May 22, 2015

Horse 1904 - Divorce Is A Messy Thing - Ford And Mazda

The Ford and Mazda divorce settlement almost appears to be over, with the parting of the ways almost complete.
Ford Motor Company which both 7% of Mazda in 1979 gradually increased its shareholding to 33% by 1996 but ever since the global financial crisis, it's been gradually shedding Mazda stocks like discarded layers of an onion.
Apparently the real world consequences of this are that the sharing between the two firms which has taken place since the 1980s, has finally stopped; with the last shared platform car being the Mazda CX-3 which shares its platform with the oddly named  Ford EcoSport and Fiesta (and Mazda's own 2).

The model sharing arrangement goes right back to 1980 with the Laser/Meteor-323, Telstar-626, Econovan-Bongo pairs. Yes, I'm seriously not making this up, Mazda had a van called a Bongo. If you also got the camper top, it became the Mazda Bongo Friendee van. The Laser was called the Escort in North America and when a rationalisation took place, the Focus and 3 were the first pair to replace the old guard. Now that the CX-3 has finally been released, the two automotive giants have decided to part ways.

For Ford this isn't so much of a problem because Ford have tended to horde their own engines and they are the partner who developed and owned all the platforms. For Mazda, this makes things a little bit cloudy, for whilst they still retain their SKY-G series of engines, when it comes time to update the platforms, they're in trouble.
Ford's cars for almost 40 years have been nothing short of dynamically excellent. The Fiesta, Focus and Mondeo have all been consistently nice cars to drive; with the Fiesta and Focus being better than even the VW Polo and Golf. Mazda have recently ridden on Ford's back with their 3, all the way to the top of the sales charts in Australia on occasion (knocking off Corolla, HiLux and Commodore) but in Europe where motorway speeds are higher than Australia, Asia or North America, they're still seen as wheezy and quite a bit naff.

The relationship between Mazda and Ford has on occasion been quite firey, with the darkest hours happening in the 1990s. In Europe, there was a demand for a smaller car than the Fiesta and so they relegated the development job to Mazda who they expected should have experience in that sort of thing because they had sold the Carol in Japan. Mazda responded with a car so monumentally rubbish that it was ultimately contracted out to Korea to build and Mazda wiped their hands of the affair. The car was sold in various markets as the Mazda 121, the Ford Festiva or the Kia Pride which was amusing as every example was built with as much apathy and contempt as it deserved. In the meantime, Mazda had come out with their cheeky little 121 "bubble" car and in response, Ford shrunk their Fiesta platform and developed the Ka and the Puma (the latter as a direct competitor to Opel's Tigra). The Ka (which I had) was very nearly European Car of The Year for 1996 because it was fun in every which way to Thursday to drive and because it had the Kent 105E engine was mechanically bulletproof.

Ford have ruled the charts in Britain since practically 1963 with the Cortina, Escort, Focus all holding the record of ten years at the top.of the charts straight and the Fiesta is probably set to do the same. In the next cycle, Ford's EcoSport, Fiesta, Focus, C-Max, Kuga, Mondeo and S-Max are all pretty well sorted. Mazda's 2, 3, 6, CX-3, CX-5, CX-7 and CX-9 have a problem because Mazda will need to develop the platforms themselves.
As far as styling goes, I think that Mazdas are currently prettier than Fords but given the choice between the two, I'd still rather have a Henry. That's mainly because I know that you have to live with a car for many years and I'd rather drive something that feels like it was invented by British boffins and nutters who wanted something fun but had sensibility built into it by German engineers, than something which although might be technically fine because it was developed by Japanese technophiles, doesn't have that same sense of lunacy hiding in the background. The Lexus SC430 for instance should be brilliant but feels like it was made from marshmallows and super-hi bouncy balls and the Toyota 86, has all the suppleness of a jackhammer.

Mazda's secret weapon though will be if they can convince the three guys who work in that corner office, who spend all day throwing paper balls at each other and chucking paper planes out the window, those three guys who worked on the ab-so-lute-ly stellar MX-5, to work on their other cars, maybe Mazda will be saved.

May 21, 2015

Horse 1903 - When The World Shrinks

Being a renter, some of the decisions that I have to live with are entirely the domain of the landlord; that includes our landlord's decision to take away half of our backyard and erect a granny flat. Of course, the landlord is perfectly entitled to do this and given their position, extracting another revenue stream from the same property seems rational and wise to me. It's just living on the other side of such a decision, my ability to do anything about it, is precisely nil.

It isn't just people who are affected by this. We also play as wait staff to two cats. Although people think that when they are getting a cat they gain a pet, nothing could be further from the truth. When you get a cat, you voluntarily become servant to a mostly selfish individual and sometimes highly irrational one. The fact that Schrödinger used a cat in his famous thought experiment says more about the sheer unknowability of cat logic than it does about nuclear chemistry. Probably as a result of watching Schrödinger's cats, the only rational outcome for Heisenberg was to declare his Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics rather than developing anything approaching a unified theory of cat logic,  which would be altogether more difficult but I digress.
When our backyard is cleaved in twain by a fence, Kipper's world is going to shrink, without anyone even asking his permission. Purranna though, will be totally unaffected.

- The kitties are conspiring something. I just know it.

Kipper (the grey cat on the left) is a selfish; sort of dirty looking cat. My sister found him patrolling the bins one night at a local supermarket and because he had obviously been socialised and learned that people can be manipulated into giving him things, he came to live with us. The two things which probably kept him alive were his wits and his nature, which is really quite friendly. In the legendary wars in his mind, he probably thinks that he's entitled to a cat medal of some sort - he's a real trooper. Kipper is a highly intelligent cat who probably understands something in the order of about 30 words but only pays attention when he wants to, when he thinks that he's likely to profit from doing so, which usually means that he's going to get fed.
Having come from the land of outside, he constantly wants to return to it but because he is maybe nine years old now, once he is outside, his favourite places to hang out are either under the house where it is cooler or somewhere in the sun in the winter. If the landlord takes away half of the backyard, opens the side gate for ingress and egress for our new neighbours and installs lattice work around the skirts of the house, then Kipper loses half his backyard and most of his favourite hang out spots. This is atrocious.

Purranna (the more browny cat on the right) who we got from the animal shelter, was named because she likes to bite things. Maybe she was the smallest of a litter and ended up at the animal shelter, maybe she just got outside one day and got really scared and hid. We just don't know. We do know that when we busted her out of cat gaol, she was very happy to be out. She isn't as smart as Kipper but has a more firey temperament. In counterpoint to this, she's also a skittish coward and flees at the mere sight of danger. She is afraid of outside and although she might like to attack lizards and bugs, if she were to go outside, she would freak out and be impossible to retrieve. Maybe that's how she ended up in cat gaol in the first place.

I will benefit from the loss of half of the backyard through having a smaller plot which I will need to now; so I suppose that that's some silver lining in this storm cloud. Mrs Rollo will lose prime garden space and yet again that's further proof that life is long and often marked with disappointments.
For Kipper though, his world shrinks significantly and that's horrible.

Ever since my little red Ford Ka was biffed in the rear end by a Yaris and it had to go on its last drive ever to the automotive morgue, I have missed having that particular sense of freedom. My car was my car and when it wasn't there anymore, my world shrunk a little bit. For Kipper though, this is more than just the loss of a tree or a hidey hole, quite literally his world which is bounded by fences, becomes physically smaller. He's either going to react to this badly and get really huffy (because cats as well as being sassy can also be quite grumpy), or he will do that other thing which cats are famous for and ignore it.
Purranna is the only one of four of us who won't be affected very much at all. Her world which is bounded by the windows and the doors of the house, remains exactly the same size. Unlike Kipper, her world neither shrinks nor becomes less fun. The view might change slightly but that's not a whole lot different to when a television network changes its programming; the favourite channel of cats all over the world is sky.

The point of all this is that I don't know which is worse: to have your world become significantly smaller, to lose one of your entertainment sources, to lose the utility of space or never to have had the world be that large. Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone? In Kipper's case it's either going to be disappointing or ignorable and for Purranna, it's practically a non event.

May 20, 2015

Horse 1902 - Bookcases, Buffets and Bureaus in the Big Blue House

From the Book of Ingvar, Chapter 3:
There are three things the masses will spend hours walking past; four that they simply have to purchase:
Strangely coloured sofas,
Stark office furniture,
Rectilinear bedding,
And clinical kitchen wares.

Out in the wilds of the west, where the lords and ladies of the north never venture, where the kings and queens of the east have never heard of and where the citizens of the shire only pass through on their journey to the mountains (to sit about in cafés and buy new-age tat), a giant blue box has descended from the sky; with its golden banners shining forth into the night.
Like the sirens of the Iliad who enticed sailors to batter and shipwreck their vessels upon their rocky outcrops, like the drift nets which haul in unsuspecting fish and like the traitorous Judas Sheep who leads other sheep up the gangways and to their slaughter, this blue box attracts all and once it has ensnared them, leads them through a labyrinth where there is no sunlight and where there is only the promise of frustration and argument at the end.


The third church of IKEA in Sydney has arrived out in the west, to steal the gold from the pockets of unwary denizens and to return in kind with dreams of flat packed furniture. The fact that there are no windows, so that people trapped within its walls will slowly walk the walk of the damned is legendary and the halls where you have to pass by every single item can only be the stuff of a giant Swedish practical joke.
Nobody knows exactly what IKEA stands for but one theory which was written in stubby lead pencil says that it might be "I Kannot Escaper Absolut" which when translated into English means "I Can Never Escape". As you stand in front of the entrance, smelling the sweet airs of meatballs wafting in on the lightest of zephyrs, you notice that people might go in but no one comes out.

In the 1990s when it was fashionable for companies to push tales of environmentalism upon children, there was a cartoon series which was a series of blunt morality tales called "Widget The World Watcher". In episode 26, called "Maller Crawlers" the titular character Widget (who was a shape shifting alien), took two rather dim children called Kevin and Brian, to a planet which was entirely covered with one shopping mall which grew in size as more and more people entered it.
Admittedly this is a tale of hyperbole and written with all the finesse of a sledgehammer striking an egg but it is curious that even IKEA had stores far smaller when I was a kid, than they do today. IKEA was always a big blue thing which arrived as though a giant had left a cardboard box behind (right down to the corrugated ridges down the sides of the box) but instead of being a box that fruit might have come in, it's now a refridgerator sized box in comparison.

IKEA flat packed furniture is not at all forgiving either. Even with handy pictograms to help you construct a Pelo, Billy, Kvang or Blim, you only get one shot at most of those things and if you screw up even just a little bit, you're condemned to imperfection forever. I suspect that our nefarious Scandinavian furniture overlords (whom I don't know if they are descended from Vikings or not; it wouldn't surprise me if they are, especially if they have someone like Vicki The Viking thinking up flat packed ideas for them) know this and find their own joy in the frustration of all of us; whilst we also feel the effects of Stockholm Syndrome.

When this blue temple to this maleficent god of consumerism opens it a fortnight, I bet that like the opening of anything out here, there will be queues that are longer than a mile; just to get inside. Like Poco, Krispy Kreme and CostCo, the opening of this IKEA will attract the illiterati whose usual weekend pilgrimage is to the shopping malls (and the food court therein) or that other church of the masses, Bunnings (which just happens to also be only a few hundred yards away).

IKEA's flat packed furniture does make sense if you like to live in a minimalist paradise or if you live in a house so narrow that getting furniture in and out is difficult but if you're like me and prefer to see dark tones of wood and have the smell of varnish and linseed oil hang in the air, then IKEA is not for you.

Tranquility Base here... the Eegl has landed. Where's my Allen key?

May 19, 2015

Horse 1901 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 12 - Robert Menzies (Again)



XII - Robert Menzies (again)

Following Chifley's use of the army to break up a coal miners' strike in August of 1949 and with the House of Representatives being expanded from 74 to 121 seats, Menzies was able to exploit an anti-communist sentiment and was swept to power convincingly. Chifley had announced intentions to nationalise the banking sector and this in a climate of hope following on from a period of war, made the Labor party look suspicious.
Despite the Liberal/Country coalition holding a 74 to 47 majority in the House of Representatives, Labor still held a 34 to 26 majority in the Senate.

Menzies' government was frustrated in passing legislation and so hoped to gain an election trigger by introducing a bill to ban the Communist Party of Australia which surprisingly had picked up 2% of the vote. To Menzies' confusion and further frustration, Labour passed the bill and it would have been enacted had the High Court not ruled it as unconstitutional.
Menzies fear of the Communist Party was understandable. Whilst on holiday in England in 1948, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' access to West Berlin via rail and road. In response, an airlift was organised which flew supplies into West Berlin. This coupled with the annexation of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Bulgaria was the cause of real concern.
Instead, Menzies' was able to secure a double dissolution election by trying to pass banking regulations which failed in the Senate. Although 5 seats changed hands in the House of Representatives, Menzies gained majority in the Senate which made life easier. Menzies' subsequent c through a referendum in September 1951, failed though.
Menzies' governments would go on to win the next seven elections in 1953, 1954, 1955, 1958, 1961, and 1963, but to gloss over a period of 16 years as Prime Minister is to do the man an injustice.

With help from the Stalinist USSR and Communist China, hostilities broke out on the Korean peninsula between the two separate governments which had tried to establish legitimacy. When war broke out in June 1950, Australian units which had been based in Japan were moved to Korea; Australia was the second nation behind the United States to commit its military to fighting in Korea. The Korean War would come to a ceasefire in 1953 but has still never been formally resolved.
In the midst of this, Menzies' Government entered into the ANZUS Pact with the United States and New Zealand and the treaty has very much shaped Australia's military policy ever since.
Menzies' Governments would also be in power during the Indo–Malaysian Confrontation from 1962-66 and when the Vietnam War broke out in 1962.

Before the 1954 election though, a Soviet diplomat named Vladimir Petrov announced his defection from the USSR and that there was evidence of a Soviet spy ring operating out of Australia. Given that the referendum in 1951 (which had failed) was defection from the USSR, this announcement played well and Menzies was returned to government easily.

In 1959 Reserve Bank Act, finally freed the central banking functions from the Commonwealth Bank and in its place set up the Reserve Bank of Australia; which also included the responsibility of issuing currency. In 1960, the Reserve Bank opened up more flexible interest rates and this allowed them to enact more fluid monetary policy.

Menzies' governments saw the world change vastly with the introduction of television in 1956, a shift in focus of trade from Britain to the US and legislation which saw Australia decimalise the currency and replace the Australian Pound with a new Australian Dollar.
Being Prime Minister for a shade over 16 years, he saw off Labor oppositions led by Dr Herbert Evatt and Arthur Calwell and when he finally resigned as prime minister on Australia Day 1966, he was the oldest person to have ever been Prime Minister. His replacement Harold Holt, had been Treasurer for eight years and this was seen as a logical progression.

May 18, 2015

Horse 1900 - Who Really Pays For University?

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-14/bill-shorten-proposes-5pc-tax-cut-for-small-business/6471006
And to encourage more people to take on science, technology, engineering and maths degrees, Labor would forgo the student debt for 20,000 award degrees a year for five years.
It would also provide 25,000 teaching scholarships - worth $15,000 each - over five years to science graduates.
- Emma Griffiths, ABC News, 15th May 2015


There was a series of comments from the floor of the House of Representatives last week that I found both encouraging and yet at the same time, deeply disappointing. One of the absolutely brilliant things about being Opposition Leader is that you can write cheques on the Bank of The Future that you'll never worrying about being cashed. Promise the world if you like, because the need to make good on those promises is nil.

Bill Shorten's master plan is to forgive the HECS debt of 100,000 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students in the hope that they'll be encouraged to continue in their studies and this will then lead to the innovations of the future which will boost productivity and economic growth of the twenty-first century.
Part of me thinks that this is excellent policy. I think that it's pretty obvious by the sheer numbers of Law, Journalism and Business graduates that science education has to some degree, withered on the vine. Granted that society tends to reward lawyers and financial controllers (especially in the finance sector) with very handsome salaries for not a lot more than shifting the great pile of money in the economy from one place to another and then arguing over the associated property rights. The people who do real innovation, who are curious and invent processes and technologies, need to be rewarded better and there needs to be more of an encouragement at the front end to make people think about going into these sorts of areas.

The other side of the coin though, is that this kind of thinking that demands that students go into university courses with the express purpose of eventually producing definable economic outcomes, I think is simply terrible.

To look at universities as the places where invention happens and marketable widgets and gadgets are produced as the fruit of the tree, is to miss entirely what the tree is for. If you consider the trunk of the university tree to be the place where the most basic and fundamental science research is done, knowing beforehand that it is never going to produce any tangible fruit, then your outlook of the whole tree is going to be very different. I like to think about concepts like quantum mechanics, relavitity and basic understanding of how electrons and the atom works and consider that by themselves they're all pretty esoteric and don't have obvious applications.
I also think about how the United States government threw twenty billion dollars towards landing twelve clowns on the moon,  and have had discussions with people in the past about how it wasn't a colossal waste of time, money and effort. Yet when people look down at their I devices and they're able to tell them where they are on a map in real time, they're often totally unaware that it takes quantum mechanics, relavitity and more than a basic understanding of how electrons and the atom works to make it all possible. Even the technology to make WiFi make work; which people like to complain about because it's sooooo slow, didn't really have an obvious application when it was being tossed about by a bunch of university students.

There's another issue which gives me the irrits here and that has to do with the discriminatory nature of which kinds of university student's fees are to be forgiven. Again, this seems to based on the assumption that universities are places where society pumps out specific economic units of labour to be plugged into the giant productivity machine at some point in the future. I find this to be very shortsighted indeed.
Think of Aristotle. Now I bet you're wondering why I'm starting with a Greek philosopher of all people but here me out. Aristotle gave us at least an elementary framework upon which to think about how logic works. Jump forwards many many centuries and Gottlob Frege gave us propositional calculus, which builds on both mathematics and philosophy and from that we get the first programmable computer languages. It's so fundamental to the operation of computers, which are in everything, that almost literally no-one gives it a second thought.
Pioneers like Simone de Beavior and Mary Wollstonecraft remind us that women's rights are pretty important. When you're talking about half the population, then all sorts of issues start to come into play and this includes how power is used, gender pay gaps, even how organisations might be improved internally with respect to equality and even the performance of organisations and firms themselves.

There was a series of comments from the floor of the House of Representatives last week that I found both encouraging and yet at the same time, deeply disappointing. One of the absolutely brilliant things about being Opposition Leader is that you can write cheques on the Bank of The Future that you'll never worrying about being cashed. Promise the world if you like, because the need to make good on those promises is nil.

Bill Shorten's master plan is to forgive the HECS debt of 100,000 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students in the hope that they'll be encouraged to continue in their studies and this will then lead to the innovations of the future which will boost productivity and economic growth of the twenty-first century.
Part of me thinks that this is excellent policy. I think that it's pretty obvious by the sheer numbers of Law, Journalism and Business graduates that science education has to some degree, withered on the vine. Granted that society tends to reward lawyers and financial controllers (especially in the finance sector) with very handsome salaries for not a lot more than shifting the great pile of money in the economy from one place to another and then arguing over the associated property rights. The people who do real innovation, who are curious and invent processes and technologies, need to be rewarded better and there needs to be more of an encouragement at the front end to make people think about going into these sorts of areas.
The other side of the coin though, is that this kind of thinking that demands that students go into university courses with the express purpose of eventually producing definable economic outcomes, I think is simply terrible.

To look at universities as the places where invention happens and marketable widgets and gadgets are produced as the fruit of the tree, is to miss entirely what the tree is for. If you consider the trunk of the university tree to be the place where the most basic and fundamental science research is done, knowing beforehand that it is never going to produce any tangible fruit, then your outlook of the whole tree is going to be very different. I like to think about concepts like quantum mechanics, relavitity and basic understanding of how electrons and the atom works and consider that by themselves they're all pretty esoteric and don't have obvious applications. I also think about how the United States government threw twenty billion dollars towards landing twelve clowns on the moon,  and have had discussions with people in the past about how it wasn't a colossal waste of time, money and effort. Yet when people look down at their I devices and they're able to tell them where they are on a map in real time, they're often totally unaware that it takes quantum mechanics, relavitity and more than a basic understanding of how electrons and the atom works to make it all possible. Even the technology to make WiFi make work; which people like to complain about because it's sooooo slow, didn't really have an obvious application when it was being tossed about by a bunch of university students.

There's another issue which gives me the irrits here and that has to do with the discriminatory nature of which kinds of university student's fees are to be forgiven. Again, this seems to based on the assumption that universities are places where society pumps out specific economic units of labour to be plugged into the giant productivity machine at some point in the future. I find this to be very shortsighted indeed.
Think of Aristotle. Now I bet you're wondering why I'm starting with a Greek philosopher of all people but here me out. Aristotle gave us at least an elementary framework upon which to think about how logic works. Jump forwards many many centuries and Gottlob Frage gave us propositional calculus, which builds on both mathematics and philosophy and from that we get the first programmable computer languages. It's so fundamental to the operation of computers, which are in everything, that almost literally no-one gives it a second thought.

Pioneers like Simone de Beavior and Mary Wollstonecraft remind us that women's rights are pretty important. When you're talking about half the population, then all sorts of issues start to come into play and this includes how power is used, gender pay gaps, even how organisations might be improved internally with respect to equality and even the performance of organisations and firms themselves. We're only just now beginning to look into empirical studies into the profitability of firms run by women and it appears as though because of gender differences, and how they're able to manager staff to get the best out of them,that there are definitive and measurable advantages to having women in management.

The alchemists brought us the necessary tools with which to perform chemistry; astrology gave us the maps and the discipline to look towards the heavens and perform proper astronomy. Astronomy which is nominally useless to the world of business and finance, through the work of people like Kepler, Galileo and Newton, gave us calculus and all sorts of motion studies; which form the basis of a whole host of sciences, including the very mechanics needed to place satellites into space.

William James pioneered thinking into that area of philosophy known as radical and radical empiricism. He was concerned which the epistemological problem of truth and upon what basis things can and can't be known. Now whilst that in itself sounds like it can't have any possible application to the world of business, it is from this that we derive out notions of the "cash value" of things. Economists might baulk at such an idea now but in a world of fifty or sixty years time when resources are scarce, questions of value might need to include more than just the cold raw forces of supply and demand. How do you allocate who is to receive limited resources; especially when they are controversial and the subject of contentions, like organ donations? What are the associated ethical questions which arise? These questions permeate right through the business world; especialy when it comes to a whole host of property rights.
Economics which seems to dominate the news, is itself (despite what economists might say) a fuzzy sort of thing which delves into the human psyche. When you're looking at questions en masse of human behaviour, which is hardly and exact science, then formulating ideas to describe what is, is a difficult task and often filled with disagreement.

I can look to the whole panoply of university studies and say that what is and what might be useful is mostly unknowable. Although Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics might have the most obvious and immediate pay off, I don't think that it necessarily follows that they have the biggest pay off. I would rather fund university studies across a kaleidoscope of disciplines and fields because by doing so, ideas cross pollinate and do not remain static. When building the autonomous machines of the future, it might be necessary to program them to ask philosophical questions of the nature of their own being, for the reasons of self-preservation and the protection of the public at large. Medicine is already asking questions which relate to the world of electronics, nuclear chemistry and physics. Everyone needs journalists and writers to communicate ideas and we will certainly always need people to ask ethical questions to keep unscrupulousness and selfish destruction in check.
I think that Shorten would be better off to announce a plan to increase funding and access to all university faculties rather than a few because the benefits apart from the improvement of ideas, is the encouragement of people going to university; from a selfish perspective there's an even stronger reason for doing this. I don't want to live in a society which contains a few highly educated and specialised boffins but lots and lots of chronically stupid people.

Then we read this piece of maleficence:

Kate Carnell from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the idea was fine but that the details were missing.
"We need to have more teachers and students in the maths and science space. The problem is we have to pay for it," she said.
"I think Bill Shorten's comments that he was going to write-off the HECS debt of 100,000 Australians was interesting, but no idea of paying for it, no idea of which 100,000.
- Emma Griffiths, ABC News, 15th May 2015

I completely understand that as someone from the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Kate Carnell needs to fight for the wishes of the members. It should be said though that the wishes of the members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry are profits. The problem as she puts it is that we have to pay for educating people and presumably, the members of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry would prefer not to, as paying for anything, even if there is an obvious benefit, cuts immediate profits of firms.
It's worth noting though that this same Kate Carnell graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy from the University of Queensland in 1976 at zero cost to her. Who paid for that? The taxpayer of course. Do I begrudge the fact? No.

There's a far far bigger problem than merely who has to pay for someone's education and that is, who has to pay when someone isn't educated? Let's assume for a second that someone (and why not pick someone from the poorest suburb in Sydney, Tregear), couldn't afford to go to university. Already the university fees act as a barrier to entry. Let's further suppose that this particular person was gifted in primary school but because they went to a less well funded high school, never saw their full potential.
What if that person, by virtue of their difficult upbringing, had learned to think differently about the world; in a way which might have seen the development of a cure for cancer, or some new technology that will never be realised because they never went to university. How many brains and bright kids, do we deny the opportunity to go to university and with it, the chance to develop something truly amazing? We can't know the answer to that because the system as it stands already throws them on the economic scrap heap.
What are the outcomes to this? Well it's pretty obvious. If you compare Australia, which is a land rich in natural resources to Germany which is a European nation which has twice been ravaged by war, then maybe Kate Carnell can explain why Australia's biggest export is dirt (albeit special kinds of dirt that magically comes back to us in the form of steel, cars, and other machinery and plant, and why a nation like Germany exports scientific equipment, makes brilliant heavy machinery, and has three big luxury automotive groups, when Australia won't even be able to produce a car at all in three years?
"We've golden soil and wealth for toil" should not in my opinion have been a mission statement.

Who's going to pay for sending people to university? This is the wrong question. University education in Germany is free*. The question should be: Who ends up paying if we don't send people to university? We all do.

*http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/europe/article4213550.ece
All German universities will be free of charge when term starts next week after fees were abandoned in Lower Saxony, the last of seven states to charge.
- The Times, 22nd Sep 2014

May 17, 2015

Horse 1899 - The Big Blue Boo Hoo - The A-League Grand Final

Melbourne Victory 3 - Sydney FC 0
Besart Berisha 33'
Kosta Barbarouses 83'
Leigh Broxham 90'

One of the great cliches often heard at the end of a football match is that "it was a game of two halves". The A-League Grand Final between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC was not like this. It was a game of one half, that just happened to last 90 minutes - 90 increasingly excruciating minutes.

Going into this match there was little to separate the two sides after many encounters. Even after the lineups were announced and the opening formations before the match were made known, there was still little to separate the two sides. Both Kevin Muscat and Graham Arnold had nominated a 4-3-3 formation and both of them had flung words at each other before the match.
From the opening whistle though as a foul was blown, even before the ball had left the centre circle, it was kind of obvious which side was going to come out with more of a fire in their belly.

For both sides a 4-3-3 says that if they were to press forward, then the two outside forwards would slide towards the corners; this in effect meant that both sides only started with one true striker. For the Victory this was Berisha and for Sydney FC this was Janko.
This also meant that if one side was able to press forward, then they could contain and hold the opposition and this is more or less what Melbourne Victory did from the opening whistle.

The Victory, who were able to press forwards early, also took the initiative and the field position, which mean that Sydney FC would have to play on the counter attack in they were to do anything in the opening period. By hoping to contain the Victory, then were constantly tracking backwards, this freed up the Victory to push higher up the park and because they were doing so, they always had fresher legs to win back the ball if they lost it.
The tale of the first fifteen minutes is mostly the tale of the whole match. When the Victory lost the ball, they pushed harder and then were able to win the ball back in one-on-one contests. For the most part, Sydney were able to hold back the dark blue tide but then something truly disastrous for Sydney happened. Jacques Faty appeared to pull up short in one tackle and it was later found out that he'd pulled a hamstring and thus had to be replaced.

This was the vital difference that would be needed to split the difference between the two sides. Graham Arnold had not named any defenders on the subs bench and so switched on Rhyan Grant for the injured Faty in the 19th minute. This meant that Sebastian Ryall had to move inwards to replace Faty in central defence and Grant took Ryall's spot.
By not having a specialist defender on the subs bench, Arnold had basically written Sydney FC's death warrant.

For a quarter of an hour, Melbourne pushed even higher and gained ground even closer to Sydney's goal and it was a lapse in marking which saw an unmarked Besart Berisha fire a bullet across a hapless and hopeless defence and past the flailing Sydney keeper Janjetovic.
The score at half-time of only 1-0 to the Victory was flattering to Sydney who at that stage, I don't think had managed to put a single shot on target at the other end.

After the half-time break, the one way traffic resumed and Sydney lost ball after ball as the game turned ugly and yellow cards from both sides started to mount up. Arnold knew that he had to do something to tilt the game and so brought on striker Shane Smeltz for midfielder Christopher Naumoff but this was to no avail. Smeltz like Janko remained unfed as a striker and shots continued to rain down upon the Sydney goal. Arnold brought on a third striker in Terry Antonis but a mishap which saw a spill in the goal and Janjetovic save a first attempt but not a second from Kosta Barbarouses gave Sydney an impossible mountain to climb.

When Carl Valeri was given a second yellow card for a second offence it was too little too late for Sydney and a third lapse in Sydney's defence meant that Victory defender Leigh Broxham was able to follow through and put a shot past Janjetovic, who by this time had dropped his head.

3-0 was a result which befitted the match and also gives an indication of Melbourne Victory's total domination against a Sydney side which struggled to maintain any real coherent passages of possession at all.
Melbourne Victory took home their third title and are worthy champions, having also taken the Premier's plate in the regular season.

Schadenfreude is a German word which means taking joy in the misfortunes of others but I'm not experiencing that. I am feeling Glückschmerz which is finding misery when good things happen to others. I'm not feeling green with envy, just blue. Sky blue. 

Blue, baby blue. I'm as a blue as I can be.
My Sydney boys lost all their toys,
To Melbourne Victory.

May 16, 2015

Horse 1898 - The Shipping Forecast

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

At 0048 hours every day on BBC Radio 4, the Shipping Forecast is read out; slowly and precisely, with all care that one might give to a precariously balanced vat of nuclear waste suspended above a box of sleeping kittens. Every day, this almost minimalist stream of words, which is no longer than about 500, is read by the last announcer of Radio 4 before they hand over the airwaves to the BBC World Service for the night. Before the pips finally announce the shutdown, the British National Anthem is played as though to say that all is right with the world and the British public can go to sleep.

Although it comes on BBC Radio 4 at twelve minutes to one in the morning, because I live on the other side of the world; in the far flung elements of what used to be empire, the Shipping Forecast comes on just before it is time for morning tea. The experience of listening to the Shipping Forecast in the morning is vastly different to what people in Britain get and so, I've spent the last fortnight or so listening to it just before I go to bed; just as Aunty Been intended.

I imagine that for domestic BBC listeners, the Shipping Forecast is mostly irrelevant. The usefulness of hearing the various wind forces, directions, visibility and air pressures is precisely nil if you happen to be tucked up in your jim-jams in a terrace house. As a listener in Australia the usefulness of the Shipping Forecast is doubled - twice nothing is still nothing. The various place names and weather readings mean three quarters of diddly-squat in all honesty. So why bother? For the same reason as domestic listeners in Britain do. There is a profoundly odd entertainment value to it.

Place names like South East Iceland, North Utsire and South Utsire, Rockall, Biscay, Cromartie, Viking and Forties, don't sound real. In truth they're all named after rocky outcrops, sandbars, geographical landmarks and legendary sea captains. The force numbers on the Beaufort Scale sound quaint and twee until you remember that "storm 10", "violent storm 11" and "force 12 hurricane and higher" are sea conditions where the waves are taller than ships, where if sailors are washed overboard there is really no way to rescue them and where even the wind itself might be battering down at 80 miles an hour; accompanied with rain and sleet. When you begin to imagine those things, which is what the Shipping Forecast is actually describing, then not only do you enter the theatre of the mind but you really do get a sense that there is peril on the sea.

After the descriptions of conditions out in the deep ocean, the forecast turns to fixed weather stations and readings. Names like Greenwich Light Vessel Automatic, Stornoway, Ronaldsway, Liverpool Crosby   and my personal favourite Scilly Automatic, start to sound like actual places instead of vague ideas and they're almost always calmer. The Inshore Waters report which tails off the 0048 broadcast sounds tame in comparison to the chaos announced earlier before the announcer wishes everyone a goodnight before presumably leaving BBC Broadcasting House and driving home through a quiet London. Quite often and in a stunning turn of events, it will be raining in England.

In the same way that the football scores are read out on Sunday, the Shipping Forecast has its own distinct rythym and metre to it. If you combine that with the deep melodious Caribbean tones of Neil Nunes, then the result is something special. Tumbling, rolling and almost mesmerising, the Shipping Forecast is a symphony of sound which would be at home as much at Radio 3 as it is at Radio 4.

I think that for British listeners, the Shipping Forecast is a reminder of the nation's seafaring past. I mean, if I wasn't familiar with history, it would seem absolutely daft and absurd that the island nation, which was overrun by the Romans and the Vikings, and which stands like a pathetically timid rocky outpost set against the mighty unforgiving Atlantic Ocean, should be home to a people who conquered vast areas of the globe and turned maps pink.
The Shipping Forecast is a reminder that even though King Cnut (who paddled his own canoute) who tried to impose his maritime law, the Rule Britannia; which says that Britannia rules the waves, couldn't hold back the sea with pitchfork - not even kings can do that. Even though Britannia might have been able to rule and dominate the ships upon the waves, the waves and indeed the sea itself can not be tamed.

For as calm as the announcer might be, when they say "Dogger, South by Southeast, Gale 8, Fog, 989 and falling" all the information that's contained in those few words, is more than enough to tell you that you really do not want to be out there. Your bed is warm. Your bed is dry. Your bed is cozy. Go to sleep.
But be mindful that there are people out there, in peril, on the sea.

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qfvv/episodes/player

May 15, 2015

Horse 1897 - The Big Blue - The A-League Grand Final

In the last five fixtures that Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC have played against each other, there have been ten goals and five draws. In the 2014/15 A-League season, Melbourne took out the Premier's Plate by just three points and Sydney was left to wonder where in its season. That it could have done more. Melbourne Victory held the record for both the best defence and the best attack in the league and so its fitting that they are minor premiers (and I think daft that we even have a finals series.
On paper, with nothing to separate them in 450 minutes of football, I'd expect that Melbourne should in theory do just enough against Sydney to finally break the deadlock and confirm their place as top dog.

Even though both Melbourne and Sydney had a bye going into their semi final, both of them looked fragile before breaking out and grinding their respective opponents into the ground. Victory beat cross-town rivals City 3-0 and Sydney looked initially shaky against Adelaide United but dealt with them 4-1.
In those results is contains the reason why I think that the Melbourne Victory will hold aloft the prized Toilet Seat of Wonder and why Sydney will be left to ponder what could have been.

I don't think that Victory are any better set up defensively than Sydney. Both sides will play 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 if the need requires and both of them will tend to hack through the middle if they can. Neither side is particularly skilled at making transitional play out of their own third and the goals that both sides score, tend more to be the result of scrappy play in and around opposition's 18 yard boxes rather than some piece of worked play. Although that's never pretty, for both Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC, it is incredibly effective because it means that they've got the necessary manpower to encamp in the front third.

If both sides play roughly the same style of football and both turn up with either a 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 formation (because they'll both enter the match cautiously; hoping not to lose) then the difference which does finally split them will come down to how well their midfielders defend and then punch out of their back third once and if they can win the ball. To that end, I think that the Victory are marginally better at that.

For the Victory, it will come down to how well Milligan can hold, turn and direct the ball through the midfield. Barbarouses is quite good at making minuscule runs which drag defenders out of place and Mahazi has this strange ability to blend into play and become completely invisible, before popping out with a perfectly weighted ball for Berisha to pounce upon. Berisha of course is a force to be reckoned with; all by himself. Provided defences aren't afraid of him, they can cancel him out but if they can not, he can and will pull the trigger from everywhere.
I expect that if Archie Thompson does get a run, it will be at least after the hour has elapsed because he is not as quick as he once was but once legs start to become tired, he is again a cut above the capabilities of most defensive back fours. Although Archie Thompson has made threatening noises that he would leave the club if they don't offer him a better offer, I think that its fair to say that at 36 years old, this is about as good as it's going to get. Yell too hard and it just might be a trip to the employment office on Monday.

Sydney does have Antonis in the centre of the park who doesn't really command or direct traffic around him but he does win a higher percentage of balls than most other midfielders, and so is able to demand possession. He and Naumoff provided they can win balks and control the midfield, are why Sydney was able to turn relatively dull periods of football into explosive attack.
Part of the reason why they are able to do this is the man on the end of their efforts: Bernard Ibini. Ibini is very good at filling the hole position behind the strikers and I think that he might even lead the league in terms of assists and second-last touches. Especially on the radio, commentary when Sydney have been winning games has sounded like "Ibini... Smeltz", or "Ibini... Brosque" or most commonly "Ibini... Janko!". In the event that Ibini has scored, it's usual because Sydney have been playing a higher line and he's struck from just inside the 18 yard box. Without Ibini, Janko appears to be either directionless or less well fed as a striker. Janko can find the back of the net quite effectively but only if he has a ball to play with. You can't score without a ball and Ibini is often the one who supplies it.

No doubt that both Kevin Muscat and Graham Arnold will have gone about this week like they always do, because this fixture is really no different to any other; it still takes 90 minutes to play and it still needs the players to do their jobs as they would for any other match. The only thing different is the promise of silverware at the end.

Unlike football in the English Premier League, there is no difference in pitch sizes at the various venues. Highbury and The Dell used to be very small pitches and Anfield for a while was very wide but in the A-League it doesn't matter if you go to Hindmarsh, Lang Park, the Sydney Football Stadium or Docklands. The decision to move the Grand Final from Docklands to the Melbourne Rectangular, does show a considerable degree of cynicism and spite on the part of the Western Bulldogs AFL team who pulled rank here, but it doesn't make a lick of difference when it comes to deciding how to play the match on Sunday.
The smaller crowd will be decidedly more partisan and in favour of the Melbourne Victory than it would have been if the match had been played at Docklands as originally intended (Sydney fans get an even smaller ticket allocation) but because the pitches are dimensionally identical, the home side advantage is significantly weaker in Australia than it is in England; with it only being worth 0.4 goals per match and not 1.3.

I think that there's so little in it that the result might come down to either a single moment of brilliance or a moment of madness. I don't think that either side given their attacking nature, have the discipline to last through 120 minutes of defensive and careful football. If they cancel each other out and it does go to extra time, the fact that 12 yellow cards were handed out in the semi finals suggests to me that as the two sides get ever more desperate, they will sink into the mire of dirty tactics. 2-2 and a penalty shootout might be possible but I don't think that 0-0 is.

Whatever the case, after the result it will be Blue Moon, I saw you standing alone... not with a small friend.

May 14, 2015

Horse 1896 - Budget 2015: Meh?

The 2015-16 Federal Budget has been handed and now it will be subject to the inevitable dog fighting, cat scratching and elephant trumpeting that accompanies all budgets. It is markedly different to the 2014-15 budget in that where 14-15 was about trying to find 'savings' (which everyone else in the world called cuts), 15-16 happens end in the next term of the Parliament.
Being one of the very few people in the real world who will have actually bothered to read it and follow the numbers, I hope that I can interpret the messages that it is trying to send.

The most obvious thing that political pundits are talking about is the boost to small business. The budget gives a 1.5% cut in the rate of company tax to businesses which have a turnover of less than $2m. The last time that there were different rates in company tax was before the stability program of 1995-96 when all companies were taxed at a flat rate of 36%. Having two separate rates is not only a problem when it comes to working out things like franking credits it also creates real headaches for those businesses who hover around the $2m turnover mark.
A business which makes a turnover of $1,999,999 would be subject to a tax rate of 28.5% but jump to that next dollar at exactly $2,000,000 and they cop the full 30%.
If we assume that two businesses had $0 in expenses (which is in itself stupid) then the $1,999,999 business would pay $569,999.71 in tax but the $2,000,000 business would pay $600,000 in tax. The stupidity is that for earning $1 extra, the $2,000,000 business pays an extra $30,000.29 and its net position is $29,999.29 worse off, just because it happened to take $1 extra in revenue. Scrooge McDuck would be well advised to load his unlucky number twenty million dime into a cannon and hurl it as far away as possible because in losing ten cents he gains almost thirty grand.
Unincorporated businesses with turnover of less than $2,000,000 are only subject to a tax rate of 25% which seems like a blessing until you realise that the individual's net taxation position is going to change  because they'd only be pulling 25% franked dividends from their business and not 30% franked dividends. This makes planning difficult but not necessarily impossible.
Actually, the 5% discounted rate of taxation for unincorporated businesses is problematic into that it is difficult if not impossible to work out exactly who in the world that this would even apply to. Companies are naturally subject to Company Tax (duh) because they are Companies. Yes, that sounds like the most idiotic statement in the world and you'd be right, if it wasn't for the fact that Companies are separate legal entities from individuals. Unincorporated businesses are usually sole traders who are still subject to Individual rates of taxation or Partnerships which although need to complete a separate taxation return, aren't legal entities in their own right and consequently distribute profits to Individuals and Companies which then report that income in their respective taxation returns. Partnerships which already pay zero taxation in their own right, receive no benefit whatsoever in any reduction of taxation rates. How can they? Such a proposal is a nonsense. The only possible business structure which might benefit from a 5% reduction are Limited Partnerships and the only business which employ that sort of structure on a regular basis are small law firms. Is that the point of the discounted rate? To give a leg up to the legal profession?

There is also an increase in the amount which can be instantly written off, from $1,000 to $20,000 but only for two years. Mr Hockey who hated and opposed the Rudd Government's stimulus package post GFC, has now in this budget written a different sort of stimulus package. The intent is that small businesses will now go out and buy plant and equipment and that the money spent will have a multiplier effect in the economy. That's all good and proper until you realise that Australia doesn't really produce very much machinery which could be used as plant and equipment any more. In December of 2013, Mr Hockey himself from the floor of the House of Representatives openly dared the motor manufacturers to leave Australia and within the week, all three announced plans to close Australian manufacturing. This sort of trend where firms leave Australia to pay manufacturing workers cents per hour instead of dollars, explains why it is mostly impossible to purchase any big ticket item that was produced in Australia. Computers, pizza ovens, forklifts, fridges, tyre balancers, lawn mowers, cars - its hard to think of any item of plant which costs less than $20,000 and was made in Australia. I'm wondering if through operation of policy, this instant write off of plant might lead to an increase in payments for imported goods; all subsidised by the taxpayer.

On the revenue side of the budget, I find Mr Hockey's estimates of taxation revenue over the next few years to be quite a bit bullish but I don't know why. During the height of the mining boom, Treasury tended to underestimate the amount of revenue that would be collected and now that we live in a post mining boom and post GFC environment, revenues have tended to be rather overestimated. I think that the expected figures for growth in taxation revenues are 2.75% for 2015-16, 3.25% for 16-17 and as much as 5.50% for 17-18. Now admittedly the economy is cyclical in nature but I just don't see how you get increases in taxation revenue to that degree if you're also lowering the rate of taxation for small businesses, whilst at the same time giving them an instant tax write off for purchasing plant and equipment.
The idea that you collect more in tax by lowering tax rates was proposed by an American economist Arthur Latter; his idea took the shape of a bell curve upon which by moving the rates of taxation, you hope to move closer to the top of the bell. The flaw with this is that nobody can really empirically measure where you are on the curve, nor what the actual shape of the curve is. Mr Laffer originally sketched his idea on the back of a napkin, which is probably where it should have remained. I just don't know if napkin sketches should become the basis of economic theory or taxation policy.
If we were to look at where taxation revenues are to come from, there appears to be a shift away from taxation revenues from mining and this is hoping to be replaced by revenues from personal income taxes. One can only assume that this comes about through either increases in real wages (which is still trending downwards), increases in the participation rate which is what the tinkering with child care is about, and through natural bracket creep. Over the forward estimates that the budget lays out, government spending which is still higher as a percentage of GDP than most years of the Rudd/Gillard governments and every year of the Howard Government barring 1996-97, shrinks only marginally from 25.9% to 25.3% of GDP. This is mainly a bet that public service wages and pension payments will grow less slowly that overall GDP growth and that GDP growth will outstrip inflation.

The core messages of this budget appear to be sort of bumbling along without giving anyone the irrits, in the hope that the government will be reelected in the latter half of 2016 or January 2017. By mainly targeting small businesses, farmers and issues like childcare, it wants to send happy bright sentiments to that portion of the electorate who they hope might start thinking about voting Liberal or National.
It's also worrying that about $1.6bn is going to be cut from the welfare budget over four years and $3.7bn will be cut from foreign aid over the next three years. If where your treasure lives, your heart also resides, then this budget continues being cruel to be cruel. 

May 13, 2015

Horse 1895 - "Barry...BARRY! I'll get back to you Barry"

Whilst looking in the dairy cabinet of the supermarket near to where I work, for plastic wrapped cheese slices to make sandwiches with, I noticed that they were running a special on Yogo. Yogo is one of those things that I remember liking when I was a kid but that I must have only had incredibly rarely. Thinking that I hadn't had Yogo in years, it might be fun to try some and see if it was as good as I remember remembering it to be.

I like the fact that Yogo autocorrects to the word Togo because I very much like the African nation more than I like this artificially flavoured milk product.
I used to like Yogo as a kid and that's probably because as a child, my palate wasn't as well developed and honestly couldn't tell the difference between something which was nice or something which tastes like nothing real in the world. The pot of Yogo which I ate purported to be chocolate flavour but in reality it was a weird cacophony of sweet, of what I imagine Dettol tastes like and of cocoa that had gone off because it had been left to rot in the sun since 1973.  Yogo was so terrible that if I were on a space mission that had so gone horribly wrong that the computer had killed all the crew and I was left hurtling off into interstellar space, that I'd probably eat the training manuals before I'd consider the Yogo. Yogo is the equivalent of the nuclear button, it is the weapon against hunger of last resort and even then you'd be hesitant about it. If the African autocorrected nation of Togo was suffering a great famine and we sent them a million pots of unleabelled Yogo without explanation as to what it was, I think that they might consider it worthy enough to use as mortar to build brick houses out of before eating the stuff. Yogo must be one of those things which we give to children to help build up their immune system, for if they can survive eating a pot of Yogo then that proves that they are made of sterner stuff than previously thought. I already think that the fact that anyone survives childhood at all, is testament to the durability of human beings; but giving children Yogo is like deliberately setting out to void the terms of the warranty.

The fact that Yogo calls itself a dairy food snack rather than a definable milk product like yogurt or pudding is both telling and quite frankly, a bit scary. When even the manufacturers of the product are at a loss to describe what their confection is, then you know you're in trouble.
I suppose that Yogo has the same sort of consistency as a crème caramel but that's where the similarity ends. It's kind of a little bit grainy, as though the sugars haven't quite been combined properly during its creation and like a whipped mousse, if you put a spoon through it, it retains its shape. This is a bit like the confusingly named Früché which also doesn't know what it is but at least the flavour resembles something close to the description on the packet. Mango Früché tastes like mango; Chocolate Yogo must have been invented by someone with no idea of what chocolate is.

Yogo is marketed towards children through the use of cartoon characters and that there should be sign that it is horrible. A product like Bird's custard comes in a serious looking packet because it is at least edible to anyone over the age of 13, and the ironically named Angel Delight whilst it might have zero chance of delighting any angel and also has the sweetness turned up to eleven, passes a taste test of some sort. Angel Delight unlike Yogo, remains one of the avenues that you might actually want to relive your childhood through. The French company Danone with its Yoplait yoghurt brand sells a product called Petit Miam which literally means "little yum"; this is sensible because the only difference between Petit Miam is the quantity of yoghurt in the pot. There is no adult equivalent of Yogo because it is disgusting.

I already know that I am weirder than a nine dollar note and that even as a child my tastes in things were vastly different to other children. The tastes that I most remember from childhood that I want to return to are a Pizza Meat Pie which was seven kinds of delicious, the Lamb Rolls which came from an Indian snack shop, and Nestlé's Yorkie Mystery bar which has kind of been reinvented by Cadbury with its Marvellous Creations line. For some reason I remembered Yogo and a competitor called Snack Pack with fondness but I guess that I've experienced first hand the wise old saw that "you can never return to the past". Yogo is something which I remembered from childhood and to be honest, should have stayed there. Yogo is awful.

May 12, 2015

Horse 1894 - The Mighty Mighty Green Pen of Doom

Let me clue you in on a little secret. If you use blue pen on your documents, accountants will judge you as having the intelligence of a potato. Blue pen is the exclusive domain of school students and tradespeople.
If you use a black pen, accountants will judge you as having the intelligence of a sane person. Black pen is for all the serious people in the world and for everyone who wants to be taken seriously.
Red pen is for teachers who are marking exams, for people who want to correct mistakes in documents and for those people who are diligent enough to manually keep books of accounts and wish to indicate losses.
All other colours for pens are for the creative classes or for students in the first two years of high school; except one colour, which is reserved for the soulless and the most heartless of people... auditors. Audtors get their own pen which only they may use, If anyone else should use an auditor's pen, then the Earth could be knocked off kilter; hurling us all into the sun.
Auditors do not use a blue pen which is amateurish, nor a black pen which is serious, nor a red pen which is instructive nor a purple, pink or orange pen which is childish. Auditors use a green pen which is filled with the horror of a thousand hurricanes and the tears of a million accountants. The Auditor's pen drips with envy and is coloured green as a result.

My name is Auditor, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. 

An audit is basically the same as quality assurance testing. The little QA sticker which you find on electrical gear is one of those things which is easily ignored and most people probably peel it off without giving it a second though. Likewise, the Auditor's Report which appears at the end of a set of financial statements, is also given very little thought by the person who reads them but that Auditor's Report often comes with a lot of pain and torment.
Oh what a thing it is to wield. If you live in a world of black pens and maybe red, having your worked checked by someone with a green pen, holds as much terror as turning in a term paper in school. Instantly you are transformed from a competent professional into the quaking, snivelling seventeen year old you once were; worried that the world is going to open up and swallow you whole but having control of the green pen, having the ability to, at a stroke change someone's destiny, is akin to commanding armies and conquering worlds. Napoleon may have won many many battles and taken control of most of continental Europe by force but I bet that even he, never knew the maddening power of the green pen.
Teddy Roosevelt had a special all-black fountain pen which he used to sign legislation into law, Dwight D Eisenhower used a Parker 51 and Harry S Truman wielded a buck-fifty Esterbrook and even though his desk bore a sign which said "The Buck Stops Here", I wonder how much he would have trembled in front of John Wesley Snyder's green pen. What colour is the back of a Greenback?

When you are given the job of an auditor, you become a watchdog; although not necessarily a bloodhound. Although you are asked to scratch around a bit and maybe even dig a little big deeper, if something has been deliberately buried so well that it can not be found, you can't be reasonably held to account as an auditor if you've failed to find that which was hidden. A dog which has the ability to growl but has no real teeth, can not be expected to bite terribly hard once it finds something. Auditors know this but prefer to keep their secret quiet. When the world is trembling with terror, you don't want to give the game away that your bark is worse than your ineffectual bite.

If you are lucky enough to wield the green pen of eternal torment, the instrument to lay ten thousand souls to waste, then you hold in your hands a power which needs to be controlled. Auditors have the power to bring mere accountants to their knees; to bring frustration where there was calm and to bring on the anger of management. The auditor whilst barking and pointing, indicates failure, noncompliance and error and an auditor who cares not for their fellow kith and kin of the financial world, may inadvertently or perhaps even deliberately cause one of their own to fall. An auditor who marks green crosses everywhere, just might bring the huntsman's axe to fall on the neck of a financial comptroller.
The other side of the coin though is that when you do have a page full of green ticks and everything checks out nicely, you get to bestow upon someone the knowledge that they have achieved a job well done. An unqualified audit report is worth more than spun gold. You can confer upon someone, with mere mortal hands, a nugget of purest Green. Maybe not a nugget, maybe a streak. A streak today, but tomorrow, who knows, or dares to dream... an unqualified audit report is worth the fame and ovation of the people forever.

May 11, 2015

Horse 1893 - British Parliament? Let Me Fix That For You

I am something of an election fan. I like watching election night coverage in our country. I like watching graphics and swingometers. I like the tension as counting happens and seats are declared. Heck, I even like the bit at the end of the Eurovision Song Contest after all the rubbishy songs are finished and the real point of the event happens - when everyone votes for their friends.
So you'd expect that with the United Kingdom's General Election which was held last week, that I'd be all over it like a donkey on a waffle. Well, no. I think that there's both simultaneously too much election and not enough election in the UK.

There are about 64 million people in the UK. In the UK Parliament, there are 650 sitting members in the House of Commons. That's roughly 1 MP for every 98,460 people. In the Australian parliament, there are 150  sitting members in the House of Representatives, or  1 MP for every 153,333 people.
Either the UK is over-represented or Australia is under-represented by members of parliament; I tend to think the former rather than the latter.

On top of this, there are 779 members (plus 50 who don't sit for various reasons) in the House of Lords. That's roughly 1 Lord for every 82,156 people. In the Australian Senate, there are just 76 Senators who represent on average 302,631 people. In the upper house I think that the UK is way way  over-represented; on top of that, the members of the House of Lords aren't even elected.
Admittedly the member of the House of Lords derive no annual salary for their efforts but even so, they still vote on legislation which affects the lives of real people.

If the sheer number of MPs is daunting, then the method of voting used to install them in the House of Commons is maddening (and the method used to install them in the House of Lords is undemocratic). The UK uses the first past the post method of voting which at first glance seems fair enough, the one with the most votes wins, but in any more than a three way contest, it is entirely possible for the winning candidate to win less than half the votes. In a seat where Alice gets 31%, Bradley gets 34% and Clyde gets 35%, if Alice and Bradley are similar in political stance and Clyde is vastly different, and voters for Alice and Bradley would rather have stuck their heads into a bucket of slime than voted for Clyde, then Clyde is still installed as MP despite almost two thirds of the electorate preferring to have stuck their heads into a bucket of slime than voted for him.
In races across the UK, where you had as many as seven candidates, its easy to see how unpopular candidates might be installed nationwide and be so numerous as to be able to form government.

Across the UK, the number of MPs that were elected were thus:
Con - 331
Lab - 232
SNP - 56
LD - 8
DUP - 8
Others - 15

The percentage of the popular vote across the UK fell thusly:
Con - 36.9%
Lab - 30.4%
SNP - 4.7%
LD - 7.9%

In addition to this, UKIP claimed a nationwide vote of 19.0% and yet had zero MPs returned to parliament. On the face of it, the Conservatives with 36.9% of the vote but 50.9% of the seats are over represented, as is Labour with 30.4% of the vote but 35.6% of the seats and the Lib-Dems with 7.9% of the vote ended up with just 1.2% of the seats.

If you adjust the number of MPs to reflect the nationwide percentages then the number of MPs returned would have read:
Con - 240
Lab - 197
SNP - 30
LD - 51

There's a problem in that as well though. In Scotland, the SNP won virtually every seat with a majority of votes in those seats. This shows that nationwide voting trends do not translate easily to the constituent countries of the UK. Northern Ireland for instance, usually returns Democratic Unionists and Sinn Fein members, whose parties don't even field candidates in England, Scotland or Wales.
There's another problem. Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have devolved parliaments which decide and legislate for their respective countries but England has no devolved parliament of its own. Irish, Welsh and Scottish MPs can vote on legislation that concerns England but not necessarily the other way round.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd set up the UK and its decidedly bizarre parliament differently and make it more like Australia. When the framers of the Australian Constitution looked at what might work in Australia, they liked that the cabinet of the UK sat in and was answerable to parliament and they liked the idea that the various states should have equal power in the house of review to prevent bullying by larger states. Now admittedly there is a vast disparity between the populations of the constituent countries of the UK, with England being vastly more populace than the other three combined but there already exists a metric which I think would be useful to break up both the Lords and the Commons.
When sending members to the European Parliament, England is broken into the nine regions of: North West, North East, Yorkshire and Humberside, West Midlands, East Midlands, East of England, London, South West and South East. That is 9 regions in England and to provide balance, I'd install 2 regions from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. If there were 14 Lords sent from each of the 15 regions, then that gives you 210 in all; instead of more than 700. In addition to this, I'd have the Lords democratically elected which itself is a novel idea and then I'd have it decided on the basis of proportional representation.

I'd then shrink the size of the House of Commons from 650 to 420 (remember the number 230 - being the number of MPs left over) and have each of those seats decided by the preferential voting like we do in Australia because I think that in more than 90 years of use, it has proven itself to be excellent.

If the same sorts of proportions were applied to a 420 seat House of Commons, then the numbers would have fallen thusly:
Con - 214
Lab - 148
SNP - 35
LD - 5
DUP - 5
Others - 10

I don't know how a House of Commons elected by preferential voting would sort itself out but Duverger's law suggests that even with preferential voting in single member constituencies, it still tends towards two party politics.

This still leaves the unresolved issue of England still not having its own devolved parliament. Those 230 MPs which I told you to remember earlier, are the perfect size of august body to decide upon English laws for England.

So there you go, I've solved the United Kingdom. I've done so with the same number of MPs, solved the problem of the undemocratic House of Lords and the problem of first past the post voting. Unfortunately, I am also a raving loony who will never be Grand Poobah or Lord High Everything Else. The UK will just have to live with its system of a House of Common decided by unrepresentative means, an undemocratic and unelected House of Lords and an undevolved English parliament.

May 10, 2015

Horse 1892 - Reading The Miranda Devine Rights

Like looking directly into the sun, touching your tongue on the tip of batteries, poking a venomous snake with a stick and touching an electric fence, reading the words of Miranda Devine in the Daily Telegraph or Herald-Sun is something which I know is going to give me the irrits deeply and yet I'll do it anyway.
Although we like to imagine some golden age of politics where after vigorous discussion, the two sides came together for the good of all of us (except the ones who are dead), the truth is that ever since there has been politics and especially since the days of Disraeli, politics is mainly about two opposed groups yelling as loudly as they can into the void and then scurrying away into their own echo chambers to recharge off of other people yelling into the space.
The thing that bothers me about Miranda Devine isn't that she writes from an economic rightist perspective in a popularist economic rightist newspaper, its that she has invented a straw man to burn and tear down and this makes her articles downright confusing. The problem isn't that she's yelling into the rightist echo chamber, it's that she has failed to define who the enemy is. It's all very well to use code words and jargon if and when they serve a purpose (especially in the world of finance when even explaining what a piece of jargon is can take several paragraphs) but when you're writing for a daily newspaper which is for general consumption, when you've decided to use a word in a particular way and then never explain why, it's confusing.

Sitting snugly behind a paywall is her archive of columns which stretches back several years. I don't have a subscription to the news.com website and so haven't been able to check through the whole archive but of the 100 columns that I kept score of in the physical dead tree edition of the newspaper, 63 of them mention "the left" as though that was the designated enemy and by inference, these are the people who you should rain scorn upon. Not once was it apparent as to what sense of the word was being used.
As a creature of the economic left, I often wonder if Ms Devine means people like me or not because the way that she uses the term seems to be so ill-defined and flaky that if it was a piece of short crust pastry, it would collapse on the plate and not in your mouth. If it was the folded chocolate bar from Cadbury, then the only way to get it that flaky would be to leave it in a cupboard until November 2016 when it goes white.

On an economic scale, the "left" is the side which favours planning and ownership of the economy by governments. Inversely, the "right" is that side of the scale which favours the use of market forces to determine everything. I should point out that this scale ranges from complete government control of everything to zero government control and every single point in between. One problem with conversations generally is that they tend to devolve into an extreme of two points but the world is far more nuanced than that. There might very well be cases where the argument is black and white but there are usually a range of shades of grey in between as well as shades of red, yellow, blue, green, puce, olive, brown etc.
What makes this particularly confusing is that on an authoritarian / libertarian scale, libertarians are designated as the left and authoritarians as the right. It's entirely possible to be economically to the right and yet on a social scale be leftist. Such people don't want government controlling any aspects of their lives. At the extreme economic-right and social-left, sit the anarcho-capitalists. Conservatism (or at least how it has come to be defined from the late 1970s onwards; from the era of Reagan and Thatcher, is a combination of rightist-economic policy and rightist-social policy. From their point of view, virtually everyone sits to the let of them but this lack of nuance as to openly say with direction "left" is where the trouble arises.

One thing I have found to be quite frustrating is that Ms Devine likes to set up straw men and then burn those, instead of engaging with established facts. It's far easier to define an imagined enemy and rail against that then forming a well reasoned argument I suppose. Consider the following from about 3:40 in this piece from ABC Radio Nafional's "Sunday Extra" program¹. I think that it is about as bad journalism as might be found in the pages of Britain's The Sun newspaper's coverage of Hillsborough in that it appears to be condemning acts as far as I can tell, never happened:
"People who call themselves anti-racists but in fact most of them were from the Socialist Party, or various other left-wing operations, and they were so violent and aggressive, spitting on people, throwing horse dung at them,  punching people; inciting violence, shoving and pushing."
Followed by:
"I don't know of the Reclaim Australia people  were racist; I don't know if they were propagating bad ideas."
Hang on. How come you don't know if the Reclaim  Australia people were or weren't racist and also don't know if they were propagating bad idea but you do know that most of the people in the counter rally were from the Socialist Party and that they threw horse dung, when no other news outlet in the country reported these facts? Either you were there and didn't listen to what Reclaim Australia had to say (which seems kind of crucial to the reportage of this event) or you weren't there at all and this is all lies. I did a search through of publication dates in Google and found that the first recorded article which mentions horse dung, is Ms Devine's very article. What's really strange is that it is then claimed to have occurred at Townsville, Melbourne and in Sydney. One incident would probably be reported but can print media have been totally negligent across the country, to have missed it in three cities? Just the ratio of probability tells me that the only horse dung I'm surrounded by is metaphorical. I have no doubt that there probably were punches and words of abuse thrown about but that's sort of par for the course when two sets of rival protests clash. To paint either side as totally innocent is most likely to be deliberately blind to facts.

There a very weird line from 7:51 of the program:
"there's physical violence and then there's this intimidation and refusal to allow other people to speak; again that's part of this totalitarian push to impose a situation where only a certain type of speech is allowed, only speech that a certain powerful minority in society that has control of the chattering classes, or has control of the discussion will allow to go ahead, and that at universities is leftists"
This is a very odd claim to make. I would have thought that a "certain powerful minority in society that has control of the chattering classes, or has control of the discussion" would be that minority which has control of mass media. In cities like Adelaide or Brisbane where there is only one daily newspaper and that newspaper is owned by a media group who is very much tied up with one of the political parties, just who is that " certain powerful minority"? Maybe at universities there is a predominance of leftist though (which by the way still hasn't actually been defined) but in society generally, and especially in the newspapers owned by that "certain powerful minority" (which Ms Devine just happens to work for), there is an overwhelmingly dominance of economic rightist views and policy which is enacted by government.

There's also a strange turn of phrase which is referenced here and is brought back later at 13:21
"leftist totalitarians don't operate like that, they prefer to have a situation where only their views are allowed and we laugh about it but this is the first line of clamping down on freedom, is freedom of speech"
This pretty well highlights why I find Ms Devine so frustrating. Firstly, we live in a quite robust democracy; which is far removed from being totalitarian in nature; secondly it seems as though she assumed that totalitarianism is synonymous with the "left"; even though by definition that's actually impossible if you happen to be talking about the social left-right scale. How is it possible left to have a totalitarian libertarian leftist? Granted that the Soviet Union under Stalin was very much a totalitarianist leftist state but equally, Hitler's Third Reich was a totalitarian rightist state; both were authoritarian in nature? Fascism dovetailed very nicely with business and quite a number of corporations were only too happy to work with the state. Private enterprises such as Faber, Bayer, Mercedes-Benz, DKW, BMW all competed in fairly open markets whilst the Nazis were in power. Hitler and Stalin might have been similar from a social authoritarian perspective but their economic policies differed wildly.
There is a distinct problem in trying to make out that a group of people are totalitarians when they're not actually in power. Totalitarianism kind of implies an autocratic dictatorial kind of rule and if you have protestors out in the streets when clearly they're not the ones in any sort of ruling power at all, to classify them as totalitarians looks plain daft.
To call someone socialist is to place them on a economic scale of left to right but socialism can run the whole gammet from absolute authoritarian rule, all the way to absolute libertarian society. It is also possible to imagine a society based on the premise that everyone shares everything with everyone else. The early church might be seen as very socialist and that sort of community would be worlds apart from the Soviet Union under Stalin. Also, someone like Ghandi was very much in favour of the power of the state and of equal access to the services which the state aught to provide, yet at the same time because he lived in a society which had a very large plurality of religions, ethnic groups, languages and wildly varying traditions, rather than being a totalitarian leftist he would have been a libertarian leftist.
Given that Ms Devine's columns are broadly economic rightist and for the most part broadly libertarian² (being that she wants government to get out of people's lives, that's three corners of the political compass which differ in ideological standpoint to her and yet she never defines what she classifies as "the left". There might very well be other axis upon which to hang political opinions and if she's in dispute with any of those, the total lack of nuance in her journalism, may as well tar them all with the same brush as well. As far as well I can tell, in Miranda Devine's world, "the left" is synonymous with "anything that I don't like" and that might be subject to change depending on what the circumstances of the article are.

¹ABC Radio National's "Sunday Extra" - 12th Apr, 2015
http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/sundayextra/93a05-segment/6383950
The Audio:
http://mpegmedia.abc.net.au/rn/podcast/2015/04/sra_20150412_0905.mp3

²And sometimes downright barbaric:
https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CEmq-hWUUAA4oUQ.jpg

May 08, 2015

Horse 1891 - The Consent of the Governed? (Also the UK Election)

I wrote this in the aftermath of the 2015 United Kingdom General Election which has more than ever proven that the moniker United Kingdom is tenuous at best. In Scotland, the SNP has all but wiped out every other political colour from the board; in Wales, Plaid Cymru has again proceeded to look as irrelevant as a man trying to hold back an invading army with a cucumber; in Northern Ireland, the Irish have continued to answer the Irish Question with the answer "We hate the English"; and in England, the Tories appear to have gained ground by removing the Liberal-Democrats, whilst Labour went about on its path of self destruction.
It's possible that the Conservative Party could be returned to government in its own right but it's more likely that it will need to secure supply on the floor of the House of Commons by making deals with a rainbow riff-raff whole sort of general mish-mash of parties. If in the event that Labour, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the rabbly horde form a coalition government, it will be one of the most unstable coalitions ever to take government.

Yet apart from the actual mechanics of who gets which seats and who needs to negotiate with who in order to form government, is the question of whether democracy itself is legitimate. Prize buffoon Russell Brand came out before the election and encouraged people not to vote, arguing that engaging with the system by other means was better at achieving goals and Pub Landlord Al Murray challenged the system by actively engaging with it and running against UKIP candidate Nigel Farage in the seat of South Thanet; on the basis that if democracy was a joke, then it needed a joke candidate. This idea has been attempted before; perhaps most famously by perennial Official Monster Raving Looney candidate, Screaming Lord Sutch, who in more than forty elections, was never voted into office.

This brings me to the concept of consent. Unlike Australia, the UK stupidly doesn't have either compulsory voting or an alternative voting system. This means that it is entirely possible and frequently occurring, that the candidate who wins office does not have the support of the majority of voters. Even under a proportional system, a winner has the support of a corresponding proportion of the population. In the cases of Scotland, the Labour party might have had as much as 25% of the votes and yet won precisely diddly-squat of the seats.
How is it possible to have the consent of the people to rule, when the system itself doesn't provide of that?

Even the whole idea of governments ruling based upon the consent of the people is problematic. The idea in print goes back to at least the 15th century and might have been touched upon which the deftest of glances as long ago as ancient Greece. I like John Locke's summation of the idea:

Governments, Locke says "can have no right except as this is derived from the individual right of each man to protect himself and his property. The legislative and executive power used by government to protect property is nothing except the natural power of each man resigned into the hands of the community and it is justified merely because it is a better way of protecting natural right than the self-help to which each man is naturally entitled."
- An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, John Locke (1689)

Locke appears to be talking about the idea of governments holding power because of the pragmatic utility of the idea. Utility might not be a solid enough foundation upon which to draw the power of governance though. The United States which went through a bloody birth, which was mainly caused by a taxation dispute, again returned to the concept of consent with regards to governance:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
- United States Declaration of Independence, 4th July 1776

I think that even this is problematic. If we consider those few clauses "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" this kind of implies that people are active in instituting those governments; this is patently untrue. Most people in the world are born into a kosmos, a world system. Even if they absolutely disagree with every single aspect of the law and every single aspect of the governance they find themselves under, they are still subject to that governance and to the law. I was born by historical accident into an English speaking nation with a Westminster Parliament but I gave no consent to any of it before I entered the kosmos. If I had been born a slave in Bithynia, or an idle Lady of luxury in pre-revolutionary France, or the son of a technocrat in 24th century Bavaria, I'd have no more say or ability to give my consent t the governance and laws that I might find myself under than any other possible point in history.
In all honesty, the idea of the "divine right of kings" as stated by the English monarchy, where kings derive their right to rule from God, actually makes more logical sense to me because at least they don't assume that some sort of ethereal consent exists. The consent of the governed as a thing, or at least as used as a justification as the basis of democracy as far as I can tell, is a vision that's only an illusion, and unlike a rainbow democracy has something to hide.
Having said that, I'd still very much prefer to operate under the outside pretense that democracy is the instrument through which the consent of the governed is delivered because at least that way, lies the hope that you can remove those who govern you without consent.

What then of democracy? Should it be removed if it doesn't do what it says in the tin? Again, demonstrably no. One of the things that I like about the idea that democracy pretends to have, is that you can persuade those who wield power to act for you. Government as a blunt instrument, at very least wields the force of law to enact policy and governance. Those who would wish that government gets out of peoples' are in many degrees, surrendering governance to other forces; usually those people who control money. I like the idea that governments own things like utilities (electric, gas, roads, the police, schools, hospitals etc.) because although they might be less efficient at running these things, they are better at ensuring equal access to them, regardless of economic status of the individuals that use them. I'd rather people have a say in that, than not.

It seems to me that if the idea of the consent of the governed is mostly untrue, then at least live at peaceably as you can with it. Since you have to live under the law and under the policies of governance, even if they might not necessarily come about through the actual consent of the governed, then the path of least resistance is to live with it.

Addenda:
At the time of posting this; after 643 of 650 seats have been declared:

326 - Conservatives (and have won government in their own right - David Cameron remains as PM)
230 - Labour (and with an impending announcement that Ed Miliband is to resign)
56 - SNP
8 - Liberal-Democrats (after Nick Clegg has resigned)
8 - Democratic Unionist Party
15 - Other (riff-raff in the zoo)