July 31, 2015

Horse 1949 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 21 - Gough Whitlam

XXI - Edward "Gough" Whitlam

For the first time in 23 years, Australia had a Labor Government. Although Labor won a 9 seat majority in the lower house, it still found itself with a hostile Senate; no Senate seats had been up for election, as they had been elected in 1970.

Although Whitlam had been sworn in as Prime Minister on November 5, the full results of the election weren't official for another two weeks. In the interim, Whitlam appointed Lance Barnard as deputy prime minister and between them, they assumed all 27 cabinet positions, with Barnard taking 14 and Whitlam 13.

During the two weeks of the "duumvirate" cabinet, where Barnard was Minster for Everything and Whitlam was Minster for Everything-Else, they ordered the establishment of proper diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China (and formally broke off ties with Taiwan), eliminated sales tax on contraceptive pills, instructed UN Delegates to vote in favour of sanctions on South Africa die to Aparthied, officially barred discrimination on racial grounds for all sport teams in Australia and announced the end of conscription.

When the full cabinet was establised, the government abolished tertiary tutition fees, abolished the death penalty for federal crimes, established a legal aid framework which would later become the Commonwealth Legal Aid Commission, installed "Advance Australia Fair" as the national anthem and founded the Department of Urban Development to bring many people's houses up to standard by at least ensuring that they were connected to sewers.

Whitlam's government still couldn't pass the legislation that it wanted to though and by March 1974, the Senate rejected 19 bills and 10 of them on their second presentation. Whitlam's solution to this was to offer former Premier of Queensland Vince Gair, the position of Australian Ambassador to Ireland and thus create a casual vacancy in the Senate. In doing so, this would cause the election of six Senators for Queensland and not five; thus in winning 3 of those Senate seats, Whitlam would have taken control of the Senate. 
On 2 April 1974, a group of Country Party Senators kept Gair in their offices beyond the 6pm deadline required to issue the writs for the election of Queensland Senators by plying Gair with beer and prawns and thus the writs were delayed sufficiently long enough not to cause six instead of five vacancies at the election. This delaying tactic became known "the Night of the Long Prawns" but it was irrelevant anyway because Whitlam cited six bills as triggers for a double dissolution and it was held on 18 May 1974. The election changed nothing; even after the election, there was still a hostile Senate.

The Labor Government was returned (being only the second Labour Government returned to office since Federation) and at the Joint Sitting of parliament on  6-7 August 1974, the six bills which had been used to trigger the election all passed.
- Commonwealth Electoral Bill (No. 2) 1973: which added more electorates and reduced population variances.
- Senate (Representation of Territories) Bill 1973: which gave the ACT and NT two Senators each
- Representation Bill 1973: which exluded the territories from population requirements in determining the number of seats they could have 
- Health Insurance Bill 1973: which set up universal health care (which is now Medicare)
- Health Insurance Commission Bill 1973: which set up the Health Insurance Commission (now Medicare Australia)
- Petroleum and Minerals Authority Bill 1973: which set up a body to control petroleum and mining resources

The 1973 oil crisis saw a slump in commodity prices and a spike in prices for goods and services. Inflation ran at 13% and unemployment jumped from 2% to 6%. Whitlam found his budgets facing financial issues and when he wanted to fund plans for various projects such as a uranium enrichment plant, a natural gas pipeline and the final electrification of Australia's railways (which still hasn't happened), he sought funding of $4bn from London firm Dalamal and Sons. It ultimately never resulted in any loans but it galvanised the opposition into delaying passing the 1975 budget.
On the other side of the chamber, Billy Snedden lost the leadership after having failed to win government in the 1974 election and in March 1975, Malcolm Fraser became leader of the Opposition.

Even after passing legislation like the Family Law Act 1975 and Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and after setting up the Aboriginal Loans Commission and handing the Gurindji people  of the Northern Territory title deeds to their tradtional lands, the damage was done. The Appropriation Bills for 1975 were delayed and delayed until six months later when on 11th November 1975, when Whitlam went to see the Govenor-General Sir John Kerr, his government was dismissed and installed Malcolm Fraser as Prime Minister. Before all members of parliament were even aware, the Senate passed the 1975 budget and Kerr dissolved Parliament for a double dissolution election to be held in December.

Whitlam would remain as Opposition Leader for both the 1975 and 1977 elections but ultimately lose both of them. Even though Whitlam's Government has been described as frenetic, breathless and even chaotic, it arguably changed Australian politics in three short years more than any government has done before or since. Those three years still leave long shadows and a legacy today.

July 30, 2015

Horse 1948 - Nope. It's Racism. Stop Whitewashing It.

I am a white man aged between 18 & 70. I make up most of the boards of companies in Australia and I am most of the CEOs. I still control most of the wealth of Australia and up until 2010, I was every Prime Minister of Australia. To any observer who actually bothers to open their eyes, I am a privileged individual. My grandfathers and fathers before me stole countries through the cunning use of flags, dispossessed peoples of their land, drove their rights into the ground which they once held freely and in quiet enjoyment, and rewrote the very law itself to protect myself inside the porcelain towers of privilege that I'd built for myself. When someone shakes that tower or chips away even the smallest patch of whitewashed glaze from its porcelain, I complain longly and loudly that it is their fault. If I could, I would put all people who do not look like me into glass cases; so that I could see them and observe them (but I do not want to hear them) and I also want to put their treasures on display. I am a white man aged between 18 & 70 and my might makes right.

Let's not beat about the bush here. The people booing Adam Goodes are racists. I don't mean this as a term of abuse but as a descriptor which is backed up with repeated evidence. The reason why Adam Goodes has been made a target is that he has decided that enough is enough and has taken a visible stand against that racism.
When I read Miranda Devine's piece in the Daily Telegraph yesterday (in the physical dead tree edition because journalism is worth paying for) I saw someone who has missed the mark badly. The final lines of that piece are below:

Well, that’s in your hands, Adam. Apologise to the girl, and recognise that Australians don’t take kindly to being accused of being racists when they are not.
Then the crowd might fall back in love with you.
- Miranda Devine, Daily Telegraph, 29th Jul 2015

Ms Devine is a rightist libertarian who believes in the power of free speech. I should say at this point that I disagree violently with many of the views which she has expressed through her columns but this is not one of them. I believe that free speech is fundamental to the proper operation of a working democracy. In that light, the ideas touted should be evaluated and tested; so that the bad ones wither and die in the great marketplace of ideas. Bad ideas should be allowed to fail to sell. So let's do precisely that.

Football crowds in all codes across the world are known for their bluntness. Booing and jeering is often part of their repertoire (along with more unsavory items in their arsenal) and so it's usually ridiculously easy to work out their intent.
Usually when abuse is hurled at a specific player, it's equally as obvious. For instance, last year when Buddy Franklin was playing for Sydney against his former club Hawthorn, there were obvious cries of "Judas" every time he touched the ball. It was a specific grievance directed at a specific player for a specific reason. This round of booing directed at Adam Goodes is not necessarily directed at him only but also at other Aboriginal players such as Lewis Jetta and no matter which way you like to dress this up, it's a public display of racism writ large for the world to see.
It's so ridiculously easy to work out the intent of the booing that it should be a fait accompli to see that and report it as such. That is, unless you are the Daily Telegraph (or Alan Jones).

The Daily Telegraph has a specific problem with racism in that one of of its columnists was found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act and specifically section 18C. Of course being part of a powerful organisation, it along with a particular think-tank and even the political party which it nominally supports (maybe even financially, I didn't know and we'll not be told either) as part of its intent to exercise power, wants to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act so that it presumably can go back to writing careless pieces with impunity.
The truth is that I don't know if Ms Devine is personally a racist. I do know that the organisation that she works for got into trouble over such an issue and so she might be being directed to write such a piece. She could also be genuinely ignorant and considers that the right to free speech is more important than the harm it causes.

Presumably this piece also appeared in Melbourne's Herald-Sun, Brisbane's Courier-Mail and the Adelaide Advertiser as well as the Daily Telegraph in Sydney where I read it. That is a lot of power to be wielding and in two of those markets (Brisbane and Adelaide), there are no other daily newspapers to act as a counterpoint to cast ideas into the ring. Either due to personal reasons, organisational direction or sheer ignorance, this piece excuses racism and condones it through one of the loudest voices in the country. It is the act of a bully. Sticks and stones might break my bones but words will cause psychological harm; especially when its coming from a powerful organisation.

What are Adam Goods actual options? I'm reasonably sure that he isn't simply performing war dances in isolation but in reaction to the taunts that he receives. Unlike a writer who has the platform of a network of newspapers, Adam Goodes platform is the green grass of a football field. In this context, his response to the racism that he receives is to publicly and visually show pride in his Aboriginality. In a public arena the response to people exercising their right to free speech is a public display of the right to freedom of expression; that if anything, should fit nicely in line with Ms Devine's value set. I find it weird that she is engaging in victim blaming.
Maybe I shouldn't be though. She is a white lady aged between 18 & 70. Maybe we're not so different after all; except that I can see racism for what it is.

Apart from the Sydney Swans and the efforts of a handful of clubs, most notably the Western Bulldogs, neither AFL fans nor the Melbourne media have mounted much of a campaign to come to Goodes’ defence.
There is no way the NRL would let it happen. And if they even tried to bury their heads in the sand the Sydney media and community would never have let them get away with it. It’s a city that likes to see action.
- Tim Gleason, Daily Telegraph, 30th Jul 2015

Does the "Melbourne media" include the Herald-Sun? Ms Devine certainly didn't come to Goodes' defence. The Sydney Media probably would let them get away with it - it's mostly the same organisations.

July 29, 2015

Horse 1947 - It's Possible To Rort Expenses, Let Us Prove It

As an accountant, I get to see certain people's spending habits pretty closely. With the aid of Google Maps, I could even track someone's typical day if I wanted to.  I know for instance that one client of ours always visits a particular ATM to withdraw cash, once and only once a week. Another client is quite profligate and uses whatever bank card or credit card happens to take their fancy at any given moment.
I also happen to know that even among our relatively small suite of clients, there is a definite blindness in determining what is and isn't a business expense. Phone bills and particularly mobile phone bills might contain great hordes of personal phone calls and I'd have no idea about it. Motor expenses are frequently totted to business bank accounts and yet I'm pretty sure that there's loads of kilometers driven that aren't even remotely connected with business. For one client who lays their taxi fares monthly, if wasn't until we actually saw when those taxi journeys were made that we realised that many of them happened at 11pm and later, often at the weekend and certainly after the imbibing of intoxicating fermented vegetable produce.
The point is that even for a small practice, identifying what is and is not truly a business expense is sometimes difficult and dare I say it, not worth the economic benefit to track down. The net result is that plenty of non-business expenses end up being written against income and in effect, those personal expenses are being subsidised by the taxpayer through lost taxation revenues. If you were to then multiply that across the economy and especially at very large organisations who don't care, then this must surely be a multi-billion dollar rort which is paid for by the taxpayer.

Imagine my horror then, when I saw this tweet from the Bank Of Queensland:


This neologism wasn't even coined by BoQ either. The first time that I came across this in The Economist newspaper (yes, I know that it looks like a magazine but they insist that due to historical reasons, they are a newspaper), my outrage valve blew open (my irony value had already broken):

HOW'S this for a terrible neologism: “bleisure”. It is a portmanteau of business and leisure, and is used to describe what some people claim is a new type of business traveller: one who fits in leisure travel while on the road.
In fact, there has long been a segment of the business travel population that has the means and professional flexibility to add leisure days onto business trips. Travel-related businesses, including Bridgestreet, are no doubt eager to attract these customers, who will spend more money per trip than those who like to keep their travel strictly professional. And terrible marketing neologisms such as “bleisure” can help companies think more carefully about how to attract certain subsets of customers.
- The Economist, 19th May 2015

Yes, 'bleisure' is an ugly ugly word. The Scrabble player in me notices that it is an anagram of 'sure bile'; which is precisely what it makes me want to spit.

Let me unpack this for you. The Bank Of Queensland is encouraging people to combine business and leisure in an effort to attract the sorts of clients (banks don't have customers - banks provide services; not products) who would like to do such a thing. It is obviously in the bank's best interest to do this because business clients are worth more to the bank in higher fees and more services they can sell, than ordinary depositors. A bank as a business, wants to sell banking services to those clients who are most profitable; there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, and in fact as this falls in line with the profit motive, it is very much in line with the raison d'être of the bank. Actions have consequences though.

The Bank of Queensland as a business, has precisely zero concern about how its fees are paid; nor does it care about how its services are used and nor does it need to. Their concern extends only as far as the immediate banking relationship between them and their clients. The word 'bleisure' though, by its very existence, is at least a tacit acknowledgement that expenses which are leisure and therefore not genuine business expenses, can, will and are being claimed against profits. Who subsidises those expenses? The taxpayer, that's who.
It's worth remembering when you get on an aeroplane and turn right to be squished in along with all the other sardines in Scum Class, that the vast majority of people who turn left to go to Business Class are claiming that on company expenses. It's also worth remembering that 30% of those expenses are in effect being subsidised by the taxpayer through lost taxation revenues. The same is also true for something like the Qantas Lounge and that's definitely worth remembering when you are trying to lie down to get some kip, on a carpeted floor because your flight has been delayed, whilst those same business people who turn left on the plane also get comfy lounges and in some cases, actual beds. You are also in effect paying for 30% of their ham and cheese croissant and glass of Crown Royal.

The word 'bleisure' infuriates me deeply because we all know that all of the leisure component of that trip will be claimed as business expense. Companies might enter into some sort of funding arrangement with their employees but its highly unlikely. The Tax Office is never going to undertake any auditing of those expenses except in cases where it intends to make a high profile example of someone because of the hideous legal expense required to do so. Accountants in large firms are never going to check up on what is and isn't truly business expenses because they're probably also riding the gravy train to Rort Town. Accountants in small firms are also not very likely to make these checks either because there simply isn't the economic benefit in doing so. Meanwhile, the taxpayer ends up footing 30% of the expenses for 'bleisure' and I'd like to say that they're being taken for a ride but they ain't going anywhere.
It's possible to love a bank... when you combine business and leisure and let the taxpayer pick up part of the bill. Let us prove it.

July 27, 2015

Horse 1946 - Cold Comfort

As I paw at the 'keys' on my tablet this morning, I am convinced that if my body needs 10 litres of blood to run properly, then I only have 9. Instead of being pink, my fingers have started to acquire that particular jaundiced shade of hypothermia and even though they appear to be able to make the tablet work, I can not feel any individual key stroke.
As I closed the front door and stepped outside into a morning where I could feel an icy wind slap against my cheek, before I walked to the train station this morning, I noticed that the car's windows were caked in ice, the grass on the lawns crunched underfoot and I'm sure that even Antarctic penguins would be looking to take a summer holiday because it's so cold here. It's so cold that Geordies might consider putting on a coat.
This is Sydney in the winter. The only consolation is that on SBS World News' nightly weather report, the only city in the whole world with a lower minimum forecasted temperature was Canberra.

If you'd been transported to Australia in 1787 for the hideous and heinous crime of vandalising twelve cucumbers (yes, that did actually happen to a chap called Thomas Chadwick), then arriving in Sydney in a stinking hot summer where the mercury was on its merry way to 40°C, then you might have thought that it was a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Six months later after the colony started to run out of proper clothes and before it had built any substantial buildings, you'd have your sentiments confirmed when the mercury barely escaped single digits centigrade.
This city built around a harbour and at the top of the world (or the bottom depending on your prejudice) can and does get as cold as Blighty on occasion but we seem to be living in some sort of self-imposed delusion because we pretend otherwise.

There was a study which was published in The Lancet* which looked at the rates at which people died of both heat and cold exposure and came to the conclusion that far more people die of cold than heat. As you read through this chilling study you find out that the cold contributed to about 3.9% of all deaths in Sweden, but 6.5% of all deaths in Australia; that compares with only 0.5% of all deaths in Australia caused by excessive heat. That's nuts.
As a result of our self-imposed delusions and the myths that we tell ourselves, we tend to build houses in Australia to cope with the 40°C summer days but not chill during winter and the consequence is that more people in Australia die of cold exposure than in Sweden.
I can attest to that. The house that I live in, is suspended upon brick pillars but the distance from inside to outside is only the thickness of the floorboards and even then there are gaps between some of them. During the day you can look down in places and see daylight peeking under the house. Basically, even in a city where every cent is spent on rent and isn't meant to supplement the government, we live in fancy tents with vents.

When I hear stories of old people dying of exposure in their homes and not being found for days, it's not that much of a stretch to work out why. Old people tend to live either in older homes which aren't as well insulated or they tend to be in a period of dissaving, which means that they feel cost-of-living expenses such as heating their homes, more in the hip pocket. A "make do" attitude probably helps to contribute to higher death rates from cold in older people.
In places like Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany and even England where the government has taken the economic decision to slowly kill off old people and poor people, they've built houses with more substantial flooring and central heating. We design our houses to let the heat escape during yet another summer that blazes on but then suffer as a result of those same houses working perfectly as designed during the winter.
I regularly sit on our back steps on a Sunday morning, with both hands wrapped around a cup of tea,  trying to thaw them out by conduction, convection and radiation; failing at all three because work's a curse and all the heat in the universe is going to cool down - 'cause that's entropy, baby!
Even as I sit here upon the train in my Crombie coat, scarf and bowler hat (because I have both style and flair and my default fashion setting is 1937), yet again I think that I don't belong in Australia. I belong in England where it's still cold and miserable but at least its centrally heated and I'm not going to freeze to death because I'm staying up late to watch football or Formula One racing. I'm also more likely to be sitting in a train which doesn't have the air conditioning set for six months past or in the future.
I can't feel my fingers.

July 24, 2015

Horse 1945 - Northern Territory Statehood

One morning this week after the nation arose from its rage induced coma, following on from the fact that the Speaker of the House of Representatives will not be be investigated for misappropriation of travel allowances in chartering private helicopters, the fact that more people have died on our asylum seeker concentration death camp on Nauru than have actually been resettled, or that the state premiers have decided to collude and scratch at the wallets of the nation for 15% in GST rather than 10% (because it's more "efficient" to steal food from the tables of old and poor people than it is to beg like cowering little wusses at licenced bandits on George St, with their diamond encrusted, Bentley stained head kicking boots), someone had the bright idea to distract us all with the shiny new toy of statehood for the Northern Territory; thus pulling the wool over our eyes as we are being fleeced.

Personally, in my not very well paid opinion, the idea of statehood for the Northern Territory is more obvious than an eight tonne hamster at the front door - open the door and let it in. Constitutionally it's dead simple because section 121¹ allows the Federal Parliament to admit states as it sees fit and if it were to be taken to a referendum, it would be a simple Yes/No question of "Do You Approve Of Statehood For The Northern Territory?". Functionally the Northern Territory pretty well much already acts as a state in its own right now and culturally it already has its own identity, with the crocodile and explosive obsessed NT News being the most visible exponent.
The problem of whether or not the Northern Territory should be a state or not, has nothing to do with the logistics of the Northern Territory being a state. The biggest problem that I can see is what all the other states have to say about it it and in that respect, we should instruct all the bakers in the country to start pulling triple overtime shifts because the bunfight will be absolutely epic; so we need to start making lots of buns now.

The way that the Australian Parliament works is that there are an equal number of Senators from each of the states to act as a house of review (the reason for this was so that the bigger states didn't bully the little ones) and that the number of members in the House of Representatives is as close to double the number of Senators as is practical. Currently and due to Section 3 of the Representation Act of 1983, the number of Senators for each of the states is twelve² - twelve shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be twelve. Thirteen is right out. There are six states with twelve Senators and two senators from each of the big mainland territories (Jervis Bay Territory which has legally been a territory in its own right since 1989, votes in the NSW House Of Representatives seat of Eden-Monaro because JBT only contains about three dozen people and is nominally ruled by a cat called Wiggles, with an iron paw).
If the Northern Territory were to become a state then it would be entitled to a full compliment of twelve Senators and it that were to happen then six kinds of venom would be spat large by the other states.
The first and most obvious argument which would be put forward against Northern Territory statehood would be that it is too small to be a state in its own right. At only 240 thousand people, the whole of the Northern Territory contains less people than some local councils in Sydney or Melbourne and no-one is particularly suggesting that the eastern suburbs of Sydney should be a state. The obvious counter argument to this is that in terms of area, the Northern Territory is absolutely massive. To put this in perspective, the surface area of Pluto is 1,765,000km² and the Northern Territory has a land area of 1,420,970 km². Maybe that's an argument for Northern Territory planethood. Also, at the time of federation in 1900, Western Australia only had 184,124 people and Tasmania only had 172,475 people³; the Northern Territory has more people than either of those when they became states.

Maybe the solution is to snap existing states in twain and reduce the number of Senators to six each. Numerically, Parliament doesn't change all that much and several areas across Australia would no longer feel like they're getting gypped by their state governments who ignore them - no, they can be gypped by their new state governments instead.
To that end, I propose the states of New England, Capricornia, Riverina... er... Tasphobia, Central Woop-Woop and Rinehartland (the latter where everyone works for $2 a day on 457 Skilled Slave Labour visas just like their Queen's bizarre dream).

I suspect that the main reason why statehood for the Northern Territory will probably fail, is due to the waves of abject terror that would course through the house on the hill in Canberra. The Liberal Party and their minders at the IPA, hate the idea that actual democracy and the extension of the franchise might be given to ordinary people; especially when they've spent many years being as cruel as the law will allow with the NT intervention. That and their previous suggestions to abolish the states in the first place. Giving statehood to the Northern Territory might install hostile Senators who would keep the lower house in check. The Labor Party would hate the idea of Northern Territory statehood because those extra Senators just might curb their unique brand of incompetence to the point that they might have to undertake some actual governance - shock; horror!

As I've indicated previously, I like the idea of statehood for the Northern Territory with the proviso that six of its Senators are Aboriginal-only Senators. Quite frankly, I think that the fact that our first peoples have never properly been represented in the parliament and have never really had their voices speaking to the floors of power, is a 115 year disgrace.

Once we've sorted out Northern Territory statehood, let's turn our attention to an equally pressing matter - why are there no Northern Territory teams in the AFL? The Darwin Crocodiles - bring it on!

July 23, 2015

Horse 1944 - Science & Happiness

Yes, this is an excuse to post a pretty picture and thus bring some softness to an otherwise sharp and pointed blog. Even though I am colourblind, I can still appreciate the way that the light catches the underside of the clouds and the way that deft shades of colour paint the sky. Words can not hope to convey either the beauty of mornings like this; nor can they express the amount of joy that I feel at looking up and being lucky enough to witness it.

This leads me to a question which was posed of me:
"Does the knowledge of science and how things work diminish the amount of happiness that you get in the world?"
- Thorog85

The short answer to this is 'no' and the long answer to this is below.

If this question is specifically directed at me and trying to extract my own feelings on the subject (where 'you' is in the singular) then logically I'd assume that for this to work, that knowledge and happiness must operate according to some hitherto unknown set of opportunity cost function. That is, that for every unit of knowledge increased, there must be an equivalent amount of happiness decreased. I don't know if that's personally true because I do know that I really like to find out stuff and that I generally derive more entertainment from learning something than I do from a lot of other sources.

I can look up at a rainbow and although I know a fair bit about how the light refracts around the inside of water droplets (even down to the angles of incidence and reflection therein), that does not diminish my appreciation of rainbows. I know for instance that sodium street lamps produce light at pretty discrete wavelengths around 580nm but that does not diminish my fascination with the tobacco stained jaundice that they project and impose upon the world around them. I like the fact that I understand the mechanics of how a note is produced, the mathematics needed to generate a key, how the interaction between various harmonics either sounds joyful or discordant and I certainly enjoy listening to a piece of really complex and seemingly hideous music if the keys to enjoyment of it are understanding how the various themes, phrases and motifs fit together.
If this question is applied to a collective and theoretical 'you', then I'd suggest that the answer is far more complex because I've equally met people who find sciencey type things as boring as bat guano and I've met people who practically live for nowt else.

This question could be asking some broad philosophical question to do with the advancement of science and the general amount of happiness that it has created in the world. If this is the case then I'd argue that many discoveries in science have made people immeasurably happier. It was science that led to the installation of sewer systems and potable water being plumbed directly into people's homes in cities and you mostly don't get people dying of cholera  any more. It was science which led to many cures for diseases such as smallpox and polio and treatments for thousands of ailments; in fact, medicine is probably one of the greatest contributors to people's happiness than anything else. It is quite difficult to be all that happy if you are plagued by illness and death is constantly knocking at the door. Particularly in the twentieth and now twenty-first century, science has given us entertainment devices such as radio, television and now the Internet; all of this riding upon the majestic wings of the printed circuit board, the transistor and even control and domination of electricity itself.

I don't think that we should necessarily be blaming science for people's apparent diminishing returns of happiness. I also don't think that either learning about science, diminishes anyone's individual enjoyment of the world. I think that maybe people would like to conceive of a grinning dumb idiot but I suspect that's because we're more amused by the concept of such a person and if you were to ask anyone if they would actually like to be said person, I suspect that the answer would be 'no'.

What I think definitely does diminish people's happiness is other people. This is something that I need to be mindful of because I'm one of those people who gets excited about something and then wants to tell you about the how and why the thing works. It is people like me who give credence to the stereotypical nerd voice (and the mere fact that I'm even bothering to answer this question in these terms also does the same). But then there's the sort of person who wants to tell you that you are wrong, that this is why you are wrong and that therefore you should feel bad because you are wrong. Immediately I think of the contrast between people like Brian Cox whose love of science is infectious but who doesn't necessarily rag on people and someone like Richard Dawkins who even in biology discussions has a way of making people feel bad for not knowing what he does and that they should immediately die in a hole as a result.

I personally think that knowing about how and why stuff works is cool; I find that entertaining and condusive to my enjoyment and therefore happiness. I also think that you can appreciate things simply and purely for the way they look, sound, smell, touch and taste but I'd argue that even then you're doing science on stuff (albeit simple science).
So Thorog, I don't think that the knowledge of science and how things work diminishes the amount of happiness that you get in the world, either on a personal or societal level.

July 22, 2015

Horse 1943 - Why I Should Be A Host On Top Gear Mk3

Yesterday, apart from being the 46th anniversary of Neil Astronaut kicking the moon and declaring that it was a small step for him (but one heck of a doozie for mankind), was the last day to send in your application videos to the BBC to become the hosts of Top Gear Mk3. The first host, Chris Evans of Radio 2, The One Show on BBC One and Channel 4's The Big Breakfast fame, has already been announced, and the BBC have taken applications worldwide for the other two people who will have what is arguably the best job... In the world. I like so many other have thrown my hat in the ring in the remote chance that someone at Aunty will see my mug and think that I'm wonderful.
I will say this though, I suspect that initially Top Gear Mk3 is doomed to fail.

Oh howl howl howl. Calamity! Cry 'havoc' and let slip the dogs of war... I don't hear you say. I'm just displaying the opposite of schadenfreude - sour grapes - I also don't hear you say. The reason that I don't hear you say any of this is that the medium of a blog post is a silent method of communication and it's one way*. How can I possibly make such a claim? Surely that's dramatic over reach and use of hyperbole? Well, yes it is and 'good work' to you if you noticed that but did you ever stop to think why Top Gear Mk2 worked so well?

Right at the beginning of Top Gear Mk2, there was actually a different lineup. Looking back over what became the biggest export earner for the BBC, that's almost difficult to remember but in that first season, Jason Dawe was there to give practical advice about motoring and talk about issues concerning used cars and the like. Top Gear Mk2 started out very much in the same sort of vein as Top Gear Mk1; which itself was more informational in format. In fact, both James May and Jeremy Clarkson had both appeared on Top Gear Mk1. So what changed and why did Top Gear Mk2 become this multimillion dollarpound behemoth, wiping out all and sundry from your telescreens except for Bake Off, Big Brother, Mastershout, Sherlock and that documentary series about the time travelling physician and his blue Police Box? Writing. That's what.

It must be said that before Top Gear Mk2, Clarkson, Hammond and May were already published journalists with columns in national newspapers. Top Gear Mk2 worked so well because they all took their journalistic sensibilities and then wrote what basically amounts to short columns for television. It's pretty obvious that the best television, radio, theatre, movies, novels, whatever, that continues to endure, does so on the strength of the writing. When you have three journalists writing your pieces for you, then the rest should fall into line fairly easily... and it did.
The other reason that Top Gear Mk 2 worked so well is that wallpapered over the top of good writing, was a classic power trio comedy format. Once Dawe left and was replaced by May, it then meant that Clarkson, Hammond and May fell into the three classic comedy roles of the Brash Leader, Energetic Sidekick and The Only Sane Man. These roles were pretty much interchangeable where required but most of the time they were fairly fixed.

Now I'm not saying that Chris Evans is going to be a bad host (because he's proven himself over many years to be quite competent and entertaining) but I just don't know how in scouring the world for two more prospective partners, that the BBC can possibly hope to make three hosts click together that easily. As the Australian version of Top Gear proved, you can't even cast a like for like set and hope to make it work with that same sort of resonance.
I think that if you did want to make the new show work right out of the blocks, then you do need to critically look at why Top Gear Mk2 worked so well and instead of replacing like for like, start from the strength of three established writers. To that end, looking through the staff who already contribute to the writing of the Top Gear magazine might be a good place to start, or else looking through the tabloid newspapers to find the next set of writers and hosts, is probably the best way to go. Most of the time, good writers will produce better shows than forceful and dominant personalities.

Hence the reason why 740 words after I began writing this, I'd like to state why I'd be the most stellar choice for one of the prospective hosts of Top Gear Mk3... in the world.
Granted, I don't have the most forceful or sparkling personality (I'm quite a bit reserved) but I have an ego slightly larger than Belgium and what I hope is a proven ability to write many dozens of words. If Top Gear Mk3 is going to live and die on the strength of its writing, then I'd like to think that I'd be sufficiently good enough to knock that one out of the field; over the boundary and into the Vic Richardson Gates for six. Writing about cars is something that I already do reasonably often and motor cars have been something of an interest of mine since I was a wee lad.
It's not that I think that scouring the world for application videos isn't an interesting exercise, it's just that I don't know if you really can convey your writing abilities in 30 seconds. You might be able to find someone who at first impression presents well but can they bring their journalistic sensibilities to the table? Unless Aunty gets that right, then Top Gear Mk3 will cough, expire and die.

*Unless you leave a comment below

July 21, 2015

Horse 1942 - The Bishop Moves (♗xc6 dxc6)

Ever since that scandal at a certain hotel, the -gate suffix has been lazily attached to every political scandal wherever possible. The current kerfuffle involving the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, has been dutifully called "Choppergate" but really there are three issues packed into one.

1. Ms Bishop
I'm going to break one of the cardinal rules of political opinion here by playing the player and not the ball or in Ms Bishop's case, shift about on this diagonally.
The two most obvious qualities of Ms Bishop are her forcefulness and her abrasiveness. These are excellent qualities for someone to have if they want to rise through the ranks of politics to positions of power but not necessarily the best sort of qualities to have once you are there. As the Member for Mackellar, Ms Bishop entered the parliament during a period of steady Labor government; firstly as a Senator for NSW and then she was parachuted into such a safe Liberal seat that the Labor Party didn't even bother to field a candidate at the 1994 by-election of Mackellar.
When in opposition, she has the perfect sort of personality required to attack the government of the day and to hold ministers accountable for their actions on the floor of the parliament. In government though, when the main objective is to decide and enact policy, that's not quite so useful. It's perhaps telling that during the Howard Government, Ms Bishop was installed as Minister for Defence Industry, Science and Personnel, which is not exactly the most central of positions and then swiftly removed again.

2. Expenses Claimed
The headline act of this part of the story is a $5000 helicopter ride to a Liberal Party fundraiser that Ms Bishop claimed as an expense on the public purse. This also brought into light a trip which she made to Europe which cost $88,000; also on the public purse. In her defence, she paid back the $5000 because she wasn't sure if this was allowable or not.
As someone who used to work for the Commonwealth public service, this raises seven kinds of craziness in my mind. For the record, I don't think that she should have been made to pay back a red cent but that this should bring into sharp focus that the current method by which politicians claim expenses is idiotic. I was frequently sent about the country in my job and even put up at the odd hotel here and there; the amount of available expenses that I could claim was nil. The reason for this is that before I was sent anywhere, the issues of plane flights, hotel stays, hire cars and taxi transfers, were sorted out by a central office within the government department. There were no expenses for me to claim because I didn't personally incur any. I find it utterly staggering and bewildering that a similar sort of system does not currently exist in Parliament House. The truth is that human nature being as it is, which is nominally selfish, means that if you give anyone an open ticket to the buffet of public expenses, they will fill their plates up. Such a system is from the outset, open to grift and abuse. I find it impossible to believe that there currently is not a Parliamentary Budget Office through which Members of Parliament make their travel plans. An independent office such as that would remove the ability and power of Members to have even made such a trip like this, it would be subject to the rigours of government audit and because there are 226 Members in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, then such an office would surely be able to negotiate cheaper travel and accommodation arrangements through sheer economies of scale and bargaining power.

3. The Role Of the Speaker.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the wake of all of this has placed Ms Bishop on "probation" for the moment. From a strict constitutional standpoint, this is nonsense. Not only is the position of the Prime Minister not even mentioned in the constitution but the notion of a "probation" and whatever the heck that entails, is also not mentioned in the constitution.
If "probation" is indeed a thing in this case, then this is a party disciplinary issue and illustrates perfectly, what is so hideously wrong with the current system.

The only relevant section of the constitution which deals with this is section 35:

The House of Representatives shall, before proceeding to the despatch of any other business, choose a member to be the Speaker of the House, and as often as the office of Speaker becomes vacant the House shall again choose a member to be the Speaker.
The Speaker shall cease to hold his office if he ceases to be a member. He may be removed from office by a vote of the House, or he may resign his office or his seat by writing addressed to the Governor‑General.
- Section 35, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (1900)

In the UK Parliament, the Speaker of the House of Commons upon their appointment, formally renounces their affiliation with the party that they came from, in an attempt to keep the role of the Speaker impartial. In return for their impartiality, they are elected unopposed at the next General Election. I think that this is an excellent set of protocols to adopt if the Speaker is expected to maintain that degree of impartiality.
It's curious to think that the Australia Parliament initially started like this with  Sir Frederick Holder resigning from the Free Trade Party upon his election as the speaker but the second Speaker,  Dr Carty Salmon, retained his membership of the Commonwealth Liberal Party.

The problem is that Ms Bishop hasn't really conducting the business of the House in an impartial manner; frequently ejecting Members under Standing Order 94(a) "Direction to leave the Chamber" that sends MPs out for an hour.
The first Liberal Party member to be ejected by Ms Bishop  under 94(a) was the Member for Herbert, Ewen Jones, who was only ejected but he was only the 109th MP to be ejected by her. Before then, there had been 108 Labor MPs ejected to nil. I haven't been able to find a complete list but it is at least 400 since this term of parliament began in 2013 and it includes records for both a single day at 18 and a week at 47.

Personally I don't really like the way that any of this has been conducted but what is certainty true is that the person at the centre of this, Bronwyn Bishop, is an imposing personality and a redoubtable political operator. Whether or not she should be Speaker is another question entirely and the question of her expenses should be investigated properly along with the whole procedure for MP's expenses.

July 20, 2015

Horse 1941 - Don't Let A Watchman Kill A Mockingbird

I suspect that for vast majority of people who read this post (leave a comment below - it's okay, I don't bite much), that they will only be familiar with Harper Lee's novel "To Kill A Mockingbird" because they were forced to read it in high school. Practically anyone who has studied secondary school English literature will have come across it at some point.
I didn't.
Unlike that great majority of high school English students, I didn't have to read "To Kill A Mockingbird" in school. I went to a selective high school where I'm convinced that the English faculty was getting back at their old high school teachers through us as some kind of proxy. I'm pretty sure that the books that we were set in high school were as a result of some faux intellectualistic attempt to make the English teachers feel better about themselves and the choices that they made rather than an attempt to give us an enjoyable experience.
As a result, I didn't end up reading "To Kill A Mockingbird" until I was in my mid 30s; by which time, I'd acquired the skill of reading fiction for pleasure, after having that skill forcibly beaten out of me in school. Without the pressure to have to analyse the book or write essay questions on it, I quite enjoyed the book for what it was and for that reason, I do not want to read Ms Lee's brand new release "Go Set a Watchman".

In Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is different to a lot of characters that you'll find in a lot of novels because he does what he thinks is right and acts quite nobly whilst doing it. He doesn't appear to be conflicted by angst or turmoil and his aloofness and calmness is kind of different to what you'd usually expect from a protagonist of a novel. There's kind of a literary deftness about viewing the world through Scout's eyes and even though Atticus is stern, Scout has a fondness for her father.
The biggest reason I suppose that I do not want to read "Go Set A Watchman" is that I do not want my impression of Atticus Finch to be tainted. If I never find out that he's a secret racist, or has had an affair or killed someone, or whatever it might be; if I never find those things out then I'm fine with that. Even though Atticus Finch isn't a real person, I'd still rather see the best in him, as I like to do in most people; however deluded and naive that might be.
Mockingbird is a book which I think has stood for so long precisely because there hasn't been a sequel.

In the music world, generally the third record by an artist or band is complete and utter rubbish. They will have written enough songs for the first album and enough stuff for a second one but by the time that the third album comes out, they're always invariably trying to recreate and capture something from before they were famous and it almost never works.
With novelists, unless they'd always intended for there to be a second or third novels as part of a trilogy, the second and third novel is often a hard grind. Going back and writing a sequel might be easier but it probably involves shortcuts; in which case it probably won't be as good. In that respect, I think that one of the greatest events in literary history was when Queen Victoria asked Lewis Carroll to dedicate his next work to her. He duly submitted to her request and his next work was a treatise on some mathematical concept; which failed to capture the public attention.

Think about Star Wars (in my house, everything eventually comes back to Star Wars, Elton John, The Lion King and number plates), the first three films (Episodes IV, V and VI) were always intended as a trilogy and were very enjoyable. The prequels (Episodes I, II and III) which were made many years later are mostly horrible.
I'm worried that in the process of writing "Go Set A Watchman", Ms Lee has either resurrected notes for decades ago and which were never good enough for publication in the first place, or that she's returned to something and can't recapture that spark from oh so long ago.

The other thing that I'm worried about with "Go Set A Watchman" is that this wasn't released for so long because Ms Lee's publishers didn't think it was good enough for publication. Admittedly, I'm hardly what you'd consider to be a literary genius but even these rather paltry and pathetic blurts are edited and changed. Mostly I'll start out with only a basic skeleton of what I want to write and the the finished product ends up markedly different to the first confused shouts into the void. To be honest, the first couple of hundred of these posts are embarrassing. If they were ever published in an anthology, I'm sure that I'd prefer that if was more heavily focused on later, rather than earlier posts. If Watchman is one of those sort of works, then maybe it's akin to a draft or proto work which just isn't as good.
I hope that Ms Lee hasn't been pressured into releasing something that she wouldn't have wanted to escape. Harper Lee is an 89 year old lady and I would feel terrible if I knew that she'd been bullied into publishing this work because the publishers had pestered her finally releasing this until she finally snapped.

I could of course be entirely wrong and Watchman might be a hidden work of rare genius. If that's true then there will be rave reviews and rampant fanfare. I might be tempted to read it under such circumstances but I think that the more likely scenario is as outlined above.

The title "Go Set A Watchman" seems more appropriate to me to be a good name for a cricketing novel; when it's half an hour before stumps and a wicket has fallen.

July 18, 2015

Horse 1940 - When To Make A Declaration

Speaking as someone who has only played cricket at levels as high as churches A-grade and Saturday league cricket, I am obviously imminently qualified to write about cricket at Test level. Also, having never been a captain of a side and never having to have had to make decisions which affect the outcome of a match, I'm also overqualified to write about tactics and strategy. It is in that vein, as an armchair expert that I write about that most chimeral of things - the declaration.
I have seen declarations in the past where both captains have come to a mutual agreement to declare both innings without score. This usually happens in the event of rain and there's still some reason, like points on a ladder, where making a declaration of that type makes some sort of sense. Those declarations are sensible. However they're not really of the sort that you'd find in a regular, normal, unaffected match. Those declarations require, in my irrationally exuberant opinion, mathematics.

Even before a ball has been sent down 22 yards in anger, the captains will be aware of one guaranteed aspect of a test match: it lasts five days. Even before you start to work out things like par scores for the ground, this is an immutable fact.
There is also one other guaranteed aspect of a match; that is that in order to win, you must have the other side conclude their innings twice. Under normal circumstances, this means taking twenty wickets and so the biggest single determinant should be the amount of time required to take those twenty wickets.
This means an insanely simple calculation. Ideally, every declaration should be as close as possible to the ideal time required to take those twenty wickets and so dividing the match into four quarters should give you an excellent guide as to when to conclude an innings:

1st Innings: Day 2, the 22nd over (which will occur before lunch)
2nd Innings: Day 3,  the 45th over (which happens half way through the middle session)
3rd Innings: Day 4, the 67th over (which is just after the tea break)
4th Innings: A fourth innings is always chasing a result. Either it succeeds or fails. To declare in the fourth innings of a match is to instantly lose. It would be the sign of an eejit.

Under normal circumstances, declaring earlier than this not only short changes your own batsmen, it gifts the opposition more time to accumulate the runs that you've set for them. Declaring later than this, steals time away from your own bowlers and they'll need that time to take the wickets for you.
In this respect, cricket is similar to Formula One motor racing. If your car lasts for more than a hundred yards beyond the end of the motor race, then the car has been built too strongly and is inefficient. If your car fails before the end of the motor race, then the car has not been built strong enough and this is inadequate.

There are of course exceptions to the above guidelines to making a declaration. If you are batting first and you can keep on batting, then ideally you should treat your first innings as a double innings and declare half way through the middle session on Day 3 as though it were a second innings.
If you are batting second and you can keep on batting, then ideally you should treat your innings as a double innings and declare just after the tea break on Day 4 as though it was the third innings of a match.

This is going to sound almost bizarre but every form of cricket is essentially a limited overs match. In Twenty 20 matches and One Day Internationals, this is explicit but unless for some completely bizarre and unknown reason yet devised and the side bowling wants to bowl more than 90 overs in a day, a Test Match will have 450 overs as a maximum.

Yes I am aware that cricket is a game replete with tradition, pomp and circumstance, and the story of a cricket match ebbs and flows as though it were a living, breathing beast but it is after all a game and the purpose of a game is to win. The declaration is an instrument used in the purpose of winning and say what you like about the psychological advantage it might confer, a game with defined conditions for wining means that this instrument has an ideal set of points as to when it it best deployed.

Aside (and this is a massive aside):
There is an exception to the guidelines above and I think that it would be so dastardly as to have nuclear bomb type implications. Both of which involve either declaring way too late or not at all.

Test Matches are usually played in a series and so winning the series is often more important than any given match within it. If you are in the delightful position of having won previous matches and the current one might allow the opposition to draw, then declaring as late as possible so that the match dribbles out to a draw is acceptable. It might not be exciting and it might not be sporting but if you can steal away the possibility of a win from the opposition then the ends justify the means.

The other exception is when you intend to bat for so long that the opposition spends several days out in the field. If you are batting first and you have the capability of surviving for all five days, you should absolutely and resolutely do it. The glittering prize of an innings of four digits awaits you and the first class record of 1107 runs which was scored by Victoria has been taunting batting teams for almost ninety years. In that case, winning an individual match or even a series is not the objective but winning immortality.

At 566-8 and only on Day 2, Australia's declaration was dumb - see above.

July 17, 2015

Horse 1939 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 20 - William "Billy" McMahon

XX - William "Billy" McMahon

William "Billy" McMahon was one of the original 49ers. That is, he was part of the group of new members to the House of Representatives in 1949 when Menzies led the Liberal Party to government. By the time Gorton was forced to resign in 1971, McMahon had been a cabinet minister in various portfolios for 21 years; which is a record that still stands and would again take some pretty interesting circumstances to break.

As the most senior member of the Liberal caucus and the only really acceptable candidate for both side of the coalition, McMahon was the logical choice for the next Prime Minister
after Gorton resigned the post. What I don't understand though in any sense id why Gorton ran for and won the post of Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. McMahon was more or less forced to give McMahon a cabinet position and installed him as the Minister for Defence but following a spate of leaks from cabinet meetings, McMahon demanded and got Gorton's resignation.

During Gorton's tenure as Defence Minister, in 1971 McMahon cancelled Australia's plans to build nuclear power stations which also would have included the ability to produce weapons grade plutonium. This was also in line with plans to sign the United Nations' Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which would eventually be ratified two years later.

Set against the climate of the continuing Vietnam War, the new Opposition Leader Gough Whitlam called for Australia's formal recognition of China which he opposed. This was made to look somewhat foolish when US President Richard Nixon toured China in 1972.

McMahon held the 1972 election for as long as it was statutorily possible and released a pre-election budget which was denoted in the press a being a "pork barrel" budget (McMahon also accused the ABC of "tremendous bias" in its current affairs programs), which saw government spending increase, especially in the areas of rural spending and social security payments and at the same time reduced personal income tax. At the same time, unemployement rose from 2% to 6% and inflation also rose to 7%.

On the other side of politics, Gough Whitlam and the Labor Party's "It's Time" campaign played on like a bandwagon and people duly got on board. McMahon's government saw an 8 seat swing against it, which wasn't as bad as it could have been but it did bring an end to 21 years of coalition governments; thus McMahon became the longest serving Prime Minister to leading the party, having never taken it to victory at an election.
McMahon would go on to serve as Deputy leader in Billy Snedden's Shadow Cabinet and eventually Father of the Parliament before finally resigning from Parliament in 1982.

July 16, 2015

Horse 1938 - Democracy, Not By Choice Or Consent

Look, I think historical forces have dictated the ebbs and flows of these ideologies or these systems that you’re talking about, be it communism or capitalism, and capitalism has become the dominant force governing most of the planet and it got there through a process of competition, of ideas and delivery, in a similar way, as has democracy. I mean, democracy is finding its own places around the world. It is spreading around the world because people are choosing it. But both of these ideas, capitalism, democracy, even communism, historically these are not very old ideas. 
- Michael Ware, on ABC1's QandA, 13th Jul 2015¹

It always bothers me when I hear claims like this because it's almost invariably made by someone trying to justify democracy and tie it to capitalism as though those two concepts are either entwined and natural, whereas the long game of history leads me to believe otherwise.
Democracy, or at least in the sense that we understand it today of parliamentary democracy elected by a majority of the populace, is not only insanely new in this history of the world but has had to be fought for at every step of the way and often with tremendous losses of life.

This being the year 2015, the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, has been symbolically taken to be some sort of great victory for democracy and indeed human rights, when the truth is quite a long way from this in reality. At Runnymede, in probably what was the middle of a boggy field, King John was more or less cornered by the barony to surrender a degree of power and with a list of demands which included representation in parliament. I think that it's reasonable to assume that John would have been under duress as he signed the document because he would have tasted the sword had he not done so.
Magna Carta although it has been held up as all sorts of things, certainly did not extend the franchise to the vast majority of the populace, who were still peasantry who were the de facto property of the lords and barons who ruled over them. For most people, the great 99.99% of people, Magna Carta did precisely bupkiss for them as it specifically excluded serfs and unfree labour from representation and any rights at all. In fact, the Great Council of the Magna Carta, only included 25 barons who represented themselves.
It's also probably telling that in its first incarnation, Magna Carta only lasted about nine weeks before it was flung onto the dungpile by King John.

Things bumbled along for centuries as cities started to coagulate and in England at least, democracy never really woke up for a long time. Not even through the seventeenth century as Charles I became increasingly belligerent towards the parliament and the rise of puritanism led the parliament and the king into outright war, did democracy wake from its slumber. It rolled over as Charles was beheaded, Cromwell became quasi dictator, the monarchy was recalled and even after the glorious revolution and the passing of the Bill Of Rights act which set out many conditions as to how the King and Parliament would work together in future, the franchise was still not extended to the majority of folk.
Really, it was only the coming together of cities and a process which in England is akin to gerrymandering that the franchise was slowly extended via the Reform Acts in the nineteenth century and the rise of unionism that saw any change at all. Faced with a group of relatively rich people in a growing middle class, the franchise was extended slowly as the various factions of parliament were seeking to gain an advantage through the ballot box by the blunt force process of acquiring more votes by including more voters. Even so, the franchise wasn't extended to women, arguing that they lacked the capacity to make informed decisions.
In all honesty, Australia only really played with the idea of giving women the vote in the face of impending federation of the states and a similar sort of thing happened in New Zealand but in places like the United States and Britain, women only got the vote after millions of corpses were flung violently across Europe in the First World War. Even then, in Australia we were still only clearing up the last vestiges of the franchise when we had to take the questions of the rights of Aboriginal peoples to the electorate via a referendum.

At the same time though, actual power was slowly shifting away from governments to that of corporations and now we're kind of at this weird point in history where a lot of governance to do with how we actually live our lives, is being carried out by corporate boards. Corporations reset governance by selling democracy to the people with the most money; so we're back where we started before Magna Carta in a lot of cases. Governments which used to own public goods and services, are now paltry rulemakers.
People aren't choosing democracy. How can they? In what sense do you choose a system of governance anyway? What difference does it make if although you are given the choice of who your elected officials will be, if you actually have no choice at all over the actual economic decisions that matter.
Consider one of the most famous passages in the story of democracy:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
- United States Declaration of Independence, 4th Jul 1776²

I wonder about the phrase "the consent of the governed". Consent implies some sort of voluntary permission and I'd argue that unless you were there when the systems were put in place, there is no way that permission can ever be voluntary. Overt consent must surely shift to tacit consent at some point and does that mean to say that you are by default giving your tacit consent to those that govern by not engaging in revolution and civil disobedience?
Is showing up once every few years and putting a few numbers on a ballot really giving your consent to those that govern? I've voted in numerous elections and often I've looked across the spread of candidates and decided that I don't like any of them. I suppose that I prefer the idea of compulsory voting because it does ensure that you have a passing approval of the people or at the very least, a default choice leftover after eliminating those candidates who the majority of people disapprove of the most. Even then, does a vote by the majority of the people imply consent? If you live in a constituency where you are utterly opposed to everything that your sitting member stands for, then I don't think that it makes any sense when you absolutely would not have given your consent to them but have had the tyranny of the majority decide for you.
In the recent referendum in Greece where the people voted "No" to austerity, they've had their wishes trumped by the supranational organisation of the European Union and the IMF by basically twisting the arm of the government to make it agree with what they want. When the people make their voice known through the ballot box and the government either does not or in this case can not listen to the will of the people then there's little point in choosing anything democratically. A vote has been held and even with a simple yes/no question consent was withheld but the government acted anyway.

I seriously wonder if democracy, or at least parliamentary democracy in the form that we have today is either a form of government chosen by, truly representative of, or even with the consent of the people. It's the best that we can come up with for the moment and so the utilitarianist in me says that it will have to do for now.
That sentiment has been echoed before:

Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
- Winston Churchill, to the House of Commons, 11th Nov 1947


July 15, 2015

Horse 1937 - It's Systematic. It's Axiomatic. It's Greece Lightning. - The Greek Debt Crisis Serves As A Warning To Australia

With the Greek debt crisis lurching from bail-out to bail-out and Europe practically making Greece surrender much of its sovereignty in return for another €86bn, the prime minister Alexis Tsipras faces a task of Herculean scale (like cleaning the stables of King Augeas which held immortal cattle and produced an unfeasibly enormous quantity of dung), which obliges him to abandon all promises of ending imposed austerity measures. Thus he faces the wrath of the Greek people which might spell the end of his premiership.
Is the story of Greece instructive though? What could have been done differently? Closer to home, is an economy like Australia immune from being utterly shipwrecked upon the shoals of bankruptcy like Greece is?

If you look over the great economic empires of history, the Romans, the Persians, the Ottomans, the Mongols, the English, the Americans and now the Chinese, all have had one thing in common - the ability to control their own destiny with regards the goods and services they produce.
Greece currently finds itself in a situation where it produces very little of value that it can trade with and is financially ruined as a result. Say what you will, you just can't build an economy based on yoghurt, tourism, cement, concrete and reo-bars. In 2008 Greece's total GDP was €321bn compared with €226bn in 2013.

In a story not dissimilar to Greece, as Australia moves away from producing its own stuff, all that we have to trade with are things we can farm; be they agricultural goods or dirt. We're not even that good with our own dirt either, we sent it overseas to be smelted and it magically comes back as stuff.
If you look through the ASX200, maybe 11 companies are manufacturers? That doesn't seem very smart to me. It appears to me as though the financial system is largely parasitic and that the economy is mostly held up by farming and dirt. Like Greece, we're on the express train to oblivion but we can't afford the diesel to get there.

The biggest underlying problem with the Greek economy is that well before it even joined the Eurozone and the common currency, it stopped attracting foreign investment from about the mid 1990s. That lack of investment spending meant that there wasn't any future benefits to be reaped and this led to a slow process of deindustrialisation. As a result production slowed down, and the number of imported goods which had to be imported increased. Since the amounts paid for imports vastly exceeded the receipts collected on exports, the only possible outcome was an increase in the size of the deficit in the current account; that gets paid for by taking out loans.
Without private receipts, this means that there was an increase in the public debt. This was further compounded by the fact that businesses started to refuse to pay taxation and individuals couldn't sustain the same levels of taxation as they once did.

With falling real wages in Australia and the manufacturing sector withering on the vine (or in the case of the automotive industry, being dared to leave by the Treasurer from the floor of the parliament), Australia is in precisely the same conundrum. I find it utterly scandalous that the Federal Government would even think of contracting any of its capital defence spending to foreign nations; yet last year that's precisely what was being touted when the plan was to build replacements for the ageing Collins class the submarines offshore. What do you do when not even the government is on Team Australia? Of course, no-one particularly wants to set up manufacturing plants here because other countries' labour costs are far cheaper (and our labour costs are also driven by the need to pay for over inflated housing prices).

In Australia's case, this is absolutely an example of the "Dutch Disease" when an economy increases the economic development of natural resources and watches a decline in the manufacturing sector, as the corresponding changes in exchange rates distort prices. Maybe this is an example of the paradox of plenty at work?
Rather than invest in manufacturing, or education, or anything really, governments in Australia squandered the mining boom by giving away tax cuts; now that the price of many commodities (particularly coal, oil, iron ore and grain) continue to fall, the revenues which could otherwise have been collected have been undercut by burning the tax base.
The other thing that Greece tells us is that with issues like an aging population which will add to the cost of state pensions and welfare programs, governments need to think about their tax base structures. Unlike Greece, Australia still retains its own currency and so central banking functions remain relatively autonomous; so at least that's something.

The Greek financial crisis should serve as warning to Australia. Although Australia doesn't have the same sorts of issues of austerity being imposed upon it from the outside, relying on selling dirt isn't wise.

July 13, 2015

Horse 1936 - Switching To Tea Aids Memory

Sydney is a city obssessed with property. Currently, the city is going through the same sort of property price inflation as London experienced in the 1890s. Unlike London though, Sydney doesn't have anywhere near the depth of heritage buildings, nor the same quality of historically important buildings.
This is a tale of my own ignorance about the city in which I live.

Every evening as I make my way home across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the bus travels over what used to be the egress for trams coming off the bridge. Trams would have plunged into a tunnel and thence to Platform 1 at Wynyard but buses continue overground and onto York St.
Off in The Rocks and to the left hand side of the bus is this sign which is on the side of 121-127 Harrington Street:

Now I swore blue and blind that I thought that this building was just a bare red brick facade but this signage looks like it was from the 1960s or 1970s. Was I going mad?

As I wandered about The Rocks this morning looking to deliver a packet of papers (and being frozen to the point where even Siberians probably think its a bit cold) I discovered a plaque which informed me that this is called the Bushell's Building. Inside are some pieces of industrial machinery, such as tea blenders and slides, which were left behind from when this building was still Bushell's headquaters and manufacturing plant. Bushell's has long since moved out and been bought out by Unilever but the sign on the outside of the building, was reimagined in 1999 - so I'm not going mad then. It was just a bare red brick facade.
Before the Bushell's Building was a tea factory, it used to be owned by the Sunday Times Newspaper Company (which itself bit the dust in 1930). It makes sense that Bushell should set up his tea factory in The Rocks. It's in the heart of Sydney itself which makes immediate distribution relatively easy and being so close to the docks, also allows for import and export of teas and coffees.

Even just seeing a sign like this makes me think that perhaps the things that we see as familiar should be preserved. Immediately I think of the Arnott's sign on the railway bridge at Strathfield which thankfully has been preserved and I find it crazy for instance that the Coca-Cola billboard at Kings Cross which has been there since 1974 isn't heritage listed yet.

If a city like London can retain elements of the built environment from long ago, then surely a city like Sydney if it wants to call itself a world class city should attempt to do likewise. Great cities like Paris and Athens have done so and even madmen like the Facist leader Benito Mussolini wanted to establish a brand new Rome so that the ancient city of antiquity could be preseved. Cities like New York suffer from the fact that the Tower Building at 52 Broadway, New York, which was the world's fist proper skyscraper and the Cumberland Hotel which carried the first electric billboard, are demolished and disposed of to make room for the next thing there.

Even though Bushells moved out and no longer has anything to do with the building (and so in effect gets free advertising) and even though it is a piece of advertising, I rather like the fact that this has been restored. This sort of thing reminds us that even an great complex thing like a city has a story which continues to live and breathe with the people who live in it. It also reminds me that I'm not going mad.

July 11, 2015

Horse 1935 - Recognising Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders In The Constitution: Yes.

In Horse 1534¹, I wrote about the relative pointlessness of including recognition for Aboriginal peoples in the preamble to the Constitution. I'm not interested in mere tokens because whilst they might be symbolic, they achieve very little in reality. I think that the only way that you affect real change in a nation is through the passage of legislation and law; they only way that you affect the real lives of actual people is through the operation of those same instruments, through legislation and law.
When I heard about the Recognise campaign, I was initially hesitant; thinking that it would would produce some mere tokens and not much of lasting value but having read through the proposals by Recognise, I'm quite excited.

This is from Recognise.org :
An Expert Panel – which included Indigenous and community leaders, constitutional experts and parliamentarians – consulted extensively across the nation and reported to the Prime Minister in January 2012.
It recommended that Australians should vote in a referendum to:

  • Remove Section 25 – which says the States can ban people from voting based on their race;
  • Remove section 51(xxvi) – which can be used to pass laws that discriminate against people based on their race;
  • Insert a new section 51A – to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to preserve the Australian Government’s ability to pass laws for the benefit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
  • Insert a new section 116A, banning racial discrimination by government; and
  • Insert a new section 127A, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages were this country’s first tongues, while confirming that English is Australia’s national language.
- Recognise.org website², as at 11th Jul 2015.

I read through these suggestions and immediately wondered about the mundanity of them. I don't mean to sound blasé on the issue but I think that if you put this set of proposals before the people, then they'd go through without any real opposition at all. I don't think that this would merely meet the statutory requirements required to pass a change to the constitution of a majority of voters in a majority of states but rather, I think that if you put this to the people, it would be a knock out of the park for six, thanks for coming, 90%+ in all states kind of vote.

The thing to remember is that the Constitution isn't some sacred document that was inscribed in stone from high and brought down from the mountain, it is a piece of legislation, albeit a pretty central piece of legislation, and legislation is argued, discussed and thrashed out all the time on the floor of the parliament; literally all the time. This while notion of needing to send this to committee to thrash out the wording of the referendum questions in this case is more or less pointless because really all that needs to be done is ask "do you think we should replace A with B? Yes or No?" and "do you think we should replace C with D? Yes or No?". Five Questions - done; sorted.
To that end, if you just let the people of Australia read through the questions beforehand, via newspaper publication and maybe even a six page A6 pamphlet, then it's reasonable to assume that they'll understand and make up their own minds; which is the point of taking the questions to a referendum in the first place.
Actually I would have thought that for these questions it's a fait accompli anyway because these things are so mind-numbingly obvious as to be trite.

This is why don't understand why when the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, met with Aboriginal elders to discuss the proposed changes to the constitution, why it seemed such a difficulty. If this is a matter of wording, then you could have a select committee from both houses of Parliament meet at 10am, go "bang, bang, bang, bang", have it voted for on the floor of both houses befor lunchtime and then put it to a referendum within a month. How hard is it? Not very.

Symbolically I like the idea that it be put to a referendum on Saturday 27th May 2017, which is the  anniversary of the referendum giving indigenous people the vote and I think that it's a glorious coincidence that that referendum was also held on the 27th May 1967. Perhaps we could also while we're at it, remove Invasion Day (26th January) and replace it with a new national holiday that we could be finally be proud of. 

I'd still like to see six Aboriginal Senators because I think that the only real way to properly recognise the first peoples is with representation in the parliament. If New Zealand can do it, why the heck can't can't we? Maybe the people who thrash out the referendum proposals could look at that too.

July 10, 2015

Horse 1934 - The Mystery Of The Uniform

Think about this for a second. If you took the Richie Cunningham from Happy Days and put him on Fonzie's motorcycle, would he be cool? No. If you took Fonzie's leather jacket and put it on Richie, would he be cool? Again, no. If you put the leather jacket on Richie Cunningham and then put him on Fonzie's motorcycle, would he be cool? Still, no.
How is it then that if you took a Manchester United player and put him in a Liverpool kit, that he would be cool? How is it that when you take Buddy Franklin, who used to be a dead set legend at Hawthorn and you put him in a Sydney Swans kit, that he instantly turns from a legend into a total boofhead?
Something is going on here and that something is the power of a uniform.

For most people, they will see most of their friends replaced through circumstance, several times in their lives. Parents die, children grow up and leave home and even siblings move out and the story of hatch, match and dispatch continues on, on and ever on.
About the only constants in life are people's faith, the continual scratching around to keep the bill collectors and tax collectors at bay and bread on the table, and the football team, or baseball team, or basketball team, or cricket team... that one follows. If you look at FA Cup fixtures on telly, or Australian Rules matches, or baseball games from America, or Hockey Night on CBC, invariably there will always be at least one shot of an old person with an indeterminate number of teeth, who has suffered through years of blinding disappointment and they'll still be there to watch their team lose yet again. Very few organisations illicit such brand loyalty and its certainly an interesting thing to observe.

I'm going to illustrate what I mean with something hideously mundane: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. The box looks roughly identical to how it did when I was a kid but it no longer comes with that little tin of cheese sauce. The thing which made Kraft Macaroni & Cheese the thing that it was, was that little tin of cheese sauce. Change that out and you have what amounts to an essentially different product.
The weird thing is that if you changed out all eleven players from Liverpool and replaced them all with Manchester United players then the product doesn't actually change. I bet that if you swapped out all eleven players from Liverpool with Manchester United, I'd still follow Liverpool. Unlike Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, you can change out every single component and yet still garner the sort of brand loyalty that other companies and organisations can only dream about. Over the course of five years, a professional sporting team can change its entire staff and even though the players themselves might not show any real loyalty to their employers, the fans will.

This strikes me as odd. A professional sports player has an incentive to show loyalty to their employers because that's where their livelihood is coming from but a fan does not and what's more, players will often move on if someone else is waving a bigger wad of cash at them. What's worse is that a fan actually pays for the privilege of watching their team, which includes watching the players move on and be bought and sold like trading chips. The players move from club to club with as much speed as a ball across the turf but the fans do not.

When you talk about brand loyalty, people will sometimes lie to your face until you probe further. A generation ago if you'd asked someone if they were a Holden or Ford person, then more than likely they'd had a corresponding Holden or Ford sitting in the driveway. Although I might claim to be one of Henry's boys, a blue oval does not sit in our driveway, a lion does; it isn't even a Holden lion either but a French one. (Secretly though, if someone wants to donate many many tens of thousands of dollar pounds to the "Get Rollo an RS Fiesta Fund*" then I'm willing to shoulder your burden however massive.)

Even the uniform itself is subject to change and the fans still remain loyal. If I look through my own wardrobe of Liverpool red kits, there are the sponsors Crown Paints, Candy, Carlsberg and Standard Chartered represented and there are three different kit manufacturers yet despite all of this, it's still the same team. Apart from firms and organisations which outlast generations, that sort of continuity never occurs, and unless you happen to be talking about faith based organisations and family businesses, no other entity has that sort of claim.

Even though styles change, materials technology changes, so long as the basic colours remain the same, a uniform will begin to acquire an aura of its own over time. Before the World Cup of 1954, Brazil played in white but thanks to the absolute tragedy of their 1950 World Cup campaign and losing to Argentina, Brazil changed their kit colour to yellow.
In 1964, Bill Shankly had the Liverpool kit changed from white shorts to an all red kit because it made the players appear larger and fiercer. They bought into the myth and the legend was born.
Even in the genteel and discrete game of Test Cricket where there is little to distinguish the teams, Australia's Baggy Green cap has gone on to become a much treasured thing; helped by the fact that players only get one (or only get a new one when the previous one has become threadbare worn).

From a design perspective, the uniform is something which you mess with at your peril. When Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan bought Cardiff City FC, he changed the kit from red to blue, in order to try and represent the red dragon of Wales. The fans weren't having a bar of it. Bluebells fans continued to wear their old blue kits and this season, Tan has had to give in to the fans because the uniform is bigger than the management of the club.

I know that I'm waxing lyrical here and and a tendency to be overly sentimental but in the year 2058 when half of my teeth are falling out and I am one of those weird old codgers you see on t' telly, there will still be valiant lads in Liverpool red kits, still be plucky warriors in tangerine Blackpool kits and still enemies in Man United red bits of rag.
That's what a uniform does. It connects fellow travelers through the ages. 

*If someone does want to send me £100,000 for an RS Fiesta, rest assured, I'm not that proud to accept charity. Charity beings at home; I see no reason why it shouldn't be mine.

July 08, 2015

Horse 1933 - Chuck Taylor All-Stars

Basketball was never going to be my sport. This was cemented forever when in Year 7, our sports teacher decided that we were going to play the game and in setting up a practice drill, told us that we had to make a free throw or some such. I was a weedy, weakly 12 year old and the shortest kid in the class, and so there was no way that I could have hoped to make the shot. At this point and in front of the class, I was forced to take shot after shot until I made one and even beyond the point of humiliation; with tears streaming down my face, I still couldn't do it.
In my mind, as a sport, basketball was consigned to the bin and even though this was 1991 and we were in the grip of Michael Jordan fever, all the flashy marketing and hype would never change my opinion. My bedroom wall had a poster of "King Kenny" Dalglish staring back over his shoulder; clad in the Liverpool 7 kit. Putting a ball in the back of the net from 35 yards away, is still more impressive to my mind today than putting a ball through a hoop. Even to this day, I have no idea what a Point Guard is, though I am assured that it probably has nothing to do with a guy standing at the entrance to a building with a Steyr AUG assault rifle.
This didn't change the fact though, that in my wardrobe, a pair of basketball shoes held higher pride of place than my football boots. To this day, they still do; even though I'm ambivalent towards basketball.
There are two names, in the world of basketball, which in my mind stand out more than any others and both of them have shoes named after them. Michael Jordan had the Air Jordan shoes by Nike named after him but I don't think that they are as much a of a classic as the Chuck Taylor All-Star.

Marquis Mills Converse (which is surely one of the greatest names for a businessman ever) started his shoe making firm in 1908. In 1917 he created his first batch of canvas high top basketball shoes and in 1921, the story of Chuck Taylor and these shoes began to entwine.

Charles Hollis "Chuck" Taylor who was an ex-basketball player in high school, became a semi-professional player for the Firestone Non-Skids, which was owned by the tyre company. As this didn't pay enough, he cold called at the Converse Shoes sales offices in Chicago search of a job whereupon he was hired to sell shoes.
Chuck Taylor was a salesman. Chuck Taylor was a shoe salesman. Moreover, having played basketball in high school, Chuck Taylor was a basketball shoe salesman because he understood the game.
Within a year of being hired, Chuck Taylor had already suggested the addition of a rubber patch at the ankle to protect the talus bone. In 1923, the rubber patch with the star was added.

Converse had hired Chuck Taylor  to go on the road, from school to school to promote the game of basketball and at the same time, hawk the shoes which Converse made. Of course, in order to play basketball, one needs a team to play with and so Converse also hired their own team.
During the 1920's and 30's, Chuck Taylor's All-Stars appeared in a whole host of newspapers and he was so inexorably linked with the shoes that he sold, that in 1932 the shoes officially became the Chuck Taylor All-Stars.

Despite having sold more than 600 million pairs of shoes that bore his name, Chuck Taylor never received a commission on them but often lived out of hotels and motels and driving a white Cadillac across America.
He was probably responsible more than anyone else for the inclusion of basketball at the at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, even though outdoor lawn tennis courts were often used as venues. By the 1948 London Olympics, proper indoor courts were used at the request of the  International Basketball Federation. By this stage though, Chuck Taylor had semi-retired and became the athletic director at Louisiana State University.

It was estimated that during the mid-1960's, Converse held more than 80% of the athletic shoe market but that was eroded to the point where the company dribbled down to bankruptcy by 2001. In 2003 Nike bought out Converse for more than $300m which I suppose is fitting as they own the trademarks of the two greatest names in basketball shoes: Air Jordan and Chuck Taylor All-Stars.