January 29, 2018

Horse 2370 - I Am Angry Because There Wasn't A Train Strike

This morning, 29th January 2018, I took a city bound train from Marayong with absolutely no problem whatsoever. I find this utterly disgusting. I should not have been able a city bound train from Marayong with absolutely no problem whatsoever because the so-called "Fair Work" Commission should have never declared that the proposed strike action by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union was illegal.

There hasn't been a public outcry over this and news outlets which form part of the Murdocracy like the Daily Telegraph have spent the day actively bashing the Union.
Although this isn't as severe as crimes against the person or as visible as the censorship of the free press, what we've witnessed here is still an abuse of human rights as the Fair Work Commission has struck off the right to strike.

Australia has a long history when it comes to labour laws and the rights of workers. You could argue that the Eureka Stockade was the climax of a long dispute between gold miners and the government over the unfairness of licences and the right to self-organise. Indeed the Australian Labor Party is so old that its spelling dates from before the acceptance of standard British spelling and before there was a Commonwealth of Australia.

Tradition attributes the beginning of the Queensland Labour Party to a meeting of striking pastoral workers under a ghost gum tree, which is now the heritage listed "Tree of Knowledge" in Barcaldine. Australia was also the first country in the world to have either an economically left leaning social democratic or socialist government, with the appointment of Chris Watson's Labor Government after the 1903 election.

This I suspect is what is at the very heart of this. What you have is a Liberal state government who is bucking against the labout movement itself; probably because of political point scoring more than anything else.
When you see the Fair Work Commission strike off the right to strike, this i not only a strike against the rights of workers but against the other side of politics.

We have a Liberal Government in both New South Wales and Federally (the Liberal Party is named for the idelology of economic liberalism but it displays social authoritarianism) who both want to stack the deck in favour of employers. The fact that it is the executive of the state government isn't much of a problem. At the moment, it has stacked the deck at the  Fair Work Commission in favour of employers; which means that in the state of New South Wales, it has made the rules in favour of itself. Who is left to fight for the workers? Well hopefully nobody, in their eyes.

At the present moment the New South Wales Liberal Government is deliberately undertaking the task of degrading Transport for NSW, such that it can be privatised:

"They will be all private. In 10 to 15 years' time government will not be in the provision of transport services, it will be all on demand, private sector driven, underpinned by innovation in technology," the Minister said.
"Already every new train that we are bringing online now, whether it is the Metro train or light rail, are all private sector partnerships."
- Australian Financial Review, 20th Mar 2017.¹

The simple mathematics of the situation means that the workload demanded is impossible. Although the system is supposed to be designed so that drivers work for 10 days a fortnight and 9 days a fortnight (any working day might begin on call), a lot of drivers end up doing 12 days a fortnight. Without overtime, the schedule falls from 2900 trains on a weekday down to 1600 on a weekday. This means that almost 45% of trains are run on an overtime basis.

What I suspect that this latest row is about, is that after deliberately shrinking the workforce and making working conditions horrible, that the end game is that existing staff will quit, so that they can be replaced with non-union staff.
The Fair Work Commission said it a strike would "threaten to endanger the welfare of part of the population"² but it is apparently fine with drivers working excessive amounts of overtime while being in charge of more than 400 tonnes of metal doing more than 100km/h. Yet there's no public outcry over this and the Daily Telegraph is singing the government's praises.


January 26, 2018

Horse 2369 - Happy Invasion Day, You Racist Racist Country.

The country is currently having its annual lurch from side to side as the casual racists join forces with the actual racists in defending the date of Australia Day of January 26, despite it not being the day on which the country was founded - that date was 1st January 1901, following the passage of the Constitution Of Australia Act which gained royal assent on 30th July 1900.
The usual argument is that they weren't responsible for the goings on of 230 years ago and therefore, they have the right to wave the flag all they like, in spite of the injustices that remain.

The 26th of January 1788 was the day on which Governor Arthur Phillip, officially read the proclamation to declare the east coast of the continent of Australia officially British and the inception of the penal colony of New South Wales thereof. I would argue that an act like this by an officer of the Royal Navy after taking a fleet of eleven Royal Navy ships is an act of the Royal Navy and therefore a military annexation. Since the raising of the flag in possession of land is also quite obviously a naval action, I think that the assessment that this was an Invasion, albeit a very slow invasion, is completely accurate.
As Australia has never had any formal treaty process and as a result, unlike our friends across the ditch in New Zealand or our cousins across the Pacific in Canada, we've also never moved on to any kind of formal framework for addressing the issues that our first peoples face.

Let's just be honest about the problem up front. The only reason that we refuse to accept and address the problem of Australia Day and the 230 years of consequences which have followed is because of a highly vocal section of the white community who are deeply racist and an apathetic part of the community who are complicit in that racism.
One of the very first acts of the brand new parliament in 1901 was the passage of the White Australia Policy and with it enshrinememt at
law of the country's wish to keep out all of the brown people. Naturally, because Aboriginal people groups were already here, we couldn't very well deport them anywhere, so we just chose not to recognise them as citizens until the 1960s. Of course they were free to join the military and have themselves blown up in service of the King but that was the patriotic thing to do, wasn't it? Even now you still have some apologists who say that the arrival of white people was obviously a very good thing because it was white people who brought civilisation. I suppose you have to take the good with the total destruction of your homes, livelihood, way of life, existing sense of law and tradition, along with active and passive genocide, don't you?

Fast forward through dreams of symbolic referendums that achieve nothing, High Court cases to claim back what was once your family's anyway, broken promises of treaties and covenants, statements from united groups of people, until 26th January 2018, and you're still faced with that central problem of white people trying to pretend that they're not really racist when it's perfectly clear for all the world to see that they are, and even something as simple as changing the date which actively commemorates the day that the land was officially stolen, is impossible.

The bottom line is that you have a bunch of mostly white racists (some of who are pretending to everyone including themselves that they are not) actively defending their racism under the banner of patriotism. These people are entirely unencumbered by the thought process and trying to explain empathy, sympathy and basic humanity to them is useless. Try talking to a housebrick; you'll get better and more logical conversation.

I've a good mind to walk around today in an England kit and draped in the Union Jack so I can say "sorry" to everyone. I know that the phrase "white guilt" is a thing but it seems perfectly sensible to me because as a white male aged 18-65, I feel that I need to apologise on behalf of everyone like me because the injury of stupid white people ruining things for everyone isn't a problem from 1788 or 1901, but ongoing.
I'm sorry white people but although you don't want to be responsible for the goings on of 230 years ago and therefore claim that you have the right to wave the flag all you like, you are responsible for the goings on now and of the injustices that remain and still haven't been cleared up because the casual racists have joined forces with the actual racists, whether they wanted to or not.

Happy Invasion Day!

January 24, 2018

Horse 2368 - Health Insurance, Tax Returns, The IRS, And The Descent Into Madness

I feel your pain, Joker.

The United States like the majority of the world has its financial year aligned with the calendar year. This means that people's tax returns are due in the first quarter of the calendar year, as opposed to the third quarter of the calendar year like thy are in Australia.
As someone who has the job of doing tax returns for people who have income from the United States, I find American tax returns to be singularly ridiculous on many levels. This is also in concert with the fact that as the United States has a so called "republican" form of government (small r) as mentioned in the Constitution, and in addition to Federal income tax returns people also have to file state tax returns as well.
This year though, as part of the new wave of Trumpian idiocy, the concert of cacophony has been called up to a crescendo with the compulsory requirement to declare either if you have health insurance or an exemption from paying into a health insurance policy, or else the IRS by directive has been ordered to refuse to assess the tax return. In addition to this, the particular state that I'm doing a tax return for a client, has declared that the state tax return will only be assessed upon the issue of the assessment and file document number from the IRS.
What happens if you are a non resident alien, who has to file tax returns from outside of the United States? Thanks to the government shutdown, nobody knows. Actually, irrespective of the government shutdown, nobody knows.

I have a client who owns rental properties in the United States. The individual tax return demands that they have a health insurance policy or else the IRS won't assess the return. My client as a foreign non resident alien, who lives in a country with a universal health care system, has no need of a health insurance policy and so they don't have one. This concept seemed like a foreign non resident alien from the planet Zog as far as the chap who I spoke at the IRS was concerned, and explaining it to him was like trying to explain Newton's laws of motion to a pigeon.

Never mind the fact that this was announced in late October last year; which means that the IRS have had four months to think about this.

In the latest signal that the Affordable Care Act is still law, the Internal Revenue Service said this week that it is taking steps to enforce the most controversial provision: the tax penalty people face if they refuse to obtain health insurance.
Next year, for the first time, the I.R.S. will reject your tax return when filed electronically if you do not complete the information required about whether you have coverage, including whether you are exempt from the so-called individual mandate or will pay the penalty. If you file your tax return on paper, the agency said it could suspend processing of the return and delay any refund you might be owed.
- New York Times, 20th October 2017.

When it came to publishing information about this on the IRS's website, they only got around to it last Friday. One of the first things that they tell you about the purpose of accounting, is that the point is to produce useful information in a timely manner. This is the overview statement from the IRS:

Under the recently enacted tax law, taxpayers must continue to report coverage, qualify for an exemption, or pay the individual shared responsibility payment for tax years 2017 and 2018.
Once again this year, you may receive multiple information forms that you can use to complete your tax return and will keep with your tax records.

The information forms are:
Form 1095-A, Health Insurance Marketplace Statement
Form 1095-B, Health Coverage
Form 1095-C, Employer-Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage.

The Internal Revenue Service won’t process individual tax returns in 2018 unless taxpayers indicate whether they have health insurance coverage or an exemption.
- Internal Revenue Service, 19th January 2018.

None of these things provide useful information for the set of circumstances that I now face and considering that this was published almost three weeks after the reporting season has started, it hasn't been done in a timely manner either.

After a bit of probing, I was able to establish that the only government provided health care systems which would fit into his questionnaire were Medicare and Medicaid. Although we do have a system in Australia called Medicare, the IRS computers couldn't handle an Australian tax file number or a Medicare number in the relevant fields.
After a bit more probing, I came to the conclusion that the ability to work out how to solve this issue was beyond this person's pay grade and that there were screens and options that they were locked out of. I thought it best to get a case number because it was getting late in the day and this person was legally required to read out some taxation information including the kicker that failure to lodge tax returns might result in criminal prosecution or even get my client deported. Since I had my telephone on loudspeaker, my boss who is sometimes quite dry and blunt said "That's not bloody likely" to which the person at the IRS took deep offence before I let them burn out their rage, and then my boss asked the rather obvious question of how you're supposed to deport someone who isn't even in the United States. By definition, a foreign non resident alien is someone who is a non resident, right? Apparently not. Like Australia, you can be a non resident if you are in the country for less than 182 days of the year.

Given that this is January of 2018 and that the implementation of tax policy tends to move at glacial speeds, I'm kind of worried that this won't be resolved quickly and that the US government will shutdown again on February 8 which will only prolong the issue even further. There's a special kind of madness which exists in the United States government where people want to reduce the size of government and then wonder why the pared down workforce is unable to cope that well with changes that Congress imposes on it.

The whole underlying problem here is that the only reason that this stupid state of affairs exists is because of the push to move people towards getting health insurance under Obamacare. The Republicans like this sort of regulatory nonsense because it creates ill will against the system and they want it to die.
The best solution would be to implement a National Health Insurance Scheme which would be paid for via a statutory levy. This won't happen because the mantra of "individual responsiblity" is used to beat the American public into a state of stupidity, so that they won't realise that literally every single other country in the OECD already has a universal health care system which works better. Implementing a whole health care system is far too complex for a Congress that can't even get the paperwork on a tax return to work properly.

January 23, 2018

Horse 2367- E Duobus, Unum Corea?

The Presidency of Donald J Trump, a man who had never held public office and has comprehensively proven that he is unsuitable for doing so, managed to produce only one piece of major legislation in its first year and depending on your point of view also managed to cause a government shutdown (or the Democrats did). This has been a shambolic administration which has been comparable to that of Richard Nixon and Warren G. Harding but still has quite a way to fall before it reaches the level of utter terribleness that was James Buchanan's administration and who managed to break the union in half.
It has been decidedly isolationist and nativist in stance, has made statements which are undeniably outright racist, and Mr Trump's personal insults have been whipped up into a climate where a nuclear strike was not only thought possible but actually believable in the case of the false alarm in Hawaii last week. Nevertheless, this torrent of terribleness, this flood of fear and this deluge of disaster, has managed to do what might have been unthinkable even two years ago. It has brought the two Koreas together to talk.

The hermit kingdom north of the 38th parallel has often rattled the sabre in the past. From a geopolitical standpoint it probably needs to instill fear in the rest of the world and indeed in its own people because unlike 65 years ago, it's probably not going to get a bunch of help from either China or Russia if full on war was resumed. China would want to halt a flood of four million refugees coming across its border, as would Russia, and the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas would more than likely be pushed back very easily. Surely the regime in the north must know that it's trying to play out the last few tricks of a bridge hand where the best cards that it has is a 7 but it still has the 2 and 3 of nukes left over as trumps.
The thing is that Donald Trump may have inadvertently helped by insulting Kim Jong Un by calling him "Rocketman" because now Pyongyang realises that the orange haired loon at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is just as bonkers as their own administration. Trump's administration is so incredibly toxic that it actually gave the north a chance to engage in talks with the south, on the provision that Washington would keep well away. Thankfully the government shutdown in America has plunged the United States into such a pit of democratic inaction, that they're too wrapped up in their own problems to care about meddling in the affairs of the two Koreas.

It might not be that big of a step but at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyongchang in South Korea, athletes from the two Koreas will be competing side by side under the Korean Unification Banner and instead of PRK or KOR appearing in the official statistics, there will only be the one COR for Corea. The fact that you could get even this might have been an insane thought two years ago; but I for one think that it's glorious.

It speak to a much much much larger and far more hideously complex problem though. You'd have to think that at some point, the wheel of history is going to turn in such a way that the reunification of Korea is inevitable. I just don't see how the north can possibly exist into perpetuity. That means that at some point, we're going to have a set of circumstances which are in principle similar to that of the two Germanys last century.
I remember when the Berlin Wall came down and the intense joy on the faces of the German people. What I don't remember but have subsequently found out later, is that the actual events which took place were initiated by accident and once the wheel of history had been set in motion, it was impossible to stop.
The difference between the two Germanys and the two Koreas though, is that in the case of the two Germanys the economic distance between the people of the two countries wasn't as vast. East Germany was still an economically useful entity when it was behind the Iron Curtain and so there was at least a degree of useful infrastructure that was capable of being integrated into the unified country. The Bundestag in Bonn quite rightly decided to value all East German Marks at par with West German Marks and so this meant that the people of the East instantly found that they had a useful amount of buying power in addition to being instantly richer. I don't know if that sort of process would work as seamlessly in Korea as it did in Germany. A unified Korea would need to carry the people of the former north, which is almost the same kind of problem as if you had those same four million refugees flood across the border. The North Korean Won could be revalued at par with the South Korean Won but I'm not sure that ex North Koreans would have the ability to be able to participate in the new economy to anywhere near the same degree as Ossis did with Wessis.

I still love that there will be only one Korea competing at the Winter Olympics, I love that they've picked a banner which is not overtly the propaganda of one side or the other, and I love the delicious irony that talks between the two Koreas even over such a small thing as this, took place precisely because both the White House and the Congress have been so hideously bad at doing their job that they've managed to render themselves incapable of mucking things up.
There's been so much manure spread around which has been left to sit alone, that the smallest of green shoots have started to be seen.

January 20, 2018

Horse 2366 - Government Shutdowns Don't Happen In Australia

I watch US politics like a football fan watches a neutral game. I don't really care who wins between the two sides and to be honest, any attempts to prove that your side is better, is just part of the background tumult of boos and yays that happen. The difference between say a Celtic v Rangers match, or "El Classico" between Barcelona and Real Madrid, or Everton v Liverpool, is that after 90 minutes, football fans go home. In American politics, the game is eternal.
This afternoon, I was literally watching a countdown clock in the corner of a screen, when the two sides in the eternal struggle that is American politics, failed to pass the Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018, and officially the United States Government has now run out of money.
That is, that it no longer has approval to issue any more Treasury Bills to keep on funding the debt which now stands at more than $20 trillion.
$20 Trillion? That's $20,000,000,000,000.
Without a source of any more funding, this basically means that only the essential services of government will continue to function. That means that the military, social security, border security and the postal service which has access to its own money will continue to run but everything else will just stop.

The question I've now been asked five times in the space of an afternoon, is could it happen in Australia? The answer is an emphatic "No."
We don't have government shutdowns for a very very good reason.

1. We don't have a debt ceiling.
Under Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution, only Congress can authorize the borrowing of money on the credit of the United States. Since the United States Government has run continuous deficits since about 1835, the only way to keep funding the big show is to keep on issuing debt instruments. The problem is though that issuing debt with no thought or limit is bad, so Congress imposed the Public Debt Acts as a restraint upon itself. Every time that the debt hits the limit, crises happen.
Australia imposed a debt ceiling from 2008 until 2013, when quite rightly it was realised that this is nothing more than a perpetual game which needs to be played. In 2013, under Treasurer Joe Hockey, the debt ceiling in Australia was scrapped because it actually achieved nothing except tie up the legislature.

2. We have a bigger fiscal nuclear weapon

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. But such dissolution shall not take place within six months before the date of the expiry of the House of Representatives by effluxion of time.
- Section 57, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900

On the 11th of November 1975, which was 6 months and one week after the Appropriation Bill No.1 1975-76 which wanted to spend $6,976,119,000, had failed to pass the Senate because the opposition simply deferred the passage of the appropriation bills which finance governmental operations, the Governor-General Sir John Kerr, under his Section 57 powers, issued a statement to dissolve the parliament:

Because of the federal nature of our Constitution and because of its provisions the Senate undoubtedly has constitutional power to refuse or defer supply to the Government. Because of the principles of responsible government a Prime Minister who cannot obtain supply, including money for carrying on the ordinary services of government, must either advise a general election or resign. If he refuses to do this I have the authority and indeed the duty under the Constitution to withdraw his Commission as Prime Minister. The position in Australia is quite different from a position in the United Kingdom. Here the confidence of both Houses on supply is necessary to ensure its provision. In United Kingdom the confidence of the House of Commons alone is necessary. But both here and in the United Kingdom the duty of the Prime Minister is the same in a most important aspect – if he cannot get supply he must resign or advise an election.
- Governor-General Sir John Kerr, Statement 11th Nov 1975.

More than forty years later we are still arguing the toss over what actually happened that afternoon. This is a tale of intrigue and suspicion over who said what, to whom and when.
What we do know is that at 2:24pm, the bill did pass the parliament and so there was never actually a government shutdown and at 2:34pm there was an announcement in the House that there had been a dismissal of the government. By the end of the day, writs had been issued with dissolved parliament.

The problem with the US congressional system is that the actual head of state is the President; who doesn't have the ability to dismiss or fire the Congress if they fail to pass a budget or debt ceiling extensions. The Governor-General of Australia as head of state does, and on the only occasion where it has looked as though a government shutdown was close, actually did dissolve the parliament. If a President wanted to fire the Congress, all kinds of anger would rain down on Washington.

Australia went through an eleven year process before it came to working out its constitution and it looked at what worked and what didn't work in both the United Kingdom and the United States; in consequence, we have a parliamentary system which is demonstrably better than both of them.The latest government shutdown in the United States, which by the way is the 18th since I've been alive, is in comparison to zero in Australia. It doesn't happen because our constitution works better by design.

January 17, 2018

Horse 2365 - "Raw Water" Is A Thing Now

Two of the regular fixtures on my listening schedules are "The News Quiz" on BBC Radio 4 and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" from WBEZ Chicago and NPR. I like satirical takes on the news because let's be honest, the world is a kind of bonkers place to begin with. When I first heard about the idea of raw water on Wait, Wait and then The News Quiz, I thought that this was one of those cases where some hipster trend has begun in a place like San Francisco and is just as dumb as quinoa, kale, açai, or whatever the next trendy food fad is. When I saw that a shop near where I work in Mosman was selling raw water, I finally realised that this is now going to be a thing.
I suppose that this is the latest in the whole foods movement and I guess that I did see it at one of those kinds of shops but just because something happens to be "natural" is no guarantee that it's better or even safe. Drinking raw water seems to me to be a pathway for pathogens, viruses and bacteria to get a free ride straight into your digestive system. I don't see any sanity in that.

Raw water, for those of you who aren't up to speed on all things trendy and idiotic, is untreated water. My first reaction when I heard about this on the radio was "why?". My reaction when I saw it on sale in the shops was "why?". As someone who is bashing away at a keyboard and wondering what is wrong with people in the world, my current reaction is to yet again ask "why?"
We spend billions of dollarpounds all over the world, setting up filtration and cleaning systems because having clean, safe drinking water is sensible. The fact that I even need to make this point here, is so unbelievably daft to me, I can't describe it.

Probably since before the beginning of recorded history, people have been trying to make their water look better and taste better. Simple common sense should dictate that water with stuff in it, is going to be worse than clean water. Common sense says that if water smells bad or has dirt in it, then you probably shouldn't drink it.
The ancient Egyptians used sand filtration; Hippocrates invented a double layered bag which he used to filter water with; people in the ancient world were boiling water because although they didn't know what they were doing, they knew it did something; the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he should take a little wine as well as water because of Timothy's frequent stomach illnesses.
If you apply the highly inaccurate Greek model of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, it stands to reason that something that's in water that isn't water is not water. In the modern world where chemistry is better understood, it is still true that anything that isn't the chemical of H2O is not water. If you are in the ancient world and you don't have a good grasp of science but you know that something in the water has the ability to literally kill you, then it's a good idea to get rid of it.

It wasn't until the invention of the microscope that we started to see that life existed at a size that was smaller than we can see. I can imagine that the first people who looked through a microscope and saw bacteria living in water must have been freaked out by it.
Perhaps the most famous story in the early history of drinking water, was the story of John Snow and the Broad Street pump. There was a cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London in 1854 and he decided to map out all the cases of cholera and see if there was a connection. He found that the centre of the outbreak was one particular pump and this coupled with other events such as the "Great Stink" of 1858 eventually led to the creation of the London sewerage system and the separation of sewerage and drinking water. Under the oversight of the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette, London's effluent was moved eastwards and well beyond what was then the metropolitan area.

The thing is that stupid people will always do as stupid people do. If they could somehow invent a powerplant that ran on stupidity, then we could solve every energy crisis and global warming at the same time. I have no problem with stupid people being separated by their money if they do it voluntarily. The problem is that this sort of thing, dovetails with other things like the anti-vax movement and the most vocal people who are a fan of this kind of thing, also campaign against putting fluoride in the water, despite it being demonstrably safe and an excellent public health measure when it comes to dental health as well as removing the bacteria and viruses that we want to get rid of. Some of the greatest measures in public health last century were the eradication of smallpox and polio, and the mass provision of safe drinking water and decent sewerage systems.
People should mostly be free to spend their money how they like but when private choice might lead to public danger then stupidity becomes dangerous. I hope that this is seen for the obvious stupidity that it appears to be because then it's likely to just disappear and go away on its own.

January 11, 2018

Horse 2364 - The American Way To "Commute"?

I saw a full bus side advert the other day for American Airlines; which had a picture of a lady asleep in what looked like the comfiest airline seat/bed that I've ever seen and the advert had the tagline: "The American Way To Commute".

This is one of those occasions where someone was doing some paradigm shifting without using the clutch and my brain was metaphorically shooting sparks out the side. This advert was so unbelievably overflowing with wrongability that you might as well forget about trying to catch it all in buckets because there was enough of the stuff to sink the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.

How art thee wrong? Let me count the ways.

1. Commute (the right way to use the word)
A commuter is someone who commutes. The word commute means to lessen or to reduce. A mass murderer who is facing the death penalty might have their sentence commuted to life in prison. A petty criminal who shows contrition might have their sentence commuted from time in prison to doing community service. Likewise the term "commuter" came about because people who bought season tickets, be they weekly, monthly, quarterly or even yearly (yes this was a thing), had their fare commuted to a lesser amount because they bought more travel. A person who bought a weekly rail ticket might have had their fare commuted from the full five days that they were going to work, to say the equivalent fare of three and a half days of travel.

2. Commute (the wrong way to use the word)
A commuter is someone who commutes. They have had the price of their travel commuted from an amount to a lesser amount. Somewhere in the history of urban public transport, people mangled the word to mean someone who simply travelled forth and back from work. This, rater ludicrously, eventually came to also apply to people who drive to work despite the fact that they do not have the price of their travel commuted to any lesser amount. Both the price of petrol and the associated tax are directly aligned with usage. I should point out here that since the introduction of the Opal Card system in Sydney, because an amount is deducted from people's Opal accounts at the end of every journey, this has in effect killed off the commuter in Sydney. Granted that there are discounts beyond the eighth trip and there is a weekly cap but if you are someone like me who always hits the cap, the fare is never commuted to a lesser amount.

If this is true, then even if we use the wrong definition of the word, then unless American Airlines does take people to and from work, then it's fair to say that there are no commuters who use American Airlines in Australia. There is a select number of people who fly in and fly out of the mining towns in Western Australia; so under this definition, there are some commuters who use aeroplanes in Australia, although American Airlines doesn't provide this service.

3. Commute (the wrong way to be wrong)
If we ignore part one and part two, then in what possible world does American Airlines think that there could be commuters using their services in Australia. As far as I am aware, they operate out of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and fly to the west coast of the United States as well as Hawaii. I'm not sure if American Airlines is aware of this but the Pacific Ocean is actually kind of big. I don't think that it's even possible to fly to Hawaii in less than twelve hours, which means to say that it is impossible to fly forth and back to work if you're home was in Australia and your workplace was in Hawaii in less than a day.
Unless you have access to time travel, or are able to manipulate the laws of time and space such that you can leave before you arrive, wake up before you go to bed, and somehow manage to fit in an eight hour working day in the middle of all that, then the tagline "The American Way To Commute" is nonsensical as applied to Australians.

4. The Metaphor
Nonsense aside, the advert shows a lady asleep in one of those weird bed things that American Airlines obviously has. If you are someone who falls asleep on the bus, then you're likely not going to be awake when the advert passes by. Maybe this advert is supposed to evoke feelings of wistfulness and wanderlust in a bleary eyed person as they stand out in the cold waiting for a bus and that's perfectly sensible but this is yet another one of those occasions where the marketing department did not think things through.

From what I've seen of America, the actual American way to commute is to sit in your car for long periods of time, doing six miles an hour, or perhaps sitting on a subway train and hoping that you don't get mugged. Okay, that's hyperbole and parody but as I stand on yet another late running and overcrowded train in Sydney, I kind of hope that "the American way to commute" is to put on some blue tights and red underpants on the outside and fly like Superman - he fought for "Truth, Justice, and The American Way (to commute?)"

January 10, 2018

Horse 2363 - The Train On Platform Number 3... Ha Ha LOL. There Is No Train On Platform Number 3.

Degrade. Defund. Privatise. Repeat.

This is the current policy of the Liberal/National Coalition in both Australia and the state of New South Wales and I for one am sick of it.
After not coming to an agreement on overtime rates with train drivers, Sydney Trains and by extension the Department Of Transport, are now doing their level best to annoy the heck out of the general public by cancelling train services at random and leaving passengers on station platforms with little information.
I have spoken to three drivers and it seems that whoever their managers are, simply isn't assigning drivers on scheduled runs because they haven't got any authority to guarantee that the drivers will be paid for doing them. This is management from above by budget knavery and the best guess is that the trail of decision making leads straight to Minister Andrew Constance's door and quite possibly to Premier Gladys Berejiklian herself.

Last night at Wynyard Station, passengers were herded like sheep, deliberately held back from entering the platforms because of over crowding and the very real fear that someone might fall onto the tracks, wherein we stood nine deep waiting for trains in both directions.

When I finally did get a train that I could get onto, I found myself standing next to the railing on a set of stairs, with a bolt being pushed into my ribs and at one point I swear that my feet weren't actually touching the ground and I was suspended in the air by the crowd crush.
Thanks to the shenanigans by Sydney Trains, my expectations have been successfully lowered from wondering if I'm going to get a seat to wondering if I'm going to get a train.
Thanks Andrew and Gladys. Your handiwork is on display for all to see. Andrew has officially blamed yesterday's madness on staffing issues and lightning.

This morning wasn't really much better. I took a bus from Marayong to Blacktown because the next four services to anywhere had been cancelled and when I did get to Blacktown, the announcements that trains had been cancelled outnumbered the announcements for trains that were actually running, severalfold. I don't know if you can blame lightning which happened more than 12 hours ago for a current running problem.

The playbook which is currently being worked through has been used before. We've seen this with airports, the Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, the electricity and water companies, we're currently seeing it with schools, the post office, the ferries, and if it wasn't obvious before then it is now, the trains and buses. That playbook is simply to starve the services of proper funding, watch as the public gets angry, lose government, then block any and all attempts to correct the stupidity; then after being voted back into office, claim a mandate to privatise government assets before selling them at a discount to your not quite criminal friends.
In the meantime, start playing identity politics, stirring up racial tensions and demonising the newest broad immigrant group to arrive, blame poor people for their own poverty but refuse to do anything about it, or shift the media focus to some other completely irrelevant topic like changing the flag or the republic.

I find it a bit rich that the Minister For Transport lives in an electorate with zero railways stations and that his electorate was presented with the brand new B-Line services; with no plans to expand that portion of the bus network. Incidentally, private operators TransDev already own the South & South Western Sydney bus depots but have no intention of buying the unprofitable parts of the bus network at all. The plans for the Sydney Metro were first put forward in 2001, then 2005, 2008 and 2010 until Barry O'Farrel promised to fill in all of the holes that would be dug for the new stations if his government was elected. It was and magically, the plans resurfaced for a privately operated metro line; so there's no surprise there. As an aside, I consider it total lunacy  that the Metro line terminates at Cudgegong Road but doesn't go the extra 4.1km to Schofields where it could have made a connection.

Back to the issue at hand. Andrew Constance's job as far as I can tell, is to stand up in parliament and refuse to answer any questions about anything ever posed to him. I don't know what the expiry date is for blaming the previous government but here we are seven years later and Constance's default answer to to say that they're cleaning up the mess left behind by Labour, while not actually cleaning anything up at all.
Maybe as the Liberal/National Coalition drifts towards the economic right, they are secretly hoping that we'll just accept the fascist myth of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, that the trains are running on time. Yesterday proved, that if you want the public to acccept the lie, you have to at very least make sure that the trains are running in the first place.

January 09, 2018

Horse 2362 - Jar Jar Binks Is Secretly A Good Character In A Badly Written Universe

In the Star Wars cinematic universe, the three prequel movies are almost universally hated. Unlike the three films starting from 1977, which had space ships, space guns, and space wizards with space laser swords, the prequel films which were made from 1999 and onwards, have more politics, intrigue and a romance gone wrong story, than space ships, space guns and space wizards with space laser swords. The prequel films also contain the universe's singularly most hated character of all: Jar Jar Binks. Had the prequel films never been made, then that position would have been occupied by C3-PO; I suspect that we were kind of supposed to dislike C3-PO though (nobody likes the protocol and rule followers).

Going back to Jar Jar Binks though, I have read that he is seen as representing some kind of racist caricature of Rastafarians, or perhaps nondescript Asian people, to an outright dislike of both his character design to the fact that he is just staggeringly inept and annoying. All of these are valid criticisms because the interpretation of any piece of art always belongs to its audience. No two people can ever experience anything exactly the same way;. that also includes the way that the creator experienced their own work. Although George Lucas probably had good intentions for Jar Jar Binks, to act as someone who the kids would like and maybe as an audience surrogate, once Mr Lucas released his film into the world, no longer controlled the realm of opinion.

I think that Jar Jar Binks is a far more intriguing character than either the portrayal on screen the court of public opinion has declared him to be. He has only a minor supporting role in The Phantom Menace, he gets no more than three lines of dialogue in Attack Of The Clones and he is only seen and gets zero lines of dialogue in The Revenge Of The Sith; to the extent that there isn't even a credit for him at the end of the film. So based purely on the evidence presented before us, he must have a far more interesting story than we've been told about. He has been sidelined because the public didn't like him but that still doesn't mean to say that he still doesn't have an interesting but untold story.

In The Phantom Menace he is presented as General Binks on the planet of Naboo. Immediately we have to realise that despite his bumbling exterior, he's obviously somewhat competent to be able to be promoted to such an extent that he holds the rank of General. Even though he is quite clumsy (and is told off by Qui-Gon Jinn for being clumsy) he still demonstrates at least a passing ability to fight.
Second to this, in the space between The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones, he becomes a Junior Representative for the Bunyan people in the Galactic Senate. Owing to the fact that the whole Star Wars cinematic universe is poorly thought out when it comes to matters of government and bureaucracy (because Star Wars is a space opera with laser wizards), I have no idea how the Galactic Senate is supposed to function. I have no idea how it makes any sense that it would be just Jar Jar Binks' fault that the power of the Galactic Senate should be seeded to Palpatine at all; so I don't think that it's fair that we should blame Jar Jar Binks for the whole chain of events.
Even if you allow for the possibility that there was a vote and the result was tied, his dithering needn't necessarily be interpreted as a bad thing because based on all information available to him it might have been the best choice after a deliberative process. In a vote of 251-250, there are still 250 other Senators to join with the one.

I would like to see the political thriller about how Jar Jar Binks, who was able to convince the cosmos that he was an incompetent fool, was able to wrangle public opinion to the point where he walks into the Galactic Senate in a landslide election. This is high level kind of manipulation of the sort that we might expect from Boris Johnson, Helmut Kohl, or Sir Joh Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Maybe this is a political thriller of a different sort where Jar Jar Binks is openly loved by his people precisely because he is so naive and innocent and the bad guys and antagonists of the film, turn out to be us and our prejudices against him. I must confess that I find Jar Jar Binks an annoying character to watch on screen but I don't think that that necessarily makes him a bad character because at very least, we remember him.

The thing about the three prequel movies is that it is mostly a story about how the Jedi who are supposed to be good, end up being terrible and making equally bad decisions because a space wizard theocracy is terrible at doing the job of governance. It is in that vacuum of terrible governance that Palpatine manipulates the system to steal power. Jar Jar Binks might very well be clumsy, incompetent and terrible at government but at least he does what he thinks it is right and proper to do.
It is we the audience who are the villains for writing him off; and George Lucas himself who is the emperor of awful for giving us three convoluted films with too much politics, intrigue and a romance gone wrong story, rather than space ships, space guns and space wizards with space laser swords.

January 03, 2018

Horse 2361 - Operation Purple Line - The Cumberland Line Extension

The name of the County of Cumberland was bestowed on an indiscriminate plain to the west of the settlement by Governor Phillip on 4th June 1788 and was named after Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland; the fifth son of George III (and who later became the second last King of Hanover before it was absorbed into a united Germany).
As a result, the name Cumberland is thrown about willy-nilly in western Sydney and it is fitting that the Cumberland Line which currently runs from Schofields to Leppington, should also have that name.
As I live in Marayong, which is on the Richmond Line and therefore the Cumberland Line by coincidence, I thought it worthwhile to travel to the other end of the line; to somewhere I had never been before.
The train heads through Blacktown, Parramatta, crosses over the Y-link and through Merrylands and Guildford, through Liverpool until it gets to Glenfield, wherein it makes a hard right over a new viaduct and cuts into fairly open country.

The first indication that you are going to leave suburbia is at Casula, when for no apparent reason at all, the landscape changes from rows and rows of red roofed houses to unorganised bushland. Also, a lot of the stations in this part of the world, are little more than finished concrete over a set of brick walls and with a gantry over the top. Style and panache are non existent except for Liverpool station; which looks as though it should be a grand terminal for something.

Beyond Liverpool, is Glenfield. This photo overlooks an agricultural high school and is an indication of what is to come.

Ever since Harry Beck presented his now iconic map of the London Underground to a thankful public in 1931, the idea has been copied again and again. Most schematic maps bear no relation to what the actual land is like but this section of the Sydney Trains map with the Leppington Branch showed as a hard right angle to the main south line, is actually an apt representation. The train climbs over a short viaduct and really does pull hard to the right.

This is the sort of landscape that this branch goes through. It is mainly rolling hills and plains; with patches of eucalypts still peppering the view. It is this kind of empty country that makes me wonder about this line in two ways:
1. Either the line is many degrees of magnitude of overkill.
2. The line is preparing for future extensions because places like Oran Park and Narellan which used to be little more than four sheds and a dog called Kevin, now have more people than ever before.

I am not a fan of the deliberately nasty styling of these benches. These benches are decidedly unfriendly and are very much hostile architecture. They are meant to be sat on for only a limited period of time; which is fine if you are in Town Hall or Wynyard but when you are in Leppington which is 51 kilometers from Central Station, this is idiotic.
I also do not like the stayed corporate colour scheme which is common across the network. Sure, it is about building a brand but I rather like the idea that because this is on a purple and blue line, that the furniture should also be accented in purple and blue. Then again what do I know? I travel on trains for fun.

Leppington Station like so many modern buildings, stations, apartment blocks etc. is being built to a style which is trendy at the moment. This will pass.
Having said that, it does mean that as you pass through the place, you do get interesting interactions of light and shadow.

For a station which is in the middle of nowhere, Leppington Station is impressively massive. It has four platforms; which are useful for laying up trains and terminating them but apart from that, its bigness is gloriously pointless.
If this was a station in the middle of the city, instead of those Opal Card poles, there would be full on ticket barriers but because there is practically nobody here, they're not required.

From the outside of Leppington Station, it looks like they are expecting crowds of Olympic proportions. This station is equipped to cope with 150,000 people all arriving at once but I doubt if this station would ever see 1% of that in a day. The train that I caught here, literally had 3 people on it who weren't railway staff. If this station ever does see crowds, they'd arrive in the morning after parking their cars and then disappear until the end of the day.
As it was, I wandered around for a bit and then descended back to platform level; wherein I sat on an unfriendly bench for 26 minutes.

Should they have built this line extension? Yes. Should Leppington Station be this pointlessly extravagant? Absolutely.
Unlike say Casula Station which is two river platforms and a gantry, Leppington Station is a destination in itself (although arguably it has to be because there's diddly-squat else put there). A quiet place like this which is massive, positively screams that it has a purpose. It compels you to wander through it; to walk around and to interact with it. It's ace.

More train things to come in future posts.

January 02, 2018

Horse 2360 - The World's Biggest Cup Of Tea

On December 16th, 1773, 116 American traitors to the Crown decided to dress up as Mohawk Indians and seize the cargo of three ships. This cargo, which included 342 chests of tea, represented the last of the so-called "intolerable" taxes that still stood on the specific importation of goods to the British North American colonies. These traitors to the Crown (or heroes of the revolution depending on your point of view), is generally considered to be the tipping point which saw the North American colonies revolt, engage in full scale war, and fight for their independence. 
Not quite 244 years and one month later, we find ourselves in an equally strange point in history where a man with orange hair is now the President of a nation who surely must be wondering if it was all worth it.


I have read estimates that the weight of tea on board the three ships, the Beaver, Dartmouth, and Eleanor, was circa 90,000 pounds. Since the value of the tax was 4 shillings per pound, then the value of the tax which was dodged was:
90,000 x 4/- = £18,000
This is quite strange considering that the value of the damaged and lost cargo reported by the East India Company was only £9,659. The value that they expected to sell that tea at was £108,000; an elevenfold price markup isn't that shabby.

The average amount of tea in an average teabag (my research involved looking in my own pantry), is 2 grams. By my reckoning:

2g = 1 cup of tea, 250mL
8g = 4 cups of tea, 1L
40,823kg = 40,823,000g = 5,102,875L or 1,275,718 cups of tea.

To put this in perspective, there is about 2,500,000L or water in an olympic swimming pool. That means that there was enough tea dumped into Boston Harbour to turn two olympic swimming pools into something drinkable.
I bet that for a very short period of time, before the tea had a chance to disperse, then it's not unreasonable to say that Boston Harbour or at least two olympic swimming pools worth of water in Boston Harbour, was the world's biggest cup of tea; albeit a very very salty one.