July 31, 2019

Horse 2579 - Please Scam The Scammers

It came to light from Newspoll that in 1999, the responding rate to random questions on the telephone was 8%. Twenty years later, now that we all have caller ID, where robodialling is a thing, where people are suspicious of anyone who isn't already in their phone's internal lists, and where scammers have trained us to be openly distrustful of unknown callers, the responding rate to random questions on the telephone has fallen to just 2%.
It shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that the pollsters got the predictions for the 2016 US Presidential Election so wrong, if the input data was so unreliable. It is hardly surprising if we have all been trained to mistrust the intentions of the people on the other end of the phone line.

Not too long ago, we had a client arrive in a massive flap, while on the phone to a scammer who had strung her along to the point where she had already transferred several thousand dollarpounds from one of her accounts to another, and was going to go to the post office and buy lots of prepaid Visa cards to mail to the scammers on the other end of the phone call.
She came to us because she wanted to run it over with us, to make sure it was ok. The full extent of my conversation to scammers was "Good morning, Andrew speak..." before they hung up. They phoned back two minutes later and I again answered and they again hung up. I phoned the number which was reported as dialing in and I was told that the number was not connected¹.
What I found particularly offensive about this was that they'd convinced her that I had left the business and was replaced by someone called Michael and they handed the phone call off to them. I suppose that was supposed to add legitimacy to the scam.

This whole thing lasted about half an hour before I could convince this lady that this was a scammer and that she needed to literally do nothing.
After she had gone, I wondered about the economics of the scam and realised that if they managed to speak to just 2% of people and that if just 2% of those actually forwarded on anything, then the recovery rate at $4/hr world only need to be one every 15 weeks of labour input. If you have someone in a call centre, in a country where labour laws are non-existent, and wages are awful, then the prevalence of these kinds of scams makes complete economic sense.

This was already in my mind earlier in the week when I was phoned up by someone pretending to be from the Australian Taxation Office, who told me that there was a warrant out for my arrest and that unless I paid them $3400, the police would come around to my house and take me to gaol.
Now already as someone who used to work for the Commonwealth Law Courts, I have a better idea of how warrants are issued than probably 90% of the population would. When you couple that with the fact that I am sitting in front of a computer which has access to the ATO's Tax Agent Portal, then it's pretty obvious that I have far more access to information than even someone who works for a debt collection agency and has the legal right to ask questions; which this person pretended to be.

I told this person that I had not been served with a debt collection notice and at that point, they doubled down and told me that merely arguing with them would cause the police to be angry and that I was definitely going to gaol.
So I asked them if there was an arrest warrant out for me, to which they agreed that there was and that I needed to give them my address.
Logically that is an absurdity. Presumably if the police already had an arrest warrant out for me, then they should at least know my last recorded address for service of that warrant. At this point they cited that they were having a convenient 'computer error' and that the phone call was being recorded for evidence.

I kind of feel sorry for these people. Through no merit of my own, I won the lottery of life and was born as a straight white male in the first world and late in history. Materially, I have a better life than practically every king and queen who ever lived. The person at the other end of the phone line, through no fault of theirs, may have been born in a place where even the necessities of life such as reliable potable water might not be guaranteed. In that respect, I can completely understand the motive of jealousy which might arise.
Even so, openly lying to defraud someone by threatening them with gaol time, is I the words of a good doctor who is a client of ours: 'not manners.'

The Australian Taxation Office in all its underfunded glory, doesn't really have the capacity to do much about this sort of thing. If the phone number which these schemes operate by is itself a lie (and you can't phone them back on the number that they've just supposedly called you on), then tracking down these things is like trying to find a needle in a haystack; which by the way can be done, except that the ATO has neither the labour to sort through the hay, nor a powerful enough electromagnet to atract the needle².
The ATO does have an office to deal with scams, which I am sure exists as a public assurance office more than anything else because I seriously doubt their ability to find, much less prosecute these cases.
In the end, after being threatened with a trip to Her Majesty's holiday fun camp, and being roasted with liberal usage of the kind of language that would make a sailor blush³, the address that I gave them for service of my supposed arrest warrant was:

GPO Box 9990
Sydney NSW 2001

I do not expect that they will serve that address with a fake arrest warrant but it would be interesting if they did.

All of this serves as a warning that there are people in the world who will prey on the vulnerable. Never ever ever give away details if you don't have to. Never give away credit card details. Never give someone your Tax File Number. Ring the ATO on 1800 008 540 if you have even the slightest doubt.

Do give them the ATO's address though. If someone is a scammer and they are stupid enough to try and dupe the ATO, they deserve what's coming to them.

And here's some neat advice from the ATO:

²Though with improvements in the matching service across government departments, they are getting better at that.
³It is funny how the decidedly Saxon words became the default swear words of the world. 

July 30, 2019

Horse 2578 - Let's Call Theft 'Theft'

This post is like Araldite Epoxy Resin, in that it comes in several parts and has gone increasingly messier as time has gone on:



Celebrity chef George Calombaris has been slapped with a substantial fine after admitting to underpaying $7.83 million in wages to 515 current and former employees of his hospitality empire as part of an unprecedented deal with the Fair Work Ombudsman.
The Masterchef star has been ordered to make a $200,000 "contrition payment" and must also make a series of public statements to promote compliance with the Fair Work Act, according to an enforceable undertaking announced on Thursday morning.
The full extent of the underpayment scandal has dwarfed initial estimates by Calombaris from April 2017, when his company Made Establishment announced that 162 workers had been underpaid $2.6 million because of "historically poor processes".
- Sydney Morning Herald, 18th Jul 2019




This is not an "underpayment" scandal.

Back in the olden days, instead of a four syllable gilded word, we used to have an honest ten-cent word for this - Theft.

This isn't "underpayment" but straight up wage theft by a person who the media (in this case Channel 10) has chosen to reward by giving them extra fame and glory, on the television show MasterChef.

It seems that if you happen to be in the public eye and famous, the normal rules of life don't apply to you. If you were to go to Mr Calombaris' restaurant and 'underpay' to bill, then more than likely you would find yourself in court, with him trying to claim back a few hundred dollars. If you were to decide that you wanted to leave without paying, then you would find yourself in prison for stealing. However, if you are George Calombaris, then it isn't wage theft but an 'underpayment'. Also, if this is an accounting error as was claimed, then why was it systemic, and part of a slew of underpayments right across the hospitality and retail sectors. Why have we never heard of an accounting error which caused an overpayment?

Well actually we have. An overpayment might have been made by the Federal Government; in which case you will have incurred what is affectionately known as a Robodebt. If I understand this correctly, if you have a Robodebt from ten years ago the government will hound you to suicide but if you are a celebrity like Master Chef George Calombaris who has stolen and the wages of his employees its just an accounting error?

Have I understood this properly?

You can't claim that this is a series of accounting errors due to "historically poor processes" when your own article then goes on to state:

"A four-year investigation by the Fair Work Ombudsman uncovered a raft of breaches, including a failure to pay minimum award rates, penalty rates, casual loadings, overtime rates, split-shift allowances and annual leave loadings."
- Sydney Morning Herald, 18th Jul 2019

This isn't an underpayment scandal but straight up theft.

I will openly admit that journalism is expensive and that the proprietors of a newspaper have the right to free speech, political expression and persuasion, and editorial licence, as much as any other individual or organisation, but it really grates with me when a media organisation openly protects the powerful.
There's just something sinister going on when a newspaper is prepared to demonise those people who can not defend themselves in the court of public opinion but at the same time will excuse actively bad behaviour by wrapping it in passive verb clauses. An
underpayment of $7.83 million in wages not only isn't an accident but the court has now proven same.

Furthermore, the archives of the Sydney Morning Herald prove that this was a very deliberate course of action on the part of George Calombaris.


Calombaris, who stars in the high-rating MasterChef TV show, has complained about the rates he will have to pay staff at his new Melbourne pasta bar, due to open this month, claiming it's up to $40 an hour per worker on Sundays.

"The problem is that wages on public holidays and weekend greatly exceed the opportunity for profit.
"It's really difficult to stay open and we only do it because of tourism but the reality is it's uneconomical.
"So our labour laws are something that need to be looked at and we keep talking about it."

The cost of eating out in Australia was expensive because of the workplace relations regime, Calombaris said.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 9th Jan 2012




You do not "only do it because of tourism". You go into business to do business and the reason why business does business is to return a benefit to the owners of that business in terms of profits and dividends.

Back in the olden days, we used to have an honest ten-cent word for this - Lying.

I have no doubt that when former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, complained about not being able to get dinner at a hotel at 10:17pm on a Sunday night, George Calombaris was rubbing his hands in glee at the prospect of paying his staff less because their penalty rates might be taken away.

I bet that as a celebrity with a disordinant amount of influence, if he put a submission to the Productivity Commission, that they would have listened to his voice more than someone who would have to accept the newly made worse conditions as a price taker, and who would find it harder to put food on their own table.
By the fruits of their worse paid labour you shall know them and it should surprise nobody that after the fruits of their worse paid labour, George Calombaris pocketed the difference and then some.

Cuts to Sunday penalty rates had not created one new job or prompted business to give any extra hours to workers, admits the small business lobby, which has declared the heated political debate over the reduction in workers' pay to be a "waste of time".
Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong said the net impact of the phased-in cuts by the Fair Work Commission had been minimal because they had coincided with above-inflation increases in the minimum wage. "There's no extra jobs on a Sunday," he said. "There's been no extra hours. Certainly, I don't know anyone (who gave workers extra hours). It's been just a waste of time."
- The Australian, 26th Apr 2019.

Just for reference, the national minimum wage went up 2.25% as opposed to the annualised inflation rate of 1.90%; which is a net 0.35% or 6 cents an hour. Forgive me if I think that Council of Small Business Australia chief executive Peter Strong has taken Michael Bliss on a sightseeing tour. Cutting penalty rates and then blaming a 6 cent increase in real terms for not hiring people; which is the reason why you put that forward, is knavish.
George Calombaris went one further and actually stole wages as well; which surely must make him the knave of tarts.

It gets worse dear reader.


The Saturday after George Calombaris have been proven by the Fair Work Commission to be a knavish knave, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Published this in the Good Weekend magazine:

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age put out the utterly feeble excuse that this had been sent to the printers on the Wednesday; before the decision was handed down by the Fair Work Commission, that Mr Calombaris was as guilty as the day is long of wage theft of $7.83 million from his staff.

The problem with this is that sitting dates, call overs, and the calendar for directions hearings are published in advance and are a matter of public record. It shouldn't be that hard for a news organisation which publishes the de facto newspapers of record, to send someone to the court to have a look at the roster; especially considering that the same news organisation published stories about the impending decision earlier in the week.
That says to me that an editorial decision was made, to ride the coat tails of publicity which would flow as a result of the MasterChef Finalé on Network Ten, and that they wanted to sell advertising space. This was a dispassionate and amoral decision, which is completely normal for how business normally operates.

Back in the day when the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age were owned by Fairfax, this sort of thing probably did happen but I would hope that the newspapers at the time had more editorial control about the decision to go to publication. It probably would have made more sense to just pulp the magazine and accept the fluff; and then write a piece for the following week which at least explains the mens conscia recti of the thing. Showing that the newspaper is editorially aware, is a far more noble course of action than this pile of claptrap.


Network 10 has pulled the plug on Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris, confirming the trio will not return to MasterChef next year.
Chief executive officer Paul Anderson said: "Despite months of negotiation, 10 has not been able to reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George."
- Daily Telegraph, 23rd Jul 2019

I would like to say that this is the best outcome for all concerned except that this does nothing for the people who have been working in George Calombaris' establishments and haven't been paid properly. They will still have to mount a legal challenge to recover what should have been legally theirs in the first place.
Channel 10 for its part has either responded to this because it suddenly found a conscience or because it found that the future reputation of the television show would be ruinous.

I note that the protagonist in the negotiations for more money here wasn't Messes Preston or Mehigan but our principal knave of this story, George Calombaris. He shows an incredible sense of fridge blindness to want to ask for more money and kick up a limburger stink about it, while at the same time denying his own employees their dues. I'd like to say that Mr Calombaris was given his just desserts here but he's skipped away without paying - which should be called Theft but is given a euphemism for no reason I can think of.

July 29, 2019

Horse 2577 - Supercars: Where To From Here?

Having successfully thrown free-to-air television off the boat (as a free-to-air viewer I didn't see the race at Ipswich's Queensland Raceway), the Supercars management is busily beating the sport to death by killing any chance that any team that isn't DJR Penske or 888 has of winning.
So far, of the 18 races held, Scott McLaughlin has won 13, Fabian Coulthard 2,  Shane van Gisbergen 2, and Chaz Mostert 1.

- McLaughlin 1st, Daylight 2nd, Revenue 3rd, Fans DNF

This complete domination by one team who specifically exploited the rules from the outset, has had the desired effect of taking from the wallets of subscribers while returning a string of dismal crowd attendances.
This lowering of crowd numbers and viewership numbers is also having the effect of reducing the amount of money available to the teams; which for 2019 has resulted in only 24 cars on the grid - which takes you back to the days when privateers made up the numbers in the 1980s. The fact that there will be only two dozen motor cars at supposedly Australia's "Great Race" in October is a disgrace; especially when you consider that there could be potentially another 30 cars if Super 2 and Super 3 were allowed to race in the 1000.

As for me personally I have rediscovered NASCAR, with that series posting entire races on YouTube. I have to say that with the three makes of car and a host of drivers who are all within a cigarette paper of difference in talent, it leaves the Supercars championship in the dust.

Part of the problem that the Supercars has is that it doesn't really know what it wants to be. The old "race on Sunday, sell on Monday" mentality makes no sense at all, when you consider that the Mustang for only two months of its existence in Australia outsold the departed Falcon; and the ZB Commodore has never even come close to outselling any V model of the Commodore. As for the Altima, Nissan don't even sell that in Australia any more and I think quite rightly saw zero point in developing a Supercar GTR when they already had an international GT3 program and a Super GT program..
The truth is that neither GM or Ford actually care about the sport enough to properly support it, the management has decided that the fans who grew up on the sport simply aren't worth the effort, and the general public, having watched the whole circus turn their backs on us, have responded in kind..

The big question that I have is: where to from here? I imagine that it can't be fun for the other teams to be thumped week in and week out by DJR Penske and it certainly isn't fun as a race fan to see what has essentially devolved into a procession with three Mustangs up front and the two Red Bull Commodores next.
The underlying problem is that the rules were designed for cars which no longer exist. It was then compounded by creating a control chassis which no manufacturers wanted to play with. It was then further compounded by Supercars themselves running a closed shop and selling Racing Entitlement Contracts which very nicely locks out anyone who isn't approved for entry.
We have gone from having five brands represented a few years ago, to only two, and with only one with a realistic chance of reliably winning races. If this isn't by design, then it's the result of insanely poor management¹, and needs to be corrected.

If I look across the Pacific², I note that NASCAR is looking at their so-called Gen-7 regulations for season 2021 or 2022. This probably will mean running 5L V8s instead of their 6L V8s, and probably will also involve some kind of hybrid system. Now presumably the Supercars organisation which has pretty much poisoned the waters when it comes to running international GT3 regulations, and would more than likely reject adopting Group One regulations as is running in both Germany's DTM and Japan's Super GT series, might want to look at the Gen-7 regulations and act accordingly. Penske already run the Mustang in NASCAR and Walkinshaw Andretti Racing would probably have tie ins in America as well.

I imagine that if the Supercars were to adopt some variation of the Gen-7 regulations, then the pretense of running cars based on road designs would need to stop. As it is, the Mustang shares zero components with the road car, the Commodore will probably be dropped by Holden in the middle of 2021 as Opel which builds the car is now owned by PSA Group and not General Motors, and the Nissan Altima is already a legacy piece which isn't on sale in Australia any more and Nissan Motor Co. has already withdrawn support for 2020 and onwards.
If Supercars were to adopt some variation of NASCAR's Gen-7 regulations, then now is the time to do it as they might get a chance to shape how the common regulations would look. Since NASCAR already wants to have close racing, they run incredibly tight rules and the cars themselves are bespoke bits of kit which run almost identical body shells, save for the noses and windows in between the B-Pillar and C-pillar. I can imagine the 2022 Supercars Championship running virtually identical cars to NASCAR, save for the front splitter and rear wing assembly. Of course NASCAR would prefer to keep the doors permanently closed but that could be a job for the boffins to work out.

What I do know is that as it stands, viewership numbers are the lowest that they've been since 1992, ticket sales are anemic, the racing is a snoozefest, and the current long term future looks about as bright as a single 40 watt bulb in a gymnasium.

Dear Supercars,
Please put big numbers back on the doors. Offence intended: NASCAR's big numbers looks cool but the little yellow blobs on a Supercar, is not only difficult to read if you are trackside but looks really really dumb. Mind you, given your other management decisions, it's hardly surprising.
The increasingly annoyed race fans of Australia.

¹Fining Scott MacLaughlin $10,000 for bringing a sign that says that the Mustang has won the title, at the weekend, was stupid. Fining him a further $3,000 for doing burnouts after the race is also stupid.
²Betty Klimenko might already be looking across the Pacific at NASCAR. She has indicated that Erebus Motorsport might like to have a go in America. To be honest, I don't blame her. Also, Betty Klimenko is the most joyous team owner of the whole Supercars circus. 

July 25, 2019

Horse 2576 - I Like The Unknowable Power Of The Governor General

It came to light through a series of tweets that former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wrote a number of warning memorandums to the Governor General, in case Immigration Minister Peter Dutton won the impending leadership spill in 2018, and was recommended by the Liberal Party caucus as the next Prime Minister. That is of entirely academic as Mr Dutton lost the spill and Scott Morrison became the Prime Minister, however the existence of these memorandums indicates a mostly ignored aspect of our weird version of parliamentary democracy.

Mr Turnbull's concerns to the Governor General related to the Section 44 eligibility of Mr Dutton and the mostly unresolved question of his pecuniary interest in the Crown, as a result of receiving funds through a closely held trust. I can only assume that with the election which recently returned the Morrison Government, that Mr Dutton will have sorted out his interests.
Quite apart from that though is the unspoken spectre in the room and seat of unspoken power, which is permanently installed in the metaphorical throne room of the Governor General.
Section 64 of the Constitution states that it is the Governor General who makes and unmakes cabinet ministers; including the unwritten ministry of the minister without portfolio - the Prime Minister.

Ministers of State
The Governor-General may appoint officers to administer such departments of State of the Commonwealth as the Governor-General in Council may establish.
Such officers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor-General. They shall be members of the Federal Executive Council, and shall be the Queen's Ministers of State for the Commonwealth.

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

It probably would irk republicans that this vestige of imperialism should remain in the Constitution, and perhaps they will cite the events of the 11th of November 1975 as proof but if your only contention is one series of events in 119 years, then I'd say that the system works pretty well.

There are absolutely no restrictions on who the Governor General can appoint as a minister. They could appoint Sandi Toksvig who is not even an Australian citizen as the Minister Of Lemonade which isn't even a real cabinet position (except that it would then be one after the Governor General appointed her). The only stipulation is that the person becomes a member of the House of Representatives or Senate within three months. The Governor General could depose Scott Morrison and appoint Jacinda Ardern as Prime Minister of Australia for that same reason. Ms Ardern could be Prime Minister of Australia as a minister of the Crown for 89 days because the law only requires that she becomes a Member of Parliament after three months; the restrictions on being an MP don't specifically apply to a cabinet minister.

It is worth remembering that Edmund Barton actually was Prime Minister for 87 days without holding a seat in the House of Representatives because the first federal election didn't take place until March 29. John Gorton was Prime Minister in the Senate when he started and then resigned before winning the seat of the newly departed Harold Holt. Technically he didn't have either a seat in the House of Representatives or the Senate for 23 days; which was the second time that we've had a Prime Minister with no seat.

If this sounds daft, then I think that you need to be thankful that you live in an era of stable and boring government. This has that potential for abuse but given that most of the time, no-one knows who the Governor General is, then that stability is exceptionally valuable. The world could be a much more chaotic place and I think that it is to that kind of world that Section 64 was written in preparation for.

The bloody events of 1848 created countries from thin air and Europe was revisited with another bout of bloody chaos and mayhem in 1870. Australia had its series of constitutional conventions in the 1880s and 90s and must've been aware that the ticking time bomb of Europe was likely to explode once again at some point.
That did come to pass less than a decade and a half into the new nation's history when one particular archduke took an unfortunate trip in a motor car in Sarajevo. Up to that point, nobody really knew what an archduke was; much less why that should trigger another continent wide conflict. As far as Australia was concerned, the First World War mostly happened on the other side of the world. Nevertheless, she still moved to send troops anyway.
The Second World War happened so close to home that although the sounds of war were heard, very little was damaged and there was no actual invasion of Australia. Section 64 could have been written with such a world in mind, where the need to hire a short term expert, or perhaps an advisor on a war footing, might be needed.

I am sure that in 1901, the framers of the Australian Constitution, were probably thinking of some kind of Colonel Blimp figure, for whom the fields of war were the extension of the playing fields at Eton. They were probably thinking of someone who had been sent as an envoy in some kind of patriarchal condescension on a national scale.
Imagine if in 1942, after the bombing of Darwin, that a series of events meant that Winston Churchill came to Australia. I suspect that absolutely nobody would have minded him being appointed as a cabinet minister of war. Think about our American allies. Someone like Douglas MacArthur or Dwight Eisenhower may have been useful as a cabinet minister, and getting a seat at the table to listen in on policy decisions.
Perhaps related to this is that on at least one occasion, there have been talks of sending the next in line to the throne as the Governor General, as if it were like a training ground in how to be King. That hasn't come to pass.

Instead we have a Governor General who is recommended by the parliament on an almost exclusively partisan basis, to represent a monarch who is ten thousand miles away, and who is also unelected. The really bizarre thing is that the system works brilliantly. I don't know of anyone who would choose to set up a system of government like this from scratch and yet, if we look at all the other systems where the head of state is elected by the people, it is almost always disastrous. The 1999 referendum sent the message that the people of Australia want to elect the head of state but the status quo was retained; which has turned out to be one of the best results that could have happened. Since then we have had seven Prime Ministers. Admittedly I have no idea how many Governors General that we have had in that same time period but that is testament to the fact that they have remained out of the way of politics.

I think that as we have at least seen into the window, if only as if looking through a brick of glass at a bank, that the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Governor General is still more complex than most republicans would have us believe. The Governor General retains the power to hire and fire the executive and while republicans will see that as an inherently idiotic construction, it is worth remembering that this has only been done once since Federation and in that case it may have been entirely necessary.
The Governor General is not normally subject to the winds of politics and of themselves can not be forcibly removed. However, when the perfect storm of politics does happen to blow its merry confusion around the place, it is the Governor General who remains planted, rather than the Prime Minister who may be snapped like a twig.

I say all of this as perhaps a preparatory warning to republicans who might want to change the Constitution. The people of Australia have made it clear that they want to elect the Grand Poobah Governor General President Highness King Boss, rather than having parliament do that for them. In theory that should be sensible but as soon as you do that, the position is instantly politicised and will be made worse. We have one of the most stable democracies in the world and to uproot that, just for the purpose of changing a few hats, seems stupid to me.
I like that the Prime Minister is secretly scared of the Governor General. I fear that a change in circumstances either raises the power of the Prime Minister (which is bad) or would solidify the position of the Governor General (also bad). To do nothing in my opinion is the best way forward.

July 23, 2019

Horse 2575 - Doonside Station Needs A Lift But The Transport Minister Just Laughs Like A Knave

Ha ha ha, let's all laugh at all the people falling down the stairs.
...is the only real reason that I can think of, that despite repeated petitions to the NSW State Government, there are still no lifts at Doonside Station.

- Welcome to Doonside: Stuck In 1974.

It could be argued that because I have two perfectly good legs and am at a level of fitness which is at least fit for the purpose of playing football, that I have no need of a lift at Doonside Station. While that may be perfectly true, it is also reasonable to assume that one day, I will eventually be enfeebled to some degree, and that my current level of fitness and ease of movement in the world will not continue forever.
The Grim Reaper as a rule, moves at approximately 1 mile an hour¹; which means to say that when people become so enfeebled that they can no longer outrun him, he collects his harvest. However, most people's walking speed is between 2 and 4 miles an hour; and some people have mobility issues.

- How are you going to get down that in a wheelchair?

If you are old, or pregnant², or have a push chair or perambulator, or injured and are on crutches, or in a wheelchair, or nauseous and horky-borky-chucky-wucky³, then having proper lift access to buildings, railway stations, supermarkets, shopping centres et cetera, all become useful and indeed necessary. Even the way that we design roll kerbs, makes life easier for these people.

As a society, we really only became interested in looking at better access for people with mobility issues after the First World War, when people who had served their nation and had come back with serious injury now found that they couldn't access places. That ongoing fight extended well into the twentieth century and was/is still ongoing in my lifetime.

If you are in a wheelchair, then getting up a 200mm kerb may as well be like trying to get to Mars for all the good it does you. Yes, there have been people of limited mobility who have achieved some amazing things and ascended mountains but the way that we design public spaces shouldn't mean that they need to every time that they want to get on a train. You shouldn't need mountaineering skills to go up and down Mount Doonside Station.

- Keep Left On Stairs and Ramps? But there aren't any ramps down to the platform.

- Maybe kiddies in prams will think falling down the stairs is a fun ride?

The thing is though, that things like lift access, ramps, and roll kerbs, are all non-competitive pieces of public infrastructure and design. The provision of these things is not a disadvantage to everyone who does not need them but rather, an advantage for those moments of edge cases.
Completely able bodied people, who might be carrying goods, moving a bicycle, who are tired, or even who are just plain lazy, also benefit from the provision of lift access, ramps, and roll kerbs.
Given that there is no disadvantage to provide access to infrastructure and that there are benefits to everyone for doing so, then not doing so (repeatedly, I should add), is either apathy or malevolence.

- There are no people in this photo. Is it because people don't use something that they can't use?

It should also be so obvious that it does not need to be stated, that peoples' circumstances change. People generally get old. Some people get pregnant². Some people will suffer life changing injury. To assume that the provision of these pieces of public infrastructure is only for people who currently are in need of them, is the height of arrogance and denial of fact. 
It should also be so obvious that it does not need to be stated, that the non-provision these pieces of public infrastructure, makes life more difficult for the people who rely on them. In the case of Doonside Station, which doesn't have lift access to the platforms, then for people whose mobility is limited, then in some instances this is like the outright denial of service of the railway station. If a railway line is built for the purpose of moving people from one place to another and people do not have access to the railway station by dint of mobility issues, then the railway line has for them, failed at its reason for existence.

- Maybe someone in a wheelchair could try jumping down?

The reason why I write this post in particular, is to shame and ridicule the NSW Transport Minister into action. From what I can gather, some kind of petition has been made by the people of Doonside (on a repeat basis) for a lift since 1994. That means to say that if there were old people who needed access to Doonside Station when the campaign started, then they have in all likelihood died and been replaced by new old people.

- Nope. They would have missed that train.

As this started in 1994, which was 25 years ago, that also means that this is a bipartisan case of either laziness or stupidity. Of course I could be too generous in my estimation and this could be a genuine case of knavery on the part of the Transport Ministers on both sides of the political divide, which might be a reasonable thing to assume given that the people who we pay to govern us, might not necessarily be aware of the existence of anything outside Macquarie Street. Since they know not of the existence of the people of Doonside, and since they do not empathise with their mobility issues⁴, they do not care. Certainly based upon the evidence of the current Transport Minister Andrew Constance, that appears to be the case. Former Transport Minister, Gladys Berejiklian, is aware of the world beyond Macquarie Street because pointing at railway stations affords her with the pleasurable gifts of fame and glory from photo opportunities. I of course note the completely not in any way shape or form non-partisan and certainly non-pork barrel fact that the new Northwest Metro just happens to end in Ms Berejiklian's constituency.

- And even it you were in a wheelchair, you're still not going to fit through that thing.

I therefore submit in evidence, photographs of the current situation at Doonside Station. I hope that as you look at them, you cackle and guffaw to yourself in the manner of a pantomime villain; because I can only assume that for the last 25 years, this has been the attitude of the Ministers for Transport. Think about how delicious it must be for the Transport Minister to laugh as old people, pregnant ladies, people with push chairs and perambulators, people in wheelchairs, people on crutches, the injured, the sick, and even the lazy, are exasperated yet again by the lack of action.

Of course this could all be so easily solved if the Transport Minister Andrew Constance actually bothered to care one iota. Until then, I will point my pointy finger of shame and give him a very hard stare. 

¹The Metric system is not in use in Hell. They still use the Imperial system, for the sole purpose of making the underworld as difficult as possible.
²Or even Gregnant: that is, pregnant with a child named Greg.
³Please wait until you have exited the lift. Horky-borky-upchuck in a lift is unpleasant.
⁴They themselves being in receipt of government car provision and therefore have no need of public transport.

July 20, 2019

Horse 2574 - Apollo: Why The Colossal Waste Of Time And Money Was Totally Worth It

I know a number of people who think that going to the moon was a colossal waste of time and money, when that effort could have been better put towards things like health care, education and whatnot. To be fair, I completely understand the sentiment because it demonstrates a practical outworking of the economic concept of 'opportunity cost'; that is, what was foregone in order to make the thing in question work. When you look at the ongoing issues that exist in the United States, of which the most obvious are health care, education, housing, and poverty, then to ascribe blame to the whole moon program as being an opportunity cost, is both sensible and rational.
The thing is though, while I understand the sentiment, I flat out reject it; and will cite the ongoing permanent opportunity cost which the United States has decided to impose upon itself and which President Dwight Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address - the creeping tide of the Military-Industrial-Complex. Set against that light, going to the moon becomes a far more sensible case, precisely because of the stupidity of the whole program.
To understand my position on this, we need to look back at the circumstances which not only created it but another more deadly opportunity cost which was foregone.

Imagine for a second that you are the Soviet Union. Humans are egocentric pattern seeking machines and so as you are watching the Allies close in on Europe and trying to work out the details of what will be the impending peace, the world is still in tension and unease.
Imagine then after securing peace in Europe, your attention then attends to the ongoing conflict in the theatre of the Pacific. The United States, wanting to put a swift end to the war, drops two extinction devices upon Hiroshima and then Nagasaki; upon what is essentially civilian populations.
If you are the Soviet Union, your intent would be to set up an Iron Curtain as quickly as possible, because the other lot not only have the ability to wipe out entire cities in ten minutes but have actually done so, twice. They then have the temerity to paint you as the bad guy.
It then makes complete sense to want to develop your own nuclear weapons program, if for no other reason than to act as a deterrent to having your own cities destroyed in ten minutes.

Then imagine that you are the United States; who after seeing what Churchill called the Iron Curtain descending across Europe, and looking at them develop nuclear weapons; which you know are going to work because both you and they derived the technology from the common source of the Nazis, and then consider what happens when they start flinging things into space.
Before you're even ready to put a man in space, they've sent up several, including people of colour and some women, which just rials up your situation at home while you're struggling with domestic issues like civil rights.
They have the potential to destroy your cities in ten minutes; so you had better get the potential to destroy their cities in ten minutes, just to even up the score.
Thus, as far as rocketry and nuclear weapons are concerned, the 1940s, 50s and the opening portion of the 1960s are a rational and logical arms race, where the principle of mutually assured destruction, although potentially dangerous and deadly, is locking in the two superpowers of the day, in a geopolitical dance of insanity and mistrust.

Kennedy's call to put a man on the moon before the decade was out, came after one of the scariest incidents in the history of the twentieth century. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, we can thank the refusal to act by a Russian submarine captain, after his nuclear missile equipped submarine was fired upon from the air. Had he retaliated with his nuclear weapons, then we would have seen that scenario of mutually assured destruction play out according to steps of the geopolitical dance.
In that light, Kennedy's charge to spend an obscene amount of money, to do an as yet technically impossible thing, should be seen as a distraction and diversionary tactic. By channeling the efforts and energy of two superpowers into a stupid project, Kennedy's plan was to take heed of the words of Eisenhower before him, and engage the exact same gears of the Military-Industrial-Complex in a task that wasn't the business of death. It was companies like McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, General Dynamics, Rohr, Goodrich, etc. who instead of making warplanes and missiles, were still making missiles but with blokes attached. Instead of flinging warplanes and missiles at each other, they flung them into space and the moon.

There was a certain kind of wonderful and inspiring collective insanity going on then, fueled in part by fear of the spacefaring and technological prowess of the Soviets; also fueled in part by the United States' own crapulence and hubris.
This whole thing was a glorious make work exercise, which was justifiable given that two world powers who were locked in a dance with nuclear weapons, both had the potential to destroy millions of people in ten minutes.
Remember, it was America who actually used nuclear weapons in war; so to accuse to the Soviets of being paranoid given that America had already used them in anger is to miss the mark.

Spending $20 billion to put a dozen clowns on the moon, in an act of flag waving, to prevent the loss of millions of lives, seems like a worthy expense to me. By the time I was born, the United States had stopped going to the moon. What was the point? The Soviet Union had by that stage, begun its inevitable slide to non-existence, and unless you include the idiocy of the Vietnam War, then the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States cost zero lives in direct nuclear conflict.
I think that that squares the ledger nicely. The fifty years since Armstrong kicked the moon, have showed a steely determination by the United States to steadfastly refuse to address the issues of health care, education, housing, poverty, etc. Of course the argument that spending so much money on the Military-Industrial-Complex still stands but as those issues seem to be more or less permanently ongoing, then it's difficult to suggest that not going to the moon would have made even an iota of difference.

I personally rather like the residual side effects of the Space Race, such as Wi-Fi, plastics, prosthetics, fly by wire, remote control systems, as well as a host of other medical technologies developed as a result of working out how to keep humans alive in the vacuum of space.
It has been said that for every dollar spent on sending twelve clowns to the moon, it multiplied four more in GDP. Meanwhile, spending lives, hardware and money in the concurrent job of fighting a war in Vietnam, has probably had no real benefits to speak of fifty years later.
What was the opportunity cost of that?

July 19, 2019

Horse 2573 - Das Boot

"My boots are in the trunk in the boot."
...was something that a client of ours said to her partner, on Wednesday.

This highlights one of the confusing things about the English language; namely that the same word means different things and the same thing can be called different words in different countries.

If this was in America, then the sentence could have been rendered as:
"My boots are in the trunk in the trunk."

Of course the word 'trunk' in addition to meaning that luggage compartment at the back of your car, as well as a portable sturdy luggage compartment, also means the base of a tree, as well as any centralised system with many branches shooting off; as well as the fleshy hose nose of an elephant.

If you were an actor type thesp, playing a pantomime elephant in a production of 'Dick Whittington' (the second most famous Mayor of London), then you might say:
"My trunk is in the trunk in the trunk."; which is equally plausible both in the wings of the theatre as well as in the actual dialogue of the pantomime¹.

That same pantomime elephant costume might have a boot on the end of its trunk like a kind of puppet:
"There's a boot on the trunk in the trunk in the trunk." or,
"There's a boot on the trunk in the trunk in the boot."

With sentences like that, you actively start to build the lyrics for a music hall type standard; which is probably justified given that you were already an actor type thesp.

If you don't happen to have a trunk in the boot, then having a trunk in the boot might indicate that you are not an actor type thesp but a wildlife smuggler; which apart from the morality of it being quite illegal, is actually quite impressive.

"Putting a boot in the boot" though, is not syntactically all that confusing at all. "Putting a boot in the boot in the boot" means that you are pretty angry with your boot, if you want to kick it².

Perhaps less confusing is that part of the car up front, where all of the enginey things are. This is the part of the car which blokes will open, purely to look at, as of to show that they know things about motor cars; when in reality all they know is the location of the enginey things.
Those enginey things live under the 'bonnet' or the 'hood'; which are both otherwise archaic bits of headwear which you will find on ladies. Just like a motor car, underneath the 'bonnet'or the 'hood' of a lady, are the enginey things which make her go. Blokes have even less idea of what goes on underneath the 'bonnet' or the 'hood' of a lady, because ladies have several layers of complexity going on that men simply do not understand. We do know that that is the location of the enginey things.

If you hear whining coming from underneath the 'bonnet' or 'hood' of either a motor car or a lady, something serious has gone wrong and this means that urgent attention is needed. Sometimes the whining might be caused by liquid hydrocarbon usage.
Likewise, if there is too much junk in the trunk of a motor car, you should probably think about a clean out. If you suggest that to a lady, you had best think about spending the night sleeping in your car.

¹It's behind you!³
²Can I kick it?⁴
³Oh no, it isn't!
⁴Yes you can.

July 18, 2019

Horse 2572 - Enforcing Insane House Rules

Can someone please explain a thing to me?

I was sent on an urgent mission to the offices of Apple, Banana, and Cherry Law¹, with a set of forensic accounting reports which we had written for them, and because the law firm was operating out of the front room of Apple's house, they made me take off my shoes.

I don't normally mind taking off my shoes when entering someone's house because as it is their house and therefore their tiny wee ickle kingdom, they get to make the rules. They might have come from a culture where that is the accepted standard, or they might be concerned about their shiny floors, or they might even be worried about getting bits in their carpets. On this occasion there was a really nice pillowy carpet and so it initially made perfect sense.
However, while I was there, a big happy stupid Golden Retriever who loves everyone, came bounding through the house as though the soundtrack to its life was the 'Spring' movement from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons', and because it had been both in the pool and bouncing around in the mud, it tracked in a heap of muddy footprints into the pillowy cream coloured carpet.
"She does that all the time," was the response to this.

My brain was shifting without using the clutch and internally, sparks were flying. Of course you have the right to make people take off their shoes when entering your house but if the supposed reason is cleanliness, when you have a big stupid Golden Retriever  who leaves far more muck than people who mostly have an aversion to messing up your house, the logic of it all not only shifts without a clutch but it drives head on into the twin lorries of hypocrisy and sense².

If you do want to enforce the rules of your own wee ickle kingdom then that's totally fine. The world outside the door is grubby and messy. In my office at work, I have to vacuum clean the place at least once a week because as someone who walks across a park ten times a week, I am personally responsible for tracking in bits of grass. You might live in a land where you have to walk across potato skins and pickled wieners and Spiderman comics, and of course you don't want the epic tales of people's magical mystery tours writ large on your carpets.
The second that you invite an agent of chaos like a Golden Retriever into your house though, I feel as though you have already ceded all claims to clean carpets and have automatically repealed the rules of your own wee ickle kingdom.

I love the thoughtfulness of a Japanese house, where the rules of taking your shoes off are enforced in pretty much every home, where they not only provide house slippers for you but they also demarcate the space of outside and where you are allowed to wear your shoes by making you step up into the house. It is like the official border crossing into your wee ickle kingdom.
On the other hand, my house has cats in it; so trying to enforce a rule of taking your shoes off would be the work of a fool. Cats³ not only do not care about tracking muddy footprints through the house, they leave muddy footprints around with rapturous abandon. I would advise you to leave your shoes on inside my house because it is simply not worth the bother to take them off.

It is possible that Apple just likes the power to enforce the rules of their kingdom. Again, as someone who has entered their house, I more or less have agreed to abide by the rules by virtue of having entered it. By the same token, enforcing rules for the sake of enforcing rules, is going to make me question either your sanity or make me judge your character. To that end, I actually kind of also understand that a legal firm might want to project that they are a stickler for the rules as quite literally legal wrangling is their stock and trade.
The more likely story though, given what I know about Apple, is that the reason why they entered law was because they liked the power kick that comes from enforcing the rules. "I'm the boss; I'm the king. I'm the one who runs everything," is actually pretty fun if your into that sort of thing; and at least in my experience of being around and adjacent to the legal profession for not quite two decades, there are an awful lot of lawyers who really like to do lawyering.

¹Not their real name because I don't want to do any advertising for them; so in the grand tradition of law and accounting,I picked an ABC type name. I also violated my promise to the people of Banana, Queensland.
²The usual goods shipped by this mental haulage company are Ñonsense, Over-Analysis, and Ennui.
³The nation of cats is one where everyone both wants to be the monarch and everyone thinks that they are. Cat Law is very confusing.
⁴Grab your Legal Precedents and don your Powdered Wig, it's time for "Ordinary Man: The Man On The Clapham Omnibus"

July 17, 2019

Horse 2571 - I Am Sorry, Banana

It isn't very often when I compose one of these things that the thing that I have to trawl through for references in my own work. In this case though not is the thing my own work but I'm having to do a word count through more than 2.5 million words. The word that I am looking for is "Banana"; which on the face of it sounds like a daft task but the reasons will become apparent fairly quickly.

Almost certainly because I have spent so much time around the law, I have inadvertently picked up some of the quirks of the legal profession; one of those quirks is the use of the placeholder in my pieces. Placeholders are useful because they allow you to speak about a theoretical subject without actually offending anyone. You can absolutely rip into the placeholder if you like, with disdain for things like defamation and contempt, because there isn't actually a party at the other end who might come back to give you grief.
To that end I have used the name "Banana" some 47 times over these past 22 years as the placeholder for a town name, area, or electorate, as it sounds like a sufficiently silly name that no place would honestly be called Banana.

Imagine then my abject horror when I heard about this on the 8 o'clock news on ABC Radio.

Four children who allegedly drove a four-wheel-drive from central Queensland to NSW have been found safe in Grafton.
Police said a 14-year-old boy, two 13-year-old boys and a 10-year-old girl took a family member's car from Gracemere near Rockhampton on Saturday night, along with fishing rods and cash.
- ABC News, 15th Jul 2019

Okay, so the actual act of some kids going joyriding is nothing particularly remarkable other than it is really stupid, but the thing that really made me take notice was this line:
"The children allegedly were involved in a fuel-stealing incident at a service station in Banana early Sunday morning."

Wait, what? How can this possibly be? Who in their right mind would honestly call their town Banana?

My initial reaction to this was that there must have been a hideous mistake and that the copy writers for the article had (just like me) been using the word Banana as a placeholder and that somehow it had escaped into the final copy by accident.
After some brief checking, some ratting around on Google maps, and a search through the local council's website, I have had to come to the conclusion that not only is Banana a real place but it is also sufficiently small enough that I might actually be insulting people on an almost personal basis.
My other initial conclusion is that reality itself is broken because the name Banana as a town name is really daft. It is a real thing, but daft:


Welcome to the Banana Hotel Motel

Legal professionals and accounting professionals love placeholder names where the subjects are A, B, and C. To that end, Alice, Bob, and Charlie, are used as placeholder names for individuals on a more than sensible basis, and Apple, Banana, and Cherry, are used for the placeholder names for corporate types. I am particularly fond of the name Banana High School in place of some government run high school and St Hubris for the private school. However, now that I know that Banana is a town in Queensland, I will be loathe to use that name in future. lest the people of the real world town of Banana come after me with pitchforks in some kind of mob justice vigilante scenario.

After some further ratting around on Google maps, I have come to the conclusion that Banana is so small that it doesn't even have half of the things that I might use as an example. I can find no evidence of a football ground, a local high school or primary school, nor a post office, nor a police station. There was a racecourse listed to the north of the town but I can not find much evidence that it is the site of many horse races.

I had hoped to find a local footy team called the Banana Bananas which were playing in an all yellow kit but that sadly does not exist. It would have been in that grand tradition of silly names for teams like the Macon Bacon, Montgomery Biscuits and the Savannah Bananas which are all genuine minor league baseball teams in America. I don't know why we haven't embraced the craziness in Australia, as I can see a team called the Bin Chickens being a thing.

To the people of Banana, Queensland: I am sorry. You will no longer be the subject of my taunts any more, even though with a name like Banana, you probably should have expected it. I shall have to find a new set of triple placeholders for names of the form ABC; to that end I will probably pick Bacon.

July 16, 2019

Horse 2570 - England Won The World Cup Because Of Law

Unless taught at birth, the game of cricket will remain as unfathomable as marine surgery, brain science, and rocket biology. The fact that it has only really been taken up in a big way by the former colonies of Britain, and wants to be taken up by countries like Afghanistan, Iceland, and the Netherlands, says to me that the learning curve for the game is hard and that the most important virtue needed for the game, patience, is also difficult to learn. Or perhaps alternatively, cricket was/is the unique vehicle for all the countries of the world to attack England in the most polite and genteel way possible.
The fact that England won the Cricket World Cup in the most remarkable and bizarre circumstances, can be stated but the whyfor is far far harder.

New Zealand who had come to the World Cup with no real chance of winning the tournament, somehow spent the entire thing remaining blissfully unaware of that. They were hard done by when reality conspired against them and a ball which struck the stumps then went on to the boundary; thus turning two into six runs, which also contributed to more runs for England.

Five Live on the BBC immediately after the match had an Indian chap rail against the result, as though crimes against humanity had been committed and when he asked how England could win a match despite being all out, it took someone to go back to the Laws Of The Game to explain what had happened and why.

At the end of New Zealand's 50 overs they had set a score of 241-8 for England to chase down. England were all out for 241 and herein lies the crux of the matter.
Law 18 says:

18.1 A run
The score shall be reckoned by runs.

As far as I know, this was codified oh so very long ago. I would wager that apart from Law 42 which has been tinkered with, most of the Laws Of Cricket have remained intact since before 1877 and this is no exception.

If the score shall be reckoned by runs, then the number of wickets which have fallen is irrelevant. This also explains my ongoing annoyance with the way that the score is displayed in Australia, which I blame Channel 9 for, where the wickets are placed first. The score is not 8/241 because unless you intend to lose wickets (which is a daft prospect) then everyone in the world will admit that people are trying to score runs. Perhaps a bowler can claim bowling stats of 8/241 but I would suggest that they have been bowling for an incredibly long amount of time. 241 is the score; for the loss of 8 wickets, or in the case of England, all ten.

When it came to calculating the results of the World Cup Final, the number of runs scored in both the 50 overs allotted and the super overs, was identical. It therefore made sense that if the score is reckoned by runs as per Law 18, that a count back of the number of boundaries is sensible as that is still reckoning the score by runs. The fact that you have a cigarette paper to separate the two sides is pretty heart breaking if you happen to be on the losing side but it is not like this is a new rule.

There have in fact been 25 One Day Internationals which have been tied, and there have even been a couple of tied Test Matches. In all of those circumstances, the results were tied because the matches were reckoned by runs as per Law 18.

I think that this is one of cricket's most endearing qualities. It is daft that the game is taken so seriously, when you consider that it started out before time immemorial with a bunch of farmers standing around in a field. A Test Match taps into that sense of eternity at times and people will want to disparage the game by saying that it is boring and takes to long but that is part of the charm. I like that you have umpires who stand around in white, like judges who interpret the law, as that also tells us that the rule of law is precious and bigger than the protagonists.
Cricket is a glimpse into eternity, bound by almost arbitrary laws that are practically immutable, and played according to the Spirit of the Game.

I suppose that the Captains could have come together and declared that the match was a tie, which would have been above the Law and acting according to the higher Spirit of the Game but they did not. When you have two teams who are so closely matched and the thing which separated them wasn't cheating, or underhandedness, but the operation of the Laws Of The Game, then that just adds to the story and the unfathomability of the game. The game of cricket benefits by remaining as unfathomable as marine surgery, brain science, and rocket biology, as not even its own laws can tie it down.

July 11, 2019

Horse 2569 - Pray Harder And The Taste Of Banana Might Go Away

If you go to Coles and wander down the confectionary aisle, you can buy a packet of banana lollies for $1. Rest assured, although they look like little bananas, and are even made with the same ester which is chemically identical to that in bananas, the list of ingredients tells us that they contain 83.2g of sugar per 100g and absolutely zero actual banana. A prolonged diet of these, would most likely give you a free case of diabetes and rot your teeth away; which would be fine if you don't mind getting diabetes and having no teeth.
Likewise, I have consistently found over the years, that Hillsong Church, is like the banana lollies of Christianity. They look like a big church and even flavour what they have to say with some nice words that make them sort of taste of Christianity, but they mostly contain sugar and prolonged diet of Hillsong is likely to give you a free case of diabetes and rot your teeth away. In doing research for this post, I decided to listen to a sermon on Hillsong's YouTube channel and as expected, I found that yet again, I heard an "inspiring message" which contained lots of lovely tasting words but no bible references. I mean, I guess that the aim of Hillsong is to inspire people and to lift them up emotionally, and I supposed that this does sort of anethestise the general feelings of helplessness and anxiety that people might have in an ever confusing and chaotic world but I'm just not sure if that is actually worship of the living God.
To all those people not of faith who happen to be reading this, I am sure that you've arrived at your conclusions rationally and openly see these banana lollies for what they are. We have different views of the world, but I'm sure that we can play along nicely together for a bit.

It is not often that I comment on Hillsong's stuff (notwithstanding the fact that I find what they have to say rather unpalatable) but the appearance of the Prime Minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, at Hillsong Conference 2019 at the Qudos Bank Arena, sort of made me cringe a little.

Here is a video of that:

I mean, you can pray for people with mental health, veterans, people with disabilities, and families but if you actively cut their services, then what's the point.
I note that what is absent, are any prayers for the alien and the foreigner; who have come seeking asylum, and in many cases fleeing their countries in fear of their lives; presumably because that would mean that he as Prime Minister would have to confront both the actions of the government of which he is the leader of and the actions of the department which he was the head of.
I just don't know how with a clear conscience, you can pray for the nation at a public event like the Hillsong Conference, while at the same time be utterly complicit in multiple human rights breache, and not only that, enshrine them in policy. How you can stand and receive the adulation of people who purport to espouse a set of beliefs, while on the other hand actively abuse and oppress people who seek refuge in your country, is beyond me.

I know that I am instantly going to put many people off side by this but I have no problem whatsoever with the Prime Minister expressing his faith in a public event like this. Granted that I might be able to be shown that I have a hideously biased opinion here by virtue of being a Christian, but I equally have no problem with public expressions of faith by politicians of any religion or political persuasion. If my own Member of Parliament, Ed Husic, was to pray publicly in a mosque or masjid, and even if he did so on television, he would be acting in a private capacity as Ed Husic.
My problem with the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, praying publicly like this at Hillsong is precisely to do with the exercise of his faith, or rather the lack thereof, as Prime Minister. I know that Section 116 of the Constitution binds the parliament from making laws with respect to religion but it does not and should not preclude Members of Parliament enacting policy where the exercise of religion just happens to coincide with the Section 51 aims of peace, order, and good government. I really don't know why Mr Morrison expects God to act on the nation's behalf, when the nation is actively waging war against God's long standing concerns for vulnerable people. Mr Morrison himself is up to the eyeballs in that war.

One of the recurring themes of the Old Testament is that aliens and foreigners should be treated like respected guests. The Kingdom of Israel, which is the major object lesson of the Old Testament is frequently chastised for both being unfaithful to God and for being cruel to people. The story of the New Testament is mainly the opening of the new kingdom with Jesus as King, and his concerns and the concerns which should follow, have to do with how you should act but how you should love. Practical love in the New Testament actually involves radical hospitality, even to people who are supposedly your enemies.
The thing is that as a nation, refugees fleeing their homes and old country because it is just so awful, are hardly anyone's enemy, except as if the only metric through which you view people is reducing them to economic units of labour and/or consumption. To that end, Mr Morrison as the Minister for Home Affairs, declared open war on refugees and asylum seekers, and as Prime Minister of Australia, he continues the current mission of waging war against people of limited economic means.

Yet again I find myself looking at the words of Jesus' brother Jimmy.

"If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?"
- James 2:16

I mean if you learn all the fancy words but never do anything to prove the case, does that do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? If it is reasonable to think that God exists, then it is also reasonable for him to act. If you refuse to act kindly, which is what we do as a nation to refugees, asylum seekers, the poor, people on welfare benefits, first peoples, and the elderly, then you can hardly expect to be treated kindly by God. There is a difference between fancy words and actually caring for people and God knows it.

Sure, you can pray for love all you like but as the Prime Minister you actually have quite a lot of power to turn that into policy. I don't care about nice feelings; I want to see action, and what I have seen from both sides of politics in this country is a very real commitment to withhold love from the vulnerable.
I note that earlier in the day that this was going on, Federal Court Justice Debra Mortimer published a judgement excoriating the Federal Government after it failed to comply with a 14 June order to transfer a refugee with “serious medical and psychiatric issues” to Australia under the medevac laws. I also note that The Morrison Government has promised to repeal the medevac laws; so that it no longer has to care about providing adequate medical care to refugees and asylum seekers.
People forked over $369 to go to the Hillsong Conference and from where I sit, this looks for their $369 they got a packet of banana lollies; which everyone opened, got a sugar rush and a lovely taste of banana.

July 09, 2019

Horse 2568 - Equal Pay In Football: We're Done With The Question

The USA's demolition of all and sundry at the Women's World Cup has been, dare I say it, a joy to behold. Not only had they passed through the tournament undefeated but they had also never gone behind on the scoresheet, opened the account within the first fifteen minutes of every match except for the final, and included a shockingly impressive 13-0 thumping of Thailand.
With 57,000 people packed into the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, the final also looked like a world class event (because it was).

However, the spectacle on the pitch was to some degree of, mirrored by the spectacle taking place off of it. The Captain of the USWNT, Megan Rappinoe, declared that if they won the tournament that they would decline an invitation to the White House which caused a stir but the bigger issue was to do with the remuneration that the players are paid; which is an order of magnitude smaller than the men, despite them doing a similar job¹.
This also came to a very visible head, when after the final, the crowd started chanting "Equal Pay", in the presence of the President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, and the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

As someone who lives in that curious place called the world, I think that the subject of equal pay for women should be a fait accompli. This should be so mind-numbingly obvious that even the President of FIFA should be able to understand the issue. As a case of moral philosophy, Megan Rappinoe's comments that "We're done with this" in relation to the subject of equal pay, shouldn't even need to be discussed. As an economic problem though, this is a little bit more complex than that. The economic problem is semi attached to a technical problem and the operation of markets.

It must be said that the Women's game is in fact different to the Men's game. From an absolutely technical standpoint, the game actually looks different because of the physical difference between the sexes.
Women are on the whole smaller and less strong than the men. That means that passes tend to be shorter, clearances are also shorter, shots are less powerful, and perhaps in compensation, the game itself tends to be far more technical.
Also, as a result of the referees having more control and the players having more respect for referees, it also means that the Women's game is harder because the players are harder. I can't even count the number of times that referees will simply just wave play on, rather than calling for free kicks and penalties. Whereas the men will fall over and roll around on the floor like little whingy babies at the slightest provocation, the women will suck it up and just play harder. The next time someone says 'kick like a girl' or 'fight like a girl', think of women's football, where in terms of spirit and hardness, they tower over the men's game.
Women football players play on the same sized pitch, for the same amount of time, and they play harder and more technically brilliant than the men. If quality rather than brute force was the determinant of pay, then the women should be paid more than the men but they aren't.

Seriously, what do I have to do to be paid properly around here? Bleed?!

The problem lies in the fact that labour in this case isn't fungible. A woman playing in the men's game would be windmilled and ragdolled by the other players. For that reason, labour isn't interchangeable between men and women's football. This means that the market itself throws up a set of issues.
Football taken as a labour market, has lots of suppliers of labour but only a very select few who can command superstar wages². The labour market for football players is hideously unequal, with a very small number of players who get paid orders of magnitude more than others. When you have transfer contracts which now amount to one hundred million dollarpounds in some cases, that can only be supported by a set of customers who extend way beyond national borders. The women's game though, doesn't have that same international pull from customers... yet.

There could be a very excellent argument to be made that national associations and indeed FIFA itself, has a moral duty to subsidise the women's game with the revenues from the men's game, until there is equality in the amount of money that sponsorship and broadcasting rights flowing in. That revenue from sponsorship and broadcasting rights, is however, still determined on what the customers are prepared to pay; which ironically isn't the fans for the most part but corporations who want to pay for advertising and television companies who want to buy the footage so that they can then sell more advertising space. To some degree, this is the snake that feeds itself.

This edition of the Women's World Cup has probably collected more in revenue than any other but even so, the prize money awarded to the entire US Women's National Team is still only $4m. The US football association has announced that the 23 players in the squad will get $250,000 for their efforts, which might sound like a lot to us mere mortals but all tallied, that's $5.75m which is more than what FIFA is paying and which means that this is a loss making venture for the association that just won the World Cup; and annualised over four years (which is the duration between World Cups) that payment is $62,500 which I guess is a decent wage but only for the champions and which would only happen once or twice in a player's lifetime.
If you compare that to the men's game where you can easily have players in Europe on that kind of money per week, then even blaming this on simple economics starts to look oh so churlish. It looks downright cruel that the prize money for this Women's World Cup is a pathetic 7.5% of what was on offer at last year's men's World Cup. I think that FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, deserved to look embarassed on the stage during the awards ceremony. Megan Rappinoe opened up a can of sensibility by saying:
"Everyone is ready for this conversation to move to the next step. We're done with 'Are we worth it? Should we have equal pay?' Everyone is done with that. Fans are done with that. Players are done with that. In a lot of ways sponsors are done with that. Every player at this World Cup, we put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for. We couldn't do anything more. Let's get to the next point."

However, I think that it is unreasonable to assume that FIFA is going to do anything to remotely address the issue of inequality between the sexes in terms of pay because FIFA is a corrupt onion of an organisation with many layers of onioniness all the way to the core. If that be true, then we need to press Football Australia to be less oniony; especially if it wants us to support the bid for the 2023 Women's World Cup. The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970; we need o see Football Australia make good on doing its bit, for the good of the game.

¹Statistically the US Women's Team has also thumped the US Men's Team when it comes to results; having won the World Cup four times and never doing worse than 3rd in all editions of the tournament, while the men have only managed a single 3rd place as their best result.
²Sherwin Rosen wrote about this in an article in 1980 called “The economics of superstars”. Watching sport, the movies, or music, involves something called “joint consumption” where a tiny number of sellers can in theory service the entire market. To wit, the Scottish Premier League is worth £160m where as the English Premier League is worth £3066m for next season. Taylor Swift is worth cart loads, while most bands would struggle to fill up a pint glass of cash on a weekend.

July 08, 2019

Horse 2567 - Why MAD Magazine Will Close

Buried deep within the newspaper today, was the announcement that Mad Magazine will cease publishing new material immediately and will print reprints of old stuff until December to satisfy subscription holders. After that, the magazine which began in 1952, will cease to be beyond this year.

Probably this is symptomatic of the larger issues that print is suffering, in that the whole media is dying on its feet; having had its lunch stolen by the rise of the internet. More specifically it could be that the space that Mad Magazine occupied in Satire, has also been taken away by television; it is now possible to get your fix of satire on a daily basis, rather than the bi-monthly magazine.
It could also be that Mad Magazine has just found itself inside the humour equivalent of wood chippers.

The magazine started in 1952 which was during the Cold War and immediately before the Eisenhower Administration. The level of animosity between the two big political football teams in America was still there but as the United States found itself in very peculiar geopolitical dance with a very big and obvious acceptable target for comedy, the magazine could safely make fun of subjects like communism, the floundering Democrat party and Ike's big ol' shiny bald head, in relative safety.
Even so, the issues of civil rights, and the emerging sexual revolution, were still mostly off-limits. Comedy in the 1950s was still free to play with casual racism and blunt stereotypes because the default get out clause for comedy is 'it's all a bit of fun'.

The era of the magazine which I am most familiar with, having read the hoard of editions which were in our high school library, is the 1970s. Again, the Cold War was in full swing and the Watergate Affair was very much grist for the mill. Move on later in the decade and the magazine tore into Jimmy Carter and held up Ronald Reagan as some kind of demi-god.
It is at this point where I will openly state that I have never read any edition of the magazine beyond 1992; so my knowledge of it ends with the era of the Berlin Wall coming down and Boris Yeltsin doing his famous dancing. This is kind of apt as those things also mark the end of the Cold War.

I can only speculate (and this is where we move into the realm of writing about things that I haven't read), that with dwindling sales, and the political climate moving back to levels of animosity not seen since before the American Civil War, that the magazine found itself an impossible place to generate content and drive revenue.
The internet, which is possibly the greatest window ever invented into the human heart, has shown that on both sides of the political divide, everyone is so snowflakey that the merest provocation of heat, causes everyone to melt.
Mad Magazine has probably found that if it moved too far in any political direction, it would alienate part of its revenue base; which I suspect has meant that it ran into the arms of the enemy of satire: unfunniness.

My own reading of the magazine as a late high schooler, and as someone who should have been the prime target, found a lot of the magazine unfunny. That wasn't helped by the fact that I was reading roastings of films and television that I'd never seen (and would never be able to see), as well as comics such as Spy vs Spy which were just unfunny.
My own comedy palate had been mostly informed by British radio comedies like The Goon Show, Hancock's Half Hour, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, and radio panel shows like The News Quiz (which is still going), I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (which is still going), Just A Minute (which is still going), as well as even other comics like Donald Duck, Garfield, Peanuts, The Wizard Of Id, and what not.

There is a point to be made here. Comedy is generally made of the five elements of Satire, Stupidity, Surrealism, Parody, and Vanity. Those five elements frequently overlap and play with each other. All of them have the potential to run into unfunniness really quickly; with satire and parody having the shortest expiration dates.

My guess is that Mad Magazine, having found an ever impossible task in its usual stock and trade of satire and parody, coupled with an ever decreasing print media market, reached the point where it was no longer viable to produce the magazine any more. I'm not going to lament its passing but I will say that I am surprised that there even was a market for it, this far into the twenty-first century. It was a product of the pre-television era and the Cold War; both of which faded in the cultural memory to the point where they are now found in history books. This looks as inevitable as the closing of Punch magazine.

Even the name of the magazine became increasingly unfunny. MAD Magazine in 1952 would have been a pun on Mutually Assured Destruction, which was the unstated policy by both protagonists of the Cold War to annihilate each other with nuclear weapons, should either of them push the button. That's probably why Alfred E Newman's catchphrase was "What me worry? I read Mad" worked, in a sort of resigned fatalistic way.

July 04, 2019

Horse 2566 - Support The Troops - How Exactly?

I am an Australian. I live in Sydney. I was issued at age 3 with a set of suction cups, so that I wouldn't fall off of the Earth. I say this by way of preface to point out that I am not American and that I find that republic both confusing and insane at times.
One of those times is the annual event on the internet, where across all forums and social media (especially Twitter and Facebook), America has its super hyper patriotic holiday, where its mythologising leaks out all over the place. I think that if you do bleed red, white, and blue, that you should seek urgent medical attention because you appear to have something more serious than diabetes.
That annual event isn't reserved for Memorial Day weekend but Independence Day; which is of course, today.

If constant streams of pictures of Abraham Lincoln riding a bear, whilst holding a shotgun and the US Constitution, on the moon, while shouting 'Murica', is weird (which is totally a thing on the internet), then the thing which I find really weird and which has made a come back in 2019 with a vengeance, are pictures of ribbons with the vague directive: Support Our Troops.
My big question is: How?

As an Australian Australian who lives in Australia, I have a pretty good idea of the military history of my country. We fight in wars that we don't start and our foreign policy since before the Commonwealth was constituted, has been to go to every war that our big brother tells us to. I totally get that we are a small and spineless nation, who makes about as much impression on the world stage as the rear end of a pantomime horse.
What I don't get is that the United States of America who had a somewhat dubious and isolationist policy for the first half of the twentieth century, and which spent the second half of the twentieth century and the opening part of the twenty-first, engaging in stupid wars with virtually no net benefit except to keep the magic pianos of the arms manufacturers playing their favourite song (ka-ching, ka-ching), should then want to redirect any and all scrutiny into a faux hyper patriotism.

In my country, the notion of 'supporting the troops' extends to the idea of paying them handsomely, and providing adequate training, medical care and education when they demob. We do that through the mechanism of taxation, and through the Department of Veterans' Affairs. After the Second World War, DVA was also interested in providing low cost housing for returned service personnel, and even today it still provides things like transport for people on Veterans Pensions.
'Supporting the Troops' means practical aid as a nation, to people as valued employees. I don't get how it can be anything else.

So I just don't get what exactly the vague notion of 'supporting the troops' in an American context is supposed to be. As I understand it, the GI Bill acts similarly to our programs of demob for ex-service personnel and there is a degree to which Medicare and Medicaid provide limited services to veterans in the United States but looking from the outside, it seems woefully inadequate.
America has chosen repeatedly to do health care in particular but government services generally, really terribly, and mainly seeks to reward the rentier class for ensuring that the systems which could help the people generally and veterans especially, remain completely broken. I just don't understand what 'supporting the troops' is supposed to mean other than a display of super hyper patriotic pictures on the internet and/or bumper stickers if they are still a thing.
America seems to have a distinct class of veterans who after going where Uncle Sam has told them to go, come back seriously traumatised; which is to be expected in the horrors of war. Uncle Sam however, doesn't seem to want to care very much for ex-service personnel when they return, and far too many end up with serious mental health issues and falling into homelessness. It as if Uncle Same himself, lets people fall through the cracks semi-deliberately.
It is almost as if the preamble to the US Constitution to 'provide for the general welfare' and 'secure the blessings of liberty' are the punchline to an unfunny joke; and as an afterthought, rather than the opening salvo to the constitution of a nation.

Admittedly we don't have that kind of super hyper patriotism in Australia because it would be seen as an act of withdrawing the mictruate. If someone were to ask us to 'support the troops', then we'd probably want to know why the DoD and DVA weren't doing their job. As for the RSL Association, their local branches are mostly in rude health and have become cathedrals to the pokies.
I do not know to what degree the VA or the Legionaries in the United States have support from the government but I imagine that it is as inadequate as the current policy of supporting the troops.

The call to 'support the troops' just seems hollow to me. From the outside it looks very much like a campaign by Coca-Cola, which is catchy, and sells stickers but actually achieves very little. The Congress doesn't appear to be willing to fix any problems; as they're on the take from people who want to cause wars, so that they can sell arms.
This is case of where your heart lies, there your treasure shall be also. America likes to say 'support the troops' but her treasure is elsewhere. Uncle Sam yells louder than Columbia, who it must be said is taking a nap.