February 28, 2015

Horse 1848 - WW1: The War That Still Hasn't Ended

Mostly because I am a nerd, I love the minutiae of flotsam that means three-quarters of diddly squat to most people.
There was a byline in an article in the newspaper the other day about the totally koala unrine bonkers mental country that is North Korea and the fact that technically; because no peace treaty was signed and only an armistice of sorts was reached, the two Koreas are still at war with each other.

Now such states of diplomatic anomaly have existed before, such as the Third Punic War finally ending in 1985 after the mayors of modern Rome and Carthage signed a peace treaty and accompanying pact of friendship, or the Second World War only officially ending in 1990 with the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany after Germany had reunified; so I asked the question if any other cases of unfinished diplomacy have resulted in any other wars still technically persisting.
I found one. It is World War One.

On the 27th of January 1917, General Federico Tinoco Granados and his brother José Joaquín seized power and control the government in a military coup d'etat. Costa Rica would descend into its own well of instability and intrigue and so when the Armistice was finally reached, Costa Rica was too busy worrying about its own internal affairs (which amounted to martial law and a military dictatorship) to bother.
Federico declared war on the German Empire in May of 1918.

When the Treaty of Paris was finally signed, questions of legitimacy of Granados' government were far more pressing and so Costa Rica as a nation, never actually signed or agreed to the peace treaty. José Joaquín was assassinated in the first week of August of 1919 and on the 13th of August, Federico Tinoco resigned in favour of a series of Presidents who ran through the office as though it were a revolving door (that is he resigned because his government was unstable, not necessarily because there were a lot of would be presidents waiting to take office).

As Costa Rica was more concerned with establishing its own normalcy and never formally ended its state of war with Germany, technically that state of war still exists and World War One is still continuing more than 100 years after it started. It still has another 2149 years to go if it wants to beat the Punic Wars for the title of most protracted war in history though.

February 27, 2015

Horse 1847 - Buying A Stairway To Heaven

There's a lady who's sure all that glitters is gold
And she's buying a stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying a stairway to heaven.
Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder.
- "Stairway to Heaven", Led Zeppelin (1971)

Wonder no more, oh songsmiths from 1971, for where there are numbers to be crunched, I can crunch them.

This problem from the outset appears to be little more than a quantity surveying exercise. The two questions we need to ask are:
1. How big does a stairway need to be before it gets to "heaven"?
2. How much would said stairway cost?

The Greeks had several words for the heavens but the one most useful to us, which suggests a physical place where one could theoretically build to, is "ouranos" or "the starry heavens".
So where do they begin?

There is a great story about how Annie Glenn, the wife of the first American in space John Glenn, went to see their Presbyterian minister to ask if God would protect their husband when he left the earth. Their minister saw no reason why this shouldn't be the case.

Just before the launch of the Friendship 7 capsule that took John Glenn into space, his fellow Mercury Program astronaut Scott Carpenter delivered a most famous sendoff with the words 'Godspeed, John Glenn'.

As John Glenn orbited the earth, he noticed something:

This is Friendship Seven. I’ll try to describe what I’m in here. I am in a big mass of some very small particles, that are brilliantly lit up like they’re luminescent. I never saw anything like it. They round a little; they’re coming by the capsule, and they look like little stars. A whole shower of them coming by.
00 01 15 57
- The Mystery of John Glenn’s Fireflies Returns, Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today, 5th Jan 2001

That shower of little stars turned out to be frost from the condensation which had settled on the spacecraft before takeoff, or another source as Wally Schirra, the astronaut of the sixth Mercury flight on board Sigma 7 said:
"Their source was water released in the heat exchange process that cooled our space suits. Another source was urine. ‘We peed all over the world,’ I’m fond of saying, despite the groans that come from the audience.”

The "starry heavens" (even from the constellation Urion) begin where the atmosphere ends.
The definition accepted by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as to where the sky ends and space begins, is called the Kármán line after Hungarian engineer Theodore von Kármán and is set at an aribtrary limit of 100 kilometers.

Knowing this, it's dead simple to cost out our Stairway to Heaven.

A client of ours who is a builder, will build you a standard 1500mm spiral staircase with 12 stairs and a 220mm rise for $480.

220mm x 12 = 2640mm

$480.00 / 2640mm = 18.1818c per mm

10m of stairs would cost $1818.18
100m of stairs would cost $18,181.82
1km of stairs would cost $181,818.18
100km of stairs; which is enough to reach  "the starry heavens" would cost $18,181,818.18

I'm not suprised that "when she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for". Most people can get what they come for if they're willing to flash more than $18 million about the place.

It doesn't make me wonder. I have the power of maths.

February 26, 2015

Horse 1846 - You Fix The Budget

In the day after the 2014-15 Federal Budget was released, the ABC and specifically the very talented Simon Elvery, produced a handy slidy bar graph showing expenses and revenues.

The short answers are that:
Total budgeted spending in 2014 is $415.3 billion.
Total budgeted revenue in 2014 is $363.5 billion.

It doesn't take anything  more than third grade maths to work out that $415.3bn - $363.5bn = $51.8bn. That $51.8bn represents the shortfall of revenues collected as opposed to spent.

I've had a number of discussions on Twitter and of various forums for a while now and there are generally two types of people:
1. Those who think we need to cut government spending - but who aren't specific enough to decide where.
2. Those who think we need to raise taxation - but who aren't specific enough to decide how.
Let me begin this by suggesting that I also don't have many of the answers but I do have many more questions.

The universal fact about everyone in any economic system is that everyone is looking for how they can get what's best for them. The father of Ecomics Adam Smith, even begun his 1759 book The Theory of Moral Sentiments with the line "However selfish man may be supposed" and it was from this point where he builds his later works such as The Wealth of Nations (1776), Essays on Philosophical Subjects (1795), and Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue, and Arms (1763).

The selfishness of mankind is a good standpoint to begin from since I very much doubt that it's possible to find holes in. Equally noteworthy is former Liverpool FC's manager Bill Shankly who said that:
"If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be."

If both transfer payments and taxation law are subject to everyone gaming the system as much as they possibly can, then its worth asking questions about what the outcomes are if you try to act on any given course of action that you intend to take.
If you choose to cut spending, then really what you are asking is "who do you choose that gets to suffer as a result of your actions?" If you choose to raise taxation, then really what you are asking is that same question, "who do you choose that gets to suffer as a result of your actions?" The problem with any policy to do with transfer payments and taxation law is that you're guaranteed to give the irrits to someone. 

Suppose you choose to look at the biggest chunk of government spending which is Social Security and Welfare at $140.57 billion - then what?
If you look at the emotive issue of "dole bludgers" living on unemployment benefits, such as the Daily Telegraph did yesterday then if you assume that all disability and unemployment benefits which are currently being paid out, are paid on fraudulent claims¹, then that's still less than 9% of the budget.
Of that $140.57 billion, $98.1 billion or 69% of all transfer payments are made to old people, veterans and families with children. If you do happen to be an old person whose only source of income happens to be from a government pension, then you are living in fairly dire circumstances. A couple on a full pension gets $30,446 per year; if they were living in the house that I rent, then you're left with only $205.55 per week to play with and from that, you have to find all of your electric, gas, water, grocery and transport bills.

On the other hand the Federal Government only collects $6.5bn in taxes from Superannuation Funds. The Department of Treasury esitmates³ that the amount of taxation foregone as a result of superannuation concessions amounts to more than $30billion a year; when you also take into account things like capital gains tax concessions and the like, you can add another $30odd billion to the amount of tax foregone.

Personally, as someone who deals with taxation in an accounting firm, I see many claims for tax deductions which I think are fraudulent. 
I would like to see a comparison for instance of the vehicle registrations from state agencies like NSW's Roads and Maritime Services or Queensland's Department of Transport and Main Roads, to have a look at what sort of cars are being claimed as business registrations. I bet that once you go a little past the ATO's Luxury Car Tax threshold² of $61,884 that virtually no cars will be registered in private hands. Because they aren't  registered in private hands, they'll also appear on the books of companies and be eligible for depreciation and things like salary sacrifice. 
Are you as a taxpayer really happy that people who are usually the best well off, are claiming expenses like running costs such as petrol and oil, car washes, depreciation, registration, motor insurance etc. through taxation? You are subsidising them. I'd even go so far as to say that apart from tradies' utes and vans, the actual real world percent of actual business use is less than 1%.
And that's just motor expenses.

How many other expenses are being run up through companies? Things like airline travel and other accommodation and travel expenses, entertainment and meals, people's personal use computers. The list goes on and on.

I find it astonishing that Individual Income Tax and other Withholding taxes amount to $163.8bn whilst Company Tax is only $68bn. Does that really mean that total wages in Australia actually exceed net corporate profits by more than twofold?
Finding what share of Australia's GDP is owned by companies is notoriously difficult to find but again according to Treasury estimates in 2005-06,  the share of Australian company profits compared to GDP4 was 23.2%; however Company Tax as compared with total taxation revenue was only 18.7%. I think that we're being taken for a ride, but someone else has already written off the cost of the diesel to get there.

We might like to talk about leaners and lifters in the economy but remember, people whose incomes are at the top of the spectrum, whose incomes are more likely to be supplemented by non-work income, are also more likely to be engaged in tax mitigation schemes and yet they're never really asked to bear the burden of taxation. The actual burden of taxation is mainly borne by those people who earn too much to gain government assistance but not enough where their capital accumulation is fast enough to replicate itself.

Personally I think that the best way to solve the problem is to freeze taxation rates and let bracket creep take over and then adjust the brackets later. The other thing which I'd do would be to invest in education; so that the workforce of 20-30 years time is more productive and hopefully, they'll be able to generate more incomes from higher productivity. The problem is that at the same time that real wages are falling and investment in education is also falling, there is also a race to the bottom for wages around the world; so collectable taxation from income tax as a result of wages is also falling; yet tax concessions are being given to non-work income.

The problem is that if you ask anyone from the bottom 1% to the top 1% and every 1% in between, everyone thinks that they pay too much in tax; nobody wants to pay.

So, my challenge is... you fix the budget.

Write a reply and leave a comment below... I love to see your workings ^_^

February 25, 2015

Horse 1845 - Please Tell Me About The Civic Reform Association

If you look through the list of Mayors of Sydney, something is conspicuous by its absence - The Liberal Party. This is going to sound absolutely daft considering that the Liberal Party was formally started in a meeting in the Sydney Town Hall on 31 August 1945 but it's true.

I wondered when I saw the Mayors of Sydney, how such a thing could happen and then noticed that apart from the Labor Party the other group which is consistently listed is "Civic Reform".

According to The Register of Adelaide on 21st January 1921:
A civic reform association was formed a meeting attended by about 70 ratepayers at the Sydney Town Hall to-day. One of the principal objects of the association is to remove civic administration from control by the Labour Party, which at present dominates the actions of a majority of the Aldermen. A statement of the objects was adopted, and a committee was formed to advance the movement.

That seems to me like a pretty straightforward sort of goal. The Civic Reform Association which was nominally non-aligned, was set up in opposition to the Labor Party. I suppose that this means in principle that it probably should be economically rightist and broadly socially conservative.
When you consider that some of the Lord Mayors of Sydney like Sir Emmet McDermott
KBE who was a dentist, Nelson Meers who was a lawyer and Leo Port who appeared on ABC's "The Inventors", I guess that this is borne out.

I think that it's really weird that there's never been a Liberal Party member whose been Mayor of Sydney considering that the job has always been seen as something of the cherry on top of a very strange political pie. This pie has either been cut into slices by Liberal state governments like Askin's and Greiner's and then mashed back together by particularly Labour state governments like Wran's and Carr's.
The current problem with Clover Moore being elected as Lord Mayor, is that the Labor Party would prefer to include the surrounding areas and the Liberal Party has resorted to including corporates and landholders in order to stack the deck in their favour. I expect that in 2016, the Liberal Party will return its first Mayor of Sydney.

All of this makes me question what the Civic Reform Association was in the first place. This is starting to look suspiciously like the Liberal Party by de facto means; so I'd be curious to find out what the heck they actually were/are. Was the Civic Reform Association a real thing? I don't know.

Someone please tell me.

February 23, 2015

Horse 1844 - Photo 352 "Suddenly... A Cat"

- Suddenly... A Cat

Thee is an interesting story about this photograph. I had intended to take photo of some other thing (which is not important for the purposes of this story) when suddenly... a cat.
It's a bit like that direction by Shakespeare in The Winter's Tale when Antigonus is told to "exit pursued by a bear", which does not give any indication as to how to actually perform the action. Was there supposed to be someone in a bear suit? Was there some sort of Pepper's Ghost type trick to be performed? Was someone off stage supposed to make a noise? Who knows? Nobody - at least not now.

Anyone who has lived with a cat, and I'm careful not to use the word 'owned' for one can not own a cat any more than one can own the sunlight or the warmth from a radiator, knows that 'suddenly... a cat' is par for the course. Of course if you were to try and call your cat by name, unlike a dog, whether they happen to come to you or not is governed by some hitherto indescribable set of rules called cat logic.

Various studies over the years have concluded that cat people as opposed to dog people or horse people, display a greater degree of empathy than the general public. Nominally this suggests something about the sorts of people who are likely to be cat people, they would rather let their cat do whatever it is going to do as opposed to dog people who know that they can to some degree impose their will upon their animal. I think (perhaps because of experience; this is a learned response) that trying to impose your will upon a cat is impossible. Maybe this is an example of dramatic irony, for although cat people display empathy, cats do not. Cats are almost entirely apathetic to any request that their people might have; they will ignore you as often as they feel like.

'Suddenly... a cat' describes more than just a feline phenomenon which appears in your photographs. 'Suddenly... a cat' is an apt description for a whole host of strange noises at stupid o'clock in the morning; including random thuds, what sounds like shrieks of pain, or the otherwise unexplained reason as to why some of your stuff has fallen on the floor.

It stands to reason that 'suddenly... a cat' will happen twice as likely if you have two cats. Two is the ideal number of cats to have: one is not enough because the cat will be lonely and three is the beginning of crazy cat lady territory. Three cats would also lead to a distinct problem of cleaning up 50% more poos than is allowable for a normal human, in order to maintain any semblance of sanity.

Even though two cats is an ideal number of cats to have (other than none) it's still preferable to one dog. Cats are independent to a point which sits asymptotically on a curve, aligned to the line describing arrogance. A dog will begin to whinge if its master has gone and there are tales of dogs who will remain faithfully devoted to their masters; even after their masters have died. Cats will attach themselves to people but if you decide that you want to go on holiday for a fortnight, cats are fine with that. They will amuse themselves.

I like to think that during the height of the blitz, when the bombs were raining down all over London and Winston Churchill was ordering air units to defend the sceptred isle, that demi-paradise, that fortress built by nature for herself against infection and the hand of war, that even in the War Rooms with maps sprawled out over table tops, there would have been Munich Mouser and Nelson sitting in the middle staring back at him because just like every Saturday morning if you have the newspaper open,  'suddenly... a cat' and even the DJIA becomes subservient.
For the record, current British Prime Minister David Cameron has two cats, Larry and Freya, because even he knows that two is the ideal number of cats to have. I wonder if say when Yanis Varoufakis came to Number Ten if 'suddenly... a cat' happened. I can just imagine the Cabinet or a meeting of various important people from the EU all sitting around some table looking very serious and then  'suddenly... a cat', which would result in more sensible decisions.

If you do decide to become the live-in staff of two cats, then 'suddenly... a cat' will become a way of life. Doing the laundry and put the pile of clothes somewhere to be sorted?  Suddenly... a cat. Watching television and eating anything with chicken or ham in? Suddenly... a cat. Tapping away at the keys on your keyboard when you're working on something? Suddenly... a cat. Taking a photograph? Suddenly... a cat.

February 20, 2015

Horse 1843 - Free-To-Air Formula One Coverage Was Better In 1984

FOX Sports has scored a major coup by securing the broadcast rights to Formula 1 racing in a historic five-year deal alongside Channel 10 and Foxtel, in time for the 2015 season.
In a big win for the sport’s diehard fans, Fox Sports will air the entire 2015 season lock, stock and barrel, with every race, qualifying and practice session set to be shown live and in high definition for the first time in Australia.
With just a month until the Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Foxtel, Fox Sports and Channel 10 have combined to sign a new five-year deal for the Australian broadcast rights.
Heading into their 12th year of covering the sport, Ten will continue to show all 20 rounds of the 2015 championship on free-to-air, but only 10 of the races will be shown live.
- Daily Telegraph, 13th Feb 2015

"In a big win for the sport’s diehard fans?" Certainly not.
This is not a big win for anyone except Fox Sports. This is not a win for anyone who doesn't have cable television because there is now a fee of $750 to watch what you used to be able to see for free. This is not a big win for existing Fox Sports subscribers because they're only going to see extra practice sessions - that might be a little win.
It doesn't surprise me that the Daily Telegraph would be cheering on its News Corp Australia sister Foxtel but to call it a big win, is something of a taunt.

Let's put this in perspective. After looking through the microfiche films at the library, although I haven't been able to prove the case for the 1983 season, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that all 16 races of the 1984 season were shown on free-to-air television on Channel 9. That means that the free-to-air coverage 31 years ago was better than it will be for 2015.
This is similar to the deal with the V8 Supercars where only six of fourteen races will be shown live, with the other eight being shown as one-hour highlights packages; probably between the hours of 1am - 4am. Again, there were twelve top line touring car races in 1984 and all twelve were live. Again, that means that the free-to-air coverage 31 years ago was better than it will be for 2015.

I am of course perfectly aware that Formula One of all things is the most expensive sport in the world and that businesses do have the right to charge money for things but like any child who has had his toys taken away, I'm not very happy about it.

I am curious as to what Hamish McLennan, Network Ten's CEO means by the comment "We are also delighted to bring Fox Sports on board as our partner." Partner? On what basis is this a partnership? In October of 2010, James Packer bought 17.88% of Ten Network Holdings Ltd through Consolidated Press Holdings; half of that was on-sold to Lachlan Murdoch. By "partner" does Hamish McLennan mean to say that he is grateful to Lachlan Murdoch for giving Channel Ten anything? This sounds less like a partnership and more like a pathetic kid saying "please be my friend, I'll give you all mu good stuff" in exchange for not being beaten up. With Ten Network posting a full-year loss of $168 million last year, maybe selling off the silverware is the only way to stay afloat.
Foxtel is of course crowing about taking that prize as you'd expect them to.

“This announcement is great news for motorsports fans and terrific for Foxtel. Together with FOX SPORTS we have worked hard to build a truly comprehensive motor sports portfolio and F1 is, of course, an absolute jewel in the crown."
- Foxtel CEO, Richard Freudenstein, Fox Sports, 13th Feb 2015

As a fan of Formula One since childhood though, I will continue to watch what little morsels are thrown our way.

For season 2015 though, Horse will be keeping an unofficial scorecard of all the races on free-to-air this year. Since half of the races will not be on free-to-air as far as I'm concerned, they do not exist.
Points will be awarded 10-6-4-3-2-1 with a point for fastest lap and pole and the winner of the 10 free-to-air races will awarded the John Logie Baird Television Was Better in 1984 Memorial Cup.
Watch this space.

February 19, 2015

Horse 1842 - The Looming Legend of Gallipoli

Before I begin this, I need to establish that Mrs Rollo is an American and a Californian. She comes from that almost anonymous section of American society that can be dubbed 'Quiet America' - the not insignificant section which isn't brash and loud, that part of America which quietly rolls up its sleeves and gets things done.
She pointed, quite rightly that in the run up to the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli, from which we get the date for Anzac Day, with the background of living in a very patriotic nation like America, she was still puzzled at the amount of hoo-haa that the Centenary of Gallipoli is getting.
On the news we've seen reports of school children who have been selected to visit Gallipoli for the centenary and even outside of that context, phrases like 'the birthplace of a nation' are being bandied about.

I'm not sure exactly how it happened but somewhere down the line, I happen to have received a copy of a book called 'Was It Only Yesterday?' which I can only imagine was some sort of high school Modern History textbook and whilst it mentions the Gallipoli Campaign, it does so against the greater story of the First World War and gives more space in terms of column inches to Count Alfred von Schlieffen and his invasion plan for France, as well as the conditions which laid the foundations of the First World War, which was finally triggered with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
The book was published in 1982 and even though I finished high school not quite a decade and a half later, I still don't remember anything like this grand mythologising about Anzac Day and Gallipoli when I was at school. The almost absurd deification of Anzac Day and Gallipoli must have only occurred in the nearly two decades since I left school.
What I want to know is 'Why?'

Anyone who has studied even the most elementary details of the campaign to open the Dardanelles, can tell you that the landing at Gallipoli was part of a broader plan by the British to open up supply lines from Russia's Black Sea ports to the Mediterranean. The Anzac forces landed in a place which was incredibly steep and the opposing Ottoman forces basically spent the best part of a year and a bit pinning them to the spot. It can not be described as anything other than a complete and comprehensive victory for the Ottoman Empire and it only ended after British commanders came to their senses and evacuated the region.
By any sensible measure, the Gallipoli campaign was a total disaster for the Anzac forces and so it really is quite strange that we've turned it into this de facto celebration of Australia.

I think it's because Australia doesn't really have a flashy story to tell about its founding as a nation, that Anzac Day has become this thing in lieu of one. Australia Day is the day that the British sailed halfway round the world; stuck a flag in the ground and then dumped its criminals out with no real plan as to what to do with them. What could be celebrated as Federation Day is rather a bit pointless as it is already New Years' Day and any meaning would be lost; besides which Australia started with a vote and not a war.
Maybe in our rush to run away from under the skirt of Mother England, we've been lured by the wacky tales of flashy Uncle Sam and we're trying desperately to come up with our own mythos - it isn't really working.

What's really absurd is that even the Australian Government is having a go at this. Sprawled across the Australian War Memorial London website is the slogan¹: Gallipoli The Birth of a Nation, 1915
Maybe Gallipoli has become something as a sort of symbol of Australia's national identity but isn't that going a bit far? More than six times as many Australians died on the Western Front in the mud of France and Belgium and names like Pozières, Passchendaele and  Fromelles hardly even get a mention.

The last few lines from Eric Bogle's "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" tell us that "as year follows year, more old men disappear. Someday no one will march there at all." That point has been reached as there as the very veteran in the world of the First World War died in 2012. That means that with no first hand witnesses left to tell us the horrors of shell-shock, of burial alive, of the acrid smells of high explosive and chlorine gas, we're left to make up any story we feel like.

It isn't even the first time that Australians were on the battlefield either. The six colonies had sent troops to South Africa to fight in the Boer War which lasted from 1899-1902 and from 1901, they were no longer sent as representatives of the states but the Commonwealth of Australia. Captain Neville Howse who was Australia's first Victoria Cross recipient, was cited as serving in the  New South Wales Army Medical Corps, Australian Forces, when the award was gazetted on 4 June 1901.

Curiously across the ditch, in New Zealand which also shares the holiday, the whole affair is far more subdued. The NZ History website of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage makes a passing mention of Anzac Day that "for more people it is also becoming an opportunity to talk about what it may mean to be a New Zealander"².
New Zealand unlike Australia though, actually does have national day of sorts in Waitangi Day; to commemorate when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. No such document or date exists in Australia.

Maybe because it is the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli that Anzac Day has been hyped up beyond the point of sensibility but even so, I fail to see why it is so necessary that for a nation to prove itself noteworthy, needs to do so through the payment of blood.
Australia should be proud on the fact that it became a nation because of a vote and not a war. That along with the preferential vote and the enfranchisement of women should prove that democracy is a far more sensible way to start a nation.

Whilst it might be true that "age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn; at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them", I just don't know how useful lionising and enlarging the legend of a complete military disaster is.


February 18, 2015

Horse 1841 - On The Death Penalty

Before I begin this, I should assert that I think that the really unfortunate and tragic fact about all of this is that as a sovereign nation, Indonesia is well within its rights to apply the laws as they stand. As much as the world cries out against it, the death penalty for trafficking hard drugs like heroin existed well before Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan ever even set foot in the country. As far as application of law is concerned, this whole incident is being performed properly and correctly.
Is the law in this case good though? Is it fir for purpose?

Approval has now been passed for convicted drug smugglers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan to be transferred from Bali's Kerobokan prison; to be executed.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo, who has a history for his cruel "tough line" stance, has now rejected 64 bids for clemency. In addition to this, there have been personal appeals from the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, her Shadow Minister Tanya Plibersek and a letter signed by 111 MPs.

What do I think of all of this? I hate Indonesian law. Hate is a strong word but in this case, it isn't even close; this is why.

This might sound like a terrible thing to say but I think that even those people who have committed horrible crimes, still have a right to life. I also think that people who have committed horrible crimes also have a right to punishment. I do question though, where in particular the point of punishment ends.

I think that the reason why this offends so many people is to do with the sanctity of human life. As a Christian, I believe that we have been created in the image of God but even if that were not the case, I still think that I'd reach the conclusion that the death penalty is certainly an affront to human dignity and questionable as a method of administering justice.
Secular societies across the world have all reached this same conclusion as well. All 27 nations of the EU have through the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, reached that point in law. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights didn't explicitly condemn the death penalty but it did affirm that a right to life exists as did possibly the most famous line in English, in the United States Declaration of Independence. Closer to home, Australia took the death penalty off the books with the Abolition of Capital Punishment Act 1973¹.

Article 3
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person. 

Article 5
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. 
Articles 3 and 5, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

Article 2 - Right to life
1. Everyone has the right to life.
2. No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed.
- Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2009)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- United States Declaration of Independence, 4th Jul 1776


There are many interlocked questions of what the state is supposed to do once someone has broken the law but the most pressing is the questioning making the punishment fit the crime. Then there are questions to do with the relative effectiveness of punishment and or rehabilitation of convicts. If the application of the death penalty is a question of punishment and rehabilitation, then the death penalty by its finality means that rehabilitation is  more or less pointless. The question of punishment though, is still unresolved because if we assume that the principle of exact retribution is just (the idea of an eye for an eye and no more) then the death penalty starts to look like a case of state sponsored revenge. If as in this case the death penalty is not in punishment for the taking of lives, then serious questions of justice need to be raised.

If this truly is a about delivering justice and administering punishment, then who exactly is the death penalty punishing? Putting fear into someone for the period immediately before they are extinguished might be seen as some as a form of punishment but once they have been put to death, the law can do literally do no more². The problem is that punishment lingers on well after the event for their families and loved ones. If in the period before their execution, the person who is about to be killed, shows remorse and repentance for what they've done, then the state which delivers punishment according to law might be seen as being just but it proves itself through action to be cruel.

The greatest reason why the death penalty has been removed in most jurisdictions is to do with the question of fairness. There are always examples which come up from time to time where someone has pleaded their innocence and still been sent to prison. If they'd been convicted of a crime and been given the death penalty, we would have killed those people; which kind of makes a mockery of the whole criminal justice system. In what way can a system be said to be just if it kills the wrong people?
The other question of whether or not the death penalty acts as a deterrent is very obviously demonstrably false; especially in the case of Sukumaran and Chan - they trafficked heroin anyway. If they weren't aware that death penalty existed for this sort of crime, then quite obviously not being aware of a thing means that that thing can hardly deter you from anything. How can the death penalty deter someone from committing a crime when they don't know that it exists? Of course, practically everyone in the world knows that Indonesia has the death penalty now but that really didn't help anyone at the time, did it? Mind you, the Australian Federal Police provided a three page letter to the Indonesian police, tipping them off about the Bali Nine's movements. If they really cared about the lives of these people, why didn't they try to stop them before the event?

I believe that in the light of Sukumaran showing remorse and Chan being so contrite as to turn his life around to the point where he has become a pastor, they have demonstrated that rehabilitation is entirely possible.
I think that as a nation we are justifiably outraged and are disappointed and angry that the death penalty continues to exist.

¹Abolition of Capital Punishment Act 1973 -http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/dpaa1973228/

²And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, - Hebrews 9:27
Logically this is a position of the best possible administration of justice. All attempts at rehabilitation can be done during a person's lifetime and by virtue of the fact that Christ died for the remission of sins, all penalties have already been paid should the person choose to accept payment on their behalf.

February 13, 2015

Horse 1840 - Fragments II: Wages, Stories, Chinese Characters, Governor-General, 1 Samuel, McLaren, The Spill, Eurovision, Holden and Schooling

Back in Horse 1770, I published scribblings from my note book which otherwise would have disappeared. Those notebooks have been dispensed with as I have entered the age of tablet computing but in it's place, an abandonarium of sorts has built up. The fragments which once were small and scribbly are now longer and electronicky.

This is either a museum or a bemuseum depending on which way you want to look at it. This post is full of those extra bits, which never made it.


aa1 - On Wages?

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 collecters 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. Such a set of circumstances isn't really all that helpful in keeping the rent collectors from bashing the front door down.
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 pay cheque to pay cheque.

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. It's easy to fleece someone whilst you're pulling the wool over their eyes. Why not draw attention to a clumsy action if it makes people forget about the callous one about to be perpetrated against them?

(Abandoned at 1047 words. This was too ranty and the world moved on too quickly)


aa2 - Telling Stories?

From time to time I am asked by people to write a diatribe on some subject and to this day I'm still amused at just how many people want to read these pieces.
I think that it was really strange to be asked to write this piece on what I think the future for comedy looks like considering that:
1. I am not a comedian.
2. I almost never see live stand-up.
4. I tend not to put things in the right order.
G. I get easily distracted.
4. I tend to repeat things.
4. I tend to repeat things.
3. I don't find the things that most people find funny, amusing at all.

That last bullet point is quite salient. "Watch this TV show -  you'll find it funny",  they say. Well I'll watch one episode and then in most cases I'll find it as dull as data entry. "Two Broke Girls", "Modern Family",  "New Girl" and  "The Big Bang Theory" have been the latest series in this list of shows which people have told me that I might find funny; only to be disappointed so profusely that I've gotten up and walked away. None of them have ever made it beyond the ten minute mark, in their attempt to make me watch them.
So as eminently unqualified as I am to write anything about comedy, why am I even attempting to do so; considering that I know next to nothing of what others find funny? Because although I might not know find the same things funny that other people find funny, the overall question of "What now for comedy?" has almost nothing to do with the material of the subject.

Comedy like every single genre of writing, is about the telling of stories. If they're crime fiction, an action movie, serious journalism, financial reporting, opinion pieces, drama series and yes, even comedy shows and live stand-up, they all rely upon the central tenant of telling the arc of some story. All stories have at their core, the complication and resolution of some particular conflict. Pick any subject you like and every story  you've ever seen and you'll invariably find this to be true.

Comedy is the telling of these stories for amusement and often in a humorous way. Comedy also is one of the few arenas where the crossing of taboos is seen as semi-allowable. Whether it be through the vehicle of filthy jokes, racism, or even very venturing into the land of the macabre, society seems to have less of a problem with comedy being used as the vehicle for the journey into this territory (of course your mileage may vary depending on where that journey may go and you are perfectly free to not go on that voyage).
These two ideas of comedy as the telling of stories and as the vehicle to cross taboos, defines the form of a whole host of material but even then, those conflicts and taboos can also be defined in ludicrously simple terms.

All stories worth telling are basically the conflict between an individual or a group, against another individual, group, system or concept. Comedy sets up the conflict by trying to get us to side to identify with the first entity, defines the other entity and specifically delineates their 'otherness' and then tells the story of the complication and resolution (or failure to do so) of that complication.
It does so though, with a different palette to journalism or drama. The colours which comedy paints with are many and varied but they really come down to just four:
1. Sarcasm.
2. Stupidity.
3. Surprise.
4. Vanity.

(607 words before I abandoned this. I failed to see where this was going.)


tz31 - The End Of Chinese Characters?

I'm going to make a prediction which is so outlandish as to sound like a joke but just sufficiently far enough in the future that it can not be disproven. It is this:

Within 200 years, most Chinese characters will disappear entirely from use and be replaced with Latin characters.

Writing systems originally developed by people who were using then on parchment and paper of various kinds. Apart from cuneiform which was mainly written into clay tablets, all of the current character sets in current use went through that phase of putting ink to paper.
The curious thing is that with the invention and spread of the printing press, in most language and character sets, once they had been captured and standardised, printers sought to rationalise and reduce the number of characters needed for printing. Granted that English gained the letters 'j' and 'u' but it also lost the letter 'thorn'. Both Chinese and Japanese went through a simplification phase and most European languages which use Cyrillic or Greek character sets have also gone through similar sorts of processes.
Turkish is most curious of all in that has already gone through a switch to a Latin character set and now that seems perfectly normal.

So why do I think that Chinese is going to go through a similar sort of revolution over the next 200 years? The reason for that is tablet computing.

Computers are nothing more that fast processing idiots. Even the smartest of artificial intelligence devices is still incapable of asking the question of 'why?'. 

(Abandoned at 257 words. I needed more information to make this work and then couldn't be bothered.)


gg3 - The Grand Pooh-Bah of Australia?

The day that Australia becomes a republic (as much as I think that the idea is patently eejitacious) is as inevitable as an oncoming freight train meeting a mango which has been left upon the tracks. I think that the referendum we had in 1999 wasn't a rejection of the idea of a republic but of that particular model. I suspect that had the model proposed been simply to replace the Governor-General with an elected representative and their powers kept as vague and as undefined as they are now, then the 'yes' vote would have waltzed in by a canter after the horse had bolted. I wouldn't be even writing this post because we would have probably officially become a republic on January 1st, 2001.
So if I, the pragmatic monarchist, see this as inevitable and don't want to be the mango, what sort of conditions would I like to see set for the election of our Governor-General?

The referendum on the republic gave me the impression that people would like to vote for the head of state in the same way that they do in the United States (as much as I hate the idea). However, the idea of the Electoral College I think has been proven to be so monumentally stupid that precisely zero countries have copied this system.

Section 128 of the Constitution provides that in order to alter the Constitution, it requires "a majority of the electors" in a "majority of the States". I think that this is an apt and prudent test and should also apply to the head of state.
I'd also suggest that in order to depoliticise the position of the head of state, that all candidates who wish to run, should never have been a member of government at any level including Federal, State and Local levels and they should also not be a member of a political party. If they wish to run for the office of head of state, they ought to resign all memberships to all registered political parties. 

(Abandoned at 340 words. A vote for a spill motion for the Prime Minister's job got in the way.)


sm1 - Bad Dads?

I am currently reading through the book of 1 Samuel at the moment; it opens with the end of the period of the judges in Israel and the opening of the short period of the United Monarchy of the nation.
The books of Samuel and later the books of Kings and Chronicles go on to repeat the lines that such and such "did evil in the eyes of the LORD" or "did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD" and so it kind of reads a little like Sellar and Yeatman's "1066 And All That" in classifying things as either a good thing or a bad thing.

The opening of 1 Samuel tells in part, the story of the last two judges Eli and Samuel but inadvertently might accidentally have let something past the radar.

Consider Eli's sons:
Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh.
- 1 Samuel 2:12-14

 Now Eli, who was very old, heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they slept with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting. So he said to them, “Why do you do such things? I hear from all the people about these wicked deeds of yours. No, my sons; the report I hear spreading among the Lord’s people is not good. If one person sins against another, God may mediate for the offender; but if anyone sins against the Lord, who will intercede for them?” His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death.
- 1 Samuel 2:22-25

The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.
- 1 Samuel 4:17

Now consider Samuel's two sons Joel and Abijah:
When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.
- 1 Samuel 8:1-5

Now I'm not for a second suggesting that people are responsible for their actions of their adult children but if Eli’s sons "were scoundrels" and Samuel's sons "turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice", then what does that say about the sort of discipline that Eli and Samuel gave their children?
I should temper this by saying that I don't have children of my own and that I'm not even remotely qualified to give out any sort of advice but it seems to me that the biggest factor or the biggest connection that Eli and Samuel's sons have, and probably why they turned out to be such horrid people, is the absence of their fathers.
Eli and Samuel were both Hebrew Judges and were sort of de facto leaders of the nation. In carrying out their role as leaders of the nation, how good were they at being dad?
Were Eli and Samuel  really so good at being administrators and good at their job in running the tabernacle that their time was consumed with those things that they were never home?

Actually the case with Samuel is slightly different. As indicated above "he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders", which means to say that this isn't just a father-son relationship between Samuel and his sons but also a Employer-Employee relationship. If you were running a commercial entity and there was a case of gross corruption taking place, you'd be well advised to impose disciplinary action but maybe because Joel and Abijah were Samuel's sons, he was lax in administering that action.
I find it interesting that Samuel had done his tutelage under Eli and probably learned how to go about the business of administering the tabernacle very well; yet perhaps the job was so demanding, by accident rather than design, Samuel's children are as ill-disciplined as Eli's were.

(Abandoned at 806 words. This became a sprawling thing.)


mp4 - The Future's Bright, The Future's Orange?

When the McLaren MP4-30 was finally unveiled, metaphorical gasps could be heard across the automotive world. Those gasps immediately turned to groans and inaudible grumbling as the livery for the all new car, powered by a Honda powerplant for the first time since 1991, was still mainly silver as it had been since 1997.

There were rumours that not even all of McLaren's staff were satisfied, as they'd been hoping for a return to orange, like the days in the 1970s; before Marlboro had put their red and white chevrons on the cars.

Autosport magazine reported that McLaren manager Ron Dennis had fobbed them off saying:
"We have had the same [discussions about livery] inside the team: all of these people were saying, why don't we make it orange - because that was the old colour of McLaren?
Well, I say, 'you just said it - it was the old colour of McLaren. Why the hell do we want to go backwards?
So what do you do? Do you create an aesthetically pleasing design? But for what purpose?
This is the livery of McLaren. It has always been a combination of these colours - and it will only change for commercial reasons."
- Ron Dennis as quoted by Autosport, 1st Feb 2015.

Personally, I think that this is a rather disappointing explanation, as I don't think that McLaren Automotive believes that to be true. Their 12C has a rather delicious shade of burnt orange as a default colour as does their 675LM. Even during the days of West sponsorship when their cars were powered by Mercedes-Benz, their test mules often came out in orange.

So what's going on here? Is Ron Dennis foxing and hoping that a major sponsor will come forth before the  beginning of the season? If not, his statements make less sense than a mongoose wearing a tutu which has been duct taped to the roof of the Melbourne Town Hall.

What is the point of looking back to the past? Why does it make commercial sense to do so? The reasons for both of those questions can be found elsewhere on the grid.

In 1906 the forerunner to the FIA decreed that various nations run various colours to identify their cars; most of these made little sense at the time but in the  years which followed, they became part of the landscape - Italian cars were to be red, French ones blue, green for British, white for German. In the mid 1930s, legend has it that a particular Mercedes in order to just scrape in under the maximum weight allowance, was scrubbed back to bare metal and these cars became the famous Silver Arrows; this can not be verified.
When McLaren and Mercedes entered into a partnership in 1995, Marlboro was still the dominant sponsor of McLaren and so their red and white colour scheme remained but once they'd left the picture, Mercedes' silver became the order of the day.
That's what makes this latest chapter so strange. McLaren and Mercedes have now parted ways (now that Mercedes-Benz has won both the drivers' and constructors' championships on their own) and so there is really no reason why McLaren need to retain the silver colours.

Look further down pit lane and La Scuderia wouldn't be seen in anything less than that scarletti on their stallions; the tifosi would riot in the streets and there'd be a national emergency in Italy. Mercedes-Benz in setting up a new team, looked back and ran silver on their cars. Jaguar F1 was green until team was bought out by Red Bull. Most recently, Team Lotus have looked back to some of their most famous liveries and are sort of paying homage to their once dominant JPS cars; running then in mostly black despite zero involvement from that company.
McLaren probably should look back to the past.

When companies talk about "brand identity" they need to evoke something quickly and immediately; that's even more critical when your mobile billboard whizzes by the crowds at more than 200mph. By tapping into the past, McLaren would be giving root to the future. Heck, they should probably also consider putting a little kiwi on the nose of their cars as well.

The important thing about motor sport (and indeed any sport) is that it is intrinsically pointless. Apart from those directly employed, it doesn't really matter a lot about who wins one week to the next, or what colours are on the sides of the cars. Precisely because it doesn't intrinsically matter, those things matter immensely. Things like colour schemes and numbers and who drives for whom; whom hates whom because of some on track dispute that happened five years ago, all become part of the story of the thing and that's why looking back to the past is so.important. Without the story of the thing, all motor racing is is a bunch of cars going round and round for two hours; once a fortnight. The irony about sport in general is that so much money is poured into an activity which is intrinsically pointless - even the points are ultimately pointless.

(Abandoned at 751 words. McLaren still may yet appear in Melbourne with an orange car. Fingers crossed).


pm27 - Spill Spill Spill?

With the announcement coming out of the coalition meeting room yesterday that Prime Minister had survived a spill motion, I got the impression that Australia was kind of a little disappointed that it went no further. 'No' got 61 votes to the 'Yes' vote of 39 and there was one informal vote to the yes/no question of whether or not there should even be a spill motion. I'd even heard on the radio, someone's outlandish and highly amusing suggestion that the informal vote was either Tony Abbott writing in Julia Gillard's name or someone continuing the joke of  nominating Taylor Swift - #Tay4PM
The unbeaten streak of Liberal Party Prime Ministers surviving spill motions remains intact except if you decide to include John Gorton who resigned as PM that morning.

The question of the current high turnover rate of Prime Ministers is something of a misdirection. In the period from 1901-1912 we had a lot and from 1938-1941 we also churned through a few. In both of those periods, the change at the helm came about because of different parties struggling for supremacy. In the early period, parties still hadn't properly solidified and in the opening period of the Second World War, the two factions which warred were the United Australia Party's iron chariots and the Country Party's rusted ploughshares.

(abandoned at 220 words. That moment in the political zeitgeist had passed so quickly.)


eu54 - Eurovision Geography Contest?

Shocked I am. Shocked am I. Am I shocked? I am shocked. I am shocked enough that the grammar of Yoda am I using, hmmm. Why am I shocked? Because the European Broadcasting Union has decreed in its wisdom to allow Australia into the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest. Either this says that the EBU has failed really badly on its geography exam and doesn't realise that Australia isn't even remotely close to Europe, or the EBU has hatched an evil plan (muah ha ha) which is so dastardly that it could have only come from a supranational organisation.

The Eurovision Song Contest which is now into its sixth decade, ceased to be a song contest years ago. Probably not since the days of "Puppet On A String" does anyone really care about the songs which apart from one stellar exception in 1974, have mainly amounted to a great big kitschy pile of bupkis.

The best part about the Eurovision Song Contest isn't the songs but the bit at the end where everyone votes. Usually everyone votes for their neighbours which means that the Scandinavian nations all vote off each other, the nations which used to live behind the Iron Curtain all vote for each other, Cyprus and Turkey or Greece and Turkey either swap douze point of null point depending on what half of the island the Cypriot came from, and everyone hates Great Britain, France and Germany despite them being the only three nations solvent enough to stump up the cash to pay for the shindig. Roughly once every seven years, everyone feels all diddly and Celtic and so Ireland wins.
In return for winning the competition, the winning nation gets to suffer the expense of hosting next years' competition. This is why I think Australia has been invited.

Sure, the EBU  will probably say that Australia and SBS have faithfully supported the Eurovision Song Contest for many years and that's why Australia has been given an entry but what of this is all part of some mass European conspiracy

(Abandoned at 341 words. I lost interest.)


ve17 - Let's Not Go There?

In a great wave of appeasement, Holden announced that even after they shut down their manufacturing operations in Australia, the nameplate "Commodore" will continue beyond 2017. As I was listening to this on the radio on the morning that they were making the announcement and hearing some vague sweeping statement like "we are as committed to Australia as we always been (despite the obvious fact that they're shutting down the plants and firing people), part of me was thinking "whoop-de-do; let's all go down the Strand; have a banana".
Then I found myself wondering why I even care about Holden in particular. Ford are also ceasing manufacturing in Australia and when it comes to the great auto holy-war divide, I've always sat on the blue side. I even find it disappointing that the car which I currently drive isn't a Henry. Other manufacturers have also been and one but they haven't solicited the same rise out of me. British Motor Corp which sold arguably the greatest single automotive achievement ever with the Mini, Toyota with their reliable and sensible (but bland as dish water) Camry and Corolla, and Mitsubishi which gave us the Sigma and Magna have also all closed the curtains on their Australian show. None of those have made me as cross. Why?
I've never owned a Holden and so it follows that because I've never bought one, I am part of the reason why they're leaving. Does Holden really hold a special place in my heart on that basis?
How did Holden which is just one brand of which once upon a time was the world's biggest company in terms of both market capitalisation and profits, weasel its way into the national psyche? I can only think of two reasons.

Firstly, Holden went motor racing. Maybe the adage "race on Sunday; sell on Monday" might be true but motor racing is among other things, the telling of a story. The automotive holy-war in Australia is/was between Holden who have backed a 'factory' team consistently since 1969 and Ford who kept on dropping their favourite sons like a plate of cold sick. Alan Moffat who took Falcons to a 1-2 victory in 1977, would within five years be campaigning Mazda RX-7's; Dick Johnson who had the fastest Sierra in the world did so without any help from Ford; and only just recently, Ford have pulled the plug on the Ford Performance Racing team, leaving Mark Winterbottom what was to be in 2015. Holden though always stuck with it, even during the mad season when Peter Brock had words with the factory and they parted company. Holden returned within the year to set up its own racing team.
Not quite fifty years of competition has placed Holden front and centre in the Automotive story of Australia. This and the question of what weapon they'd take to the mountain have been a deliberate and flagrant effort to embed themselves in the nation's consciousness. To abandon manufacturing here is when it all boils down to it, a perfectly sensible business decision but it is one which cuts deep to the heart of the national psyche. It is as Un-Australian as eagles, baseball, apple pie and Chevrolet.

(Abandoned after 535 words. Ranty. Been said before.)


kd91 - The Kids Are All Right?

"The right for the masses to be educated is a worthless question. For it is the need for the masses to be educated which is paramount. Their world; their 'kosmos' will metamorphosise beyond all recognition this century and those who labour in the manufactories of this day, will need to transfer their labour to the manufactories of tomorrow; and they will need to know how to do it."
- Edwin Crofter, MP for East Gateshead, 17th Jan 1902

When Edwin Crofter stood on the steps of the Newcastle Town Hall on that arctic day in 1902, how many people understood the implications of what he said? Moreover, how many people ventured out into the cold that day to see the bearded gentleman in the stovepipe hat deliver his speech? Zero. Zero? The reason for this is that I've just made him up. I don't know if there ever even was an MP for East Gateshead.
Why bother telling you a totally fraudulent story? Because this fictional MP has just made two rather interesting points about education; which I will now ramble on about.

What is the point of education anyway? If I asked you what the integral of 3cos x is, or what the valency of oxygen was, or what the difference between the nominative and the genitive cases are, or how an electric motor works, or what the importance of the Rubicon was; if you didn't know, would it even matter? I know the answers to all these questions but does it make even a lick of difference to my life in all honesty? Probably not. As I sit on an electric train, surrounded by plastic fabrications and type this into a tablet computer though, the answers to some of those questions do matter and they matter critically?
If they matter to someone and some of them have implications and real world applications, then it was probably good that someone learned those things. The point of education is wrapped up in there somewhere.

From about the age of 5 or 6, society deems it worthy and efficient to take what are essentially useless humans and put them somewhere for six hours a day. Immediately this does two things. Firstly it frees up the parents of these people (children are sort of people, right?) to go off and provide their labour to the never ending machine of industry. The parents will of course see that as their way to get money to pay for things like housing, food, utilities and what not. Secondly, those six hours a day; every day, teach these little humans not to be animals. Stop biting; stop fighting; be bored. Being bored is an essential skill to learn and cope with because once they leave education, the wheels of industry will impart many many hours of boredom onto them over many many years.

Next, education attempts to provide or impart a toolkit of skills which is necessary to function in society and work those wheels of industry. Humans probably need to know how to read and how to write, for that is a pretty common way that knowledge is imparted by other humans who aren't physically present; and they probably also need to know how to do some arithmetic because that's also kind of important.
Everything else about education is more or less extraneous and kind of rubbish. It is filler. Things like history, chemistry, physics, geography, civics, literature studies and even foreign language studies, do nothing except appear as a footnote on a piece of paper at the end of it all. Educators are for the most part, entertainers of bored humans, who are legally required to be detained for six hours a day for many years.
At the end of their boring entertainment, these humans will leave their education and some of them will never return. They will have received a piece of paper and this then is the next reason why education exists.

Education provides the recipients with pieces of paper which legally certify that these particular humans have passed through the necessary years of chiding and being held in rooms against their will, which signals to potential employers that they are capable of more chiding and being held voluntarily in return for money. 

(Abandoned at 710 words. I don't know how I expected to end this.)

February 12, 2015

Horse 1839 - Old Man Yells At Cloud

Once upon a time in the land of times past, when things like music, newspapers, books and computer software still came as physical products, if something went awry you could do something about it. In the age of digital delivery because that stuff no longer exists, when something does die, you're up the data stream withour a binary load lifter.
Yesterday, the CPU in my computer decided that it was too good for this world and rather than getting the blue screen of death, I got a red screen of doom. After getting my computer back from the shop, I've had the task of bringing it back to life, which was mostly easy, except for trying to download a copy of Microsoft Office 2010.

The pack for Office 2010 is a plastic sleeve thing with a card with the product key printed on; that's it. Office 2010 was probably the first version of Office to be delivered digitally and whilst that was probably fine for a new set of computers, now that they are at least five years old, it is a nightmare.
As I type this, the current attempt (number six) at downloading Office 2010 tells me that there is anything between 3 and 6 hours to download it. On every occasion thus far, I've either encountered a fatal exception error, or a storm, or some other weird reason why I can't finish the download. All I want is a working machine.

All of the other programs I have such as Windows 7, HandiSoft, MYOB, even the drivers for the printer and scanner all come on physical disc. Office didn't ; what's worse is that neither do its replacements.
Office 365 is only digitally delivered and the point is that if I can't get Office 2010 to download properly, then what's to say that Office 365 which comes from the same company will be any different at all?

There is a lovely slap in the face from Microsoft as well. When I tried to order a backup DVD, it quoted the price to be as £11.63 which means that its sourced from the UK but when I clicked 'Add' so I could get a Backup DVD sent to me, it returns this message:
You do not have any Backup DVDs
Yes. I know that I do not have any Backup DVDs. That's why I just tried to order a Backup DVD. I would like a Backup DVD so that I no longer do not have any Backup DVDs.

As I type this, the download speed has fallen to 8.3KB/s and is now returning an estimate of 6 days to download Office 2010. In that time, I could fly all the way to the UK and get my Backup DVD for £11.63 and still be back before it would be finished downloading.
When digital delivery is even slower than actually flying halfway around the world and picking up the physical product yourself, I start to think that this is all a nonsense.
Dear Microsoft, If you want to know why software piracy is rampant, then maybe it's worth considering that even Captain Oakenface with a wooden peg for a head, is capable of faster delivery of product than legitimately downloading the software.

If your car crashed and you needed replacement parts, you can find them relatively easily. Heck you could probably fabricate them yourself if the need arose. If Microsoft built a motor car, it would do 460mph, crash every eight minutes and in order to restart, you'd have to open and close the windows and press the start button repeatedly.

Stuff like this makes me hate the cloud with a passion and I really despair as I look to the world of 2053 when I'll be 75 years old and sitting in on the floor in my house because all the devices will have crashed and there's no software to even run the toaster.

That whole dystopia in Battlestar Galactica where The Twelve Colonies are in a war with the  cybernetic race known as the Cylons is never going to happen. That assumes that there is a working internet and that download speeds are sufficiently fast enough so that the software is capable of being updated or recovered in a crash. That's never going to happen.

February 11, 2015

Horse 1838 - The Greatest Car Ever Made

Certain motoring writers have praised the 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat  as "the greatest car ever made", with it's 707bhp and 881Nm of torque. Not only are these figures mindbendingly ridiculous¹, they're done for a retail price of US$26,995.
Personally I fail to see the point. Even if you can burn tyres to the steel belts in a matter of minutes, it's still only a coupe and therefore totally incapable of carrying a cement mixer or even a washing machine. Even the Hyundai Excel X1 which I had and produced less than a tenth of the power of the Hellcat, could easily cart around a cement mixer or even a washing machine. I know this because it did it.

What then is "the greatest car ever made" and how do you objectively produce such an answer? I think that you look at what they all can do and find the best compromise.

Requirement 1 - Power: Must have enough.
The Hyundai Excel that I had when new threw out a paltry 68bhp. It's hardly the stuff that dreams are made of. If you look at the other end of the spectrum, the Bugatti Veyron with its its 16-cylinder, 1001hp engine is mostly unusable. Not even in Germany where the autobahn runs long and free can you unleash all of those horsies.
A car must have a good amount of power and preferably with a nice rumbly sort of engine note. You can't have a proper symphony unless you have an adequate horn section. Likewise, at least six trumpeters on song is probably good.

Requirement 2 - Breeding: Must have a racing pedigree.
Rolls-Royce is Rolls-Royce but because it is Rolls-Royce, it's a bit Mickey Mouse. In comparison Mercedes-Benz has produced various cars which have won Le Mans and the Formula One World Championships and gone Touring Car Racing and even the Dakar Rally.
Owning a motor car is a tribal affair and if you're going to pick tribes, then it's probably a good idea to pick one with a few winners in its history.

Requirement 3 - Cartage: The Washing Machine Test.
It's all good and well to have a car but what happens if you need to take your washing machine to be repaired? What happens if you want to cart around a lawnmower? There's not point in a car which can't do either of those things and no point in getting a car which is too precious and prissy to do those things.
A Porsche Cayenne, BMW X6, or Mercedes-Benx ML350 might very well be able to carry a washing machine or lawnmower but would you? Would you really risk water dripping about in the back or having grass clippings fly about? No.

Requirement 4 - Style: Don't Be An Old Git.
My usual predjudice against SUVs continues (see Horse 1155). My basic assertion is that all SUVs are basically jacked up station wagons. Station Wagons probably are fine for those people who have either given up trying to be cool, or are carting around kiddywinks, or have been allured by the supposed prestige but the fact remains that if you have an SUV or a Station Wagon you are yelling to the world that the last shreds of your youth vanished ten years ago. All SUVs and Station Wagons are uncool.
This is weird because all pickup trucks and utes are cool. Yes, even the Toyota HiLux which is as dull as dishwater is still cooler than every single SUV in existence, There are exceptions though - Proper Four Wheel Drives aren't SUVs though, they are just UVs. If you can drive through a creek, or across a paddock or sand dunes or a muddy bog, that's cool.

Requirement 5 - Friends: Must Be Able To Take Them.
A V8 Holden Ute passes all of the above categories but misses out on the fact that you can't take four friends to the beach, or the cinema, or the theatre, or the football, or the pie shop.
What's the point in having a car if you can't share the journey with a few friends occasionally. Yes you might be able to pootle about in a Lotus but you can't have those rollicky loud conversations that you only get with four or more people.
This also ties in with carting around children. If you are a little bit older and do have children, then at some point after going to see people, the tired little bunnykins need to be taken home to beddy-byes. In that semi-dream like state, there is nothing as magical as being in the back seat of your parents' car and watching the saffron stain or sodium street lamps whizz by; with your head resting on the seatbelt. Children never realise this but once you grow up, that special place is gone forever - adults usually sit in the front.

So then... five competing requirements and all struggling to be heard.
The best way to answer the question of what is "the greatest car ever made" is to find a V8 four-door hatchback that went motor racing. To that end there is only one answer:

- The Greatest Car Ever Made

The Rover SD1.


Yes, Seriously.

The Rover SD1, which was both its code name and production name, was sold under various titles including 3500, Vitesse and even a Vanden Plas variant. It was European Car of The Year for 1977 and most importantly it fits all of the five requirements.

The police loved the SD1 so much, that when they heard it was going out of production in 1986, they stockpiled cars, so they could use them after they died off.
- Richard Hammond, Top Gear, BBC Two, 18th Jul 2004²

The 3.5L V8 made 190hp in some versions and could be made to produce almost double that, it won the 1984 British Touring Car Championship and missed out narrowly in both the 1985 and 1986 European Touring Car Championships, it could easily take a washing machine because of the nice large hatchback, it still looks quite pretty almost four decades later and you can fit five people in style.

You can't fit a washing machine or five people in a Hellcat.

¹No seriously - that's true - http://www.dodge.com/en/challenger/

February 09, 2015

Horse 1837 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 12 - Robert Menzies

XII - Robert Menzies

When Earl Page refused to serve under Menzies, he withdrew the support of the Country Party for the United Australia Party and so Menzies' first government was a minority government. Menzies first ministry included former PM Billy Hughes as Minister for Industry and future PM Harold Holt as Minister without portfolio assisting the two Ministers for Supply and Trade.
Menzies' and Page's hositilities continued but on the 3rd of September 1939, when Britian and France declared war on the Third Reich following its invasion of Poland on the 1st, Menzies also declared Australia to be at a state of war:

Fellow Australians. It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.
- Robert Menzies, via ABC Radio, 3rd September 1939.

With this declaration of war, Earle Page offered the support of the Country Party to again form a formal coalition government but Menzies point blank refused. Even though the Country Party appointed Archie Cameron as its leader, no formal agreement or coalition was reached until the 14th of March 1940 following the loss of a by-election to a Labor candidate, on the resignation of Richard Casey, who became Australian Ambassador to the United States.
When Cameron agreed to Menzies' demand that the UAP as the major of the two coalition parties should have the casting vote in ministry posts, the formal coalition was agreed upon.

Menzies government was in trouble after three ministers were killed in an RAAF plane crash en route to Canberra and a shock 1940 election result in September which saw the UAP/Country coalition claim only 36 seats from 74 and thus fell 2 seats short of attaining majority government.

With the war intensifying, ALP leader John Curtin offered to form a unity-type government which Menzies refused but he did accept a proposal to set up an Advisory War Council in which both the government and opposition had equal representation.
Menzies left for four months to go to London to discuss strategy and the movements of Australian troops in Europe, as did Prime Ministers from Canada and New Zealand but back home with Arthur Fadden in charge as temporary PM, the domestic situation worsened and when Menzies returned to Australia, he found that he came under increasing pressure to resign, and so did so on 28th August 1941.

VII - Billy Hughes (again - kind of?)

Technically following the resignation of Menzies, Billy Hughes became leader of the UAP. His only action as leader was to convene a joint UAP-Country Party meeting to choose the next leader. The coalition chose Arthur Fadden who was sworn in as Prime Minister the next day.

February 08, 2015

Horse 1836 - The Highest Numbered Street Address In The World

The lowest numbered street address is easy. It's 1. I currently live at number 3 which is also pretty low.
At the other end of the spectrum, the highest numbered street address is probably pretty big isn't it? There are seven billion people on the planet and so you'd think that of all the addresses in the world, because this is clearly a limited series, there must be a biggest number.
This is the quest to find that address.

The conventional way to number a street is to put all of the odd numbers on one side and all of the even numbers on the other.
On the street that I live on, it starts 1, 3 and 5, on one side and 2, 4 and 6 on the other. When you get to the end though, there are 11, 13 and 15 and 16, 18 and 20 on the other. This means that there are no houses numbered 17 or 19. If the street had been numbered as though it were like a court or a circle, then it could have been numbered 1 - 9 up one side of the street and 10 - 18 down the other. 1 would be next door to 2 and across the street from 18.
This is not the only way to number a street address though.

2-29-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo

The Shibuya 109 building is one of the few buildings I could reliably find in Tokyo (that and Tokyo-Eki). 109 doesn't refer to its address but is a pun on the characters tō (meaning 10) and kyū (9) as in Tōkyū (109).
The numbering system of Japan is basically: City District - City Block - Building Number.

The Shibuya 109 building is in District 2, Block 29 and because it was the first to be built on that block, it gets number 1. This can get confusing if an intersection has buildings which have been demolished and replaced on multiple occasions because the newest building gets the next number. It might be entirely possible to have numbers 5, 18, 3, 4, 22 and 19 next to each other on the same block.
Irish band U2's song "Where The Streets Have No Name" inadvertently describes most addresses in Japan. Although city blocks have numbers, only the major streets have names; which must have confused the American military in their post-war occupation and reconstruction of Japan.

In some cities in the United States and Canada, streets are often numbered according to a grid. The most common practice is to increase the street address by 100 when you get to the next block. It might be entirely possible to have a block numbered 701, 703, 705, 707, 709, 711, 713, 715, 717, 719 and then the first address on the next block is 801.

On the Overseas Highway which runs through the Florida Keys, house numbers indicate their distance from the zero mile marker in Key West; divided by 1000. The highest house number I've found on Google Maps is 106201; which means that it is 106 miles away from the zero mile marker.

This leads me to wondering what the highest numbered street address is in the world. To that end I've found an address in an amusingly names place called Punkeydoodles Corners in Ontario, Canada; with the address of 986075 Perth-Oxford Rd, Ontario.
I have no idea how or why the number needs to be so big but 986075 is certainly winning the title at the moment.
If anyone can think of a bigger number, please let me know.

February 05, 2015

Horse 1835 - The Most Bonkers Race Car Ever

Following on from the announcement that Nissan through its Nismo division in this year's World Endurance Championship (which includes the Le Mans 24 Hour Race) with a with a front-engined, front wheel drive car producing 1250 brake horsepower¹.

I've had a few front wheel cars and probably the most amount of power I've ever had through those wheels is about 110bhp; even then you can still set up an interesting case of torque steer on wet roads. Conventional wisdom suggests that anything more than about 150bhp through the front wheels is generally considered unwise and when you get cars like the Ford Focus ST and the Honda Civic Type-R² sending upwards of +250bhp, it's a wonder why they don't just instantly torque steer you into the nearest tree.
If Nissan can even get this thing to work properly it will be something of a technical coup. Nissan's solution to the problem of torque steer isn't the usual solution of four wheel drive but to send even more power to the front wheels. It's like Nissan decided to employ both Jeremy Clarkson and Tim "The Toolman" Taylor as their engineers.
There mere thought of so much power going through the front wheels is enough to make you want to take the motorway to Crazy Town; provided you don't torque steer your way through the nearest mountain. This honestly sounds like Nissan have produced a car which is actively trying to kill you.

In this brave new world where automotive babies are brought up in jars (and only time will tell if this is an Alpha Plus or an Epsilon Minus Moron), I wondered what the most bonkers idea for a race car actually was.

I'm not thinking about cars like Brabham's BT49B or the Chaparral 2J "fan cars" which used the sensible idea of sucking out all the air out from under them to create ground effect, or the Lotus 56 or STP-Paxton Turbocar which used small jet engines because again they were both sensible ideas. Parnelli Jones had the STP-Paxton Turbocar fail just 8 miles from the end of the 1967 Indianapolis 500 and Joe Leonard's Lotus 56 failed due to a Fuel Shaft failure whilst in the lead in 1968.

- Check out those massive rear tyres. They're like trampolines of rubber.

In context, surely the most idiotic racecar for its time must have been Renault's RS-01 in 1977 which pioneered the proper use of turbocharging in F1.
Just a glance through the entry list for the 1977 Formula One World Championship will make it incredibly obvious that the all conquering Ford Cosworth DFV V8 ruled the roost and apart from a few engine builders who ran V12s like Ferrari and Alfa Romeo, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world.
A bright spark and prize nutter at Renault, André de Cortanze, looked at the regulations which had been in place since 1966 and decided that Renault should make use of the sections which allowed forced-induction and committed the company to what must have seemed like at the time, an idiotic project.

The Renault RS-01, looked cumbersome and due to the fact that Renault couldn't immediately work out a way to contain the required pressures for turbocharging such a small engine, they had to cast the engine block from iron; consequently the car was hideously overweight compared with the rest of the field.
Even despite this, for 1977 and most of 1978, it consistently blew its top and expired in a cloud of white smoke, which gained it the name of the "Yellow Teapot". From 28 starts the car only finished 7 times; though it must be said that at the 1978 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, Jean-Pierre Jabouille took it to fourth and scored the first ever points for a turbocharged car in Formula One.
Renault never really made their turbocharged engine work properly until they took a variant of it to Le Mans in the Renault Alpine A442 prototype to compete in the 24 Hours race and it was there that they improved the breed. Of course by 1983, turbocharging was de rigueur and they were vindicated but in 1977, who could have forseen that at all except for André de Cortanze?

The biggest difference between Renault in 1977 and Nissan in 2014 is that in the GT-R LM (even in spite of producing an automotive psychpath), Nissan is using technologies which are reasonably sure to work. Renault broke ground with something that no-one had done before.

²I am always open to the donation of a Honda Civic Type-R... or a Ford Ka.