May 31, 2016

Horse 2118 - Water, Water Everywhere But Not The Right To Drink It 
A report from Matheny Tract, an arsenic-poisoned community that’s about to become the test case for a new legal idea: the ‘human right to water.’
But after decades of political neglect, Matheny Tract and similar communities are now at the forefront of legislation built on a legal idea that has gained increasing attention in the past decade in the developing world: the “human right to water.”
In 2012, California became the first state in the U.S. to legally declare that every human being has the right to “safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes.” The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and similar to one vetoed by his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was largely symbolic, intended as a moral compass for future water policy. But it contained a key provision, requiring state agencies to consider the human right to water when establishing new regulations and grant programs.
- Politico, 26th May 2016.

I think it bizarre and strange that in the twenty-first century that this conversation even needs to happen. I would have thought it so mind-numbingly obvious that people should have the right to clean water, that this should have been a fait accompli. Quite apart from the contractual obligation of a water company to provide clean water, that is a product which is fit for purpose, just common decency should inform a water company that people expect their water to be fit to drink.

America it seems has a strange relationship with human rights. It has a Bill of Rights attatched to its Constitution, which if you were to listen to the media for just week, you'd conclude that all it was limited to was the right to free speech and the right to bear arms and not much else.
The whole idea that human rights are codified for the betterment of society seems to have been forgotten entirely and the idea that they might describe standards of how people should behave to one another in recognition of each other's mutual dignity, is completely alien.

The Bill Of Rights which form the first ten amendments to the US Constitution are primarily about codifying at law, the necessary weapons which the nation needed to fight a war (with England). The Bill Of Rights was so bad at providing for the possibility that the nation might be more than just a collection of landed white males, some of whom owned slaves, that there have had to be extra amendments passed just to confer those same rights to other races and indeed women.
It wasn't until the cruel mayhem of the First World War, the abject poverty and misery of the Great Depression and the crucible of the Second World War, when the United States Government bothered to think about the ensuing peace which would follow and how the world might be rebuilt.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's State of the Union Address in 1944 laid out what he hoped might be possible in the future.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
- State of the Union Message to Congress, Franklin D Roosevelt, 11th Jan 1944.

I find it a little sad that the Second Bill Of Rights didn't form another set of amendments to the US Constitution. FDR died before the end of the war and so his ideas faded into unimportance and then obscurity. Perhaps lawmakers thought that this was over reach, or perhaps they just recoiled at the thought that government had become too powerful in the light of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where human lives had been literally vapourised in an instant. Whatever the case, the United States was set down a different path when it comes to human rights and perhaps one that denies the intent of the Constitution to form a "more perfect union".
I don't think it coincidence that Franklin's wife Eleanor continued the fight in the public conscience for human rights and I don't know of not if she was instrumental in bringing about the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, when it was ratified by the United Nations.
A lot of the ideas contained in FDR's Second Bill Of Rights appear in the UDHR and not surprisingly, it also includes some Articles which map nicely with the original Bill Of Rights.
With regards the right to clean water, one particular Article in the UDHR is particularly insructive:
Article 25.
 (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

It would only be the cruelest of people who would try to deny someone the right to clean water because it isn't a "food". Again, I think that it's pretty obvious that people need water to live but then again, I'm just an ordinary, normally reasonable human being. A government that would openly deny that that there is a right of people to clean water, is in my opinion a kakistocracy and should immediately be removed.

There is a sad sort of tragedy about this story though. Although the United States was a signatory to the UDHR, it refuses to ratify it. The other thing about the UDHR is that because it isn't a piece of statute law, it isn't really enforceable in any of the nations which have ratified it. Mind you, the United States does sort of have form when it comes to denying prisoners, that it has captured, basic human rights (such as the right to a quick trial and the right not to be tortured); so when it comes to denying some of its own citizenry the right to things such as clean water (and other things such as health care), then perhaps it is to be expected.

This cuts to one of the basic questions about the relationship between the people and government. Irrespective of what the consent of the governed actually is and whether or not that can be extracted through the franchise or not, some of the things we charge government with the responsibility of, is the provision of some services, the administration and public order of the nation, and the general welfare of the nation.
That word "welfare" is a tricky one. In general patience we talk of welfare as simply being payments to poor people but economists prefer a term which is more descriptive: transfer payment. The term welfare is used far more broadly and can include things like education, hospitals, the police and justiciary, even things like rubbish collection. Welfare in a broader sense refers to the things needed and provided for the general functioning of society; welfare is the government wall of protection that prevents like from being brutal, nasty and short.

So really I don't care if the provision of safe, clean water is a violation of human rights or a failure of government to fulfill its responsibility. When the system has failed like this, the result is identical.
As in Flint, Michigan and again here in Matheny Tract, water system are being sacrificed at the altar of lower taxes. This is a case of government trying to abrogate its responsibility, whilst inadvertently quashing human rights through inaction.
The fact that this is being dragged through the courts to try and establish a legal right to clean water, in this day and age, is absolutely insane.

May 30, 2016

Horse 2117 - Send The Electoral College Back To College To Learn Something

The United States is slowly making it's way to the November elections for the President, House Of Representatives and Senate, like a great lumbering Routemaster bus which is headed straight towards the front door of a department store - everyone can see it coming but there's no way that the department store can get out of the way. In addition to this, the two political parties are like passengers who are busily trying to throw each other off the bus, with the last person remaining on the bus being declared the winner, even though everyone knows that whatever happens, it'll end in a hideous wreck.

Partly this is due to the fact that the fifty states have what is known as a "republican" from of government; which instead of meaning the same as the Latin roots res publica or "by the people", actually means in practice that the fifty states act like fifty staunchly independent countries, with no uniform practices whatsoever and no common sensible way of deciding anything. The six states in Australia think that they're little nations unto themselves but at least they begrudgingly agree (through force of legislation) to have a uniform voting system and one in which you actually get a chance for more than just two parties to rule the roost.

Australia has Instant Run-Off Voting in the House Of Representatives and Proportional Representation in the Senate. This means that in the upper house because there are quotas for multiple positions at once, you get a greater multiple of parties in that chamber. In the House Of Representatives which has single member districts, you still get the tendency towards a duopoly of parties but what that means is that candidates and parties who are similar in style and ideology, don't end up splitting their vote. This allows for the situation in western Victoria especially, where the Liberal and National parties actually bother to both field candidates against each other. To be fair the LNP in Queensland which is where a formal union of the Coalition has taken place, is really just the National Party with a few Liberals in inner-city Brisbane, tacked on for good measure.

I know that the Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States are private organisations and they are at liberty to decide the rules to determine who their presidential nomination is, however they feel like but the 2016 race has showed that the general public is pretty fed up with the process of deciding the nominee. Both Trump and Sanders have said during this campaign that the system is broken and you have to admit that in those states where Sanders won a majority of votes but still took away less delegates because of superdelegates, that the pretence of democracy is crumbling, wih a worldwide audience watching on in horror. Donald Trump even said in as many words that he has stopped complaining about the system because he won the Republican nomination.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd openly admit that the current system of deciding who the nominee for President is, might have been useful in 1789 when you literally had to send delegates to Washington to decide who the President was but this wore out its usefulness long long ago. My solution to fix this problem is actually to rehabilitate the Electoral College; along with reforming the House and Senate.

Firstly, keep the House Of Representatives as single member districts. However, instead of making every seat a most votes wins thing (First Past The Post is a terrible description of what actually happens because that gives people the impression that you need to achieve half the vote and that is of course a lie), use Instant Run-Off Voting. That way if nothing else you end up with candidates meeting the approval of 50%+1 of the electorate at some point.
The Senate can be run on Proportional Representation lines. Yes there are only two Senators per state but at least this allows for the possibility that party can win both seats if the state all broadly votes the same way or they get Senators of different ilks if the state is more evenly split.

Onto the Electoral College. Currently, states conduct a statewide poll and whoever wins the most votes gets the entire allocation of Electors from that state. Technically you only need to care about a few states in order to swing the outcome of a presidential election and this shows up in the fact that hopeful nominees tend to only tour a few select states. It means that nobody ever visits the little states like Wyoming and nobody ever visits California because it almost always votes for the same colour.
My solution would be this. Get rid of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions altogether. They're pointless. Except when they're not pointless and they devolve into a massive bunfight. In their places, I'd implement a system whereby everyone in a state would choose their preferred candidate as now but instead of basically only getting one from each party, they'd get the whole game and dice to pick from. All the votes in a state would be collected and all the candidates across the parties would be ranked like one giant IRV ballot paper. The Electoral College would then not be say 29 votes from Florida all for one person but 29 identical ranked ballot papers, numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. It would mean for instance that in this cycle, there would have been seven Republicans, maybe more than just two Democrats and possibly other parties appearing in the Electoral College. These ranked ballots (all 538 of them) would then be counted in the same way as any other Instant Run-Off Vote.

It probably would have meant that the race wouldn't have been between Hillary and Donald but between someone more sensible like Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders. An even more interesting consequence would be that you might even get two candidates from the same side of the divide in the running. The biggest plus though is that it would entirely eliminate the almost eleven month circus that is the Presidential race and reduce the whole thing to just one day.
I reckon it'd be ace if there were as many as twenty candidates all in with a shot instead of just the two. People might actually think about voting for who they really want to be President instead of tactical voting and the dumbness of things like the Never Trump and Never Hillary movements. Imagine that - something more closely approximating democracy.

Of course the best idea of all would be to have everyone in the United States simply rank all of the candidates in a 240 million Instant Run-Off Vote. That would eliminate both the party conventions and the Electorial College entirely. For that reason, they'd never agree to it, or indeed any sensible national voting system. That might let democracy out of its little wooden box and back into the hands of the people and we can't have that now, can we?

What is going to happen is the same thing that happens every four years. The people will yet again see the great lumbering Routemaster bus which is headed straight towards the front door of the department store, watch on in horror as yet another wreck happens and then on the Wednesday which follows, turn away and forget about it for another four years. It's like a bizarre Olympic style Groundhog Day.

May 27, 2016

Horse 2116 - Barnaby Joyce Isn't Crying Over Spilt Milk. He'll Do A Pistol And Boo.
AFTER years of driving down the price of milk, Coles says it will launch a new, more expensive home brand to help struggling dairy farmers. The supermarket chain says proceeds from the as-yet-unnamed brand will go to an independent dairy industry fund to provide direct support to farmers and “invest in innovation to ensure the long-term future of the dairy sector”.
Fonterra and Murray Goulburn have both cut the price they pay farmers for milk solids.
Coles, which says it will forgo any profit on sales of the new brand, will also contribute $1 million to create a sustainable dairy industry fund to administer the initiative.
- The Daily Telegraph, 17th May 2016

No no no no no. Don't try to weasel out of this Coles. As a subsidiary of Wesfarmers, you're part of the 8th biggest company in Australia by market capitalisation, You and Woolworths Limited which is the 9th biggest company in Australia by market capitalisation are willing and able partners in this mess. Or did you some how forget this?
Murray Goulburn has won a five year contract to supply own brand cheese for Coles supermarkets. 
The five year deal is expected to have a $130 million payoff to the milk-processor, which edged out rival Bega Cheese for the contract. To deliver the contract, $145 million will be invested to upgrade facilities at the Cobram plant in Victoria. Bega Cheese will now have to find an alternative market for up to $60 million worth of cheese.
Bega Cheese CEO, Aiden Coleman said he expects prices were the dominant factor in the allocation of the contract.
"We went into a competitive tender process at the end of the calendar year and Coles have chosen an alternative supplier based solely on pricing I should imagine," he said.
- ABC News, 1st Feb 2016

Don't think for a second that we out here in consumer land didn't forget this. Most of the ASX 200 is either dirt farming or straight out money farming, and here you are driving down the prices of commodities so that you're literally taking the food from the tables of actual farmers.

You will argue of course that this is just an operation of the market. Praise be! In the great god Dollar we trust. Amen. But markets in and of themselves are capable of producing one and only outcome: a price. They are exactly amoral machines in this process. This does not mean so say though that the actors who operate the machines are exactly amoral. Some exhibit predatory power, some exhibit decidedly immoral behaviour. Forcing a guilt trip on the general public because you exercised that market power as a price maker and engaged the dairy cooperatives into a race to the bottom is hardly the best way to help struggling dairy farmers. This "fund" which you suggest will go towards dairy farmers, is little more than a public relations stunt. It is an actual whitewash.
46. (1) A corporation that is in a position substantially to control a market for goods or services shall not take advantage of the power in relation to that market that it has by virtue of being in that position.
- Section 46, Trade Practices Act (1974)

Now I know that I'm hardly a lawyer but I do have the power of literacy. Section 46 of the Trade Practices Act, which by the way had changes submitted to the parliament by Barnaby Joyce in 2007, was designed to stop things like predatory pricing through this sort of discounting. I don't think that it's much of a stretch to suggest that a subsidiary which is part of a company worth $47 billion "is in a position substantially to control a market for goods or services" and when you're forcing the players in the market to undercut each other to be lead suppliers "based solely on pricing", I think that you've taken considerable advantage of the power in relation to that market.

If you're going to create a fund, or start giving farmers what their produce is actually worth, then don't turn it into some show of virtue. If you don't, then maybe the government might force you to do so.
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has warned the big supermarkets that unless they axe their $1-a-litre home-brand milk, a re-elected Coalition government will force a price rise.
Mr Joyce’s price threat came as hundreds of dairy farmers rallied in cities, demanding a fairer milk price and an end to their exploitation by big dairy companies and Coles and Woolworths.
“Retailers need to understand the momentum is there nationally for farmers to get a fairer deal, $1-litre milk that is cheaper than bottled water is not fair,” Mr Joyce said. “It is seen now by consumers as a bad thing that rips off farmers; it is affecting (the supermarkets’) good corporate names, so they should change it.
“Retailers don’t want the government to jump on them, but we will if they don’t do anything.”
- The Australian, 26th May 2016

Oh looky here. Who is this again? None other than Barnaby Joyce. This is the same Barnaby Joyce who told Johnny Depp to get his dogs out of Australia because they'd been illegally brought into the country. This is the same Barnaby Joyce who nine years ago, was thinking of farmers in his then state of Queensland, to try and stop this sort of nonsense.
Laws generally exist for the regulation, standardisation and protection of society. In this case the protection of people's livelihoods. In this case its to stop farmers selling the farm so that they don't buy the farm. Government regulation exists in this case, to stop someone from putting the screws into someone else's coffin.
Don't weasel out of this Coles, or else Barnaby Joyce will do what he did to Pistol and Boo to you.

May 24, 2016

Horse 2115 - Voting, Taxation and a Bill Of Human Responsibilities

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the things that I like to write about are human rights. Specifically I like asking epistemological questions of them; what is the nature of the thing and why is that important.
There is another concept which for some reason, in our twenty-first century world where the rise of individualism has crowded out so much of what would otherwise be intelligent discussion, is perhaps more important. That is the realm of responsibility.
In its broadest sense, a right is a legal or moral claim by an entity on a thing which can either be real or abstract. You can see this on display in the English Bill Of Rights Act or the Bill Of Rights which form the first ten amendments to the US Constitution. Both of these are where statute has given formal crystallisation to a legal claim.
A responsibility on the other hand is when a legal or moral claim made on an entity. The law might compel someone to perform some act, or moral obligation might compel someone to do something, like a parent looking after their children for example.
As we've moved further down the road of rampant individualism, the cries of people claiming their rights have become progressively louder but all talk about whether or not entities have any responsibility to society at large, is astonishingly non existent. Large corporations have quite vociferously asserted their right to free speech and there have even been legal precedents set which assert that spending money constitutes an exercise of that free speech. At the same time, any discussion about what sort of responsibility that these entities might have to the nation, is deafeningly and screamingly silent.

As we move ever on, on and on towards the General Election on July 2, we find ourselves yet again speaking words to power through the instrument of the ballot box. This might surprise you but actually we do not have the right to vote in Australia. Everyone over the age of 18 does have the franchise and it is right and proper for that to be the case (and as a twenty-first century observer I find it scandalous that it wasn't always that way) but the way that the law is framed in Australia, either by design or historical accident, the franchise is framed as a duty and not a right.
245  Compulsory voting
(1)  It shall be the duty of every elector to vote at each election.
- Section 245, Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918

Now when you point this out to people, some will claim a moral right not to vote. The arguments usually run that the government shouldn't force people into voting; as is currently what happens. Moreover this is enforced and people can be fined for not voting, though the fine is a paltry twenty dollars, so is something of a joke. I contend that I prefer that voting is a duty rather than a right because I see the appointment of the elected executive of the nation as the responsibility of its citizens.
One of the phrases in the preamble to the US Constitution is that legitimate governments only derive their power from "the consent of the governed". Quite frankly, I think that it was both daring and hypocritical to say such a thing when at the time, people were disqualified from the franchise on the grounds of sex and race. The law as it is written in Australia, admits that the only way to ensure that you actually do get the genuine consent of the governed is by asking for that consent. What the law inadvertantly confirms is that the citizenry have a responsibility to give that consent.
I think that people claiming a right not to vote, even in countries where voting is optional, are either making active choices to be lazy or actively saying to the world that they think that they have no responsibility to the nation. I utterly reject the notion, even if they claim that nobody who they'd have the choice to vote for will properly represent them, that disengaging from the franchise has any legitimacy at all. I have been on the other side of the ballot box on polling day and have counted ballot papers, and I can tell you that I prefer that people spoil their ballot papers because at least then, that dissent will be counted. The Electoral Commission doesn't currently count ballot papers which have been deliberately spoiled but I think that it should. I think that people who have written obscenities or drawn lewd pictures on their ballot paper, are properly voicing their opinion. Throwing invective into the ballot box is not only amusing for people who have been counting hundreds of pieces of paper but it actively shouts that consent is not given. Being too bone idle and pig lazy to turn up at a polling station once every few years (I don't care how you choose to dress it up, it you put a frock and lipstick on a pig, then it's still a pig), is not only tacit agreement with whatever the electorate has said, it says that the individual thinks that they bear no responsibility to the nation whatsoever. If that is in fact true, then they should immediately leave.

This leads me to a related topic, as well as another reason why I think that some entities should immediately leave.
4‑1  Who must pay income tax
Income tax is payable by each individual and company, and by some other entities.
Note: The actual amount of income tax payable may be nil.
- Section 4-1, Income Tax Assessment Act 1997

The endeavour of government, which includes the writing of legislation, the provision of services and the enactment of policy, is not something which has zero cost. Collectively we have decided that there are some minimum standards of living, the rules under which we operate and things which it is better for government to provide. Arguments abound about the nature of how large or small that government should be, about what sort of rules that it should impose and those arguments fall squarely into the realm of politics. Nevertheless, government isn't free and needs to be paid for by someone.

Just like the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 confirms at law that people have a responsibility to vote, the Income Taxation Assessment Act 1997 confirms at law that people have a responsibility to pay taxes. Again, I think that it is both fit and proper that if you enjoy the services that government provides, if you derive profits from any investment which government has made and if you live inside a legal framework which protects your property, then you should rightly bear the responsibility of paying for it.
Any entity which thinks that it bears no responsibility to the nation whatsoever should immediately leave. I mean this in the most militant, bile filled, invective riddled, bitter and unhappy way. Especially multinational corporations who employ people in this country, who derive profits in this country, but who play tricksy games with profit shifting and residency for tax purposes, should immediately leave.

In days of old when only a few select people had access to power, services and owning anything substantial, it was really only after absolute monarchies had acted dispicabally that people started to ask questions about what people's rights were. In an English Law context, we saw this following the period of the Commonwealth, the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution. It was only after the most hideous wide scale destruction of human life and property following two world wars that the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights was conceived and delivered in 1948.
Human Rights are claims that an individual makes upon society with regards their ability to be an independent actor. They generally allow an individual to make a legal claim to say "I can do this" and this is invariably confirmed by either common of statute law.
As far as I am aware though, nobody has sought to draw up a similar Bill of Human Responsibilities. Responsibilities are generally duties that an individual is either legally or morally required to perform for others. This might be within the context of a family unit, as the result of a contract or perhaps to society at large. Codifying responsibility is often harder to do because although the relationship that an individual has within a family unit or as the result of a contract is easily definable, ther relationship that they have with society at large is more nebulous.

I think that a Bill Of Human Responsibilities if such a thing were to be drawn up should include but not be limited to at least the following points:
- Following and obeying the law
- Obeying those who are charged with enforcing and administrating the law
- Contributing nation welfare of your family
- Contributing to the welfare of the nation
- Participating in the democratic process of the nation

Just like the exercise of human rights, there will be people who choose not to exercise their human responsibilities. The way I see it, where the law has deemed that people should do something, such as paying taxes or voting as is the case of Australia, then the basic responsibility to follow the law and indeed the operation of the law itself, kind of trumps people's objections. People will argue that under certain circumstances that they should not have to follow the law but when the law is neither arduous nor unreasonable, I fail to see what justification is left to get out of fulfilling one's responsibilities. Just like the operation of an individual's human rights should not give rise to the legal power to violate someone else's, those same human rights also should not give rise to the legal power to abrogate one's human responsibilities.

I completely reject the notion that people who choose not to vote are doing anything other than deliberately being lazy, except under specific circumstances relating to matters of conscience where you have a mind aware of what is right and wrong. I also reject the notion that individuals and firms who avoid paying tax, especially when it means entering to profit shifting arrangements across international borders, are acting for any other motive apart from sheer greed. Furthermore, I'd suggest that such individuals and firms if they choose to act in such ways which deny their responsibility to the nation, should immediately leave.

May 19, 2016

Horse 2114 - Opal Card And The Death Of Commuting
While he also decided against lifting the Adult Opal daily fare cap, he has adopted the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal's recommendation to change the weekly travel reward system.
Instead of receiving free travel after eight paid journeys, commuters will gain a 50 per cent discount on fares after eight paid journeys during a week.
- Matt O'Sullivan, Sydney Morning Herald, 18th May 2016

By announcing that the conditions of the Opal Card system will no longer allow free travel after the eighth trip from July 1, I think that the Transport Minister Andrew Constance has bought the Baird Government a one way ticket to election obliteration.

IPART, the "Independent" Pricing And Regulatory Tribunal (it's hardly independent if you load the board) has decided in its wisdom that the so called "reward" for using public transport needs to be destroyed and that passengers will now be forced to pay half price for every trip beyond the eighth.
When the Opal Card system was introduced, it brought with it the abolition of Weekly, Monthly and Quarterly tickets. The free travel "reward" was supposed to be compensation for the fact that fares had effectively risen. With its removal, this has meant the end of commuters in Sydney.

The word "commute" means to reduce. When convicts were sent from England to Australia, many of them had had their sentence commuted from the death penalty to transportation. Likewise when people win a plea bargain, they can have  their sentences commuted from murder to manslaughter. When the word was applied to public transport ticketing by the rail companies in the Eastern United States in the 1840s, it meant that Weekly Pass Holders could have the amount that they paid for travel commuted from the price of ten tickets to a lower price. A commuter was someone who had bought such a pass. Thus it follows that if someone says that they are commuting but are driving a car to and from work, they are really just displaying their ignorance of the English language.

 When Gladys Berejiklian was Transport Minister, she actively encouraged the public to take the system and to find as many savings as they could. It was reported in the daily newspapers not long after that, that some people in the inner city were walking between tram stops and tapping on and off, simply to rack up their eight trips quickly and therefore ride public transport for the rest of the week for free.
Meanwhile, people like myself who had already seen the price of a weekly Zone 3 Travel Pass rise from $53 to $60 and then $63, actually had to make stupid trips to achieve the same ends. With a bit of planning and discipline (and quite a bit of inconvenience), I've managed to drive my effective weekly travel costs down to $44.20 per week. With the end of free travel after the eighth trip, this now means that it doesn't really matter what I do, I'm going to hit the weekly cap of $60.

Transport for NSW in their statements has tried to be diplomatic about the fact that they've decided to gouge the public for more money, citing in their defence that they've been losing money because of people gaming the system. I think that this is effrontery on their part because the only reason why people needed to make stupid trips to game the system was because Transport for NSW removed Weekly, Monthly and Quarterly tickets in the first place.
Apparently only about 30% of passengers on the Opal Card system even make use of the free travel reward in this way anyway. I bet that the vast majority of those people live in either the inner suburbs if not the city itself, or people like me who actually bothered to pluck up some initiative. Most people in Sydney who travel forth and back across this conurbation, will only get Friday free because their eight trips will be to and from work on the four days previous.

I suspect that the people who make decisions to do with public transport in Sydney don't actually use it. I also very much doubt the independence of the Independent Pricing And Regulatory Tribunal. I have seen Ministers and business people meet in cafés and hotel lobbies and so it honestly wouldn't be surprising if the Minister and someone from IPART had a meeting somewhere and the Minister laid down the guidelines upon which the train of IPART was to run. I also wouldn't be surprised if someone from Connex or Transurban met with the Minister and complained that they weren't getting enough profits, and would the Minister like to do something about it? I have no doubt that private firms which operate motorways see the general public as their personal cash machine.
Of course I should point out that I am rationally looking out for my own self-interest here. I will be personally affected by these changes. What's really going on here is that Transport for NSW moved to the Opal Card system so that the could eliminate commuting of fares and jack up prices; now they've decided to jack up prices again.

May 17, 2016

Horse 2113 - The Last Digit Of Prime Numbers - They Don't Like Repeating Themselves
Two mathematicians have found a strange pattern in prime numbers — showing that the numbers are not distributed as randomly as theorists often assume.
Prime numbers near to each other tend to avoid repeating their last digits, the mathematicians say: that is, a prime that ends in 1 is less likely to be followed by another ending in 1 than one might expect from a random sequence.
- Nature, 14th March 2016.

I originally saw this on the cover of Nature magazine in the magazine rack in the library near where I work (each magazine gets its own little cube thing; with the latest copy on the swinging flap) and thought nothing of it.
Okay, so the primes have a tendency not to repeat their last digit. I already knew that there is a weak tendency across all Bases for the there to be a slight bulge in the middle, so in Base-10 there are more primes which end in 3 and 7 rather than 1 and 9, so I didn't consider all of this to be of particular note.

Until I saw this:

Dr James Grime appeared on Brady Haran's Youtube Channel "Numberphile" and ran through this.

Okay, maybe oh maybe it's just a Base-10 thing. You know, Base-10. You know, who cares about Base-10, right? If it was a fundamental property of primes, it would happen in any base... and it does.
That's what they found. So they checked it in other bases and they found the bias is still there, so it appears to be a fundamental property of the primes.
- Dr James Grime, Numberphile, 4th May 2016

A quick refresher:
Firstly, in Base-10, all primes other than 2 (which is the only even prime) and 5, will end in either 1, 3, 7 or 9. Apart from 2 (which itself is prime), all even numbers are divisible by 2 and so all numbers ending in 2, 4, 6, 8 and 0 are not prime. Likewise, because all numbers which end in 5, are an odd multiple of 5.

I should also point out that all primes greater than 3 are in the form P=6k±1,where 6 is a positive integer.
As an example, 99132 which is in between 99131 and 99133 when divided by 6 is 16522. 99138 which is in between 99137 and 99139, is just 6 more and therefore also satisfies P=6k±1.
99131, 99133, 99137 and 99139 are the biggest prime quartet that I could find in a list of the first 10,000 primes
This isn't to say that all (6k±1) are primes, not a bar of it. For instance, 120±1 gives you 119 and 121 and neither of those are primes. However, all primes greater than 3 are in the form of P=6k±1.

You can prove this fact quite easily.
6k is divisible by six.
6k+1 is a candidate
6k+2 is even and therefore not prime.
6k+3 is divisible by 3.
6k+4 is even and therefore not prime.
6k+5 is a candidate
6k+6 is divisible by six and is just the next k.

This also means to say that in Base-6 all primes must end in either 1 or 5 (except for 2 and 3).
By inference, in Base-12 all primes must end in either 1, 5, 7 or E (except for 2 and 3) because odd multiples of 6 end with a 6, and all even multiples of 6 end with a 0.

Getting to one of the main points of this video, the thrust is that consecutive primes have a tendency not to repeat their last digit and they're not sure of the reason why. One of the theories that was shot down was that maybe this was just base-10 thing. If it was a fundamental property of primes, this non-repetition of digits should happen in any base.

The video hints at but doesn't quite nail why a number is prime. The standard definition of a prime is that it is a number which is only divisible by itself and 1. Yet I think that the underlying reason why it is so, is far more important. Every prime is the first positve integer which is not a multiple of the non-unitary integers smaller than it. 0 isn't really a multiple of anything and 1 kind of isn't a 'multiple' either. Every other positive integer is a multiple of 1 and that in a broad sense gives us the 'why' of counting.
There are no non-unitary integers smaller than 2: 2 is prime. 3 is not a multiple of 2: 3 is prime. 4 is a multiple of 2: 4 is not Prime. 5 is not a multiple of 2, 3 or 4: 5 is prime. This will very much like I am telling mathematicians how to suck eggs but I think that it is worth starting right at the beginning before moving forward.
When we start children off in primary school, we give them the number line. This is a very useful tool. There are no multiples of 0. The multiples of 1, define all of the integers and therefore all of the whole numbers on the line. If you start drawing waves under the number line, then every single prime is the first peak on a new wave. The Sieve of Erasthones which is probably derided by serious mathematicians and certainly not the method which is used to find ever larger primes, is basically the working out of this and setting off all the waves on their merry way towards infinity.

There are 16 possible combinations for a prime ending in one number to be followed by another in Base-10; they are thus:
(1,1), (1,3), (1,7), (1,9)
(3,1), (3,3), (3,7), (3,9)
(7,1), (7,3), (7,7), (7,9)
(9,1), (9,3), (9,7), (9,9)
This video showed the statistics of the likelihood of each of these combinations but not what had to be done in order to achieve them.

Remember, all primes bigger than 3 are in the form of P=6k±1. Take the pair of (1,1). There are in fact four possible combinations of 6k you have to work at here.
To illustrate this, consider the pair of primes 31 and 61. In Base-10 they are a (1,1) prime pair. Not only that, they are are pair of primes where the 6k immediately precedes both of them (30 and 60). For convenience sake (and because I don't know what else to call them) paired primes of this form, I am calling a First pair.
There are three more sets of conditions where the primes and 6k values fall in relation to each other. Primes where the two 6k values fall in between them, such as 11 and 31 (the 6ks are 12 and 30), I am calling an Inside pair. Primes where the two 6k values fall outside them, such as 31 and 41 (the 6ks are 30 and 42), I am calling an Outside pair. Likewise, primes where the two 6k values fall in after them, such as 41 and 71 (the 6ks are 42 and 72), I am calling an Last pair.

For the sixteen sets of prime endings, there are four possible sets of 6k values. Every possible set has a First, Inside, Outside and Last set of minimum 6k values which are possible. The minimum distance between the various 6k values can be calculated fairly easily. Those sixty-four values are listed below.

(1,1) 30, 18, 12, 30
(1,3) 12, 0, 24, 12
(1,7) 6, 24, 18, 6
(1,9) 18, 6, 30, 18
(3,1) 18, 6, 30, 18
(3,3) 30, 18, 12, 30
(3,7) 24, 12, 6, 24
(3,9) 6, 24, 18, 6
(7,1) 24, 12, 6,24
(7,3) 6, 24, 18, 6
(7,7) 30, 18, 12, 30
(7,9) 12, 0, 24, 12
(9,1) 12, 0, 24, 12
(9,3) 24, 12, 6, 24
(9,7) 18, 6, 30, 18
(9,9) 30, 18, 12, 30

Even a customary glance at the patterns which the 6k gaps throws up gives you at least something to consider. For each of the repeated digit prime pairs, the First and Last 6k gaps are 30. The Inside prime pairs have a minimum 6k gap of 18 and the Outside prime pairs have a minimum 6k gap of 12.
It should be pointed out that there aren't maximum gaps between various prime pairs and the difference between them will be the minimum 6k gap value plus some multiple of 30. 31 is prime, 61 is primes but 91 is divisible by 7 and 13, and 121 is the square of 11, so we have to wait until 151 for the next number to qualify as a First prime pair.

Bear in mind that in other bases, say Base-12, the last digits of the primes will change. 31 and 61 which are a First prime pair will always be a First prime pair but in Base-12 for instance, they cease to be a (1,1) pair and will become a (7,1) pair.
In other bases, the primes themselves won't change and neither will the 6k gaps between them but the last digits we will concerned about will and therefore a new set of 6k gaps will need to be calculated.
The contention though, is that primes don't like to repeat their last digit and this is true for all bases. This means to say that all we are concerned with, is looking for the last digits of the last two primes. This also means to say that in Base-10 at least, we are looking for prime gaps of 30 for a First and Last pair, 18 for an Inside pair or 12 for an Outside pair at the minimum and multiples of 30 before another prime comes along.
For a (9,1) pair the 6k values which sit between them can be 0; that is, that they are the same 6k. An example of this is the number 30 where it sits between 29 and 31. This is also true for 71 and 73 where the 6k which sits between them is 72. Inside 6k values also exist for a (7,9) pair like 17 and 19 where the 6k value is 18.

What I suspect is going on, is that the minimum prime gaps are the biggest determinant of what  that next prime is going to be. That will of course express itself differently in other bases. What I also suspect is going on is that each new prime and indeed each new integer sets off its own series of waves that echo through and onto infinity. If primes are the first peak of their own new wave, then you're most likely to find primes at points where the most waves converge. What I don't know is if the primes themselves have any bearing on k because as far as I can tell, if k is prime then 6k±1 is also a good candidate to also be prime.

If the non repetition of the last digit of primes is a fundamental property of primes, then I'm wondering if the primes themselves are also some determinant in their own properties. That might explain why this happens in all bases.
I think that this is the key to understand why primes have a tendency not to repeat; even though I can't prove this mathematically, as I don't have either the skills or the tools.

May 16, 2016

Horse 2112 - All Hail The Market, Praise Be!

No. Just, no.

Don't you dare frame this as restaurant workers being "bludgers" when you are the ones who openly called for the end of penalty rates, Daily Telegraph. I'm sorry but if the market is the be all and end all of all transactions, and praise be the market Amen, then you shouldn't be surprised when people who supply labour make rational choices and decide that it's not worth their effort to supply that labour because the market price is too low.

In any given market, there are suppliers and customers who demand that particular good or service. Customers tend to demand more of that particular good or service as the price falls and suppliers tend to be more willing to supply more of that particular good or service as the price rises. These two forces of supply and demand will push each other until both parties find a mutual point of agreement and this point is called the equilibrium point.

The truth is that employers who are the ones demanding labour, would like to pay nothing if not as little as possible for that labour if they can get away with it. The labour market is one of unequal power and so the law has had to step in and proscribe minimum conditions under which someone can be employed. These minimum conditions also happen to include the minimum wage for a particular job.

Employees, the ones who supply labour, generally have underlying reasons for doing so. Those underlying reasons are pretty rational, like needing to pay for things like rent, utilities and groceries. If employers are to tight-fisted to pay a wage which meets these requirements, then they shouldn't be surprised when people start supplying less labour.

In most markets the rational choice for demanders is to raise the price that they pay for that particular good or service but labour is a sticky sort of thing with regards to prices. Instead of having a whinge in a daily newspaper like a bunch of six year olds, most demanders would simply pay more for those goods and services but for some reason, employers are allowed to demonise their employees in mass media. The Daily Telegraph who receives its advertising revenue from mostly larger firms and corporations, naturally will side with employers, which is rational considering they are the ones who pay their bills.

If as the Daily Telegraph complains like a clarion on its front page and again on the editorial page, that the modern generation of workers are "loafers", then how exactly is cutting the salaries of the staff, going to incentivise them to do better and work more productively? If anything, that's going to trash employee morale and with it performance and perhaps the bottom line.

DESPITE what one may gather from various cooking shows, the life of a chef isn’t all television cameras and cravats. Indeed, running a kitchen is physically and mentally demanding, requiring intense concentration and creativity in conditions that are often unavoidably hot and cramped. There are several reasons why chefs are known for occasional grouchiness.

All signs point to the chef shortage being due to another shortage — of a willingness by young Australians to put in the hard yards before gaining their due rewards.
“I think it’s a generational thing myself,” high-profile chef Colin Fassnidge, of Surry Hills’ 4Fourteen, told The Daily Telegraph.
-  Daily Telegraph, 16th May 2016¹.

So this chef shortage is due to a shortage of a willingness by young Australians to put in the hard yards before gaining their due rewards? Really? Did anyone consider what those "due rewards" actually are? All in all, I think that they're pretty horrid.

Across industry generally, there is a lack of businesses wanting to take on apprentices. They want someone to fulfill a role instantly and they don't to bother with the effort to train someone.

According to Fair Work² the Minimum hourly wage for an Apprentice working in the Hospitality industry is just $11.07. This means that the minimum weekly wage for a first year Apprentice is just $420.70 a week. No offence but it is impossible to live alone and rent anything in Sydney on that sort of wage. If you are living alone; which might be the lot for someone who has left university or in their early 20s, then on a wage like this, you're forced to share an apartment with someone else.
On the first rung of the ladder, as a Food and Beverage Attendant grade 1 or Kitchen Attendant grade 1, then it does improve to $675.90 but that's still not brilliant.
Is that really going to be worth it if you're being yelled at by head chefs, standing on your feet for several hours at a time and in temperatures of circa 45°C?

If what the Daily Telegraph claims to be true that a restaurant group recently went on a mission to the Philippines to hire 30 chefs, then isn't that just justifying restaurateurs paying their staff even less and employing them under even more horrible conditions? Doesn't that just lead to exploitation of workers who don't know that there are such things as minimum wages, as it did in the case of 7-Eleven employees?
I'm betting that it was poor wages and nasty head chefs which led to the shortage in the first place because employees don't like to be treated and paid like dirt. I think that this is the market providing and answer to the question of labour, and the answer is being yelled loudly.


May 12, 2016

Horse 2111 - What Do We Think Education Is For?

I saw the still Federal Minister of Education, Christopher Pyne, on the news last night, in full election mode and on one of those tours which sees politicians pointing at things and creepily smiling at cameras for too long. One of the proposals put forward by the government in its bid to be reelected is to send specialist mathematics teachers into primary schools; which it is hoped will increase rates of numeracy. What a top idea!
If the idea is put into practice and it works, then I don't have any objections to it. I like the idea that someone is thinking about new ideas and ways of doing education. I think that one of the things that primary school is for is to develop numeracy and literacy skills in children because those things especially are needed for someone to function adequately in society. One of the unsung stories of the modern world, is the spread of widespread numeracy and literacy. Apart from the harnessing of energy which is what drove the industrial revolution, I think that those skills are the second most important driver of change in the history of the world.

He was obviously trying to talk up his prospects of reelection by framing everything with a look to the future but I think that he slipped up with one of his comments. He said that:
"Education should be about training people for the jobs of the future."
Now I can understand how this fits into the message that he was trying to sell that day but it belies a stance to education which I think is fundamentally flawed; that this is all that education should be for. Don't get me wrong, I think that STEM is important; it's just that I don't think that it should be the be all and end all.

I think that one of the mistakes that is being made in our modern society is that higher education especially is only seen as having commercial purposes. Education is subject and subordinate to the prevailing politics of the day. Certainly in the ancient world and even up to before the First World War, education was seen as far more than just having mercantile ends. Some could argue that even politics itself fell within the confines of education; that is, developing the goodness of people.
People used to undertake studies, which included a broader reading of things like the classics, literature and even ethics to a degree because education was seen as the method to induct people into wisdom. One of the catch words of the late nineteenth century was the idea of "improvement", that meant putting people on the path to learning what is good for the development of knowledge. That immediately spins the direction of thinking about education to epistemological ends, what is the nature of the thing and more importantly, how to contemplate an conceive reality.

Once upon a time in the land of the past, the only degree which existed was an arts degree; with all doctors being of philosophy. Yet somewhere in the twentieth century, the previously boring pursuits of explaining economics and the rise of the corporation ate education and has been furiously trying to spit out the arts and philosophy as unpalatable.
I find it interesting that it is the graphic arts which give us our view of the corporate world. A corporation which is literally a non corporeal person, is by definition faceless; yet the graphic arts by way of logo design and the fonts that are used, project the image of what would otherwise be an invisible idea for us. As we merrily paw away at computers and smart devices, the graphic arts frame how we interact with the machines.

The dramatic arts give us the entire world of television, cinema and theatre. Journalism and creative writing generally, gives us the means through which stories are told; stories are ultimately how messages are conveyed and that does include the arts of politics and advertising.
Even the cosmos of philosophy, which is often seen as useless by people who don't  bother to think about it, gave us the rules of logic and the really ironic thing is that without that, the rules for programming computers would have never have existed.

I personally like the idea of free education because it speaks to the idea of human dignity. A lot of what education is, or has been warped into, is a method of signalling that a person has done some amount of work in the past and or is a member of a particular class and is therefore fit for employment. That kind of outlook though, neither speaks to the dignity of humanity nor of education itself.
One of the biggest problems that we have with the delivery of education is that like so much of what society has deemed necessary for itself to function, the execution of government is subordinate to politics. Education in the administrative sense has to fall in behind the relevant Minister, who himself is a politician and a partisan one at that. At that point, the inherent dignity of education is boiled down and dissolved in the cookpot of economics. This is a thing which costs money, therefore we must reduce costs.

I like the idea of education for education's same, even if it is "unproductive" because at higher levels of education such as universities, people meet other people and the ideas that they have begin to cross pollinate; creating new ideas in the process. Even if this doesn't happen, we still end up with interesting people. At very least, opening education up to people's ability rather than the size of their parents' bank accounts, means that we end up with more educated people and less stupid people.
Thus we come full circle. If we're talking about a general approach to education from age 2 to 102, then the absolute least that we should be doing is ensuring that people can read and write and spell and add up a column of figures because the world is a different place to the one of even a hundred years ago and there just isn't that much of a demand for people to till fields and dig furrows. Starting with a good look at primary schools is a good beginning but it shouldn't end there. You don't even get the "jobs of the future" if there isn't the inventiveness and cross pollination of ideas in higher education and that won't happen without education being liberated from politics.

May 10, 2016

Horse 2110 - Reinvent The President

With all but one of the candidates pulling out of the race on one side and the path to victory on the other increasingly looking closed, the nominations for both the Republican and Democrat parties of the United States are pretty much decided. Donald Trump who has never held public office has swept aside all contenders in the Republican Party and they now have the problem of staying unified. Hillary Clinton on the other side is so much an establishment candidate that it's probable that both she and her husband are superdelegates.

This presidential cycle has shown major deficiencies in the political machines in the United States. When both parties, in the form Trump and Sanders, have candidates who aren't really party members that have come in and trampled who the parties would usually put up for election, this should send a message to the parties that the general public just doesn't engage with them anymore.

Partly this is due to the fact that the last three Congresses have been even less productive than the 80th Congress under Truman, which even won the moniker of the "Do Nothing Congress"; partly because the parties are now both seen to be beholden and enmeshed with business, and partly because the upstarts have thrown out different ideas to what the parties have lately been trading on.
I think that all of this should serve as a warning to a future Australian public, when we choose to become a republic (which I think has a likelihood of 100%).

The Constitutional Convention of 1999 which gave us the referendum, offered a model which the Australian public rejected. I don't think that Australians rejected the idea of the nation becoming a republic,  rather they rejected the idea that parliament and politicians should choose the head of state for them. Had the model proposed been an exact copy of what already exists but with the Governor-General being chosen directly by the people, then I think that the model would have been overwhelmingly voted in favor for. Had the referendum in 1999 given the Australian people the right to choose their own head of state, then I think that we'd currently be in the sixteenth year of the Commonwealth of Australia as a republic.

The warning that the current presidential cycle is giving us, either because of a direct rejection of existing party candidates on the Republican side, or the rise of former independent Bernie Sanders of the Democrat side, is that people don't like politicians. Admittedly this sounds absolutely obvious but the point still needs to be made. In one of those rare moments where I find myself agreeing with Sarah Palin, in her rambling endorsement of Donald Trump last week after he won the Indiana primary, she said that "people don't trust career politicians".
Now if I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then I'd propose the following conditions for people to run for the future President of Australia:

1. That candidates are not members of a political party, except those created for the sole purpose of electing the candidate to office.
2. That candidates must never have been a member of either federal or state parliaments; in either lower or upper houses. 
3. That the term of office be fixed for four years; with the election to be held on the first Saturday in August. That nobody should be allowed to hold the office of President for more than two terms. That the term of governance run from September 1 to August 31; that these terms run from years being divisible by four; plus one (2017, 2021, 2025 etc.)
4. That no election be held for any other level of government, six weeks before a Presidential Election. 
5. That the President be selected by Instant Runoff Voting, like we do for the House of Representatives; except that the electorate be nationwide. 
6. That the powers of the President be kept as vague, nebulous and undefined as the current powers of the Governor-General.

What I'd like to see in the future President of Australia, is what I suspect would be the typical hope of most people. The 1999 referendum was a rejection that parliament should choose who the president is, the people want that choice. What the current US Presidential race is telling us is that people don't want that position to be held by a politician.

The people who usually end up becoming the Governor-General at the moment, tend to be ex lawyers, judges and military personnel; sometimes failed politicians. Now I think that the election of the President both politicises the position and endows it with a sense of mandate but the executive of the nation of Australia, lives inside the parliament so I don't see the role as needing to be much more than a figurehead except under strange and exceptional circumstances. What I suspect would happen if we elected the President is that we'd end up with business people, sports people and other prominent figures all throwing their hat into the ring; that the sort of people would be vastly different to who we currently see in the role. Sure, we might end up with President Waleed Aly, Cathy Freeman, Gail Kelly, Frank Lowy, Gillian Triggs or even Andrew Bolt but we wouldn't and couldn't get Kristina Kennealy or Tony Abbott.

I personally think that the better alternative is what we currently have, where nobody really knows who the Governor-General is, nor what powers they have because electing a President leads to months of nonsense, irrespective of who they are.

May 06, 2016

Horse 2109 - If Most Votes Wins, Everyone Loses

This late in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, it is something of a mathematical implausibility for Bernie Sanders to win. With only a handful of states still left to be contested in the month of May, whilst it's probably impossible for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination before California, unless something utterly strange happens, then the result in California is only likely to confirm what we already expect.
Considering that Cruz has now officially suspended his campaign and Kasich has also officially suspended his, Trump's nomination is something of a fait accompli. The remaining primaries on the Republican side of the contest are all walkovers.

This being the case, the most likely matchup for the Presidential election on November 8 is Trump v Clinton and in that light, comments by Donald Trump only serve to highlight one of the massive flaws of the voting system used in the United States. Trump said that Bernie (and himself) had been treated poorly by the system and that Bernie should consider running as a third party candidate.

Now the reason why Trump in particular should want Bernie Sanders to run as a third party candidate is precisely the same reason why the Republican Party practically begged him to run as a Republican in the first place. The first-past-the-post system is inherently dumb.
The first-past-the-post system is in my opinion, incorrectly named. This name implies that there is a metaphorical post, which has to be passed when there isn't really. Under the first-past-the-post system, one only needs to win more votes than anyone else. The system should properly be called the most-votes-wins system. If there was say, a really close race between four candidates, then it is possible for the winner to have only achieved 26% of the vote. A candidate might win despite almost three quarters of the votes passing to other people.

Consider the following scenario in the election of a member from the state of Animalia:
Alison Albright (All Animals) - 24 votes
Bert Bash (Burn All The Animals) - 26 votes
Carl Castle (Cats Are Cool) - 25 votes
Dorothy Dixer (Destructive Doggies) - 25 votes

In such an election, a candidate hated by almost three quarters of the population would win and yet that's somehow a legitimate result. Conceivably in the next election cycle, A & D might team up to create a bigger bloc and suddenly because C & D hate each other, then C which might have anti-D policies, is going to join the bloc with B.

To some degree this has happened over many election cycles in the United States (and everywhere with single member constituencies) but the most-votes-wins voting system only helps to exacerbate the problem. Donald Trump's comments about Bernie Sanders running as a third party candidate would help him in a general election by splitting the Democratic vote in half. For the same reason, the Republicans had to have Trump run as a Republican or else he'd split their vote.

A preferential voting system solves both this problem as well as changing the nature of the philosophy of the vote. It is no longer about who can gather the most votes but requires the consent of the governed at some point down the line.

Arguably the nomination race for President is like two rounds of voting but that still doesn't change the fact that the voting public have to accept the final nomination. A first-past-the-post system works if you have only two runners, or if one candidate does manage to secure more than 50% of the vote but a preferential voting system allows for the consent of the governed to determine the result of an election, rather than the will of the hyper vocal and possibly unhinged portion of the population.

Had there been a system in place where voters could select who they wanted on a preferential basis, then on a nationwide basis (which also would do away with the arcane and completely bonkers Electoral College) then you could in effect, condense the entire process of primaries into a single piece of paper and instead of the 119 day marlakey to find "the nominee" of the respective parties and then wait another 154 days for the general election, you could do the whole stinking shebang in one day.
Instant-Runoff Voting is excellent because as the name suggests, all rounds are instantly run off and you also work out who has secured more than 50% of the vote by consent; rather than most votes wins. You could save billions of dollars in wasted advertising, in time and effort.

This all could have been solved with far less effort, pain and cost. Instead, the process has thrown up the least "popular" candidates in my lifetime and candidates with the lowest approval rating in my lifetime. Even in 1984 when Ronald Reagan painted the nation red, Walter Mondale who ran against him (and was Carter's Vice President four years earlier) still had approval ratings in the mid 50s. Trump is trending at mid 30s as is Hillary.
Had an Instant-Runoff Voting system been in place, then people could have voted for both sides at once in a general election and note split the vote. As it is, we're looking on as America sleepwalks into a firey furnace and there's no one around to guide them out again.

May 05, 2016

Horse 2108 - Volvo Gets Out Of The Blue And Into The Black

Get out of the blue and into the black.
They give you this, but you paid for that.
And when you die, no you won't come back,
Because you're out of the blue and into the black.
- Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black), Neil Young (1979).

On December 9, 2013, the then Treasurer Joe Hockey thundered and dared the automakers to leave Australia. The next day the three automakers took the dare seriously and collectively decided to end car manufacturing in Australia by 2017. So that looked bad for a start.
Meanwhile on December 12, 2013, V8 Supercars CEO James Warburton, Foxtel CEO Richard Freudenstein and FOX SPORTS CEO Patrick Delany, practically held the pistol of corporate opportunity to the head of Ten Network Holdings Hamish McLennan and signed a six year media rights deal worth $241 million.
In the meantime News Corp, Foxtel and Discovery Communications trief to make a takeover of Ten Network Holdings in 2014. This was opposed but on June 15, 2015, Foxtel bought 15% of Ten Network Holdings after Discovery walked away from the whole thing.

And haven't Foxtel been a right royal pack of vultures? Not content with buying 15% of the company, they've been content with stealing the assets of Ten away, including the rights to V8Supercars and Formula One. Ten Network Holdings was already in trouble with a share price of 50.5c in June 2012 and falling away to just 19.0c in June 2015. The company hasn't paid any dividends since November 2011.
Hamish McLennan realised that he was in possession of a curate's egg and so resigned in June of 2015 and if you adjust for the fact that the company went through a 10:1 share consolidation in November last year, today's share price of 97.5c actually means that the company is worth just 19% of what it was four years ago. Current CEO of Ten Paul Anderson hasn't fared much better either.

In 2014, the V8Supercars' coverage on free-to-air was slashed to just six live races per year. As a result, the ratings have fallen off a cliff.
In 2013, viewer numbers of +200,000 were typical but for most of 2014 and 2015 Foxtel were getting from 40,000 to 50,000 viewers. The highlights which might come on at 08:30pm if you're lucky, draw about 90,000 viewers.
Suffice to say, this has implications. On November 30, 2014, Ford Performance Racing confirmed Ford Australia's decision to withdraw its financial support for V8 Supercars from the end 2015.
As of today, the performance division of Volvo Cars has announced that they will not support the V8 Supercar team beyond 2016.
Polestar, a Volvo Car Group company, responsible for performance offers and motorsport activities of the group, has decided to not renew the three-year V8 Supercars contract that ends after the current season.

”We have enjoyed a good cooperation with Garry Rogers Motorsport and the championship organisers, but our strategy and business objectives requires us now to focus our attention to other technologies and championships in the near future,” said Niels Möller, Chief Operating Officer of Polestar.
- Volvo Cars, 4th May 2016.

You can't blame Volvo. When they signed up in 2013 for the 2014 season, they couldn't have known what was coming. From a marketing perspective, it makes perfect sense to remove your advertising from a place that it isn't going to be seen. Volvo can’t see the point if the eyeballs aren’t there. This is a rational decision for them.

Ford couldn't see the point continuing and so don't any more. Erebus never really got the backing from Mercedes-Benz that they were hoping for and have switched to Commodores.
Both the Holden Racing Team and Triple Eight Racing are off their current contracts at the end of 2016 and Holden hasn't confimed anything. So for Volvo to announce that they just can't see the point any more, should surprise no-one.

This is partly V8Supercars fault for selling out the TV rights to Pay-TV.Also, this is Foxtel Management Pty Limited’s fault for stripping Ten Network Holdings's assets away.
If you’re going to strip the ability of the viewing public to see the thing, and give us a pathetic one-hour highlights package, then you deserve to have your business model thrown up in your face like a carton of curate's eggs.

May 04, 2016

Horse 2107 - BEER UP, CIGS UP, What's Up Scott? Nothing!

I tear for journalism in this country. This was one of the only opportunities that you had to genuinely put BEER UP, CIGS UP on the front page of the newspaper and be truthful about it... and... and... you all blew it. I mean come on News Corp and Fairfax, what're you doing? Instead of going for a classic, you both decide to put funny pictures on your front page.
Sometimes I wonder if the NT News actually is the last bastion of actually Australian Australian journalism. You're not the New Yorker magazine. Bah, humbug and blithering blazes!

Scott Morrison's first budget, which isn't a budget but an economic plan, which means that it's the economic plan you have when you're not having a budget, is one of the single most glorious "do nothing" budgets since Peter Costello's "hamburger and milkshake" budgets except that this time you don't get the hamburger.
For the vast majority of people, the effect of this budget is nil.

There is a good reason why the effect of this budget is nil. If Morrison had done what his backers had wanted, then the immediate effects of the resulting cuts would be a loss in the July general election. If Morrison had gone for the traditional pre-election budget of giving away lots of presents, then this would have been seen by the electorate and the media as vote buying; so that wasn't an option either.
Instead what we get is a very calculated set of tax cuts, aimed at moving the swing needle in the election only a tiny amount. As an incumbent government, the Coalition already enjoys a statistical political advantage; so this budget is aimed at tweaking just a few numbers, which it is hoped will swing that small percentage of people upon which the election hinges.

The pushing of the 37% tax bracket from $80,001 to $87,001 isn't radical and only has an actual effect of $316 per year, per person. It has a much more symbolic act though. It moves the average income out of the 37% tax bracket and back into the previous one. The fact that the median income is way way below the average (because the average is pulled to m the right by a very very long tail) is mostly irrelevant. Mr Morrison's narrative is about shouting from the rooftops that he did something - and shouting at a select group of people.
The change in the small business tax rate from 28.5% to 27.5% is also about shouting to a very small select group of people. These two headline acts are about speaking directly to small business owners and practically nobody else, because it's generally assumed by the political strategists that these are the sorts of people who ultimately decide the fate of governments.

Rich people will usually vote Liberal and poor people will usually vote Labor. This is not about fighting over the Top Hats or the Hard Hats but the mad unhatted tea party in the middle.
There has been some scurrying around the issue of superannuation as kind of a nod to the yellers in the echo chambers. There's been the strangest cut to the ABC's budget that I've ever seen, with an increase in finding to the news service.

The thing that talkback radio was losing its mind was the increase in tobacco excise because it falls mainly on the poor. I don't understand this at all. As a public health strategy, increasing the tax on tobacco is pretty much obvious. If you increase the tax, the supply curve shifts upwards and less of the thing is sold - job accomplished. The thing that I find utterly insane about this is that it is purely a voluntary tax. Issues surrounding addiction aside, nobody forces people to go into a shop and buy cigarettes. The choked up, bleeding hearts on Alan Jones' show this morning all sounded as if they'd been wounded. I'm sorry but I just find it difficult to feel sorry.

The other thing that I found ridiculous was the harping on about the budget deficit of $37.5bn. The thing is that when governments run deficts, there is a net injection of money into the economy. For a government that wants to build infrastructure like roads and metropolitan railways, deficits are fine. Scott Morrison isn't the devil incarnate, he's just a Treasurer who has delivered a fairly dull "do nothing" budget for most people. That's fine. He's fine. We're all fine. Not even the rich are getting a free hamburger a week.