January 27, 2016

Horse 2065 - Australia Day: A Day For All Australians?

Yesterday, the Twenty-Sixth of January is the day that two nations celebrated their national day. India celebrated Republic Day which commemorates the day in 1948 that India became an independent republic. Australia on the other hand celebrates the strangely named Australia Day which doesn't commemorate the day Australia gained independence, responsible government or when the states federated into a commonwealth but the day that the Union Jack was raised at Sydney Cove in 1788; stealing a continent through the cunning use of flags.
Other countries celebrate the day which they became a nation, such as the United States' Independence Day on July 4th or Canada Day in Canada on July 1st. France has Bastille Day on the 14th of July which commemorates the day in 1789 when the Bastille Prison was stormed and seven prisoners were freed; which marks the beginning of the French Revolution. New Zealand has Waitangi Day on February 6th, which celebrates the day on which the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British and the Maori.
All of these and many more represent a point in which either sovereignty or peace was declared. Australia Day on the other hand, is a yearly reminder that the British simply just arrived, stuck a flag in the ground and dumped its undesirables in Australia; with precisely zero regard for the first peoples whatsoever. No other nation that I can think of has a holiday which marks either their surrender or annexation by a foreign power. It would be like France declaring a holiday for the day on which they surrendered to Hitler or Japan declaring a holiday when they surrendered to the Allies.
It is little wonder that protest marches happen every year to mark what many Aboriginal people call Invasion Day or perhaps more optimistically, Survival Day.

I must admit that when I heard the news reporting several celebrations around the country on television and radio yesterday, I couldn't help but feel either shame and or revulsion at the existence of the holiday. I think that it is rather disingenuous to declare that we recognise a group as the "traditional owners of the land" on the day which marks off exactly when those rights were trampled into it. You can't say that "I recognise that you owned this Mars bar" and then eat the Mars bar right in front of their face. You may accuse me of trivialising the issue of land ownership and loss of sovereignty but Australia Day not only does that, it waves a banner over it and then sings patriotic songs over it as if that makes it all right.
Some commentators in the media (and I shan't link to those comments here) ask why people just can't get over it and celebrate the day like everyone else. I could draw a parallel with a loss of sovereignty and self-determination for as much as 177 years at this point and issues to do with established white privilege, but I suspect that people who hold such opinions would immediately trumpet their right to free speech and deny their undeclared racism, which by operation of that free speech is proven.

Yes I understand that there are things like citizenship ceremonies and events which celebrate the nation which is, which let's be honest is a pretty good one, but the reason why we don't mark the day which the Commonwealth Of Australia came into existence, when the states federated together and when the nation achieved sovereignty and responsible government, is because that happened of January 1st; which is already New Year's Day and we already get a holiday for that.

I suspect that Australia will continue to be the insensitive and idiotic thing that it is until Australia becomes a republic. I personally don't like the idea of Australia becoming a republic because of the associated implications of doing so but I think that it's inevitable. If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else (which would be an excellent name for our head of state - we already have a president; they're in the Senate) then I would set the official date that Australia will become a republic as the Eighth of August. The date 8/8 is an excellent date for three reasons:

1. It is memorable.
2. We don't currently have any holidays in August. The calendar is kind of front loaded with holidays and there's nothing towards the end of the year.
3. Most importantly, it's sufficiently far away enough from January 26 to render the old date useless.

Republic Day would be the new national holiday and Australia Day would pass into disuse, obscurity and hopefully be forgotten.
Of course the first act of parliament on the 9th of August would be the signing of a proper treaty with the first peoples of this nation, which would finally contain a formal apology and alter the constitution to include formal recognition. The 9th would also be a public holiday.

I hate Australia Day as a thing, not because I hate Australia or the idea that we should celebrate what is demonstrably a safe, prosperous and I think overall "good" nation, but because the date is self-defeating. It marks the beginning of something shameful about the history of this nation.
Granted that you can't change the past but you really shouldn't be inadvertently celebrating the worst of humanity either. It makes no sense to celebrate nationhood by marking the day that a whole host of peoples had their sovereignty stolen from them.

January 26, 2016

Horse 2064 - Let's Blow This Pop Stand Wide Open.

Michael R. Bloomberg has instructed advisers to draw up plans for a potential independent campaign in this year’s presidential race. His advisers and associates said he was galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side.
Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, has in the past contemplated running for the White House on a third-party ticket, but always concluded he could not win. A confluence of unlikely events in the 2016 election, however, has given new impetus to his presidential aspirations.
- Alexander Burns & Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, 23rd Jan 2016

When Americans go to the polls in November, they will be voting for their local representative in the House of Representatives, the people who will represent their state in the Senate and the President. Or rather, they will not be voting for the President but votes in the arcane system known as the Electoral College.
Due to the strange way that the Electoral College works, it's possible to become President with less than 25% of the popular vote by winning the College votes of the least populace 40 states so, possible to become President by winning the 11 most populace stats or by winning by an even more bizarre method which is what led to the "corrupt bargain" of 1824.
If no candidate wins half the number of Electoral College votes, then the decision is sent to a joint sitting of the House and Senate and rather than it being a simple majority of members of Congress, they vote as whole states. This is where the story gets interesting. To force a meeting on the Congress to decide who the President is, there needs to be no clear winner in the Electoral College.

Looking through the long list of results, we find that although George Washington kind of ran as an independent (if there even was such a thing back then and even then he ran unopposed), every single President from John Adams onward ran under the guise of some political party and that ever since the end of the so-called period of "good feelings" and the end of the Whigs, all attempts to run as a third party candidate have ended in abysmal failure. Not even former President Teddy Roosevelt had a particularly successful campaign against the existing political party machines.

Former Mayor of New York City and billionaire Michael Bloomberg has tentatively hinted that he might run for the Presidency but not for either the Republicans or the Democrats. He would run as an independent.
You don't actually need to win 270 of the Electoral College votes to win the election. All you need is the support of the 50 states. Assuming that Bloomberg would win his home state of New York and provided that the chads didn't fall off in Florida, Bloomberg on current polling would only need to win those two states and there would be no clear winner in the Electoral College. 

To be honest, Bloomberg's decision to even contemplate running as a third party candidate seems baffling to me. I imagine that his politics which would nominally be pro-business and very much in favour of Wall Street would have aligned him with the Republican Party. Though given the whole sort of general mish-mash and dog and pony show that is the 2016 Republican race so far, maybe it just wasn't worth the effort.
If you'd asked me six weeks ago who the Democratic candidate would end up being, I'd have said that Hilary Clinton was so far in front that it was a walkover, a cakewalk and a four base walk around. Bernie Sanders has come up out of pretty well much nowhere and he's making noises that make me look like I have cake on my face.

Before we even get to what Bloomberg intends to do, what his policy platform is, its worth noting what kind of uphill task that any third party candidate faces. By not aligning themselves with a party, they may pull voters away from the existing majors but in order to win the Presidency, they'd need to steal perhaps more than half from both camps. That might be extremely problematic because when it comes to voters and political support, people tend to become as rusted on as they would do with a sporting team. A third party candidate might be able to draw in some portion of the 46% of the electorate who can't be bothered to vote (no, I reject the "right" not to vote as poppycock) but is that enough?
Assuming a third party candidate did somehow achieve what no other has done ever, once they found themselves in the Oval Office, they'd have to learn pretty quickly with the Congress. This would mean showing themselves as aligned with one of the major parties on some majority of issues as some point and this harks back to the basic problem that every President faces; if they want to achieve anything, they need to work with the Congress.

If Bloomberg happens to appeal to the members of a newly elected Congress, who I'm assuming would tend to be Republican controlled in the House and the Senate, then Bloomberg could very well be elected by members who would be forced to choose between him, Trump or Clinton; since a Republican controlled House and Senate would prefer Bloomberg over Clinton, he could be installed as president with as little as 11% of the popular vote. If that sounds insane, remember that John Q. Adams in the "corrupt bargain" election of 1824, won only 30.9% of the popular vote, or less than 1% of the adult population of the United States.

January 25, 2016

Horse 2063 - It's Bowlers Getting Belted In The Big Bash; Not Batsmen

After watching the final of Big Bash League number 5 and the recent ODI series between Australia and India, I have pretty well come to the conclusion that the art of bowling in the shorter forms of the game is dead.
"Big Bash" is a pretty apt description for what has been going on in the middle, as the bat appears to have won the eternal struggle between bat and ball, and bowlers have been reduced to automata who exist purely as a delivery system for batsmen to ply their trade.
As cricketers become increasingly mercenary and chase the lure of rupeedollarpounds at the expense of their national sides, the market has decreed that batsmen are worth more than bowlers and as a result, the market has produced an outcome which sees batsmen rewarded for their efforts on the field, at the expense of bowling.

Gone are the days when scoring 200 was a notable feat. Today if you don't get to 200 runs by about the 30th over, then you have performed badly.
In the 1975 and 1979 World Cup Finals, the West Indies made 291/8 and 286/9 respectively. They sound like reasonable totals but in those days, One Day International matches were held over 60 over and not 50. This means that they scored at 4.85 and 4.76 runs per over. In 1983 when India beat the West Indies, they posted a score of 183 from 54.4 overs, at 3.34 runs per over. That scoring rate over 50 overs would have been 167 or in a T20 just 67. Neither of these scores would even remotely be considered as dependable today; yet India won a World Cup at that rate.

In the series just been the losing scores were 309, 308, 295, 323 and 330. If a losing score is more than a run a ball, then either the quality of bowling has fallen off the face of the earth (which I doubt) or the pendulum has swung too far in favour of batsmen,

I take issue with curators of grounds who are preparing batsmen friendly pitches. The Sydney Cricket Ground was once noted for being a spinner's wicket and in test matches, international sides would bring along two spin bowlers to exploit this. Admittedly One Day cricket is a different beast and so teams would drop a spinner in favour of a quick bowler but on Saturday night, the pitch in Sydney gave us so little turn that spin bowling was more or less useless. The curators of the Sydney Cricket Ground gave us a pitch that was more akin to the surface of a motorway in the desert. It was flat, dry and straight. Spin bowlers abandon hope, ye who enter.

Cricket like a lot of sports is very heavily subject to the variable of confidence. We very much saw this in operation in this Australia and India ODI series. Because batsmen are now very much used to accelerating the score beyond 12 an over, they now are far more confident in doing precisely that. If you happen to be a bowler though, having 12 an over smashed off of you, is demoralising and when this happens, bowlers tend to lose their discipline and bowl shorter; which means that the ball is higher when it reaches the batsmen; which means that they can more easily lift the ball over the rope.

What I find incredibly annoying is the introduction of the rope instead of fences. I don't know when the law was changed or when the practice changed to replace the fence with ropes but I suspect that immediately after this change was made, scores rose accordingly.
Once upon a time, when the fence was the boundary, fours were scored by hitting the boundary and sixes were scored by clearing it. At the MCG especially, this meant clearing the ball over a series of battlements which even a medieval army would have trouble scaling. In consequence, sixes were far harder to come by and scores were far lower. Whereas batsmen had to rattle the pickets to get four runs, their job is made as much as 15 metres easier in some cases.
When the best of the Australian bowlers, James Faulkner, gets repeatedly put over the fence and ends up with 0-54, when the best of the Indian bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah, gets 0-40, and when Umesh Yadav gets pummeled with 1-82 at more than 10 an over, bowling ceases to be a thing of skill and a contest and becomes a case of damage control.

The name "Big Bash" describes exactly what's happening within that sacred distance of 22 yards. Bowlers are being bashed by batsmen who neither fear them, nor respect them. A player like Fred Spofforth who debuted in the Second Test at Melbourne in 1877, acquired the nickname of "The Demon Bowler" and would go on be the first bowler to take 50 Test wickets and the first to take a hat-trick. Would anyone get name like that today?
Surely this is obviously idiotic isn't it? Who wants to sign up an be a bowler if your job is to be a sporting punch bag? Surely at international level, batsmen are sufficiently competent enough that they don't need the extra help that playing on a field the size of a postage stamp affords them?

January 23, 2016

Horse 2062 - The Complicated Story of Lady Liberty

Standing on Liberty Island in the borough of Manhattan, New York, New York (so nice they named it twice), is the statue "La Liberté éclairant le monde" which in English translates to "Liberty Enlightening The World" but which just about everyone in the world calls The Statue Of Liberty.
She has pretty well much displaced the former personification of the United States, Colombia, entirely; so much so that Colombia doesn't even appear on coinage anymore but Lady Liberty does appear on the unpopular One Dollar coin.

With this currently Presidential campaign becoming more like a dog and pony show every day; with one particular candidate even calling for a new Great Wall to be erected between the United States and Mexico, it kind of makes the words on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty ring a little hollow. The same sort of sentiment which ensured Lady Liberty be the last thing that new immigrants saw before they made their way to Ellis Island, might not exist today as America again turns a little isolationist.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Could those words be written today? Would they be extended if a Muslim were to arrive?

The story of the Statue of Liberty herself is a curious tale. Even though she would have overseen the arrival of thousands of different immigrants from a whole host of countries, it worth remembering that the Statue of Liberty herself as originally designed would have had a headscarf.
She would have been an Egyptian peasant lady or a "fellah" and was intended to act as a lighthouse for the new canal. This never happened.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the United States but her original purpose was to stand at the mouth of the Suez Canal. She had originally been intended to be an Egyptian peasant lady with a torch in hand but the Egyptian Government suffered its own financial crisis and came to the point where they couldn't afford her any more.
Isma'il Pasha who was the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan from 1863 to 1879, finally did see the opening of the Suez Canal in November 17, 1869. The construction of the canal did not go well and shares in the company which owned it, was under-subscribed. The ensuing financial crisis which meant that the Egyptian Government effectively had to underwrite the project, meant that funds for decorations such as a new colossus had to be shelved. When primary customer France entered into a war with Prussia in 1870, the plans were dropped entirely.

Her designer Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was so distraught at the news that she would not be overseeing this marvel of engineering that he kind of went crazy trying to find her a home. When the Governor of New York questioned him, he vehemently denied that the statue was ever intended to go to Egypt and rumours started to fly around in the press that he'd modelled the face either on his mother or his brother who had committed suicide.

Somehow Bartholdi convinced French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye who was an anti-slavery activist, that the statue should be re-purposed and given to the people of America as a gift. Again the project ran into funding issues and Bartholdi took out a patent on models of the statue before it was built and even convinced newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer to publish names of the people who had donated to its construction in his daily newspaper the The New York World. Most of the people who had their names published in the newspaper had donated less than one dollar.
After her arm was displayed at the 1776 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and her head went on display at the 1878 Paris World's Fair, construction moved slowly until she was finally unveiled to the world by President Grover Cleveland on October 28, 1886.

The other thing I found interesting to think about was that for the first 25 years or so of her existence because she is made of hammered copper plates (and incidentally generates an amazing amount of static electricity), she wouldn't have been the green colour that we usually think of her being but she would have been the same colour as an American penny - brown.
So how about that? Not only was the original intent for the Statue of Liberty to be an Egyptian peasant lady with a headscarf but she was originally coloured brown and a Muslim. She was even crowdfunded and the subject of a patent. Originally intended for Egypt, she became an immigrant to the United States, oversaw and came to symbolise the hopes and dreams of thousands and thousands of other immigrants.
I wonder what would happen to someone matching her description if they arrived at the US border today? Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me?

January 21, 2016

Horse 2061 - From Happy To Grumpy In Under 2

On a scale of Seriously Uncool to DB-9 Sub Zero fridge, I have owned several Uncool cars and a few Cool cars. The most recent Cool car that I own is the current model Mazda 2 DY. Hatchback? Yes. Small? Yes. Fun? Very.

The 2 is a quietly cool car. It has a sense of style about it but it's a restrained and subdued kind of cool. The 2 is a springtime afternoon with gin and tonic and jazz sort of cool. It is the clarinet and double bass kind of cool.
Yet even this kind of cool can be ruined by a fool with the stroke of a pen. A clarinet and double bass kind of cool can be ruined by a fool with an electric guitar. Allow me to demonstrate.

This is the Scion iA.

The United States has always been a strange place for motor cars. Possibly as a result of not having a myriad of different manufacturers willing to play in North America in the 1950s and 1960s, the so-called Big Three automakers decided to differentiate their markets with domestic only badges. A Chrysler could become a Plymouth, De Soto or  Dodge for instance and a Ford could also become a Lincoln or Mercury.
When the Japanese decided to play in America's backyard, they learned that that's how the game was played and so brands like Acura exist in no other market. Scion is one of those brands and its strategy is nothing short of bewildering.
Scion as a Toyota brand wants to differentiate itself from Toyota and so that's where all the weird cars go. The Toyota 86, Rukus and even the Corolla hatch are all sold under the Scion badge; meanwhile the plan for the Toyota badge proper, is to play it safe. Cars like the Corolla sedan and the Camry and the Tacoma and Tundra trucks are sold as Toyotas.
I will openly admit that I just don't know what Scion is for. I do not understand its point of existence. If the brand Scion was struck out of existence, I seriously doubt that the world would miss its passing or even be aware that it had gone. In the realm of the automotive universe, Scion is the equivalent of Lichtenstein: funny name and of little import. The name iA for a motor car sounds to me as exciting as the four part thriller "The Wonderful World of Paper Clips"

Having laid out my prejudice against the brand, I now turn my attention to the car itself. Mazda does reasonably nicely for itself and apart from the messy divorce with Ford which now means that it will have to fend for itself, their first crop of post-split cars is by all accounts excellent.
Why then if you are Mazda, do you want your precious little 2 to be sold under such an anonymous badge? Surely you'd want it to sit alongside the 3 and 6 and the CX and BT ranges and be proud of the fact that you've created a competent, fun and cool little car which is easily the superior of VW's Polo, Fiat's cheeky and badly built 500 and even have a tilt against yout ex-partner's Fiesta.
Worse, under the Scion badge they don't even sell the hatchback. Unless I happen to somehow get hold of a two door sports car or something with a stonking V8 up front, I seriously doubt that I will ever buy a sedan. The advantages, including how cool they look, of a hatch over a sedan, are just so large that its not funny. The 2 sedan is still a neat little car but given the option of a hatch, the hatch wins every time. Scion in their madness don't offer a hatch. Are they nuts?

Next we come to the elephant in the room - the styling. What were they thinking? The 2 was already cool. Its wedge sort of grill is reminiscent of Mazda's flying dorito, the rotor from their rotary engines. We go from a car which looks happy and cheerful to one that looks like a bit of a grump. That might work if you're trying to sell a car with many hundreds of horsepowers all snorting under the hood and just waiting to be set free but when you have a happy puppy of a car that wants to run, the personality is just all wrong.
Okay, maybe as a Scion they needed to establish some sort of brand identity but in trying to make it edgier, it is like they threw in an electric guitar solo into that cool jazz combo with the clarinet and double bass.

There is one redeeming feature about the Scion iA though: it will never be sold in Australia. As a North American market car, the brand doesn't travel. Instead, we get the 2 in exactly the same state as they do in Japan. We get the car in its unmolested form. We get Mazda's cool little 2 as Mazda intended.

January 20, 2016

Horse 2060 - Blood on the Tracks

Dear Opal Card,

Presumably the New South Wales Minister for Transport, Andrew Constance, hates his job, hates buses, hates trains, hates ferries, hates the people who use public transport and especially hates the people who live further away from work than those people who live close by. I can only assume that in his little world, which can only be very very little in terms of distance, that he has never ever grasped how wide, how vast and how spread out is the conurbation that is Greater Sydney. I can only assume that he must think that everyone lives within an area smaller than twenty-five square kilometers.
I would invite the Minister to perhaps take a journey to the edge of the transport network for which he is the "responsible" Minister of the Crown for. I suspect that only then, will he see how literally vast Sydney is.

As it currently stands, under the Opal Card pricing regime, the idea of being a "commuter" has been completely abandoned. The word "commuter" is derived from the fact that a season ticket holder, for the period of a week, month, quarter or year, had their fares commuted to something less than the price of those same equivalent individual journeys. The idea was to continue someone's patronage by enticing them with a discount.
Of course as rational actors within a system with substitute services such as car ownership, travellers then make the economic choice based upon what their cheapest options are.

Under the old MyMulti system, my weekly fare which included all changes from trains to buses and occasionally ferries, cost me a flat rate of $63 which allowed me to go anywhere for the week. Of course having charged me $63 which is still the equivalent of a tank and a half of petrol, it made sense for me to make full use of every single possible journey because if I didn't, it was like the NSW Government was getting money for free.

When Opal Card was introduced, the game changed entirely. Now they cap it at $15 per day and at the end of 8 unbroken journeys. Unbroken is the operative word here; what that means is that if you are changing from train to bus to ferry and they're all within the allotted time period, you will get charged for three trips but it will only count as one. Savvy people like myself realised that they only way that we were ever going to get in on this, would be to take trips at lunch time. This means that my eighth trip happens typically at Wednesday lunch time.
Thanks to the $15 per day cap, this means that my weekly fares work out to be about $45 per week. However, to achieve this requires diligence on my part and forces me to take the bus at lunch time.

It was then discovered by those people who live in the inner city, that because the system is automated and there is nobody around to police it, that they could walk from one tram stop to the next tram stop, tapping on and off as they went and although they were charged the smallest fare, it would count as a journey. For inner city dwellers who could do this as they work up and before they had a shower and whatnot, this "trip" would occur well before their first proper trip was recorded and yet still count towards their eight for the week.

Of course the Minister who doesn't have to live which the system, saw this as a problem and has decided to close this rort. Immediately the law of unintended consequences would step in though but it would appear that the Minister doesn't really care about the people who it would actually affect because they wouldn't vite for his brand of political party anyway. Stick them - commuters are scum.
Now the NSW Department of Transport has decided that what they intend to do, is punish people who travel long distances by counting the eight longest and most expensive trips as the eight and then counting those under the cap. They also intend to increase the cap from $60 to $65; that condemns all of those who travel long distances to a flat rate of $65 per week. In my case, that's an effective fare increase of about $20 per week or a 44% increase.

I fully accept that running a public transport system is expensive and that there will be fare increases from time to time, but when a public transport system is seen as a burden for the government that they'd rather be rid of, it makes me wonder who they really happen to be working for.
In Sydney we have more toll roads within the metropolitan area than the entire of Germany; they're privately run. This latest move by the Transport Minister immediately makes me wonder who has been passing him little brown envelopes of cash or which company he's looking to get a seat on the board of, when he retires from parliament. Putting up the effective fares of public transport so severely, would immediately make travellers recalculate their choices. If that means travelling in motor cars on private toll roads and that option is cheaper, then he rational choice is to leave public transport.
I could have the wrong end of the stick on this but we've already lost a Premier because of corruption and I can think of at least three Premiers of New South Wales who ended up with cushy seat on boards not long after they left parliament. I wouldn't put it past the current Transport Minister to follow in their tracks.

In the mean time, I continue to admit that I'm gaming the system in an effort to commute my transport fares. Clearly as one of these people who uses public transport because they do live so far away from where they work, I'm exactly the sort of person who the New South Wales Minister for Transport hates.

January 19, 2016

Horse 2059 - The Four Horse Race To The White House

One of the fascinating things about the 2016 US Presidential race, is the way that candidates are defining themselves. Even if you ignore the fact that everyone has to say that they support the Second Amendment despite all common sense, there are four broad camps which everyone has fallen into.

If it is possible to cut through the hype and the many layers of craziness that is Donald Trump, we find that his actual policies (which are as substantial as a house made of cotton candy) are really quite simple. Trump's campaign always returns to the central themes of domestic security and excluding the other.
Apart from Jeb Bush who is either helped or hindered by having such a famous name, nobody is really all that familiar with the other candidates on the Republican side other than Trump, unless you happen to be a political junkie. Trump isn't a politician and so he is neither versed or trained in the art of political speech; as such he tends to say whatever pops into his head at any given moment. That is either refreshing or unhinged depending on your point of view.
Trump trades on the blunt rhetoric of security by force and achieving piece through violence. Although he has suggested things as looney as bombing every target possible, building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and enacting laws to discriminate arrivals based on religion (specifically keeping Muslims out), they're all based on this central theme of security. If he is questioned outside of this topic, he really has very little to say.
Even though populism is usually associated with the poor masses and the lower middle classes, by emphasising the "other" Trump has rocketed in the polls. He might very well be popular but when the quiet masses are moved in November, is he electable?

Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and even Ben Carson, are all trying to maneuver to try and take the establishment vote on the Republican side.
Owing to the bizarre terminology that exists in the United States and nowhere else in the world, and which was taken from the names of the two main political parties in Britain towards the end of the nineteenth century, the word Conservative does not describe someone who is trying to conserve the institutions of government but someone who would prefer smaller government and the idea of individual liberty but yet maintain the structures of power on the basis of money. Ever since about the time of Reagan, this has meant an even further shift to the economic right; with supporters arguing for lower taxation.
I've heard a lot about appealing to "evangelicals" and maybe "Latinos" as though they were single homogeneous groups. As long as the buzzwords of "abortion", "gay marriage" and "marijuana" are bandied about, then the actual substance of the policy which might follow can be irrelevant or nonexistent. Even though districts which elect the House of Representatives can be gerrymandered to a point way beyond ridiculousness, as long as the words which are said are fine, then it doesn't really matter.
Republicans have controlled the Senate for the vast majority of the past eight years and the House for some of that period and even though Congresses 112, 113 & 114 have been less productive than Truman's "Do Nothing" 80th Congress, the fact that Obama has been a Democrat has been the perfect cover for everything. Ted Cruz was part of the faction that engineered a government shutdown of a few years ago and even though this caused government services to stop, old age pensions to stop and chaos at airports, this still wasn't enough to change people's perception. It was all government's fault; therefore we need to make it smaller.

Hilary Clinton needs no policies. After losing the Democratic nomination in 2008 to Obama, it was generally accepted that she would nominally be the one to replace him. Obama was the first black President and Hilary will be the first woman; that's the way the script reads, right?
Apart from positions of "abortion", "gay marriage" and "marijuana", Hilary's policies needn't be any different to the Republican Party. All she really needs to do is show some touchy-feeliness and say mostly sensible things abiut gun control when the inevitable mass shooting occurs and make the right noises about things like the minimum wage, and she's more or less a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. In fact I'd go so far as to say that if it was November and it was Hilary versus Trump, she'd win the Presidency by virtue of not being Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders has been saying the same sorts of things since the 1970s. He's been arguing for the best part of forty years that too much income and power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people.
In a speech really early in the campaign, Bernie Sanders identified himself as a socialist; which in the United States, operates on a sliding scale between the ages of 18-dead of hatred. People who still remember the coldest of the Cold War hate socialism despite the fact that they might be receiving a government pension, but for young people, they don't associate socialism with the Soviet Union, Stalin, or Chairman Mao but expect the word "media" to follow the word "social". When they hear policies which address things like taxation of the rich who might be avoiding it altogether and things like health care policy which attempts to address the quite frankly ludicrous situation in the United States where the biggest reason for bankruptcy is medical bills, then Bernie Sanders who would otherwise be seen as a silly old square, starts to look sensible.
In fact Bernie Sanders' policy mix looks more like the sort of platform which would have been at the centre of Winston Churchill's Conservative Party in Britain in the 1950s. Sanders would like to push America a little to the economic left, from its current position of being so right-shifted it isn't funny. He hasn't said anything about labour reform or unionism but I suspect that he likes the idea of raising the minimum wage and possibly actually doing something about chasing overseas tax avoidance.

When this finally rounds the last turn, I think it will be a four horse race. I don't know of who between Rubio, Cruz, Carson and maybe Christie will be the last challenger against Trump but after the Iowa caucuses, there will definitely be dropouts.

I think that:
If it's Trump v Sanders - Trump will win.
If it's Trump v Clinton - Clinton will win.
If it's another Republican v Clinton - the Republican will win.
If it's another Republican v Sanders - California will decide.

This campaign although being excessively noisy, is fast becoming predictable; we're almost out of teh fog.

January 17, 2016

Horse 2058 - Bull, Bear, Donkey, Elephant, Kangaroo? Emu?

ATM -0.16 2.22, BBQ -2.11 46.98, PBJ -0.09 1.13, SBD -1.32 8.25, TLA -2.20 9.31...

If you've been watching the markets this week you will have noticed that stock prices in China have been on the slide, that the Dow Jones Industrial Average seems to have caught a cold and that the ASX200 has been staring into the dark tea time of the soul and wondering about its existence. When stock prices fall, we call it a "bear market" and conversely when they rise, we call it a "bull market". The stories for these names are shrouded in mystery but as far as I can tell, the reason for this is either of the following.

- Outside the Frankfurter Wertpapierbörse - the Frankfurt Stock Exchange

It might have something to do with the way these animals attack. A bull is likely the lower its head and throw the target into the air - it lifts its enemy. A bear will rise up and using its claws and massive paws - it beats down its enemy. It could also have to do with the way that bulls charge forward and bears go into hibernation.
What I find somewhat strange is that in New York City, there is a statue of a charging bull which is supposes to represent the unpredictability of the stock market, there is no corresponding statue of a bear.
Whilst it's true that we just don't know what the bull and bear are actually supposed to mean or where they originally came from, we do know the story behind the animal mascots for the political parties in the United States.

- Thomas Nast's cartoons from Harper's Magazine, 1870 & 1874

The image of the Democratic Party as a donkey, goes back to the days when Andrew Jackson was running for president. During the 1828 campaign, his opponents would call him a "jackass" and instead of running away from this, he embraced the metaphor and redefined it to mean that he was steadfast, willful and determined instead of being obstinate.
The image was forgotten and then revived in the 1870's by Harper's Magazine when resident cartoonist Thomas Nast made fun of the "Copperheads", a vocal faction of Democrats, so named after the venomous snakes.
Likewise, Nast is also responsible for creating the Republican elephant, which was portrayed as belligerent and clumsy. Among other things, Thomas Nast probably also developed the ideas of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, Columbia and New York's Tammany Hall Tiger.

This leads me to think about what we should do for Australia.
We have two political major political parties who have been locked in the perpetual shouting match across the floor of parliament since 1945. I think that it would be fitting if we could take inspiration from the coat of arms and use the Kangaroo and Emu.
The Labor Party would be the Kangaroo. It stands on the let of the coat of arms and has sometimes been provided with boxing gloves in various contexts.
The Liberal Party would be the Emu. It stands on the right of the coat of arms; which itself is an apt metaphor for the party.
Neither the Kangaroo or the Emu can walk backwards, both have as much road sense as a flying pavlova and both rush about at incredible speeds without the slightest regard for anything else in their environment.
Or maybe not. We already have a Walkley Winning cartoonist in Australia who has given us Ian the Climate Denialist Potato, the Racist Carrot and Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin.

January 15, 2016

Horse 2057 - Ali Abbas Returns To The Scene Of The Incident

It must be said that I like watching sport. I like watching, playing and analysing it to the point of stupidity. I like the statistics, the tactics, the struggle, the endurance and the sheer drama of sport but most of all I like the fact that it is a truer and clearer mirror on life than life itself.
The sense of bravado that sports people have when they know that the odds are impossibly against them but they still try anyway, the pure joy that flows through every sinew when your team wins, the sense of disappointment and sometimes ennui when your team loses and the sense of hope in the face of all rational sense that your team will do better next time when they have demonstrated consistently that they will not, are all stronger and more real then the decidedly more grey world where most people are happy if they spend their time in a nice place, with the occasional trip to the lav.
As well as being bigger and better than grown up things like love, death and taxes, sport provides lessons which are also better.

This weekend in what promises to be a slow and wet weekend in old Sydney town, the Sydney Derby between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers will be played out in the never ending argument to prove that Blue is best and that Red and Black is like jamming a rusty cake fork in your eye forever (I admit that I am incredibly biased, that I only have one eye and that it is sky blue).
This Sydney Derby sees the return of Ali Abbas to the fixture which saw him out of the game for 405 days.

Ali Abbas suffered a tackle from Iacopo La Rocca in the match on 29th November 2014, which saw a cynical one-all draw and this caused his Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Medial Cruciate Ligament to tear.
As a player who has been through this, the fact that you can't go back out the next week, or the week after that is disheartening; when it extends into months its positively maddening. Worse for Ali, as a professional he will have had to watch Sydney FC from the sidelines and know that he was powerless to change the course of any action out on the pitch. All the while, his match fitness will have ebbed away to zero and he'd still be left with the twin problems of pain and rehabilitation.

On social media, Abbas had to also suffer taunts and racism; rivalry is one thing but this should not be tolerated. The fact that Brendon Šantalab had openly made racist remarks in the 3-1 victory to Sydney in the March fixture at the Sydney Football Stadium in the previous season, should have had Šantalab fined and suffer match bans to say the least - it got nothing.
Abbas himself though, who somehow has risen above all of this, serves as an example of why sport is bigger and better than grown up things like love, death and taxes, and has provided a very valuable lesson to society.

As an Iraqi refugee, he came to Australia with practically nothing and the worst things that will have happened to him already did so before he stepped onto our shores. To be out of the game for 405 days and then to score a goal on your return to competition, shows something of the best of the human spirit. To then back up and return to the very fixture which caused you to get injured, the very next week (which is what happens this weekend) is to display determination and courage. Courage is not an absence of fear but doing it anyway.
Ali Abbas is also I think, a pretty good personification of what it means to be Australian. As a nation the vast majority of us came from across the seas, we're more colourful and diverse than a bowl full of M&Ms, Smarties, Bhuja Mix, Salted Nuts and Skittles and we'd like to think that we show grit and determination in the face of our foes. He might play for Iraq but we can adopt him, can't we?

And what foes they are. The Western Sydney Wanderers are Sydney FC's first best frenemies. They are neighbours, they are rivals and in the great sporting landscape of Australia, they are brothers. Ali Abbas returning to the fixture which put him out of action for so long, is like the return of someone who has been on a long journey and as come home. One of the greatest compliments that a sibling can pay, is a traditional punch in the arm. No doubt that when Abbas returns to the pitch against the Western Sydney Wanderers, they will play him all due respect and watch him like a hawk.

The fixture tomorrow night at Parramatta Stadium, will be a return to where it all happened 412 days before. The incident must have been horrible because it meant that he had to watch all of the 2015 Asian Cup from the sidelines; it meant that he couldn't play for Iraq in that tournament.
I tip my hat to you Ali Abbas. You show a sense of joy and determination which is bigger than grown up things. We should be proud to have you in our nation. I'm certainly proud that Ali Abbas wears sky blue.

January 13, 2016

Horse 2056 - The Book Is Better Than The Film. So What? The Book Doesn't Matter.

At some point over the past 19 years that I've kept a blog, I imagine that I must have made the point that I think that in the vast majority of circumstances I've enjoyed the book version of something more than the film version. The reason for this is that for reasons of brevity and form, filmmakers need to tell a more direct narrative than people writing text. In a book, you're allowed to make meandered wanderings that have little to do with the current plot, you're allowed to make lengthy flashbacks and you're allowed to make more detailed asides where the characters' thoughts and motives are made public to the audience. In a film, you only have about ninety minutes to say everything and so you need to make your points as efficiently as you possibly can. Then there's always the issue that someone's mind can paint the scenery and the smells of a world far more vividly than any UHD, UHX, Dolby, Technicolor, Kodachrome set of tools ever could.
Someone said something to me today that totally made me rethink my perspective on this matter. It was this:

The book doesn't matter. 

Read the book. Enjoy the book. Put the book on your bookshelf as a monument to your own literacy in your own personal mausoleum.
The truth is that there are people who will never read the book. They will never read the comic. They will never play the video game. They will never play the board game. Whatever the source material was, however brilliant, mediocre, detailed the world inside the source was, however rich the history, however complicated the back story is, the film maker can not rely on the fact that the person who has forked over many dollarpounds to be entertained by the film for ninety minutes, is familiar with any of it. The audience might be someone who works hard all day long and simply doesn't have the patience to do the work required to read a book, or read a comic book, or have played the board game or video game. The contract that they have made with the filmmaker is for them to sit in a darkened space and passively let the story wash over them for however long the film runs for.
If the film is terrible and is worse than the book, then the people who have read the book will feel ripped off but the people who haven't read the book don't experience that loss of wasted potential. If the film is terrible and the book was also terrible, then the people who have read the book will forgive the film maker for working with bad source material but the people who have never read the book suffer nothing at all except a bad film.
If the film is brilliant then people who have read the book will feel happy and the people who have not, will still get to see a worthwhile film. If the film is brilliant and the book was terrible, then the people who have read the book will praise the film makers but the people who have not will walk out of the cinemas having seen a good film.
Whatever possible combination you can come up with, it is only the people who have read the book who have several sets of expectations to juggle. The people who have had no contact with the source material will only make their judgements about the film in front of them. That isn't a question about the relative merits of the book or the film but purely about whether the film maker has fulfilled their part of the contract or not.

A good book is not the main determinant in the final quality of a film in question. Again I return to the example of the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit series. I thought that the Lord Of The Rings series of films was all right but not brilliant. I think that the films are better than the books because Tolkien is such a tedious writer. By the same token, 2001: A Space Odyssey contains an all right movie surrounded by many many minutes of pointless garbage. The book is better because the internal conflict of HAL is expressed by the writer in no way that any film could hope to do.
The source material for both of these films are equally famous books. Their adaptation into films as far as I can tell, depends in no way whatsoever on the original quality of the writing of those books. I can categorically say that the Lord Of The Rings films age better than 2001: A Space Odyssey simply based on the quality of the films.

Actually I'll also suggest that the quality of the film making also largely doesn't matter either. There is a case to be made for the art and technical prowess of a film and a lot of that depends on the technology available to the film maker but as far as the film watcher is concerned, it all returns to that contract which was made before the film began. How well does the film provide entertainment for ninety minutes or however long the film runs for? I think that I must have seen at least two dozen silent films in 2015 and some of those sequences although they appear utterly hokey (and in some cases this is riffed upon), they still work as well as they did more than a hundred years ago.

In the end, films are judged against other films; not books. If the book is better than the film, then good. Reread the book and enjoy it again. For someone who just wants to sit in a darkened place and let the story play out in front of them, the book is irrelevant. The book does not matter.

January 08, 2016

Horse 2055 - How To Bring Down Kim Jong-Un

With the news that North Korea has detonated an H-bomb and even had veteran news anchorwoman Ri Chun-hee come out of retirement just to make the announcement on state television, the world has gone into a frenzy to ask what can be done about rogue state. Sanctions clearly do nothing as the state ideology of self-sufficiency or "Juche", means that they already blithely carry on as thought the rest of the world doesn't even exist.
Considering that Kim Jong-Un is even more difficult to read than his father Kim Jong-Il (who was still as mad as a cat in a corn flakes box), it's hard to know whether this way a display of sabre rattling purely because it's Kim Jong-Un's 32nd birthday today (8th Jan) or if this is in response to something else.

Speaking as someone who has neither studied political science, nor who knows anything about the world of international diplomacy, I'm perfectly qualified to offer an opinion on how to defeat North Korea and bring in into some degree of normalcy. The reason for this is that just like Kim Jong-Il, I have an over inflated sense of personal worth and am equally as mas as mad as a cat in a corn flakes box.
I could defeat North Korea with a two word policy. It's a similar policy that worked against the Soviet Union, East Germany and has brought China closer to the world. Those two words are "Wal" and "Mart".

I suspect that one of the reasons that the Soviet Union eventually collapsed, isn't because of armed conflict but because of Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of Perestroika and opening the economy of overseas businesses. In that period, foreign goods began to appear in Russian stores and I think that one of the greatest triumphs of capitalism can be summed up in a single photograph.

This is a photograph of a McDonalds on the left and the State Historical Museum of Russia on the right. Less than one hundred metres away is Red Square and a short walk to the mausoleum of Lenin and the Kremlin.
On the 31st of January 1990 and less than three months after Berliners began to hack away at the Berlin Wall (demolition proper wouldn't begin until 13th of June 1990), the first McDonald's opened in Pushkinskaya Square in the Tverskoy District of Moscow. On opening day, more than 8000 people queued for several hours to purchase a Big Mac¹.
Now I'm not about to debate the relative merits of a Big Mac (because I can't honestly see the point in paying more than five dollars which can be done better at an independent burger joint like Greco's in Lawson or any fish and chip shop) but the fact remains that McDonald's in Moscow, probably achieved more goodwill in a single day's trading among Muscovites than anything else in Moscow since the October Revolution.
Just like the red flags which brought down Tsar Nicholas II and the house of Romanov, the things that brought down the house of the Soviets also had its own special colour; they they were golden arches.
If you look on Google Maps in Moscow today, it looks like any other European city. I've found stores selling products from Levi's, Fendi, Zara and the roads are full of Fords, Opels, Skodas, Range Rovers, Audis. The place looks so familiar apart from the writing in Cyrillic, that I might even be looking at the centre of Melbourne.

This works equally as well for a place like Beijing as well. Deng Xiaoping realised that he couldn't keep the world outside the gates forever and especially following the June Fourth Incident, otherwise known as the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, China began to open itself up to the rest of the world.
Admittedly it probably still doesn't have a proper handle on how to integrate markets into a command economy, as evidenced by the fact that the Shenzhen Stock Exchange suspends trading when things fall "too far" but if you look in the Dongcheng District on Google Maps, you can find things like KFC, ads for Tissot watches and Kia cars and even a Raffles Hotel. Google hasn't been given a free run to send its cars around China but I'm sure that it's only a matter before they will be allowed to.

I think that signs like McDonalds in Red Square and KFC in Tiananmen Square are like glowing beacons into the night. It's worth remembering that even during the height of the Second World War and when the Allies and the Nazis were dropping bombs on each other, all over Europe and possibly collectively causing the deaths of as many as 75 million people, that it was Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck who appeared on Axis and Allied aircraft alike.

I'm reminded of something which John Green s in Episode 39 of Crash Course World History²:
But first, let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, it’s silly putty. Silly putty: the thing that won the Cold War. This is exactly the kind of useless consumer good that would never have been produced in the Soviet Union. And it is because we had so much more consumer spending, on stuff like silly putty, that we won the Cold War. Go team! 
- Crash Course - World History: USA vs USSR Fight! The Cold War, 18th Oct 2012

I don't think that the Cold War was won because the United States simply outspent the Soviet Union (though I do think that putting twelve clowns on the moon was one of the greatest economic diversions that the world has ever seen and the reason why any of us are still here), but I do think that when people in countries like Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and China, realised that they could buy more stuff at cheaper prices than what they could under their closed communist systems, that that certainly was a factor in changing the way society thought about how it saw the rest of the world.

For this reason, I don't think that imposing sanctions on North Korea is likely to achieve anything whatsoever. For the average person on the street, the man on the Pyongyang omnibus, extra economic sanctions on the countries is going to make three-quarters of diddly squat of a difference. I doubt that they'd even be remotely aware of such a thing.
However, if companies like Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Target or K-Mart were to negotiate their way into opening stores in the crazy Korea of the north, I suspect that a revolution would occur; similar to what we saw in Eastern Europe on the dismal side of the Iron Curtain when it was lifted, or in China which accelerated after the British lease on Hong Kong expired.
The anthem of the revolution which brought down communism and which has changed China, is not The Internationale but The Symphony of Sixpence played on the Wall Street Piano - the sounds of the cash register.
The way to bring down Kim Jong-Un is not with military force or the dropping of bombs, but with the delivery of Mars and Snickers bars, Wranglers and Levi's jeans and with the special envoy of Colonel Sanders, The Burger King, and Ronald McDonald.


January 06, 2016

Horse 2054 - Klopp A Hiding To Nothing

When Rafael Benitez was fired by Real Madrid this week, most of the football world went into cries of 'why?' because here was a manager who was doing all right and yet has found himself in the employment queue for no real discernible reason. It's not that Benitez has done poorly, it's just that Real Madrid are demanding success immediately and without excuse.
Such is the cutthroat nature of football these days. The boards of football clubs who end up making financial decisions based around expected revenues and hoped for successes, find it easier to hold managers and players responsible and because their horizons have narrowed, the allotted time that managers and players are given to chase silverware in, has also narrowed.
This isn't new to Rafael Benitez though. He's already been fired by an equally insane club in England - Liverpool. That insanity continues.

When Jürgen Klopp joined Liverpool in October last year, he replaced Brendan Rogers who in the grand scheme of managers had done all right. At a record of 85 wins from 166 matches and a win rate of 51.20%, he actually had a better record than Bill Shankly, who is so revered by the club that the gates on the northern side of the Anfield Stadium are named after him and his statue stands on the southern side. Shankly at 393 wins from 753 matches, had a win rate of 52.19%. The difference between Shankly, Rogers and Klopp though, was that Shankly was given time to settle in, to build and develop a side.
When Bill Shankly joined Liverpool in 1959, they hadn't won the First Division in 12 years. It wasn't until 1964 that he finally took the reds to their next title. Six years is a long time to be given to build a squad and enough time to develop players through the academy and find players through your scouting network. Rogers was in the job for a mere 39 months before he was shown the door and Klopp who has arrived with seemingly a sense of expectation that he can turn the club around in the space of a 20p piece, has immediately met with the enormity of the task at hand. In contrast, Shankly was given a whole five years before he won a title at Liverpool. It's worth remembering that it took Alex Ferguson seven years to finally get a league title at Manchester United.

The problem that I've seen consistently with Liverpool since the end of Kenny Dalglish's management in 1991 is that the board will not back a manager with either the level of support or funding that they require. Managers have frequently said that they want to go looking for someone to fulfill a role and they've consistently been denied the ability to chase them.
On the other side of the coin, as money has flowed into the game, the club is either unwilling or afraid to take a gamble and promote players out of their under-21 and under-19 squads to the degree which they probably need to.
With a little over half of the 2015-16 season over and Liverpool being 12 points behind league leaders Arsenal, this season is a statistical write-off. The only target worth pursuing in the league is third place. Fourth place isn't safe enough to ensure a Champions' League berth and trying for anything higher is pointless. The other option is to ignore the Champions' League altogether and to spend the next five months bedding in new players who have come up through the ranks, so that they can attack next season properly.

Unlike Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea who have been bankrolled with oil money from the backs of the Russian peasantry, or Manchester United which is owned by American billionaires, Liverpool is owned by the disinterested Fenway Sports Group. These other clubs have the ability to spend their way out of a hole but Liverpool in comparison is only allowed to scour the bargain basement bins.
Before Jürgen Klopp became the manager at Liverpool, he previous job was at Borussia Dortmund where he took them to two Bundesliga titles in 2011 and '12, the DFB-Pokal in 2012 and to two Champions' League Finals which they both lost. Unlike the job at Liverpool, managing a club in Germany means that you only really have to fight with Bayern Munich and possibly Bayer Leverkusen. It also means that you are pretty well much guaranteed a Champions' League spot. That's not the case in England.

If Klopp does achieve what no manager has done in more than a quarter of a century and win a league title managing Liverpool, he's likely to get his own addition to the stadium somewhere. Liverpool being Liverpool though, are just as likely to continue their impatient demand for success and set Klopp up to fail. Managing Liverpool is possibly the most poisoned chalice in the world of football management. It's a job which every manager wants because of the name but realises that it's probably an impossible task to do.
The insanity continues continuing.

January 05, 2016

Horse 2053 - Whitewash In Oregon

What's the difference between an armed militia and a terrorist cel? The colour of your skin.

Yet again demonstrating the utter stupidity of the Second Amendment which gives people the right to bear arms but not common sense and the fact that the media in the United States is still living in some pre-1960s fantasy whitewash, the way the news has reported the armed annexation of a wildlife refuge by a family in Oregon highlights the underlying racism still prevalent in the media.

Think about this.
(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
(B) appear to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
- U.S. Code › Title 18 › Part I › Chapter 113B › § 2331¹

Under the The Code of Laws of the United States of America, the definition of “domestic terrorism” means activities that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.

According to The Oregonian:
Harney County Sheriff David Ward on Sunday afternoon said a group of militants that seized an eastern Oregon wildlife refuge is trying to overthrow the local and federal governments.
Ward said the Harney County Sheriff's Office is working with several organizations to protect county residents and resolve the standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters south of Burns. The group of militants seized the headquarters, which was empty, after a march and protest Saturday in Burns.
Ward said the group hopes to spark a national movement.
- The Oregonian, 3rd Jan 2016

From what I can gather from various news sources, two brothers were in a dispute with the local government over the issue of cattle grazing rights in Harney County, Oregon. They then set fire to pasture lands and were convicted of arson, which the state said would lead to the threat of wildfires but which they said was for the control of invasive plants.
This led to the hostile takeover of a US government building in response by about 150 members of a local militia.

Had this been the takeover of a government building by a group of African Americans, it would have made national headlines in America. Had this been the takeover of a government building by a group of Islamic people, then this would have been labelled an act of terrorism and would have been attacked by Fox News, then shock jocks and then by CNN, ABC, NBC and CBS.
White people with guns is seen as an act of patriotism buy people of various shades of brown in America is seen as fundamentally attacking the American way of life.

"Every one of us has a constitutional right to protest, to speak our minds. But we don't have a constitutional right to use force and violence and to threaten force and violence on others.
And so it is our hope that the protesters there will stand down peaceably, that there will not be a violent confrontation.”
- Ted Cruz, as reported by Politico, 4th Jan 2016³

The fact that Ted Cruz can make a comment like this, indicates that neither the FBI, National Guard, Army or even tactical divisions of police have been sent in. One of the biggest threads in this story isn't what has been said but rather the unwritten rule that exempts white people from being accused of terrorists. Had these people been African American or Islamic, they would probably all be dead by now.
In the Black Lives Matter movement, the motives of people are questioned and words like "immature and "thugs" are brandished about. In this story in Oregon, a very very different set of words are being used.

Instead, a debate is being waged on whether or not this is an act of patriotism of all things. In a country where the NRA is listed as a 501C(4)(A) tax exempt organisation⁴ which exists "for the promotion of social welfare, or local associations of employees, the membership of which is limited to the employees of a designated person or persons in a particular municipality, and the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes" you have to think that something is severely strange.

If you can control language and the colour of words being used, you can ctonrol people's opinions. That is on full display here. Whiteness is a car which provided you can play it, allows you to get away with craziness; including the armed hostile takeover of government facilities and still not be accused of terrorism.

How many sides does an Oregon have? At least two. It has a white side...


January 01, 2016

Horse 2052 - First-Cause: A Sufficiently Good Enough Reason

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
- Genesis 1:1

...pessimists will conclude that things have gone downhill from there.

"This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move."
Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (1980)

The Bible begins with the assumption that God exists. As it isn't a science book, it doesn't need to prove this and nor does it really make a philosophical attempt to do so.
People like Aristotle assumed that there was a demiurge and his argument of the unmoved mover is a First-Cause argument. The First-Cause argument is simple. Every finite thing and action has a caused which caused it; each of those causes also had causes which caused them and so on and so on, etcetera etcetera etcetera. This naturally sets up a chain of infinite causes unless the First-Cause itself is infinite. Aristotle argued that that First-Cause which is infinite is God.
The medieval scholar Thomas Aquinas also thought that everything in the universe which was or is in motion and he also agreed in the position of God as the first cause of everything. He also applied this to things like truth and virtue and thought that not even the mind can "move" itself spontaneously without something else moving it.

"Hence we must say that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act."
-Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica - First Part of the Second Part (1274)

Leibniz on the other hand argued that if a thing exists, it is also possible for that thing not to exist. If that is true for one thing, then it must also be true for the entire universe. Even if we assume that the universe has always existed, there's nothing within it to show why it necessarily should exist. Therefore things only need a sufficiently good enough reason to exist. If the universe exists, then the sufficiently good enough reason as to why it exists, can exist outside of the universe. That sufficiently good enough reason is God.
The opening few chapters of the Bible don't even bother to ask where God came from. Mathematics has not problem with the concept of the infinite and seeing as the word 'eternal' is a description of the infinite as applied to time, the question of where God arose from doesn't need to arise.

I think that it's important when reading the Bible to read what it actually says. I also think that it's important for those people who want to attack in upon the basis to actually read the Bible to see what it says. What it actually does say in those opening few chapters is vague. The opening two chapters of Genesis speak of God doing things but they don't necessarily speak of how those things are done. The process of how things are done appears to be less important than who is doing them. People might like to break into heated arguments about evolution and cosmology at this point and there we always arguments between literalists and those who read the Hebrew in a metaphorical sense but I don't think that the purpose of the text was ever for that. I know that I'm going to offend both literalists and non-literalists at this point but I just don't think that these few hundred words are definitive enough to lay a claim in either direction. The actor of God as the one who causes things to happen, as a sufficiently good enough First-Cause, is also powerful enough to have brought things about according to both sets of terms. If "a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day" to God, then the arguments in my mind are mostly irrelevant anyway.

At some point, every single argument is always going to come down to the question of "what can I know for certain anyway?" You can't rely on your senses since they can be deceptive and since everything else outside of one's mind is ultimately not certain either. If even every thought is unreliable does that prove that the mind thinking such a thing exists? It might have been enough for Rene Descartes in his "Discourse on the Method" but is that logically true? Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum - I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am?
Aquinas would argue that a mind that was moved to doubt or think about its own existence, would by necessity must have had some initial first cause to doubt or think up such a thing. The Bible doesn't bother with such things. The question of First-Cause never arises because the sufficiently good enough reason for there to even be a beginning is God.

Our church is reading through the Bible in a year. The link to the guide is below:
link - Doobly Doo