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:

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

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:

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.

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

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?

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 Figaro?


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.


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.

July 06, 2017

Horse 2294 - Doctor Who: "The Taxidermist And The Explorer" (Series 10, Episode 13)

I have a personal grand theory about Doctor Who which is as daft as it is delightful, as brilliant as it is balderdash and as unlikely as it is unprovable. Nevertheless because of the fact that it can not be disproved, then it stands to reason that it must be completely true. The theory is probably my own unique headcanon and as far as I'm concerned, I am not changing it - it is thus:
Any time that you see any actor from Doctor Who in any other production at all, those things are instantly part of the Whoniverse.
This has some really really strange ramifications; which as far as I can tell do not break the laws of space and time but rather because time is a big timey-wimey ball of stuff, only serves to prove that the theory is even stronger.

The show Worzel Gummidge is actually not an independent show but a really complex Third Doctor arc, which clearly falls somewhere between "The Sea Devils" (LLL) and "The Mutants" (NNN). Likewise, Broadchurch is also not an independent show but an arc of Tenth Doctor stories which are possibly no later than "The Waters Of Mars" (4.16). It also means that The Thick Of It and In The Loop are Twelfth Doctor stories and presumably falling somewhere between "Hell Bent" but before "The Pilot". Unfortunately the alter ego of Malcolm Tucker is so foul mouthed that I won't watch the arcs but the explanation that something terrible must've happened in between the loss of Clara and his arrival at the university, fits nicely.

This also means that Father Brown must be the continuing story of Rory Williams' dad Brian after Rory and Amy got stuck in New York City in 1936 and can never be retrieved. I suspect that Brian was so distraught that becoming a priest in the 1950s and solving crime was a worthwhile distraction.
The only proper way to explain Victoria is that after "Hell Bent", Clara has assumed the role of the British Monarch as indeed Ashildr has also assumed the role of Arya Stark in Game Of Thrones.

Which all brings me to the two screen grabs that I managed to get from the arc "The Taxidermist And The Explorer", which comes after the end of "The Doctor Falls".

- This time Nardole appears to have gotten the chameleon circuit to work on the TARDIS.

- Not a lot of men can carry off a decorative vegetable.

In the "The Taxidermist And The Explorer" (Series 10, Episode 13), an explorer in the 1920s accidentally find a species of talking bears; one of who later grows up and returns to London, which inadvertently sparks off an evil scientist's plans to have the bear taxidermised and placed into a museum. Admittedly The Doctor only has a minor role in the story but it is his information, which ultimately seals the evil scientist's fate.
We see The Doctor go through an absolutely terrible set of wardrobe, the like of which hasn't been seen since the Sixth and Seventh Doctor but there is a nice touch where he explains that he is prepared to eat sandwiches made from meat that expired a week ago.




Everyone else seems to think that this is a movie called "Paddington". Well not any more, it's a Twelfth Doctor story now!
Like I said, because of the fact that it can not be disproved, then it stands to reason that it must be completely true.

July 04, 2017

Horse 2293 - The Opaque Story Of NPR And Funding Public Radio In America

On the latest episode of Hello Internet*, CGP Grey and Brady Haran were discussing the almost mystifying instructions that NPR give out when asking for donations​ from the public. The reason has to do with the hideously complex nature of what NPR actually is and the myriad of minutiae of how the thing is put together.
Unlike the BBC in the United Kingdom, or the ABC in Brady's country of origin Australia, although NPR itself is a single corporation, the number of radio stations which run under its banner are not. The NPR network is not a singular government owned entity but more like a federation of loosely radio stations which all fly roughly in a similar direction.

NPR has a head office in Washington and just like PBS, it produces national news bulletins and programs and really that's as far as the national organisation goes. NPR as a national syndicator owns no transmission facilities and no public radio stations, as the model used for public radio is quite different to a single government owned and operated entity.
Every single one of the local public radio stations in the United States is its own little corporation and although they might receive some funding from the Federal Government through the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, they still find much of their funding from advertising and the goodwill of the general public who donate money. Just like PBS, NPR affiliated stations also receive funding from "viewers like you", or rather listeners like you.

Within that broad affiliation, the various radio stations are free to buy in content from wherever they like or wherever they can get it; that also includes rival public radio networks such as the Public Radio Exchange (PRX), the American Public Radio Network (APR), other national broadcasters from other countries such as the BBC, ABC, CBC, Deutsche Welle and whatnot, as well as independently​ funded organisations like the Maximum Fun network of podcasts.
The show "Car Talk" which was produced by WBUR in Boston, Massachusetts, was sold independently to some stations such as WNYC but sold via NPR to other affiliate stations throughout America. NPR Morning Edition was produced is produced in the head offices of NPR and is sold via the NPR network. 99% Invisible is produced by Roman Mars for the Radiotopia podcast network, is distributed by PRX and airs many NPR stations who choose to buy it in. As an Australian in the United States, I found it both familiar and singularly weird to hear Just A Minute from BBC Radio 4 on an NPR station, early in the morning and not late at night.

Not only do you have a massively complex web of little independent radio stations all with their own independent governance, who all kind of buy programming from each other, but to compound complexity upon complexity, the fifty states in the union also have their own right to levy income and sales taxes. This means that the treatment of donations with respect to taxation, is going to change for every state in the union as well.
In that respect, it makes complete sense to ask patrons to fund their local public radio stations because from a purely logistical standpoint, that is more direct in making the system work, than throwing money into the national funding pot and them letting the Corporation For Public Broadcasting spread it around the place. A local radio station which produces some content which can then be sold either on PRX or into the NPR network is better placed to negotiate its own prices when it comes to buying programming in. In this respect, that explains why WBEZ in Chicago is reasonably well known; it produces "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" the NPR News quiz and "Invisiblia". Supporting the local public radio station which may or may not buy all or only a portion of its programming from NPR, helps to ensure the viability of the whole network because it's harder to pick off a whole bunch of independent little corporations than one big one that lives in the pocket of the federal government.
The solution for overseas listeners is to either support their local public radio station in their own country so that it continues to buy in the programs it wants, or to try a more direct approach and kick a few bucks towards the radio station which produced the actual content in the first place. Perhaps overseas listeners might also like to sponsor the independent networks like Maximum Fun or Radiotopia who also produce content.
As an aside, this is one of the reasons why I am grateful to the Great British taxpayer. Through their licence fees, they fund the BBC and by extension Radio 4, Five Live, and the BBC World Service.

So why ask listeners to support their local public radio station? Mostly because the world is complex and doesn't respond well to simple answers and this is the simplest answer available. As NPR is a syndicator and producer of programs rather than an actual radio station, it doesn't make a whole heap of sense to ask listeners to fund programming unless there's a terrestrial broadcaster to play it over the airwaves, or else NPR would be like PRX or Maximum Fun; it wouldn't really be public radio anymore.

* Hello Internet with CGP Grey and Brady Haran - http://www.hellointernet.fm