March 31, 2018

Horse 2390 - Fragments VII: The Magnificent Seven Samurai

C02 - I Love Crows

I think that I'm quite fortunate to be able to walk through a park in the morning to get to the train station on my way to work. I love the fact that the sky is a complex canvas writ large, upon which colours are splashed, clouds are haphazardly strewn and tumble about, and that birds play around in it because they are beholden to no-one.

In my morning survey of the morning sky, I find that we have quite a number of different bird species, even just in suburbia. The mynahs are little punks who attack in groups because they're too cowardly and small to go it alone, cockatoos are like the cool kids who are wrapped up in their own little world but want to very loudly let you know how wonderful they are, galahs are the local council of birds who stand around in their suited jackets as they argue among themselves, and magpies are a bunch of greasers who would carry a switchblade if they could because they can and will make you bleed at the smallest of opportunities. There's also the ibis, which when silhouetted against the sky looks majestic and graceful but on the ground is humble to have earned its moniker of the "bin chicken".
There are also rainbow lorikeets who just like teenagers in a shopping mall are an explosion of colour and bad manners, various owls who have managed to convince the world that they are wise when in actual fact they are common thugs and thieves, and kookaburras which are like dodgy tradespeople who think that everything is hilarious while they steal anything that's not nailed down.

My favourite of all though, are crows. l love crows.

The crows that we get in our part of the world are definitely black but they give off a very subtle dazzle of blue. Crows make no nonsense of the fact that they know what they are, and what they are is efficient death machines. It's hardly surprising that crows are the poster bird for goths because although crows also don't "get" you, they also don't hide that they don't care about you either.


C97 - Copying Stuff Down

While at church on Sunday and deep in the mire of the cross reference Biblympics (which includes speed finding things, the modern penta-phalanaxathon which is putting five fingers in various places, and memory archery), I came across a passage in Deuteronomy 17, which has to do with the appointment of a king.
The list of things that the law proscribes in Deuteronomy includes an instruction that the new king should copy out their own copy of the law. The curious thing is that if you look at the appointment of Saul, David, Solomon and onwards, it is never mentioned once that any of them ever complied with the law and copied out their own copy. While this might sound trivial, it is worth considering that in the Old Testament, the stories of the kings is generally one of mayhem and destruction; and finally ends with the nation of Israel snapping in half, the northern kingdom disappearing entirely and the southern kingdom going into exile and never being properly restored.

This post isn't a discussion about the ins and outs of obeying the Torah because quite frankly it's massive and I don't have the years of experience in Hebrew law to make any discussion worthwhile, but it is an observation about bothering to read a document.

The whole point of copying out the Torah as far as I can tell, is to give the new king a very slow overview of the law which as the head of the nation, it was his job to administer. Say what you will about the validity of sanity of vesting the power of government in the single person of the Crown, it does make a lot of sense that they should start out with a grounding in the law.

In Australia, we have had many politicians fall foul of a relatively forgotten section within the Constitution; namely Section 44 that happens to default someone for eligibility if they retain a legal allegiance to another country. Again, say what you like about the sanity of having such a section contained within the Constitution but the fact remains that that is the rule and people should be aware of it before they were embark upon a career in the house on the hill in Canberra.
Also when you consider that it's been there since 1901 and that you can buy your own copy of the Constitution for $5 in the bookstore near the front entrance of the building, it really isn't all that difficult or arduous for prospective candidates to have done that barest of minimums and read through the rule set for the job that they want to embark upon.
As an accountant, at very least I need to be aware of my way around the Income Tax Assessment Acts of 1936 and 1997, the GST Act 2000 and the Corporations Act 2000. There is a neat summary book called the Master Tax Guide which comes out yearly and by about the end of July, I will have read all of it from cover to cover. I still can't honestly tell you what the various tax brackets are from one year to year and to remember them all would be maddening but I know where to find them.

I think it would be also incredibly useful for the resident in chief of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to be forced to copy out their own copy of the US Constitution because as far as I can tell, with the exception of Obama who was a lawyer before he got the job in the Senate, most Presidents don't really have all that good a grasp on the document which defines their position and I doubt whether to current one has even read the thing.


I99 - Invasion Of Personal Space

It is 08:27am and after waiting half an hour for a bus, after not getting on the previous bus because it was full and then outrunning it to the next stop only to discover that it was still full, I got onto the next M30 bus from the city to Mosman. After running around like a mad thing and then standing around in the cold, I was not exactly in the most patient of moods. It probably explains my annoyance at the bus load of people on the bus who arrived who managed to occupy the front of the bus but left the back of the bus empty.
My annoyance was compounded when I was abruptly asked the question "What the **** do you want?" when I had the sheer tenacity to look past everyone at the back of the bus and at several rows of empty seats as though they were the promised land. Instantaneously I knew that I would have to negotiate with nine people to get to the back of the bus but all I could do was apologise for my existence and continue to stand in the red "No Standing" section of the bus and hope and pray that it didn't have to stop in a hurry and I'd unwittingly become the hero of the unpopular book "Andrew's Adventures Through The Windshield Glass".

I am prepared to forgive acts of public rudeness because they generally don't come from a place of malice. No doubt this person was also just as exasperated as I was at having to wait half an hour for a bus when they should be arriving with a ten minute frequency.
I don't want to present myself as some hero of a strange narrative because I'm sure that as self contained ego driven meatbags who are only capable of seeing the world from our own perspective, that experience is common to all. Quite the contrary, I will confess that although I have a tongue in my head which generally refrains from uttering the words that society has deemed to be the worst, I'm still sure that I would have been just as guilty of callousness at the invasion of my personal space as well.


P38 - Australian Mutual Paternalism

It's like telling me to keep on chasing after a rainbow because I'll never know what I might find on the journey. That's fine to tell poets and artists in the process of creating something which might not necessarily be empirical but to tell me that sort of thing while I bleed myself dry to lubricate the wheels of industry is nothing but paternalistic claptrap.

If for argument's sake we assume that the rate of return on invested capital is 5%, then someone with a pot of $1.5m will 'earn' more than median wage earning worker who has to break their back while doing so, while they could literally spend the whole year sitting around eating bon-bon-bon-bons all day and every day. Except for that brief illusory period between 1945 and 1975, owning stuff and collecting the reward for owning stuff has always been a road to faster riches and unless someone who is born into wealth and is stupidly profligate, then the status quo will naturally reassert itself.
A company like AMP which once was a Mutual Provident Society but moved into the commercial realm of owning the pile of capital a very long time ago, by virtue of its own desire to go chasing after the great pile of swirling money, rather than the intended job of providing cheap, mutual, provident, insurance. It's not like their unique in this either because St George is just as guilty at not being a building society any more and Mercantile Mutual decided to hurl itself into an even bigger swirling pile of money by sacrificing itself on the altar of international conglomerate ING.

All of these paternalistic things are fine I suppose but the underlying problem of why people cannot afford to buy a house is actually a little more myriad in explanation than merely blaming the victim here. The two biggest reasons why people cannot afford to buy a house is that firstly, wages have been falling in real terms since about the third quarter of 1979; this is in tandem that as wages are falling, capital still needs to flow somewhere and since we've basically decided that manufacturing and making stuff isn't worth the effort any more, that capital has flooded into housing. That pushes the demand curve for housing to the right and the market finds a new equilibrium position Simple basic market theory tells that.

The worst thing is that AMP are complicit in moving the giant pile of money into housing, just like every other to financial institution, so their paternalistic yelling just sounds hollow. This article is mining that great mound of sentiment of accusing the poor of being poor because they don't work hard enough, despite the fact that someone who has a sufficiently big enough pile of money can earn more without having to do any work of their own. Usually married to that sentiment is that the poor are poor because they've made bad choices, in spite of the fact that the actual choices of what to spend their money on (which they did real work for) are mostly limited by those apparently "bad choices" to pay the bills when they fall due. Keeping the lights on, the gas on, the water on, and keeping the rent collectors at bay, are apparently "bad choices" because in the eyes of those doing the yelling, they would rather blame people who don't earn very much money of not working hard enough rather than addressing the issue that they themselves turned down the tap of wages to a trickle but vastly inflated the costs of housing by pumping ever more capital into it.


S13 - Spicy Food

The truth of the matter is that I love spicy food. How hot is hot enough? I want it to be so hot that I've fallen over, am lying on the floor in the fetal position, blood pouring out of every orifice, with all of those orifices like a burning ring of fire. Warning, Hot? Really? Is there the threat of hospitalisation that comes with the product?


S58 - Smelly People On The Train

How do you describe such a smell? It is kind of like if you built a fifteen palette tower to a significant height, somehow managed to acquire several tons of pot pourri, dowsed the whole lot in vanilla oil and two stroke additive, and then set fire to the whole lot. It is simultaneously acrid and glorious at the same time. That someone should voluntarily choose to dowse their own person with the perfume is mind blowing. There is good reason why we don't use room freshener as a personal deodorant and that reason is that we don't want to inflict upon ourselves the curse of leaking from our sinuses, an unending torrent.
However this person has thrown sanity to the four winds and done it anyway. I don't know whether to be confused, impressed, or just feel sorry that this person doesn't seem to understand this social moray. I do know that from a distance of three feet away, every single part of my ENT plumbing is trying to mount an armed rebellion and it feels as though war has already been declared inside my sinuses... and there's the smell of deep fried lasagne coming from the other side of the aisle, which is also confusing and audacious as a concept.

March 28, 2018

Horse 2389 - When A Replica Is Not A Replica

Because of the way that the advertising algorithms work on Facebook and Twitter, I keep on seeing something for a company called Aussie Driver Search which tries to make the claim that it is running a competition to try out drivers so that they can get a drive in motor racing series but if you dig deeper, it appears to be a scheme to extract $800 out of people by holding out a promise which will never be fulfilled; that is namely, the chance to become a contracted driver for a motor racing team.
One of the things that the advert purports to give you is a drive in a "replica" Brock VK Commodore. Now I know that I am something of a pedant but the idea of a replica is to replicate the original; so when they get to that part in the advert where they show you what their "replica" looks like, part of me dies a little inside.

- The "Replica"

- The Original

I have never been much of a Peter Brock fan. As a kid I thought that Dick Johnson's big green Falcon was amazing and that Alan Moffat's little Mazda RX7 (SA22C 13B) was about the coolest looking car on the face of the planet. Brock's whole carry on with the Energy Polariser a few years later, kind of poisoned any kind of heroism I might have bestowed upon him (as though the adulation of a random 8 year old meant very much anyway) but even so, I still know when something being held out as a replica is too much of a deviation from the truth to properly be considered as one.
The thing that really annoys me about this is that the original car in question which this thing is aping, is not only one of the most distinctive and iconic looking of cars in Australian motor sport but this was the one which claimed a 1-2 at Bathurst and finally redressed the balance for Holden after Moffat had given the General a black eye seven years earlier with another 1-2 in the Falcon coupes. Given that, it should be the sort of thing that you'd want to get absolutely correct and down to the finest of minutiae because people like me who live in a house on Pendant Corner (which is a 2nd gear left hander at 60mph), is going to notice it almost immediately.

In this particular day-glo livery there were precisely two cars built. For most of the 1984 season the cars had run a much darker shade of red and on top of that, they had not been the VK but the VH. The two cars had been specifically built for Sandown and Bathurst of 1984, in the knowledge that the rules change from the Australian Group C to the international Group A would render them both ineligible.
This means that the two Marlboro Holden Dealer Team cars in this shade and this configuration can be linked to a very specific period of time; and because there's only two of them, all variations are exceptionally easy to spot. This "replica" is therefore obvious in its wrongness to the point that it does my head in.

Look at the bonnet; just look at it. What do you see? A bonnet bulge? Okay, that is perfectly acceptable on a 1979 A9X Torana but a 1984 VK Commodore it is not. Actually, there were precisely zero VK Commodores with a bonnet bulge that went motor racing, in either Group C or Group A. Can you have a bonnet bulge on a VL? Absolutely. How about on a VN? Again, most definitely. But a bonnet bulge on a VK? Not one VK Commodore either for the road or the racetrack was ever issued with a bonnet bulge. Neither the three slat Group C or Group A or the letterbox style which raced in 1986 had a bonnet bulge.
Why is it even there? If it's there to look cool, then you've missed the point of what a replica is. If it's there because it needs to be there, then that means that you've done something to the engine which was obviously never done to the original because the original never ever needed a bonnet bulge. So what gives?

You've taken a VK Commodore and given it a nice paint job in homage to the original (albeit one that's pretty darn close) but it's not exactly a replica, is it?
Granted that you might have built a more competent car than the original, and you probably have one that produces more power (because the original in race trim was only getting about 490bhp and you can buy road cars with more power than that now) but it's still not a replica. It's a close copy and perhaps even a pretty good thing in its own right but the original was kind of a squirrelly car that danced about a bit. This thing is probably pretty solid and sure footed on the road.

I will say this in its favour, that is that it's a good thing that they didn't redact the cigarette sponsorship down the side. Of course I can see the irony in Peter Brock's car promoting an anti drink-driving campaign by running the number 05 (and running it well after the funding had run out) but at the same time being sponsored by cigarettes. The message inadvertently is "Don't drink and drive but cigarettes are fine". What annoys me is when cigarette advertising is redacted from old footage and other things, despite the fact that the actual thing had them.

I'm afraid that's kind of a big "No" from me, Aussie Driver Search. Calling something a "replica" when it isn't, bothers me. Holding out the promise of winning a competition which doesn't really look like a competition, also bothers me but business is business I suppose and if they're prepared to openly lie with the physical appearance of a "replica" then taking your money under the false pretense of a competition, is entirely within the garage of possibilities.

March 26, 2018

Horse 2388 - Big Brother Is Watching You... And Is Allowed To Do It

One of my former housemates was walking through the suburb of Gladesville when he came across one of the most high-tech advertising hoardings that anyone has ever seen. Not only did it have a flat screen built into it but it also had a camera built into it.

I would presume that the camera is there because putting up a real estate sign, instantly says that the property which it stands in front of has been left vacant and they don't want squatters moving in. I could also presume that the camera is there because putting up thing which a flat screen in it, is just asking for a punk teenager to come along with a trolley bar and bash it to pieces, and I would expect that they would want footage to prosecute vandals. James saw the commercial potential of looking at who stopped to look at the sign.

Still, the question posed by the original tweet which sparked this was:
Wondering whether it’s legal / morally acceptable for a real estate agent sign out the front of a property in Gladesville to have a camera built in that films the footpath?
@JSNoble, via twitter, 24th Mar 2018¹

The answer to that is... Absolutely.
It is perfectly legal for anyone to film the footpath. It is perfectly legal for anyone to take photos of the general public without permission.

Why? Because unless there is a law preventing a thing, then it is legal to do. One of the interesting things about the way that law works, is that you are generally free to do anything you like, unless that action or thing is hedged in by law.
Do you want to talk to a postbox? It's mad but sure, that's fine. Do you want to talk to a postbox while wearing a saucepan on your head? That's more mad but it's still fine. Do you want to yell at a postbox while wearing a saucepan on your head? That might start to look like offensive conduct under the Summary Offenses Act 1988².  Do you want to yell at a postbox while wearing a saucepan on your head and while naked? Now you definitively have violated Section 5 of the Summary Offenses Act 1988.
A thing is only illegal if it is expressly said as such.

Of course you could ask the reverse question and see if filming someone is an infringement of their rights. Again, the courts have already made plenty of rulings about this:

With regard to the question of privacy, no doubt the owner of a house would prefer that a neighbour should not have the right of looking into his windows or yard, but neither this court nor a court of law will interfere on the mere ground of invasion of privacy; and a party has a right even to open new windows, although he is thereby enabled to overlook his neighbour's premises, and so interfering, perhaps, with his comfort.
- Latham J, Victoria Park Racing v. Taylor (1937) 58 CLR 479

A person, in our society, does not have a right not to be photographed.
- Dowd J,  R v Sotheren (2001) NSWSC 204

There seems to be a suggestion that there isn't a clearly recognised tort of invasion of privacy in Australian case law. What that might be true, the next question is, is an action which takes place in public, such as filming someone, constitute a violation of an invasion of privacy? The answer to that is quite obviously "no" because a public place is by definition public. Claiming that you have had your right to privacy violated in a public place, is clearly ridiculous.

This is the reason why in principle, the framers of the Australian Constitution didn't want to include a Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights in the tradition of English common law, doesn't give you any new rights, it merely confirms what rights that you already have; if you expressly spell out those rights, you them limit people's vision to what's on that piece of paper.
I won't get into some philosophical discussion about positive and negative rights but suffice to say that the rights which are held by or conferred upon an individual are also generally held by companies by virtue of them being separate legal persons. That weird neighbour who has an army of cameras trained at the street because he is worried about punk teenagers chucking rocks at his house, is operating under the same legal right as this real estate agent.

Is it creepy? You bet your life it is. It is exactly this realm of creepiness that the paparazzi operates in; because there is no magical difference between a famous person and an average Joe Citizen, that they are able to take photographs in complete impunity. Once someone has entered the street, it's completely fair game to photograph them and take videos of them.
I think what's perceived to be offensive here is that we an unthinking and unfeeling device in a public space which stands impersonal and ominous. The company which put it there has as much right to photograph and film a public space as anybody else does; which is to say that they can do it in complete freedom.

This isn't exactly all despair and gloom though, the very fact that public space (and let's be honest, there is no more public space than the street itself) has no privacy, means that that defence also can not be weaponised against you. If you do find someone acting in an illegal or nefarious fashion, which might include outright corruption or brutality from powerful forces and indeed those from whom we expect levels of decency like the police, then not only do you an unimpeded right to take photographs or film in public but I would argue that you have a moral obligation to do so.

The broad answer here isn't whether you are legally allowed to do this but rather, if is illegal to do this. As there is no law which hedges or restricts the right to photograph or film people in a public space, then it isn't illegal. Whether or not it is moral, assumes that people operate under a broadly similar morality and since people will do anything that they think they can get away with, morality is an awful yardstick.

As for the assertion that the real estate agent is looking through the camera to assess the viability of potential buyers, I'm prepared to dismiss that notion entirely out of hand. While I do think that real estate agents are for the most part incredibly shady individuals, having done the accounts for several real estate agencies over the years, my experience tells me that they are also extraordinarily lazy. In a property worshipping city like Sydney, merely listing a property is usually enough to ensure that it gets sold.
On a selling fee of only 1%, then they'd expect to take in more than $8000 on this property at a bare minimum. It probably costs them less than a couple of hundred dollars all tolled to list a property on various websites and publish an advertisement in the newspaper if anyone does that anymore. At best that's about half an hour's work and maybe some routine paperwork and consultation time when they actually make the sale; if money is the thing which actually does the talking, I don't think that they'd honestly care about who was staring at their advertising hoarding on the street.


March 22, 2018

Horse 2387 - How To Spew Forth A Thousand Word Essay

It happens every so often that someone will be reading this blog and then realise that the posts number more than two thousand. Invariably I will be asked two questions by curious people. The first is how many word that is, to which the answer is about two and a bit million; the second is how I'm able to write so much. The "how" is adjacent to but not completely congruous to the "why" I write, which mainly has to do with an unexplainable enjoyment from the process. The question of "how" is mostly asked by people who have to write something for a specific purpose, rather than where I live, which is in the land of manufacturing entertainment for an audience of one (mainly me - but if you come along for the ride, then that's cool).
If you’d like to read an essay on why people write, George Orwell’s 1946 essay on that same subject is quite quite good, in my opinion.¹

I suppose that most people who ask the question of "how" are in that position because they've been given an essay question, which a teacher poses because they want to see how much you understand my material. Of course this probably goes without saying but if you know that you're going to be asked to write anything more than a thousand words on a particular topic, then it's probably a good idea to have read said material first.
Even though I don't write because I'm addressing any essay question in a learning environment, I will still go back and read something if necessary; indeed throughout many of these blog posts, you will find links to articles and statistics, or perhaps even direct quotes from people because not only have I read some material but I don't want to be accused of stealing from someone else² (especially when the truth is that I would have been too stupid to come up with it in the first place).

Some people who dispense advice about writing might give you suggestions on the form that a piece of writing might take. Very short things like newspaper articles require that you use an inverted pyramid because an editor will want to cut details from the end of the article for reasons of space but presumably you more than likely will not be writing for the dying media of print.
If you have been given absolute constraints, such as a word limit which you can not exceed or one which you must write more than, then the problem becomes one of addressing either the point that the examiner is trying to get at within the space limit, or addressing what is actually important and relevant to the question at hand. This might require a plan beforehand and for me that will involve putting down a few bullet points of no more than about three words apiece.
If you've been asked to write a piece either critiquing something, or expanding upon the ideas of something because you might be required to deliver a presentation, then the form of the piece should be to follow the line of logic (which again assumes that you've read the thing in question).

The grand question of "how" I'm able to write so much stuff also has to do with a very specific underlying form - the four act piece. Situation, Complication, Resolution, Denouement. This is almost burned into the synapses of my brain because the ideal length of a blog post is somewhere between 800 to 1200 words, and changes depending on the mood of the reader at any given moment in time.
I have been doing this for so long that the internal beat of the 1, 2, 3 and 4 of what a thousand odd words sound like, is almost automatic. The shape of what a thousand words looks like is so ingrained that I don't even need to think about planning it out. I don't have to write any paragraph in any order either because I can almost instantly tell where it's supposed to fit. In fact, in many rewrites and edits, I'll hack something out and put it back somewhere else or just cut it altogether, after a final read through because it simply sounds wrong. Sometimes there will be a problem with tense that warrants a rewrite or perhaps a disagreement in counting terms where there is a singular where there should be a plural and vice versa.

This also begs the question of where the initial question to be answered comes from. The reason for that is either because I'm curious about something or annoyed about something, mostly. The most enjoyable blog posts for me to write, and indeed any piece of writing for me to write, comes at the intersection of those two questions which put succinctly is "What the hell is going on here?"³
There's also the aesthetic appeal of words themselves, the rhythm of how they run together, or even the esoteric joy that comes when taking a hackneyed³ cliché and either burying it in something (like I just did) or taking a brand new metaphor and smashing its skull upon the rocks of outrage. (I should point out that no metaphors were harmed in that last sentence). I also just really like puns because although I'll never hear that annoyed groan from the audience, as a writer I've already been paid in advance.

The very last paragraph or sentence is almost always something which ties everything together, or perhaps a deliberately flat joke. I think that it's unfair to the reader to leave them at a point where they expect something else to follow and they never get it. There should always be some rather weak point to be made or a judgement or something because putting icing on a cake is a nice finishing touch but icing on an aeroplane after you've topped and tailed it, causes a crash at the end of the runway.

² Usually as a footnote if it isn't already in the main body of the text.
³ Which in my mind, is always in the voice of Chas Licciardello, from the beginning of ABC1's Planet America.

March 20, 2018

Horse 2386 - SA Votes, Batman Votes, Russia Votes... Everyone Votes

Over the weekend Australia went election crazy in the 2018 Festival Of The Democracy Sausage as we had both the South Australian state election and a by-election for the federal seat of Batman on the same day; and do you know what we learnt from all of this? Nothing!
It is completely normal that after sixteen years of one party being in power that the electorate will change; which is what happened in South Australia. It is also completely normal that when you have two roughly left to centre parties running for the same seat, that one of them would win; which is what happened in Batman. The clouds didn't split, the sea didn't divide, and there was no earth shattering kaboom.
The two contests which were in theory supposed to be wildly different, with the phrase "a referendum on" for just about every political topic that you can possibly think of, turned out to be so mind numbingly alike and boring that neither of them even so much as registered a peep on the national newspapers on Monday. Maybe there was some residual celebration in the Adelaide Advertiser but as far as the rest of the country was concerned, it was yawn and crick time.

This bears further discussion and so, in a post election analysis special, I'm going to look at the two most boring Festivals Of Democracy Sausage in living memory.

South Australia.
As at the time of writing, the Liberal Party has got 24 seats to Labor's 18 (2 are still in doubt) and even though there was a really strange narrative that the Adelaide Advertiser was trying to spin, the Nick Xenophon Team made virtually no strange noises at all. When South Australians hollered for a Marshall, they got Steven Marshall as the new Premier instead of Elon Musk's massive battery. As far as the Liberal Party is concerned, this is the election which a drover's dog could have won and the fact that they made good on that is no surprise at all. Also not surprising is that former Premier Jay Weatherill will stand down as leader of the Labor party in the state.

The Nick Xenophon Team has gone the way of most third parties which ride on the back of someone's name. Just like Clive Palmer's or Jackie Lambie's parties before it, when faced against the problem of winning seats en masse, the order of magnitude of difficulty is simply too much. Historically the way to break into a two party system is to do it over many election cycles and then hope that the movement outlives its founders and is able to stand on its own. Nick Xenophon is a nice enough chap but that of itself doesn't win tens of seats.
Absolutely before the next election, the Nick Xenophon Team should be rebranded as NEXT if it is going to ever achieve anything interesting. I think that it should absolutely take confidence from winning 13.7% of the vote, to be best of rest and even beating the Greens.
Conspicious by their absence is the National Party, who after just receiving a paltry 1,328 primary votes in the 2014 election, quite rightly didn't bother to contest the 2018 election. Once again, Duverger's Law which says that single-member districts tend to favor a two-party system, continues to hold true.
The South Australian election tells us nothing because a change election was expected and we got a change election. To win 5 elections in a row is rare and as far as I know, only the Nationals in Queensland under Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen with seven and the Coalition federally under Menzies, Holt, McEwen, Gorton and Mcmahon have gone further with nine.
Apart from the two majors there are three independents, and although there is the vaguest of possibilities that they might end up holding the balance of power, I think that that chance is slim to non-existant.

Batman By-Election.
We learned even less about the state of politics from the Batman by-election than we did from the SA State election.
After the Section 44 citzenship "crisis" claimed David Feeney (who couldn't be bothered to read a form properly), his resignation triggered the by-election and former President of the ACTU Ged Kearney, was put forward as the candidate.
After what seemed like weeks of News Corp trying to run a scare campaign against both Ged Kearney from Labor and Alex Bhathal from the Greens, Ged was returned as MP; after the Labor party strengthened on both first preferences and on a two-party preferred basis.
The really weird thing was watching Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop trying to paint this as a win for the Liberal Party on ABC1's Insiders, despite them not actually fielding a candidate in the election.
The Batman by-election tells us nothing because those people who would have usually voted for the Liberal Party, had to put their votes somewhere and it seems that they hate the Greens more than they hate Labour but we already knew that in the 2016 election when on first preferences, Alex Bhathal led with 36.2% of the vote to David Feeney's 35.3%. In 2016 the 19.9% of people who voted for the Liberal Party had to put their number preferences somewhere and here, they just distributed them straight up.

How do I think that this fits into the wider game of Australian politics? Perfectly. These two elections are the respective electorates acting completely within expectations. Neither of these results was out of the ordinary at all. If there is anything to be drawn from these results it's that the Australian electorate as a whole is far more stable than the rest of the Anglosphere.
The next major shockwave to come through Australia's parliament will probably be at the next federal election which by my reckoning will occur on Saturday 11th May 2019, which is after the 2019 Budget gets handed down and is the only Saturday after that date which is possible because of the rules surrounding when the writs for the next election must be delivered.

Mostly by-elections swing against the government that's in power but seeing as the Liberal Party didn't bother to field a candidate, then that was more or less a fait accompli. State elections mostly follow the same kind of logic except that the timing of those changes things a bit. In theory, the 2010 SA State election should have installed a Liberal Government but it didn't; so that has been delayed until the point where the existing Labor Government wore out its welcome. I would expect that following the 2019 Federal Election when Bill Shorten is likely to be the next Prime Minister, then the subsequent state elections should begin to start returning Liberal Governments to State Parliaments; those results in the foreseeable future should also be kind of mind numbingly boring.

Russian Presidential Election
Vladimir Putin got 76.69% of the vote running as "Vladimir Putin" on the ballot. His re-election also tells us nothing because that had all the inevitability... of Putin winning the Russian Presidential Election.

March 16, 2018

Horse 2385 - The Four Defences To The Second Amendment And Why They're All Destructive and Dumb

I am re-reading The Federalist for what seems like the twentieth time because I keep on coming across absolutely idiotic arguments about the Second Amendment online. Responding on Facebook seems like a completely pointless endeavour because as far as I can tell, the most passionate of people who want to defend this life, liberty and happiness destroying appendix of a thing, are impervious to both fact and reason.
You may as well try using logic on a brick for all the good it does. At least a brick isn't going to flood you with nonsense.

Forums on the internet aren't a whole lot better either. I especially find it galling when people say that you should "go and read the Federalist Papers" after I've just quoted a particular Federalist Paper. Believe me, I have read through the US Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the Declaration of Independence. I have also read through the Constitution for the Continental Congress Constitution which was so ineffective at being the rule set for government, that it wasn't almost entirely binned in writing the Constitution proper. Basically all it really did was create an entity which could go to war.

But before I launch into my objection to most defences of the Second Amendment, I think that a little bit of background as to how it came to be is in order.
Firstly, the US Constitution was not handed down by God; nor was it inspired by him. It was not carved into two stone tablets and then sealed by covenant. If anything is the uninspired bickering of people trapped in a room for several months, who were all individually looking for edges and advantages of their own. You can read through a kind of proxy for the arguments in the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist Papers, and it's all kind of one giant omnishamble multi-level spew fest.
In fact if you bother to read through the Federalist Papers in their entirety, then John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and
James Madison appear to be the most eloquent group of stroppy teenagers you will ever hear from.
John Jay was never heard from again. Alexander Hamilton was so much of a stroppy agitator that Aaron Burr who had spent decades being thwarted by him, met him with duelling pistols one morning and shot the "bastard immigrant, son of a whore". James Madison was obviously so much of a madman that he thought he'd tell the British where to go, and that resulted in the British marching on Washington and burning the White House in the imaginatively named War Of 1812. (Canadians obviously had nothing better to do, as Hockey Night In Canada on CBC wouldn't be invented until late into the next century)

More importantly, the US Constitution is not a quasi religious document and it is of such poor quality that it has had to be amended 27 times. Something that needs even so much as a single do over, is hardly the stuff of religious perfection. There was even an argument about including the bill of rights because in all honesty, they don't really define the rules by which a legislature should operate. As it was, they weren't even ratified until 1791, which was a full two years into the opening term of George Washington's administration as President instead of General. When you ask most people about the minutiae of the Constitution proper, they generally have only a vague idea what it says but they'll know about those ten things at the end.
And yet that's exactly how I see Constitution thing being defended. It isn't being treated as the thing that it is, which is a not very well written rule book which doesn't really tell you how to operate a government, executive and judiciary but it is treated as though it was the word of God. The insanity of the matter is that it is seen as more important than life itself. Don't believe me? The Second Amendment by operation destroys people's actual lives. Real flesh and blood is pulped in the name of the precious Second Amendment.

These then are the four common defences put forth for why the Second Amendment should be a thing. Really, I've only ever seen variants on these four things and not much else.

1. "The right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution."
I like the use of the word "enshrined" which you'll see quite often because it does afford that quasi-religious overtone to the thing. Moreover it kind of opens the door to suggesting that the person putting forward the argument has turned it into a strange religion.
Legal eagle Thomas Jefferson thought that the Constitution should be reviewed every nineteen years or so. That would indicate that he probably saw it as an evolving document and that the tyranny of the past and the tyranny of the dead shouldn't rule over the lives of the living. The fact that there's another seventeen amendments to the Constitution after the Bill Of Rights, including one which repealed an amendment, is cause to suggest that bad things in the document should be culled.
The main body of the document has also had amendments made to it; especially after the Civil War which happened precisely because the document was awful in the first place.

2. "We're not in the militia, so the 'well regulated' clause doesn't apply to us" 
Alexander Hamilton spent several of the Federalist Papers arguing that the Federal Government shouldn't have a standing army because they might use it to put down various factions of the populace. Curiously he thought that there should absolutely be a Federal Navy though. In consequence, the idea that the whole populace should be trained in firearm usage and that firearms should be well regulated, so that at a moment's notice a militia can be raised, is the whole reason why this is in there. Jefferson was even at pains to make sure that it was abundantly clear.
The objection that "We're not in the militia, so the 'well regulated' clause doesn't apply to us" is completely 100% accurate and true. Thanks to the Supreme Court and the case of Heller vs D.C. (2008) that whole opening section and clause has been struck off and the right to bear arms is taken to be an individual right because of it. The Second Amendment by action of the Supreme Court is actually materially nothing more than:
"the right of the people to keep and bear arms SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED" and you may as well add "2A 2A 2A USA USA USA" at the end. Think of the most basic destructive impulses that people have and then put a gun in front of them because that's the real world operation of the Second Amendment.
In one breath you can't extol the wisdom of your holy prophets who you call the 'Founding Fathers' and then immediately call into question their sanity; especially when the current reading of the amendment has only existed for ten years. If the 'well regulated' clause doesn't apply to you then by that same logic, neither does the right which you so vigorously defend and which is contained in the exact same sentence. The Second Amendment doesn't need to spell out specifically who the 'well regulated' clause because like the rest of the whole Constitution, it is supposed to be universally applied. To claim that one bit applies and another doesn't, is deeply dishonest. I of course realise that I've just dissented with the United States Supreme Court but 1A, so there.

3. "We can't ban guns because the criminals will still have them."
As opposed to now? One of the biggest reasons why criminals are able to have them at all is because they can get them so very easily.
At the moment, it is possible for an eighteen year old to walk into a big supermarket in some parts of America and buy guns but not be able to buy cigarettes or alcohol. How does that make any sense? Presumably cigarettes and alcohol are banned until the age of 21 is that they cause harm. The problem with this logic is that even if the intended use of cigarettes and alcohol is self destructive, the intended use for firearms is the  primarily the destruction of other people. I would wager that the number of people who buy a gun with the sole purpose of committing suicide is probably less than 1% of 1%.

The thing about the operation of law and the direction of society is that they're symbiotic in nature. They both shape each other and are in turn shaped by each other. The only reason why the criminals have such easy access to guns is that everybody's rush to claim a right to self defence through more guns, means that there are more guns which people need to defend themselves from. Take away the right and start taking away the guns and there's less of a need to defend yourself against them.
Of course instantly if you suggest this, Godwin's Law will be invoked and the discussion will always turn towards the disarming of Jews by the Nazis as though that justifies everyone being armed to the eyeballs. Even just a customary glance at that set of circumstances will tell you that the Jews in Germany would have never have stood up against the entire German people; nor would they have stood against a mechanised German army. The idea is quite frankly idiotic and the reaction of an unthinking moron.

In concert with this is the suggestion that this was somehow inherited from the principle at English Common Law of the so called "Castle Doctrine"; and the theory that a man's home is his castle (it's never a woman because that would also assume a degree of agency which most people who argue down this line nominally don't think exists because idiocy and misogyny are often very close relatives).
In all the reading that I have done over the years on this subject, I can not find an example where it's suggested in English Common Law that the Castle Doctrine actually have exists. If it were to exist then there should be case law which proves it (because that by definition is the origin of Common Law), but it doesn't; so there isn't; so the doctrine must be a big black fib.

Never mind the fact that the Sixth and Eighth Amendments talk about the right to a speedy trial and a statutory hold against cruel and unusual punishments. If someone has entered your premises, then if you've shot them, then that would violate both the Sixth and Eighth Amendments if a government agent were to carry it out but apparently the Castle Doctrine as it is applied also gives the holder of a weapon, the right to play as judge, jury and executioner, all at once.

4. "Jesus told his disciples to go and get swords."
The idea with taking a specific command to a specific person and then applying it as a general principle, is fraught with danger. It also ignores the fact that in context, Peter was openly rebuked for cutting someone's ear off.
Jesus was a remarkably consistent chap who said all sorts of things that give you a broad picture of what he thought. In his grand sermon on the mountain side, he speaks about turning the other cheek if someone has slapped you, walking two miles if they unreasonably force you to walk one, to pray for your enemies and not to resist an evil person but overcome evil with good. I don't honestly see how someone who exhorts people to be peacemakers would be happy if people arm themselves with the instruments of war.
Again, the US Constitution is not a holy document and should not be held up as such. If you want to co-opt the words of Jesus in a very specific time and place in scripture which is backed up nowhere else in scripture as a general command, then you seriously need to reread scripture, or perhaps read it properly for the first time. There is no model of any of Jesus' disciples mounting an armed insurrection against either the Romans or their fellow citizens. I find it personally maddening that the church has been turned into a vending machine for votes and used as a megaphone for idiocy.

Of course I realise that with this post I'm just pouring one cup of water into an ocean from the other side of the world and it won't really make a lick of difference; but at least I've identified the four basic arguments which constantly get packaged and repackaged again and again.
It would be so much easier and cheaper in terms of lives lost and the economic costs of firearms in the United States if the Second Amendment was repealed and there was a serious gun buyback and amnesty but until that happens, the acceptable price of freedom will continue be eleven thousand plus people a year dead; America went to war in Iraq and invented the excuse for doing so based on a cost of less than half of that.

March 12, 2018

Horse 2384 - The Terrible California Open Blanket Primary Vote

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I have an unusual obsession with voting systems. As someone who watches politics in a mostly horrified fashion, as a third party spectator with no team, I find the contests to be interesting and the aftermath to be mostly horrible. It's bad enough to get bad government but to get bad systems which result in bad government being elected, and then pretending that the systems are fine, compounds badness upon badness. For instance, it was the badness of the US Presidential election system with the Electoral College that installed the current car accident of an administration in its crash site at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Due to historical accident, I live in Australia. Also due to historical accident, Australia has one of the best voting systems in the world. We have the Single Transferrable Vote for the lower house and Preferential Proportional Representation in the upper house of our parliament. We compound goodness upon goodness by adding compulsory voting as well as holding elections on a Saturday, which means that we get everyone having a say at the time that is the most convenient for the most people. The United States Of America doubles down on its badness of voting systems all over the place and possibly one of the worst is the system which votes in Californian Senators in the US Congress.

As with every state in the union (to which a giant two finger salute has been raised at Puerto Rico for more than one hundred years), California sends two Senators to Washington. That means that they get 2% of the total number of Senators because the Senate considers all the states as equals, as opposed to the more than 12% of Representatives in the House because the House looks at relative population. As with all Senators, they sit for six years and get elected in with every third House election.

California elects its Senators with an open blanket primary system, combined with first past the post. In doing so, they have managed to perform an act of exceptionally idiotic alchemy by compounding badness with stupidity. What this means is that the election is held on a statewide basis, with all candidates running at once, and the winners of the two Senate seats are simply those who got the most votes.
That sounds fair, right? Provided you don't think about it, it's fine but if you think about it for even just a little bit, then the badness emerges very quickly.

Suppose you have ten candidates in the election for Senate seats from the great state of Hamilton. There are only 20,000 voters in this state because when building a model, it helps to simplify things so that you can see how it works. Of the ten candidates there are two from the Bad Vegetable Party, seven from the Nuts Party and one from the Rock Through The Window Party. The votes fall as follows:

Bad Vegetable Party:
Broccoli 2648
Cauliflower 2352

Nuts Party:
Almond 1944
Peanut 1983
Walnut 1924
Macadamia 1761
Brazil 1866
Cashew 1952
3/4 Inch Hex 1904

Rock Through The Window Party:
Granite 1666

Under an open blanket primary for two seats, the two candidates from the Bad Vegetable Party both win despite the fact that a supermajority of voters didn't vote for them. What if they really don't like Bad Vegetables? As the two winners are Bad Vegetables (who together only got 25% of the vote), they will naturally claim that the result is fair, even though most of the electorate went Nuts (with 66% of the vote). The people who voted for the Rock Through The Window Party also didn't win anything and even though they have signalled that they are angry and want to put a Rock Through The Window in, the voting system means that there is no obligation at all to listen to them.

It should stand to reason that under a preferential voting system, then two Nuts would most likely be elected. If there was a proportional representation system in play as well, then there very well might be a Nut are a Bad Vegetable, depending on the factionalism of the voters and the combined voting power of the Bad Vegetables and the Rock Through The Window voters.

A system which can elect two candidates despite them not even being close to achieving a simple majority of voters, is nuts, elects bad vegetables and makes a lot of people want to put a rock through the window.
Yet this is exactly the system which California elects its Senators, and the Congress compounds badness upon badness with this not being unique either.

Now usually I wouldn't care about Senate races because as previously stated in this post, I live in Australia, but as someone who lives in that curious place called the rest of the world, even I can be affected by voting systems on the other side of the world.
I don't think it an act of hyperbole to suggest that the current administration is the third worst in history. Warren G Harding's had open corruption and the best thing that he did in office was to die, so that way he didn't need to be impeached. James Buchanan who actually was the worst President, presided over a country that actually did snap in half and he passed on the office to Lincoln who had to deal with a country that was at war with itself.
Objectively, Trump is not the worst President of all time but he probably needs to be impeached, given his belligerence, bellicosity, sheer incompetence at running the office, the amount of staff turnover, probable conflicts of interest, and the whole question of whether or not there was collusion and corruption in the process of him being elected.
The rub is that it is the job of the Senate to impeach the President but if the system sends people to Washington who are voted in via a bad system and then will not do arguably the most grave of tasks that an elected body can do; because they are of the same party as the President, then democracy will have failed the wishes of the people because the system itself is not fit for purpose.

March 10, 2018

Horse 2383 - The Metaphor of Chess

I have long since lost the certificate that says that once upon a time I was the state junior chess champion. I remember those three days rather well because I really had no right to be there at all. Sure, I'd been a member of the school's chess club but even so, I went to the state championships that year as a bit of a lark, thinking beforehand that I'd be bumbled out in the first round by someone who actually bothered to do training and practice. What I found when I got there was a lot of very bright students who had obviously never come across someone who played chess in the same way that a blind baseball player might be let loose in a room full of bottles - smash everything and hope that there's something worth picking up in the mess once the swinging has stopped.
The truth is that I know that there are millions of people who are better at the game than I am, and although I may have learned a few things about it, such as openings and defences, I still see most of the game as being only the setup to the final situation which usually involves mayhem and destruction and having sufficient firepower left over to force a pin, or being crafty enough to force a pin while the game is still in it's early constipation mode.

I haven't played a lot of board games in recent years it must be said (please see me), but I still like the idea of a very constrained set of rules upon which an organised fight takes place. They myth of Chess is that is was supposed to have served as a tool to war strategy but the idea that any battlefield scenario would be that ordered is insane. It is foolish to think that chess adds any dignity to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl
I still think that the game serves as a rather apt metaphor for society though; piece by piece, move by bloody move.

King - The King is the tallest and most cocky idiot on the board. Get him, and the game is over. He can move in any direction that he likes but ultimately he is something of a liability and because he can only move one space, his actual power is far less than he thinks he has. You might like to put an orange toupee on him if you like the idea of the nation being a republic instead. You might even like to imagine that that thing which sits on his head is a loudhailer or other broadcast device like a Twitter account. He's able to project power and offence because of the position but really he's not any more valuable than any of the Pawns.

Pawns - Half of all of the pieces on the board are Pawns. They're only capable of marching slowly forward and when they are ordered to attack, they then impede some other Pawn's progress. Nobody cares about the Pawns; if they're lost as the result of a pitched battle for space, that's an acceptable price to pay for their commanders.
Pawns are expendable; they hate the opposition for no other reason than the enemy happens to be waving the banner of another country; and the hope is held out to them that if they work hard or happen to be extremely lucky, they will be promoted to a higher station in life (but never the King) but the awful truth is that this rarely happens and most of them will end up dead.

Knights - We have noble thoughts about knights on horseback and up until the age of gunpowder there was a degree of truth in the myth. I suppose that the modern equivalent would be a battle tank or a jet fighter.
Knights are among the first to be sent out into the battlefield and are also usually among the first to die. We've conveniently wrapped up nobility and chivalry into a presentable package, to hide the fact that this sort of job also happens to be filled by the most reckless. That's kind of a natural consequence of putting someone in a uniform though.

Bishops - Once people learned how to read, the power of the clergy waned in society. In the meantime we've all collectively decided to give our modern worship and have assigned the role of the gatekeepers of truth to the monied powers of the media. I don't think that it's by accident that the Bishop moves diagonally and skirts around the majority of the battlefield. Quite aptly, the Bishop looks like a mailbox, through which we get our source of propaganda, truth and lies.

Rook - The word "Rook" probably come to use via the Italian word "Rocca" (fortress) and the Persian "Rukh" (also a fortress). The black bird which is also called a Rook, gets its name from the manic noise that it makes.
Once upon a time, the siege towers of history would have flung boulders and other assorted bits of crud like dead bodies and giant wooden rabbits over castle wall but today's siege towers of business fling terrible policy and ecomomic zombies at governments.
I have no idea how a siege tower of old could ever move that quickly but a modern company seems to be able to move funds off shore and to another board entirely, in the blink of an eye.

Queen - The band U2 were obviously not chess players when they sang: "It's alright, it's alright, it's alright. She moves in mysterious ways." Those ways aren't mysteruious, it's just that they happen to be an unlimited number of spaces in all eight cardinal and  intercardinal.
The most powerful piece on the board, there is only one of her and she alone being 6.25% of pieces controls the same amount of value as the bottom 50% of pieces.

If I return to that other metaphor that chess paints so well, it has to do with the usual win conditions - either an early checkmate caused by a constipational pin, or a win by attrition. In the latter, which is the most common among bad players like myself, the win is achieved by mutual destruction. All of the Pawns suffer and die, most of the smaller pieces such as the Bishops and Knights are killed off and the win finally comes about after the world has been burnt to be ground and all that's left are the Kings and two Rooks. Most of the economic history of the world has been like that.

For most of the history of the world, most people had no rights at all, or if they were "free", no say in their government or the conditions that they found themselves in. Apart from the names of Kings and Queens and a few select people whose names have come to us almost at random, the vast majority of people who ever lived, were disposable Pawns who could be ploughed back into the dirt from which they arose. Battles are fought, fields drip in the blood of the dead and after most battles, it is the Pawns and the Knights who suffer the most. The Queens and Towers of industry are always the ones who seem to survive to the end.
Unless of course everyone get mashed into the battlefield and all you have is two Kings pointlessly chasing each other around the place. That's largely what the climate change debate is about. Most of us will drown, save for a few idiots who be able to keep their head above water,

March 07, 2018

Horse 2382 - The Very Loud Quiet Protest

Probably since the beginning of motor racing, the perpetual story has been one of teams and drivers looking for any advantage that they can possibly find, and the motor manufacturers showing and losing interest over time, to suit the propaganda needs at any given point. Australia which is a relatively small country, is no exception; with the major motor manufacturers of Ford and Holden showing waxing and waning interest over time.
Also in the curious case of Australia, since about 1967, the dominant form of motor racing has been what essentially amounts to pitting high powered taxi cabs, family cars and executive cars at each other. Running GT cars like they do in Europe, or insane econoboxes like they do in England, never really catches the public's imagination here.

In 2018, we find ourselves at an incredibly curious junction in time. Toyota, Ford and Holden have all closed their factories in Australia; which means that the biggest manufacturer of motor vehicles in Australia is either Volgren or Custom Coaches who both make buses, or Victa who make ride-on lawnmowers.
The way that this relates to motor racing is that in this year's Supercars Championship, the three kinds of cars being run are one which hasn't been manufactured for two years and is now a legacy artefact, one which is no longer on sale in Australia, and the third which although brand new has to be imported. None of them run an engine which was ever available with that model of car.  Basically the Supercars Championship is a motor racing series for bespoke weird taxi prototypes.

The other thing of immediate note is that the cars in this bespoke weird taxi prototype series, are covered by a very specific set of conditions which are laid out in a vehicle specification document. Both the Ford Falcon and the Nissan Altima which are no longer available, are covered by existing documents but the brand new ZB Holden Commodore had to have a new vehicle specification document and this has had rather nasty consequences.

As the manufacturer, Holden has had quite a lot of say in the new vehicle to go motor racing in. Also due to the nature in which the current rules were originally drawn up which was semi exclusionary, it meant that a manufacturer could choose to withdraw approval for an outgoing model if their desire for a change in propaganda saw fit. In 2018, approval for the outgoing VF Commodore was withdrawn and anyone who wanted to run a Holden had to switch to a new ZB Commodore.
The thing is that the switch from the VF Commodore to the new ZB Commodore isn't a simple panel swap because the ZB which is a hatchback, has a vastly different rear end construction to the VF. To go from VE to VF only required a change in panels and light clusters but to go from VF to ZB means an entirely new chassis has to be built.
Naturally as Holden doesn't have a manufacturing plant Australia any more, that means that they couldn't simply pull unfinished chassis off the production line. Every ZB chassis has had to be a bespoke piece of kit and because 888 Engineering is the only team running who has any direct backing from Holden, it means that all of the ZB Commodores running in this year's Supercars Championship have proprietary hardware in them. For instance, if you open the hatchback, you find what looks like another firewall, and because 888 Engineering owns the proprietary hardware, their labels are all over the place in there.

The short story is that for 2018, instead of upgrading equipment or pulling unfinished chassis off of the production line, all of the teams running the ZB Commodore have been forced to become customers of 888 Engineering. Instead of doing a swap from one model to the next, which would have cost about $8,000, or building their own bespoke chassis to the approved specification, they've had to purchase new kit at a price of about $40,000. The only other alternative would have been to go it alone and develop a new car and get a vehicle specification document for that and given that there aren't any more manufacturers left in Australia, that task is quite a lot more massive than it otherwise would have been.  A team could choose to build a Mazda 6, but that would mean negotiating with the factory in Hiroshima, a team could choose to build a Kia Stinger but that would mean negotiating with the factory in Seoul. This process is almost certainly going to be met with all kinds of asterisks and conditions all the way down, as well as be subject to the whim of the propaganda needs of the company.
In effect, the teams that aren't 888 Engineering including the ex Holden Racing Team (having been dumped by the manufacturer like a plate of cold vomit), have been held to ransom and I don't think that contentment reigns up and down pit lane. This has led to what I think is a very subtle protest.

Garry Roger Motorsport who runs the cars for Garth Tander and James Golding, were once running Volvos before they had a public bust up and the Swedish company took the chassis back home to Sweden (incidentally, I haven't yet found any evidence that they've been run again). After being burned once, I can understand the outrage of now being held to ransom by Holden.
Throughout the weekend at the Adelaide 500, I kept on noticing that something peculiar and which was conspicuous by its absence: the little lion badge on the front of the Garry Rogers ZB Commodores. I can't say for certain that this was a protest but knowing what I know about Garry Rogers, it seems entirely possible.
I remember a few years ago that WPS Motorsport ran a visor banner which read "No Support From Ford" after the propaganda department at Ford decided to take their whims elsewhere. 888 Engineering which now is the doyenne of Holden, at the time was running Ford Falcons an replaced the little blue oval with a pink pig logo from the Hog's Breath Café.
If I was running a motorsport team and I was held to ransom by the motor manufacturer into buying a piece of kit like this, I'm pretty sure that I would have done this exact same thing. I mean I could be entirely wrong here and this might be as simple as the badge falling off at the beginning of the weekend but I'm pretty sure that that badge is part of the moulding for the grille insert; so my suspicion is that this is deliberate.

I hope so.
Holden are now just another import company. They're as Australian as football, baseball and apple pie, now.

March 05, 2018

Horse 2381 - Rocking The Spamjo, Just Like A Hoard If Vikings Did. Rocking The Spamjo, Except That They Were Talented.

Mid-life crises are really only available to those people who are relatively well off and have money to burn as though it was London in 1666. For the rest of us who need to keep our noses to the grindstone, just so we can keep on bleeding so that the wheels of industry keep on turning, the idea of a mid-life crisis is laughable. Finding things difficult is just part of normality; so you'd better take a couple of concrete pills and harden up.
Usually the only sorts of mid-life crises open to the grindstone classes are things like taking up exercise or maybe a musical instrument but I don't know if it counts in my case because I'd always chucked about the idea that I've wanted to play the guitar; after spending so much time around sound equipment for various reasons. If I was going to get a guitar, I wanted a cheap electric one so that when I was noodling around and being crap at playing it, it wouldn't terrorise the neighbours.
This Christmas just been, Mrs Rollo gave me a kit for a 3 string guitar. I don't think that either of us realised this but what she actually gave me was an open door to a small obsession. Granted that I have the musical skills of a rabid badger but even someone as ham fistedly incompetent as me can play something that passes as music on this thing.

From what I can gather, the 3 string guitar has a history which goes back way further than electricity. This is an instrument born of poverty and invention; and plays right into that tradition of blues and roots music. It easily predates jazz and the somewhat percussive and rhythmic nature of the beast probably helped to write the rules for jazz and delta blues.
The standard blues tuning for 3 string guitar is GDG. Those of you who are accomplished musicians will already know that this is a 1-5-1 tuning of an instrument and just like any other 1-5-1 tuning like EBE, chords can be played by just barring all of the strings. Of course it also means that  don't really need to worry about tuning it to anything in particular because as long as the 5th fret on the middle string and the 12th fret on the bottom string all ring out the same note, it's all cool.

Related to the 3 string guitar, which is usually made with a cigar box as a resonator, is the 1 string diddly bow. The diddly bow is probably even more born out of necessity than the 3 string guitar. As the diddly bow has only one string, it is even more of a percussive instrument than the 3 string. It is because of the diddly bow that Bo Diddly took on his stage name; after he learned his craft on one of these and then moved onto more strings.
The diddly bow which doesn't even have to be tuned to anything in particular, gives away that latent secret hiding in plain view of all stringed instruments. An octave higher is always half way and those notes of 3, 5, and 7, will just make themselves obvious with almost no effort.
Also, why I'm here I may as well answer that debate about perfect pitch and tuning. There is this suggestion that after at least Der Well Tempered Klavier by Johann Sebastian Bach, that we don't really hear music the way that people of old did. I won't go too much into it but modern music kind of slightly mushed the notes around so that notes in all keys don't run into Pythagorean Dissonance. Orchestras tune up to A at 440Hz and an argument rages in academia about what the proper frequency should be. After playing a diddly bow, I've come to the conclusion that I don't care. When you have no idea what the heck note you're starting with then all notions of exactitude just fly away. I love the scrappiness of the thing; so much so that it has kind of awakened a run of obsession for me.

I think that the deeper reason of why this has sent me on a run of obsession though, is that this is kind of instrument is of a very old tradition of garagistas and people working away in their sheds. Again, due to the fact that I also have the practical skills of a rabid badger, I like the idea of people working away in their sheds and making things. One of the best shows that I've ever seen on television was James May putting together things like a lawnmower or a record player, and that was literally all the show was - a dude in a shed; making stuff.
When I go on the internet and I can see people making stuff and then playing what they've made, that strikes two very particular dopamine receptors in my brain. I once saw a chap who made a three string electric guitar out of a shovel and let me tell you, neither you nor I will ever be as cool as he. Forget Bono, this dude makes Bono look like Nigel The Nuff-Nuff.

To feed this run of obsession and probably to strike those dopamine receptors in my brain, I've spent the last few weeks, just sort of looking in hardware stores for stuff. Now that I've had a decent look at how a guitar works, it wasn't that difficult to think about how you go about building a basic guitar; to that end, enter the Spamjo.

The Spamjo is just a diddly bow tuned to... who knows? I sure as heck don't. The beauty of it was that it didn't exactly break the bank either. All its made from are the following:

$10.00 - Bass G String
$2.80 - Wood
$4.90 - Can Of Spam (I ate the Spam in sandwiches).
$0.50 - Tuning Key
$0.15 - Washer
$0.20 - 2 Rivets

That's a working 1-string diddly bow for less than twenty bucks. The most expensive bits were the string and the can of Spam and to tell you the truth, I only wanted the can of Spam because I liked the pun because otherwise it would have just been a canjo.
The action on this thing is insanely high because I was going to use an actual nut and bolt for the nut but as the hole in the tuning key sat proud of it, that was impossible; so I had to make do. What this means that you need to play it with a slide and since I use a piece of electrical conduit for that, if you want to add that to the total price, that's only another 40 cents.

The two rivet eyelets act as the tailpiece through the piece of wood itself and the bridge in the base of the can of Spam, which itself is the resonator box. The bridge is a bulldog clip of which I have a surfeit of in the office and as with all acoustic guitars, the string is held in tension between the tuning key and the tailpiece, and that's pretty well much it. I drilled the hole for the tuning key with a screwdriver and a hammer.
Where are the frets? Given that it's a slide guitar, I've just made some pencil marks down the bit of wood after looking at a fret calculator online.
The Spamjo sounds far better than you'd think it would. That is to say, it sounds like a semi competent musical instrument. I deliberately picked the G string from a bass guitar because that meant that there wasn't a bunch of tension in the thing. Nevertheless, it still sounds pained; which is pretty much at the heart of blues music. Also, as the scale length (nut to bridge) is so much longer than the 3 string guitar, the need to be exact when it comes to finding where the frets are, is gone.

After literally building this in a park at lunchtime, I've acquired a better appreciation for why proper luthiers make certain decisions. If I was going to build a better one (this one is mainly proof of concept), then I totally want to think about angles of the headstock, proper fretboard construction, whether or not I'd want a floating or fixed bridge, the kind of tailpiece and saddle I want for the strings and even about potting my own electric pipickup.
I will never rock the world but I can rock the immediate three feet of space around me. If this is a mid-life crisis, then this has to be about the cheapest mid-life crisis out there. All y'all can have your mid-life crisis and play with your fancy sports car, I'll be playing awful blues music in the park on a 1 string Spamjo that I built for less than twenty bucks.

March 02, 2018

Horse 2380 - Always Dr.; Never Mr.

In my working career, I have worked in many places but the two most notable were the Commonwealth Law Courts and the accounting firm where I currently work. As you'd expect in these environments, I have met a lot of hurting, angry, belligerent, and downright nasty people. Due to the very nature of both money and the law, which act as conduits and proxies for the exercise of power, money and the law tends to attract a higher than normal ratio of narcissists, sociopaths, and people for whom superbia is not a deadly sin but has been twisted into a barbed weapon which is glorified.
In such an environment, you very quickly learn that everything in print can and will be used against you in the court of knavery, where the narcissists, sociopaths and superbians act as judge, jury, executioner and torturer because they find sport and fun in it. For someone like me who likes to use a thousand words to paint a more accurate picture, this is an invitation to commit career suicide on an almost daily basis; so my emails and correspondence tends to be as economical as possible, sparse and terse. You also very quickly learn to address people with calm respect in case they decide to bite your head off and you also learn never to use any gender specific titles or pronouns for the same reason.

Mr, Mrs, Ms, are all out. The risk of mistaking a Jo, Sam, Djomba, Kim, or Morgan, for any gender, is like walking around with a hand grenade with the pin taken out. It might very well be a dud and nothing will happen but it might also be quietly ticking away and ready to explode in your face at an unknown moment. Every envelope is addressed "Name Surname" and "Dear Name," and even then you still need to be careful.
I'm also extremely wary about whose name is on an envelope if I have to send multiple documents to a couple, be they married or otherwise. You can always presume that any missteps will be punished. My general principle is that if I have received a letter and documents in the mail, that the return mail is addressed to them and where you have two surnames, two pieces of mail will be sent back.

There is of course one absolutely major exception and to miss that is also to invite someone to bite your head off; that is the use of formal titles. In cases like Doctor and Professor, these are the result of many years of work or where a university has conferred the honour on someone. I always without exception include the titles of Doctor or Professor, in spite of the fact that I recently received an objection where someone accuse me of "sexism heteronormative"; which made no sense to me, considering that it was on their business card which was stapled to the letter they'd sent us in the first place.
Military ranks are even more fraught with danger and you should always include those; that also goes for "Sir" and "Lady", where the title has been acknowledged by royalty. I only have to send out one letter of those types in a year and although "Lady Name" will try to play you with tea and biscuits and will talk the hind leg off a dog, she is one of the most gracious and lovely people in the world. "Sir Name" is a superb narcissistic sociopath (please see above) and should be passed as one rounds a navigation buoy.

The other thing that I'm really afraid of is the opening and salutation of any piece of correspondence. The opening of "Dear Name" is acceptable but even then i have still had one person complain that I wasn't dear to them and that they weren't dear to me, and so with that client specifically I will open a letter with "Name," which seems to have calmed them.
Emails are also maddening and I've long since decided that "Good Morning," "Good Afternoon," and "Good Evening," are acceptable openings but for reasons which are insensible to me, those kind of openings on printed correspondence just look plain wrong.
Every letter, every email, irrespective of whether or not I barely know them or am friends with them or even my wife, will always end "Thank you,". Again, I have been bitten in the past and so I dropped any notion of using "Yours sincerely," when nobody is ever sincere about anything and the word "Yours" might imply a level of closeness which given my mistrust of humanity, is almost never allowed.

The two major exceptions to all of this is correspondence which I send to a French lady in her 90's who I'm convinced was a spy, or in the Communist Resistance, or perhaps some kind of industrial espionage agent, who is always addressed as "Mme," and an ex-Army officer where the opening is always "Dear Major," and never their first name and the salutation is always "Memento Mori," which to be honest should be the correct sign off to every piece of correspondence ever, because the grave is always open and Death will keep its appointment with everyone; no correspondence entered into.