August 18, 2017

Horse 2310: Pauline Hanson - An Object Lesson In The Law

Yesterday in parliament, isolationist, nativist, racist, and islamaphobe, Queensland Senator Pauline Hanson, sat in the floor of the chamber of the Senate, while wearing a burqa. For what reason she did this, I don't know because neither her website, nor anything she said, gives the reason. At best guess, I can only assume that it was to prove something about security but even then, she passed through security clearances on her way to enter the building; so if anything, all it proves is that the security protocols an practices employed by Parliament House are working properly.



This was set against a background of a number of parliamentarians questioning and being questioned about their eligibility to sit in parliament, subject to citizenship requirements of Section 44 of the Constitution. Looking at the broader global context, this also comes amidst a week which saw neo-facists, Neo-Nazis, and other Ku Klux Klan like elements protesting in Charlottesville Virginia, over the removal of statues of Confederate General Robert E Lee, and the use of a motor car as a weapon in a terrorist attack against a counter protest, killing at least one person and injuring others.
With those things in mind, it makes​ the motives for why Senator Hanson would choose to wear a burqa in parliament, harder to ascertain. It does however provide a specific object lesson on two points of law. One which defends Senator Hanson's actions, which incidentally might have also made them self defeating, and the other which very much proves that if she intends to take any action because of the religion that she dislikes, that it is doomed to failure.

Under the doctrine of reception, there are specific rules which determine which laws passed in the United Kingdom and England, previous to new laws in Australia either replacing or repealing them, will apply in Australia. One of these is the Bill Of Rights Act 1689, which was passed under the reign of William and Mary, immediately after the Glorious Revolution. The Bill Of Rights Act 1689 does a number of things, but the part which is important and relevant here, is Section 9.

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/act/consol_act/bor16881wams2c2306/
That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.
- Section 9, Bill Of Rights Act 1689

If Senator Hanson wanted to prove some point by being ejected from the Senate Chamber because she was wearing a burqa, then she will have failed on that notion because of Section 9. The right to free speech and by extension the right to free expression, allows for Senator Hanson to make statements and dress how she wants. In the past, and especially immediately after lunch, there have been times in both chambers where members of both the House and Senate have worn gym clothes in the chamber, because they'd been for a run at lunchtime. The rules of parliament don't care what someone is wearing at all.
Given that Senator Hanson is perfectly allowed to wear a burqa in the Senate chamber in absolutely impunity, the responses to Ms Hanson were not framed with reference to the law. There were two speeches given to Senator Hanson; one by Tasmanian Senator Jackie Lambie and the other by the Attorney General George Brandis. Both of these speeches spoke to the decency and the deeper moral question of what Senator Hanson had done, rather than the legality of it.

The other object lesson which was ironically delivered by Senator Hanson, was to do with the Consideration itself. Presumably in her extreme dislike of Islam, Ms Hanson would want to bring about a change of law to do something about it. Section 116 of the Constitution prevents this though.

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/coaca430/s116.html
Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
 - Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 (UK)

If Senator Hanson wants to bring about a change of law which bans the wearing of the burqa in Australia, she will very quickly find out that the Constitution itself prevents such a law from being passed. If parliamentarians had bothered to read the Constitution (available from the parliamentary shop in the front lobby of the building for only $5), then they would have seen this. It would be the duty of the President of the Senate to stop the passage of such a bill, before a division was ever called for. If in the absolute crazy series of events that meant that the parliament disobeyed the Constitution, held a division on the subject and it passed, the bill would be handed back down to the House Of Representatives and it would be the duty of the Speaker to stop the passage of the bill, before a division was ever called for.

So there you have it. Two pieces of law in operation which both explain why Senator Hanson was allowed to do what she did but not allowed to do what presumably she wants to do. I think that both Ms Lambie's and Mr Brandis' response to Senator Hanson's​ act of tomfoolery and knavery were both perfect in execution. The right to free speech also comes with the ability for everyone else to judge that same free speech; in this case it was free but foolish.

August 17, 2017

Horse 2309 - I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

In the opening two decades of the twenty-first​ century, we have gone from a place where the beginnings​ of the internet only really connected computers by text, to the point where it is possible to watch and send video in real time. The technology which powered the banking system and other dispersed institutions which required connected computing, has now come to us in the palm of his our hands but instead of just sending very small packets of data that might only contain a few characters, we're sending whole strings which are so long that entire libraries of text can be sent in mere minutes.
In conjunction with this and in an effort to drag ever more profit from the wallets of consumers, software companies have begun to change their selling model from one where you bought a product and could then just use it, to one where you need to pay a subscription for its ongoing use. The subscription model is obviously better for firms because they get both a higher profit margin and a more reliable revenue stream but there is still the pesky problem of the general public being able to use the product and then opt out of paying the subscription fee. Thankfully, in the minds of software companies, the invention of the cloud means that they can now change their programs to make them impossible to use unless the consumer is connected to the cloud. If they can handcuff users to the cloud then profit margins should increase even further because there is no means of escape unless consumers stop using the product.

I hate the cloud.

In many respects, the cloud is a little bit like a protection racket which works in tandem with people who are addicted to a thing. You might think it a bit extreme that I've likened the cloud to substance abuse but in the same way that a dealer might send someone around to your house to mess up your stuff if you neglect to pay them, software companies who distribute their product by the cloud now have the ability to shut someone out and damage their business if they too neglect to pay. That program which in the past, you happily used without worrying about much, is now connected to the servers of the company in a way that didn't happen before.

Maybe I've been a little bit harsh but there is a second and equally insidious reason why I hate the cloud. It is monumentally slow.
Even if you have the fastest internet connection in the world, the cloud is still far too slow for my liking. If you're streaming video, then the protocols of the internet work pretty well. If you are inputting individual and small points of data into a server, then it becomes very tedious very quickly. The round trip time for a transaction on an accounting program that I use and our server in the office is about as long as it takes to blink. That same program in the cloud, has a round trip time of about two seconds. If there are thirty points of data on a page, then that adds one minute to inputting everything on a page. That's fine if you only have a small amount of data to input but if you have sixty or seventy pages of stuff, suddenly there might be a whole hour in a day which you have to wait around doing nothing while the servers think about serving you. If you could compress that hour into a solid block, then you could think about doing something else while your data was being processed but it isn't and it is chopped into tiny little pieces and sprinkled throughout your day, like sprinkling little bits of paprika in a chocolate cake.

With respect to the actual accounting program that I use, the cloud hasn't added a shred of extra benefit other than allowing people to connect to it from anywhere. I understand that that could be extremely useful if you have multiple users at various sites but in general, and with accounting specifically, most people don't want to do the accounting; what they want to do is the business of doing business and that means generating invoices. Naturally if you've installed the ability to put many doors on a building, there are many ways to get inside and while encryption and password protection might save you from malicious outsiders, quite often it is the insiders who will do the most damage to a system. The biggest single problem with opening access to a data set, is not an attack from the enemy without but the enemy within and unless all passwords are changed, the second that someone leaves an organisation, you may as well have left the drawbridge down on the castle.

I suppose that one of my personal peeves with the cloud is the same problem that existed before it ever existed, and that is the indifference of other people. As stated above, people in business don't really want to do accounting and what they do want to do is the business of doing business. It used to be that someone would give us their stuff, sometimes literally a haphazard pile of stuff thrown in a shoebox, and we'd be asked to input the data from the sources given. It has happened on at least a dozen occasions now, where someone has said that they've given us access to their data but when you go on the cloud to actually look at it, they haven't inputted anything at all. From a workflow perspective, we still start at the same point in time but now we have the added hurdle of the cloud to contend with. I have had someone tell me that try thought that it was better that they have access to their data so that they could see what was going on, while completely oblivious to the fact that there is no data to look at until someone has been through the effort of inputting it. The difference now though, is that the cloud added unnecessary time to the process, when we used to just pass the complete file to them to look at, at the end.

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without mentioning the terrible horrible annoyance of what happens when the cloud isn't working for whatever reason. The internet connection might be out, the company's​ servers might be out, lots of people might be trying to get on all at once and that slows the system down, there might be a malicious person somewhere outside who is doing a direct denial of service or some other kind of attack, the possibilities are myriad. In the dark dank donk days before the cloud, you would have just switched on your computer and used the program in question. If for some reason, the program won't work because of issues with the cloud, then you may as well run around in the jungle and eat bananas for all the difference it makes. If the network becomes a notwork then you don't do any work, and if IBM has taught us anything it is that people should think and machines should work; if they don't work, you don't do work, and that doesn't work for anyone.

Admittedly, I am not old enough to have worked in an environment where computers weren't connected to each other. I am old enough to have worked in a bank where the only data being sent forth and back was batches of transactions and only every so often. The interface at the terminals was in green monochrome and due to the fact that the policy was to keep separate sets of data separate, if you wanted to look at something that wasn't directly connected with transactional banking, you needed to go somewhere else. Bank servers weren't connected to the internet, and so online banking wasn't even remotely dreamed of as being a thing. Instead of millions of users, there were at most only about a few thousand and even back then, there were still connectivity issues.
The cloud hasn't really improved anything that much. What it has done, is turned you into the bank teller but you don't get paid a wage for doing the job. Higher profit margins for companies but not really an order of magnitude of increased benefits for customers - Welcome to the cloud.

August 16, 2017

Horse 2308 - The Nuclear Holocaust Will Be Televised

Some time in late 2016, someone somewhere must have wished a curse upon the world of the like the world has never seen before. It must have been said with such fire and fury that the cosmos has had to warp itself around the new paradigm. That curse, put simply was "may you live in interesting times"; we are now living in interesting times.
It takes a very special person who simultaneously achieves very little of substance while at the same time causes a tone of fear and chaos; yet that is precisely what we have seen in the person of Donald Trump. This is a chap who in just seven months, has managed to achieve even less of his administrative agenda than any previous administration with the successful passage of precisely zero pieces of legislation of worth, has at the equivalent point in time appointed less people to administrative and executive positions than any previous administration, and has caused diplomatic hostilities with allies, neighbours and in a stunning turn of events also yelled threats of nuclear war.
Given that within the last week, the imaginary doomsday clock has been moved closer to midnight, I thought that it might be fun to give you a handy guide to the forthcoming nuclear apocalypse. If in the event that I have already been annihilated by the time that you are reading this, then please consider this to be my parting words to a future that quite rightly I am glad to have avoided.

Accommodation:
In the 1950s, during our last major period of the threat of nuclear annihilation, we were still living with the immediate memories of the Second World War. A hundred million people lay dead across Europe in that spate of unpleasantness and so the threat was considered to be very real and present.
In the light of this, people built Anderson shelters in the hope of having somewhere to hide from the fallout. Seventy years later, it is worth considering that sort of plan again. If you can, why not consider building a bunker. My suggestion is to use your existing in ground concrete swimming pool that you've already stopped using because you can't be bothered to clean the filters.
While you're hunkered down in your bunker, you might also want to think about downloading all of the podcasts and television shows that you can possibly think of because it will take approximately 24,000 years for the background radiation levels to return to normal, and you're going to want to have something to do down there.
That will mean that you need to bring some very big batteries down there with you; I assume that that is what the plan is of international scary person, Elon Musk, in South Australia.

Food:
Napoleon Bonaparte who was not blown apart, once said that an army marches along on its stomach. If only he had realised that soldiers actually use their feet because when he got to Russia, he discovered that they actually get cold feet and end up dying where they stand. In his defence though, he did think it a good idea to provide his soldiers' food with little metal armor defences and his armies were renowned for their diabolique cuisine un boitê (food in a can).
In the new world, you might not have access to reliable refrigeration and so you might want to think about stocking up on canned goods. Beans, chili, spaghetti, peaches, potato salad, creamed corn, hot dog franks, and many other kinds of completely underwhelming foods can be found in a can.
How might one cook said canned food? Don't worry, your new nuclear irradiated world itself provides the solution. Simply leave a can of Campbell's Cream Of Disappointment up on the surface for about three minutes and voila, your food will be cooked inside the can. Just remember that you probably don't want to spend too much time up there yourself, lest you end up cooking yourself as well.

Entertainment:
Once you have watched all of the television shows and listened to all of the podcasts that you should have taken into your bunker, it won't take very long before you realise that if you confine humans in a very small space for extended periods of time, they all begin to resent each other. Small things become magnified and formerly endearing traits become grounds for justifiable homicide. Once all of your cultural references have been exhausted and all the jokes have been told, why not think about what they do currently in​ Scandinavian countries and Russia and write your own dense saga?
Great literature in Russia, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, was all born in the womb of nights that last six months and conditions so cold that the act of stepping outside is likely to freeze you to death. If your saga doesn't make sense, then claim that it's complex or surreal and then try to look profound. There is a lot of art which is considered to be thought provoking and wonderful, despite being a great steaming pile of pants. If nobody in your bunker likes your work, then claim to be misunderstood and that many other artists were far ahead of their time.

Morale:
In order to keep morale up, why not try to be nice to people? If you're not nice to people then they will begin to look at your thighs as a potential source of steak or ham. You should take it as a given that unless you are nice to each other, then your mini society will devolve into a state of nature pretty quickly and will become brutal, nasty, and short.
If someone happens to bring a guitar into the bunker because they think it will be 'fun', then view them with suspicion. There are only so many times that a human can hear 'Kum By Yah' or the beginning of 'Smoke On The Water' before they flip out. Although you may have the urge to go all Hendrix on the guitar and smash it into a million pieces, please resist the urge. There just might be someone in an unforeseen future who can play the entire catalogue of Billy Joel, Noel Gallagher and Chuck Berry. If you smash up the guitar, you will miss that opportunity to hear good music again.
Also, learn how to write sonnets. It is a scientifically proven fact that thoughts and speeches recorded in iambic pentameter have a stronger chance of surviving into the future. If people do happen to stumble across your bunker in the year 26,017 then assuming that they can decipher English, then your words will outlive you when you're gone.

Remember not to lose heart. If the bombs start falling and the world starts to experience nuclear winter, then that should go some way to counteracting the global warming which we're currently inflicting on the planet. Global warming combined with nuclear winter equals a summer in Sydney of 22°C rather than 38°C and that's perfect for playing Test Match Cricket; so as far as I'm concerned that's not a bad thing. You have to take the good with the bad and if most of the world is either burned to a crisp or snap frozen like a packet of Colonel Birdseye's finest peas, as long as we still have cricket then it can't be all bad. If the impending nuclear winter causes the end of Test Match Cricket though, then my suggestion would be to leave your bunker and take a walk on the surface because a world without cricket would be simply unbearable.

August 12, 2017

Horse 2307 - The Legality Of Giving Big Six Year Old Children Big Bricks

With the world's six year olds staring at each other in a game of global brinkmanship; where they can both engage in the equivalent of throwing very big bricks at each other; where they both have the capability of crying 'havoc' and letting slip the dogs of war, I thought it would be interesting to sort out why and how we got here.

Once upon a time, Korea, as in one single Korea, was ruled by Heungseon Daewongun. His government was overthrown by the Empress Myeongseong "Queen Min" and in the ensuing period of instability, Japan deployed literal gunboat diplomacy by deploying the gunboat Unyo. The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876 was signed by representatives of Emperor Meiji and Emperor Gojong and eventually in 1910, Korea fell to being a complete puppet state of Japan.
Japan had designs of being an even greater empire and this worked out reasonably well for them, provided you completely disregard their effects on Korea, China, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, The Philippines, Papua New Guinea... which all came to a sudden and abrupt halt in 1945 following four years of conflict with the United States and the dropping of two extinction balls.

Most of the affected nations of South East Asia went on to have complex and strange stories but China decided to have a civil war and then a communist revolution, but Korea was kind of in a weird place.
By applying the same sort of insane logic which didn't work in eastern Europe, the USSR and the United States drew a line in Korea along the 38th parallel, with the USSR in control of the north and the United States kind of administering the south. Neither side accepted the line as permanent and on the 25th of June 1950, forces from USSR backed north decided to cross the line and for 3 years a sort of war broke out out between the Communist back forces of the north and a United Nations supported force in the south which mostly consisted of the United States.
The war which was called a war by everyone except the United States government, ended in 1953 having achieved pushing the Communist back forces of the north back across the line and not much else. There is a demilitarised zone between the two forces (neither of them regard each other as legitimate) but 64 years later, a state of war nominally exists except for the United States where a state of war never actually started.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articlei
The Congress shall have power to...
To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
- Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, US Constitution, 4th Mar 1789

According to the US Constitution, it is the Congress who has the power to declare war and not the President. Because of this there has always been a legal question about whether or not President Harry S Truman ever had the authority to engage the forces of the United States in a war without congressional approval.

https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articleii
The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States;
- Article I, Section 2, Clause 1, US Constitution, 4th Mar 1789

Article I, Section 2, Clause 1, US Constitution, vests the office of the commander in chief of the Army and Navy in the person of the President but to what extent the President has authority to use the military, when they don't have the approval of the congress, was mostly untested and unknown in 1950. Mostly because the Constitution is silent on the issue, opinions vary widely on what authority the President has. This was tempered with the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which gives the President the ability use force for 60 days without approval and then requires that that force be removed within 30 days; the most recent obvious example of this being used was by President Obama; following the 2012 Benghazi attack by the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia.
In 1950 though, this Act did not exist and given that this was set against the backdrop of the Cold War, nobody really thought to challenge the legality of the operation.

In 2017, North Korea has finally found that it can threaten the United States and with Donald Trump as the commander in chief; who under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, can use military force for up to 60 days without congressional approval, this is where we find ourselves today.
Considering that North Korea has a string of artillery pieces very close to the 38th parallel, they could rain down a show of firepower in very very quick time indeed. If an exchange of artillery fire were to happen, then even the crappiest of missiles would be able to hit downtown Seoul in even less time than it would take for the President to react. If deployed, a North Korean Rodong-1 missile would take roughly 33 seconds to hit Seoul.
I don't think it particularly wise to let six year old children start throwing bricks at each other. I don't see anything different in principle between two six year old children and Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, except that the bricks are far far larger. What is legal and what is sensible, are vastly different.

August 10, 2017

Horse 2306 - How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?

How do you solve a problem like Korea? How do you hold a snowflake in your hand?

The current maniac in chief who currently sits in the Oval Office chair, has insulted practically everyone that he can think of, on the grounds of race, religion, sexuality, socio economic status, size, and practically anything else that you can think of to the point where insanity is the new normal​ and perpetual outrage is the order of the day; every day.

We will balance the U.S.'s felonious crime against our country and our people with something thousands of times worse, and if the U.S. does not retract its attempts to crush us to death and behave prudently, we will be ready and not hesitate to take ultimate measures.
- North Korean Media, as quoted by NPR, 8th Aug 2017.

This week, we had an equally insane threat from an equally insane leader, when the leader of the Undemocratic Hermit Republic Of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, was reported as saying that he could launch a nuclear missile strike and hit the United States' territory of Guam. The 45th President of the United States responded in typical fashion to him (and in decidedly atypical fashion for the previous 44) by in a press conference, opening a fresh can of insanity; just when you thought that there wasn't any more (in case you were wondering,
insanity comes in 20oz (568g) cans in America).

"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.
They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening ... and as I said they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before."
- President Donald Trump, 8th Aug 2017.

The problem with trying to write articulate pieces about politics at the moment is that in a time where everything is going crazy all time, trying to speak words of calm is the act of a madman. In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Yet despite this, I believe that from the ends of my fingers and in just a single blog post; in fact just a single sentence, I bet that I could solve most of the world's problems with the rogue rouge nation which lies to the north of the 38th parallel. Here goes:

Be nice to North Korea.

That's it. I have nothing else that I can add here. In the decades since hostilities sort of ended (because officially, they have not), I don't know if many governments around the world have bothered to think that the current status quo just doesn't seem to be working all that well, either in terms of solving any problems or in terms of making people's lives better. Demonstrably imposing further sanctions on a country which he been in the cold for so long that it doesn't even remember what warmth feels like, isn't going to achieve very much when the country has little if anything left to lose. At this point, the leaders and those people who have managed to work their way up the chain or command are doing well enough so that whatever happens doesn't really affect them any more. People at the bottom though, whose lives are probably pretty rubbish, are likely to accept more sanctions as just proof that the universe is horrible. Being not nice to North Korea doesn't appear to do very much at all.
Has anyone tried to be nice to North Korea?

Let's assume for a second that I am the President of the United States (which is never going to happen for many reasons; including not being a natural born citizen). I think that the most provocative act that could be done would be to hop into Air Force One, fly to Seoul and then announce that I was going to fly into Pyongyang. Just think of the absolute rain of confusion that would call from the skies. To shoot down Air Force One would be a direct act of war, which would bring down other sorts of rain. If the announcement was made that the trip was purely as an act of goodwill, then what sort of action would that illicit?
If it was then announced that the leader of North Korea would be made the guest of the United States and get to stay at the White House, then I bet that the entire direction of negotiations would change. If instead of being treated like a mad man, Kim Jong Un was treated like a respected businessman, would he continue to act like a mad man? Suppose that instead of being the President of a pariah nation with no hope of anything good happening to it ever, what would happen if he was treated like a responsible person?
Take him to a show on Broadway. Give him an audience in the Oval Office. Put him up in the state rooms at the White House with the fanciest room service that the nation has to offer. Take him to a restaurant to have that famous meat loaf which the President of the United States seems to like so much. It's probably really difficult to tell bad things when you are seated at the dinner table and have a mouth full of slow cooked lamb shanks.

Forgive me but doing the same thing again and again and expecting to get a different result, is the act of a mad man. If you want to trap a wasp, you don't use a stick and repeatedly hit the wasp's nest, you lay out some honey. If you want to remove the coat from a person standing out in the cold, yelling at them and turning on an industrial fan isn't likely to make them take it off; bringing them inside and offering them a cup of cocoa is.
I'd suggest sending in a C-17 Globemaster which was filled with Levi's jeans, McDonald's hamburgers, and Coca-Cola. I have a somewhat crazy theory that the single biggest contributor which finally brought down the Iron Curtain, wasn't the threat of nuclear annihilation but the sudden realisation by people on the dismal side of the Iron Curtain that cheez-wiz comes in a can, that you can put pineapple on a pizza, that Opels are decently made motor cars, that Madonna and Wham! had CDs and that you could listen to them on your own personal discman. I suspect that the three biggest weapons that can be dropped in North Korea, would be Wal-Mart, Aldi and IKEA.

I think that it's reasonably safe to assume that the stance that North Korea adopts to the rest of the world isn't based on religious fervour. There are definitely unresolved aspects in the tragedy of history that need to be discussed but continuing to leave the door closed and refusing to speak is never going to address them. What we have seen at international level is a lot of sabre rattling for a very long time and the only thing that appears to be changing is the size of the sabre.

I might not have any idea about the protocol for solving the world's problems but I do know that provocative statements like this from both sides of this brouhaha don't go any further to solving them either. If there is a tiny shred of truth in what Mr Trump has to say, then I sincerely do hope that there is a certain kind of fire and fury that the world has never seen before and that there is a piece of steak put on that fire. In my lifetime at least, the world has not seen anything like that before.

August 09, 2017

Horse 2305 - "Extra Grace Required": A Phrase Which Needs To Go

It doesn't matter what sort of field it is, be it the world of business, the medical world, highly technical fields, various fandoms, or even the sporting field, lots of idioms, pieces of slang, abbreviations and turns of phrase will be invented. Language isn't just the exchange of tokens of meaning which facilitate the flow of information but humans being social creatures, who have a need to be part of a group and to feel validated,  will also swap language which holds larger concepts and deeper meaning.
As a Christian, and someone who is fascinated with how language works, I am conscious that the interior language of this group can be baffling to outsiders. Organised Christianity has as much of a cant as the theatre, or technobabble of boffins and nerds, and has its own label "Christianese" which is used to describe it.
There is one phrase in particular that really rubs me the wrong way and gets my hackles, feckles and schmeckles up, and that is the phrase "Extra Grace Required".

It sounds harmless enough. The kind of person of whom it is said where Extra Grace is Required is someone who is difficult to deal with or is draining. I guess that the phrase is supposed to be a reminder that there are people who will require extra grace to deal with and that even though you might not like them, they are still worthy of respect and dignity. Of course there will be people who we don't get along with. Of course there are those who will almost always frustrate you. There are even those people whom it is best to take in as little dose as possible because they are just downright toxic; however that shouldn't excuse you from all politeness and calmness that you can muster and that is appropriate.
Used properly and correctly, this turn of phrase is cliched but useful. I don't mind that.

My objection to the phrase Extra Grace Required is when it used as a label before any grace is applied at all. My hackles, feckles and schmeckles are raised when it becomes a tool of the unkind. To label someone as Extra Grace Required and then immediately withdraw or never extend any grace whatsoever, is to use it as a piece of doublespeak. It becomes an iron fist clothed in a velvet glove. It is like installing a door of wallpaper while a hungry lion sits on the other side. It is like have a friendly pillow fight where one of the pillows has a brick concealed inside.
thI don't like direct insults and abuse, though for comedic effect a withering put down can be employed hilariously, but it really makes me cringe inside when I hear the words "Extra Grace Required" by someone who purports to be held to a kinder standard.

Now I make mention of this because I heard an instance of this phrase being thrown about with the caution that is shown to a rugby ball, by a lady on a morning train who was having too personal a conversation at too high a volume. My schmeckles were already raised; that raised my hackles and feckles as well. If you're going to broadcast all of your personal details to a captive audience who can not escape, then you should probably expect that some of them will be listening in (if not through choice).

I have no idea who the subject of the gossip was but I bet that they would feel really terrible knowing that they were having their character mauled while they weren't present. Maybe they were genuinely horrible but that only serves to prove the original intent of the phrase that Extra Grace would be Required to deal with them. Granted that there some people who are just plain awful but that's just a consequence of living in a complex world where people are sometimes selfish (and rationally so if you believe economists): even then you should make an effort to deal kindly and calmly with them if for no other reason than to make the relevant transaction happen. Labelling people has the power to objectify them and when that happens and they become objects, they cease to be people.

I must admit that I like cliches, quotes, idioms, turns of phrase, slang and jargon, because they help to add colour to the language. The flower of English as she is spoke, is a vulture of a language that steals from everywhere, including its own nest. When though, language is weaponised and becomes an instrument of attack, especially a phrase which should have the kindest and most noble of purpose, then count me out.
Extra Grace isn't Required - a new phrase is and actual genuine kindness is. Perhaps those of us who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please just ourselves. Maybe it would be helpful to please our neighbors for their good, to build them up, and not label them.

August 02, 2017

Horse 2304 - Book Review: Flora's Fancy

I want you to imagine one of those endless Brisbane summers of the 1970s, where the sun beat down relentlessly and before there was widespread use of air conditioning. Brisbane is renowned for its sauna like climate, where a great fug of moisture hangs over the city and where being the 1970s, the memory of a world before the metric system still lingers large and so the mercury sits in​the high nineties rather than the thirties. I want you to also imagine a flame haired girl, spending those lazy days day dreaming, as an escape from the drone of the cicadas and the summer heat which continues to beat down relentlessly.
This is the sort of environment that fostered the debut novel by TV presenter Leigh Sales, "Flora's Fancy', and which I am led to believe is the perfect environment to read it in.

The story is straightforward enough. A young girl named Flora Fenwick, who has been orphaned by her parents in a hideous motor accident, lives with her two despicable aunts in a great mansion house and spends most of the novel trying to escape their clutches and their various attempts to kill her so that they can inherit the house.
The story strays into the realm of cliché with pretty predictable and formulaic schemes by the two despicable aunts to bring about Flora's demise and her invariably successful attempts to thwart those schemes. One particular piece late in the novel involves the aunts setting up an elaborate Rube Goldberg type machine which fails in exactly the way that you expect, which if you were a ten year old child would be utterly hilarious. As someone who is decidedly not the target audience, it was still somewhat amusing to see it unfold, in the same way that you might watch an entertainer explain how their puppets are manipulated.
The novel contains the usual kind of tone and meter that you'd expect from a children's novel and the resolution is absolutely predictable, which is perfectly acceptable in a children's novel because you want a satisfying resolution.
What truly sets this novel apart though, is that it is utterly dripping with a sense of place.

One of the problems that seems to befall children in Australia when it comes to literature is that just like so many other facets of culture, Australia has developed a sense of embarrassment about itself. We're happy to read about quaint English villages from an imagined past that could never have been, we will lap up stories from America which speak of optimism and opportunity which was ironically denied to many of the children reading the novels, and we'll even read Canadian stories which spill over​ with politeness and a need for apology, but when it comes to our own stories we'd rather pretend as though we don't really exist. 'Flora's Fancy' though, positively drips with the awareness that it is an Australian book for Australian children.

The descriptions of the mansion house could have only been written by someone familiar with that kind of architecture to which Queensland lends its eponym. The word choice throughout the novel, which has been carefully selected, paints the picture of those endless summers which only seem to exist in Australia. The novel has a tendency to wax lyrical with descriptions of food and drink but it has a rhythm about it which could have only come about through years of practice, which Sales brings as a journalist and the host of 7.30 on the ABC. The only thing that I found confusing about the novel was the way that Flora refers to her backpack as a 'port'; which I have subsequently found out is a regionalism from south east Queensland and which further serves to add to this sense of place.

I don't know if 'Flora's Fancy' is destined to become an Australian children's classic because that happens through unexplainable forces which are unknown to all but I do know that it could very well be the kind of novel which ironically returns to those endless summers which nurtured the idea and helped it to bloom. The novel is sufficiently​ open ended enough that it could very easily become the first in a series, as well.

'Flora's Fancy' is published by Collins Publishing and is currently only available in hardback, costs $19.95 and is available at many independent bookstores and major stockists.

Except that all of this is a lie.

'Flora's Fancy' is the brainchild of 7.30's Leigh Sales but does not exist. It has been discussed on the podcast 'Chat 10 Looks 3*' which is hosted by Leigh Sales and fellow partner in crimes against sanity, Annabelle Crabb. It is a pity, really. The idea of this book has been discussed at length many times on the podcast. Maybe the illusion of its existence would make an interesting conceit; with the myth taking off and having a life of its own. 

http://www.chat10looks3.com

July 31, 2017

Horse 2303 - Section 44: Terms & Conditions Apply

A little about a fortnight ago, former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam wasn't a former Greens Senator but just a Greens Senator. Something must have happened because he made the announcement that he was resigning with immediate effect because he had discovered that at the time of his new nomination for the Senate, he was in fact a dual citizen of Australia and New Zealand and therefore in breach of Section 44 of the Constitution which states:

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/coaca430/s44.html
Disqualification
Any person who:
(i)  is under any acknowledgment of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or a citizen of a foreign power;
... shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
- Section 44, Constitution Act 1900.

As someone who was ineligible to run for the Senate, his resignation made common sense, except that this has triggered a wave of other Senators to check whether or not they were eligible to run for the Senate including Larissa Waters who was taken down by an allegiance she didn't even know she had, and over the in House Of Representatives the government was waiting with baited breath to see if Julia Banks had fallen foul of of Section 44 of the Constitution because if she was found to be accidentally a a Greek citizen, then this would have triggered a by-election and endanger the government's slender majority of one on the floor of the House and if there was a by-election and a Labor member were to win, then Labor could force a vote of no confidence or a vote of supply on the floor of the House and snatch government without any need to go to a general election. All that is now academic though.

Elsewhere in the media, various commentators are asking what the utility of requiring Members of Parliament to renounce all foreign citizenships is, considering that Australia with the exception of only a very small Election of people is a nation of immigrants or people descended from immigrants. The little mongrel nation of Australia is a heady mix of everyone from everywhere and what's really ironic about all of this is that the next item which is up for debate in the House Of Representatives is a bill which looks at making changes to the Citizenship​ Act.

You would have thought that at some point, the 226 members of the august body which make up the legislature of this country, would have at least read the Constitution which defines the rules of said legislature. I don't think that it's unreasonable to expect that people who wish to be part of the process which argues over the laws under which we're all​ governed, would at least try and comply with the most fundamental of those laws. Further to that, I also don't think it unreasonable that the people who want to be part of the process which argues over the laws for the rest of us, be legally bound to this country. The requirements of section 44 which demands that prospective members​ renounce all other citizenships of other countries, or at least promise to once elected, seems perfectly sensible to me because I'd hope that they would make laws for the benefit of this country above all others.

So then, if you happen to want to join the perpetual shouting match that is the Australian parliament, you might want to have. handy checklist to help you in your quest; to see if you comply with section 44 of the Constitution.

1. Have you renounced your citizenship of another country?
2. Are you a citizen of another country?
3. Do you have a passport from another country?
4. Were you born in another country, which might confer citizenship on you automatically?
5. Were your parents born in another country, which might make you a citizen by descent?
6. Are you an angry potato?
7. Are you a tired tomato?
8. Are you a racist lizard person from the planet Zog?

If you answered 'yes' to any or several of these questions, then you might not be a citizen of Australia. If you can answer 'yes' to any of these questions, even though you don't want to and are trying to deny it, then you might be a citizen of Australia. If you can answer 'yes' to any of these questions, then maybe you should rethink your status as a Minister of the Crown. If anyone in your political party can answer 'yes'to any of these questions, then maybe you should rethink your hiring policies which put them forward as candidates.
Even if you do happen to be able to 'yes' to any or several of these questions and you still don't like the result, you could always do what Senator Malcolm Roberts did in 'choosing to believe' he was never British and see how that plays out.

None of this speaks to what Section 44 was designed to do, which was stop nefarious  people with dual citizenship who intended to do bad, nefarious people with criminal convictions, nefarious people who are bankrupt or insolvent and people who derive profit or financial interest with the Crown, from making decisions which have a distinct conflict of interest. Basically it's to stop all kinds of ne'er-do-wells from writing law.
I still don't think it arduous that anyone wanting to apply for a job as a Member of Parliament, should read the terms and conditions which apply. I mean, it's not like they haven't had 117 years to read them, is it?

July 28, 2017

Horse 2302 - Inequality and No Responsibility

http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2017/s4708394.htm
Rising income and weath inequality is hollowing out the middle class around the developed world. Creating vast armies of working poor and leading to stagnant economies and political polarisation. It is the pre-eminent issue of our time. 
There's no question about that. The economic model that has delivered the inequality is trickledown economics which is basically tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for the powerful and wage suppression for the rest. 

Unquestionably. Capitalism needs to be saved from itself. That's what people like the Governor of the Bank of England are saying. It's what the financial institutions around the world are saying. Capitalism is thoroughly discredited at the moment because it's produced rampant income and wealth inequality. 
I've talked about inequality all of my political life but what I've discovered when I was Treasurer was just the extent to which powerful vested interests would try and drive policy to make outcomes even more unequal. 
- Wayne Swan, 7.30 program, ABC1, 26th July 2017.

Former Treasurer Wayne Swan is one of the more interesting politicians of the last two decades in that he has spent a great deal of time in office trying to speak to the underlying structures and motives of how an economy and government works, rather than just manipulating it for political power.
He stepped into the position of Shadow Treasurer under Mark Latham and continued to be there under in the Shadow Cabinets of Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd before taking on the role proper when Labor won government in 2007. Bizarrely, he ended up being the proper person for the job of Treasurer during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 and continued right through the premierships of Rudd, Gillard, and Rudd again.

The above interview from earlier in the week, will probably go unremarked on by most of the media, because as someone who has returned to the backbench, unless you say something shocking, obscene or ridiculous, very little will be said of it at all. There is something of value here and it's part of a longer, deeper and perhaps far more troubling and worrying story which is yet to come.

Before I begin this though, I present a brief history of governance and power.
I can't speak for contexts beyond the UK, the US, and Australia because I'm not really all that familiar with the political history of countries beyond those but the wider historical narrative seems to draw mostly consistent parallels, so perhaps I needn't worry.

Prior to about 1832 and the Reform Acts, the only people who had any right to vote and any say in the executive of the nation was the landed gentry and a very select group of men who wielded influence. In total this amounted to know more than about 2% of the population. Following the passage of the Combinations Acts, which made it illegal for workers to combine into blocks of negotiating power, the once dormant working class of working people began to rise up and complain about their ill treatment. This resulted in the rise of the chartists, the trade unions, and the suffragette movement, until eventually the franchise was gradually extended wider still and wider.
At the same time, capital had shifted from direct ownership of the land and the abomination that is direct ownership of people as slaves, and into machinery and manufactory equipment. During the latter half of the nineteenth century and the opening of the twentieth century, the various groups that had pushed into the franchise began to exert political power to make conditions safer for people to work in.
Politically though, the class that owned capital and royalty above them, were moving towards nationalism and in 1914, a bloody mess which lasted for four years was triggered by the assassination of an archduke of a country which was mostly irrelevant and brought into play a whole bunch of treaties and counter treaties.
In some parts of Europe, the working class managed to usurp the previous class of capital and morph into them with the rise of state communism and sovietism, but capital continued to run mostly unfettered until there was a massive and sudden collapse of demand and credit which resulted in the Great Depression. This was only really truly broken by a second wave of nationalism, the rise of facists taking control of political power and a second bloody mess.

The welfare state as we know it only came after the capital class had been sufficiently degraded so that it longer exclusively controlled political power. The simple and rather basic argument was that if full employment could be achieved and utilised in the destruction of people and property on a massive scale, then there was no reason why in peace time that it couldn't be put to use in improving the lot and lives of working people and building property on an equally massive scale.
From the 1970s though, following on from an oil crisis which sent dramatic shocks through credit and aggregate demand, the capital class which had been sufficiently rebuilt in the intervening thirty years, began to reassert itself and set about dismantling the welfare state and privatising anything and everything which had been built. If we move forward yet another thirty years and the direct memory of the two bloody messes which saw the physical destruction of people and capital has almost faded entirely and apart from the lingering problem that the working class still retains the franchise, we are steadily returning to a set of political and economic conditions that existed before the two bloody messes.

The very existence of the welfare state came at a price. 115 million people lay dead across Europe, to fight in an argument which they didn't create and probably shouldn't be held responsible for. At the same time as people were being destroyed, untold millions of dollarpounds were also destroyed when buildings, factories, industries and even entire cities were reduced to smouldering piles of rubble.

The British Labour Party's manifesto of 1945 quite nicely gives a handy summary of what underpins why the welfare state came into existence:

http://www.politicsresources.net/area/uk/man/lab45.htm
In the years that followed, the "hard-faced men" and their political friends kept control of the Government. They controlled the banks, the mines, the big industries, largely the press and the cinema. They controlled the means by which the people got their living. They controlled the ways by which most of the people learned about the world outside. This happened in all the big industrialised countries.
Great economic blizzards swept the world in those years. The great inter-war slumps were not acts of God or of blind forces. They were the sure and certain result of the concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few men. These men had only learned how to act in the interest of their own bureaucratically-run private monopolies which may be likened to totalitarian oligarchies within our democratic State. They had and they felt no responsibility to the nation.
Similar forces are at work today. 
-  British Labour Party's Manifesto, 1945

There's an interesting sort of concept in there - responsibility.
One of the things which I find almost galling and certainly gauche is when people want to start asserting their rights. Rights of themselves are fine but if we remember that one of the most fundamental concepts in both economics and indeed politics is the notion that people are selfish and looking out for their rational self interest (and I think irrational a great deal of the time). The idea that we might be responsible to each other as members of a society is almost never discussed and in the grand debate of equality and inequality, or what is reasonable or unreasonable, the expression of responsibility is mysteriously absent.

We are currently witnessing the reassertion of a class of people, who derive their income and power through the accumulation of capital at a faster rate than the ability of working people to generate said capital and because people have an incredible capacity to normalise the world and over attribute their own work to their position, it makes sense that there would be a decoupling of responsibility from power. From the perspective of one who already has power and who controls capital, the natural inclination is to assign morality with results - people are poor because they have failed to perform rather than the effect which results from income and power accumulating faster than people's ability to generate said capital. The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power, as it were.
I suspect that as the twenty first century rolls on, that as capital shifts into machinery which replicates intellectual ability, that we will begin to see another period of rising inequality as we saw in the nineteenth century, for precisely the same reason. Only this time, because actual governance has long since shifted away from the state and into board rooms, there probably won't be a replication of similar movements to the chartists, the trade unions, and the suffragette movement.

"had only learned how to act in the interest of their own bureaucratically-run private monopolies which may be likened to totalitarian oligarchies within our democratic State"
- 1945

"tax cuts for the rich, deregulation for the powerful and wage suppression for the rest"
- 2017

I ask you, does 2017 sound suspiciously like 1927?

The only source of power since the beginning of the history of the world, is the ability to control people, the land, and the resources which lie on top and below it. The future story of governance and power will also lie on that same ability. The unanswered question will be to what degree future generations of people can make​ the powerful feel as though they have any responsibility to the nation at all. At the moment, the answer appears to be less and less.

July 26, 2017

Horse 2301 - News Should Not Be Sport (And Sport Isn't Really News)

Speaking as someone who follows the news in much the same way as I follow sport, I often see the various items in much the same light. This is also reinforced by the way in which news is often reported. And to that end, I am deeply disturbed by the way that news and in particular politics is reported.

Once upon a time, in the land that they call "the past"; which is a land which has its borders permanently closed and to which you may never return, the reporting of news was done by people who had to develop the skills to be able to both report on what has happened but also write some meaningful prose that was fit to print. By the time that radio and television had arrived, those skills had been honed and pieces to microphone and to camera were sometimes as worthy in the art of thesp as the grandest performances under the praesidium arch. Pieces from foreign correspondents needed to be economical with words but still accurate, and long form​ journalism quite rightly deserved accolades.
However, some time after the invention of the 24 hour news channel and the 24 hour news cycle which has been specifically tailored for it, it has become ever apparent that the demand to fill what would otherwise be dead airtime, has engulfed the newsroom; to the detriment of all. If there are well reasoned pieces, they are reserved for the fixed bulletins but the rest of the day has been filled with that most dreaded of beasts: the pundit.

I was in the bank for a full 45 minutes one day late last week; on a day when their computer network unilaterally decided to become a notwork. A lot of the time that I spend waiting in line in bank queues usually sees me as the unwilling target of children's entertainment; with Dora the Explorer posing questions of an imaginary audience and then staring blankly at the camera in pretence of waiting for a child to speak, or Peppa Pig going on inane adventures to find a missing bath plug or some such, of perhaps the Paw Patrol going on an equally inane adventure searching for some missing object. On this particular day though, I was in the bank watching Sky News to see someone at a news desk stare blankly into the camera while they were waiting for an announcement from Peter Dutton which was never forthcoming. Enter the pundits.
There was an ex politician from the state parliament from Victoria who I'd never heard of before, and two journalists from The Daily Telegraph and The​ Australian, both of whom I find deeply troubling and secretly wish that their entire life's work could be thrown into the Memory Hole of the Ministry Of Truth from Orwell's "1984". This panel was set up exactly the same way as one might find before or after a football match, with the journalists spouting drivel and the host doing his best to put on a face as though he had stumbled into a discussion of uncommon wisdom and​ profundity. To be honest I would have preferred Dora the Explorer to be speaking because she at least has the decency to shut up. These two columnists, who were faced with the abyss of dead air time filled it with little more than their own ideological agenda in lieu of actual on the ground reportage which was never forthcoming.

You could have replaced the ex politician with a former full forward from Collingwood, the two news pundits with journalists whose work usually occupies the back and not the front pages of the newspaper, changed the graphics from Sky News to Sky Sports and I don't​ think that I would have been any the wiser. For all I know, they could be using exactly the same set because with flat panel screens, the background can be changed with the push of a button.
From a technical​ standpoint it makes perfect sense that you'd want to have television programs which are directly interchangeable. In this case, the cameras, sound gear and the lighting wouldn't even have to move and I imagine that you'd be able to hot bunk programs all the day through. From a truthiness and newsworthiness standpoint, this is the equivalent of feeding the news watching public chips and gravy forever.
The problem as I see it isn't a technical one but the fact that the television programs are interchangeable to the point that not even the hosts or the guests seem to know the difference. It's bad enough that political punditry passes itself off as journalism when really it is just commentary without a sense of its own cadence but politicians themselves think that they are sports people and have forgotten that making policy has lasting implications for more than just the duration of the match in progress.

I will admit that I am not a journalist and that I wouldn't know how to craft a well reasoned piece for television, radio or print, if I was slapped in the face by Randolph Hearst himself but I do know that the best of these things that I've written, take time to develop before they bloom and grow. The sheer time that it takes to write a thing, reread the thing and make final corrections on the thing, produces a better result than someone spouting whatever they can think of at the spur of the moment.
It used to be in the days when there was only one nightly news bulletin or one edition of the newspaper, that political journalists would have the necessary time to craft their pieces and edit them. That space still might exist in the creation of those bulletins and with distinct interview type shows such as 7.30 or Lateline but it is absolutely impossible for a rolling news program. This isn't the television equivalent of PM on Radio National but of the myriad of breakfast and drive programs; if you then add an element of shock-jockery, then not only has the art of producing political news as craft been thrown out the window but it has also been bashed with cricket bats after it has not the ground.

Addenda:
It's not just news as sport which I find disturbing but sport as news which I find equally as disturbing.

To wit, Liverpool FC played Sydney FC in a post season tour match and it was broadcasted on ABC2. ABC2 were given practically zero notice that they were going to broadcast the match and hastily compiled a panel of hosts who were hopelessly out of their depth. Given that this was a match of literally zero consequence, it scarcely mattered though. This caused something of a furore, especially in News Corp newspapers, and the ABC became a collective punching bag.
Speaking as a Liverpool fan, I had no problem at all with the way that the match was covered. I even had no problem with Aaron Chen's pieces to camera as someone who was bemused and confused by the whole affair. This was a football match; it wasn't like international diplomacy was being conducted. The abject seriousness with which sport is treated sometimes, is ridiculous. Treating sport with the reverence of a funeral or of a court proceeding, is misplaced. The​ whole premise of sport is that it really doesn't matter. "Football isn't a matter of life and death, its much more important than that" might very well be the sentiment expressed by Bill Shankly but he would have been fully aware that the people who stood on the terraces week in and week out, had complicated lives outside of the ground. Sport matters so very much precisely because it is fluff.

July 25, 2017

Horse 2300 - In Defence Of Non-Fixed Terms

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-23/malcolm-turnbull-bill-shorten-fixed-four-year-parliamentary-term/8735690
But on Sunday morning, Mr Shorten told the ABC's Insiders program the current system was stifling reform, and federal parliaments should run for a fixed term of four years instead.
"The federal political system seems out of whack in that everything is so short-term. The average life of a federal government is two-and-a-half years — not even three years," Mr Shorten said.
- ABC News, 24th Jul 2017

Federal Opposition Leader and devil may care comedian Bill "I'm not really doing anything" Shorten, has decided that despite our country doing perfectly well for 117 years, and despite there being a constitutional convention in 1897-98 which argued about the subject at length, that Australia absolutely needs fixed four year terms for politicians; for reasons that are hitherto unknown, unexplained and as yet unimagined.
This whole thing smacks of wanting to appear to be doing something, even if it's not actually anything productive. I guess that the news narrative was so immensely boring at the moment that the attitude of "we need to be doing something; this is something; therefore we need to do this" is on full display.

Australia arrived at its constitution through one of the most protracted and argumentative processes of any country. Prior to federation, Australia was a collection of six Crown Colonies which didn't really much like each other and made very little attempt to get along. The idea of federation had been Micki about for two decades before it finally happened and it took so long that Fiji didn't bother to send delegates to the last convention and New Zealand voted against joining.

Australia's Constitution is very much misunderstood by a great many of Australians. Presumably they want to see some sort of bill of rights and they notice that the Australian Constitution doesn't have one attached. The reason for this is that rights at common law are assumed to exist unless hedged in by legislation. The framers of the Australian Constitution saw that the experience of the American Constitution, limited people's vision as to what their rights were and so by not including one, Australians retain a broader vision with regards to their rights.
From this basic assumption, the Constitution of Australia does almost nothing more than define what the parliament is, what it has the power to make laws for, how it operates, what's it is made up of, and how often the terms for the members of parliament are.
In framing the Australian Constitution, a grand series of pitched arguments took place. Particularly people like Henry Parkes, Alfred Deakin, Joseph Cook and​ Edmund Barton, were informed by the way in which Westminster System parliaments worked and how the American Congress worked. They also looked at how those institutions didn't work and what the most likely source of problems were. The Reform Act of 1832 and the work of the chartists, the trade unions, and the suffragette​ movement, meant that Australia would open with a greater degree of representation of the people than either the House Of Commons in the United Kingdom or the Congress in America. This meant that the franchise wasn't the most singular and pressing issue of the day but rather, the term length of politicians and on this front, the United States' experience directed most of the thinking.

The House Of Representatives in the United States has fixed terms of two years. As a consequence, the members of the House are almost in perpetual campaign mode. Although it is indeed a good idea to have politicians answerable to the people on a very short chain, it often means that the House doesn't get very much done. Harry Truman famously called the 80th Congress the "Do Nothing Congress" when immediately after World War 2, the House seemed to dither on every single possible piece of legislation for fear of recriminations from their constituents in the 1946 House election.
The United States Senate, which is a house of review and is supposed to provide equal representation for the states and was such a good idea that it was copied across the border in Canada, has a fixed of six years and in conjunction with the elections for the house, one third of Senators are up for election at a time.
The constitutional conventions in Australia looked at what did and didn't work in the United States and retained the fixed term of six years for Senators but they decided that two years was too short for the house to accomplish anything, and Presidents like James Buchanan who lost the Union and Andrew Johnson proved that four years was too long to wait to get rid of someone when the Senate failed to impeach him. That story might yet be playing out again with the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Australia retained one feature from the British House Of Commons which was considered useful at the time and which Mr Shorten seems to have forgotten. By leaving the sitting term specifically vague, it means that the lengthy wait for an election to roll around is almost entirely eliminated. Governments in Australia such as Queensland and New South Wales seem to enter election mode roughly eight months before the election instead of doing any actual proper governing, which is what a government is supposed to do. It does indeed mean that a sitting government does have the call for the date of an election but if a government is doing a job which pleases the people, then surely calling an election and gambling upon their goodwill is their prerogative.

I think that our Federal democracy in Australia has through 117 years proved to be both stable and reasonably predictable. I think that almost entirely by accident, we've ended up with one of the best systems of government in the world and I for one, don't see any advantage in mucking around with a thing that works so well. I am suspicious of attempts to change the system because the case is almost never made for how it will improve the system. The one thing that needs to be remembered is that the country will outlive the terms of every sitting politician and that changing it for short term benefits, usually ends up doing harm in the long run.

July 21, 2017

Colt 2299.1 - Is This The Real Life?

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/20/trump-reportedly-set-to-name-anthony-scaramucci-new-white-house-communications-director.html
Former hedge fund star Anthony Scaramucci is set to become the new White House communications director, Axios reported on Thursday.
President Donald Trump will be announcing the news later, the publication said, citing unnamed sources. NBC has also confirmed the news with multiple sources.
- CNBC, 21st July 2017

Scaramucci? Scaramucci?!
Will he do the fandango?

Thunderbolt and lightning!
Very very frightening (me).

Galileo?

Galileo?

Galileo Figaro?


Magnifico!

I'm just a poor boy nobody loves me. He's just a poor boy from a poor family.
Spare him his life from this monstrosity!

July 19, 2017

Horse 2299 - For My Next Number...

I got asked on Monday by a client to write a thing about what numbers I think are "good" and "bad". He pointed out that in the building where he lives​ in Chatswood, that because the owners of the building are Chinese, there is no floor 4 and no floor 13 in the building. Instead the floors count up 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 77, 88, 888 and 88888. 4 is seen as evil because the word in Chinese sounds like the word for "death", 8 sounds like "money", and 7 is also lucky. I was asked if I saw numbers as being lucky, unlucky, good, bad, evil, or whatever, and I think that I was a disappointment  to him because it made no difference to me whatsoever.

One of the things which Mrs Rollo will accuse me of (and perhaps quite rightly) is that I think about numbers too much. I have a job where I basically play with arithmetic all day long and to be perfectly honest, doing tax returns, preparing financial accounts and filling in Business Activity Statements is logically no better than doing a complicated sudoku - it's all about fitting numbers into grids.
I have previously written that I wish that the whole world would switch to a dozenal number system and that the number 14 is the first boring number because it isn't prime, triangular, square, cubic or abundant; so I have form when it comes to this sort of thing. So it surprises me not when I get asked to write a thing about the goodness or badness of numbers. Which numbers do I like, which ones do I hate, and are there any good or bad numbers?

Let me start out by saying that I don't care about whether numbers are "good" or "bad"; the concept doesn't make sense to me either. I personally like to type numbers like 987, 456 and 321 on the keypad but that's because I get to do a flourish on the keypad; those numbers are like trills on a piano. I also don't happen to have a case of synesthesia, as someone once asked me, where someone gets to see colours associated with numbers, though I think that that would be pretty neat.
I can imagine 2 being blue, 3 red, 4 purple, 5 orange et cetera but that is because of my existing associations with pool balls; I used to have a 3 ball as a gearknob in a red Ford Ka.

I suspect that the reason why people think that I have a favourite number, or an opinion on whether or not numbers are good or bad is because they must be trying to map some kind of cultural expectations over numbers and by extension, someone who works and lives in that world.  They​ very fact we call all numbers which can be cut into two "even" and those numbers which can not "odd", seems to imply an expectation of symmetry on numbers. I can understand this I suppose but it still doesn't really explain why there are seven days in a week, why we tally things off in groups of five, or why three is a magic number.
I totally understand why 100 is culturally significant when we consider amounts of money or that mythical point in cricket when the scoreboard adds an whole new column but even then, the number of deliveries in an over is six, as is the number of runs one scores for clearing the boundary with one shot. As for the goodness or badness of the numbers themselves? I don't think that that proves anything at all.

I don't really find the thought that numbers as abstract concepts posses a personality either. 16 isn't bossy, 12 isn't angry, 7 doesn't hang out at cool parties, 1024 isn't secretly into musicals and keeps a record collection behind the fridge. Why anyone would think that I think about this sort of thing is a mystery to me. I could invent back stories for all the numbers but what would be the point? Whilst it is indeed true that many languages assign gender to inanimate objects, I think that that is a function of needing a set of rules for grammar and I think that the gender that objects are assigned is mostly arbitrary. I don't see what advantage there is to calling a table a girl, or the Euro a boy, even though I'm perfectly happy to accept that motor cars and ships are female. I don't see any inherent gender in the number 18, 33 or 582, any more than I can answer the question of what colour Wednesday is.

One of the things I like about "2001: A Space Oddessy" is the description of the monolith which features as a continuing motif. Its dimensions are described as being 1:4:9 and that it would be foolish to think that they ended there. I think that if we ever find aliens in the universe (which although is a non zero chance, is close enough to zero to be taken as acceptable fact) that the most likely point of universal agreement will be in the subject of mathematics. The rules for mathematics seem to apply in all circumstances and forever. Now that's quite apart from whether or not numbers themselves are "good" or "bad" or even what sort of personality you want to apply to them.

July 17, 2017

Horse 2298 - "Broadchurch" Is a Doctor Who Arc

As I write this, the Doctor Who fandom will probably be losing its collective mind over the announcement that Jodie Whittaker has been named as the 13th Doctor. This will be heralded as some landmark in television when in reality, all that has happened in that an actor has filled a role. Quite frankly I think that this is one of the most spoilery of spoilers because the next episode won't come out until Boxing Day and if filming was to start tomorrow, then the next series wouldn't air until January of 2018 at the earliest. Keeping everyone in suspense for six months would have been a good thing but I suppose that the BBC is counting on the fact that there would have been leaks from the set and so this is flood mitigation.

Of course this just leaves the fandom to come up with insane theories and counter theories, which given the nature of the show, might eventually find their way into it. Indeed the Twelfth Doctor himself, Peter Capaldi, is something of an ascended fanboy; having letters to the editor in the Doctor Who magazine published.

Naturally, I have my own insane theories, one of which is being proven all the more. That is that, all television shows with any actor from Doctor Who are in fact Doctor Who stories; I have expounded upon this before (See Horse 2294). One of the rather amusing consequences of announcing Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor is that the TV series "Broadchurch" ceases to be just a 10th Doctor story, with the Doctor assuming an alias with the companion of DS Ellie Miller but it becomes a 10th and 13th Doctor story with Beth Latimer suffering the trauma of losing her son and that's the reason why the 10th Doctor tangles up the timeline and investigates. If time is a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, then that also explains why Rory poses as a church minister.

- Rory poses as a Minister; being quizzed by the 13th Doctor.

This also opens up an unexpected line of insane theory. If Beth Latimer is the 13th Doctor, then we know who the Doctor's children are. If we know who the Doctor's children are, then we can guess who the parents of Susan Foreman are, and that would explain why she as the Doctor's grandaughter ended up in the TARDIS before the very​ first episode of "An Unearthly Child" in 1963. Presumably Susan is Chloe Latimer's daughter because she who must have been married at some point in the past's future. Of course if they end up commissioning a fourth series of Broadchurch with Peter Capaldi in it, then this insane theory gets triple locked down.

Invariably the announcement of a new Doctor also means that there will be a companion who will be cast and I suspect that director Chris Chibnall will want to install a rather dim witted young man in the role. It would make sense for the power dynamic to be exactly gender opposite because in this case the companion needs to be a great steaming pillock so that the Doctor can be shown to be brilliant. I am rather annoyed that Bill was killed off in the series just been but this does mean that there is an entirely clean slate to work with.
I have also heard a rumour that the TARDIS console room is going to get a refresh and I hope that they go for something with panelled wall and circles all over them like the 3rd and 4th Doctors had, or build a console room which is cluttered with half finished polymath experiments and stacks of broken equipment and haphazard piles of books.

I think that the announcement of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor is perfectly fine and that The Doctor is a woman is almost a non event. What is of greater importance is that if the publicity shots are anything to go by, the Doctor is a ginger; which has been a long standing complaint of the Doctor.

July 13, 2017

Horse 2297 - You Should Obey The Unjust Law

Floating around in the ocean of Twitter this week, came the following question from John Tasioulas who is the Yeoh Professor of Politics, Philosophy and Law at The Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London.


I happen to like questions of this sort because​ you can keep on flinging thoughts towards it, like throwing spaghetti at the wall, and eventually you arrive at a reasonably sensible answer provided you don't mind the mess left over from all of the mental spaghetti that you've thrown. My initial thought was that this was a fait accompli and that I'd just bang on the the pot of spaghetti and say that if something is unjust then it shouldn't be allowed to stand.
Indeed, someone has already spoken quite eloquently on the subject; no less than Martin Luther King Jr. in his letter from Birmingham Jail during that rather important year of 1963 which would eventually lead to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
- Martin Luther King Jr. 16 Apr 1963*

That's it. Game over. Kick over the boiling pot and leave it for the howling dogs to lick up. However, the more that we stir the spoon around in the boiling spaghetti pot of ideas the more we find ourselves having to untangle some pretty curly sort of dilemmas, which threaten to break into fragments as easily as this metaphor of imaginary spaghetti.

The first issue that need to be addressed is the question of who gets to decide what is a just or unjust law. Let us assume for a second that I am a madman who really really likes killing people and feels no remorse for it whatsoever. In my mind, the impediment of the law which declares that killing people is a crime, is fundamentally unjust because it prevents me from doing a thing that I really really like doing. Remember, I am a madman and so issues like the harm principle mean nothing to me and so in my mind, the question of what is just, merely comes down to what I am allowed and not allowed to do.
Do I as an individual have the right to determine what is and what is not just? Moreover, should I be allowed to have such an ability? Any sane person must conclude that the answer to this has to be a very very strong and emphatic 'no' if for no other reason than the coherent functioning of society. It is therefore a good thing that I am not allowed to decide these things and also a good thing that I am not really a madman.
One of the good things about the Rule Of Law is that it applies equally and fairly to everyone; without fear or favour. Not only do individuals get to decide what is and isn't just at law unless they have been placed in very particular positions of power to do so but there is no right not to obey the law. Nobody has the right to decide unilaterally that the law does not apply to them; not even the head of state, lest they lose their head. Equally, in the same way, I don't think that individuals have the right not to follow the law, even if they unilaterally decide that the law is stupid or unjust. The law might very well allow or not allow something but if every individual had the individual right to determine what laws did or didn't apply to them, then you may as well just legalise everything and return to the state of nature which is brutal, nasty and short.

The second issue that I have is more of a mechanical one which relates to how law is decided and springs forth. Apart from the law of equity in which judges decide what is fair (and in ye olde times, basically on a whim), and common law in which what has gone on in similar cases should inform what happens in new cases through the principle of precedent, the job of parliament is to enact statute law; which trumps the lot. Statute law is neither the rules of whimsy or of collective memory but hard rock rules. When a judge decides to throw the book at you, that book has the hefty weight of statute law behind it, where as the law of equity or common law is like throwing a sock full of custard at someone and the result is equally as messy.
The thing about statute law is that because it is made by parliament, it is contestable. Contests frequently abound when people look at the law, such as the old contest between labour and capital, differing sets of public interests, and even issues which are informed by religion. Whenever you have a contest, it is almost guaranteed that there will be conflict and because of this, it makes far more sense to me that this conflict is played out in the theatre of parliaments rather than a theatre of actual violence.

That last question about what theatre that the conflict which arises from the conflict over what is perceived as a just or unjust law or set of laws, is almost always in my opinion, never properly solved in a theatre of violence. Invariably the supposed solution never actually addresses the injustices but creates groups who have further resentments. This isn't to say that I don't believe in concrete action, because marches and strikes and public demonstrations all serve a useful and proper place in the moving forward of society; its just that actual change happens either through the legislature, or the ballot box, or when power is directly spoken to.
Secondary to this, if a whole regime is unjust, then while a revolution whether it is peaceful or otherwise might immediately satisfy the whims of people in the moment, unless there is a plan to work out how to exercise power once the event is over, the act of revolution might not achieve anything which is very long lasting. There are multiple occasions in the tragedy of history where a wild revolution has broken out and things revert back to something approaching something similar to what was there before the revolution ever took place. To wit, the American Revolution was started over a taxation dispute and the new nation was plagued with revenue problems, the French Revolution and all the ideals it fostered would eventually peeter out and another monarchy would be installed, but Ghandi's suggestion of nonviolence would eventually precipitate the Republic Of India which all things considered is amazing that it holds together at all.

It seems to me that if there is an unjust law, or laws plural, or an entire unjust system, then the best approach is to live with the system and to set about changing either the law or the system via the most peaceful means possible. If that means placing people into legislatures, then so be it.
The parable of the Wind, the Sun, and the Old Man's Coat comes to mind here, where the gentlest approach often makes the biggest and most permanent change.
Obey the unjust law insofar as much as is possible and change it as peaceably as possible. As far as I can tell, the alternatives to laws which are unjust are either laws which are just but which do not yet exist, or a descent into no law at all and that benefits nobody.

*http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

July 11, 2017

Horse 2296 - A Real Laugh Riot


On the north-western shore of Lake Ontario stands the City of Toronto. Toronto, the Good. Toronto: Canada's largest city, the fourth largest in North America, and the site of the 1855 Clown Riot.
Yes, you heard that correctly, Clown Riot.

In the summer of 1855, the Star Troupe Menagerie And Circus of one S.B. Howes was in the good city of Toronto, to display the usual sorts of circus attractions. Under the Big Top was the usual fare of lion taming, elephant dancing, horse riding, acrobats, and yes even clowns... especially the clowns.
Being in the middle of the summer and in the days before television and the cinema, the circus being in town was a big deal and so everyone who was anyone was there. The circus did so well that they'd sold out all the tickets on the opening night of July 12 and hoped to do so for the rest of the run.
Of course where you have a city on a lake, you have public houses and taverns, more than 150 of those, and you also have houses of ill-repute. It just so happens that one evening after the employees of the Star Troupe Menagerie & Circus had finished for the night, they went out to see the attractions that the City of Toronto had to offer.

Some of the clowns ended up in an establishment which was frequented by the local fire department and it seems that fire-fighters, just didn't see the joke of having a whole bunch of clowns suddenly show up.
Nobody knows how the fight started but in one particular house of ill-repute, the clowns and the fire-fighters closed ranks. The clowns though, were able to fight so well that the fire-fighters got kicked out of their usual haunt and this is where things took a turn for the worse.
It seems that the fire-fighters were annoyed at not being able to make use of their usual entertainments of dubious virtue and having just been beaten in a fight on their own patch of turf, they were out for full on revenge.

On Friday 13th of July 1855, the fire-fighters apparently got in touch with local members of the Orangemen. This had become a de facto Protestant v Catholic argument and the combined forces the Toronto Hook & Ladder crew and Orange order, set about with axes and torches, pulling down tents and sitting the Big Top on fire.
By now a full on pitched battle was in full swing; it took the Mayor of Toronto, to finally disperse the argument and convince the circus to leave town.

Naturally, the police who came and investigated proceedings, failed to identify anyone and nobody in the fire brigade or the Orange Order was ever charged. This caused a public outrage and it did eventually bring about a change in city policing some three years later; which also included some formal training for police officers where formerly there was none at all.
Inadvertently, an actual clown riot, changed the face of Canadian policing forever and that is nothing to be laughed at.

July 07, 2017

Horse 2295 - Please Ignore The Label

Earlier in the week I was in a meeting and acting as the minute taker, and at around about the half way point when our minds were all wandering off to play in the long paddock, someone thought​ that it would be nice if they got us coffee. In the list of orders of cappuccino, latte and one hot chocolate, mine was the only long black and so I was asked what I thought of the coffee, seeing as I was the only one who tasted it unadulterated; to which I replied that it wasn't really that great. The chap then admitted that he'd never had the coffee from that place just on its own and that he'd always ordered it with syrup or dusted with chocolate in a cappuccino.
Apparently this coffee was supposed to be from a label of some glory and fame, it was a single estate coffee which had been grown on one side of the hill, and had won some medal at a coffee trade show or some such (which kind of makes me wonder why you'd want to add syrup to it at all). For all of the tickets that it had on itself and that other people had put on it, it was basically no more than warm brown liquid in a cup. Maybe if it was freshly drawn through the bucket of the espresso machine it would have developed a crema or perhaps the volatile hydrocarbons wouldn't have settled but as far as I was concerned, I was disappointed.
The meeting rolled on beyond lunch and I went to the bank and the post office and my boss thought that he'd one up this chap by getting us all another coffee from a different place. This time it had come from a place of not much note at all and wasn't boasting about the medals that it hadn't won. What was it like? That was the question that was on everyone's mind and suddenly I became the subject of much curiosity with several men in suits staring at me. What was it like? It was roasted nicely, with a wee hint of smokiness to it; and it had a flavour that was like a rugby team of angels had all decided to run across your tongue before it fizzled and disappeared. You kind of get a similar sensation if you put Dr Pepper in the microwave. My boss mentioned that getting coffee from this place was like a crapshoot because you either got something amazing or something that was complete and utter dross.

The point of this story is that yet again, it's being proved to me that the enemy of the brilliant is a label. Just because something has a fancy label is no guarantee that you're going to find that little spark of brilliance. This has been confirmed in my mind by the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald when it placed an $8 bottle of wine from Aldi ahead of many labels which have a famous name. In some cases, a bottle of Vino​ di Plonki might very well be more wonderful than a bottle of Chateaux De Fou Fou. I've driven quite a number of BMWs over the years and while they're all very smooth, my little Ford Ka was more fun than all of them and so is the Mazda 2 that I have now. I've seen my boss go through several IPhones but his Kindle is still singing along as sweetly as the day it left the factory.
Don't even get me started on the phenomenon of shops near where I work that sell burgers for a price beginning with a 2; when we know that some of the best burgers come from independent fish and chip shops where the person behind the counter is someone who is wizened through years of practice. In my general experience, the words "gourmet" and "artisanal" placed as a description of a product are indicators of only one thing; that the thing is overrated and overpriced.
Granted that some things earn a reputation by being very very good for a very long time but the reason for that is that in general, they've found their little patch of brilliance and haven't fiddled with it. In those cases, it wasn't the existence of a famous label which built the reputation but the building of the reputation which lends credence to the label.

More poignantly though, the reputations of who are and aren't popular, who are and aren't charismatic, and who are and aren't seemingly important, is actually almost entirely irrelevant. If you are at a party and there are lots of people, then it is often the quiet ones in the corner who are the most interesting. You might find yourself having to draw them out from their shell but you might end up finding someone who is just quietly brilliant. In organisations of more than a dozen people, it is often the quiet ones who do the most important work but recieve almost no adulation for it.
There isn't some magical guarantee that the person who is labelled as some dynamic speaker isn't a total berk and prat. The title of Sir or Doctor is also no guarantee that the person is necessarily kind, noble or friendly either.
I think that we also have a tendency to dismiss people more easily than we should as well. Now that I completely understand that there will be people who rub us the wrong way and there will be those who we just don't get along with (as well as some people who are just outright toxic, offensive or otherwise) and there are people in the world who for whatever reason, everyone else has determined require an extra degree of patience and grace to deal but to perpetuate this serves highlight our own flaws.

The whole reason why labels are worth anything at all is because they are the marker of past quality. As with so many things, past results are not necessarily indicative of future performance and just because you slap a label on something doesn't necessarily make it good.