
- Tony Abbott, as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, 18th May 2013.

The only real reason I can think of as to why there would need to be a tax reform just three years after Ken Henry published his otherwise eponymous "Australia's Future Tax System Review", is too look at the one thing which he wasn't allowed to get his mits on - the GST.
The mere fact that Mr Abbott has "no plans" to increase the GST, isn't of itself enough to suggest that he isn't au fait with the idea. Back in July, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey didn't rule the idea of increasing the GST but suggests that it was the various state governments who had to lead that argument and to be honest, to get all state governments to agree to collecting more money in GST is probably easier than getting them to commit to a Federal spending plan like Gonski.

Incidentally, if Labour are "run" by the Unions, then the Liberal Party is run by groups like the innocuously named Institute of Public Affairs. They identified $22bn in "savings", which is slightly more than the $17bn which Mr Abbott was talking about yesterday. These "savings" are really quite savage and I think show what's really bubbling below the surface:
I'm pretty sure that privatising the ABC, dismantling the Human Rights Commission, the Australian Commission for Law, Aboriginal Land Councils, the ACCC and the NBN are all worthwhile "savings".

It's all very well to announce a cut in taxation if it means a return to surplus I suppose but it means that the electorate has to accept whether they like it or not, a reduction in the size, scope, value and ability to deliver the sorts of government services they expect. That's where the surplus is likely to come from.

The ABC has a nice set of Budget things to play with here:
I had a look at it and found much to my joy, the figures I quoted were correct.

*fall short - I think that the logical opposite of "Exceed" should be "Deceed" but I've never ever seen that in print. Would Romans 3:23 now read: "for all have sinned and deceed the glory of God"?