April 29, 2017

Horse 2265 - The United States of Melania

The flag of the US, in its current design since 1960, has 13 stripes and 50 stars.
The stripes each represent the 13 original colonies which declared independence from Great Britain.
The stars are each state, and the number has increased as more states entered the union.
Which is why it's bizarre that the flag on Melania's card only has 39 stars.
The official flag has never had 39 stars. The flag of 1877  had 38 stars, and was used for 13 years until was updated again to include the five states which joined in the intervening years.
- The Independent, 27th Apr 2017.

Mrs Rollo and I are currently working our way slowly through the rather famous courtroom drama series Perry Mason. As the original black and white series (one colour episode in 271) ran from September of 1957 to May 1966, it spanned a period in history when the United States' flag went from 48 to 49 and then 50 stars. We haven't got that far but I'm sure that I'll enjoy it like a vexillological nerd when I finally notice the switch.
On the subject of the 49 star flag, it's curious but the only photographs that I've ever seen of it, all had President Dwight D. Eisenhower in them.

This 39 star flag which appeared on the official birthday card to First Lady, Melania Trump, however is new and insane:

I'm sure that whoever threw togther this birthday card made an honest mistake and that someone should have proofed this before it had gone out but for me it highlights those immortal words of Abraham Simpson:
Dear Mr. President, there are too many states these days. Please eliminate three. I am NOT a crackpot.
- Abraham Simpson, "The Front", The Simpsons (1993)¹

Maybe this mistaken birthday card inadvertently makes an incisive piece of social commentary. America as a thing was started upon the basis of a taxation dispute and although some of it was a good idea when it started, it has gotten way out of hand in terms of increased geography, and the fact that there are a great many more states than there logically needs to be, is demonstrably a Bad Thing².

In the spirit of improving United States' geography, in Order to form a more perfect Union, I shall eliminate not eleven states. Not two or five or seven, but eleven!

1) Rhode Island
Who do you think you are kidding, Rhode Island. For a start, you're not even an island; and if you have town names like Quonochontaug and Woonsocket, it's pretty clear that you're not taking this thing seriously.

2) Texas
You should be your own thing. You got messed with. Nobody messes with Texas. Remember the Alamo? No, it doesn't mean cheap car rental. It means that the Lone Star State should be inspired to be the Lone Star Nation!

3) Two Dakotas?
Seriously? Please eliminate one. I don't care which one. Some people thought that Dakota was going to be admitted into the union as one state; that would have been sensible.

4) Hawaii
It should be its own kingdom. It used to be before it was annexed. The state's motto is "Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono" which means "the Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness" and I don't know what's righteous about invading a kingdom and stripping them of sovereignty unilaterally. What can I say except "you're welcome"?

5) Wyoming
Nobody lives there. I've checked. Quite literally nobody will miss Wyoming if it's gone. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around to hear it, does anyone care? No.

6) Alabama
You've consistently proved that self-government is not something you can be trusted with. You've also proved that a whole stack of Civil Wrongs does not add up to heap of Civil Rights.

7) West Virginia
You should join ordinary Virginia.

8) New Jersey
Why do you think that you're New York? Why don't you just join them?

9) Delaware
Hello, we're in Delaware.

10) Idaho
If the only thing you're famous for is spuds, you have a problem.

11) Tennessee
You're famous for endless music festivals, amazing whiskey that's aged in American White Oak barrels, and bluegrass music but have a look at your borders.I think that Tennessee became a thing after someone accidentally got a bit spirited, tore a map and had to repair the map. Quite clearly this whole state looks like someone left a piece of sticky tape on the map. This state is a clerical error.

12) Missouri
"I'll be deep in the cold, cold ground before I recognize Missourah!"³ That sounds like a perfectly good enough reason to me to pitch Missouri out.

England has 48 Ceremonial Countys, India has 29 states and 7 union territories, Japan has 47 prefectures (if you include the two urban prefectures of Osaka and Kyoto and the metropolis of Tokyo), and all of those are too complicated. America's 50 states is equally as complicated and although making school children remember the 50 states and their capitals is one of those things that instills a sense of civic pride and achievement, a school child in Australia who only has to remember 6 states and three mainland territories has a far easier job.

If we follow the above plan and pitch out those twelve states then add back Puerto Rico which should have been a state as long ago as the 1920s then...

50 - 12 + 1 = 39.

And Melania Trump's card is correct.
Problem Solved.
But seriously Rhode Island, what the heck are you doing? You're not even an island.

²Just like George IV. He was a Bad Thing.

April 28, 2017

Horse 2264 - Tout Le Monde à bord, Le Train Fou!

1812, 1848, 1870, 1914, 1939... What comes next in the sequence of numbers?

I don't know enough to work through all the reiterative calculations but an online dohickey thing tells me that the next two numbers should have been 1970 and 1998. Eagle eyed readers will of course realise that these aren't just numbers but dates and dates of the opening of catastrophic European wars at that. Mostly they are the continuing squabble between French and German people and the Germans, in yet another example of perpetuating the stereotype of ruthless German efficiency, even have a word for a hatred which is carried over from generation to generation - Erbfeindschaft.

It should be apparent to all and sundry that the reason why the pattern of numbers wasn't continued with 1970 and 1998, was because of the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later morph into the European Economic Community and finally the European Union.
In 2016 as the world took a step to the right and closer to madness, mostly older British people decided to inflict Brexit upon their children and now in 2017, France has decided to listen to the call of the void and has chosen l'Front National candidate Marine Le Pen as one of the final choices in their presidential election. If France does decide to take that next step into the dark, then presumably Le Pen would also put the question of France's membership of the European Union to the people and if that happens then all bets are off and we can spin the wheel of insanity. Wheel Of Insanity turn turn turn. What is the lesson that we won't learn?
The course of history was altered by the iron curtain which had fallen across Europe and it must be said that among the myriad of reasons why there was no 1970 or 1998, was because that Germany had been snapped in half and once Prussian fervour and work ethic had been separated from Bavarian know-how and productive effort, then Germany as a thing wasn't the same as before.

Contained within the founding documents of the European Coal and Steel Community is the open admission that Europe has the potential to become a giant ball of seething hatred.
The French foreign minister Robert Schuman proposed to put all French and German production of coal and steel under a single common authority; so that the likelihood of another war would be reduced.

The solidarity in production thus established will make it plain that any war between France and Germany becomes not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible. The setting up of this powerful productive unit, open to all countries willing to take part and bound ultimately to provide all the member countries with the basic elements of industrial production on the same terms, will lay a true foundation for their economic unification.
- Robert Schuman, 9th May 1950.

In context, this document only came into existence after a hundred million people were destroyed as the result of an unresolved argument between Queen Victoria's grandchildren. That isn't hyperbole either. For five years, Europeans scared the land as they invented new ways to destroy people who looked like them, at two hundred yards. Twenty years later, after one mind had gone maniacally wrong, they devised new ways of dropping ordinance on each other, in a more technologically advanced episode of destroying people who look like each other. Quite clearly this had to stop.
The European Coal and Steel Community made no bones about the fact that by entangling and sticky taping Europe together with red tape, the ability for it to go for yet another round was reduced; it worked. When you overlay an organisation like NATO over the top, it was like taping red duck tape over the giant ball of seething hatred.
My fear is that if Marine Le Pen wins the French Presidential Election, that she will want to consider undoing the layers of red tape and long after she has departed politics, and after everyone who was around that could remember the past has been by the years condemned, that those who come after the event and can not remember that past by virtue of not being there to do so, will cause the future to repeat the past in yet another even more technologically advanced episode of destroying people who look like each other.

The more immediate and much more boring part of this story is what happens to France in the meantime​. I think that it can be argued that that very French brand of socialism with the slogan of Liberté, égalité, fraternité, has been pretty good for France. Say what you like about the inefficiency of French industry, French products are still pretty desirable, even if they can be expensive and/or quirky. France's electricity company EDF is the biggest electricity provider in the UK (thus further proving that Thatcher was criminally disasterous for Britain) and France's PSA Group which runs Citroën, Peugeot and Renault has recently acquired Opel from GM. I'm not saying that France will immediately turn into a mess but I am wondering what sort of changes will happen to France as it steps to the right.

Or else nothing could happen at all.
Owing to the fact that France conducts an all-open jungle primary before dwindling the number of candidates to two, this result has thrown up two third party candidates.
Emmanuel Macron formally codified his En Marche! party after running as an independent and previously as a member of the Parti Socialiste.
Meanwhile Marine Le Pen who is standing as a candidate in the party which her father founded, is also a third party candidate, with L'Front National only having a single seat in the French National Assembly and two in the Senate.
If the presidential election in 2002 is anything to go by, Le Pen is in trouble. Jean-Marie Le Pen scored a paltry 17.8% of the vote and lost to Jacques Chirac who scored more than four times the number of votes as him. If a similar thing were to happen, the world would breathe in and then breathe out far more easily and then wait five more years and go through it all again.

In my not very well paid opinion, if Macron wins the election then safety of Europe and by extension the world, will last a little longer. If Le Pen wins the election, then France is likely to be on the path to exiting the European Union far sooner and I think that reopens Robert Schumann's fears from oh so many years ago. To be perfectly honest, the fact that the currency union has lasted this long is surprising to me because of every other time that this sort of thing has been tried and failed, like the Latin Monetary Union, but the European Union itself has been remarkably robust precisely because it was designed to entangle and bind all of the European powers together in red tape. Undo all the tape and what you're left with is the old old problem of fifty odd countries, speaking an absurd number of languages and that has never worked well in the past.
In the words of the great philosopher and scholar Sonic The Hedgehog, when advising children about taking a ride in a spin dryer: Don't do it. It's dangerous. Stay safe.

April 24, 2017

Horse 2263 - Have I Heard S-Town Yet?

In the grand tradition of Betteridge's Rule Of Headlines, the answer to that question is "No". No, I have not heard S-Town and if it is anything like Serial where despite weeks of questioning of all of the people involved, it still achieved nothing, then I don't want to listen to D either.
This isn't to say that you won't find it enjoyable. People like what they like and don't like what they don't like. If you like S-Town then that's cool; it's just that I've already been bitten by these producers.
I still love podcasts though.

As one small particle who moves through this conurbation of Sydney as it breathes in and out, I have a lot of time on my hands. A lot of it is spent tapping away at my tablet and yet more of it is spent standing up with my eyes closed and listening to podcasts. I've been listening to podcasts for a long time now. I'm probably mistaken but I suspect that the name podcast was first coined by the great and powerful BBC who back in 2003, saw this new fangled MP3 thing as a way of making shows that had been on regular broadcast radio available to either listen to again or save for later listening and to me that was and still is important.

For me it meant that the staples of the Friday Night Comedy slot, which include The News Quiz, The Now Show and Dead Ringers would now be available for me to listen to in the car on Monday morning; as would the Monday night shows of Just A Minute, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, The 99p Challenge and The Unbelievable Truth would be available later on in the week. To this day, my Saturday mornings are still filled with the Friday night comedy show from BBC Radio 4 and then NPR's Planet Money before I sweep the house and pull out enough cat hair day week to build a new cat.

I tried to build a top ten list of the podcasts that I listen to but that's weird. These ten been selected because of their interestingness instead.

NPR Politics Podcast (http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510310/npr-politics-podcast)
As the title suggests, it is a weekly or sometimes more than weekly podcast which looks at the political news in America. During the 2016 Presidential Election, this was one of the only news sources that bothered to explain the long game of politics rather than just the "he said/she said" cut and thrust of politics. NPR has always had to tread very carefully when it comes to reporting on politics and like PBS it often comes across as the only sane one in the room. With correspondents who walk the floors of Congress and the White House, this is a show packed with wonks.

99% Invisible (http://99percentinvisible.org)
Roman Mars came from the world of public radio and those sensibilities are obvious. This podcast about architecture and design is obviously made by someone who started in public radio and found a way to get out of the time constrained box. A piece which might have filled up four minutes on All Things Considered, will now be spun out to 22 and be given enough time for the story to be told. If you want a story about sinister looking Family Court buildings, the buildings that used to be Pizza Huts, those grass verges which exist in freeway overpasses or something about "the fancy shape", this is where you'll find those and more like them.

Hello Internet (http://www.hellointernet.fm)
Brady Haran and CGP Grey are both professional YouTubers and the first dozen are sort of about working in the industry but that notion quickly feel by the wayside and what is left is a classic "two dudes talking" podcast. This podcast is often about Brady the optimist and explorer who wants to make and create new stuff and Grey the pragmatist who wants to make the perfectly crafted thing despite not really having the skills of a filmmaker. You very quickly get the impression that here are two friends who are good mates but who should never be allowed to go on a road trip of anything longer than three days because it would end in the death of one of the protagonists.

NPR Car Talk (http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510208/car-talk)
Tom and Ray Magliozzi are two mechanics who answer people's questions about their cars and car repairs. There have been phone in radio shows in the past but none as joyous as this because neither Tom or Ray had really any idea about how to do a radio show. If you were the producer of a radio show, you'd have fired these guys for their unprofessionalism as they laughed and guffawed their way across the airwaves and yet that's why the show is so utterly brilliant.

CBC The Irrelevant Show (http://www.cbc.ca/radio/irrelevantshow)
American humour tends to lie more in the
use of sharp witticisms or perhaps the incisive put down and this is almost certainly due to the fact that it is people groups on the outer who define comedy in America. British comedy plays more with the use of language, the surreal and the clash of class, where having someone tear themselves down is far funnier than being dragged down. Canadian humour as embodied in The Irrelevant Show steals from both traditions. This sketch show has its stock and trade in the theatre of the absurd.

Dear Hank And John (https://soundcloud.com/dearhankandjohn)
The brothers Hank and John Green are hosts of various things on YouTube including Crash Course, SciShow and their own channel Vlogbrothers. This podcast is self described as answering people's questions, giving dubious advice and giving you all the news from AFC Wimbledon (which is a third tier, English football club) and Mars (which is a cold, dead rock in space). As with all Agony Aunt style columns in the newspaper, this podcast is a fourth wall mail slot program.

We Got This (http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/we-got-this)
Imagine the most intractable dilemma that you can think of and then imagine an hour of discussion of trying to resolve it. Which is the best Muppet? Who is the best President? Pirates or Ninjas? These questions and many more like them, are the basis of this podcast.
Which is the best? How should you do this? People of the world, you know what you need to do. Subscribe to this show and don't worry everyone, they've got this.

ABC RN - The Minefield (http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/theminefield/)
If you thought that you knew something about how intelligent Waleed Aly from Channel 10's The Project is, then you've only really scratched the surface. He and Scott Stephens discuss moral and ethical questions which arise from the news and other issues floating around. This is a show which does the work of philosophy and asks what is the nature, goodness or fitness of the things they are discussing. Whether it be the nature of free speech, the fitness of democracy, the ontology of governance or a myriad of other things, The Minefield is probably the most intelligent half hour of radio which is currently being produced in Australia.

Judge John Hodgeman (http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/judge-john-hodgman)
John Hodgeman is perhaps best known as either the PC from the Mac v PC adverts, or perhaps as an eccentric millionaire on late night television. In his role as judge of a fake internet court, he decides the fate of people's problems. Want to know if you're allowed to install a hot tub in the backyard? Are beanbags or daybeds  actual furniture? If you are 16 years old, are you allowed to have a motorbike? Is a hotdog a sandwich? The decisions in all of these cases have been handed down by Judge John Hodgeman and the universe has wrapped itself around accordingly.

Presidential (http://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/business/presidential-podcast/)
The Washington Post's Lillian Cunningham set out on the mission of producing 44 episodes looking at the lives of each of the Presidents and seeing what if anything could be learned about leadership. She looked at things like style and tone and inadvertently also touched on the grander story of American history. This series was recorded in 2016 in the run up to the election and although it has finished, it does lend itself to making comparisons of presidents past and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

There are of course far more podcasts that I listen to like The Partial Historians which is about Roman history, More Perfect which is about the US Supreme Court, The Party Room on Australian politics, The Great Detectives Podcast and Radiolab which is about almost everything. It's been asked of me on a few occasions why I don't do a podcast of my own and the reason put simply is that I don't know anyone who'd be up for making the sort of program that I'd want to produce. With only one voice, shows like The Memory Palace or Le Show are possible but the writing needs to be exceptionally tight.
I haven't heard S-Town but if you have some other suggestions for me to listen to, then please drop a comment in the box below. I'm sure that the trained monkeys that operate the internet will deliver it to me in double quick time.

April 21, 2017

Horse 2262 - Hello Facebook, From Twitter (And Blogger)

"You should like that reply. You do know Facebook etiquette, don't you?"

I asked a question on Twitter recently, knowing that someone on either Twitter or Facebook would know the answer, and within five minutes I got 22 replies which were all identical - "Yes." After seeing all of those replies coming from Twitter; I didn't really think to check Facebook. The truth is that I know very little about Facebook etiquette and that's mainly because I took a deliberate position a long time ago about how I'd use the two platforms.

Facebook acts as both a brag book of the things that your friends and family do, an echo chamber where you don't really hear from people who disagree with your political views and much to my annoyance, a place where you get invited to play games which I'd rather not play (I'm looking at you FarmVille). Mostly because I know a fair amount about how my brain operates (only as a user; I have no idea of how either the software or the hardware which runs it works at all), I know that Facebook could very easily become a massive time sink for me; as well as a source of sadness as everyone else has a lovely time on holidays and I do not.
Twitter on the other hand as a platform which was originally developed with the short messaging service on people's mobile phones in mind, is a place where everything runs far more quickly. Being the sort of lyrebird that I am, my Twitter feed is mainly composed of journalists, news outlets; as well as a few friends. My Twitter feed takes from sources on both sides of the political divide and thanks to the beautifully wonderful mechanic of the hashtag, you can peer right into the middle of some of the world's biggest flame wars.
If I fly Facebook Airlines I am reminded that I am not allowed beyond the curtain but if I choose to fly Air Twitter, I am reminded that we are flying on a Liberator bomber with no seats and which is constantly being shot at from all sides. On Facebook Airlines you are given carefully curated meals which everyone eats quietly (and then takes photographs of) but on Air Twitter the only thing on the menu is buns, so that the eternal bunfight goes on and you must contribute a bun¹.

An old proverb says that a picture paints a thousand words. I don't know how true that is because in our image saturated world, I am not sure if that holds up any more. I would rather read or write a thousand words which build or construct a picture than press a single button to do it for me. That isn't to say that photographs can not and don't have serious thought put into them; a photograph can be an extremely curated thing.  Facebook lends itself to a slideshow of carefully​ curated photographs but Twitter by virtue of only being 140 characters per message meant that the vast majority of users very quickly learnt that it was better suited to posting links where you'd find those thousands of words instead. Maybe this speaks to those key learning methods; I know that I am an audio rather than a visual person.
On the subject of "likes", there seems to be more of a neediness on Facebook than on Twitter. Twitter is far more cool about whether or not you like something. If you say something on Twitter or make a thing or find a thing, then the single heart button says "that's cool" and​ everyone moves on. Facebook gives you a range of emotions and then people expect you to feel all the feels. I have eyeballs where reds have decided to naff off and so I don't have the same sort of visual colour palette to see the world through as everyone else does. I also suspect that I don't have the same emotional palette to see the world through either. I have 16 colours where the rest of the world has 32-bit processing and potentially 2 million colours.

And then there is Twitter's most famous user: Donald Trump.
Godwin's Law says the longer that a conversation goes on, the more likely that either Hitler or the Nazis will be mentioned. If I may be so bold to hold out my own eponymous law, then Rollason's Law would say that the longer that a conversation about Twitter goes on, the more likely that Donald Trump will be mentioned. To be honest I don't know how many followers Donald Trump has on Twitter but I bet that it's more than Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber or Zayn Direction has now (please insert the latest hip and happening pop star here)².
In contrast, I bet that there aren't that many people who are actively friends with Donald Trump on Facebook but I bet that he's mentioned more there than he is on Twitter. Again I come back to this but Facebook appears to feed into people's confirmation biases more than Twitter does. Facebook's revenue model relies on looking at what you like and then giving you more of that. This seems to me like giving a fat kid cake and then wondering why they don't want to eat vegetables. I suspect that because Twitter users are fed a constant diet of bitter melon and thistles, they're less likely to be as trusting of what comes through.
This has been of much discussion over the past few months, where users of Facebook have found that family relationships in particular are somewhat strained and discussions are heated. In that strange world of 2006, these sort of conversations were tempered by people's expressions and tone of voice around dinner tables but a decade later, text is unable to convey restraint and everything becomes the extreme version of itself. On Twitter, right from the start people knew that they could stare directly into a firestorm and this was just part of the landscape.

There's a thing that I actively don't like about Facebook and that is the way that it embeds video and doesn't​ return revenue to the video's creators like Twitter does. Twitter has no proprietary player and YouTube videos will either be embedded as is or will click you through to YouTube. Facebook will not. I want YouTube creators to keep on making stuff that I like and to do that, they need advertising revenue. I personally love advertising for two reasons: firstly it pays for my entertainment and secondly, it pays for the food on creators' tables. If Facebook's own player doesn't return revenue to video's creators, then it may as well be stealing the bread from people's table.

If you are reading this blog post, then according to my analytics, you are more likely to be a Twitter user than a Facebook user. My Twitter output is set up so that undirected tweets get posted to Facebook in lieu of me needing to log in there. That's why you'll occasionally see strings of hashtagged tweets appear; especially during QandA on ABC 1 on Monday nights. As an aside, QandA has often been the world's No.1 trending thing on Twitter; much to the confusion of many people throughout the world³.
Do I know Facebook etiquette? Well, not really. Facebook is a social network whereas Twitter is more of a snark network which also serves as  news platform. This is more asking if I am a dog person or a cat person; I know I am a cat person. Follow me on Twitter, my handle is @rollo75 The cool cats are on Twitter; they generally don't like very much.

¹Apologies to "O Me! O Life!", Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1892) - https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/51568
²Trump is no.42. Beyonce: 115 (yes), Lady Gaga: 8 (no), Justin Bieber 2 (no), Zayn Direction 63 (yes).
³We'll take that as a comment.

April 20, 2017

Horse 2261 - The Batman In The Rye

Over the Easter long weekend, I saw a film at the drive-in and finished a book that I'd always intended to read. The film was The Lego Batman Movie which I enjoyed very much and the book was JD Salinger's 1945 novel "The Catcher In The Rye" which I didn't enjoy at all.
In that great tradition of making connections which aren't supposed to be made, throwing out punchlines that were never there, and jumping headlong into a lake of conclusions without first checking the depth, this is a thousand odd words on why Batman was better.

Long long ago in an English department's storeroom, far far away, there was a teenage past version of me who was constantly annoyed that of all the books that we could be reading and had class sets for, the English teachers always seemed to pick the most frustrating they could find. We could have had Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, we could have had 1984 or Animal Farm by George Orwell, we could have had something swashbuckling like The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas but no, we got snore fests like Emma by Charlotte Bronte, The Crucible and Death Of A Salesman by Arthur Miller and although Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens was interesting I still found the explanation of The Poor Laws of 1834 in the back of the book more interesting than book itself. Of course we studied Shakespeare but I must have been unlucky or something because I missed out on Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, as well as Hamlet and Othello, but instead got As You Like It and A Midsomer Night's Dream. The contemporary novels that we must have got, I can't remember by name except for My Place by Sally Morgan and it left so little impression on me that I have no idea what the book was even about now.
I have this theory that English teachers have some unspoken pact, whereby they all have decided to inflict pain upon their current students as way of vicariously getting back at the horrible things that their own teachers did to them.

Since leaving high school I have read Catch-22, 1984, The Three Musketeers, To Kill A Mockingbird, as well as a stack of crime novels which are much taller than I am. One of the books which I hadn't read though, was The Catcher In The Rye and like some weird completionist, it was on my mental list.

The story basically revolves around a kid with the odd name of Holden Caulfield; which sounds to me like it should have been the replacement for the Torana. Holden has decided to drop out of boarding school and with all the forethought of a typical teenager, he sells his stuff and takes a train to New York City. While there he bums around the city and in the meantime blows a bunch of cash, accidentally has a prostitute sent to his hotel room, proceeds not to have sex with her because he wanted someone to talk to and then when she realises that nothing is going to happen she shafts him for more money, he goes on a date with a girl who ends up hating him, and he sneaks into his parents' apartment and ends up taking his kid sister out for the day.

I guess that it is supposed to be framed as a classic bildungsroman where the main character learns something of themselves and of life but apart from Holden swearing like a trooper, smoking a bunch of cigarettes and getting into places under age, he learns nothing and at the end of the novel we're left with the thought that he's probably going to run away out west. I don't know if we're supposed to feel sympathetic or antagonistic about Mr Caulfield but somehow I feel neither and if anything I've been annoyed. Yet again I'm back to my own seventeen year old self and am wondering why this book is consistently set on lists of texts that are given to high school students. This book hasn't reached Brave New World at status in my mind because it hasn't provoked me to hurl the book across the room but it has joined a list of books that I have no intention of reading in the foreseeable future.

In stark contrast was The Lego Batman Movie. The film started out with Batman being praised by everyone in the world but being deeply alone and cut off from everyone. He is threatened with the prospect of working with the police and takes it very badly and his nemesis The Joker is appalled by Batman's inability to hate him as the worst criminal of all. A plot follows where The Joker releases all of the worst criminals in the world from an interdimensional prison, Batman inadvertently adopts Robin and he ends up having to learn a lesson about working with others and letting people into his life. The film is replete with cross references from just about everything​ in the Batman franchise ever and it takes the point of view that everything is canon. As someone who has only seen the 1989 Tim Burton film and has had no real background of the 80 years of print media, this film was accessible, even to someone as clueless as me.

Both Holden Caulfield and Batman are deeply unlikeable characters who paradoxically know that they are deeply unlikable. Holden takes pleasure in "horsing around" with people in spite of their objections and Batman is a showoff to a fault and I don't think that I'd enjoy being friends with either of them. If The Catcher In The Rye is held up as a great piece of literature because it plays with the form of the bildungsroman, then although it achieves what it set out to do, I'm still not impressed. The Lego Batman Movie collects all of the necessary plot tokens and then cashes them in in exactly the way you'd expect from a movie and yet still manages to play with the form of the superhero movie.
Both of these things take delight in the very media of which they are products. The Catcher In The Rye is mostly written in the passive voice which those same English teachers who are trying to torture you, will tell you is an unmitigated disaster of a way to write a novel. They will want you to use an active voice which places everything in the present but I suspect that this is the reason why Salinger wrote the novel like this. Holden's biggest problem throughout the novel is that no adults will listen to him and the only one who does in the novel, has intentions of doing something really pervy. Apart from Holden's little sister Phoebe, the only adult who listens to Holden Caulfield is you, dear reader. Batman in The Lego Batman Movie both opens and closes the movie by breaking the fourth wall and talking to the audience. Again, the movie is self aware that it is part of a great cloud of Batman canon and steals from everywhere within that canon.

I suppose that if I had read Catcher In The Rye when I was seventeen I might have empathised with Holden Caulfield but as someone who is more than double that in age and some again, I do not. Neither do I think I empathise with Batman, whose desire to rely on no one but himself stems from a traumatic childhood where both of his parents were killed. The real irony with these two characters is that Holden wants to be listened to but as a reader I kind don't want to, and Batman doesn't want anyone to help him and yet as a viewer I want him to be helped.

Commerical success isn't necessarily the mark of goodness but it's interesting that no movie adaptation of The Catcher In The Rye exists. Partly this is because the estate of JD Salinger has thus far refused to endorse any movie adaptations but mostly I'd suggest it is because Holden Caulfield is not a fun character. On the other hand the story of Batman has possibly been told more any other character on screen except for Romeo And Juliet and I think that this is because we find Batman to be more compelling. Am I going to rush out and complete my personal viewing of the Batman canon? Probably not. Am I likely to read another book by JD Salinger? Probably yes. Does that mean that Holden Caulfield is a better character than Batman? No. The Lego Batman Movie is some masterpiece of cinema either but I'm still likely to watch it again before I reread The Catcher In The Rye.

April 19, 2017

Horse 2260 - April, May Calls June Election

In a move which surprised just about everyone or indeed no-one, depending on who you happen to be listening to at the time, the election called by British Prime Minister Teresa May is either unexpected or had its time coming. At any rate, the sceptered isle goes to the polls in June provided the election is agreed to by the Parliament. The chances of it being agreed to are pretty high because the party in government wants to reset the clock and give itself five years to sort out the mess with Brexit and the party in opposition wants to become the government as is the want of every party in opposition ever.

Therein lies the entire reason why this election has been called. Teresa May got job after David Cameron made a stupid promise to hold a referendum on leaving the European Union, to which the majority of older people in the UK agreed to but the younger portion of the population didn't, was surprised when the referendum passed, and left in one of the biggest hissy fits in British political history. Ms May became leader of a party so vexed with Brexit in that it is like the mule with a spinning wheel (nobody knows how it got it and danged if it knows how to use it), and now has the problem of working out how to untangle the UK from the EU.

On the other side of the divide, Britain now faces the possibility of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, which depending on your point of view is either an InterCity 225 trip to Socialism On-The-Wold provided that a snowflake doesn't fall upon the railway tracks, or a return to a kinder and lovelier Britain which will that portion of the public hopes will undo everything that Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and May have done. Corbyn who is preferred by the rank and file of the Labour Party has a problem when it comes to the elected members in the parliament and so if he does end up moving into Number Ten, who knows what sort of cabinet would be appointed; if indeed he survives as leader long enough to be PM.

As for the other parties, the Liberal Democrats... ah ha ha ha. They suffered electoral wipeout in 2015 for forming a coalition government with the Tories in 2010 and promptly did a spinectomy on themselves. The British public rewarded them with a seatectomy as well.
Their current caucus in parliament consists of four blokes named Brian and a dog called Kevin who is hoping for a spot on the Board Of Trade.
North of the border I expect that the Scottish National Party will again claim virtually every​ seat in Scotland and Northern Ireland will again return its usual half dozen wingnuts, fruit loops and Sinn Fein members who hate the UK.

This is my prediction for the upcoming election: Who the deuce knows? Any combination of either the Tories or Labour winning outright, or needing to form a coalition with the SNP, or the Liberal Democrats if they make a comeback, or even the Greens if they manage to win a few seats, is possible. Seriously, paint a monkey in glue and cover him in marbles and see where they fall off and you'd have a more reliable indicator of what is likely to happen than the pundits do. A crapshoot is more predictable than this upcoming election because dice follow rules of probability, whereas the British public are like brainless sheep running from side to side, being ridden by headless chickens who are wearing grenades with the pin taken out as backpacks.
For all I know, Larry The Cat will be the next Prime Minister.

April 12, 2017

Horse 2259 - Natasha Exelby, The Daily Telegraph, And Barely Credible Lies

By now I'm guessing that if you've been on the internet this week, you will have probably seen the video of ABC News 24 presenter Natasha Exelby fiddling with her pen and suddenly realising that the cameras are on her¹. As a piece of footage, it perfectly captures the moment of unbridled terror in a human being and it ends with her regaining her composure and continuing on with the job valiantly. I guess that it is one of the perils of working in live television and the responsibility of this blooper should like not with Ms Exelby but the floor manager and director. Usually there would be someone counting the presenter back in and the fact that this didn't happen for whatever reason, is one of the consequences of having humans run things.

The thing is though, had this happened on commercial television, then this would have been reported as a funny thing and we all would have laughed and that would have been the end of it but because this happened on the ABC, this gave rise to a very different series of events; that instead of being a mistake, was an act of belligerence.

Reports began to fly around that Ms Exelby had been fired by the ABC for the mistake and because nobody really bothers to fact check anything any more, then the report snowballed until the ABC was forced to publish a statement which said that this wasn't the case.

Media reports that Natasha has been “banned”, “barred” or “fired” are untrue.  Natasha is a freelance journalist who works as a contributor. She has been rostered for various shifts and has been assured since yesterday that we want that to continue. While she is not currently doing any on-air shifts, this will be subject to normal performance management. I have spoken to Natasha and conveyed our regret that this has attracted such attention.
- Statement from ABC News Director, Gaven Morris, 11th Apr 2017.

However, if you follow the time stamps on all of the various news reports, if you go back far enough you will find who do originated the story, and this hunt leads to the door of the Daily Telegraph.

NATASHA Exelby has paid a high price for her weekend blooper, after the humourless management at ABC24 banned the newsreader from playing any future on-air role.
- The Daily Telegraph, 10th Apr 2017.

By "Exclusive" I usually assume that they spoke to a source to support their claim, however there doesn't appear to be much evidence of that. Take note of the language used in their article.

Exelby told News Corp “it would be inappropriate for me to comment”.


Failing to respond to a request for confirmation


News Corp is pursuing ABC management for further comment,

Now I don't know about you but I don't believe that the Daily Telegraph actually made any attempt to contact either the ABC or Ms Exelby despite the fact that they said that she spoke to them (it's only their word for it). What I think is going on is the latest in the continuing war by News Corp against the existence of the ABC. Earlier in the week we had Maurice Newman in The Australian calling for both the ABC and SBS to privatised² and I suspect that what happened here was that the Daily Telegraph saw an opportunity to bite and took it.

The Daily Telegraph ran a splash on the front page, an article on page 3 (which increasingly is being reserved by the Daily Telegraph for running pictures of ladies in various states of undress, in lack of actual journalism) and a further piece ran on their editorial page where the paper could hide behind the cloak of anonymity and write more unsubstantiated claims. I hate editorial pieces which are written in the name of the masthead only because it gives the writer the ability to never be held to account for what they've written; I think that it is pretty much journalistic cowardice.

I suspect that the Daily Telegraph can get away with this because there isn't a specific law against making stuff up and publishing it. Laws surrounding defamation exist and there are remedies which can be sought but because Ms Exelby hasn't really been specifically defamed and as such, no claim can be filed.
Really what's going on here is an attempt by the Daily Telegraph to make the ABC look either foolish or cruel and they don't really care about any collateral damage that might occur. By the time that Billy Brown of Sydney Town has worked out what's going on, if in fact he cares at all, the whole news cycle has moved on again and all has been forgotten. The ABC isn't going to mount a legal challenge because that's expensive and the net gain is nil. Unless there was some sort of scandal, with pictures, then the Daily Telegraph knows that it can publish a thing like this in absolute impunity. I think that this propaganda at its finest because the truth is boring and the public don't care anyway.

This is where the story would have ended except that I opened the Daily Telegraph this morning to read this:

Meanwhile, the ABC appears to have backflipped on its decision to bench newsreader Natasha Exelby over the innocent blooper, amid the tidal wave of public backlash.
Reports surfaced last night that management at the ABC decided to ban weekend newsreader Natasha Exelby from appearing on air after she was caught off guard during a live news shift.
- The Daily Telegraph, 11th Apr 2017.

No. The ABC doesn't appear to have backflipped on its decision to bench newsreader Natasha Exelby over the innocent blooper because it appears that it never made such a decision in the first place. Reports only surfaced last night that management at the ABC decided to ban weekend newsreader because nobody had bothered to fact check whether or not the report was in fact real. Those reports didn't come from the ABC; quite the opposite, ABC management outright denied this.

If anything, it looks like the Daily Telegraph has told a lie and then doubled-down on that lie by telling another one.

April 11, 2017

Horse 2258 - On The Consent Of The Governed

This Saturday just past, voters in three state electorates went to the polls in by-elections. Where I live in Blacktown Council, we also had a by-election for a councillor in one ward, following the death of a sitting councillor. This was one of the smallest ballot papers that I have ever seen, as it only had four candidates. I still don't know who won the by-election but I do know that this was so small that the Liberal Party didn't bother fielding a candidate and in an outrage of Australian democracy, the polling station where I went to didn't even have a sausage sizzle.
Democracy as it is executed in Australia involves turning up at a polling station once every so often and marking a ballot paper with preferences as to who you prefer to represent you and very rarely answering a yes/no question if a referendum is taking place. Voting is compulsory, which I personally think is absolutely necessary and yet beautiful at the same time, but democracy and voting are only the means through which the will of the people are expressed and not whether they agree with the system or not.

Therein lies a disconnect. Democracy insofar as much it is practiced, is only the means by which the selection of who will govern is determined. Democracy of itself is not specifically governance. Governance has to do with the exercise of power and power has the same definition here as it does in the realm of physics; that is that power is the ability to do work and act. It is also no coincidence I think that the exercise of power within parliament is enacted through instruments which are also called Acts. This being true, the issue then becomes to what degree do parliaments and by extension does the state have the ability to act on behalf of the people. In virtually every arena where you have someone acting on behalf of someone else, consent for one party to act on behalf of the other is required; in cases where contact is direct, then asking for, deriving and receiving consent should be incredibly obvious to determine but where the two parties involved are the people and the state, this becomes very nebulous very quickly.

The idea of what right that the state or indeed the state personified in the person of the monarch, very much came to a head when the people decided that King Charles I should lose his. At about the same time that Oliver Cromwell was installing himself as Lord Protector Of England, people like John Locke were thinking about this from an ontological standpoint. What were things like power, consent and governance actually about and who should get to define them?

The power of kings and magistrates is nothing else, but what is only derivative, transferred and committed to them in trust from the people, to the common good of them all, in whom the power yet remains fundamentally, and cannot be taken from them, without a violation of their natural birthright.
- John Milton, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, 1649

This idea that the power of kings and by extension the state, was derived from the people, was a new idea and would have stood in stark contrast to the prevailing winds of thought that said that kings derived their authority from God. The divine right of kings was the prevailing "self-evident" truth of the day and to challenge that was itself dangerous.
It was so dangerous in fact that left to ferment on the other side of an ocean for 130 years, it would result in an outright rejection of the right of kings to rule at all. When the thirteen American colonies finally decided to throw off the monarchy, the language used was not that of the idea of the rejection of the state but a specific rejection of the person of the monarch. The Declaration Of Independence repeats the form of "He has" done such and such and after the whole shooting match was over, the solution wasn't an outright rejection of the state but the creation of a new state.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
- Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (mostly), 4th July 1776

Nevertheless, the idea of consent being given and revoked is an interesting concept. In order to give consent to anything, the person giving consent has to have a large amount of agency in order for this to be possible. The problem with an individual's relationship with the state is that they have no agency whatsoever to give that consent. When someone is born they have no choice and no agency at all; they are immediately under the authority of both their parents and the state, even though they have no possible way of agreeing to such an arrangement. However, it isn't as if one magically gains any agency once someone grows up either. Adults are always still under the authority of the state and it isn't as if they ever gain any ability to withdraw their consent from the governors who rule over them. At best they have the ability to change the set of people who occupy those positions but withdrawing consent only comes in one of two flavours: treason or revolution.

A person who unilaterally decides that they want to revoke their consent form those that govern them, finds pretty swiftly that this is a futile effort. From an administrative standpoint the state simply doesn't care and will continue to act as it did previously, exercising rule over the individual. This either ends up with the individual being treated as a curiosity but still ultimately under the rule of the state, such as Prince Leonard of Hutt River Province, or if they decide to use force, then criminal proceedings will follow.
In the case of the Declaration Of Independence, which is where that phrase is used at its most cutting, the revolution which followed only succeeded because of bigger army diplomacy and what resulted was another state, which people born after the revolution again didn't gain any magical ability to withdraw their consent from. Unless Jefferson meant for a perpetual cycle of revolution, through force or disruption, then the phrase although poetic is mostly nonsensical.

Taken to its logical conclusion, does that mean that if consent can never truly be given to the state, then we should get rid of the state? Extreme laissez-faire capitalists might argue that no state intervention in anything would produce a set of conditions where markets would decide everything and the economy would naturally find the most efficient set of positions as market forces heaved and thrusted. The only problem with such a society is that it would be a truly horrible and nasty place. In the words of  Thomas Hobbes' 1651 work Leviathan, life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short".

This is where we reach the end of the discussion for the purposes of this blog post. I don't think for a second that my marking of four numbers on a sheet of paper once every few years or so, can be taken to mean anything like consent but rather everything else that we do as a peaceable society can be. If you want to look for the governed giving their consent to the state, you'll have to look but do it quietly. Every time that you don't see Town Halls being burned, or courthouses being razed; every time that parliaments go about their business with all of their shouting and carry on, look up into the galleries and watch as people silently give their consent. The consent of the governed is created and given every single day as people go about their lives in peace because at the heart of consent is permission for something to happen or and agreement to do a thing. In practical terms, the consent of the governed is created through a silence procedure it would seem; except when the public speaks.

April 10, 2017

Horse 2257 - How "Evangelicals" Came To Be, In A Political Sense

To a very large degree I follow politics like I do sport. In politics there is a scoreboard every so often in the form of elections and just like watching most sport discussion programs on the telly, there is a lot of pointless jibber-jabber and poppycock which is spoken. Think about it: the only real difference between sports commentary and political commentary is that the results of politics affect people's lives; whereas the the sport results do not. Both have play by play and colour commentators, both have former players who give their opinions and both have pundits who talk endless amounts of rubbish; in an average newspaper, the sport section and the section about politics and business are roughly the same size.
As someone who lives in that weird part of the world known as "Not America" I looked on in horror as the people of America successively knocked out all of the semi sensible people running for President, on both sides of the political divide, before they settled on a policy wonk who was being driven by Wall Street and an actual sociopath who was also being driven by Wall Street. In the end they chose the sociopath and have tried to back away from the fact repeatedly; with members of his own party still not entirely sure what they've done.
Had I been Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else then it would have been a fight between the current Speaker Of The House Paul Ryan and long time Senator Bernie Sanders: that would have genuinely been a contest of ideas rather than the idiotic display of name calling which we ended up with.

Looking in from the outside, I am constantly surprised at the way that various demographic sections of the population are treated as items in a vending machine by both the media and the political parties themselves. "Push Button; Receive Votes" appears to be the modus operandi and if I happened to be living in the United States, I'm sure that I would resent being patronised like that. Latinos, Black, Uneducated, Middle Class etc. are all labels which are used to ring fence voters and for reasons that make little sense to me, those voters are mostly happy to be penned in. There is one label which really makes my brain hurt: "Evangelicals".
Right up front, it should be pointed out that the word Evangelical as it used in political circles is entirely different to how it is used within churches. The Greek word εὐαγγέλιον or "euangelion" comes from three roots" the prefix eu- which means "good", angelos which means a "messenger" and the neuter suffix -ion which means that the word is a common noun; thus "euangelion" means "good news" and specifically the good news of the gospel and the hope of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ's death, resurrection and by logical extension, atonement. In political circles though, this is more or less hurled onto the bonfire of euphemism and all that political commentators are concerned about are the mostly to white Anglo Saxon Protestant voters, who as a group have been dragged further to the economic and cultural right over the past forty years; I wanted to know how they got there.
Evangelicals as a thing didn't really exist before about 1960. They were equally as likely to vote for the Democratic Franklin D. Roosevelt as they were the Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower and were spread more or less evenly throughout the supporter bases of both parties. It wasn't until public opinion polling was taken up in the 1930s, that these results started to influence how the political parties saw the electorate. A more scientific approach to getting votes, divided into sections, various slices of the pie to be fought over and Evangelicals were just one of many.

The 1960 Presidential Election between Kennedy and Nixon was between a deeply flawed and morally dubious visionary and a revenge driven psychopath. Kennedy won and in doing so, pulled the Democratic Party violently away from many obviously racist policies in the south. After he was assassinated, Johnson continued to enact a lot of the policies which Kennedy had overseen and it is during this period that we see the Civil Rights Act passed. The weird thing is that in Republican land, Barry Goldwater who was a capitalist authoritarian, failed immensely at the 1964 election and for 1968, the Republican Party began to follow. Nixon was elected in due course an following the Watergate scandal, Ford became President, after never being on the ticket (Spiro Agnew had resigned in disgrace in 1973) and by 1976, the country threw out the Republican Party and elected Jimmy Carter. This is where the story gets insane.

Jimmy Carter probably had the most visible faith of any President during the twentieth century; so much so that he even gained the nickname of "the nation's Sunday School Teacher". Unfortunately, he became President during the middle of the 1970s oil crisis and was the one in charge during the 1979 Iranian Hostage Situation. Despite resolving the Iranian hostage crisis without needing to fire a shot and holding peace talks between Egyptian President Sanwar Adat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David in 1978, Carter was still seen as someone who could be picked off.
Given all that as background, I thought it really strange that as a block evangelicals would turn against such a visible Christian leader and vote in someone who had backed Goldwater in 1964 and hadn't really challenged Nixon during the Republican primaries in 1968.

In hunting down the root causes for the shift and adhesion of evangelicals to the Republican right, my first inkling was that it had to do with deeply moral issues like abortion and Roe v Wade. The problem with this is that the case Roe v Wade happened in 1973; which was 4 years before Jimmy Carter took office and therefore was impossible for him to have anything to do with affecting it, whatsoever. If it had anything to do with the appointment of Supreme Court judges, then unlike the 2016 election, the court had no vacancies and was generally considered to be 6-3 in favour of conservatives; besides which Roe v Wade was handed down 7-2 and so that further blows that line of thought out the window.
Once again the old adage from crime novels and court cases is instructive: "follow the money". In doing so, we find a trail which is truly worrying.

In 1975, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), unilaterally revoked the taxation exempt status of what it had determined to be as it called them, "segregation academies". Ever since Brown v Board Of Education (1954) had been handed down 9-0 by the Supreme Court, it had been illegal for educational institutions to discriminate against applicants and deny them entry, on the basis of race. Gerald Ford's administration had taken steps to crack down on the practice; especially in the south, which was mostly ruled southern Democrats. As you'd expect, these places didn't take this lying down and Bob Jones University took the IRS to court and lost.

The ruling of the court had implications for Liberty Christian Academy and Liberty University, and their founder Jerry Falwell and a chap called Paul Weyrich co-founded a political action committee called the Moral Majority in 1979 to tap into evangelical Christian churches and places, to recruit and cultivate grass roots action.
There wasn't anything particularly new about what the Moral Majority was doing but what they saw and were able to exploit was a group of people who felt that they hadn't been listened to. Once a narrative was weaved together where Christian values were being undermined, the facts that the court in Roe v Wade had been 6-3 conservative v liberals or that the IRS was probably right in its assessment about segregation under another name, then it didn't really matter what the truth actually was.
All of these things started swirling around and this helps to explain why evangelicals were co-opted into voting for Ronald Reagan and against someone of obvious displayed faith. As I write this in 2017, Jimmy Carter is still a Sunday School teacher at his local church despite being aged well into his 90s.
Incidentally, the IRS won its complaint against "segregationist academies" in 1982; and were forced to abandon a lot of their policies including bans on interracial dating. Those places including Bob Jones University, Liberty Christian Academy and Liberty University were also pursued by the IRS for back taxes as well. Make of that what you will.
Reagan served two terms in the White House and this was followed by a term from George HW Bush. 12 years is long time to be in the political wilderness and while the economic right was busy gutting all the labour laws, the libertarian left of the Democratic Party was busy rebuilding it's base into the position that they find themselves today.

Essentially an problem for Evangelicals today, when it comes to the realm of voting and elections, is that the Democratic Party has adopted a series of positions on moral issues which they disagree with and the Republican Party pays lip service to these things just so it can collect votes. It also doesn't help that America also combines first past the post voting with mass gerrymandering and voluntary voting, then vests the executive of the nation in one person and then pits that executive against the other two branches of government. That's a recipe for combative government, which if you read through the Federalist Papers is actually what people like Hamilton and Jefferson intended.
The world that we got to in 2017 is vastly different to the one in 1980 but it's worth remembering that people do tend to participate in politics in the same way that they follow a sporting team; the idea of a rational voter who carefully considers their vote is like the idea of a rational actor in economics - it's a nice idea but it just doesn't exist.

April 07, 2017

Horse 2256 - A Suburb By Any Other Name Would Still Be The Same

ELEVEN suburbs near Marsden Park will be created and will receive names inspired by the region’s history, geography and botany.

Area 4: Angus, Molucanna or Lynch.
Area 5: Bunda, Richards or Parrington
Area 6: Wirrawirra, Bells Grange or Daringa
Area 7: Cable, Nirimba or Stonecutters
Area 8: Kwigan, Dryden or McDonnell
Area 9: Warraburra, Corcoran or Mason
Area 10: Tallawong, Whitlam Heights or Cudgegong Rise
Area 11: Wran, Mambara or Rankine
Area 12: Dirrabari, Rothwell Downs or Grevillea Grove
- Blacktown Advocate, 5th Apr 2017.

Who says I don't go local?

Previously in this blog, I have dispensed advice on how one should name one's children despite not having any children of my own. I can report that to date, all children that have been born and named by parents that I know since that blog post have all been given sensible names. Well done. Big tick. Advance to GO and collect $200.
This week, the Blacktown Advocate reports that something bigger is to be given names - eleven suburbs. Having dispensed advice previously and having it work out well, I now feel qualified to dispense more advice on naming things.

In Australia, we have a pretty horrible sort of past when it comes to naming places. New South Wales is named because the one bit that Captain James Cook's voyage found in 1770, apparently looked a bit like South Wales. I have been to South Wales and in my not very well paid opinion, all those months at sea must have rotted out the brains of those explorers because South Wales doesn't even remotely look like anything in Australia. We have two states which were named after Queen Victoria and by the time that the other colonies were founded everyone had clearly lost interest because three big areas are named for their geographical description. The Australian Capital Territory isn't so much a name as it is a description of what it is.
The other thing that we do in Australia is name things egotistically. When explorers opened up the country, they didn't consult the locals who were already living there about what they already called things; instead they named stuff after themselves and the people who sent them there. Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, the Darling River, the Hunter River, the list goes on and on and on. It was only really recently when we accumulated a sufficient amount of history that we started to name stuff after historical things and dared to consult the locals as to what they traditionally named things.
These eleven suburbs which are literally being created out of thin air and the stroke of a pen, have all been given proposed names which are historically based and or sensibly named for other reasons. Going through the proposed lists, I wouldn't have a problem with any of them and think that they'd all pass into boredom fairly quickly.
Where is the advice that I'm going to  dispense, I don't hear you ask. The truth is that in my time playing computer games like Transport Tycoon, I have named many many places. I have seen the rise of cities, carved out rivers and conquered worlds. The names that I give cities are usually daft.

I find it helpful to dispense names in groups of 26, from A-Z, moving from top left to bottom right because if there happens to be a train crash in a town beginning with R for example, it's going to be somewhere in the south and near the center of the world. The next thing that I'm inclined to do is to give out names that sound like they could be quaint English villages. I think that in England, they must have reached the point of naming everything after geographic descriptions a very long time ago. At some point they've thought "whatever" and have just thrown random words around and I rather like that sort of thing.

As a result, some names constantly get repeated such as: St Christmas, Neil Astronaut, Wicker Basket, Much Waffling, Dunny On-The-Wold, Chimney Pot, in my grand naming schemes. They might all sound nominally ridiculous but they all equally sound plausible. Remember, there actually are places in England called Bishop's Stortford, Cheddar Gorge, The Isle Of Muck, Eel Pie Island, Elephant & Castle, and Battle. In Canada, Medicine Hat and Moose Jaw are both also real.
I make mention of all of this because it proves that unlike children's names, place names need not be sensible. They can be as daft as a brush and it's perfectly fine.

I think that if I'd been on the geographical names committee, I would have thrown the names Winterbottom, Phar Lap, Bradman, Midsomer, Broadchurch, St Mary Mead, Sunhill, Isembard, Bradfield, Florey, Uniapon, Lovely, Blue Sky Mine, and Rove, into the list of proposals. Within a few years they'd be accepted as normal and that would be the end of it. You could name a suburb Vin Diesel and it would sound ordinary after a time. People would just get used to it.

April 06, 2017

Horse 2255 - Children & Motor Cars (A Buyer's Guide)

This blog post is mainly for the benefit of my sister, who will at some point in the future, bring forth a small human in what I understand to be an extremely painful and not at all pleasant medical procedure. This human who is currently under construction, will necessitate a change of motor vehicle because carting around the paraphernalia required to give them an adequate state of comfort, apparently can not be done in a family sedan. I personally don't understand the logic behind that but whatever. This is not my human child.
As someone who has no children, I am eminently qualified to dispense advice about said children. Put them in a box, fill them with Mars bars and give them a copy of The Economist look at. That's how you look after children, right? Not that it matters much because by the time that they have reached the age of two years old, their brains will have already pruned out many millions of connections between synapses and be vastly more efficient; so they won't remember it anyway.  That should be enough to prove to anyone that I have about the same sort of parenting skills as Winnie The Pooh and he is a fictional character and a toy bear at that.
No, really the only thing that I should be allowed to say about children is the suitability of the kind of motor vehicle that you intend to put them in; and on that subject, my advice is as whimsical as it is impractical.

Do not ever use the term 'minivan'. There is nothing remotely mini about a seven seat bus. Unless you intend on getting a Fiat 600 Multipla, then the correct term is either 'van' or 'bus'. A Mitsubishi Starwagon Space Gear is a van; as is a Toyota Tarago and a Nissan Urvan.
The second thing to note is that they are mostly not cool. There are exceptions to this, such as the original Volkswagen Kombi van or those tricked up Yakuza vans with body kits and spoilers but in general, owning a van is an admission that you have given up being cool forever. At this point, trakkies are acceptable to go to the shops in, and walking around a shopping centre without combing your hair is also acceptable.

I have written about SUVs in the past and again in general, they are not cool. Land Rover Series 90, Toyota Land Cruiser 70 and the Nissan Patrol are the exception; as are Mercedes-Benz G Wagens. If you can drive across arctic tundra, then they aren't SUVs but proper Four Wheel Drives and they are acceptable and you should immediately go camping at every single opportunity.
SUVs that never leave the black top and that are jacked up station wagons, are uncool and should be left to the myriad of other sheeple in the car park crusades. SUVs such as the Mazda CX-3, Ford Ecosport and Holden Trax are basically just taller versions of hatchbacks and Ford made no secret that their Territory was basically the Falcon except that was a bit chunkier and had less useable space because the taller suspension towers intruded further into the boot.
As with all of these things there are exceptions and one of them is the Nissan Juke. This is a car so outrageously bonkers that although it can not cross soggen fields, it can cross the lines of common sense. Depending on who you talk to it either looks unbelievably stupid or unbelievably cool. This car is like putting both spaghetti and pineapple on a pizza because it really doesn't care what you think at all.

Station Wagons
Once upon a time, station wagons were unjustly maligned as being uncool but now all of the sheeple have wandered off into the fields of the SUV, station wagons are cool again. Station wagons are bought by people who need the space but don't need to look like everyone else.
Small station wagons like the Toyota Corolla and the Mitsubishi Lancer are utilitarian and dull and able to blend into the world. Wagons like the Holden Commodore and the Ford Mondeo are sensible choices and indicate that not only have you not given up on life but you've still got all of your little grey cells singing together in harmony. The Mondeo in particular is the normal car of detectives in the UK and if Batman was British and returned to his detective roots, then that's what he would probably have.

I will go out on a limb and say that there has never been a definitively uncool hatchback. The Volkswagen Golf and the Toyota Corolla have frequently strayed into meh territory but meh is still acceptable if unexciting. You will note that even the Hyundai that I had, which was made from paper clips, rubber bands and the automatic choke was literally a cardboard box filled with wax, was badly put together and which was a pile of rubbish with wheels on, was still cool.
You might not think it but hatchbacks are like ladies' handbags and the TARDIS, in that they are bigger on the inside. I suspect that a wee Mitsubishi Mirage will be more than capable of carrying the paraphernalia required when you acquire a human child. Your desire to get a Nissan Cube says to me that you've thought through this properly and still want something cool.

For many years this was the default choice. Four door sedans are so ubiquitous that when you say the words "family car" that's the default thought and with good reason. Although not as practical as a hatchback (they do not pass the washing machine test, hence why I would never buy one through choice) they are sensible. Your Camry is a family car and is already equal to the task and the good thing about that is that through inactivity, you already end up with a car which fulfils your needs.

Just don't.
Coupes, be they hatchbacks, utes or sports cars are cool but within about ten minutes you will learn the hard way why they will be a terrible idea. It will be a pointless game of Rubik's Car every time you try to get your sprog in and out of a capsule or a child seat. Getting to the back seats warrants folding the seats forward and you still have the B-pillar in the way. With a rear doors, it's just a matter of opening and closing them.
Unless you want to take up yoga and become a contortionist, do not under any circumstances get a coupe until your child can get in and out by themselves.

While the Nissan Cube is a good choice, the best choice for you would be a station wagon with slightly more boot space. If you can make sufficient noise, then maybe you might be able to get a Holden Commodore SS Sportwagon with the 6.2L V8. Your child will not thank you now but when they are in Year 5 and you get caught for laying some big fat 11s in the carpark and get hauled into the principal's office, then you can open your handbag, slap down a meat pie on his desk and give them the one word explanation of "STRAYA" (actually don't do this - why waste a perfectly good pie?)
Sure, I don't have children of my own and that's probably a good thing because I'm not sure that the world needs a person who is half like me but if I did then we'd be keeping the Mazda 2 or progressively replacing it with hatchbacks and station wagons. Once you've had a hatchback, the benefits are obvious and a station wagon is a slightly longer version of that.

April 05, 2017

Horse 2254 - An Astronomical Waste Of Money?

A comment which I've heard from a few people about the funding of space exploration is that it is a giant waste of money. The great Tom Lehrer spoke of the cost of "twenty billion dollars to send twelve clowns to the moon"; yet the very reason that he was able to make such a statement is testament to the fact that the two superpowers of the day, the USA and the USSR, who were locked in a peculiar geopolitical dance, didn't decide to blow the living daylights out of each other and in the process cause the extinction of every single living thing on the planet. Today if someone makes such a statement, it is usually not a hard question to ask to see their mobile phone and then point to both it and the myriad of technological advancements which they are currently the beneficiary of.
The rightist argument that we shouldn't spend money on something which we can't see an immediate benefit, like the arts for example, starts to look identical to the leftist argument that the money could be used to benefit the poor, or public schooling or other things, pretty quickly. If that was the only means by which the value of a thing should be measured, then I think that there is a pretty good argument to be made that all public art should be defunded  and this includes public broadcasting. While we're at it, all public funding of anything to do with sport, the Olympics, all public parks and national parks, needs to be stopped immediately.

Of course I don't believe that all of those things should be defunded and in many cases, I think that more public money should go towards these things. About the subject of space exploration and going to the moon, apart from the multiplier effects where for every $1 invested in the space program it eventually returns $17 in technology improvements, the biggest reason for going into space can be summed up in just one word -


Not quite fifty years later, in the same way that English school kids are still banging on about two world wars and one world cup (doo-dah), American kids can still say that the only twelve people to have been on the moon were 'Murican! If that sounds like some silly super hyper patriotism to you, then you are right in your assessment and you should give yourself a bunch of stars and thirteen stripes. If there's one thing that America does well, it's super hyper patriotism.
Yes, the whole Apollo Program was essentially an empty action which was mostly about waving the flag but that was kind of the point. If you want to tell a national story which is apart from the shameful bits of history like slavery, racism and inequality, then if the country wants to create a shared narrative, it needs to look outwards and there is no greater symbol of looking outwards than actually looking beyond the bounds of this pale blue dot.

The whole point of the public finding of so called useless stuff, if it isn't immediate economic benefit or deferred economic benefit is obviously for some other benefit which policy makers think will be conferred. If something like a public park is being funded then the benefits include the health and well being of the citizenry, if it is the arts which are being funded then the benefits include the cultural advancement of the country; in the case of sports funding the benefits are direct entertainment as well as a sense of civic togetherness in some instances. Looking at space funding generally, I think that as a piece of civic investment that it pays dividends which well exceed that which was spent; for the Apollo Program in particular, it is still telling a story almost five decades later and still inspiring people. As a piece of propaganda at a very singular time in history it was quite effective at demonstrating a nation's power and might but as a piece of history, it still speaks to people as to what could be possible if only people worked together.
This speaks to a greater problem about reducing the world to just a series of numbers. When you reduce everything to a price, you find out the value of nothing. The number that is often quoted about how well the country is doing is Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but the problem with using only a single number like that is that it tells you nothing about the life of the nation. GDP tells you nothing about the happiness of the citizenry, the level of inequality, how well people are living, what brings people together or what inspires them, and it certainly doesn't tell you about how stable the country is. Immediately you are free to ask what the point of space exploration is but if you ask practically anyone who was alive in July of 1969, they can tell you exactly where they were when Neil Armstrong kicked the moon. For a brief moment, the world looked up together and saw something inspiring and which made them happy and reducing this to the single number of cost, obscures what the value was.

I guess what I'm asking here is what is the value of the civic life of a nation? Detractors who will point to what is perceived as a colossal waste of money, and indeed twenty billion dollars is a very big number, fall to recognise that that was spread over ten years and taken as a percentage of the US Government budget it worked out to be less than two percent per year; if you look at NASA's budget in 2017, it is still less than two percent of total government spending. I bet that if you were to look at some individuals' annual budget, there's a distinct possibility that someone spends more on coffee as a percentage of their annual spending than the US Government does on space. The net effect of an individual's spending on coffee is their well being in the morning and I don't think that it's much of a stretch to suggest that the space program is possibly an equivalent, except that it just happens to generate subsidiary benefits in the process. Spending all that money on coffee in the morning doesn't make the nation say 'MURICA! and nor is it ever likely to.

April 03, 2017

Horse 2253 - It's Time To End The Luxury Car Tax

Dear Australia, we need to talk.

In this country we have a bunch of taxes for a whole bunch of things. When Australia adopted the Goods And Services Tax in 2000, a whole bunch of taxes were eliminated and consolidated into the new tax system but there were a few things which continued on as uselessly as someone's appendix. One of these was the Wine Equalisation Tax which is amusingly called WET which is a 12% extra impost on top of the GST, which was designed to make sure that wines and spirits were continued to be taxed at 22%. The other major tax which continues to hang on uselessly is the Luxury Car Tax, or LCT, which places an impost of 33% on new cars which are sold for more than $64,132. I think that the LCT is idiotic and needs to be lanced immediately like a cancerous tumor.

As far as I can tell, the LCT was originally invented with the intent of making the top end of the car market a little bit more expensive, so that people would be attracted to buy the luxury cars being built by Holden and Ford. At the time of its introduction, there were four major car manufacturers in this country; being General Motors, Ford, Mitsubishi and Toyota. Mitsubishi closed its doors in 2008, the last Ford rolled off the production line in 2015, the last Holden will leave the factory on October 20 this year and the last Toyota, which will also be the very last car built by a major manufacturer in Australia will roll out on October 31. With no motor industry left in this country to speak of except for very small specialist bespoke sports car builders, the whole point of the LCT disappears. What is the point of a tax which is designed to protect local manufacturing when there is no local manufacturing?

If there is no industry left, which the tax is supposed to protect, then the LCT has two effects. Firstly, it is purely a tax grab with no net benefit to consumers whatsoever. Secondly, by artificially raising the price of new motor cars, it's actually helping to distort the rest of the market. New cars at the top end are needlessly expensive, which pulls the price of cars and trucks such as the Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado and Toyota Hilux, upwards; with the result that these things are ridiculously priced for what they are, and because the whole market for new cars is inflated, the price of used cars in Australia is among the most expensive in the world. As it is we will already have a captured market where the car sellers are price makers and so the continued existence of the LCT only really serves them.

If I lay aside my personal tribalism, where deep down my heart beats blue and I'd still like to be driving a Henry, as far as the market is concerned, the only reason that we don't see more BMWs, Audis and Mercedes-Benz on the road is because of the LCT. Now I don't think that they produce a markedly better quality of car for a second but I still don't see why people who want them should be paying a premium in taxation when there isn't a good reason for them to do so any more. This isn't like a sin tax on tobacco and alcohol, where the reason for imposing a tax is to partially recover the additional costs placed on the health care system because the real difference of costs placed on infrastructure and the environment between a BMW 3-series and a Kia Optima, are nil. In terms of the actual function of moving people around the place, the entire motor industry is mostly entirely fungible; it matters diddly-squat difference in real terms of what the badge on the front of your metal box happens to be, and all differences are down to fashion and function.
I personally wouldn't ever buy a Mercedes-Benz, BMW or an Audi, because I think that those cars help to identify the driver as an arrogant prig (and my biases are confirmed by watching traffic on my way to work every day) but I still don't see why people who choose to make that fashion choice should be marked for a special tax in future. It doesn't happen in other markets for consumer durable goods.

I think that with the death of the Australian motor manufacturing industry, which by the way borders on treasonous and I look upon the parliament with scorn, disdain and a very hard stare, the Luxury Car Tax also needs to die. I don't know who in the world benefits from it any more.