November 29, 2014

Horse 1794 - Thirty Days Of Madness #NaNoWriMo
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 PM on November 30.
Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.
- About, NaNoWriMo

As the blurb above suggests, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a website and an event of sorts where the task is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month? Sounds difficult? Not really.
As a blog writer who already turns out posts on a fairly regular basis, 50,000 words only equates to 1666 words a day. I can tell you that the actual writing of 1666 words a day is not particularly arduous at all. It actually works out to be about 3 or four pages a day.
What do you win if you complete the task of 50,000 words in a month? This:

Not much of a prize is it?
Actually, if you were just concerned about writing 50,000 words, you could write "I am a Fish" 12,500 times and submit that for verification and you'd still win. If this is true, then the prize of a picture of a cup with a tick on it, seems rather hollow. Clearly the prize is having a 50,000 word novel and/or possibly the fame and ovation of the people forever.

Is 50,000 words enough though? If you count "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" by CS Lewis at just 36,363 words, "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury at 46,118 words or "The Great Gatsby" at 47,094 words as pieces of great literature, then clearly it is.

The question then is not one of word length but of quality and that is far harder to gauge. Most of Earnest Hemingway’s novels are pretty short and a "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote at just 26,433 words is generally considered to be a novella.

So what did I get from NaNoWriMo 2014? Two things:
1. A story which I think works pretty well in itself but more importantly:
2. A little world.

I found that as I was writing this year's novel, I had to think about how it all would fit together. This year's novel without giving too much away, required me to mentally build an entire country in Eastern Europe. I can know tell you about its system of government, what the major cities are, who the television stations are and even what some of its industries are.

Having now done this twice, I would suggest that if November is National Novel Writing Month, then October should be National Novel Planning Month and September be National Novel Dreaming Month.
I'm also aware that I tend to be more engaged and able to write if I'm either angry or annoyed. Even inside a novel, conflict is the currency that lets you buy plot coupons. If you get stuck, then get angry; use that to generate more conflict and buy even more plot coupons. That process is how I got from Day 4 and the first major milestone of 10,000 words to 26,000 and how after getting stuck and hitting the mental roadblock ate 34,000 words, I was able to buy enough plot coupons to take the story to 50,000 and claim my cup with a tick on it.

Like last year when after it was finished I thought: "Stick a fork in it, it's done", this year on the 29yj of November, I don't want to even look at it anymore. Probably in a fortnight after the storm or writing has passed and the amber glow of serenity appears, I'll revisit it and then edit it before putting it up for sale.

Being a published author isn't something I necessarily wanted to be when I grew up and even now I can see that it's not even a remotely reliable way of making a living; now that editors and publishers slush piles are practically non-existent. However, I can now say that I've written two novels, the equivalent of a graphic novel and if I were to compile a stack of blog posts, there'd be a fourth book (if Jeremy Clarkson can become a best seller by compiling columns he's already written, why not?).

What do you win if you complete the task of 50,000 words in a month? A novel; that's it; that's all; nothing more; nothing less.

Aside, this is the book I wrote in 2013. Five months after I wrote it, I decided that it wasn't terrible:

November 25, 2014

Horse 1793 - A Reply To A Letter Of Schrödinger's Satire

The following might be hiding behind a pay wall. I don't know.
Imagine if you turned on the ABC to find a current affairs program called “Inquiry & Discussion”. The panel is stacked with bright and articulate commentators such as Janet Albrechtsen, Noel Pearson, Rowan Dean — and a token leftie, Gary Johns. It’s hosted by Tim Wilson. The audience is a selection of correspondents to the letters page of The Australian. Imagine that. You can’t, can you?
- Letters to The Editor, (Derek Southey, Port Fairy, Vic), The Australian, 19th Nov 2014

There's a thought, Mr Derek Southey of Port Fairy. Can I imagine such a show? Indeed I can. It is called "The Bolt Report".

Week after week News Corp Australia's doyen Andrew Bolt, who I am convinced writes columns specifically designed to annoy people because that is what sells copy, hosts a weekly program on Network Ten which I guess is supposed to counter Insiders on the ABC. It saw off other Network Ten show Meet The Press and now occupies pretty well much a unique spot in the network for political comment (if you don't include that week-nightly marshmallow fluff which calls itself The Project).

I honestly don't know if Mr Southey's letter is a work of satire or not because over the past few weeks, I have seen as guests on The Bolt Report, Sharri Markson (of the Australian newspaper),  former Treasurer Peter Costello (Liberal Party), Nick Cater (of the Australian newspaper), Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (Liberal Party), Michael Kroger (Liberal Party power-broker), Niki Savva (of the Australian newspaper) — and a token leftie, Michael Costa.
Imagine that? I can, can't I? Better than just imagining it, I've seen the sort of show which Mr Southey speaks of.

This illustrates something though. With the rise of the internet and the perceived value of journalism dwindling to little, the whole entire of the media landscape is like Ouroboros, the eel that eats itself. As the media eel pie gets progressively smaller, mastheads disappear (does anyone remember The Bulletin, Sydney's Daily Mirror or Melbourne's The Herald) and gradually the media is coagulating into two camps:
1. News Corp/Telstra
2. The ABC/Fairfax

Lachlan Murdoch was once CEO of Network Ten Holdings and Kerry Stokes' Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment Co. are probably stable enough not to be taken over for the moment but neither Channel Seven or Channel Nine even attempt to do political journalism any more. Neither Nine's A Current Affair or 60 Minutes really engage in any serious political commentary and Sunday Night on Channel Seven is kind of like the old Today Tonight but without dodgy tradesmen and washing powder comparisons.
Really only the ABC and SBS are even prepared to ask politicians questions they don't like and Andrew Bolt on his eponymous show which isn't called “Inquiry & Discussion” because his ego stands in the way, either asks Dorothy Dixers or shouts out anything he doesn't agree with, which doesn't really put anyone under the spotlight of interrogation at all. Maybe by not calling it “Inquiry & Discussion” there actually is an element of truth to this.

If Mr Derek Southey's letter to The Australian wasn't a work of satire, then does this mean that he'd like to live in a media environment like the United States where public broadcasting is severely stunted? I've been there; its terrifying.
Fox News is at times genuinely scary whilst at the same time, incredibly insular. I remember a trip I took to America in 2007 and was in San Diego and I didn't find out about a military coup style uprising which was across the border in Tijuana (only 8 miles away) until I got back to Australia.
The same sort of attack on public broadcasting goes on there as well, with Mitt Romney famously threatening to defund NPR and PBS during the 2012 Presidential Campaign.
I don't want to live in that sort of news environment. It's a fast track to the dumbing down of society.

In the end I don't know if Mr Southey's letter is a work of satire or not. If it is, then it's brilliant but if it isn't then that must mean that Mr Southey is speaking to the echo chamber. Imagine that.

November 21, 2014

Horse 1792 - Should We Now Boycott ANZAC Day On Halal Grounds?
A campaign to boycott halal-certified food is gaining momentum across Australia, with groups claiming that certification pushes up prices and the money goes towards funding terrorism.
A loose collection of affiliated anti-halal, anti-Islam and nationalistic groups began the movement. 
Now, the biggest online group, "Boycott Halal in Australia", has more than 36,000 members.
Its carefully anonymous leaders keep a low profile, directing their members to swarm target companies' online profiles and boycott their products.
- Alex Mann, ABC News, 21st Nov 2014

Although the head of state of Australia is the monarch, who is also the head of the Church of England, section 116* forbids the Commonwealth from making laws which establish, impose or prohibit "the free exercise of any religion". I think that that's fairly straight forward.
The net effect of such a freedom of religion, is that people are free to be complete wingnuts, like the group "Boycott Halal in Australia".
As far as the word "Halal" goes in Islamic Law (or to be more correct Sharia), all the word means is "permissible". Admittedly this can cause some strange consequences (which can be quite horrid) most of the time, most of what is and isn't halal is either a matter of purity and or common sense.

The campaign has brought together like-minded campaigners from across Australia, including former One Nation candidate and anti-mosque campaigner Mike Holt.
Mr Holt said he was not surprised that the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company had received so much abuse.
"If they don't change their ways and start acting as patriotic Australians, they deserve what they get. It's market forces," he said.

Patriotic Australians? Patriotic Australians?! Are we now going to invoke some sort of quasi-nationalistic fervour? I hope so because I get to invoke indignancy.

Australia began as a nation on 1st Jan 1901 as the result of a referendum adopting the constitution and then having that passed as legislation in the British Parliament. As a result, Australia doesn't really get a day which is a national touchstone for patriotism. January 1 is already New Years' Day and January 26 is more akin to Invasion Day (see Horse 1441).
This leaves the only other day which is constantly invoked as a day of patriotism as ANZAC Day. Even then though, the story should give rise to mass concern by "Boycott Halal in Australia".

During the Gallipoli Campaign, as part of the British Empire, ANZAC forces fought along with Indian Expeditionary Force G which was made up of Ghurkhas and Sikhs. On the Western From, the Australian Imperial Force fought alongside Indian Expeditionary Forces which were comprised of many faiths including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.
Maybe we should change our ways and "start acting as patriotic Australians". That would involve boycotting ANZAC Day, wouldn't it?

Mustafa Kemal who would later become Atatürk (Father of all the Turks) wrote a tribute to those killed in the Gallipoli Campaign:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
This also appears on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial in Anzac Parade, Canberra.

How is it that a former Turkish army officer could write those words about people who were once his enemy? Wasn't he a Muslim?
If there were Islamic people who were prepared to fight alongside Australians in supposedly our most patriotic period in history and an Islamic leader who was prepared to extend the hand of peace after the then bloodiest series of conflicts the world has ever seen, then why is a "nationalistic group" hiding behind patriotism as a ruse for nastiness? What is to be gained?

I don't think that halal certification causes money to be funnelled towards terrorism, I do think however that groups like Boycott Halal in Australia causes money to be funnelled towards idiocy
If you want to stop money being  towards terrorism then how about a boycott of all paper products? DuPont Chemicals is the largest producer of titanium dioxide in the world and that is mainly used as the white pigment in copy paper. I think DuPont is also either the world's third or fourth largest chemical company; that includes making gunpowder, used in bullets by armies both state and terrorist, the world over.

Wouldn't it be a radical thought if instead of championing causes based on bigotry and scaremongery like "Boycott Halal in Australia", wouldn't it make more sense to petition society and governments instead for peace, reconciliation and stability?

I like this line from this article in particular "Its carefully anonymous leaders keep a low profile". Of course they do. A fish only gets caught when it opens its big mouth and even fools may be thought wise and intelligent if they stay quiet.


November 19, 2014

Horse 1791 - The Daily Telegraph's Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

On day in which it was expected that Malcolm Turnbull would announce "savings" to the ABC budget, the Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail as expected did their usual range of howling; not even all the dog whistling in the world could keep them quiet.

More intriguing though was the Tele's subtle use of ignorance. Usually I'd say that this sort of thing was a case of Argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance) but this is more a case of Argumentum ad ignorantiam ab ignorantibus; quia ignorat (argument from ignorance, by the ignorant; for the ignorant)

To wit:
The Daily Telegraph can reveal the federal government was advised the property at Lanceley Place is used primarily to park outside broadcast vans and trucks, and house storage facilities for costume hire.
Government efficiency documents have revealed the Artarmon property should be sold off to improve capital and reduce the number of program and job casualties when funding cuts are announced today. The property has been valued at between $18 million and $23 million.
The ABC would not confirm what the property was used for.
- Daily Telegraph, 19th Nov 2014

Okay Daily Telegraph, you "can reveal the federal government was advised" anything you like but who revealed it? Maintain the confidentiality of any sources you like but unless you provide substantive links, how do we know that this wasn't just made up?
"Government efficiency documents?" Government efficiency documents? Do you mean a white paper? Do you mean an internal procedure review? There is no mention of where they came from, which department published them and no link on the website to confirm their existence.

The thing I really find bewildering is this:
The ABC would not confirm what the property was used for.

Allow me.

That big red and white sticky up and down sort of thing is a transmission tower. ABC Tower 221 transmits television and radio and according to ACMA has a power of 200kW, which is pretty powerful. 
The tower was erected in the 1950s and the very first thing transmitted from it was the ABC News Bulletin with James Dibble reading the news of the Soviet intervention on November 5, 1956.

To miss something that's been in the same spot and can be seen from the top of the hill near my house, some 28.01km away. How is it even possible to miss something which is 170m tall and was deliberately put there because FM transmission (which is what television was carried on) works best with straight line transmission. Within digital TV and Radio, the same tower is used. 

Twenty years ago the ABC famously promoted itself as costing 8c a day. This figure is now estimated to be 23c a day.

Guess what? We have one of those adverts:

This advert is from 1988 which is not twenty years ago but twenty-six years ago. If you allow 5% for inflation, which doesn't even keep pace with AWOTE figues then that 8 cents would be worth 28.44 cents now.
This means to say that the ABC is marginally cheaper in 2014 than it was in 1988 but it now delivers content in more numerous way than it did then.

The "$20 million property in Sydney used to park trucks and store costumes" is also used to transmit television and radio, which given the title of The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is probably part of its remit, don't you think?
I think that its scandalous enough that the ABC is attacked because of an ideological bent by unelected people tilting the government's hand but when their mouthpiece publishes something which is so easily unpickable, it makes me wonder what the alternative will be if the ABC is smashed to bits as they would wish. 
If the quality of journalism is anything to go by, maybe some of us would be happier if we were ignorant.

November 16, 2014

Horse 1790 - English Votes for English Laws
English votes for English laws seems at first sight a logical response to the English Question. But it is in fact incoherent. It means that whenever a government depended on Scottish MPs for its majority, as could occur if Labour were narrowly elected in 2015, there would be a UK majority – Labour – for non-devolved matters such as foreign affairs and economics, but an alternative majority for devolved matters.
But a bifurcated government is a logical absurdity. A government must be collectively responsible to parliament for all the policies that come before it, not just a selection of them.
- Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, The Guardian, 25th Sep 2014

Before I lay out my case that an devolved English Parliament, voting on specifically English laws is not a logical absurdity, I'd like to point out who Vernon Bogdanor is.

Professor Vernon Bogdanor, FBA, CBE is Emeritus Professor of Politics and Government at Oxford University. He is probably the most qualified and eminent of experts when comes to the constitution of Great Britain.
Yet I still think that bifurcated government is not only not a logical absurdity but perfectly sensible; the reason for this, is Canada and Australia.

Canada and Australia, both have second tier governments. In Canada the provinces are unicameral and in Australia they are mostly bicameral. When it comes to the powers that the provinces in Canada and the states in Australia have, these are expressly laid out in their respective constitutions. Also, when it comes to the powers that the Federal Governments have in Canada and Australia, those powers are also laid out in their respective constitutions.
On top of this, Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982 of Canada and Section 109 of the Constitution of Australia Act 1900, both contain supremacy clauses which effectively renders Federal law as the supreme law of the land, which makes logical sense.
If there were to be a specifically English parliament, then not only does is make logical sense to define at law, what powers it holds but there are also precedents in Canada and Australia that show that having a codified constitution is entirely sensible. Currently, the Constitution of Britain is not a single document but a mish-mash of all sorts of pieces of legislation and convention which goes together and was not designed. Supporters will argue that it has evolved over time and suits the needs of Britain but equally, amendments by referenda to the constitutions of Canada and Australia have meant that improvements have taken place with the consent of the people.

If as Professor Bogdanor says that "a government must be collectively responsible to parliament for all the policies that come before it, not just a selection of them" then that suggests to me that rather English members of the existing British Parliament breaking away to vote on specifically English law, then his net position is to actually agree with the creation of a separate devolved English parliament, like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently have.

Moreover, the English grand committee would in effect seek to legislate on matters such as health and education, which have revenue-raising implications, without having control over taxation.
A government would not agree to alter taxes for policies with which it fundamentally disagrees. So bifurcated government would become deadlocked government.
- Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, The Guardian, 25th Sep 2014

Much of the Professors argument seems to hinge on the fact that a devolved English Parliament would not have control over taxation. Bear in mind that in Australia, the states surrendered their right to collect income tax in 1942 due to the Second World War going on; admittedly it was only supposed to be temporary and the states did try to regain their income taxing powers but were unsuccessful in doing so. Nevertheless, the arrangements both before and after 1942, worked and continue to work reasonably well.

The question then, isn't one of is it possible because clearly it is but what would a devolved English Parliament look like? To that end, I think that Australia is already a perfect model which could be applied.

Currently; for the purposes of the purposes of elections to the European Parliament, there are nine so-called Regions of England. They are: South East, London, North West, East of England, West Midlands, South West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands and North East. Functionally they could operate the same way as the Senate does in Australia; with equal representation in each area.
If there were 12 members from each of the regions, like there are 12 members from each of the states in Australia, this solves the problem of the richer regions bullying the poorer ones. Even apply the name of the Legislative Council if you like. There would be 108 members of the English Legislative Council.
Even have them elected on the basis of proportional representation; the same way as the upper houses in Australia are decided.

The lower house which we will call the English the Legislative Assembly should have roughly double the number of members (so that would mean 216) and they could be elected using the instant-runoff voting system, which the Liberal Democrats called for in the United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011. The fact that that failed is a travesty of British politics.

I'd even go so far as to suggest that the devolved English parliament should not even sit in London. It used to be common practice that parliament would sit wherever the king was and the actual debating chamber need not be a particularly large affair. I think that it would be kind of neat if a new English parliament house was built at Winchester, in the same city where Henry III often held parliament. Of course building office blocks are the sort of thing that could be done anywhere; so provided a suitable architect was appointed, this need not even be an issue.

I think that far from being a logical absurdity, a bifurcated government is not only entirely practicable but has proven to be so over many many years in other countries. Do I need to point out that the longest continuously running Westminster-system parliament in the world is not in the UK but lives at Macquarie Street, Sydney? The Grand Old Lady of Westminster's children, have by operation shown to be more sensible than the old lady herself.

Professor Bogdanor who was also against Scottish independence, appears to be in favour of more powerful central government from Westminster rather than further devolved powers. Partly I think that this is because he happens to be part of the establishment. Oxford University which receives a large portion of its funding from government grants, might find itself with a different set of arrangements if there was an English parliament.

Mostly I think that this is a case of pragmatism. Both he and I are probably very aware that no government actively wants to reduce its power. It is not in any British Prime Minister's interest; not the interests of the Commons or the Lords to grant any powers to another parliament.
The Kilbrandon Commission under Harold Wilson's Labour Government in 1969 was set up to look into devolution in Wales and Scotland and there was even a white paper issued in 1974 but it wasn't until 1998 that the Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru (National Assembly for Wales) was established and a year later the Pàrlamaid na h-Alba (Scottish Parliament) followed suit.
An English Parliament would require the legal unpicking of the powers of government and possibly the transfer of many government services; with them, power. What possible incentive is there for Whitehall to make itself less powerful? Nil.

A logical absurdity? A likely posssibiliy? Not in the foreseeable future.

November 15, 2014

Horse 1789 - The FIFA Ethics Committee
"According to the Report, there have been communications between one particular consultant of the Australia 2022 bid team that show that the relevant consultant executed his strategy of using his purported relationship with high-ranking FIFA officials to create the appearance that he was influencing the bidding process.”
The ethics committee also said the FFA made “certain payments” to the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
- Fox Sports, 14th Nov 2014

If love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, then FIFA and corruption go together like Admire Rakti and the Shinkansen - very fast and dead on the money (in several senses of each of those words).

The initial rules for a nation to even be eligible to host the World Cup, required that the host nation have at least ten stadia, capable of holding 40,000 people. At the time of the bidding process, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States all had at least seven with plans to make minor upgrades to others. Qatar had nil.
On top of this, Qatar had to assure FIFA that it would install massive air-conditioners to decrease the temperatures inside the stadiums (which still do not exist) by at least 20°C and after it won the bid it requested to have the number of venues cut to eight because of rising construction costs.

With this in mind, several nations applied to FIFA to have its ethics committee look into both the bidding process of 2018 which awarded that tournament to Russia and the 2022 bidding process. Surprise surprise, it found that payments had been by a former Chairman of the Qatar Football Association and president of the Asian Football Confederation to the president of the Oceania Football Confederation to change his vote on where the 2022 World Cup would be held.
Even though Mohamed Bin Hammam was banned for life from all FIFA and football related activities, this latest report still clears the Qatar bid as being free from corruption.

The report also touched on suspended OFC representative Reynard Temarii and the attempts by Mohamed Bin Hammam to pay his legal fees and potentially deprive Australia of a vote.
Temarii could only be replaced by OFC as a FIFA executive member to vote on the World Cup bids if he accepted his ban from the FIFA Ethics Committee. If he appealed then the OFC’s vote would have been null and void.
"According to the Report, Mr. Temarii’s conduct and correspondence with Mr. Bin Hammam shortly after he received the one-year suspension suggest that Mr. Temarii was aware that his appeal would benefit Qatar’s bid.
However, according to the Report, there is no direct link between Qatar 2022 and any payments of Mr. Bin Hammam to Mr. Temarii."
- Fox Sports, 14th Nov 2014

This makes you scratch your head in total bewilderment. How is it that the "certain payments” made by the FFA to CONCACAF, if they were made, are seen as corruption but the fact that the ex-chairman of the very football association who is hosting the World Cup and was banned for life from all FIFA and football related activities, is not? I don't understand.
Dubai's Emirates Airline confirmed on Monday it will not renew its sponsorship contract with football governing body FIFA after the current deal expires at the end of the year.
”Emirates can confirm that a decision has been made not to renew the sponsorship agreement with FIFA past 2014. This decision was made following an evaluation of FIFA’s contract proposal which did not meet Emirates’ expectations,” the airline said in a statement to Arabian Business.
While Emirates did not specify the exact reason for ending its sponsorship deal with the football authority, this summer FIFA sponsors Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony and Visa issued a statement expressing their concerns regarding allegations of bribery surrounding the hosting of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, respectively.
- Arabian Business.Com, 3rd Nov 2014

Not to put too fine a point on it, if Emirates Airlines which operates out of Dubai has withdrawn its support for FIFA and sponsors Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony and Visa all have expressed concerns regarding bribery, what does that say about FIFA condemning the FFA whilst holding up someone else?
What of the allegations of virtual slavery in Qatar, in the construction of the World Cup venues?
Thousands of migrant labourers from North Korea are toiling for years on construction sites in Qatar for virtually no pay – including on the vast new metropolis that is the centrepiece of the World Cup – in what may amount to “state-sponsored slavery”.
According to testimonies from workers and defectors, labourers from the reclusive state said they receive almost no salaries in person while in the Gulf emirate during the three years they typically spend there.
- The Guardian, 7th Nov 2014

If you add slavery, to bribery to corruption, how do you trust any ruling by an "ethics committee"? Does FIFA even know what ethics are?

November 05, 2014

Horse 1788 - Election Day In America

Before I even begin this particular Horse, I notice that three things have come together:
1. Horse 1788 - the number 1788 is significant in Australian history because it is the date that the British Empire stole a continent from an entire race of people, with the cunning use of flags.
2. Here it is the 5th of November - the 409th anniversary of the day that a chap packed the basement of the House of Parliament in London and tried to blow it up, along with everyone in it -
Remember, remember the Fifth of November.*
3. It is Election Day in America.

What I find so very very hideously disappointing is that the mid-term elections in the United States, get far less media coverage than the run for the President, despite the fact that in essence, although the President is the Head of State and the Commader in Chief of the armed forces, when it comes to the legislature, he's really only the last gut in the chain. He is the legislative Siskel and Ebert who gives either "thumbs up" or "thumbs down".

Even though there is in theory a complete sweep out of the House of Representatives and of one-third of the Senate, in practice, there is so much gerrymandering going on that most of the offices which come up for re-election in the Congress are pretty well much done deals even before anyone casts a vote. Gerrymandering is that lovely process where the legislature draws up the boundaries of various voting districts, electorates, hundreds (call them what you will), so that there is a favourable number of voters within that district who will collectively swamp the others.

The other problem with today is that there are loads of state gubernatorial races going on as well as voting for state legislatures and elections for positions like judges and major executive positions within government, Already I can see potential problems everywhere.
As soon as you have an election for any position, that position is politicised. That's all fine if the position up for election is a member of parliament but if its a judge or some sort of secretary of a government department, that already implies that said position is not going to be impartial. Having a state supreme court judge who has been voted in on the basis of a declared political party allegiance, just seems like a travesty of justice to me.

Concurrent to this is the problem that if you were to do a google search for "unopposed" positions in today's elections, you'd find more than 700 positions across the United States where no-one is running against the incumbent. Okay, in relation to the point I've just raised about politicising positions, that's fine I suppose but when you reach a point where even the political machines are so apathetic that they don't even bother to set up candidates for election, that suggests to me that there is a massive failure of democracy.

All of this is compounded by the twin facts that in the United States, voting is not compulsory and pretty well much all the elections that take place are on a first-past-the-post basis. That is plain idiotic to me.
In Australia where we have both the Alternative Vote in the House of Representatives where electors number their preferences and Proportional Voting in the Senate, it means that in both cases, people who do make it to office, do so with at least the consent of half of the actual population instead of just the wingnuts and the rabid supporters of two parties who yell at each other like Celtic and Rangers fans. Hooray, Boo, whatever. We still have bad politics in Australia but at least its bad politics with the consent of the people.

What also gets my goat is that most of the elections today are in fact completely pointless. "We The People" who show up every two years, matter very little when it comes to the legislation which passes through parliaments. Groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council who pre-draft a whole host of legislation and openly admits to something akin to bribery through working to:
"advance limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public¹", Grover (who is certainly not you loveable pal) Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform² which opposes any form of tax increases thereby making the ability to pay back the massive US debt impossible and groups like the NRA as well as a whole host of lobbyist who grease the hogs in the trough, are the ones who really hold the power.
There isn't a so-called "shadow government" or a conspiracy of puppeteers. They don't need to live in the shadows, they play games right out in the open, whilst media companies keep people distracted with talent shows and other games.

Election Day In America should be a day to get out that old brush and sweep out all the dust that's been in the rafters but instead, it never is. The greatest political force in the United States is the apathy of the general public who don't vote at all. By not voting, they give tacit approval to the lobbying, the gerrymandering and they're why people are able to run unopposed in elections.


*Remember, remember! 
The fifth of November, 
The Gunpowder treason and plot; 
I know of no reason 
Why the Gunpowder treason 
Should ever be forgot! 
Guy Fawkes and his companions 
Did the scheme contrive, 
To blow the King and Parliament 
All up alive.