December 31, 2015

Horse 2051 - Kick This Mob Out
177: The number of evictions across the first two days and also Australia's winning margin. Fans were evicted for a range of offences, including being drunk and disorderly, sneaking alcohol into the ground, throwing missiles, possessing drugs and general misbehaviour. Police downplayed the number of evictions, saying they were taking a preventative approach to remove misbehaving patrons before incidents occur.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 30th Dec 2015.

I'm confused.
Back in November, the Daily Telegraph, Herald-Sun and Courier-Mail kicked up nineteen different kinds of stink when collectively they obtained "secret documents" which listed the names of 180 fans which had been banned from attending A-League matches.
Football has always been something of a strange thing for News Corporation. The media group is perfectly happy to buy up everything and hide it safely behind a paywall to spin a profit out of it and then it's also perfectly happy to vilify the very people who buy its product.
Think about this, if  177 spectators were thrown out of the Sydney Football Stadium during an A-League match, it would be front page news, get three pages of analysis and the usual array of spruikers trumpeting that same nineteen different kinds of stink.

In November,  the Daily Telegraph touted that:
While the FFA claims cricket and rugby league contain just as many bad eggs, The Sunday Telegraph can reveal that league has only 19 banned fans and cricket fewer than that.
- Daily Telegraph, 22nd Nov 2015

I don't really have a problem with Football Australia banning people for life if it deems that their behaviour has caused injury to other people. Football Australia has a duty of care to the people who attend sporting fixtures, to provide a safe environment; that's fair and reasonable. Mind you, Football Australia has never had to contend with the sort of crumbling hundred year-old stadia that existed in Europe in the 1980s either.
The Daily Telegraph article did inadvertently show up something dreadfully amiss with other sporting codes in Australia though. If the Australian Rugby Football League has only 19 banned fans and Cricket Australia fewer than that, then they must be hideously failing at their duty of care responsibilities. The Daily Telegraph won't report that though.
While cricket fans caused problems, the FFA did not receive one report of any incident from police or security across all five A-League games this weekend. Before this weekend, 103 people were removed from stadiums during the 58 previous games of the competition.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 28th Dec 2015.

I like comparing and contrasting things. Here we go:
103: people evicted from 63 A-League games.
177: evicted from two days of Boxing Day cricket.

The eviction of 177 people from two days of cricket gained a grand total of zero column inches in the Daily Telegraph and across News' daily newspapers. Yet on Boxing Day, what did Daily Telegraph readers get? This:

Rebecca Wilson from her time whilst working at the ABC would at least be familiar with the ABC's Charter and the requirements therein to remain impartial and report news in a balanced fashion. The Daily Telegraph carries no such charter and nor does it hide the fact that it doesn't even seek to do so.
Apparently though this means that people who write for the Daily Telegraph, are required to fall in line with News Corp's editorial lines. When Ms Wilson spoke to Alan Jones, she made allegations that a nail bomb had been smuggled into Allianz Stadium but this can't be corroborated with any other news source. Such a thing should be made into front page headlines and yet the media is eerily silent.
Also, given that this was still less than a fortnight after the terrorist attacks in Paris, no attempt is made to oppose Alan Jones' suggestion but rather, it is endorsed.
Alan Jones: Is this like terrorism in Paris; the leaders have no guts?
Rebecca Wilson: That exactly right Alan, this culture must be fixed from within. You can have so many arrests and that sort of thing but it must be fixed from within.
- Alan Jones and Rebecca Wilson, on 4BC and 2GB, 22nd Nov 2015.

I'm confused. 177 people are evicted from two days of Boxing Day cricket and the Daily Telegraph says nothing. Nail bombs are apparently smuggled into a stadium and yet there's no evidence for this at all but this goes unchallenged.
I don't understand News Corp and The Daily Telegraph's continuing war against football but I do know that they're perfectly happy to take football fans' money. Football fans in Australia should kick up nineteen different kinds of stink. This culture must be fixed from within, the leaders have no guts; the best place to start, is to look at the reportage.

December 28, 2015

Horse 2050 - All Things Being Equal But Not Necessarily Equivalent

What is three times five?

This sounds like a pretty easy question to answer and you'd be absolutely correct if you said 'fifteen' but if you were to write this out as a number sentence, there is only one correct answer.
3 X 5 = 15
Again, this might sound like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs (though in all honesty I don't know why she already has that skill - such a thing serves no useful purpose as far as I can tell) but three times five is not 5 X 3=15. That is five times three equals fifteen.

Three times five equals fifteen tells us something fundamental about the grammar of that number sentence. If we take the assumption that multiplication is fast addition then three times five in a slightly more expanded notation reads 5+5+5=15. Whilst it is perfectly true that 3+3+3+3+3=15, these things are different identities.
In mathematics there is a difference between equality and equivalence. Two statements might be equal but not necessarily equivalent. The operations of multiplication and addition confuse the issue because they are both commutative in nature and whilst you can argue that it doesn't matter what order you do a binary number sentence in, anything more than three terms clouds the issue.

Grammar in any language, is the set of rules that you use to read said language. Granted that all languages are by definition human inventions and therefore arbitrary, a set of rules have to be agreed to in order to convey information or else chaos rules supreme.

The clause "I had the car washed" conveys a different meaning to the clause "I had washed the car". The first implies that you had someone else wash the car but the latter says that at some point in the past the car was clean and now it might not be. I can imagine the second statement being said after your sparkling shiny car has just be sprayed by a wall of muddy water because a truck has just driven through a particularly deep puddle.
Likewise, 3 X 5=15 conveys different information to 5 X 3=15.
2 X 12=24 might tell you how many eggs you bought in two cartons but 12 X 2=24 seems to imply that you're buying your eggs in pairs.

Before we even get to any mathematical operation the basic rule is that we read from left to right. 531 is five hundred and thirty one. Even that has that basic rule embedded inside it.
531 is 5 X 100 + 3 X 10 + 1 X 1. With a binary operation like 9 - 6=3 the number sentence also reads from left to right. 6-9 tells you that you are in deficit rather than having three things left over.
All of this seems pretty straightforward and indeed trivial but when you start dealing with things like multiplying matrices together, where the orientation starts to become important, matrices might be equal but not equivalent or even multiplyable.
Matrices are labeled using a row by column notation, m x n. To multiply matrices together, you multiply the rows of the first matrix by the columns of the second. The number of columns in the first matrix must equal the number of rows in the second, or else you cannot multiply them together.

The objection which is raised is 'what does it matter if I get the right answer?'. The issue might not be whether or not the answer is fifteen but whether information has properly been conveyed. An 8X10 bolt will have a different width and thread pattern to a 10X8 bolt. One will not fit into a bolt hole which has been designed for the other.
Of course as with any language, the the grammar of a number sentence is important, if you don't understand the grammar then you can really screw things up or in the case of nuts and bolts, not screw up anything at all.

Grammar in a number sentence as indeed any sentence asks questions like:
- What term belongs with what?
- What order should you work in?
- What relationship do things have with each other?

For a simple number sentence like "What is three times five?" that grammar reads:
multiplier x multiplicand = product
multiplier x thing to be multiplied = product
3 is the multiplier, 5 is the thing to be multiplied and 15 is the product. There is no negotiation and nor will any correspondence be entered into. These are the rules. That's it. 

If it is just pure integers we are playing with then a sum or a product of numbers might very well be enough but the world is far more complex and mathematics itself is far more than just simple arithmetic. The thing is that unless students are taught the structure and grammar of simple number sentences, they will never understand the structure and grammar of complex number ones.

December 24, 2015

Horse 2049 - Now Towing Away The Past

Perhaps this photograph isn't the best example of what I'm thinking but it's certainly illustrative. That car looks like a small two door coupe of the sort that might have been popular in the 1950s. That silhouette is more reminiscent of a Morris Minor or an Austin A30 than it is of a modern two door coupe like Toyota Yaris or a Honda Jazz.
This sort of phenomenon isn't just unique to this sign either. The "High Wind" signs on the side of motorways show a picture of a car which looks as though of was from the 1960s and with a caravan to match, the Emergency Phone signs still show a picture of a handset (though that is likely to be accurate for what's inside the box) and I've seen Railway Crossing signs that still have pictures of steam trains on them, despite the fact that the last steam engines to run in regular service disappeared more than fifty years ago.
Signs for telephones still tend to have something to represent the rotary dialer even though buttons have long since replaced all rotary dialers (to the point where if you show kids a dial telephone they often don't know how to use it); signs for Speed Cameras have pictures of cameras which clearly look like 35mm film cameras despite nobody using film anymore except for specialists and enthusiasts and even people going to the cinema still speak of going to watch a "film".
Bus Stop signs still tend to have pictures of buses with split windows on the front, even though split window buses tended to disappear towards the turn of the century.

I must admit that I'm also guilty of throwing things into this anachronism stew. In the production of a play of the book of Esther that we did at our local church, the noise that I chose to use to show that dispatches were being sent to all 127 provinces of Xerxes' empire was the sound of Morse Code; this was in contrast to the fact that I'd used the two default sounds for Twitter and other SMS services to show messages being sent back and forth between Esther and Mordecai. Although Twitter and SMS are 21st Century inventions, they clearly do not belong in the 6th Century BCE; neither does Morse Code but telegraphy and telegram services are all but expired.

It’s not like cultural anachronism is a new thing either. The Authorised Version of the Bible which was commissioned by King James I (or VI if you're Scottish), contains second person pronouns like "thee", "thou" and "thine" even though in the opening years of the seventeenth century they were considered archaic even then. Having said that, the Yorkshire and Geordie dialects still retain these as part of spoken English, even today.

Place names survive well after the thing that they're named after has disappeared. I know of Pearce's Corner and Thompson's Corner but I have found no sources to tell me who Pearce or Thompson were. Most Sydneysiders will be familiar with the name "The Meccano Set" which is the intersection of Woodville Road and Henry Lawson Drive with the Hume Highway at Lansdowne but few will be aware of what Meccano is.
People still refer to the F3 Freeway even though as far as I'm aware, it was never ever signposted with F3 signs, it was always part of Highway 1.

Street signs like other parts of cultural detritus, are subject to the same sorts of memory drift as everything else that we curious creatures called humans have invented. Their job is to convey information as quickly as possible and that sometimes means speaking to older people who remember older things. Collective memory tends to fade at a much slower rate than the actual rate of change of society; hence the reason why railway crossing still have pictures of steam trains, signs for telephones still show outdated handpieces and why tow-away signs still show 1950s motor cars.

December 23, 2015

Horse 2048 - See The House That Did Move

Ho ho ho; Merry Christmas.
As you're busily running from place to place; looking for those last minute Christmas gifts and madly racking your brain to work out what the perfect gift is for that special someone, did you happen to stop and notice what didn't happen this Christmas season? No?

Apart from the dog and pony show that is the Republican Party where every candidate is trying to out-crazy the one man walking headline of Donald Trump, the other side of the political fence is the sleeping dog of the Democratic Party where Bernie Sanders is trying to talk sense but being heard by no one and Hilary Clinton more of less just has to remain breathing to get the DNC nomination.
In all of this, the one thing which I noticed is so strange that it warrants its own blog post is the one event in US politics which has a trillion dollar price tag but virtually zero news coverage. Did you notice it? The annual panic over a government shutdown, did not happen.
Let me just repeat this. There was no government shutdown.

In a stunning turn of events, the US Congress which has been locked in a "Hooray - Boo" shouting match since about 2012, has done its job without terribly much fuss. I don't care to argue the relative merits and demerits of various policies but the fact that the Congress collectively passed legislation to continue the functionality of government is nothing short of remarkable; even though it probably shouldn't be.

We don't get to experience this sort of nonsense on a near annual basis in Australia because parliament works differently. For a budget to pass in Australia, the lower house which contains the cabinet, first has to pass the Appropriation bills. This is usually fairly easy because the government already holds and majority in the lower house (that's how they came to be the government in the first place). For an Appropriation bill to pass the upper house, if the government holds a majority there as well, then the legislation passes easily. If it does not, then the government will need to negotiate with what might be a rainbow coalition of interests. Even during the nonsense of the 1975 Constitutional Crisis, the Appropriation bills were still passed albeit through a process of knavery.
In America, the Cabinet doesn't sit inside the Congress and because of this, there are several ways of arranging the House, Senate and President by political colour which all result in deadlock. What we've seen in the past month is an Appropriation bill which passed through all three before the looming date of shutdown.

I could speak about the tensions which exist inside the Republican Party and the fact that House majority leader Kevin McCarthy has somehow managed to hold his party into some sort of cohesive order. I could also speak of the fact that minority leader Nancy Pelosi has been somewhat more conciliatory in this last month. I think that the real credit for averting an event which is now conspicuous by its absence, should go to the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

Admittedly I know practically nothing of the daily workings of the Congress and so the first time that Paul Ryan enetered my consciousness was during the 2012 Presidential Election when he was the running mate of Mitt Romney. As potential Vice President, he was thrown into the spotlight and even came up against Joe Biden in a televised debate. The weird thing about Ryan is that he didn't sound like a particularly forceful person. During the campaign, he explained things as he saw it, carefully and as uncluttered as he could.
Race forward to 2015 and when John Boehner ended his tenure as Speaker, Ryan was selected by the Republican Party precisely because of his calm demeanor. This has been especially important of late as somehow, he's managed to talk with members of his own party, crossed the floor and had meaningful discussions with the Democrats, done a similar sort of job with the Senate and then liased with Cabinet and the President. The remarkable thing about Ryan as Speaker is that he's gone about his job entirely unremarkably. Whilst American media is fixated upon the madness that is the race towards the national conventions, the only thing that they seem to want to report about Paul Ryan is the state of his beard; never mind the state of the union.
This means that for the first time in several years, there's a proper roads budget. It means that over the holiday season, that TSA officers and Customs officials will all be adequately funded. National Parks and Monuments will all remain open because the funding will exist to pay staff. Old people, people on Social Security pensions and Veterans will all be able to go about their business in obliviousness. The Department of Defense will continue to pay soldiers and service personnel. The list goes on and on and mostly people will not even stop to consider why.

The usual narrative about politicians is that they're all useless and then this is followed by a stream of invective in four letter words. When politicians do their job though, nobody notices at all.
The whole system of government in the US is designed to separate the various branches of government and the normal consequence is a level of antagonism between them. Speaker Paul Ryan though, has seemingly done the impossible and done something for the first time in years which the last few Speakers have not been able to do. He has been the link between the warring factions and has brokered a decent result.

As we move ever closer to the Democratic National Caucus which will probably pit Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton against each other, the Republican National Caucus promises to still be at least a ten way brawl. On the Democrat side, both Clinton and Sanders are entirely reasonable but on the Republican side, the continued presence of Donald Trump has meant that all reasonableness has flown out the window.
I suspect that had Paul Ryan been the Republican candidate for President in 2012 instead of Mitt Romney, he still would have lost against Obama but he would have been the frontrunner in the current campaign and the current clump of crazy would simply not have happened. I also suspect that he probably would have won the top spot and that from January 2017, Congress which would have Republicans control the House, Senate would cooperate with Ryan as a Republican President.

The fact that Ryan has got stuff done, has given me a hint as to what he may have been like had he been President but alas the world shall never know.
Bah humbug!

December 22, 2015

Horse 2047 - See The House That Doesn't Move
The House of Lords would no longer be able to block some legislation under proposals to curb the power of peers after they rejected tax credit cuts.
A review by Lord Strathclyde, commissioned by David Cameron, recommends that the House of Commons is given the final say over secondary legislation. The House of Lords would be allowed to ask the Commons to think again when a disagreement exists, but MPs would ultimately make a decision on whether a measure passes.
- Rowena Mason, The Guardian, 17th Dec 2015

I am reminded of the strapline from that most famous of made-up thrillers: Glacier.
Glacier is coming; so you'd better tell your great great great grandchildren to get out of the way.
Ah yes. British Electoral reform: one of the slowest moving devices yet invented by mankind. From the first Reform Act of 1832, it would take until 1918 for all of the property ownership requirements to be lifted to extend the franchise to all men and until 1928 to extend the franchise to women. That's only 96 years.
Here we are in 2015 and we still have in Britain an unelected upper house that's still clinging onto power like a barnacle on a rusting ship. In this case this ship of state threw its treasure to the pirates last century and someone has decided to set the motors into reverse.

To wit:
"We have heard a frankly terrible speech from the noble Lord, Lord Tyler. How does he have the brass nerve to lecture your Lordships’ House, coming, as he does, from the most grossly overrepresented party, which, moreover, allegedly believes in proportions and proportional representation and most of whose members, including the noble Lord, Lord Tyler, would, like Samson, like to bring this Chamber down about their ears?
Indeed, I heard a noble Lord from those Benches say only recently, “It does not matter what we do so long as we destroy the House of Lords and replace it with an elected House”. However, those of us who do not believe in an elected second Chamber and believe passionately in the supremacy of the elected Chamber at the other end of the corridor, believe that what we are now embarking on is an extremely dangerous course of action. If we accept the supremacy of the elected Chamber and accept that your Lordships’ House, of course, has the right to invite the elected Chamber to think again, but, if the elected Chamber, by a majority far in excess of that enjoyed by the Conservative Government, says no, who are we to persist, particularly in a matter concerning the franchise?"
- Baron Patrick Cormack, House of Lords 14th Dec 2015.

The Lord Tyler that Baron Cormack is referring to, is none other than Paul Tyler who used to be the Chief Whip of the Liberal Democrats, who in 2011 had their proposal to introduce the Alternative Vote stomped on by both the Tories and a large portion of the Labour Party.
It was nothing short of cynical and in 2015 was proven to be vindicated when the Tories were returned to government in their own right by winning only 37% of the popular vote, which translated into 51% of the seats and 100% of the control and power. In my opinion, this was the single biggest kick in the guts to British Democracy and has meant that any useful reform of the way that parliament works has been set back even longer.
The Ingsoc Party member O’Brien in Orwell's 1984 said that "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever." Well, that future is today. Consider democracy's face being stamped on.
What I don't understand about Baron Cormack's remark is this line in particular:
"those of us who do not believe in an elected second Chamber"
The only thing I can logically think of is that Baron Cormack hates democracy because it would mean that he personally is out of a job.

Scottish National Party member Pete Wishart, summed up exactly what I think of the House of Lords; he did so with only the sort of sound and fury that a Scotsman can produce:
The House of Lords as the be-ermined tribunes of the people was always an unlikely concept, but this Government have decided that they will never allow themselves to be embarrassed by the Lords again.
I quite like option 1. I like it up to a certain part, as it says it would: 
“remove the House of Lords”.
Why could we not just leave it at that and get on with it? Let us be frank: the House of Lords is perhaps the most absurd, ridiculous legislature anywhere in the world. Stuffed full of unelected cronies, party donors, hereditaries and Church of England bishops, and with its 800 Members, it is becoming a national embarrassment. The only thing I can take comfort from in this statement is the fact that we may be starting to get rid of the whole ridiculous circus. We are poorly served with an unelected House whose rules a Government can simply change when it does not do their bidding, just because they can and because that place is accountable to absolutely nobody. Let us work together, and if we need to retain a secondary Chamber, let us make sure it is one equipped for the 21st century, not the 16th.
- Pete Wishart, MP for Perth and North Perthshire (SNP), 17th Dec 2015

Again, the only reason that I can possibly think of that the House of Lords exists in its current state, is to preserve the power of these "unelected cronies, party donors, hereditaries and Church of England bishops". 

I speak of course as an Australian; specifically as a New South Welshman. I have a pretty good understanding of how a Westminster Parliament functions because I live in a jurisdiction that is governed by not one but two of them. 
When the framers of the constitutions of Australia were looking at how best to set up our own parliaments so that they would best serve the people, they looked at the mother of all parliaments on the Thames and decided that it mechanically worked properly but that it wasn't terribly democratic. 

At state level, we have a lower house, the Legislative Council, whose members are voted in by the Optional Preferential System. The upper house, the Legislative Assembly, has members voted in by Proportional Representation.
At national level, we the lower house, the House of Representatives, has members are voted in by the Preferential System and the upper house, the Senate, has members voted in by Proportional Representation.
The New South Wales Legislative Assembly is in fact the single most stable parliament in the world; having been in continuous use since 1856. Even though we might have parliaments in Australia which are spirited and can hurl leaders out of office as though the chambers were in perpetual bar room brawls, they in fact work really really well. Technically, we haven't even had a government shutdown in Australia; not even in the midst of the 1975 Constitutional Crisis, for the Appropriation Bill was passed by 3pm on 11th November. I digress though. We solved the issues of electing upper houses in Australia 115 years ago (and in Queensland, they abolished theirs).

I find it interesting that it is the Tories who have decided to push against the House of Lords. Notwithstanding the fact that the Lords pushed back on a quite frankly horrid plan to overturn George Osborne’s plans to reduce tax credits for low-paid workers and actually did something useful, the Tories decided to upend the apple cart. Back in October, Michael Ellis, the MP for Northampton North, said: “We cannot have a situation where an unelected House overrules a democratically elected one.”

Only last week came this gem:
"This House has an elected mandate, unlike the House of Lords. Our majority government has a democratic mandate to implement our manifesto. That is what we have sought to do." 
- Chris Grayling, MP for for Epsom and Ewell (Tory) Leader of the House of Commons, 17th Dec 2015

I'd like to use the analogy of a House divided against itself here, with the two chambers at each others throats in the most civil of arguments but this gets messy. It is elected Tory MPs in the Commons, being pushed back by unelected Tory MPs in the Lords who are kicking up all kinds of stink. 
If it's taken 183 years for the British Houses of Parliament to arrive at a similar sort of place that the Australian Constitutional Conventions did in the 1890s, then maybe if there's an equivalent sort of pace, then maybe actual talk about reforming the House of Lords might take place in 2025. 

The Knights will move in L's, the Hereditaries in their towers will move in straight lines, the Bishops will move diagonally and maybe the Queen will fall over but the Lords are like pieces that can only move one space at a time and very rarely at that.

Colt 2046a - Boris 1 - Donald 0

I found these quotes in the Telegraph (UK) in the library. They're ace.

"We have places in London and other places that are so radicalised that police are afraid for their own lives."
- Donald Trump, 8th Dec 2015

"Donald Trump's ill-informed comments are complete and utter nonsense.
As a city where more than 300 languages are spoken, London has a proud history of tolerance and diversity and to suggest there are areas where police officers cannot go because of radicalisation is simply ridiculous.
I would welcome the opportunity to show Mr Trump first hand some of the excellent work our police officers do every day in local neighbourhoods throughout our city.
Crime has been falling steadily in both London and New York - and the only reason I wouldn't go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump."
- Boris Johnson, 9th Dec 2015

December 21, 2015

Horse 2046 - Star Wars Episode X: The Whole Sort of General Mish Mash #WSOGMM

I like many movie goers across the world, saw "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force¹ Awakens" this weekend. Unlike a lot of people, I saw this movie at a drive-in theatre and what I thought was interesting was that I'd made it to the age of 37 years old and had never been to the drive-in before, even though I've owned cars for not quite half of that period.
Warning: There are spoilers in this post.

As I tap away on my tablet computer like the sort that Frank Poole and Dave Bowman had in Stanley Kubrick's movie adaptation of "2001: A Space Odyssey", I am wearing a pair of headphones that would not be out of place in Ray Bradbury's book "Fahrenheit 451"; all watched over by ever loving machines who would have scared George Orwell because of the pervasiveness of the surveillance state in which we find ourselves and Issac Asimov because of the danger that all of the automation that pervades our lives poses.

It would be foolish to view Episode VII and it too, draws from the language of sci-fi films. Of course it fits into its own continuity with minuscule details, such as Finn's Stormtrooper number being FN-2187 which is itself the number of the holding cell which Princess Leia was held in on board the Death Star in Episode IV in 1977 but intriguingly, Finn's own story seems to suggest a device from Aldous Huxley's novel A Brave New World in which batches of babies are decanted and cloned. Finn's story is also a bit like Kryten's in Red Dwarf in that he has decided to break his programming.
Mind you, if I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, I would have placed William Shatner, Tom Baker and Matt Smith as unexplained extras in the tavern. The fandom's collective heads would have exploded.

Episode VII is set circa thirty years in the future from the end of Episode VI. In the mean time, the principal actors have conveniently aged thirty years and also time travelled at the rate of one second per second during that time as well. This means that Han Solo, Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker are helpfully thirty years older.
Logically, R2-D2 and C3-PO are also thirty years older. Because R2-D2 appeared in Episode I and is possibly the only character to appear in all seven movies if you follow his timeline (I have no idea how robot gender works but R2-D2 has been previously classified as a male), then it means that he is somewhere in the region of seventy years old by the time of Episode VII.
How many electronic devices have that sort of lifespan? Granted, there are simple devices like lightbulbs in very stable and special conditions that still work and I have a microwave oven that was my Gran's and dates from 1979 but generally, no device lasts that long. Even for something like a radio which only picks up AM could still theoretically work, the likelihood of finding a radio which was built in 1945 and is still in fully working order is small. Also, a radio which is seventy years old is likely to have valves and pentodes inside of it, which even if the radio was still working, would have probably needed to have been replaced by now.
R2-D2 is obviously a more complex machine that a radio though. Throughout the course of seven movies, he's been shot at, gone into space on multiple occasions and ended up in various junkyards. If a radio can't survive the rigours of sitting in one place in a parlour and then being moved occasionally, what chance does a seventy year old electrical device of that sort of complexity stand? Already this plot device has got more holes in it than a Star Destroyer following a skirmish with a squadron of X-Wings.
On that note, both X-Wings and TIE Fighters look identical to how they did thirty years ago. During the midst of the Cold War, the Russians and Americans were constantly tinkering and upgrading their hardware. It's only been in the last twenty or so years; where there's been a period of relative peace that air technology hasn't been replaced that quickly. At very least, we should have expected to see cross pollination of ideas as the two sides borrowed and reverse engineered each other's stuff.

Something else that bothered me about the film is probably not even noticeable by the majority of the movie going public. When BB-8 projects its map piece that fits into the larger map that R2-D2 has, did anyone else think how strange it was that the graphics were still basically the same as what would have appeared in Episode I? I totally understand that for continuity purposes that having things consistent makes sense but anyone who has worked on any platform or OS for longer than five years knows that the look of every computer program will change wildly. I can not possibly believe that in the Star Wars universe, that the design language of computer programs would have or even could have remained static for thirty years.

There's something else that I really didn't understand. In Episode IV when Obi-Wan Kenobe is training Luke, it takes Luke forever to learn how to do anything. In Episode VII, Rei who doesn't really know that much about the force is already perfectly capable of resisting Kylo Ren and in a scene in a forest later, can move a light saber; all with zero training whatsoever.
Kylo Ren: Dude, you've got some serious anger management issues going on. Maybe you should take a training course in the First Order's Management School. We know that it must exist. Maybe you could go and see a psychotherapist.

This brings me to the very point of this post. There is a perennial argument among the various tribes of nerddom over who would win in a fight - Stormtroopers or Red Shirts from Star Trek. This answer is obvious: the Stormtroopers would shoot and miss but the Red Shirts would die anyway. By default, Stormtroopers would win.
Moving up the scale though, who could beat a fleet of Stormtroopers? Again, the answer is simple - Daleks.

When asked by a Cyberman leader, if four Daleks could beat an army of five million Cybermen, a Dalek replied that one Dalek could beat an army of Cybermen². Taking this to its logical conclusion, if a bunch of pilots in X-Wing fighters can blow up a DS-1 Orbital Defence Sphere (don't believe the Rebel scum propaganda) and a Starkiller, then how would they fare against a single Dalek armed with an egg whisk? Probably pretty well because apart from the fact that the Daleks aren't that maneuverable, they're also not all that modest either. Nevertheless, the Doctor has been trying to kill this legion of pedal bins for fifty years and he's not yet succeeded.
I suspect that a properly organised Dalek invasion force would easily overpower the Old Republic, the Empire and the First Order. If a Stormtrooper can show remorse or even hesitate in the face of killing innocent people, then they stand little chance in the face of an army of Daleks.
Unlike Kylo Ren, Daleks would have just shot Rei, Han Solo and Finn. There would have been none of this bouncing around rubbish. Daleks know that they can win from a distance of fifty feet. By their own admission they have no sense of elegance.
I bet that someone in charge of a Dalek army could easily wipe the floor with whatever was thrown at it. If you wanted some sweeping overture and scary theme music, then "Mars, the Bringer of War³" from Gustav Holst's The Planets will easily suffice.

Of course the greatest army that has ever existed in all of sci-fi is not found either under a white helmet of a Stormtrooper or the silver shell of a Dalek battle tank. It is microscopic. It is the unorganised army of germs which is found in The War of The Worlds.
I bet that not even an army of Daleks could defeat an army of germs.

¹Force = Mass x Acceleration. This means very fast Catholic Priests?

December 19, 2015

Horse 2045 - Uber: Declaring War Against Taxpayers

I saw these two ad boards out the front of the newsagent where I work and couldn't help but tie these two stories together in my mind. The people at Fairfax and News may have thought that they were reporting about two entirely different issues but just as all novels belong to their readers, the news which is also composed of stories, is also consumed by readers who are then free to construct new narratives.

This week I had the misfortune of being stopped in the street by people in fancy dress and claiming to be from the The Coalition of Obsolete Industries. In reality they were from the Taxpayers' Alliance and had organised their farce as a protest against the compensation which the Taxi Drivers' Union of NSW has won, in the wake of Uber being declared legal in the state of NSW.
I've come across the Taxpayers' Alliance before and although their pitch revolves around individuals paying less tax, when pressed they are suspiciously vague about where the resulting shortfall would come from; to the point of defending multinational corporations' stance of not paying any tax at all despite extracting profits from various countries.

People who like to tout the virtues of free market capitalism of wheel forward Adam Smith's 1776 book "The Wealth of Nations" and that off quoted passage which is used as a justification for "rational" self-interest:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

As is often the case with people who have a barrow to push, they often haven't read the source material they're citing and miss the larger points of the work.
Smith was writing in a political and economic environment which was dominated by agrarian estates and apart from the government and clergy (which still had some sway in the late eighteenth century), it was these estates and the landed gentry which actually held the most real power in terms of governance. Smith does talk about liberal ideas to do with individuals gaining the benefits of their own industry (and he does this alongside other thinkers of the day like John Locke) but both "The Wealth of Nations" and his 1759 work "The Theory of Moral Sentiment" align this with people's broader obligations to live within society. Those obligations also include paying tax:
The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state.

The thing I find confusing about the Taxpayers' Alliance putting on their little farce in the streets of Sydney, is if they supposedly are fighting for a "fairer" taxation system, then why are they defending a firm who has categorically decided not to follow the same rules as everyone else?

Uber has always maintained that they are not an employer and that the people who work for them are private contractors. The consequence of this is that Uber is not obligated to pay people who work for them, things like superannuation, penalty rates, sick leave. Also, because Uber is a resident of the United States for taxation purposes, they don't pay any tax whatsoever on the profits they generate in Australia.
This means to say that a the Taxpayers' Alliance supports a foreign company in its ability to undercut Australian wage earners by avoiding the usual obligations that they would have had at law and their ability to effectively steal from the people of Australia by evading tax.
Exactly Which taxpayers do you represent, oh Taxpayers' Alliance?
If you were building a block of flats, Uber Rentals would argue that because their tenants are only entering into contracts with them, that they're not required to install fire escapes and because they are a foreign company, they're also not liable for council rates either.

Uber would of course argue that people are free to enter into contracts with them as they wish. The problem with this line of argument though is that the people who are the most likely to enter into a contract with Uber are also less likely to have stable employment. Uber will argue that people should be aware of the terms and conditions before they enter into a contractual obligation but this should not be in any way shape or form be taken to mean that the two parties are equal in negotiating power.
Uber already runs a shadowy pricing structure and its rating system is such that riders who choose to be knaves can for no reason at all can have someone's contract terminated for literally no reason at all if their ratings fall below a certain point. As it stands, drivers have no ability to determine who gave them which rating and no ability to find out why either.

What I don't understand is why the Taxpayers' Alliance wants to defend Uber. How exactly does this help taxpayers? If foreign companies do not pay tax, then the burden of the shortfall is borne by the rest of us. If people don't have superannuation set aside for them, then that creates a future burden to pay pensions in place of that superannuation which was never set aside. The people who wear that burden, are those same taxpayers.

December 17, 2015

Horse 2044 - Red Flag, Black Flag, ISIS and Meatballs

Especially during the second half of the twentieth century, when the Soviet Union was pointing nuclear weapons at the United States, a narrative developed that communism in particular and socialism in general was an evil which needed to be destroyed. During the 1980s under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, the Anglophone world set about progressively dismantling a lot of the things which a distinctly socialist viewpoint had helped to set up from 70 years before. Labour Unions were trampled, government owned businesses were privatised without any real justification and in counterpoint, the Soviet Union collapsed.
This means that we now are left in a world where the only properly communist nations in the classical sense of the word are probably Cuba, North Korea which is nineteen different kinds of crazy and China which doesn't know exactly what it is but it keeps on being it. Socialism is a thing which works perfectly well in Scandinavian countries and in places like France and Germany but to Anglophone ears, it's still an evil word.
Without the Soviet Union around any more and with her collection of republics changing flags en masse, this has meant that the only nation in the world which flies the scarlet banner as its national flag, is China. Many of the red flag movements which existed in France, Germany and the Anglophone world, are shadows of their former selves and no red banners fly in those countries.

Maybe as little as ten years ago, the only two black flags that you'd ever see being flown, were the skull and crossed bones of the Jolly Roger and the silver fern on black of New Zealand sporting teams. The former had long since passed into the realm of parody and jest and the latter has had copyright claims placed upon it even though the generic silver fern on black, dates all the way back to the Boer War. In all honesty, a silver fern on a black field should be the default entry in the New Zealand flag referendum but it isn't and I suspect that it only isn't because of the current political turmoil in the Levant.
The black flag of ISIS/Daesh, like a bunch of other black flags such as the Black Standard Shahada and the flag of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, is a poor flag from a design perspective because it includes words on it. It you have to write on your flag to get your point across, then you've failed at making a flag. The only reason that these flags work is because of the connotations that we already have with black flags.

I was thinking about this particularly this week because as we enter the Christmas season in earnest and every shop seems intent on blaring out a their curated collection of Christmas songs, the one that I've heard the most this season is "O Christmas Tree" or to give it its original German title "O Tannenbaum". That tune has very different associations for me; both of which have to do with flying a flag.

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.
So raise the scarlet standard high,
Beneath its shade we'll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
- Jim Connell, The Red Flag, 1899

Flying high up in the sky
We’ll keep the Blue Flag flying high
From Stamford Bridge to Wembley,
We'll keep the blue flag flying high.
- We'll Keep The Blue Flying High, Chelsea FC fans, 1960s?

The first of those two sets of lyrics is unashamedly socialist and appears to have sprung up in the 1920s. The second set of lyrics is song by the supporters of Chelsea Football Club and given that their SW10 postcode in London has many properties which have changed hands for eight figure sums and that the club was bought by a Russian billionaire with the money that he got from oil revenues and the blood of Russian peasants, is right at the other end of the scale from socialism.

The point that I'm getting at here (before it departs on the express train to oblivion and you miss it) is that if the same tune can be put into service by both the very left and very right of the economic spectrum, there shouldn't be any logical reason why colours can't be made to do likewise.
I find it almost absurd for instance, that the song Yankee Doodle Dandy which upon anything more than even the most shallow glance at the lyrics is mocking and insulting, should be pressed into service as some sort of patriotic song. Yet that's one of the reasons that it endures, I suppose.
It seems to me that the greatest untapped weapon which we could deploy against the horror that is ISIS, remains unused; that weapon being the use of mockery.
Western nations and in particular the United States, with help from Britain and now Germany and France, seem perfectly happy to indiscriminately drop bombs that cause sorrow and death without discrimination but they haven't turned to that most effective and long lasting of weapons, gentle mockery.
Seventy years after one of the twentieth century's vilest dictators decided to end his life before being thrown into a ditch, dowsed in petrol and burned, even schoolboys today can sing songs about his imagined monosphericular deficit in the pants department (but poor old Goebbels). Fifteen years after the tune of "The Banana Boat Song" still in my mind still says "Come Mister Taliban, hand over Bin Laden" more than it does about tallying a bunch of bananas. Why have we not employed the likes of satirists and comedians to mock both Assad and ISIS?

We have definitely moved away from the days of music hall and brass bands and maybe rap and hip hop just don't lend themselves to the writing of witty, pithy and frivolous ditties but if Gangnam Style can sweep across the Internet; leapfrogging the language barrier and jump straight into the realm of public consciousness, then even in 2015 a popular song can still run half way around the world before outrage as got a chance to put its boots on.

From insolvency to bankruptcy,
We'll keep the black flag flying high?

Maybe we could just start flying the "Meatball Flag" from the world of motor racing. The Meatball Flag indicates that a competitor has some sort of mechanical problem and is leaking oil or other some such about the place. 

At any rate, the Meatball flag is flown to indicate to the driver that they need to get off the track immediately. Many parties would like ISIS to get out of Syria and Iraq because they pose problems and other internal hazards. I doubt if ISIS would be polite enough to just get out because they saw a flag though. 

December 16, 2015

Horse 2043 - The Definitive List of Santa's Reindeer

1. Dasher
2. Dancer
3. Prancer
4. Vixen
5. Comet
6. Cupid
7. Donna
8. Blitzen

9. Rudolph
10. Ronnie
11. Gilbert
12. Phobos
13. Rufus
14. Fergus
15. Sullivan
16. Deimos

17. Gumdrop
18. Spider
19. Endeavor
20. Orion
21. Intrepid
22. Columbia
23. Eagle
24. Falcon

25. Hamster
26. Monkey
27. Trouble
28. Chicken
29. Lawless
30. Mousetrap
31. Mischief
32. Michigan

33. Muppet
34. Wiggles
35. Churchill
36. Winnie
37. Tiger
38. Monster
39. Donkey
40. Clemmie

41. Fergus
42. Angus
43. Stuart
44. Jessie
45. Jimmy
46. Boris
47. Wingnut
48. Bessie

49. Grover
50. Norton
51. Issac
52. Lincoln
53. Alfred
54. Bosco
55. Hannah
56. Pinkin

57. Edward
58. Abraham
59. Samantha
60. Bella
61. Bullseye
62. Bucko
63. Copper
64. Ella

65. Adelaide
66. Melbourne
67. Meat Loaf
68. Annie
69. Georgie
70. Mordecai
71. Diamond
72. Barrie

73. Ichiban
74. Doctor
75. Silver
76. Yorkie
77. Serena
78. Venus
79. Snowball
80. Gorky

81. Talbot
82. Lavender
83. Watson
84. Jenny
85. Michiko
86. Mumser
87. Holmes
88. Benny

89. Donald
90. Douglas
91. Livingston
92. Queenie
93. Audrey
94. Lulu
95. Captain
96. Nefertiti

97. Pepper
98. Minsky
99. Eva
100. Maria
101. Myfanwy
102. Esther
103. Jam Sandwich
104. Leah

105. America
106. Mog
107. Felix
108. Chloe
109. Caramel
110. Jet
111. Thomasena
112. Joey

113. Bear
114. Horse
115. Gorbachev
116. Gretel
117. Benson
118. Brian
119. Julia
120. Mental

121. Two-Up
122. Spudgun
123. Casper
124. Melchior
125. Jackaroo
126. Insanity
127. Nefarious
128. Kelvinator

December 15, 2015

Horse 2042 - EA Politik '16 - It's In The Game

EA Sports - It's In The Game - Because Politics is A Game

The last time I reviewed an EA Politik game was back in 2013. Since then I've been utterly blown away by the amount of functionality that the new game has over its predecessors.

The first thing that I noticed whilst playing the Australia League is the speed at which you can depose Prime Ministers and rearrange cabinets. Once you remove members from cabinet posts, their morale ratings instantly plummet and you can trigger by-elections pretty easily. In Politik '16 they haven't quite worked out by-election mode because even if you remove say a Treasurer who has made a deeply unpopular budget, it still classifies their seat as being extremely safe and parachutes in a candidate almost automatically. It's pretty farcical but at least it's something.
There is an election in Politik '16 and so gamers will have fun playing with that. Several elements from previous editions are gone and a lot of the toxic and spiky components have been removed. The problem is that although Blue gets to play with an erudite Prime Minister, Red doesn't have a leader who anyone has heard of.
You do get some fun side shows such as trying to get team Yellow, Green and the Hat Party to win more than one seat, as well as the usual arguing about things like boat people and climate change.

The British League which saw the rise of the Lib Dems as a possible breaker between the two majors in Politik '10, gave you a bleak hard mode challenge in '15 where you have to try and win government with a majorly depleted Labour Party and a surgent SNP. Most players thought that this was impossible because although you could achieve a clean sweep in Scotland, it wouldn't be enough to turn the government red.
For Politik '16, in the British League there are no elections and the only real side game that you get is to sort out who the new Red leader is. There are a few options from a capitalist Blarite to a socialist Bennite but ultimately with team Red being powerless and impotent.
A possible text blunder may have happened in Politik '15 that they've carried over into '16 in that the leader of the SNP is still named after a fish.

The American League still appears to be in beta mode from the advance copy that I've seen. The Blue side of the Presidential race is pretty well sorted and you can win with either a female or a male character but the Red side is very very buggy indeed.
In early pre-shipping versions of the game, there are twelve candidates on the red team; including one of them who is obviously some sort of joke candidate. They have loaded this character up with ridiculous money and charisma stats and it's really strange because no matter how terrible and horrible you can make him sound, voters still like him. Even things which are bordering on racist don't seem to matter. I suspect that the graphics aren't quite yet sorted either because this joke character has the most shocking hair that I've ever seen in a Politik game yet released. Probably they intend to do some sort of palette swap before the game is released; or else they'll just delete him.

There's a kind of fun short game in the New Zealand game where you get to run a referendum for the flag. I haven't worked out what the actual point of the game is, other than to say that you get a meaningless achievement and a congratulations screen whatever the result is.
There are no German, Italian, French or Japanese leagues that you get to play with in Politik '16 but we have been assured that they're going to be held over until the 2017 version of the game. Maybe there will be an Australian or New Zealand league as well depending on what the designers choose to go with.

December 12, 2015

Horse 2041 - Arise Sir Loin of Beef
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has dumped knights and dames from the honours system, labelling the titles "anachronistic and out of date".
Mr Turnbull, who is a well-known republican, said Cabinet has agreed the titles are no longer appropriate in the modern awards system and revealed the Queen has approved his request to scrap them.
"It is a long way from being the most important issue in Australia today," he said.
"This reflects modern Australia.
"Knights and dames are titles that are really anachronistic, they're out of date, not appropriate in 2015 in Australia."
- ABC News, 2nd Nov 2015.

Next year, the year 2016, there will be the issuing of no knighthoods on Australia Day. The Prime Minister, who like the rest of us had to witness the farce of last year's honours list, moved to scrap the issuing of titles from the honours system. Are they really anachronistic, they're out of date and not appropriate in modern Australia?

I look to the United States as the prime example of a nation who wanted to forge a new identity. It was born of metal; being fired back back forth at the ends of guns.
So important was the imagined need to remove titles of nobility in the fledgling nation, that this became part of the US Constitution at Article I, Section 9, Clause 8:
No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States: and no person holding any office of profit or trust under them, shall, without the consent of the Congress, accept of any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state.
- Article I, Section 9, Clause 8, US Constitution (1789)

People like James Madison and Alexander Hamilton hated the idea of titles because they thought that such things clouded people's judgement of character; implying that people might be loftier than they were. The argument that someone who have been conferred with a title from a foreign power would be inclined to shift their allegiance was also considered and so not only did the United States refuse at law to confer titles, it still to this day refuses its citizens the ability to have titles conferred on them.
Mr Turnbull's reason for getting rid of titles appears to be far less charged than these reasons. Ever the pragmatist, he argues merely that the awarding of titles is not appropriate for a modern society; though I'm not sure why.

One of the more interesting pieces that I've ever heard in favour of titles came from an American, who by virtue of living in that nation, was debarred and refused the ability to have a title conferred on him.
Richard Feynman was a theoretical physicist who worked in the field of quantum mechanics and the theory of quantum electrodynamics, for this he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics  in 1965; along with his colleagues Sin-Itiro Tomonaga and Julian Schwinger.
But, in each I saw the same two common elements. I saw in each, joy; and I saw affection (you see, whatever modesty I may have had has been completely swept away in recent days).
The prize was a signal to permit them to express, and me to learn about, their feelings. Each joy, though transient thrill, repeated in so many places amounts to a considerable sum of human happiness. And, each note of affection released thus one upon another has permitted me to realize a depth of love for my friends and acquaintances, which I had never felt so poignantly before.
For this, I thank Alfred Nobel and the many who worked so hard to carry out his wishes in this particular way.
And so, you Swedish people, with your honors, and your trumpets, and your king - forgive me. For I understand at last - such things provide entrance to the heart. Used by a wise and peaceful people they can generate good feeling, even love, among men, even in lands far beyond your own. For that lesson, I thank you. Tack!
- Richard P. Feynman, Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1965

The United States which has no system of honours, by default awards nobility to those with money and power, irrespective of how they got it and almost to a degree, how they use it. In the absence of a titles system, other systems have grown up to fill the void; such as the Emmys, Grammys, Oscars and Tonys in the arts.
I would also argue that the sheer vulgarity of money and power is the reason why the cult of celebrity is as strong in the United States as it is in the United Kingdom or even North Korea.

So why have an honours system? I think that in a modern society, the need to show honour to people who are neither rich or powerful is stronger than ever.
Why is it that someone like Elizabeth Blackburn who works in  molecular biology and specifically in telomere research, can be awarded a Nobel Prize but can't be made Dame Elizabeth? How can Richard Flanagan win the Man Booker Prize and not be made Sir Richard? How come Shane Warne could be named as one of the five Wisden Cricketers of the Century but not be made Sir Shane?
The people who are awarded knighthoods in the UK, are authors, scientists, actors, philanthropists, community workers, public servants, sportspeople and other people who might never ever reach any level of wide fame at all. Knighthoods are brilliant because they confer honour and yet because they are honorary, cost precisely nothing at all to the state for their upkeep. I like knighthoods precisely because they do cost almost nothing. There might be a state dinner and a small medal but that's about it.

Think about this:
"Used by a wise and peaceful people they can generate good feeling, even love, among men, even in lands far beyond your own."
The last prime minister demonstrated that used inappropriately they hey can generate ill feeling but that says more of how they are used. Used properly and they do what they are designed to do, confer honour on those upon whom honour should be conferred. Baron Florey, Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. Their titles have lived on beyond them and we know that honour was conferred upon them well after they've died.
It is far easier to tear something down than to build upon it. Why did it need to be torn down? Because Mr Turnbull, a well-known republican. This is purely political in nature. I think that titles and knighthoods are a fundamentally good idea because whilst the average life of a cabinet minister is less than eighteen months and a Prime Minister only four and a bit years, the reach of a title stretches on for far far longer.

December 11, 2015

Horse 2040 - The West Indies Will Lose The Test Series But They'll Have Fun Doing It

From the air conditioned comfort of the commentary box yesterday, Mark Taylor and Shane Warne broadcasted a stream of disappointment and gloom that would make Sauron's Tower atop Mount Doom look like a château in the mountains. Yes, the West Indies are looking up at a mountainous difference in quality to the Australian side; yes this is being evidenced by the ridiculous score of 438 on day one but what Messers Taylor and Warne have forgotten from their upholstered box of luxury is that when you're chasing a little red ball around a field, that's a lot harder than supping on cucumber sandwiches from the comfort of a commentary box.
The distance in quality between these two sides is obvious to all. However, what we saw on day one at Bellerive Oval is that elusive something which the West Indies have brought with them - fun.

I think that it's fair to say that Jason Holder's fielding choices weren't particularly attacking. As the afternoon wore on and tiredness set in, it also became apparent that the West Indies were in defensive mode and damage control rather than trying to attack the batsmen. Particularly late in the day and on his way to an unbroken 174, Adam Voges was able to glide singles about to his heart's content and Shaun Marsh knew that Bellerive Oval is small enough that if you hit the ball hard enough you can literally smack it into the Derwent. As a bowler, to face that sort of abuse to your bowling figures is pretty demoralising.
Nevertheless, as a side, the West Indies were still able to keep smiles on their faces and a spring in their step. We even heard the summer stylings of Denesh Ramdin, ska hero extraordinare. The microphone in the stumps on several occasions overheard the encouragement to "Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up" whilst being accompanied by mouth trumpet.

When I was a small kid; growing up in the 1980s; in the era immediately after Kerry Packer had changed cricket forever and given everyone coloured clothing, the West Indies Cricket Team was a side to be feared. Greenidge, Richardson, Haynes, IVA Richards, Dujon, Garner. Those six names would have been enough to make opposition sides cower in the toilet block. Those days are long since over and we've seen over the last few years, a dour West Indies who are constantly being compared to a legend of almost forty years ago. That simply isn't fair.
For the kids who grew up after that time, the name Dwight Yorke captured their imagination more and the immediate result was that Jamaica started qualifying for Football World Cups rather than winning Cricket World Cups.
Without that blazing heat of attention, West Indian cricket kind of cooled off and once Brian Lara had got old and retired, that attention was elsewhere.

Something strange appears to have happened in quiet though. The West Indian cricket team hasn't yet got back to winning ways but they have found something which has been missing for a long time. They found the music.

Even if Dwayne Bravo decides not to play for the West Indies because he likes the sound of the capitalist piano (ka-ching), we saw eleven players in the field who more than likely knew full well in advance that they will lose the Test Series 3-0 anyway but they're still dancing to a different tune despite this.
Marlon Samuels' patrols from backward square to mid-on might have been woefully inadequate but he didn't give up his task. Jerome Taylor who laboured with the ball and got less help from the pitch than a herder on a cat farm, still threw down quite a lot of very good deliveries. If one ball in a over gets sent over the boundary for six, no one ever remembers how good the other five balks in the over were.
Yes, the crowd were quiet but this is Hobart. Hobart is one of those cities where you can still find people stopped in their cars in the middle of the national highway having a chat to each other with the windows rolled down. There's so few people in Hobart that there isn't so much a Mexican Wave as there is the Bellerive Ripple; which amounts to a bunch of people sort of standing still and shrugging as it makes its way around the ground. Just wait until we get to the cauldron of the MCG and you'll see a very different reaction from the crowd.
What we won't get though, is a different tune from the West Indies. West Indian cricket might very well have a long way to go if it is ever to build a new set of glory days but even in the shadow of 400 runs being scored against them in a day, they kept singing, they kept laughing and they kept on dancing.

Even if this West Indies side doesn't achieve anything, they have at very least showed us that they have remembered who they are; even if they did let Voges and Marsh get away from them.

Australia is 438/3 at stumps on Day One.

December 10, 2015

Horse 2039 - Donald J Trumpenhausen's Magical Air Balloon Ride To 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

"I wrote something today that I think is very very salient; very important and probably not politically correct but I don't care... 
Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until out country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on."
- Donald Trump, 7th Dec 2015¹.

Granted that this is in the aftermath of 14 people being killed in San Bernandino and the country was in the middle of demanding answers but I can't help but feel that Mr Trump apart from speaking without any modicum of tact, is trading on that most effective of political currencies - fear.

I've seen this in previous political cycles in the United States. In the opening rounds of speech giving; before the first round of caucuses, potential presidential candidates tend to shoot their mouths of in a scatter gun approach because they know that at this stage of the running, it's of almost zero consequence. When talk is this cheap, it is spent frivolously.
Usually in the first few weeks after the new years and when the caucuses start to meet and vote, as hopefuls drop out, the rest tend to move in from the lunatic fringes in an attempt to woo more moderate voters.
If you look at Obama's speeches of late 2007, he tended to trade in the softer currency of hope and unity and as 2008 wore on, his calmness which was being played against a backdrop of stock market and financial meltdown was an asset. That same calmness which he currently displays, works well for a President who will not be elected again but it can not possibly work for someone wanting a tilt at his job; hence the reason I think why Trump can talk the talk of a madman and get away with it. It is a very different task to run for President than to actually be one.

Part of the reason why I think that Trump in particular has managed to achieve such high polling numbers is that because he is perceived as being so rich that he can't be bought by outside interests (I'm not sure his true that is) and as such he his prepared to say what he thinks; however crazy that happens to be. He can afford to be vague about his opinions too because it's far easier to ask general questions than to try and implement policy.
It's almost certainly true that his idea to build a massive wall along the Mexican border is nothing more than blowing smoke on his part. His idea to shut out Muslims although it might sound like a passionate response, would probably almost certainly run straight into problems with the First Amendment and even he must surely know that organisations like the CIA and FBI need the goodwill of the Islamic community who are already within the borders of the United States and indeed US Citizens, if he is to have any hope of mounting effective policy once he's at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, if he ever gets there.

I think that what's worth considering is that nothing like this level of insanity was heard even in the fortnight after the World Trade Centre came down; the reason for this is that 2001 wasn't an election year. Had it been September 11 2000 and with an election just eight weeks later, the climate would have been very different.
As it was, even George W Bush starts to look like a statesman in comparison to Donald J Trump.

"America counts millions of Muslims amongst out citizens and Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, law professors, members of the military, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, moms and dads, and they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect."
- George W Bush at the  Islamic Center of Washington, 17th Sep 2001².

Admittedly W was in the same sort of position as Obama and it has yielded the same sort of response. The President's job is to lead with calm and clarity. Again, it's far harder to answer questions than to ask them.

Donald J Trump isn't necessarily some self made man, he took over the family property development business well after it had gained enough critical mass to roll profits back into itself. Having said this, he must have developed a fair amount of business acumen to remain relatively successful.
Having said that, the business of Donald J Trump is to promote the business of Donald J Trump. In the run up to February 1 2016 and the beginning of the caucus circuit, Donald J Trump's business remains the same. At this stage of the game and with 14 candidates with their hats still in the ring, any publicity of good publicity right? This is like the floating of a hot air balloon, in that you can fill it with air and smoke and as long as it stays afloat, you're still moving. 
Will that much hot air be enough to carry Donald J Trump into the Oval Office? Donald J Trump hopes so.

December 09, 2015

Horse 2038 - ⃠ is always ⃠

In a Year 7 Art class, which was being taken by my Geography teacher because I can only assume that Art wasn't taken seriously by the school, during the very first series of lessons we were asked to look at a logo then reverse the colours and then re-imagine the logo in a new set of colours. In passing my teacher mentioned that the most recognisable symbol in the world was McDonald's golden arches because it was seen in more countries than the Christian cross.
This would have been one of those things which would have remained forever forgotten if it wasn't for an episode of the podcast 99% Invisible which I heard recently. In this episode they were talking about designing a message without language so that in 10,000 years' time once all of us are long since dead, buried and returned to the dust from whence we came, that future people will know to beware of our still toxic nuclear waste¹.
I remembered back to that Year 7 Art class and what I thought about my teacher's assertion that the golden arches are the most recognisable symbol in the world. Now as then, I can instantly think of a more recognisable symbol; its just that I don't know what it's properly called. For want of a better name, I will call it the No Symbol.

It could be that I just have a very very urbocentric¹ view of the world but in the 22 minutes that I've been on the train this morning, I've seen the golden arches zero times, the Christian cross twice and the No Symbol forty-seven times.
No smoking. No bicycles. No touching high voltage equipment. No parking. No oil. No whatever that thing is but it looks like you're going to get your hand mangled by machinery. We're now at fifty-five times.

The history of the No Symbol is perhaps not as obscure as what you might think. From what I can determine, the first speed limit signs started appearing in Paris just before the First World war. For the duration of the war, governments had other things to worry about than mere road regulation but after the war, the world entered a strange sort of period of codifying, consolidating and unifying all sorts of regulations. Those speed limit signs were of the sort that we see practically everywhere around the world, of a number inside a red ring. How do you show that speed limit restrictions have come to an end once you leave the big cities? Simple. You have a sign with a great big slash through them. Problem solved.

Naturally when international organisations started getting together, they adopted what was already working for existing nations.
The Geneva Convention Concerning The Unification Of Road Signals in 1931, was the first proper meeting which looked at the adoption of standardised street signs across countries. The text they adopted was then copied word for word when the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, thought it useful to adopt the standard for Europe.
2. Unless otherwise specified where the signs in question are described, prohibitory or restrictive signs shall have a white or yellow ground or blue ground for signs prohibiting or restricting standing and parking with a wide red border; the symbols and the inscriptions, if any, shall be black or dark
blue and the oblique bars, if any, shall be red and shall slope downwards from left to right.
- Section C, Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, 8 Nov 1968

Naturally when the International Organization for Standardization adopted ISO 3864-1 in 2004 which looks at Safety colours and safety signs and Design principles for safety signs and safety markings, they refined the existing 1968 UNECE Vienna Convention ruling on the matter rather than reinventing it. ISO 3864-1 looks at far more than just street signs though. As the name implies, it looks at all manner of safety signs and markings.

Street signs are the premier example of needing to communicate a message in a hurry. If you're whizzing past at 60 miles an hour, then you don't really have time to read some treatise outlining the relative benefits of doing or not doing a thing. A street sign needs to yell out its message at large and as unambiguously as possible. I would argue that street signs are the purest form of communication. I find it fitting that the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year for 2015 isn't even a word at all but an emoji. This says to me that even the people at the Oxford Dictionary have realised that language is bigger than words and that meaning and that meaning itself can be carried by things which aren't necessarily a series of glyphs but then again, graphic designers have always known this.

The reason why the No Symbol is so obvious and powerful is that it formalises an already instinctive action. If you want to show disgust or forcefully show that something is wrong, then the natural reaction is to cross it out. If you want to show in a brutal way that someone is your enemy, then you could put a slash through them with the sword. The No Symbol which is in red, symbolically achieves both and it does so in an elegant manner.
Unlike McDonald's golden arches whose intent is to be a bright beacon upon the landscape so that you might be enticed to buy burgers, or the Christian cross which has the intent of reminding people of what someone has done (both of which are illegal to be displayed in some countries), the No Symbol is an indication that an action is either ill advised or illegal. You actually are free to ignore the golden arches or the Christian cross but the consequences of ignoring the No Symbol might be
such that you do not live to regret doing so.

For the record, the utter ubiquity of the No Symbol is shown when I tallied up the number of instances that I saw on my who journey to work:

McDonald's Golden Arches - 9
Christian Crosses - 11
No Symbols - 214

¹If "urbocentric" isn't a real word. It should be.

Colt 2037 - The First Dalek?

Sheep and hens are everywhere that they ought not to be, and there seems no way of escaping them. Dogs are bad enough and ought to be exterminated. They are the silliest beasts which one finds uncontrolled on the roadways. Children, of course, one defers to, but they are outrageously careless and very foolish at times, and in short are the greatest responsibility for the driver in the small towns of England and France.
- Francis Miltoun, The Automobilist Abroad (1907)

Dogs are inferior beings and ought to be exterminated! They are superior in only one respect. They are better at dying!

I rather like the idea of the first Dalek being called Francis. 

December 08, 2015

Horse 2037 - Life Isn't Really Like A Box Of Chocolates At All

"Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
- Forrest Gump, Forrest Gump, 1994

That quote from the titular character of the eponymous movie was deliberately portrayed as being simultaneously simple and extremely lucky. It is immediately obvious to anyone who even ponders this thought for more than nine seconds, that if Forrest wanted to know what he was going to get, then he should have just read the thing that tells you what they all are.
I have heard this thing referred to as a directory, a key and a legend but the best name that I've heard for this thing (and the word that I would use if I owned a chocolate company) is a map. The point of a map is to tell you where to go or conversely, to tell you where not to go so that you don't end up somewhere rubbish, like Strawberry Cream land.

Of course there is another way to think about Forrest Gump's comment. You could as he did, just dive in and pick whatever happened to come along and then see what you get without reading the map. Even this is fraught with problems as this inadvertently reveals prejudices.
Do you choose a chocolate that looks like a shell? In my experience, Guylian shells are all horrible and so I wouldn't. Do you choose one that has the impression of a strawberry on it? Again, I wouldn't because past experience of Cadbury Roses and Quality Street tells me that strawberry centres are usually chalky and not very nice. I'm more inclined to pick one that looks more like a diamond or a square. A chocolate in the shape of a crescent is either going to have a banana fondant inside or a hard Brazil nut; so that's a bit of a lottery.
The wrapping of the chocolate is also going to play into my prejudices. A purple wrapper gives me the message that it wants you to think that its a bit posh but it usually turns out to be just boring milk chocolate. A red wrapper could either be cherry or strawberry and so that's also a bit of a lottery. Who even knows what lurks beneath a wrapper of green? Is it mint? Is it pistachio? Is it lime cream? Browns are likely to be caramel, which although they could either be flowing or chewy, are still less exotic than something else.

If you've got something like a box of Favourites or Miniatures, then you know exactly what you're going to get from the outset. This doesn't become a question of what you're going to get but what you're going g to be stuck with once all the nice ones have gone. In my experience, once you've told someone else to "take what they want" then the ones which get left behind are either Cadbury Dream or Nestlé Milky Bar. Now I don't really care what horse the Milky Bar Kid rode in on but if I was sheriff of the podunk town, he'd have to ride off into the sunset quick smart. In my not very well paid opinion, the only excuse for milk chocolate is the top layer on a Top Deck. The only people who have ever pulled off milk chocolate are the Hershey corporation with their Cookies And Creme.

Cote d'Or chocolate is quite frankly amazing and I have never found anything that they've made to be sub par but Lindt and Sprungli need to go back to chocolate school. Not even wrapping up their chocolate in gold foil and moulding it into the shape of a bunny or a bear helps their cause. The people at York who make THE Peppermint Patty need to be put in prison for selling addictive substances because there is no way that anyone in the world can be happy with just one of those little round pieces of paradise and I bet that I could very easily be held at customs if I were to go to New Zealand and come back with a suitcase full of Mighty Perky Nana Bars.

Nothing in the world says "I know nothing about you but I was obligated to buy you a present" than a box of Fererro Rochers. Especially at Christmas, you see vast armies of the little golden grenades just waiting to end up under someone's tree. With Fererro Rochers, you know exactly what you're going to get every single time. Forgive my cussedness but a Rocher is just a vehicle for Fererro's more famous product Nutella and everyone knows that the best way to eat Nutella is directly out of a jar with a great big dessert spoon or a hand trowel.

Perhaps a more correct description of life is that it isn't like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're gonna get. Unfortunately that's not true either. So many days are roughly similar to other ones; which means that they are like a box of Fererro Rochers. Some of them aren't sweet at all either; so that means that life is looking less and less like a box of chocolates all the time.

Life is like a pantry. There are some sweet things in it; there are some spicy things and some boring things. Some things you're better off not eating and some things like roaches shouldn't be eaten at all. That's all right though because you won't read most of the labels or cooking instructions anyway.

December 06, 2015

Horse 2036 - Cheap And Inexpensive Things Standing In Place Of The Most Expensive Transaction Ever Paid For

Mark 14:12-26
On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, when it was customary to sacrifice the Passover lamb, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Where do you want us to go and make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”
So he sent two of his disciples, telling them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him. Say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is my guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.”
The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”
They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”
“It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives

I want us to look again at the communion meal again... for the first time.

The first thing that you'll notice is just how common the elements are. We are told that Jesus and the twelve had met in the upper room to celebrate the Passover, specifically the feast of unleavened bread but these two elements, the bread and wine, aren't necessarily special components of that celebration. In looking at this, I reread all four accounts in the gospels and came to the conclusion that it isn't even specified what sort of bread is used (even though this was done during the feast of unleavened bread) and it also isn't specified what was in the cup. We can assume that it was wine, because Jesus says in verse 25 that "I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine " but that's it.
The important thing to note is that Bread and wine even back then, were commonly available and most importantly, were cheap. They still are.

I ran some calculations and worked out that if you wanted to, you could hold communion for one hundred people and it would cost less than ten dollars all up. That's less than ten cents per person.
If this sounds shocking and even trivial, I put it to you that I think that this was a stroke of genius on Jesus' part. If something is so cheap to perform, and the elements so commonly available, then it means that the act of communion itself is accessible.
That accessibility would be very important after Jesus returned to his father in heaven because he left behind eleven scared individuals who faced a massive task. If this was to be one of the things which Jesus had commanded, it needed to be able to be done by people of limited means.

That accessibility would be important as the early church grew and faced considerable opposition from the Romans. When Christians were meeting in people's houses and faced with the very real threat of the sword and death, then Christ's simple memorial meal, which can be performed anywhere, would have very much been a reminder of had happened in the upper room and the events to follow over the next three days.
When Christians meet today, still, often in the shadow of hostile governments and opposition, they too can perform communion, just as their sisters and brothers have done for centuries; precisely because the elements themselves are so cheap and so commonly available.
Not only are there no qualifications about what sort of bread is to be used, or what is to be in the cup, there are also no qualifications about the method that communion is to be performed in, nor are there qualifications about who is to lead it either, or even that it needs anyone specifically to lead it. These things are all matters of practicality and so of course communion will be different in a church of three people meeting in someone's house to a massive cathedral or arena where three of thirty thousand might meet. All will be equally valid and all achieve the same purpose – to do this as a memorial of what Christ has done.
One of the reasons why I think that the elements which were are chosen, are so cheap and so easily accessible is to provide an obvious contrast with the message that they're trying to convey. Whilst salvation is freely available to all and accessible to all, the actual expense and inaccessibility of what Christ has done and what he went through is utterly immense.

“Take it; this is my body.”
This is Christ who said this. Through him, by him and for him, all things were made. God the Son, Immanuel, God with us, who left the glory of heaven to be born as a baby, who grew up in the household of a tradie, then became an itinerant preacher and teacher, to be bashed, beaten, having nails tonne driven through his hands and his feet with no anaesthetic whatsoever, nailed to two pieces of wood, hoisted into the air in a place of public spectacle and humiliation and left to slowly suffocate to death for six hours.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”
The old covenant which the people at Mt. Sinai agreed to, included a promise to obey all the laws in Exodus 20, 21, 22 and 23. That same covenant would go on to include regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. It also included instructions for the altar, how the Levitical priests were to conduct themselves and proscribed how animal sacrifices and burnt offerings were to be performed. It was laborious and could only ever be a signpost for what was to follow. The old covenant was ratified, or officially approved by the shedding of blood.
When Christ died, we’re told in Matthew’s gospel that the temple curtain which was about eighteen meters tall torn in two from top to bottom. When that happened, the old covenant was also torn up and a new covenant, was written and ratified, by the shedding of blood.
A covenant isn’t just a simple contract. If I enter a lease contract with a car rental company, I get the use of a car but the company doesn’t own me; not do I own the company.
While it is absolutely true that God has the right to do anything He wants, through Christ He has chosen to “bind himself” to us through a blood covenant. Christ is bound to us by a covenant, as weird as this sounds He actually isn't free to do “anything” he wants; he must fulfil the obligations of the blood covenant. By being bound in a blood covenant, Christ not only owns us, we also own him.
God the Father sees that the penalty for sin and death has been paid and Christ’s payment is now credited to us as righteousness. Instead of being bound to sin which would kill us, Christ has now bound us to himself, this same Christ who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

Yet again we see, even in the act of communion itself, God choosing the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. These
, stand in stark contrast and in fact point to the single most expensive event in history. God the father spent his own son, in order to buy us back and redeem us from sin.