January 31, 2015

Horse 1832 - Australia Is Too Good For Asia? Expel Them? No!

The president of Asia's football governing body says Gulf nations want the Socceroos expelled from the continental confederation.

"There are indications that prove that such desire exists among the confederations of west Asia to evict Australia. But I also know that the Arabs are not the only ones who are not convinced that Australia's membership in Asia's football is feasible."
- AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, - ABC News, 30th Jan 2015

With Australia hosting and playing in the AFC Asian Cup football final tonight, there is a very real chance that by midnight tonight, Australia could hold both of Asia's top football prizes: The Asian Cup and the AFC Champions League Cup (after Western Sydney Wanderers won it in November).

As the ABC reported, the reason for Arabic nations unhappiness about Australia being in the confederation is because that since it entered the Asian Football Confederation it has appeared at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and the knockout stages of all three Asian Cups it has played in including two finals.
The ABC makes the rather obvious point that "there is a feeling among aspirational west Asian nations that the Socceroos are taking a spot away from the rest of the continent"; this was dealt with more bluntly and with all the tact of a sledgehammer hitting an egg by the Daily Mail which ran the headline "Are we too good for Asian Cup soccer?"¹ The answer to the Daily Mail's question is obviously demonstrably 'yes' but in lieu of the fact that Australia is easily too good for Oceania but not good enough for South America, Asia is the logical spot for Australia to play.

The question then is, is that the right action which should be taken? If Australia is showing up the rest of Asia to be not very good, doesn't that imply that Asia needs to lift its game? Or perhaps the other argument might be true, that it isn't that Australia is taking away an Asian spot at the World Cup but that there aren't enough Asian spots - this argument can be made easily.

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, thirty-two teams competed:
4 of 47 from the AFC,
4 of 41 from the CONCACAF,
5 of 56 from the CAF,
6 of 10 from CONMEBOL and
13 of 54 from UEFA.
There were also zero from the OFC.

Now tell me who's taking up all the spots at the World Cup? Was it Australia did it have more to do with the fact that UEFA by itself took up more than four confederations? CONMEBOL which is from South America only has 10 nations but 60% of them went to the World Cup.

The average rankings at the tournament was thus though:
52.0 - AFC,
23.5 - CONCACAF,
36.4 - CAF
10.5 - CONMEBOL and
11.2 - UEFA.

The highest ranked team in Asia which was Iran was ranked 43 but the lowest ranked nation from any other confedration was Nigeria at 44.
It didn't help either that the four Asian nations all came bottom of their groups at the World Cup though - four year's previous in 2010, 3 of 4 escaped the group stages; you have to go all the way back to 2002 to find an African or Asian nation in the quarter-finals.
The question now I suppose is how does anyone expect Africa or Asia or North America to improve if they aren't sending teams to major competitions. I don't think that the big issue is that Australia is taking away a spot from Asia but that Asia and Africa and  North America aren't given enough spots.

What to do about this, then eh? I think that the solution is obvious. Don't expel Australia but give Asia more spots in the World Cup. Second to that I think that the OFC should be subsumed by the AFC.
Realistically when you have nations like Tuvalu which has a population of less than 11,000 people or even Tahiti at 183,000, you can't expect any OFC nation other than New Zealand or Fiji to qualify for anything ever; even New Zealand floated plans for join CONMEBOL in 2013.
If the OFC was absorbed by the AFC, the membership of the AFC would increase to 61 nations... sort of. As part of that process, I'd suggest that the entire OFC except for Fiji and New Zealand play as the Oceania Football Team. Combined teams aren't unheard of, even in FIFA - the Soviet Union made it to four European Championship finals and won one and was even Olympic football champion in 1956. The Oceania Football Team would probably never reach those heights but it might give the AFC the necessary bargaining power to some of South America's or Europe's spots away from them.

Expelling Australia from Asia isn't the answer I think. I don't think that the argument should be with Australia for being too good but with FIFA for protecting its own.


January 30, 2015

Horse 1831 - Law Expert Says X; I Say Y? (QLD Election 2015).

But the possibility is now being raised that even if he loses Ashgrove, Mr Newman could potentially stay on as Premier.
Professor of Constitutional Law Anne Twomey said if Mr Newman were to lose his seat, but the LNP won, he would have two options.
"One is he can resign as Premier and let somebody else take over and just drop out of politics," she said.
"The second choice is the more controversial one, and that is to stay on as Premier and seek a new seat, perhaps by persuading one of his loyal members to resign and make way for him so that there's a by-election in a new seat.

"If Campbell Newman took a period of time, say under 90 days, in order to become a Member of Parliament by way of a by-election, then that would probably be okay. But if he pushed his luck too far and wanted to just be Premier without a seat full stop, then I think you'd probably see legal action in the courts."
Professor Twomey said there was no express provision in the Queensland Constitution requiring the premier to be a member of parliament, so if Mr Newman lost his seat it would not automatically vacate his office as premier.
The same is true for the Australian Constitution.
- ABC News, 30th January 2015

I live in a world where looking at the law and its consequences is commonplace. As someone who works in an accounting firm and has to know about tax law, I find discussions like this interesting. At the same time, taxation law is so incredibly complex than no-one can expect to know it all by heart because it's constantly changing and being re-written as people try to find ways to subvert and circumvent it.
So whilst I find the above discussion interesting, I also find it so brilliantly pleasing because ultimately it is totally pointless.

Whilst it is true that Professor of Constitutional Law Anne Twomey says that was no express provision in the Queensland Constitution requiring the premier to be a member of parliament, which means that if Mr Newman lost his seat it would not automatically vacate his office as premier, this conveniently ignores the one person in Queensland who has the last say on who is Premier - The Governor.
To that extent, it matters not if there is no provision requiring premier to be a member of parliament, Not even a single iota, not a jot, not a tiddle, not a speck, not even a fig on-board QF2540 from Brisbane to Longreach.

See below:
34 Power of Governor—Ministers
Ministers hold office at the pleasure of the Governor who, in the exercise of the Governor’s power to appoint and dismiss the Ministers, is not subject to direction by any person and is not limited as to the Governor’s sources of advice.
35 Power of Governor—removal or suspension of officer
(2) To the extent that it is within the Governor’s power and if the Governor considers there is sufficient reason, the Governor may remove or suspend a person holding an office or place under an appointment made in the name or under the authority of the Sovereign.

Two things here: firstly that it is the Governor who appoints and dismissed the Ministers under Section 34 of the Queensland Constitution and secondly hat it is the Governor who may remove or suspend a person holding an office under Section 34 of the Queensland Constitution.
I am not a constitutional lawyer but because I have been bestowed with the power of literacy, even I can say that if Campbell Newman lost his seat and then the Governor dismissed him as Premier, which seems fair and reasonable to me as he would then not be a member of the parliament, then that would be constitutionally watertight.

There'd be no argument whatsoever and unlike the set of circumstances which led to the dismissal of a Prime Minister in 1975, the powers of the Governor of Queensland are in this case, specifically defined by the highest law in the state, Professor Twomey's conjectures in this case collapse like a soufflé.

Professor Twomey said there was no express provision in the Queensland Constitution requiring the premier to be a member of parliament, so if Mr Newman lost his seat it would not automatically vacate his office as premier.
The same is true for the Australian Constitution.

This technically correct - the best kind of correct (sort of).

64. Ministers of State
Ministers to sit in Parliament
After the first general election no Minister of State shall hold office for a longer period than three months unless he is or becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

Technically if you look through the Constitution, there is no mention of the Prime Minister. There is an Executive Council and there are Ministers (of which the Prime Minister is presumably one) but the office of the Prime Minister is conspicuous by its absence.
Apart from this, if a sitting Prime Minister had lost his seat in the Federal parliament, he would not immediately lose his job as a Minister but after three months, he would.

January 29, 2015

Horse 1830 - We Want You To Work For Less Pay

If you don’t want to work on a weekend, fair enough don’t work on a weekend. But if you do want to work on a weekend, and lots of people, particularly young people,  particularly students, would love to work on a weekend, you want to see the employers open to provide jobs, and you're dead right there.
There are lots of places that are now closed, that use to be open. The hotel that I stay in in Melbourne, doesn't open the restaurant on a Sunday night anymore because of penalty rates. You try to get to a bottle shop for Easter an it's almost impossible because of penalty rates.
Now, I don’t begrudge people the money, you know I'm a high paid worker and the last thing I want to do is begrudge comparatively low paid workers their money but in the end there is a balance that has to be struck here and my preference will always be in favour of more jobs.
- Tony Abbott, in conversation with Ben Fordham, Radio 2GB, 23rd Jan 2015.
(from 0:10:25 onwards)

Already Productivity Commission has the issues of the minimum wage on its list of things for review and has released several issues papers but essentially there are and will always be two tribes at war on the issue. This war is more or less the same war which has been raging in Australian politics from even before federation and which shows no signs of ending soon.
One which says that employees' interests are worth protecting and this includes such things as penalty rates and the other which says that penalty rates should be a choice for individual enterprises and their employees, with little or no regulation.

The employer-employee relationship is essentially an uneven one. Like so many circumstances where money is involved, the other "golden rule" applies: "whoever has the gold, makes the rules". This is also true in politics as well; it isn't necessarily by accident that the current Prime Minister and Treasurer both happen to represent two of the richest electorates in the country. Money talks, and loudly; this time it's positively yelling until all other possible voices are drowned out. Alas poor Democracy, I knew him.

The biggest single driver in the cost of wages, or rather the wages that people demand, is people's occupation costs; that is, the humble task of putting a roof over one's head. For people further up the income ladder, this includes the repayment of ever larger mortgages but at the end of the income ladder which is most likely to actually benefit from penalty rates, the best that a lot of people can hope to aspire to is keeping the rent collectors at bay.
In modern Australia where the manufacturing sector has withered on the vine or has been kicked violently to pieces, the occupations where you're most likely to find workers who are currently entitled to penalty rates is in sectors like retail and hospitality. In these sectors, workers are not only under the pump in terms of competing  with each other but also in terms of job security. Someone who is entitled to penalty rates is also more likely to be employed on a part-time or casual basis. The question of if they're likely to be even called in to work tomorrow weighs more heavily on such peoples' minds than if ever does to salaried workers.

Mr Abbott's example of a restaurant which didn't open on Sunday nights; specifically because of penalty rates, demonstrates that he either doesn't understand about people's situations or more tellingly, doesn't care about the circumstances and conditions which the people who would be affected by the abolition of penalty rates would face.
It seems that he almost expects services to be open even though a market solution has produced a different outcome; I wonder if this shows an underlying sentiment of entitlement at work here. If it isn't convenient for the workers to work on a Sunday night, Mr Abbott is openly telling people that their inconvenience is not valued and is not worth a paying a premium for. I find this all the more galling when you consider that the terms which define his own working conditions are very generous in terms of allowances; and these allowances make a few dollars an hour in penalty rates pale in comparison.

Looking closer at this restaurant (which isn't named and therefore the actual non-existence of which can not be disproven) as Mr Abbott claims can not afford to stay open specifically because of penalty rates, is already demonstrating a market outcome with respect to wages. The profit motive is the usual reason why business does anything and if it doesn't open on a Sunday night then this might show that it isn't willing to raise prices to cover those rates because it knows that its clientele isn't prepared to pay the increased prices. Mr Abbott (like the Government he leads) however, only sees this as a spending and not a revenue issue; where the only allowable solution is to drive down input costs. This is quite apart from the fact that the cooks and waiters who work in the restaurant probably can not afford to eat there as a customer. Such an attitude says that the fruits of labour do not belong to those that labour but those who derive profits from it. The attitude displayed by the statement that "if you don't want to work weekends, don't work weekends" tries to reframe the issue as one of choice, when in actual fact someone who needs the money might have very little choice at all. You might find it very difficult to quit if this particular job happens to fit with your other obligations in life such as family commitments and just quitting or not working might not be such an easy option to someone who lives from paycheque to paycheque.

History is littered with examples where if allowed, employers will pay their employees as little as possible; nothing if they can get away with it. Even today, there are organisations holding out the carrot of "experience" whilst offering that "experience" in unpaid internships; so I very much doubt that there is a lower limit to the level of nastiness that people will descend to. The only reason that awards and penalty rates exist and are protected by law is because people had to fight for them (and in some cases lose their lives in that fight). I suspect that the reason why the current push to abolish penalty rates is on, is because employers have sensed that power has again tilted back in their favour. As more people move into either white collar work where they are paid wages and unpaid overtime runs rampant and as the people who would have once worked in factories now find themselves in retail, the ability for unions to achieve anything at all has been diminished. I don't know if we're likely to see a return to the Combinations Act of 1799 which prohibited people's ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining because I doubt if the need to pass such legislation even exists any more. There is no need to ban workers' rights to join a union in a labour market where no union exists.

I'm speculating here but it could be that the awarding of Prince Phillip with a knighthood (which I'm largely ambivalent to) was designed to create so much of a media storm as to draw attention away from the fact that decisions and negotiations are being made to erode workers' rights and rates of pay. Why not draw attention to a clumsy action if it makes people forget about the callous one about to be perpetrated against them? It's easy to fleece someone whilst you're pulling the wool over their eyes.

January 27, 2015

Horse 1829 - Arise Sir Loin of Beef, Arise Sir Osis of Liver

Many words in the media have criticised Prime Minister Tony Abbott's decision to confer the rank of knighthood upon Prince Phillip. I think that this is mainly a media beat up but newspaper editors who like to sensationalise the news to sell advertising space.

Before I begin this I must point out that I am a pragmatic monarchist. I kind of like the idea of a monarch who is so far removed from Australian politics as to be completely irrelevant. I think that the idea of an elected head of state politicises the position and I honestly can not think of even a single example where it improves democracy.
I've also laid out the case why there shouldn't be any Aboriginal recognition in the Preamble to the constitution (See Horse 1534) because I'm not impressed by token measures that do nothing to improve people's conditions. I would prefer to see Aboriginal-only representatives in parliament; much the same way as there are Maori-only representatives in New Zealand's parliament. I want to hear Aboriginal voices on the floor of the house; not merely a few words that have no real impact at all.

Having said that, I rather like the idea of knighthoods and other titles, for reasons which I shall now expand upon.

In principle I like the idea that as a society we can bestow honour upon people who often have worked selflessly in their field for little to no recognition.
Universities confer the title of Professor or Doctor upon people who have spent years of study and have contributed something to the world of research. Doctors and Professors generally have to produce a thesis or dissertation which  presents the author's research and findings. Professors are often paid academics who go on to manage other research or continiue in some higher teaching function.

Society is perfectly find with this. We don't seem to have a problem with someone who is allowed to call themselves Professor or Doctor. Likewise, society also doesn't seem to have a problem with lawyers who append their names with QC or SC, or military personnel who use their military rank as a title.
So I don't think that we necessarily have a problem with the idea of titles as a thing.

I think that the speech given by scientist Richard Feynman when he received his Nobel Prize in 1965 perfectly sums up why the idea of knighthoods is in principle a good idea. Feynman was famous for being something of a maverick and refused a whole host of honorary doctorates and awards on the basis that he hadn't done anything necessarily to earn them, however when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics he said:

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's speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1965

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else¹, then I would award knighthoods every year on Australia Day, in the similar to categories laid out by Trivial Pursuit: Entertainment, Arts & Literature, Science & Nature, Sports & Leisure etc.

There's nothing wrong in principle with Australia offering knighthoods to foreign citizens either; what looks clumsy is that unlike the citation given for Sir Angus Houston there is no reason given at all for conferring the award upon Prince Philip². If anything it just looks like PM Tony Abbott (who called this a "captain's call") is himself hoping the grease the wheels a little and gain a peerage - Lord Abbott.

Make Elizabeth Blackburn a Dame for her work into molecular biology and the study of telomers. Give David Malouf a knighthood for his work in literature. Make Bert Newton "Sir Bert" for his work on television.
Knighthoods and Damehoods as Richard Feynman said "can generate good feeling, even love, among men, even in lands far beyond your own" and that's worth pursuing. To that end, they should not be political in nature and there should probably never be a "captain's call" unless it is first sent through some sort of committee.
Better yet, make me King and I'll decide. I'd be a rubbish king but I can't be any worse than what happened yesterday, can I?

¹And if Australia ever does become a Republic and you want to make me head of state - that's the title I'm taking.

January 23, 2015

Horse 1828 - War! Huh! What Is It Good For?

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Artificially propping up aggregate demand which leads to economic growth and the trend towards full employment.
The Military-Industrial Complex is an Iron Triangle which is kind of like a permanent stimulus package, spending money on intrinsically pointless endeavours because apart from the presence of hardware the money spent on defence does not have any benefit into the next year; but that money passes into the rest of the economy which then grows, thanks to multiplier effects.
Say it again!

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Employing scientists in the pursuit of developing technologies which lead to better products and an improvement in the quality of life. Would we have mobile phones if satellites weren't invented and deployed? Would we have satellites if rockets weren't invented? Would we have rockets if German scientists hadn't been employed to find more efficient ways to blow up people and things that were far away?
Would we have cheap air travel without efficient aeroplanes? Would we have had those aeroplanes if the aerospace industry hadn't been employed to develop better aircraft which are used as weapons? Would we even have jet engines if the various aircraft manufacturers weren't trying to make planes faster, so they they could outrun their opponents?
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Giving historians something to write about in the broader context of the story of civilisation.
No one wins a land war in Asia unless you are the Mongols; the Romans controlled a great swathe of Europe and the British sailed across the seas and stole countries with the cunning use of flags.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Demonstrating that mankind is fundamentally selfish and despite our own efforts, that selfishness can not be eliminated. What were the underlying reasons of the United States Civil War or the two World Wars where Germany and Japan invaded places? Selfishness? You have what I want and I'm going to take it by force.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Showing that power if concentrated in the hands of a few bad mad men, is bad for society and the overall well being of mankind.
Think of the French Revolution, the English Civil War, the American Revolution.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
The physical destruction of capital and the means of production in masse; which is the only way yet devised to reduce the rate of return on capital to the point where it is lower than economic growth and wages growth, which are the conditions necessary to reduce inequality.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Giving material to journalists, poets, novelists and song writers, to pen things of lasting cultural impact.
It's a Long Way to Tipperary, Homage to Catalonia, Gone With The Wind...
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Giving some people the theatre to display such qualities as courage, loyalty, endurance and discipline; making them into heroes who then inspire others towards those same qualities.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing? Say it again? It's good for something; if only as a side effect of the mass destruction of property and innocent people's lives.
Say it again.

January 22, 2015

Horse 1827 - Why Should You Care About The News?

When Thomas Macaulay used the expression "The Fourth Estate" in 1828¹, I can tell you that he meant it in relation to the other three estates of The Lords Spiritual, The Lords Temporal, The House of Commons and the press gallery overlooking those august chambers; but I have no idea why and nor do I have an idea of the context. The phrase crossed the Channel to France where the three estates were taken to mean the nobility, the clergy and the great unrepresented masses who made up the third estate.
I can tell you that the expression had been in existence for possibly fifty years before Macaulay is credited with it and that it was used in a very different world. For a start, most of the general population neither had the ability to read and nor did they have the franchise. The press itself was nowhere near as consolidated and the age of the pamphlet was still in swing.
Whilst news organisations grew and coagulated before becoming the proper mass media of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the phrase has still stuck and has come to mean something of itself. The narrative that the fourth estate likes to tell itself is that is like a gatekeeper of information and that one of its roles is to hold governments to account. Even so, some news organisations are fully aware of the power they wield and like to use it, to herd public opinion to their own ends; often in the process completely making a mockery of their narrative to hold governments to account.

Given this, why bother caring about the news? What's the point? Alain De Botton quite rightly points out in his book "The News: A User's Manual" that if you just chose to ignore it, your life might be better; in which case it then becomes a value and benefit analysis exercise, as to whether or not you pay any attention to it at all.
If you didn't know about ISIS, the Ebola virus in west Africa, who the new President of Indonesia was, the details surrounding MH370, the war that sometimes is and isn't in the Ukraine, Taylor Swift's new album, or who was thinking of running in the primaries for the US Presidency in 2016, would your life actually be any worse for it? Do you even know about those things now; does it make a lick of difference to you?

There are of course all sorts of things that might take your interest such as some television show, history, learning a language or a musical instrument, doing a spot of gardening, bike riding, running, going to the gym, watching football on telly and yes even watching the news might all be adequate forms of entertainment. Is there really a difference in principle to yelling at the telly because some striker has missed an open goal from three yards, or that George RR Martin has decided to kill off someone else on Game of Thrones, or that Petr Brewin the MP for South Marshfield has made some stupid comment in the parliament that you disagree with? It could be argued 'no' very easily.
So why care about the news at all? Why bother? There are other things which are equally; if not more entertaining that you could pay attention to.

You might not like to think about this but as you sit in traffic and/or on a sweaty tube train, millions of people all over the world have all come to that same conclusion: the news in principle, doesn't matter. If this be the case, what are the effects of this? Collectively if lots of people make the same decisions, then those decisions coagulate to form culture and more importantly, policy for action.
If people choose not to care abut the news, they probably also don't care about things like politics or economics either. If people in principle don't care about these things, then collective apathy surrenders policy power to those that do. This unfortunately might mean that power to enact policy action is surrendered to the rich, the already powerful and the sometimes cruel. Power is often seen as an ends to itself by those who wish to wield it and arguably surrendered power, renders those who have chosen to surrender it through apathy, powerless.
When the institutions that people once fought for because they felt that they ought to have them, or the rules which govern people's working conditions are changed to suit the powerful, or governments choose to go to war for sometimes spurious ends, people who have surrendered power through apathy don't really have the ability of then undo what has been done.

The reason for caring about the news then, isn't because it is interesting, entertaining or fun but because it is necessary that society remains informed. The things that governments and to a lesser degree firms and corporations care about (or are forced to care about via legislation) are those things that the public cares about. If society paid active attention to the news, they might start caring about issues like educating their children, or conditions that people both in their nation and abroad have to work in, or what happens to people if they decide to flee their own country because of war and famine, or policies to do with transport, or the arts and cultural institutions, or issues of justice &c.
Although the news is itself not the best delivery method of information (because commercial news is driven by profit and state-run news is driven by other agendas), it still remains the best yet invented method of delivering information to society. When society is informed, or cares enough to bother to inform itself, the information that it has picked up in the news becomes vital in the ability to make decisions. Those decisions might start at the ballot box, or in the writing of letters to politicians, or in protest action, or perhaps most important of all in their wallets and pocket books.
Remember, collectively if lots of people make the same decisions, then those decisions coagulate to form culture and more importantly, policy for action. If people care about the news, then the decisions of selecting governments, telling those governments what they should care about, the decisions of what to purchase and the big questions of justice and ethics, become the things which are turned into policy and legislation.

I don't think that the press should be held up as the gatekeepers of information and I don't know to what degree or even what the heck is supposed to be meant by the term "the Fourth Estate". People can choose to not care about the news but collectively if enough people don't, then power is surrendered. I would also argue that choosing not to vote is also a deliberate effort to surrender power.
My question then is, is society happy to live with the consequences? Moreover, does it care?

¹"The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm."- Thomas Macaulay, reviewing Hallam's Constitutional History in Edinburgh Review, Sep 1828.

January 20, 2015

Horse 1826 - "Just Bin Your Vote" Is What Campbell Newman Actually Means

PREMIER Campbell Newman, promising to slash water bills for a million households in southeast Queensland, has implored voters to “Just Vote 1” at the January 31 election.
“If you number every square you are voting for a hung parliament,’’ he said.
- Steven Wardell, Courier Mail, 19th Jan 2015

In the 2015 state election campaign for Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman has launched a slogan to tell voters to "Just Vote 1" on their ballot. Owing to the fact that Queensland has Optional Preferential Voting, this isn't illegal. However, owing to the way that preferential voting works, it is basically telling less educated and vulnerable people, to throw away their vote. If it isn't actually illegal then I suppose that a case cannot be mounted against it but it is scurrilous - I bite my thumb at this knave.

Preferential voting works quite simply. Voters are asked to rank their choices from most favoured to least favoured.
All of the votes numbered 1 are tallied. If no candidate has achieved 50%+1 of the votes, then the smallest pile is taken and they then look for the 2s on those ballot papers and allocate then accordingly. If still no candidate has achieved 50%+1 of the votes, then the next smallest pile is taken and they look for the 2s or the 3s if they were 2s and allocate them accordingly. This process is repeated until one candidate had achieved 50%+1 of the votes. Thus under a full preferential system, the candidate who does finally win, has the actual authority of at least half of the voters.
This would be the same as having a series of run-off votes and eliminating one candidate each round. By numbering preferences, these rounds happen instantly; hence the other name for Preferential Voting: Instant Run-Off Voting.

In Australia, voting was made compulsory for a very good reason. The very point of parliamentary democracy is that those who govern do so with the consent and authority of the governed. Democracy itself comes from the two Greek words "demos" which means "the people" and "kratos" which means rule. 50%+1 of votes where some of them have been thrown away just doesn't seem like democracy to me.

Full preferential voting was introduced in 1919. The by-election for the Western Australian Division of Swan in 1918 illustrates perfectly why preferential voting is important. All.elections in those days were conducted under the first-past-the-post system: whoever had the most votes won.

Edwin Corboy - ALP - 6,540 - 34.4%
William Hedges - Nat - 5,635 - 29.6%
Basil Murray - CP - 5,975 - 31.4%
William Watson - 884 - 4.6%

Corboy  won the election with only 34.4% of the vote. This means that 65.6% of the electorate didn't vote for him. How can you call it democratic when almost two-thirds of the electorate didn't approve of the winning candidate. If you have ten people at a dinner party and four people like fish but the other six absolutely hate fish, then you've just served something unpalatable to more than half your guests. The decision of who has the consent of the people to govern them is more important than having fish for dinner and if it goes badly, the result stinks for more than just one evening.
Under Optional Preferential Voting, the number of votes required instead of 50%+1 of all votes, is now reduced to only 50%+1 of all still active votes; when votes have been discarded, it becomes far far easier to achieve a result.

So what happens in Optional Preferential Voting? Suppose for instance that a vote with only a single number 1 on it is in one of the smaller piles. What happens to it when that candidate is eliminated? With no number 2 where does that vote go? The answer is nowhere. Throw the vote into the bin for all the difference it makes. Use it for toilet paper. What's the thickest tissue in the bathroom you can issue? Unmarked voting paper.
Campbell Newman's "Just Vote 1" campaign is asking voters to do precisely that. It would probably suit his party if there was such a thing as optional voting because generally poorer people will tend to vote against nominally conservative political parties. If you can encourage them to throw their voting paper into the rubbish bin, then these parties benefit; I think that Campbell Newman knows this.

The real irony is that the whole preferential system itself was introduced for the 1919 General Election following that Swan by-election. What happened was that under the first-past-the-post system, the conservative vote was split between the Country Party and the Nationalist Party. PM Billy Hughes introduced preferential voting so that the two conservative parties wouldn't put each other at risk in the same electorate. That doesn't happen in Queensland anymore because their successors of the National Party and the Liberal Party have formally united in Queensland to form the Liberal-National Party (LNP).

Three years ago the tactic worked perfectly and caused possibly the biggest landslide in Australian political history at any level of government. The statement that “If you number every square you are voting for a hung parliament,’’ is I think an outright lie because a hung parliament is caused by the lack of a majority of members; not the method by which they were elected and the 2010 UK General Election is proof of that.

Actually it was The Australian who stated in plain English, why Campbell Newman wants people to "Just Vote 1":
THE conservatives in Queensland are set to turn the tables on state Labor and the Greens at the next state election.
The Queensland Liberal National Party will exploit the "Just Vote 1" option to dilute preference flows from Left-leaning voters.
In a strategy that will appeal to the Coalition in NSW, gearing up for a March poll, the LNP will urge supporters not to give a preference beyond a primary vote 
for the LNP under Queensland's optional preferential voting system.
- Sarah Elks, The Australian, 18th Nov 2010

The great Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly once said that: "If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be." Tactically Campbell Newman is interfering with and seeking to gain an advantage, which makes sense because he wants his party to win the election, but it makes a mockery of democracy and in a state where there is no house of review, that's a bad thing.

January 19, 2015

Horse 1825 - The No Odd Perfect Numbers Conjecture

In Horse 1680 I laid out the search for the first boring number and found that every number up to 75 is interesting in some way before  having a metaphorical brain explosion and crashing an imaginary¹ car into an imaginary telephone pole.
During that search I said that both 6 and 28 were interesting because they are Perfect numbers.

A Perfect number is one whose proper positive divisors sum together to make the number.
6 is a perfect number because its proper positive divisors of 1, 2, & 3 add together to make 6. 1+2+3=6.
28 is a perfect number because 1+2+4+7+14=28.
The next two perfect numbers are 496 and 8128; you might like to check that out in your spare time.

Currently it is unknown whether there are any odd perfect numbers as none have ever been discovered. I suspect though (and I'm not a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination²) that there are no perfect odd numbers.

Observation 1:
All odd numbers only have other odd numbers as their proper positive divisors.
Odd x Odd = Odd
Odd x Even = Even
Even x Even = Even
Any even number in a factorisation, instantly produces an even number.
For instance, 75's factors are 1, 3, 5, 15, 25 and 75. All are odd.

Observation 2:
There must be an odd number of odd divisors.
Odd + Odd = Even
Odd + Even = Odd
Even + Even = Even
Odd + Odd + Odd = Odd etc.
Take the number 15. 1+3+5=9 This is deficient but still odd. There can not be an even number of divisors since that produces an even number. By definition, a perfect odd number is odd,

Observation 3:
Perfect numbers follow the same sorts of criteria as abundant number.
A number is said to be abundant, if the sum of the factors exceeds the original number. 12 is abundant as 12's factors of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 6 = 16 and 16 >12.
The smallest odd abundant number³ is 945. 1+3+5+7+9+15+21+27+35+45+63+105+135+189+315= 975 and 975 > 945. (945 has 15 divisors)
The fact that there are abundant odd numbers rules in the possibility that perfect odd numbers could exist. Whether they do or not is another question.

Observation 4:
Abundant numbers are not semi-primes. A semi prime has two prime factors that are not one.
When you multiply two numbers together you can not end up with a number with more significant figures than the total number of significant figures that the two numbers you multiplied together had; since a semi-prime only has two factors other than one, then that's simply not enough factors to add together to get close to the final answer.
Take a small semi prime number like 77. 77 = 7x11. 1+7+11 = 19 which is scandalously deficient. This only gets worse with bigger numbers.
If abundant numbers are not semi-primes, then odd perfect numbers aren't likely to be as the first abundant odd number is 945.

Observation 5:
All currently observed perfect numbers are of the for PN= (2n-1)(2n-1)
What's of note there is that 2n for any n including n-1 which is just another n, is always going to be an even number because 2 is even. Since (2n-1) is always going to be an even term, the whole expression which generates all of the currently known perfect number can and only must generate even numbers because Odd x Even = Even

Observation 6:
If odd perfect numbers aren't semi-primes, then they must be multi-composite.
This should be obvious to all as even the first abundant number of 12 has three ways to get there 1x12, 2x6 and 3x4.
The reason I make mention this is that apart from 6 which is small, the next three perfect numbers are many times composite.
28 has three ways to get there, 1x28, 2x14 and 4x7
496 has five ways to get there, 1x496, 2x248, 4x124, 8x62 and 16x31.
8128 has seven ways to get there, 1x8128, 2x4064, 4x2032, 8x1016, 16x508, 32x254 and 64x127.
I think that it follows that if the first perfect odd number is greater than the first abundant odd number, we know that this must be true since there are no perfect odd numbers less than 945, then just like the known perfect even numbers, the first perfect odd number must be many times composite.

Now I know that the first 945 numbers out of infinity is a pathetically small sample size but I do not possess the mathematical know-how to prove the case for all numbers. I do know through computational blunt force all numbers to 10^300 have been tested, which is a number so big that it looks like this:

The thing is that the first perfect odd number if it even exists, is bigger than this and must be so hideously mutil-composite and yet fulfil all of the other conditions that I've mentioned, that it just seems unlikely. At any rate, such a number if it does exist, is so humongous as to be totally pointless.
I don't think that there are any perfect odd numbers but that still hasn't been proven by anyone. I just think that there are so many conditions required to produce one, and the fact that no do exist up to 10^300, that none will exist. Again, it hasn't been proven and that's why it's only a conjecture.

¹An imaginary car is one which is the square root of a negative car. Try not to think about that much. It's a bit complex.
²Does the square root of anti-matter equal imaginary matter? If so, if we take our imaginary car and square it, would it create an anti-matter car? If such a car were to be involved in a road accident with its real matter counterpart, both would spontaneously disappear in a flash of energy - that would make for an interesting episode of Crash Investigation Unit on Channel 7, wouldn't it?
³I only found this through brute force by testing every single odd number until I found one. It took 57 minutes.

January 18, 2015

Horse 1824 - Why I Probably Won't Do A Podcast

I was asked by someone at a place where I was doing some work "if you write so much, how come you don't do a podcast?"
Notwithstanding that you need a heap of audio gear (which I don't have) in order to do a podcast: most of the podcasts that exist are generally of the sort where two people witter on, back and forth to each other; about some general overarching topic. One of the defining things about such a series of conversations is that you need at least two people and ideally I'd want the podcast to last between about three to five years; I'm just not sure that I could convince that many people to commit to a long term project like that.

The other thing which I'm convinced of that you need for a podcast (and indeed any audio project) is a nice speaking voice. From a purely technical perspective, I am six feet tall; with a 6 7/8 size head and In consequence, I have a speaking voice which sounds tinny at the best of times and almost Mancunian at the worst. I also have a distinct nasal whine which I imagine is as pleasant to listen to as a cockatoo version of Aida. Mind you, if there was some crazy individual out there who does want to arrange a cockatoo version of Aida, I'd be interested to hear from you. .
People often say that you sound different when you hear a recording of yourself. This in itself is not an issue for me because I already think that I sound horrible; so it might be a matter of public decency that I don't do a podcast.

Having said that, I do not think that I'd run out of material for a podcast. If I've written more than 1800 of these posts, then I think I've proven that I can generate as much banal drivel as the next person. Yes, it might be a more grammatically correct pile of polysyllabic drivel but you still can't make a silken purse from a sow's ear after the horse has bolted and you've hit the cat out of the bag for six. Being able to write is not the same as being able to deliver a sound that people want to hear, no matter how good the material might be. Good writing doesn't always translate into good audio - that's why professional voice actors exist. If you want proof of this, on Audible.com there is an audiobook of Patrick Stewart reading Dickens's "A Christmas Carol". After you listen to that, you might wish to consider permanently blocking your ears with polyfiller, for you will never hear anything so brilliant ever again - believe me.

As far as subject matter goes, I'm not sure what I'd talk about either. Probably things like politics, sport, science, history, literature (so more of the same) but not the arts or the world of entertainment. In the game of Trivial Pursuit which I think is something of a trivial pursuit itself, the brown and pink cheeses of Art & Literature and Entertainment always seem to allude me because although I could care less* about these subjects, I fail to see how.. When I'd first heard the name Lady Gaga for instance, I wondered what she did to deserve her place in the Queen's New Years' honours list or whether she had inherited a peerage or not. It turns out that she's not even a Professor or a Doctor; me thinks that Lady Gaga is trying to pull the same stunt as Lord Monckton.
The news cycle is often a great jumping off point to commence swimming in the seas of drivel. There are lots of news sites though and so I don't know how I'd contribute anything even remotely new or worthwhile. Again, professional journalists and newsreaders should be able to provide better content than I can.

There's always the issue of publishing a podcast as well. Once you have your audio file, you'd need to edit and proof it; making sure that there isn't a terrible amount of crackle and hiss, as well as scratching out most of the verbal tics like the 'ums' and 'ahs'. You'd be surprised at how many 'ums' and 'ahs' people unconsciously emit. In live radio, people will forgive you for the verbal splottage but in a pre-recorded piece, I just don't think that they're that forgiving.
I've given lectures and talks and I'm consciously aware that I speak way too quickly and so I'll even add pauses and directives to slow down in the notes. I don't know if people doing a podcast or live radio make these sort of notes but I suspect that certainly for people on the radio, they'll employ voice coaches to train them to speak better.

If someone out there for some hither to unknown reason wants me to do a podcast with them, then I suppose I'd acquiesce but until then, you're just going to have to make do with a stream of text on a screen.
It's really weird you know, for millennia the words that people spoke just disappeared into the ether upon the moment they were uttered. It is the written word which has survived the ages and there's just something about text which not even the radio or a podcast can not capture.
Travelling at the speed of text allows you to see more of the scenery of the mind than moving at the speed of sound or the speed of light. Could it be I just like moving more slowly?

January 17, 2015

Horse 1823 - Autocorrect: Both A Marvel And A Beautiful Disaster.

Having recently acquired a tablet computer has changed the way that these posts are compiled quite markedly. I used to scribble madly into an A5 notebook with a pencil and then after arriving at a desktop computer, try to make sense of the mess. As a result the final outcome would be either the second or third version. However, with a tablet computer, that process has been circumvented and now the final product which survives is on average, seventh or eighth attempt (or so the software tells me). Mostly thus is because I have two or three text documents sitting about at any given moment; which might get a line or paragraph added to as I go along. I don't know if this improves the final product or not but I do know that it has led to entire lines and phrases that appear and then disappear into the ether with a press of the delete key.
There's another strange consequence as well. The tablet will suggest words to be entered and auto-correct words as I go along. This in my opinion is some sort of techno-marvel, being indistinguishable from magic.
So then, in that spirit, this will be an autocorrect post. I hereby deny responsibility for the rest of this post (unless it is good).

It's really weight using a line or third draft when typing a blood post. The tablet will suggest words as it has been circumvented and now the fact that it has led to the way that it has changed the way that it has been circumvented and.
This very much reminds me of the letter writing game on BBC Radio 4's program "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" where two famous people in history write to each other.
For nothing example:

Dear Neville,
Thank you for visiting me in my opinion in my house. It was very much appreciated that you said that there would be peace in our time but I do know that it is a lie. There will not be peace in our time but I will suggest words to the opposite. 
I have two famous people in my house and now they are very much dead. I will make more people dead when I send trouble into Poland.
Love, Adolf.

Dear Adolf,
I received your letter and now I am not very happy at all. I do not like to see two famous people dead when I am not very happy. I am very angry. Please do not send trouble into Poland. Instead, please do not send trouble into the way of magic.
Please do come and visit me in my house and we can have two famous people over for tea. We can talk about happy things like the beginning of the day and the way that you said that you would be an autocorrect. We can talk about happy things like public puppies and the end of the race. Sometimes I am going to be strangely fascinating and lovely. 
Oh do come and visit me in my village.
Yours sincerely, Neville.

Admittedly autocorrect has its drawbacks. I think that the algorithm it employs is only quite rudimentary because it assumes that the words that you intended to use are those which you have already used to write the documents. As far as passing the Turing test goes, it fails species.

You can of course switch off autocorrect if you want to. I think that many people who do not know how to spell, desperately need to switch it on. The number of e-mails that I get where the spelling is atrocities is staggering. What were these people doing during their school days? Obviously not learning things like grammar and spelling, that's what. Then after switching on autocorrect they should problem pomegranate. If they can get away with murder.

January 16, 2015

Horse 1822 - Do You Really Want To Live In A Society Without Section 18C?

With the attacks on the magazine Charlie Hebdo last week and the subsequent death of twelve staff; coupled with the deaths of two people at the hands of a lone gunman in Sydney, we've seen articles in the Daily Telegraph especially, again calling for the repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
What's the real motive though? I think that it has precisely zero to do with free speech and everything to do with protecting their own and thus removing all ability for other people to find redress through legislation. The only reason that anyone even cares all that much about 18C in particular, was that News Corp's Andrew Bolt was found guilty under the act. If that had not happened, would we be even hearing a peep about Section 18C? Not a bar of it.

What is at stake though? For argument's sake, let's just pretend that Section 18C did not exist. In the specific case of Eatock v Bolt (No 2) [2011], the nine Aboriginal people and specifically Pat Eatock who was an aboriginal lady would most likely not have found any redress whatsoever against a gentleman whose opinions appear in an entire national network of daily newspapers.¹ If the case had been reversed and this lady had written about Andrew Bolt, would he have employed to services of that same national newspaper network and fought a defamation case? It's not hard to imagine.

This is the relevant section in question:
Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.
Note: Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts.
- Section 18C, Racial Discrimination Act 1975

From an historical perspective, the passing of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) sits at the end of a tremendous cultural shift in Australian society. Aboriginal peoples were given the vote in 1967 and a wave of postwar immigration from Europe coupled with migrants who had come as refugees from Asia (especially from places that Australia had gladly bombed because we have never ever in 114 years grown enough of a spine to develop our own foreign policy), meant that even the look of people's faces which make up society was changing. As I type this, I'm sitting on a train with at least six different languages being spoken on people's mobile telephones. 18C with its words that " offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" speaks not only just of what we do not want to see in society but especially of who we'd like to be as a nation.
Are we to assume that those advocating for the repeal of 18C, wish it to be repealed because they'd like to start offending, insulting, humiliating or intimidating people or groups of people without fear of the law? Is it right that a newspaper like the Daily Telegraph which proudly boasts that it has a readership of 1.2 million a day, should even have such power?
It was Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar who said that "The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins Remorse from power."²

What would happen if the laws had never existed? What redress could people on the end of abuse possibly hope for? Defamation cases are far harder to materially prove in court than racial discrimination cases.
What are the consequences of repealing the laws? Presumably those who wish for 18C to be repealed have never had to live with those consequences. Do we really want to live in a society that actively wants the consequences of marginalisation, vilification and exclusion allowed to run riot?
If 18C does not exist, does that mean that we in effect tell society that we do not care who gets hurt? The people who find themselves on the end of racial discrimination and vilification are often the most vulnerable members of society. Are we now saying that absolute free speech should be allowed to be used as a weapon to beat and injure some of the most vulnerable members of society and that there should not be those grounds to redress that injury?

If we do intend to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) on the grounds that it impinges on free speech, then should we also repeal Section 28A of the Sex Racial Discrimination Act (1984)? When the 1994 amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act were made, they followed the same material test:
in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
- Section 28A, Sex Discrimination Act 1975

If you intend to tear the framework of law apart, then you may as well bring the whole lot crashing down. Let's just do that shall we?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority made an investigation following the 2005 Cronulla riots, into the Alan Jones breakfast show on Sydney radio station 2GB. As far as I know, no charges were brought against Alan Jones or 2GB with regards their broadcasts in the week leading towards the events of 11th December 2005 but ACMA made reference with respect to Section 18C in their investigation. Their investigation looked at the Commercial Radio Australia Codes of Practice 2004 (which has since been updated in 2013) and it found that broadcasts on two of the five weekdays before the riots, were in breach of the code:

Would the repeal of 18C lead to a situation where the law was powerless to do anything in the face of currently offensive, insulting, humiliating or intimidating material which was published? I can't answer that but Johnathon Holmes in the Sydney Morning Herald points out that:
Charlie Hebdo set out, every week, with the greatest deliberation, to offend and insult all kinds of people, and especially in recent years the followers of Islam, whether fundamentalist or not. 
- Jonathan Holmes, Sydney Morning Herald, 14th Jan 2015

Again I ask, what are the consequences of repealing the laws? More race riots like we saw in 2005? Maybe people being shot to pieces like we saw in Paris?
Actually if Charlie Hebdo had exercised some self-restraint and not published the cartoons, the attacks would never have happened. Now I'm not saying for a second that you can necessarily blame the actions of three mad gunmen on Charlie Hebdo because that's preposterous but surely a degree of foresight and responsibility for what you publish might have suggested the possibility that if you are deliberately intending to be provocative, then people are going to be provoked into anger or resentment. Actions have consequences.

It's all very well to run around yelling "free speech for all" and "people have the right to be bigots" but I bet though that if such attacks had happened in Sydney that very different articles would be published, not asking for the repeal of 18C but why the government had failed to stop these people.
If you repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which section of the Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play; moreover, who ends up paying for those changes?

¹Eatock v Bolt (No 2) [2011] - http://www.justinian.com.au/storage/pdf/eatock_bolt_2.pdf
Part (c) is interesting:
that conduct was not exempted from being unlawful by s 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) because the Newspaper Articles were not written or published reasonably and in good faith.
²Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 1.

January 15, 2015

Horse 1821 - Are We Bad For Liking Murder Mysteries?

"Are we bad for liking murder mysteries? Is it bad that we find entertainment in people being killed?"

Those were the questions that Mrs Rollo posed to me whilst watching an old episode of BBC's crime drama Midsomer Murders during the week. This question cuts to the heart of all sorts of ethical dilemmas and so it was worth writing about.

Firstly, I don't think it either fun or entertaining when someone dies; no matter how horrible or infamous they may be. For instance, I can remember the immense outburst of macabre joy on the internet when Osama Bin Laden was killed and thinking that it was all quite a bit gauche. Even though he was the head of a terrorist organisation which was responsible for killing thousands of people, I still didn't take joy in the fact that someone had died. Likewise when Saddam Hussain was executed, I didn't rejoice at that either. Even if someone has committed terrible crimes against humanity, taking joy in their death just seems like a less than human response to me.
This isn't to say that I'm some sort of model saint either. I can't honestly say that if I was born 1900 years ago, that I wouldn't find pleasure in watching people being killed in Roman arenas, even if they were criminals. I also can't say if I would have been the sort of person who would have found a public execution entertaining enough to want to go and see someone being hanged in a medieval town square. Without being cast against that sort of cultural climate and prevailing social backdrop, I wouldn't like to guess what sort of person that I would actually be in such circumstances. Be that as it is and being born into a "civilised" society, I'm something of a pacifist and I already think that the arming of the population is a nonsense because it opens the potential for lots of people to be needlessly killed; so I don't think that I'm currently watching murder mysteries because I secretly like watching the death of others.
If that's not the case, then there must be some other underlying reason why I like watching murder mysteries.

I think that part of the answer lies in the fact that a crime drama is something of a puzzle. The writers will embed a series of clues into the narrative and by fitting them together, you can solve the mystery.
We see this sort of process going on in real criminal and civil court proceedings all the time; where it is given the somewhat confusing label of "discovery". This has connotations of people in tricorn hats and ships bound for countries unknown across the vastness of expansive and angry oceans. Instead of  discovering the world on board ship, the police and lawyers  discover crime scenes and even documents as their clues. A work of fiction like a novel or a television drama, does all of that boring and often tedious work for you. The writers themselves are aware of this and so will consciously and deliberately weave clues into the narrative. The most extreme consequence of this is "Chekhov's Law" which is named after playwright Anton Chekhov; which states that you should never place a gun on stage unless you intend to fire it. I don't know if this is a pragmatic choice because it involves moving fewer items at the change of scene but at the other end of the spectrum is the "Red Herring" when clues are placed in the story with the express purpose of throwing the audience off the trail. I'd like to propose a variant on Chekhov's Law, the Red Herring subclause; which states: never leave a fresh fish on stage, for fish are like bombs, they go off.
The thing about crime dramas is that there actually is a solution. I don't know how popular a novel or television drama would be if the detective didn't find enough clues to piece together what had happened. What sort of television show would it be if you'd spent 90 minutes only to find that you still have no idea who the killer or the thief was? The tale of Jack The Ripper is famous because it remains unsolved but I don't think that people actually find the fact that five people died in such gruesome circumstances, a fun thing. Even when there are programs about this, there's usually a degree of speculation as to whom it might have been; I suppose that half a solution is better than none at all. The stories which work lie around the questions which are posed but if you have too many unresolved questions, the story soon quickly descends into the land of annoyance.

The crime drama genre itself has quite a number of tropes that we like, built into it. Usually all of the characters in the story are disagreeable and horrible people, except the detective (and even that's not a hard and fast rule either), and so when the detective does finally solve the case, it appeals to out innate sense of justice because horrible people are finally getting what they deserve. I think that we generally like to see people brought to justice and being made to answer for what they've done. The very phrase itself "getting away with murder" suggests that something is seriously wrong with the administration of justice. We just don't like it if bad people aren't punished for what they've done.

Actually I must say at this point that I prefer British crime stories to American ones; mainly because even though the horrible people are just as horrible, there's an element of class distinction as well. The issue of class lends another dimensional level to a story because such people are expected to act in certain ways and then don't. It's assumed by the audience that people of the upper class behave with a higher degree of manners and deportment, and like a good joke, when they do not, they become acceptable targets of sport. Horribleness when added to a facade what amounts to self righteous vanity, lends a degree of tragi-comedy to things; whereas outright vulgarity is just dull. The mechanics of a crime drama are such that poor people although they might act in ways which are equally as horrible, can not by virtue of their poverty act with the same sort of motives because they wish to inherit something, when there is indeed very little to inherit.

As if by proxy we even get to compare ourselves to either the horrible people in the story and commend ourselves for not being as horrible as they; or we get to live vicariously through the detective and congratulate ourselves for solving the puzzle - they aren't called "whodunnit?" for nothing.
Sometimes this is played with though. There are some episodes of Colombo whee the criminal has been caught at the beginning of the episode but isn't talking. The question then is not "whodunnit?" but "howdunnit?" and then the game becomes one of recovery of facts to prove what is already known. Quod Erat Demonstrandum - that which was to be demonstrated.
I think it might have been an episode of Van Der Valk where the question being asked at the end wasn't "whodunnit?" or "howdunnit?" but "if?". If all the clues point to murder but then it turns out that there was no murder but merely the theft of a body from a morgue with the intent of perpetrating insurance fraud, that really messes with the mind of the audience. If you've just sat through 90 minutes only to have every assumption proved wrong, you either feel pleased because you've been tricked or grumpy because you've been deceived.

Once upon a time people might have marveled at how Sherlock Holmes used inductive reason (technically isn't actually deductive most of the time), or at how Poirot used the art of psychology to find his suspects but those days have long passed.
A private investigator like Philip Marlowe just asked questions and followed people and that seems far more real to us today. By the time that police procedurals hit the small screen, the age of the brilliant detective was gone. Taggart, Colombo, Lewis, Frost and Barnaby are still engaged in answering the same sorts of questions like who stands to benefit if someone died but they're far more pragmatic that detectives in stories a hundred years ago.

The two questions of "Are we bad for liking murder mysteries?" and  "Is it bad that we find entertainment in people being killed?", aren't that difficult to sort out. We're probably not bad people because the whole concept of the murder mystery is about finding someone and bringing them to justice and there's probably a degree of virtue in that. Do we actually find entertainment in people being killed? Maybe not. I already find myself asking "why?" when people are needlessly killed in movies and a lot of cases, it doesn't add anything to the story either.

January 13, 2015

Horse 1820 - Bring Back The Pusboxes!

Pusbox. (noun):
- literally a box full of pus.
1. An automobile that is small and unglamorous.
2. An automobile that is in poor condition.
3. An automobile that is prone to breaking down frequently.

What a pusbox is not:

If you read through the entry list for this year's Bathurst 12 Hour race you find a list of exotic sports cars like Ferraris, Bentleys, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, a host of Porsche 911 GT3s and a few other odd sports cars including some V8 Ford Focii, bringing up the rear. Nowhere do you find the sorts of cars that regular people buy. Absent are the Toyota Corollas and Camrys,  nowhere to be found are Mazdas 3, 6 or 2, and you can forget seeing Nissan Pulsars, Holden Cruzes or Honda Accords which are found in the driveways and petrol station forecourts of this wide brown land. Yes, this might be a GT production race of sorts but the old adage of "race on Sunday; sell on Monday" doesn't really apply.
Likewaise, the Bathurst 1000 in October does maintain a sort of foot in the showroom insofar as much as you can buy a Commodore, Falcon, Altima, S60 or E63 if you find want to but the race cars bear very little resemblance to their road going counterparts that you might see with some screaming kids inside, on Saturday morning.
Here lies a problem.

Unlike Europe which took to GT racing as something of a matter if national pride with Audi and representing Germany, Ferrari being the pride of the tifosi and the French who have had Renault and Peugeot win in the past, for countries like the United States, Britain and Australia which were isolated, the legends of motorsports in all three countries earned their stripes by thrashing about the sorts of cars which mum and dad had sitting in the driveway.
When I was a kid I saw many miles whizz past from the back windows of a Torana hatchback which was similar to the sort that Peter Brock took to the mountain and then we a Commodore sedan; which again won motor races.
It might sound strange but even the Ford Sierra which dominated touring car racing around the world, was the repbox of salespeople across Europe before they all morphed into Mondeo man. The best example of this was the BTCC in the late 1990s. For a short time it was the most furious racing series in the world as the value of the cars they wee driving, fell through the floor. Suddenly in cheap cars, some of the best touring car drivers in the world pounded them over kerbs and into corners with abandon; knowing that it didn't matter if they came home a little beaten (then the costs soared as teams bought expensive bits and the racing wasn't as desperate any more).

This is why I want to see a return to racing small cheap cars. There are plenty of 1.5L buzz boxes like the Mazda 2, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz, Hyundai i20, Kia Rio, Renault Clio, Peugeot 208... the list just keeps on going. I want to see cars that people actually buy, having the life kicked out of them; wanging wheels over kerbs and tyres screaming as the casing tries to separate itself from the rest of the tyre.
If the drivers knew that the machinery they were driving was far less valuable, then maybe they wouldn't be so previous with it. Instead of being really careful with a million dollar machine, what would happen if we let them loose in cars worth barely a tenth of that? Would we finally get to see Hooray Henry and Yahoo Yardley go door handle to door handle and complain abut what was on the stereo of each other's car?
It isn't even like it's an impossible dream either. The three Fiat 500s in last year's Bathurst 12 Hour proved that little cars can go the distance admirably. Why not give Marcus Ambrose a Ford Fiesta and watch him put the car through a four wheel drift through McPhillamy Park? What would be so bad about Craig Lowndes trying to struggle to pull up a Pug 208 at Murray's Corner from 200 plus clicks? More than fifty years ago, Timo Makinen rolled an Austin Mini Cooper S at Forrest's Elbow and once it was righted back onto four wheels, it ran like clockwork and only added 35 seconds to the lap. I very much doubt you could do that with an Audi R8.

The reason why things are as they are is because motor racing is an expensive business. Privateers who tend to be rich businessmen don't want to muck about in the cars of the plebs. The motor manufacturers themselves would rather play with their halo cars and bask in the apparent afterglow. That might work if you are a company like Mercedes-Benz or Jaguar who point to their history in Formula One and Le Mans but it was Subaru who most emphatically proved that street cred is built upon the dreams of normal people.
The famed WRX was originally based on their Impreza which was and still is a small family hack. I've written about this before but the Toyota 86 derives its name, not from some high end sports car but from the work code and opening VIN of a variant of their eighth generation Corolla. The AE86 Toyota Corolla Sprinter has achieved something of cult status because it was the last rear wheel drive Corolla and was perfect for touge racing.

There's a movie franchise which I think has got a perfect name: "Fast And Furious". I've not seen any of the seven films and so I can't comment on them but I can tell you from watching motor racing over many years that the most furious racing comes from a class of car which isn't necessarily the fastest.
I just reckon that if there was a 1000km or 12 Hour race for 1.5L cars, of the sort that normal people buy, it would have the necessary ingredients to produce something very tasty indeed. Who needs fine dining when you can have a kebab with chilli sauce?

I'm going to say something which almost sounds blasphemous to me. Given the right conditions, even a Toyota Yaris can sound cool:

If that's just one Yaris, imagine 50 cars like it. Whoever is in charge of motorsports in this country please...
Bring Back The Pusboxes!

January 12, 2015

Horse 1819 - Miranda Devine, David Hicks and Bad Journalism

But the Pentagon said late Friday that the charges had been dismissed. A brief statement cited rulings by an appeals court that material support is not a legitimate war crime under the law authorizing military commissions.
- Military Times, 10th Jan 2015

Subsequent to his commission proceedings, decisions by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in separate commissions cases established that it was legal error to try the offense of providing material support for terrorism before a military commission. The decisions of the D.C. Circuit are binding on commissions cases and the convening authority’s action to disapprove the findings and sentence in Muhammed’s case is required in the interests of justice and under the rule of law.
- US Dept of Defense, Release No: NR-013-15, 9th Jan 2015

It is one thing to plead guilty to a crime. It is quite another thing to plead guilty to a crime which doesn't actually exist. It's even worse to serve time and then be tortured after being arrested without charge and later have charges made up on legislation made after the event, for a crime which does not exist.
Yet this is precisely what has happened with David Hicks.

Back in 2007 David Hicks pleaded guilty to the single charge of “providing material support for terrorism” and was sent back home to Australia. A full seven years later, the US Dept of Defence and the  convening authority for military commissions has ruled that material support is not a legitimate war crime under the law.

The case of Noor Uthman Muhammed of Sudan provides a only a few short sentences but they are quite telling. Muhammed, a native of Sudan, pled guilty in February 2011 at a military commission to providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism.". It shouldn't take a casual observer like me to point out to governments that this is the same non-legitimate crime that Hicks was charged with. David Hicks for his efforts spent nine months in an Australian gaol, for that non-legitimate crime. Does anyone else see a problem here?

Apparantly not if you are a Daily Telegraph journalist.Let's think about comments made by professional dog-whistler Miranda Devine from an article in the Daily Telegraph on 13th December last year:

The opening two words are now technically incorrect aren't they? "Convicted terrorist"? Can you really be convicted for something which is not a legitimate war crime? Secondly, he wasn't actually charged as a "terrorist" but with providing material support for terrorism. I know that this is a matter of semantics but seemingly people like Miranda Devine as well as the then Prime Minister John Howard and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock have really problems with words like "illegitimate", "illegal" and even "error".

He could thank the Howard government for its successful lobbying to have him released early from Guantanamo Bay with a lenient sentence after he pleaded guilty to “providing material support to a terrorist organisation”. 
Let me reiterate this. If material support is not a legitimate war crime under the law then how is any sentence "lenient"? This is different to being charged with a crime you did not commit. This is being charged with something that isn't actually a crime and then being made to suffer for it.
Hicks was sold to US Special Forces for US$1000 by the Northern Alliance in December of 2001 and was in Guantanamo Bay for three years before any initial charges were laid in 2004. I just don't understand how under any possible definition that can be called being "released early".

No doubt he was treated roughly when he was captured by US troops in Afghanistan in December, 2001. He was an “enemy combatant” in a war zone, who had been extensively trained in al-Qaeda camps.
Ooh. Nice work here. If you omit some words, you change the meaning entirely. Hicks on the charge sheet was charged as:
a person subject to trial by military commission as an alien unlawful enemy combatant
- pg9  USMC, US v Hicks, Continuation of (MC Form 458) Charges and Specifications, 2nd Feb 2007

Never mind the fact that the term "unlawful enemy combatant" didn't actually exist until the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was passed. There is even doubt as to whether he was even actually in a war zone. Some reports suggested that he was being held captive by the Northern Alliance in the back of a truck.

Say what you like about the reasons why David Hicks was actually in Afghanistan but the fact remains that in theory both the United States and Australia purport to have at least a façade of the rule of law. If you're making up legislation after the event and upon subsequent testing of that legislation finding that the courts in question have no legal right to try a particular case, then it's really difficult to continue to say truthfully that the rule of law is being upheld.

Now I know that it probably isn't likely that someone from the Daily Telegraph is likely to look up a list of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to find out what will be heard in a month's time and I also know that this is an opinion piece and so probably shouldn't be held up to the same level of scrutiny as a news item but would it have made sense for Ms Devine to do at least a little bit of fact checking before this was published? Admittedly I don't like her journalism anyway but now it appears to be factually incorrect as well; that's bad journalism. 

January 10, 2015

Horse 1818 - Uzbekistan? Of Course You Can

Uzbekistan 1 - DP Korea 0
Sergeev 62'

Tonight's clash was between a side whose country has a reputation but the national football team does not and another country where its reputation is almost non-existent. Everyone knows about the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) because it is run by a totally insane regime but virtually no one knows anything about Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan are setting to correct that anonymity on the football field; having made it to the quarter-finals or better of the Asian Cup in the last three tournaments. In this match, I'd expected Uzbekistan to run riot over North Korea but the men in red weren't having that.

Uzbekistan opened with a 4-4-2 and basically camped in the final third of the pitch for extended periods. They frequently prized apart North Korea's back line but consistently found that just because they could draw defenders out of position, they couldn't put anything through the defence. North Korea's central pair played compactly and orderly.
In the 14th minute, Uzbekistan's best chance of opening the scoring, came from a corner and Timur Kapadze's head, but it was deflected by a North Korean defender. North Korea's goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk also looked calm between the sticks and his athletics behind the back four ensured that the match remained scoreless going into the half-time break.

Not long after the second half began, the light rain which had been falling suddenly turned into a deluge and the pitch went from being billiard table felt to a damp kitchen sponge. Instead of the ball skimming nicely across the grass, it sort of squidged. This however caused zero changes to the intensity of the match and if anything, it brought out the technical aspects of the two sides. If anyone wants to know where the Aral Sea has gone, it came to Sydney tonight.

The breakthough finally came when Sardor Rashidov broke down the left flank and crossed to Igor Sergeev who duly headed it past the flailing keeper in the 62nd minute. North Korea immediate stepped up from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 and brought on Chol-Song Om to partner Pak Kwang-Ryong up front.
North Korea though, looked hesitant on the ball when they did make it into the opposition's 18 yard box and that hesitation mean that when they did finally pull the trigger to shoot, the Uzbeki defence was already sorted.
Deep into extra time Pak Kwang-Ryong almost stole back a point as he headed a corner but the hands of Uzbeki keeper Ignatiy Nesterov were as safe as a bank vault - no one would get inside today.

Uzbekistan can be happy with their 1-0 victory and securing the opening points in Group B but if they want to continue further in the tournament, they'll need to shoot from somewhere slightly closer. North Korea lost this match through a case of timidity and not having enough players drive forward on the counter attack. They need to find an ants' next and sit on it for a while - anything to make them a little bit more angry and less timid.

Horse 1817 - The 114th Congress: The Congress of Veto

The 114th United States Congress which was voted for on November 4 last year, began its first sitting session on Tuesday.
Among the first bills that the US House of Representatives passed was a bill approving the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline:

The US House has passed a bill approving the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill soon, which President Barack Obama has said he will veto.
Earlier in the day, a court in Nebraska dismissed a case that would have stalled construction of the pipeline. The project has been one of the most contentious issues between Mr Obama and Republicans who now lead Congress.
- BBC News, 9th Jan 2015

What I find most interesting about this, is that President Obama has said that he intends to veto the bill. I don't really care about the politics of the bill to be honest or the shouting match that is the US Congress because that just seems to me to be like Rangers versus Celtic - hooray, boo, hooray, boo - at least Rangers and Celtic fans go home after 90 minutes.
The veto, is an interesting feature of US politics and is a direct result of a partisan method of electing the head of state.

Mechanically, the way legislation passes through the US Congress is identical to that of Westminster parliaments. A bill gets read and debated three times in the lower house before passing to the upper house where it is also read and debated three times. If it passes both houses, it is passed to the head of state or their representative (in the US, the President does the same job as the Queen or Governor-General) and once it is signed off on, it is law.
You'd think that this would cause all sorts of problems but there is a safeguard which allows a two-thirds supermajority to override the president's veto.

I took a look back through the lists of numbers of the House and Senate over the past 100 years¹ and then compared that with a list of Presidents of The United States² and found that of the 54 congresses since 1909 and the presidency of William Taft, only 16 of 54 congresses have been such that one of the houses had a majority different to that of the president. 38 of 54 congresses were openly "friendly" to the president.
This is hardly surprising though. Due to the election cycle of the United States, one half of the Senate and all the Representatives are elected at the same time as the president. During the mid-terms, one half of the Senate and all the Representatives are elected. It means that for the majority of first term presidents, they start with a friendly congress.
It follow that with a friendly congress, there shouldn't need to be a veto, right? Wrong!

In that 100 year time frame, there were 1608 times when the president exercised a veto on legislation. 1256 of those or 78.1% of the time, the president exercised a veto on legislation that came from a "friendly" congress. It was only 352 times or 21.8% of the time, the president exercised a veto on legislation that came from a "hostile" congress.

I think that the 112th and 113th Congress illustrate perfectly why this should be the case.
The 80th Congress was nicknamed the "Do Nothing" Congress by Harry Truman when it only passed 906 bills.
The gridlock on capital hill was so bad recently that the 112th Congress passed 283 bills and the 113th Congress passed 296 bills. Add those together and you still only get 579; which combined is still well short of the "Do Nothing" Congress.
President Obama has only vetoed 2 bills in three congresses. I think it stands to reason that if bills aren't even escaping the congress, they never even get the chance to be vetoed.

This is why I think that the 114th Congress will be different to the other three in Obama's presidency. For the first time, he doesn't just have a friendly or deadlocked congress but one that's openly hostile. Over the long run, only 21.8% of vetoes have come from openly hostile congresses but I suspect that the next two years might be as fractured as Nixon's term as presidency. The congress will try everything and the 114th Congress just might be the one for record vetos... at least before the presidential primaries begin in 2016.


January 06, 2015

Horse 1816 - Amazing Grace (Amazing Goof by Channel 9)

 Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed
- Amazing Grace, John Newton (1779)

Did you listen to that? Channel 9 have done some crafty edits haven't they? Instead of:
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed

They decide to run with:
How precious did that Grace appear
As long as life endures.

Not only is that a like from a different part of the hymn (because Channel 9 clearly can't stand the whole idea of a song having anything to do with faith in God) but it doesn't make any grammatical sense.
I'm sure that many soldiers at Gallipoli probably knew Amazing Grace but really, this hymn almost seems out of place. The hymn seems to me to be as Australian as Apple Pie and Toad In The Hole.
The story behind the hymn Amazing Grace is worth telling by itself.

The author John Newton himself was a curious character. He among a host of career choices, worked on board slave ships in the Royal Navy. Always a song writer, Newton was told off and reprimanded on several occasions for inventing songs that were ever more profane and debauched. John Newton did use language which made sailors blush and upon the tip of his pen, smut was a market that he could not glut.
Apparently whilst on watch on board his ship the Greyhound, a storm grew up so violently that he and another ships' mate tied themselves to the ship's pump whilst other crew were swept overboard in the north Atlantic. He wrote in his autobiography that he challenged God and said "If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!"; then after taking the wheel, spent the next eleven hours in an Atlantic storm thinking about that challenge before landing in Ireland.

After marrying a family friend called Polly, he spent the next few voyages as captain and found it ever difficult to leave her before tossing in his career in the Royal Navy and then turning his life around 180° to study Latin and Greek before finally being converted and following the God he had mocked in the navy. He would go on to become a bishop and write many hymns including "Amazing Grace" which was published in a collection for his local curate in the Buckinghamshire market town of Olney in 1779.
Even more amazing was that over the next few decades, John Newton would meet up an work with William Wilberforce in the fight for the abolition of slavery; which would culminate in the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807 - an irony considering that he had been captain of slave ships just a few decades earlier.
It also found its way into Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852.

Now I know that Channel 9 are free to take a song in the public domain and use it any way they wish but I suspect that whoever compiled this montage only thought of the aesthetic aspects of the song; certainly they cared not for either the spiritual or cultural associations that the song has.
What made this advert ever more jarring tonight was that NITV was running the PBS Series "The Abolitionists"¹ and so I instantly made the connection with the song... for the wrong station.
Well done Channel 9.