December 31, 2019

Horse 2642 - Operation Red Line - CBD and South East Light Rail (L2)

In the closing month of the 2010s, Sydney began to undo a 60 year old mistake and has started to put the trams back in. In principle, a tram is a much better transport solution than a bus because they run on discrete tracks; which means that they can run right through the centre of very heavily trafficked pedestrian precincts.

I had hoped to go on two tram lines yesterday but the T1 line from Sydney Terminal to Dulwich Hill was so incredibly packed that they had to employ platform guards. There was no way that I would enjoy a ride on that tram yesterday; nor will there be for several years while the Bankstown Line is out of commission and being converted to the new Metro specifications.

T2 begins at Circular Quay and the first thing of note is that the whole line is kind of run as a halfway house between a full on railway line and a tramway that is found in Melbourne. The trams are run in their own demarcated lanes with roll kerb markers to separate car traffic and where they do run down the centre of the street, regular vehicular access is denied. Unlike Melbourne, there are no Fairways nor Hook Turns. Maybe Transport for NSW thinks that the people of Sydney are too dim to figure it out. Circular Quay terminal has three platforms and none of them are numbered.

The 'office' of the tram driver is a rather cosy looking place. They are thrust forward in a central position and surrounded by a lot of fun buttons. I think that they are operated by variable speed control and a brake pedal and possibly with a dead man's pedal.

I have no real need to take photographs of the stops at Wynyard or the QVB because apart from trams running down the street, the built environment hasn't changed a lot.
I did however take a photograph of Town Hall Station as the example. The signs throughout the system are red, as opposed to the orange on the train network, the green on ferry wharfs, and blue at big bus stops. They all have a derivation of the New Johnston typeface which is found on the London Underground but I know not exactly what typeface it is. Also, the Opal Card readers are also the same ones found at train stations without passimeter gates; which is to be expected.

The line heads down George St, turns left into Eddy Ave, cuts right into Chalmers St, and then turns left into what I think is Devonshire St; before heading past the Sydney Cricket Ground, Randwick Racecourse, the University of NSW and ending up in the middle of a boring part of Randwick.
The stations which are separate from the regular flow of traffic, are functional but not exactly things of architectural beauty. I think that they fit in nicely with the overall corporate scheme that Transport for NSW is trying to convey but they are all a bit cold.

They call this station Moore Park which although is technically correct, it feels oh so wrong. Across the way is the Sydney Cricket Ground; which is a hallowed bit of turf which has defined 160 summers and many many winters. I think that this station should be called Sydney Cricket Ground rather than Moore Park.
This station has metal barriers installed and pedestrian underpasses, which I presume will mainly be used as vomitoria at the end of a big sporting fixture. Already there has been forethought put into the intended use of this station and I very much like it.

While I do like that these platforms all fit together with the same design language as the rest of the system, they all feel a bit lifeless and soulless. Had I been in charge of the project, I think that I would have given the task of designing the stations to different architectural firms and told them that it has to look like a Sydney Tram Stop. Many different ideas would have been expressed; in the same way that all of the London Underground despite having all kinds of different styles and methods of construction, all feel like the London Underground. Maybe it's just the newness of this system but it just doesn't really do anything to inspire me.

Somehow I suspect that this is the point. I know that it is possible to create nice things but for some reason, we choose not to. At the University of NSW, the tram stop actually complements the surrounds because the design language of the buildings is so monolithic. I am led to believe that medicine happens inside that building but I cannot help but feel that it is very impersonal.

If it ever came to it and a tram was in a situation where it outran the end of the line, it would probably come to a halt within about three feet. There aren't any fail safe buffers or triggers because Randwick Station is already on an upwards slope.
Also, I mentioned earlier that this ends in the middle of boring suburbia. In the immediate environs, there is one sandwich shop and whatever there is at the hospital down the street. This is not in the slightest a tourist destination and nor is it really intended to be. I love it. Just like Leppington Station which is a railway station in the middle of nowhere in preparation for a housing development, Randwick Station is a triumph of function. It does exactly what it is supposed to. Boring is brilliant.

I conclude this back at Central Station with a point of confusion. I completely realise that this is a tram line but over a brick wall is the regular train platforms 22 and 23. Not quite directly underneath this is platforms 24 and 25. I hope that the new Metro platforms will be numbered 13 and 14 because that is where the box for the new Metro line has been excavated. As platform 15 will not be reinstated, that number should be used for the single platform for the Dulwich Hill L1 tram line and I think that these two tram platforms should be numbered 26 and 27. That would greatly help with integration into the station because right now, it seems just a little bit orphaned.

Yet again my biggest gripe with the implementation of this network is why did we specifically have to buy trains from France and Spain? What would have been wrong with Comeng built trams which came from Australia?
There's nothing inherently wrong with the Alstom Citadis 305 but I have no idea why the decision was taken to choose to send the manufacturing jobs overseas. Evidently, we are too stupid to build trams in Australia.

December 30, 2019

Horse 2641 - Re-Tooling A Metaphor

Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle.

Most people would interpret 'the fiddle' as being a violin. However, the 'fiddle' in this case actually refers to the manipulation of politicians and legislative bodies, to write favourable rules for the rich and and powerful and for multinational corporations, who can ignore national boundaries. The cat stands for these entities and is a signifier for the craftiness and cunning of them.
'Hey diddle diddle' is on the face of it, little more than poetic nonsense which is dressed up like a case of echolalia to rhyme with the clause which follows. 'Diddle' is in fact a diminutive and because it is doubled, it means that this is in the plural. The use of the word 'hey' at the beginning of this is clearly meant to be attention grabbing because what is to follow is both urgent and important.

The cow jumped over the moon.

Obviously a cow jumping over the moon can only be within the realm of metaphor. While it is true that puissance is the high-jump component in the equestrian sport of show jumping, I know not of a bovine equivalent.
A cow is a sufficiently large enough beast to signify something which is massive and difficult to stop. Having established that the cat and the fiddle refers to multinational corporations, this line refers to the fact that they are not only able to jump across national borders and regulations but that they do so with relative ease.

The little dog laughed to see such fun.

A dog is an animal which through proper training, can be made to come to heel and conform to the will of their master. You would be correct in thinking that the loyalty and fealty of dogs can be established and extracted oh so easily, and it is to this end that this metaphor begins.
The fact that the dog is laughing at the 'fun' that it is witnessing, either means that the dog is a willing participant or that the dog is in fact too stupid to critically analyse what is going on. This is especially evident among sections of the electorate who have in the past decade or so, been made to conform their will and even their speech with the economic right, despite the fact that it runs counter to their own interests. By using the magic words of some assumed morality, or appeals to nationalism, racism, national security or nativism (even when the people doing the propagandising don't actually conform to the standard themselves), the 'little dog' (that is the electorate) has been convinced to not only vote for these people but actually cheerlead for them.

And the dish ran away with the spoon.

At the same time that the economic right has been stealing away the 'little dog'of the electorate with tissue paper promises, the economic left has more or less abandoned its previous base and thrown its lot in with a modern kind of cultural leftist and libertarian pluralism. Granted that liberal democracies have for the last century or so expanded people's rights and conditions, it was almost always the collectivist push of the economic left who did that; predominantly through the movement of the chartists, trade unionists, suffragettes. The last thirty years especially have seen movements like the push for LGBTQI rights but they have almost been in direct opposition to the economic left; and after having achieved what they set out to do, offer no kind of dialogue with the people whom they have othered. The dish and the spoon have engaged in an almost identical game to the cat and the cow.

December 27, 2019

Horse 2640 - Assume Nobody Has Read The Book

At church on Sunday, the lay preacher who was giving a sermon on a passage from the book of Malachi, mentioned in passing that it was likely that a lot of people hadn't read this before and he proceeded to give an exposition of where this fits in time.
There's several things going on here:
- In a lot of cases if you are giving a lecture, it is in fact wise to assume that the audience knows nothing. You are the lecturer; who has been placed in that position and given that role precisely because you know more than the audience. It is your job to impart knowledge and wisdom to your audience.
- It is also wise to assume that people haven't read the book. Especially if you are an English teacher and are teaching a literature class, you can absolutely guarantee that people will not have read the book and will be cramming Cliff's Notes at the end.
- People generally don't read books anyway...

Research companies like Pew Research, generally report that at about 2010, the number of people who hadn't read a book in the past twelve months was about 16%. At the end of the decade, that number is out to about 27% and I suspect that that number is growing and will eventually top out at some point.
Also, the number of books that people think that everyone else is reading is 12 but in actual fact, is actually close to 4. For the record, I logged into my library account and found that I had checked out 22 items in twelve months. 20 of which were books.

I had suspected for a while that a lot of damage to people's reading habits is done in high school, where English teachers set texts which were archaic but looking through the current set list for HSC English for 2019-2023, I find a wildly diverse set of novels, plays, poetry, film, and even non-fiction texts, which indicate to me that educators have long realised this problem and are desperately trying to correct it¹.

The thing is that practically everyone, down to about 5 years old I presume, now interacts with the world through smartphones and tablets as though this was utterly commonplace and not some marvel of the twenty first century. It is insane to me that the iPhone came out in 2007; which means that there are kids in high school who are older than it. The world we live in, at least in westernised modern society, is awash with literacy; which means that the declining rates of reading books for both fun and work, is not a literacy problem.

It takes both time and effort to read. I will confess that I have loads of time as I travel forth and back across Sydney; so I tend not to have a problem here. However, if you are at home and you have a smartphone and a television, then your ability to consume media which is visual is far greater than at any point in history. I have no doubt that the rise of very long form drama series such as Game Of Thrones (which was based on a book series began in 1996), Scandinavian crime drama, or the current next best thing Star Wars: The Mandalorian, work well because people are still prepared to take in very complex stories but not necessarily do the work that reading demands.

This actually leads me to a strange question. Has people's story consumption habits actually dramatically changes, or is it just a media shift? News media shifted from print, to radio, to television, to the web, and now sort of sits in a confused mish-mash of all of them. People's consumption of stories, is more or less identical.
I myself have been watching a series of lectures from CS Lewis, which were originally broadcast on the BBC Home Service during the Second World War while German bombers were delivering packages of destruction by air. They were adapted into books, and have now been reread and turned into a series of 'doodles' on YouTube. Can I claim to have read the books? I do not think so but then again, in 1940 they were on the radio in the first place.

I do not think that people's lack of reading is by any means a new phenomenon. While I assume that literacy rates in the first century were far lower than now² I still think that first century Jewish people had higher literacy rates than the rest of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul wrote to his apprentice Timothy:

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.
- First Letter to Timothy (1:13).

Now while I don't expect you to take away some kind of religious message here, it does illustrate that people's lack of reading, whether it was caused by illiteracy or in the modem context apathy, has always been a thing. Furthermore I would point out that as the internet itself moved from a purely text based thing to being a multimedia panoplexornucopia the rates of people publishing blogs has fallen through the floor.

I think that if you are giving a lecture that you have to assume that the audience didn't read the text. If you are preaching, the best option is to have someone read the text at the top of the service, precisely because you know that the audience hasn't read the text; even if you ask really nicely beforehand.
If you are someone who is giving a lecture or preaching, you are the Cliff's Notes. It should almost always be axiomatic that you know more than the audience because at bare minimum, you will have been the only one in the room who has read the book.

¹As opposed to days of yore when English teachers were trying to punish students as some kind of retribution for the horrible texts that they had to read.
²I think that the greatest contributions to modern society are sewerage and water systems, mass literacy, and refrigeration. 

December 18, 2019

Horse 2639 - The Underlying Reason Why The Right Doesn't Do Comedy

I have of late been listening to Alexei Sayle's Imaginary Sandwich Bar on BBC Radio 4 and apart from the rather unnerving fact that I have no idea if some the stories that he tells are real or not, I am yet again reminded why he was the virtual re-inventor of alternative comedy in the 1980s.
As the son of Marxist/Communist parents and knowing the language of the left better than most of his audiences, he was very well poised in a particular point in time to both ridicule the left and confuse the right. Not quite 40 years later and after the economic right comprehensively won, although the comedy tune that he plays is still mostly the same (albeit a bit more sombre), I was yet again reminded that comedy doesn't really work on the left/right economic axis but rather, the vertical authoritarian/libertarian axis; which as compass points are the north and south.

I find it almost amusing that comedy programs are often looked at with very frowny faces by serious news programs on commercial networks (Sky News is a prime culprit this), and accused of bias. Programs like The Chaser and Tonightly With Tom Ballard spring to mind and even though I didn't necessarily care about them, the amount of vitriol which was spat against them was remarkable.
I recently saw Chris Kenny on Sky News, shaking his rag at some comedian and as he was getting visibly redder, I had to question what the motivation was. The only reason that I could think of was that someone from the authoritarian north, needs to generate a point of annoyance to rail against so that the acceptable Two Minutes Hate for the day can be established. In order to be able to rage against an imagined villain, you first need to write the story.

I pondered this for a bit and I think that I am justified in my conclusion that in Australia at least, there aren't really very many right wing comedians. In order to make comedy work properly, the audience needs to be able to ride along in the wagon of mirth that you are pulling; I just don't think that the authoritative north in Australia is capable of doing comedy properly.
The reason why I make the distinction between the authoritarian north and libertarian south as opposed to the economic left and right, is that I am sure that in very communist/soviet style countries, is that there were/are still people doing comedy in opposition to leftist governments, officials, and bureaucrats.

The big problem that the authoritarian north has in doing comedy is that they need to punch downwards to make the mechanics of comedy work; the irony is that their defensive weapon is the shield of free speech, which is actually deployed as a shield against the consequences of what they have just said. The big advantage that the libertarian south has in doing comedy is that they have the ready ability to punch upwards into power to make the mechanics of comedy work; the irony is that their defensive weapon is the shield of censorship, which is actually deployed to protect sensitivities which are constantly being coated in new rules and new fabric, as the wheel of euphemism slowly turns.

My problem with the comedy of the authoritarian north and the libertarian south is that comedy which only really has the five base elements of vulgarity, sarcasm, satire, surrealism, and vanity, means that comedians only really live in the first two, occasionally visit the third, briefly look at the third and literally can not write comedy against your enemy using the fifth.
All of that means that as someone who finds pure vulgarity lazy (I'm not particularly offended by vulgar language, it's just that if that ends up being the basis of the joke, then I think it's a failure) and sarcasm boring if deployed constantly (because sarcasm itself is an explosion and if all you have is a stream of explosions, there is no longer any shock value), then I find the vast majority of comedy served up to us as that most terrible of descriptions that you can apply to comedy: unfunny.

You're more likely to find rightist comedians in the UK because the class system already provides acceptable targets and it is the universities of Cambridge and Oxford that often become the training grounds for stagecraft. In Australia, we pretend that we don't have a class system even though we totally do but because we haven't yet really developed old money and landed gentry (we're working on it), then the range upon which the right can poke fun at itself is still very embryonic.

At its heart, the basic mechanics of a joke involves setting up a scenario and then finding a way to knock it down. Since structures of authority are already set up, then they are naturally ideal targets to knock down in comedy. Unless you want to write jokes which are based upon race, gender, religion, where the actual joke is nothing more than parody and/or caricature, then writing jokes which punch downwards are inherently less funny and even unfunny.

I think that it is inherently difficult to write comedy against the libertarian south for the simple reason that in general, there aren't really any libertarian power structures which can be knocked down. There is a very rare strain of comedy which is based upon vanity but the comedy of vanity best works when the individual knocks down their own setups; by very nature that can not be done from the outside. When you have a set up where the individual could have taken steps to avoid their own downfall, that is classical tragedy; and although it is entirely possible to write tragic comedy, it mostly ceases to be either political or it rings hollow in the real world.
I will agree that there probably are a lot of unfunny leftist comedians but then again, there are a lot of things that I find unfunny to begin with. There are far fewer rightist comedians; which means that rightist comedy is far less visible and there's even fewer rightist authoritarian comedians because that is structurally difficult.

December 16, 2019

Horse 2638 - The General Election Was Broken By Design So That The Tories Did Win

The Tories have been returned to government in their own right as a result of the 2019 General Election. This election is a piece of political symphony for the Tory Party, even if it put the very future of the word 'United' in the United Kingdom in jeopardy.
By first expelling MPs who threw up objections to the process, Boris cleared the way for obedient and compliant MPs to take up their seats. Now, that the election has fallen according to plan, Boris now has a far more agreeable parliament than he had in October and will get his political agenda done.

By overlaying a different set of window dressing, the Tories have achieved their aims and taken back control. If the people thought that this was about them, then they must be delusional, as this is the Eurosceptic part of the Tory Party finally getting their way for their owners in The City. The people have merely been willing pawns.

However, it must be said that this is almost exclusively an English result. While it might be true that the Tories have won the most seats, they almost all occur in the places which are outside of the cities. Second to that, the biggest determinant to see if you voted Tory, is the question of whether or not you own a house.
Demographically speaking, this is mostly a victory by English older people who also own property; helped by a swing element of nativism.

It is best appreciated by looking at the results of the various constituent nations.

For the first time in history, Ireland returned more Sinn Féin MPs than unionists. This does of course mean that those MPs will not take up their seats in the parliament as is the normal practice for Sinn Féin and so they will not be voting on legislation. More importantly it means that Ireland has to seriously look at the possibility of unification referendums.

When legislation is passed by the House of Commons, then it will find no friction at all in the House of Lords and then be met with Royal Assent into law. Unfortunately that will place Northern Ireland outside of the European Union and unless there are Schengen arrangements put in place that will enable the free movement of people and goods across the Irish border, then some kind of border check will have to be put in place. That in itself is in direct conflict with the Good Friday agreement and it is only a few short steps away from radical elements of the IRA from restarting The Troubles again.

Surely there has to be moves toward having a unification referendum or the UK selling Northern Ireland to the Republic for £1. That sale option sounds daft but Scotland literally joined the union in 1707 after a bankruptcy issue and Hong Kong was subject to leasehold arrangements for 99 years. Selling Northern Ireland would be the most bloodless solution to the legal question.

I fully expect an Irish Unification Referendum by the end of 2021, which is in time for the centenary of the Republic.

Scotland overwhelmingly returned SNP MPs to Westminster. 49 of them will be sitting in the next parliament and unfortunately will be legislatively impotent. The Tories have a majority of the seats in the parliament and absolute control of the parliament; meaning that they need to consult with nobody, including the SNP.

The SNP whose manifesto has always included independence for Scotland, has now been bolstered by an absolute majority of Scottish seats, in what amounts to an English Parliament which does not need to and will not listen to the wishes of the Scottish people.

Scotland wanted to remain in the EU and should it gain independence from the UK, then it would have the strongest case ever made to join the EU because the Scottish Pound would be backed by North Sea Oil; which would mean that it would be the hardest currency in Europe.
I fully expect an Scottish Independence Referendum by the end of 2021.

As I have said previously, the Tories won this election because they did the groundwork and quashed the Alternative Vote referendum when that came up. That means that the Tories have been returned to government with a majority of the seats but not with a majority of the votes.

If you apply the same rules to the General Election that the Brexit referendum was conducted under, then a majority of voters actually gave their disapproval to the newly elected government. I do not yet have access to the full vote count on an individual constituency basis but I suspect that the results will show that more than two thirds of seats were won with a minority of votes.

On an overall basis,
Pro Brexit - 14,661,396 - 46.1%
Anti Brexit -17,141,703 - 53.9%

If you apply the same rules to the General Election that the Brexit referendum was conducted under, then the Brexit Referendum would not have passed.

As the UK uses a First Past The Post system, which is really a 'most votes wins' system, then margins swing seats inside the majority of the votes.
Presumably there will be some Tory voters who will naturally vote Conservative however, this election was swung by specifically older and racist voters in the north. You can not accuse the Labour Party of losing the election because they were playing identity politics, when the headline reason why this General Election was called was to lock down a majority of the seats upon the basis of Britain's identity in relation to the European Union.

To be completely honest, I would not be surprised if the instigator of this whole quest, Nigel Farage, having achieved his objective, now gets installed in the House of Lords by Boris Johnson. It would also not surprise me if it turns out that both UKIP and The Brexit Party, were actually just subsidiaries of the Conservative Party, which were invented to say things which the normal Tory Party couldn't; thus dragging the whole electorate to the right.

Thanks to the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, Wales is a vanquished principality. The Welsh Dragon remains chained to the English Lion. Wales remains of functionally no consequence in this and indeed, every parliament.

I would expect at this point, that the Tories, having won power with no restraint, will fully abuse that power; starting with the abolition of the BBC and the NHS, or at very least crippling them both. Britain, or rather England, has just voted to dismantle everything, so this is what we should expect.

December 13, 2019

Horse 2637 - The General Election Is Broken By Design So That The Tories Will Win

As Britain went to the polls today, over an issue which exists purely to appease racists and xenophobes, the Tories are safe in the knowledge that the measures that they took to kill off the Alternative Vote in that referendum, are now paying handsome dividends.
The Liberal Democrats proposed the Alternative Vote back in 2010 following a hung parliament and the then Cameron Government by proxy ran a propaganda campaign which lied about AV and openly insulted the British public. It was killed off under the justification that it would be too hard to understand, when in actual it has been used in Australia since 1921 and both the Tories and Labour use it internally for their own corporate election processes.
By deliberately leaving the voting process broken for another generation, the Tories will benefit from there being parties on the other side of the divide, who will steal votes off each other.

In the election for the seat of Little Dribbling South with the following votes under the current First Past The Post (most votes wins):
24 - Kitties
24 - Puppies
23 - Bunnies
8 - Mice
Then the winner of the seat with more than three quarters of the electorate voting against them, is for a party which openly hates most of the electorate. Multiply this by 650 and you have the House of Commons. Win 326 seats in the House of Commons and you win government. Simples.

The idiotic thing is that this absurd system (which is perfectly fine for two candidates and no more) is that it results in tactical voting where instead of people voting for who they like, they vote against who they hate and then have to hope that everyone else has voted the same way. That is the reason why despite terrible austerity being imposed downwards (which was horribly embodied with the Grenfell Tower fire) and the city exerting sufficient pressure to get tax cuts for them, the Tories were returned in 2017 and why they will probably be returned  today.
Owing to the fact that the Parliament of the United Kingdom is effectively unicameral for matters of budget¹, then both the power of the cheque book and the spiked mace of racism can be wielded by a government with virtually no legislative restraint.
Those are the underlying reasons why this election was called and the only reason why PMs David Cameron, Teresa May, and Boris Johnson haven't been able to 'get Brexit done'², is because all the people who live in a house of robbers are robbers³.

I do not think that either this election or in fact the entire of Brexit necessarily has anything to do with the practical relationship of Britain with the EU. Brexit in the first place was suggested by UKIP which is nothing more than a veiled racist party and they managed to pull just enough of the Tories to the authoritarian north, to threaten the centre of the party. In response to this and also because of a hung parliament in 2015, the Tories shifted to the authoritarian north and further to the economic right; in full knowledge that they have the permanent blessings of The Times, The Sun, Sky, The Spectator and 'the city'. Also due to the nature of the voting public who very much act like football fans who will support their club regardless of how deliberately scumbaggy they are, what would have been a sensible centre can be reliably ignored or jettisoned, in the same way that American politics has been deliberately operating since 1977.

The 2016 Brexit referendum happened because of the racist right of the Tory Party. The 2017 General Election happened because the Tory Party fractured into factions to compete to see who could be the most racist. The 2019 General Election happened because the various factions who were competing to see who could be the most racist, ended up facing the inherent problem that First Past The Post produces, in that if you can not get a majority then you do not have consensus.
For their part on the other side of the chamber, the Labour Party and parties like the SNP, sat in opposition (as the Opposition) and have been derided in the press for five years, when all they have had to do is say "Not my monkeys and therefore not my circus."

The result which is almost guaranteed to return a Johnson Tory Government with an increased majority, is not because of the competence or good governance of the Tory Party, but rather thanks to the groundwork of previous Tory governments and a helpful media, who benefit from having a Tory Government. The process of the election therefore, remains broken by design.

¹Thanks to the Parliament Act 1911 which forbids the House of Lords to turn down money bills.
²Three word slogans are effective but ugly.
³The word 'Tory' is an Irish word which means 'robbers' and was meant as a perjorative.

December 12, 2019

Horse 2636 - Head Over Heels

I’d like to know how the phrase head over heels came about, as in, ‘I’ve fallen head over heels in love with you’.
- Roy, via email

That’s pretty much a set phrase these days, so that to be head over heels almost always means that one has fallen madly in love in an impetuous and unconstrained way. But by itself it can also refer to one’s state while turning a somersault or cartwheel. It’s more than a little weird when you think about it. What is all that strange about having one’s head over one’s heels? After all, we do spend most of our waking lives in that position.

One's sense of balance has to do with the detection of the movement of fluid in one's semicircular canals. Your semicircular canals are three tiny, fluid-filled tubes in your inner ear that help you keep your balance. When your head moves around, the liquid inside the semicircular canals sloshes around and moves the tiny hairs that line each canal. Those hairs send electric impulses to you brain; which interpret the movement in the three axes of rotation, roll, pitch and yaw.
You can trick the hairs in your semicircular canals into sending garbage signals in your brain, either by overloading them with data by being on a ship or in a car, or by being a dizzyholic and spinning around in a circle or an office chair, or by the use of drugs including alcohol¹. A brain that is used to receiving a useful and reliable stream of data, has no idea what to do with a stream of data which is full of garbage signals and creates a response of nauseousness in reply.
That entire motion detection system, which is basically like a bunch of accelerometers in the three axis of movement, sits upon the centre line of mass in the vertical axis as well as being relative to the axis of yaw. That centre line of mass is shown thusly.

This might not be immediately obvious to the user of a brain which is inside a box atop of a biomechanical machine but that box is forward of one's heels. The force due to the weight of the whole machine is spread through one's feet and toes; which are distal of that central line of mass.
To be honest I have no idea where on the human body the centre of gravity is and thus I have no idea where the roll centre in terms of the pitch axis is but going 'head over heels' is really a statement about those two named points turning around some point of rotation.
The phrase 'head over heels' is a statement of fact; that means someone has to be falling backwards for the phrase to make sense.

I can not find the earliest citation for this but I have my suspicion that the phrase comes from the boxing ring; where for someone to be falling head over heels (that is. backwards) means that they must have been punched in the face. Being punched in the face would leave someone dazed and confused and very much falling head over heels, which is really quite apt considering that the phrase is supposed to convey a period of insensibility. The phrase, being 'punch drunk' would equally imply a state of wooziness as a result of the pugilistic arts.

Even the term that we give to human romance implies some kind of sense of either insensibility or being out of control. 'Falling in love' sounds more or less like an accident because 'falling' for the most part is not something that we necessarily want to do. It would make more sense to be 'heels over head', to turn a somersault, because that suggests that one's point of view turned upside down, just like the idea it represents. The answer, is actually quite sensible when viewed through the lens of physics. Having said that, if you have fallen head over heels in love with someone, then you probably aren't likely to do physics experiments with them².

¹see also - Pub -  a meeting place where people attempt to achieve advanced states of mental incompetence by the repeated consumption of fermented vegetable drinks.
²unless your name is Curie.

December 08, 2019

Horse 2635 - The Sydney Football Stadium

This is the current state of the Sydney Football Stadium. While this might seem like a strange time to be talking about panem et circenses while the state is on fire, the root cause is absolutely identical.
The Berejiklian Government has simply failed to invest in maintenance; which means that things fall apart. Fire and Rescue NSW, the Rural Fire Service, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service have all had their budgets cut for 2019/20, which meant that basic maintenance couldn't be done, and it was announced in 2017 that the Sydney Football Stadium would be demolished and rebuilt.


When the then then Sports Minister Stuart Ayres was asked why Lendlease was named as the successful bidder when development consent had't yet been obtained to rebuild it (in December 2018), he gave a non answer.
When his replacement John Sidoti made the announcement that Lendlease wouldn't be finishing the project because they weren't able to do it within the $729m budget, it then confirmed my suspicions that Ayres' previous non answer, might actually have been the truth.

As it stands (or rather doesn't) there is no plan to build anything on the site. Given that the ferries were privatised, that the WestConnex wasn't built unless the private sector got to cash in, that Gladys wants to privatise Sydney Buses, and that the trams will be run by TransDev, what's to say that Ms Berejiklian hasn't cooked up some deal with Stockland or other some such, to sell off the now vacant land where the football stadium used to be, for apartments and a shopping mall. She's just had a shiny new tram line put in and I'm sure that developers would find that extremely attractive. Also given that former Premier Mike Baird was golden parachuted into a nice cushy job at the NAB whose motto is to "nab more than money", then I suspect that Ms Berejiklian would likewise find herself at a job with Stockland.
As it stands (or doesn't) there is probably about half a square kilometer of prime "unimproved" land where the football stadium used to be. Seeing as the Berejiklian Government is perfectly prepared to let thousands of square kilometers of bushlands, national parks, people's private properties and homes all burn to the ground, then to flog this off at some barely better than a peppercorn price, is probably worth her effort. Not only does it remove a pesky asset that costs money to maintain off the books, but the hundred million dollars or so that would be raised, would go straight into consolidated revenue where it can be then paid out to some manager as a bonus.

The big problem for any of the clubs and teams in various sport which used to play at the football stadium is that they had to pay ground rental fees. Conceivably if the land which the football stadium used to occupy is sold, then my solution to make some kind of sense out of this, would need to be put into effect almost immediately if not sooner.
My solution would be for the management of Sydney FC, NSW Rugby, the Sydney Roosters to issue shares. All three of them would need to undergo some kind of Initial Public Offer, which may or may not involve listing on the stock exchange; for the purposes of buying the land off of the NSW State Government. Clearly the government can not be trusted to hold this public asset, as evidenced by the complete knavery of the Berejiklian Government. The only rational action that I can see is if the interested sporting teams actually owned and operated the facilities that they play out of. I would also start criminal proceedings against the relevant Minister for hideous and gross incompetence and negligence.

It's really weird but sporting teams generally do not own their own grounds in Australia. I could be wrong but I think that the biggest capacity ground which is actually owned by the club that plays there is Marconi Stadium in Sydney's west. The grandstands on the eastern side of the ground which had been built in the days of the NSL, have been demolished with a simple grass hill now; which brings the capacity of the ground to a paltry 3000 at best.
Unless the teams from the big national sporting codes publicly sell shares, I see no possible avenue to buy the empty land which the football stadium used to be on; nor do I see the kind of capital raising needed to get the funding to build a replacement stadium. My mistrust of the Berejiklian Government is so deep that I can honestly see them selling the land before the 2024 election.

December 06, 2019

Horse 2634 - This Is Normal

As I write this, there are 217 bushfires being reported by the Rural Fire Service of New South Wales. There probably are more in other states but the RFS doesn't report on those.

This is not normal.

Also, in the 2019/20 NSW State Budget, $78m was stripped from both the NSW Fire Service and the Rural Fire Service. The Premier of NSW then tried to blame the NSW National Parks Service for not conducting fuel management burns, despite having fired 27 of the 36 regional managers and support staff and stripping funding from them as well.

This is not normal.

The Bureau of Meteorology has had to add a new category of "Smoke Haze" to their forecasts; this was after the fire services across Australia added the new category of "Catastrophic" to fire warnings.

This is not normal.

Rather than actually address an emergency which stretches on for more than 1400km, the Federal Government has decided to pursue changes to workplace and industrial relations law, as well as repealing evacuation of refugees from the Federal Government's offshore punishment centres on the grounds of medical emergency. This is also the same week as a reorganisation of government departments in preparation for a expected cut to budgets there as well.

This is not normal.

We have governments at both State and Federal level who are prepared to degrade what's left of public services and the environment, just for the private profits of fewer and fewer people.
Whether its giving an unlimited licence to all the water in the Great Artesian Basin, to deliberately denying that climate change is not only real but is starting to have serious mass systemic effects, to the enforcement and punishment of people because they have the audacity of being poor.
The fact that the skies are orange at noon because of smoke, and we have broken more than 260 heat records in the past five years, and that we have now experienced for the first time in Australian meteorological history a day where no rain at all was recorded on the continent and which had never happened in the 190 years from 1828 to 2018 (and has now happened five times since October), has gone beyond the point of being not normal.

The smell that I am smelling while the skies burn, is the smell of the lovely franking credits which everyone voted for. This is the smell of a country which is literally burning because of the repeated policies of cruel idiots.

This is why I am heartened at the thought that someone on Facebook has decided to organise an event which is called:
Stand In Front Of Parliament House And Just Scream For An Hour

Dec 7 at 12 PM – 1 PM
Dec 7 · 18–25°C Smoke Haze

NSW Parliament House
Sydney, Australia 2000

Yes, this is a futile and ultimately stupid event because it will achieve nothing (largely because it doesn't intend to achieve anything) but I can't help but feel that a futile and ultimately stupid event is the best response to futile and ultimately stupid government. When you have no voice willing to speak for us or to us, then we had better learn how to yell.

When you have a political party which is chained to the proposition that burning public services, vulnerable people, facts and science and truth, and even the environment itself if it is expedient in securing private profits, and the other major political party scrobbling around in any effort to look part way relevant, then before we get to resorting to civil disobedience and revolution (which is almost always the last steps of response to government not giving a hoot about governing), then the only sensible response is satire and ridicule. When you live in an era of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.

The big problem with pointing out that things aren't normal is that after a period of time and things have changed, then those things are the new normal.
This is who we are Australia. We took deliberate and repeated choices to get here. We are cruel. We are selfish. We are stupid. We deserve the country being on fire.

This is normal.

December 05, 2019

Horse 2633 - Israel Folau v Rugby Australia - The Test Case Will Never Happen

Rugby Australia, NSW Rugby and Israel Folau have today settled their legal dispute following the dismissal of Israel Folau after he posted a religious message on social media (the Social Media Post).
The Social Media Post reflected Mr Folau’s genuinely held religious beliefs, and Mr Folau did not intend to harm or offend any person when he uploaded the Social Media Post. Mr Folau wants all Australians to know that he does not condone discrimination of any kind against any person on the grounds of their sexuality and that he shares Rugby Australia’s commitment to inclusiveness and diversity.

Rugby Australia and NSW Rugby do not in any way agree with the content of the Social Media Post. Inclusiveness is one of Rugby’s core values and it welcomes all people to the game, including all members of the LGBTI community. While it was not Rugby Australia’s intention, Rugby Australia acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused to the Folaus. Similarly, Mr Folau did not intend to hurt or harm the game of rugby and acknowledges and apologises for any hurt or harm caused.
Rugby Australia and Mr Folau wish each other well for the future. The Parties do not intend to comment further on the terms of their settlement as it is confidential.
- Rugby Australia Statement, 4th Dec 2019.

Yesterday, social media was awash with posts either praising or condemning both Rugby Australia and Israel Folau after the two parties settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. Now whatever you feel about this case, whether Israel Folau is a boofnut, or a martyr, or a saint, or a sinner, or whether Rugby Australia has sold out, been very canny, or caved in, the fact that there is an out of court settlement means that there is no test case and no precedent going forward.

As the chances of a 'normal' employee even having the funds to be able to challenge their employer over the validity of terms contained within codes of conduct and employment contacts are law, the chances of a 'normal' employee having the ability to win, may as well be nil. Future cases down these lines will now be fought via a war of monetary annihilation; which is excellent for businesses.

The open question of what happens to an employee who otherwise works very competently and professionally at their workplace but happens to like doing things on the weekend that their employer frowns upon, has by default been answered. The question of what exactly an employer owns of their employees' opinions outside of work, is now in effect exactly enough to fire someone without due cause.
Does an employer have the right to fire someone for being a Muslim? Or a Sikh? Section 772 of the Fair Work Act would suggest not however, the imposition of  terms contained within codes of conduct and employment contacts would suggest otherwise. What happens if a player is citing verses from the Qu'ran. What happens then? Would it become societally acceptable to sack that person?
Presumably the right to express opinions, even unpopular or distasteful ones is a right; rather that something which can be bargained away or trampled because of the wishes of an employer?

The Fair Work Act 2009 which sets out what happens if bargaining parties do not meet good-faith requirements, has more or less been set aside in future; especially in relation to Section 772 of the act:
Employment not to be terminated on certain grounds
(1)  An employer must not terminate an employee's employment for one or more of the following reasons, or for reasons including one or more of the following reasons:
(f)  race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer's responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin;
- Section 772, Fair Work Act 2009

I think that Mr Folau going after $14m for an imagined loss which he would have been paid had he stayed on and become the Captain of the Wallabies, to be both delusional and gauche but I suppose than in asking for such an amount, he has given himself enough bargaining space to make a settlement which sees him at least materially comfortable for the rest of his now non-existent rugby career.
I do however want to know what would happen if an NRL club tried to register Folau as a player. Presumably if Rugby Australia fired him on the grounds of his religious beliefs, then the current ban from the NRL is actually a open ban based upon religious discrimination. Again, the question is still open as to what rights an employer has to control the religious beliefs and views of players well away from the workplace; or refuse to hire someone on the grounds of religious discrimination.

I was hoping for a definitive legal outcome in this case, so that the people who do not have the money to play games in court, can have some hope of a proper legal separation of work and private life. That has not happened because yet again money is once again is more important than principle.
The new de facto position is that your employer can still fire you for what you say in a private capacity on social media; which is unconnected to your work; in almost complete impunity because they know that you will not be able to come back at them. This is a total win for employers, and this all happened on the same day that the Ensuring Integrity Bill was reintroduced to the parliament and the Medevac legislation was repealed. Well done Australia.

December 04, 2019

Horse 2632 - A Tale Of Two Greens

 Dear Americans,
I will now show you something which might not blow your minds but it did, mine:

Dear Commonwealth countries,
I will now show you something which might not blow your minds but it did, mine:

I was fully aware of the fact that there are regional variations in the board game Monopoly. The original version from America has street names from Atlantic City, while Commonwealth countries have street names from London, French editions of the game have Parisian street names, Italian editions have street names from Roma, and I honestly have no idea what they do in Japan where the streets have no name¹.
The idea that various pieces of intellectual property should be changed to fit a local culture is not at all strange to me, however the idea that the game Clue should have this kind of cultural change, strikes me as being both unnecessary and bizarre.
What is going on here?

Clue or Cluedo (presumably to make it sound more like Ludo) is a game set in some imagined past (probably the end of the 1920s), where there is a range of stereotypes and blatant sexism going on. The three male suspects, Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, and Reverend Green, all have official titles; whereas the three female suspects, Mrs White, Mrs Peacock, and Miss Scarlett, all do not. They are reduced to being, the domestic, the old lady, and the bright young thing.
If were going to update this for a modern audience, it would be Dr White, Major Peacock, Governor Scarlett, with Sir Mustard being reduced to that of a dumb sports player. Major Peacock would be in the Air Force (or whatever the equivalent rank is). None of this explains why the Reverend Green was defrocked for an American audience.

Because I have grown up in the last burning embers of the British Empire, Cluedo sits in the imagined land of the stereotypical English village. For British people though, this isn't really a stereotype as small villages like this are plentiful. For Britain, this is just a reminder to the past. Nevertheless, the idea that you have a collared member of the clergy in a board game, fits the aesthetic perfectly. We need no backstory of why anyone is there, and in the case of the Reverend Green, we don't need to know if he is Catholic or Church of England².
I simply do not understand the implied cultural overlay which we are supposed to bring to the American version of the game. If this is an old money house in New England, then I don't understand why there aren't members of the clergy. If this is vulgar new money out in a California mansion, then I still don't get why the titles still fall on two of the men, other than for reasons of sexism.

I imagine that Mister Green is supposed to be some kind of industrialist businessman. I immediately think of Henry Ford II, who inherited what was then the second biggest company in the world and was as equally ruthless as his father (though probably not as blatantly anti-Semitic). Even so, why is this Mister Green the industrialist and not Reverend Green?

I married an American lady who it must be said is comprehensively more intelligent than I. I know for a fact that she grew up in a world with cross cultural pollination across the great divide of the Atlantic Ocean.
Also, I think that we are the sort of people who were the expected audience and if people like us have no problem with watching television with subtitles, then seeing a Reverend in a board game is not exactly that much of a culture shock.
What I also don't understand is that by the time that Cluedo was invented, the great detectives of literature, of Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, Encyclopedia Jones, Hercules Poirot, and Miss Marple, had already been in print. Again, the people who play board games are probably also likely to have read books and if Father Brown who was an Catholic priest was already known as a detective, then the Reverend Green as a stock character is not particularly out of order.

I do not understand why this choice was made nor why it was necessary. I also find it weird that a country which has freedom of religion enshrined in the Constitution, should play this as a sensitivity in this way.

¹I do not think that Bono was singing about Tokyo though.
²You must have tea and cake with the vicar or you DIE!

December 03, 2019

Horse 2631 - When To Write On Liverpool's Season (Keep Hope Alive), Part II

Liverpool 2 - Brighton Hove & Albion 1
van Dijk 18', 24', Dunk 79'

Liverpool have gone 11 points clear of Manchester City with a 2-1 win over Brighton. Liverpool's goals both came from the head of Virgil van Dijk, and both came from crosses supplied by Trent Alexander-Arnold. Brighton's consolation goal came almost an hour later and deep into the second half; wherein they got a sniff of victory but it remained tantalisingly out of reach.
Allison's red card which is what triggered the three minutes of confusion which allowed Lewis Dunk to score, was for handling the ball outside of the area in an attempt to stop Leandro Trossard from scoring.
Now you'd think that going 11 points up would endow me with a sense of hope: happiness maybe but not hope. The problem with being a football fan is that you develop a very long memory; in my case, that extends to well over 35 seasons.
I happen to be one of those people who can remember the last time that Liverpool last won the league. The thing is though, that there is now literally a generation of fans who have grown up and had kids of their own who do not because they can not. Liverpool last won the league when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and before the first Gulf War.

I know that I have been asked the question about when to write on Liverpool's league chances, as opposed to writing it off but we are in such strange territory now, that I have no idea how react to this.
Generally speaking, teams do not win the league after falling 10 points behind the leaders. The sole example of a team coming back from 11 points down was in 1998/99 when Manchester United had one of the most extraordinary runs and won the League, FA Cup and European Cup, in the same season. The side that faltered and threw away the 11 point lead was in fact Liverpool, during a horrorshow second half of the season. However, an 11 point lead before Christmas is unheard of; and if anyone could possibly muck it up, it's Liverpool.

The thing that I can not understand is how Jurgen Klopp is able to get these results from these players. Take this match against Brighton for instance. In season's past, I can imagine Liverpool conceding a second goal and giving up a draw but they still managed to get behind the ball and shut down most pushes forward. Lewis Dunk's goal came because Brighton were more lucky than good.

Apart from Mo Salah who is a certifiable superstar, the sprinkling of national representatives is not particularly out of the ordinary, nor are any of the players necessarily wildly gifted a they don't seem to out run the opposition; what they do have is a better sense of organisation and how to move the numbers around. Quite frankly, I think that this can only be to the management of Klopp.
To work out exactly what is different about what Jurgen Klopp is doing, I think that I have to go all the way back to 1959 and to the great Bill Shankly to find a parallel.

It must be said that at the, Bill Shankly arrived at a little club. His job of turning Liverpool from the little club sitting in the shadow of Everton, involved him changing the dimensions of the pitch and building a team which would play higher and wider up the pitch. Jurgen Klopp does not have that kind of luxury. He lives in a world where the pitches are standardised for European competition and where everyone is playing with that as the assumed standard. The days of travelling to the Arsenal Stadium and playing in a narrow blowing alley kind of affair are over. Although I should point out that Shankly was utterly ruthless in picking his playing staff. Within 12 months of him joining Liverpool as manager (14th Dec 1959), 24 players had resigned, left, or were fired.
Klopp's philosophy seems to be about making his players think about what happens between the formation shapes and the loose players are created as a result. It isn't even like Holland's famous 'Total Football' or Barcelona's 'Tika-Taka' and the really screwy thing is that to the tacticians who watch hours of football and who look for any one percent advantage, Klopp's sides (both this Liverpool side and Borussia Dortmund, where he won consecutive Bundesliga titles and took them to their first European final) look entirely conventional. There does appear to be an urgency to immediately to win back possession ball after losing it, rather than falling back to regroup, which is part of the general phliosophy that there is only one ball and you can not score if you don't have it but I do not know if that counts as anything other than common sense.

I find myself thinking that I do not understand why Liverpool keeps on winning matches and I do not understand why nobody else has worked it out either. I do know that they simply do keep on winning but I find myself looking back over there decades of sides with promise that have all collapsed in a heap. Even with an 11 point lead, which is a place that I have been in before, I've also seen that thrown away; so I'm going to reserve being hopeful for at least another month, to at least into the new year.
As someone who has seen decades of seasons of false dawns and unfulfilled promise, I will not be happy until I see the light of the open door; with a guaranteed title trophy waiting inside. One can hope though.

November 28, 2019

Horse 2630 - Do Not Explain The Joke (Also M&M's)

The man who could start a fist fight in an empty room, Kyle Busch, won his second NASCAR championship this month¹. His car, which carried the M&M's livery (the apostrophe is a possessive in this case), invariably led to a joke being posted on a motorsport forum I like:

How do you keep an idiot amused for hours?
Tell them to arrange a packet of M&M's alphabetically.

If you are prepared to lay the fact that this joke is unfunny aside, it poses the obvious challenge of doing precisely that: alphabetically arranging the chocolate bits (and as a bonus, arranging them by colour).

This poses three obvious questions:
1. Aren't they all M? No. Depending on the orientation, they will fall out of the bag as either a 3, E, M, or W.
2. Aren't you red-green colourblind? Yes I am. Thanks for asking.
3. What's the point? There isn't really any. This is a frivolous exercise.

When you pour out the packet of M&M's out onto the desk, some of them are label up and some are label down. I feel like the process of knolling these things and sorting them out, is like bringing order out of chaos.

If you were to just open the packed and let the bits spill onto the floor then ironically, that is actually a good way to stap a vampire.
Legend has it that if you are being chased by a vampire, then your best defence is to throw a handful of rice on the ground because all vampires have arithromania; which is a compulsive need to count things². I also have an extreme fear of being stabbed through the heart with a giant metal stake.
That may explain why I work in an accounting firm; both due to some hidden desire to count things and to work in a sufficiently safe workplace where accidental stabbing through the heart by giant metal stakes is not likely. One of the things which suggests that I am not part vampire, is that I have no desire to count the bits³. Truth be told, vampires are more likely to be found in fields like astronomy where they can work in the dark, or perhaps in a mail room for a very big corporation where they can also work in the dark.
I know that this is a massive aside but if you were to take two jars, one full of 50 black beans and one full of 50 white beans, then by operation of coin toss move one bean from one jar to the other while alternating which jar you do this for, then in the long run and it doesn't seem to matter if you add other rules and constraints, the two jars will over the long run tend towards 45-55 of both coloured beans in both jars. Unless you are prepared to take those end conditions as somehow 'ordered', then this is a practical display that entropy in a closed system always increases until completion.
I say that knolling the chocolate bits is like bringing order out of chaos, when I actual fact, I should have said that it is exactly bringing order out of chaos.

There is a a story which says that supposedly M&M's were invented during World War 2 because the US Army wanted to give the troops a chocolate ration that wouldn't melt.
The truth appears to be exactly the opposite because it seems that Frank Mars (one of the Ms) copied the the idea from Rowntree's Smarties; after he heard of soldiers in the Spanish Civil War eating them. He subsequently set up M&M Limited with Bruce Murrie of Hershey; hence the reason why they are M&M's. Also, according to the Mars Company website, M&M's were first introduced to the public on 10th Sep 1941 and unless they had the ability to see into the future, the story must be fraudulent as the United States didn't enter World War 2 until 7th Dec 1941; which FDR called a "date which will live in infamy".

I suppose that in my ignorance, I wasn't aware that there were six colours of M&M's: Blue, Yellow, Brown, Orange, Red, and Green. I can report that I had real difficulty trying to work out the difference between the red and the green ones. Since I am red-green colourblind and I have no frame of reference to work out which ones are which, this section of the task was impossible. I will admit though, that had I been around in World War 2, I would have been extremely useful as a navigator and spotter in the Air Force, as attempts at camouflage don't work nearly as well on me as they do for normal people. If I had been in the Air Force though, I wouldn't have needed to worry about M&M's though because by all accounts, a Lancaster bomber flying over Germany would have been freezing and on top of that, the castor oil which was still being used as an engine lubricant, sent so many oily fumes through the cabin that crews suffered from diarrhea.

After all is said and done, I was kept amused amused for hours because I arranged a packet of M&M's alphabetically. Thus the joke which was unfunny, actually became a truism and thus, even more unfunny. This could be a case that when a joke is exploded in an example of gestaltzerfall, it starts to take on a sense of semantic satiation.

It was EB White, the author of 'Charlottle's Web' who put this the best:

“Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.”

²Which is why Count von Count on Sesame Street loves to count things. He is part of a great literary tradition. It does however pose the other problem that as a vampire, he probably also has the need to feast upon the blood of virgins (see Dracular (1897)).
³I have no idea what the singular of one of the things in a packet of M&M's is.

November 27, 2019

Horse 2629 - The Great Cheque Swap And The Toxicity Of Nostalgia

One of the best opening lines in literature comes from L.P. Hartley's 1953 novel 'The Go-Between'. I think that it is a steaming, cloying, wreck of a work, which might very well be a satire on that most toxic of impulses: nostalgia. I think that it tries to imagine a world which never was, and does so through a frame which itself, isn't real. That opening line is:

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

Allow me to mine my own nostalgia, for a world which was but might not be any more.

Long ago in the swirling mists of time, when Mr Howard was Prime Minister, and people thought that playing Snake on their Nokia 5110 was pretty neat, one of the very first jobs that I had was working as a teller at St George. After passing the exam and being trained at head office in Kogarah, I was then sent to the branch at Bondi Junction. The manager of the branch, was a lady who took an instant dislike to me because she was expecting to get a girl; so my life was made a living nightmare. It was like working at the Sheol branch of St George. I was there for two weeks and then dismissed; with no explanation at all and no reference.
As a 19 year old idiot with dreams which had not yet been broken, I then applied for a job at the Commonwealth Bank and got the job almost instantly because by coincidence, the person who was doing the hiring, had seen me behind the counter at St George, in that previous fortnight.

Rather than being employed at front of house, I was sent to the Liverpool Street operations centre and given a job in Cheque Acceptance. At the time, the Liverpool Street operations centre was officially a branch and had its own BSB number but it was purely an internal branch and had no external customers.
The biggest assets of that particular branch were these massive cheque readers; which could read thousands of cheques in an hour and sort them into batches, so that they could all be returned to their respective issuing banks and branches. The job of actually checking cheques for legitimacy is firstly done by a person at a normal branch and so a lot of the screening was already done for us. A lot of our work had to do with the cheques which had been flagged for investigation, on suspicion of being either fraudulent, irregular, or were just very large amounts.

The internet in the late 1990s was not the high speed marvel that it is today. In those days, if you wanted to download anything it would take several hours, and if you wanted to pay for anything 'online' you had use your credit card; provided that you trusted the person at the other end of the transaction with your very insecure details. As such, the backbone of the credit card network was still merchant paperwork and bank cheques flying around.
All of this meant that the sheer number of cheques that were being written was probably magnitudes larger than today, and that the process for dealing with them had to be different.

A cheque is an instruction to pay someone a sum specified from a bank account. There are all kinds of rules with regards whether or not that sum specified can be paid in cash, or whether or not the cheque can be on endorsed to pay someone else, or ever whether it must be paid into a bank account. In all cases, a cheque has to be returned to the issuing branch for verification purposes; which is still the nominal reason why it takes three days to clear the funds.
Getting a cheque back to the issuing branch, is itself an exercise in logistics.

At about 04:30pm every day a very big ceremonial toggle switch, like the sort of thing that you might see the villain of a schlocky movie or pantomime switch, would be flipped to the off position and all of the cheques which had been sorted into various bins would be all collated and then packed into B4 area Tupperware containers, and then packed into suitcases which must have been in use since the 1950s. If you can imagine thick wads of cheques, packed into four containers per suitcase, and as many as 20 suitcases coming from the very big branches, then that's an awful lot of cheques.
If you can imagine 80 suitcases for each of the big four banks, and then another 10 for the rest of the banking establishment; then multiply that by 4, then that means that the City of Sydney was generating something in the order of 360 suitcases full of cheques per day, every day. It is little wonder that the banking system was so intent on banking 'customers' becoming our own tellers at home with the advent of internet banking.

At about 5pm, a swarm of stationwagons would descend upon the underground car park at the GPO in Sydney, where they'd all park with their tailgates up, and the great cheque swap would begin.
Suitcases would travel to their respective destinations en masse and within about 20 minutes, the whole box and dice would be packed away and everyone would leave. I imagine that if you had been a particularly observant but stupid thief, then you might consider stealing one of those stationwagons but would be then highly disappointed as there was no cash and just a load of instructions to pay, in the boot.

This whole entire scenario does not happen any more; or if it does, then I have no idea where. The GPO building no longer serves as the General Post Office and is instead a hotel. I thought about going underground to the carpark but very quickly realised that this would be trespassing and trying to explain myself would be seen as very highly suspicious.
I also imagine that the volume of cheques has probably fallen off a cliff by now. Writing a cheque was seen as so valuable a skill that I remember doing it in a high school Commerce class but I doubt that would happen anymore. There has been talk of abandoning cheques altogether but I guess that the banks still see the business of confused old people as sufficiently valuable enough to warrant their continued existence.

I was also reminded of just how toxic the impulse of nostalgia is. As I was looking back at the Money Box bank, I pondered that before 1959, this was also the central bank of Australia. I also pondered that since it was privatised, the people of Australia have been cheated out of more than a quarter of a trillion dollars in lost dividends. In fact, Martin Place is full stuff that we used to own but don't anymore.
What used to be the Trading Bank on Pitt Street is now inhabited by a series of retail shops, as is indeed the majority of the outward facing floor space of the GPO, which has been further stripped of its former glory by being given the almost humiliating moniker of No.1 Martin Place.
Even 48 Martin Place has been violated; with Macquarie Bank taking over part of the floor space. It sounds really daft to lament the invasion of floor space of a private bank, with another private bank but once upon a time, we the Commonwealth of Australia owned and operated that space.
I do not however lament the gradual passing of cheques into irrelevancy. Cash is still the fastest way to transfer money from one person to another, EFTPOS and the credit card system and internet banking runs a close second, but relying on bits of paper which take several days to verify and clear is all a bit twee.

Check vs Cheque
Check is the older form of the word in English; which is still retained in the United States. English English changed after the time of the 'Practical Treatise on Banking' published by James William Gilbart in 1828, when he suggested adopting the French spelling as a practical way of distinguishing the two words. 
Her Majesty's Chancellor of the Exchequer is literally the ceremonial head of the office that writes the cheques.

November 25, 2019

Horse 2628 - The Reason Why Pineapple Does Not Belong On A Pizza

About three years ago the Prime Minister of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson caused an international discussion about putting pineapple on pizza. He jokingly said that he would ban it, if he was allowed. Those comments have echoed around the world several times; causing echo booms along the way; with most people being totally unaware of the initial comments.
I was also privy to this discussion, being made by Italian people; and even though I do not speak Italian, it seems that this cuts across other fault lines such as the Neapolitan/Sicilian/Romana Tonda/etc. question. Far be it from me to proscribe or prescribe what's going on, I can only but observe and describe the general argument.

I will confess though that in prosecuting the case, I have fallen into the trap of looking at the specific rule, rather than the general underlying principle. Pineapple not being allowed on a pizza, is just one point of data in a general function; the latter I think I have found a descriptor for.

The things which are allowed on a pizza, can only be one of the three groups: Red, White, and Green. That's it. That's all. This is an exclusionary principle; which means that anything outside of those three classes (of which pineapple is a case I point) has no business being there.

To wit:
I think that the ultimate expression of a pizza is not the Supreme pizza¹ but Pepperoni. If the quality of the respective ingredients of a pepperoni pizza are all less than mediocre, they still add up to something which is better than those constituent parts.
Pizza Sauce (red), Cheese (white), and Pepperoni (red), are the three basic components and fall into two of the allowable categories.

Note on Cheese:
Cheese is white. It doesn't matter if it is the best quality mozzarella or the cheapest cheddar, cheese is always white for the purposes of complying with pizza law.

Notes on various ingredients:
Most meats are red. Pepperoni, salami, ground beef, ham, bacon, prosciutto... are all red. The two main exceptions are chicken and pork which are both white and therefore still allowable.
Onions and garlic can be all three. Most onions are white. Spanish onions are red. Spring onions, shallots, and salad onions are green. Garlic is white. Garlic and cheese, which is starting to encroach upon the territory of garlic bread, is still allowable because both of them are white.
Capsicums are green. This will sound mind blowing but all capsicums start out as green and only develop their colour later. For compliance sake, it is best not to put yellow capsicums on a pizza, even though they are technically green. Red capsicums can appear to be red even though they are green but even if we just want to look at the outside colour, they are still red and therefore allowable.

There are a bunch of other things which are allowable² on a pizza, even though some of them stretch the boundaries of sanity. Chili and chili flakes are red. Avocado (even though it is way too pretentious to be sensible) is green. Lime I green. Lime is one those rare examples where the acidity of a fruit can cut through the fattiness of meat, or play in concert with the fire of a chili. Lime is a rare example of a fruit that can go on a pizza but only the juice therein. If you put slices of lime on a pizza, you are madder than a gum tree full of galahs with meat axes³.

Be careful. Most fruits are destined to fail on a pizza.
Apple and pear are both red and green but should be exercised with extreme caution.

In general:
The Italian flag, with its tricolour of red, white, and green, is the guide. Pineapple fails on a pizza and under no circumstance belongs there because it is yellow. Hawaiian Pizza thought that it was allowable by trying to claim special status as its own thing but while Ham is red, Pineapple is the Mario Balotelli of pizza ingredients, which arrives at a new place and claims to be pretty flash, but is ultimately disappointing.

Red, White, and Green, are the only things on a pizza which should be seen.

¹There is a theory that The Supremes, of which Diana Ross was a one time member, was named after the square pan Detroit-style pizza. I do not have suffcient evidence to prove or test this theory.

²Barbecue Sauce has one specific function; which is being at a barbecue. Barbecue sauce is specifically for those things which have been burnt. In general, barbecue sauce should not be used in any other context. Barbecue sauce is an allowable ingredient on a pizza (see above) because it is red, and may kind of work with chicken and possibly pork but it has clearly turned up at the wrong party. Just because it is allowable doesn't necessarily mean that it is good; your mileage may very however. Barbecue sauce will work with chips, though the best sauces for chips are mayonnaise, chili sauce, and tomato ketchup (in order of goodness); because chips are agreeable to virtually everything.
Barbecue sauce is designed for barbecues; where you have smokey flame licked meat. It can be painted onto the side of massive cuts of beef, where it will caramelise and truly shine. The southern states of America, South Africa, and Australia, are the places in the anglosphere where barbecue sauce has actually found its proper purpose.
To that effect, the place where barbecue sauce excels, is at a sausage sizzle. Buttered bread, a lightly burnt sausage, onion, and barbecue sauce. In Australia, that is also the taste of democracy.
Barbecue sauce has a specific function and in general it should not be used outside of that function. Brown sauce, chili sauce, and mustard, are better choices for most applications where you might think about using barbecue sauce.

³It should be noted that although Galahs are fond at doing carpentry, it would be more advisable for them to use basic panel saws.

November 22, 2019

Horse 2627 - I Love The Building Of Unknown Doom

One of the consequences of living in the remnants of empire, apart from the abuse of indigenous peoples and the stealing of their lands, the installation of parliamentary democracy and English common law, is the adoption of the otherwise absurd game of cricket.
The biggest criticism that people tend to have about cricket is that it is boring; fair play to them. That opinion is based on the very real fact that the one thing that cricket affords someone who is watching both at the ground and on television, is time; and lots of it. The game of cricket is sometimes a rare glimpse into the full face of eternity; especially when the run scoring by the flanneled fools in the centre of the field borders on glacial and you start to ponder the truly inane things of the universe.

The first test between Australia and Pakistan began yesterday and it happened at about 11am opening day, that my boss who was watching the match while he was on the phone with the Tax Office, noticed a very strange building on the screen. Of course, as I am a student of the game and knowing that this match was being held in Brisbane, I knew instantly what the building was.

- Uncle Google's Maps gave us this. 

The Brisbane Cricket Ground which is known as the Gabba after the suburb of Wollongabba, lies in between Vulture Street and Stanley Street. It also lies to the east side of the imaginatively named Main Street; which is the very northern end of the New England Highway, and which terminates with the Storey Bridge.
To the west of the ground is a bus terminal that looks like a train station and also has what I think is a bus donut pad but the building in question, had to have been the Wollongabba Telephone Exchange Building; which is pictured below.

- Taken on Uncle Google's Road Trip to everywhere.

I could be really impressive and bombard you with facts about this building, such as how many switches are inside and how many gabbawatts of power the building uses but the truth is that I have no idea whatsoever and to be honest I prefer it that way.
The whole thing could be full of nuclear weapons, or Dunlop Volleys, or Chocolate Smarties, or cream, sand, angry spiders, phosgene gas, or gold bullion, and I would be none the wiser.
What you don't know can't hurt you, right? The fact is that this monolithic, windowless, brutalist, faceless, murder death cult of a building, retains an air of terror and horror because I have no idea what goes on inside.

In the grand scheme of things, I am a very small thing. While I think that it is cool to know a bunch of stuff about a bunch of stuff because I like the idea of knowledge for its own sake, I also love the thought that the world is so complex and often so mysterious that I have no idea at all about things. It is fun to see other people who have spent a long time getting excited about a thing and watching them impart their excitement on others. It is also fun to see experts  doing their thing I their chosen field. It is also fun to know that you are a dingus and to retain a sense of wonderment in the world.

As for the Wollongabba Telephone Exchange, I could just accept that it is a telephone exchange which is full of circuits and switches but even if I did that, I still couldn't tell you how any of it worked. I do have a rudimentary understanding of how electric circuits work but I still bet that there's about seven layers of abstraction and protocols required just to connect one telephone number to another.
To be fair, I think that it probably requires less brain power to just ignore it but it is more fun to imagine some kind of secret telephonic cabal in a windowless tower. The most obvious and practical reason why it is made of concrete and has no windows is that it saves money on heating and cooling and temperatures for the electric gear inside can remain more constant but there's no fun in that.

For me, the Woolongabba Telephone Exchange is a triumph of form. There are several of these windowless buildings across the country and this one in particular is the least pretentious. It makes no concession to fit into the landscape, it makes no concession to look like a regular building, and it makes no concession to give you a hint as to what's going on inside. It is stark and mysterious. It cares not for what your opinion is.

When you are watching the cricket at places like the MCG, Sydney Olympic Stadium, the new WACA and the Gabba, there are almost no visual reminders of where you are in the world; which is unlike the Sydney Cricket Ground, or the truly iconic grounds of Lord's or The Oval, which have been built as a higgle-piggledy hodge-podge. The only real reminder of where you are in the world from inside the Gabba is the Woolongabba Telephone Exchange and an apartment block which stands in between. For me, that makes it as iconic as the Gasometer at The Oval.

It is awful. It is terrible. It is ugly. It is stark. It is secretive. By no objective means is the Woolongabba Telephone Exchange a thing of beauty. Nevertheless, I like it.

November 20, 2019

Horse 2626 - Merry Coffee?

I am informed by Mrs Rollo that in America which is the undisputed champion of celebrating holidays, that the term 'Happy Holidays' is an all inclusive one which encompasses Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and even New Year's Day. Quite frankly I think that that is ace. What a top idea. I love this as a concept because as someone who belongs to the Association For The Perpetually Bewildered¹, it doesn't require as much brain power to think about.
In Australia though, Halloween is only really a thing because Woolworths and Coles want to sell lollies and chocolate, Thanksgiving is not a thing at all, and Chanukah and Kwanzaa are so small as to be not at all visible.

This means that without Halloween and Thanksgiving being in the way, marketing for Christmas begins as early as possible; sometimes as early as September in some shops.
As businesses in Australia (just like any other profit driven institution) are looking to spin a dollar in any way possible, we end up with marketing campaigns which are culturally nonsensical.
One such business is Starbucks, which is a Seattle founded company and which takes its marketing cues from head office.

Halloween is already a weird thing in Australia. In Sydney, the sun sets at about 10 past 7 in the evening; with astronomical twilight not ending until after 9 o'clock. It is really hard for the little goblins and ghouls that are walking around to look remotely scary, in broad daylight.
Starbucks, which wants to go all in on Halloween, brought their famed pumpkin spice latte to Australia, despite us having no real cultural roadmap to work out where this fits.
I am reliably informed that for Thanksgiving, which isn't actually a thing in Australia, that Starbucks has some kind of turkey spice cloves thing. I lack the ability to comprehend why this exists. This week though, I note that even the Australian Starbucks stores also have no idea what to do with the marketing push from head office.

As the phrase "Happy Holidays" doesn't really exist in Australia because two of them don't really make any cultural sense, Starbucks has decided to extend it's Christmas propaganda into mid-November and has come up with the following:

I pass this corner while on, the bus at least five times a week. Admittedly I have no reason to go to Starbucks and so I am not very likely to verify if this is a claim that they either sell merry coffee or that their coffee is going to make you merry but if nothing else, it does avoid the whole cultural holiday existence problem.
I expect that there will probably be a member of the 'taking Christ out of Christmas' crowd who will object to this but this goes one step beyond and takes the whole entire of Christmas out of Christmas. I think that that's fair as Starbucks already takes the coffee out of coffee.

This is many steps better than the confected holiday trend, where it's National Cupcake Day, or Beef Appreciation Day (and there's probably some marketing company inventing these things, somewhere) because Happy Coffee is so incredibly vague, there doesn't actually need to be a holiday. Presumably, every day can be Merry Coffee?
Probably not. There aren't really very many holidays which are associated with the word 'merry'. Merry Australia Day? Nope. Merry Easter? No. Merry ANZAC Day?No. Merry Thanksgiving and Merry Halloween also do not sound like they fit. Christmas has an unwritten almost monopoly on being 'merry', though I do not doubt that merriment is occuring at other times of the year. I say almost monopoly as Merry Unbirthday is completely acceptable; which coincidentally also features something that you might find at Starbucks (tea).

The graphics for this propaganda² (of trees and baubels) are so very obviously for the holiday that is not being named, that this is probably as close as Starbucks thinks that it can get without offending anyone. That suggests to me that if this is part of some worldwide directive, then they have thought of the possiblity that they are selling coffee in countries where Christmas doesn't exist.
Starbucks in Pakistan, can run an equally holiday agnostic campaign without offending Muslim folk. Starbucks in Japan, where Christmas is a thing³ albeit one which exists almost purely for sales purposes, can equally run this holiday agnostic campaign without offending Shintoists and Buddhists.
What I find really baffling though, is why Starbucks thinks that we in Australia would take offence to the phrase 'Merry Christmas' and why they think that they need to Bowdlerise it.

Who exactly do Starbucks think would be offended? Is it the Christians who they think are going to be offended at the commercialisation of Christmas? Is it the evangelistic atheists who want all shred of any mention of Christianity removed from public spaces?
We are a country that has Nativity scenes in shopping centres, and where the Mayor of Sydney was lambasted for not wanting to put up a Christmas Tree. I don't understand why Starbucks feels the need to not say 'Merry Christmas' at all.
I do not think that Starbucks cares enough about Christmas beyond whether or not they can sell coffee. Someone in the marketing department has thought that this is a good idea and nobody else has questioned it. I am personally not offended by then removing Christmas from Christmas but I am confused. There isn't even a good pun here; they could have gone with 'Berry Christmas' or 'Merry Bacon and Xmas', or anything with basic wordplay. 'Merry Coffee' is just plain daft.

¹Membership costs one peppercorn, a ball of string, a potato, and $49/yr. Why? Who knows?
²The first cut won't hurt at all.
The second only makes you wonder.
The third cut will pull you under.
You start bleeding; I start screaming.
³KFC in Japan sells elaborate Christmas Sets which also include champagne. -