March 31, 2015

Horse 1869 - What Sort Of Job Would You Do?

There is a lesson to be learned if you post your email address online. Sometimes, due to the power of the Internet, people send you email and ask you questions.
If you would like to send an email and ask a question, my address is

If you weren't writing for a living, what would you be doing? What sort of job would you do if you weren't a writer? 
- Pippin1987 (email address withheld), 24th Mar 2015.

I'm touched that someone thinks that I do this professionally. That must say something about the perceived quality of what I write (or else just feeds my ego). I am confused though. This blog is hosted on which itself kind of suggests that I'm not really that "professional" for want of better word. It might indicate though that some aggregator of content could be monetizing what I wrote without my knowledge though.
Don't get me wrong, Blogger is a great platform. It's just that people's patience to read even five hundred words has been whittled down to virtually zero thanks to Twitter and Facebook, and because of this whilst I've seen many many blogs burst into to life, virtually all of them flicker, fade and die. I personally no one else who still keeps a blog to the same degree that I do and that would have done back in 2005.

In answer to Pippin's first question about what I would do if I wasn't a writer, I have to clarify that I'm not a professional writer. I work in an accountant's office and that's what keeps the bill collectors at bay. If there was money to be made in blogging, I certainly haven't seen any of it.
Let's assume for a second that I was though. In my varied career, if you can call anything I've done a career, I've worked in retail, in warehousing, in an abattoir, a bank, various administration positions, as a court recorder and of course in accounting. I suppose that since I was born in the final quarter of the twentieth century, the idea of a job for life was already a dead concept and when I did enter the workforce, it was in a slow recovery period after a recession in which unemployment exceeded 10% and interest rates had topped out at 17%. The idiom that "beggars can't be choosers" seemed perfectly apt to me and as someone who had recently entered the job market, I took whatever was going. I don't see that any differently now.
If for some reason, I did find myself looking for another job, I suppose that I'd either look in administration or accounting but neither if those things is where my passion lies. No employer is going to hire someone on the basis of a blog (and three books) to wrote for them.

Ideally I'd like to write copy for the ABC, or work as a script writer for radio but I think that it's more likely that Air Porcine will start taking passengers from Devon to St Bacon. Had this question been asked of me in 1985, I probably might have said that I'd like to be a writer of some sort but the whole world of writing has changed at least twice since I was born. Once upon a time, people would become journalists or novelists and submit copy and stories to editors and agents, to be published. In that world, book editors and agents would keep slush piles of manuscripts which they might release for eventual publication but I'm not sure whether anything like that even exists anymore. Nor do I think that news outlets keep armies of journalists and opinion writers under their employ anymore and this has basically an entire industry to fend for itself as freelance writers.

In an absolute world of fantasy, I would have quite liked to have been a professional motor racing driver but seeing as there haven't really been any more than about two dozen Formula One drivers who were actually being paid to race at any given point in time since the late 1970s, that really is the stuff of dreams. Given that I'm simultaneously older, taller and heavier than every driver in Formula One, even if for some reason everything had aligned and I was the heir to an outrageous fortune, putting me into Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari would be like trying to cram Magilla Gorilla into a pair of ballet flats and have him stand en point for the Bolshoi. Again, Air Porcine would be trying to undercut Qantas on price from Sydney to London.

I think I might have had fun as a detective for the police force. During my time as a court reporter, I was often sent down to Central Police Station with tape machines to record and make notes on the interrogation of suspicious persons. Most of the world of policing involves petty larceny and grievous bodily harm and so I don't think I'd enjoy that very much at all.

There are a bunch of other jobs which I think would be ace, like being a motoring writer and getting to fang about in cars all day long, or being a "holiday tester" and testing holidays and hotel rooms, or a radio announcer, or the guy on the Today show. None of those things are going to happen though.

I've also thought that it might be fun to work in a butcher's shop. One of must very first jobs was on the kill floor of the abattoir before it was demolished to make way for Sydney Olympic Park and whilst I saw sheep and cows go in, I never saw shanks, sirloin or silverside come out. I think that it's important to know that the animals which become our food are respected whilst they are alive and on the journey to becoming our dinner.

Sheer pragmatism says that if I wasn't working where I am, then I'd be working in admin or bookkeeping, accountancy or finance somewhere else. That's neither fun or interesting but it stops everyone named William from harassing me... all Bills have to be paid.

March 30, 2015

Horse 1868 - 65 Things About Sydney.

1. The only things that tourists know about Sydney are the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
2. Which falls in line with what Sydneysiders like to promote about Sydney, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House.
3. The Opera House was expected to cost £4m but came in at $110m and 11 years too late.
4. Which again falls in line with Sydneysiders' world view. The only things that matter are property and location; which have hideously overinflated prices.
5. Even though Sydney is the home of fashion week, we know squat all about fashion... but isn't the harbour pretty.
6. We like to think of ourselves as a city of beach lovers despite the fact that most people in Sydney live more than half an hour's drive from the nearest beach.
7. When we get there, we're forced to hand over the equivalent value of the GDP of a small nation to a band of automatic mechanical bandits, for the privilege of parking our car there.
8. As a city, we're incapable of building cars.
9. Or toasters, washing machines, refrigerators, microwave ovens, or televisions for that matter.
10. We like to think that we have a rivalry with Melbourne.
11. Even though Melbourne has better theatres, cafés, comedy venues, public transport and sporting culture.
12. Unlike Melburnians, Sydneysiders won't show up to watch our own sporting teams, if they happen to be losing.
13. Which doesn't really matter since Sydney's game is Rugby League.
14. Which is definitively rubbish.
15. As evidenced by the fact that nobody else in the world really cares about it (not even Melbourne).
16. And we hold 10,000 strong crowds in stadia designed to hold 40,000 people; thus creating an atmosphere akin to the moon.
17. Probably because all the matches are too far away.
18. Probably because everything is too far away.
19. Except if you live in Sydney's east where all of the public transport, happens to be.
20. Except the people there won't use it because they don't like having to share with the people of the west.
21. State Parliament is on Macquarie Street in Sydney.
22. Government House is also on Macquarie Street in Sydney.
23. The Governor's house used to be in Sydney's west but even the governor moved out as quickly as he could.
24. Neither the Governor or the Premier of New South Wales seem to know of the existence of anything west of Redfern.
25. Except when there's an election on and they suddenly start talking about the "heartland" and "grass roots" voters.
26. Sydneysiders know of the existence of the Blue Mountains though.
27. But complain when they can't get a skinny mochaccino frappé.
28. Because let's be honest, even baristas are embarrassed by Sydney's faux coffee culture.
29. Syndeysiders like single origin coffee.
30. Especially if we're ignorant of the fact that that single origin created a monoculture in that foreign country; thus driving up the price of other basic staple goods as growers switched crops.
31. Or if those countries are controlled by military juntas.
32. But the people who are displaced by terrorism, war, famine etc. are certainly not welcome here.
33. Because we believe in "stopping the boats".
34. Even if the people who have been displaced are as a result of our air force blowing their countries to pieces.
35. Even though most people who arrive in Australia illegally or overstay their visa, arrive through Sydney Airport.
36. Which we secretly love because it's through there that we leave on our holidays.
37. But we also secretly hate because they don't do a skinny mochaccino frappé there, the same way as they do in our local café.
38. We like to watch loads of cookery programs on television.
39. Whilst we delude ourselves that one day we might actually cook something ourselves.
40. We think that $40 is an acceptable price to pay for a meal in a restaurant.
41. When the total area of the actual food on the plate is smaller than our fist.
42. But the area of the plate is larger than a Pacific island nation.
43. So we'll buy a pie afterwards anyway.
44. We think of ourselves as great intellectuals as evidenced by the Sydney Writers Festival or the Vivid Festival.
45. Most people in Sydney have read less than three books in the last calendar year.
46. Less than one in five of us buy a newspaper in a week.
47. But we'll gladly accept the free newspaper handed out at railway stations.
48. Even if they are filled will smut from cover to cover but are surprisingly lacking in actual news.
49. But given the quality of journalism contained therein, the price of zero is about right.
50. Because our daily newspapers are either a stream of erzats intellectualism or illiterati masquerading as news.
51. Given that we only have two to choose from; that's not surprising.
52. More people in Sydney get their news from the BBC website than they do from local media outlets anyway.
53. Our most trafficked website is the Bureau of Meteorology.
54. And we go into a panic every time there is a storm.
55. Which is weird because Sydney gets more rain than Melbourne.
56. Even though we accuse Melbourne of being the "rainy city".
57. We cut each other off in traffic at every single possible moment.
58. We drive as close to the car in front as we possibly can, so that no one will cut in front of us.
59. When we do use our indicator, we make sure that it only flashes once or twice.
60. We think ourselves so important that all of the single digit motorways are in Sydney.
61. And we still refer to the F3, the F6 and the F7, despite those names being removed ages ago.
62. Lots of us drive SUVs despite never ever leaving the tarmac because we're afraid of getting out cars dirty.
63. And because we're afraid of being seen in a hatchback.
64. But at least that's better than sweating along with humanity for 120 minutes as we're all packed in like sardines in a train system that was designed for the 1930s.
65. And sharing smells which probably contravene Article 5 of the UDHR which deals with torture.

I think that the perfect metaphor for Sydney is an Easter Egg. It's brightly coloured in a shiny piece of foil but ultimately hollow; leaves a slightly sour taste in your mouth and doesn't smell quite right. It's overpriced for what it is and unlike a Kinder egg, doesn't even come with a fun toy.

Sydney - As flash as a rat with a gold tooth. No style; no substance but isn't the harbour pretty?

March 28, 2015

Horse 1867 - NSW Election 2015 - The State Of The State

Hello vote lovers, politic beatniks, parliamental fundamentalists, mums, dads, aunts, uncles, and kiddies who just like going for a ride on the swinging seats. It's mate with mate and hate versus hate, in the battle for the state. In the race for the premiership where you decide who wins, who is it whose team reigns supreme? Who rules in the house of green in 2015?
Welcome to the bout to knock the others out. This is the 2015 NSW Election.

From my position here in the "Joseph Cahill House of Horrors" I've seen two very different campaigns.
Team Liberal with their leader Mike "The Brawler" Baird, has certainly been trying to push the message that Luke "Babyface" Foley is too into inexperienced to run the state, whilst running a second standard message of hospitals, schools, roads and 'get tough on crime'.
Labor have mainly tried to run a big scare campaign by talking about electricity prices once the state's electricity networks are privatised, should Mike Baird retain the top job. Luke Foley has been markedly absent and that's mainly because nobody knows who he is.
It's Incompetence versus Cruelty. It's Inexperience versus Theft. When the people decide the lesser of two evils, it's important to remember that they've still chosen an evil and that's what Election 2015 is all about.

Unlike other elections in the recent past, this one wasn't just about a generational changing of the guard. The 2010 Election broke the previous streak of 11 years of Labor and this was during a national trend of flipping the state parliaments from red to blue. At one point during the previous national election cycle, the Liberal with the highest job was Campbell Newman who was Lord Mayor of Brisbane, when all six states, the two territories and the federal government were all held by Labor. 2010 came after the GFC but before the hung federal parliament. 2015 comes after the 2013 federal flip and after a couple of budgets where federal Liberal has deeply irritated the electorate.
Even despite Liberal's unpopularity at federal level and even though PM Tony Abbott seems intent on deliberately making gaffes and thoroughly ticking off as many people as is humanly possible, Mike Baird remains as a reasonably popular Premier but is trying to sell a privatisation scheme which is deeply unpopular. It seems that even after Liberal MPs were found by ICAC to have been corrupt, and with former Premier Barry O'Farrell resigning over what appeared to be unexplained gifts, the electorate has either forgiven or is too stupid to remember the carry on and fuss over the last five years.
On the other side of the chamber, John Robertson resigned as Opposition Leader after it came to pass that his signature had appeared on procedural documents relating to the gunman who shot apart the Lindt Cafe. John Robertson will more than likely retain his seat of Blacktown but that out an end of his aspirations to lead the party to the election, just four months out from judgement day. The problem for state Labor was that they had so few members as a result of the 2010 election that they couldn't fill a fridge and so Luke Foley won the post when music stopped in the game of musical chairs. As Opposition Leader he always looks completely stunned, as though he is a mule with a spinning wheel - no one knows how he got it and danged if he knows how to use it.

"Four more years" is the chant coming out of Liberal Party HQ and tonight Mike Baird within ten words of his victory speech used the word "mandate". I find the word "mandate" to be troublesome because parties are elected on a whole raft of policies, which means that you get the bad ones along with the good ones. If it helps, whenever you hear the word "mandate", replace it with the word "unicorn" if that helps.
So when the state wakes up tomorrow morning and realises that it has effectively voted to privatise the electricity networks, just remember that we still might have a government owned electricity network... it'll just be owned by EDF, and the French Government.

March 27, 2015

Horse 1866 - My Kitchen Bores, enter the Iron Chefs!

Now that we've reached the Elimination Rounds of My Kitchen Rules, my interest in the show has pretty well much fallen off the cliff. Yet as I was watching the show, in between bouts of watching Baldrick walk around Cornwall on SBS, or Rimmer looking at massive steam engines on 7Two, I couldn't help but notice that staring in front of me were all of the ingredients needed, not for another round on My Kitchen Rules but for another cooking show - a greater and more glorious cooking show that will win the fame and ovation of the people forever - Iron Chef.
You have two sets of fully stocked kitchens in Kitchen HQ, enough space to move cameras around in and even the core of what could very easily be a full roster of Iron Chefs.
What I was watching was a fully decked out Kitchen stadium but with the wrong television show being filmed in it. It was positively screaming to be repurposed and used for the part that it was born to play. Allez Cuisine!

Looking back at the first incarnation of Iron Chef Australia and you very quickly realise that it was always going to fail. It was hosted by Grant Denyer who it must be said is a pretty host; he always comes across as an entirely pleasant host and that just doesn't work. The roving host does need to be kind of neutral but only if they realise that they're the least interesting part of the show. Mr Denyer as the host on Family Feud on Network Ten works so well because he is so pleasant and happy.
What Iron Chef needs though, is a anchor who is completely hat stand and so stark raving bonkers that they carry the show. It would help if they're incredibly vain and have an ego bigger than Western Australia. The premise of the show is fine but the back story needs to be so outlandish and ridiculous that it crosses the line twice. It would be utterly perfect if the producers could find someone who the public had never heard of before, to dazzle in a burst of insanity. There is a candidate who springs to mind though and that is Jason Geary, who is perhaps most famous as the iSelect guy. Heck, even cast him as the iSelect guy if the company is fine with it. Geary has already been on television before in the Micallef P(r)ogr(o)am(m)m(e) as well as having extensive improv experience in Melbourne theatre. Write a whole back story for him, about being a zillionaire and searching the world for new and exciting taste creations.
It also needs a commentary team who are absolutely serious. They fulfil the same job as the play by play and colour commentary on any sports commentary, and so they need to be able to fulfill those roles in the same manner. It can't afford to be too over the top because the commentary team aren't the stars of the show. Maybe get the existing voiceover guy from MKR for the play by play and Pete Evans as the colour commentator. Pete could give insight into why certain foods need to be prepared in certain ways and what flavours work in harmony with each other.

Next comes the task of selecting the Iron Chefs. Guy Grossi should reprise his role as Iron Chef Italian and get Manu Fiedel as Iron Chef French. Maybe if Colin Fassnidge didn't object you could get him to be Iron Chef Irish and then get Dorinda Hafner as Iron Chef Carribean, Kylie Kwong as Iron Chef Chinese and Adam Liaw as Iron Chef Japanese.
Karen Martini and Liz Egan would stay on as the two standing judges and the other two judges would be filled with celebrities, sports people, politicians and anyone else who'd be game to come on. Get people like Annabel Crabbe, Karl Stefanovic, Barnaby Joyce, Jackie O, Adam Goodes, Merrick Watts, Emma Alberici, it'd be a great hoot.

Clearly whoever has been funding MKR for the past five years has had the necessary budget to fly lots of people around the country but the beauty of Iron Chef is that you don't need lots of OB gear; nor do you need to fly upwards of 30 contestants around if the show is always filmed in one place.
I don't think for a second that there was anything necessarily wrong with the format of Iron Chef Australia, it was only the execution of it which lacked bite. I think that there's enough talent and star pulling power already within the current MKR show to make Iron Chef work but that MKR reaches a point where the show suffers from battle fatigue. This isn't even a one off thing either, it's happened on every series that has been made.

Give us a chance to see Guy, Adam, Colin, Kylie, Dorinda and Manu cook competitively and let's see just how good the hopeful chefs of Australia are. Most of them are going to lose against the Iron Chefs and that's kind of the point. If ever a challenger beats an Iron Chef, they win the fame and ovation of the people forever.

March 26, 2015

Horse 1865 - Covering Callousness In the Name of "Lifestyle Choices"

Individuals have fairly extensive choice over the quantity and quality of education, skills, and work-relevant experiences they accumulate, and this human capital investment has a major bearing on observed wages earned by women and men.
Studies show that Australian girls generally perform better than boys at school, but tend to prefer enrolling in humanities tertiary courses, which subsequently pay relatively lower wages in employment, rather than the sciences, which offer higher career wages.
It generally appears that women tend to assume working roles which provide more pleasant and safe conditions, and which provide greater flexibility for part-time work to accommodate family responsibilities.
- Dr Mikayla Novak, Senior Research Fellow, IPA, in The Age 8th Mar 2015¹

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the words "lifestyle choices" are code words in the same style as "work choices" and have roughly the same meaning - that is, "we are justifying apathy coupled with cruelty".

This article by Dr Mikayla Novak, Senior Research Fellow at the IPA sounds on the face of it, completely logical. However the implications of the article are about blame shifting and the necessary apathy which must follow as a result of that blame shifting.
Firstly the premise of this piece suggests that it is mostly down to women's choices that they happen to get lower paid jobs than men. Those choices I'm assuming include such issues as raising children and choosing jobs which are more altruistic in nature. Since it is being suggested that the price of wages is or should be determined by the market, which is unquestioningly taken as being utterly virtuous and efficient, then the prices which result from the operation of the market are also unquestioningly taken as being utterly virtuous and efficient.
Speaking as a white male, aged between 25-65 I am perfectly qualified to speak about women's "lifestyle choices" and how that relates to wage pricing because I'm not  personally affected by the issue inasmuch as I am not a woman and therefore will never suffer the shortfall in earnings as a result of those choices. Not only am I not remotely affected by women's "lifestyle choices" and how that relates to wage pricing but people like me who happen to make up the other side of that market place are also not remotely affected by the outcome of the issue; as a result, they generally do not care about those outcomes which arise as the result of "lifestyle choices". If you look at the ratio of who was fighting for equal pay for women and who is currently advocating higher wages for women, I wager that less than 1% of those people are men.

The goal of business is to make a profit. Profit is generated by selling goods and services at higher prices than the input costs which are required to produce those goods and services. People who own businesses and make decisions which relate to the profitability of a business can achieve greater profitability in one of two ways.
1. They can adjust the selling price of their goods and services so that they sell more by volume.
2. They can adjust their input costs so that on a per item basis, those costs are less.
It must be remembered though that Wages are an input cost. For more information please reread these two dot points.

Whilst markets are incredibly efficient, the only outcome which markets are capable of delivering is one based on price. Markets are amorally and apathetically concerned with how that price is achieved. In a perfect theoretical market, it is assumed that all Suppliers and Demanders have equal power and equal information on entering the market. This actually isn't true in the real world. In virtually every market which exists in the real world, there are price takers and price makers and both of these groups have varying levels of market power.
Businesses and firms who are Demanders in the market for labour, are generally able to exert more market power than Suppliers. The problem with a labour market though, is that the suppliers of labour are employees. The motivation for an employee is different to that of the business. As an employee is a labour supplier, their wage is an input cost to the business. Businesses whose motivation is to return a profit to their owners, would prefer to reduce those input costs as much as they possibly can (and to zero if they can possibly get away with it).

Here's the rub. If you've made the "lifestyle choice" to be born as a female, then you probably are born with a greater sense of family, community and altruism than if you'd made the "lifestyle choice" to be born as a male. If you've made the "lifestyle choice" to have a child, then you're probably 98% likely to bear the monetary costs of doing so, either through the "lifestyle choice" of leaving the labour market for the period of time of that child's early life; before you can either drop them off in child care (where you then have to pay for someone else to look after said child from post-taxed wages), or some extended period of time on reduced or zero wages whilst that child goes through schooling.
It's even worse if the father of the child has decided to make a "lifestyle choice" and has left the woman with the child, to bear all of those expenses by herself.
If a woman has made the "lifestyle choice" of having a child and then spending a few years out of the labour market, then that period of time will be a noncontributory period with respect to superannuation. Thus, that "lifestyle choice" which is usually made earlier in a woman's life, will have quite marked effects in her retirement due to the compounding effects of interest and the like.

Speaking on behalf of all white males, aged between 25-65, we've made the "lifestyle choices"  of choosing not to be born as a female,  not to bear the interruptions to out careers as the result of having children and because we're more likely to own businesses or have the power to make decisions on behalf of businesses, we're also more likely to be price makers in labour markets and to be more amoral and apathetic, and less altruistic when exercising that power.
The only rational "lifestyle choice" when participating in labour markets is to choose to be a white male; so that way all of the other "lifestyle choices" never have to be made. Males will never suffer any of the direct effects of having children; neither will they suffer any resultant effects in their retirement either.

"In a free and prosperous country, the government should not be fixing any price in the economy - and that includes the price at which we choose to sell our labour," says Dr Novak.
"Minimum wages presume that workers are incapable of judging whether the compensation offered is sufficient for their work.
Excluding low productivity workers from the employment market, minimum wages prevents those workers from getting the foothold necessary to gain experience and skills.
In other words, the minimum wage is a key driver of Australia's poverty trap."
- Dr Mikayla Novak, Senior Research Fellow, IPA, 22 Jan 2015²

While we're at it, the reason why the minimum wage exists is precisely because there is an uneven spread of market power with respect to labour markets. Without there being minimum wage laws in existence, businesses would choose to pay employees as close to zero as they possibly could in some circumstances. I absolutely concur that "Minimum wages presume that workers are incapable of judging whether the compensation offered is sufficient for their work" because in some cases, that is demonstrably true and its cruel to exploit that.
In the past that has included issues like slavery, or paying women less because they were women; currently it exists with the rise of unpaid internships.

Even the words 'minimum wage' should be taken as a signal from businesses that "we'd like to pay you less and lock you in by contract but we can't because that's the 'minimum wage' we can legally pay".

The current argument about wanting to reduce penalty rates in the name of reducing youth unemployment is almost completely a lie. In almost every case, it is about paying existing employees less, rather than wanting to hire more employees or extend business trading hours. Choosing to extend trading hours is like any other business decision, dependent on whether or not a profit can be made.
The reduction of penalty rates and the abolition of the minimum wage, are almost solely about reducing input costs for employers and nothing else.
Reducing penalty rates and abolishing the minimum wage has a very large effect on labour markets. It has the effect of pushing the supply curve for labour which leads to a new lower equilibrium position for that labour. Pushing this sort of legislation through the parliament is a very large and ostentatious display of market power and is very much in favour of price makers.
What I found particularly dishonest about the reply that I got from Dr Novak when I asked her about how she reconciled the two issues of so called "lifestyle choices" of women and the abolition of the minimum wage, is that she said that there was none.

hi, no inconsistency. One deals with minimum wages, the other with above-minimum wages. Ta for tweeting!
- @NovakMikayla, 21 Mar 2015³

Anyone who looks at the labour market with only a customary glance would notice that it is women who are more likely to bear the brunt of such legislation. Women are more likely to work in the retail sector and in lower paid industries such as childcare and so are more likely to be directly affected by the abolition of the minimum wage. Maybe Dr Novak thinks that it's even virtuous and efficient that the market should find a new lower equilibrium position for women's wages. Obviously I can't comment because I'm a white male aged 25-65 and so people like me are less likely to be directly affected by the issue (though people like me are more likely to be exerting market power, making decisions which affect other people and more importantly, benefiting from the issue).
If the minimum wage is abolished and penalty rates reduced or cut, it then means that the same people then have to work longer hours to achieve the same level of wages that they would have done previously. If there is a single mother who needs to find the money to cover expenses like rent, electric, water, groceries etc. then I suppose that you could call the operation of the market which would result in her working longer hours is both virtuous and efficient and you may even choose to blame her for her "lifestyle choices" but I think that it's cruel and that policy makers who don't consider this are also cruel.

It's also worth remembering that the IPA was very much represented in that first Canberra conference of the Liberal Party and that the IPA and the Liberal Party have been closely aligned ever since. Often what gets discussed in IPA papers becomes Liberal Party; it's often a case of the tail wagging the dog.

I think that it's important to be asking questions with regard to gender pay inequality and issues surrounding the minimum wage and the like but to conclude that the market is entirely virtuous and produces the most net good for the most people is in my opinion, not particularly well guided at all; at worst, it's downright callous.


March 25, 2015

Horse 1864 - Do I Know You?

Moving forth and back across this massive conurbation we call Sydney, as I do ten times a week, it is probably inevitable that I'm going to run into either someone that I know or who knows me, at some point. The world is sufficiently small enough that chance meetings do happen occasionally, such as James Cook meeting the same Pacific Islander on different islands on different voyages. There used to be a segment on the drive segment on a radio station called "Six Billion To One" and there were many of these chance meetings which callers would tell the stories of; so I don't think it unusual.
Except that because one can only observe the universe form one's own viewpoint, when it does happen, it is noteworthy and apparently remarkable. This is one such story.

I was coming home on the train and madly tapping away at my tablet on a piece about Frank Forde (the eight day Prime Minister), when a lady say next to me and after a few minutes, said: "You're Andrew Rollason", to which I replied in the affirmative and she proceeded to tell me that we had been to high school together.
The problem was that when I asked her name, it was someone that I didn't remember and given the fact that I left school almost twenty years ago, I didn't really have the necessary memory hooks or the context to work out who this was. She knew who I was but I genuinely wouldn't have been able to identify her from the four millions of people who live in this giant mass of humanity perched upon the eastern seaboard. If you do happen to be reading this and you were that person on the train, please send me a tweet @rollo75 or an email at because (and I hope that this isn't taken the wrong way because I don't mean to be mean), I don't remember you at all.

I can remember a whole host of completely useless information such as the number on Philippe Alliot's Ligier in the 1985 Formula One Season, or the valency of Astatine, the various powers of the parliament under section 51 of the constitution, the explanation of the thousands of stars that John Glenn saw in his Mercury capsule but I don't remember the names of most people that I went to school with almost twenty years ago. Nor do I remember the names of the vast majority of people that I happened to have worked with in very large organisations.

I'm reasonably sure though, that this is probably true for a lot of people. There is an observable phenomenon where you can walk into a room and have no idea why you entered it, or you can forget whether or not you locked the front door, or you can drive home and not remember most of the journey. If you have a thing which in context is part of a larger system, then it's more likely that the whole system will remembered as a single item.
To wit:
Could you remember the following string of numbers?
The more astute readers will have noticed that those numbers when broken up suddenly become 1776, 1812, 1915, 1945, 1966 and 2001. It has long been said that history is not about dates but about stories, and the only reason why any of those dates is important is because of the stories behind them.
For instance, I was playing a game of three a side knockabout football in the park on Sunday and when I got home, I couldn't for the life of me, remember where I'd put my mobile phone. Even after searching hither and yon, I had to drive all the way back to the park and it was only there that I'd remembered that I'd put the phone in the glovebox of the car. The reason why retracing one's steps works so well is that you return to the points where stories (however trivial) again have context.

I'm sure that this lady in her latter 30s is quite important to a great deal many people but the reason why I don't remember who she was is entirely due to the same reason why a string of numbers are so hard to remember - I don't remember any stories where our lives crossed paths. Yet the weird thing is that for some reason unknown to me, I must have figured in some story in her life which she remembers. Given there were 120 people in our grade, it is logical that the conditions existed where that must've happened but I've got no idea what they might have been.
A school teacher once told me that for the 30 plus years that she'd been in the job, she could remember most the children who had been trouble but that she couldn't for the most part remember any of the nicely behaved children. This speaks to me of some reinforcement process of memory and I hope that that's what's gone on here, that this person was one of the friendly forgettable people. What does that say about me though? I don't think that I was terribly ill-behaved but I guess that I must've been weird enough to be memorable. I don't know if I'm pleased about that or not.

I'm sorry that I don't remember who you are but I suppose that must mean that you were/are a nice person. That was literally half a lifetime ago and I'm afraid that my memory gallery must have thrown out a heap of stuff, a long time ago. I can remember where I was when I heard the news that Princess Diana died, or when the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were struck by those planes but if you asked me about a non specific day in 1994, unless it was the Bathurst 1000, or the FA Cup third round, I have no idea about who sat where in most classes high school or even who the heck these people were. Give me a name and I might nod my head but that's not the same as a shared story whose memory stretches on through the years.

March 24, 2015

Horse 1863 - The Liberal Party Thinks You Can Just...

Firstly an "instructional" video.

This I can only assume is the Liberal Party of NSW's method of showing complete and utter contempt for the operation of democracy and the decent and respectable people of New South Wales¹.
I argue that the name of the video is wrong. It shouldn't be "How to Vote on 28 March 2015" because that's legally a lie. It should read "How we Think You Should Mark Your Ballot Paper on 28 March 2015". The video on YouTube then helpfully, denies any conversation about the subject with the delightful tag that "Comments are disabled for this video".

Why does this stick in my craw so? Why am I so riled up and wound up tighter than a spinning top which is ready to go? Why? Because I think that this video is inviting the decent and respectable people of New South Wales to throw their preferences down the toilet. It even condescendingly tells the decent and respectable people of New South Wales that they "can just vote one", in the same way that you might tell your enemy that they "can just naff off".

The reason why we have preferential voting in Australia is almost a century old and even involves the to ancestors of what would become both sides of the coalition in Australia, and formally the Liberal-National Party in Queensland. Preferential voting was originally introduced for mechanical reasons; which I shall now expand upon.

In the 1918 Swan by-election which took place under the first-past the post method (that is, the candidate with the most votes won), Edwin Corboy won the seat despite having more than 65% of the electorate vote against him. The votes fell as follows:

6540 - Edwin Corboy (Labour Party)
5975 - Basil Murray (Farmers and Settlers Party - which would become the Country Party and finally the National Party)
5635 - William Hedges (Nationalist - which was succeeded by the United Australia Party and then the Liberal Party)
884 - William Watson (Indpendent)

As the Farmers and Settlers Party candidate and the Nationalist candidate were both centre-right candidates, they effectively took votes off each other, which meant that the Labour candidate won. Had this happened in 2015, it would be akin to if a Liberal and National candidate had taken votes off each other and a Labour candidate won.

As the  United States Declaration of Independence says, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed". How can you possibly have the consent of the governed when only 34% of the electorate voted for the winning candidate?
Clearly, when you have almost two-thirds of the electorate who are of a broadly different political hue to their eventual elected representative, then it makes a mockery of democracy itself.

Just on that idea, the phrase "the consent of the governed" implies that power flows upwards rather than downwards. Members of Parliament should remember that they are there to represent their constituents; this is made all the more obvious in some houses of debate where even the title of the chamber is the House Of Representatives.
This being true, then that consent should in theory be derived from at least half the population. In a full preferential voting system, they majority of votes is 50% + 1 of all votes counted; the important thing there though is that at some point, in order to achieve that 50% + 1 of the votes, consent has had to be given, even if that is through preferences. In optional preferential voting, if one's preferred candidate is eliminated and some has "just vote 1" on the ballot paper, then those votes are discarded and do not count for preferences. This campaign has in effect, actively told candidates and encouraged them to surrender a degree of their democratic right of speech through the ballot box for no other reason than it suits their political ends.

I think that any campaign which erodes democracy, should be stomped into the ground. This campaign should be seen for what it is, an attempt to disenfranchise people through legal operation. Just because something is legal does not make it right or just and the fact that in Queensland where there were signs reminding people to take back their vote and the Liberal Party kicked up a stink about this, is insidious.

The other important thing that preferential voting does is give signals to those in power. Currently there is no "none of the above" option for the electorate to voice their displeasure at the candidates. In an age where we have a political class who are increasingly disconnected with their electorate, and where cynicism of the political process and indeed politics itself is shown by the electorate, the ability to send messages via the ballot box is very important.

What do you do if you don't lime the candidates or the major parties? Under a first past the post system, you could vote for a minor party, or for someone on the fringes, or even a lunatic candidate but after the votes are counted, your vote may as well been flung down the toilet for all the good it did. In a preferential system, you can mark your ballot paper in favour of all the wingnuts and dropkicks you like, safe in the knowledge that your eventual preference for the major party candidate will be counted.
Now I know that opponents of preferential voting will argue that it gives people several bites of the cherry but it's only in a very few electorates and political races where independents are elected; most of those are either ex-members of major parties or local community activists who've spent years fighting for their community. Duverger's Law suggests that in single member constituency political systems, that in the long run, the system will tend to favour a two party system. This took about 10 years to establish itself in Australia and since 1918, preferential voting system in Australia has proven to be perfectly sensible and reasonable.
Preferential voting performs one last highly important function. In the marketplace of political ideas, the electorate really only gets to voice its opinion once every few years. Because preferential voting allows the electorate  to mark preferences for parties who are outside the normal domain of politics, these preferences can and should act as signals to the major parties. Signalling is important in things like complex markets for derivatives, other goods and services and labour markets, and so to actively campaign against these signals being expressed through the ballot box, I think shows contempt for the electorate itself.

Actually this campaign has changed my voting preferences quite markedly for this upcoming election. In telling me to "just vote 1" on the ballot paper, the Liberal Party has ensured that I'm going to put them last on the ballot paper. I'm putting them last because they've shown that that is where they put me, and I'm going to use my vote to express my displeasure.

¹ In the words of Francis De Groot -

March 20, 2015

Horse 1862 - Feeding The Furnance With Numbers

I work in an office. I have two walls that make up a work area and so my usual blinkered view is almost like that of one who works in a cubicle.
Under the flickering glow of fluorescent tubes, I crunch big numbers into little ones and assemble little piles of numbers into big ones, before pushing them into pigeon holes; ready for government agencies to play with and then assess what their portion of the pile is.
If I was the stoker of some grand furnace, my job would be to shovel fuel into the fire but even though I have no shovel, the metaphorical furnace still demands to be fed great piles of numbers.

Numbers, numbers, numbers; business, business, business. Burn, burn, burn; furnace, furnace, furnace.
Despite what you may think, the furnaces of numbers (which include the entire of the financial sector of the economy) produce nothing of real value. There isn't even some aesthetic beauty in the mathematics either. Most of it is arithmetic, which in terms of art is the equivalent of the restrooms in an art gallery. Yes, you do need restrooms in an art gallery but very few people go to an art gallery specifically to look at them (except for that one urinal on display in an art gallery which would have remained in the restrooms).

I believe that the sun is a flower,
Which blooms and glows for just one hour.
Within that hour I must depart,
To catch the sun and warm the heart.

Nine minutes away from the flickering glow of fluorescent tubes, is this:

If you ignore the furnaces for a while, if you let business burn on, on and ever on, if you set all of that aside for a second, if you just remove your shoes and walk along the beach, the firey furnaces burn cold in comparison to the gentle warmth of the autumn sun.
I don't know of anywhere else in Sydney where the distance from the bus stop to the beach is less than forty inches; yet I could in theory, visit this on any workday; to dawdle, to wander, to soak up that warmth.
So why don't I?
Like the stoker of some great railway engine, or down in the bowels of a steamship, where the passengers never go, if I don't keep the furnaces fed; if I don't keep shovelling great piles of numbers into the fire, we stop moving and the machine grinds to all halt. Business is brain powered and the fuel which keeps the machine moving, is numbers.

Once upon a time, when there were real stokers working in front of furnaces, the machine would claim some of their lives. Men's hearts would give out and expire, they would be burned to death or scalded if the fires escaped or the boilers exploded. I must remember that I do not suffer anything like those sort of risks at all and that the most injurious event that I can suffer on my worksite is maybe the odd papercut; for that I am thankful.
Nor do I suffer in the same way that garment workers do across South-East Asia, where the sorts of industrial accidents that are seen today are identical to those of one hundred years ago in the west; before the passing of adequate labour laws.
Even though my working conditions are a palace in comparison, I'm still acutely aware that I'm ultimately replaceable, that the winds of change can sometimes blow a gale, that the high seas of business can wreck  the ships of industry, and so the fires must be fed.

I look on in envy at people like bus and truck drivers, whose office has an ever-changing panorama to view; whereas I get to look at the same white wall, day in, day in. If I were to get a light meter, then certainly the reading for the level of light would change but that's nothing compared to the view out of someone's windscreen, with trees, other cars, buildings, the harbour, the bridge and the sunrise and sunset.
Bashing away at numbers in front of an unchanging white wall is not a lot different in spirit to the constant 580nm glow of sodium street lighting - unchanging, unwavering; forever static. It is bashing away at numbers though, which keeps the wheels of industry turning though. Numbers, numbers, numbers; business, business, business. Burn, burn, burn; furnace, furnace, furnace.

March 19, 2015

Horse 1861 - Top Gear Mark III

I think that it's probably fair to say that Top Gear on the BBC has probably come to the end of its run, in the most inglorious but not unexpected circumstances. This incarnation of the show has been on telly since 2002, which isn't a bad run it must be said. Always courting the realm of bad taste and controversy, the show which purported to be a motoring was in fact the very embodiment of the trope "three chaps faffing about". It had the mechanics of a comedy trio, with a thick leader, an equally thick sidekick and the one sane man.
The reason why the show was able to carry on for so long was entirely due to the fact that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May had all had extensive careers in journalism before they were presenters on Top Gear. Clarkson and May had also previously appeared on the original run of Top Gear in its 1977-1998 run, before the reboot. In an age where usually image is everything and you need good looking people, it proves that provided the writing is good enough, image is a lie.

With Mark II on the nose and still rating the pants off everything in its timeslot except for The Great British Bake Off on BBC1 and being the corporation's single biggest export earner, it makes sense to reboot the show again and produce Mark III.
If we were to suppose that the BBC was going to embark on Top Gear Mark III, they'd first need to find at least three new presenters. As localised versions of the show in Australia and America prove, simply casting three people as direct copies of the roles, simply isn't going to work. To that end, if you were to select three new hosts for the show, they'd have to bring something new to the gig.
I don't think that recasting the roles is going to work but I do think that the same generic formula of finding people with strong writing credentials is. There's no other rational explanation for why a car show should do so well. To that end, I'd like to nominate three presenters for Top Gear Mark III.

Marcus Brigstocke
As the host of I've Never Seen Star Wars, The Brig Society, a sometimes panelist on QI, Just A Minute, occasionally on The Now Show, Marcus has proven that he can drive a show from the hosting chair if required.
As a regular antagonist on Argumental, he also proved that his wit is sharp enough to bounce off the other co-hosts as well.

Andrew Flintoff
This is going to sound extremely strange to select a former England cricketer as the host of a motoring show but hear me out. Mr Flintoff has already appeared in Freddie Flintoff Goes Wild  where he looked for elephants in Borneo, watched the wildebeest migration in Tanzania with the Maasai, spent some time with Aboriginal people in Arnhem Land, and went hunting for deer with First Nations people in Canada.
As the winner of the Australian series of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, he was also asked to participate in strange challenges - this is rather useful for the host of a television show as it means that he's game for pretty well much anything. Also, given that he was a professional sports player at the highest level, I'm reasonably sure that with a bit of driver training, he'd put as much passion into fanging a car around at high speed as he did in unleashing fury at batsmen from 22 yards away.

On any motoring show, you need your headline stars and then you need your one token nerdy person who actually knows something about cars. Admittedly, I've had no experience in either television or radio but as Andrew Bolt frequently proves, not having any experience at the thing which you are doing, is not necessarily a hindrance to performance (he's a professional journalist who doesn't have any qualifications in journalism).
What I do bring is the ability to write streams of gibberish, invective and wonder, plus a life long interest in motor cars. If you read through the archive for this blog, I think that that bears this out as well.

I've thought for some time now that Top Gear needed a reboot anyway. Part of the problem with the show is that it like so many publications, is overly concerned with thrashing supercars. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with supercars but for 98% of the population, we're never ever going to get the chance to drive them; so those reviews are pointless. If a car is capable of producing 690 brake horsepower and sing along like an eight cylinder symphony, how does that make a lick of difference to John Plebian or Janet Citizen? You may as well be describing the experience of going to the moon; which is something that they'll also never do. I think that part of the duty of a motoring show is to show off small hatchbacks, sedan and wagons, utes and SUVs because that's what Janet and John are going to spend their hard won dollarpounds on. For most people, buying a motor car means buying something which will hang about for maybe ten years and if you are going to be punting about it in every day, then you want an informational show to help you.

As for the three chaps who have ruled the roost for more than a decade: Clarkson will probably be picked up by ITV and still continue is column in The Sunday Times, May will continue to write his columns and Hammond could just as easily get a job on Radio 2 or Radio 4. I don't see any of them remaining unemployed for terribly long.

Actually the third presenter should probably be British Touring Car driver, Matt Neal; I was blowing my own trumpet for a bit - someone has to.

No scratch that - it should be me. There needs to be more token whiny nerdy people on television. We're the ones who are genuinely passionate about things and produce better writing.

March 18, 2015

Horse 1860 - On Compulsory Voting

With the New South Wales election only a fortnight away, I was asked a question about the ethics and morality of compulsory voting.
The ethics of compulsory voting is a different sort of question to the issue of the extension of the franchise. It makes perfect sense that everyone who is over the age of majority and is therefore considered responsible enough by the state to make decisions should have the vote but does the state have the right to demand that people vote?

I think "yes".

I think that its true enough that government works best when the legislature rules with the consent of the governed. If power is voluntarily given upwards to a representative body, then I think that its either logical that someone is selected at random from the electorate, or that they at least have a say in the decision process to select their representatives.
Quite apart from the questions of the pros and cons of the various voting systems (which by the way, I think that proportional representation is by far the best), making voting compulsory is for me, little more than an issue of utility.

The ideal timeframe for a group of sitting members to get things done, appears to be a nebulous figure which lies somewhere between two and a half and five years. I don't think that it is terribly onerous to make people stand in a queue once every few years and make them mark a ballot paper.
If we people want to drive a motor car on public roads, we make them go through a registration process annually. If people sign up for a utility to be connected to their house (like the water, gas, electric, council rates, etc.) then they're made to pay the bills on a regular cycle between one and three months. If governments are appointed on a reasonably predictable cycle, then how is that different in principle to paying the utility bills?
Of course the difference between appointing civil government and paying bills, is that all of those bills are voluntary. You can choose not to have a motor car if you wish; you can choose not to have the electric or water or gas connected to your house if you wish but you can not choose not to derive the benefits which governments provide if you are living in a country. Yes, you can argue about the relative merits of the involvement of the state in the running of society but when it comes to the determination of the rule of law and the legislature, you can not voluntarily and unilaterally decide that you aren't part of a country (unless you gain enough citizens and consent to form a new country).
If the government is responsible to the people, then I think that it follows that the people are also responsible for the appointment of that government. I think that someone who does not vote is abrogating their responsibility to the country they live in and are negligent.

There is the question of whether or not you even like the choices that you have in an election and so I think that there should always be an option to vote for "none of the above" with provisions in place if sufficient numbers of people choose this option. At the moment, if you do sprawl the words "puke on all of them" then that ballot paper gets counted with all of the ones which are mistake ridden or blank and I don't think that that's right.
On the other hand, I can understand that people may choose not to vote for religious reasons but I don't think that this is an excuse to disengage from the voting process. By arriving at a polling station, they have proved that they have exercised their responsibility as a citizen and the fact that you can place an empty ballot paper into the ballot box, does enable them to discharge that responsibility whilst maintaining their religious dignity.

There is an adage which says that nature abhors a vacuum and I think that this is especially true when it comes to actual governance. Essentially there are two main methods used to allocate economic and social goods and services and these are the operation of markets and the process of democracy. Quite frankly I think that it says something about the health of democracy if people are generally cynical about what governments can and can't do because by default, if democracy doesn't fill the void of power, then the power of the market does; which is mostly indifferent and in some cases actively works against the welfare of people. I don't think that it's unreasonable to force people to consider their own welfare; the very least they can do is make a few marks on a ballot paper once every few years.

March 17, 2015

Horse 1859 - F1: The Silver Streak Continues (Round 1)

- This was as close as anyone got to the Silver Arrows.

The beginning of any new season is a bit like the first day back at school. No-one is settled in and there are always those who are disruptive. Yes, there had been pre-season testing, in which Mercedes seemed to float around in an endless blur of speed, in which McLaren's new recruit Fernando Alonso had become mysteriously injured and refused to release any details, in which Red Bull could never get their Renault engines to run reliably and where McLaren could barely get their Honda engines to run at all, and where Ferrari's Raikkonen and Vettel appeared to promise so much. All would be found out on opening day.

Before a wheel had even turned in proper anger, Catherham had fallen over and gone into receivership, Marussia had left Manor F1 holding the bag but with no money in it and Force India and Sauber were experiencing their own money troubles.
F1 supremo Bernie in his perpetual and chronic lack of care for anything or anyone unless he's able to extract a considerable amount of cash out of them (in the 1980s he didn't even save Brabham after previously being a Team Principal of that team), is perfectly content to watch the smaller teams die, even if that means fewer cars on the grid. The current funding setup rewards teams like Mercedes and Ferrari when clearly, they are not struggling.

Sauber in particular, had spent the beginning of race week in court after Guido Van De Garde took them to the Victorian Supreme Court, arguing that because he was a contacted driver, that he should be given a drive. Sauber had unilaterally decided that they needed some drivers who had the ability to bring funding to the team and so they effectively started the year with four drivers but only two cars. Van De Garde won his appeal in court but was still not allowed to race because his Formula One Super Licence had not been renewed.

On track, Marussia who were now called Manor F1, never put a car on track for the weekend. Bottas' Williams didn't take part in the race because he was injured. Magnussen's McLaren had technical issues with it's engine and stopped on the warmup lap; as did Kyvat's Red Bull which stopped due to software glitches. From a possible 20 cars, only 15 started the race.

The first corner of any Grand Prix season is often difficult and most of the cars got through relatively unscathed except for Pastor Maldonado who found himself the victim in a tiff between the two Ferraris, Sainz's Red Bull and Nasr's Sauber and was tagged by Kimi Raikkonen, punting him into the wall. His Lotus teammate Grosjean would also suffer some sort of engine glitch and his race was canned at the end of the first lap; thus ended a disastrous weekend for Lotus.

From here the race fell into a general sort of rythym with the two Mercedes streaking off into the distance and and everyone trailing further and further behind. Really apart from 17 year old Max Verstappen whose Toro Rosso expired underneath him and Raikkonen who was ordered to stop for fear of a rear left tyre which might not have been affixed properly, the race kind of meandered along until the chequered flag dropped.
Hamilton surged to a position roughly 20 seconds ahead of Rosberg and was never passed on track; the only times that a Mercedes didn't lead a lap was the period when Hamilton and Rosberg had pitted, which let them out of step for a while. Once Vettel and Massa had pitted for new tyres, they duly slotted in behind the two Mercedes.
Mercedes scored a relatively easy 1-2 and were never headed. The question before the Grand Prix was always going to be which Mercedes would win, rather than anyone else.

Really what we've learned from the first race of the year is that the Mercedes is still the class act of the field; that Ferrari have made some progress but not enough to trouble the silver arrows up front; that Renault really need to work harder on their powerplant and that Honda's new engines are at the moment, complete and utter rubbish.

Honda have always had the problem in F1 that they want to do as much as they possibly can, to push their engineering department. When they took over BAR in the mid 00s, BAR went from a team of also fans to tailenders. I don't know if McLaren's troubles are related to Honda's perpetual tinkering but I do know that Jensen Button was asked to turn down the dials on the engine. Apart from a feeble attempt to hold up Sergio Perez in the Force India, the only reason that Button made up any places was either off the start line or because other cars had expired. He was circulating as much as 6 seconds a lap behind the Mercedes and so you get the impression that McLaren would want to be out of Melbourne as quickly as possible.

I find it really strange that although this is the second year of these regulations with the hybrid V6 powerplant, unreliability has gone up rather than down. The exception was McLaren whose Honda was new but t seems that in the race to chase down the Mercedes, the other teams are trying to turn the wick up even harder. Williams who also run a Mercedes engine and therefore don't need to engage in the face for more power, probably would have picked up two points paying positions and so apart from them, only Ferrari looks to have a hope at challenging the silver juggernaut.
Team Principal of Red Bull, Christian Horner, has voiced the opinion that the rules need to be re-jigged so that the field has a chance but this is in stark contrast to his own advice to the other teams when Red Bull was beating all and sundry, when he said that the other teams need to work harder.

In 2015 which is the first year since 1984 that all races will not be shown live on free-to-air television, I've decided that the races which are only shown on pay TV do not exist as far as I'm concerned. In the spirit of 1984, I'm going to keep score based on the ten races that we do get and using 1984's points system of 9-6-4-3-2-1.
"The John Logie Baird Television Was Better in 1984 Memorial Cup" at the end of Round 1 looks like this:

9 Hamilton
6 Rosberg
4 Vettel
3 Massa
2 Nasr
1 Riccardo

The Constructor's Championship is thus:

15 Mercedes
4 Ferrari
3 Williams
2 Sauber
1 Red Bull

For those of us in 'forget about the plebs free-to-air TV land', the next race in Bahrain is almost a month away. Channel 10 which used to pitch itself as 'the home of motorsport' has had rank pulled on it by Fox Sports. Perhaps we the plebs should be grateful for what little scraps we get; in 2016, we might get none.

March 12, 2015

Horse 1858 - Fog

Living in a valley has many unexpected consequences. Firstly; because digital signals travel by direct line of sight, it means that if you can't 'see' the transmission tower, you get nothing. If you wanted to get ABC1, ABC2, ABC3 or ABC 24, whose transmission tower is occulted by a very large hill, then it's tough luck - not for you buster. Secondly, the fact that all the water drains towards the creek means that the plants tend to grow a lot better; this attracts the birds. I can regularly see galahs, cockatoos, crows, mynahs, finches, that weird dove with the spike on its head that makes that noise when it flies, and two feuding clans of magpies which I for the life of me can't tell apart but yet they can.
The thing that I notice more often as the sunrise begins later, is the amount of thick fog that settles in the valley. Mrs Rollo is surprised that I notice when police cars go by on the street and she doesn't and by the same token, I tend not to get as excited at the rain as she does. The fog on the other hand, is sufficiently interesting enough that we both notice it.

Most of the fog that I'd encountered before, tended to be burned off fairly quickly. I've tended to live in places which are more variable in their elevation and so the fog which I've usually seen, either spills down the hillside or is driven off by the sun.
The fog that collects in the valley though, is persistent and far more resilient. There have been plenty of mornings in the past where I've walked through it and left a tunnel of where I've been. It can look really strange (though I haven't been able to properly capture it in a photograph) of the tube left behind after a bird has flown through the fog. It's a little like staring down a train tunnel, except that you know that the 08:24 to Night Vale isn't going to arrive.

You can walk through such a fog and not realise that your clothes and hair are becoming ever so imperceptibly damper; sometimes this is in concert with a special kind of cold that only rests upon the back of your hand; a cold which verges on the painful and yet refuses to subside upon being warmed.

The fog does not descend like a veil or a blanket but initially appears everywhere all at once. Probably this has something to do with fluid mechanics and nucleation points within the air itself but I know not if this is how it works.
I do know that whilst wandering around inside it, your visibility is defined by a sphere, or at least a half sphere which has settled upon the ground. It's your own portable bubble; one which moves as you do.
On many mornings when the fog does arrive, I can not see the end of the street. The things which are familiar, don't as much disappear as they  simply cease to exist. It's very much like being in one of those open sandbox type computer games where things are being rendered and removed as the need arises. The refresh rate also seems to be quite slow, with things like buildings and trees suddenly coming into view rather than being shaded in gradually. I even came across one section where it was as if there was a glitch in the system. I'd reached the end of the world and there was no more to render.

As cars and trucks hurtle through the fog, they too leave their own tunnels but they are much larger. Before they arrive, instead of lights being ablaze and piercing through the morning like jousting rods, it as if someone left a frosted nightlight on outside. Speed ceases to exist and you can watch these growing orbs burn ever more brightly until suddenly a car appears, before whizzing past and boring its tunnel in the fog, and then becoming a pair of red nightlights that gradually fade and fail? How can a light which burned so brightly suddenly burn so pale? Fog.

The birds which would normally greet the dawn with a cacophony of noise and confusion, remain silent. They dare not venture out into a morning where they meet the scenery or a truck, suddenly and terminally. So not only is the vast majority of the world missing but most of the soundtrack of the world is also missing.
To walk more than 40 yards on a morning such as this, is to walk in a world of IFR. There is no way that anyone can see 1000ft in any direction and its days like this that make me fearful of the not too distant future.
Once we've all switched from internal combustion engine cars to electric cars, how are we going to cope with a thing moving at 60km/h and we can neither see or hear it? How do we expect someone with an iDevice blaring away in their headphones to notice a Peugeot 209 électrique or Holden Sparky?

The one thing that we can say about the fog though, is that it is pretty. The camera I was using can not capture that ephemeral ethereal way that the light dances around the world and by the time you've noticed, it's over.

March 11, 2015

Horse 1857 - It's Good To Be Good But It's Not Good To Say "Good".

A client came to see us this recently and as most meetings begin, a series of relatively meaningless salutations are exchanged; including that perennial question "how are you?". Even though I have been upon the earth for more than three and a half decades and the days of my youth have long since exited stage left, the words of my mum still ring around inside my head: "Say 'good'. Say 'good'."
I don't know if this is a throw back to postwar manners which themselves are echoes of the Victorian age but I do know that the answer 'good' is not intended to convey any information at all. In the world before most houses even had the telephone, one's deportment and how one carried one's speech, was part of a vast fabric of society, which was stratified along lines of class to the point of utter exhaustion and which was timidly grasping its way down the corridor of time from agraria to industrial capitalism. I assume that answering "good" was a way of simultaneously addressing the fact that people should not talk about their personal issues; whilst at the same time, maintaining the idiotic façade of manners (which everyone knew was idiotic).
"Good" is intended to mean nothing because the one who asks the question does not care about the answer. The word "good" apart from being exceptionally vague, is in most cases untruthful. I will now demonstrate this by way a good deal of good words because I live on the third floor of Grumpy Towers, Pedant Corner. I know that this is a matter of lexical semantics.

The first and most obvious use of the word "good" is to indicate, wellness or a state of fine health. Obviously it stands to reason that if the person was not in good health, they wouldn't answer with "good" but I've heard the word used by people who often have a whole host of medical problems troubling them. Being "good" must obviously be used in some relative sense, for someone who claims to be "good" at age 87 is going to use the word very differently to someone aged 21 and who is in the rudeness of health physically (and quite possibly in other senses).
If someone has cancer and finds it a battle to get out of bed in the mornings, to assume that their sense of what is "good" as the same as someone who hasn't had a single day off of school or work in a decade, is patently ridiculous.
Besides which, if the person asking the question is anything more than a passing acquaintance, then they'll probably know at least a minor detail of the other person's state of health. People on a more intimate basis such as friends and families, who show active concern for the other person's state of health, are probably asking the question out of sense of genuine worry and so the word "good" is also relative to how they were there week before, as much as it is in absolute terms.
Is the person in hospital, having just come out of surgery, somehow less truthful than the person who visits them and answers that they are good when comparatively the difference is staring both parties in the face? Immediately the fitness of purpose of the word "good" is shown up for what it is - a bald faced lie.

How about if we were to use the word in a moral sense? If we take Adam Smith' starting point in his 1759 work "The Theory of Moral Sentiments" that mankind is selfish, or a point of moral absolutism as found in Paul's letter to the Romans that "there is no-one righteous, not even one", then any claim made that someone is "good" is nothing short of an outright lie.
If we abandon a sense or moral absolutism and instead adopt, some other scale of standards, then the question of 'what is "good" anyway?', needs to be asked. Are we to use secular law, or perhaps a set of self-derived set of standards? In the case of the latter, are we talking about the questioner or the answerer, as the one whose standards we shall apply?
The question of "have you been 'good'?" is often asked of children before they are given a treat of some sort. Again, this is completely pointless because it implies that the giving of the treat is somehow connected with the child's exercised virture. In answering the question, if the child answers 'good' but they have not been virtuous, then does the giving of the treat in effect reward the telling of lies? At any rate, shouldn't generosity be independent of the exercised virtue of the one receiving the gift? Logically, if someone like Santa Claus who apparently has a surveillance network and keeps lists (and then applies a quality assurance test upon them by checking them twice), then shouldn't he by rights, only be giving out gifts of coal to the children of the world? Are there any truly "good" children? Anyone who has been around children for anything more than about half an hour, knows that they are on occasion selfish, boorish, petulant and unrepentant; which is no different at all to the adult population.
At this point I'd like to suggest that we reclaim the word "pious". It has something of a bad rap, considering that it has been taken to mean  something akin to being overly sanctimonious. Piousness also has the definition of being diligent in striving for virtue and this according to the OED is true in both a secular and religious context.

If the word "good" works in both the adjectival sense of being applied to health or virtue, then how about in the sense of it being a noun?
The best bad comedian in the world, Gatis Kandis, famously opens some of his gigs with:
"Are you well?... No. You are a person."
If the same sort of logic is applied to the question of "are you 'good'?" then I can attest that there very much are days when I feel like nothing more than a labour unit, to be bought, sold and traded. During the implosion of one firm that I was working for, listed among the assets which were to be sold including a packet of fees, some minor office equipment, 300 files of client information and history, was me. Yes, me. In much the same way as football players are bought and sold on the transfer market, I was a listed asset in the sale documents.
In a market driven system, those who buy and sell care not if the thing being bought or sold is a good or a service, as long as said thing contributes to the profitability of the firm.

Lastly, there is another sense in which the word "good" is used as a statement of quality and yet means that the thing is verging on horrible - numismatics.
Once you leave the world of bright and shiny Proof and Uncirculated coins which have never and will never jingle in people's pockets, you move downwards through Extremely Fine and Very Fine, all the way down to Good, Worn and Poor. A "Good" coin is one which has considerable wear such as pit marks and which most of the fine detail such as hair and the like have been rubbed away through use. Only in exceptional circumstances is a "good" coin worth anything to collectors - which might be when said coin is one of only a few examples left or if it has been part of a famous boards or a shipwreck or some such. If you say that you are "good" at a Coin Fair, then I can guarantee that there will be people who will play on the pun and make mention of wear on your features (maybe in the "nerd voice").
"Good" in that case, means the exact opposite of itself. I don't know if there's a name for that but I am reminded that sometimes a double negative can mean a positive as in "not bad" and a double positive can mean a negative; if anyone tells you otherwise, simply roll your eyes and answer "yeah, right".

If anyone does ask how you are, never answer "good" unless you intend to convey zero meaning. A one word answer without any other context provides as much information as the Encyclopedia Britannica after it has been thrown on the bonfire on Guy Fawkes' Night. It was useful once but now is not.

Is it virtuous to be virtuous?
Is it qualitatively excellent to be healthy?
Is it healthy to exhibit virtue?
Is it good to be good?
In future, I might start saying that "I am awesome" and then expect people to start displaying awe and/or wonder at me because I don't think that "good" is an acceptable answer... unless the person doesn't care.

March 10, 2015

Horse 1856 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 14 - John Curtin

XIV - John Curtin

When Scullin resigned as Opposition Leader in 1935, it was expected that Francis "Frank" Forde would take over as party leader. However the leftist sections of the Labor Party which included trade unionists, sided with John Curtin and he was elected by one vote in the caucus.

Curtin would lead the Labor Party to two defeats in the 1937 and 1940 elections and was Opposition Leader whilst Lyons, Page, Menzies, Hughes and Fadden all rotated through the office of Prime Minister. As Curtin was always worried about his own leadership position, he rejected Menzies' offer to form a unity government in 1940, although he did join a non-partisan Advisory War Council in 1940 which would eventually be disbanded at the close of the war.
Menzies' government had only secured power by negotiating with two independent members on matters of supply and internal fracturing would eventually cause them to pass a £1 variation budget; thus installing Curtin's Labor Party as the new government on 7th October 1940.

Curtin was far less submissive to the requests of Britain during the war and following Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, a year and a month after becoming Prime Minister, and the loss of two Royal Navy battleships three days later, Curtin began to express the opinion that Australia might be invaded by Japan.

On Boxing Day of 1941, Curtin had the following piece published in Melbourne's "The Herald":
The Australian Government, therefore regards the Pacific struggle as primarily one in which the United States and Australia must have the fullest say in the direction of the Democracies' fighting plan. Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom. We know the problems that the United Kingdom faces. We know the dangers of dispersal of strength, but we know too, that Australia can go and Britain can still hold on. We are, therefore, determined that Australia shall not go, and we shall exert all our energies towards the shaping of a plan, with the United States as its keystone, which will give to our country some confidence of being able to hold out until the tide of battle swings against the enemy.
- John Curtin, The Herald, 26th Dec 1941¹

Clearly a piece like this in a daily newspaper signalled an intent for Australia to change its direction of attention. Churchill was reportedly furious at the announcement and was positively livid when Curtin placed Australian forced under the command of Allied Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area, Douglas MacArthur.

When Singapore fell on the 15th of February of 1942 and when the entire 8th Division of the Australian Army was captured, Churchill wanted to exert his control over Australia by shifting the 6th and 7th Divisions to Burma. When Darwin was bombed on the 19th, it was really only then that Churchill came to regard Australia's worries as serious.

Quite apart from managing Australia's war commitments, Curtin's Government assumed sole control of Income Tax from 1942, passed several key pieces of legislation with regards pensions, child endowments and made Aboriginal peoples eligible for pensions for the first time.
From a legal perspective, Curtin's Government asserted Australia's independence by finally passing the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act (1942). British Law would no longer hold supremacy.
The 1943 election saw an 18 seat swing to Curtin's government and in the accompanying half-Senate election, Labour won 19 of 19 seats.

As the war dragged on though, Curtin's heart began to give out; maybe it was the stress he incurred as a result of leading the country through the war.
Curtin died in The Lodge on the 5th of July 1945 and within nine weeks, the war would be over. General Douglas MacArthur would later say that "the preservation of Australia from invasion will be his immemorial monument"; though really, the transformation of Australia from a fragmentary state, to one which seriously looked at the provision of welfare for many of its citizens for the first time, is probably Curtin's greatest legacy.


March 08, 2015

Horse 1855 - You In A Different Country From The One You Were In On March 1st. – 50 points

In 2012 I was in a Photo Scavnger Hunt¹. The rules required you to get a photo every day and whoever got the most points in the month won (and won the fame and ovation of the people forever).
BJD is currently on another sort of hunt for photos this March and that's well worth a look at².
Whilst I don't have any intent to necessarily engage in a month long photo hunt, quite coincidentally, I had to deliver a set of documents to someone's house; that sparked the following diversion.

Within the Municipality of Mosman lies another country, that is if you consider that a country can just unilaterally declare itself as a separate entity; that country is the Principality of Wy.

Lying somewhere near Wyargine Point, Principality of Wy declared itself to be a separate nation following a lands dispute with Mosman Council. Prince Paul Delprat wanted to build a driveway from his house across what appears on the survey at the Lands & Titles Office (which is now Land And Property Information NSW) as an unfinished road. Mosman Council had not resolved the issue after eleven years of dithering and so Prince Paul finally did his rag at the council and declared the Principality of Wy to be its own sovereign nation.
I assume that the name "Wy" is both a play on the name Wyargine Point and the word "why"³.

- Where is Wy? Is this Wy?

Even though I know exactly which house lies in the middle of the Principality of Wy and can even find it on a map, it is exceptionally difficult to work out where it is once you are there.
I suspect that this footbridge is the only access point into the principality but I could be entirely wrong. Certainly this was the point that once I crossed, I felt scared and worried that I might be trespassing - being a citizen of Australia, I don't have the necessary consulate permission or visas to enter Wy.

In some respects, I quite like the idea that a chap who felt disgruntled with the local government just decided to unilaterally declare his bit of land a separate country but in others, I'm exceptionally glad that no-one really recognises this.
If it were perfectly legal for everyone to do this, then my advice as an accountant would be for everyone to do it immediately as a way of avoiding taxation. The problem with that is that, if everyone were to embark on such a course of events, the level of taxation collected by governments would plummet and it would spell the end of public services. That's perfectly fine, provided you don't mind living in a world of complete chaos.
The thing is that lots of multi-national corporations already do this and thus avoid paying any tax anywhere. Very big corporations like Apple, Google and Microsoft are already known to engage in what's known as a Double Irish arrangement, whereby the amount of tax they pay is very close to zero because their ultimate destination for reported incomes are tax havens like Bermuda.
I like the idea of the pomp and regalia of a micronation but ultimately if they draw services like rubbish collection, water, electric, defence, police, schools etc. for government, they should pay tax like everyone else. Prince Paul of Wy does pay Mosman Council's rates as well as the regular income taxes in Australia - he's fine.

Unlike entering the state of Victoria, or the Australian Capital Territory, there are no signs to let you know that you've entered the Principality of Wy. "Where is Wy?" is a harder question to answer than "Why is Wy?". As the photograph shows, you can't build a driveway across that gorge thing without causing serious disruption to the Wyargine Point Reserve. "Why is Wy?"is easy.

I am convinced that “Why” is the most important word in the English language. It is only by questioning and testing that the status quo may be examined. Scientists do it all the time, greatly to their credit. When we read the newspaper the first question we should ask is; “Why was this written” This is not being cynical and is merely common sense.

March 07, 2015

Horse 1854 - The Bermuda Triangle

Woo. Boogity-boogity-boo.

Despite what you may have heard about The Bermuda Triangle, about paranormal activity, aliens, mad theories about some sort of scientific anomaly like there being some massive deposit of iron under the sea which throws out compasses or methane gas bubbling up from the sea floor and thus lowering the density of water, all of these theories trying to explain the Bermuda Triangle as a strange phenomenon are complete hogwash.
A new report identifies the world's most dangerous waters for shipping and says accidents pose a particular danger for some of the most ecologically important areas. The research says the worst accident hotspots are in the South China Sea, the Mediterranean and North Sea.
- BBC News, 7th Jun 2013

If the Bermuda Triangle was so dangerous, then shouldn't it show up in statistics? It doesn't even appear in the top ten of places where shipping incidents have occurred. If the Bermuda Triangle was so dangerous then we should be hearing about massive numbers of cruise ships going missing. Companies like Disney, Carnival and Princess would never sail there.

So why did this story begin if it's so demonstrably untrue. Mostly the reason for this is that people like stories; even if those stories are unfounded. It's easy to remember something if there's a neat story about it. The Bermuda Triangle is one of those stories.

Basically, the whole mythology of The Bermuda Triangle is a work of pulp fiction which got out of hand. It's as credible as the story that ostriches put their heads in the sand (which they never do), of George Washington telling the truth about chopping down the cherry tree (which he never did), about Columbus discovering America because the earth was "flat" (the ancients knew the earth was round - heck Martin Behaim's Erdapfel was made in 1492 before Columbus even headed westwards) and about people only using 10% of their brain (you never hear of someone suffering from brain damage but being perfectly fine because it was in the 90% of their brain they weren't using).

The most reliable evidence that I've found for where this whole malarkey began was in an article which in the Miami Herald on 17th Sep 1950:
DAT OLE DEBBIL SEA has shrouded in riddles the fate of 135 persons who flew or sailed the Atlantic in recent years. Modern man with his pushbutton miracles has no clue to what happened to those who were swallowed without trace in the loss of ships and planes indicted on this map.
- Miami Herald, 17th Sep 1950

I don't know if the Miami Herald is a newspaper of record but to put this in perspective, the "black box" flight recorder, didn't start appearing in planes until after a series of crashes involving the de Havilland Comet started to make airlines and legislators very worried about their investment. The Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation started looking into flight recorders from about 1954, with prototypes being made in 1957.
It's also worth noting that the first man made satellite, Sputnik 1, didn't go into space until 1957 and so our modern notion of tracking aircraft by satellite would have been impossible in 1950.

This didn't stop the mythmakers from going absolutely nuts. The Bermuda Triangle was the perfect sort of thing for magazines and novelists to write about because it was impossible not to prove. Any plane or ship that went missing, was further proof that The Bermuda Triangle was a thing and if they didn't, then no-one wrote any articles about it. It is the journalistic equivalent of confirmation bias and it works even better if planes fall out of the sky and into a sensationalist uriah heap.
Maybe a mythology rose up around this but it was a pulp-magazine called the "Argosy" who finally coined the phrase in a Feb '64 article called "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle". Give something a fancy name, throw in some psuedo-half-baked science and some marketing and voilà, you've got a legend.

Really, the only things which go regularly missing in The Bermuda Triangle are people's sense of style when they start to think that Bermuda Shorts are a good idea, and people's luggage when British Airways accidentally sends it to Frankfurt.

March 06, 2015

Horse 1853 - We Killed The Mockingbird

As I was heading off to work this morning* (reading Honore De Balzac's "Old Man Goriot") I noticed a high school kid in his blazer and straw hat, reading Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird". Presumably he was doing this because it is a prescribed text for HSC English. Certainly when I read the book in my 30s, I thought that my 17 year old self wouldn't have enjoyed it at all. I thought back to my own days of high school English and realised that I can't remember any of the books we'd been set.

English was not a strong subject of mine in high school. I don't doubt that if I attempted the HSC now, I could probably do really well in English. Almost certainly the main reason why I did so badly (and because hindsight is always viewed with better than 20/20 vision), was that I found what we were reading in class, either duller than dishwater or as acutely annoying as being pricked with a needle.
Subjects to do with maths like Physics and Economics (and obviously Mathematics), I found fascinating but the texts that they gave us in English obviously left so little impression on me, that I don't even remember their names.
When it came to actually sitting down and doing the final exams in English, I found that on the prescribed list of texts that could have been available to us, were books like George  Orwell's "1984",  Joseph Heller's "Catch 22" and the works of the Bard, which I had read and knew very well, and so I answered the essay questions on those despite never discussing them in class.

I can safely say as someone who now reads a fair amount for pleasure, that once the curse of work had been taken out of reading, it ceased to be so hateful. The problem with high school English generally is that either you have people on committees who set curricular, who have lived in the rarefied air of academia for so long that they either do not or will not think about the boredom that they are about to inflict upon a generation of students, or you have teachers who are trying to be cool and hip (or whatever it is that the kids say these days) and they'll set books which although popular, are the literary equivalent of eating a can of whip cream and a packet of marshmallows for dinner. Part of the blame for that though, lies in the fact that the books that high school students tend to enjoy, end up being really poorly written.

I don't know what is actually on the current English curricular but I hope that there's a unit in Year 11 at very least, which looks at tropes, clichés, themes and basic narrative structure. The only thing which stayed with me in this respect from my days in school was the two word "theme" for want of a better word but I honestly can not recall being anything like the necessary toolkit to be to make any use of that. It wasn't until I read about literary theory much later and started looking at the mechanics of how stories are constructed, that I think I would have even stood a chance at doing well in high school English.
In that respect, setting a work like Star Wars, or The Lion King, where there is obviously a hero's journey, a series of tasks, a bildungsroman, and a rising series of complications, climaxes and resolution, makes analysis really easy. Set the easy stuff first, before jumping into something with more nuance. Yes in Star Wars, the baddies are bad and the goodies are good, and there are definite issues concerning having a pretty princess as a prize, but those are the sorts of things which high school students can understand. Then you can move them on to something like Tolstoy's "War And Peace" and ask questions about the sorts of agency which the various characters posses.

Take the Bard. I quite like Shakespeare now. I positively hated Shakespeare in high school. I think I spent more time daydreaming about that chap with the puffy shoulders and the harlequin pantaloons; whose picture was printed on the front cover, fighting off people with his rapier than engaged in who this actually was in the play we were reading. Cap'n Morgan it might have been - you and the Cap'n can make it happen.
Probably the comedies have lost something as the English language has moved on but Henry The Fourth which is extremely tribal in nature, is still readily understood by a modern audience... on the stage... provided its been staged properly. I saw a production once where everyone was in modern football kits: the French people in blue, the English in white, and with names and numbers on the back so that you knew who was who. Take the same script and give it to students to read in class, some of whom are bored senseless, and not only is it impossible to follow who is who but because you're not performing a stage plate on the stage, it gets sucked dry of any life it had.

Somehow I imagined that English teachers were all horrid people, who were trying to get back at their students as some sort of great payback to square off the cosmic ledger, for the horrible things that were done to them, but now I realise that its probably got more to do with publishing companies wanting to sell mass quantities of books. If you were some publishing house and you wanted to make a stack of money from some dud seller, why not lobby the Department of Education to put in on the list of prescribed texts. If one school has 90 students and you multiply that by a couple of hundred schools, then if a book was set down, you could sell a hundred thousand in a couple of years. English teachers almost certainly have little to no choice about what books they're going to use. If the storeroom already has 150 copies of a book, they're likely to use that. That right there might explain why "To Kill A Mockingbird" has sold more than 30 million copies. Is it good? Maybe. Is it 30 million good? I don't know.

I do know that high school English might in its own way, kill off the joy of reading for students that they otherwise might have had. You can shoot off all the the exam questions you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

*This morning being the 5th of March.