February 24, 2021

Horse 2812 - What Is A Sentence? (Also Yoda)

What Is A Sentence?

This sounds like a daft question because in the process of asking what a sentence is, you have to use a sentence to do so (yes, a question is a sentence). The ontological question of what a sentence is not only an exercise in semantics but is also a meta-exercise in semantics; with it being concerned with itself. Formal Semantics which is the the branch of linguistics and logic which is concerned with meaning, is distinct from Lexical Semantics which is more concerned with how a word is used in context and how it fits into the contextual relations around it. 

Put simply a sentence is a textual unit consisting of one or more words that are grammatically linked. That's it. That might sound strange that you can have a sentence consisting of only one word but if that word by itself conveys enough meaning to imply a clause, even if it is not explicit, then it is a sentence. Very simple phrases can also be sentences, provided they also convey enough meaning to imply a clause.

What is a Clause? A clause is that part of a sentence that constitutes a predicate. What is a Predicate? A predicate is that unit of speech which says that a thing is doing something. Note that a predicate is functionally different to a verb which is a "doing something" word and a verb may in fact act as the predicate but a predicate in a sentence may include adjectives, prepositions and even adverb.

Of course you can not have a predicate which says that a thing is doing something unless there is a subject, that there is indeed a thing that is doing something. Subjects are usually nouns (either common, proper) though they can also be adverbs.

Therein lies all the information you need to answer the question of what a sentence is. Since a sentence is a textual unit which implies a clause and a clause consists of subject and a predicate, then a sentence is a textual unit which implies a subject and a predicate.

Let me give you an example of a complete sentence which contains neither a verb or a noun but which implies both and also conveys enough meaning to imply a clause. Since I like the sport of cricket, this is one of my favourite examples:

How many balls are left in the over?

Two.

That one word "two" in this case is a cardinal adjective. While "two" is a noun which is a number, it is being used in this case as a description (that is an adjective) of a subject. The subject "How many balls" contains a noun (balls) and an adjective. The verb clause "are left" contains the second-person singular and plural form of the verb "to be" as well as the verb "left" which means to let remain or have remaining behind after going.

That one word "two" by itself is implying the entirety of "there are two balls are left in the over"; which is a standard subject-verb clause which is declarative (that is, it is making a declaration and a claim about a thing), and as such it is a sentence. 

It must be said that our magnificent bastard tongue of English is either a gloriously stupidly easy language to learn because the only rule which holds hard and fast is that "every sentence contains a verb" (which is almost a tautology because a sentence must imply a clause) or it is a notoriously difficult language to learn because there is only one rule and that means that you get no help at all. It seems counter-intuitive to me that Germanic languages which have almost no rules would produce so many cultures of people who are sticklers for rules.

If all of that fails, then you can just remember the chorus to The Tale of Mr. Morton.

Mister Morton is the subject of the

Sentence and what the predicate says,

He does



Aside:

Because English is such a louche language when it comes to rules (I'll even start this sentence with "because" because I jolly well can; so there), it means that we can understand people who we think are butchering the language with relative ease, like Yoda.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to Anger. Anger leads to Hate. Hate leads to Suffering.

Why does anyone assume, given all that we know about Yoda who is very obviously speaking in a second language, that his most famous statements are grammatically correct? This is the same person whose regular subject order clauses generally messed up are. Occult health and safety officer should he be not. 

What would happen if you pass Yoda's statements through some kind of algorithm which could generate the order in which they would become more Yoda-y? If you ran Yoda's statements through the algorithm multiple times, would you end up in a weird kind of nonsense gobbledegook which is then unparseable? Moreover, is it possible to run Yoda's statements through the algorithm backwards and arrive at the proper original meaning of what he meant to say?

If the statement is exactly backwards then you get:

Suffering leads to Hate. Hate leads to Anger. Anger leads to Fear.

All of this seems equally valid and as an aphorism, equally vapid. 

I note that the end point of Yoda's arc, ends up with him talking to Luke Skywalker on a planet with weird mountain outcrops and he decides to burn all of the Jedis' writings to the ground. It isn't actually said but maybe Yoda realises that the Jedi religion is rubbish.

If only he'd stopped at the beginning and decided that if suffering leads to hate, then maybe they should have eliminated suffering in the galaxy. I don't know, maybe the Galactic Senate could have done something about enacting Universal Universal Healthcare, finding a cure for cancer, doing something about pollution and recycling instead of razing planets and moving on; instead of flying about the place and waving colourful laser swords like a bunch of ten year old children.

February 22, 2021

Horse 2811 - Brady Isn't The GOAT At All

 Humans are brilliant pattern finding machines. When it comes to finding patterns and associations, were so good at it that we'll find patterns when there aren't even any there. In addition to being pattern finding machines we are also excellent classifiers and superlative finding machines. Give us a list of stuff and we'll rank them with both sensible and insensible ranking systems. 

When Tom Brady won his seventh Superbowl, American media was prepared to declare Tom Brady as the Greatest Of All Time (GOAT) of American Football. The hype train had so many people jump on board that Twitter was awash with the declaration that Tom Brady was the GOAT of all sports. However, even as a seven times Champion, that simply just doesn't hold up to any major scrutiny.

Owing to the insular nature of American media, sports coverage tends to look inside but not that much further outside America. 

If there is a GOAT of all sports, then people like Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, Péle, Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods all have pretty good cases for being the GOAT but even Michael Jordan whose fame extended well outside the realm of basketball still doesn't make it close to the top of any list that I might generate¹. You could make claims that people like Martina Navratilova, Margaret Court, Steffi Graf or Serena Williams who won an open while pregnant have a pretty good shot at being the GOAT. They also all have longer careers and have won more important titles than Tom Brady.

If I think about who I'd consider as the GOAT, then the choices that I'd make would baffle most of these commentators I suspect. Tom Brady wouldn't make my list at all.

To wit:

Jackie Stewart only won the Formula One World Championship three times. That puts him equal sixth on the list of World Championship winners. Already it is obvious that I do not think that the title of GOAT is dependent upon mere statistical analysis.

...

Jackie Stewart gave the game away after winning his third championship; in a season which also included the death of his Tyrell team mate and friend Françoise Cevert. He explains in his autobiography that at that particular time, motor racing drivers were being killed at a rate of about one a fortnight and rather than let this continue, he was going to do something about it.

Jackie Stewart was then instrumental in things like track design, having adequate run off areas, adequate crash fencing, changing safety regulation to include adequate fire marshalls, seat belts, position and design of fuel tanks etc. It is one thing to win championships but quite another to go out and make changes to the sport so that paid professionals and the spectators who watch them, get to go home at the end of the day; instead of being wheeled away in a body back, to be buried in the ground.

Jackie Stewart's off the racetrack in championing safety is a very big reason why Michael Schumacher or Lewis Hamilton won seven championships and weren't dead within a decade. Motor racing is still dangerous but at least we're pointing to the deaths of Roland Ratzenbgerger, Aryton Senna² and Jules Bianchi as being three in 30 years and not three in three months.

Also, as motor racing tends to lead the development of motor cars, although the adoption of things like seat belts happened before Formula One adopted them, the idea that cars should be crash worthy and that we should think more about road furniture, is the reason why many more people out here in the real world go on to live boring lives instead of being wiped out in motor accidents. Jackie Stewart in championing safety went out and partly changed a culture.

...

In terms of number of standard deviations above the mean, Don Bradman is statistically the best sportsperson across all sport. With a Test Average of 99.94 in comparison with the nerest who is in the low 60s. Bradman was given a knighthood for his contribution to sport but that's still not enough for me. I have a better reason why he is the greatest sports person of all time.

When Bradman was an administrator for the Australian Cricket Board, he was able to place sufficiently enough pressure on the board to stop Australia from touring South Africa because of the very public reason of Apartheid.

"We will not play them [South Africa] until they choose a team on a non-racist basis."

- Don Bradman, 1971

The next time that someone wants to tell you that sport isn't political, tell them that they are incredibly myopic, small minded and ignorant of history, for one of the people whom Nelson Mandela credited with making the rest of the world aware, was Don Bradman. It is one thing to be statistically the best sports person of all time; it is quite another to change the world for the better using the power that you gained because of it.

...

When it comes to the greatest team of all time, then nothing comes close to the New York Yacht Club. When Real Madrid won La Decima, which was the 10th time that they'd won the European Cup, that was pretty impressive. The St George Dragons won eleven championships in a row; which I think might be a record in most team sports. The New York Yacht Club won the 100 Guineas Cup, renamed it the America's Cup after the yacht which first won it; then went on a winning streak of 132 years.

Challengers from a bunch of nations tried from 1851 until 1983 when the Fremantle Yacht Club threw sufficiently enough money and technology at the sport of sailing to steal the cup away. Nobody in the world was alive when America won the 100 Guineas Cup and still alive to see Australia II win the cup. Colourful businessman Alan Bond managed to get the nation of Australia to care about sailing for a while and that's pretty impressive in itself.

...

I am sure that Tom Brady is very successful but he can't very well be the GOAT if I hadn't even heard of him outside of a once a year mention and even then only because he shares a name with a YouTube journalist that I like. I have never seen a Brady shirt but I have seen people walking around in a Jordan 23 basketball kit, 20 years after he stopped playing.

I think that it is one thing to be statistically brilliant but if nobody outside of the sport cares, then what's the point. Being the one who gets to put your flag on top of the hill of sport, still only puts you on top of a rather smallish hill. However, if you go out and change the world, then that's where greatness actually resides. 

¹The greatest basketball player of all time is probably Chuck Taylor; who never played professionally. His hawking of shoes is probably a bigger contributing factor to the popularity of that sport, well beyond even that of Michael Jordan. 

²Aryton Senna might have deliberately run into Alain Prost at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix; after previously having Mansell earlier that year. Aryton Senna actually did deliberately run into the back of Alain Prost at the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix after having announced that he "can't be held responsible for my actions" at the drivers' briefing meeting before the race. If you go out and deliberately have the intent of taking out your rival, then that doesn't make you a GOAT but a knave.

February 19, 2021

Horse 2810 - Facebook v Australia (actually News Corp.)

 In a move that sent ripples through the media yesterday, Facebook announced that it was going to put an outright blanket ban on all Australian news sites and links to those news sites being posted on its platform. This was in response to the Federal Government threatening to charge Facebook fees, or to make Facebook pay royalties to Australian companies for the content which they had effectively been freebooting for years - and yes, if 'freebooting' sounds like a ye olde piratey word, it's because it arrrre!

What I find rather interesting about this is the assumption of people that I would be annoyed at a private corporation exacting private power over what they perceive to be a public service (which it isn't). Those same people have also posted things on their pages, demanding either the defunding of the ABC; so I am not sure exactly what they think that a public service is for or what it is.

Facebook is a private entity which is operating what amounts to a private boarding house online. As the landlord, they have to the right to say who stays in their premises; subject to various laws to do with discrimination etc. In a kosmos where everyone is trying to claim the right to do something in all directions, it is easy to forget that it is very hard to force someone else to provide the necessary means to look after your rights.

Granted that the Australian Government definitely does have a moral right to charge Facebook an adequate amount of taxation based upon the monetary benefit and profits that they derive in Australia (which Facebook definitely tries to avoid and in bad faith) but the current Morrison Government is very obviously acting on behalf of their masters at News Corporation who have demanded that they are entitled to the proceeds of that taxation. 

Facebook putting up a wall and telling people that they are not allowed inside, looks similar to but not exactly congruous to News Corporation who also put up a paywall and charge people who want to play inside. As a consumer it appears to me to be one amoral anational fascist champion versus another amoral anational fascist champion. Forgive me if I don't care who wins.

Truth be told, I am fine with Facebook operating like a knave, in the light of the current Liberal Government passing legislation and running a screen for their masters at News Corporation. This whole argument is like a couple of drunk men arguing in the apartment above. For the most part I don't really care about the argument and in all honesty, I wish that they'd both move out and leave. 

I live in a weird point in time where almost the entirety of print newspapers in Australia are owned by just three groups: News Corporation, Nine Entertainment Co. and SevenWest Media. As far as television goes, as I do not have an aerial that works, then Channels 7, 9, and 10 are practically dead to me. That means that I get the majority of my Australian news either from the ABC or SBS, or from the Sydney Morning Herald. 

From an absolutely selfish perspective, Facebook's ban on Australian news sites is entirely unremarkable to me. As I do not get my news via Facebook, their ban is of zero consequence to me. As for the argument that it somehow hurts Australian news gathering, I don't really see that as an issue. Companies like News Corporation who have already pared back their news desks to the bone, and commercial television networks that do very little actual news gathering, probably won't miss the incidental traffic that Facebook may have sent to them. Companies like the ABC and SBS who are real news gathering organisations and who go to the effort of sending out gumshoe reporters to gather the news (how novel) are not bound by the profit motive and as such the loss of Facebook is largely irrelevant.

The other issue is that people who only ever got their news via Facebook, are probably not that actually engaged with the news and are probably more likely to share untruths and falsehoods, either unwittingly or knowingly (let's hear it for mass sweeping generalisations).

What the actions of Facebook do demonstrate is that they could have done something about fake news, deliberate misinformation, and the publication of hate speech on their platform if they wanted to. It took an invasion of the US Capitol Building for Twitter to permanently ban Donald Trump but Facebook have seemed rather acquiescent to people organising such things and in the past they have only bowed to pressure after there have been beheadings on Facebook Live and they had to be told off by the New Zealand Government while the live streaming of the massacre of more than 50 people went on. Death and destruction are fine on Facebook but the second that a government tries to make them pay for the news that they freeboot, that's a different story.

On the other hand, this couldn't have come at a more fortuitous time for the Federal Government as it scrambles to run a deflection after an alleged rape happened within the walls of the parliament building. The incoherent argument that Facebook is evil, is a very welcome distraction and News Corporation is a very friendly partner in the cover up.

As for my experience on Facebook, as a user my algorithmically curated corner of it has been vastly improved; almost immediately. I don't have people sharing Sky News videos and I don't have people sharing videos from the Herald-Sun or Daily Telegraph. It is lovely.

I will continue to get my news from the ABC, SBS, the BBC, NPR, DW, NHK, the Sydney Morning Herald (in dead tree form), Pravda, and Xinhua. The latter two are somewhat odd but what's really odd is that Xinhua is often more truthful than what is on Sky News. The best journalism that we get in Australia is still AM and PM on ABC Radio National (576AM in Sydney) because the ABC still pays people properly to do that one really weird thing that News Corporation doesn't like doing: actual journalism. The ABC is still on the radio and online at the ABC's website; so it's not like I've lost anything at all.

February 18, 2021

Horse 2809 - Name 8 Digits

 If there is one thing that I have learnt during my lifetime that has repeatedly made itself known, it is that everyone is terrible and selfish; without exception. That fact is the basis of many religions, it is the base assumption of economics, and it is the reason why the entire of criminal law exists.

Maybe you'd like a breakdown:

- 88% of people are terrible.

- 11% of people are truly evil.

-1% is either a correctional or rounding error (though some hospice care nurses may be here).

I do not wish to write a piece about the universal terribleness of people (even though I could easily write several thousand words on the subject) however it is a useful plank to build the frame of this house from. Also be aware that I am included in the 88% of people who are terrible and that if I was in the 11% of people who are truly evil, I wouldn't tell you about it. Neither would you.

The members and users of social media platforms are composed almost entirely of terrible and selfish people and they also include the people who are truly evil.  The actual composition of the membership of those platforms differs from platform to platform though. Facebook is composed of slightly older people who have learned that the world is made up of terrible people but at least they're trying to get by. Tik Tok is made up of terrible people who don't yet know that they are terrible and are trying to be cool.

Twitter and Parler on the other hand, are made up of terrible people who are slightly more concerned with the way that the world works and with the news. Parler appears to be a magnet for right-wing authoritarian people who have decided that if the world is full of terrible people, then they have no problem with weaponsing selfishness to achieve their terrible and evil ends.

If Facebook is the lunch room of media platforms, then Twitter is the town square. We tend not to have places of public oratory and places where people stand on actual soapboxes any more; so Facebook and Twitter tend to function as those places online.

However, Twitter in particular because it is a short messaging service which operates like the old Usenet global spaces, has an exceptionally low barrier to entry and so you end up with the rather strange phenomenon of Name 8 Digits accounts. Name 8 Digits accounts (because I can't think of a better name) come with the handle in the form of a Name followed by 8 digits. I am currently on a train as I write this; so to generate an example, I will take the name of the first street sign that I see followed by the first 8 digits that I see: Charlotte 89500125. BAM!

The excuse often given as to why people have Name 8 Digits account is that that is the default format that Twitter generates. The problem with that excuse is that is instantly gives away the fact that the user cares so little about the account that they can not even bothered to change the default handle. This is further compounded by the issue that many Twitter accounts are merely fake accounts with computer generated handles. 

The obvious question which arises is 'why would anyone want a Name 8 Digits account?'. Social media along with being a platform where terrible people have terrible and inane conversations, is also a tremendous place for generating both outrage and weaponsing that outrage to achieve terrible and evil ends. You can achieve those terrible and evil ends more effectively through brute force of numbers by creating Twitter bots. In reality though, most of those are human-machine hybrids where there is a meatbag human behind the accounts that controls the machine but much of the activity is automated anyway. When trends are being analysed, automating the process to generate the trends, for the ends of influencing popular opinion and public policy, seems like a logical if sinister (read: terrible and selfish) outcome. Remember, if the world is full of terrible people, then they have no problem with weaponsing selfishness to achieve their terrible and evil ends.

What makes Name 8 Digits accounts different to most other accounts, is that they are almost exclusively operated as accounts for the transmission of deliberately outrageous posts, or more often than not purely for hurling abuse at public figures who are mainly women. While they aren't 100% authoritarian and economically right-wing in nature, progressive politics doesn't tend to operate Name 8 Digits accounts, and economically left-wing and socialist politics don't either.

If you call out a Name 8 Digits account, they are more than likely to do nothing because the person at the other end is operating lots of them in an opinion farm, or directly hurl abuse at you, or will be genuinely bewildered. What this says to me is that Name 8 Digits accounts are either burner accounts or people working in a troll farm. If they work in an opinion farm, they probably don't have a lot of thought beyond the script which is in front of them. If their account is purely for the generation of abuse, then simply reflecting said abuse with the statement that it is exactly that, is usually enough to stop them dead in their tracks

I write this as someone whose handle on various accounts is Rollo75; which on the face of it looks incredibly hypocritical. I will point out though that I have used that handle since before Eternal September and have played with that as a kit number in football and in other various online games where you need a number. I very much doubt that you would use a number with 8 digits for anything that you weren't forced to. 

I actually do remember a time day in the early days of Twitter when it was mainly populated by journalists and people interested in the news. Politics wasn't any nicer but at least back then Twitter wasn't populated by semi-automated traffic. Despite this, the platform is still perfect for well placed bon-mots and witticisms; even if the Name 8 Digits accounts exist.

February 12, 2021

Horse 2808 - Impeachment And Conviction Is Reasonable

I haven't written very much about the second impeachment trial of former President Donald J Trump because it very much feels like a fool's errand. Right from the get go there was a vote taken on the floor of the Senate about the Constitutionality of whether or not he could be impeached after leaving office, which is such a stupid assertion that had it actually passed, it would have permanently damaged an already idiotic system of government.

An impeachment is merely the formulation of a set of charges to deal with the removal of office of someone, or the disqualification of someone. Had the Senate decided that it didn't have the jurisdiction to deal with an impeachment after someone had left or been removed from office, then it would have voluntarily destroyed one of its powers; and over that? 

Setting that aside, I haven't written very much about this because there is a much larger question that has been raised here and that has to do with what actually is impeachable and what is actually convictable. 

It has been said (and I first heard this from PBS Newshour Correspondent Mark Shields) that when it comes to the Presidential candidate, the Democrats fall in love and the Republicans fall in line. We've now seen the limits of this aphorism break as sections of Republican supporters not only fell in line but also tell in love with Donald Trump. Remember he actually said that he could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York City and shoot someone and still not lose any votes. Not only does it appear that some supporters fell in line with that rhetoric but they also fell in love with it and were prepared to destroy democracy to carry out the orders of their true love.

Evidence has been presented in the Senate, which includes the Tweets and the speech to a rally on the morning of January 6th by none other than Donald Trump that he would walk with his supporters as they marched on the Capitol Building to fight. Evidence has also been presented front various pieces of video footage that his supporters intended to "hang Mike Pence", "put a ****ing bullet through Nancy Pelosi's brain", and that in addition to malicious damage throughout the Capitol Building they actually got to the other side of a locked door from actually carrying that out; all "on the orders of the President".

Considering that the House has the power of Impeachment as laid out in the US Constitution and the Senate has both the power to try Impeachments and the power to remove someone from office and to disqualify someone from future office; I really do not understand why the people who were within the same building which was being attacked and in which people were being injured and killed and where the mob intended to kill various members of the body voting within that building, should want to voluntarily give up the power to disqualify someone from future office. 

I will admit that I do not live in the United States and so all of this is only just an appalling academic exercise as far as I am directly concerned (albeit one with the possible consequences of sending my country to war yet again) but as I live in a country that has what is known as a Westminster tradition, there are many standard legal tests for things which are accepted as normal legal precedent which simply do not apply in the United States; and one of those is testing the opinion of 'The Man On The Clapham Omnibus'.

The Man On The Clapham Omnibus (sometimes called 'The Man On The Bondi Tram' in Sydney) is a theoretical ordinary person. The Man On The Clapham Omnibus is reasonably educated and is supposed to represent the opinion at law of whether a thing is reasonably likely to have happened, or whether a reasonable person is reasonably likely to conclude something.

This test doesn't exist in the United States as far as I can tell but if you apply the test of the opinion of The Man On The Clapham Omnibus as to whether or not they would conclude that Donald Trump was reasonably likely to have incited violence (which is in fact the only charge being made by the second impeachment), then I do not know how The Man On The Clapham Omnibus would reasonably conclude that he didn't. 

Given that the mechanism for impeachment, conviction, removal, and disqualification for government offices in the United States is purely a political one (let's not pretend that it's anything but), then the basic legal test which exists in Westminster traditions would never be applied even if it could have been. Immediately it highlights the internal stupidity of the governmental system because from the outset, the system itself destroys any notion that there even can be a test for reasonableness and it answers the question of what actually is impeachable and what is actually convictable by assignor it to nothing more than the mob. 

When Senator Ted Cruz stood up and said that this is "nothing more than a show trial", he may actually be speaking more truth than he thinks he is. If this really isn't either an impeachable or convictable offence because a reasonableness test is refused to be applied, then you have to conclude that the supporters of Donald Trump are not reasonable and will allow an incitement to violence as acceptable.

If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else then I would take Senator Ted Cruz's statement that this is "nothing more than a show trial" at face value and proceed on that basis. It seems to me that if a purely political process refuses to make a conviction then the appropriate place for this is a criminal court. In a criminal court you would take the basic question of whether or not statements were likely to have been reasonably concluded to be an incitement to violence by simply presenting as evidence, the testimonies of the people who actually concluded Donald Trump's statements as an incitement to violence and then acted because that's insanely easy to prove under DC law:

https://code.dccouncil.us/dc/council/code/sections/22-1322.html

§ 22–1322. Rioting or inciting to riot.

(c) Whoever willfully incites or urges other persons to engage in a riot shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 180 days or a fine of not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01, or both.

(d) If in the course and as a result of a riot a person suffers serious bodily harm or there is property damage in excess of $5,000, every person who willfully incited or urged others to engage in the riot shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than 10 years or a fine of not more than the amount set forth in § 22-3571.01, or both.

Was it a riot?  If a 'riot' is a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd, then not only can The Man On The Clapham Omnibus conclude that it was but even Blind Freddy can see that.

February 10, 2021

Horse 2807 - Is “Opinion” Doing More Harm Than Good? (My Attempt To Answer This)

 Last week's episode of The Minefield on ABC Radio National was mainly about the rise of opinion writing in newspapers and about whether or not it is ultimately bad for public discourse and by extension, democracy. It is well worth your effort to listen to for an hour but not necessary for this piece. A link is included in the footnotes below¹.

It has to be said that the internet has in many ways changed the media landscape but in many fundamental ways, has not. In a little under 30 years, the internet went from being text only, to including sounds and then podcast and streaming radio, to also doing likewise for video. Naturally as audiences changed their sites of attention, advertisers also changed their sites of advertising; which in turn dried up a lot of the source of revenues for previous media empires built upon print, radio, and television. However, what should be stated is that the resistance to new media stealing away revenue sources, is not a new problem at all and was repeated exactly when radio started taking revenues away from print, and when television started taking revenues away from radio.

In Australia the most famous and long running battle has been between News Corporation and the ABC, when in 1932 Sir Keith Murdoch objected to the ABC even having a news desk, and then successfully managed to bully the government into preventing radio from having news bulletins before 0745 in the morning. Similar fights happened over television and then the internet.

What does any of this have to do with opinion writing though? The simple fact of the matter is that the production of any media content, requires at least some amount of work. The most stellar example of this is the list of credits at the end of a movie, where you have a massive list of people who did the work to get the story to the screen. That's also true but to a lesser amount of people for television, radio and print.

It probably is also obvious that the collection, analysis and production of news, also requires an amount of work. The unique thing about the news, as opposed to opinion pieces, is that they require gumshoe reporters out in the field to collect and produce the pieces which eventually go to print and air.

However, with falling revenues because of falling rates of advertising which is predicated on falling audiences, the number of people employed professionally to actually go out and collect the news has also fallen². Moreover it has fallen so much that in Australia, virtually the entirety of regional news print media has been culled (save for a few independent newspapers) and in turn, the number of people who are actually collecting and recording the news for publication has also fallen.

This is naturally going to have an effect on the composition of the newspapers, radio and television which is left. Overall the number of pages in newspapers has fallen due to the lack of a need to print adverts but it is also true that the number of news pieces has also fallen; with much content now being purchased from outside sources such as the Associated Press.

The dilemma then is what a newspaper, radio station, or television station fills up its space with. The cheapest kind of filler, relative to the expense of producing it is opinion.

News Corporation has long since determined that it gets the best revenue to expense ratio by producing opinion which is designed to cause outrage. While the old adage "if it bleeds, it leads" still rings true, when you are the one doing the punching, then you can keep on producing pain and blood and shaping the opinions of the audience to make them believe that those people deserve it, more or less forever.

News Corporation has such an extremely limited number of people on the team, who it can rotate through the positions in both print and on Sky News, to the point where the actual collection of news is almost a sideshow.

Nine Entertainment Co. is slowly moving towards this model but has the pesky problem of the remnants of Fairfax Ltd newspapers still being a legacy piece. Seven West Media is also following a similar path; and Ten is... sort of always doomed. 

They all resent and hate the ABC and SBS, who actually bother to maintain and keep regional news offices and in the case of News Corporation, it has spent 90 years fighting the existence of the ABC. 

The thing about opinion as a commodity for consumption is that not only can it be produced with little to no acknowledgement that the world that waits outside exists, it's that it is by its very nature unfalsifiable. You can not say to someone that their opinion isn't real because it is impossible to fact check the internal beliefs of someone. 

It is possible to fact check a weather reporter who tells you that it is raining by going out and looking to see if it is raining or not. Admittedly virtually every issue which exists is more complex than the weather but the point is still useful. It is impossible to fact check an opinion reporter who tells you that the rain is awful and that you should also hate the rain. You can not say to the weather opinion reporter that their opinion is wrong because they are the one who invented their own opinion.

It probably also goes without saying that as someone who is neither a journalist, nor employed in that capacity, nor someone who has the ability to collect news as it happens, I am very much an opinion writer. Although you will find footnotes peppered throughout these pieces going back over many years, you should treat everything that I have to say with skepticism. 

News media which is dominated by opinion rather than fact because it is cheaper to produce, also tends towards the promotion of that opinion as a means for political action.

Every piece of media ever published has a base intent for action in its audiences. Pure fiction is designed to entertain and emote. Beyond that, news and opinion pieces are designed either to impart information about the world or to make you see the world a little differently; to that end all media is political, all media is spiritual, all media is emotive, all media has some base purpose. 

As opinion contains and promotes the biases of the people who generated it, it is by nature not news.

When not news is dressed up and made to walk around in the clothing of news and indeed facts, that portion of the audience which does not bother to check the truthiness of it, ends up wearing those clothes for themselves; even if it actively works against their own interests. If newspapers have designated enemies, then there are political reasons for designating those enemies and given that the capacity for human selfishness knows no satiety, then it becomes very easy to make the case that opinion writing is really just part of a concerted marketing campaign to make people buy the ideas, ideals, and opinions of the people selling them. 

Is that bad for public discourse? Of itself, no. Is it bad for democracy? Again of itself, no. Are the ideas being sold bad for public discourse and democracy? Very possibly. The objective measure would be how they either expand peoples' freedoms and conditions and/or how peoples' lives are improved. 

An organisation like News Corporation which deliberately tries to smash public services and peoples' wages and conditions through the promotion of repeatedly stupid and banal opinion writing, and in some cases has actively tried to dismantle the franchise, is not only bad for public discourse and democracy but is also bad for the well being of society itself...

...in my not very well paid opinion.

¹https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/theminefield/is-“opinion”-doing-more-harm-than-good/13117292

²https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/apr/01/news-corp-to-suspend-print-editions-of-60-local-newspapers-as-advertising-revenue-slumps

February 03, 2021

Horse 2806 - The 7 of Bananas

It must be said that I really like playing games. Sport, field games, board games: I just love games. Games have obvious objectives and obvious sets of rules; which together make it obvious when you win. They also create a rare environment where within the confines of the game at least, perfection is possible. The rest of the world is far from perfect and together we've made a pretty good job of messing it up royally but inside a game, unless the game is so badly designed that it doesn't work, then all of our messing up simply disappears within the confines of the game. 

The thing about games and models generally, is that if you strip things down to the fewest number of components, then what you end up with is a truth which is unobscured. 

Possibly the purest of all games are card games because they resolve to logic and chance. Games like football which have very few components resolve to physical agility and ability but card games and games like chess, only have rules and logic to define them. They are like playing football but only having the laws of the game. 

Contained within the material of card games are a microcosm of societal prejudices. Those things are also worth questioning and some games like Rook and Uno even go so far as to strip away those societal prejudices and cultural overlay so that all that you get are colours and numbers.

In card games where the rank of the cards is equal (think of games like Rummy or Uno), then the rank of the cards serves only as a directional element; for instance, there is no inherent reason why a King is better than 4 in a game of Rummy. However in trick taking card games such as Bridge or 500, or games like Poker where the rank of the cards is highly important, then it follows that the more powerful cards are more highly sought, except perhaps in a hand like Misère in 500 where the order is reversed.

In a standard deck of playing cards there are 13 ranks and depending on what the game is, the power of those ranks is different and even within the confines of some card games, that might also be subject to change.

In Bridge the ranks of the cards run from A-2. In 500, they also rank from A-2 except in the suit of trumps where the Joker outranks all, then the two Bowers, then A-2 (minus the Jack of trumps which has become the Right Bower). 

I personally think that this is crazy-bananas-absurd. For a start, I do not know why an Ace outranks a King in most circumstances and I find it even more crazy-bananas-absurd that in 500, the ranks of the cards go Joker, +Jack, -Jack, Ace, and then King. What sort of poor kingdom is it where the King is only the fifth most important person? I am prepared to accept that an Ace might be that suit's flag or god, wherein even the King realises that he is subject to the laws of the land but when you have Bowers rising up and taking charge and following after some Joker whose only qualification is that he's handing out promises like candy, then you really do not live in a very good country. In fact, you live in a country led by a clown; where the whole world is afraid of you and thinks that you are a crazy-bananas-absurd joke which isn't even funny.

In all of these card games where rank is important, the teeming majority of cards who are reduced to nothing more than being a number, are for the most part, unloved. In a K-A order, the 7 is bang in the middle as the 7th most powerful card. In a A-2 order, it is reduced to being the 8th most powerful card. In a 500 hand where trumps have been called, it gets reduced even further down the order of power to being only the 11th most important card. The poor 7 is nothing more than a number which is called upon in a coalition of the weak to bolster the power of the clown in charge.

Almost never does the 7 take a trick and when it does, it is because everything above it has already done so. Roughly only a quarter of the time is it part of the coalition in charge and the clown at the very top only ever seems to care when there is a bidding war and an election to find out who will be the special ones.

I want to stand up for the 7. I want to make it throw off its suit and adopt the colours which truly reflects reality. In a crazy-bananas-absurd system which is beyond a joke, the various Kings, Queens, Aces and Jacks who are always running the show, could in theory be overthrown at an instant if the ones who are only ever reduced to being a number, all banded together. 36 of 53 is 67%; which is easily more than a majority. The 7 of Bananas knows that the entire game is rigged against it and refuses to wear the colours of the red/black divide which has plagued these games for too long.

Of course that does immediately present the problem that if everything is bananas, then anarchy reigns and the whole game is ruined. Maybe if the cards were to throw off their suits and ranks then they'd be happier but as Rook and Uno prove, even after that has happened, there are still things that nobody wants to be on the end of and there are cards of black suits with the power of immense punishment.

Maybe that's the underlying lesson that card games should teach us. It doesn't matter what the rules of the game actually are, there is an implication that they will be enforced and by someone who has the ability to exact that force. That's kind of why the world is messed up. Everyone wants a say in how the rules are written but it mostly falls to whomever can muster the most force. Objectively, that makes for a worse game.

January 29, 2021

Horse 2805 - Trading Sociopaths Want The Right To Continue To Be Trading Sociopaths

 A funny thing happened on the New York Stock Exchange this week which was best described by one of the high volume traders with:

"They acted as though the stock market was a casino, with no regard for people's money which wasn't their own."

I find this laughable because for hundreds of years and probably ever since there was a stock market, traders have always treated the buying and selling of securities as a casino and have been placing bets on what future movements in prices will do. Arguably that's all that the entire financial system does because it produces nothing of any tangible value whatsoever and merely apportions wins and losses according to sets of agreed upon rules; and the whole thing is backed by real goods and services and people actually doing real work of value.

To cut this whole story incredibly short, a group of people from the Reddit message boards decided to short squeeze a series of targeted companies on the New York Stock Exchange, with the most visible example being Game Stop.

A short is bascially a bet that the price of something is going to go down; it involves investing in such a way that the investor will profit if the value of the asset falls. 

There are a number of ways that an investor can achieve a short position and the most obvious way is so-called "physical" short-selling. That involves borrowing assets like shares or bonds and then on selling them.. The investor will later purchase the same number of the same type of securities in order to return them to the lender. If the price has fallen between the time of the initial sale and the time the equivalent securities are repurchased, the investor will have made a profit equal to the difference; conversely, if the price has risen then the investor will bear a loss. 

Got it? Good.

By deliberately buying up shares that they saw as underperforming (like Game Stop) and which traders had taken up short positions on, the group from Reddit forced the share price upwards and that has the effect of ruining the short. Professional traders are now complaining that targeted efforts from the outside which have resulted in them making losses are somehow unconscionable despite themselves doing a job which essentially is exactly the same kind of thing except with better information. Insider trading is when people in the market make trades on information that the market doesn't know about (usually coming from inside the board rooms of companies) but the argument that what the Redditors has engaged in is 'outsider' trading is immediately nonsensical. Outsider trading for want of a better word is otherwise known as trading.

One of the consistent things that is oft repeated throughout history is that when you have a group of people who have acted like a bunch of sociopaths with no regard from anyone else, when someone else plays by the rules which have been laid down (usually by the people who have acted like a bunch of sociopaths) and they find that their private advantage is in trouble, their next reaction is to go feral. Subsets of the group may even try to twist the narrative to include some kind of sappy story which paints them as a cruelly treated victim, or perhaps someone with a particular need. You see if it all of the time with issues like education, workers rights, and overt racism, where suddenly the privileged few become worried that their private advantage is under threat.

While this sounds like a new thing, it actually goes all the way back to the beginning of share trading; probably back to the very first share. A chap called Isaac Le Maire, who was a Walloon (Wallonia is now in modern day Belgium) was a sizeable shareholder of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie - VOC). Le Maire subcribed for shares to the tune of 85,000 guilders and he became the largest VOC's shareholder. In 1605 he was kicked out of the company and while it isn't exactly clear why, it's probably because he was running some kind of expenses fiddle.

In 1609 he and eight others founded a secret company with the sole purpose of exacting revenge on the VOC. Their new company with the purpose to trade in VOC shares, then started spreading rumours that ships had sunk, or that the British had chimed in on the spice trade etc. Le Maire then sold short shares of the VOC, without actually owning them and by the time these shares were to be delivered, there was an interest in keeping the share price as low as possible. This was obviously detrimental to the existing VOC shareholders, who sometimes were forced to sell their shares at a low price. In particular, in 1609 the share price fell significantly, and the VOC imputed this to the machinations of Le Maire.

What did they do? They acted like a bunch of sociopaths and went feral. They twisted the narrative to include a sappy story that short selling was hurting society's most vulnerable and that there was a large number of widows and orphans who had invested all their money in the VOC. That then just like now seems highly dubious but the Dutch government did issue a partial ban on short selling and Isaac Le Maire was barred from accessing any of his shares.

It is unclear exactly what the New York Stock Exchange is going to do at this point but it looks like that they have also acted like a bunch of sociopaths and gone feral. Trading platforms including Robinhood and Interactive Brokers have have their trading restricted as the sociopaths with no regard from anyone else, have acted like sociopaths with no regard from anyone else. 

https://www.sec.gov/news/public-statement/joint-statement-ongoing-market-volatility-2021-01-27

We are aware of and actively monitoring the on-going market volatility in the options and equities markets and, consistent with our mission to protect investors and maintain fair, orderly, and efficient markets, we are working with our fellow regulators to assess the situation and review the activities of regulated entities, financial intermediaries, and other market participants.

- Acting Chair Allison Herren Lee, U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, 27th Jan 2021.

"consistent with our mission to protect investors"

Yeah, that says it all.


January 22, 2021

Horse 2804 - Bills Of Rights Point To An Even Deeper Problem With Human Nature

If I may be so bold that would say something outlandish, it is that in principle I hate the idea of the existence of human rights claims and Bills of Right. This because the existence of human rights claims always (as far as I can tell) is the direct result of people needing to make such claims because of other people's (singular and plural) lack of love and/or hatred of other humans; which is a lack of love which has been weaponised.

Human rights claims in almost every circumstance that I can think of, are in response to needing to put limits upon people's power and the effects of that power being exercised. If you will cast your minds back to a high school science class, power is the ability to do work; it's just that nasty people who want to do nasty things, will also do nasty work with that power. 

If you remove all of the overlay about whether or not the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen or not (because quite frankly, exactly zero credible evidence was presented to prove that assertion was true), then the display at the Capitol Building in Washington DC is reduced to nothing more than a display and exercise of power. 

The only reason why swords are polished and sharpened, are to do the work of slaughter. The only reason why a gun exists, is to do the work of slaughter. Why then do we have both powerful people and parts of the commentariat who support said powerful people, wanting to either make mirth of what has happened, or want to play the game of whataboutism? Again, this comes down to nothing more than a display and exercise of power.

Most of the context of human rights claims in the past, have to do with limiting the power of government to act in nasty ways. Arguably the four most famous human rights claims happened in the wake of nastiness.

The Bill Of Rights Act 1689 happened after the relatively bloodless Glorious Revolution; which itself is kind of a restoration of the English Government back to what it was before the English Civil War and the period of the Commonwealth. The Bill Of Rights of 1792 was tacked onto the back of the United States Constitution after the American Revolution which was a pretty bloody war. Both the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights 1948 and the International Covenant Of Political Rights 1951, happened in the wake of two world wars in which one hundred million people were needlessly ploughed back into the fields. In all of those cases and probably many more, the claims for rights only happen after a tremendous cost has been paid and even then, the people in charge of money and power, still manage to reorganise the world so that they are immune from paying the cost.

I think that we've definitely seen over the past forty years, what happens to people whose ancestors once claimed rights but who now live in the twilight of a reorganised world where the people who control money and power, reorganise the world. Whatever rights were formally claimed, end up becoming nothing more than tombstones to the dead. 

When the right to free speech is weaponised by nasty people who want to do nasty things, then that power is translated into nasty work. When the right to bear arms is weaponised by nasty people who want to do nasty things, then that power is also translated into nasty work. When a right is weaponised and springs forth a work of death, then the point of one's ancestors claiming the right in the first place is mocked.

There’s a certain madness in our politics. Much of it comes from the rise of postmodern conservatism and right wing identity politics. Exactly what is being conserved here? I think that it is disingenuous to say that "All Lives Matter" when by the action of power, the work which is done proves otherwise. I think that it is disingenuous to say that "Blue Lives Matter" when you wrap said flag around a metal pole and are using it to beat security workers.

I simply do not understand how rights even make any sense at all if on one hand you love your friends but hate your enemy. If you exercise your right to free speech and carelessly call someone an "idiot" (insert whatever slur on the basis of race, gender, nationality, religion, ability etc. you like here) then you quite rightly deserve to get yourself hauled into court. Where does any of this end? Love your friends and hate your enemies? We've been watching this merry-go-round of stupidity play out across western democracies for the last decade. 

If history has taught me anything it is that it is impossible for any society to learn any lesson beyond that of its current memory. Contrary to George Santayana's aphorism, history shows that both those who do not learn history and those who do learn history are doomed to repeat it. How then do we step off of the merry-go-round of repeated stupidity? It's that thing which people didn't do which caused human rights claims to be raised in the first place - civic love.

Everything worthwhile in the world has been built through the collective efforts of community. The people with money and power are loathe to admit it but the very instruments which caused them to have money and power in the first place were also built through the collective efforts of community - the ownership structure of factories and business is even called a 'corporation' and is a collective purchasing arrangement of goods and services, which is for returning interest, rents, and dividends to its shareholders.

It is only when people learn to cooperate instead of competing or fighting that anything big and important gets done. Western democracies have forgotten that and have enacted policies designed to work out a decreasing amount of civic love. We allow public housing, education, healthcare, and in some cases physical infrastructure to deteriorate because we actively keep on choosing to give power to nasty people who want to do nasty things; we should not be surprised when they  will also do nasty work with that power. 

If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Or do we want to just keep on riding on the merry-go-round of repeated stupidity, where a lack of love has been weaponised?

January 21, 2021

Horse 2803 - Prithee, News Media Wherefore Thou Goest Now?

Wednesday the 20th of January 2021, is the inauguration day of President Joe Biden. My suspicion is that the Biden Presidency will turn out to be a boring one; in a way that we haven't seen in more than 80 years. He inherits a similar set of circumstances to the second presidency of Woodrow Wilson, who was president during the Influenza pandemic of 1918-20. I think that progressives and statists will be deeply disappointed by Biden, that the establishment right of the Democratic Party will welcome a return to boring governance, and that the 'conservative' right will declare him to be either incompetent or the devil incarnate despite his presidency actually doing the job of boring governance.

That last point poses a problem not just for the authoritarian/rightist media in America such as Fox News, NewsMax, One America Network, and other assorted nuts, but also for the banana-choc and choc-banana media outlets like CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, as well as the other assorted fruit media.

Trump has been at the centre of the news cycle for 5½ years and all of the news media, now has the very real problem that the Biden Presidency will be so boring that it will be difficult to even manufacture outrage. 

News media has done exceptionally well over the past few years because the old adage that 'if it bleeds, it leads' is incredibly useful in selling advertising space. Audiences are almost always blissfully ignorant of the fact that their eyeballs and attention is actually the product for sale and that as far as profitable media is concerned, the spectator is the spectacle. That product (people's eyeballs and attention) is very much driven, moulded, and shaped, more by whether something is emotive rather than if it is true. Media outlets like One America Network learned from the experience of Fox News that the truthiness of the news barely has to exist and after watching small amounts of the One America Network so that I could underground what it is, I came to the conclusion that it is no different to the Sydney based newspaper "The Truth" from a century ago.

What we have seen in the last few weeks especially is a kind of reset where Mr Trump having lost the election, had now turned on his former friends at Fox and has kind of migrated a small portion of the audience elsewhere. Fox News appears to be sort of rudderless. The rest of the news media kind of gave up on trying to report anything coming out of the White House as it became more insensible. It is a bit like watching the analysis of a football match after the game happened, except that football pundits know that that window lasts exactly 20 minutes before the sports news cycle moves on. In relation to a Presidential Election Campaign which lasts a year, the normal news cycle should last about a month, except this time around the match was disputed by the loser.

What I suspect will happen in future is that Fox News will revert to playing the role of being an opposition party to a Democrat in the same way that it did for Obama. What I also suspect will happen is that the other media outlets will have to contend with the fact that Donald Trump is no longer the de facto editor-in-chief and that they won't get a stream of tweets and outrage from Joe Biden in the same way.

I also suspect that the racist elements of Fox News which went after Obama and actually allowed Trump to get his first foothold in the political cycle (remember that he came to political prominence on the subject of birtherism and then directly went after Mexicans, Arabic people, and people of colour), will turn their attention to Kamala Harris for exactly the same reason.

As I live on the other side of the world in Australia, it would be remiss of me to ignore the implications for the Australian media landscape of how the Biden Presidency will affect things here. Sky News Australia has already decided that it wants to be more like One America Network than Fox News in America and so its concession to genuine news is far less. Sky News Australia rotates columnists from its stable of newspapers (The Advertiser, The Herald-Sun, Daily Telegraph, Courier-Mail, and The Australian) through the Sky News desk; reporting opinion as news and untruth as opinion. As Seven, Nine, and Ten revert to their usual staples of reporting on robberies, stabbings, and washing powder, that leaves only SBS as the reporter of real news from overseas and the ABC as the last genuine news outlet of record; with AM and PM on Radio National as their flagship bulletins. We have enough of our own news and enmeshed politics with media looking the other way, that the fading of Trump won't really affect the news media landscape that much here. 

Without the constant drip-feed of outrage acting as dopamine coursing through the veins of the various news media outlets, there is always one thing that they could revert to doing; the collection and reportage of news. What a novel concept that would be!

January 20, 2021

Horse 2802 - The One Thing Trump Did Right As President

I am reasonably sure that over the next few months, it will become even more apparent that the administration of Donald Trump's Presidency is/was the worst in history. On reflection, not even the administration of 15th President James Buchanan which actually saw the country break apart into the nation's bloodiest war, was more of a case of impotence in the face of circumstance as opposed to incompetence resulting in the attack upon the Capitol by the administration's own supporters. The last days of the Trump Administration have proven that it needed to be put out rather than merely fading out.

Despite the insane and intense amount of corruption which have occurred, the optimist in me still wants to find one glimmer of goodness in all of this. That's going to sound strange to regular readers of this blog who usually get the end of a process where I have work-hardened rage into a useful tool for breaking things apart into smaller parts for analysis. However, it might not be unfamiliar as play a contrarian tune.

For reasons that possibly can only be explained through the lens of Donald Trump acting on behalf of Donald Trump, in 2018 he visited the North Korean President Kim Jong Un. There are almost certainly a host of reasons why this was advantageous to North Korea including that they could finally claim a degree of legitimacy by speaking to "the leader of the free world" and maybe nothing of any import was actually achieved in the long run but what can not be overlooked here is something very important. They spoke.

Let me reiterate that. They spoke.

In a very literal sense all that was achieved was a single page memorandum of understanding, which is by any measure of policy and/or economic development completely useless but it still remains to be said that the President of the United States and the Supreme Leader of North Korea actually spoke with each other.

North Korea probably thought that they gained some kind of prestige on the world stage and with the unified Korean team at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, for a short period of time they may have actually done so but in time the bunting has faded. It is difficult to see what the United States gained from the meeting and at the time sections of the media decried it as diminishing the office of the Presidency but while it is true that Donald Trump used that meeting (and indeed most of his time in office) for the glory of Donald Trump, I don't really see how it diminished the office in the long run. History will conclude that he is a bad President but the office will outlive him.

I don't think that it can be stressed how important that any kind of dialogue was opened up at all with North Korea. The United States' policy and indeed most of the world's policy for the past 70 odd years has been to either stand and point or stand and yell and point at North Korea and expect them to change. The political inertia¹ is such that pointing and yelling is never going to achieve anything.

It simply makes no sense for the strongest person in the schoolyard to yell at the weird kid who says that they have a knife, for fear of them actually having a knife and wanting to use it. Quite frankly, the United States enjoys its role as the strongest person in the schoolyard but even it has learned that it can not win every argument through sheer brute force.

The most important relationships that North Korea has with the rest of the world does not include the United States but rather includes Russia and Japan who are wary, China who might be an ally, and South Korea where the relationship can best be described as complex. It is worth remembering that the 2018 North Korea–United States Singapore Summit happened in June of 2018; which came after the "Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula" which was signed in April, earlier that yet. Arguably this started well beforehand with the current president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in in 2017; whose government has tried to restart what had previously been known as the Sunshine Policy.

Quite obviously, North Korea wants to continue to exist and doesn't want the South to absorb it; while also obviously North Korea wants to continue to exist and doesn't want the North to start flinging weapons over the border. Seoul is less than 50km from the border with North Korea; which means that if the North were to launch a nuclear missile then the total scramble time would be less than four minutes, and impossible to evacuate. Suffice to say that while the two countries exist, there will always be tensions between the two countries. The best that the United States can do from the other side of an ocean, is to remain well out of any talks, save to act as a peace maker.

If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else then I would have done exactly what President Trump did and fly² to North Korea for talks with Kim Jong Un. Even during the height of the Cold War, dialogue was kept open between Washington and Moscow; at one point Nikita Khrushchev and President Dwight Eisenhower for a state dinner at the White House and Eleanor Roosevelt but wasn't allowed to go to Disneyland. Richard Nixon visited China and went to loads of schools, factories and hospitals in what he called "the week that changed the world".

The whole point of dialogue is mostly an end in itself because it is virtually impossible to change someone else from the outside. What the world learned repeatedly during the fall of the Iron Curtain was that when things move, they happen very quickly when compared with the scope of history; sometimes to the point where the leaders in charge find it to be unexpected.

One of the consequences of living in a post World War 2 world is that the distance that a spear can be chucked is around the entire world. That creates an imperative to at very least talk to your enemies. I think that it is better policy to try and do good for your enemies and try to understand those who hate you. You might not ever be friends but you will have moved into a state of quiet toleration. When it comes to international diplomacy though, moving to a state of mutual benefit and cooperation, even with your enemies, is better option; and while President Trump opening a dialogue with North Korea may have been done for really weird reasons, it still happened.

¹inertia - from the Greek word for laziness. Things like to keep on doing what they are already doing unless someone or something forces them to change.

²I do not know what Australia's equivalent of Air Force One³ is but I would change the registration of the diplomatic RAAF planes to VH-ROO and VH-EMU.

³Sharky One?! Really? What are you, 10 years old? 

January 17, 2021

Horse 2801 - "Coon Cheese" Was Always Racist And Highly Likely To Be A Made Up Lie

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/breaking-news/coon-rebrands-as-cheer-cheese-in-the-wake-of-racism-claims/news-story/caeebbf52433108bdc5f1c80a0c5bba2

The makers of Coon cheese have bowed to public pressure and finally changed the name of the longstanding brand. The 85-year-old dairy product will be known as “Cheer” cheese from July, its parent company Saputo Dairy Australia confirmed on Tuesday.

The decision to make a change was made six months ago in response to growing criticism that the name had racist connotations. It was originally named “Coon” after American cheese pioneer Edward William Coon who died in 1934.

But the word is also a racist slur against people of colour.

- The Australian, 13th Jan 2021

There is a major problem with the outcry that Coon Cheese is being rebranded because it is somehow caving in to the demands of political correct people/wokeness, or whatever it is that rightist and racist media want to rebrand people rightfully complaining about decency. That is as follows.

Edward William Coon almost probably never existed. If he almost probably never existed; then he also didn't die in 1934. Certainly I have been unable to find any obituary for Edward William Coon in any newspaper archive; which if he is as supposedly as famous as he is made out to be, then such a notice in a newspaper should exist.

I also find it very interesting that long time brand owners Kraft, never appear to mention E. W. Coon’s name for decades. Likewise, his supposedly famous ‘cooning’ process is only confined to a single patent and a single newspaper article; which is really strange.

https://patents.google.com/patent/US1579196

Description

Patented Mar 30, 1926.

PROCESS FOR RIPENING CHEESE.

No Drawing.

To all whom it may concern:

Be it known that I, EDWARD WILLIAM Coon, a citizen of the United States, residing at 29 South Water St., Philadelphia, in the county of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Processes for Ripening Cheese, and do hereby declare the following to be a full, clear, and exact description of the invention, such as will enable others skilled in the art to which it appertains to make and use the same.

This invention relates to an improvement in a process for ripening cheese, the application being a continuation in part of the application filed September 1, 1925, Serial No. 53,949.

- Patent US1579196A, 30th Mar 1926

There is a distinct problem with the patent as filed. Specifically: I, EDWARD WILLIAM Coon, a citizen of the United States, residing at 29 South Water St., Philadelphia

Residing at 29 South Water St? Really?

It takes some ferreting aboiut to look at old maps and loo at the numbering scheme of streets but what used to be 29 South Water St., Philadelphia is now 1711 South Water St., Philadelphia. On that site is a building which is made of brick and which after emailing the Pennsylvania Land Titles Office, I am reliably informed that the building was originally built in 1920 and housed a cheese curing house.


The problem is, does someone actually reside at the factory? Granted that many businesses have registered addresses and this could very well be just sloppy bookkeeping but that warrants at least a further look.

https://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%205/Lowvile%20NY%20Rebulican/%20Lowville%20NY%20Republican%20Journal%201923/Lowville%20NY%20Journal%20Republican%201923%20-%20%28294%29.PDF

New York, Aug. 27.—The Dairymen's League Co-operative Association, Inc., has purchased, five milk plants in villages surrounding Watertown from E. W. Coon, of Philadelphia. Pa., maker and shipper of cheese, according to reports from authentic sources here.

While no announcement is made as to which of the numerous Coon plants in northern New York have been bought by the League, it is understood that the big Cape Vincent plant is not among those transferred. Mr. Coon has sent deeds of the plants to his attorneys, Cobb, Cosgrove & Kimball in Watertown. to have searches made and the transfer arranged.

- The Journal And Republican, 30th Aug 1923.


I don't know exactly how you trace the authenticity of sources from a newspaper which is 97 years old but I do know that outside of this newspaper article and that patent, it is impossible to find any contemporary sources which mention Edward William Coon. Again, if he is as supposedly as famous as he is made out to be, then there should be more than one mention in a newspaper and a patent notice.


https://books.google.com.au/books?id=YYQbAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA59#v=onepage&q&f=false

Ser. No. 585,943. KRAFT FOODT COMPANY, Chicago Ill.

Filed Oct 7, 1949.

COON

Applicant claims ownership of Registration No. 87,857

FOR CHEESE

Claims use since 1910.

- pg59, Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, 5th Sep 1950

I have a problem with this. The company claims use since 1910 yet didn't file a patent until 1926? If we assume that Edward William Coon had wanted to protect his name, surely he'd have filed a name device more than 23 years earlier at this point. There's so much dissonance in the dates here that the whole thing looks dubious.

I think that the most likely story here is that Kraft Foods as a very big corporation, probably filed all of the patents and lodged newspaper articles in what is known as adverse possession of intellectual property. I think that what is going on is that Kraft is displaying their intellectual property in a manner that is capable of being seen. They have given sufficiently visible and apparent notice that whoever a rightful owner might be, can not make a claim which would dissuade a reasonable person that they don't have a legal right to it.

The most obvious answer here is that Kraft Foods did the barest amount to maintain their trademarks which they knew were racist. 

I think that the most likely set of circumstances which explain this is that Kraft Foods learned about a process for making long lasting cheese, then went away and perfected it with all of the resources available to a multi-million dollar company; then registered the patent with a name that wouldn't be interrogated that closely. If anyone came after them, they could claim that this person sold them the rights to the process and donkey up the paperwork, which would add just sufficiently enough of a cloud of misdirection that nobody would challenge the patent.

My suspicion is that given that the name appears to be invented in the 1920s, that Kraft Foods wanted to have a name which they could use as a kind of dog whistle; so that they could practice racial segregation of their products.

Company founder James L. Kraft made his initial fortune by working out how pasteurise cheese so that it could be shipped long distances; which was particularly helpful when it was shipped across the Atlantic during World War One, when Kraft Foods won the contract to supply United States government cheese in tins to their armed forces. No doubt that as someone who fits into the era of Jim Crow which is the legal pretence that the races be "separate but equal", the idea that under the law non-whites were given inferior facilities and treatment would have been attractive to someone who could sell cheaper products for the use of black people; especially in times of war. 

One thing that we tend to forget is that the present often mythologises the past if it suits our needs. This may have been one of those myths that was allowed to perpetuate because that way people could use the excuse of the past (which they haven't interrogated) to defend their current racism.

The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit the views; which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering. I do not believe on the balance of evidence, that the existence of Edward William Coon was a fact.

...and I also think that the Australian and the Daily Telegraph which are hiding behind that same myth is because they want to use this excuse of the past to defend their current racism.

January 13, 2021

Horse 2800 - Let's All Ride The Merry-Go-Round Of A Lack Of Civic Love

 If I may be so bold that would say something outlandish, it is that in principle I hate the idea of the existence of human rights. This because the existence of human rights claims always (as far as I can tell) is the direct result of people needing to make such claims because of other people's (singular and plural) lack of love and/or hatred of other humans; which is a lack of love which has been weaponised.

Human rights claims in almost every circumstance that I can think of, are in response to needing to put limits upon people's power and the effects of that power being exercised. If you will cast your minds back to a high school science class, power is the ability to do work; it's just that nasty people who want to do nasty things, will also do nasty work with that power. 

If you remove all of the overlay about whether or not the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen or not (because quite frankly, exactly zero credible evidence was presented to prove that assertion was true), then the display at the Capitol Building in Washington DC is reduced to nothing more than a display and exercise of power. 

The only reason why swords are polished and sharpened, are to do the work of slaughter. The only reason why a gun exists, is to do the work of slaughter. Why then do we have both powerful people and parts of the commentariat who support said powerful people, wanting to either make mirth of what has happened, or want to play the game of whataboutism? Again, this comes down to nothing more than a display and exercise of power.

Most of the context of human rights claims in the past, have to do with limiting the power of government to act in nasty ways. Arguably the four most famous human rights claims happened in the wake of nastiness.

The Bill Of Rights Act 1689 happened after the relatively bloodless Glorious Revolution; which itself is kind of a restoration of the English Government back to what it was before the English Civil War and the period of the Commonwealth. The Bill Of Rights of 1792 was tacked onto the back of the United States Constitution after the American Revolution which was a pretty bloody war. Both the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights 1948 and the International Covenant Of Political Rights 1951, happened in the wake of two world wars in which one hundred million people were needlessly ploughed back into the fields. 

In all of those cases and probably many more, the claims for rights only happen after a tremendous cost has been paid and even then, the people in charge of money and power, still manage to reorganise the world so that they are immune from paying the cost.

I think that we've definitely seen over the past forty years, what happens to people whose ancestors once claimed rights but who now live in the twilight of a reorganised world where the people who control money and power, reorganise the world. Whatever rights were formally claimed, end up becoming nothing more than tombstones to the dead. 

When the right to free speech is weaponised by nasty people who want to do nasty things, then that power is translated into nasty work. When the right to bear arms is weaponised by nasty people who want to do nasty things, then that power is also translated into nasty work. When a right is weaponised and springs forth a work of death, then the point of one's ancestors claiming the right in the first place is mocked.

There’s a certain madness in our politics. Much of it comes from the rise of postmodern conservatism and right wing identity politics. Exactly what is being conserved here? 

I think that it is disgenuous to say that "All Lives Matter" when by the action of power, the work which is done proves otherwise. I think that it is disgenuous to say that "Blue Lives Matter" when you wrap said flag around a metal pole and are using it to beat security workers.

I simply do not understand how rights even make any sense at all if on one hand you love your friends but hate your enemy. If you exercise your right to free speech and carelessly call someone an "idiot" (insert whatever slur on the basis of race, gender, nationality, religion, ability etc. you like here) then you quite rightly deserve to get yourself hauled into court.

Where does any of this end? Love your friends and hate your enemies? We've been watching this merry-go-round of stupidity play out across western democracies for the last decade. 

If history has taught me anything it is that it is impossible for any society to learn any lesson beyond that of its current memory. Contrary to George Santanaya's aphorism, history shows that both those who do not learn history and those who do learn history are doomed to repeat it. How then do we step off of the merry-go-round of repeated stupidity? It's that thing which people didn't do which caused human rights claims to be raised in the first place - civic love.

Everything worthwhile in the world has been built through the collective efforts of community. The people with money and power are loathe to admit it but the very instruments which caused them to have money and power in the first place were also built through the collective efforts of community - the ownership structure of factories and business is even called a 'corporation' and is a collective purchasing arrangement of goods and services, which is for returning interest, rents, and dividends to its shareholders.

It is only when people learn to cooperate instead of competing or fighting that anything big and important gets done. Western democracies have forgotten that and have enacted policies designed to work out a decreasing amount of civic love. We allow public housing, education, healthcare, and in some cases physical infrastructure to deteriorate because we actively keep on choosing to give power to nasty people who want to do nasty things; we should not be surprised when they will also do nasty work with that power. 

If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Or do we want to just keep on riding on the merry-go-round of repeated stupidity, where a lack of love has been weaponised?

January 12, 2021

Horse 2799 - A Moral Compass With No Needle Points Nowhere

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/morrison-ministers-slam-the-twitter-ban-on-donald-trump/news-story/50b2d232ec4a9dcc736d9b62fe814015

Senior Morrison government ministers have slammed the silencing of outgoing US president Donald Trump by social media giants after the pro-Trump siege of the Capitol. Josh Frydenberg and Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack spoke out against Twitter’s decision to permanently ban Mr Trump days before he leaves ­office next week, as Labor welcomed the move to kick the ­Republican leader off most major social media channels.

Mr McCormack has also been attacked for comparing the US Capitol siege — which left five people dead and was the first time congress has been successfully stormed since 1814 — to last year’s Black Lives Matter protests.

- The Australian, 11th Jan 2021

It should be a pretty easy thing to condemn an armed uprising upon the nation's capital and the Congress of one of long standing military allies; especially one to whom we have been obedient servants and gone to wars for 70 years that don't even remotely concern us, right? However, as it stands there isn’t even one Liberal Party MP, let alone the acting PM , who has condemned the radical right insurrection in the US last week. Morrison’s modern Liberals & Nationals are clearly pandering to extremist & crazy views, by tacit silence and complicity.

On the surface it seems very odd that Australian politicians appear to be more vocal about Twitter banning Trump for inciting a coup than they are of Trump actually inciting a coup. Suddenly this became about an issue to do with free speech and that that same free speech should be absolute; including if it is an incitement to violence and destruction of property.

In the absence of the Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) who is on holiday (which is fair enough), the acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack has almost seemed to say that he would rather Twitter allow Trump to incite further violence because he feels “uncomfortable” about depriving him of his free speech; including when the exercise therein results in violence. There is a really obvious absurdity here when you consider that the frequently nicknamed "Leader of the free world", aka the President of the United States could call a press conference in an instant and the press would duly report what he had to say. I do not understand how you can claim a suppression of free speech in this case.

“I feel pretty uncomfortable with those measures which were announced. Freedom of speech is fundamental to our society,”

“As Voltaire said, ‘I might not agree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it’. Those decisions were taken by commercial companies but personally I felt uncomfortable with what they did.”

“I don’t believe in that sort of censorship. There have been a lot of people who have said and done a lot of things on Twitter previously who haven’t received that sort of condemnation or indeed censorship,”

- Acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack, 11th Jan 2021

I also find it absurd that the condemnation is being directed at Twitter, which is a private corporation and explicitly tells people in its terms of service that:

We reserve the right to remove Content that violates the User Agreement, including for example,  copyright or trademark violations or other intellectual property misappropriation, impersonation, unlawful conduct, or harassment.
...
We may suspend or terminate your account or cease providing you with all or part of the Services at any time for any or no reason, including, but not limited to, if we reasonably believe:
i - you have violated these Terms or the Twitter Rules and Policies or Periscope Community Guidelines,
ii - you create risk or possible legal exposure for us;
iii - your account should be removed due to unlawful conduct,

It should be appallingly obvious that an incitement to violence and especially one which results in the storming of the Congress is a pretty egregious violation of law; and considering that Twitter as a private corporation would rather not be the carrier of possible future messages which might cause the same, then their reasons would be very easy to understand. Twitter isn't a common carrier and has at least some basic duty of care obligations to the general public. Furthermore, in their terms of service, they can both terminate an account and cease providing services for literally no reason at all.

All of this is a secondary issue anyway. All of this is a giant case of misdirection. The obvious question which should be shouted from the rooftops is: why do Liberals not condemn Trump personally for his conduct?

This isn't even a matter of hyperbole any more. The refusal of the LNP leaders to condemn fascist incitement to violence & right wing terrorism is a disturbing reminder that Australia has a serious problem. Whether that's because the leadership of the Liberal Party is so incredibly craven that they do not want to disturb America, or whether the leadership of the Liberal Party is so craven that they do not want to disturb News Corp is still unknown.

It shouldn't have been that hard.


See? This is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson, doing something which any member of our Government should have done. That wasn't so hard was it? And yet how many members of either the Liberal Party or the National Party of Australia have done this? Zero.

As I write this, the President of the United States has less than a fortnight left in his tenure of the office. I really do not think that an open statement of the truth is very likely to put the standing between our two nations in doubt. Admittedly I do not have a particularly good understanding of philos and how it relates to the nation state but I do know that what we saw last week was a strike against the very workings of democracy of the United States. If we fail to rebuke the current President and the actions which have been incited, then in this case we actually hide civic love, if rebuke is truly what is needed for the good of that person, or indeed a nation. 
For years this President has been spouting out racist remarks, refused to condemn white supremacists, and when his remarks incite the storming of the Capitol building, what's the reaction of the Australian Government? Silence. By saying nothing, we are saying that we are prepared to walk on by this. 

If your moral compass is so devoid of purpose that there's not even a needle that points in any direction at all, then what faith should I place in the government that they will do what is right? 

January 09, 2021

Horse 2798 - American Elections Remain Terrible For A Reason

Let's enter the world of the unhinged for a while and entertain President Donald Trump's assertions that the United States Presidential Election was fraudulent everywhere.

Notwithstanding the fact that elections are a matter for the states to conduct and enforce and therefore the entire Federal Government of the United States has virtually zero standing in any case that might exist relating to elections, part of the very core of the problem lies with the President himself. For the moment I'm going to have to get you to set aside all of the events of the news and all of your political biases because this is a deeply rooted mechanical problem with the way that democracy is done in the United States.

There is a Federal Electoral Commission (FEC)  of the United States but they don't actually conduct elections. The FEC is so toothless that it only has 339 employees and a budget of less than $80m; which is probably just enough to pay everyone's salaries, pay the rent, and keep the lights on.

The commission's own website describes its duties as "to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections." This all seems hopelessly inadequate to me, as it contains absolutely no regulatory or enforcement functions and absolutely no ability to ensure the integrity of the elections which it doesn't conduct anyway. 

On top of that, it hasn't actually been able to conduct what little functions that are assigned for it to do, for almost the entirety of the Trump Administration.

NPR's Politics Podcast for most of 2017 and the beginning portion of 2018 gave reports on the number of positions that remained unfilled because the Trump Administration had simply never bothered to put forward the names of people to Congress for approval. Apart from judges and justices of courts, the Trump Administration still had about 1700 positions that they never ever bothered to fill; which meant that the authority to conduct the various functions of government was never legally vested in appropriate officers. The FEC remained one of those government agencies which was legally unable to function for almost the entire tenure of Mr Trump's presidency.

For the critical period relating to the 2020 Presidential Election, the FEC was literally unable to function from late August 2019 to December 2020, with an exception for the period of May 2020 to July 2020, due to lack of a quorum. In the absence of a quorum, the commission could not vote on complaints or give guidance through advisory opinions. After July 2020, there were 350 outstanding matters on the agency's enforcement docket and 227 items waiting for action.

We have a President claiming fraud, illegal activity, ballot stuffing and a lack of oversight; which has been consistently defeated in the courts through lack of evidence (63-1 ???), while at the same time he didn't actually provide the FEC with the necessary staff to be able to conduct said oversight.

My natural assumption is that there was always some plan to discredit the election results if they didn't go the way that Mr Trump wanted. I he'd won the election then there would have been absolutely no need to complain about the result. Given that his administration has from Day One shown an amazing amount of ineptitude, it doesn't surprise me that it is also inept at trying to make the case that the election was flawed.

If there had been any serious attempt at electoral reform, then we would have seen national policies and procedures rolled out during 2020. Even now, I don't see any suggestion that there should be changes in the way that elections are conducted. I don't for instance see suggestions that there should be paper only ballots, or an independent and uniform electoral commission to conduct elections, nor have I heard about any plans for how voter ID is supposed to be conducted. It might sound bizarre speaking as an Australian where I have never had to produce any form of identification at an election but I don't find the idea hideously offensive, provided if and only if the obligation to provide Voter ID was placed on the shoulders of the jurisdiction demanding it.

I find it maddening that there were any Senators presenting objections to the election, who argued that the number of votes for President must surely be wrong and fraudulent but that the number of votes cast which gave them their seat in the Senate were pristine and flawless. 

The bottom line here is that the United States has been repeated crying out for an independent electoral commission, paper ballots, preferential voting, maybe proportional representation in the House of Representatives, voting on a Saturday, as well as post election scrutineering of votes but it won't get any of these things because it vehemently chooses not to. The people in charge (which includes both entrenched party machines) demonstrably like the system being broken because it means that they get to stay in charge. If democracy suddenly broke out and people actually got to decide their own destiny then things would change.