October 31, 2018

Horse 2484 - The Scariest Thing This Hallowe'en

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 30, 2018

October 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 25, 2018

Horse 2481 - Too Racist, Even For The Wingnuts

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 20, 2018

Horse 2479 - Wentworth: The Immovable Blue Sapphire

Thanks to the Festival Of The Thirsty Knife of 2018 which saw the 30th Prime Minister of Australia knifed in the back and removed from office, Malcolm Turnbull's subsequent resignation of his seat in parliament has triggered a by-election.
On radio 2GB, Alan Jones went on an almost breathless rant for the entirety of my bus ride from the City to Mosman yesterday, in which he berated the people of the Division Of Wentworth and told them off, saying that unless they voted in the Liberal Party candidate, then the rest of Australia would hate them. If they vote for Dr Kerryn Phelps who is running as an independent then that would be very bad indeed and if they did the unthinkable and vote in either the Green or Labor candidate, then they would be damaging democracy itself despite doing so through the ballot box.
I personally think that either Dr Kerryn Phelps or the Liberal Party candidate David Sharma will be elected and we're probably going to go to the polls in a general election in about March or April next year. Dr Phelps is still broadly speaking a mostly economically rightist candidate and I don't think would join a motion of no confidence in the government despite the wishes of the Australian public who by this stage are royally sick of it all.

This by-election looks very different to by-elections in days of yore. I don't think that I've seen quite the same level of desperation from the Daily Telegraph and The Australian, and talkback radio to quite the same degree before and this is probably because if a Liberal Party candidate doesn't win, then their majority of one on the floor of the House of Representatives is blown wide and the vultures start circling for a vote of no confidence and the threat of an early election. The general sentiment from the media that is obviously cheering for its team, is that team isn't trying hard enough and they have resigned themselves to the loss; as though this wasn't always up to the voters of the electorate anyway.

There is this phenomenon in American politics where the sitting president has either been voted out of office or has already served two terms and is no longer eligible to sit in the next one, called the "lame duck". Lame duck Presidents have the job of handing over the task of the administration of the nation to whoever the next person in the job is. We don't have that in Australia but it has been generally considered that since Malcolm Turnbull was knifed, that Scott Morrison was always on a hiding to nothing. The Morrison Ministry had various people resign their previous cabinet posts before it was assembled and ever since day one, it has kind of looked a bit of a shambles. This also hasn't been helped by their partners in the coalition, the National Party, having something of their own leadership sort of crisis, and ongoing issues such as the Nauru Government kicking out Medicenes Sans Frontiers is making them look even worse.
Despite all of this, the Treasurer Josh Frydenburg has been touting further cuts to company tax for small businesses, which is beginning to look like preelection bribery.

Former Prime Minister John Howard has been in the electorate of Wentworth trying to talk up the Liberal Party, former Liberal Party leader Doctor John Hewson has been trying to talk it down, as has Malcolm Turnbull's own son. Meanwhile the Daily Telegraph and The Australian is reporting about this by-election as though anyone who is disloyal to the Liberal Party is a traitor and should be hurled into the sea.

Apart from people going independent, the Division of Wentworth has never really changed hands since Federation. The worst result for any Liberal candidate was Malcolm Turnbull in 2004 who still 41% of first preferences and was easily driven to a majority in the two-party-preferred result. This is the 8th safest Liberal seat in the country, the richest electorate in the country and contains all 10 of the top 10 private residential property sales in the country.
This is a seat so dripping with blue blood that even stepping down and becoming a Member of Parliament is a distinct pay cut for anyone serious. I can't even imagine what possible universe that this seat would defect to Labor; so the worrying and wretching from the conservative media is just plain alarmist.
What Wentworth represents is like the St Edward's Sapphire which is set into the Imperial State Crown. It was supposedly taken from Edward The Confessor's ring when Edward's body was re-interred at Westminster Abbey in 1163 and the Division of Wentworth is as equally full of old money and prestige to the Liberal Party.
The Division of Wentworth is going nowhere; it certainly won't be turning red in a hurry.

October 18, 2018

Horse 2478 - The Possible Prime Minister, Member For Nowhere

A client of ours came with a bunch of paperwork so that we could do his 2018 Tax Return and the conversation came around to the by-election for the seat of Wentworth, which he will be voting in on Saturday, thanks to the Festival Of The Thirsty Knife 2018 which brought down former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
He expressed a discontent with politics in Australia and said that four of the last 6 Prime Ministers being knifed, serves to prove that democracy in Australia is broken. I disagreed and made the case that a Prime Minister's tenure ends exactly when they lose the confidence of the public, the party or the parliament and does not even extend one day beyond that; to which he agreed, before again reminding us both that the position of the Prime Minister isn't even found within the constitution at all.
I then posed the seemingly bizarre proposal that even after John Howard lost his own seat of Bennelong in 2007, he could have remained as Prime Minister if the Liberal-National Coalition had won a majority of seats in the 2007 election. After I walked him through my reasoning, he gave me a standing ovation because as a QC and someone who has appeared in the High Court of Australia, he was impressed that I could ask stupid questions of the constitution and arrive at improbale answers that are watertight legally.

John Howard lost his own seat of Bennelong in 2007, when for the first time since 1974, the people decided that they had had enough of him. Bennelong had been held by the Liberal Party since the seat's inception in 1949 and Howard's defeat which saw a 5.5% swing against him personally, was pretty close to the 5.4% swing on a nationwide basis.
Let's pretend though that John Howard lost the seat of Bennelong but the Coalition was returned to power. We'll call it 86 seats to 61 seats, which meant that his seat was the only seat changing hands. How would he remain as Prime Minister?

As I said, the "Prime Minister," is not an official position within the constitution and so as far as the constitution is concerned, it does not exist.
Australia has a Westminster system of parliament and as such, there is no direct election of the executive. Both the United States and France elect a President who then appoints the executive but in Australia and indeed other Westminster parliaments, the executive is appointed from within the governing party or coalition or mish-mash by convention only, with the express appointment of the monarch or their representative, the Governor-General.
Specifically in Australia, this power to make appointments to be ministers of the Crown, is contained within Section 64 of the Constitution:

The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.
- Section 64, Constitution of Australia Act (1900)

What this means in real terms is that the Prime Minister of the day, who is not even mentioned in the Constitution, is themself an appointment by the Governor-General. The Prime Minister who is in reality head of the Cabinet and minister without portfolio (except when they have a portfolio), will then make suggestions to the Governor-General; who then makes further appointments under Section 64.

However this is not the whole story. The rest of the section goes on to say:

After the first general election no Minister of State shall hold office for a longer period than three months unless he is or becomes a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.
- Section 64, Constitution of Australia Act (1900)

The implication is that you can have a minister of the Crown (of which the Prime Minister is minister without portfolio) even thought they aren't in parliament.

This was of course blatantly obvious in 1900 when Australia needed to form an opening Parliament before a general election had taken place.  The then Governor-General John Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun, appointed Sir William Lyne who was at the time the Premier of New South Wales to be Australia's first Prime Minister because New South Wales and that followed the Canadian convention from 1867 when they formed their first parliament. Lyne however, was previously an anti-federation in stance and so pro-federation politicians including Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin managed to convince Mr Hope that someone who actually believed in the idea of the Commonwealth might be a good candidate to have as head of the executive of the nation.
The next really weird series of events where Section 64 comes into play was with the appointment of John Gorton as Prime Minister.

John McEwen had taken over from Harold Holt after Holt had disappeared off the coast of Portsea in 1967. McEwen's time as Prime Minister was turbulent and eventually the Liberal Party pulled together enough of it's own internal caucus to depose McEwen and install John Gorton as Prime Minister. The thing was, Gorton was a Senator.
As there is no official position within the constitution called the "Prime Minister," there are also no rules that say that they have to come from the House of Representatives. The reason why Prime Ministers come from the House of Representatives by convention is that it is the House of Representatives where the budget comes from.  Gorton resigned his position as Senator for Victoria on 1 February 1968; to contest the seat of Higgins which had been newly vacated thanks to the disappearance of Harold Holt.
Technically from 1st Feb 1968 until the by-election on 24th Feb 1968, John Gorton was Prime Minister of Australia despite not having a seat in parliament; which is only 23 days and well within the time frame of three months as specified in Section 64. This is where the John Howard question gets answered.

If the Coalition had won the 2007 election but Howard lost his own seat, then technically Michael Jeffery could have appointed him as Prime Minister and it still would have been legal provided that Howard then won some by-election in the House of Representatives or was appointed as a Senator; in both cases someone would need to step aside even though they were freshly elected.
There would have been nothing to prevent Senator John Howard from being Prime Minister if another Liberal Senator had stood aside because there is no official position within the constitution called the "Prime Minister".

There might be some particular reason for that course of events which I can not currently forsee in the case of Australia but if Australia was embroiled in some Brexit like negotiations or perhaps another period of total war, then it might justify this kind of course of action. Ultimately the position of Prime Minister which is actually at the call of the Governor-General anyway, is itself a useful piece of legal fiction which is designed to increase stability; which is pretty ironic given that Australia periodically goes through patches of stabbing Prime Ministers in the back, to get rid of them.

October 17, 2018

Horse 2477 - Read The Book Because You Can't Fool Teachers

If this is October then it must be examination season in Australia.  Largely because I live in a post-industrial society and partly because the sorts of people who happen to be the most interesting on social media in my opinion are academics and people who teach for a living (the kinds of people who smash big ideas into smaller chunks in order to fit them through the windows to people's souls and through the small inlet vents on the sides of people's heads), the last quarter of the year on my social media feed is replete with the perennial complaint that students are lazy and don't want to read the course material. I personally don't understand that mentality because I will read things even if they are mind numbingly boring.
The fact that students are lazy is a subset of the more general observation that people are lazy. This is congruous to one of Newton's laws of motion that says that objects are lazy and will keep on doing what they are already doing unless they are acted on by a sufficiently large enough force. Also because students are lazy, they will tend to want to get out of doing the homework and reading the course materials, which in a literature class means reading literature, in a history class means reading history and in a politics class means reading political theory. This also goes for the sciences and maths dependent subjects where you really need to do the grunt work or else be found out really quickly.
I am no longer in formal education but I am still curious enough to want to read the course material. Consequently, through sheer osmosis I have acquired a bunch of information (not necessarily knowledge because let's face it, I know very little about the world) and can do that most useful of skills that students think that they can get away with and that is write a bunch of rubbish and fill out word counts. Of course this is no substitute for actual study but I intend to prove by demonstration, the method by which students who have obviously not read the course materials think that they can get away with it.

The opening section (like the paragraphs above) will start out with some kind of explanatory story because I am aware that if you dear reader, arrive at a piece of writing cold, then you will have nothing to hang it on. The opening story is at best tenuously related to the subject at hand, at second best adjacent and frequently kind of only a bit related so that I have something to shoe horn the rest of the piece into.
Although there have been pieces that are tremendously well researched, the vast majority are not and are so laden with opinion that they almost buckle under the weight of nonsense that they are forced to carry. The last sentence of the opening paragraph is usually either the fluffy strip upon which the rest of the piece is velcroed to, or perhaps the lamp which is where I have stolen the lampshade from. Also quite often, I will want to bury the lede because if you leave those things lying around, someone might trip over and see what's hiding under the skirting covers.

On the subject of research, it is the second paragraph which is where facts and figures are often kept; in order to give a sense of credibility and authority to the piece. If there is no research (and let's face it, there often isn't) then the second section is where all of the nonsense from which the great steaming mound comes from.
A great steaming mound of poop gives off very obvious airs.
It is an absolutely essential skill of a writer to sound authoritative and decisive even if and especially if you have no idea what you are talking about. This is something that news outlets and trashmedia does exceptionally well. If you have an opinion that you want to masquerade as fact, then you need to dress it up in the appropriate clothes. That old proverb that says that you shouldn't put lipstick on a pig is complete nonsense because the pig likes it and besides which, who doesn't like having the flashiest pig in show?
If you are charged with writing about a literary work which you clearly haven't read, then either you had better do an excellent job at synthesizing the Cliff Notes or Spark Notes, or you may as well not bother. Lots of people have engaged in this game thousands of times over and they already know what the art of writing nonsense and rubbish looks like because they too have already done so. The laziest option is simply to have read the material in the first place and then write your several thousand words of rubbish.

If you have made it this far, then you will have usually exhausted all of your facts and figures and you should realise that you are far short of whatever word count target you are aiming for. This is where the art of generating rubbish comes up into its own. People in casual conversation might call this 'crapping on' about stuff but mere crapping on is not going to get the task done. We need some proper weapons grade guff. We need the kind of filler that would be shown in the Tate Modern for the audacity of its rubbishosity. We need the kind of bullshit that is made by a proper artist.
To this end you have more than a few colours in your palette of poop. There is the tortured metaphor which is like a pus filled boil which never runs out. Keep on flogging that dead horse. Make a whip of cords and put it in a Group Three race for dead horses and keep on flogging that dead horse to victory. Put it up for auction at the dead horse sales, where other owners and trainers looking for zombie horses and dead horses will pay inflated prices in case it makes a good stud, and flog it there. There is the rule of three which says that anything sounds convincing if you make three connected statements. Then there is proof by denying the opposite; which a decent artist with a palette of poop should guess, is restating a previous point in the negative and then arguing why it can not possibly be.

The thing that you should eventually realise dear reader is that your lecturers and tutors, your teachers and schoolmasters have themselves been through what you're trying to do before you even thought of and they also have a wealth of experience that they can draw upon, to see your pork barrelling for what it is. What makes you think that you can bluff your way past paid professionals into thinking that your hastily prepared spam dish is actually a steak croquembouche. Of course I've got no idea what that is either and it might sound like it could be real but just try and pass off fried spam at the Cordon Bleu as Steak Croquembouche and see how far that gets you.

The very end of a document should almost always leave you with the conclusion stated and/or should end on a weak joke. It has long been a staple of children's television and even some serious drama (where there is a definite dénouement) that everyone must be laughing as you enter the closing credits. The closing joke is always terrible and if it was made in the real world, it would either be met with groans (or perhaps someone might come at you with the whip that they've been flogging that dead horse with (this is a call back (and this is a third level deviation))).
Of course the most sensible course of action would have been to have just read the book, or the paper, or the source material, in the first place. One of the great advantages of actually bothering to read the thing that you were supposed to have read is that if you read a lot of stuff, you can synthesize a whole bunch of stuff into freshly manufactured guff. To steal from one place is to plagiarise but to steal from many places is to do research. If you combine enough stuff that you've read, you will break the butterfly upon the wheel and your teachers and the people marking your work will be looking for hidden references. That's one of the great things about doing a literature, politics or some other human it is a course which doesn't have an air of authority conferred on it by the use of numbers: provided you can manufacture high quality guff and have read the material, you should be able to do all right but you still won’t be able to hide the fact that you never read the book; so just read the book.

October 15, 2018

Horse 2476 - I Drove A Supercar And I Liked It

It is something of a trope that whenever any of our clients acquire a new car that they want to brag about, that my boss will invariably refer the conversation to me as I have a liking for the automotive arts. One of the joys of getting a new car if you happen to have a surfeit of shillings is that you can show it off to other enthusiasts. This has meant that I have driven cars that I otherwise would have never have set foot in and the latest of this ilk was an Audi R8.

As someone who pinches pennies so hard that they scream, I neither have the means nor the inclination to buy a low slung sports car. My ideal car is a small hatchback because I like both the smallness and the utility of the thing. During the buying process of our current car, in which we very happily settled on a Mazda 2 my wife and I looked at several vehicles and I ended up with my second favourite choice (I would have preferred a Ford Fiesta), and the offering from the Volkswagen-Audi Group were the uninspiring Polo and the Audi A1 which retailed for twice the sticker price of the Mazda that we got. Consequently, the amount of time that I'd spent if anything built by VAG, was nil; so I had precisely zero experience to comparable the R8 to.

To sit in the R8 is a confused sensation. My expectation before I'd stepped into the car was that because it was a high end sports car, that it would be a spartan affair but nothing could be further from the truth. The R8 is Audi's weapon in GT3 racing and so there is a kind of attempt in the cabin styling to let you know that one of this car's cousins is used in anger, with accents in what appears to be brushed aluminum but the leather seats feel more like the wingbacks at the Cricketers' Arms and as if you need to be holding a copy of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, have a cat sitting in your lap and have a pint of Old Speckled Hen next to you. It is a place to be but totally unlike being in a sports car.
There was a big stupid looking sat-nav/infotainment screen in the centre console; which is common with most new  cars now but at least it wasn't sticking up proud of the dashboard. To be totally honest, I don't want a gazillion options; all I want is an AM/FM/DAB+ radio with an aux plug. I don't need Bluetooth/Wi-Fi/64-bit Cheese Waffle or whatever  else options that they try to sell you because I really don't care.
As for driving it? That's a completely different experience altogether.

The steering wheel is sculpted to look like a full on racing machine but is slightly oversized to remind you of a past that never was. I have no idea if the accelerator is fly by wire or not but the springs give you a very nice sensation to let you know that you are in control of a very powerful machine.
When you do depress the accelerator pedal the red level wants to draw its arc with the sensitivity of a seismograph; which is quite deliberate because sitting behind you is an earthquake generator. If you wanted to commit suicide by snapping your neck, then this would be the car to do it in. Even on a wet road in Sydney, all of the horsies wanted to be unleashed from the 5.2L V10 behind you and they bit the tarmac very effectively thanks to Audi's Quattro four-wheel-drive system.
I lament not having a clutch pedal and I was confused by the 7-speed S-tronic dual clutch gearbox. I grew up in an era when the three gears in the Holden Tri-matic was enough, found that 5 speeds in my Ka was pure joy and where 6 speeds in my Mazda is too many. 7 gears is overkill. I shudder to think what the 10-speed box in a Ford Mustang would be like.

I was really surprised at how responsive this car was. It still felt big and cumbersome like a Falcon and was a little reminiscent of driving an old XB Coupe due to the claustrophobia that not having very much glass behind you induces but the steering was communicative and the car didn't suffer from the same kind of pitchiness that a Toyota 86 gives you. Mostly this is because the car weighs less than the Nissan Skyline R31 that I had; so that means that it isn't fighting the laws of physics.
It is however fighting the laws of common sense. At a price tag of more than $392,000, the Audi R8 is not remotely sensible. Having said that, it is slightly less not remotely sensible than the Lamborghini Hurracan, with which it shares a drivetrain. The chap who let me drive this said that he was tired of driving an eyebleed green Hurracan because of all the looks that he got and that the silver Audi R8 was far more anonymous in traffic. That I think is the point of this car. It is for someone who wants to drive an almost race car on the road but the only thing that they want other people to look at is a couple of red lights disappearing into the distance. Mind you, if I had a lazy 300-odd thousand dollars lying about that I wanted to spend on race car, I'd but an actual race car.

I felt a little sad after driving this car. I knew deep down that this probably will be the most expensive car that I will ever get to drive in my lifetime and the fastest that I got to drive it at was a pathetic 100km/h. This is a car which is designed to burn down the autobahn and not for pootling about in the suburbs of Sydney. Maybe you could use it at Eastern Creek but apart from that, I don't see how you could use this car properly without PC Plod having lots of very stern words with you. The argument for driving an Audi A1 makes so much more sense to me; as does a Volkswagen Polo but that car is so uninspiring it isn't funny. Ironically, driving an Audi R8 makes me appreciate my wee ickle Mazda 2 a lot more and given the choice on an Audi R8 or nineteen Mazda 2s, I think I'd have the latter.

October 13, 2018

Horse 2475 - We Don't Really Care About Horse Racing Except For That One Time When We Do - or - Alan Jones Bullying Women Memorial Trophy

Thanks to the incredible publicity generated by veteran radio presenter Alan Jones and the horrible bullying by him of the Premier and the Director of the Opera House Trust, there is a horse race on today which has a name which I don't care about and will instead refer to as the "Alan Jones Bullying Women Memorial Trophy". I have no idea where the Alan Jones Bullying Women Memorial Trophy is being held; nor do I know over what distance; nor do I know what time it begins; nor do I care to find out any of these things.
Everything about this whole incident perfectly embodies the city of Sydney perfectly. The Sydney Opera House came in more than eleven times over budget, was finished more than fifteen years after the initial expected completion date, and was ultimately paid for with the institution of the Sydney Opera House Lottery. Complaining about projecting gambling advertisements on a thing which was overly expensive and late and doesn't do the job that it was intended to do and which was paid for with gambling revenues, seems strangely fitting to me. It is especially weird that most of the people complaining about adverts being projected onto the side of the Sydney Opera House, usually can not watch things inside said building because the price of tickets is too much.
What I do know is that by the end of today, the Alan Jones Bullying Women Memorial Trophy will have been won by some Dobbin, Nellie, Billy, Silver, Tonto, or Trigger, and by Monday morning, nobody will give it a second thought ever again.

I don't know who dreamt up the Alan Jones Bullying Women Memorial Trophy but I can tell you that they absolutely definitely came Sydney. This is a city which has less culture than a pot of yoghurt and where the people who work in big blue glass towers who have no qualms charging fees to dead people for financial advice, think it's perfectly acceptable to try and buy some degree of prestige that apparently comes from a horse race. Of course Macquarie Street is more than willing to allow such a thing it means that they get their cut from gambling revenues. New South Wales is the world's champion when it comes to extracting the money that would have been used to put food on people's tables, and throwing it into the hands of licenced  one armed bandits.

It also speaks volumes about Sydney as a city because the theory is that you can get prestige by just buying it. The first few editions of the Olympic Games were so terrible that by 1904 it was being considered to be abandoned, the FIFA World Cup was just another football tournament until the earthquakes in Chile in 1962 galvanised the world's support and it got a superstar in Pelé, and the Superbowl was only wildly successful from the get go because of the immense animosity between the two confederations.
Australians don't really care about horse racing. The only reason that the Melbourne Cup has the mystique and aura that it does is because back in 1930 when everyone was really sad because they'd lost their jobs (it was the Great Depression), a horse called Phar Lap won the race and he happened to be the favourite, so a lot of people won a little bit. People who have migrated to Australia might remember who won the Melbourne Cup in the year that they arrived but beyond that, nobody really cares that much.

The truth is that most Australians honestly couldn't care about horse racing except for that one Tuesday in November when suddenly everyone in the country becomes an expert on the fillies for one afternoon and even then because there's the vague possibility that your office might give you free beer and wine. I consider it a win on the Melbourne Cup if I happen to get free sandwiches from the office next door.
The truth is that most Australians who do want to throw their bread money down the toilet, are more likely to do it at the local RSL club or increasingly at online sports betting websites because they can now bet on football matches. If there's one thing that Australians do love, its having a punt on the footy before they look at too many adverts for VB, Carlton Draught, Sportsbet, Bet 365, Ladbrokes, Bundaberg Rum, and Jim Beam, before engaging in a spot of domestic violence (which by the way actually does spike immediately after footy matches and especially after the Grand Final).

More generally I really don't see horse racing as serving any other purpose apart from gambling. I suppose that there is a lot of skill in breeding, training, and riding horses, but I can't think what other purpose it's for. I realise  that I am being incredibly hypocritical because I like motor racing which is an even greater waste of money and the only real things to be won are bragging rights but that's more in the spirit of what sport is.

October 11, 2018

Horse 2474 - As Slow As A Wet Weekday In Sydney

For the last decade and a half, I have worked in the North Shore/Northern Beaches suburb of Mosman. The Insanic Kingdom of Mosman which is local government area that contains just one suburb refuses to join either North Sydney Council or Manly Council and is very proud of itself. It also retains the names of two intersections that remind you of a long since removed piece of infrastructure; namely the tram network. Both Mosman Junction and Spit Junction are named for tram junctions that no longer exist and in the case of Spit Junction, the name moved from the tram junction to what used to be called Trafalgar Square, which is no longer a square.
From Balmoral Beach, trams would pass along Military Road and then through both Mosman Junction and Spit Junction, through Cremorne Junction and finally through North Sydney and down Miller Street and would cross a viaduct to put the trams on what now are lanes 7 and 8 of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Those things were torn out by the NSW State Government in the 1950s and 60s and I as a commuter rue that decision more than half a century later.
In place of the tram network, we got Sydney's first open air cathedral to the motor car, the Warringah Expressway, and although I use it ten times a week, I think that I would have preferred a better public transport solution like a proper underground railway which would have taken traffic off the roads entirely. As it is, it is what it is, and evermore shall be so.

Even in the 1920s when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was being built, the value of houses was far higher than the western suburbs of Sydney. When the Bridge was finished, this opened up the North Shore but the value of houses still remained higher. The problem was that the Sydney Harbour Bridge sat on a national highway which meant that that traffic went straight through the middle of North Sydney. Eventually the people with the most money had had enough and were able to lobby the NSW State Government to fix their traffic woes rather than those of people living in the western suburbs.
During the 1950s and 1960s while the NSW State Government was busy tearing out all of the trams, building expressways looked like the way of the future as though there was never going to be any other tomorrow than what sci-fi writers of the day predicted. Unlike Canberra though, which had always been designed for the motor car, Sydney was not anything like a remotely planned city and just kind of happened; so trying to install any piece of infrastructure, let alone a multi-lane expressway, meant that something had to go and that thing which had to go was lots of people's houses.
It wiped out something in the order of about sixteen thousand houses, which at first sounds implausible until you realise that at its widest point there are 12 lanes of traffic and it runs from Milsons Point all the way to Cammeray as a mostly unorganised behemoth. It absolutely pales in comparison to The San Diego Expressway as that runs through southern Los Angeles but it was easily the widest piece of road in Australia when it opened and I think has only very recently been overtaken by the M1 in Brisbane.
The really idiotic thing is that instead of connecting traffic from the Harbour Bridge back up to the Pacific Highway, for a long time as sections scraped away at more houses while the expressway was under construction, it dumped traffic into random suburbs on the North Shore like Cammeray or Willoughby. In its current configuration which finally connects it up to the M2, it still looks like an unplanned kind of mess; which is exactly keeping in character with Sydney generally.

The train which I get from the western suburbs of Sydney to the city is nothing short of world class. Sydney is probably unique in having double deck suburban rail cars and apart from crowds at three city stations, the system is for the most part, a relatively calm way to travel.
From Town Hall Station I change for an M30 bus, or from Wynyard Station I change for a B1 bus; both of which hook under the Western Distributor and onto the southern approach to the Bridge but I could catch a train across to Milson’s Point and North Sydney and travel across the Bridge in complete calm.
In contrast, the Warringah Expressway is a twice daily snarling mess of red lights and tailbacks. It is officially speed limited to 80km/h which is fine northbound but seems like a cruel hoax southbound as traffic crawls along.

From the Harbour Bridge, the road falls before again climbing the hill to the top at Falcon Street. The Warringah Expressway on the short section that I travel on is very schizophrenic, with northbound traffic being very very different to southbound traffic. Northbound traffic becomes more orderly as cars find a way to exist the thing but southbound it is just a process of adding more and more traffic into only a few lanes. Going northbound, everyone is very polite to one another but heading southbound is an entirely different matter.
There are no tolls on northbound traffic across the Sydney Harbour Bridge but there are tolls on southbound traffic and this has a measurable sorting effect. The traffic heading southbound is actually made up of more expensive cars and this also means that there is a greater sense of self importance and self-entitlement in the drivers of those cars. The number of traffic accidents heading northbound is not quite 50% smaller than southbound and the biggest reason for accidents when you have traffic which all heads in the same direction, is people pulling in front of someone else without looking. This is further compounded by the fact that Lane 7 on the Bridge is a dedicated bus lane and people will pull out in front of buses without looking.
The thing about a bus that makes this particularly worrisome is that a bus is a big thing and basic physics should tell you that because big things are made of more stuff, they are harder to stop. A big thing that is harder to stop when faced with a car which has pulled out in front of it, can not defeat the laws of physics and so there are simply more accidents as a result.

Had NSW Surveyor-Generals John Bradfield’s original plan of a rail line up through the Northern Beaches been built and had the tram lines not been ripped out by short sighted governments of old, then the Warringah Expressway would not need to exist. The reason that it needs to exist now is because the Warringah Expressway exists and it’s too late to unbootstrap it. It’s an okay part of Sydney’s infrastructure I suppose but I would not have suggested as a design solution.

October 06, 2018

Horse 2473 - The SCOTUS Appointment System Is Utterly Terrible Because The US Constitution Is Bad

The appointment of Brett Kavanaugh as Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is one of the biggest horrorshows that I have seen in American politics. Not even the appointment of Neil Gorsuch back in April of last year caused anything like the ruckus which Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing has caused.
Of course this is actually somewhat by design of the Republican Party who deliberately refused to hear any confirmation hearings for anyone following the death of Antonin Scalia and US politics being the way that it is now, has been a perpetual revenge scorched earth festival ever since the end of the Nixon administration.

The basic problem is that the doctrine of separation of powers and checks and balances of the U.S. Government by keeping the three branches apart, in no way shape or form separates the political machines to install people into the various poisitons of the three branches of  the U.S. Government and when you have all the levers in the hands of the same operators, there are no checks and balances in reality.

Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution provides that:

He (the President) shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by law: but the Congress may by law vest the appointment of such inferior officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the courts of law, or in the heads of departments.
Article II, Section 2, Clause 2 of the US Constitution (1788)

The relevant bits of Section 2 have long been argued out but the qualifier of two-thirds of the Senate which is required to make treaties does not apply when appointing officers and judges and only a simple majority of Senators is needed. Since January 3 of 2017, the Republican Party has had 51 Senators on floor; which means that President Donald Trump has had more or less unfettered power to appoint people to the positions of officers and judges and hasn't had to face any intereference. The 115th United States Congress has basically acted like a rubber stamp.
I think that this is a terrible way to run government and in my not very well paid opinion, stems for the fact that the US Constitution is itself, awful.

The impression that I get from reading all 85 of the Federalist Papers is that John Jay was too sick to provide much by way of input, that James Madison is more concerned with the mechanics of the thing, and that Hamilton just really likes to write stuff. Hamilton writes like he's perpetually had twenty cups of coffee that day; which might in fact be true considering the cultural aversion to tea in the years immediately following the War Of Independence.

Hamilton makes it abundantly clear of the principles which he thinks that the new republic should be guided by but because he is a lawyer and not an engineer, he is too close to the law to realise that he is designing a system. That system when fully realised, is the result of a mashtun of compromises, which all look like they have as much vision to look at Washington as king in everything but name and parliament which has legislative power and nothing else. The so called separation of powers seems like a brilliant idea except for the fact that as soon as Washington leaves, the whole shebang immediately devolves into factionalism and the beginning of party machinery which effectively renders those separation of powers as a game that needs to be played. Washington warns of this in his farewell address, Adams is an ineffectual nincompoop who should have remained a lawyer and by 1800, which is just the fourth presidential election cycle, Jefferson, Adams, Burr and Hamilton are all playing politics, silly pants, nasty games, and in the case of Hamilton and Burr, actually pointing real non-metaphorical guns at each other.

Even so, Hamilton is a victim of the times and circumstances in which he finds himself and so as the principal architect of the new governmental system, he effectively wrote the instrument to put Washington in power and then gave what appears to be zero thought to the consequences. It is worth remembering that Washington was elected to be the first President and was unopposed for two whole cycles. The Constitution was from the outset, viewed as so incredibly flawed, faulty, and incompetent as a document, that 16 of 55 delegates wouldn't even sign off on it. I suspect that it is as a result of this walkout, the idea of the consent of two-thirds of the Senate arises because it just looks super convenient that 39 of 55 delegates who signed off on the document is just 2 over the bare minimum standard.

Let's start with those election cycles. An American President is installed for four years at a time. Up until 1945 that wasn't limited but by convention everyone only ran for two because presumably they followed Washington's example. When FDR came along and the world was thrown into the Second World War because the first one wasn't good enough, that convention was ignored.
The problem with four year terms is that four years is an eternity in politics. If you don't believe me then just think about what can happen between editions of the Olympic Games which are also held on a four year cycle. In between the Seoul Olympics of 1988 and the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, the Iron Curtain came down, both Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union ceased to exist and were succeeded by the various constituent countries as independent entities, and where there was once two Germanys there was now only one. Whilst it is true that other jurisdictions can have leaders that last for multiple terms which spill beyond a decade, that usually happens because of either stable politics or stable despotism. The United States has managed to create the impossible by combining both of these into a single office which might have been acceptable in 1789 when the US Constitution was adopted and they had George Washington in mind as a kind of benevolent yet doddery leader, but was hopelessly incompetent to deal with politics that had organized itself with proper political machinery.

The office of the President contains both the executive branch of government vested in a single person and the office of the commander in chief also vested in that same single person. I don't know how that can lead to anything other than political disaster except through the fact that the position is so powerful that the hope is that the individual who occupies the position is somehow magically benevolent and good spirited; therein lies the inherent problem.
When you have the executive vested in a single person you had better hope that they are benevolent and competent because if they are not, then bad governance follows. I just don't think that hope in an individual, especially when the motive which drives people to want to acquire power is to wield it, is the basis of any sane let alone good government. The whole idea of checks and balances sounds fine as a piece of rhetoric but in practice, it's as flimsy as a house make from tissue paper.

If you feed back the idea that you have a less than perfectly competent and benevolent leader who is also the commander in chief to things like governmental budgets, then you end up in ludicrous and ridiculous places. The Cold War was one of those instances where you had two superpowers locked in a really strange geopolitical dance where I think that the only thing that held back that incompetence and unbenevolence  was the threat of mutually assured destruction. There were no genuine checks and balances to speak of because if you are engaged in a war, either hot or cold, nobody is going to withhold budgets for the weapons of war.
Eisenhower warned of the military industrial complex in his farewell address, which says that even the commander in chief and the person in whom the executive of the nation is vested, was powerless to halt the tide of the creep of the military, and black and dark budgets. Kennedy who followed only did marginally better and was able to redirect part of the budget to the most visible make work scheme that he could think of. Yes, it cost twenty billion dollars to put twelve clowns on the moon but what it saved was the lives of possibly more than three billion people.

Not only do you have four year terms for which a President has been installed, it has been proven that getting rid of one is practically impossible except via the ballot box. It seems that the most effective way to remove a sitting President before a term is out, is death (and in a peculiarly American case, death by gunshot). Buchanan, Johnson, Harding, Nixon, Clinton and Trump, all would have either been removed by the parliamentary caucus if they'd been in a Westminster System, or in the case of Trump, never appointed in the first place.
It seems to me that a system which prides itself on having checks and balances was deliberately set up to be willfully blind in this regard from the outset.

To tell the truth, I like the mechanism of the Congress. Australia learned about the idea of equal representation of the states from the US Senate, the practice of appointing members from both sides of the political divide on various committees in the House and Senate is fundamentally a good idea, and the fact that the system is slow means that legislation which fundamentally alters things is not passed unless one party controls all the levers of power, which means to say that they already have the delegated democratic approval of the people to do so.
What is idiotic is the method of election of members.

Both the House and Senate have first past the post voting for single member districts. The latter of those results in a tendency towards two party politics as per Duverger's Law and the former merely reinforces that by ensuring that smaller groups never get elected. There are occasionally independents elected but the idea of a minor party will never hold much sway.
Australia solves this with Proportional Representation in the Senate and New Zealand and Germany both make use of a Mixed Member Proportional Representation System, so Germany's Bundestag has a host of different voices speaking into the parliament. In America, those voices have to join the existing party machines and that means that there is a distinct lack of transparency in the voting intentions of members generally.

The thing that her really been on display with the Senate confirmation hearing for Kavenaugh is that the lie that there actually is a separation of powers, exists. Appointments for the Supreme Court are made by the President on the advise and consent of the Senate. Judges up and down the country of the United States are already political appointments and in many cases by popular vote, the President is elected by the Electoral College and the Senate is made up of elected officials. The suggestion that you get a truly separate separation of powers is ludicrous in the light that every link in the chain except for the actual pick of Supreme Court judges is already political.
Second to that, one of the bigger reasons why people that they claim to have voted for Trump in 2016 was because they wanted to pick the Supreme Court judges by proxy. It also follows that one of the drivers of people to the polls in November is to elect Senators who will not give consent to a Trump nomination for the Supreme Court.

I don't think for a second think that Australia is a perfect democracy because if I was like Hamilton in 1788 and writing day and night like a mad thing, I would have built the lower house to also have proportional representation in multi member districts and I also like the rhythm of the slightly longer electoral cycles but the truth is that we had the benefit of another 110 years of looking at how constitutions functioned in practice before we set off on our own experiment of democracy. The one thing that Australia absolutely learned and this very much shows up in the fact that the Father Of Federation Henry Parkes was a lawyer just like Alexander Hamilton, is that the Supreme Court and indeed every court in the land should be separate entirely from the machinations of political wheels. We do not vote for judges in Australia, judges are not appointed by parliament, and they certainly do not need the approval of the parliament ever.

Judges in Australia are appointed by the bench itself and what this means is that they have a natural tendency to be nominally culturally conservative. Also, because the Australian Constitution merely spells out the rules under which the parliament operates, it means that judges in Australia do not have a power which Supreme Court judges have in the United States:

It is emphatically the duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret the rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Court must decide on the operation of each.
- Marbury v. Madison SCOTUS, 24th Feb 1803

Whilst it is true that case law is indeed is a set of past rulings by courts which are then to cited as precedent, that's different in principle to the ruling in Marbury v. Madison where the court held for itself that it gets to decide what the law IS. That's incredibly dangerous. That's also an incredible amount of power and power that in no way should be allocated by political machinery.
This is why the Republican Party deliberately refused to hear any confirmation hearings for anyone following the death of Antonin Scalia and this is why the future appointment of any Justices to the Supreme Court will always be a horrorshow. It is a badly designed system and one which is so utterly terrible that it has been copied by precisely zero other countries.

October 03, 2018

Horse 2472 - The Art Of The Incompetent Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump reached an agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to open trade talks between the two nations.
Abe resisted for almost two years the push to start bilateral trade talks with its second-largest trading partner, but Trump’s threatened auto tariffs forced him to reconsider. The two countries have agreed that sanctions on auto exports won’t be applied while the talks take place, Abe told reporters.
The U.S. wants to expand access for its automobile exports to encourage more production and jobs in America. In agricultural goods, Japan won’t offer better conditions than already exist in its other trade agreements, according to a joint statement by the two nations. 
- Bloomberg, 26th Sep 2018.

After reading James Comey's book A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership, I am convinced more than ever that the 45th President of the United States is unfit for the office, by virtue of the material changes that Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution made; namely his Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office. It is my opinion that although Trump has been elected to the office, he is unfit to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office due to reasons of complete incompetence.
This is the worst administration of my lifetime and I suspect probably either the second, third or fourth worst ever, if you consider the examples of Warren G. Harding and the Teapot Dome scandal, Richard Nixon and the Watergate affair, but not worse than James Buchanan whose complete failure to address the issues of slavery and the secession of the southern states, snapped the nation in half.
Trump seems more concerned with photo ops than actually making policy; this was obvious on his trip to see Kim Jong-Un, when nothing material was achieved; with his visits to the UN; and his ongoing dispute with NAFTA.

I find Abe's dealings with Trump on the subject of automobile tariffs to be both shrewd and dare I say sneaky because it is easy to deal with someone who has no idea what they're doing. Abe, who previously held the office of Prime Minister from 2006-2007, has on this run held the position since 2012; he seems to be somewhat popular.
If anything, Abe and Abenomics seems to hold that Japan will be more competitive if it engages in more free trade; hence Japan's wishes to push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a wish to pull back the influence of Japan's agricultural co-operatives. By the same token, Abe realises that by opening up trade, he will be able to find bigger markets for Japan's automotive products; and as any decent economist should know, there is usually better terms of trade for elaborately transformed manufactures than simple ones.

The thing I find utterly baffling with Trump wanting to talk to Japan about opening markets for its automobile exports and the secondary objective of trying to encourage more production and jobs in America, is that it assumes that America is selling something that Japan wants to buy. I just don't think that there's any real world evidence for that.
The real problem in trying to gauge what the Japanese Domestic Market wants for itself as opposed to the headline acts that it proclaims is that as an outsider I don't even know where to begin to look. The big three motor manufacturers of Japan are Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, and their websites have stuff that I've never even seen before. As a baka gaijin looking inwards, all I can see are a host of Weird Japanese Things (WJT) and I don't know how they onto the regular boring world of Japanese traffic.
It was my experience as a tourist that there were a bunch of small cars, some of which were on roads in the rest of the world and some of which weren't, a lot of kei cars which take advantage of taxation regulations for cars under 660cc and only a very select few cars which were the sports cars and halo cars. The idea of an SUV like you see on roads in America or Australia, simply wasn't viable because of the problem of parking said vehicle when not in use and the price of petrol which wasn't exorbitant but it wasn't conducive to these things either.

In Australia, if you ignore the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux which have more or less supplanted the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, then the cars which are the most popular are the Toyota Corolla, the Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30. These things are significantly smaller than the volume sellers in the United States which are now the Ford F-150, Toyota Camry, and Chevrolet Silverado. Ford is starting to sell more cars like the Ford Edge and both Ford and GM have made plans to abandon the sedan and hatchback class entirely by 2022 in favour of SUVs and pickup trucks. The cars that American automakers primarily want to build are for America and if they're already bigger than the traffic on Australian roads, what possible hope do they have in Japan?
It probably goes without saying that the big SUVs that America wants to sell in America have no market whatsoever in Japan and that makes Trump's declaration all the more ludicrous. When the big three automakers in America voluntarily move away from building hatchbacks and sedans, in favour of SUVs then unless they intend to start building the equivalent of WJTs, then they have no hope at all.

I suppose that a company like Ford might be able to sell the Fiesta in Japan and will be freed to do so in future because Ford and Mazda have gone through a divorce and so the noncompeting product clauses in their agreements probably no longer apply however, the Fiesta is not built in the United States and will cease to be sold there in future. Likewise, General Motors could possibly sell the Spark/Sonic/Barinas in Japan but they aren't made in the United States either.
At any rate, the Fiesta and Sonic which are currently sold in the United States are built to a somewhat lower price point than what would be sold in Japan. The Mazda Demio/2 DJ which I own is a Hofu built car which is primarily a JDM car and then sold in right hand drive markets; and it has the most comprehensive list of kit for a car that I have ever owned and it is the base model. Granted that a car like the Nissan March can be deoptioned to a very Spartan list of kit but even an austerity spec March is still very nice indeed.

I'm afraid that I need this explained to me as though I were a child because there's something fundamental that I simply don't understand. It's all very good trying to open up new markets but if you have nothing to sell, then what's the point? It could just very well be that my initial assessment that Trump's complete incompetence is so much on display here is correct and that as a sane person I am actually overqualified to understand because right now, I don't get it at all.