May 28, 2018

Horse 2416 - Where Have All The Quality Street Tins Gone?

Possibly because I had latent dreams of being a rock star (because who doesn't?), one of the things that I always intended to do was to learn how to play the guitar. The problem with that idea is that I simply do not have the personality required to be one; if I do, then the world isn't ready to embrace nerd rock. Of course, one of the prerequisites for learning to play the guitar, is actually being in possession of a guitar; so that never happened.

So for Christmas last year, Mrs Rollo decided that she would be willing to tolerate the mauling of music in the back room to bought me a 3 string box guitar. Unwittingly, she opened my eyes to a very long tradition of self made primitive guitars and diddley bows and this in turn has made me realise that not only is it possible to build my own guitar but that the one which she bought for me has a glaring technical flaw. That is, because it is a commercial product and they've made a choice to make it sound warmer, the scale of the guitar is too short. For all practical purposes, the neck ends at the 14th fret and so when it comes to trying to monkey something to play so that it fits into the available scale (the guitar is tuned and optimised for Open G), you don't get a lot of wiggle room.
My plan therefore is to build my own Cigar Box Guitar and if possible fit a pickup with humbucker. This sounds great in theory but the real world often hasn't studied theory and has its own plans.

One of the problems that I've found is that it's somewhat difficult to buy a cigar box if you don't want the cigars contained inside. Mostly tobacconists will only stock a few cigars and won't even have any of the boxes that they come in. The other problem is that where I have found tobacconists who do stock cigars in the wooden boxes, they don't seem to want to sell just the boxes. I even got told by one chap in the city who looked like he was directly out of the 1860s that he didn't sell the cost cigar boxes because he was worried that they'd end up on eBay and told me that he just threw them in the rubbish bin. I don't understand that. Surely if you know that they'd end up on eBay that you'd want to sell them yourself; it'd be even easier to sell them to someone standing in front of you because then you don't have to go to the effort of listing them on eBay.
To date, I have not found anyone willing to sell me a cigar box except online; where I've found people who want to sell me so many that I could build houses out of them.

My backup plan was to go to the supermarket and find something else which could be used as a resonator box for a guitar. I have previously written that I used a Spam tin for this very purpose and going through the process of building a 1 string diddley bow has taught me that the process of building an instrument out of something as simple as a tin of Spam, is actually not as daunting as it would appear to be. I use the word "was" deliberately because finding a suitable tin has been far far more difficult than I imagined.
Once upon a time in the land called "The Past", lots of things came in tins. The tins that I was hoping to find were either a tin of biscuits from Arnott's with the big rosella on the front, a tin of Danish biscuits with some scene of windmills, rivers or whatever else is on those, and possibly a tin of Cadbury Roses or perhaps a Quality Street tin. Have I been able to find any of these? No.

I have been to several supermarkets, both in the city and in the suburbs, both in the the silver-tail and the fibro suburbs and I am surprised that in 2018, I now find myself in a world in which I am completely surrounded by no tins. Chocolate now comes in cardboard boxes, biscuits now come in plastic trays and film. I find it extraordinary that one of the default presents that you can give someone when you don't really know what to get, has retreated into the pages of history. I suspect that this is the reason why Ferrero Rocher  is now so popular because in their little plastic crystal styled box, they are the only one left in the market of default "I-have-no-idea" presents. I applaud the Ferrero company on their business acumen but their plastic boxes which Rocher comes in is simply unsuitable for making a guitar out of because plastic is brittle and does not respond well to even the most basic of tools being used to work on it.

One of the whole reasons why cigar boxes were used to make guitars from in the first place is that because they are wooden, they can be cut, drilled into, screwed into, as well as providing a nice warm resonant sound. Every stringed instrument, be they plucked, hammered, or bowed, are all basically strings across a resonator box with a some method of changing the pitch of the notes coming out. Once you've worked that out, then the only differences between a Stradivarius and a diddley bow made from a tin of Spam and a length of wood, are to do with the quality of materials and the quality of the craftsmanship. The basic underlying principles of how a note is produced, is identical. Very obviously I don't claim to have either the skills or the ability to build something like a Stradivarius but it would seem that the world is currently conspiring to prevent me from building something on the exact opposite end of the spectrum of quality and craftsmanship.
Perhaps I can understand a tobacconist's desire not to sell cigar boxes because secretly they'd rather that people like me would just buy the cigars but unlike cigar boxes, virtually everyone likes to eat the contents of biscuit and chocolate tins. So where are they? Hello?! 

May 24, 2018

Horse 2415 - The 2018 VJ Commodore: The Never Was

I think I predicted that when Holden ceased to build cars in Australia, that the public's goodwill would dry up but what I didn't expect was just how quickly that Holden's sales would fall. The car buying public has dropped Holden like a plate of cold sick; with General Motors experiencing the their four lowest sales months since 1948. The brand new ZB Commodore has been completely anonymous, with sales even worse than the Epica. My personal traffic spotting experience tells me that going ZB Commodore spotting is like trying to find a unicorn out in the wild. I think that I have genuinely seen more pink McLarens than ZB Commodores.
This is more alarming when you realise that General Motors have made no formal announcement for the next model of the Chevrolet Impala or Malibu; which means that Holden is in real trouble when it comes to looking for a replacement once the agreement with PSA Group, who bought Vauxhall/Opel and hence the factories that produce the ZB Commodore, expires. Perhaps that's not so much of a problem though because if the sales have collapsed, it means that there's not really that much of a need for a replacement anyway.
I write all of this by way of background because I have learned of sketchy and incomplete details of the Commodore that never was. The current sales climate suggests to me that it would have also not been replaced but thinking's about a replacement for a thing which never existed is a journey too far into the never never, even for me.

Before Ford had made its threats to up sticks and leave, under the tenure of Chris Bowen as Treasurer, and before the next Treasurer, Joe Hockey, then raged on the floor of the parliament like a madman waving a cane above his head and dared the auto manufacturers to "get off my lawn" (which they all announced that they would; within the week), Holden were working on the replacement for the VF Commodore; which itself had only just been recently released in 2013.
The unreleased Commodore would have been released in late September of 2016, and possibly in time for Bathurst. From what I can gather, internally the model was called VJ.

VJ would most likely have been still sitting on the GM's Zeta platform and would have had the same 3.6L LFX V6 and 6.2L LS3 V8 engines that the VF Series II had. I also expect that it would have had that same magnetic ride system that appeared in the Cadillac CTS and ATS in America.
If VJ had been the one to break off the Zeta platform, them Holden would have broken backwards and used some derivation of the Alpha platform which the Camaro sits on, but wouldn't have had to reengineeer any new solutions to turn the V6 sideways as it sits in the ZB Commodore because Holden had already used something similar back in 2004 when they made the one-off Torana TT36 show car. The intellectual property and engineering problems had already been solved some 9 years earlier and Holden had built the Torana TT36 to production standards apart from the hideous colour  scheme. I can only wonder if Holden would have been the lead engineering firm for the Insignia in the first place; so it's just possible that the thing could have been a Holden all along.
The Torana TT36 works out to be roughly the same size as the Insignia/ZB Commodore and I'm wondering just how much of that could have been taken forward. It's worth remembering that both the Zeta and Alpha platforms were both spun out of that show car; so it's entirely possible that Insignia A borrowed some of that engineering intellectual property.

From a styling perspective, I expect that it would have looked very much like the current car because both Astra K and Corsa E both follow that same design language. It would have been interesting after General Motors sold Opel to PSA Group though; so maybe the Astra sedan which is actually the Cruze J400, might have been closer; or maybe even the Buick LaCrosse because I think that that would have been a good fit.
Sadly, we shall never know about the VJ Commodore unless someone at GM is prepared to break ranks and confidence and tell us about something that never was and never will be. Maybe they should, Holden is now suffering worse sales figures than any point in the brand's history and you have to go back before 1948 to find when GM did as bad as this. Serves them right though. GM punched us in the face; so we ran away.

May 19, 2018

Horse 2414 - Rollo Is A Business Goth Because Apparently That's A Thing Now.

I had to walk through the city on Thursday in an effort to deliver a report to a legal firm, whose timetable had changed from having a day of sitting next week to the afternoon session yesterday. Lawyers aren't exactly known for their tact at the best of times and the tirade which my boss endured on the telephone was enough to make him spend the rest of the morning grumbling under his breath like the sounds of a 351 Cleveland V8 at idle. When the report was finally finished, he was as red as a beetroot and escaped for lunch; leaving me with the task of making like Ronnie Rocketpants across this festering wen of a city built around the harbour.

I must admit, that the afternoon itself was glorious; with both the harbour putting on a spectacle worthy of an exhibition in the National Gallery of Australia, and the weather being just warm enough for me not to have to wear a jacket. Instead I was wearing trousers, a white shirt, black waistcoat, black tie, my spectacles and my black cheescutter hat.
I arrived at the legal firm, wherein I was only met by an indifferent secretary on front of house duties that looked as though she would rather be anywhere else in the world and with monosyllabic grunts, which is the universal language of someone who's only there for the money. Of course it could very well be that people in legal firms just have a natural outlook on the world which is shaped by the fact that they have to look over their upturned noses of disapproval. When you're dealing with people with the letters QC and SC after their names and Sir before them, we mere plebeians can't be all that interesting any more.

I duly received the cheque for our services (because nobody's money stinks, even if it has been made as a result of charging for handling urine) and my walk back through the city was far nicer than it was on the way there. When I'd made my way past the cenotaph in Martin Place, someone called out and it became apparent that they wanted to speak to me. For what purpose I knew not, since this made no sense to me whatsoever, but I enertained their calling because as a social creature (albeit one that's incredibly faulty), even I know how to interact with my fellow humans because I am not an alien (despite all the indications otherwise).
These two ladies who were probably no more than about 25 years old, wanted to take photographs of me for the style section of the magazine that she worked for. That was the ruse at least, and so I let them take about two dozen photographs of me before I went on my way. One of them said that it was for something called "Drum Media" which looked kind of semi legitimate and I signed a release form agreeing to have my likeness published. I gave her my address at work in case these people ever decide to cut me a cheque. Apparently I had a "business goth" vibe about me.

I must be getting old or something because yet again I've wandered into something I don't understand. I haven't done anything differently to what I would usually do and my sense of style however insane it is, was more or less informed by a world which ceased to exist before I was even born. Nobody wears ties any more as far as I can tell, nobody wears waistcoats and cheesecutters and flat caps are a thing which hails from another country entirely.
I don't think that I look remotely "goth", let alone "business goth"; the only concession that I'm prepared to make is that black is the universal colour of understatement and is possibly goth adjacent, if that's a thing.

It did make me wonder for the rest of the afternoon as I bashed numbers into MYOB, as to what "business goth" is, if it is indeed a thing. I would hope to see unnecessary buckles, oversized boots, and maybe a black band t-shirt for a band that I've never heard of. Personally I would want a full length black coat, a stovepipe hat, and duel wielded claymores, which would be perfect for some really hostile business takeovers. If I can't have claymores because they're a hand and a half sword, can I at least have a sabre?
Of course then my mind wandered into full on action movie territory, with swashbuckling in the board rooms of the ASX 200, equally unnecessary fights between hordes of boards with crossbows; all set to the strains of Rhapsody In Blue. I mean clearly I have no idea what the heck "business goth" is; so I'm sure that the two photographers from the magazine have no idea either.

May 16, 2018

Horse 2413 - An Eye For An Eyelash Makes The Whole World Scared

I don't generally write very much about the politics of the 45th President of the United States because quite frankly it would be like peeing into an ocean of pee, whilst on board the HMS Whizz-Whizz. The orange haired loon who currently occupies Studio 1A at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue¹ has all the competency of a bull with broadswords gaffer taped as extensions to its horns, that has just been put in charge of security of porcelain miniatures at the Royal Doulton factory outlet. I think that he's comprehensively proven that all of his political ambitions extended as far as November 8th 2016, and that he had no plans beyond that date and still hasn't developed any.

In his ongoing campaign to improve international relations by single handedly being the least capable world leader (say what you like about Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, or Bashar al-Assad, they've at least shown that they are capable of running their administrations for their own purposes, however mad, bad or sad those purposes are), Donald J Trump has visited leaders of ill intent, insulted America's neighbours and allies, yelled at North Korea to the point where talks have been held between the two Koreas in the fears that he might show up at some point in the future, and in an act with about as much tact as poking a sleeping bear with the end of a baseball bat that happens to be on fire, ordered that the American Embassy in Israel be moved to Jerusalem.

Anyone who has been alive since 1922 should know that relations between the various people groups of the Middle East are best described as sensitive and delicate. It should have been learned by now, that the lessons of colonialism which drew lines over everything was mostly a bad idea and in the case of the Middle East, the only thing keeping the region from devolving into perpetual conflict with increasingly more powerful weaponry, was the Ottoman Empire sitting over the top. The idea of repatriating Jewish people to the Middle East was always going to be and continues to be fraught with danger; there's never really going to be a one state solution or a two state solution to be honest.
Nevertheless, Donald J Trump took the executive decision to throw aside history, common sense, logic, tact, safety and sanity, by moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and let's just say that an insensible decision has already had insensible consequences.

While Israeli officials were celebrating the opening of the brand US Embassy, with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump in attendance along with other minders from the Trump administration, probably within earshot and less than 70km away, Israeli troops were murdering Palestinian protesters in Gaza; all while American and Israely government officials were having a collective praise party for their devotion to peace.
Meanwhile, more than 2700 people have been injured at least 60 people killed by the Israeli military which has said that it had fired live rounds "selectively" in line with so-called "standard" procedures.
Meanwhile while all this was going on, North Korea has suspended talks with South Korea and will more than likely cancel the summit in Singapore with Donald Trump next month, after joint US-South Korean air combat drills with F-117 stealth fighters and B-52 bombers were carried out in an operation which has been called "Max Thunder²".

If my Twitter and Facebook feeds are anything to go by, Christians in America appear to support Israel to the hilt because they see it necessary for America to be part of the fulfillment of end-times prophecy. The logic is that if you "bless Israel" then you get back blessings in some kind of God-is-a-vending-machine arrangement. I don't understand this.
The theology here is terrible. The modern secular state of Israel is a very different beast to the ancient state. The only thing I can think of is that blessing Israel in the abstract is like moving pieces around a chessboard; instead of moving artillery pieces around the countryside and blowing up actual real living people with flesh, blood, families, and lives. I don't see the connection here with a love for people; especially when you see antisemitism and anti-Islamic sentiments bordering on hate speech from the same side.

The only question I can ask at this point is "What the hell is going on here?" I would choose a four letter expletive but none of them are adequate at expressing my incredulousness at the situation.
Don't apologise for Mr Trump or his administration. This is the third worst Presidency behind that of Warren G. Harding who had multiple corruption scandals and an affair with one of his mistresses which resulted in a child, and that of James Buchanan whose failure to deal with secession actually broke the Union in half and sent the country into civil war.
I think that the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief when Trump leaves the Oval Office. It might take a while to clean out the stink of his administration, or complete lack thereof, though.

¹I think that Mr Trump sees the Presidency as a continuation of his reality TV career.
²How did nobody see this coming?
³I have not made the name Max Thunder up. I am not 9 years old. I suspect that many peopel ate the Pentagon have that mental age though.

May 12, 2018

Horse 2412 - Saxons Surrender the High Ground (1066)

Occasionally I report on sporting fixtures and someone set me the challenge yesterday of writing about the only date in history that everyone remembers...

Normans 3 - Saxons 0

In a result that will surely echo on through many summers future and annoy the merde out of history students for centuries to come, yesterday's fixture at the amusingly named town of Battle, just outside of Hastings, saw our lads suffer an absolute rout.
The Normans laid down the challenge early in the morning but our brave Briton lads under the command of Harold, remained encamped at the top of a hill and inside a wooden fortress. This would have been a good strategy because whoever holds the highest ground in battle is usually the victor and has the added advantage of being able to see more of the field of play.

In the early morning, the Normans tried an initial attack to open the fixture but soon found it difficult to advance up the hill to the wooden fortress and they quickly retreated so as to avoid running headlong into our Saxon pikes. Their troops also came into difficulty, especially those who did not have shields, when our lads hurled rocks and bricks at them. For those who doubt the practical benefits of playing at kricket, those doubts must surely be proven pointless, as a good kricket player can throw a rock or a brick with tremendous accuracy over a distance of many tens of yards.
By about noon, there was a lull in proceedings as both sides took their leave and regrouped. This general malaise in action is common to a lot of battles that we've seen over the years and if it lasts more than about half an hour, then it's almost like the play has been reset and both sides are able to claim the element of surprise if they achieve first strike. This is what the great tactician Harold was hoping for as pikemen were re-equipped with broadswords and axes. The plan was that the Normans wouldn't know what was going to hit them as a Saxon horde rumbled with sound and fury.

In the late afternoon and after the Normans had retreated back, our brave lads broke free of the fortress and thundered across the field and expected to slaughter them there and then. What we didn't count on though was that the Normans had brought along many newly trained archers and they picked us off with wave after wave of volleyed arrows, before we ever got there. After King Harold had been shot in the head by an arrow, right through his eyeball, we fell into a state of confusion and because they still had commanders mounted on horse, it was easy for them to pick us off and hack us down as many of us retreated in all directions and in cowardice.

Three goals were scored by those Norman knaves. Not only did they win the battle but they've succeeded in killing the king and taking government as a result. This is the kind of result which you'll be able to read about in the tapestries for years to come. No doubt that the tapestries will call their leader  William The Conqueror" as he sweeps across southern part of this ancient island and subdues the various minor kingdoms and baronies but mark our words, he will be forever called "William The Bastard" and the people of this green and pleasant land will certainly not tolerate any more kings called William which might follow.

Some sections of the viewing galleries kept on singing out the praises of this new king, as they see him as a departure from the wave of Viking kings and kings with Egg in their names, like Eggbert, Eggread the Unready and Eggleston, who have ruled with an iron rod, a wooden like, and finally a sock full of custard. However, many people fear the upcoming changes which are going to be imposed which will change the names of meats to something vastly different from the animals from which they come from. For international, the nice Saxon word "cow" will be replaced by the word "bœuf" and the word "pig" will now become "porc".
William has also indicated that he wants to take stock of everything in his newly acquired kingdom and we fear that that day will be a veritable Dooms Day.

May 11, 2018

Horse 2411 - I Review Apples - No 3 - Pink Lady

Pink Lady

Since undertaking my role as self appointed apple reviewer I have only visited one particular greengrocers'shop. i figure that by visiting the produce section of a normal supermarket, I should be able to find a less exotic apple and get more in touch with the people. An apple for the masses in an ordinary run of the mill supermarket is a democratic apple, right?
I went to one of the big chain supermarkets and found the pile which was the biggest. The thing that I found really worrisome was that they have apples in plastic packets of half a dozen and in a world where plastic is already getting into the oceans and killing whales more than a thousand miles off the coast, this is utterly ludicrous to me. I don't care about spots on my apples, leave me the birds and bees, please? Anyway, the biggest pile of loose apples was a pile of Pink Lady apples. I thought, that that's the one for me.

Thanks to the film "Grease" I can't get the thought out of my head that a Pink Lady apple is one that hangs around in the car park in apple high school and wants to get a ride with the apples wearing black (Bravo Black - see Horse 2407). As found out, this might not be that far away from the truth, as the Pink Lady isn't all that she appears to be.

Texture - The Pink Lady will not yield easily to your attempts to rip it to pieces. Biting into a Pink Lady is like biting into a raw potato and although every chew is an effort, it is worth it. Admittedly once you start chewing it, it is quite a bit nicer than what you first think but that first bite into it is a doozy.
Of course the Pink Lady is hard. She has a reputation to maintain. She will not yield easily and nor will she be crushed. Although she wants to appear to be cool, she is no pushover.

Taste - Maybe there's a little bit of a hint of flowers, maybe it is a little bit like wattle wafting in on the breeze, it is difficult to say. What is it difficult to say though, is that it is a subtle taste which is there but not overpowering. It doesn't taste particularly watery even though there is juice aplenty either.
While this is a nice tasting apple, its downfall is that it doesn't taste enough of apple. It is a little bit vague. The volume knob of flavour has been turned down on the Pink Lady apple. I imagine that if this was to used in a pie, the flavour would completely disappear. There's a little bit of sweet but not too much, there's practically no sour and there's a little bit of bitter.

Nice -  I can not find any fault with the Pink Lady other than it is a little bit too hard. Niceness is one of those fleeting qualities that might be dependent on how you feel at the time but even if it is, the Pink Lady is still a nice apple. If you were offered many choices of apple, then this would be a good one because you would be assured that it would be nice.
This is despite not having an overly obvious taste. It tastes like apples. An apple that tastes like it is supposed to is inherently a good thing because you know what to expect. Sometimes a thing is nice because it just is and does what it's supposed to.

Value - I can only assume that the Pink Lady is in season or that lots of growers grow them because at $2.19/kg, this is a very good apple for the price. This little example cost me just 45 cents. As far as value for money goes, that's excellent and if this does end up being the cheapest, I'm going to award it the full ten points in the future.
If you are on a budget and want apples to eat as is, without any preparation, then these are a good choice. You can get more than 2 kilos of Pink Lady apples for a fiver and that just seems astonishing to me.
9*/10 - Subject to change.

The Pink Lady is a nice apple if a little bit hard. I would absolutely recommend buying this variety if you want a snack. I am not a gastronomic expert but just the physical science of the thing tells me that this would not be a good apple to put into a pie because the chunks would remain hard.

Final Verdict:
32*/40** - We push into the 30s and straight to the top of the leader board. 80% is a B apple and nothing to be ashamed of

1. 32 Pink Lady**
2. 28 Bravo Black
3. 21 Royal Gala

May 09, 2018

Horse 2410 - Federal Budget 2018 - Yawn

Last night the Appropriation Bill No.1 2018 was presented to the House Of Representatives by Treasurer Scott Morrison. Like the handing down of every Coalition budget since they took office in 2013, this one started off with the Treasurer looking back to the global financial crisis of 2008 and announcing that they were going to fix the mess left behind by Labor. I don't know at what point you can no longer morally blame the previous government for your worries but the Turnbull Government appears to be well on track for doing this for at least the near future.
Mr Morrison then went on to extol the virtues of what the government have achieved, such as a million jobs having been created in the past twelve months and the restoration of the AAA credit rating.

He then outlined a five point plan for the budget as though this was a PowerPoint presentation but without the projector.
- there will be tax relief
- the government will back investment
- it will guarantee services (except one, see below)
- the borders will become more safe and secure
- the government will live within its means
These things are almost cliched to the point of flaggelating a deceased equine and sound like they could have come from a high school civics class. The real meat of the budget began immediately as if it was a jump cut; with no transition at all.

For 2018/19 the budget would remain in deficit to the tune of $14.5bn, returning to surplus in 2020/21 with a projected $11bn, and while these numbers sound absurd, government expenditure still continues to fall to only 24.7% of GDP and tax collected to 23.9% of GDP. What this says to me on principle is that just as the then Treasurer Wayne Swan said in 2012, budgets in Australia are self correcting in the long term, so the calls from the other side (who are now the government) that there was a budget emergency, were then and continue to be proven now, to be not just nonsense but one that has been completed - so a complete nonsense.

In the light of this, I thought that what was to follow was nothing short of barbarian. Having established that the budget was self correcting, Mr Morrison then announced a series of fiddles with the income tax table which does virtually nothing for the vast majority of people but benefits the top 10% of incomes.
Mostly the brackets remain unchanged, with the lower 32.5% rate being shifted from $37,000 to $41,000, with the 37% bracket being pushed from $87,000 to $90,000 for 2018/19 and eventually being shoved all the way out to $120,000 by 2024/25. The top 45% bracket will be pushed from $180,000 to $200,000.
I find the gall of this astonishing because it assumes that future governments will be held to these changes for as many as three election cycles. When this budget itself might very well be the last before the next election¹, this is both presumptuous and rude.

When this was announced, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten looked as though he had swallowed a wasp, Shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen made a face as though someone had farted, Tanya Plibersek looked as though she was prepared to walk across the table in the middle of the chamber and punch Mr Morrison in the face, and while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was doing his best to look serious, Christopher Pyne was grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

There were some annoucements about the amounts that pensioners were allowed to earn before their benefits were affected, with an increase to that limit of $1300. The amount that someone's family could earn before it affected someone's Youth Allowance payments was pushed out by $10,000. The small business write off for assets under $20,000 will continue; which will certainly make many of my clients less anxious.

Then came the announcements for government initiatives which are always designed to illicit cheers from various members of the government's back benches.
- $500m for medical research
- $2.4bn for information technology and space exploration
- $75bn over ten years for road and rail infrastructure
- $1bn for an urban traffic congestion control plan
- The Australian Financial Complaints Office to open on November 1
- $1.6bn for in-home aged care
- $83m for mental health services for the elderly
- $24.5bn for schools (though given that public schools are the responsibility of the states, all of this is earmarked to give to private schools)
- $1.4bn to include more drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
- $1.6bn for better Veterans Health outcomes (after almost a decade of yelling by both the DVA and organisations like Legacy and the RSL Association)
- $294m for National Security (but nobody to know what that means)²

The $2.4bn for information technology and space exploration sounds to me like a comprehensive plan to upgrade some of the oldest computer systems in the country (I'm assuming that they'll be at both the ATO and the Department of Finance) but space³ exploration? I can only guess that this means that we'll be building a launch facility which will be rented out to other space agencies because $2.4bn buys you practically nothing in the way of front line space hardware.

What wasn't announced in Mr Morrison's speech but was ablaze on Twitter less than 10 seconds after the media blackout was lifted, was that there will be an $83m budget cut for the ABC over three years. The budget couches this by saying that the ABC is exempt from the efficiency dividends which are to be imposed on the rest of the government but gives no indication as to how the corporation is supposed to cope with the budget cuts. Sir Keith Murdoch's 86 year war on the ABC continues unabated.

My overall impression of this budget is that virtually nothing changes except that this is about tax cuts. It makes no attempt to reform the tax system as touted before the budget was handed down, it makes no structural attempts to improve the bottom line, and it moves eventually to a simplified two-tier tax bracket system which was suggested by the Henry tax review back in 2010.

Ho hum. Roll over. Yawn and crick.

¹Assuming that the House and Senate election is held together, the latest possible polling date for a double dissolution election is Saturday 4 May 2019. Budget night would be May 9th.
There must be a Senate election before the next term begins on July 1, 2019 but if they are decoupled, then the House election can be held as late as Nov 2 2019.

² Though I'm guessing that it will go to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection so that Mr Dutton can invent even more efficient ways of being cruel to asylum seekers.

May 07, 2018

Horse 2409 - I Review Apples - No 2 - Royal Gala

Royal Gala.

After looking at the most expensive apple in the greengrocers' shop last time, I decided to look at the cheapest apple in the shop this time. I can't think of very many things that you can review which are so cheap.
The Royal Gala apple looks like it had a fun time in a paint shop because instead of looking all dark and broody like the Bravo Black, it looks like a happy wee thing. If I had to suggest what it looked like, I'd say that someone had wrapped up summer inside a tiny little package. I can tell you though, as a self appointed apple reviewer, those summer time fun time looks are very deceptive. The Royal Gala apple writes cheques that it cannot cash and if it wants to use the title of "Royal" then the royal We, are not amused.

Taste - What can I say about the taste of this apple? Can I even find the taste of this apple? Hello? Is there any apple in there? This is an apple whose taste can be summed up with but a single word:
The only thing that I can say about the Royal Gala is that it's kind of dull. It's not very sweet; it's not very tart, it's not very sour, it's not very anything. It is however very watery, but the thing about water is that it doesn't really taste of anything either. The Royal Gala apple tastes like an apple that forgot what an apple tastes like.
The outside of it makes you think that there's an absolute riot going on in there but when you get inside, the Royal Gala is over. This is a murder mystery where there's no murder. This is a scoreless draw where it rained all the time and nobody had any shots on goal at all.
The most disappointing thing about the Royal Gala apple is that it's just not very appley. Or maybe this is ye olde worlde definition of apple which just means that it is a generic fruit.

Texture - As I mentioned, this apple is very juicy. If you bite into it, I advise that you get yourself a raincoat because it is like biting into a hosepipe. The Queensland floods of a few years ago, were probably caused by someone trying to get the juice out of Royal Gala apples. This isn't so much an apple as it is a water delivery system.
It has a satisfying crisp bite but once you bitten through the outer layer it is no more exciting than biting into a raw potato. Maybe this is King Edward's Royal Gala?

Nice - If there was an Olympic standard apple, or an apple with an ISO number, then this is absolutely that apple. I have no strong feelings one way or the other when it comes to this apple. That is it's downfall. It's not offensive, not lovely, not terrible, not wonderful. It's not not nice, it's just meh. 5/10

Value - If the Royal Gala does something well, that thing is being very good value for money. At $3.49/kg, this edition of this apple only cost me 83 cents.
Like wow, wipeout; that's half a pound of apple right there. There's not a lot of things that you can buy that make sense and that cost less than a dollar. You could buy a bread roll, or a chocolate bar, or a really teeny little can of beans: the point is that the things that you can get are usually mostly useless by themselves but you can buy an apple and not look like an idiot. I know from experience that if you buy one apple at the grocery store, people will look at you with a kind of self loathing because they feel shame about the snack that they've just bought.

Final Verdict: 

21/40* - This is a passing grade but only just.
The Royal Gala apple is a budget apple and a good choice if you don't really care about getting something that tastes of much. If you want an apple which is cheap and not much else, then this is the apple for you. If however, you want a really nice knockout apple, then think about another kind.
This is the apple for which the expression "P's make degrees" come from.

1. 28 Bravo Black
2. 21 Royal Gala*

May 05, 2018

Colt 2409.1 - Alternative Universe Donald Trump Worries About Baked Goods

"I recently read a story that in London, which has unbelievably tough bun laws, a once very prestigious hospital, right in the middle, is like a war zone for horrible strawberry rounds.

Yes, that's right.

They don't have buns, they have chives and instead there's bread all over the floors of this hospital. They say it's as bad as a military war zone hospital. Chives chives, chives. London hasn't been used to that, they're getting used to it, it's pretty tough."
- Alternative Universe Donald Trump, is worried about there being too many Greggs on the streets of London, 5th May 2018.

May 04, 2018

Horse 2408 - Autumn Finally Arrived - Hooray!

I am convinced that I have been bred through a process of hundreds of years of mostly accidental and rather unselective conditions, to live at the bottom of a peat bog, to live in a climate where double digit Celcius temperatures are a suggestion and not the rule, where it in an unremarkable turn of events it is constantly raining, and where the sunshine is something only seen for a fortnight in any given year.
Instead through historical accident, I live in a country which is three quarters of a mile away from the sun and so we have to hurl ourselves into the ocean at every available opportunity, where the cold is so much of a luxury that people have to spend thousands of dollarpounds just to be able to do find it, and where during the summer the sun blazes on for weeks and it's all you can do to avoid melting into the ground. Thankfully we have co-opted the slowest paced game in the world in the form of cricket to provide the soundtrack. I don't really get sunburnt, I just burst into flames; the truth is that I don't do heat very well.

This year, autumn arrived incredibly late. Now admittedly I don't have the best metric for determining when it comes but if I'm wearing my waistcoat to work and not just shirtsleeves, then as far as I am concerned, autumn has arrived; that point didn't come until Ed Balls Day¹. In previous years, the arrival of autumn came well before the ides of March.
I feel somewhat sad that due to global warming and climate change that autumn is fleeing both further south and shrinking in duration. I'm sure that there are many scientific reasons which are as piddly as the issue of the viability of life on this planet but that's all nebulous and out there somewhere - no, the biggest single concern that I have to do with climate change is that it gives me a smaller window in which to wear hats and coats. From the absolutely selfish perspective of my personal fashion choices, climate change means that I have less of an ability to look like a late Victorian gentleman about the city. Hey Pacific island nations, you might suffer the total flooding of your homes and the disappearance of your country beneath the waves but spare a thought for me because I get less time in which I can comfortably wear a greatcoat outside.

I find it far easier to deal with the cold than the heat. If it is cold, then you can simply put on more layers. Wear a coat; two if you like. If it is hot, then you can't as easily escape it except with expensive machinery.
Call we weird but I prefer the burn that comes from being outside on a cold morning, more than the burn that comes from being outside on a sunny day. It is far harder to get frostbitten than it is sunburnt. I think that ideally, I want to be in a world of about 16°C, which is below most people's tolerance.

I really love that time of year when the mornings are dark and the fog has rolled in, when your sight distances are closed down and when the whole world seems more quiet and calm. If I am to be mugged in the street by a thuggish assailant, then I want it to be done in an artful and beautiful world.
I love how when the fog comes and sits upon everything, that the tobacco stained light from the sodium street lamps is diffused, and how overhead power lines kind of fade into the mist like daubed painting. Although this is Australia where everything including the spiders, the snakes, the wildlife, the dirt and even the trees are actively trying to kill you, the autumn fog kind of looks a little bit like a painting by Constable, except there are acacias and eucalypts instead of spruce and oak trees.
I'm always disappointed when the sunshine does come out and burns off all of the fog. The world is then returned to a state of normality which although is fine, it isn't as pretty.

Give me a world where walking through it leaves you slightly damp, where the grass goes into hibernation and doesn't need to be mowed as often, and where I refuse to accept the concept of object permanence because I don't want objects to continue to exist even when they cannot be perceived. When the fog is thick enough, the world that you can't see, simply refuses to be and with it, all the worry, noise and confusion that comes with that, also simply refuses to be.

¹Ed Balls Day - 28th April. Praise be!

May 03, 2018

Horse 2407 - I Review Apples - No 1 - Bravo Black

There are many magazines in the newsagent which compare a myriad of things; from motor cars, to beauty products, financial services, music and a host of other things as well as the perennial "Choice" magazine which I suppose compares... everything?
I am a chap who would like to compare many motor cars and be paid to write about them for one of those magazines but I highly doubt that that's likely.
If you would like to throw many thousands of dollarpounds in my direction for writing inane drivel, then please contact me. I've read the work of newspaper columnists for years and if anything, I'm overqualified.

Regular readers of this blog will recall that I have a fascination with the mundane and minor things of the world. In fact only this morning when I was madly hammering numbers into MYOB, my brain was still pondering on the subject of the topology of humans. I think that we're either genus 5 or 6 but I'm not entirely sure but by the same token, I don't want to think particularly hard about taking slices through a human to find out.
At lunch time, I was wandering around the greengrocers' shop and it struck me that just in this one shop, there were seven different varieties of apple. I wasn't about to have some kind of existential crisis and I was never going to freak out over how many choices that I have, but the thought struck me that I both quantitatively and qualitatively know diddly squat about apples. Why have I never put them head to head against each other in some kind of Apple Champions League to determine which is the best apple?
So there and then, I have made the decision, since I buy them anyway, to rate apples against each other to find out which one is best.

Bravo Black

Let's venture out on this journey of Malus adventure by starting with an apple that I'm sure I've never heard of and am unlikely to find in an average supermarket or greengrocer but I might find in an upmarket bodega, apotheke or fancy-pants providore.

As the name Bravo Black suggests, this is a very dark coloured apple. In my mind already, this is the kind of apple that the witch in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves used because it looks shiny and delicious but kind of a little bit evil. This is about as close to a goth apple as I have ever seen.

Taste - like an apple. It's not overly sweet and it's not overly acidic or sour. I'm also finding that the further I go along, the bits which kind of brown a little, aren't offensive either. This apple reminds me of the apples that overhung a fence on my way to primary school but unlike those where they were so acidic that it was like you had bitten into a AA battery, this has enough sweetness to balance that out. I've eaten enough apples in my life to know that this is pretty close to what a stereotypical apple taste is. I can't say anything particularly brilliant or bad about this in any direction - it just is.
Since my cooking skills are pathetic and I view cooking mostly as either a functional pursuit or a science for hungry people where you follow directions, I can not tell you if this would make a good cooking, stewing or cider apple.

Texture - This is a very crisp apple. Every bite comes with the traditional apple crunch noise. Every bite is an effort as you rip into the juicy flesh of the fruit. The bites also come away in distinct fractures which themselves yield their juice without leaving a floury pulp. I can imagine that if you were seven years old and losing a tooth, then this apple would not be advisable for you to eat because it is quite hard and does not yield easily.

Nice - I think that this is a good middle of the road apple. It doesn't try to be weird, there aren't any champagne overtones, nor is it an acquired taste. This is just an apple which if you ate it without any idea of the variety, you would just think of as being an apple.

Value - at $9.99kg I think that this is possibly the most expensive apple that I've ever seen in my life. However, what you get for that price is a very nice apple. I don't really want to sound all pompous here but I'm not sure if it really deserves its Rolls Royce pricetag. I will admit that I did buy it in Mosman which was probably a mistake but even so, I don't think that it is necessarily bad value for money, it's just not great either.

The Bravo Black is a nice but expensive apple. It is let down by the price but intrinsically there's nothing wrong with it at all. This is a solid pass for an apple and I think was a good starting point. I would recommend that you buy a Bravo Black but only if you aren't bothered by the price. I should also say that this particular apple by itself cost $2.10; which gives you an idea that it is a big apple. This was one of the smallest of its cohort on display. Most apples of this variety I expect will cost you more.

Final Verdict:

28/40 - This is a passing grade for this apple. As the only one I've reviewed thus far, it is by default at the top of the class.

1. 28 Bravo Black

May 01, 2018

Horse 2406 - A Short History Of The Red Flag

Then raise the scarlet standard high
Beneath it's folds we'll live and die
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here.

I suppose that the first logical place to look at where the Red Flag was used was in the French Revolution. Just like the American Revolution which was mostly a taxation, slavery, legislation and representation dispute that got out of hand, the French Revolution was an overthrow of the monarchy which was supposed to install a democratic and secular government as a republic but turned into a militaristic authoritarian regime which kind of ended with Napoleon, it other words it was a taxation, legislation and representation dispute that got seriously out of hand.

Also related to the American Revolution, prize agitator Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, or just plain old "Lafayette"; once he had finised waving Betsy Ross’ bit of rag, America’s favorite fighting Frenchman went home to be commander of the National Guard.
Not long after the abolition of the French monasteries, and during a series of protests in which several marches converged on the Champ de Mars, a full on riot broke out in May of 1790 and the Reg Flag was raised by Lafayette that he was now imposing martial law in  central Paris. So much for an auspicious start.

Once the second half of the nineteenth century rolled on and France and Prussia went to war in yet another case of generational hatred, the Second French Empire fell into a bloddy heap and the Third Republic rose out of the ashes and was immediately met with protests from the National Guards and the Communards.
The publication of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto which had arisen during the 1848 Revolution, Capital which was published in 1861, and the arrival of the  International Workingmen's Association as an organisation in 1864, the Paris Commune in 1871 also flew the Red Flag but like the National Guards and the Communards, was put down.

By now the link between the Red Flag and the economic left was well established, and it became the symbol of communists, socialists and anarchists alike. In fact so dangerous was it seen to be, that when someone threw a dynamite bomb into a workers' march in Chicago's Haymarket district for the Eight-Hour working day on May 4, 1886, this basically saw the end of he Red Flag's use in the United States; hence the reason why the Republican and Democrat parties don't line up with the traditional colours of the left and the right in the rest of the world.
The Red Flag was adopted by many political labour organisations around the world, including the British Labour Party but curiously not the Australian Labor Party.
Of course it goes without saying that the Red Flag was flown by the communists during the mayhem of the Russian Revolution of 1917, and following that revolution although support for socialism grew in the trade union movement around the world, the Red Flag was a bit loathed to be used, in an effort not to be associated with Soviet Communism.

I suspect that the next chapter in the story of the Red Flag will be again in the next series of revolutions, whatever they happen to be because at some point during this new gilded age, when the rewards attributable to capital is outstripping the rewards attributable to real work and when the immediate memory of the Soviet Union has dissipated, will people once again want to rally around a symbol which has more than two centuries of use.

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer
We'll keep the red flag flying here.