September 28, 2019

Horse 2602 - Does Britain Need A Written Constitution?

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 26, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

September 25, 2019

Horse 2600 - No Good Reason To Prorogue Parliament

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

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

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

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

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

September 23, 2019

Horse 2599 - Magically Rehabilitating Question Time

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 22, 2019

Horse 2598 - Houston, We Have A Problem

- via the Australian Associated Press 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 17, 2019

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

Holy Hand Grenade, Batman!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

September 16, 2019

Horse 2595 - Private Schools Do Not Deserve Taxpayer Funding; So Let's Stop Pretending

I always find it immensely hypocritical when you have people complaining that their right to free speech is being impinged while at the same time, they are getting paid to make that complaint on national television or in the newspaper. Likewise, I find it also immensely hypocritical to accuse an imagined enemy of using rhetoric to engage in class warfare, while at the same time, getting prepared to make that comment on national television or in the newspaper. If on the battlefield of ideas, you happen to be backed by the equivalent of a multi-billion-dollar army, then accusing the enemy of class warfare from the safe fortress of a network of daily newspapers, is hypocrisy writ large.

That is exactly what the Daily Telegraph did last week, with their fore gunner Louise Roberts. Usually she writes pieces in the RendezView section of the newspaper but I suppose that in keeping with the editorial policy of the newspaper to rotate the opinion writers, it made sense to put her up in the front glasshouse of the lumbering B-27 Mutilator that is the Daily Telegraph¹.
RENDEZVIEW: Attacking parents who privately educate their children is misguided class warfare. We only have one chance to give our children the best education we can source and afford, writes Louise Roberts.
- Daily Telegraph, 12th Sep 2019

To be fair it's not a badly written piece. From the standpoint of the quality of the writing, this is more of a conversational piece, which works well for the kind of tone trying to be conveyed. It's just that this piece is replete with snowclone arguments, and falls back into trope (which of itself isn't a bad thing) but its biggest problem is that the whole thing starts out as the formal fallacy of affirming the consequent.

This piece of rhetoric which is being used as a defence of public funds going to private schools, starts out with declarative statements and then attempts to back them up. There is nothing new here and I have seen these sorts of things before. If you probe the actual validity of the statements being presented as fact, you very quickly find that they simply do not stand up to the rules of logic.

The argument in these kind of pieces without exception is thus:
1. People have a need and a right to be educated in a modern society.
2. The Government in addressing this need and right has an obligation to fund education.
3. Parents have a right to choose the manner in which their children are educated.
4. Therefore, the government has an obligation to fund the manner in which people's children are educated.

Occasionally there are two corollaries:
4a. People who pay more in tax are more virtuous.
4b. It's not really defending privilege.

Maybe even throw in:
5. Some of my best friends are X.

This piece by Ms Roberts visits all of the well-worn tropes on a tropetastic tour across the battlefield of rhetoric. As front gunner, it is her job to spray fire indiscriminately; which is why this piece takes the form that it does.

"As parents we are all on the same trajectory here; we get one chance to give our sons and daughters the best education we can source and afford."

I don't have a problem with this in principle. I will even go so far as to say that it should be self-evident that parents want the best for their children; which does include buying advantage in some cases. I will say though that children by virtue of being citizens of the Commonwealth, deserve the best education possible regardless of what their parents can afford.
The first three statements in the chain of logic are perfectly sound. However, the fourth statement which is usually presented as a 'therefore', is presented here as the opening sentences.

"If your children attend private school, they still deserve tax-payer funding.
After all, a key platform of a caring and democratic society is allocating cash to educate our youth."

Whenever I ask about the validity of the fourth statement because I do not think that it logically follows from the previous three, I am always given some vapid argument about how parents that choose private education are less of a drain on the public system.
The problem that I have with that is that because the government has an obligation to provide public education, then that funding will happen regardless and the fact that someone wants to reject that system, doesn't necessarily mean that they actually are saving the public purse anything at all.

The question isn't one of whether or not children deserve tax-payer funding to be educated, it's whether or not private schools deserve that funding, when you consider that we already provide tax-payer to educate children in the form of the public education system. Effectively what Ms Roberts is arguing for here is that the tax-payer pays for duplicate payments just because parents want to voluntarily reject the public education system.

"According to recent department figures, the average combined federal and state government funding per student in 2016 was $13,023 public school, $10,956 Catholic school and $9036 in the independent sector."

These figures are obtained by looking at the total budgets for education by federal and state governments and then dividing the aggregate amounts by the number of students who go to those schools.

When you ask for an analysis of that claim, you always get pointed back to the dollars per student facts as though they are the entirety of the answer. That completely ignores the base question though, because the fact that there is a public outlay at all, means that there is a drain on the public system. The question of actual savings can only really be answered with a comparison of the net costs if all of the students going to private schools were absorbed by the public system and providing an analysis of the change in the overall cost. Those sorts of analysis simply do not exist; largely because the private education system refuses to actually address the question.

If all of the students currently enrolled in the private school system were to be absorbed by the public system, then whilst I agree that the costs of the public system would go up, because the number of students in the system would also go up, then the rate per student changes. Basic high school maths tells you that when the denominator of a fraction gets bigger, then the result gets smaller. Since the figures presented here are a per student rate, and the public system is provided regardless of whether or not parents send their children there or choose to voluntarily reject the system, then those carrying costs are always on the books for the government. To claim that parents are saving taxpayers money, when in actual fact even one dollar of subsidy to the private system might be duplication, is dishonest. Nevertheless, this dishonest premise is the basis for the line of argument.

Let's run this back to the base assumption of economics:

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. Nobody but a beggar chooses to depend chiefly upon the benevolence of his fellow-citizens."
 - Adam Smith², An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 2 (1776)

I find it no coincidence at all that while the American Revolution was going on, that Smith was in Scotland penning his second work; which he meant to be read in conjunction with the first. Smith's work which appears in the grand tale of the enlightenment, and is really as much of a description of the human character as it is a description of economics (though he wouldn't have used the word I that sense). Smith of course didn't have the mathematical means to prosecute his argument but he knew more than enough about the motivations of meat bag humans to draw general conclusions about why they do things.

I find it impossible to believe that human nature has changed even an iota in the 243 years since Adam Smith's book went to the publishers. I do however take issue with his generous opinion that people are rational. Anecdote is not evidence but in my forty years upon this pale blue dot, suspended on a sunbeam,
I do not find a bunch of evidence to support the theory that people are rational. People are much more base than that: they are selfish; which is even affirmed by Ms Roberts' statement that "we get one chance to give our sons and daughters the best education we can source and afford."

"They constitute a sort of little nobility, who feel themselves interested to defend the property and to support the authority of their own little sovereign in order that he may be able to defend their property and to support their authority. Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all."
- Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book 5, Chapter 1 (1776)

I find it interesting that Ms Roberts' comments don't really articulate anything beyond that claim of entitlement. Of course, being in a daily newspaper, that claim is being stated to a far wider audience than it would be if it was just being made in a private capacity on social media. Whilst I don't think that the print circulation of the Daily Telegraph is quite 1.1 million per day any more, I still bet that it is considerable. Merely making the claim though, in an increasingly incurious world, is enough to make people cheer for you; which I assume was one of the reasons for this piece. People who have an advantage, will often do what is necessary to retain that advantage; which includes in this case, propagandising in a daily newspaper.

What I find really irksome is one paragraph late in this piece:

"As a parent of children who attend schools in the private system, I am not fostering a life of privilege in them."

I would argue that that is exactly what Ms Roberts is doing by sending her children to private schools. Obviously, she thinks that there is an advantage in sending her children to private schools that is worth paying for and has done so. She then immediately states the case for her privilege by bragging about it:

"Plus I am not alone in Sydney by having friends who are wealthy enough that private school fees wouldn't even make a dent in their bank accounts."

Privilege by definition is a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most. In this case that benefit and advantage is subsidised by the majority, who will be excluded from it. As for the opening line that this is "misguided class warfare", I take exception to that because not only is the complaint correctly targeted against those who are enjoying a benefit and advantage at everyone's expense but if there is class warfare going on, then Ms Roberts is winning.

This is then mysteriously backed up by the following statement presented in evidence:

"They choose to send their children to school in the public system.
Should they be hung out to dry because their children are taking public places when they can afford to pay?

Firstly, that's a stupid paragraph and a stupid strawman because nobody is suggesting that in the first place. Secondly, it's gloriously myopic. Ms Roberts and people like her are actively voting to hang the people who choose to send their children to school in the public system out to dry by voting with their wallets.
I know that Ms Roberts isn't ashamed to send her kids to a private school. She has the means and will do so because she rationally sees the advantage in doing so. However, to then turn around and claim that private schools have a moral claim to public funding, is morally bankrupt. This isn't even about class warfare; it's about the justification of knavery.

¹Also the Herald-Sun and the Courier-Mail I am led to believe.
²Adam, Adam, Adam Smith
Listen what I charge you with!
Didn’t you say, In a class one day,
That selfishness was bound to pay?
Of all doctrines that was the Pith.
Wasn’t it, wasn’t it, wasn’t it, Smith?
‐ Stephen Leacock

September 09, 2019

Horse 2594 - You Make The Mistake That England Fans Are Not Used To Losing, When That's What We Expect From The Outset

The timelines on my social media platforms (Facetwit and Twitbook) went kind of nuts this morning as Australia woke up to the news that Australia had won the Fourth Test and thus retained The Ashes.
I was atted (?) @ed (?) by a number of people who are hoping to get a rise out of me and so, in the spirit of the game, this is my two pennenth worth.

Well done Australia. You have played well and deserve to be winners.

Now then, to address the kind of messages that I have seen on social media this morning: Really? Do you really think that England losing is going to make me mad or sad? Y'all right?

There is a distinct difference between Australia and England fans and this result has brought it out yet again.

Australia likes to mythologise two things about itself.
Firstly that it is the land of the fair go, despite the fact that the economy is very much rigged in favour of the rich, and that from a cultural perspective Australia is very much a nation of xenophobes, who are openly suspicious and openly cruel towards anyone who is other.
Secondly there is the expectation that Australia is world champion in absolutely everything and that if Australia loses, then there must be cheating going on.

England on the other hand, likes to mythologise two things about itself.
Firstly that it is the land of manners and politeness, despite the fact that that the economy is very much rigged in favour of the rich, and that from a cultural perspective, England (both as the individual country and the metonym) is very much a nation of xenophobes, who are openly suspicious and openly cruel towards anyone who is other (see Brexit).
Secondly there is the expectation that England is world champion in practically nothing and that if England loses, then it is because it was doomed from the start.

The fans of English sporting teams go into tournaments with the expectation that England will win a few matches and then crash out spectacularly. The English football team won the 1966 World Cup by drawing 2-2 at full time and then scoring the third goal in disputed and dubious fashion. The English rugby team won the 2003 World Cup by drawing 17-17 at full time and then scoring a field goal from the boot of Johnny Wilkinson in disputed and dubious fashion. The English cricket team won the 2019 Cricket World Cup by drawing 241-241 at and then winning the Super Over in disputed and dubious fashion.
All of these World Cup wins came through odd circumstances and every England team which followed, has never won another trophy. The corollary of that is that when England actually does manage to win something, it is usually so rare that nobody really knows what to do. England fans can celebrate a World Cup win in any sport, safe in the knowledge that it will never happen again.

This brings me neatly to the subject of the fourth test. When England won the third test, the base expectation of Australian fans kicked in and England must've cheated. The evidence given was the non-dismissal of Ben Stokes and accusations of cheating, even though Australia had used up all of the reviews and that LBW bowler umpire.
The tale of the fourth test saw Australia post a massive target of 497/8 declared and England only just managed to avoid the follow on. Australia then scored 186/6 declared which set a target of 383, which England were never going to chase down, and England failing to force a draw by about twenty five minutes.
The difference in expectation and the crowing about the result is itself completely expected. Australian fans were always going to yell "You suck!" at England fans on social media but the response was always going to be "We know. What else have you got? Nothing.".

The base expectation of England fans in just about every sporting endeavour is that England will probably lose again. The more pessimistic of us expect England to never escape from the group stages of a World Cup in any sport and should they actually manage to do so, immediately get knocked out in the next round.
The base expectation of England fans in The Ashes, is for England to lose the tournament five-nil, even after winning the Cricket World Cup. England fans expect to hear the word 'doomed' in commentary repeatedly, some sort of critical analysis of why England lost as though looking through the entrails of a dead animal, and then to hear the taunts of Australian fans afterwards.

The thing that Australian fans seem to never be able to wrap their minds around is that given the evidence of England's constant failure in every sporting endeavour for more than 150 years, England fans already know what the score is.
You can't undermine someone's expectations if they already live down a mine. You can not take away someone's hope if they never had any in the first place. You do not shatter someone's expectations if they expected nothing from the beginning. You can not take anything away from zero in absolute terms. Even if England fans only expected to do half as well, two half nothings are a whole nothing.

England fans always expect to lose. You can not beat us down any further. Your taunts are useless.

September 07, 2019

Horse 2593 - Five Get Into A Series Of Complex Legal Questions

Somewhere on my Facebook timeline was mention of the 1958 book by Enid Blyton "Five Get into a Fix". I remember reading this (and indeed all of the Famous Five canon) when I were a wee lad; so the story was not unknown to me.

The plot is as follows. It is just after Christmas and Julian has a cold. Julian's mum sends them to a farm in Wales so that they can recover.
Cue a creepy house called "Old Towers" a bunch of strange noises, a note which says “I’m kidnapped in my own house. Please call the police”, some kidnappers and a mine for some precious metal with magnetic properties; without the owner's permission under the house.

The comment on Facebook said:
"I think the Famous Five really jumped the shark when they discovered an entire illegal mine operating underneath an old lady’s house."

The fact that there is a mine operating underneath an old lady’s house did not strike me as particulatly odd. I already knew that there were lots of old mines underneath a bunch of houses Oop North.
With all the UK’s deep coal mines now closed, you could be forgiven for not giving them a second thought when buying a property. However, mines have left a potentially harmful legacy, as many homeowners across Yorkshire have discovered.
Nearly one in three of our properties sit above coalfields. Although most houses will not have any problems, the sheer scale of mining over the centuries means costly and even dangerous structural damage due to mining is far from unheard of.
- The Yorkshire Post, 30th May 2019.

In fact there are so many old mines underneath a bunch of houses Oop North, that mine subsidence is a problem. Handily though, The Coal Authority has a website do that lets you do a search to see if the propety in question, is affected by old holes in the ground:

The question for me then, isn't one about a mine operating underneath an old lady’s house but rather, the legality of a mine operating underneath an old lady’s house. This question is far harder to answer.

As far as I can make out, with the exceptions of oil, gas, coal, gold and silver, the Crown does not own mineral rights in the UK. This is different to Australia, where you will need a mining license even if you want to set up a mine underneath your own house. One of Australia's most fanous disputes, the Eureka Stockade, had to do with the issuing of mining licences and the rather strange scenario that miners wanted to mine for gold, on other people's land for the most part.

In the UK, minerals right are not held by the Crown but by private ownership. The details on mineral righte for any given property are held by the Land Registry Office together with details of land surface ownership and this is where the story gets insanely weird.

The Town and Country Planning Act 1947 didn't change the fact that they rights to mine land are vested with the property owner but that you needed planning permission for development to extract:
"all substances in or under land of a kind ordinarily worked for removal by underground or surface working, except that it does not include peat cut for purposes other than for sale"

The mining rights remain vested with the owners of the land, which includes everything beneath or within it, down to the centre of the earth but the development values were vested in the state; with up to £300m set aside for compensation of landowners.

The question of who is the landowner, is even more complex.

A lot of places in the UK, have perpetual leases upon them. Most of Manchester for instance is owned by the De Trafford Baronetcy. Edmund Trafford incidentally, had the title of "The Alchemist" because of the licence issued to him by Henry VI in 1466, which authorizing him to transmute metal. There are loads of these arrangements in the UK; where someone owns their house and pays ground rent to some great estate, usually for some peppercorn amount like £50 per year.

I have no idea if the Old Lady who owns her house, actually owns the superior land title under it; so I do not actually know if the mine operating underneath the old lady’s house is actually illegal or not. Since we are not privy to the series of ownership arrangements, the mine underneath her house could well be legal.

Kidnapping on the other hand is a common law tort in England and Wales; which means to say that that part of this story could very well be the only infringement of law here.

September 06, 2019

Horse 2592 - Cocomelon: Make It Stop, Please

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the things that I watch on YouTube are mostly to do with Maths and Science, Motor Racing and Motor Cars, Politics, History, and edge cases like cat videos and goofs.
However, when I go forth and back across this swirling conurbation we call Sydney, I am aware that lots of people like to watch things like makeup tutorials, people preparing food, vloggers, and people playing video games.
I have no problem with this. People like what they like; for random and often unknowable reasons. For instance, this week I was genuinely watching a TV show which had two guys trying to decapitate a stimulant head from a body by using a rocket powered sword. Seriously.

One of the things that has come across my attention on multiple occasions, is when parents put a tablet in front of their toddlers on public transport and they watch CGI animated videos of nursery rhymes. To be fair, if you are on public transport with your toddler then I do not blame you one iota for wanting some shred of peace where you can possibly get it. I think that anything that you have at your disposal to make public transport a little less hellish, is completely justified.
What I will say though, is that thanks to being on buses and trains where I am forced to stand for three quarters of an hour, I have inadvertently been subjected to the bewildering world of Cocomelon; increasingly against my will.

I have no idea who produces Cocomelon videos (there are no links to a website, Wikipedia seems to have no idea either) but whoever they are, they have done remarkably well for themselves. As a channel which exists on YouTube, which takes music which is in the public domain and then animates children's songs, you'd wonder such a thing can possibly make money but when you consider that YouTube's ad services literally do not care who or even if the person watching at the other end has either any money or the ability to use it, Cocomelon has a pretty good business model.
The target audience of Cocomelon are it must be said, the equivalent of sponges with eyeballs attached. Provided you can keep a small child in front of a device, they will keep on watching, regardless of quality, context or content.
That isn't to say that the quality of Cocomelon's videos are objectively bad, it's just that the content is banal and looks so saccarine that I'm suspicious that you're going to get eye diabetes just from looking at it. This is of course deliberate and extremely savvy from a business perspective. The objective is to keep those eyeballs looking at the screen for as long as it takes to get the delicious ad revenue. This is calculating amorality at its most efficient.

After being subjected to this against my will on multiple occasions, on trains for almost an hour at a time and by completely different and unrelated people, I am officially filing Cocomelon videos in the same bucket as Dora The Explorer, Calou, and Paw Patrol¹.
There is just something that I find really creepy about Cocomelon videos. The CGI model of all of the characters, who I can only guess are unnamed, falls into one of the dells of the uncanny valley for me. There is something that I find almost viscerally repulsive about them; in much the same way that I find Cabbage Patch or Kewpie dolls creepy. This is the kind of thing that nightmares are made from and have already been exploited in the cinema - think of Chucky.
I also find it sort of creepy that on the splash screen for the videos on YouTube (I really really do not want to go beyond that point and watch them), the selling point appears to be a blob telling you how long they are. It is almost as if the concession from the outset is that even Cocomelon knows that their content is terrible but if you are a parent and want to do something else, then you have 37 minutes of eye heroin that you can give your children.

- and the pain doesn't go away for the rest of us, either.

Of course I say this in the spirit of complete hypocrisy, as my own unique brand of brain heroin is Maths and Science, Motor Racing and Motor Cars, Politics, History and the like², and I know that I prefer the radio and podcasts rather than watching videos. I also am totally aware that I am not even remotely the target audience here and all of this is very much in old man yelling at a cloud territory.
When most of us are on trains and buses, being carried along for an hour at a time, we all have headphones and can not hear everyone else's personal brain heroin going on. One of the great inventions of the twentieth century wasn't just the Walkman but the 3.5mm headphone jack which meant that the personal stereo was actually personal; now that we all have screens and can watch videos as well as listen to stuff but it is still all personal and quiet. We all absorbed the rules of etiquette however, little people have not.
Big people know that we need to be quiet. Little people who are on buses and trains and who have no impulse control, will watch and watch and watch and watch, with no headphones; which means that the rest of us are forced to endure it.

The thing is that I don't think that I'd mind if it was something like Peppa Pig or Bluey. Linear storytelling, provided it is well written, jumps over the barriers of age in a lot of cases. Cocomelon videos are designed for people with attention spans of only a few minutes and they string together segments in a never ending sequence of specifically targeted brain heroin for those people.
I don't think that the producers of Cocomelon care about the real world consequences of their videos. Their videos are clearly made for plonking kids in front of for extended periods of time, which is fine I suppose but chaining me in front of them and against my will on public transport, is unpleasant. I do not need to hear the "Yes, Yes, Vegetables³" song for the ninth time in a row.

I think that it was Jean-Paul Sartre in the play No Exit who penned the line that "Hell is other people" (and in an entirely different context) but I could be wrong. Again, I am completely aware that for everyone else in the world, I am other people and therefore their hell (which is getting pretty close to Sartre's idea of 'the other' in that play). The lot that falls to me in this case is to suffer in silence, while the band-aid solution of videos being played out loud, sits in place of the sounds of screaming little people.

¹If I am ever captured by Minitrue, I have just divulged what needs to go into Room 101 to break me.
²Chasing The Moon which is currently on SBS, which is about the Apollo Program, ticks many boxes for me.
³I would be prepared to hear from a second wave ska band called Yes, Yes, Vegetables though.
⁴Which would be a pretty cool name for a third wave punk band.

September 05, 2019

Horse 2591 - Carrying On Like A Pork Chop

Sometimes you just read something in the newspaper that makes you wonder about the sanity of the world. Sometimes you read something which on the face of it, is so ridiculous that it can't possibly be real.
In this case though, which actually is a legal case, we have something so daft, that if it wasn't for two newspapers, the television news, and a look at the legal registers, I wouldn't have believed it.
A Perth vegan has taken her neighbours all the way to the Supreme Court, demanding they stop smoking, bouncing balls and even cooking barbecues in their backyard.
Cilla Carden from Girrawheen, in Perth's northern suburbs, said she is fed up with the smell of meat cooking on the barbecue next door.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 3rd Sep 2019

And just to confirm that this wasn't complete hogwash:
The massage therapist has been embroiled in a battle with Toan Vu, his wife and children since late 2018.
After her claims were rejected by a tribunal earlier this year on lack of evidence, she applied to the Supreme Court of Western Australia for right of appeal. It was also turned down in July.
Lawyer John Hammond said going to the Supreme Court was an "extreme option" but it hadn't stopped Ms Carden from further appealing the case.
She told Nine News she believed her neighbours were "absolutely deliberate" in allowing their smells to cross into her yard.
And it's not just the smell of meat and fish that has made her furious, it's the smell of cigarettes and the sound of children playing with basketballs.
- Daily Telegraph, 3rd Sep 2019

That's it. If the world stops spinning tomorrow, I'm jumping off¹. I'm taking a rocket to Titan and you'll never see me again. There are so many things going on here at once, that my brain went into 'safe mode' and demands to be fed with numbers and politics.

I could conceivably see how Ms Carden might have a case against her neighbours disturbing the peace and quiet but I don't think that this is a very strong one at all. I have been both inside the courts as a court recorder and outside the courts as a para-para-para-paralegal for so long that this looks to me like a vexatious case. If I was a judge, I would laugh as I threw it out; as I suspect has already happened, twice.

There is a concept at common law which is the right to quiet enjoyment of one's surrounds. I will readily admit that there is cause for cease and desist orders if you happen to have neighbours who want to throw wild parties well into the night, every night. There are also causes for a claim if you happen to live next door to a factory of some kind, which has industrial processes which release unpleasant chemicals into the immediate vicinity. The question over whether or not someone is impinging upon your right to quiet enjoyment of your surroundings, when they are in their own backyard because they also have a right to quiet enjoyment of their surroundings, then becomes one of reasonableness in the light of competing rights interests.

Is it reasonable for someone to be barbecuing in their own backyard? Absolutely. Is it reasonable for the kids to be playing basketball in their own backyard? Absolutely.

This is why I am guessing that the Adminstrative Appeals Tribunal who first heard this case and the Supreme Court of Western Australia, both threw this case out on its ear through lack of evidence. I would even go so far as to say that if Mr Vu actually was somehow "absolutely deliberate" in allowing their smells to cross into her yard, as if that was even a thing, then this case should still be thrown out on its ear because it is stupid.

If there is an argument to be made that the Vu family has "absolutely deliberately" gone out of their way to annoy Ms Carden then maybe there is a case to answer but the idea that someone is undertaking barbecuing in a deliberately vindictive manner, just seems so nonsensical and fanciful to me, that I do not believe that it is real.
I think that there is another issue playing out here and that Ms Carden is playing this issue out by proxy - She is a racist.

The truth is that no court is going to rule that the Vu family should spontaneously leave; especially just because Ms Carden is afraid of foreigners. Not only is that unreasonable but we have things like the Racial Discrimination Act which prevent such knavery.
I am also willing to suggest that Ms Carden isn't really a long time vegan² and just happened to discover this as a convenient lifestyle option because it gave her sufficient cover to spin a story which wasn't explicitly racist. This isn't to say that I have problem with veganism because if you are willing to not eat meat because of the strength of your convictions or religion, then you are more than likely a person of moral fortitude. However, if Ms Carden has taken on this crusade so virulently that she is prepared to go to court repeatedly, then I do not think that she is a genuine vegan and is probably having a sneaky bacon cheeseburger behind the bins at Woolworths.

I hope that the court in its wisdom, sees through Ms Carden's knavery and eejitery and decides to award the case and their court costs to the Vu family. I also hope that she admits that this is all a furphy and either goes to a nunnery or a carvery.

¹If the world actually did stop spinning tomorrow, we'd probably be flung off at high speeds because of the laws of physics.
²Though she might be from the planet Vega.


One of the endearing qualities of Australia is that although there are some eejits here, there are also a lot of boofheads and larrikins who openly mock this kind of stupidity.

This was in today's Daily Telegraph:

In response, a Facebook event has been created called "Community BBQ for Cilla Carden", on which more than 2000 people have clicked attending and 6000 have indicated they are interested.
"Cilla Carden has a problem with her neighbours cooking meat on their BBQ, because she's a 'vegan'." Recently taking them to the Supreme Court, creator of the event Bailey Mason wrote.
- Daily Telegraph, 5th Sep 2019


I can't think of anything that would be a more Australian Australian response to this. If Ms Carden is just a whinger who is complaining about her neighbours being "absolutely deliberate" in allowing their smells to cross into her yard, then she now has to deal with 2000+ people who will descend upon her eejitery.

If however this is a proxy for her racism (because she can't actually take her neighbours to court just because she is a racist xenophobe) then Bailey Mason's scare quotes about her being a 'vegan', are bang to rights.

Either way, the fact that the community is rallying around the Vu family by holding a massive barbeque, is the "absolutely deliberate" perfect response. Bailey Mason, you are a dead set legend.

September 04, 2019

Horse 2590 - Wayne Rooney: Red 32

I know that this is incredibly late to the picture, like I have arrived at the cinema half way through a movie and am asking about what happened but we need to talk about Wayne Rooney.

Wayne Rooney burst onto the stage of football at the age of 16, with a stellar opening season at Everton. At the time people wondered if this was going to be one of those cases where someone burns brightly and then immediately fizzles out but he got better and better and Everton sold him to Manchester United for many millions of pounds; where he helped the club win championships and cups. He then went to the elephants' graveyard that is American Major League Soccer, and has returned to play out the twilight of his career at Derby County Football Club where it is expected that he will transition into coaching and management.

One of the things that has happened to English football over the last decade or so, is the rise of internet gambling and spot betting. Once upon a time, football clubs carried the logos of kit sponsors of companies that made electrical goods, potato crisps, beer, car manufacturers, and the like but in the second decade of the twenty-first century, a lot of these have been replaced by internet gambling companies. It is now possible to watch a football game and gamble on that same football game, while gambling on various things happening in that football game, using the app of the kit sponsor of one of the clubs in that football game. All the while, the whole thing is yelling "Bet! Bet! Bet! Bet!"
The problem with all of this is that in having gambling companies sponsor football clubs, they rob the mortgage and rent and the food from the tables of the very same people who would watch football. English football in my lifetime has gone from the sport of the working class, to an industry which is built on the backs of losers and has become the plaything of billionaires. After having money flood the game which drove up ticket prices, the internet gambling companies found a way to take the money out of the pockets of the people who had been priced out of the game.

This all brings me back to the tale of Wayne Rooney. Derby County Football Club is sponsored by the gambling company Red 32. The name of that company alone is almost naked in its intent as it evokes a slot on a roulette wheel. It came to light that part of the conditions of Derby County Football Club signing Wayne Rooney, which they shouldn't normally be able to do because he would be too expensive, was that his contract was bought directly by the gambling company Red 32. In exchange for Derby County Football Club effectively getting him for free, part of the terms of the agreement was that Wayne Rooney would play in the kit number 32.
Now I know that money has been floating around in the world of sport since ages ago and there was even the case of a chariot driver being bought by a chariot team for more than a million aurii but even I have to concede that there is a moral limit somewhere.

I say this in complete hypocrisy because as someone who likes watching an even more expensive sport than football, namely motor racing, the idea that numbers and colours can be bought by companies is completely normal to me.
Team Lotus famously changed their colours in Formula One from British Racing Green to the colours of tobacco company Gold Leaf and became Team Gold Leaf Lotus for a while. Right throughout the 1970s, 80s and into the early 90s, cigarette sponsorship was all over everything in sport.
For a while, we had the rather strange situation of Peter Brock driving for the Holden Dealer Team which was sponsored by the Marlboro cigarette company but who personally ran the number of 05 which was sponsored by the Victorian State Government as an anti drink driving campaign. Drink driving is bad but smoking is good?
There were a bunch of sporting series where cigarette companies had bought the name of the competition, like the Winfield Cup, the Winston Cup, and World Series Cricket ran the Benson and Hedges Cup.

I don't really have a problem with raw naked capitalism buying the colours and numbers of sporting events and teams but there's something just a little bit off with Red 32 paying for Wayne Rooney to play in kit number 32 in a club which they sponsor. It's even more horrid when you are also selling replica kits to kiddiwinks, for whom betting on everything becomes normalised; who can't afford the ticket prices and have been locked out of the game.
Gambling in some cases is as addictive and destructive as cigarettes and alcohol. The world kind of came to an agreement in the 1990s that cigarette sponsorship in sport was a net bad thing and it was banned. I do not know if time will tell if gambling sponsorship in sport will be banned or not but even if it is not, there is something crass and gauche about Wayne Rooney playing in kit number 32 because a gambling company wants him to.

The purist in me wants to say that kit numbers belong in the realm of myth making but I am not so naive to think that that's true. Granted that sporting heroes are associated with their numbers such as Michael Jordan 23, Wayne Gretzky 99, Babe Ruth 3, Peter Brock 05, Dick Johnson 17, Nigel Mansell Red 5, etc. but when you are selling gambling to extract money from the people who used to be your fan base but have now been locked out because of money, that seems insidious to be.

September 03, 2019

Horse 2589 - Hooray For Australian National Flag Day, The Day Nobody Knows Or Cares About!

Let's hear it for Australian National Flag Day, yay!
Never heard of it? Good. That must mean that it's the most patriotic day in the year.

Australia doesn't have a national saint like St George, or St Andrew and so we have to make do with celebrating Invasion Day on the 26th of January, when the colony of NSW was proclaimed. As far as national holidays go, it's pretty rubbish because it truly isn't national; it's just that the racist zealots of Australia want to turn it into something. Nor can Australia point to a national founding day because the Commonwealth of Australia was started on the 1st of January 1901 and that date was already take by New Years' Day.
So that means that we have an actual national holiday which nobody cares about and a faux national holiday with racist overtones. Hmm. Good work so far.
That brings us to today, the 3rd of September; a day which has actually been proclaimed as Australian National Flag Day but because there isn't a public holiday in it, the so-called patriots, don't really give two hoots about it.

In 1901 Australia didn't really have a proper national flag; so we held the Federal Flag Design Competition; which attracted more than 30,000 entries. Most of them were variations on a theme and what we ended up getting was a defaced blue ensign with the Commonwealth Star and the Southern Cross. The flag which won the competition had 6 points on the Commonwealth Star and this is what was in use from 3 September 1901; as sent up the flag pole by Prime Minister Edmund Barton¹. That flag was 18 by 36 feet; which I have to say is pretty massive for a flag. The seven-pointed commonwealth star version was introduced by a proclamation dated 8 December 1908.

Even then, there was still argument about whether the Australian Flag should be a defaced blue ensign or defaced red ensign, this is evident even as much as 26 years later at the opening of the Parliament House. It wasn't until the Flags Act of 1953 which actually specified that the Australian National Flag should be the blue one and not the red one:
1.  The Australian National Flag is a blue flag, and the Australian Red Ensign is a red flag, the design of each of which is specified in clause 1A.
- Schedule 1. 1. Flags Act 1953

Curiously, the flags act mentions that people still have the right to fly the Union Jack:
This Act does not affect the right or privilege of a person to fly the Union Jack².
- Section 8. 1. Flags Act 1953

Nobody continued to give two hoots about if Australia even had a National Flag Day until John Howard¹ came to power in 1996. As part of his wave of rewriting of symbolism as is the want of every incoming government, he advised the Governor-General that there should be a day and Sir William Deane³ declared on the 28 August 1996 that the 3rd of September should be officially established as Australian National Flag Day. Again, nobody proceded to give two hoots about it.

I really love the fact that the only reason I found out that there was a Australian National Flag Day was because 7 people were outside in Mosman Square raising the flag. Just to underline the stupidity of this faux show of patriotism, the flags which were already sent up the flagpoles as they are every morning, were brought down and sent back up again.
I love the fact that nobody knows who the Governor-General is. I love the fact that the most important parts of Australian patriotism, lie on the sporting field. The Baggy Green Cap, the Green of the Kangaroos, and the gold of the Wallabys, the Socceroos and the Matildas are more important to us as a nation. I love that the last Saturday in September and that Sunday in October are more important than an anonymous flag day, which a government proclaimed but was too poxy to give us a public holiday for.
I love that I had no idea that to today was Australian National Flag Day because that truly is the most Australian Australian thing of all

¹Who was also a masive racist.
²Union Jack on the Aussie Flag. Doo-dah, doo-dah.
¹Who told off the PM for being a masive racist.