June 30, 2015

Horse 1926 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 19 - John Gorton

XIX - John Gorton

When Harold Holt went missing, it was presumed that the Liberal deputy leader William McMahon would naturally fill the top spot. Objections came from the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Country Party John McEwen, that if McMahon was to become the new PM, then the Country Party might reconsider the coalition altogether.

In the interim John McEwen was installed as the PM and for 22 days the Liberal Party thrashed about trying to find a logical successor. In the party room ballot, the Minister for the Army Malcolm Fraser and the chief Liberal Party whip Dudley Erwin, threw their support behind John Gorton who at that stage was a Senator for the state of Victoria.
Thus, John Gorton is the only Prime Minister to have ever served in the Senate and the only Prime Minister to been sitting in the Senate.

As the position of Prime Minister is not even contained within the constitution and exists only because of tradition within the Westminster system of government, that same tradition holds that the Prime Minister be a sitting member of the lower house, even though there is no need for that to be the case. Gorton remained a Senator until the by-election in Holt's vacated seat of Higgins, which he won easily.

Having inherited involvement in the Vietnam War from his predecessors, Gorton found his government in an increasingly unpopular position. With firstly Allen Fairhall and then Malcolm Fraser as Defence Minister, Gorton sought to change the focus of Australia's viewpoint from Britain and closer to that of the United States. Even so, the Liberal/Country coalition lost 16 seats at the 1969 election, which left it sitting on a slender majority of just seven seats from a previous majority of forty-one.
During the election campaign, Gorton promised to end the Federal Government's take of ground rent from the residents of the ACT. All land in the ACT is subject to a 99 year leasehold arrangement. He made good on his promise and even though only peppercorn amounts were being extraced, the equity transfer might have been as much as $100 million.

Gorton's tenure as Prime Minister was always subject to the condfidence of certain factions and after Country Party leader John McEwen, retired from parliament in January 1971, his objections no longer applied.
Also in January 1971, Malcolm Fraser resigned as Defence Minister and the Country Party's new leader Doug Anthony swung his support behind John McEwen. In March of 1971, the Liberal Party held a leadership ballot which ran three ways between John Gorton, the Minister for Education and Science David Fairbairn and John McEwen. There was a dead heat between Gorton and McEwen and under the rules of the Liberal caucus at the time, a dead heat equated to a loss of confidence and for Gorton resigned as Prime Minister.
Gorton did however contest and win the position of Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party but this was short lived as McEwen would in due time, sack him for reasons of dissent and disloyalty.

June 26, 2015

Horse 1925 - H is for Hockey (a poem about the Australian Parliament in rhyming couplets).

A is for Albo, who once had a shot,
At leading the party, but the party said not.

B is for Barnaby, with the normally calm voice,
But can be very loud, if he's given the choice.

C is for Clive, with his dollars stacked high,
But who's still looking out for the wee little guy.

D is for Dutton and who hates when they come,
So he turns round the boats, of those seeking asylum.

E is for Eric, who with cars was not fine,
Now he's got a new job, keeping Senators in line.

F is for Feeney, and I'm not talking scat, man.
He seriously is the Member for Batman.

G is for George, who's groovy, so dig it,
With his funky bookshelves and being a bigot.

H is for Hockey, who pays all the bills,
And who once sat a dreaming, of leadership spills.

I is for Ian, and whose voice sounds of burning,
Whilst he's keeping the wheels of Industry turning.

J is for Julia, who suffered mysogeny,
At the voice of the enemy, and all of its progeny.

K is for Katter, in his very big hat,
Who hates Woolworths and Coles, and says that will be that.

L is for Lazarus, who's big and he's wise,
And he stands as an Indy, The Brick With the Eyes.

M is for Malcolm, who got caught in a fight,
From the two warring factions, of the left and the right.

N is for Nikolic, with an OAM clip,
Now he only commands children, as the Government Whip.

O is for Oakeshott, and whose most famous hour,
Was for seventeen days, with the balance of power.

P is for Plibersek, and to her frustration,
Not all states would agree, to Gonksi education.

Q is for #QandA, a political show,
Where the knaves and the wingnuts and crazies all go.

R is for Rudd; Mister Seventy Per Cent,
Who was once twice PM and then he was spent.

S is for Swanny, the boy from Queensland,
Who knew what to do when things got out of hand.

T is for Tony, who thundered a lot,
Who fought and who fought, 'til he got the top spot.

U is for Urquart, and this is a disclaimer,
She's an ex-union official, from the state of Tasmania

V is for Vanstone, now a fine media plaudit.
And who also took part in the Commission of Audit.

W is for Wong, who was quite rightly irate,
With the stupid cat calls, from a childishly Senate.

X is for Xenophon, who was not one of the boys,
Fiercely independent, with a very strange noise.

Y is for Young, who when once in the chamber,
Had to remove her baby because it was a stranger.

Z is for Zappia, though he's not been round long,
You do not want to cross him, he's incredibly strong.

June 25, 2015

Horse 1924 - Ezra: The Scribe Who Cited Documents

If it was your intent to write some tome that would form part of a great religion, I'm pretty sure that you would not set about by keeping records of the decrees of foreign kings, a list of the staff who were employed or an accounting record of the inventory of the temple that you've just built. Yet this pretty well much explains the bulk of the book of Ezra.
Ezra is a book which is obviously written by an official and of itself, encompasses a kind of dull and drawn out narrative. Of its ten chapters, five contain official correspondence; so the whole book tends to read more like the minutes of a council meeting than anything else. If you want a story with a narrative with a bit more kick, then the book of Nehemiah which follows in English translations is a more entertaining read. In Latin and Greek texts they were often seen as a pair and sometimes known as 1 & 2 Esdras and in Hebrew texts, they're sometimes combined into the single Ezra-Nehemiah. In fact, the two are contemporaries, with Ezra being named in Nehemiah's book in Chapter 8. Even there Ezra is a bit of a bore, as he reads from the Torah from daybreak until noon in front of the people. Admittedly people in the ancient world who didn't live in a world dominated by the clock, or distracted by television, the internet and other media, probably had far longer attention spans than we do but I suspect that even they must have been bored senseless at some point.

So why bother with this snorefest? Ezra, the most boring person in the land is passionate about recording what was important to him. Ezra who is obviously a scribe or someone who is trained in the law, is citing the documents which lead to the restoration of the temple and to me it's pretty obvious that he's taken he time to make sure that he has made sure that his sources are correct and accurate. I like that.
After suffering wave after wave of invasion, the nation of Israel is carved up and the southern united kingdom of Judah and Benjamin, is carried off as captives to Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar in 609BC. For the next seventy years, Babylon also succumbs to a bigger empire in that of the Persians and in 538BC, Cyrus the Great decides that he wants to be rid of these people and sends them back to where they came from.
It must be said that the Persian Empire was one of tremendous religious tolerance. Rather than face revolt from all sides, they found it easier to extract taxes and tribute from client kingdoms by keeping them passively happy by letting them get on with their own religious practices in peace.
After the reign of Cyrus, other kings such as Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes and Darius (the Second) are mentioned and after a great deal of faffing about, which wasn't exactly helped by neighbouring client kingdoms, the Jews finally had the temple rebuilt and working in 423BC. The book of Ezra begins with the temple and the nation in ruins and ends with being restored to working order.
You'd think that after this had happened, that even a boring story of rebuilding a great piece of public works, would come to a satisfactory conclusion but in Chapter 9 the story changes focus and we read this, which fits into a larger narrative:

I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens.  From the days of our ancestors until now, our guilt has been great. Because of our sins, we and our kings and our priests have been subjected to the sword and captivity, to pillage and humiliation at the hand of foreign kings, as it is today.
- Ezra 9:6-7 (NIV)

Tradition has it that it was Ezra who compiled the books of Chronicles into their current form. The short summary of Chronicles is that what once was a single Israeli kingdom under David, snapped into two pieces which gradually became more corrupt; with the northern kingdom being wiped off the map entirely and the southern kingdom being hauled off into captivity.
The rebuilding of the temple in Ezra which happens through the financial support of foreign powers, is to be taken as an object lesson both for the Jewish nation to set aside corruption and sin and to restore worship to God. The end of the book of Ezra sees a contrite and repentant people, dealing with the issues which caused them to be carried off in the first place. Admittedly this is quite harsh considering that this specifically revolves around the intermarriage of Jews with other nations; which broke a covenant to keep the law and separate themselves from them.

There is another thing to remember about the book of Ezra though. As you read through the decrees of Cyrus, Artaxerxes and Darius, it's worth remembering that from their perspective, they honestly don't really care about the Jewish people or their god. Ezra is writing his book and is looking back over a period of history and can see how God worked but in the middle of the process, that work probably looked slow if not impossible. The story about restoring God's people to their home, is a longer one than any of the lifetimes of the people involved and He moves in events almost imperceptibly. Are we to assume that God was slow in His actions or was the moving of events, which included the tearing down of the Babylonians and the raising up of the Persian Empire, part of a longer game? Blessing sometimes comes from unexpected sources and its only with a long enough perspective sometimes, that we can actually. View the bigger picture.

Also, this is temple which lasts through until the period of the New Testament and until its destruction in 70AD. When Christ spoke about tearing down the temple and rebuilding it in three days, he was speaking metaphorically about his own body but he did so whilst standing in the temple courts, which if if it is this same place, was opened in the time of and recorded by Ezra.
I don't know about you but I like that spot of continuity.

PS: Ezra in Hebrew, means "help". Even after scouring Hebrew dictionaries, I still don't know in what sense that help is.

June 24, 2015

Horse 1923 - Droving Sheep Down George Street - Can You Do It?

Usually when I have a blog spot of this nature, I have links down below so that you can go off and check the facts for yourself, or to get an insight into what sparked this ramble but this time there aren't any. Not even I can provide a link to what does not exist and as far as I can tell, never has done.
I had a bunch of posts going all at once and none of them really resolved themselves (and then there was this sideshow with ABC 1's Q and A going on as well) and so rather than come to a complete halt, I looked back at a note which I'd made for possible future posts which read "Stock Route Down George Street".

The legend is this. At some point, some disgruntled farmers got angry and in protest decided to drive a herd of sheep down George Street and was perfectly legally allowed to do so because George Street is a registered stock route.
Now I'd head of quite famous stock routes such as the Canning Stock Route; so I thought that there must be a hint of truth in the rumour and I decided to check it out.

How do you verify such a thing? My initial thought was that this was some sort of traffic issue, since moving a lot of stock down a public road was bound to cause congestion. I thought, that this must be contained in some sort of traffic legislation such as the Motor Traffic Act. 1909 or perhaps the Australian Road Rules Legislation 2003 but neither of those revealed anything either.
Neither was I able to find anything by asking Uncle Google or even the searchable database at the library for articles in either The Bulletin or The Sydney Morning Herald.

Frustrated, I did that most annoying thing that proper journalists do and that blog writers almost never do - I phoned up someone at Sydney City Council. After being sent around the world of phone operators for a while, I was then informed that there are or were things known as Travelling Stock Routes and Travelling Stock Reserves and that these were defined under the: Local Land Services Act 2013¹, the Crown Lands Act 1989² and the Crown Lands Consolidation Act 1913³.
The problem with being given such an arcane set of information is that when you actually bother to visit these pieces of legislation, there is no handy schedule or map which informs you where any of the reserves and routes might be. Worse, the Department of Trade and Investment's Crown Lands division, tells you "there are over 6,500 TSRs throughout NSW, covering an area of approximately 740,000 hectares" but if you follow the links, you end up back at the information about the other three acts which I already just found out about and weren't at all useful.

Now after about three hours of frantic searching and returning little, I'm convinced that there are such things as Travelling Stock Routes and Travelling Stock Reserves but it's just that nobody has a clube where any of them are. They aren't freely published on any map by the NSW Government and I'm not even sure I know who'd be the best people to speak to anyway.
I do rather like the idea that some irate farmers decided to drive a herd of sheep down George Street because in searching for any of these things, I'm growing bonkers crazy mental.

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
   (And I think the same was written in a thumbnail dipped in tar)
'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
   "Rollo's gone down George Street droving, and we don't know where he are."


June 22, 2015

Horse 1922 - F1: Mercedes Power Still Conquers All (Round 4)

All of the iterations of the Ostereichring/A1-Ring/Red Bull Ring have favoured power over most other aspects of car design and this race was no exception. Even in spite of both Mercedes spinning during Q3, they were so far ahead of the pace that they easily secured a front row lockout. To add injury and injustice to insult, both McLarens were given a 25 place grid penalty before the start of the race for changing engine components; which seems beyond farcical when there are only 20 cars on the grid to begin with. At this point of the season I don't see why McLaren shouldn't just screw up their turbos as far as they'll go and try to wring a thousand horsepower from their Honda engines. Even if they blow up spectacularly, what's the worst that could happen?

As ambient air temperatures barely struggled to reach double digits, many drivers found it difficult to translate engine power to the track. Rosberg who had started from second, made better use of his tyres than Hamilton and the German was able to scoot nicely up the inside at the first corner.
At the start of the race Eriksson got bigger down and Daniel Kyvat in the Red Bull tagged the rear wheel of the Sauber, which broke several elements of his front wing.
It was coming out of turn 2 though where real trouble started.
Kimi Raikkoknen came who had started the race in a miserable 17th, came off turn 2 on still cold tyres and as he fed the power in, he got something of a tankslapper going and weaved from right to left. Whilst he weaved left, he ran across the path of the unsighted Alonso and the McLaren was thrown on top of the Ferrari, sending both cars into the fence with the McLaren still perched on top of the scarlet misery. It would take 5 laps to properly extricate both cars from the circuit and out of harm's way.

When racing resumed on lap 7, the running order was Rosberg, Hamilton, Vettel, Massa, Bottas, and Hulkenburg. During the safety car period though, the McLaren engineers brought in Jensen Button for a change of tyres and it was hoped that these would see him through the next 64 laps and to the end of the race. This was in vain though as two laps later, the McLaren would suffer a loss of drive as its hydraulics in the gearbox failed. Almost in sympathy, the Ferrari engine in the back of Merhi's Marussia also decided that the race was point land refused to continue.

The race settled down into a sort of groove until lap 26 when Bottas made a sterling move around the outside of Hulkenburg; thus giving the Williams driver 5th spot. In response, Force India brought in Hulkenburg for fresh types, hoping to get an undercut but that was to no avail.
When Rosberg was brought in on lap 34, Hamilton tried to extract some quick times from the end of the tyres that he was on but that was to no avail and two laps later, he also came into the pits for fresh tyres. Rosberg passed him whilst he was stationary to retake the lead and Hamilton made so much of a spirited exit from the pits that dramatic oversteer threw his tail over the pit exit line and he was given a time added penalty of 5 seconds, which would later prove to be irrelevant.
Sebastian Vettel made a horror stop though and he lost 9 seconds whilst his pit crew struggled and then failed to replace his right rear tyre. Felipe Massa sailed past the Ferrari whilst it was in the pits and although Vettel would slowly catch the Williams in the latter stages of the race, the damage was done.
Toro Rossi brought in Carlos Sainz for no reason that they would offer, on lap 37 and Lotus would do likewise with Romain Grosjean; also offering no explanation.

From here the race would dribble out into inevitability, with the Mercedes powered Force India of Perez and the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado, reining in the Red Bull and Toro Rossi ahead of them. In the end though, the only non-Mercedes powered car that played any significant part in the standings was Vettel's Ferrari; with the two factory silver arrows again giving all and sundry a shellacking.
Rosberg easily won this Grand Prix which has become something of a German benefit; having had Schumacher win here previously. You have to go back until 2001 to find David Coulthard as the last non-German driver to win here at the Ostereichring/A1-Ring/Red Bull Ring.

Race Results:
1. Rosberg- Mercedes
2. Hamilton - Mercedes
3. Massa - Williams-Mercedes
4. Vettel - Ferrari
5. Bottas - Williams-Mercedes
6. Hulkenburg - Force India-Mercedes

"The John Logie Baird Television Was Better in 1984 Memorial Cup" at the end of Round 4 looks like this:

28 Hamilton
28 Rosberg
15 Vettel
7 Raikkonen
7 Massa
5 Riccardo
5 Bottas
3 Kyvat
2 Nasr
1 Hulkenburg

The Constructor's Championship is thus:

56 Mercedes
22 Ferrari
12 Williams
7 Red Bull
2 Sauber
1 Force India

June 20, 2015

Horse 1921 - The Greatest Corners In Motorsports

 Just like a child's colouring book, driving a motor car is about keeping between the lines. Unlike a child's colouring book, driving a race car is about keeping between the lines at 150mph. In both cases, going off wildly outside the lines results in catastrophic disaster and the shame that follows on from that.
I took a straw poll across three forums to find out what the greatest corners are in motor racing. The consensus comes down to the same five in most cases but interestingly, all four involve a change in elevation, which means that not only do you have to keep within the lines but you have to do it whilst several forces push through the car. In all four circumstances, going outside the lines results in breaking the car; going wildly outside the lines results in catastrophe.

4. Station Hairpin - Monte Carlo

This is the slowest corner in the entire of the Formula One calendar and yet it is easily the most iconic. If video game manufacturers want to put out a Formula One racing game, then this is the corner which their graphics will invariably be judged upon. On this list of five, it's one of the three that I've driven through and that's because most of the year, it's just a tight corner on a road out the front of a hotel.
There's nothing technically difficult about driving through the corner at all, its just that it's tight. The steel lined streets of the Principality of Monaco are narrow enough as it is but Lowes Hairpin also adds the element of turning hard against the steering lock. Virtually everyone approaches the corner as widely as they can before sweeping through and exiting as wildly as they possibly can. Most of the mishaps that happen through Lowes Hairpin are because someone with more ego than sense has decided to jam his car through a space that it never could fit through and ends up banging into the sidepod of the car in front. As a regular piece of road during the rest of the year, the tight lane through the inside of the corner is uphill and road cars pass through at no more than about 10mph but a Formula One car even with extra play on the steering wheel and with more turns lock to lock, would generally find it impossible to come back down in that same lane.

3. Eau Rouge - Spa de Francochamps

Eau Rouge is not the corner that it once was of the 1970s because of those annoying things like safety and trying to ensure that drivers don't kill themselves but even so, it's still a test of courage to run through this upwards right hand waggle.
After turning through an unbelievably tight corner at the Radillion hairpin the track drops away before again climbing up a hill and over a crest which is totally unseen. On the in car shots as they're heading through Eau Rouge, it kind of looks as though they are driving headlong into a wall before flicking upwards and to the right. I can't imagine what that must be like at 300km/h and when you're seated less than four inches from the tarmac.

2. Mcphillamy Park - Bathurst

One of the most joyous stories of the Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst involves multiple winner Alan Moffat. Before he had started his motor racing career in Australia he was taken on a tour and he asked his guide where this legendary circuit was, the tour guide told him that he was actually on it.
This 6.2km strip of tarmac is almost like holy ground in the never ending religious war between Holden and Ford. Other manufacturers have come to play there over the years but the General's boys and Henry's lads have made this something of a perpetual arm wrestle. There are many famous corners on the layout including Forrest's Elbow, The Cutting and The Dipper but I think that the best corner on the circuit is the run through Mcphillamy Park.
After sweeping through Reid Park and then Sulman Park, cars crest a small hill before sweeping through a fast left hander. The apex can be seen but the exit is blind and there is a gravel trap on the outside but on the other side of the wall on the inside of the corner is a drop to oblivion.
Even when this is open to regular traffic this is a scary place but powering through in a touring car at more than 200km/h across the top of the mountain must be only made enjoyable by the fact that you're in a car with a properly built roll cage and there's no one coming the other way. I have seen cars come around Mcphillamy , dip a wheel in the dirt on the out side and either spear back across the track and into the wall or tag the inside wall and be thrown out. Driving through Mcphillamy Park at racing speeds must be like trying to slide down a ballistrade made of a razor blade. Fall off even just a little bit and its going to hurt.

1. Paddock Hill Bend - Brands Hatch

Over the years Brands Hatch has hosted Formula One, DTM, WTCC, Formula Three and many other classes of car but the greatest of all and certainly the most furious is the British Touring Car Championship. Even in the mad days of 500bhp Ford Sierras, the BTCC was still about thrashing repboxes and family hacks around racetracks with more abandon than any other class of motor racing. Paddock Hill Bend with its off camber drop is easily the greatest corner on the BTCC calendar and dare I say it, the greatest corner in motorsports.
Cars whizz past the pits on an undulating rounded arc before the track turns right and drops away blindly before once again rising to wash all the speed off at Druids. The apex of Paddock Hill Bend is entirely unseen and yet the drivers manage to find it with a degree of regularity before sweeping to the outside of the bend on the other side. Get tagged by another car and you could end up spearing into the sand trap and binning the car, dip a wheel too far to the inside and you'll be ejected to the sand trap on the other side and you'll bin the car, and if you miss your braking points you'll not be able to turn in and thus find the sand traps and bin the car.
Get it right though and the car will happily waggle its way through and you can feed in more power as your doing it. Master this and even a four cylinder car will sing the song of its people with more joy than jubilee day.
Admittedly the only car which I got to drive around Brands Hatch was a pretty old Ford Fiesta and even then I only got to go on the shorter "Indy" course but it was still grossly enjoyable to pull off a four wheel drift through the corner.

The thing I found interesting about all four that were wildly far ahead on the list was that they all involve a change in elevation. Over the years circuits like Silverstone, the old Hockenheim and Monza have all turned on some brilliant races but they're mostly flat. Even the circuit at Le Mans which arguably hosts the single most impressive test of machinery in motor racing, is still mainly about cars driving as fast as they can in a straight line for as long as they can.

The greatest corners in the world have several dynamic forces passing through the cars all at once and often the rewards for getting them right are only a few hundredths of a second of benefit. The penalties for getting them wrong, are usually a DNF.

June 19, 2015

Horse 1920 - Matter a fact, I've got it now - Spag

It was raining the sort of rain in Sydney yesterday that would make even Melbournians turn their noses up. It is the kind of rain that comes in sideways and which turns front lawns into lakes, which turns the street into a gondola punting pool and if it keeps up, I suspect that the carpenter who lives at number 14 might think about building an ark.
Getting anywhere in this weather is unpleasant and it makes you want to get out of it as quickly as possible. Yet even in conditions like this, a swirling conurbation of four millions like Sydney is bound to have the odd nutter here or there and I found one at Blacktown station yesterday.

I got off the train and stepped into winds that would not seem out of place at Mawson Base and standing at the base of the stairs was a smallish chap with glasses, who was drinking a can of Spaghetti in the same way that one would drink a can of fizzy drink - no fork; no cutlery at all. This chap was drinking the can of Spaghetti in exactly the same manner as if he'd bought a can of Coca-Cola from a vending machine. Suffice to say, I was weirded out.
It takes something special to weird me out. I didn't think it was particularly strange when on a 43° day in Sheffield, I saw three guys in lawn chairs, sitting in a fountain. I didn't really think it odd when on one particular day as I was walker through Hyde Park in Sydney, I saw a lady taking a ferret for a walk on a leash. I am repulsed by the sight of blood and surgery on television (even though I once worked in an abattoir), I don't like looking at people getting injured on the sporting field and I think that they're possibly normal reactions (whatever normal is anyway) but the sight of a chap chugging a can of spaghetti was as if inside my brain, someone was shifting gears without the clutch. I just could not process it.

I really wanted to take a photograph of this but I thought that that would also be incredibly weird, that and it's just not nice to take someone's photograph without their permission. So the best that I could do was to stand about a bit on the platform (platforms are excellent for standing about on; I've done some of my best standing about on railway station platforms) and try not to watch as this chap drunk his can of spaghetti and see what what would happen. What did happen was entirely dull though, he drunk his can of spaghetti and left. The photograph which is decidedly less interesting than it otherwise could have been, is therefore just an empty and forlorn can, on a set of stairs.

You can get it lifting; you can get it shifting. You can get it waiting for a train.
A hard earned thirst needs a big cold beer, and the best cold beer is Spag.
If you're pushing a cow, or showing them how. Matter a fact, I've got it now.
Spag Bol.*

When I got home and told Mrs Rollo about this and described this chap in detail, she explained that she had probably seen this exact same person, on a train; eating a can of baked beans with a fork. Who eats baked beans from the can on the train? Moreover, who eats cold baked beans from the can on a train? The probability of these two events occurring and involving the same person, is I think, greater than 50%. Otherwise, the explanation is that there are at least two of these nutters in the world.

Granted that I am eccentric and that probably I'm probably not the most qualified person in the world to comment on what is and isn't normal but even I know that there are times and places for things. I can't actually imagine what the proper time and place to drink a can of spaghetti would be but I'm pretty sure that it's not on one of the rainiest days of the year and on a railway station platform.

*I'm kind of sure that the Victoria Bitter song was based off of The Magnificent Seven Theme but I'm not sure:

June 18, 2015

Horse 1919 - The Greatest Piece Of Military Kit In The World

In addition, all the British Army MAN trucks in the support vehicle fleet are equipped with our RAK15/30 units, and most of the others are too, i.e. Warthog, Mastiff and Jackal, along with the Foxhound armoured patrol vehicle. They have proved especially beneficial in the recent war in Afghanistan, as having the RAK units installed in the cab ensures that vehicles stay on the move and are consequently less vulnerable to attacks from insurgent groups.
- Electrothermal.com - Bibby Scientific Limited, as at 18th Jun 2015

I hate war.

Although I find military hardware fascinating and although I think that signing up and joining the military is a noble profession, at some point it must involve pointing that hardware at someone else with the intent of making them an ex-person.
A bullet which isn't shot, serves no real purpose. A bomb which does not explode, serves no real purpose. A fully laden Rockwell B-1 Lancer with 56,700 kg of internal and external ordnance has as its main job, turning people's houses into bits of rubble and turning people into smudges with the consistency of wallpaper paste; if it does not do this, it serves no real purpose.
Every war which has ever been is at its very essence, a bunch of fathers and brothers, cutting down another bunch of fathers and brothers, so that the state, the nation and the cause can be forwarded.

For this reason, I think that the greatest and best army currently in the world is the British Army because they have  the greatest and best piece of kit currently fitted to any military hardware in the world. The British Army has the VMV.

The VMV is the Vehicle Mounted Vessel and Electrothermal currently manufactures three grades of RAK VMV units. The RAK 15 which runs on 15 amp circuits and is found in tanks and trucks, the RAK 30 which runs on 30 amp circuits and is meant for the Marines and Special Forces, and the RAK 110 which runs on helicopters.

What is a VMV? This:

I bet that you're thinking that that looks like a kettle full of minestrone. I'm thinking that that looks like a kettle full of minestrone. So why is this brilliant? Why isn't it brilliant?

If you have a Vehicle Mounted Vessel, that means that you can make tea in the battlefield. Perhaps I didn't make that clear - you can make tea in the battlefield. If you are going to engage in the wholesale destruction of buildings and people, then a cup of tea is the very least that you can do. It's one thing to strip dignity from the world, you don't also need to take away civility.

Actually from a defensive point of view, being able to make tea and heat up food inside your armoured vehicle is invaluable because having to go outside to a field kitchen is to expose one's person incredibly. When the terrain might be riddled with mines or nuclear fallout, then being inside a tank, might be the safest option.

The other side of the coin is that if you are in a piece of military hardware or a military support vehicle and you do happen to come across a village which has had its very being torn asunder, the very least you can do is offer the poor souls whom you might meet a hot drink or perhaps a warm pot noodle.
If you have found people who have had their dignity stripped from the world, the very least that you can do is give back their civility for a time.

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
- Thorin Oakenshield, "The Hobbit", JRR Tokien (1937).

June 16, 2015

Horse 1918 - It's A Rubbish Attitude

The place of my employment is in possibly the richest suburb per capita in the country. Parked in the streets and out on the roads, I regularly see a whole host of Audis, Mercedes and BMWs but even they are poverty spec cars in comparison to the Bentleys, Aston Martins and Ferraris in the suburb. I've even seen Lamborghinis and the odd Koenigsegg kicking about the place. Houses don't change hands for anything less than seven figures and eight figure sums aren't even remarkable anymore. This is a suburb where for many people, working is optional because they can live off the interest of the interest and still go to Europe in business class twice a year.
Yet despite this, shopfronts are often boarded up because the locals refuse to shop local and in consequence, the only businesses that seem to last are a small army of beauticians and hairdressers and coffee shops which cater for those same people for whom working is optional. By optional, I mean optional.

Exhibit A - Three Discarded Coffee Cups.

For people who do real actual work within this suburb, coffee is the work juice that keeps the brain ticking over, so that they can keep stoking the grate which keeps the fires of industry burning. I don't queue with the huddled and addled masses to buy a morning coffee because I decided a long time ago that rotating through Orange Pekoe, Irish Breakfast and Prince of Wales tea was a far better way to go because instead of spending the equivalent of the GDP of a small island nation, I could double my money by folding it it in half and putting it back in my pocket. For those people who need their daily dose of the world's favourite drug just to stop them banging their heads on their desks in utter frustration, their routine is to be in and out like a smash and grab raid but for the idle rentiers, the people for whom working is only optional and so they option not to, they can swan about with their dogs and friends and engage in smug chit chat about I don't know what. Even despite attempts to ban smoking in public places, these are the sorts of people who will use their previous cigarette to light the next one and it is no exaggeration to say that I've seen cigarette holders of the same ilk that Holly Golightly had in Breakfast At Tiffany's. Probably their dogs which can sometimes fit inside handbags also prefer a Gauloises to a Gitanes.
For the more adventurous who walk around in designer gym wear, they will take away their coffee to be sipped whilst on the move (where they can both see and be seen) but this is where Exhibit A comes in.

Coffee for these people is the perfect opportunity to display the little fragments of Italian that they learned in Milan during the winter and use it to make a poor barista jump through a million hoops just to make a Macchiato Doppio Distressi Profundo. Then once they've made a few telephone calls to several people, all of whom are named Darling, they'll abandon their coffee cups for someone else to put in the rubbish bin for them or the council rangers to collect.
The simple task of ordering a cup of coffee has not only become a 'make work' job for a Barista but also an unpaid chore for the unpaid tidy people of the world. One can only assume that these are the sorts of people who have others to clean up after them at restaurants and naturally expect that this will also happen as if by magic elsewhere in their lives.

Exhibit B - A Rubbish Bin.

Uncle Google's maps have told me that this is the nearest bin from where those coffee cups were lovingly cast aside. This particular rubbish bin is a staggering 9 metres away. Shock and horror! The next nearest rubbish bin is an amazingly tantalising 11 metres away. In an age where we put satellites into space, walking those last dozen metres must verge on the impossible.
I bet when the people who left these coffee cups lying on this concrete fixture and read the instruction "Please dispose of Thoughtfully", that they thoughtfully went "Ahh" before releasing the coffee cups into the wild. Actually, no I don't. I bet that they were placed there with as much thought as they gave to the person who was going to clean up after them. I didn't take any photographs of the delightful messages that people's dogs have left behind but within eyeshot of these coffee cups, there were eight; presumably lovingly left behind to be taken care of by the same magic processes.

Don't get me wrong, I completely accept that certain service industries exist because people of means want to delegate doing less than pleasant tasks to others in exchange for money. I'm afraid though that as society drifts towards a new gilded age which echoes the late Victorian and early Edwardian period in terms of capital ownership, that we're also drifting towards those same attitudes of carelessness and disdain for service workers. For as I picked up those three coffee cups and took them to the rubbish bin, I was told by a lady with one of those hairy white dogs with coal black eyes that I needn't bother cleaning up after someone else because "there are plebs who do that for us". The word "pleb" has other implications for me than just the name of a section of Roman citizenry and I kind of had to double guest whether this lady knew that I knew what she meant or whether she was totally ignorant to this.
The weird thing is that if you were to go to Dharuk or Tregear at the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum, I bet that without the inbuilt assumption that there weren't others to clean up after them then people don't naturally expect that this will also happen as if by magic elsewhere in their lives. I suspect that there's still pieces of rubbish and dog messages in Dharuk and Tregear but on a per capita basis, there's less of them just lying about. These people don't believe in magic.

June 15, 2015

Horse 1917 - Let's Mess Wiþ Ðis

Writer Haukur Viðar Alfreðsson thought nothing of taking a quick nap while working at the Brandenburg design agency in Iceland, but little did he know he was about to become an internet meme
- Daily Mail, 12þ Jun 2015

I don't þink for a second ðat ðe story of Islandic worker Haukur Viðar Alfreðsson taking a nap, falling asleep and being turned into a meme by his co-workers is remotely newswoðy but I do þink ðat Ðe Daily Mail's article which included ðe letter Eþ is.

Ðe English Language wiþ its 26 letters, used to have a few more but wiþ ðe advent of movable type and ðe printing press which mostly came from Germany, it lost a few including ðe two letters Þorn (Thorn - Þ, þ) and Eþ (Eth - Ð, ð) and I þink ðat it would be brilliant if we rescued ðem from obscurity.

As it stands, ðe characters ðat we substitute for boþ eþ and þorn are the idiotic combination of "th". Neiðher T or H ever make anything approaching either sound of "th".
Ðere are of course two sounds which are represented by eþ and þorn  and ðey are easy enough to explain because English already has a pair of cousins which illustrate ðe point.

Þink of ðe letters "z" and "s". What I want you to do is to place the palm of your hand gently on your þroat.
If you make a rolling z sound, which is found in words such as "is", "has" and "zoo", your þroat does vibrate. We call this a "voiced" sound.
If you make a rolling s sound, like ðat of a snake and found in words such as "seven", "super" and "bus", your throat doesn't vibrate very much at all. We call this a "devoiced" sound.

If you make a rolling "th" sound, like ðat found in words such as "that", "there" and "those", ðen ðey are voiced sounds. Ðis used to be represented by ðe letter Eþ.(Eth - Ð, ð)
If you make a rolling "th" sound, like ðat found in words such as "think", "with" and "those", ðen ðey are devoiced sounds. Ðis used to be represented by ðe letter Þorn.(Thorn - Þ, þ)

Ðe þing is ðat English doesn't seem to have a problem wiþ having two letters for the voiced and devoiced sounds which "z" and "s" represent but for the voiced and devoiced sounds which "ð" and "þ" used to represent, we ðrew ðem boþ away and replaced ðem wiþ two letters to make ðe dipþong "th" which neiðer does justice to voiced sounds.
I would like to see Ð and Þ restored to ðeir rightful places in ðe English Language because as ðis post proves, ðe letters exist and ðey are not difficult to deal wiþ.

June 13, 2015

Horse 1916 - Australia's Prime Ministers - Nos 17 & 18 - Harold Holt & John McEwen

XVII - Harold Holt

Possibly the only thing that most people know about Harold Hold was that he went missing whilst swimming at Cheviot Beach and was presumed to have drowned. Whilst that might be interesting, it understates what was otherwise a tumultuous political career.

Holt was one of the members of the old United Australia Party before it imploded and he consequently joined Menzies as one of the first members of the Liberal Party of Australia.
As part of Menzies' first ministry he became Minister for Immigration and for Labour and National Service. It was as the Immigration minister that Holt would be the first cabinet official to start the process of dismantling the White Australia policy which had formally been adopted in 1901.

Under Holt, Section 127 of the Constitution which specifically removed the Aboriginal peoples from being counted in reckoning population was removed by referendum and the Commonwealth was given the power to make special laws specifically on behalf of Aboriginal peoples.
This is generally taken to mean that the referendum conferred citizenship and gave the franchise to Aboriginal peoples but this is incorrect. This might be seen as the start of Aboriginal civil rights but again, this is not really the case.

Holt moved to the Treasury in 1958 and oversaw the beginnings of the Reserve Bank of Australia as well as the move to Decimal currency, which finally saw fruition on the 19th day of his Prime Ministership.

Although Australia had been committed to the war in Vietnam under Menzies in 1962, under Holt that commitment was deepened with the establishment of the 1st Australian Task Force in August of 1966.
Labor leader Arthur Calwell opposed the increase in commitment and promised to end conscription and bring the troops home, and took this as an issue to the 1966 General Election in November but this would cost 9 seats in parliament and ultimately his leadership of the party with Gough Whitlam succeeding him in February 1967.

In the run up to the 1967 Aboriginal referendum along with a Senate election, much ado was made about an Royal Commission which was looking into a collision between the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Melbourne in 1964. This along with questions to do with the government use of VIP aircraft and the escalating costs of the RAAF's F111 bomber, led to the coalition losing two seats in the 1967 Senate election and with them, they surrendered the balance of power in the Senate to the Democratic Labor Party.

No government inquiry or inquest was ever held into Holt's disappearance and the Victoria Coroner's Office declared that this was nothing more than a death by misadventure with Holt having drowned in accidental circumstances.

XVIII - John McEwen

After Holt's disappearance, the leaderless Liberal Party would have appointed the then Treasurer William McMahon as his replacement but the leader of the Country Party and Deputy Prime Minister John McEwen, publicly announced that he would refuse to serve in a McMahon Government; citing differences over trade policy.

In announcing his position, McEwen became the only standing candidate in the leadership ballot on 9th December 1967. McEwen's position as Prime Miniser was only on a temporary basis and 22 days later, the Liberal Party was able to champion Senator John Gorton to the role of top spot; mainly with the support of a group led by Defence Minister Malcolm Fraser.

June 12, 2015

Horse 1915 - The Darkest Day In Motorsport - 60 Years Ago

60 years ago yesterday, this happened:

On lap 35 of the 1955 Le Mans 24-Hour race, the #20 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR of Pierre Levegh and John Fitch struck the back of the slower moving Austin-Healey 100 S of Lance Macklin and Les Leston.

The #6 Jaguar D-Type driven by eventual winner of the race, Mike Hawthorn (and which can be at 1:19 of this video), slowed down suddenly because Hawthorn saw a pit board advising him to take on fuel. Macklin in the Austin-Healey also slowed down to avoid Hawthorn but Levegh in the Mercedes-Benz who had seen none of this, did not slow down at all and ran into the back of Macklin's car at more than 150mph.
The Mercedes-Benz swerved left and dug into the ground and began to destroy itself as pieces from the wreckage continued to hurtle through the spectators; killing 83 and injuring a further 120. Pierre Levegh also died at the scene of the accident but somehow Lance Macklin survived and would go on to live until the age of 82.
In the weeks that followed Pierre Levegh was savaged by the French media for causing the accident. This was probably the safest option as he could not defend himself - he was dead.

You'd think that after the deaths of 83 people, that the organisers would have cancelled the race but they didn't. The authorities reasoned that cancelling the race would jam the roads as people left and ambulances needed to get in and out as swiftly as possible.
The race continued through the night and until the next afternoon, when 24 hours after it had begun, Mike Hawthorn and Ivor Bueb's Jaguar had covered 2572 miles to win the race.

Mercedes-Benz unsurprisingly immediately withdrew their other two entries and by the end of 1955, they formally withdrew from all factory-sponsored motorsport. They would return to Le Mans as an engine builder in 1985 for the Sauber team and to Formula One also as an engine supplier to Sauber.
In 1997 Mercedes-Benz returned to sportscar racing and to Le Mans but this was only short lived, as after a series of accident involving their cars flipping in 1999, they once again cancelled their sports car program. They would however enjoy success again though when in 2010 Mercedes-Benz returned to Formula One as a complete car builder after buying out Brawn GP. They have subsequently won both a World Drivers' and Constructors Championship.

What I find utterly staggering about the 1955 accident though, isn't the primitive crash protection for the spectators but the fact that even though cars were travelling at more than 190mph down the Mulsanne Straight, drivers did not wear seat belts because they thought that it was safer to the thrown out of a car in an accident rather than be trapped in the car if it caught fire.

Almost immediately an investigation was carried out into finding out what could be done to make motor racing safer but the response was predictably anemic. France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland placed bans on motor racing until tracks could be brought up to standard but curiously, the ban on Swiss motor racing still stands some 60 years later. Serious consideration to the design of motor racing circuits didn't really happen until about the 1970s.

Even so, with the speeds that sports cars do, there's still always the chance that this sort of thing could happen again. Motor racing remains dangerous.

June 11, 2015

Horse 1914 - Who Was The Loneliest Person In History?

In answering this question, I don't mean in some existential sense, for we are all prisoners who are trapped within bioelectromechanical meat bags and can only perceive the world from limited perspectives. No, I mean in a physical sense; one that can be empirically measured and yes, it can be.

Two score, ten and three and a bit years ago, the president of a certain nation committed his nation to the goal of spending an insane amount of money to send some clown to the Moon as a distraction to stop the president of another nation spending an equally insane amount of money to send rockets for the purpose of blowing people to pieces with nuclear weapons. That president would suffer a sudden existence failure when his head failed to provide adequate protection and stopping power to a bullet which only minutes before was hanging out in a dark place with a bunch of its mates and going about its dull bullet life. The bullet after passing through the president's head; thus fulfilling its life's work, was never heard from again. The president's story, has been heard many times over.

For the next decade, that nation did spend an insane amount of money and sent thirty clowns to the Moon; twelve of whom would actually get to kick the dust upon its surface.
During each of the six successful missions which did deposit bozos to the Moon's surface and return them safely, two of them would go down in the Lunar Module while the third would remain in orbit around the moon. It is in that period when the bozo in the Command Module was on the far side of the moon that he would have been the loneliest person ever. The two clowns who were merrily dancing upon the moon's surface, looking at rocks, setting up experiments, looking at more rocks, playing golf, looking at more rocks, driving a car so that they could look at different rocks, before stealing rocks and leaving, would have always been no more than a couple of hundred yards away from each other but the one bozo on the far side of the moon would have had no other person within 2240 miles of him; the nearest two people would have been down on the moon's surface.
Sheer logic tells me that the loneliest person of all time must have been either on one of those six missions or on the full dress rehersal in which they didn't land on the moon but I don't know which one.

The loneliest woman in history is far harder to ascertain. The most obvious candidate that I can think of is Valentina Tereshkova because she was the only person in space at the time. The problem that I have in determining a definitive answer though is that even if she was hanging over the a point above the Pacific or Atlantic Ocean, she was still only about a few hundred miles away from someone on the Earth's surface. It is entirely possible that someone out in the desert, such as a radio operator in the middle of the Simpson Desert might have been physically further away from another human than Valentina Tereshkova was but I have no reliable method of finding out who. A few hundred miles is an order of magnitude less than two thousand miles.

The loneliest man in history must have been one of John Young, Michael Collins, Richard Gordon Jr, Stuart Roosa, Alfred Worden, Thomas Mattingly or Ronald Evans but I don't know which one. I do know that there is a definitive answer though and that it's one of seven.

June 10, 2015

Horse 1913 - Build a Better Batmobile

Photographs have leaked on line recently of the new Batmobile in the forthcoming film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Like most of these reboots of films that need to be darker and edgier, the new Batmobile also looks darker and edgier and more impractical.
If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else and in charge of film production at Warner Bros. Pictures, there is only one clear choice for the Batmobile for and it would be this:

Oh what's that I hear you scoff? The Mazda 2 isn't dark enough or edgy enough? Have I got news for you? I think that if they wanted to give Batman the coolest ride that he’s ever had, they should have given him a black Mazda 2 sedan.


Batman's very first car in 1941 was a Cord 812. Although 185 brake horsepower seems paltry by today's standards, it wouldn't have been at all out of place in the 1940s. By the time that the first film by Columbia came out in 1943, Batman had stepped up to a Cadillac Series 75 Convertible. Perhaps most famous, was the Batmobile from the 1960s television series starring Adam West. That car started out as a 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car and had some work done on it. Since then, Batmobiles have all tried to look cool I suppose, but none of them look like the sort of thing which is remotely practical or concealable.

If you’re driving around Gotham, you’re going to want a car which is both nimble and blends into traffic. What supervillian is going to suspect that a small sedan is packing AIM-120 AMRAAMs and sidewinders? None, that’s who. If Batman truly is the “World’s Greatest Detective” and wants to be the “Dark Knight” then he’s going to want a car that allows him to not only slip into the shadows but disappear in plain sight.

Also, what does he do when he wants to go down to the shops for a carton of milk, a loaf or bread or a bagel? You can’t leave this grey vomitous looking automotive shambles parked in the street without someone noticing. Even if a black Mazda 2 sedan was secretly equipped with extra jet engines and fold away wings, he could leave empty chip packets, half drunk soda bottles and burger wrappers on the floor, no one would be any the wiser.

I've heard all sorts of theories over the years as to why Batman is an inherently bad character; all of which seem to centre around the fact that he doesn't use his considerable resources in actually combating Gotham's endemic underlying problems. Buying expensive cars in this light, tends to look like a case of conspicuous consumption and whilst I totally understand the need to have an iconic car for your lead character to drive, Inspector Morse's Jaguar Mark II and Lupin the Third's Fiat 500 both prove that it needn't be expensive.

Besides which, if you are in Gotham and see a thing which look kind of looks like a tank, you're going to know that it's Batman instantly. If you saw a black Mazda 2 sedan just sort of pootling along in traffic, you wouldn't think anything of it... until it opened up with 20mm cannon fire.

June 06, 2015

Horse 1912 - Reforming The House Of Lords

In the the recent General Election in the UK, the Tories were elected to government in their own right for the first time in 18 years. Not since John Major's cabinet met for the last time on that spring evening of April 1997 has a Tory only cabinet met in the offices of Number 10.

Yet there's something decidedly daft about this. A party which gained 36.9% of the vote gained 50.7% of the seats and their main opposition got 30.4% of the vote and 35.6% of the seats.
This means to say that 33.2% of the population who didn't vote Labour or Tory only got 13.5% of the seats.
North of the border the SNP  gained 50.0% of the vote but got 94.9% of the seats which means to say that the other 50.0% of the vote only took 5.1% of the seats.

The distinct problem with single member constituencies and a first part the post system (which itself is an idiotic description - it should be called "the most votes wins" system), means that you don't even need the approval of half the electors to take the majority of seats. It might have been entirely possible for the SNP for instance to only get 40% of the votes and take all of the available seats.
Clearly this is daft.
The party that lost out the most from this arcane election system was the United Kingdom Independence Party who despite taking 12.9% of the total vote but only won a single seat. Apart from the fact I find their policies repulsive, I still think that this denies almost 4 million people their say on the chamber of the floor. That just isn't democratic.
On top of this, the House of Lords isn't even elected. Democracy hasn't even come to the house of review of the mother of all parliaments; that has in the past created some strange dilemmas including the blocking of a budget by an unelected body of ermine coats.

The solution to this as far as I can tell is to reform the House of Lords. Clearly I'm suggesting something which will never happen and probably not in the way I say but it's fun to think about. Stranger things have happened, as in the case of the Queensland Legislative Council which in 1922 voted to abolish itself.

As I've already stated in Horse 1893 my solution would be to shrink the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 420 and then shrink the size of the House of Lords from an utterly ridiculous 787 to just 210. The Australian model of an upper house which is roughly half the size of the lower house has proven itself over 114 years to be excellent.

To make up those 210 Lords, I'd use the existing nine English regions and double the current number of regions of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; thus making 15 in all.

The new regions which would act mechanically the same as the states do in Australia in sending members to the upper house would be thus:
- East Northern Ireland
- West Northern Ireland
- East Scotland
- West Scotland
- North Wales
- South Wales
- North East
- North West
- Yorkshire and Humberside
- West Midlands
- East Midlands
- East of England
- London
- South West
- South East
In addition to this, I'd have the Lords democratically elected which itself is a novel idea and then I'd have it decided on the basis of proportional representation.

I know that this might sound odd but using results from the election for MEPs, I think that its possible to extrapolate what a House of Lords elected under proportional representation might look like. I've only done this for UKIP but it illustrates a point nicely.

There is a clear geographical pattern: in London or the large Northern cities, or in the Tory shires that ring the capital, Ukip will be irrelevant to the outcome. But in seat after seat along the east coast, through the former mining country of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, and across the South West and rural Wales, Ukip’s showing could prove decisive. Indeed, in the European elections, Ukip topped the poll in nearly all of these areas, often posting above 40 per cent.
- Robert Ford and Ian Warren, The Telegraph, 26th May 2014

The point of the article was looking at what UKIP's influence might be on the lower house but they were still kind enough to generate a map of the voting percentages of the public. If the regions are then overlaid on this something interesting emerges:

UKIP would win no Lords seats in Northern Ireland or Scotland but across the UK the breakup of what they might have won looks like this:

0 East Northern Ireland
0 West Northern Ireland
0 East Scotland
0 West Scotland
3 North Wales
5 South Wales
4 North East
2 North West
0 Yorkshire and Humberside
1 West Midlands
5 East Midlands
3 East of England
0 London
3 South West
3 South East
Total: 27

This makes 27 in all and 27 in 210 is 12.8% which is a heck of a lot closer to the 12.9% of the vote that they got in May's General Election. Instead of a solitary seat, they would be a block in the upper house which would still be madder than a hat full of tacks but the majors would have to negotiate with them. This is closer to the spirit of democracy, even if they are a bunch of nutters. Also, if UKIP actually wanted to pass legislation, it would need to be somewhat sensible because it it was too bonkers mental, it would be canned by the majority in the Lords and if it was sent to the Commons, it would be thrown in the dustbin.

Unlike the Australian Senate which apportions an equal number of senators to each of the states, or the Canadian Senate which weights the number of senators on the basis of population to the various provinces, I've deliberately awarded an equal number of Lords to each of the English regions and then have over egged the pudding with regards to Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. By itself, England has more than ten times the population of any of its co-constituent countries and this does mean that it should probably have a greater weighting in any house of review but I don't think that it should be so heavily weighted that England can simply railroad through legislation without due consultation of the others. I realise that this is going to mean that the balance of power might be held by the SNP, Plaid Cymru or even Sinn Fein but if the Tories or Labor have to negotiate with anyone to pass legislation, then that's a better system than now where although the Lords aren't compelled to pass legislation, they usually do with little fuss.

The current first past the post system which elects members to the House of Commons is rubbish for so many reasons, it's not funny. I'd switch that to Single Transfer Voting like we have in Australia because it means that people can send a message through the ballot box that they do or don't like a particular candidate or party, rather than deliberately throwing their vote away.
For the House of Lords though, Proportional Voting is I think, the only sane option. Australia has proven over many years that the major parties still take the lion's share of the seats but it does more accurately reflect the will of the people.
Under a Proportional Voting system, I seriously doubt that Scotland would have sent so many SNP members to Parliament. Unless the SNP truly did scoop the pool and take out 90% of the vote, then they would not be sending 28 members to the Lords. Under a proportional system there might even be to the shock and horror of all, Scottish Tories and Scottish Labor members. Heck, there might even be English SNP Lords or English Plaid Cymru Lords. This does mean that there'd be the odd UKIP Lord but seeing as legislation needs to pass both houses to become law, there's probably more chance of my cat winning the Grand National then there is of UKIP passing truly vile legislation. It does mean that the major parties might have to at least listen to the fruits and the nuts if they want to pass their own agenda; this was exemplified in Australia when the Liberal Party in thrashing out the GST legislation had to listen to the Australian Democrats to get it through and that resulted in an exemption of GST on food.

As it currently stands with an unelected House of Lords, if a party were to win government in the Commons and face a hostile House of Lords, then no amount of coersion or campaigning is ever going to change those members. In Australia, Canada, Ireland and just about every democratic bicameral system in the world, elections for the upper house do at least hold out some grain of hope that the composition of the house of review might change in future; even in the United States which has the most arcane and ridiculous legislature in the world and which frequently results in deadlock, at least once in a while the population does have the chance to effect a change. In the House of Lords, that never happens.

June 05, 2015

Horse 1911 - The Most Ridiculous Speed Limit In The World

In some parts of Australia distances aren’t measured in kilometers but hours and days. Heck, even to get between the two biggest cities will still take you at least eight hours. Yet you’re only allowed to do 110km/h legally. Seriously. Apart from Canberra which is inland and for six months of the year in the middle of a Kelvinator, the other capital cities cling to the edge of this wide brown land for fear of all the snakes and drop bears that haunt the interior.

If you head west of the ranges and into that strange land called most of Australia, sometimes you can literally be hours between sightings of two cars. Some places on the Barrier Highway for instance, may as well be paper towns because when you get there, there’ll be a post office which was closed in 1967 and the remains of a dog called Kevin. Even on national highways which are marked with a green shield, it’s possible to be so far removed from any civilisation that even ABC Radio fails to reach you and the only indication that people were ever there is the strip of blacktop which stretches forever into the future and the past.
And yet even in conditions like this, there might be a speed camera in the middle of nowhere, trying to collect money so that someone a thousand kilometers away can pay for a bottle of Grange Hermitage on the public coin (if they haven’t forgotten that they’ve been given one).

I know I'm harping on about the Hume Highway here but other than where the expressway leaves it in the urban centres at either end, the entire of the 883km stretch from Craigieburn to the Cross Roads is either a dual carriageway or full motorway standard for the entire length. The road quality is equally as good as what they have in France and yet on the Autoroutes you can normally do 130km/h.

Cars themselves aren't the pokey little death traps that they once were. Even the cheapest car on sale in Australia comes standard with ABS brakes these days; so it's not like we're still living in the days of bench seats, no seat belts and cross-ply tyres.
Yes I understand that Australia was late to the party when it came to installing expressways and so we have almost cut and pasted British motorway regulations because they're also a country which drives down the left side of the road but when the entire of the United Kingdom could fit down its longest axis between Melbourne and Brisbane and still have loads of space to spare, then adopting their speed limit regulations whilst they might be functional, are kind of inadequate.
Just like supporting Carlton, wearing a shell suit or eating Duck à l'orange, they might have been a good idea once upon a time but better things have come along since.

To go from the Sydney Town Hall to Flinders Street Railway Station, Google Maps kindly tells me that it's going to take 8 hours and 42 minutes. If the speed limit was raised from 110km/h to 150km/h for the route then that drops to 6 hours and 44 minutes. Two hours might not sound significant but I suspect that it might actually be safer because drivers are out on the road for less time. I know that I'd be trading one risk factor for another but even the NSW Government's propaganda tells us that tiredness is one of the top three killers on NSW roads. I'm sure that there must be something like a production–possibility frontier to determine the opportunity costs of one versus the other.

Surely in the twenty-first century we should be unchained a little bit. Yes I do have a selfish motive in that I want to go faster but driving for hours can be deathly boring... deathly boring.

June 03, 2015

Horse 1910 - Windows 10: I Might Not Ever See It

Among the seemingly millions of updates that Windows 7 & 8 give you, a new sinister button has appeared at the bottom, inviting you to update your machine to Windows 10. Apparently not content with being a software seller, Microsoft has decided that it now wants to be a software lesser and it wants you to be the lessee. Not merely content with selling you an insanely popular operating system, Microsoft has felt the need to monetise every single last penny it can out of its chained users. Push that button and agree to upgrade your machine and you'll agree to jump from Windows 7 or 8 to the new Windows 10 and with it, jump from the world of physical product to cloud computing.

I find the whole idea sinister. When my machine at work decided to crash in February, to bring it back to life was relatively easy enough until it came to Office 2013. As there was no physical disc to install Office with, I had to download a replacement copy; this would have taken more than 14 hours. The truth is that I have no idea how long it actually took because this was a task I never achieved. After three unsuccessful attempts, I rang a mobile IT company to get them to install Office 2013 for me.
If downloading Office was such a long winded and laborious process that it failed on three occasions, I can't see how trying to download an operating system is going to be any easier; especially if your machine has crashed and you don't currently have a working operating system.
I'm currently running Android on a tablet of mine and even though I've lost everything on in four times now, because the operating system is locked away somewhere in the device, bringing it back to life has been an easier process.

I can see many benefits to cloud computing; especially if you have a largish organisation which has files which need to be accessed from many locations but my experience with MYOB, Office and HandiSoft leads me to believe that unless you do have a large business which is dependent on information across a supply chain being updated all at once, the net benefits to the average user is negligible, whereas the net costs of not having a physical copy handy in case of all goes horribly wrong is hideous. I'm not wistfully looking back on some rosy coloured yesteryear and thinking that it was oh so lovely, rather I think that the physical copy is very much like having an insurance policy when the chances of crashing your car and wiping out everything in the process is 100%. It is a sure thing that at some point, your computer will make a one in ten trillion calculation error, which results in it dividing by zero.

The other thing I find really troublesome is the big brother implications of being forcibly chained to Microsoft just because you want to operate a computer. When I buy a toaster, I don't pay a subscription fee to Breville to ensure that I always have lovely toast. When I buy a motor car, although I am chained to that particular manufacturer when it comes to buying slate parts, I don't pay a subscription fee to them to be able to drive down the motorway. With a computer running Windows 10, you will be forced to pay a subscription fee to make it run because I'm sure there'll be scrutiny codes which check the machine every single time that you fire it up, in much the same way that that already happens with MYOB.
I'm not new necessarily worried about someone keeping an eye over my shoulder in a Big Brother controllery sort of way but I am worried that we're heading towards a future where advertisers, health, motor and home insurances companies and even credit providers will want to purchase the data that Microsoft can provide about its users. How long someone's machine is on for, might invalidate an insurance claim, or a credit application because some rule has been applied as a result of some minor exception that they've found that you're not even privvy to.

The fact that this is such a change in direction indicates to me that one of two things might happen. Microsoft thinks that this is a fantastic idea because they have everyone chained around the necks and so precisely because of this reason, they're going to extract more dollarpounds from their users. The second thing that I think might happen is that there is going to be a significant portion of the current Microsoft user population who will be so incensed that they will be driven to other operating systems; that might include Mac or Linux or some other thing that's going to rise up out of nowhere (maybe a Google OS?). I don't know as yet where this is going to leave me,
At work, because computer software is a business expense, we're going to follow blindly like sheep with the rest of the business world and buy subscriptions to any operating system that they're going to sell us. At home though, we have Windows 7 machines and haven't upgraded to Windows 8 through choice. If Windows 10 is overly expensive, then we're going to sit on Windows 7 for as long as possible; by which stage it might be 2020 and whoever the next major operating system publisher is, will have already risen and taken its place on the stage. For all I know that might already exist in the form of Android or other some such thing.
Windows 10 is a case of down with that sort of thing and careful now. It will possibly be a land I'll never know.

June 01, 2015

Horse 1909 - Solipsist Strawberry Fields Forever

Let me take you down,
'Cause I'm going to
Strawberry Fields.
Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about,
Strawberry Fields forever.

I think that Mr Lennon had a real problem; rather a self-referential problem. Exactly how are we to fulfil his request to go with him to Strawberry Fields if "nothing is real" and by extension, Strawberry Fields must also be not real. How does one travel to a non-real place?

No one I think is in my tree,
I mean it must be high or low.
That is you can't, you know, tune in
But it's all right.
That is I think it's not too bad.

I think that Mr Lennon is trying to say that the world outside of his mind has a distinct possiblity of being not real but he isn't entirely sure. If the existence of the world outside world beyond Mr Lennon's mind is unclear then I'm going to assume that John Lennon is expressing a Solipsist world view.

The problem that Mr Lennon immediately encounters though, is that he is using language to convey his position that the world and other minds might not exist; yet if they do not exist, then how would they be expected to interpret what he has just said? If the world outside his mind did not exist, then even the act of writing a song is itself both madness and a colossal waste of time because it achieves precisely zero purpose. However, the conclusion that I draw is that he must have assumed that there was a world outside his own mind and indeed other minds who would be able to interpret his song or otherwise he simply wouldn't have bothered. If this is true, then the line that "Nothing is real
And nothing to get hung about" must be a logical falsehood and Mr Lennon is a liar.

I think that it might have been the second century Greek Philosopher who said that if nothing exists, then nothing can be known about it and even if something could be know, then it couldn't be communicated to others. To some degree that's correct and the example that immediately springs to mind is trying to explain colour to a person who was totally blind from birth. How do you explain what the colours red, blue or green are to someone who has literally zero perception of colour? Even to attempt to do so is but a poor attempt,

Always, "no" sometimes, think it's me, 
But you know I know when it's a dream.
I think I know I mean a "yes", 
But it's all wrong.
That is I think I disagree.

Is Mr Lennon trying to convey doubts with his own ability to perceive the world? Maybe the three word proposition by René Descartes "Cogito ergo sum" (I am thinking, ergo I exist), is helpful because in thinking about one’s existence, there must be at least an "I" which exists to do the thinking.

I do think that Mr Lennon's claims that "nothing is real" is itself unfalsifiable. I don't know exactly how one would even frame an argument which could disprove the theory. How does one prove that anything is real anyway? Even if I were to come up with some whizz-bang argument then even if I were to do so, how would you prove to Mr Lennon that we weren't just some figment of his imagination; even if we were to cause him harm like punching his arm, he still might argue that that was a figment of his imagination (albeit a rather painful one).

At any rate, I'm not convinced. I think that Strawberry Field is real (not in the plural) and that it's on Beaconsfield Road and just off the A562 and that it's not forever either... it's closed.