September 27, 2018

Colt 2471.1 - The Whole Thing from ABC to XYZ

15th Feb 2018.
Emma Albericie wrote a piece for the ABC News website which stated that there isn't a compelling case for corporate tax cuts when 20% of the ASX200 don't actually pay company tax in the first place and modelling suggests that even if there was a tax cut, they wouldn't pass that money on to their staff in the form of higher wages either.

16th Feb 2018.
After complaints from the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, ABC News removed the analysis piece about the government’s proposed corporate tax cuts, by Ms Albericie.

16th Feb 2018.
It was found out that the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, complained to ABC Chairman Milne.

10th Apr 2018.
The letter from the Prime Minister's Office  to the ABC, was released to the Senate. The letter claimed that Ms Alberici sought to “ignore or undermine anyone who disagrees with her" and that “Alberici has a habit of including comments from and interviewing only people who agree with her”.

Justin Milne rang Michelle Guthrie after meeting Turnbull to say the PM "hates” Andrew Probyn and “you have to shoot him”. If she refused, Milne allegedly told Guthrie she was “putting the future of the ABC at risk” and risking “half a billion" in funding for Jetstream

Also unknown:
ABC chairman Justin Milne sent former managing director Michelle Guthrie an email telling her to "get rid of" chief economics correspondent Emma Alberici.

Also unknown:
Guthrie refused to do his bidding.

13th Sep 2018.
Ms Guthrie was asked to resign, on the day after attending Parliament's Midwinter Ball with ABC chairman Justin Milne and refused. This apprently prompted the board to sack her.

24th Sep 2018.
ABC chairman Justin Milne sacks Michelle Guthrie as Managing Director of the ABC.

Probably 24th Sep 2018.
Guthrie leaks to The Australian? Unknown but the most likely scenario.

24th Sep 2018.
The Australian is the first to publish the news that Michelle Guthrie had been sacked as ABC MD; before any other media outlet.

24th Sep 2018.
Chris Kenny complains on Sky News that the ABC is dysfunctional. Chris Kenny as the Associate Editor of  Australian is the most likely person who received the leak from inside the ABC or Ms Guthrie.

26th Sep 2018.
ABC Staff meet to condemn Milne's actions and call for his sacking. They vote unanimously on the motion to be put to the board.

27th Sep 2018.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield declines to back Mr Milne, when asked if the chairman should remain in the role, suggesting he should consider his position. The Minister says that he has always respected the ABC’s independence and has never sought to involve himself in staffing matters. “I have only ever raised with the ABC matters in relation to facts in reporting. I’ve done so on half a dozen occasions.”

27th Sep 2018.
The ABC board asks Justin Milne to step aside while the inquiry is going on. The view of the board is that he can not continue as Chair while he was being investigated.

27th Sep 2018.
@leighsales - 11:48am
I just finished an extensive interview with Justin Milne in which he announces his resignation as ABC Chairman.  Don't miss #abc730 tonight.

Horse 2471 - The Most Amazing Unmemorable Holiday Ever

Would you take the most amazing holiday of your life, for a month all expenses paid, if at the end of it all traces of it were erased from your memory?

In the latest episode of a podcast that I like listening to, this question was posed among a bunch of other hypothetical questions. I like this question because I had a fundamentally different response to it than either of the hosts did. I think that my answer to this is grounded in both the idea of perception and what I think a holiday is supposed to do.

Firstly, I have no idea what the most amazing holiday of my life would look like. I think that by definition it would be so amazing that current me can not conceive of it. I imagine that it would probably involve something part way dangerous, where every possible level of endorphin, oxytocin, and other feel good hedonistic chemical would be turned up to ridiculous levels.
 I mean, there are things that given unlimited amounts of money that I would like to do, such as flood the world with ridiculous amounts of money to build water and sewerage lines, mass literacy programs, and electricity because those three things have in my not very well paid opinion been the biggest drivers of people's happiness and well-being in practical terms, in the history of the world. I would also like to own a multi-trillion dollar motor company and everything that that would entail but that's another issue and not achievable in a month.
As for what the question of what the most amazing holiday actually is, I have no idea.

To answer the second part of the question though and the implications of not being able to remember what the most amazing holiday is, needs me to look at something of the nature of existence.
As a small being who is composed of roughly 150 pounds of food for lions and vultures, with a resident ghost attached somehow (mind, body, soul and spirit, is a complex question), I only perceive the world as a series of linear progressive moments. I have a memory which retains useful and not useful things from the past and I have absolutely no way of detecting anything other than the present. All that exists as far as I perceive, is now. The past has ceased to be and the future hasn't yet arrived. There might be all kinds of really neat theories about why the flow of time appears to be linear and in only one direction but in practical terms, they don't really matter. The only thing that is now is now.
Rationally speaking, going on the most amazing holiday of my life would be the most amazing holiday of my life and I would jump at the chance to be that kind to my future self who would be in the now on the most amazing holiday of my life. I see virtually no down side to this at all.

The objection raised on the podcast is that when you got back, that because you would retain no memory of it then it would cease to have any value. This question also doesn't address whether or not it is just me who can not remember the holiday or in fact everyone who was on it but I'm going to assume that the rules are the same for everyone and that as far as all of our memories are concerned, it would be like pressing the delete key.
Does it necessarily hold that if you do not remember something, that that thing ceases to have any value to you? I don't think so. I suspect that the regenerative effects of being on holiday would confer some kind of future benefit. Let's assume that it doesn't do that either. Let's assume that after a month; literally nothing changes for you except that you are a month older. Then what? If this is true and literally nothing changes for you, I can still see some value on going on the most amazing holiday of your lifetime and I think that my reasoning is wrong.

If you are on such a holiday, then there's practically zero consequence except possibly dying. I don't see this in principle as being any different to being asleep and dreaming. There probably are practical benefits to dreaming but let's assume that there aren't, would it still be worth it? Absolutely.
By definition you are on the most amazing holiday of your lifetime; which means that while you are on it, you are still living in the now. As the thing is happening, you would be deriving immense pleasure in the moment. That has to be better than what happens the majority of the time when boring things happen and you don't remember them or worse, bad things happen and you do remember them.
As I thought about this, my thoughts were turned to Linda in Aldous Huxley's book "Brave New World"; where she has come out of the wilderness and wants to be on a permanent Soma drug induced holiday. That seems really weird and strange to me but it's kind of the ultimate form of palliative care through the dark side of the looking-glass. I wonder if the net effect of being on the most amazing but literally unmemorable holiday would be like that. I also wonder if that's what being on heroin is like in the moment. By the way kids, don't do heroin - Not even if you are a late nineteenth century consulting detective.

Maybe I am just too dim to see the downsides of going on the most amazing holiday of your life if it was all erased from your memory. Sure, you wouldn’t be able to remember it but is that that much of a loss? I don’t like the idea that we are who we are because of the collection of memories that we possess because that has really troubling implications for both the very young who don’t have many memories and somebody with dementia who has problems unlocking them. This question seems to be more of a pragmatic one which is best answered on its own merits.
All things considered, my answer would be “yes” because if nothing else I would be getting a free holiday and in the moment it would be fun.

September 26, 2018

Horse 2470 - Why I Don't Post Many Pictures To Facebook

Someone recently asked me why I don't post very many pictures on Facebook. This would have been unthinkable in the not too distant past but the question is certainly worth asking in an always online and switched on world. I guess that it somehow seemed strange to them that I didn't have or want a smart phone and that it was really weird that I didn't feel the need to photograph all of the important moments of my life. Mind you, I find it strange to think that just a quarter of a century ago, most people didn't even know what the internet was; ten years ago the big platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook were all just wee ickle noobs in the internet world and now they are worth billions and trillions of dollars; so this impulse to photograph the world and share those photographs had no outlet.

There are children today who don't know a world that never had continuous all the time connectedness and the internet itself doesn't even exist outside of social media for many people. I mean they could go outside the ecosystems of their chosen apps but they do not. I must admit that I personally have retreated back towards the old media of newspapers and radio for my primary sources of news because the news that is dished out on social media is generally far too shallow for me to brood over. I suppose that I have to admit that as the number of years in front of me is almost certainly fewer than the number of years I've seen, that I am old. The world is moving on and I no longer fit the future. Although having said that, I didn't really fit the past either. I have long suspected that I actually belong either London or New York City in the 1920s.

That isn't to say that I don't understand the internet and social media. I think my problem is that I understand it only too well. The whole point of Twitter and Facebook is to keep you scrolling; the whole point of YouTube is to show you another video so that you will see yet another advert.
Once upon a time, media companies made radio and then television programs and tried to keep people in front of the magic boxes in their front parlour by making content that people might like to see and hear. Long form television has been kind of replaced or added to by Netflix, Hulu, Stan, or a bunch of other streaming services. In contrast, YouTube has made forays into that by democratising content creation and Facebook and Twitter are kind of repositories for short content.

A platform like Twitter by its nature is similar to the announcement boards at an airport. In an airport, planes arrive and take off and the announcements go through a regular cycle of initial broadcast, a few calls and then usually when the plane takes off, that particular set of announcements disappears forever. As far as Twitter is concerned, a hashtag works like a flight number and it is only when something terrible happens that the people in the airport get mad. A hashtag such as #AusPol is like a regularly scheduled flight, like say QF5 which will reappear on the boards with reliable regularity.
Journalists very quickly realized the value of Twitter and it is telling that I've now seen several elections play out in real time on Twitter and the knifing of several Prime Ministers. Twitter is the perfect vehicle for the political cycle, it is the perfect vehicle for the news cycle, and this is the reason why the 45th President of the United States makes such an excellent use of the platform. Granted that his administrative skills are non-existent and this makes for a bad Presidency but on this front, he understands how and why the platform works the way it does.
The thing about Twitter that people who enjoy using (like me) realise pretty quickly is that the outrage of a thing being bad goes away. From the outset, news outlets saw the value in the platform and that Twitter fit very nicely with the news cycle. The normal maximum period of time that a thing is an issue on Twitter is usually no more than a few days. Within a few hours of the event ending, the currency of that event and hence the frequency of hashtags being called on the departure boards of Twitter, dies a natural death.

Facebook feels vastly different and even feels like a vastly different space from when it began. I can't say that I am a very good Facebook user.
Only recently, I have been pulled back into the ecosystem of Facebook because it has disabled the old third party mechanisms which enabled me to remain outside of it. I find things like Facebook and Instagram problematic (even though I don't use and have never used the latter) because of the intersection of curation, narcissism and popularity, and I am not sure what that is doing to people's brains.
It seems to me that Facebook and Instagram are kind of the repositories of a very specific section of people's lives. There is a constant stream of people looking happy and the impression which is given out is that everyone else is living fantastic lives but you are not. Of course it stands to reason that people are only going to post pictures of their holidays, or how proud they are of their children, or of their nights out, amazing breakfasts. From what I have heard, Instagram is even worse with people staging photographs and this can only lead to a plastic impression of the world.
People don't post the rolling mundaneness of their lives to Facebook or Instagram. People don't generally post about their troubles, their sadness, and their frustrations; for fear of being shot down or worse, being ignored. In a world where it is perceived that everyone else is living the best life that they can, if you are not, it is very easy to be pulled into your own personal funk because compared to everyone else; you look to yourself like a colossal failure.

The reason why I don't post a lot of photographs on Facebook is because my life doesn't tend to produce those moments terribly often. I don't go on holiday all that often and when I do, I am on holiday and prefer to be on holiday. I don't have children and so photographs of the birthday parties, sports days, school achievements, or cute baby moments, are incredibly difficult to take, nay impossible (even though the idea of photographs of non-existent children sounds like a brilliant idea for a Nordic Noir crime series).
According to the unwritten rules and criteria which Facebook and Instagram put forward, my life by the metric of popularity, likes, grams (I don't know what the cool kids say on Instagram) is a colossal failure; so for me to post photographs of the rolling mundanity is also a colossal waste of time.
To be fair, I don't really care either; because as this post demonstrates (and indeed the not quite two and a half thousand posts over twenty years), I would rather take in the world at the speed of text.
My brain has been spending the last thirty odd years wiring itself up to draw its dopamine from different sources; primarily the written word and the radio. I am probably the most happy most of the time when I am either reading something, writing something, or listening to something while doing something else. Sweeping the house on a Saturday morning while listening to the NPR Politics Podcast repeatedly presses my happiness buttons but that's not exactly worthy of posting photographs on Facebook for. I could take a photograph of a dustpan and brush under the couch but that seems like a colossal waste of time, see above.

So then... people of Facebook. Here is a picture.

It's not of a night out because they are few and far between, it's not of a holiday or a fantastic breakfast, and it isn't even of my children because I don't have any. Instead, this is a photograph of the majesty of the mundane. I cross this road ten times a week to add from my way to work, and it illustrates perfectly why I don't post very many pictures to Facebook.
This picture can not convey the glorious smells of wattle, barbecuing meat, garlic, tyres on fire and bushfire which are all dancing around in the air. This picture can not convey the kind of perfectly warm yet breezy evenings that exist in springtime in Sydney. This picture can not convey the cacophony of rainbow lorikeets and galahs that are having a turf war in the park close by. This picture can not convey that strange sense of ennui, sadness, tiredness, joy, which are all running through my mind at the same time, demanding to be felt but yet finding no human point of connection to attach to. This picture can not convey my wonder at the discreet wavelengths of light which are put out by sodium filament street lamps and the kind of tobacco stained jaundice that haunts the view because of them.

I don't post pictures to Facebook very often because pictures never do anything justice. I don't believe that a picture paints a thousand words because I know what kind of pictures a thousand words paint. Pictures are like trying to make me suck on a lollipop when what I really want is a nice Rogan josh. Pictures are even more of a blunt instrument than words are and words are already like trying to stitch a seam on a pant leg with a cricket bat (it's obvious that I have no idea what I'm doing with either).
I don't post very many pictures on Facebook because I already keep a blog and write and have done since before there was a Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Most people only want to look at the pretty pictures though; which is fine. I am not you. My brain does not fit here. My brain wants to live in the land of a thousand words.

September 25, 2018

Horse 2469 - Savage Strawberries and 'Tater Terrorism

As an Australian Australian who lives in Australia, I am pretty used to living in country where everything is actively trying to kill you.
Where I live in Western Sydney, we have the Sydney Funnel Web Spider which has a neurotoxin that will kill you, we have the Redback spider which hangs out in people's toilets, under stairs and in garages, which will also kill you; and we have Brown Snakes in Sydney which are also trying to kill you.
In Western Australia the town of Wittenoom had to be abandoned because the blue asbestos which they were mining out of the ground was trying to kill people, we have sharks and crocodiles that will try to kill you, we have kangaroos and emus which are idiots and have no idea about road sense and so will jump out in front of your car, which will kill you, and we have the wombat which has a muscley cartilaginous bum which if they trap your head between it and a hard object, it will kill you.
We have snakes, spiders, animals, murder birds like the emu and cassowary, and even the very dirt itself, all trying to kill you and as such Australians are all hard as nails.

But now there is a new terror in Australia; a terror so hideous, so heinous, so incredibly dastardly that I am at pains to even mention it. It is so unbelievable that if it hadn't made its way all over the newspapers and televisions of this wide brown land, nobody would have believed it. I am of course talking about... fruit.
Sometime last week, someone found a needle in a strawberry at a supermarket and someone else found a needle in an apple. Admittedly this is probably just an isolated incident where either a disgruntled employee wanted to get back at their old employer, or maybe some teenage brat thought that this was funny because teenagers don't have fully developed brains but it could be something more sinister.

What happens if this is terrorism?
Where does this end? Are we now going to find knives in our apples? Do we have to worry about Queenslanders and watch out for sawnoff shotguns in our bananas? How about samurai swords and katanas in satsumas? I think that you could just about hide a Husqvarna chainsaw inside a pumpkin. I hear that that fruit fly exclusion zone as you head into Victoria is actually because they are still worried about war breaking out between the states and explosive devices being smuggled in, hidden in cherries. I wouldn't be surprised if we lost the Emu War in the 1930s because they'd been stockpiling three-ohs and disguising them in cucumbers. Cassowaries have been hiding out in the cane fields with maxim guns and have been filling Mangoes up with Novichok nerve agent.
What if this is all a dastardly plot by the Chinese Government to stop us from buying oranges and lemons so that we'll all get scurvy and they can just walk in and steal our stuff? I think that we should watch out for Toyota Hiluxes in Bunnings car parks in case people from ISIS show up, buy a bunch of relatively cheap hardware and then go to Coles. That's not just an eggplant but an eggplant that's hiding a hand grenade.

What if the most sinister threat of all is actually from grannies? I don't know about you but it used to be about baby pictures and pictures of Minions with vaguely amusing captions but now grannies are going into online sewing groups on Facebook, being radicalised online, wanting to do some hard core embroidery and accidentally leaving one needle in one strawberry somewhere in the country.
After all it's grannies who sit on Facebook all day long, liking your photos. It's all a cover so that they can secretly go out at night and conduct missions for MI6, ASIO and the FBI. It is always the ones who you least expect who cause the most damage and who do you suspect less than Mrs Murphy of 37 Pleasant Crescent as she walks through Coles, trying to decide if she wants to put peaches or pears in her fruit pie.

Paris had its attacks in the Bataclan district, London had the 7/7 attacks, New York had the twin towers destroyed on 9/11 but Australia hasn't really had any particularly notable terrorism incidents unless you include the Lindt Café shooting which was declared a terrorist incident so that the insurance company could get out of paying as much, the Hilton Hotel bombing in the rubbish bin in the late 1970s and of course the Emu War.
If you want to make Australians sit upon and take notice, not even locking children up on tropical glulags is enough to make them care. Not even having evil robots at Centrelink sending out letters to other grannies is enough to tear us away from our $22 Avocado Toasts in the morning. We're not even phased all that much by the Knife Festival which takes out Prime Ministers more regularly than the Olympics, or the head of the ABC, unless there's a Four Corners special and a Noir drama series five years after the event. No, if you want to send the Commonwealth Of Australia into six kinds of madness, running around from side to side like brainless sheep, put one needle in a strawberry and then have Karl Stefanovic do some joke piece on Today, about it.

September 24, 2018

Horse 2468 - Daylight Savings Time Will Mean That I Get An Extra Hour's Sleep

This isn't some rant about how daylight savings time is bad because although that's a long established trope of which I could very easily riff upon, I have probably made those jokes before. Go back through the archive of Septembers past¹ and you'll probably see this kind of thing. The fact is that I like long daylight tails in the evening because it means that Day/Night Cricket happens in the summer, that the A-League can be played late in the evening. Daylight Savings is demonstrably useful.
This blog post employs another long established trope; that of proof of a seemingly stupid proposition.

I have two cats. Two cats is the correct number of cats to have. One cat gets lonely and three cats is the beginning of crazy cat lady territory. Two cats is the correct number of cats to have and the number of the counting shall be two; five is right out. Our older cat, Purranna, is probably nine years old and as far as cats go, is old enough to claim a cat pension. Our younger cat, Micah, is only about seven months old; so hasn't arrived at cat punk teenagerdom yet. I am convinced that Micah's life motto is "Enjoy Everything!" The exclamation point is 100% necessary.

- Look at the Kitty picture! :D

Micah was probably born in February, so this means that he has lived through an autumn and a winter. As he has not lived through a summer, the idea that the length of days gets longer, both in the evening and the morning, is not part of his lived experience and probably would have never entered his child cat mind anyway. Ever since the winter solstice back in June, the days have been getting longer and now that we have just passed the Spring Equinox, the rate of change is massive and indeed because the length of days follows a sinusoidal equation, the rate of change of the length of days is instantaneously the greatest, right bang on the Equinox.
If these are the given inputs into a cat's mind that has never lived through a summer, and probably isn't old enough to understand the concept that the length of day is variable, then those things are probably not relevant to his interests. Not only does he not know that the length of day changes, he does not care that the length of day changes, and does not care that he does not know and doesn't care that he might need to know.
I do care though.

My alarm is set for 05:47am. In the middle of winter, 05:47am is before sunrise. The first thing that I do in the morning after I wake up is feed the cats their breakfast. Purranna has a collective memory of about 3000 mornings; so she is well aware that she will get fed after the alarm goes of at 05:47am. Micah on the other hand has not. If the beginning of daylight comes through the window, then he is awake and as far as he is concerned (and he is very concerned), when he is awake, then it must obviously be time to eat.
The alarm is not relevant to his interests. My sleep is not relevant to his interests. When daylight comes through the window, a cat whose motto is "Enjoy Everything!" and who is only operating on pure id (ego and superego do not wake up until much later), only has one relevant interest and that is to be fed now.
As someone who has never lived through a summer and who doesn't understand or care that sunrise is getting earlier, Micah gets really annoyed that we also have not woken up with the sun. The thing that is relevant to his interests when the sun rises and is immediately applicable to his life motto of "Enjoy Everything!" is to be fed there and then. The fact that people don't wake up until 05:47am is irrelevant and even if it was, would be in direct conflict with his life motto; so he has a whinge.
We have now passed into that time of year when sunrise is before 05:47am, which means that I am now consistently woken up by the sounds of a small cat demanding to know why the world isn't directly conforming to his interests immediately.

Daylight Savings Time borrows that first hour of daylight and then saves it until the end of the day. Immediately, the clock time for sunrise is pushed back an hour and since Micah neither knows or cares about clocks, it means that his effective wake up time as far as I'm concerned is an hour later. When Daylight Savings Time does start in October, my wake up time will revert back to 05:47am instead of whatever time is going on inside a small cat's mind².

Given enough summers and winters and the fact that in time Micah will be an older cat, I'm pretty sure that this issue will go away... or maybe it won't. His life motto is "Enjoy Everything!" and as far as I can tell, everything which doesn't enable him to do that, including me being asleep in the morning, must be railed against.

Do not go gentle into that good morning
Young age does burn and rave at opening of day;
Rage, rage against the coming of the light... and against those who will not feed you immediately.

¹The Ghost of Septembers Past is mentioned in Charles Dickens' non specific seasonal story about Fred Scrooge, the President of the Melbourne Demons Football Club; who is visited by two of the usual ghosts but not the ghost of September Future because ghosts know that the D's aren't likely to win a Rules Grand Final any time soon.
²This is probably subject to several iterations of the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle. It is uncertain what goes on inside a cat's mind and if you were to observe it, it would still be uncertain.

September 21, 2018

Horse 2467 - ...ex In the City

A client of mine who is "so Jewish that he circumsised his gefilte fish", wants to start a podcast about financing startup companies, which is also the "most Jewish thing for a podcast that he could think of". He intends to call it "Keks In The City"; which if anyone else suggested it, would be really racist.
This led me down a series of mental alleys and passages, that eventually took me to Stupid Town.

Bex In The City - a podcast about an aspirin–phenacetin–caffeine compound analgesic. The 1960's housewife's drug of choice... before they discovered Smirnoff.

Mex In The City - a podcast about trying to find decent Mexican food.

Pyrex In The City - a podcast about Minnesotan Hotdish.

Rex In The City - a podcast about a giant dinosaur who is trying to fit in with modern society.

Rex In The City - a podcast about a bulldog who has a law degree and is in private practice.

Rex In The City - a podcast about a dinosaur and a dog who has a law degree, who drive around in their hotted up Subaru Impreza.

Dex In The City - a podcast about the midnight runners and their attempts to get their first single "Dance Stance" heard on the radio.

Chex In The City - a podcast about the history of negotiable financial instruments.

Lex In The City - a podcast about a Batman villain.

Lex In The City - a podcast about driving slowly in a Japanese luxury car.

Lex In The City - a podcast about a Batman villain driving slowly in a Japanese luxury car.

Shrex In The City - a podcast about a giant ogre who has inadvertently found himself in the modern world.

Tex In The City - a podcast about how everything is bigger in the Lone Star state.

Fex In The City - a podcast about Irish swear words.

Trex In The City - a podcast about walking around and seeing what you find.

Pex In The City - a podcast about gym franchising.

Flex In The City - a podcast about the installation and repair of air conditioning ducts.

Tex Mex In The City - a podcast about the westernization of various dishes from Mexico.

Hardiflex In The City - a podcast about building materials which are suitable for building a garage out of, in 1986.

Nex In The City - a podcast about giraffes.

Chex In The City - a podcast about the search for one very particular kind of breakfast cereal.

Hex In The City - a podcast about witches and spells that they have placed upon various bits of real estate.

Hex In The City - a podcast about using allen keys.

September 20, 2018

Horse 2466 - Three Easy Pieces

Spicy Skittles¹
If someone mixes Skittles in with a bowl full of M&M's, then that person is a monster and you should shun them. Shun them. You should banish them to Room 101. However, if someone mixes Spicy Skittles in with a bowl full of M&M's, then you should have them committed to one of those places where they can wear a special jacket that allows them to hug themselves all day long.
Actually, if you find someone who has a bowl of Spicy Skittles, then at very least you should question their sanity if it is the second packet that they have bought. Buying the first packet because of curiosity is acceptable because humans are curious but buying the second packet after they already bought a first one, is madness.
Sour lollies  have been around since way before I was a kid. Hot lollies like Warheads have also been around for a long time as well. Those lollies  are already substandard; so mucking around with them is fine. I even got used to weird chili chicken flavoured lollipops that my in-laws sent from America. There is a special kind of insanity to those. However, Spicy Skittles are messing with the forces of nature.
There's nothing inherently wrong with them and yet, that's precisely what is wrong with them. They are spicy enough that if you weren't expecting it you would be surprised but they aren't spicy enough to make you keel over and writhe around on the floor in pain. They appear to be made for people in their old age, who normally aren't eating lollies in the first place; that does my head in.

I have no idea if this was a thing from a commercial that went away and came back or if it was film related but a client of ours walked into our office with an officially branded pair of Pizza Hut Pie-Tops this week.
Put simply, they are shoes that kind of look a bit like Chuck Taylor All-stars, with WiFi enabled connection to your smart phone, so that when you press a button on the side in a very deliberate and particular manner, they order pizza. Your shoes order pizza. I don't know what strange future I have accidentally entered but I need this in my life.
Pizza is in my not very well paid or thought through opinion, the king of all sandwiches. Pizza is an elaborate open sandwich that just happens to be baked. I love sandwiches. I love toasted sandwiches and my sandwich press gets used on a semi regular basis. Having a pair of shoes where you can press a button and it orders pizza, combines a gloriously stupid invention with the reward of having pizza at the end. I do care how dumb this is. I care because pizza ordering shoes are an invention which nobody needs, to solve a problem that wasn't really there, to give you pizza which is delicious. Yes, yes, yes!

Is This A Peace Treaty?³
The two presidents of the two Koreas, Kim and Moon, from the north and the south, met in Pyongyang on Wednesday and signed off on further outcomes resulting from the Panmunjom Declaration of April this year. Some of the articles included North Korea shutting down a missile installation, further moves towards the full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, more details of what peace looks like, and infrastructure announcements including road and rail.
You'll find this buried deep into the pages of The Australian, in the "world" section of the Sydney Morning Herald, and it didn't even get a mention in the Daily Telegraph; so if you've been following the printed press in Australia, you might have missed it. It did find reportage on both the ABC and SBS and on ABC News Radio but I have no idea about the rest of television news.
What I want to know is if the 45th President of the United States tweets a twoosh on Twitter, then the media goes into a blind flap but if you have possibly the most significant news story of the decade, which might have formally ended the Korean War (I haven't yet read though the details) then why is this not front and centre across all the news media? If this actually is the formal end to a war which was started 70 years ago and the two leaders are looking at ways to formally establish a peaceful normality, then this is properly excellent.
They're also talking about sending a unified team to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, which is incidental but if this plays out similarly to the way in which the two Germanys reunified, then 2024 might not actually be symbolic but a matter of fact; that would also be excellent.

September 19, 2018

Horse 2465 - This Is Not A 2019 Everest; So Stop Saying It Is, Ford.

With Holden suffering their worst sales months since 1948, Ford is loudly crowing about the fact that their Mustang is outselling the Commodore. I find this to be quite tone deaf on the part of Ford because apart from two months when the Mustang was still a new model in Australia, the Mustang has never again been able to outsell the now discontinued Falcon. I suspect though that Ford don't want to crow all that loudly about that.
When Commodore and Falcon basically exited stage left from the top of the sales charts, that space was filled by the Toyota Corolla, Toyota Hilux, Mazda 3, and Hyundai i30, and Ford having decided that they'd again like to play at the top end of the charts, woke up from their stupor and have been pitching the T6 Ranger T6 in their ad campaigns. Again the irony is that Ford Australia developed and engineered the T6 Ranger and were then immediately refused permission to build it in Australia because Ford loves the profits that Australia sends to Detroit but is just like all the rest of the motor companies now in that they don't love Australians enough to employ them to build stuff. Ford's latest ad campaigns look even more tone deaf and I've now seen on telly, in print, and online, adverts touting the 2019 Ranger.

Today's date (and this is something which would appear on the blackboard of a kindergarten classroom) is the 19th of September 2018. 2018. 2018. 2018?! What Ford are trying to push on us is the absolutely idiotic practice of the Model Year, which I suppose is justified in their eyes as Ford Motor Company can't see beyond the city environs of Detroit and their Profit and Loss statements.
Out here in the real world where physical stuff exists and actual real life happens, the whole concept of a Model Year is "a bunch of stuff¹" in the words of Joe Biden.

The whole idea of a Model Year from what I can determine, came about because of Alfred P Sloan at General Motors. At some point in the 1920s, he hit upon the idea of marketing cars as fashion items in the hope that the hoi polloi would replace their cars in the same manner as the fashion cycle happened. This would have been a lovely idea in the 1920s where the rich in America were turning over obscene amounts of money in a hurry and there was no way that it couldn't last forever... except... except...
When the stock market crashed like a 1920s Cadillac doing 125mph with 1920s brakes, it slammed into the wall of destiny and everyone was really really sad for a very long time; starting the Great Depression, which wasn't all that great for anyone at all. It especially wasn't great for the motor companies and for a period of time while the world was plunged into another World War, the motor companies basically put their model lineups on hold as they too were drafted into the war effort.
It wasn't really until after the Second World War that new designs started appearing again and in the meantime they had practically halted. A 1948 Ford looks pretty much like a 1941 Ford. Armed with a revitalised economy and a growing middle class, the motor companies now found that they could cycle through new models without doing anything except changing the grills and lights on a regular basis and the idea of a yearly model cycle and a Model Year was reborn.
The thing that I find really really infuriating about the idea of a Model Year, is that the Model Year bears absolutely no relation to the calendar year. In some cases where a new model is built alongside an older one, they might both share the same Model Year; also if a particular model debuts at different times around the world, the same Model Year might last as long as 34 months. What kind of buck-wild nonsense is this?

There is already a perfectly good system for designating between different models and even sub-models of the same car and considering this is Australia and we've been using the system for the past seventy years, there's no need to be foisting this rubbish on us. That system is the already extent Model Code.

Every Australian kid worth their automotive GT stripes should be able to recite the following:
XK, XL, XM, XP, XR, XT, XW, XY, XA, XB, XC, XD, XE, XF, XG (ute), XH (ute), XN (Nissan Ute), EA, EB, ED, EF, EL, AU, BA, BF, FG, FGX.
That series of letter codes is the complete run of Ford Falcons from 1960 to close in 2016. The Model Code tells you succinctly which one is which and is precise.

Across other manufacturers Model Codes are also useful. Proper car nerds should be able to tell what AE86, FD, EP3, FN2, R32, DC5 and KC are just by the code. They will also be able to tell you what the subtle difference between an AE85 and AE86 are as well².
For cars where the Model Code isn't used, the Generation Number is also useful. Fiesta Mk4 through to Fiesta Mk7 all sit on the same platform, the 3rd Gen Mustang is the Fox body car, an Impala 10 is the one that shouldn't exist because it should have properly been VF Commodore, and Ford Fusion 2 is Mondeo Mk4.
Technically this is a Ford Everest Mk3, which has been derived from the T6 Ranger. Ford if they were sensible would have given us the Model Code as the designation because the Model Year is not only deceptive, I'm going to say that it is a straight up lie.

Cars that are sold in Australia are by law fitted with a compliance plate. That compliance plate contains all sorts of neat details like the VIN and Gross Vehicle Mass but the one thing that renders the whole concept of a Model Year as a complete lie is the build date. The build date is the thing that tells you when it left the factory and I can tell you that unless Ford have secretly gained access to time travel, there is no way in nine kinds of Hades that that compliance plate will read anything other than 2018 by virtue of the fact that the car already exists.

This is not a 2019 car. Don't say it is when it's not. Stop lying, Ford, for Ford's sake. Unless of course you want to enter a brave new world; in which case, welcome to the year AF110 - 110 Anno Ford, in the year of Ford, Amen.

¹This is a bunch of stuff -
²Just by looking at it -

September 18, 2018

Horse 2464 - Why A Congress Full Of Jackasses Will Not Be Able To Remove The Elephant In The Room

More than half a lifetime ago, when my age began with a 1, one of the opening subjects that I did on the road to working in accounting was Commercial Law 1A. That was soon followed by Commercial Law 1B, 2A and 2B. Somewhere in there was Constitutional Law with regards companies (both proprietary and regular limited companies) and a comparison of various constitutions. That meant that as part of an accounting course, I was inadvertently exposed to the Australian, Canadian and US Constitutions.
I like the Australian Constitution. People will tell you that is called the "Washminster" system because it combines elements of the Washington (US) and Westminster (UK) systems of government but really, it is closer in spirit to the Canadian Constitution; which had already been in place and had already long dealt with similar issues.
Likewise, I do not like the US Constitution. I don't like that the President and Cabinet sit outside the Congress because that means that apart from the President, the entire cabinet is made up of non-elected people. The US Constitution is so incredibly badly constituted, that precisely ZERO countries have copied it. The US Constitution is so incredibly badly constituted, that two years after it was accepted, it was amended 10 times with the Bill of Rights and a further 17 times after that.

It looks to me that the US Constitution was deliberately designed to be terrible. The Continental Congress which had met from 1774 to 1789 in three incarnations and was basically leaderless and toothless, only really had the power to lay taxes and declare war and nothing else. James Madison, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton wrote series of essays, that were anonymously published under the handle of "Publius" to defend the document to the public through the newspapers and were supposed to write 25 essays together but John Jay fell ill after only writing 5, Madison wrote 29 and Hamilton wrote 51.
From there the US Constitution was argued among 55 men; of which only 39 survived the rigors of argument until the end and the grand idea of Montesquieu took root; which accounts for the separation of powers and branches as defined by the constitution.
Herein lies why the US Constitution is terrible.

The three branches of the US Government are slow and clunky. That's fine if you want properly written and executed legislation which has been properly scrutineered in good faith. Increasingly though, we have seen factionalism and bad faith (well actually we saw that in 1800 but...). A slow and clunky government also means that it is night on impossible to remove someone who should be removed. The US Government is like a three ring circus which is a giant menagerie of badly behaved animals.
The first ring in the three ring circus is The Supreme Court which is basically a permanently baked-in factional cesspit and this was best exemplified by the decision in Marbury v. Madison (1803):
It is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.¹
In theory The Supreme Court should be the three wise monkeys but because they're political appointments, they just like to fling poo.
The second ring in the three ring circus is the office of the President; which in 1789 was only conceived as far as installing George Washington and no further. There was supposedly talk of having Washington as an American king but I haven't found much in the way of evidence for that.
Removing a President is nigh on impossible; especially when the president is the elephant in the Red Room or the Oval Office.
The third ring is the Congress. The Congress has the power to put checks and balances on the President's picks for Supreme Court nominations; or as we have seen in recent years, grind those picks to a complete standstill. They also have the power to removed the President and Vice President but the process is arcane.

The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.
- Article II, Section 4

As it stands, an impeachment resolution would begin in the House of Representatives under whatever rules that the House Committee on Rules and then the Judiciary Committee come up with. A set of grounds for impeachment would be drawn up, wherein the House would vote on it and it would be sent to the Senate to be tried.
Under the current set of rules, an impeachment resolution needs 2/3rds of approval in the House and then 2/3rds approval in the Senate. It is so incredibly difficult that to date, in 239 years, no President has been impeached. The way things are, I think that it is impossible for Mr Trump to be impeached as well.

Even if you were to predict the biggest blue tsunami imaginable, of the sort that would make Hurricane Katrina and the waves look like she was walking on sunshine, the bluest of blue waves only gets me to 263 seats in the House and 58 seats in the Senate.
If the Democrats win every single tossup seat in the House and every single seat where the swing is less than 10%, then you only get to 263 seats and they need 290 to pass an impeachment resolution.
If the Democrats win every single contestable seat in the Senate, then because only a third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years, then the best the can hope for is 58 seats and they need 66 to pass an impeachment resolution.
In every single possible scenario, even if the Democrats win all 435 seats in the House and do manage to pull off a unanimous impeachment resolution, there will always be 42 Republicans in the Senate and they are 0% likely to want to impeachment Mr Trump.

It could very well be thought that my thought about the US Government being badly constituted is wrong. It could very well be that Madison, Jay and Hamilton, along with the 55 people who argued in that summer in Philadelphia wanted to make it impossible to remove Washington as President. Maybe they really did see no further than him because based on the previous Continental Congress which was leaderless and toothless, there wasn't any reason to suspect that the new experiment would be any different. Maybe they really did want a king in everything but name who was technically impeachable in theory but unimpeachable in practice.
Whatever the case, they could not have forseen the elephant in the Oval Office and the impossible task that a Congress full of Jackasses have in getting rid of him. The numbers don't work; maybe by design.


September 14, 2018

Horse 2463 - 7Books: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Arthur C Clarke

There is a good mathematical explanation why the book is almost always better than the film (see below¹); in fact, the only example that I can think of where I personally enjoyed the film more than the book, was The Lord Of The Rings trilogy because I find Tolkien's writing to be tedious. This example of 2001: A Space Odyssey is a case where I don't much like the style of writing of the book but I still mostly enjoyed it and where I like part of the film of the book but I find great chunks of it to be a bunch of eye bleeding nonsense.

The basic plot of both the book and the film is straightforward. There is a black thing on Earth called the monolith, which is discovered and more or less kicks off the technological evolution of humans. Another one is found on the moon, which in turn sets off the discovery of another one around Jupiter and a scientific mission is sent to explore it. The ship's onboard computer which has been given sentience through artificial intelligence, realises that it is unable to complete the mission because of the inherent error proneness of the ship's crew; so it kills them all except for one who manages to disable it, and that crew member goes on to explore the monolith in space, before passing through it and inadvertently evolving into the next stage of what humans are apparently.
The book has a lot to say about what it means to be human through the device of a machine which displays more human internal conflict than any of the actual humans in the book.

I think that 2001 suffers from being changed during the process of writing and as I understand it, Clarke was writing it concurrently with the film, which itself was in a state of flux due to the machinations of Stanley Kubrick. The best book in the Odyssey series is 3001 in my opinion because it reads like an old fashioned straight forward adventure novel and Clarke had finally got it right. As a work of writing, 2001 is almost a self-referential piece because it displays its own internal conflict because it doesn't really know what it's trying to be and ends up being an space adventure, commentary on human nature, warning on technology and an establishing piece of world building, but it does it all badly.
So why do I like this book and why is it important enough to make my personal list of seven? Remember the opening paragraph to this blog post - the book is almost always better than the film.

Once upon a time in the land before Eternal September and during the summer after which Win Percy and Alan Grice had won the Bathurst 1000 in an HRT Commodore, I had left primary school but hadn't yet entered high school; when someone thought that I might like to read a science fiction novel. I suppose that my nascent nerdery might have been on display, even as a twelve year old. I don't remember who gave me their beat up old copy but I can remember reading this book, mostly propped up against the door jamb of my room, while the summer raged on and ten billion cicadas simultaneously yelled into the world.
This is one of the reasons why the book is better than the film in most cases. Precisely because the book takes more time to get through and because it requires more of a personal investment of time and emotional hardware, the reward of enjoyment is almost always bigger. Also, because watching a film mostly happens inside a darkened room, there aren't really any other sensory inputs. There's not really that same sense of place or time of where and when you were when you consumed the media in the case of a film as opposed to the book.

2001 was probably the first book that I read that made me think about the act of reading a book and what that book was doing to me. I can still remember when I was becoming increasingly frustrated with Dave Bowman and then shut the book in anger because I thought I was being manipulated by the book and then realised that that's exactly what Clarke intended to do. Arthur C Clarke's intention is to make you annoyed with the almost mechanical humans in the book so that you can see the not quite humanity of the machine. I don't think that I'd ever realised before that an author not only could manipulate you but was actively trying to do so.

This I suspect is the same reason why people go to horror movies or want to watch weepy movies because they want to feel something. 2001 did make me feel something, manipulated, and I resented it. Of course in due time, I kind of grew the emotional hardware to process this and as a result, one of my favourite books is The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald because it makes me want to hate every single person in the whole stupid, tragic story and that includes the narrator². Clarke clearly wants to manipulate you into feeling frustrated with the crew and tries to make you feel some degree of sympathy for HAL but manages to succeed in doing neither. Having said all of that, I will still reread 2001 because it is a necessary component in the journey of getting to 3001: The Final Odyssey; which is a far better book in my not very well paid opinion.

The film of the book of 2001 is considered something of a cinematic masterpiece but as a thing which is trying to convey one of the central conflicts of the book, it fails. Granted, it does other things elegantly (such as making exceptional use of silence as a device, the fantastic use of camera angles and set design, and one of the most inspired soundtracks in cinematic history) but the one thing that it doesn't do that it should, is give that central internal conflict of HAL, his fears and overwhelming need to complete his mission at any and every cost, the necessary time and space to breathe. As a reader, that time and space is a natural consequence of the volume of time that it takes to work through it.
2001 makes this set as an object lesson for why the book is better than the film, even when the book is a little bit naff.

¹Does Hollywood ruin books? - Numberphile
²Nick Carraway fawns over Gatsby, hates Tom and is constantly drunk; which clouds his narration. He is a terrible narrator and hideously unreliable.

September 12, 2018

Horse 2462 - The Herald-Sun Is Still Racist

The Herald-Sun in its continuing propaganda campaign to promote racism (at this point I am not convinced that it could be anything other than this), decided to publish a cartoon by Mark Knight, who was already known for his carry-on on the subject of so called 'African gangs' in Melbourne, which has depicted Serena Williams in that grand tradition of Sambo cartoons that would have been at home in a newspaper of more than a century ago.
This is a multi faceted jewel of barbarity on the part of the Herald-Sun and one that warrants looking at it from different angles to catch the various rays of darkness that emanate from it.

As with any good recipe of far-right racist baby formula, there needs to be some ingredients of truth to make it at least part way palatable before it gets vomited all over the pages of a newspaper, which is ultimately undigestable.
Serena Williams who is somewhat known for losing her temper in an undignified manner on the tennis court, was given a code violation for coaching by the umpire  in the US Open tennis final, and then then deducted another point for racquet abuse deducted a point for racquet abuse and back chatting to the umpire. She spat the dummy and gave the umpire a verbal spray before finally losing to Naomi Osaka 6-2, 6-4. During the presentation of the trophies, she was booed by the crowd; so this whole incident was already an international controversy.
I would expect therefore that the Herald-Sun would take sport at this. I don't care if you are playing sport in a local competition or on the world's stage, there simply isn't a place for getting angry with the referees. They might very well be wrong, they might not be aware of the rules of the game, they might not even be watching the game that they are refereeing, there are norms that are accepted and expected that the umpires and referees should be allowed to do their job without hindrance. You simply do not talk to the referees unless explicitly spoken to.
Serena Williams smashed that norm and as such, does deserve to do the subject of sport being made of her. In that respect, Serena Williams was fair game for the subject of an editorial cartoon. This however, is where the story gets complicated.

In Monday's edition of the Herald-Sun, resident cartoonist and agent barbarian Mark Knight, published a now infamous cartoon which portrayed Ms Williams in the same sort of style in which blacks and Africans in the United States were portrayed during the time of the Jim Crow Laws. Meanwhile, I am left questioning why Naomi has Osaka turned into a blonde white woman? If this isn't about race, then why has there been an obvious whitewashing?
This has of course jumped international boundaries thanks to the internet and has subsequently become the subject of editorials in the Washington Post and New York Times.

One of the skills that a cartoonist should have in their kit is the art of the caricature; a caricature by nature relies on the art of exaggeration. We should expect that an editorial cartoon will make fun of someone's big ears, nose or some other feature that the subject is famous for. In principle, a caricature makes use of visual stereotypes and shortcuts as the prism through which to view the world through.
In case though, the stereotype which is being riffed off of, is one seated very much in a problematic history. The Herald-Sun can claim that this particular cartoon isn't playing to that problematic history but to any person of reasonable intelligence and knowledge about the world, that claim simply does not stand up. Also given the history of the Herald-Sun and Mark Knight as a cartoonist for that same newspaper, it is even more difficult to make the claim that this is anything but an ungenerous attack on Ms Williams' dignity and an attack which employs that same problematic history of race.

Of course this morning, the Herald-Sun and indeed News Corp through the Australian and Sky News (but not the Daily Telegraph which chooses to remain strangely slient), has doubled down on its usual free speech angle; claiming that it has the right to publish whatever it likes according to that same right to free speech.

Interestingly, the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, also published a cartoon to accompany a piece by Miranda Devine in today's newspaper for September 12.

The cartoon in question does caricature her haircut, and her teeth and she's swatting a tennis ball shaped like the Venus/female symbol and Serena in the cartoon is obviously black skinned as well; which is accurate. Miranda's column is that Serena has a history of bullying umpires and that women are just as capable of being bullies as men are. It's a completely valid set of criticisms. This means to say that both the subject and a caricature can be done seriously; without resorting to obvious racism.

The Herald-Sun doesn't seem to have learned any lessons from its previous excursions down this road, when similar issues were met with previous racist cartoons by Bill Leak and Michael Leunig. The Herald-Sun is even trying to claim that it is suffering under censorship, despite the fact that these cartoons are in-house moderated and any censorship they're up against is brought by and against themselves.
In the wake of this  Mark Knight appears to have deleted his Twitter account; probably also trying to cite his being censored, despite the fact that censorship does not equal outside criticism.

As I was writing this on the B1 bus to Mosman, I realised that I am the embodiment of the legal fiction of "The man on the Clapham omnibus". I am that hypothetical ordinary and reasonable person, the right-thinking member of society, the officious bystander, and the fair-minded and informed observer. I am also white; which means that in theory that I should be nominally immune from racism such as this because I am not the subject. However, I am seriously offended.

The Polish-born American rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who once was living in a rented room in the home of a Jewish family in Frankfurt and who was arrested by the Gestapo, whose mother and two sisters were killed by the Nazis, who went on to be active in the civil rights movement; including in the  in the Selma Civil Rights march wrote:
"There is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible."
- Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Reasons for My Involvement in the Peace Movement, 1972

I would argue that irrespective of what our intent is, it does not matter. It isn't our intent which matters because the vast majority of prejudice, bias and racism is unconscious, but it is the effect our denial has on people who have experienced such prejudice, bias and racism for the entirety of their lives.
It is our duty to listen to people of colour  when they tell us what is racist and that they suffer serious and injury and injustice due to systemic racism.  It is our duty to yell loudly at the The Herald-Sun, that this is unacceptable.

September 10, 2018

Horse 2461 - 7Books: The World According To Clarkson, Jeremy Clarkson

Given the more than 2000 posts here over the years it shouldn't be surprising to anyone that I like cars. I like watching motor racing, I like reading motoring magazines, l like looking at traffic, I like driving and I like driving even when I'm stuck in traffic. I like the styling, the technological aspect, the industrial design problems posed by trying to fit stuff inside a motor car and I like the dumb fun that comes front taking a road trip, more than I like the destination.
It should therefore also be of no surprise that a motoring book should make this list. What might be of surprise though, are the reasons why I should pick one by Jeremy Clarkson.

The first thing that you learn about Jeremy Clarkson from his motoring columns in the Sunday Times and his tweets on Twitter, is that Jeremy Clarkson on TopGear is kind of a caricature of himself. If you cut through the terribleness surrounding bad behavior and a media circus that has no desire to report truth whatever that may be, you learn that the thing that worries him the most is the welfare of his children. The second thing that you learn, and in takes a while to pick this up, is the reason why he got the gig on television in the first place; that is that he was a feature writer for a newspaper and was given ample time to breathe as a writer.

A normal newspaper columnist will start out as a pavement runner, visiting all of the boring places and doing the grunt work of journalism. They will attend council meetings, court cases, accidents, sporting events and everywhere that the newspaper needs a pair of eyes and a pen. Clarkson started out as a cadet journalist in Rotherham; which sounds to me to be less exciting than watching paint dry but not quite as boring as waiting for it to peel. I've seen this in my local newspaper, that a lot of the job must involve meeting a lot of grumpy people who are grumpy over really petty and insanely small things (but not in their eyes) and taking photographs of those same people looking grumpy and/or pointing at things while looking grumpy.
Exactly how Clarkson made the leap from the tedium of provincial news to a national newspaper is unknown to me but it must have given him the necessary skills via osmosis of how to write copy and make a story which actually only deserves fifty words, run out to fifteen hundred. As someone who might have had the nascent skills to be a journalist had I been born fifty years earlier, I appreciate the skills on display where a small thing is spun into a larger thread upon a spinning wheel.

All of this by way of introduction is instructive as to why have put one of Jeremy Clarkson's books on this list. Clarkson is first and foremost a journalist who happens to have specialised  in motoring writing. As a motoring writer,  he spends surprisingly little time writing about motor cars but rather spends more time telling stories. The truth is that it is mostly impossible to convey how a car feels to drive and it's going to be immensely subjective anyway. It is also incredibly boring to most people to read about statistics like power, torque and 0-60 times, unless you are something of a nerd.
Clarkson likes to feign a kind of ignorance when it comes to anything technical despite being in the business of doing motoring journalism for more than two decades. You'll frequently read the words "horsepowers" and "torques" before he might launch into a description of a Short And Long Arm Suspension system that some German marque has installed on their latest alphanumerically named luxobarge.
What Clarkson does best is torture metaphors to the point of breaking, makes hyperbole sit up and beg, and runs around waving the banner of old cobblers. At its heart, that's what the majority of motoring writing is - a fully palletised, packed and ticketed, barcoded, addressed, and containerised, load of cobblers. This is perfectly acceptable for a motoring column but would be inappropriate in other subject areas.*

Given that Clarkson does write a load of cobblers (and he's aware that he mostly writes a load of old cobblers), that should justifiably invalidate him from this list; except it doesn't. The biggest thing that Clarkson taught me as a writer (albeit one who primarily writes for my own amusement) is that there is a distinct rhythm and beat to middle to long form journalism. Just like the majority of Hollywood films are basically 90 minute four act yonkomas, a fifteen hundred word column comes with an establishment paragraph, stumbles its way through a number of paragraphs while collecting plot tokens, before cashing them in for a payoff am the end which is almost always flat. There is also a distinct turning point in a piece where you know that the payoff is coming.

The truth is that I often disagree with Jeremy Clarkson politically, I find some of his analogies needlessly crass, and I think that his columns dwell far too much in the realm of supercars which normal people will never own (though given that they appear in the Sunday Times, which is primarily written for "the City", then this is understandable) but the fact remains he is very good at the craft of journalism; which is why TopGear on with Clarkson, Hammond and May was so successful - they all were.

I know that this isn't specific to Jeremy Clarkson's books but they just happen to be the ones that I own the most of this type, that the idea of collating what are stand alone pieces into a book is viable. Granted that every book of newspaper comics is this very same thing and the transcripts of Clarke and Dawe are also this same thing and even Shaun Micallef's book "Smithereens" is even more fragmented but is this very same thing, this at least shows me that if I ever decide to publish these ramblings, then the format is not unfamiliar. The inclusion of this book is probably more to do with the inclusion of a type of book but in this particular instance, form is function.

*I'm looking at you Miranda Devine. You are a bad political opinion writer but might be all right as a motoring writer.

September 07, 2018

Horse 2460 - 7Books: Why I Write, George Orwell

There is something of a literary joke that nobody has actually read 1984 by George Orwell. This even found its way onto an episode of QI, where the klaxons came out for someone who answered that they had read it. I have read it and I think that it is doubleplusaverage.
There is something to be said about the pieces of popular culture that come into a mind during the years of adolescence, as they seem to make more of a lasting impact on an individual. My first encounter with 1984 happened in Year 10 when in English class, we were reading a novel which I had an almost visceral reaction to; so I looked at the reading list from the Department Of Education and found that the English Department's storeroom had a full 130 whole grade set of copies and so I asked if I could borrow one. That year, I ended up answering the final exam questions in the School Certificate as the only student in our grade who had read this book. As a 16 year old, I had read quite a few dystopian novels; so this was well within my wheelhouse.
Over the course of the following summer, I ended up reading Animal Farm, The Road To Wigan Pier, and Keep The Aspidistra Flying and although they're all fine, none of them made as much impact on my brain as Orwell's essays.

During the 1990s, Australia at both Federal and State level was busily actively tearing down and destroying all of the public institutions that were profitable, so that they could be sold off and privatised. We now live in the legacy of twenty years of almost criminal activity from governments and the terrible thing is that those institutions will never be put back into public hands.
It was in that economic climate that I read a lot of Orwell's essays and while books like 1984 and Animal Farm deal with the oppressive effects of totalitarianism (because he was looking out from the sceptered isle at both Fascism and Soviet Communism), I was looking at the other end of the welfare state and seeing a different set of people claiming the spoils of governance, except this time they were unelected.
Orwell had lived through the era of late imperialism with people like Colonel Blimp, then seen authoritarian answers arise to solve the problems of a continent in disarray. Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were the embodiment of those answers but by the time I was becoming politically aware, Germany had reunified, the Iron Curtain had been drawn back, Gorbachev, Glasnost and Perestroika had been and gone, and Boris Yeltsin was busily drinking himself to death, along with the remnants of the old regime. Once the Iron Curtain had been drawn back, the ghosts of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin were beginning to be chased away with a little bit of illumination.

People who have read Animal Farm and 1984 might have had the impression that Orwell hated the state. This is probably in ignorance though, as Orwell himself was an employee of the state broadcaster, the BBC. The thing that you take away from his essays like The Lion And The Unicorn, A Hanging, Why I Write and whatnot, is that Orwell was in fact a socialist. I think that the basic question which is driving Orwell in many of his essays, is if it is possible to spend millions of pounds on blowing people up, destroying people's houses, and killing civilians who would have otherwise preferred to go about with their daily lives in noble mundanity, then why wouldn't it be possible to win the peace after the war by spending millions of pounds collectively improving people's lives?
The central questions of economics are: What to produce? How much to produce? How to produce? For whom do you produce? Who decides what to produce and for whom? Why are we producing? Orwell doesn't answer any of these questions but he is concerned about the people with power who get to decide these things and make policy decisions. Orwell's socialism is obvious and he doesn't try to disguise it even an iota.

But the thing that Orwell does that is really interesting, is as a writer, he questions the very medium and process which he is engaged in. In 1984 but especially in Why I Write, he makes a point of using language as a weapon against language which has already been weaponised  in propaganda and which in a lot of cases has been left to wither through laziness of people. Viewed chronologically, there's kind of a hint that this might show up in future in Keep The Aspidistra Flying which was written on the other side of the Second World War to 1984.

My teenage brain in the 1990s, was taking in the effects of state communism falling apart in front of my eyes and so I was never going to be as socialist in outlook as Orwell. I was working with new information that he couldn't have conceived of and I kind of like a lot of the things that capitalism brings. I was also taking in lessons about what language was being made to do and for what purposes; maybe that's something which a high school English class should have done but we were mired in looking for motifs and themes in fiction, which is all fine I suppose but I think I'd prefer to know if the wool is being pulled over my eyes rather than exploring its texture.
I think that Orwell's essays in particular were like someone dragging a three tine cultivator through my brain. I'm sure that the seeds and weeds that would eventually lodge in there and take root but the ground was fertile. Orwell did more to shape my political outlook than anyone else and he did so by breaking apart politics' biggest tool, so that I could put it back together for myself.

September 02, 2018

Horse 2459 - The Festival Of The Thirsty Knife - 2018 - It's Actually Pretty Normal

If you've been watching Australian politics recently, you would have noticed that we have had a change in Prime Ministership, for no real sensible reason other than those based in revenge, ambition and survival. The thing that triggered off this particular leadership spill was that when Malcolm Turnbull ousted Tony Abbott back in 2015, he did so citing that Abbott had lost 30 Newspolls as preferred Prime Minster; when that completely arbitrary statistic arrived again and after the window had opened for a normal House of Representatives and half-Senate election arrived on the 4th of August, the spill motion arrived within three weeks.

There have also been suggestions flying around that somehow democracy in Australia is broken. Last time I checked, democracy was doing fine. If the metric of the longest continuously operating parliaments with no breaks is a measure of the stability of democracy, then Australia has the oldest five with New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland all sitting continuously since 1855, 1855, 1856, 1856 and 1859 respectively.

People have also suggested that if democracy itself isn't broken, then maybe politics is. Again, the truth is somewhat different. A Premier or Prime Minister's tenure ends, at the exact second that either the people collectively vote them out of office, or the members of the parliament hold a successful vote of no confidence, or they lose the confidence of their own party. What we saw in the case of Malcolm Turnbull was the last of those three.

Malcolm Turnbull's deposition from office, was the answer to one of the late and great British Labour politician Tony Benn's questions to ask of power and powerful people:
What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you exercise it?
To whom are you accountable?
How can we get rid of you?

What we saw was the party getting rid of Malcolm Turnbull. Say what you like about democracy and politics, the fact that he was gotten rid of, is evidence that they are both in rude health and are alive and kicking.

Perhaps what people object to is some bizarre notion that they didn't elect Scott Morrison in as Prime Minister. Again, in a parliamentary democracy where we never elect the Prime Minister or Premier but they are appointed as leader of the party or group or coalition with the majority of members on the floor of the chamber which controls the purse, the notion is idiotic.

People remember that the last Prime Minister to lead a party to several terms of office, from one election cycle to another was John Howard, and while that hasn't happened since, they tend to forget that Australia periodically goes through periods of calm which is immediately followed with turbulence. People also seem to have this strange ability to telescope memory into a shorter distance that it actually is. John Howard lost his seat of Bennelong in the 2007 election which was 11 years ago; yet the commentariat seems to be acting like a herd of sheep, running around aimlessly.
If John Howard is your starting point, then the number of Prime Ministers that you have in a ten year period going forward, is six. If Scott Morrison is your starting point, then the number of Prime Ministers that you have in a ten year period going backward, is still six.
Six is not the most number of Australian Prime Ministers that we've have in a ten year period; in fact we've had more on multiple occasions.

From 01-01-1901 to 01-01-1911:
Barton, Deakin, Watson, Reid, Deakin, Fisher, Deakin, Fisher - Eight

From 06-04-1939 to 06-04-1949:
Lyons, Page, Menzies, Fadden, Curtin, Forde, Chifley - Seven

From 25-01-1966 to 25-01-1976:
Menzies, Holt, McEwan, Gorton, McMahon, Whitlam, Fraser - Seven

Since 1901 we have had 30 Prime Ministers, lasting on average for 3.9 years or an average of  2.5 Prime Minister per decade. These numbers look terrible in the here and now but in the grand scheme of Westminster parliaments, they almost look docile.

If we assume that the House of Commons has the traditional starting point of 1721, where the First Lord of the Treasury usually and unofficially held the status of Prime Minister of State, then the United Kingdom has had 60 Prime Ministers, lasting on average for 4.2 years or an average of  2.02 Prime Minister per decade.
The United Kingdom though has been through a more turbulent time and they can beat Australia's record of eight Prime Ministers in a decade.

From 19-04-1825 to 19-04-1835:
Jenkinson, Canning, Robinson, Wellesley, Grey, Lamb, Wellesley, Peel, Lamb - Nine

Australian domestic politics turns up the crazy a notch; with a Victorian Premier lasting on average for just 2.43 years or an average of  4.1 Premiers per decade. New South Wales fares not much better with a New South Welsh Premier lasting on average for 2.53 years or an average of  3.95 Premiers per decade.
New South Wales though can beat the record of nine, with the period right at the beginning of responsible government in the state, from 1856.

From 24-08-1856 to 24-08-1866:
Donaldson, Cowper, Parker, Cowper, Forster, Robertson, Cowper, Martin, Cowper, Martin - Ten

We can even do better than the record of Frankie Forde in terms of shortest tenure of a premier. Forde was Primer Minister for seven days following the death of John Curtin but George Fuller's first tilt at the Premiership of News South Wales last just seven hours.
Labor Premier John Storey who was Premier died on 5th October 1921 and was replaced by James Dooley. Dooley's Government lost a motion of no confidence and George Fuller ran up Macquarie Street to ask the Governor to install his Nationalist Party as the new government. That didn't last very long and Fuller himself had to give up the Premiership that evening after only seven hours, after losing another motion of no confidence and Dooley returned to office.

If we compare Australia to the six states and the UK and Canada, what we find is that the Australian Prime Minstership is actually more stable than all the states. It is less stable than the UK or Canada; but I can't find any particular reason why that should or shouldn't be the case. It isn't related to term length since the states have longer terms than the Federal Government does but all turn over Premiers more often.

Vic - 2.4yrs, 4.1/dec
SA - 2.4yrs, 4.0/dec
NSW - 2.5yrs, 3.9/dec
Tas - 2.9yrs, 3.4/dec
Qld - 3.3yrs, 3.0/dec
WA - 3.7yrs, 2.6/dec
Aus - 3.9yrs, 2.5/dec
UK - 4.9yrs, 2.0/dec
Can - 5.3yrs, 0.8/dec

Australia as a nation actually appears to be somewhere near the middle when if comes to replacing the leader of government. This is the general summary for average tenure and the average number of premiers in any given decade.

I think that it's only because we are in the moment that we think that this is some terrible brave new world we've entered but really, this is the way that Westminster parliaments have always been. We even forget that at state level, we're even more likely to change leaders. This also doesn't take into consideration the Leaders of the Opposition either, which appear to be running at 2.68 years and 3.73 per decade.

This period of time is not abnormal; it isn't even all that unexpected. There will almost certainly be an election before May 2019 and this change of leadership, is simply a case of the Liberal Party trying to make themselves more saleable to the public.