October 30, 2016

Horse 2184 - 381,654,729

Matt Parker, the stand-up mathematician¹, in his book "Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension"², talks of a maths problem which he asked someone to give him so  that he'd have something to do in the dentist's chair. It goes something like this:

Arrange the digits 1 to 9 in order so that the first two digits form a multiple of 2, the first three digits form a multiple of 3, the first four digits form a multiple of 4 etc. and finally the entire number is a multiple of 9.

The problem asks someone to generate a polydivisible number, which is a number abcdef... etc. where:
- Its first digit a is not 0.
- The number formed by its first two digits ab is a multiple of 2.
- The number formed by its first three digits abc is a multiple of 3.
- The number formed by its first four digits abcd is a multiple of 4.
- et cetera, et cetera, et cetera³

I work as an accountant; this means that as a far as mathematics goes, I am the absolute scum of the world. My whole job is virtually nothing more than the four basic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) and doing the equivalent of sudoku all day long by fitting numbers into fancy grids called tax returns.
Even so, doing this should be a piece of cake. In fact, it should be possible to go through all of the polydivisible numbers for all of the conditions such that:

Arrange the digits 1 to n in order so that the first two digits form a multiple of 2, the first three digits form a multiple of 3, the first four digits form a multiple of 4 etc. and finally the entire number is a multiple of n.

... for all of the digits in base-10,

1 digit.
1 - is one and all alone and ever more shall be so. All integers are divisible by 1 by definition; since we only have 1 digit, there is not choice.

2 digits.
12 - All even numbers are divisible by 2. Since the other way of arranging these digits is odd, that is wrong.

3 digits.
123 - All numbers which are divisible by 3, have the result that if you sum the digits, then that result is also divisible by 3. We just happen to be lucky that 1+2+3=6 and 6 is divisible by 3. Also, 2 must appear in the middle to satisfy first two digits forming a multiple of 2. This is important as it also says that for every even value of n, these positions must also be occupied by even digits.
321 - See above.

4 digits.
All numbers which are divisible by 4, happen to have the last two numbers as a multiple of 4. 4 cannot appear in the last position because 14 and 34 are not divisible by 4. This means that 12 and 32 are the only possible candidates.
If 12 and 32 are the last two digits, then 4 must appear in position 2. That means that the three digits which are available for those first three positions are 1, 3 and 4 but 1+3+4=8 and 8 is not divisible by 3.
Therefore there are no 4 digit solutions.

5 digits.
All numbers divisible by 5 either end in 5 or 0. This will be useful for all subsequent problems. However, this means that 5 must appear in position 5; since 5 is in position 5 then 1, 2, 3 and 4 occupy the first 4 positions. If there are no 4 digit solutions and 5 must appear in position 5, there are no 5 digit solutions either.

6 digits.
123,654 - All even numbers are divisible by 2. All numbers which are divisible by 3, have the result that if you sum the digits, then that result is also divisible by 3. All numbers which are divisible by 6 are even multiples of 3. Since 1+2+3+4+5+6=21 then all even answers will be divisible by 6.
5 must appear in position 5. Even numbers must appear in even positions.
This means that the only real thing to nut out is what are those central two digits such that the result is divisible by 4 and what makes the first three digits sum to a multiple of 3.
Possible candidates for those central two digits are: 12, 16, 32 and 36, since 5 must appear in position 5 and all combinations with 4 in position 2, leave results such that the first 3 digits will never sum to a multiple of 3.
321,654 - See above.

7 digits.
I know of no simple test for divisibility of 7. They do exist but if it's too hard for me to bother with, then I don't care.
Apart from combinations of 1, 2 and 3 which work at the beginning, either 147 or 741 will also work in those first three positions since 1+4+7=12 and 12 is a multiple of 3.
7 can replace 1 because 7-1=6 and that just means that the multiple of 6 that the sum adds to will be 6 more. 7 can not replace 3 because 7-3=4 and that means that the result will be out by 4. Therefore, the two candidates for checking are 3216547 and 1236547. Blunt force tells me that neither of these work. Therefore there are no 7 digit solutions.

8 digits.
38,165,472 - I have an 8 to play with now. 8 can replace 2 because of the problems discussed in the 7 digit problem and 7 can replace 1 as before. This would either mean that 8 or 2 are at the end. I only need to test 32165478, 32765418, 38165472 and 38765412. Only one of those works.

9 digits.
381,654,729 - All numbers which are divisible by 9, have the result that if you sum the digits, then that result is also divisible by 9. Actually this is a fundamental fact among all bases. For every base-n all numbers which are divisible by n-1, have the result that if you sum the digits, then that result is also divisible by n-1. 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9=45 and 45 is a multiple of 9.
I already know that there is only one solution for 8 digits and so I know that 98,165,472 will be divisible by 8 and 981,654,723 divisible by 9, but 7 is tricksy. 9,816,547 isn't divisible by 7. Boo 7.
Chuck a 9 on the end. That doesn't upset the rest of the digits.

10 digits.
3,816,547,290 - I've only got one solution for 9 digits and all all numbers which are divisible by 10, end in 0. That's not particularly exciting but there you go.

This will more than likely be familiar to every mathematician worth their salt but for those of us down here in boring boring accountant's land where all we need to do are the the four basic operations, then this is an amusing side show.

¹ Youtube channel - https://www.youtube.com/user/standupmaths
² Website and where to buy - http://www.makeanddo4d.com/
³ Very well, your majesty - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JHH6iwgIek

October 27, 2016

Horse 2183 - Sometimes, Specific Words Are Used For A Reason

The deaths of four people on the Thunder River Rapids ride at Dreamworld are a tragedy and devastating for the families affected. Sometimes accidents happen which change people's lives in an instant, forever. As a society, we assign the task of dealing with this sort of mess to people upon who we confer special responsibility and I think that we should also bestow respect upon these same people who work in difficult situations that I for one would not cope with.
This explains why I found the following tweet from journalist Mark Ludlow at The Australian Financial Review, so strange.

Why ambulance and police officers use phrases like "sustained injuries incompatible with life" is beyond me. Such cold, impersonal language
- Mark Ludlow, 25th Oct 2016. (@M_Ludlow)

It's comments like this that make me wonder what the actual value of a journalism degree is. As little as a decade ago, journalists were at least somewhat concerned with the collection of facts as well as news for their reportage, but now when the news cycle has sped up so quickly to the point where the only thing that matters is getting copy out as quickly as possible, to ensure that your news organisation gets that first wave of eyeballs and clicks, then the idea that a journalist would do even ten minutes worth of research seems all too difficult.
I have not been blessed with a career in journalism; so perhaps I can look at this without looking at it through the fog of pressure from a newsroom but didn't it ever occur to the Brisbane Bureau Chief and Political Correspondent at The Australian Financial Review to be a little bit curious?

There are obviously reasons why people who are in highly responsible positions act in ways and say things in very singular ways. Granted that language is often used to obfuscate and confuse issues when it is used by politicians who want to avoid actually saying anything that they can be held to, but when people who act in their capacity as officers of the law and in matters severe legal consequence, then their language is going to be quite deliberate. If they don't use language which is deliberate, then we end up in wonderland and sleepwalking into the surreal.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ... "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)

Forgive me but I would have thought that someone whose job lived in the land of words, was going to be at least a little bit careful in their use. I know that when I write a piece for my audience of tens, I will rewrite things, fact check things and sometimes cut things out if I can not find an acceptable answer. Especially when it comes to events of tragedy, the use of certain words might have legal implications, and in this case it does.

Under section 30 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act 2003, a doctor must issue a cause of death certificate if they can form an opinion about the probable cause of death. It is not necessary for the doctor to have treated the person as they can consider other information such as the person’s medical history.
However, section 26(5) of the Coroners Act states that a doctor must not issue a cause of death certificate in relation to an apparently reportable death unless the coroner authorises it. Penalties apply for a breach of this section.
- Information for Health Professionals, Queensland Courts - Office of the State Coroner Queensland

(5) A doctor must not issue a cause of death certificate for a person if—
(a) the death appears to the doctor to be a reportable death, unless a coroner advises the doctor that the death is not a reportable death; or
(b) a coroner is investigating the death, unless the coroner authorises the issue of the certificate.
- Section 26(5), Coroners Act 2003 (Qld).

Quite clearly, it is Doctors and Coroners who have the legal power to declare someone dead; NOT Ambulance and Police officers. Being dead, has specific consequences from a legal perspective; for instance, I can tell you that far far more people die on July 1st than June 30th and the reason has to do with taxation purposes. Even though first responders and initial caregivers such as Ambulance, Police and Fire Officers are all people in respected positions of authority, for them to declare someone legally dead would represent a clear and very present conflict of interest. Police have sometimes been accused of racism and by giving Ambulance and Fire Officers the ability to declare someone dead, this might remove the impetus for them to save certain people's lives; that isn't the sort of power that should be given out if that kind of accusation can be levelled.

The reason why we get "cold, impersonal language" is precisely because we have professionals who are dealing with serious and grave circumstances and doing so under the gaze of others, such as those in the media like the Brisbane Bureau Chief and Political Correspondent at The Australian Financial Review, Mark Ludlow.

I will freely admit that as an accountant I know diddly squat about a great deal many things. I will tell people openly that I know diddly squat about a great deal many things and the reaction that that sometimes gets can vary from the incredulous to the abusive. I can not give legal advice, financial planning advice; nor can I give people specific advice on which shares, bonds or debentures to buy and sell; nor can I give advice on when to do so, other than for taxation purposes. If I don't know the answer, or if I do know the answer but am legally compelled not to tell the answer, then I will positively not give that answer. If for technical reasons, an official in a responsible position can not legally give an answer, then you shouldn't be surprised when they do not give that answer.

The accusation that the language which is being used as being "cold" and "impersonal" is also strange when you consider that it is coming from someone at The Australian Financial Review. People in finance and economics often use language which acts more like a thieves cant than an attempt to impart knowledge. It's also somewhat hypocritical when you consider that the single greatest catastrophe in finance and economics, The Great Depression, was triggered by a single stock trader in the New York Stock Exchange who in making a trade yelled "we have a panic over here" across the crowded trading floor.

Words are important, they have the power to hurt and the power to heal. Words also have the power to confer the legal status of being dead or alive upon someone. When ambulance and police officers use phrases like "sustained injuries incompatible with life", they do so because there are specific legal constraints upon them. As people, they feel joy, sadness and hurt like anyone else; so it behooves journalists whose job it is to think about news as well as report it, to be a little bit more curious.

October 26, 2016

Horse 2182 - The Thirty Year Light Bulb

Recently Mrs Rollo and I I were watching a documentary which was about the ways in which the consumer society which we find ourselves has been designed in such a way as to extract many of our hard won Dollarpounds, through the mechanism of not just planned obsolescence but planned disposability. One of the things mentioned was the great light bulb conspiracy of the 1924, where the big manufacturers of light bulbs (Osram, Philips, and General Electric etc.) got together and using their cartel power, imposed limits on the lifespan of light bulbs so that consumers would need to buy more because their light bulbs burned out. There is a light bulb in a fire station in Livermore, California, which supposedly has been going since 1901, and is often cited in reports and newspapers as evidence of the conspiracy.
Earlier this week, she was looking in our fridge and noticing that the fridge was old, she wondered how old the light bulb is. The truth is that I don't know but I have a suspicion that the light bulb inside the fridge could be more than thirty years old.

The fridge is so old that the brand General, isn't even sold any more. I think that General could be a sub brand of General Electric but again, I don't know. What I am fairly sure of though is that this fridge was in my grandparents' house before my grandpa died and my grandma moved to a smaller place, which means that the fridge dates from at least before 1987. Again, I don't know if the light bulb was changed in the period before I happened to acquire it but we certainly haven't changed the bulb, and if it hadn't been changed before we got it, then it might be the bulb which left the factory with the fridge. If it was replaced at some point, then it is at very least, an eight year old light bulb.

I have seen the General logo countless times and I still have no idea what it's actually supposed to be. Is it a stylized G? Perhaps a General in some sort of fancy hat? Who knows?
I haven't been able to find the Quality Assurance sticker on the back of the fridge and so, the only thing that I can say is that the fridge is at least 29 years old; to be honest, that's not bad at all.  We had a washing machine that decided that went brain dead and the cost of replacement of the computer, was more than the price of a new washing machine.
Sure, the fridge vibrates and hums a bit but that's because some bright spark thought it was a good idea to put down uneven slag tiling in one half of our house. What was wrong with nice wooden floorboards, I'll never know. It does mean that we still know that the fridge is working.

Our microwave oven has an equally interesting story. It also came from my grandparents' house and I have seen the QA sticker on the back; which proudly proclaims that it is a 1979 microwave oven. This in itself is somewhat remarkable because apart from the cost of microwave ovens back then, there was still a suspicion about the safety of microwaves and whether or not consuming food which had been cooked in that way, would lead to an increased risk of cancer. That's a little bit odd considering that in 1979, we were still perfectly happy with tobacco advertising on television, in print and in sport, when we knew that cigarettes absolutely cause cancer. The act of buying a microwave oven in 1979 might have been a progressive and revolutionary act.
Probably because most of the buttons are inductance switches, it means that there hasn't been physical movement and contact of metal tangs against each other. Physical wear is what limits the life of switches and so it would have been wise from a business point of view to have those fail, so that the customer would need to buy a new microwave. However, this was made in 1979, by Westinghouse Email and as such, it was of very good quality. Quite possibly, this microwave oven could have cost many weeks' wages in 1979; so it had to look as flashy and futuristic as possible. Hence the reason why it has a LCD display and inductance switches with no actual buttons. This very much looks like a product of the future, even if it looks dated now, with its very 1970s fake wood trim.
This was before the widespread use of LCDs in electronics and I bet that most microwave ovens of the day would have had a light bulb behind a plastic panel and a timer controlled by a spring. I note that our normal oven also has a green LCD display but that's probably from the late 1990s when the kitchen was remodelled.

Both of these appliances have moved between four houses and I can very easily picture in my mind, where they were in every kitchen that they've been in. They've seen eight Prime Ministers, five Presidents, they were around before the Berlin Wall came down, the fall of communism, the break up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Sudan, they've been around since before the War On Terror, the Global Financial Crisis, and have outlasted dictators, tyrants and other newer appliances. Just in the time that I've had them, they've outlasted four cars. I rather like it fact that they've bucked the trend for planned obsolescence by the manufacturer because it means that they haven't had to be replaced - the easiest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

October 25, 2016

Horse 2181 - Conservative Politics Isn't Dead, It's Reorganising

I think it weird that the Financial Times, The Guardian and The Independent all ran articles questioning the strength of conservative parties around the world at the moment. In the Anglosphere this conveniently ignores that the Conservatives under Teresa May have the British House Of Commons locked in until 2020 and possibly longer if the Labour Party continues to rip itself to pieces, the Liberal-National Coalition in Australia was returned to government in 2016 under Malcolm Turnbull and the exception is that the Grits hold power in Canada under Justin Trudeau but Canada is always the exception.

The media frequently makes the mistake of myopia by confusing what is going on in this exact moment with the longer arc of history; it needs to if it wants to sell advert space along side its copy.
Admittedly what we've seen in the United States is extraordinary, with the Republican Party not really taking seriously the prospect of an outside candidate using the rules of the party to secure their nomination for president and then watching as that same outside candidate explodes in a horrible fireball. On the other side of the race, the Democratic Party deliberately rigged proceedings to install Hillary Clinton as their nomination, and look surprisingly unified. The awful truth is that had Ms Clinton been running against a conventional candidate, then probably we'd have an actual race on our hands and she'd be subject to actual scrutiny but I digress.

What we're witnessing is nothing short of Duverger's Law play out yet again. Duverger's Law is the principle that where you have single member electorates, it tends towards two party politics in the long run; invariably it must do because a party can either be in or out and political power tends to organise behind either one of those two positions. As the Presidency can only be occupied by a single person, then as expected, power coagulates behind either the party that is in or out, and the generally the party that is out, goes through some sort of terrible rift before it reorganises itself again. What I don't know is whether or not this reorganisation of the Republican Party is one of those seismic shifts or not.

The Republicans assumed their position of social conservatism combined with a desire to raze government, some time before 1964 and this resulted in the embarrassing rejection of Barry Goldwater at the polls. The party continued on that path and arguably Nixon, Reagan and the two Bushes merely followed the party. The Democrats had already split and cast off the section of ex Southern Democrats by about 1976 and so the party of Carter, Clinton and Obama, has been progressively progressive when it comes to social positions but kind of ambivalent on what it thinks the role of government is.
Possibly after Obama came to power, the Republicans already began to start shifting. The rise of the Tea Party in 2010 and then the so called Freedom Coalition are kind of factional experiments within the broader tent of the party. However, they do not really represent anything particularly different outside of the two rails of social conservatism and the wish for the neuterng of government which the party started heading towards in the 1960s. What Donald Trump is is a demagogue but the people who have followed him and installed him as the nominee, are those people for whom the erosion of government at the expense of surrendering the power of governance to private entities, hasn't worked for them. These people still remain socially conservative but they aren't exactly open to what the Democratic Party has to offer.

The interesting thing about this election is that although it has the veneer of a fog of insanity, it is rather easy to analyse. If you look at where the most populated urban centres are and then look at the Electoral College, there is a pretty good sort of direct mapping going on. In expected Electoral College votes, the west coast, the northeast and Florida are the things which will determine who becomes President. Those places also tend to be full of non-whites and more socially progressive people. Down ballot, the Republicans tend to get more people actively engaged in the more direct aspects of democracy; which is why the Republicans will almost certainly retain control of the House. These people also tend to be older and would have been the people who also voted for Nixon, Reagan and the two Bushes.

What will be interesting is what happens over the course of the next four years.The Republican Party will need to address how to attract voters in urban centres whilst retaining the socially conservative people who make up a great chunk of their base. Donald Trump might have an air of absolute wingnuttery but his underlying set of positions fit in with the general raft of policies that the Republican Party has been floating around on for the past fifty years. Although he would pull the country in a more isolationist direction, that isn't particularly outstanding of socially conservative policy. One could argue that Brexit in the United Kingdom, is just a more fully realised version of what Trump is proposing; with the added advantage that there is already a forty mile moat in place of a wall.
Although what we're witnessing is the political self-defeat of a Republican presidential candidate, we're not necessarily witnessing the defeat of conservative politics or conservative parties. This looks to me, more like the blood letting that always happens after England gets knocked out of yet another football tournament, or when Australia loses a cricket test series. This is one team who is heading into a match and expecting a hiding to nothing. Conservative politics is rudely healthy though and even if Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency, the United States isn't going to broadly shift anywhere.

October 24, 2016

Horse 2180 - The Supreme Court's Ongoing Supreme Statemate

I think that it is pretty well much a fait accompli that Hillary Clinton will be the next President Of The United States. I've been watching poll results for quite some time now and the path through the Electoral College for Donald Trump looks well and truly blocked. I think that from here, it would take some sort of miracle or bizarre twist of fate for him to sit in the Oval Office chair,as he's consistently polling at figures less than 40% to Hillary's 45% and the only way to beat Hillary would be by flipping blue states to red and that ain't happening.

If we take this as lore, then this has implications down ballot and especially for the one unanswered question which has been hanging around like a bad smell in a house of farts. That is the question of what happens with the currently vacant position of the ninth Justice Of The Supreme Court.
I've run the numbers several times and taken averages across four different news sites and have come to this rough guide to what the Congress is going to look like.

House Of Representatives:
Dem - 193
GOP - 228
Ind - 14

Dem - 55
GOP - 45

Firstly this means that Paul Ryan will more than likely retain his job as Speaker Of The House. In many respects he is the unluckiest man in all of American politics because he comes across as being the only sane man in a mad house. As the VP nominee for Mitt Romney in 2012, his own path to the White House became more complicated but that still means that 2020 could be a viable option for him.
The Senate though is where the abundance of insanity really resides and this is where the story of the last Justice Of The Supreme Court takes place.

Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution says that:

He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.- Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2, US Constitution, 1789

Maybe not a decade ago but probably twenty years ago, this wouldn't have been a problem but in 2015 with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, in an increasingly toxic political climate, Senate Republicans refused to give assent to any nomination for the Supreme Court that President Obama was going to make; on the basis that he was a lame duck President and that the appointment should be held over for the incoming President whoever they may be.
The Senate is of course perfectly aware of its power under the Constitution and is perfectly legally allowed to withhold its advice and consent if it desires.
That issue has been thrown onto the back burners and was quietly forgotten about until it became obvious that Donald Trump is so toxic that he's not electable. I think that this is probably an example of one of the biggest sunk cost fallacies in political history being played out and should be a herald as to why both the methods deciding who the party nominees are, and the method for deciding who the President is, is so demonstrably idiotic as to be laughable. Except that this is no joke and it isn't funny. The pot of toxic liquid has boiled and now threatens to boil over.
Senator John McCain, expressed the opinion that any Supreme Court nomination that Hillary Clinton would make, would be sight unseen, unacceptable.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) said Monday that if Hillary Clinton is elected, Republicans will unite to block anyone she nominates to the Supreme Court.
Speaking on WPHT-AM radio's "Dom Giordano Program" in Philadelphia, McCain pledged to obstruct any Clinton Supreme Court nomination for the current or any future vacancy.
Sen. John McCain speaks to the media, March 16, shortly after President Barack Obama nominated Merrick B. Garland to the Supreme Court. McCain said that the confirmation of the next Justice should occur after the election. Now he vows to block Hillary Clinton's choice if she wins the election.
"I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up," he declared.
- NPR News, 17th Oct 2016.

This as I see it, leaves only two possible outcomes. Firstly, if Hillary Clinton is elected as President, then whoever she nominates for the Supreme Court will be rejected because Democrats won't have the numbers on the floor of the Senate to give advice and consent. Secondly, if America collectively loses its mind and votes Donald Trump in as President, then the Republicans will find themselves on the receiving end of their own tactics and whoever he nominates for the Supreme Court will be rejected because Republicans won't have the numbers on the floor of the Senate to give advice and consent.
In both scenarios, both side of politics have played the game of obstruction so elegantly, it should come as a surprise to no one that the machine of government has come to a grinding halt. Both sides have come to the conclusion that the other side is worse than hate incarnate and as such, even if someone like Santa Claus or Lady Liberty herself was put forward as the candidate for the last remaining Justice Of The Supreme Court, they still wouldn't be accepted on the advice and consent of the Senate because party politics is overruling good government.
Actually, right there is the reason why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were ever considered in the Presidential race at all. Both of them purport to represent that great swathe of people who feel as though the Congress isn't capable of doing anything. It would appear that they are right.
I wouldn't be surprised if that last remaining Supreme Court chair ends up being vacant for a considerable amount of time.

Although the justices of the Supreme Court are appointed for life, some of them decide that retirement or resignation is the best decision for them. The worst possible outcome is what happens if any more Supreme Court judges start dying off though.
As it is Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 years old, Anthony Kennedy is 80 years old, Stephen Breyer is 78 years old; with the next oldest being in their late 60s. That means that statistically, there's a fair chance that within the first term of whoever winds up being president, there could be as many as four appointments which have to be made. If obstructionist Republicans refuse to give the advice and consent of the Senate on all appointments that Hillary Clinton might make, then the Supreme Court might shrink to just five judges through natural causes. The last time that the Supreme Court was that small was in 1807.

Considering that these people make decisions which have implications on how the law is interpreted, in some cases for literally more than a century, then playing politics like this from both sides seems incredibly petty; yet another reason why I think that that US Constitution is a melting pot of insanity.

October 21, 2016

Horse 2179 - The Election Won't Be Rigged, That's Way Too Hard

Believe me, despite frequent protestations from a certain orange haired individual, the United States' presidential election isn't rigged and there isn't some sort of massive conspiracy to install Hillary Clinton in the White House by the Russians. The election won't be the biggest disaster in the history of the world and there isn't the amount of voter fraud going on, on anything even approaching the sort of scale required to swing the election. Even if you include the case of Florida in 2000, where the chads either did or didn't fall off, that was caused by electoral incompetence rather than deliberate fraud. Never attribute to malice, that which can be attributed to stupidity.
The amount of election rigging to the degree which is being suggested is simply impossible; if anything, voter suppression is going on, particularly in mostly black communities in the south, through Voter ID laws and by lack of provision of adequate polling equipment. That being said, the reason why I can definitely say that they election isn't being rigged by the Russians or the Chinese, from the other side of the world, without doing any research whatsoever, is because of one tremendously obvious reason that has been forgotten by that orange haired individual and that can be summed up in just one word - America.

One of the keys to understanding how the United States works, or continues not to, is that the United States isn't top down Commonwealth in the same way that the United Kingdom is. The United States in principle is a union of fifty states, who mostly don't like each other and who constantly bicker with each other. Those same fifty states retain what is known as a republican form of government; which as far as I can make out, entitles them to retain whatever rights not ceded to the federal government that they can claim and the eternal responsibility to be right nasty pieces of work to each other. Most of the states in the union impose their own income tax in addition to whatever taxation that the federal government might impose and several Supreme Court rulings including White v Texas 1869, confirm that people are citizens of their respective states in addition to being citizens of the United States Of America.

Because America is made up of fifty states, this means that there is not an election to decide who the President will be. Rather, there are fifty elections to decide who that state's Electoral College members will vote for in the real presidential election. I know that I am being quite pedantic here but there is a very good reason for doing so. Those fifty elections are run by the fifty states and those states as republics within the union, have the right to conduct their election in any way that they see fit. In practice, those fifty elections vary wildly from state to state; to the point where the Hank Green from Crash Course, had to make fifty videos to explain how to register to vote in each of fifty states.
On August 9th this year, we had a practical demonstration as to why electronic voting is a fundamentally bad idea. The Australian Bureau Of Statistics blamed the failure of the census website to foreign hackers but it was probably just caused by inadequate testing and the fact that 23 million people all tried to log on at the same time. It showed why having a single centralised place of service would be easier to hack but America doesn't have a single centralised bureau who is responsible for elections. How do you launch a plan to rig fifty elections all at the same time? The logistics for such a plan would be a nightmare.

This gets right at the crux as to why I think that I can say with absolute confidence that there is no rigging of the election. The problem with people who say such a thing, is that clearly they've totally missed the fact that there is not one election but fifty which need to be rigged. A concerted effort to rig fifty elections in the United States, would mean that the entity wanting to rig those elections would firstly have to understand fifty different sets of voting processes and secondly, invent strategies for hacking into those fifty different sets of voting processes. If we bear in mind that not even the federal government in the United States runs the election, then the required machinery needed to rig fifty elections from outside the United States is going to be pretty obvious. In some states, they literally still use mechanical voting machines which were built in the 1920s; so rigging those machines is going to mean a physical presence in polling stations. Unless you can find a lot of sympathetic Americans who will help you, then it's going to be pretty obvious when Sergei turns up to fiddle with the machines. If there is systemic vote rigging going on, then someone will have noticed somewhere that several thousand Russians all mysteriously arrived a week before election day.

I think that the biggest problem for Trump isn't that the election is or isn't being rigged, but that everything that he has said has made him unacceptable to large portions of the population. You win elections by securing the most votes and ironically, suggesting that the election is rigged might cause less of your own supporters to vote because they'd be less confident of a win. If Trump loses, it will be more to do with his own campaign's ineptitude than anything else.

October 20, 2016

Horse 2178 - The Last Of A Dying Breed

One of the things about living in a city which is constantly changing is that the furniture which makes up the civil infrastructure, also changes. Not even a city like Rome which has literally thousand years under the pavement, can claim to remain static for terribly long. Great cities of change like London, Paris and New York do retain airs and graces of the past but they too, change almost imperceptibly. London had a major sweep clean after the Great Fire in 1666 tore through the old city but 450 years later, little if anything remains from that time. New York as a thing has been almost entirely replaced since about 1880 and even Paris' most famous icon, the tower which Eiffel designed for the exposition of 1889, was only supposed to be up for a few years until it was decided that disposing of it was too difficult.

Sydney is a relatively young city and really the only thing which remains from the founding of the city are a few lines on a map which describe where the streets run. Nothing remains of Bennelong's House, nor of the first governor's house and the grandest and oldest of buildings didn't even come about until after there was a gold rush and money started flowing into the colony after it had achieved self government in 1855. So it is with the railway stations as well. The old Sydney Railway Station stands on Regent Street as a kind of forgotten museum piece, the old Rookwood Mortuary Station has been repurposed as a church in Canberra and a lot of the initial railway stations have been torn down and rebuilt. I return to Wynyard Station because of three things which remain from an older time.

Perhaps the most obvious and striking thing left from the original fitout of Wynyard Station are the wooden slat Otis escalators. Apart from two escalators which have not been yet replaced at Town Hall Station (and are slated for destruction in the near future), these are the last deep cut wooden slat escalators left in the world.

Before the refit in the Myer Building on George and Market Streets, there were some cousins in the central escalator chamber in the middle of the building. It used to be fun to clank your way up to the eighth floor and step out into a virtually empty space. The toy department used to sit on the seventh floor but nothing much was up on the eighth except when there was a major store display of something. When those escalators were removed and replaced, it certainly opened up the building and gave it far airier sort of feel but it destroyed the impression that you were in an older style department store which was as permanent a fixture in the social landscape as a bank.

 Myer got rid of its wooden slat escalators, Town Hall Station wants to be rid of its and thus Wynyard Station will be the very last in a world which is moving too quickly to care about where it has been.
There are two more things of note here. The first is the cream and two shades of brown tile work that Wynyard received in the 1960s. As far as I can make out,  Wynyard got this colour scheme after the Cahill Government decided to poke out the eyes of Sydneysiders in an act of willful shortsightedness when the tram lines were pulled out and Wynyard lost platforms numbers 1 and 2 to a car park.
I imagine that Central"s white, green and yellow scheme which it was given, was part of the set with Town Hall and Wynyard.

Eagle eyed observers and people prepared to walk that little bit further (about ten steps) will notice that behind a set of fire doors, are the older set of tiles that Wynyard would have worn when it was opened in 1932.
I'd seen Wynyard's older roundels in black and white photographs only; never in person and never in colour. Since I was a kid, Wynyard has worn black and white roundels, the 1980s multicoloured line signs, and set of corporate boringness in both blue and now orange. The roundels in the style which all stations in the City Circle used to wear proudly and which only Museum and St James wear now (Town Hall had them for a brief period of time before they were ripped away again), were different colours for each of the  various stations around the line. Now I know that Wynyard's roundels were blue and not black.

The surprising thing was that as I was busily snapping away and taking photographs on my phone, I had a member of station staff approach me. I fully expected him to be unhappy but he waxed lyrically about the station and wanted to know if I was from a preservation society or something. It seems that my nerdiness for the built environment is shared by at least some of the general public and he wanted to know if I could get the roundels put back in the station.
He also expressed a lament that the old wooden escalators would be taken away 'soon' but he didn't know when that was going to happen but as he'd already worked out that I was a passenger and not anyone with any power, his lament was more of a good old fashioned whinge.
I'm not some sort of Luddite and automatically think that just because something is old that it must be better (I'm tapping away on an Android device on the train in writing this) but I do think that it is good to keep some old things around because they are aesthetically pleasing. Absolutely I accept the argument that a newer set of escalators would be safer because the combs at either end are smaller and ladies won't get their heels caught in the slats. It is impossible to argue that modern escalators with automatic cut out in case something gets caught in between the slats and the combs is a bad thing. It still doesn't change the fact that these older style escalators, due to their being the last of their kind, are worth preserving and if they continue to do their job, then why not keep them in use? I don't think that the benefits outweigh the expense of replacement when what's currently working, is currently working.

October 19, 2016

Horse 2177 - The House That Smashed Avocado Built

Smashed Avocado inadvertently became the topic of talk-back radio earlier in the week, after a column from the Weekend Australian by demographer Bernard Salt was published. In particular, one of the paragraphs towards the end seems to have attracted a media pile on.

But all of this is mere ephemera. It gets worse. I have seen young people order smashed avocado with crumbled feta on five-grain toasted bread at $22 a pop and more. I can afford to eat this for lunch because I am middle-aged and have raised my family. But how can young people afford to eat like this? Shouldn't they be economising by eating at home? How often are they eating out? Twenty-two dollars several times a week could go towards a deposit on a house.
- Weekend Australian, Bernard Salt, 15th Oct 2016.

I know that Bernard Salt's column in the Weekend Australian was supposed to be making fun of both the self righteous sorts who sneer at young people and of young people themselves but it seems that this column has inadvertently struck a raw nerve here. In making fun of the inner city types who might pay $22 for a grilled smashed avocado sandwich, he's exposed the poignant fact that many young people have been priced out of the housing market altogether and no matter how hard they work, they will never afford a house and be condemned to renting forever.

The actual material in the article is mostly grandstanding and given that it is in the magazine and not the newspaper proper, I think that it's supposed to be satire. Indeed, I did a search to see if I could actually find a smashed avocado sandwich for $22 in Sydney and found nothing.
Foolishly, I went to Twitter and asked for suggestions and was bombarded with candidates including The Gourmand Deli and The Grumpy Baker which are both in Vaucluse, Collier's Sandwich Company which is in Woolloomooloo, Republic Sandwiches & Salads in Darlinghurst and Monty's Sandwich Shop in Bondi Junction, and none of them offered any sandwiches for more than about $12. Clearly this article has been written in the land of hyperbole but not in any suburb in Sydney (though maybe Melbourne might have $22 sandwiches).

There's just something very very hollow about an article accusing young people of being spendthrifts and wastrels from someone who happens to be a partner at KPMG and who got their Master of Arts degree from Monash University in the days of Whitlam's free tertiary education and then advises those same young people to stop indulging in something which a) doesn't exist to b) solve a problem which they never caused.

Taken to the only conclusion which can be reached here, maybe if these young people worked harder on developing time travel to 1974 instead of working away in jobs which pay less than at any stage since real wages peaked in 1978, then maybe they could afford houses which have risen in price from four times the yearly average salary to more than ten times the yearly average salary, in the same period.
I mean quite clearly the problem here isn't falling wages, or university education which governments want to raise to the cost of six figures, or the fact that manufacturing has been sent off shore; clearly the problem in Australia is breakfast.

Who are these young people who think that paying $22 for a smashed avocado sandwich is a good idea anyway? It's probably not the sort of young people who have been saddled with student loans, or students for that matter and it's almost certainly not those people who live in the scum western suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne. The young people who are likely to be in the sorts of suburbs where you are going to find a $22 for a smashed avocado sandwich, are the young people who already live there; presumable if they already live there, they're not exactly short of money in the first place.

Economic fortune, especially in spread out cities like Sydney or Melbourne, is one of the biggest self sorting systems that exists. Because people's incomes tend to dictate where they live more than any other factor, it means that places where we live are becoming increasingly filled with similar people who earn roughly the same incomes as we do. If the $22 smashed avocado sandwich exists (which I doubt), then it's going to be sold at a sandwich shop which is frequented with people from roughly the same socioeconomic group that Bernard Salt comes from.
"How can young people afford to eat like this?" Because they come from phenomenally wealthy backgrounds; money isn't an issue for them. "Shouldn't they be economising by eating at home?" Well, why should they? They come from phenomenally wealthy backgrounds; money isn't an issue for them.

The thing that the rest of the media has missed, Including the ABC, is rather obvious fact that this was published in the Weekend Australian, which by demographic has an older readership than all the tabloids and indeed than the Fairfax mastheads of the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Mr Salt's column appeared in a publication which is really only being kept alive because it is Rupert's own little baby and therefore the doyenne of News Corp, and because it's read by the political circle in Canberra in lieu of any other proper journalism. The Oz frequently reads like a wish list from the Liberal Party's donors and it basically spends its whole editorial life in singing to the choir on the conservative authoritarian right.

Bernard Salt can afford to sneer at young people because if he's regularly going to a sandwich shop which can put a smashed avocado sandwich on the menu for $22, then obviously he's doing all right; thank you very much. The irony is that the newspaper that he writes for, made a concerted campaign to cut penalty rates on Sundays; which would have reduced the wages of the very people who are bringing him overpriced sandwiches. How can young people afford to eat like this when you want to pay them less?
The lesson here is for young people. Give up bothering to raise the funds to put towards a deposit on a house. All of this is mere ephemera. It gets worse.

October 18, 2016

Horse 2176 - Rethinking Godzilla In The Cold Light Of History

It's hard to believe but it's been a little over 22 years since that rainy Sunday in October when "Gentleman" Jim Richards called the motorsport fans of Australia a "pack of nasties*" after winning the Bathurst 1000 in a car which not less than ten minutes earlier, he'd crashed into a wall. Of course this has to be put into perspective when you realise that:
a) The car which had finished second had actually crossed the finish line instead of crashing into a wall.
b) The car which had finished second was a Ford; which is important in a tribal sport like motor racing.
c) The Nissan GTR was seen as being even more cheatery that the Ford Sierra Cosworth because it was four wheel drive as well as being turbocharged.
d) Jim Richards had defected from the Holden Dealer Team to drive a BMW and then a Nissan; which is kind of extra specially cheatery.
e) Jim Richards was a New Zealander, which just made it all worse.

Let's back the whole thing up a bit and look at this.

In 1984, Australia was running a set of Touring Car regulations which took highly modified production cars and pitted them against each other. The problem was that Ford Motor Company of Australia had stopped selling the V8 Falcon part way through XE and there was no V8 XF Falcon. People who were running Fords complained that there would be a day coming soon when the regulations would render the Holden Commodore as top dog because there was no Ford counterpart to the Holden V8. From what I can gather, Ford competitors met with the Confederation Of Australian Motor Sport (CAMS) looked what they could do about the problem and still retain a production based Touring Car category as the premier category of motor sport in Australia; they found it in the FIAs new set of regulations which became known as Group A.
Group A was adopted across Europe and Asia and quickly became the default Touring Car category in the world.

This also allowed Australian competitors to buy cars from overseas; this meant that the Volvo 240T, Jaguar XJS, Rover 3500, BMW 635i and later M3, Ford Mustang and later Sierra, and Nissan Skyline GTS-R started to appear.
Something of a horsepower arms race began with firstly the Rover 3500 and the BMW M3 being the weapons of choice in Europe and then as people learned how to turn the dials of  turbocharging up harder and harder, the Sierra became the absolute capital weapon.

Nissan after running their HR31 Skyline GTS-R to some success but never outright victory in anything, went away and read the rulebook carefully and then designed the R32 Skyline GTR to the letter of what the law would allow. In consequence, unlike the Commodore, Sierra or M3 which were derivations of road cars which went racing, the Skyline GTR was a race car which had had 5000 examples built for the road. It perfectly met the design brief and promptly began winning races around the world; to such a degree that the various motorsport confederations across Europe, Asia and eventually Australia, wrote new rules to exclude the Skyline GTR and it acquired the mystique and the moniker of "Godzilla".
That's the short story of motorsport twenty and a bit years ago but it doesn't quite tell the complete story. The R32 Skyline GTR did win the Bathurst 1000 twice, the Spa 24 Hours once and a record which is always totted out that it won 29 of 29 races in the Japan Touring Car Championship that it was entered in.

I'll speak about Australia first because that's where I live. If you look through the results of the Australian Touring Car Championship for the period, you find that the Skyline GTR had two circuits on which it always consistently failed. The first was Lakeside in Queensland and the other was Amaroo Park in Sydney. Both of these circuits were smaller and tighter than others in the country and the car which consistently beat the Skyline GTR on these circuits was the BMW M3. This was when the M3 was still a 2.5L motor car; which meant that it was physically smaller and therefore nimbler than the competition that it faced. On larger circuits with longer straights, the Skyline GTR could out power other cars and its four wheel drive advantage meant that it could transfer that power to the road better than a Sierra or Commodore could. However, the BMW M3 being a physically smaller thing, could turn tighter and would point more accurately in corners than the Skyline GTR ever could.
For 1992, the Skyline GTR was knobbled with a weight penalty and so it was brought back to the field a little bit but it was still kinder on tyres and as such, won races because tyre performance never dropped off in the same way as it did for other cars.
It's Australian record is that the car arrived in 1990 far too late to have an impact and then when it faced the endurance races, it broke because it was still too new and fragile. In 1991 and 1992 when it won the Australian Touring Car Championship, it was dominant and on the two occasions that it won Bathurst, it was very good but not quite so impregnable that it couldn't be beaten. If the 1992 Bathurst 1000 had gone the distance, then it absolutely would not have won.
In mid 1992, the two big manufacturers in Australia basically conspired to get rid of Godzilla and a set of regulations were developed to kill it off. In 1993 the V8 Supercars regulations came into effect and so the Skyline GTR as far as Australia was concerned was consigned to history.

Therein lies the bigger story. The only place that the Skyline GTR ever faced any real competition was Australia. The European Touring Car Championship was disbanded at the end of 1988; the DTM had changed to a new formula in 1990 and the British Touring Car Championship was run n to a two litre formula from 1991 onwards.

In its native Japan, the R32 Skyline GTR won all 29 of 29 races that it competed in, in the Japanese Touring Car Championship from 1989 to 1993. This very much betrays the fact that it only faced underfunded Ford Sierras in 1989 and the odd one in 1990, and for 1991, 1992 & 1993, it was the only turbocharged car competing; with its opposition being the occasional BMW M3 at 2.5L and 1.6L Honda Civics and Toyota Corollas. If a car which was turbocharged, four wheel drive and not quite double the engine capacity of its competitors couldn't win every single time, then you'd have to assume that there'd been torrential rain.
Actually on that note, when Gibson Motorsport who had run the Skyline GTRs applied to race in the Fuji 500 in 1992, they were denied entry with no explanation given. One can only assume that the Japanese Calsonic team objected because they knew that they be wiped off the floor.

The other record which is waved around is the Skyline GTR's win in the 1991 Spa 24 Hour race. Again, it was the only turbocharged Group A car which had been entered and it's opposition came from some Porsche Carrera 2s, running 3.6L normally aspirated non-turbocharged engines and built to production car Procar Division 4 regulations. There was such a disparity in performance as to be utterly laughable.

The Nissan Skyline GTR R32's record is impressive but when you give it a deeper look, its mainly because the serious competitors which could have faced it, had already left before it arrived. The truest test came in Japan when the R33 came along and eventually as Japan morphed it's premier category into the GT500 class of the Japan Grand Touring Championship, Toyota and Honda both found ways to beat it. It certainly deserves the praise that it gets but as with so many things, context is important.

*not the real word.

October 17, 2016

Horse 2175 - Predicting The Electoral College Result

I am probably so late to the party that people are already filing for the exits and wondering about who's going to drive them home before the headache hits but I'm going to make the most obvious prediction in the world and say that Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States.
If you set aside everything that Donald Trump has said and done over the last year and a half and also discount the fact that Hillary Clinton is the first female nominee of a major political party in America; even if you ignore both candidates entirely and assume that the election was between a tin of baked beans and a tin of spaghetti, then the way that this election will turn out well be entirely expected.

The way that the United States elects a President is via a method which is so arcane and utterly ridiculous that it has been copied by precisely zero other countries. The Electoral College awards one vote for every seat in the Congress, plus three extra votes for D.C. which it would have had if it had been a state; bringing the total number of Electoral College votes to 538 with 270 being required to win. Those Electoral College votes are then allocated to the states to decide how to apportion them but most states in the union award them on a winner takes all basis; thus for the vast majority of states, polling companies only need know who will win the state and so building predictive maps is relatively easy.

In 2016, without even looking at the map as I write this, most of the blue states are on the east and west coast, with outliers like Colorado and New Mexico also being blue. Most of the states in the middle are red and have been ever since the last seismic shift in American politics, which happened after the Southern Democratic Party imploded. Most of the so called "flyover" states which remain socially conservative, vote Republican and the only truly strangely swinging state is Florida which blinks red and blue like a mad thing.
Thus, if you look at the predictive Electoral College map for the 2016 election, it looks broadly the same as 2012 and 2008, which is when Obama was elected. Usually the next election after  a President has sat two terms is far more open but on this occasion, even if you completely ignore both candidates entirely, what we're left with is an Electoral College map which basically describes the numbers of rusted on voters in America.
These three maps tell the most telling story of all:

- Electoral College Results 2008

- Electoral College Results 2012

- Predicted Electoral College 2016

Really apart from the change that each state gets in terms of Electoral College votes, and the fact that Indiana reverted to being a red state in 2012, then rest of the state of play is unchanged.

The United States doesn't have either compulsory voting nor preferential voting, though some states are beginning to toy with the idea of the latter. This means that from an Australian perspective, the United States' voting system looks like one giant effort to overcome laziness by the major parties to get people out of their houses to vote; rather than the begrudging masses in Australia who must give their consent to whomever wants to rule them.
Consequently, this election which will probably have a far lower turnout than either 2012 or 2008, will more than likely send Hillary Clinton to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue simply because that's the way that the rusted on voters will play out. Donald Trump on the other hand has been so offensive to people even within the party upon whose ticket he is running, that they just won't even bother to show up on polling day.

This has severe implications down ballot, with the Republicans fearing that apathy will rage so fiercely that Democrats will win races for both the House and Senate and thus take control of both. If this is the case then the passage of bills through the Congress will be far easier than the obstructionist "Do Nothing" Congress has been for the past eight years; which is ironic considering that a technocratic Hillary Clinton will have got more done than Obama who had a broader vision about what he wanted to achieve. Therein lies the problem.
With factions within the Republican Party splintering off such as the Tea Party, coupled with the total chaos which the global financial crisis wrought, this opened the door wide for a demagogue like Trump to waltz on in and hijack the nomination; which is precisely what happened. Trump represents a disaffected America but is personally a liability; so the resulting Electoral College map will basically be made up of all the states which the parties would have naturally won anyway, with no states being inspired enough to flip from blue to red. Thus the map looks kind of like it has done since 2008.
Presumably if someone like Marco Rubio or Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had won the nomination, then the trajectory from the end of the party convention would have been to try and broaden the voting base. Trump's strategy, if there is indeed such a thing (which I seriously doubt), has been about suring up the existing core of voters who would have voted for him anyway. He might very well pick up 48% of the vote nationwide but he has done nothing about flipping over those states which he needs to go from blue to red in order to swing the Electoral College; from the perspective of an election strategist, that's pure idiocy.

I think that the polls have more or less solidified at this stage and barring the Republican National Committee finding some clause to eject Trump from the ticket, or Trump resigning in a pique of rage, then I think that the results will remain identical to how they stand now.

Clinton 343 def. Trump 195.

October 14, 2016

Horse 2174 - Tales of The Unthinking Unmannered

Dear Manspreaders,
You know who you are and what you are doing. As a fellow owner of similar equipment, I can tell you from personal experience that unless you have some sort of medical problem, there is no need for this course of action. Nor is there really any need for extreme protection such as heat shielding or physical impact guards because the likelihood of encountering either welding flames or fast moving objects like cricket balls doing ninety miles per hour, is so close to nil as to be negligible. This is the 06:52 train to the City and the North Shore; not a train carrying molten steel from Port Kembla, nor does it pass through Silly Mid-On at the SCG.

I happened to be stuck between two behemoths engaging in manspreading on the morning train to the city and I honestly felt as if I'd accidentally sat in the middle of some sort of gravitational rip in the cosmos. It was as though my internal organs were occupying hammer space and my knees were being clamped together in a workbench vice. I think that I was close to having both of my knees shatter due to compression stress and most of my internal organs spontaneously liquify.
Meanwhile the two cousins of Goliath were blissfully unaware that their manspreading was playing havoc with the local laws of the space time continuum and that we were seriously in danger of causing a temporal rift in the fabric of the universe. I suspect that this phenomenon could be harnessed in some way and could form the basis of intergalactic travel in Star Trek because I'm sure that this must be something similar to a warp drive.

Maybe on those older style seats which are just benches, there is an excuse for manspreading but on a newer style seat, there are three clearly demarcated spaces. Just like when you are at Aldi and get to slam down the divisional marker to show where your shopping ends, nobody else should let their person invade your territory. In biblical times there were admonitions not to move ancient boundary stones and likewise, the boundaries between people's space on a train are clearly delineated. As far as I'm concerned, there is no real excuse for unilateral annexation of the most serene independent republic of commuter space.

To some degree I can forgive the accidental noise pollution which spills out from people's headphones and mobile phone conversations. In a quiet place like a train, there will invariably be some bleed of sound going on; that also entitles other passengers to listen in on those conversations. That also means that I will suffer the chorus of "all the single lettuce" for what has to be at least the thousandth time in two years but the sensation of having my knees clash because people on both sides are trying to point on knee at Queensland and the other at Victoria is both unpleasant and disturbing.

What's so valuable about these people's equipment that they need that sort of ventilation anyway? It's not like the next heir of the British Crown will hail from their loins; nor is it likely that their offspring will be the future President Of The United States, so if not, what then, and whyfor?


Dear Queuers,

I know that y'all are in a hurry to get on the bus or train but d'ya really need to be literally that pushy about it?
At Wynyard Station of an afternoon when a million people all want to leave the city simultaneously, as soon as those doors open, the platforms resemble something akin to what you might see at Myer on the morning of the Boxing Day sales. As soon as those doors open, great hordes of impatient commuters all try to barge their way on, as if the defences of a ship of the line have been breached. A weak point in a wall opens up and the charge of the Platform 3 Army begins.

I was in Mosman the other day and just about to get on the bus. The door had opened and I could see that someone with a pram was trying to get off and so, like a sane person, I stood to the side. Almost immediately, I felt two hands in my back, pushing me forwards in an effort to get me to move forward. I looked behind me and saw that it was an older lady who had pushed me. Of all the people in the world who I would expect, someone with a pension card and purple hair isn't one of them.
Or maybe I should.

There is apparently an age where you no longer think that manners apply to you any more. At some point, after a lifetime of being told to respect your elders and make way for them, you then stop running out of elders and so I guess that a sense of entitlement must creep in. Unless being nice to people has become a habit, I can only assume that the pretense of being nice must just fall by the wayside and that old people are just children who have been around a really long time.

The thing about a normal bus, is that because they don't have raised platforms in the same way that a train or tram might do, then the distance from the door to the pavement can often be quite large. That's not a problem for a spritely and tallish gent like myself but if you happen to be an elderly person who is trying to get off the bus, hence the reason why I stood to the side in the first place, then this poses a very real and present danger of falling. That might not be a problem for a four year old, a teenager, a chap of a few decades advanced like myself but having a fall is a serious problem for elderly people who are more fragile and brittle.

That's what I find so utterly bizarre about this. I imagine that elderly people might have developed sympathy or at very least a degree of imagination to predict that someone like them has similar issues to them. Maybe it's precisely because I am a white male aged 25-65 that I'm perceived as being thoughtless but clearly that's not actually the case if I'm standing to the side to allow others to alight the bus.


I'm increasingly becoming aware that the very rich in society don't care about manners because they don't see other people as being worthy; the poorest people in society don't seem to care about manners because let's be honest, life's hard enough without having to worry about that sort of thing, or it could be that they simply don't care; which leaves the only people who do care about manners and being nice and respectful to other people, as the middle class who are trying to push upwards and or don't want to be seen as being common.

I don't expect people to say 'please' and 'thank you' because I think that that is a stretch beyond most people's ability to grease the machinery of social interaction these days and so I have to concede that maybe my expectation that people at least allow others to move through space, is probably also increasingly archaic. Maybe I should just accept the fact that we now live in a world of unthinking unmannered brutes, who can either be clad in a blue singlet or blue rinse.

October 11, 2016

Horse 2173 - The Town Hall Debate Where Ordinary People Talk To The Candidates

I'm sorry America but you've convinced that you shouldn't be allowed to have a democracy any more. Not only have you selected someone who is in reality sixty ferrets in a man costume as the "conservative" candidate but you've also picked someone who thinks that dealing with registered terrorist organisations is somehow good for the security of the world. One of these two contenders will have their finger on the nuclear button and I think that is more dangerous than who you selected at the opening of the century, who was someone so inept that they couldn't even say the word "nuclear". Four years ago, the Town Hall debate which has traditionally been the second of three, was probably the undoing of Mitt Romney when he dithered on policy. From the governor we never heard any specifics beyond Big Bird and the proposed defunding of PBS. When you place politicians in front of real people, it becomes very apparent very quickly that the barbs and political bombs thrown by the public have far bigger potential to ruin campaigns than anything that choreographed media can invent. This time around, the public's barbs were mostly innocuous compared with the suits of thorns that both candidates were already wearing. The thing that people have said about Donald Trump that they like is that he is prepared to speak his mind. The problem is that he is prepared to speak his mind; even when there's nothing in it and worse, when there is something in it. If Donald Trump had been running along side John C Calhoun in the days of open racism, slavery and when things like Twitter, Facebook, Television, Radio, Telegraph and even daily newspapers weren't a thing, then maybe we might have been speaking about him as a horrible person from the past and not a horrible person in the present. On the other hand, all that Hillary Clinton has had to do in order to put up a credible alternative to the man whose hair looks like it was made from plastidip, is stand still and look normal. In a presidential cycle where common sense isn't, she hasn't really been probed or faced serious scrutiny since Bernie Sanders and the DNC back in June. I think that it is generally accepted that Hillary won the Town Hall debate but that's mainly because Trump had to spend most of the time defending himself against things that he'd actually said in the past. When it came to issues like foreign policy or labour issues, they all played second fiddle to the ongoing hurricane that is Donald Trump. The Republican National Committee at this point doesn't really know what to do and the impression that I get from news media at the moment is that they've pretty well much written off 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as an option, and that they're busily thinking about down ballot races and trying to stop the Democrats from sweeping through both houses with a brand new broom. I know that this is awful but William Hill was running a book on the likelihood of President Trump being assassinated as early as June. It didn't take long for the market to tighten and the odds being offered on Trump being assassinated were shorter than Obama, even in July. This is most likely money for jam (or old rope; depending on how you like to spend your frivolous mad money) but the mere fact that this exists is cause for concern. As little as two days ago I'd had both candidates counting at about 240 Electoral College votes a piece but increasingly it appears as though the path for Donald Trump is bleak. This year's October surprise unbelievably isn't Hurricane Matthew and the implications surrounding voter registrations but simply the aftermath and destruction of Donald Trump's words against himself. In many respects the Town Hall debate was always going to be a spring loaded trap for Trump. The mere existence of recordings which confirm his misogyny don't help his cause in the slightest. Admittedly, Hillary should have faced the very real question of the issue of her keeping a private email server and the deletion of more than 33,000 emails, which has immensely serious national security issues but her apology is more readily accepted by the media than Trump's explanation of something from more than five years ago. Trump pointed to the existence of ISIS as being the fault of Hillary and Obama but he couldn't make this stick because questions were then asked of him about his statements about refugees and immigrants. A hard line will play very well in the Republican primaries but not in the general election and the refusal of both Trump and the Republican Party to properly play together has left Trump heavily exposed. On issues of taxation, Hillary talked about imposing extra levies on people with incomes of over a million dollars and Trump spoke of things like the carried interest provisions which actually have nothing to do with interest. In speaking the words of business, Trump might very well be speaking truth but it doesn't play with the average voter. There was also the highly obfuscatory question about the vacancy in the Supreme Court. As it stands, Republicans in the Senate have unilaterally taken it upon themselves to block Obama's nominee and the court has only had eight judges for months. Both Trump and Hillary accused the other of potentially making a bad choice for the appointment and appealed to voters on the basis of perceived damage that the other could do. This late in the piece, these debates do nothing for swinging opinion towards candidates. Especially in this cycle where name recognition was well over 98% before the primaries began and where acid and bile has been spat profusely, these debates will have the opposite effect where in a system where voting is optional, people will choose to opt out in an act of protest (which I think is actually civic laziness writ large) and the number of votes will shrink rather than expand. Maybe in previous years there may have been undecided voters but in 2016, I think that that is impossible.

October 07, 2016

Horse 2172 - Ford Exits Left, Pursued By A Bear

We have arrived at the 7th of October 2016, which means that some time today, the last Falcon ever produced will leave the factory at Broadmeadows and then the doors will be shut on Ford manufacturing cars in Australia. Why this isn't the cause of national outrage is totally beyond me because while governments talk about Australia being the clever country or becoming an innovation nation, business has demonstrated that it's perfectly happy to take our money but doesn't think enough of Australians to give them jobs.

The argument put forward by Ford is that it isn't economical to build cars in Australia but when you're receiving government subsidy payments which exceed your entire operating expenses and are then sending 100% of your profits overseas to take advantage of taxation rules, then forgive me if I think that this, in the words of Henry Ford himself "is bunk". Ford Australia never made a profit because all revenue was consolidated to head office and then there were charge backs to Ford Australia in things like management fees which ensured that they would always be assessed at a tax loss in Australia.
Ford had made applications to Detroit to build the Focus in Australia and I suspect that had they been allowed to do so, it would have benefitted from the pounding that Australian engineers would have put it through; just like the Cruze did over at Holden. The Focus would have undergone the same torture as the Falcon did at You Yangs and it would have resulted in a car which would have been the best in the world. Australians being a parochial and tribal people, would have pit the Focus against the Cruze in the same way as the Falcon and Commodore have been but instead, both Ford and GM have consigned both to market irrelevancy.
The truth is that if they wanted to, Ford could have built the Focus, Ranger, Ikon or any number of other cars in their lineup in Australia but the reason that they didn't wasn't that Ford Australia wasn't profitable but that it wasn't profitable enough. As an importer, they will still pay zero tax in Australia but now they won't really incur any expenses either. Of course, virtually all of the auto makers operate like this and so the eventual departure of Ford, Toyota and General Motors is as inevitable as every other company that manufactures things in Australia.

What I find particularly galling is that what has replaced the Falcon in the Australian lineup, is the  Mondeo which is more expensive but for less car, and the Ranger which replaces the Ute and is also more expensive for less car and coupled with the added bonus of being smaller and worse quality. The Falcon has spent 53 years being engineered for Australian conditions which includes vast unbroken stretches of dirt roads but the Mondeo is a motorway burner which is scared of leaving the black top and the Ranger is a pickup truck which looks like it's only capable of being a tradesperson's vehicle and not a farm car. The Ute was famously invented by Ford in Geelong after a lady wrote a letter and asked for a car which she could drive to church on Sunday and take the pigs to market on Monday.

It isn't just the car manufacturing plant itself which will shut down but all of the incidental industries which surround it which will also fade away. There are the manufacturers of things like gearboxes, electrical units, air conditioning systems, auto glass makers and all of the companies which make all of the little things like light globes, filters, hoses and fittings, clamps, pumps, brake pads and fluids which also all suffer. The evidence that all of these things also go away is obvious every time that I go to work on the train in Sydney, because the site of the old Ford factory in Homebush is now just another housing estate. The place where Cortinas, Escorts, Meteors and Lasers were built, is now just another nondescript bit of road. None of the associated industries are in the area and there is really no need for them to be there either.
I expect that what will happen to the Broadmeadows factory is that rather than someone buying it and making actual stuff, it will be sold off to housing developers who will turn it into housing which will be built on the cheap and the people who own it, will never have to live there. Like the rest of the Australian economy, the only machine that will make any money on the site will be property and the profits will go to the rentier class.
In the broader scheme of things, from this time next year, Australia will be the only country in the G20 which will not produce a car and I've even heard this as an argument that we should change which side of the road that we drive on but really that just seems to me to be a proxy by the motor manufacturers to foist even worse quality cars upon us for the same or more money.

I will confess that I used to have a Ford Ka and it was the best car that I have ever driven and so in this whole automotive holy war, I want to see Henry's signature staring up at me from the centre of my steering wheel, but this is straining the relationship. We currently have a Mazda which is nice but I wanted a Ford Fiesta. Now that Ford have decided to just become an importer like almost everyone else, their star in the automotive constellation will fade in Australia. In my mind, Ford have lost a notch of bias and so they kind of cease to be an automatic contender for my consideration I don't think that I'm so strange as to be atypical in my fads and fancies and if this holds true for me then multiply that by the entire market and Ford Australia has just driven themselves down on road to Irrelevancy Town and I don't know if they have the money to afford the petrol to get back home again.

October 05, 2016

Horse 2171 - The Presidential Debates Are Debateable

I have spent a fair amount of time recently, listening to debates from past presidential elections. The first presidential debate was in 1960, even though in theory there could have been debates as early as 1932 on the radio. What I find singularly interesting is just how pedestrian and dull most of them were; with the most mind numbing of all being the square off between Bush and Gore in 2000 which would eventually result in Bush being elected after the chads fell off in Florida.

If you go all the way back to 1960 and listen to the debate between Vice President Nixon and Senator Kennedy, it's pretty obvious that the art of politeness was still in fashion even though the two candidates were obviously seething. Questions in the 1960 debates were constantly being raised about Kennedy's supposed lack of experience despite the fact that both he and Nixon had both entered the Congress in 1948. Questions were also asked about Nixon and his virtual disendorsement by President Eisenhower. That is more easily explained by Eisenhower's lack of care for politics, having become President almost against his wishes, after having previously been a military commander.

If you want to start someone who really knew how to play the game of television debates, then the 1980 debates between Carter and Reagan are things of beauty. Jimmy Carter was about as popular as a cat poo on the kitchen floor and basically all Reagan had to do to win, was show up. Ronald Reagan though was an actor, and as someone who had spoken as a staunch conservative in the disastrous Goldwater campaign of 1964, he also had a long and well defined history from which to sell his platform. Carter looked like a rabbit who had been caught in a car's headlights and Reagan was supremely confident. These debates were practically walkovers for Reagan.
Fast forward to 1984 and the debates between Reagan and Dukakis are also interesting to follow. Again, President Reagan had four years of experience in the Oval Office chair and Walter Mondale looked like a schoolboy who had turned up to class without his homework. Although he spoke perfect sense about Reagan's policies on taxation being woefully inadequate to improve net revenue, Mondale really needn't have bothered.
Four years later when Reagan's veep George HW Bush stood for President, it was almost as if Michael Dukakis doubled down on sheer incompetence and Bush looked quite seasoned, having already been in two Vice Presidential debates of his own.

In 2012, Mitt Romney and Obama talked past each other and it was obvious that both of them saw the debate as a necessary step on the road to the White House. Legend has it that Romney had held sixteen practice debates on mock stages, where attention was paid to even small details like the position of camera angles and when to wipe the sweat from one's brow. It kind of helped both candidates that they had a slower than normal delivery rate for the number of words that they spoke, and this is something which they probably both trained for.
Obama should have been a president who made sweeping reforms but he had been obstructed by a Congress which was even less productive than Truman's "Do Nothing" Congress. Romney could have capitalised on this (even though he was part of that obstructive Congress) but he never cashed in on any of the moral tokens that he collected. Instead, Romney kept on dragging discussions into areas of taxation and this cost him the debates.

In 2008, and just weeks after the implosion of financial markets, Obama was able to trade on hope and optimism and his opposite number John McCain was just unfortunate in his timing in the great wheels of history. Although having said that, McCain's running mate Sarah Palin brought the first wave of Republican wingnuttery to the debate stage and it can very easily be argued that what we're now seeing with Donald Trump is just the long game of eight years writ large.

The most obvious problem with trying to make any sort of analysis of either the 2016 election campaign or the debates is that Donald Trump is a populist candidate who is devoid of any notion of playing by the established rules of conduct or common sense. Hillary Clinton is very much an established career politician who is mostly a technocrat. She's been on the inside of the political machine and knows how it operates. Trump is an anti establishment showman who has played the game of politics brilliantly. He's still as mad as a cut snake in a bucket of salt but if you're riding the wave of populism, then the ends seemingly justify all means; no matter how insane the speech that goes along with it sounds.

The one thing to remember is that if you say something often enough, it doesn't matter if it's true or not, people will absorb it. That's primarily how advertising works and how I know that a Mars a day helps you work, rest and play. It also doesn't matter if there is decent fact checking going on either because the people who mostly care about fact checking in politics are political junkies anyway and the people who don't care about fact checking, tend not to have their minds changed when presented with the facts anyway. It doesn't matter if 85% of what Donald Trump is saying is wrong or that Hillary Clinton as Secretary of Defence actually was dealing with rebels and nefarious people in Libya, of that she has destroyed the paper trail behind her.

Instead what the people of America have to choose from as their commander in chief, is the choice between two different kinds of badness. My grand hope is that whomever wins, faces an even more Do Nothing Congress than the last three Do Nothing Congresses that we've had, which did even less than Truman's Do Nothing Congress. That will be safer for the world I think.

In the meantime the Presidential debates have basically been a spectacle of watching how deep of a hole of madness that Trump can dig, and watching Hillary stand back and wait for the mud to fly. The polls are such that the Electoral College could swing either way, or mostly one way or the other and nobody has even the slightest clue how to read it. It makes me almost wish for the days when Al Gore wittered on in monotones and George W Bush struggled to put a string of words together.
It's certainly a very far cry from when Kennedy said that he respected Nixon and thought that Nixon would make a good President but wanted to take America in another direction.

October 04, 2016

Horse 2170 - One-Two At Bathurst

Although the Festival Of The Boot is a firm favourite on the sporting calendar, for me the weekend after where people thrash machines for a thousand kilometers on a mountain is far more impressive.
As far as I can make out, there have been five 1-2 finishes; I think that this is possibly one of the hardest feats in motorsport because it means that a team has to keep two cars going to the finish and beat the rest.

This then, is a short summary of the five greatest feats in Australian motorsport.

The 1967 race was probably the first actual edition that saw the realisation of the struggle between the General's boys and Henry's lads. Before this time, the racetrack at Mount Panorama had been seen as an equaliser, with horsepower being dominant on the three long straights and the nimbleness of smaller cars having a distinct advantage across the top. Minis had taken out the top nine positions in 1966 but this was eventually shown to be the result of British Motor Corporation's professionalism rather than the inherent advantage of the car itself. 

Ford Motor Company was going through one of its many waves of interest in motorsport, after having been snubbed by Enzo Ferrari to buy out the Italian Scuderio, and so they threw as much money as they possibly could at building cars for Le Man's, engines for Formula One and touring car racing around the world. Their previous winner in the Cortina, was only a 1.6L motor car and Ford Australia wanted to promote what they hoped would be their volume seller in the Falcon (hence the reason why it was the Falcon which became the racing standard in Australia and not the Mustang). 

General Motors hadn't bothered to turn up for 1967 and so apart from the BMC Works Team and a spritied effort from a couple of Alfa Romeo 1600 GTVs, Ford's Harry Firth and Fred Gibson, and Ian & Leo Geoghegan thundered around all day virtually unopposed. 

By 1970 Ford had secured the services of a bespectacled Canadian, Allan Moffat. The image that he projected was one of coolness to the media and this naturally fostered a love/hate relationship with the public. Moffat had run a respectable 4th in 1969 but in 1970, Ford was determined to take the crown. Along with Bruce McPhee and Fred Gibson, the three Falcons qualified 1-2-3 and probably would have ended that way if Gibson's car hadn't clagged.

This was almost a repeat performance of three year's previous as Holden had virtually gifted Ford the win on a plate. Holden's Torana even in GTR XU-1 guise was hopelessly outclassed and in 1971, Ford could have repeated the performance if they weren't competing against other GT-HO Falcons.

After the so called "supercar scare" of the 1970s, Ford kind of lost interest in motor racing as is often the case in the history of Ford. In 1974, John Goss had won in a privateer Falcon and this was followed by Peter Brock and Bob Morris who had also won in privateer entries. In the meantime, Moffat had seen how the Holden Dealer Team had gone directly to the dealer's to ask for funding rather than the head office and so set up his own Moffat Ford Dealers organisation.  It had basically failed in 1975, improved slightly in 1976 but in 1977, it was finally up to speed.

He secured the services of ex Holden Dealer Team driver Colin Bond along with Alan Hamilton, and somehow also managed to lure Belgian driver Jacky Ickx, of whom it must be said was probably one of the greatest endurance drivers that there has ever been.

Ickx learned the track and put in lap times which were comparable to that of Moffat and he was incredibly sympathetic to the XC Falcon Coupe and it's probably due to Ickx's driving even more than Moffat's, that the No.1 Falcon even made it all the way to the flag at all. The car still had plenty of power at the end of 1000km but was not so lucky in the brakes department, and so that last lap which famously sees the two cars moving into position for a form finish, relied more on the restraint of Colin Bond to stay behind because he had the better car, that late into the race.

The 1984 edition of the Bathurst 1000, was the last race under the old Group C regulations. Peter Brock had won five races out of six, after the famous 1-2 that Moffat had achieved in 1977; mainly because Ford's interest in motor racing had become so anaemic that there were only privateers left to fly the flag of the blue oval. In the interim, Moffat had joined Mazda and there were serious campaigns from Nissan and BMW but none of them ran cars with enough torque or power to properly fight the 5.0L V8 Commodore. 

From what I can gather, Brock's 1983 Bathurst winner had been sold off and the car which he campaigned during the touring car championship in 1984 became the No.25 car for Bathurst; to be run by John Harvey and David Parsons. Brock's car was specially built for Sandown and Bathurst and so if was basically a pristine car, being run by the then best driver in Australia. The 05 car practically had no choice but to win.

It is the story of the 25 car which is interesting because it had an adventure in a sand trap in the morning and so spent most of the day kind of marking off the laps. It wasn't until late in the day when Dick Johnson's green XF Falcon broke a universal joint that they realised that a 1-2 was even on the cards and it joined the race for second place, while being two laps down on 05. 

Australia waited for more than a quarter of a century for the next 1-2 result to happen, for in the meantime, Australia had joined Group A and invited the rest of the world to play and then been embarrassed when Nissan built the R32 Skyline GTR to take full advantage of the rules and it blew everything it raced against to the weeds. Australia then adopted the current V8 formula and along with the rise of full professionalism, the gap between first and last is now nowhere near as massive as it once was.

Even so, the Holden Racing Team asserted dominance for a while, then Stone Brothers Racing but neither of them could get two cars to run the 1000km as a sprint race and get them to both shine. It is a monumental task and only 888 Racing have managed to achieve the feat.

In 2010, they split Jamie Whincup and Craig Lowdnes because Bathurst was now part of the championship and then it became a matter of finding two co-drivers who are up to the job. They found Mark Skaife and Steve Owen and their 2010 win probably ranks as even more difficult as any other which came before it. 

I think it really sad that the Falcon has ended production and that by Bathurst time next year, the last Commodore will have already left the body shop. It means that the battle which has been raging for 50 years will probably come to an end and once Henry and the General become just importers like everyone else, they're going to lose their special places in Australia's heart.