December 27, 2018

Horse 2497 - Philosophy Is Wondering If Ketchup Is A Smoothie.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.
Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
Philosophy is wondering if that means ketchup is a smoothie.
- Miles Kingston

A lot of memes fly around the internet and people think that they are funny but never bother to interrogate the thing that's in front of them. I would argue that this distinct lack of curiosity is part of the reason why politics is broken and why we're all hurtling down the road of idiocy with no brakes.
The only Miles Kingston of note that I could find, was a humorous columnist at The Independent and then The Times; so it's probably possible that the quote is genuine.
I still think it worthwhile to interrogate the quote though. I am like a dog with a bone. I will not let this go until I give it two shakes.

Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit.

1. Knowledge generally speaking is the collection of facts and information pertaining to a particular subject; or perhaps the skills and practical understanding of that subject which have been won through training and theory, or sometimes by experimental practice.

2. Knowledge is also an awareness of a thing or perhaps familiarity bred through repeated exposure to experience.

3. Knowledge is also the older archaic euphemism which means sexual intercourse; which is derived from the older idea that a marriage wasn't actually a thing unless it had been consumated.

Because parts 1, 2 & 3 have to do with the ontology of a tomato, or rather the nature of being of said tomato, then Knowledge is basically a derivative of Philosophy.

As tomato is a berry of the nightshade, Solanum Lycopersicum, it is indeed a fruit.

Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.

Wisdom is not just the acquiring of knowledge and/or collecting experience about a thing but rather, the ability to exercise good judgement. Wisdom is indeed the practical outworking of that knowledge.

A collection of more facts is in order here though. Technically speaking fruits are the edible plant structures of a mature ovary of a flowering plant. To that end a pumpkin is a fruit, because it matches this dictionary definition of "fruit"; as is a cucumber and an avocado. If you were to put all of these into a soup or indeed a salad, then technically you have a fruit salad.

Wisdom would therefore yell from the rooftops that putting tomato in a fruit salad is perfectly acceptable. I would argue that such a dish would put one into a state of eudaimonia; which implies a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous. To that end, Widsom is also a derivative of Philosophy; and a branch of which  Aristotle, Plato, Socrates and perhaps most famously Epicurus would have been proud of. Don't mention Kant though. Nobody understands Kant. Not even Kant understands Kant. If anyone says that they understand Kant, they are a liar.

Philosophy is wondering if that means ketchup is a smoothie.

We are back to the ontological question of the nature of a thing being a thing. A smoothie is a very thick drink made from fruit, vegetables, maybe dairy produce, and maybe combinations of all of them.

We could always look and see if there is anything which already qualifies ketchup as a smoothie and  I would argue that a Bloody Mary which is made from Tomato Juice and Vodka, probably already qualifies as the ur-example of this.

Let's ask the direct question - can you drink ketchup? Quite obviously, yes.
Not only is the answer "yes" but the Guinness World Records people recognise the record of the Fastest time to drink a bottle of ketchup.

Can you drink ketchup? Yes. Is ketchup thick drink made from fruit? We have already established that tomato is a fruit; so the answer to that is also yes.

Is Philosophy wondering if that means ketchup is a smoothie? Not quite. Philosophy implies an ongoing inquiry. This post is an example of me doing Philosophy.

And yes, ketchup is a smoothie.

Should you drink ketchup? 
I personally wouldn't without good reason. That good reason would be at least $101.

December 14, 2018

Horse 2496 - Imperfect And Cheap Is A Better Story Than Perfect And Expensive

Oh dear.

My 3-string chocolate tin guitar, has decided that it didn't want to be a guitar anymore and after it had happened Mrs R reported that "it just gave up"; before questioning if this was a humidity issue. I don't know how hot or humid that it got out in the western suburbs of Sydney during the day but I do know that it sat in a car on Sunday afternoon; which meant that the glue which held the headstock in place, was under a fair amount of stress. Humidity could very well be a true assessment.
Am I worried about it though? Not if the slightest. When I consider that the one which I got in a kit was No.1 and my 1-string diddly-bow Spamjo is No.2, then all that will happen to No.3 is that it will be built into No.3A. I kind of love the fact that this guitar is writing its own legend. Since the world is made of stories and No.3 was tuned to EBE with the high strings of a guitar, then maybe I have to restring it with less tension and give it a lower voice. No.3A will be the guitar which went through puberty and whose voice broke (somewhat literally).

I have seen guitars built by people whose skills exceed those of professional luthiers. Having said that, I still think that from an aesthetic point of view, the best cigar box guitars are those which are obviously the cheapest. I have seen cigar box guitars for sale and prices into the many hundreds of dollarpounds  and while there is something to be said for the ridiculous amount of craftsmanship that goes into them and the fact that I admire the entrepreneurial and mercantile skills, at those prices you can buy a commercially made guitar.
There is something wonderful in the brutality of cheapness that appeals to me. I saw one guitar recently which was made out of an old oil can and the grime from the oil was still all over it. I love that this was turned into a guitar because it was cheap. There's more of a story there than a purpose built fancy pants piece of precious craftsmanship which never ever gets used.

I think this principle applies to more than just guitars made from cheap bits though. I think that it is worth applying to all sorts of things.
I completely understand the rationale behind buying a high performance car and then placing it in a garage. I also understand why you might want to take a racecar which has won something and place it in a museum. This is about preserving and maintaining a thing so that people in the future can look at it. There's nothing necessarily wrong with wanting a nice thing to remain a nice thing and not expose it to the possibility of damage.
However, I always feel sad for the thing that has been preserved. Every museum in the world is essentially a collection of dead things that will never have life in them again. Putting a car in a museum is to betray the purpose for which it was designed; to go very very fast. A television set from the 1950s that is in a museum, should be showing something like Leave It To Beaver. Ornate jewellery from ancient Britain might look pretty when it is sitting in a glass display case but it isn't displaying the power of the wearer if it remains unworn.

It gets even crazier in the world of numismatics. Coin collectors value condition as a quality of the piece in question. The very nature of coinage is that it clinks and rubs together in people's purses and wallets. Even as I look through my wallet now, I can see coins that are not even ten years old that display obvious signs of wear. They have a story which is mostly unknowable, where they are passed from person to person, facilitating commerce as they act as the tokens for previous work performed in the production of goods and services. Again, this is an ancient story and coins of thousands of years ago have a similar story. A bronze As of the Roman Empire will have moved through the hands of bakers, farmers, soldiers, artisans and tradespeople, as it acted in the process of moving value from one person to another.
As a coin collector, I am also painfully aware of Proof and Uncirculated sets, which by definition have never taken part in commerce and never will. Proof coins have polished fields and frosted details; they are the model examples of the coins in question. Proof coins which are sealed away inside their special packs, are museum pieces; whose owners are individual curators of museums of dead things. As far as I'm concerned, an 1878 Penny with Britannia on one side and Queen Victoria on the other, is an inherently more valuable thing than a Proof Penny of 2018, even though the latter has been polished, frosted, made to an obviously better standard and placed into a special set. The former which can be found in a "junk bin" at a coin shop, not only took part in commerce but did so at the centre power of an empire at a particular time in history.

I don't think that I am alone in my preference for things that have been used, abused and reused. To me this is like the Star Wars versus Star Trek question. Star Trek is known for its unbridled optimism. Right across the Star Trek universe, all of the spaceships including the ones owned by villains are all reasonably clean. The Star Wars universe on the other hand has actual junk dealers who pick their way through rubbish to make stuff. Somehow I think that most of us would prefer to live in the Star Trek universe but think that the Star Wars universe is more believable. I like the look of the Star Wars universe more for that reason and often wonder about what we don't see in those films. Surely somewhere there must be planets full of malchicks and regular schmoes who take the train to work, in factories that make all kinds of stuff. Eddie Izzard's bit about a guy who works in catering on board the Defence Sphere No.1 (Death Star according to rebel scum propaganda) under Mr Stephens has to have an element of truth about it because all of those technicians, ground crew, systems operators and pilots have to eat at some point. By the way, what happens on board something that has to deal with many species of aliens' poop? There has to be space plumbers on board the Death Star.

I'm not particularly worried about having to rebuild my 3-string guitar because at very worst, it will only cost a few pennycents. When you build a thing out of something that has the value of junk, then the emotional investment is minimal. In this case, it will take a few screws and some glue and that's about it. It already uses a dead AA battery for the bridge and rivets and a hinge for the tailpiece and so a couple of extra screws can not change the aesthetic of the thing even an iota.
I will end up using the other three strings which came out of the set and tune them down to GDG, which means that it will have a significantly lower voice than before. I don't think that that's remotely an issue either because since it doesn't pretend to be anything other than home made, not only does it not have to look pretty but I would argue that it looks better if it doesn't.

December 10, 2018

Horse 2495 - Clive Palmer Shouldn't Be In Parliament: He Should Be On The Radio

In the past week, I think I have witnessed the beginning of what is possibly the weirdest campaign in Australian political history.

Closer to home, I found that this recently appeared on my way to the railway station.

To be honest I have no idea whether or not Clive Palmer is even running for parliament or not. I have no idea if these are actually political billboards or not. I have no idea if Clive Palmer is trying to claim slogans before the racists get to them or not. What kind of political campaign is it when nobody is sure if you are actually running for parliament or not? One run by four time meme champion, Clive Palmer - that's what kind.
Clive Palmer's first foray into federal politics suffered the same kind of problem that most eponymous political parties face; a distinct lack of discipline and no real expertise in running the whips of the party. As a result, MPs defected once inside the parliament and it once again faded into the background. This problem also faces other political parties like the Jackie Lambie Network, Nick Xenophon's neXt, Bob Katter's  Australian Party and of course Pauline Hanson's One Nation, and while they might individually have longevity, they should have served as instructional, in that a top down party almost never works as opposed to a bottom up party like the Greens, Labor, or the Liberal Party.
Nevertheless, I still think that Clive Palmer should be part of the cultural fabric of Australia, just not as a politician.

The obvious comparison with Clive Palmer as a rich businessman entering politics would be Donald Trump. Trump had a pretty long run on NBC's The Apprentice and although I have never watched the television show, it apparently rated well enough for long enough that the network kept on making more shows. The reason why I cite Trump is that he is someone else who also shouldn't be in politics, and to be honest, kind of sort of isn't. The current White House administration is very much an extension of his unreality television show as far as I can tell. If this is true, then what is the best answer for Clive Palmer? I think that it is radio.

BBC Radio 4 has since 1967, been running a show called "Just A Minute"; which has been a staple of its Monday Night Comedy slot, for a very long time. The premise of the show is that the host gives panelists a topic which they must speak on for sixty seconds (hence the name " Just As Minute") and they must do so without repetition of words, hesitation, and without deviation from the subject. Offenses to these rules can be challenged by the other panelists and whoever is successful gets a point and continues to speak until the sixty seconds have elapsed. There is a link provided below.
The show has been successful for more than fifty years because the premise is absurdly simple and the show lends itself to having a wide range of panelists, though it is dominated by comedians. If we were to have the ABC commission our own series of Just A Minute, it would mean that the controllers of Radio National would have to shift the network from being almost entirely serious, to a degree of fun and frivolity; which would be more in keeping with the spirit of Radio National past. For a very long time The Goon Show appeared on Radio National at midday on Saturday and that's about as crazy bonkers as you can get. Something like our own series of Just A Minute would be the beginning of aligning Radio National to where it used to be; which is something like BBC Radio 4.

Leigh Sales once said on the Chat 10 Looks 3 podcast, that Clive Palmer was impossible to interview. Like interviewing Bob Katter, he dances around subjects like a hummingbird in a field full of flowers darts from place to place. That's not exactly a good quality for a politician but it is of considerable advantage on a radio panel show. It is noteworthy that on Just A Minute, other politicians such as Clement Freud and Giles Brandreth, have been fixtures of the show. I think that Clive Palmer was an abysmal failure as a politician but as previous politicians have proven, that skill set works extremely well when the consequences are nil.

Opponents will of course say that allowing politicians and business people onto television and radio shows humanises them as though that were a bad thing. This quite ignores the fact that politicians and business people are in fact humans and not just some canvas onto which you project your fears and hatred. I say this in the defence of politicians in particular because once you take them out of the white hot heat of politics, some of them make excellent television and radio. Ed Balls for instance, made a brilliant telly series traveling through "Trump's America" and I recently saw him on QI. Boris Johnson excels at making television about the Roman Empire and I quite liked his book about the history of the City Of London. It also turns out that John Major is actually a brilliant cricket commentator who is insanely knowledgeable about the minutiae of the game. I don't know that in Australia that we do a good job at looking beyond that particular hat that politicians wear and waste a lot of potential. Clive Palmer as a politician was bad but Clive Palmer as a radio show panelist would probably be wonderful.

I like Clive Palmer. I like Clive Palmer being interviwed on television. I think that Clive Palmer with Annabel Crabb on ABC1's Kitchen Cabinet was him being a genuine and warm person. I don't think that that necessarily works in parliament but I do think that that would be excellent on radio. You need people with personality, to broadcast that across the airwaves and Clive Palmer has that in spades.

Just A Minute on Radio National would open the door to a whole host of potential panelists.
Leigh Sales, Annabel Crabb, Shaun Micallef, Francis Greenslade, Tom Ballard, Alice Fraser, Aaron Chen, Waleed Aly, Charlie Pickering, the two Kats, Emma Alberici, Jeremy Fernandez, Tony Jones and Fran Kelly aught to be a deep enough roster to draw panelists for the first series from. Throw in any international comedians who might be on tour and you have the ingredients for a show which could last well beyond 2068.
Naturally I'd cast myself as host because I have an ego the size of Tasmania and the perfect face for radio. So come on RN, what have you got to lose?

December 09, 2018

Horse 2494 - The Highest Impossible Number of Chicken McNuggets

This afternoon after playing indoor football, some of use retired across the street to McDonald's for some Frozen Coke. Behind the counter there was a frantic panic as they'd run out of frozen slushee mixture on account of one person buying enough to drown a horse, and their second cause of panic was that they'd run out of Chicken McNuggets.
Me being the kind of person who questions these things, wanted to know the highest number that you couldn't buy. For that I needed some basic information.

Chicken McNuggets are sold in packs of 3, 6, 10 and 20. That means that once you arrive at the first number which ends in a particular digit, that all integers of Chicken McNuggets to infinity and beyond can be sold on account of the fact that there are packs of 10. Packs of 20 are already irrelevant to thinks because 20 could already be made up of 2 packs of 10.

1 - you can't buy 1 nugget
2 - you can't buy 2 nuggets
3 - is a packet; so all numbers ending in 3 are out.
4 - you can't buy 4 nuggets
5 - you can't buy 5 nuggets
6 - is a packet; so all numbers ending in 6 are out.
7 - you can't buy 7 nuggets
8 - you can't buy 8 nuggets
9 - can be made of 3 packets of 3; so all numbers ending in 9 are out.
10 - is a packet; so all numbers ending in 0 are out.
11 - you can't buy 11 nuggets
12 - can be made of 4 packets of 3; so all numbers ending in 2 beyond 12 are out.
14 - you can't buy 14 nuggets
15 - can be made of 5 packets of 3; so all numbers ending in 5 beyond 15 are out.
16 - can be made from a packet of 6 and a packet of 10; so all numbers ending in 6 beyond 16 are out.
17 - you can't buy 17 nuggets
18 - can be made of 6 packets of 3; so all numbers ending in 8 beyond 18 are out.
21 - can be made of 7 packets of 3; so all numbers ending in 1 beyond 21 are out.
27 - can be made of 9 packets of 3; so all numbers ending in 7 beyond 27 are out.

That means that the most number of Chicken McNuggets that you can not buy are 17.

Of course I have no idea why you'd even want to buy any Chicken McNuggets at all; considering that they're just Ingham nuggets which are already found in the supermarket and you could just as easily buy one big schnitzel from the deli counter anyway.

Now you know.

December 06, 2018

Horse 2493 - Business Has A Toddler Tantrum Because Of The Results Of What Business Did
Business faces a testing Christmas trading period after softer consumer spending dragged down economic growth to its slowest quarterly pace in two years.
Retailers and economists blamed subdued wages for consumption growth falling to a five-year low of 0.3 per cent and households pulling back on spending on vehicles, cafes and restaurants, alcohol, recreation and other discretionary items.
Economic growth slowed to 0.3 per cent in the September quarter, half the rate forecast by market economists. Weaker household spending was compounded by a sharp fall in resources investment at the tail-end of the construction of major mining and liquefied natural gas projects in Western Australia and Darwin.
ANZ senior economist Felicity Emmett said the softness in consumption was underlined by weak wages growth.
- Australian Financial Review, 6th Dec 2018

Well duh.

Rub my nose in the dirt and call me stinky but I really don't understand why business is surprised at this. Unless I am just really really stupid, I would have thought that it was obvious to everyone that if you pay people less money, then they have less money to spend. I could be wrong about this though. Maybe I've just been too plain ignorant to realise what's really been going on in this country.

Last year, the Business Council of Australia ponied up to the Senate Inquiry into Penalty Rates and basically beat the Liberal Party across the back of the head until they did what they wanted. Through the pages of The Australian and on telly like Sky News and appearances on QandA by various people over several month, the drum was repeatedly belted with the same club that the  Business Council of Australia was bashing the Liberal Party with.

Their submissions basically said that penalty rates were something of an anachronism and that people who work on Sunday shouldn't necessarily be paid more than those people on Saturday. Furthermore, people who were working on Saturday had made life choices to do that and their time wasn't as vauable as it used to be. By cutting penalty rates, businesses would be free to hire more people and we should see a corresponding rise in employment.
The Business Council has supported the Fair Work Commission’s recent decision to adjust penalty rates under the Fast Food, Hospitality, Retail and Pharmacy Awards. We support this decision on the basis that it will provide opportunities for small businesses to open longer hours, provide additional shifts for workers and create new jobs....
Penalty rates should no longer be seen as a means to discourage employers operating at certain times. They should be seen as a fair level of compensation for the inconvenience of working hours that many would not prefer to work. In this context, it is important to note
that the Commission’s decision adjusts rather than abolishes penalty rates. In all cases except fast food, workers still earn a higher rate on Sunday than on Saturday – up to 175 per cent.
- Business Council of Australia, Submission to the Inquiry into Penalty Rates, Aug 2017

But how was anyone to know that if you allowed businesses to cut penalty rates that owners wouldn't just put the money in their pocket? How could anyone have foreseen that if business kept more of their profits and didn't pass it along to labour, that labour wouldn't have it to spend? Who would have guessed that without discretionary income, people wouldn't be able to spend it on discretionary items? If people's rents are going up, then how dare they spend more money on rent instead of vehicles, cafes and restaurants, alcohol and recreation?
Cuts to weekend penalty rates have hit Victorian women and regional workers hardest, threaten the state’s economic growth and have not created any more jobs, according to a Parliamentary report.
The State Parliament’s Penalty Rates and Fair Pay Select Committee was scathing of the effects of the cuts to Sunday penalty rates for retail and hospitality workers that began in July 2017, saying the reductions hurt the most vulnerable workers and had not achieved their stated goals.
- Australian Financial Review, 24th Jul 2018

I mean it's not like everyone who was going to be directly affected by this didn't spend months warning business that this would hurt them. Of course directly taking money from the from the pockets of people who work on Saturdays and Sundays, many of whom might already live week to week, would reduce their income, and therefore, spending. If your marginal propensity to consume was already 100% then it's not like you had the ability to save that money anyway.

I feel precisely zero empathy for business who suffer the effects in their profit and loss statements of reduced consumer spending, when it was business who clamoured for subduing wages in the first place. What we're witnessing is a fundamental and irreversible shift of the balance of economic power away from working people and their families and the people who have taken away that power from working people for themselves, are having a tantrum. Boo hoo.

November 28, 2018

Horse 2492 - 2019 Election Announced: After May 11 And With Bonus Time Bomb Ticking

Although we do not have a fixed date for the election next year, we know that it must happen on or after the 11th of May 2019.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the 2019/20 Budget will be handed down on the 2nd of April; which means that the absolute shortest time frame allowing for the budget reply speech by the Opposition Leader on the 3rd of April is another 10 plus 23 days according to the ramifications of the Electoral Act 1918, which is the 36th of April; which happens to be a Monday and because an election must happen on a Saturday, then the 11th is the first available one.

I think that this is a remarkable piece of Machiavellian Political Engineering. This uses the machinery of legislation in a way which is so dastardly that I am impressed by its sheer audacity and bloody mindedness.
What Mr Morrison has done by announcing that his government will hand down a budget in the dying days of this parliament, is that he intends to leave unexploded ordnance laying strewn across the political battlefield; with the timers ticking.

If Labor were to win the election as expected, they would either issue a new budget or adopt the Apr 2 one as issued by the Coalition. If we assume they issue a new budget, then all that the coalition just has to block it and maybe not even expressly block it but simply fail to pass it. That task will be made all the more easier by the fact that the current government has only scheduled parliament to sit for 10 days in the first eight months of 2019.
If the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives, in the same or the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously.
- Section 57, Constitution of Australia 1900

Assuming that the budget passed the House, they the clock would start ticking from Apr 2. There'd be a minimum of five weeks already used up by the election campaign; so that leaves 21 weeks for Labor to come up with their own replacement budget and get it passed through both houses. If Labor's budget bill didn't pass the Senate, then by virtue of the House already passing the Coalition's Apr 2 one, then the  Governor-General would have the Section 57 power to dissolve both houses simultaneously.
That in itself is dependent on the Coalition still having confidence and supply support from both Julia Banks who quit the Liberal Party yesterday (27th) and Dr Kerryn Phelps who stated that she would giver her continued support; though that seems increasingly unlikely.

There are more twists and turns to this story than an Olympic bobsled run and they're all just about as slippery. Christopher Pyne, who in addition to being the Minister of Defence is also the Leader of the House and therefore responsible for of government business in the House, rang MPs on Tuesday (27th) to tell them that the government would refer the new MP for Wentworth Dr Kerryn Phelps to the High Court over Section 44 eligibility issues if parliament decides to refer Peter Dutton to the High Court over his Section 44 eligibility issues.
The problem with this is that it is the parliament who gets to decide this and a minority government by definition is in the minority and so there is no guarantee that if Mr Dutton was referred to the to the High Court, that the government would have the numbers to do the same with Dr Phelps.

If Labor were to win the election as expected and simply accept the Apr 2 budget one as issued by the Coalition, then who knows what kind of landmines would be left in it. It might be theoretically possible for the Coalition, to block their own budget from Opposition, just through spite to trigger a Section 57 election.

Of course all of this completely disappears if current polling is incorrect and the Coalition somehow manages to retain government. If that's true, then that incentivises them to introduce a budget so audacious, that even they would be shocked by it. This also assumes that the Morrison Government actually survives until April 2018 because as previously stated Julia Banks and Dr Kerryn Phelps might not be willing to continue to support the government in confidence and supply. If a no confidence vote was passed on the floor of the House, then who knows what crazy land we'd end up in.
This looks like a government clinging to power in the same way that a tired old vulture clings to a branch to fall asleep, by digging its claws in. This is some serious claw digging.

November 27, 2018

Horse 2491 - The Theoretical 2018 Presidential Election

The current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has the rather annoying quality of being able to suck all of the oxygen out of the room when it comes to the news cycle, and while we're in the midst of the worst run administration in decades it can be tempting to think that democracy is broken. Of course I have serious problems with the way that the United States' government is constituted and I think that it is telling that precisely zero other countries use the model (because it is a bad model) but that is another question.
Setting aside the bluster and nonsense, if you actually look at the data and compare it to the long term trends, then Donald J Trump actually ceases to be all that surprising.

One of the fun experiments that you can run in a mid term year is to see if the president would have retained the presidency. I know that it sounds daft but you literally have a data set with which to run the experiment with, by virtue of having just collected the data. I realise that it isn't exactly perfect but as five-thirty-eight showed before the 2016 election, if you are trying to predict the future by looking at opinion polls which are by nature incomplete, then you will be disappointed when the expected result doesn't come out. However, if you predict the present with a complete set of data, which is what the midterms are, then you will be disappointed in an entirely different way.

We can generally assume that that turnout for a presidential election is higher than for a midterm election. We can however kind of correct for that a bit by making the assumption that the Senate election is a bunch of new people who didn't vote in the House election. Yes, I know that it is wrong but its the best that we're going to get.
All we have to do is take all of the votes for both the House and Senate on a state by state basis and treat them as though they were votes for the President. Since there are already votes for the 50 states plus DC, then you just have to plug the results into the electoral college (taking careful note of those states who don't use a winner takes all basis) and then run the game out. I looked at 51 sets of results and they spat out this:

What we find is that if the midterm election in 2018 had been a Presidential Election and that a midterm is a referendum on the President, then Jo Sample running for the Democrats would have beaten Donald Trump. This fits in with the general narrative that it was expected that any Jo Sample would have beaten Hillary Clinton in 2016 and any Jo Sample that wasn't Hillary Clinton would have beaten Donald Trump in 2016. The fact that you had the two most unpopular candidates running against each other in US electoral history made predicting the election difficult and five-thirty-eight's 'incorrect' prediction was totally justified.
What we find is that over the long run, 2016 is something of an anomyly. From 2000-2012 there are four states which blink either red or blue which swing elections; Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Nevada. Trump carried Wisconsin, Michigan and Pensylvania by the barest of margins in 2016 and those three have reverted back to the long term trend of being nominally blue for the 2018 midterm.

The visceral reaction of contempt for Donald Trump did result in a larger degree of turnout at the midterms by voters of both sides but I don't think that that necessarily does anything for the political weather map except turn the pressure. As with any large pressure cell on a weather map, if the winds are blowing one way as the system passes they will blow the other way when the other side arrives. In the case of Donald Trump, I don't see him as anything other than a very high pressure system that comes and goes. I hope that there's been enough of a foul miasma in the air that come January of 2020, that rank and file Republican voters who vote in the primaries, eject this fug before he gets to the general election in November.

This is why I think that Trump is really not that exciting as a political candidate. If a Jo Sample would have beaten Hillary Clinton in 2016 and the midterms shows that a Jo Sample would have beaten Trump in 2018, then the political needle has in fact swung nowhere in the long run. That's kind of important because I don't see any road to impeaching Trump before 2020; which means to say that if by some hitherto unknown reason Trump manages to win the 2020 primaries, then I suspect that any Jo Sample would beat him in 2020. Any Jo Sample except for Hillary Clinton, that is.
What I really don't understand is why people continued to select Donald Trump and expect to get good government. People like Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and even Jeb Bush, might have had politics that people don't like but they were at least competent to do the job. I bet that any of those people would have beaten Hillary in the election and by exactly the same margin.

I don't really think that there's a lot to worry about when it comes to dismantling his legacy because the 115th Congress has been somewhat quiet and the 116th Congress is almost certainly destined for a gridlock situation. The administration starting from the Oval Office and all other positions downwards has been so incredibly inept, that they haven't really achived anything of note. Once you remove the colour of the personality of the man himself, his administration is lacklustre and in the grand scheme of things, doesn't radically alter the grand narrative.
As for the suggestion that democracy is broken, which has been touted by various political commentators, all that proves is that the method of selecting the executive is badly constituted and I think that any other reasonably well thought out political system would have long removed him by now.

It's also telling that in this scenario, the difference is 32 electoral college votes; which means to say that if the 29 votes of Florida swing in the other direction the map turns into a red result.

November 22, 2018

Horse 2490 - What Is Your Desired Salary? Probably To Be Paid One

I realise that as I have recently entered my fifth decade upon this planet, and any semblance of youth that I might have had has now been replaced with curmudgeony and the assumption of other people that I have accumulated wisdom (believe me, I haven't; I have no idea what's going on most of the time, it's just that I know how to make declarative statements); so this means that people now ask me questions in the hope that I have something good to offer. At best the advice that I can dispense is dubious and at worst it is dangerous; you would be ill advised to drink deeply from my font of knowledge.
Nevertheless, I was sent an email at work this week where I was asked a question and the answer which I gave them will be reposted below.

I am applying for an internship at a large company and they want to know what my desired salary is. I don't know what my desired salary is, I just want a job. What salary should I ask for?
Does this sound really creepy or not? What do you think is going on?
(this has been edited for privacy reasons)

My reply is below:

Dear Eleanor¹ (not her real name),
What I think is going on here is that this company is conducting a reverse auction. I think that this company is collecting applications from lots of people and then wants to hire the person who bids the lowest starting salary. 
There are various job sites like where you can compare the salary range for various positions and so if you want to know what you should be paid, you might like to look through those and get an idea of what would be normally acceptable. 
I suspect though, that because this has been labeled as an 'internship' that this company would like to pay someone in the position nothing at all, if they can get away with it. If you think that there is a future with them then have a think about it but I would tread carefully. Find out what an employee should expect to be paid in this job. Don't devalue or undermine yourself. 

Thank you,
Andrew Rollason 

PS: If you want to have a gamble because you want to test the character of the company, then put down $500,000/hr see what sort of reaction that gets. If they do actually have a budget for this position and they genuinely want to pay a salary, then I think that you should be entitled to all of it.

To be fair, I haven't had to look for a job in a long time and so I'm sure that I will find it stressful when I will do again but at least I will not face this dilemma. The truth is that I did come across this tactic of asking what your salary expectation was and I stated more than 50% of what the going rate was. They accused me of demanding too much and I accused them of looking for the lowest bidder and that quite frankly I didn't want to work for them. I didn't take the job, or rather I didn't take the job when they then chased after me and disclosed what they were going to pay - because my suspicions were confirmed. I think that it benefited me not to take a job and not have to include it on a résumé, than take it and be immensely unhappy in it. Every job is going to come with its thorns but being adequately compensated monetarily kind of helps to take the sting out of those thorns (a bit).

What I didn't say in this email to Eleanor because I didn't want to include it in official correspondence but do want to have a rant about it², is that I really hate what modern 'internships' have become. Once upon a time, a firm would employ an intern or apprentice or a trainee because they had a need to employ someone and the idea was that the inter would acquire skills and experience and become more useful. Now it seems that internships are an excuse for increasingly unscrupulous employers to extract free labour out of mostly younger and vulnerable people, by dangling the carrot of hope in front of them but there's actually nothing of substance behind it. It also has the added bonus that while someone is on an internship, they are still within a probationary period and so unfair dismissal laws don't apply to them; especially if they are unpaid internships. Once the firm is done with one intern, they can spit them out and move on to the next one.

The kinds of firms that are likely to offer internships as opposed to traineeships where there is a legal requirement for on the job training and assessment or a traditional apprenticeship which comes with the prospect of a trade certificate at the end, is because an internship is not legally defined at law, there aren't any workplace arrangements which surround them either. When the internship is unpaid, then that comes with the double whammy of not being covered by workplace insurance and conditions regulations is addition to there being no pay. Get injured at work if you're an intern? Don't worry, because there's no salary attached, then the allowable minimum compensation is zero. If you were to calculate the claim then an applicable percentage of zero is still zero.

Because internships are more likely to offer zero salary, then this has the bonus effect for employers of filtering out all of the poor people. If you happen to suffer the burden of work because you need to put food on the table and keep the rent collectors at bay, then you are not very likely to want to apply for an unpaid internship. This has been especially useful for legal firms and the big media companies because it means that they get a better economic class of candidate. If you have the ability to live a comfortable life while living at home with your parents in a middle class existence, then that's the sort of future employee that these firms are looking for. Granted that it will cost you in time and money which you will lay on the altar of capitalism in tribute but if there's a hope of a job at the end, then that's worth it, right?
This is a completely expected step in late stage capitalism; having spat out all the poor people, the beast has no problem with eating the children of the middle and upper classes.

It gets even more blatant in the creative fields because design firms will often demand to see a practical application for a job and will set a task as the application process. The unstated purpose is that they've worked out a convenient method of contracting out work for free, and can get hundreds of prototype briefs at once and just use those. There might not be an actual job behind it all either.

Before you accuse me of being cynical, I already know that I am suspicious of people's intentions. Accuse all you like. I've already been convicted, found guilty and am nor imprisoned in the world.  Maybe twenty years ago the myth of the dignity of work was on the surface still being respected but those days are clearly over³. When you combine the effects of capital reasserting itself in the economy with the continuing march to automation, with the desire that was always there, to pay people as little as possible, then of course it stands to reason that the veil has been taken off and we're left with naked capitalism.
It's just that if we are supposed to play the game according to these rules, where you have to name your price up front, then my price just happens to include my dignity and a decent salary. I would be very disinclined to want to work at a firm who asks for salary expectations up front because the character of the firm is already on display and if that's the price, I just don't buy it.

¹Conspicuous by its absence is a lack of a salutation line. This is already a bad start because an email is essentially a letter and as such should be treated with formality and dignity; especially if it is in a business capacity.
²Eleanor was given a link to this rant.
³As if they ever started:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
- Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)

November 15, 2018

Horse 2488 - If Brexit Doesn't Mean A 585 Page Document, We Have No Idea What It Means

Because the world has been looking at the left hand side of the Atlantic at the continuing horrorshow of American politics that results when the people elect an unreality TV star as president, the world has largely been ignoring the horrorshow on the right hand side of the Atlantic that has resulted when the people elected for unreality as economic policy.
Unlike phrases such as "this means war" or "beanz meanz heinz" nobody knew what "Brexit means Brexit" meant before the referendum and the principle players who caused the mess, namely David Cameron, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, have all been conspicuous through absence having to clean it up. Say what you like about Teresa May but the truth is that through sheer dumb luck, Britain ended up with an incredibly competent head of government; with the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the longsuffering of Paul, being imprisoned in a state of cruel and unusual punishment behind the black door of Number Ten.

The draft agreement between the UK and EU has been finally published and at 585 pages¹ I decided not to print it because it would use more than an entire ream of paper. The short answer to what this monster document contains are as follows.
It decouples the Pound Sterling from the Euro; which is an easier task than had the UK entered the common currency. It undoes a lot of uniform taxation policy and payments towards the maintenance of the common market and it also removes the payments which might have flowed in the other direction. It creates a so-called "hard border" and basically pulls the UK out of both the free movement zone but doesn't have to address the issue of the Schengen Area because both the UK and Ireland always maintained an opt-out. It looks as though there's a single customs territory; which in practical terms means that customs checks are not needed on goods coming from within the EU but given that there are already security checks at both Calais and Folkestone, not much changes.

From what I can gather, the deal looks to be what would have been expected when untangling the mess and I don't really see what else could have been done differently. Nevertheless, there appears to something of a revolt brewing with at least nine cabinet minister, being Liam Fox, Jeremy Hunt, Penny Mordaunt, Sajid Javid, Andrea  Leadsom, The Baroness Evans, Chris Grayling and Gavin Williamson the Chief Government Whip, in addition to  David Davis, Boris Johnson and Minister from the 1920's Jacob Rees-Mogg², all expressing their displeasure.

As it stands, under the rules of the Conservative party, a leadership spill can be triggered if 15% of all sitting MPs send a letter of no confidence to the chairperson. From what I can gather, there have been 44 letters which have already been sent; there are 316 Tory MPs in the commons, so that leaves just 4 for Britain to hold its own Festival Of The Thirsty Knife.
This is further complicated by the fact that the Tory party is only help in government because of the support in condfidence and supply by the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland; who might just pull their own levers top bring down the government if they don't like the Brexit deal.

Just to throw another spanner in the works of a machine which at this stage is primarily made entirely from spanners, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had this to say:

Oh dear.

From here, the plan goes to the even bigger sausage machine that is the EU and then back to the House of Commons where there will be a vote. I wouldn't even like to predict how that's going to go because this whole thing has been flying around Whitehall like a hand grenade with the pin taken out that nobody wants to hold for too long.
If the Commons does actually pass this thing, which might not happen because of a Tory revolt or because the DUP decide to switch side, then it goes to the EU who then presumably have their own vote on the floor of the EU parliament. If it falls over either in the House of Commons or the EU parliament then who knows what happens?
Is there a General Election? Is there another redo referendum where Britain can say "Sorry guys, we've got no idea what we're doing"? Does Britain redo the terms of the deal? Or do they just leave with no deal and no idea of what that looks like? I have no idea. I can't find anyone whose written a decent piece on this who has an idea. Dare I say it, the 650 MPs in the House Of Commons also have no idea.

Ms May has at least tried to present an idea; despite not wanting Brexit before the referendum and being left with a problem that she didn't create. I think that it's the best that can be expected in all honesty. Brexit means Brexit, whatever that means; nobody has an idea.


November 11, 2018

Horse 2487 - The Armistice

100 years ago today, the Allied supreme commander and Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch, the First Sea Lord Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, MP for Biberach in the Reichstag Matthias Erzberger, a representative from the German Foreign Ministry Count Alfred von Oberndorff, Army Major General Detlof von Winterfeldt and Naval Captain Ernst Vanselow, all met in Ferdinand Foch's personal railway carriage which was in the Forest of Compiègne, and signed off on the Armistice which brough four and a bit years of pointless bloody slaughter to an end.

And for what? In some cases the border didn't move more than a few miles and within a generation it would all be on again. Probably as many as 40 million people were killed as a result of a series of disputes which started out as a bunch of cousins having a diplomatic spat and the the shooting of an archduke by a terrorist. Prior to 1914 nobody knew what an archduke was and afterwards most people still didn't know, except that if you shot one, a war would break out.
Kaiser Bill abdicated on November 9, Austria-Hungary ended on the 11th and snapped into several bits, Italy changed sides so many times that it didn't know what side it was on anymore, France remained being France, Britain remained being Britain, and the United States who joined the war late and mostly for their own amusement, decided to boss everyone around afterwards.

Did we as a world learn anything from the First World War? Not really. The words Generationshass and Erbfeindschaft, roughly describe a condition which was fought constantly between France and Germany; in which the next generation would inherit the anger of the previous. To that end after the 1756  Seven Years' War, there were the the Revolutionary Wars with a war in 1812, the great 1848 war of everyone versus everyone, the Franco–Prussian War in 1870, the First World War in 1914 and the Second World War in 1939. Only then did Europe decide that it was all pointless and the advent of the European Coal and Steel Community which later became the EEC and then EU, has meant that the wars of 1975 and 2005 never happened. World War 1 in context was a time which nothing was learned.
In fact nothing was learned to such a bloody degree that the Treaty of Versailles contained the provision that Germany was to "accept the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage" and this was written into Article 231; when assessed was worth 132 billion marks, which was utterly stupid and helped sow the seeds of the Second World War. The Arimistice was the end to the war but the Allies lost the ensuing peace.

Governments would return little pieces of metal with ribbons attached, in place of the sons and brothers and fathers who were now corpses in ditches across Europe. Sometimes they would attach little pieces of metal with ribbons to the still living sons and brothers and fathers, who were now somewhat damaged; if not physically then mentally. There were some women sent to be nurses and caregivers but they generally weren't turned into the sorts of cuts of meat that would be found in a butcher's window in anything like the same numbers. Mostly the mothers and wives were left with holes in their hearts; for which governments never truly compensated them for.
Some men (always men), congratulated themselves for their heroism in commanding troops in the field; even if they were miles away from front and being lubricated with sherry and port. They invariably won even more bits of metal with ribbons attached, and some of them won the right to put letters after their name. Sometimes the men in the muddy trenches won the right to put letters like GC and VC after their name but usually after they were already dead; which is kind of irrelevant to them.

The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh day of the Eleventh month, is a date in history which should have never have happened because the preceding four should also have never have happened. 11-11-1918 is the end of a conflict in which the coin of the realm of the battlefield, which is people's lives, was spent needlessly, for no real net benefit. The Colonel Blimps of the world gladly spent a currency which they themselves would never be liable to pay.
This is a lesson which leaders today who want to go into the world to make war should learn. The coin of the battlefield is a very precious and terrible thing to spend and while we like to dress all of this up in colours of heroism, patriotism and national fervour, it still doesn't change the fact that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, did so on the altar of men's pride and mostly pointlessly. If the 37 days in 1914 had played out as a game of actual diplomacy instead of total diplomatic failure, then 11-11-18 would have just passed into history as a boring cold autumn day in Europe. The war ended not because of some brilliant military breakthrough or strategy but because everyone agreed to stop. This is the greatest day of the First World War for that reason.

Lest We Forget.

November 04, 2018

Horse 2486 - Watch Me Make Wrong Election Predictions Again!

In my grand history of picking elections, I am going to make yet another prediction which I fully expect will be wrong but because it is based on data, will be accurately wrong.
As Nate Silver's website FiveThirtyEight¹ proved in 2016, all of the best statistical data in the world is no match for the utter bewildermouse that is the general public. I don't have access to anything like the statistical dumpster fire of data that he does and so I used far more crude tools.

In Australia and Britain,  electoral swing analysis works by adding one party's increase in share of the vote to another party's decrease in share of the vote and then by dividing the total by two. In Australia it gets a little bit more complex because we have multi party elections but generally speaking where you have two party politics, the system is simple enough to calculate.
After looking through the polls, you then look at the margin of votes in all seats and line them up. Having done that, you simply point your marker at the seat that corresponds to that swing value and then count the number of seats.
There are of course several major assumptions which are of course wrong. Firstly, it assumed that the swing across the country is uniform. Secondly, it assumes that all seats behave according to that same uniform swing. Thirdly, it assumes that all demographics will act according to predicable models. These assumptions are wrong but we'll proceed anyway.

I have been throwing results into a very big spreadsheet and compared poll results² to the actual results of the 2016 election. Wikipedia is lovely and has recorded every single congressional district and so there are results for all 435 voting members. From here, generated a standardised predicted swing for the country; which at the moment has closed at 6.02%.

A 6.02% swing would produce a House as follows:
229 - Democrats
206 - Republicans
This would mean that the House would again be Democrat controlled.

If you look at the Senate, in the available seats that are on offer, a 6.02% swing would produce a result as follows:
48 - Democrats
2 - Indpendents
50 - Republicans
This would mean that the Senate would remain Republican controlled.

As for the very big question about the impeachment of the 45th President, the House could set the terms of impeachment because all it requires is a simple majority of those present but the Senate requires a two-thirds super majority. There is no way in any possible scenario, even if the Democrats won all 435 House seats and all of the available seats in the Senate that they would get close because 42 Republicans are not up for reelection this time around.

Based on the above results and extrapolating the results for the electoral college, we get the following results:

Plugging all of the available data into 270 to Win³ (even accounting for winner-takes-all states and split votes), then the hypothetical 2018 Presidential Election would mean that a Democrat would get 279 votes to Republican Donald Trump's 259 and assuming that he somehow won the Republican primary.
These are my predictions for the 2018 US mid-term elections and for a presidential election which doesn't even exist. Watch as on Tuesday in America, I am proved wrong by the real world not conforming to predicted data, yet again.


November 03, 2018

Horse 2485 - Is 888 Short of $$$?

In clear violation of Betteridge's law of headlines which states that "Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word 'NO'", the answer to this question is a solid 'maybe?'. When you have a money raising exercise it is either because you are in fact short of a shilling or hard up for space in your house. Personally I think that it is the former and that 888's woes are totemic of a far larger problem.

I think that the V8 Supercars is in real trouble when it comes to its long term future. Not only has Australia suffered the loss of its automotive manufacturing industry but the great Australian public have responded by dropping Ford and Holden like a plate of cold vomit. Firstly Mercedes Benz severed their ties with Erebus Motorsports, Volvo had a public bust up with Garry Rogers Motorsport, Nissan have withdrawn their factory support from Kelly Racing and in 2019 will run their left over Altimas as orphans like the Ford teams have been doing with the Falcon, Penske are scrambling to build the Mustang, and now 888 Motorsport who owns the intellectual property which underpins the racing version of the ZB Commodore are having a fire sale.

Based on Whincup’s 2013 Supercars title-winning VF Commodore, the car was built with minor modifications including a paddle shift-version of the Albins transaxle.

It was originally fitted with a standard Supercars engine, before an upgrade saw a 5.6-litre V8 engine making more than 700 horsepower go into the car.
- 16th Oct 2018

The story of this chassis is weird. The car was originally built as a standard VF racing chassis with the normal 5L V8. It was then recruited to be the official test mule for the twin turbo 3.6L V6 LFX but that project appears to have stalled. 888 Motorsport have decided to sell the car with a 5.6L V8 which comes from I don't know where; thus making sure that whatever IP that they had tied up in the car is ungettable.
This is a brilliant move on the part of 888 Motorsport. As the car is not built on a standard chassis, it isn't GT3 compliant. Also because the engine isn't a derivative of something that was on the road, it wouldn't be JAF or GT300 compliant either. This means that this Sandman is more than likely not eligible to be raced in any category anywhere in the world; which would suit 888 to a T. They wouldn't be shown up because someone entered it in the Bathurst 12 Hours or the Spa 24 Hours but it might be eligible to run as an invitational car in Garage 56 at the Le Mans 24 Hours because the ACO can do whatever it jolly well likes.
The real question for me that came from this was why 888 want to sell this off. If it was simply to clear the warehouse then this would look perfectly normal but other events have conspired.

888 Motorsport made all kinds of bell ringing announcements that Jamie Whincup has bought 15% of the team. This is always a bad sign. This story played out when Allan Moffat was unceremoniously dumped by Ford even after he'd delivered what still remains the most famous 1-2 victory at Bathurst,  and it played out again in 1987 when Peter Brock started Advantage Motorsport and he very publicly had a dust up with Holden. It even happened when the Holden Racing Team were in trouble, which led to both Kelly Racing and Walkinshaw Racing as ongoing concerns.
The cover being used is that Team Principal Roland Dane is making succession plans but if that were the case, then surely it would make more sense to find someone who builds cars and actually knows how to run a team, rather than a driver. In the two cases above, Allan Moffat already had extensive experience in running and building a race car before he joined Ford and afterwards he ran a reasonably successful operation which ran Mazda RX-7s and later, Ford Sierras, but Peter Brock's own team was nowhere near as well run and he reverted to becoming an employee at the earliest available opportunity. I don't know what kind of management experience that Jamie Whincup has but I suspect that it is approaching zero.
For Jamie Whincup to buy 15% of 888 Motorsport when in theory they are the only team with factory backing, looks more suspicious than a cat covered in cream, leaving a dairy.

Various pundits in the media have tried to guess what's going on here but I put it that the Australian media is somewhat myopic and that the answer comes from farther afield. 888 Motorsport in Australia started out as the Australian subsidiary of 888 Motorsport in the UK. The team ran what effectively amounted to being the works Vauxhall team from 1996 until 2009 when General Motors was generally in trouble and scaled back all unnecessary operations. 888 were left floundering and continued to run the Vectras and then Insignias¹ before they eventually found backing from MG and ran their works team. When MG left at the end of 2017, 888 hasn't run a car in the British Touring Car Championship since and I suspect that they still have some residual debts.
What I think has happened is that 888 in the UK has avoided administration and lent on 888 in Australia for some cash to resolve their debt issues and the way that they were able to get that cash was by selling 15% of the proprietorship to Jamie Whincup. Of course this means that they're able to make an announcement about management which is absolutely true but if you pull back the curtain, you can see who is pulling the strings. Again this is pure speculation and wild mass guessing but it's the best guess that I can come up with. When given a series of data points, this is a good line of best fit.

More generally this speaks of underlying issues with the Supercars. What this demonstrates is that Holden's backing of 888 Motorsport is more flimsy than what I previously thought. Ford don't officially have a factory team, Nissan have pulled out and both Mercedes Benz and Volvo are gone. Walkinshaw Racing is currently treading a very fine line which is subject to General Motors' approval to run the Camaro and this process looks fraught. The truth is that the Supercars regulations were written while Australia had a manufacturing industry and were written with four door saloons in mind. The age of both of those things has rapidly passed and now nobody new wants to join in the category because it acts a lot like a closed shop.

The fact that this car is for sale doesn't on the face of it look suspicious. One data point isn't enough to make a conclusion but when you have sufficient data points you can begin to build a picture in the same way that Georges Seurat² did with "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" in 1884.

¹A real irony now is that the ZB Commodore is nothing more than a rebadged Vauxhall Insignia B.
²How many other motorsport writers would include a reference to French post-Impressionist painting, I ask you?

October 31, 2018

Horse 2484 - The Scariest Thing This Hallowe'en

I had half of a blog post already written for today, this most evil of days where instead of going to mass and mourning for everyone who has died within the last twelve months, which is what the Christian appropriation of Samhain is about and rebranded as All Hallow's Eve (hence Hallowe'en), we now have the important of yet another appropriation of an ostensibly American holiday which has been turned towards the veneration of St Cole, St Woolworth, St Cadbury, and St Nestlé. Amen. Under most circumstances where you have kiddiwinks walking around and getting sweeties from strangers, we would refer the people handing out sweets to some kind of royal commission.
There was a tweet which came across my Twitter feed this week which said that hating on Halloween wasn't cool or egdy; which I would have answered by being staunchly neither cool nor edgy, before waving the green and gold banner of Strayanism in faux outrage. Faux outrage is a prime element of satire.
All of that would have been fun to write but then this tweet walked onto the stage and strutted under the presidium:

Go about to full starboard! Change bearing from 09 to 27. Crank up the engines to maximum power. Were turning this bucket o' bolts around and going to steer this ship into the rocky waters of persnickety pedantry.
I shan't ask how someone could say this because the medium was obviously Twitter; nor shall I ask how someone could dare to do this because in the words of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club - Audere Est Facere - To dare is to do.

The claim though is valid. If as BJD states, that the meaning can be implied through context and that we don't need the apostrophe, then the claim can be tested and evaluated. To do this, I'm going to look at how we got here and whether or not the functions that this wee thing fulfills are in fact necessary. In order to look at how we got here though, it is useful to look at where we came from.

As far as I know, no ancient language and certainly not Greek or Roman, which is how our written language was informed, has punctuation to speak of. Old Greek and Roman texts are basically one giant wall of "too long; didn't read" text. It's only because some bright spark who thought about how language should be read or sung, that we have punctuation marks at all.
To that end we get the full stop, comma, exclamation point, question mark, colon, semi colon, quotation marks and to a lesser extent the interrobang, all marking of sentences and questions and clauses and quotes. It's all very delicious and rather obvious. The apostrophe though, lives inside words and has very specific rules and it is probably to this that BJD objects to.

The poor wee apostrophe is one of the most maligned of the punctuation marks. I don't really know when it appeared in the English Language but certainly by the time of Bacon and Shakespeare (which sounds like the name of a pub), it was being made to stand in for missing letters. French was already doing this all over the place with d' and l' and English found it particularly useful for  the more barbarian parts of the country, as in Yorkshire's enduring t' and o'. Jack o' t' Lantern is particularly demonstrative for this time o' t' year.  Ireland embraced it for use in people's names such as O'Reilly, O'Grady, O'Toole and O'Hara and there's nothing as Irish as Barack O'Bama. All of these indicate that someone is of a family; though I have no idea which county that the Bamas came from.
It's not surprising that when the English took to the seas after the passage of the famous maritime law, the Rule Britannia (Britannia rules the waves) that the forms of "nonstandard" English (ie. everything from outside of London) that these things start finding their way into print. It really starts to get ridiculous because: O' t' e'entide t' ne'er-do-wells rev't'd i' t' fo'c's'le. is an entirely valid sentence.

From indicating where bits of words are missing, we get to contractions. You're, aren't, isn't, y'all, won't, ain't... I shan't go into what these all mean but I think that it's fair to say that most people who are competent English language speakers and readers, should know why these exist. The problem is that we start to run into words like its, cant, and the yore, youre  and your problem without the existence of the apostrophe.

Then there's the pesky problem of the possessive case. Consider this sentence:
The cat stole the boys dinner.
Depending on where the apostrophe falls, this can be interpreted in two ways.
The cat stole the boy's dinner - this sounds plausible and I have been in this situation where a cat has stolen something off of my plate.
The cat stole the boys' dinner - this sounds less plausible but it is still possible to imagine some big fat bruiser of a cat, who has engaged in grand larceny of dinner. We once had a dog that ate the 40 candy canes that were on the Christmas Tree. We came home to a dog who looked very sleepy and whose farts smelled like peppermint.

Also consider the sign which used to be at McDonald's Playland at Neutral Bay.
Giant Kid's Playground.
I had problems with this sign. I hardly ever go to McDonald's but on those exceptionally rare occasions that I've been there, it was the middle of the day and the playground was empty. Logic dictates that is because they were all at school but as someone who reads things way too literally, I imagined that the rest of the children were frightened away because they were warned about the Giant Kid who owned the playground. Somewhere in Neutral Bay there is a 15 foot tall toddler.

It should also be said that the possessive case when it comes to proper nouns, almost always drops the apostrophe given enough time. The signs for St James and St Marys stations do not have apostrophes and Chatswood which started out as Chattie's Wood should by rights be spelled Chat'swood except that would look stupid because everyone would ask what a swood was.

This is the really really scary thing... BJD is right. He wouldn't "miss the apostrophe at all" and that's a valid opinion and then he goes on to supply two sentences sans apostrophe which perfectly exemplify the assertion.
"Its fiddley and doesnt really add much to meaning. Context supplies its meaning in almost every case."
That is absolutely watertight. I can throw up objections but they're all piddly. Other languages like Japanese and Korean do not have plurals and it is absolutely true that context supplies its meaning in almost every case. All that I have left upon which I can argue any case, is the pure aesthetics of the thing; and that’s terrible.
The scariest thing that happened to me this Hallowe'en is that a thing got inside my brain and festered until it changed my mind. Jack O' T' Lantern ran inside my pumpkin head and lit a bonfire.

October 30, 2018

October 26, 2018

Horse 2482 - How To Melt A Brain: Have Too Many Friends

How many beans are there in a pile?
If you pose this question to a very large sample of people then the general consensus is that 23 beans are not a pile but 24 beans are a pile. There's something about the number of two dozen that seems to be about perfect. Just like the biggest group of friends that doesn't immediately split is 6 because 7 is too many, 24 beans is one more than most people can handle before the whole thing reduces into just a collective pile. You can see this if you analyse literary works: 3 friends is a "power trio", 4 friends invariably become the generic "four humours", 5 and 6 starts to push the boundaries and 7 splits into a power trio and the four humours again. If you do happen upon a larger group of people, they act as a single entity and properly become a "nerd herd".
24 children is generally the smallest class size where a child can begin to feel lost. I find it interesting that 23 which is one less than 24 and the largest number in which people are still individuals, is also the size of a Football World Cup squad by design. There is certainly a lesson for educators when they think about class sizes. People tend to perform better when they have their needs for validation, the ability to contribute, and their need to be seen as an individual met.
There is also a kind of upper limit number of about 150 which is theorised as the most number of friends that people will actively make in their lifetime. Granted that there are work colleagues that will come and go but generally there are very few people who once you lose contact with, that any effort ever be made again. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar for whom the eponymous and delightfully fuzzy Dunbar's Number is named suggested that the number of people with whom someone wouldn't mind sharing an unexpected drink with, is the easiest way to think about this number. To be honest though, this number is probably related to some kind of memory limit in people's neocortexes.

The thing that I have found both really interesting and somewhat disturbing because I listen to podcasts, some of whom happen to make videos that go on YouTube is that there appears to be a regular degree of burnout of people who make videos. It appears as though people who achieve some degree of success are kind of left to flounder with the problem that suddenly they are the centre of an automatically formed community and to be honest, I think that it relates to this central problem that in trying to connect with people, there is an upper limit to the number of friends that people can have and since the kind of people who tend to want to make YouTube videos are generally young people, they haven't yet had the life experience to teach them that the Internet specifically and the world generally is full of rationally and irrationally selfish people all you simply cannot be friends with all of them.

I have no idea how things like conscience, morality, personality and even the basic wiring of people's brains are put together but I suspect that trying to engage with everyone in the world for anyone who has a degree of fame is difficult and this explains why brains that suddenly have access to lots of money and more friends than the upper limit that a brain can handle, often burnout and/or turn to drugs as a kind of self-medication.
I am also sure that the rapid fire rate that Facebook and Instagram wants to show you pictures of everything from an audience which is constructed and curated by the very friend groups which people find in the real world, is to a lesser extent also doing something to people's brains. The science of addiction does very much have a psychological component but the hardest thing to try and treat is the related brain chemistry aspect to it. I know that this sounds almost scandalous but the psychological component of addiction is at least on some surface level, understandable because the brain which is being treated can provide feedback through the person. The brain chemistry question relates to a bunch of hormones and receptors, some of which are awash with chemicals like dopamine and oxytocin; all of which we didn't even know existed a hundred years ago. The likes, shares, instasploots, and the very mechanisms of not wanting to be left out or miss out, all trigger those dopamine and oxytocin pathways and social media acts like drug addiction and I have heard that wanting to check social media constantly might actually be a mild form of the condition.
Turn that dial up to eleven and at the centre of internet fame and celebrity generally, is a brain trying to deal with a number of friends which exceeds the upper limit of normal brain chemistry. It's little wonder that YouTube stars are suffering burnout. Fame costs - and this is where you start paying.

I am simultaneously both a pessimist and a natural introvert. In that classic scenario of some wild party, I am the chap sitting on the couch engaged in a conversation which has descended into sixth and seventh level deviations. I don't do Facebook very well because I obviously prefer discourse which is TL;DR for that platform. Twitter runs almost exclusively the same way as the play-by-play commentator does in sportsball but even then the kinds of things that I follow on Twitter are more likely to be news and politics related; so the idea that I'm holding more than 23 friends in an active mind space in s foreign to me. There are on Twitter especially, very large conversations with numbers of people that well exceed Dunbar's Number; so it is really sort of impossible to consider everyone as friends. We like a very big flock of birds who are all flying in roughly the same direction and individuals arrive and leave all the time. The rules for engagement here are more like the proverbial town square and because of Twitter's nature, contains far more bon mots than normal conversation would. I also have a much higher threshold for who gets across the barrier to entry in my Facebook feed than I suspect that most people do. If I am friends with you on Facebook, it is because I want you to be there. I have far less friends on Facebook than the Dunbar's Number; so you should consider yourself special if you are within that group.
Celebrity though comes with an audience far greater than Dunbar's Number and so the relationship is very different. For the person who occupies the centre  of a circle of celebrity the cloud of interested followers exceeds the Dunbar's Number by several orders of magnitude in some cases but for the people who are in that cloud, the relationship is far smaller. The well-worn trope of "Senpai noticed me!" is also far more meaningful for the person in the cloud of celebrity than the person at the centre who literally cannot conceive of that many people.

Fame is both fickle and unpredictable. Some people have it thrust upon them and they desperately try to hang on to it, as if looking to feed that self-produced drug addiction. Some people have some kind of desperate need to fill up on the admiration of others. Some people manage their celebrity quite well too. YouTube celebrity is a phenomenon which people for the most part have self-selected for. Granted that there are complete flukes where someone becomes famous overnight and then once the clock has run out on their fifteen minutes of fame, they slide back into obscurity but the people who appear to be suffering from burnout on YouTube look like they have several million subscribers and have built and cultivated an audience. They have placed themselves at the centre  of a cloud of celebrity and although I don't really know much about the science of it at all, it looks suspiciously like a lot of the kinds of people who are my clients.
Lawyers especially and Real Estate Agents to a lesser degree are also well paid people whose job it is to perform on a stage. These jobs also appear to attract narcissists and people who like having power which means that there are other adjacent issues but when these people burnout, it looks very similar indeed. The big difference is that they have larger stable disposable incomes and are more likely to recharge by going on holiday. A court room is a proscenium arch which plays in front of a far smaller audience than YouTube which might have millions of views but when a lawyer's brain melts because of celebrity, the results are spectacularly catastrophic.

This is why I understand when someone wants to do a clear out of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or some other social media. It might look incredibly antisocial but they just might be doing some personal brain maintenance. I personally have precisely the exact opposite problem where nobody wants to be my friend in the first place (because I neither have a vivacious personality and I have an unfortunate ability to make people think) and so this never really occurs to me.
I also know that if fame were suddenly thrust upon me, that my brain wouldn't melt at all. A great cloud of people already turns into a single nerd herd for me; so unlike the people who self-select for fame, I wouldn't be making extra entries towards exceeding my own internal Dunbar's Number, whatever that happens to be. The slogan for an instant coffee brand is "43 beans in every cup". 43 beans is 20 more than the point where they would be considered as individual beans; so they collectively are just 1 cup and I have had many more than Dunbar's Number of cups of coffee, so I don't consider the individual beans.

October 25, 2018

Horse 2481 - Too Racist, Even For The Wingnuts

I don't know if it is something in the water or if there is a secret breeding program to develop an über race of wingnuts but Queensland is both a very different time and place than the rest of Australia. They don't have daylight savings time in Queensland, so that means when it's 19:45pm in New South Wales it is still the mid 1970s in Queensland.
In the state's latest display that it is really in another time, the state that Barnaby Joyce originally came from, the state where Pauline "swamped by Asians" and second time around "swamped by Muslims" Hanson and Bob "crocodiles on the roof" Katter come from, also gave us prized racist Fraser Anning.

Fraser Anning is the latest in a long line of nativists and xenophobes who the state of Queensland either deliberately or inadvertently voted into the Senate. On this occasion where we had a double dissolution election, called by a now knifed Prime Minister, the quota for the number of votes needed to enter parliament was halved and instead of the usual Banana-Choc and Choc-Banana, we got a lot more fruits and nuts from the state of Queensland.
Fraser Anning was the replacement for Malcolm Roberts who was elected as a One Nation Senator but as soon as Mr Anning made it into the floor of the chamber, he then chose to betray One Nation by sitting as an independent until June 2018 when he joined Katter's Australian Party as its first senator.
Fraser Anning proved to the Senate recently of just how much of a nutcase he is, by referring to a 'final solution' with regards immigration to Australia. He joined in the chorus of 'administrative errors' who voted the first time around for Pauline Hanson's 'it's okay to be white' motion (which itself is couched in white supremacism) but in his case it probably wasn't an administrative error, and then doubled down on his wingnuttery by introducing an amendment to the Migration Act which aims to limit non-European immigration (and would inadvertently limit migration from the United Kingdom from March 29 next year).
It seems that the leader of the party which Fraser Anning joined, has had enough. The eponymous Bob Katter of Katter's Australian Party has expelled Fraser Anning from the party, which means that Fraser Anning is now effectively an independent again. Being expelled from a political party because you are too much of a racist wingnut is a very Queensland thing to do, with Pauline Hanson having previously been expelled from the Liberal Party back in 1996.

Bob Katter is a uniquely unhinged sort of person. I think that he is as mad as a cut snake in the pouch of a kangaroo that's loose in the top paddock and if he goes on television or radio, he jumps from topic to topic like a frog on a pogo stick in a bouncy castle but at least he is passionate and understands the electorate which he represents. The people who live in the Division of Kennedy seem to like him as well because he has retained the seat since 1993.
What Bob Katter understands on some level is that he has a traditionally conservative and distinctly rural seat. I think that what he also understands is that he has a lot of people who come from all over the world living in his electorate.

I think that what we saw yesterday is that even Bob Katter has limits to his wingnuttery and in this case, open racism is on the other side of those limits. I don't see this decision as a whole lot more than political expediency and given that there's probably a general election slated for next year this isn't necessarily a condemnation of what Fraser Anning said but if nothing else, this was action rather than words.
Initially Mr Katter called the speech which he used the term "final solution" as "solid gold", though that has now been walked back to "99% solid gold and there is 1% which is totally unacceptable". Katter as a different kind of nativist said that he had warned Fraser Anning not to use racially charged language and of the bill:

"Clearly that is racist. Clearly our policies are anti-racist. This position was made perfectly clear again following a bill that Senator Anning had drafted. He was unequivocally informed when the party learned of this bill that there would be extreme hostility if the bill went forward, using racial identification terminology and that the party would not accept future use of such language and of such policies."
- Bob Katter. 25th Oct 2018

When Bob Katter calls your bill racist, then it must be pretty racist. When Bob Katter expels you from the party for being racist, then you must be pretty racist.

October 23, 2018

Horse 2480 - That'll Be More Of The Same Then, Dr Phelps.

As I write this on the evening of Tuesday the 23rd of October, the results of the by-election for the Division of Wentworth are still officially unknown. It is assumed that Dr Kerryn Phelps has won the election but there are still pre-polling and postal votes that have yet to be counted and given the fact that the number of still outstanding votes is larger than the margin between the candidates, it is too close to call.
Nevertheless, event if Dr Kerryn Phelps does happen to win the by-election, she has promised to support the government on matters of confidence and supply; which means that the only way that we will get a change of government is by a general election and that will probably not be held until at least March next year  As far as I'm concerned, Dr Kerryn Phelps is a waste of time; which because I am an equal opportunity curmudgeon, she is equally as much of a waste of time as the Liberal candidate David Sharma or whoever the Labor or Green candidate was.
For everything that Dr Kerryn Phelps is supposed to represent, the statements that she has made, even just two days into the job, are as far as I am concerned, a waste of time. Here are three issues at least, on which Ms Phelps appears to be a Liberal under an Independent banner.

The change of Prime Minister from Malcolm Turnbull to Scott Morrison has in all honesty achieved nothing. The change in personnel has brought event precisely zero changes in policy direction in many areas and our treatment of asylum seekers is no exception.
Australia's policy with regards asylum seekers and refugees is to continue to lock them up on tropical gulags and leave them to literally rot. The Nauru Government has expelled foreign journalists because it doesn't like the publicity but does like the money that it has been given and it has now expelled Medecins Sans Frontiers in case it happens to report what it sees. If there is no information coming out of Nauru then we can not get angry about it. Whoever gets to write the story controls the power.
This afternoon, the Greens, or specifically Adam Bandt, introduced a bill called the Migration Amendment (Get Kids Off Nauru) Bill 2018. I personally think that as a first world nation with the pretense of democracy and civility that this should be a non-event but when pressed this afternoon, Dr Phelps said that she would review the bill on merit. I have no idea what ill-merit there could be. Human dignity shouldn't need to be debated on the floor of the parliament. Speaking as someone who doesn't like to see people suffer and doesn't like to see people suffer in the name of my country, I have serious difficulties understanding why this is a matter of merit.

Australia has since the day that someone decided to stick a flag in it and call it British, rolled over on any foreign policy that our big brother at the time told us to. Currently our big brother is the United States and because they decided to move their embassy to Jerusalem, we decided that we had to as well.
The two political parties in the United States view the voting public as vote vending machines. If they put magic words in then they get votes out, and are then given a free pass to do whatever they like. With regards Israel, the evangelical right sees blessing Israel on exactly the same terms, if America blesses Israel, then God will bless them in return and both Israel and the United States can continue to do whatever they like. In the case of Israel that means sending the occasional rocket into Palestine and building settlements on the West Bank, in complete violation of whatever peace agreements might come about and the generally accepted view that everyone will nominally leave everyone else alone if the 1967 borders are respected.
By moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the United States took the very visible stance that it was prepared to support the very secular and increasingly hard line Israeli Government. Australia made the announcement to move our embassy in the week before the by-election, not because the Australian Government wants to make any show of solidarity with the people of Israel but because the Morrison Government wanted to use the decision to buy votes. The only thing that this has achieved and will achieve politically, is the equally visible statement to the world that Australia is America's lap dog. The announcement infuriated our neighbours to the north, Indonesia, who have also made the announcement that they are not as keen on trying to stop asylum seeker boats from leaving Indonesian territorial waters  than they used to be. There are also issues surrounding tariffs and trade which Indonesia has said that they will consider implementing.
Dr Phelps fell very quickly into line with the government's rhetoric on asylum seekers; which is unsurprising because of the electorate which has just voted for her.

This bothers me deeply. Dr Phelps has indicated that she will support the government in both the passage of proposed tax cuts for small businesses and an increase in the GST from 10% to 15%.
Companies are already used as a tax minimisation strategy by people who are well off, and the GST because it is a tax on consumption falls  more heavily on those people who consume a greater proportion of their income (which are poorer people who live a hand to mouth existence and retired people who are in a period of dissavings). I know that this plays well to the Division of Wentworth and rational self interest means that is course richer people benefit from these policies (Wentworth is the richest electorate in the country) but this is bad for everyone else. This is class warfare and the rich are winning.

Dr Kerryn Phelps was probably the best candidate to represent the people of Wentworth, as the Liberal Party has moved further to the economic right and has become culturally more conservative, as she is more of a cultural progressive. This just means to say that the Division of Wentworth stayed almost exactly where it was politically while the Liberal Party shifted, and Dr Phelps is just another tory who has benefitted from the lack of a label. This election was interesting insofar as much as it is a statistical anomaly, with this being the first official change of hands of the seat since Federation but it changes nothing politically as far as I can see. The Morrison Government and Australia more generally, is still prosecuting the case that we are ambivalent towards the vulnerable and the people who actually own the country are running the show.
I don't really care which team happens to be in charge but it does bother me when we as a nation engage in cruelty. Dr Phelps said some magic words but the real trick here is that nothing of import happened. We won't get a change in government or the policy direction of the governance that we currently have.