October 17, 2019

Horse 2608 - My Phone Is Amazing But Other People Don't Think So

Largely because I am a forty year old male who in theory has a higher amount of disposable income because of the benefits of the patriarchy, and because I like Top Gear, Mythbusters, Scandi Crime dramas, documentaries, and the like, the algorithms which tell the streaming television services who is watching, seem to think that I will buy expensive cars and the latest technological dooverwackery and lots of them. SBS On Demand in particular, wants to sell me the new iPhone 11 with the trypophobic three cameras.
Don't get me wrong, I like advertising. Advertising is part of the necessary contract which means that I get to watch stuff that other people have made and that other people have paid for (the advertisers). What I don't think that the advertisers get though, is that I am not likely to throw down a lot of coin for the latest tech. I suspect that I am the kind of person who tech companies hate. Although I like the idea of new technology, I am so far towards the back of the tech upgrading queue that by the time I get around to replacing anything, every improvement is always light years ahead of what I previously had.

Over on the social media platforms, I see people who haven't been paid brag posting about their new Samsung Galaxy iPhone Nokia Sony S14 with 512-bit waffle iron computing, 4 cameras with 20.7 megapixels, and USB 4.2 Lightning or whatever and I think that that's all fine but I ain't ever gonna need it.
I am someone who had a black and white analogue television until the signals stopped, who had a valve amplifier with quatravox until it finally died, and a microwave oven from the late 1970s which is still in perfectly good working order. If a device works then as far as I am concerned, it doesn't necessarily need replacing. I am a big fan of the proverb that the fastest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.
The phone that I do have (because I am not a complete troglodyte) is a Samsung GT-S5511T and I am amazed that it has a camera and a colour screen. That's already more than sufficient for me because my only requirements for a phone are that it makes phone calls and can send and receive text messages. As for my phone itself, it has been dropped a lot, is covered in scratches but keeps on keeping on.

What I find amazing is that people are amazed that I have such an 'old' phone. Speaking as someone who has had four phones this century, I already find that to be scandalous and think that that's morally already three phones too many. The truth is that I am more than content with the technical wizardry going on inside my pocket and I survive quite nicely without needing anything better. Good enough is good enough. Not only that but good enough exceeds my expectations many many times over.
It happened recently that I had to take a telephone call during another meeting because our email server had gone down. I took my phone out of my pocket, sent a text message and then put it back in my pocket. Someone wanted to look at the phone after the meeting and I think that I could see an almost puzzled look upon their face as they couldn't believe that I have a phone which would have been pretty amazing in 2006 but is old hat now. I still think that the entire concept of a mobile telephone is pretty amazing and I wonder at the age that we live in. I live in the world that 2001 A Space Oddessy and Star Trek predicted; so I don't know how one can be that complacent. We walk around with the future in our pocket and we're bored with it.

It is with a great deal of irony that I type this on a 7 inch tablet which cost less than eighty dollars. I mention this because already have a device which does everything that I ask of it and which is bigger than the iPhone 11. I can use Wi-Fi on it but because it doesn't have any telephony circuitry, I can not make phone calls or use the device to ride on the mobile phone carrier networks. Likewise, I can not go on the internet with my phone and that's fair enough. The two devices serve separate functions that that's perfectly acceptable.
Most people on the train will have their mobile phone which they can access the internet with and where they will get adverts for the new iPhone on a phone which they already have and probably doesn't need upgrading, I have a phone which is so old that I can not receive the adverts to upgrade my phone despite me being the one person on the train who would probably benefit the most from upgrading it.
I am not anti technology but as someone who has the least technologically advanced phone out of anyone I can immediately think of, it might look that way.

Within my pocket I have more computing power than what took twelve clowns to the moon. My 7 inch tablet has a touch screen and enough space to hold hundreds of hours of music and/or many hours of video. It is mind bending to think that after I have finished writing this piece, I will probably be watching motor racing on my tablet. It is more mind bending to think that people are surprised that I don't really want to spend $1900 on a device, which doesn't really provide any conceivable benefits that my existing devices already cover more than brilliantly. I do not know under what circumstances I would consider buying a new device that I really do not need, which costs more than a cheap second hand car. For the same amount of money, I could buy an old Astra and drive around Australia. Still, people think I need a new phone. Why?

October 16, 2019

Horse 2607 - The Bathurst 1000 And Team Orders

This year's Bathurst 1000 was won by Scott MacLaughlin and Alexander Premat in a DJR Penske Mustang fairly convincingly. The car with MacLaughlin at the wheel took the lap record, qualified on pole position and then won the race on Sunday. This is in the context of a season in which Scott MacLaughlin will probably also be the Supercars Champion for 2019 and DJR Penske will take the teams championship.
While winning a championship is good, winning the Bathurst 1000 is special. Winning a championship allows you to put the number 1 on the car for the next season. Winning Bathurst on the other hand, allows you to put your name into legend. Alan Moffat once said that the rest of the touring car championship was just a warm up for Bathurst.
With all that by way of background, what we saw at Bathurst on Lap 135 of 161 starts to look a bit sinister; and the Supercars organisation also saw it as looking sinister.

Fabian Coulthard who was driving the #12 DJR Penske Mustang, held the field back some thirteen seconds behind the leaders, during a late safety car period. At the time the crew chief cited that the car was having overheating problems and that holding it back would let cool air to pass through the radiator and dissipate the heat. Naturally the Supercars organisation saw this as a ruse and said that they would investigate this after the race.

Holding back the #12 Mustang just happened to have the benefit of letting the #17 Mustang time to pit, get a new set of tyres and fuel; so that it didn't have to worry about stopping before the end of the race. What DJR Penske didn't want was the second of their cars coming in directly behind the first one and wasting time by just sitting around waiting in pit lane.
Of course this also applied to the Triple Eight Engineering team who also would have had the same problem but because they weren't responsible for the infringement, they will walk away from this in complete impunity.

The Supercars organisation eventually cited an infringement of Rule D24¹ which states:

D24.1 Team Orders
24.1.1 Means an instruction to a Driver or Team member, either verbal or otherwise the effect of
which may interfere with a race result.
24.1.2 It is not permitted for any sponsor, supplier, entity or related entity, including an Automobile
manufacturer, importer or their representative to impose or seek to impose Team orders,
on any Team. 

In addition, there is the supplemental rule¹:
14.2.5 Any post-race Penalty imposed for breaches of the Rules during the race, other than the
penalty of a monetary fine, will be imposed on both Drivers in that Car.

I am a firm believer that as motor racing already is a team sport, that the team owners should have the right to order anything that they like. Since banning team orders invariably leads to secret codes being used, just so that the officials can not pin down that there were any team orders, then it makes sense to me to just drop the whole pretense and just admit that it is rampant. In principle I have nothing against DJR Penske declaring any weird team orders that they want.
The problem that I do have with DJR Penske is that they ordered Fabian Coulthard to hold the field up; deliberately, to create enough space on pit row to prevent double stacking of their two cars.

Already I find the idea of double stacking ludicrous. I rather like the idea that NASCAR has where you have dedicated crews in dedicated spaces for the cars. Teams in NASCAR seem to survive perfectly well with the further restriction of only having six people allowed over the pit wall at once as well. Supercars already take up voluminous amounts of space across double and triple garages; so I really can not see why if a NASCAR operation which might be running as many as four cars should find it easy to bring all four cars in at once and yet Supercars teams can not.
In addition to this, I find the reason given by DJR Penske for holding back the #12 car of Fabian Coulthard, as flimsy as if you built a cruise ship out of tissue paper. It floats for a while but there is no way that it holds water or stands up to testing.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else then I would have called DJR Penske's bluff and black flagged their car on the next lap of the race and then cited their own reasoning for holding the field up. By their own admission, they had a car which wasn't capable of holding speed; and if they wanted to fight the case, then I would have then black flagged the car for deliberately holding the field up. I would have then held the car in the pits for 15 seconds as a penalty.

Unfortunately, the Supercars organisation didn't enforce any penalty at the time, which is silly to me; so now they have to go through some sort of arbitration committee meeting.
Supercars will probably cite rule D24 in the technical manual for car #12 rather than stripping the #17 car of Scott MacLaughlin and Alexander Premat of their win (which the Daily Telegraph is crying all kinds of coloured murder about) and add a penalty of 90 seconds of time to the race result of the #12 car. Thus, it will be pushed back to about 106 seconds behind the winner and be credited with a corrected result of 13th. DJR Penske will probably also have to pay some monetary fine for their deliberate knavery.

I have heard argument that even if the #17 car suffers no penalty and is allowed to keep their win (because that car wasn't actually the car which infringed upon the rules) then their win win be tarnished. I say nay. History doesn't really work that way². The long view of history writes things into the past as a point of academia and discussion. Unless the organisers actually decide to strip the victory away, then history will be kinder in the long run, than the media which needs to stir up intrigue in the short term to sell copy.

²Sometimes it even adds to the legend of the result, like in 1992.

I think that 26 cars in what is supposed to be the biggest motorsport event in the country is an unfunny joke. There are 36 double garages at Bathurst; which means that pit lane can accommodate as many as 72 cars. Back in the old days before Supercars decided to close the shop with their Racing Entitlement Contracts, there were as many as 56 cars at Bathurst. The event now is far more corporatised and when you are at the track, it is far more fan unfriendly and restrictive (unless you have money).

Considering that Super 2 was already there and running a 250km race on the Saturday, I think that there is a good case to be made to allow Super 2 into the Bathurst 1000. The cars are older spec and in every single case, were ex-Super 1 cars (assuming that the Supercars Championship wants to give those cars a number). Those extra 16 cars would give more drivers a chance to have a go.

As for the argument that Super 2 or even Super 3 would be too slow, I reject that entirely. If you applied the FIA's 107% rule, then that would have given you a cut off time of 2m 11secs and the entire Super 2 field was within that.

If you consider that the full-time drivers are supposed to be better, then it should be expected that they would have the necessary skills to pick their way through traffic. I refuse to believe that in the days when you had a Ford Sierra which was doing 307km/h at peak and it came across a Toyota Corolla, that the Corolla driver wouldn't have had a very real and serious sense of self-preservation and wouldn't have wanted to get out of the way. At any rate, we had Chaz Mostert try to throw his Mustang into a space that it didn't fit, going into the Chase, which says to me that the amount of professional bravado which exists will still cause accidents among full-time front line drivers.

October 10, 2019

Horse 2606 - The White House's Eight Page Letter Of Nonsense

In a glorious piece of knavery, the Counsel to the President Pat A Cipollone has written an eight page rejection letter with regards the legitimacy of the House's decision to commence impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
The eight page argument is so badly constructed that if it was presented in a Constitutional Law 101 class, it would have to be be graded as an F, for failing to actually address the words of the Constitution itself.
The document comes off to me, as though it were written by someone who has never read the Constitution and even if they have, they certainly haven't understood what it says.

The document is split into three parts, which are all a unique kind of idiocy; which I can only assume are designed to throw sufficiently enough smoke into the air so that the general public is distracted. Mostly the general public also has not read the Constitution and neither has the majority of the commentariat who will report the news of this; so this letter doesn't need to be particularly grounded in the facts.

In the first part it tries to undermine the legitimacy of the impeachment proceedings, citing 'due process' and 'separation of powers' problems, which themselves are irrelevant because of the text of the Constitution (which I shall cite later).
In the second part it claims that the impeachment proceedings are designed to 'Reverse the Election of 2016' which is an outright lie, and 'To Influence the Election of 2020' which is a statement of fact but given that this is a political process contained within the Constitution and every impeachment proceeding is by its very nature political, that is like objecting to water being wet.
The third part tries to argue the basis of the impeachment, despite the fact that the appropriate time and place for that is if and when the impeachment indictment is brought to the Senate if it gets that far.

The letter either deliberately misunderstands how the impeachment process works or is just so woefully incompetent that it arrives at that same place.

Granted, that I am not a lawyer and am not qualified to stand at the bar and deliver addresses but at least I have read the US Constitution and the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalist Papers and read enough law to know my way around the document with a fair degree of competency. I have also spent the better part of two decades in and around the law as either a direct employee of law courts or in the offices of a forensic accounting firm, to have more than an elementary idea of how to read law.
At this juncture, even I can see that this is the equivalent of spray painting a pig and calling it a guide dog. That isn't a very funny joke and doesn't prevent the blind from falling into an open elevator shaft.

For the record, the link to the eight page letter in question is immediately below. I will be quoting this verbatim where necessary. Suffice to say, I think that the letter is fraught with problems.

- White-House Letter to Speaker Pelosi Et Al, 8th October 2019

For example, you have denied the President the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans. You have conducted your proceedings in secret. You have violated civil liberties and the separation of powers by threatening Executive Branch officials, claiming that you will seek to punish those who exercise fundamental constitutional rights and prerogatives. All of this violates the Constitution, the rule of law, and eve1y past precedent. Never before in our history has the House of Representatives-under the control of either political party-taken the American people down the dangerous path you seem determined to pursue.
- Page 1

That first sentence, shows that the counsel advising the President is either a moron or is lying. It might very well be possible to have a "right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans" if impeachment was in fact a court case but it isn't.

Impeachment is the process by which the Congress presses charges against an official; in this case the President. It is only at the end of an impeachment process which the charges have formally been drawn up, that someone has a formal chance to answer them and to formulate a defence. As for the statements that the President has been denied "right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans", every single one of those issues is nonsensical considering that impeachment is not a formal trial and those things only happen within a formal trial. As impeachment is not the trial, then saying that the President has been denied something which doesn't actually exist at this point in the process, is monumentally stupid; and if that is the advice of Mr Cipollone, then he should seriously give up lawyering because he fails at even the most basic of skills.

Of itself, impeachment doesn't remove an official from office. In principle, the impeachment process is akin to the investigation and drafting of charges by the relevant criminal prosecution service and as such, it is the process which produces the statement of charges which will then have to be answered for. The authority that actually has that function to measure and test the charges and where the rights to "right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans" would be applicable, would be in the Senate Hearings and not the House.

The House of Representatives as per the US Constitution has the sole power of impeachment as per Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 of the US Constitution.

The House of Representatives shall choose their speaker and other officers; and shall have the sole power of impeachment.
- Article I, Section 2, Clause 5

If the House then has the sole power of impeachment, the obvious question of how they are to conduct their process is completely open. There is in fact no set of instructions or limits on how they are able or allowed to go about doing it. The House is basically conducting an investigation to see if there are any charges and how they might be written, similarly to how the police go about their investigations in a criminal matter. Then based upon the evidence that they have collected in the process of discovery; which may involve subpoenaing documents and transcripts (or audio tape as was the case with Nixon in 1974), they will come to a decision which usually involves a simple majority of members of the House (218 of 435) and as they are the House of Representatives with that legal capacity to decide whether or not to indict as a sitting President, they act in effect as the grandest of Grand Juries.

It should be pointed out that there isn't a right conferred on the President to discover where the information that the House has found, not to unmask the whistleblower during the investigation stage and neither should there be. A criminal does not have the right to see the documents that the police have in charging them, unless they are actually brought out in material evidence in the trial. The House is perfectly allowed to conduct its investigations in secret and arguably it should do, so as to not pollute the evidence which may be brought forth. Furthermore, if the President did have the right to cross examine witnesses then they might not be so forthright in coming forward in the first place.
It is then and only then, that these things, the "right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans" becomes relevant because it is the Senate who has the power to try impeachments.

The Senate shall have the sole power to try all impeachments. When sitting for that purpose, they shall be on oath or affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.
Judgment in cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States: but the party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to indictment, trial, judgment and punishment, according to law.
- Article I, Section 3, Clauses 6 & 7

It is the Senate who can call witnesses &c. and it is then that the President actually has those rights to do those things that the complaint that Counsellor Pat A Cipollone becomes relevant. If anything, this letter itself actually forms part of an obstruction of justice by the President; which notably the Mueller report found ten alleged instances of potential obstruction. While the House Judiciary Committee did open an investigation of those allegations, nothing of import arose from them.

As for the objections raised by Counsel Cipollone:

Your inquiry is constitutionally invalid and a violation of due process. In the history of our Nation, the House of Representatives has never attempted to launch an impeachment inquiry against the President without a majority of the House taking political accountability for that decision by voting to authorize such a dramatic constitutional step.
- Page 2

There are no rules in the Constitution for determining the nature or the mechanism by which an impeachment proceeding has to take place. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say exactly how witnesses are to be questioned or what kind of legal representation they are entitled to, if any. This is a stupid objection.

These due process rights are not a matter of discretion for the Committees to dispense with at will. To the contrary, they are constitutional requirements. The Supreme Court has recognized that due process protections apply to all congressional investigations.
- Page 3

Granted, SCOTUS has decided that the Congress is in fact limited in conducting investigations within the scope of the law and cases like Watkins v. United States (1957) which states that the Congress does not have the the authority to expose the private affairs of individuals; the duty of the Congress and ability to secure "needed information has long been treated as an attribute of the power to legislate. It was so regarded in the British Parliament and in the colonial Legislatures before the American Revolution, and a like view has prevailed and been carried into effect in both houses of Congress and in most of the state Legislatures" per Quinn v. United States (1955).

To comply with the Constitution's demands, appropriate procedures would include-at a minimum-the right to see all evidence, to present evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present at all hearings, to cross-examine all witnesses, to make objections relating to the examination of witnesses or the admissibility of testimony and evidence, and to respond to evidence and testimony.
- Page 4

Notwithstanding the fact that the right "to see evidence, to call witnesses, to have counsel present, to cross-examine witnesses, to make objections" &c. happens as part of the due process of the impeachment case being tried in the Senate, I am wondering exactly what sort of things that Mr Trump expects to do during the collection phase of the impeachment process. The letter already states on page 2 that the President rejects the process and then goes on to state that he cannot participate in the inquiry. How exactly do you propose to participate in a process which you have already refused to participate in?

Furthermore, when you consider that this already hinges around a piece of evidence which the President refuses to submit, and that the most valid witness to the phone call to Zelenskyy is Mr Trump himself, then does he propose to call himself as a witness and then refuse to answer his own questions put to him by himself? That right there is some ouroboros snake eating its own tail kind of stuff.

There is also an extraordinary piece of insanity on page 7, which I simply cannot follow within the framework of the Constitution.

Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch carmot be expected to participate in it. Because participating in this inquiry under the current unconstitutional posture would inflict lasting institutional harm on the Executive Branch and lasting damage to the separation of powers, you have left the President no choice.
- Page 7

Firstly, the House obviously does have the sole power of impeachment as already explained here; so to assert that it doesn't have any 'legitimate constitutional foundation' is an outright lie. Secondly, the questions of 'fairness' and 'due process protections' are both a question for when the case is tried in the Senate which is not the House; so to accuse the House of violating conditions placed on another legislative chamber is a nonsense.

Thirdly, it is asserted that the inquiry would 'inflict lasting institutional harm on the Executive Branch and lasting damage to the separation of powers'. Okay, how? How exactly does that happen?

This administration has been a shambles almost from day one. I do not know how holding this administration to account for the things it has done, should put any future administration in any 'institutional harm' at all. Previous impeachment proceedings have done no such thing. The impeachment proceedings of Richard Nixon may have cast a shadow over the administration of Gerald Ford and may have even contributed to the election of Jimmy Carter but by 1980 there wasn't any hint at all of 'institutional harm' caused by the impeachment inquiry of Nixon. It is a stupid thing to suggest that the impeachment proceedings relating to Mr Trump will have any shadows beyond 2024.

It is also inconceivable to me exactly how there is a 'separation of powers' question here, much less how there is any hint that this impeachment proceeding is going to cause lasting damage to them.
Impeachment is the formal process of writing an indictment, which is then passed to the Senate for trial and to be tested. This mechanism is specifically stated in the Constitution. It doesn't attempt to run the daily business of the nation which is the constitutional duty of the Executive Branch and it doesn't attempt to hold court on the interpretation of the law which is the constitutional duty of the Legal Branch.
I have no idea of what kind of 'separation of powers' violation is imagined here. This is probably supposed to be so utterly buckwild that of course it cannot be argued with. It is really difficult to form a coherent argument against nonsense.

Consistent with the duties of the President of the United States, and in particular his obligation to preserve the rights of future occupants of his office, President Trump cannot permit his Administration to participate in this partisan inquiry under these circumstances.
- Page 7

As was pointed out to me by a QC yesterday, impeachment proceedings do not even require the President to participate in the inquiry. If the police have an unhelpful person which they suspect may have committed a crime, which is after all the entire point of the impeachment process, then there isn't an obligation for that person to to say anything, but it may harm their defence if they do not mention something which when questioned about later on, which they rely on in court. While anything that the suspect does present or say may be given in evidence, the people who then go on to judge the case may wonder why they did not tell the investigators what happened when they were asked.
In American law, these particular principles have their basis in the case of  Miranda v Arizona (1966) and although there can not be an inference of guilt which is drawn from a defendant's refusal to testify in his own defense as per Griffin v California (1965), that still doesn't mean that the President is required to say anything.

I will also point out that the President himself has said that he will "plead the Fifth" which is also kind of a nonsense considering the that the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution which opens:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury...
- Amendment V

...also doesn't actually apply because the presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury (in this case the House is the Grand Jury), isn't tried in the House.

Beyond those points of objection most of the eight pages of the letter issued by Counsellor Pat A Cipollone are materially worthless. Most of the footnotes of the objection aren't even based in legal argument or opinion that are relevant.

Ultimately this eight page letter is an attempt at subterfuge and not a very good one either. It is little more than a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.

October 09, 2019

Horse 2605 - Fragments XI: Not The President Of China

EN14 - No, Australia Is Not Based On Enlightenment Principles

It has to be said that the colonies which were first set up on the Australian continent were not remotely based on the principles of the enlightenment. Granted that the voyages of discovery under Captain James Cook in the late 1760s and 1770s were started as a scientific mission, but the voyage of the eleven ships of the First Fleet in 1787/8 was definitely not. Australia was seen as a viable dumping ground for the criminal convicts of Britain, after the avenue to dumping them in the American colonies had well and truly been closed.
The colony of New South Wales was started as an autocratic military entity; with no hint of representative government until 1843, with responsible government not being conferred upon it until 1855, and with the franchise only being extended to landholders of more than £200 or rent payers who paid more than £20 per year. The trigger for responsible government was also not due to the enlightenment but the more vulgar reason of money; with payable gold being discovered in 1851.


GH32 - Where Are All The Boring Ghosts?

How come every ghost is really interesting? Not even once have I heard a tale about there being the ghost of an old lady who just wanted to do the crossword puzzle in the newspaper, or a ghost of a man doing the lawn mowing. Why are there no ghosts of kangaroos, or pigeons, or cows? Shouldn't there be billions upon billions of ghost insects and bacteria? Where are all of those ghosts?


JQ11 - We Are Bigger Together Than The Mes

I'm not even going to clothe this in the finery of civility. If you think that society is nothing more than a series of transactions which make up the economy; instead of a whole host of nested and complex interactions and social obligations, which should be underpinned by human decency and value, then you are a trash monster.

I will readily admit that I have a pretty dim view of humanity (partly based upon the experience of being one) and I do not subscribe to the theory that people are basically good with patches of frustration that leak out. I think that people are mostly rationally selfish and that everyone is trying to get along in the world.
I also think that society is built and should be built out of the distinctly unnatural desire to build a collective project which is bigger than the rationally selfish individuals which make it up.

The big ideas of public education, the public health service, justice systems, public works and infrastructure, have a greater reach and are more efficient when they are held by and owned by the public at large, because even if you take the assumption that government is always inefficient (which itself is a lie), then those inefficiencies still add up to less than the inefficiencies caused by selfish individuals creating feedback loops while trying to steal from each other.


PT6 - Health Care Protests

What do we want?
A single government owned and operated health care system, which is non exclusionary, which takes advantage of economies of scale and better negotiating power, which answers the basic insurance question of spreading risk while most accurately reflecting the systemic risk of the general population of insurable items (ie. people's lives and their health outcomes), all while eliminating the profit motive.
When do we want it?
Before the end of 1954.


ZZ12 - I Won't Take My 'Items'

I don't have a problem with the voice at the self checkout being happy, at all. Although the machine is otherwise an impersonal interaction, it hasn't done anything to warrant being angry at it. There are good reasons for being mad at the firm for employing the machine instead of a meatbag human but that isn't the fault of the machine which only costs cents per hour to run instead of many dollars.
My problem is with the words that someone wanted to put into the mouth of the voiceover lady who became the voice of the machine. The phrase "please take your items" might very well be grammatically correct but the plural of "items" sounds as weird as all get out. The uncountable plural of "shopping", as in "please take your shopping" is less grammatically correct but also less weird. It also covers the very real possibility that the shopper only has one thing. I am loathe use the word 'item' unless it appears on a list and while I will concede that people have both shopping lists and that the receipt contains a list of all the items which have been bought, those things do not remain 'items' but become the uncountable 'shopping', the second that you have paid for it.
You never bring in your items once you get home. No. You bring the shopping in from the car. While you might leave one or two items in the car, the whole thing is a brand new collective.


WM98 - RUOK Day Is Cruel To Those Who R Not OK.

I think that there's something almost sad about RUOK Day. If you are sufficiently connected that someone is going to ask you the question, then it almost feels rhetorical in that the question answers itself. Of course you are part way okay if someone cares enough about you to ask the question of you. But what if that's not the case?
Suppose for whatever reason that you are in a place of chronic loneliness. Almost by very definition you are not okay and nobody will ask you the question of whether or not you are in fact okay.

There is a really cruel stunt that reality likes to play that the people whom society deems are the weirdest, the strangest, the most unlovable, are also the ones most likely to be lonely; thus confirming their suspicions and fears that the world is at best ambivalent and at worst actively hates them. In a world where 20% of the population will suffer some kind of mental illness in their lives, it seems really unfair to me that the cosmos will reward those people who already have sparkling personalities with the benefits therein and punish those who do not. RUOK Day is a societal reminder to those people who are already maligned that they are things rather than people worthy enough to care about for the other 364 days of the year, in they are asked the question at all.

Before you go worrying yourself, I am okay. I think that I was work hardened by life a long time ago, to be pretty robust. I am already fully aware that the world is cruel and that I am a prime candidate to be punched by the cosmos. I do not break.


KE56 - (Addenda To A Post That Got Way Out Of Hand)

¹And while we're at it...
I don't really care for the hanging announcements on Sydney Trains which start with the address of 'Customers'.

'Customers' are people who visit a firm with their custom. Now I know that this is incredibly archaic but that should properly apply to someone buying goods from a shop and preferably on a regular basis. The word for people buying train tickets is...
'Clients' are people that buy services. The conveyance of real property from one place to another is clearly a service because you have nothing specifically tangible to show for it afterwards. You can not hold in your hands, the passage of someone for 50 kilometers. On top of that, the more proper word for people who are transported by vehicular means is...
'Passengers' are a very specific kind of clients who make use of the service provided by planes, trains, ships, automobiles, rickshaws &c.

²And while we're at it...
A 'note' is a sum specified that someone promises to pay, or that there is a sum specified which is backed by the ongoing credit of the entity which issued it. Generally speaking a promissory note is issued by a private entity while a bank note is issued by a bank which can either be public or private.
A 'cheque' is an instruction to pay a sum specified from a bank of funds; which usually implies a deposit taking institution but can also be the central bank
A 'bill' is a demand for a sum specified to be paid.

³And while we're at it...
This is something that I find maddening about American English. Those three words mean exactly what they mean in a legal sense but not out in the real world.
People ask for the 'cheque' from a restaurant; which is insane when you consider that in the olden days before credit cards, people would pull out their cheque book to pay for their delicious meal. In Britain, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the person who is in charge of writing all of the big cheques that Her Majesty's Government wants to pay. They write the cheque for all of the delicious meals that the government pays for.
People also call that green bit of paper with George Washington's face on it a 'bill' despite the fact that it has the words 'Treasury Note' written on it. A US Dollar bill is not a demand for a sum specified but rather a promise that the US Treasury is good for the ongoing credit of that amount of One Dollar.

October 05, 2019

Horse 2604 - Holden's Slide To Irrelevancy Continues

September 2019 sales (from VFACTS).
3364 - Toyota HiLux
3116 - Ford Ranger
3001 - Mitsubishi Triton
2447 - Hyundai i30
2419 - Mitsubishi ASX
2355 - Mazda CX-5
2219 - Toyota Corolla
2022 - Kia Cerato
1769 - Nissan X-Trail
1731 - Mitsubishi Outlander

Both Holden and Ford have continued their paths to irrelevancy; with Ford having only their Ranger in the top ten car sales and Holden having no cars in the top ten of monthly car sales figures for the first time since 1948.

That in itself is significant. Ford have sort of transitioned to their new position of being just another import car company by at least trying to stay somewhat relevant with the Mustang, their ST and RS lines and the venerable Ranger but General Motors have not.
People have dumped Holden like a plate of cold sick after the brand which had built itself as quintessentially Australian is now about as Australian as Baseball, Kimchi, Bróckelwurst, and Chevrolet. As I write this post while heading southbound across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, my highly unscientific sample of 200 cars includes precisely zero Holdens.
I have said in a previous blog post that I as a consumer hold part of the collective responsibility for the downfall of what once was a cultural institution in that I personally have never owned a Holden because I lived on the blue side of the holy war and I went out and bought a Japanese car, from a factory in a Japanese city which had a nuclear bomb dropped on it.

It is a pity as there is nothing inherently bad about the Opel built Astra or ZB Commodore; thee Arcadia is just plain anonymous, and the Colorado is just short of being mediocre.
The ZB Commodore hits pretty close to the same price points as the VF that it replaced, though there is a little bit of rejink if you want to buy the 3.6L V6 engine option.
The LGX from what I can determine is actually the same engine as the LFX but rotated through ninety degrees and driving the front wheels rather than the rear wheels. I am sure that if Holden was allowed to play with the car, they would have shoehorned the LS3 V8 into the front of it but Detroit having taken away all manufacturing from Australia seems intent on making us suffer. There is also no ute option and the Colorado comes with a shorter tray bed and a weaker choice of engines but manages to play the amazing trick of being less capable but more expensive that the Commodore Ute that it replaced (replacement by default; not by class).

If you look at the volume sellers in Australia, the top ten is made up of two broad kinds of cars - the tradies' trucks, which are almost always being bought by businesses and being put through the books of private companies (which means that you and I as taxpayers are subsidising them); and smallish hatchback/wagon things. We have managed to collectively rebrand jacked up wagons as SUVs but they do not in reality offer that much extra utility than a wagon would do.
Ford have their Focus and Escape in that general market but Holden have the Astra and Arcadia which are all pretty anonymous in the market. Holden will eventually suffer the future indignance of losing the Astra because Opel who makes the car has been sold to PSA Group. As far as I know, General Motors have no plans to release a replacement small car in Australia.

It is little wonder then that Holden should suffer the worst sales month in the brand's history as it slides towards irrelevancy. It is pretty clear that General Motors have no long term game plan whatsoever and that as Australia is a very small and competitive market, they simply do not care.
It is curious when you consider that Holden still maintain headline sponsorship of Triple Eight Racing in the Supercars Championship, even though they are now shifting less cars in a month than ever before. Triple Eight Engineering own the proprietary intellectual property which underpins the race car; so I suspect that the ZB Commodore will become a legacy property just like the Falcon did and the Nissan Altima is currently. I have no idea what if anything is going to replace it in the future.
My further suspicion is that Holden is still a convenient label to put on top of anything that General Motors want to sell. There was some speculation about whether or not the badge would be going away but I think that the brand presence is sufficient to close out any notion that there would be Chevrolet bowties or the Cadillac label on cars in the future.

October 02, 2019

Horse 2603 - Kek Lol. Go Home Traffic Lights, You Are Drunk.

On September 2nd, a witch's hat appeared on top of the traffic lights on the pedestrian island in the junction of Military and Spit Roads. My first reaction because this is now the twenty first century and we've all been taught by the internet, on Instaface and Twitgram, that memes are funny, was 'Kek lol. Go home traffic lights, you are drunk.' Smiley face. Heart. Like. On reflection though, this was a really puerile idea and I didn't post it until now.
A month later and the witch's hat is still there and I have seen no effort by the council, nor any traffic authority, to get it down. Seeing as it harms nobody, why would someone waste the time and effort to retrieve it? The net reward of having one traffic cone is less than nil. The traffic cone remains.

I thought about trying to write some really profound blog post about the power of persistence of the witch's hat but this is more about apathy in action. I had a hundred and seven words written about the witch's hat quietly ironically failing in its only function by being noticed but not warning anybody of anything but that too seemed like a sad waste of time.
I tried to imagine what it would be like to be the traffic cone but that took me to equally boring places. I thought about its personality but that meant endowing the traffic cone with a gender and that had problematic consequences no matter which direction the blog post went.

At every turn, the witch's hat/traffic cone, demands to be written about but because it is so obvious, it defies any sensible description. Ever since the beginning of time, every single joke in the history of the world, be it literary. verbal, or physical, lies in the positional substitution of semantics in logic.
Every joke has some kind of patter which forms the setup in expectations and then the punch line is some variation in the subversion of the logic which has been setup. This witch's hat is itself the punch line by virtue of it being in an unexpected place; where the expectation of place is the implied patter to the setup of the joke.
I actually can not improve upon 'Kek lol. Go home traffic lights, you are drunk.' because it is really economical in execution. It also endows the witch's hat with a personality albeit one which is not even one dimensional.

'Kek lol. Go home traffic lights, you are drunk.' is also amusing in that the traffic lights are always home and it wouldn't need to go anywhere, even if they sobered up and took the witch's hat off of its head.  This also illustrates the inherent problem with analysing a joke; in that once you have picked apart the logic, all you are left with is a bunch of illogical parts. Don't explain the joke, ever.

There's also something quite beautiful in this. Thousands of cars and thousands of people pass through here in a week and while it is amusing to see for the first or second time, it very quickly becomes just a part of the furniture of the built environment.
As the sun beats down, the rain slaps against it, and the plastic degrades, the witch's hat gets one day closer to its eventual removal; either deliberately or just because it will eventually fall off due to lack of structural integrity.

I should open a can of Memento Mori here and empty the contents into the bowl of the three hounds of Hades, Sheol, and Abaddon, where feeding time is all the time but I am not sure if they necessarily like the taste of traffic cone (I do not think it is like the taste of ice cream cone). The big problem with a dead witch's hat is that as it is made from plastic, it degrades but does not break down into anything that nature finds useful. If the Earth had a personality it would probably think that the atoms of the witch's hat were just its own but slightly rearranged but that is what happens if your time frame is longer than all of the living things upon it.
Just like the thousands of cars and people who move through the intersection, this to shall pass. When it finally does go, unless you remember that it was ever here, it may as well have never existed. Possibly apart this blog post, it will not be memorialised and its place will remember it not.

Perhaps 'Kek lol. Go home traffic lights, you are drunk.' is about the best that can be hoped for here. It isn't a very amusing joke but neither is putting a witch's hat on top of the traffic lights world class comedy. Nobody is taking home a Perrier Award or packing out the Plesence at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with this humour. My sides remain very much unsplit. The joke dividend here is non zero but trivial. Yet as I pass through for yet another day, the traffic done remains.

September 28, 2019

Horse 2602 - Does Britain Need A Written Constitution?

The 11-nil smackdown by the Supreme Court of the advice given by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson to the Queen to prorogue parliament has either been propagandised as the proper operation of the law by experts in the law, an undemocratic coup by an unelected elite, and multitude of positions in between.
As the political heat has been turned up to 11, even the question of whether or not the United Kingdom should have a written constitution has been asked on the floor of the House of Commons no less. I intend to argue the unpopular opinion that what we've seen over the last few days has ironically been one of the best and purest examples in action of why the United Kingdom not having a written constitution is excellent.

I live in one of the rather far flung corners of the former empire, in Australia. The Constitution of Australia was passed as an act of parliament in Westminster in 1900. Since then, the 44 referenda have only resulted in 8 changes to the Constitution. A less than 20% hit rate in 119 years says that the Constitution is difficult to change. Indeed, I would argue that it was deliberately designed to be difficult to change. Either that's a good thing or a bad thing depending on whether or not you think that the Constitution, which is the set of fundamental rules which determine how the Government of the Commonwealth operates, should be easy or difficult to change.

I think that we have a pretty good Constitution. I think that the politics that we have is frequently stupid and cruel but despite that, I think that the sweaty and stinky men locked in those rooms in Sydney and Melbourne more than six score years ago, gave us a pretty good set of rules which has served us well.
The two areas where I feel that we've been let down by the Constitution is that since 1901, Australia has added no new states and more importantly, we've never actually properly completed the process of Federation with respect of our first peoples. Especially in those two areas, I think that the reason why we have been let down is that the Constitution by its nature is a very rigid thing. It doesn't change easily and is not particularly malleable when it comes to what we expect the law to do.
Of course Australia being Australia, in the process of Federation learnt from the experiences of the UK, Canada, the United States and even Switzerland; so it made sense in the context of a nineteenth century outlook that if you wanted to call yourself a proper country, you needed a constitution.
Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland though, dates from before the inception, conception and deception of what a modern country looks like. The Sceptered Isles have constituent kingdoms which date from before the Treaty of Westphalia and the idea of the modern nation state, and before the legal fiction of time immemorial. It is not a modern nation in the spiritual sense of the word at all.
Yet that ancient fortress built by nature for herself, which is separate from the squabbles on the continent which have been many, has ironically been both vanguard and rearguard for most of what we would consider the sensible history of any of the constituent kingdoms.

Once upon a time before time immemorial, the word of the monarch was law. At some point when that became all a bit too hard, judges were appointed and the idea of common law came about. At one point the barons of the land decided that they'd like a bit of power and so the very Scandinavian idea of the 'thing' was settled upon; probably because that 'thing' made as much noise as a bunch of screeching owls in a small room, that 'thing' became known as the parliament. The parliament eventually decided that it should be sovereign and went to war against the monarch, won at one point and the king lost his head, and then part of the terms of the king coming back was the imposition of rules over the monarch. In due time, people who had money wanted a bit of right to decide who made the rules and right up until the 1920s, the story of who wanted to fight their way into the franchise was one of slow constant evolution.

Right through the whole story of the parliament for more than a thousand years, the unwritten constitution has been dynamic enough to change in ways that no fixed constitution could. I really do not like the idea of Britain leaving the EU because it not only sends a very powerful signal of Britain's separatenesss to Europe but it has the very real potential to trigger actual violence. However, both the referenda to join and leave the EU and the various challenges to the legal fictions which accompany it, as well as the rules which govern the operation of the parliament (which the court has decided that Mr Johnson has fallen foul of) have been flexible enough to accommodate the very large shifts in in both the shape and scope of the makeup of the electorate and what that electorate expects government to do. The enlargement of the franchise also came with the enlargement of the expectation that government should work for and care about the wishes of those with the franchise.

The latest wobbly which was thrown by the Prime Minister, was met with the explicit statement that he would be bound with and accept whatever the court decided. That is not by any stretch of the imagination a change in any principle of how the United Kingdom is constituted. What this does though is openly state where the bounds of the sovereignty of the parliament lie in this particular case. What I have found to be most excellent about this process, is that the constitution shifted, precedent was set, and all without a referendum or an Act Of Parliament.

September 26, 2019

Horse 2601 - Despite Climate Strikes Around The World, Australia Decides To Continue To Be That Bad Neighbour (How Good Is Coal?)

Last Friday, right across Australia and across the world, people marched through cities demanding that governments actually bother to take the science behind climate change seriously and act accordingly. I could be wrong about this but I think that this is the single biggest day of protest in Australia since the 8 Hour Day marches of the 1890s and certainly bigger than the protests against the war in Vietnam.
I suspect though that the Federal Government is determined to ignore these protests on the basis that as long as they can convince enough people in just enough electorates that this is all a hoax, then they do not have to do anything at all.

As it stands, we have an Environment Minister who believes that the environment exists but will not be held on the subject of the degradation of the environment if it happens to interfere with his friends' business interests. He certainly doesn't seem to believe that as the relevant minister that he necessarily needs to be held responsible for anything (which he isn't going to be held on).
We have a Finance Minister in Mattias Cormann who said that children should be at school during school time to learn things but who doesn't seem to believe that having learned things in science class especially, that children should take those things seriously.
We have a Prime Minister in Scott Morrison, who was conveniently half way across the world in another country that also doesn't believe in climate change. How good is Australia? How good is coal?
Conveniently, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison rather than actually having to face the Australian media over the Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Government's continued refusal to take the issue seriously, was in the United States with his new best mate in the whole world, President Donald Trump, who also doesn't believe in climate change. Our Prime Minister Scott Morrison, actually planned this trip to the United States after Australia was banned by the United Nations General Assembly from speaking at the Climate Action Summit because of our repeated commitment not to take the summit seriously. How good is coal?
There is something really disturbing about the climate change debate; that something is that the debate exists at all. Svante Arrhenius who was a scientist in the 1890s wrote a paper on the effects of carbolic acid (CO2, aqueous) in the atmosphere and gave us the concept of the greenhouse effect. The evidence and the calculations point to fact that the atmosphere acts like a blanket; which retains and regulates the amount of heat on the surface. The moon in comparison which has no atmosphere, has conditions on it which mean that water would boil during the day time but freeze at night.
We've spent roughly one hundred and twenty years improving the science and getting a better understanding of how the mechanics of the atmosphere works, however one of the great ironies of the latter half of the twentieth century was that it wasn't until we looked at the other planets that we truly discovered what we'd spent four hundred years doing to the earth. This earth, which is unique in our current knowledge of where life is held in the universe, is more precious and fragile than what we give it credit for.
One of the other great ironies of the latter half of the twentieth century and turning into the twenty first, is that the generation who had the privilege of looking upwards to see 12 men walk upon the moon, are now openly chastising their grandkids for having the temerity to stand up and champion the cause of the earth.
All I can say is what a bunch of nitwits. Clearly this is not an argument and climate change is 100% man-caused. And I don't even mean that in a gender-neutral way either. Climate change in the Anthropocene is 100% caused by the males of our species, who despite having a hundred years of science to look at, are the chief cause of why government and business are enmeshed in their unwavering commitment to do diddly squat about it.
To all of those people who marched last week, just like the Occupy movement or the marches against sexism: just give up. The 1% of straight white men who run the world, who neither fear God, common sense or decency, or other straight white men, are perfectly fine with putting their foot to the floor as the rolling coal 620cid V8 Deathtruck of Destiny heads for the wall of inevitability and falls off the cliff of any ability to do anything about it.
In the meantime, while my superannuation becomes worthless and it takes the equivalent of a day's wages to buy a loaf of bread because the intensity of droughts means that crops are likely to fail more often, I can take some comfort in knowing that although I will be homeless because I will no longer be able to afford the rent, at least my house in Marayong which is 96m above sea level will be higher than the 5m expected increases in sea level which in due time will take out most of eastern suburbs of Sydney. Keep on burning that coal, I am looking forward to beach front property in Blacktown. Leave the car running in the driveway all day and all night and leave a fire going in the hearth and the air-conditioning up full bore at the same time.
As for those people in those Pacific island nations, well they have to take the good with the total flooding of their homes. It was the climate which gave them their place in the sun and it was straight white males who used the climate to take it all away again. That was pretty much the take home message from our Prime Minister a month ago at the Pacific Islands Forum. If you've got no homes anymore because your country is now submerged beneath the waves, then don't worry because you can always get a job picking fruit in Queensland. We're not going to stop our coal and steel industries just because your homes might be destroyed. What about the pockets of our billionaires? How good is coal?

These marches across the world can find their beginning in the one-person school strike by 16-year-old Swedish young lady named Greta Thunberg. The work that she has gone onto inspire ought to be a clarion call for the leaders of the world to sit up and take notice but unfortunately for her, she appear to be the most mature person in the room in a lot of places, with the invective being directed at her from the media being more akin to that of 9 year old boys. She represents everything that they do not, including the hope for the future and a legacy that will outlive her, rather than the impending jaws of Sheol and Abaddon which are open all the time.
I suspect that the media in Australia is neither unique or even original in its attacks on Ms Thunberg.  Again, it is mostly straight white males like Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones, Rowan Dean, Greg Sheridan, who have all written pieces which are an affront to common decency. Ms Thunberg does have Asperger's but that in no way shape or form means that the warning that she has sent out to the world isn't valid.
It must surely be one of the biggest coincidences in the world that the media organisations who want to propagandise climate change as a hoax, are all on the economic right of politics. It must also be a coincidence that the entities who benefit the most from the propagandising of climate change as a hoax, also just happen to be mining and petrochemical companies. How good is coal?

My biggest concern with this issue is that governments will continue to be resolute in their determination to ignore these protests until the point where the political climate means that they will be no longer able to. The scary thing is that when you had people protesting against the war in Vietnam, governments ignored those protests until the point where they were no longer able to and that point was well after the war was unwinnable. Ignoring climate change protests might very well be an excellent strategy for winning a dozen electorates in a Federal Election but in doing so, it might end up meaning that the war on climate change is also unwinnable. The average political life of an MP in the House of Representatives in Australia is 6.3 years; the average life of a citizen who has to live with the effects of climate change could be twelve times that.
Personally, I think that that point happened at roughly the turn of the century. What that means is that we've already started down the path of extreme unpleasantness with respect to climate change. Greta Thunberg hasn't just led a protest movement but the song of the canary down the coal mine. How good is coal?

September 25, 2019

Horse 2600 - No Good Reason To Prorogue Parliament

Effective at 11:30 am BST today, Her Majesty's Parliament at the Palace of Westminster will be opened again, following an 11-0 decision by the Supreme Court that the Prime Minister's advice to the Monarch to prorogue parliament was unlawful. Brexiteers immediately brigaded social media claiming that the courts have usurped power from the people despite the fact that they only made their decision because of the application the law, that the Queen has usurped power despite the fact that she had her power curtailed by the operation of the law. As per operation of the law, the Crown can not unilaterally prorogue parliament. Lady Brenda Hale in her address said that it was impossible to conclude there had been any reason "let alone a good reason - to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks".

All of this put together says that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland remains a kingdom of laws; governed by the rule of law, and where the law itself continues to be respected. As for the argument that Brexit is about Britain taking back control, it is worth noting that this decsions was madr by British judges, following British law, following the British constitution, on behalf of British citizens, in the capital of Great Britain. To all those chanting "our laws, our sovereignty" in the streets on Saturday, is this sufficient? This is as British as British Scones with Robertson's British Jam; with a dollop of British cream on top.

Politically, this has been absolutely perfect for Boris Johnson. He was installed by the members of the Conservative Party to deliver a no deal Brexit. At this point in time, even if parliament manages to pass the necessary legislation needed to dissolve itself and force another General Election, it takes a minimum of 25 days for that to play out. Sep 25 + 25 = Sep 50, and as the deadline of October 30 is Sep 60, even if you allow for the fact that the General Election would be held on Sep 54 that is still only 4 working days to negotiate a deal with the EU for any incoming Government. I think that that means that by default, Boris Johnson would actually deliver a no deal Brexit.

The most singular thing that I can not comprehend about all of this (among the fifteen incomprehensible things before breakfast) is whether or not Boris Johnson played this like some kind of grand chessmaster playing a Kafkaesque self-Zugzwanging Double Gambit, or whether or not he thought that this was genuinely feasible, or whether he like the two Prime Ministers before him was given such an impossible puzzle that nobody could ever hope to solve it. This could be like moving a Knight to Kamchatka and wanting to put a Hotel on it. In a world of two tone black and white, this is one step beyond madness.
Conceivably this could be the end of his Premiership but having won no meaningful vote on the floor of the House of Commons, yet still delivering the thing he promised, maybe it was worth it for him? What I do know is that someone who should have gone into political irrelevance like Clement Freud or Giles Brandreth and become a treasured member of Radio 4 panel shows, will now go into history as either the champion of Brexit and/or the most hated man in Britain, in a series of insane events that rival the lead up to the Parliament Act 1911 for significance.
Of course being a keen student of the murky art of constitutional comparison, I immediately thought of 11-11-75 and whether or not the advice from a sitting Prime Minister to prorogue parliament would be meaningful here in Australia. The answer that I can come up with is that it's irrelevant as Section 5 just hands the power to the Governor General to do with as they wish. In that respect the Governor General has more power than the monarch in the UK but seeing as we have a written Constitution, that power is explicitly defined.

As for the pressing question of what happens next, one only needs to look at the immediate past. Boris lost the majority, and control of the House of Commons' business, and every Commons vote, and the Scots appeal case, and the absolute PM prerogative power of prorogation, by losing the Supreme Court case, nil-11. I think that the Supreme Court which has found that Mr Johnson acted unlawfully and stopped Parliament from doing its job without any legal justification, kind of makes his position at Number 10 untenable. The Supreme Court, which is the highest appeal court in the United Kingdom has ruled that the law is above you; even if you are the Prime Minister.

September 23, 2019

Horse 2599 - Magically Rehabilitating Question Time

"I think that Question Time is inherently broken. If you think that you can magically rehabilitate it, I would like to hear how you think that it's possible."
- Jeffrey Banana SC¹

Listening to Question Time in the House Of Representatives is one of my favourite amusements at work. I must have some weird schadenfreude reward centre in my brain because instead of listening to people who want to viciously argue with us on the telephone, I get to hear Members of Parliament viciously argue with each other on the radio. An argument which happens in the nebulous region of 'out there' is far more preferable to an argument which is happening directly in my face. It also helps to cover up the sounds of musicals and Disney soundtracks which come up through the floor from the hairdressers' shop below us.

Mr Banana SC heard the sounds of the Treasurer in the background while I was on the phone to him and my boss was in his own little space trying not to be distracted (hence why the radio was on and why I was fielding telephone calls). Mr Banana SC remarked that he thought that Question Time was all one giant farce and that it isn't necessary; I said that I can see the purpose and that I can improve it.
Being a Senior Counsel (which is exactly equivalent to a Queen's Counsel except that those titles were handed out in a more republican atmosphere) he said that he would entertain my opinion but only if I could lay out a convincing enough argument. So then, here we are.


On the face of it, 151 people in a room yelling at each other is nonsensical. Multiply that by a factor of slightly over four and what you have is the House of Commons at Westminster, from which we derive the model for how Parliament works; including the idea that you have a bunch of people in a small room yelling at each other. This in turn was likely derived from the old Scandinavian idea of the 'Thing' where you have a bunch of people on a hillside yelling at each other.
I think that in principle, having people settle arguments on matters of legislation by having them yell at each other is preferable to them settling arguments with pillows, flaming torches, clubs and swords, armies, and chopping people's heads off (see Cromwell). When you have contests for the exercise of political power, I would expect nothing less than the contestation happening with very heated words and language. Sticks and stones which break one's bones, is a worse outcome for all involved than words, which will still hurt people.
What is being objected to here I think, is the manner in which that contestation happens; which is why Mr Banana SC has voiced the very valid opinion that it descends into farce.

Question Time as it has developed, is a performative space. The Speaker of the House does have some control over how that performance is conducted but Question Time in essence is a piece of political theatre. I don't know if I'd actually want to change the character of that theatre because the alternative is what you get on the floor of the United States House of Representatives which is very dead in character.
The volume of the House of Commons in the UK, which has 4⅓ times the number of the people in the chamber, must invariably have a significantly higher volume. This is why John Bercow has become famous for his quips and liberal usage of the word 'ORDER!'; while the Speaker of our own House of Representatives is more or less anonymous to the general public at large here.
The root question which needs to be addressed is if Question Time is inherently broken, is it worth rehabilitating or just worth rolling up like a scroll and being burned in a fire? I think that the performative aspect of Question Time is valuable in a democracy where you have vastly differing opinions. Again I compare Westminster Systems to Washington but because we have political antagonists squaring off against each other in the chamber, the arguments which are necessary for functional democracy happen on the public record. The United States House of Representatives and the Senate are both austere in the heat of the debate on the floor and what that means by default is that the arguments do not happen within the chamber. In America they happen in the court of public opinion and that's terrible. The two big political parties in the United States refuse to compromise on anything at the moment and I think that part of the reason for that is because they neither talk to or argue with each other properly in the Congress; which used to happen a lot more.
Question Time in Westminster Parliaments is an invention so that those arguments can happen and while they might often be very ugly, they are happening.

The next problem then is if Question Time actually is necessary but inherently broken, then how do you fix it? Again, I think that the answer is not particularly difficult to implement.

Part of the façade of representative democracy is that everyone gets a say. In practice the people actually having their say on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate are the same cast of characters. It is like watching Comedie D'elle Arte, where Harlequin, Punchinello, Cymbeline... take on diffeeebf the roles in various stories but are essentially the same characters. The obvious solution in giving everyone a say, is to give everyone a say.

Having a set order in which people get to ask questions at Question Time sounds like an obvious idea but I rather like the more random idea of having people put their questions into a bag on the back of the Speaker's chair and drawing those questions out, blind. This would mean that there is less of an opportunity to present Dorothy Dixers² beforehand because there'd be no guarantee that they would be drawn unless you were very near the end of the cycle. It might be subject to gaming in that one side might only submit a few questions with the expectation that they would be drawn out but I'm sure that that's not a lot different to what occurs now.
I would have everyone who wanted to, put their question in the bag at the back of the Speaker's chair and once the member's question had been answered, they would no longer appear on the list of eligible question askers until the whole chamber had had a turn. I am guessing that over the course of the term of a parliament, that every MP would questions answered at least twice in the cycle.

I realise that this is still subject to the system being gamed, with Dorothy Dixers being placed into the mouths of backbenchers and people wanting to move up through the ranks of the party, and it is also open to abuse with relevant ministers not actually addressing the Opposition's questions or simply burning them with whatever the opposite of a filibuster is (an antifilibuster?) but it would at least go part of the way to fixing the problems of Question Time.
I also realise that this always gives more questions to the members who form the Government but that currently is already the case. There is the side argument to be made that members of the parliament are selected to represent their constituencies and just because they happen to be members of one party or another is actually an irrelevant thing.

There is a reasonable objection to the whole notion of Dorothy Dixer questions being allowed to be asked at all and Government ministers refusing to answer reasonable questions from the opposition but I have things to say about that.
If your member of parliament is so bereft of imagination that they ask Dorothy Dixers, then presumably the people in your electorate either like that and agree with them, or they will be removed from office at the next election. Even if your sitting member has been the Prime Minister, if the people decide that that person's services are no longer required, then that person will not last in that seat for long.
Secondly, the Government should have a platform to announce on the record what their policies are. Most of the sitting work of the parliament is about doing the work of passing legislation. That is already a stayed and mostly reverential space. If your entire experience of the parliament only extends as far as Question Time, then you probably need to be a more involved citizen in the democratic process. If your objection I purely about the tone of parliament, then you need to listen to more of the record than just hit singles.

¹Not his real name.
²Dorothy Dix was an American journalist and columnist who wrote an advice column in the New York Evening Journal and had a practice of making up her own questions to allow her to publish more interesting answers, allegedly³. 
³ "I should point out that allegedly is no defence at all in libel . I perpetrated this myth for years hoping some judge would believe me." - Ian Hislop
⁴ I should point out that it is actually impossible at law to libel the dead.

September 22, 2019

Horse 2598 - Houston, We Have A Problem

- via the Australian Associated Press 

It came to light through a leak from the White House that the leader of the Hillsong Church Brian Houston was going to accompany the Prime Minister Scott Morrison on his current trip to the United States.
The obvious question that I have, which the media doesn't yet appear to be curious enough to ask is 'Why?'. It is one thing to merely report this but since the veracity of the truth is already hard to pin down, perhaps asking the question without a full compliment of facts (some of which are denied or not denied by the players in this game) is simply too hard.


 - Vivian Salama, Wall Street Journal, 20th Sep 2019

To be honest I find the whole doctrine of the prosperity gospel troubling. The doctrine preaches that if you are blessed by God then you should be joyous and grateful but if you then turn around and suggest that someone isn't being blessed because they specifically deserve not to be, then that moves you onto deeply problematic ground.
The prosperity gospel, would have you believe that wealth and happiness are always the result of the will of God and that if you do not have them, then it is your fault and you have somehow fallen out of God's favour.
If people get blessed because of something that they've done, then what about those people who suffer because of what other people have done? How wealthy you are is very much a lottery and based upon the family that you were born into. People who are born into privilege and advantage have a considerable head start on those who have not. All of the hard work in the world by someone in a $60K job, is not going to overcome the rewards due to someone else who has a chunk of capital worth $1¼m at 5%. That has nothing to do with the amount of work that the first person does.
What of the people who suffer because the world is simply cruel or indifferent? The prosperity gospel has nothing to offer them other than blame.

Blaming poor people for being poor fits nicely with both the indifference of capitalism which places a price on everything but values nothing and especially r not people. It also fits nicely with the myth of the meritocracy that says that rewards go to people because they deserve it. I can very much understand why the economic right would like such a set of things.
Hillsong Church, which dates from the early 1980's era 'greed is good' was founded by Brian Houston, who literally wrote a book called "You Need More "Money"; and it precisely him who Scott Morrison wanted to accompany him on this trip to the United States.

This was published originally in the Wall Street Journal but I find it curious that News Corporation newspapers in Australia and that the ex-Fairfax newspapers of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald only reported on this after they had learned about it from the Wall Street Journal. I find it even more curious that Mr Morrison when asked about it, repeatedly said that he wasn't going to 'respond to gossip' on the subject. The leak to the Wall Street Journal came from a source who they have no intention of disclosing but Mr Morrison saying that he wasn't going to 'respond to gossip' isn't actually a denial of the leak. The thing about gossip is that just because it is gossip doesn't mean that it isn't true. Mr Morrison's non denial is probably tacitly agreeing with the gossip because that means that he doesn't have to explicitly lie and then face criticism if substantial proof comes out later.

The fact that a politician has a faith and acts upon it isn't of itself worrisome. I think that we would all appreciate if a politician who was motivated to do something to uplift the most vulnerable of society, or improve the lot of poorer people, actually acted upon their faith. Once upon a time we may have even called such politicians 'principled'. Undoubtedly Scott Morrison is a man of reported faith but the problem is that his policies as both Immigration Minister and now Prime Minister make me wonder about what sort of doctrine that he is following.

I think that it is a long accepted tenet of liberal democracies that there should be a separation of church and state. Most famously this is expressed in the first amendment to the US Constitution but here in Australia, it finds its expression in Section 116 of our own Constitution. I am not suggesting a formal enmeshing of church and state is going on here though.
The thing that irks me about Me Morrison wanting Brian Houston to accompany him on the trip to the US, is what the intent actually was. It is not the separation of church and state that I am worried about but the co-opting of the church by the political right, to satisfy a need to formalise power.

In the United States, a Baptist Minister named Jerry Falwell formed an organisation called 'The Moral Majority' which had the express purpose of weaponising the Christian Right in the United States, to organise and undercut the sitting President Jimmy Carter (who was also a Baptist). In doing so, The Moral Majority went into churches to drum up support for Ronald Reagan and he was elected twice.
This was all set against the backdrop of Falwell's Liberty University fighting the IRS for tax exemption status for not quite 5 years at that point, and the more general climate of cultural change in the United States. I am reasonably sure for instance that the topics of same-sex marriage and abortion, became clarions to shut down people's thought processes about what the US Government was actually doing rather than bother to engage in proper policy, round about this time in US political history.

Now I mention Hillsong because it stands as a kind of analogue now that Australia is undergoing roughly the same sorts of cultural and political changes albeit forty years later.
We've seen the right of the Liberal Party lose the cultural fights on the issues of same-sex marriage and abortion in Australia; while at the same time Hillsong has been very cozy to the party. Hillsong's current megatheatre was opened by the then Prime Minister John Howard; when I was still at the Commonwealth Law Courts, Hillsong was fighting the ATO in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to decide upon its tax status (which was eventually personally diffused by the Treasurer Peter Costello); and the current Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends the Horizon Church in the Sutherland Shire which is at least somewhat affiliated with Hillsong to some degree (I know not how exactly).
The only reason that I can think of as to why Mr Morrison would want Brian Houston to accompany him on this trip, is to meet various church leaders in the United States who have already been successful in co-opting the church to provide votes to the right; which very much explains why the core and base of Mr Trump's voters are prepared to put up with and ignore actions and rhetoric which the church under normal circumstances would never find tolerable. How else do turn the hearts and minds of the church to chastising the vulnerable in the name of national security?

I already found Hillsong's practices somewhat dubious. Apart from Hillsong's business practices, Brian Houston was named in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse because of the cover up of the actions of his father. If the outside world looks on horrified and quite rightly questions the credibility of Hillsong, then watching on as its leader is named in a leak by the White House, aught to put the churches in Australia on alert.
The world at large already finds the co-opting of politics by the church problematic; I think that the church should find its co-opting by politics even more so.

September 18, 2019

Horse 2597 - Indy Ref 2: The Referenduming - Offensive and Necessary

One of the consequences of Facebook's existence is that people of like political opinions tend to move into their own little silos; wherein they can paint their enemies as the devil incarnate and their allies as sweetness and light. One of the consequences of Twitter is that although people also move into their own little silos, the mechanics of the platform are such that the opinions of their enemies are more readily found. In my experience, the irony of the short form platform of Twitter lends itself to longer form ideas because the discussion is broader and more open to outsiders.

This late in the game of Brexit, what you now find is a greater deal of remorse being expressed and an even harder degree of digging in by the people whose opinion won the referendum. This is to be expected: both Buyer's Remorse and Galvanised Opinion.
What this means is that the discussion about what should happen, with people whose opinion won the referendum, is that their galvanised opinion now acts like armor plate and their own little silo is like a packing house for barrels of chemicals. What's inside is volatile and unless you act carefully, the results are volatile.

As for the initial question of Brexit and whether or not there even should be a second referendum, the situation as it stands now is that you have some people who always objected to leaving the EU and don't like the answer of 'leave' outright, you have some people who love the answer of 'leave'and wanted it from the outset at any and all possible costs, and you have quite a sizeable chunk of the electorate who three years later might have answered the question differently had they had these three years of information at their disposal.

The answer of 'remain' is an easy one to resolve as nothing would have changed. I suspect that the Cameron Government called the referendum in 2016 because they expected the answer to fall that way. Hoping for 'remain' having that result, would have sured up Cameron's power within the Conservative Party and that would have been the end of the problem; with the hard 'leave' faction of the party being appeased.
The answer of 'leave' though, was one where the actual method and outcome was always going to be in dispute and we're in the middle of that dispute; and with the worst possible set of parliamentary and constitutional problems that in hindsight were always inevitable. 'Leave' as an answer, contains the very big sub-problems of 'how?' and 'what?' and the people who proposed to put up the referendum offered no thought on these sub-problems at all.

So when you suggest to people that there should be a second referendum, considering that the parliament has comprehensively proven itself to be incompetent at delivering any outcome thus far, you immediately run into objections from people who wanted 'leave' at any and all costs and they will object to the mere idea of a second referendum; citing that the referendum was already an expression of the will of the people and that they don't need to be asked again.

My big problem with this point of view is that it lays down the suggestion that once the people have decided something, they shouldn't be consulted again, on the grounds of pointlessness. This basically states that democracy is a series of finished questions, rather than an ongoing project. This is further complicated by the fact that in 2017, there was a General Election which returned the Conservative Party to government (with the help of the DUP) and they'd repeated I their manifesto a desire for the existing 'leave' agenda and subsequently claimed a mandate to deliver on that. The fact that they haven't, quite apart from what you think about the sovereignty of the parliament and the people, says to me that democracy itself is one who which is both slow and is one of epistemological process and conflict and can never be reduced to a single question.

To that end, I find the idea of a second referendum (and indeed the first referendum) to be simultaneously necessary and repulsively offensive. As much as it pains me to say this, the parliament and the composition of the parliament is probably the most nuanced answer to the ongoing process of democracy. The parliament should have already resolved this question. Boris Johnson's pitting of parliament against the people might have been a legitimate complaint before the Reform Acts of the 1830s but in an age where the franchise is massive and broad, that is a bad faith argument. It was necessary that the question of 'leave' or 'remain' was put to the people and I think that it is equally necessary again given parliament's failure to deliver the result but equally offensive that the people have already been asked and gave an answer.

September 17, 2019

Horse 2596 - You Know What's Not Funny? The Joker!

Holy Hand Grenade, Batman!

This post is not about Batman. As a concept, the idea that a billionaire buys a bunch of gadgets to beat up on street level crime; in the age of Trump, Putin, Murdoch, and Bezos, is just not funny. When you have actually villains operating the levers of power, politics and the economy, the idea that Batman is noble just doesn't sit well with me. Batman's most famous enemy, The Joker, is equally idiotic as I don't really understand his motivation at all. He is the bad guy because Batman needs a bad guy and at this point, even at least one sensible dimension to his character would be helpful.
The Joker's biggest problem though is that with the name 'The Joker', why does he have to be so painfully unfunny?

To be honest, the latest Joker trailer for whatever the new film is called (I don't really care because it was enough to convince me to not see it), is also not funny. All that's in the trailer are a bunch of angry clowns, who want to hurt people, and unless the film is some kind of Jackass style series of japes (which having lived in a house of chaps, I have seen more than I care to; it was also unfunny), I suspect that it is going to be just another one of these "darker and edgier" films that Hollywood wants to churn out every so often.
Ho hum. Yawn. Crick. Roll over.
You know what would be really subversive and edgy right now? The Joker being funny.

I was born in the late 70s; which means that when I were a wee lad, a lot of people still had porcelain figures and prints in their houses as decorations. This might sound insane to a twenty-first century audience but there was a time when people actually used to have porcelain clowns and sad clown prints in their houses. That was so strange to me as a kid and continues to be so strange to me now that it bared repeating. I can think of at least three people's houses that I went to as a kid where I saw such things.
It should also be noted that by the time I was a kid, the idea of a sad clown, an angry clown, or a murderous psychotic clown, was already a well worn trope. As it was, by the time of the 1989 Batman movie, the Joker had already been around for 49 years; so it isn't as if he already wasn't a trope himself.

In fact, in my not very well paid opinion, the only truly plausible portrayal of the Joker was in the 1966 Batman television series which starred Adam West. It had Cesar Romaro as the Joker and he played the Joker with a sense of whimsy; which I think has to this day been the best portrayal of the Joker.
Given that not quite 80 years after the character of the Joker was created, I think that it's fair to say that we've seen every possible subversion and interpretation of both Batman and the Joker. I don't think that there is any new or interesting place to go with Batman but there is a way that the character of the Joker could be taken that I don't think has ever been done before - play him straight.

Clowns as we know them now, lean heavily into the long dead tradition of the comedy della arte from Italy. They also have their roots in the comedy players at court, like the Jester. Mostly our modern conception comes out of the circus; and then they became pathetically marooned in the land of cheaply produced television and kid's birthday parties. If they were credible oh so long ago, they are surely not, now.
Clowns used to be, once upon a time, or at least I imagine so, funny; or at least they were supposed to be. Circuses, television and kid's birthday parties, have collectively drained whatever art to clowning that there was, to the point where I am not sure if they are redeemable as a concept.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, then I would have commissioned this new Joker film as a straight up comedy; with the Joker trying to resurrect the long dead art of clowning.
That creates a grand conflict which is essential for good story telling. It also provides a fairly self explanatory set of motives for why this character does what he is going to do. It also might have the added bonus of giving a proper comedian the chance to do justice to the role. To that end, I think that the last plausible clown in the last fifty years (which says a lot about how dead the concept is), was Fozzie Bear from the Muppets. He went so far as to adopt the uniform of the beat up hat and necktie; which put him in the tradition of vaudeville and which on reflection is a really odd thing to be presenting to kids in the late 1970s.

I think that the generally accepted canon for the Joker is that his face became disfigured as the result of a chemical burn. I think that that explains why someone might turn into a murderous villain, in order to get revenge upon the world, but that doesn't really leave you anywhere to go with the story of why he became the Joker. The only logical story here is that the character of the Joker is itself a mask and that's boring because we've already been here.
Reimagining the Joker as a comedian gives you a blank slate as to why he becomes a the Joker. It also means that you can head in the more interesting direction of the tragicomedy. Becoming the Joker is the end result of the series of events which can be written as farce; with the conceit that the audience already knows what the punchline of the movie is. That is more interesting and sounds funnier to me.

My big problem with cinema these days is that the movie houses have decided that the stories which sell the most tickets are superhero films. I do not know at what point that the market will reach a glut but I do not really have that much of an interest in seeing them. I suppose that what I am asking for is the most unsuperheroey of superhero movies because that would be funnier and funner.
The world just doesn't need yet another darker and edgier Joker movie.


Dear filmmakers,
I have a really difficult challenge for you.

Make a really interesting and genuinely funny G rated movie. I imagine that it must be really difficult because I honestly can't think of any that have been made in this century. 


I also think that Batman should be recast as a proper detective, as per the 1939 comic book series. Have it produced by the same people that make British crime dramas and give him a Ford Mondeo as the Batmobile.