June 29, 2016

Horse 2131 - Europe Is Worse Off Because It Has Lost A Whinging Child

As the world continues to look on at the horrorshow that is the aftermath of Brexit, the various nativist movements in France, the Netherlands, Italy and Greece are all voicing their opinions that they want out as well. In conjunction with this, the Scottish National Party would like to see another referendum on independence as all 31 districts in Scotland voted to remain in the EU, there are louder calls in Ireland for reunification with the north (especially from Sinn Fein), and the Catalan independence movement is once again making its voice heard that it should leave Spain.

Brexit, which is surely one of the most idiotic political move in the history of British politics, was only really given any traction because soon to be ex Prime Minister David Cameron took a gamble that it would fall and his premiership would remain intact until such time as he could depart the stage gracefully. Instead, by releasing the ball into the roulette wheel of public opinion, he has accidentally landed on Double Zero and nobody has won. Cameron's replacement will be either one of the Mad, Bad and Sad trio of Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt or Teresa May - if those three are the next logical candidates for Number Ten then God Save The Queen and heaven help the rest of us.

In the grand scheme of things, Brexit is completely understandable. A hundred years ago, Europe was plunged deep into the bloodiest and most pointless conflict that the world had ever seen; partly precipitated on the fact that none of Queen Victoria's grandchildren got on particularly all that well and their nations were all living on the drug of nationalism. Following a period where the victors thought it worthy to punish Germany for the war, they made Germany pay repatriations which utterly drove the German economy into the ground. Once the Great Depression struck, Germans who had been reduced to abject poverty and misery, decided to return to nativism in the worst possible way and it is little wonder that the rise of Hitler should follow. Naturally, this laid the groundwork for an equally bloody and pointless war and by the end of the Second World War, the only thing which people had learned was how to build more efficient killing machines and that the deaths of several hundred million people wasn't exactly the most desirable of outcomes.

It was in the rather sombre afterglow of these events that the beginnings of the European Union were established. One of the theories which led to the creation of the European Steel and Coal Community was that if the wheels of industry across Europe were entangled an enmeshed, then the likelihood of yet another war with the cost of a hundred million people for no good reason would be reduced. This has worked remarkably well and the gradual evolution of the European Steel and Coal Community into the European Economic Community and then finally the supranational European Union has for the most part kept peace in Europe for seventy years.
What we've seen in the meantime though, is a massive race to the bottom in terms of wages, as the left has won the cultural war, the right has won the economic war and both sides yell at each other at a vacated centre.

One of the problems that the EU has always faced is that as a supranational organisation, of itself it doesn't have any kind of general mythology to work with. One of the phrases that has been thrown about now for almost seventy years is the idea of the great "European project" as if all the countries were even remotely pulling in the same direction. Granted that not being engaged in another bloody continental war, was a massive driver to tie down and bind the various nations together but at some point it is like trying to tie down a massive custard, things will just leak out the sides.

Mythology is a powerful thing despite our modern tendencies to reject things as unscientific. The world is an amazingly complex place and it is shared myths, especially when it comes to the idea of nationhood, that helps to bind people together. I don't know if the European Union has been sufficiently mythologised for enough people to share that common story. I'd suggest that precisely because Europe as a thing is such an empty concept, that this has left a space for far right groups to leak into.
Europe must by definition be a cosmopolitan space. The problem that I see that it was always going to face against the tide of nativist and downright atavistic forces is that it is impossible to present any reasonable tools to combat them. From a philosophical standpoint, I don't think that there are any tools other than gentle ridicule which make any sense because modernity by its nature can not provide any sensible overarching mythology to hold such a cosmopolitan thing together.

Nativism is an immensely powerful tool. One only needs to look to the United States which is so American that even ridicule of its mythology, forms part of the mythology. You can look at everything that doesn't work in the United States and it still holds together as a coherent concept. Even someone like Donald Trump who is obviously and overtly a nativist, has never been accused of not being American. America is very very good at being America and that's despite being a country of 330 million people. Europe though, just isn't all that good at being Europe.
Britain by virtue of once presiding over an empire on which the sun never set (because God doesn't trust the British in the dark), was one of the better countries to have in the EU; not because they have some sense of destiny driving them forward but because Britain as a nation knows what it means to not have things work properly. One of the great ironies of Britain being in the EU was that it was precisely because of its complaining about the EU's impotence and incompetence that it deserved to be there.

I can't speak for most of Europe because I don't speak the languages and therefore I don't have the necessary cultural grounding to make assessments that make any real sense but one the reasons that Europe will be poorer for Great Britain leaving the EU is Britain's almost obsessive celebration of failure.
If you were to look at the way that this is expressed in something like comedy, Britain is replete with characters who are colossal failures. Steptoe, Hyacinth Bucket, Blackadder et al. are all essentially tragic characters who never really succeed in life. Across the Atlantic, you're more likely to find someone dysfunctional like Jerry Seinfeld who never really suffers a loss of dignity at all.

It says something equally as tragic that no British team honestly expects to win a World Cup in any sport at all and even the early exit of the Three Lions from Euro 2016 at the hands of a jubilant Iceland which has a population which is smaller than the local council that I live in, is not really anything out of the ordinary. I once saw a banner at Wimbledon, on Henman's hill, which said "We Support Henman All The Way (To The Quarter Finals).
This is what the European Union is going to miss. Britain joined the common market only after being rejected several times before and even then, once it was inside, it was a grudging partner. Britain brought to the European Union, a sense of dour and dowdy pessimism. This is very different to say Germany which brings a great deal of Prussian work ethic, or Italy which is amazingly chaotic and still has a sense of style. Smaller countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Portugal etc. are all looking to see what benefits they can get from standing up with the big players but only Britain was really prepared to stand up with a sense of its own identity and say that things were rubbish if they were.

In the absence of some grand all encompassing mythology which describes all of Europe, Britain's contribution as the petulant child was valuable. Left to itself, Germany and France will naturally try and assume that they are the stars of the show; to the detriment of everyone else. Britain which once controlled an empire from a series of office blocks in the square mile, ceased to roar and bray with the force of the lion and the unicorn a very long time ago but it admirably took up its new role of Tigger and Eeyore. People forget that these were the creations of the very British AA Milne and that while Eeyore was the embodiment of rolling pessimism and Tigger enthusiasm mixed with incompetence, they were both inadvertent statements about the British character. People will also forget that when Europe invariably implodes (which it will almost do), the British smugness which will say "I told you so" will just be the other side of that same pessimism and petulance which Britain displayed inside the EU.

I don't think that the European Union has failed in its job at all. I think that Britain voting to leave the EU is like finding out how a magician does a trick, no longer being impressed by it and then wondering what the point was in the first place. Aside from the ugliness of racism which has tainted this whole thing, the British people have correctly surmised that the EU is a giant bureaucratic mess but by being the first ones to pull their cog out of the great European machine, they risk unentangling and unmeshing all the cogs; which will send Europe spinning back towards the likelihood of yet another war with the cost of a hundred million people for no good reason.
If everyone decides to start releasing the ball into the roulette wheel of public opinion, then all across Europe more nations will land on Double Zero and that means nobody wins at all.

June 25, 2016

Horse 2130 - How To Vote In The Senate - A Visual Representation

Once upon a time in the land of the past, when I was eleven years old, my sixth grade teacher Mrs Cruise was concerned that our class was forming cliques. I got the impression that there may have been a great deal of paranoia because we were told to be careful in case we were attacked for our shoes. She was worried about us joining or forming gangs (or in her severely vowel shifted Melbournian accent "gengs").
One of the projects that she did, which I suppose was trying to prove her suspicion that we were divided into groups down racial lines, was to get us all to write down the names of the three people who we wanted to sit next to the most.
From the data collected, she then generated a sociograph in the hope that it would show how divided we were. It didn't. All it ended up doing was showing that there was a broad gender divide, which was understandable considering that we were all eleven years old and boys and girls tend not to mix at that age, and that as a group we were surprisingly united and connected. Her suspicions that we were divided along lines of race was entirely unfounded; probably because as kids who lived in one of the most multicultural areas of the country, seeing other kids who looked different to ourselves was totally normal.
I make mention of this because political discourse in this country is often seen as being split down lines of class and or race. Is this true though? This is going to sound ridiculous but just like my sixth grade class, it is possible to generate a sociograph of who is connected to who in politics. Also just like my sixth grade class, the various political parties have indicated who they would most like to sit next to in the great classrooms we call the House Of Representatives and the Senate, through their "How To Vote" material.


The first thing that struck me as really weird is that so many parties simply tell the voter to put a 1 in their own box and then just number the other boxes as they like. Either this is done because the parties genuinely want to respect the integrity of the franchise of the voter, or the lack of direction for other preferences is due to apathy or neglect. If it is the latter set of options then this lack of preferences is bad for democracy because it presents less information than which could have been given and also presents a lack of signals as to how they might vote on legislation in the event that they are elected to parliament.

One of the things that emerges from the data is the large number of solitary entities. If this was a primary school classroom, then as a teacher you'd be worried about the children who appear to have no connection to anyone else because these children are more likely to be bullied. In politics though, where the game is essentially adversarial in nature, this poses less of a problem.
It could be that solitary entities tend to be single issue parties; in which case, they don't really have any preferences as to where the preferences go - it's either all or nothing. It could also be that the other parties don't really see them as having much hope at all; if this is true then directing preferences there is a waste of time as far as other parties are concerned.

The other thing which emerges are two broad groups.
One on side are Labor, The Greens, Animal Justice and the Sex Party. On the other are the Liberal/Nationals, Family First, Australian Liberty and Christian Democrat parties.
I don't see that these groups emerge because of some altruistic desire to see these other parties in parliament but rather, are being used as signals to convey the image that they'd like to project about themselves. I find it interesting that if you were to map the parties on the political compass, then the groups show a tendency along the north-south Authoritarian/Libertarian axis as opposed to the west-east Statist/Market axis. The exception appears to be the Liberal Democrats who appear in the How To Vote preference for both the Labor and Liberal parties; having said that, I don't think that David Leonheijlm will be re-elected to the Senate.

The Greens have a tendency to reciprocate preferences being directed in their direction; as does Labor and the Animal Justice Party but the Liberal and Nationals although they are surrounded by a cloud of other parties, do not.

The other two two standouts from the data are the two loners. The Nick Xenophon Group has nobody directing voters to preference them and neither do they direct voters to preference anyone else. The other solitary party is the Jackie Lambie Network which apart from sounding like the name of an insane Tea Party-esque AM radio station which has Khe Sahn and Sounds Of Then on constant repeat, tells people to vote them as 1 and to vote the Liberals last. When you're only required to number either six boxes above the line or twelve boxes below, this instruction seems entirely redundant to me. I personally hope that the people of Tasmania vote for Ms Lambie if for no other reason than her continued comedy podcast from the floor of the Senate.

I don't know what it says about me but my own personal How To Vote Card would be picking parties from opposite ends of the spectrum who aren't even remotely connected in this sociogram.
Usually I don't pay any attention to How To Vote Cards because inside the confines of the ballot box, I take obsessive ownership of my vote and I don't really like to be told who to vote for. However, if we apply the adage that you can tell a lot about someone by the friends that they keep then How To Vote Cards serve as a set of formal signals to tell who aligns with who.

June 24, 2016

Horse 2129a - Ten Minutes Later


The Story So Far - in less than 10 minutes after the result has been officially called:
- The Pound Sterling has fallen more than 11%, in its single worst day of trading.
- Sinn Fein have called for a referendum on the reunification of Ireland
- The Scottish National Party have called for another referendum for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom.
- There have been calls in The Netherlands, Italy, France and Spain to hold their own referenda to leave the EU.
- The Nikkei 225 has fallen 7.7% and the ASX 200 has fallen 3.6%

Horse 2129 - Oh Britannia, What Hast Thou Done?

In case you hadn't noticed, 2016 has been declared by the United Nations as the International Year Of The Howling Moron. To celebrate this, people are encouraged to do the most brainless and fundamentally idiotic things that they can think of. Russian football fans have taken this to mean causing ruckuses (ruckii?) in the streets of France, New Zealand held a flag referendum to choose and then reject the wrong flag and China has thought it worthy to engage in a spirit of bravado by declaring that it owns a bunch of islands that would otherwise be worthless to anybody.

The United States has done its part by rejecting the only half way sensible candidate for President in a generation and has thrown up a man who appears to have a gerbil resting on his head and a lady who doesn't remember where almost 3000 of her emails went; even if they were related to bombing raids in Benghazi.
In Australia, our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull decided to hold a double dissolution election over an issue which was so monumentally boring that literally every news outlet has forgotten about it and furthermore, we've had a series of debates between Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten which have been so dull that there is video of someone in the  audience watching MasterChef right in the middle of the debate.
The other major power in the Anglophone world (sorry New Zealand and Canada, you have both proven yourselves to be sensible and therefore intelligible to take part in the IYHM) is the United Kingdom and they have truly outdone all of us.

The United Kingdom has held a referendum to decide whether or not to remain in the European Union. The UK was always the nasty child of Europe; having spent almost 20 years whinging to join what was at first the European Coal and Steel Community and then the European Economic Community. France and Germany both originally objected to the UK joining the EEC because they saw it as a proxy for the United States to dump a whole bunch of manufactured goods and agricultural produce in Europe. France at the time was busily subsidising their inefficient farmers who wanted to spend their time living the good life and Germany was in a state of rebuilding itself and generally applying for readmission into the civilised world following the unpleasantnesses of the first half of the century.
From about 1979 after the Thatcher Government did its level best to kick what was left of British industry in the head until it bled, after John Major spent six years apologising for simultaneously not being Ms Thatcher and not fixing any of the resulting problems caused, after  Blair and Brown led the country into two wars based on the premise of lies and David Cameron still not caring about a generation who were still affected by decisions from thirty years' previous, the economy of the UK reorganised itself so that the only truly profitable industry was as a result of moving the giant pile of money around between various buildings in The Square Mile and Canary Wharf.

It is in this environment that Cameron promised a referendum on Europe because part of the deal with his reelection was a continuing of the narrative that it wasn't the fault of various governments nor The Squares Mile or Canary Wharf that the UK's star had fallen so far out of the sky, but all those confoundin' immigrants coming over here and doing the jobs that Britons won't do; at reasonable rates.
The debate for the last few weeks has been a stellar mess of microwaved bile and acid, all served in an indigestible right-wing formula with a name which itself sounds like a cure for constipation - Brexit.
Meanwhile the unglamorous Remain campaign has been mostly drowned out with its broad message of please don't throw everything in the garbage bin and then expect us to eat our dinner out of it later.
Brexit has mainly been headed up by Boris Johnson who trades on his buffoonery and I suspect is himself using this as a training exercise to unseat David Cameron in Number Ten, and Nigel Farage whose name autocorrects to Nigel Garage and who doesn't appear to have any tangible idea of what he wants to do post referendum if the UK actually does decide to leave. The Remain campaign has resorted to listing people who think that staying in Europe is a good idea, in lieu of the fact that trying to persuade people with well reasoned argument is about as useful as putting a pumpkin on top of your motor car - you could do it but there'd be little point and no one would care anyway.

After all of this, the British people decided to leave Europe. I suppose that you could argue that democracy has won the day but really all this has proven is that provided you can whip up enough xenophobia among a populace, you can make them do anything. Nigel Farage might claim that he has been right for a lot of years but really the winners are The Sun, The Daily Express and the Daily Mail, for whom this fits in with their existing narrative.
I don't really know if this vindicates Charles De Gaulle who didn't want the UK to join the EEC in the 1960s, or whether this shows that Britain was never really committed to the great European experiment, or whether the UK is the first of the rats to jump off the ship of Europe before it sinks. What I do know is that at some point, the UK lurched to the right and the racists found that suddenly they were being taken semi seriously.
Ironically what this does mean is that Nigel Farage, who has been the most vocal supporter of leaving Europe, will certainly lose his job as a Member of the European Parliament. This could very well mean that having achieved the only tangible thing that his party, UKIP, ever wanted, that there's literally nothing left to fight for and he and his party will fade into obscurity.

Another thing that this has proven is that the British really people like to complain about things. Complaining about things is easier than the idea of actually having to do something. This is a nation of people for whom standing in queues is a sacred pass time and when the Olympic Games were held in their own country in 2012, won all of their gold medals in sports where the competitors were sitting down.
Britain loves the idea of complaining about Europe because as an island nation, Europe as a concept is nebulously "over there" and it's always easy to complain about things in the abstract. It's fun too.

As we continue in this the International Year Of The Howling Moron, the next events to be held are our own Festival Of The Vote in Australia where we will choose between two men who promise to be the most boring Prime Minister in history while continuing with sets of policies ranging from the cruel to the crazy, the Olympics in Brazil where even if you don't win a medal you still win a case of the Zika virus, and of course the car accident of the United States Presidential race where whatever happens we all lose but can't look away.


Aside:


One of the strangest results of the whole referendum was that the people of Liverpool and Manchester both voted to Remain while places around them voted to Leave. If I recall correctly, Liverpool and Manchester agreeing on anything is one of the signs of the Apocalypse and I fully expect that a bridleway will be opened between the two cities so that a particular Four Horsemen can make use of the facilities. The paperwork and filing of the legal documents necessary to open the bridleway is being handled by law firm War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death as I understand it.

June 18, 2016

Horse 2128 - Queensland: The 30 Screaming Kids At The Back Of The Plane

Everyone has been one of those flights where you have a screaming child, who throughout the whole flight yells to such a degree that everyone on board including the child’s parents, suddenly wishes to go temporarily deaf. Despite everyone’s best efforts and even though the flight stewards bring the child excessive amounts of chocolate and fizzy drink, the child will simply not be quiet.

I want you to imagine that we’re on board flight HR2016 which is bound for Canberra and will land on July 2. There are 150 passengers on board and most of them are seated comfortably. Some have never switched seats in their whole life and then there’s Queensland which are the 30 screaming kids at the back of the plane.

Some time ago, Queenslanders worked out that if they yelled loudly enough and acted really childishly (in some cases even going so far as to elect some real wingnuts), that they could get the plane flight that is the House of Representatives, to change direction just by having everyone simultaneously switch sides of the place at once.

This was a trick that they’d learned with their own state parliament. In the last 100 years, Queensland has only really had 8 broad changes of government. Even so, it was only really after the Premiership of Peter Beattie that the steady ride of Queensland state politics became broken and since then it’s been lurching ever since.

In 2012, Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party won government with the then single biggest swing in Australian electoral history at any level; with a 13.7% swing towards the Liberal National Party. Three years later in 2015, Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor won government with and even bigger swing to set the new biggest swing in Australian electoral history at any level; with a 14.0% swing towards the Labor Party.
With Queensland’s state parliaments lurching one way and then the other, it should come as a surprise to no-one that this week, both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten made trips to Queensland, to try and satisfy the 30 screaming kids at the back of the plane and hopefully get then all to sit on the same side and make the plane flight that is the House of Representatives, tilt in their preferred direction.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. In the 2004 election Labour won 6 seats to the Coalition’s 21 seats in Queensland. In 2007, there was an 8.1% swing to Labor and they won 15 seats to the Coalition’s 10 seats in Queensland and with them, government. In 2010, there was a 9.3% swing away from Labour and they went from 15 to just 8 seats while the Coalition picked up 11 extra seats to bring them to 21 again.

In 1972 when Gough Whitlam was swept to power, his Labor government won 8 seats to the Coalition’s 10 seats in Queensland but three years’ later in the December election following The Dismissal in 1975, Labor almost suffered total electoral annihilation with Bill Hayden remaining as the sole Labor MP in Queensland to the Coalition’s 17 seats.

Mike Murphy of the The Weekly Standard in Washington, declared back in March this year that 2016 was the “Year Of The Howling Moron”, which reference to the way that the media in the United States had a collective pile on for Donald Trump. We in Australia perhaps aren’t a lot better but given that both Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten are mostly entirely reasonable chaps (despite the partisanship of the media), I don’t think that applies in Australia. A sobriquet that might apply for our own 2016 Federal Election could be the “Year Of The Screaming Children” but looking at the long game of Australian politics, I’m tempted to think that every election cycle in Australia has the potential to be the “Year Of The Screaming Children” depending on which side on the plane that the 30 screaming kids at the back decide to run towards.

I fully expect that on July 2, Labour will win 8 seats to the Coalition’s 21 seats and Bob Katter’s 1 seat in Queensland but the thing is that you never know with Queensland. This is the state that can give double digit swings for no discernable reason other that the 30 screaming kids at the back of the plane want more fizzy drink.


Aside:
There are about 20 different  pages that I used to compile this; they are all found from this jumping off point. 

June 17, 2016

Horse 2127 - St George Slays The Dragon At The Death

I don't know what if anything is going through Roy Hodgson's mind to prevent him from sending out an England squad with two strikers but it really needs to stop. England put away Sales 2-1 after being 1-0 down thanks to a stellar free kick from Gareth Bale and they really needn't have been.
Nominally England started with a 4-5-1 formation and if they didn't, that's what the patterns on the field suggested. It was almost as though Raheem Sterling was spending extended periods all by his lonesome up front; with maybe Adam Lallana and Wayne Rooney occasionally moving forward to partner him.

Wales showed extraordinary amounts of pluck as they held fast against an England side which only rarely dared to push forward beyond an imaginary line which was 25 yards away from goal. Strangely it looked like a hold and contain policy from England, which was pointless as Wales neither needed to be held nor contained.
Wales broke the goose egg deadlock in the 42nd minute with Gareth Bale pulling off a brilliant dead ball striker from 35 yards away after Wayne Rooney fouled Hal Robson-Kanu. Bale's strike cleared the wall and curled nicely downwards and to the right and it was all that English keeper Joe Hart could do to lay a feeble hand upon it before it evaded him and snuck between him and the post. Wales must have gone into the dressing room at half time with a sense that all they needed to do was more of the same as they had already done the job once for 45 minutes.

England appeared to wake up after the break and began to push forward with a little more bite; this was helped by the replacement of Raheem Sterling with Daniel Sturridge and Harry Kane with Jamie Vardy. In the jungle the Three Lions had been sleeping and it took a Red Dragon to stir them from their stupor.
There were occasions where England would break behind the Welsh back four but Ashley Williams and James Chester in central defence managed to hold together a structure which if it couldn't keep England out of the 18 yard box, could cut off any direct attacks. Apart from a weak dribbly shot from Rooney, which prompted a save from Wayne Hennessey, the Welsh forcefield held out.

England equalised in the 56th minute following a corner and a thump by Joe Vardy which banged into the ground before bouncing over Hennessey. There were calls for offside as Vardy was clearly behind the last player to such a degree that the line of the six yard box clearly delineated the fact. What the linesman had seen and the reason why his flag remained down was because the ball had come off the head of Williams which meant that Vardy had been played onside.


Even after the equaliser, Wales kept their nerve and even though England probably had more shots in the 20 minutes after their goal than they'd had in the first half, Wales were able to break out and play counter attacking football; with Lallana and Alli hooking up to trouble Hennessey on more than one occasion.
The match appeared to look as though it was going to be one of those hard fought 1-1 draws which everyone immediately forgets but in twenty seconds of confusion and yelling in injury time, Daniel Sturridge pushed home the winner in 93rd minute after the ball had bobbled around the penalty area like a pinball caught in a tumble dryer. Sturridge's first goal for England since the World Cup almost two years ago, was neither pretty nor confident but it was valuable, as it bagged England three points and sent them to the top of Group B. 2-1, job done.

The thing that should be taken away from this fixture is that timidity does get you nowhere. England should be a better side on paper but football isn't played on paper, it is played with 22 players, green grass and a football; there is only one football - control that and you control the game.
I think that I speak in the grand chorus of fifty years of long-suffering of England fans when I say that we prefer attacking football even if it does result in the odd loss. It is better to have gone down fighting and have been rubbish than to play beautiful diamond standard football, if the result is still going to be failure. Believe me, England fans know about failure.

England now only needs to draw against Slovakia to pick up one point to escape the group stage. Wales already dealt with them 2-0 and so again, England should be able to deal with them. It would be better though if England were to show a little more teeth because once they're out of the group stages, every match means either bite or be bitten. Even though England is on average the youngest team in the tournament, virtually all of them have played in Cup football or European competition long enough to be more than up to the task.
If Roy Hodgson doesn't want to become yet another name on the list of England managers who have failed in half a century, he should have noticed that England play better with more up front and score more goals by using more firepower.

Horse 2126 - Why Left Is Right, Right Is Wrong And Why Switching Sides Goes Backwards

With production of the Ford Falcon coming to an end in a fortnight's time and the Toyota Camry and the Holden Commodore also ceasing production in 2017, it means that by November 2017, there will be zero cars being produced in Australia. From November 2017, we will be the only nation in the G20 who will be incapable of making motor cars.
Partly this is because Australia has never been in charge of its own destiny with regards to this, with decisions being made in Detroit and Tokyo and partly this is due to government policy, as embodied by the then Treasurer Joe Hockey thundering and daring the auto makers to leave, from the floor of the parliament.

I heard an argument this week that Australia should consider changing which side of the road that it drives on, to allow the import of cars from more places. While there is some merit in that, I think that there is a better case for staying on the left hand side of the road.

As it stands, the only places that do drive on the left side of the road are those places which are the remnants of the British Empire and Japan who kind of inherited driving on the left side as a result of the protocols developed for railways and tramways, both of which the British helped to set up in Japan. This means that the market for right hand drive cars in the world is considerably smaller than left hand drive cars. In consequence, cars which are built in right hand drive, tend to be built to the highest standards of safety so that they'll be compliant in those countries and the country with the highest safety standards in the world is none other than Australia.

Even though side impact protection bars are not mandatory in Japan, Japanese cars which are built for export tend to have them anyway. Even though design regulations for the United Kingdom also do not mandate side impact protection bars, they have them anyway. By forcing the car makers in Australia to comply with the toughest safety standards in the world and forcing importers to make their cars compliant with those same design regulations, a relatively small market like Australia has forced the hand of multinational corporations, to the point that if they need to comply with a set of standards for one market, then they may as well do it for all of them. The cars which tend not to comply with the Australian Design Regulations are those which generally are cheaper and are never intended for export beyond their domestic markets.

I expect that the car makers will want to exercise some sort of force and push back against the Australian Design Regulations. They will argue that it is only Australia who has made some things mandatory and that this just adds unnecessary expense to the cost of motor cars. However, unlike practically every country in the world, Australia has vast distances where the roads don't have hard shoulders and so the government should stand strong on this issue. Of course this also means that cars produced for Australia are invariably more expensive and this has a secondary effect. We get better quality stuff.

Although it isn't mentioned very often, the build quality of the Chevrolet SS is better than the Cadillac CTS. You can see this even if you pop the hood and look at things like welding in the engine bay. The reason for this is that the Chevrolet SS, is really just our Holden Commodore which has been built in left hand drive and carries golden bowties rather than the lion on the front. In the United States, the equivalent car in the Chevrolet lineup is the Impala. I suspect though that if we switched to driving on the right hand side of the road, cars like the Impala, the North American variants of the Malibu, Cruze and Aveo as well as Ford's Taurus, Focus and Fiesta built in Mexico would be foisted upon us; without any reduction in price despite the obvious reduction in build quality. It wouldn't just be GM and Ford either. Every single auto maker would look at this nation as a wide brown wallet, just ready to be pickpocketed.

By staying on the left hand side of the road, we continue to ensure that we get cars built to a higher price point, such as suitable for the United Kingdom or Japan; that means that we're far more likely to get cars which are capable of surviving the conditions which we make them suffer in Australia.

There is one incidental and practical reason why we should remain on the left hand side of the road. The last two countries to switch over were Sweden and Iceland in the late 1960s. Both of them would fit into New South Wales and still have room to spare. Changing over to the right hand side of the road means turning all of the signs around and altering the shapes of many intersections. We wouldn't be doing that on the scale of a country the size of Iceland or Sweden but of a country which occupies an entire continent. We live in a country where distances are sometimes measured in days and not kilometres; where you sometimes don't even see the name of the town that you're driving to on highway signs and when you do, the distance comes with a four digit number.

My question is this. Is it really worth our expense to buy lower quality motor cars, to lower the safety standards to which those cars are built and to go to the effort of changing tens of thousands of kilometres of road infrastructure, just to ultimately satisfy the whims of the auto makers who will abandon us and have already done so in some cases?

I don't make the argument that driving on the left hand side of the road is somehow safer or better because the statistics are so close together that they may as well be identical but I do say that the net benefit to us to change over is worse than zero.

June 16, 2016

Horse 2125 - Things Will Be Great When You're Downtown

I was delivering a packet of documents to a client yesterday and had to make my way into the city. Thanks to the maelstrom of chaos that is Wynyard Station whilst it is under renovation, instead of passing underground and through the Hunter Connection¹, I went upwards to street level and crossed George Street.
Where the ramps meet George Street, there was a busker with a burnt out guitar; with the message "this machine kills fascists" in a Woody Guthrie style scrawl, playing the Tony Hatch song "Downtown", which was made famous by Petula Clark.
He wasn't playing it in that summery pop style though. As he strummed every chord, it was as if he was trying to rend the hearts of passers by and his voice was like nineteen broken bottles being scraped down a chalkboard.
Played like that, it added a whole dimension to the song; which I'd never thought about before.

When you're alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go, downtown
When you've got worries all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help I know, downtown

If life is making you lonely, then going downtown isn't likely to cure that. The noise and the hurry might drown out your internal monologue for a while but it still ultimately doesn't change the fact that we all suffer from a sort of existential or cosmic loneliness, where nobody else can see the world from where we do.

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city
Linger on the sidewalk, where the neon signs are pretty
How can you lose? The lights are much brighter there

I suppose that all of the flashy lights are a show of sorts. At least walking around downtown at night is cheaper than burning your money in the grand neon ballrooms filled with pokies in this city. How can you lose? You lose far less when the layout is nothing.

You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares
So go
Downtown, things will be great when you're
Downtown, no finer place for sure
Downtown, every thing's waiting for you

I'm already starting to see false promises in this song. Things will be great when you're downtown? Really? Can you really run away from all your troubles and all your cares that easily? Forget all your troubles, forget all your cares? You can try but I don't know how successful you'll be.

Don't hang around and let your problems surround you
There are movie shows, downtown
Maybe you know some little places to go
To where they never close, downtown

The solution offered here, rather than wandering around aimlessly in the electric neon paradise and jaundice stained of 580nm light produced by sodium lighting, is to watch other flashy shows in a darkened room.
Going to places that never close sounds to me like visiting pubs or wine bars. If you're all alone and by yourself downtown, that is a pretty sad sort of thing to do. Instead of distraction by the cinema, this person is suggesting self medication by ethyl alcohol produced by the fermentation of vegetable produce.

Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova
You'll be dancing with 'em too before the night is over happy again
The lights are much brighter there
You can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares

I suspect that the world of the 1960s that this was written in the face of is long long gone. This was way before the invention of disco, punk and electronic music. Maybe you might find samba and jazz music being played in the 1960s but not today.

And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you
Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand
To guide them along so maybe I'll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares

The proverb says that "misery loves company" and maybe there is some perverse consolation for people who are unhappy in knowing that others are unhappy as well.

I guess that all this proves is that when viewed through a different prism, you can find all sort of thing that you didn't see before. Then again, maybe as George despaired² in the episode The Bottle Deposit: "I got nothing".
As this guy played, hoping for the change which the passers by might throw into his guitar case, he became the personification of the almost desperation which he'd found in this song. He found the soul of this song, drained it of its shallow happiness and then spun it round on its head.

It was an interesting sort of piece of theatre. Here this man was, surrounded by all the noise and the hurry of downtown Sydney, standing out the front of Wynyard Station which itself is a shambles and speaking to the crowds who were mostly ignoring him. It was a brilliant piece of dramatic irony.

Things will be great when you're downtown - yeah right.

¹Someday we'll find it, the Hunter Connection, the lovers, the dreamers and me.
²Seinfeld - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzUICBMQBNU

June 14, 2016

Horse 2124 - America Sacrifices His Son

2 Columbia 15:1-22

After all this, Sekunda Mehendment tested America. Sekunda Mehendment said, “America!”
“Yes?” answered America. “I’m listening.”

He said, “Take your dear son Liberty whom you love and go to the land of Moron. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I’ll point out to you.”

America got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants and his son Liberty. He had split wood for the burnt offering. He set out for the place Sekunda Mehendment had directed him. On the third day he looked up and saw the place in the distance. America told his two young servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I are going over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.”

America took the wood for the burnt offering and gave it to Liberty his son to carry. He carried the flint and the gun. The two of them went off together.
Liberty said to America his father, “Father?”
“Yes, my son.”
“We have flint and wood, but where’s the sheep for the burnt offering?”
America said, “Don’t be silly Son. Sekunda Mehendment refuses to see to it that there’s a sheep for the burnt offering; so it’ll have to be you” And they kept on walking together.

They arrived at the place to which Sekunda Mehendment had directed him. America built an altar. He laid out the wood. Then he tied up Liberty and laid him on the wood. America reached out and took the gun to kill his son.
Just then an angel of SEKUNDA MEHENDMENT called to him out of Heaven, “America! America!”
“Yes, I’m listening.”
“Kill that boy! Don’t let him live! Now I know how fearlessly you fear Sekunda Mehendment; you didn’t hesitate to place your son, your dear son, on the altar for me.”
America looked up. America shot his son and left him to die. He then sacrificed his son to the god Sekunda Mehendment.

America named that place LIBERTY MAVETH (LIBERTY DIES). That’s where we get the saying, “On the mountain of SEKUNDA MEHENDMENT, this is how LIBERTY DIES, with thunderous applause.”

The angel of SEKUNDA MEHENDMENT spoke from Heaven a second time to America:
“I swear—SEKUNDA MEHENDMENT’s sure word!—because you have gone through with this, and have sacrificed your son, your dear, dear son, I’ll haunt you—oh, how I’ll haunt you! And I’ll make sure that your children continue to be sacrificed upon this same altar—like sheep in a pen! like sheep trapped forever in a pen! And your descendants will forever and pointlessly attack their enemies. All nations on Earth will find themselves trembling in fear and aghast at your rank stupidity because you obeyed me.”

Then America went back to his young servants. They got things together and returned to the city of Violence. America settled down in Violence and there he remains to this day.

June 11, 2016

Horse 2123 - Turnbull To Be The Next Prime Minister

For 76 of the 115 years of federation, the Commonwealth of Australia has been governed by centre-right governments. From the Protectionist to Commonwealth Liberal; to the United Australia and Liberal Parties, with help from the Country and National Parties, two thirds of the time, Australians will vote for mostly conservative and it must be said, timid government.
When Australia does end up voting in Labor governments, it is almost always as the result of some major disaster or political doom bomb. The most obvious examples were, Scullin's government which was voted in a fortnight before the Great Depression, Curtin's government which was voted in during the Second World War, Whitlam's government which was voted in during the Vietnam War, Hawke's government which was voted in following the period of stagflation, and Rudd's government which was voted in following the period of malaise after the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars.
Labor governments aren't voted into power in Australia because the public necessarily likes them but because the centre-right governments have managed to mess things up royally.

The media though, likes to talk about a 50-50 narrative because it helps to sell copy. Not that this even makes an iota of difference because the popular vote does not decide governments. In 1998 Kim Beazley failed to take the Labor Party to government, even with a 4.6% swing and winning 50.98% of the total votes. The margin was still 80-67. To win government in Australia, you need to start flipping seats over.
According to the ABC's House of Representatives Swing Calculator, there needs to be a uniform swing of 4.1% to Labor to give them the necessary 19 seats to claim government. However, if the story is about flipping seats, then I think a very different algorithm is needed.

Instead of looking at a uniform swing of 4.1%, I looked at the last five election results for the central thirty electorates because you can generally assume that seats neat the edges, are as safe as houses. The seat of Batman, has been Labor in not only the last five elections but all elections since 1972. Likewise the seat of Mallee, has been in National (Country) hands for not only the last five elections but all elections since 1972.

In Australian Rules football, a good rule of thumb is to look at the last five results.
Five wins usually indicates that the team is on a roll and will probably win the next as well.
Four wins usually indicates that the team is on a roll and that that one loss was a blip.
Four lossses usually indicates that the team is stuck in a rut and that that one win was lucky.
Five lossses  usually indicates that the team just plain hopless and you may as well just give up.
However...
Three wins or losses is tricky. This is going to sound absurd but if you look at the second to last result, looking back over the past 30 years gives you a very good chance that that will be the next one, irrespective of what the majority of those results was.

If you apply these rules to those central thirty electorates which need to flip, then they fall as follows; with the seats that I predict would change hands in bold:

Swan - AALLL - L
Casey- LLLLL - L
Boothby - LLLLL - L
Longman - LLALL - L
Dickson - LLLLL - L
Flynn - AAANN - N
Herbert - LLLLL - L
Burt - ALALL - L
Hasluck - ALALL - L
Leichardt - LLALL - L
Dunkley - LLLLL - L
Cowan - AALLL - L
Macquarie - LLALL - L
Forde - LLALL - L
Brisbane - AAALL - L
Bass - ALAAL - A
Latrobe - LLLAL - L
Corangamite - LLAAL - A
Gilmore - LLLLL - L
Bonner - ALALL - L
Macarthur - LLLLL - L
Reid - AAAAL - A
Deakin - LLAAL - A
Page - NNAAN - A
Robertson - LLAAL - A
Lindsay - LLAAL - A
Eden-Monaro - LLAAL - A
Banks - AAAAL - A
Braddon - ALAAL - A
Hindmarsh - LAAAL - A
Solomon - LLALL - L
Lyons - AAAAL - A
Capricornia - AAAAN - A
Petrie - LLAAL - A
By my reckoning, 14 seats are going to change hands at the next election and that probably the rest of the seats outside those 30 are safe.

This leaves us with a conundrum. If 14 seats change hands (not including the seat of Fairfax which if you don't include Clive Palmer, has been an only Liberal seat since 1972) then this leaves Labor on 71, the Coalition on 75 and 4 independent seats. They would be Denison, which is Andrew Wilkie's, Cathy McGowan's seat of Indi which is unlikely to return to the Liberal's Sophie Mirabella, the seat of Kennedy which is Bob Katter's and Melbourne which is almost certainly going to sure up for Adam Bandt.
71 seats means that Labor would not win government; even with the support of all the independents.
75 seats means that the Coalition would not win government in their own right and would need the support of at least one the independents - Bob Katter would probably support the Coalition on matters of supply.
I think that there'd probably have to be at least a swing of 7.5% to unseat the current government. The last time that we had anything that wild was after the destructive double dissolution following The Dismissal. Quite frankly, that sort of thing happens only in exceptional circumstances and the 2016 election as far as I can tell, is far from exceptional.

Three years ago, I predicted the last election². Nobody saw what was coming in 2010 and everyone could see what was brewing in 2007 from a mile away. The 2016 election race is less exciting than watching paint dry but not as exciting as waiting for it to peel.

So then, here are my predictions:
1. There will be a hung parliament 71-75 in favour of the Coalition.
2. Bob Katter will give his support to the Coalition by 10am on July 5th.
3. Malcolm Turnbull will be returned as the Prime Minister.

Bill Shorten will not be elected Prime Minister because the public doesn't like him but because Turnbull's government hasn't yet had time to mess things up royally. At least in tone, Turnbull's government has been a return to mostly conservative and timid government and Australia mostly likes that. Two-thirds of the time, it's who we've voted for since federation.

¹http://www.abc.net.au/news/federal-election-2016/guide/calculator/
²http://rollo75.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/horse-1527-abbott-to-be-next-prime.html

June 08, 2016

Horse 2122 - Our Timid Politics Is A Blessing

I think that it's fair to say that neither the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull nor the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, are the most exciting of politicians. Given the turmoil of the last decade, which was only outshone by the first ten years of the Commonwealth following federation in terms of turnover in the premiership, maybe that's a good thing.
In pulling back from the edge and stepping away from the precipice of chaos, the two leaders and indeed the parties themselves have retreated into themselves. This has had the result, that in the leader's debates and in this campaign, that both Bill and Malcolm have had to revert to attacking caricatures of each other because reality is just too dull.
Just look at the words of the descriptions being used. Malcolm Turnbull to a degree and people like Scott Morrison especially, will say "Labor" this and "Labor" that; while Bill can only make half hearted jibes about how rich Malcolm is.

I think that this is mainly because both sides have realised that the great reforms and experiments of the 1980s, which were expressed overseas in Reaganomics and Thatcherism, and enacted in Australia by Hawke, Keating and Howard, have either run their course or have been played out to completion. If the first half of the twentieth century was about installing the beginnings of infrastructure and the latter half was about setting up the welfare state and then selling the infrastructure back off again, then the opening decades of the twenty-first century have been about nothing more than basic economic management.
For whatever reason, politics seems to have come to the conclusion that there's nothing left for government to do or that apart from a little bit of tinkering, the machine is almost capable of running itself. Interest rates are barely conscious, economic growth is also mostly on autopilot and unemployment is increasingly being seen as the responsibility of the individual.
When you have government pulling back from what was once expected of it, this is bound to have consequences. Around the world, politics has been generally drifting to the economic right, to places that individual nations are broadly comfortable with, and this has meant that political parties have had to change where they choose to fight political battles on. Those battles are now mostly being fought on social policy and on the authoritarian / libertarian axis.

Broadly speaking in Australia, both the Labor Party and the Liberal/National Coalition are mostly the same when it comes to economic policy. The Liberals have been pulled a little bit by the hard right of the party and Labor now finds itself in a policy wedge between the Liberals and the Greens. The Greens have moved from being a party of mainly environmental policy to one with a libertarian social mindset and have made noises that indicate that they've taken notes from Labor's old discarded economic playbook.

This phenomena isn't unique to Australia at all. In the United States, the Republicans and Democrats line up almost to a fault with regards economic policy. Despite the bluster, the Obama administration isn't broadly different to either the Bush or Clinton administrations which came before it. What we have seen though is an undercurrent of unhappiness which has followed as a result of the two parties slow drift to the economic right.
The conditions which caused Donald Trump to rise to the top in the current maelstrom, have been visible for some time. We could look at the Tea Party which yelled from the economic right and authoritarian north and estimate that that was some prototype variant for it. A Trump administration probably wouldn't pull the economy any further to the economic right but the fact that he does favour isolationist policy, indicates that it might shift to the authoritarian North.
On the other side, Hillary Clinton is being pushed by a very vocal libertarian south set of social policy makers but apart from making token announcements on the minimum wage (because she was forced to respond to Bernie Sanders), there is no indication whatsoever that a Clinton administration would move anywhere with regards to economic policy at all.
Bernie Sanders, who at the time of writing this stands a non-zero but still trivial chance of getting the Democratic nomination, has been yelling for the economy to be pulled dramatically to the economic left. This is hardly a new message from him as he's been saying broadly the same things now for the best part of forty years. I've heard speeches from him which he'd made in the late 1970s and early 1980s and the only real differences between them are that the numbers surrounding inequality have gotten dramatically larger.

It could be argued that the current kerfuffle in the United Kingdom with regards the European Union referendum, is a proxy for the same set of arguments but the evidence just doesn't bear that out. The leave campaign, which has acquired the stupid name of Brexit, has made strange allies of the authoritarian Tory right under the very visible Boris Johnson and UKIP's Nigel Farage. Farage is closer in spirit to the far-right and borderline racist groups in Europe (as led by people like Geert Wilders and the Dutch Party for Freedom - the name smacks to me of doublespeak). Meanwhile the stay campaign under David Cameron, is hoping for that greatest of all British qualities, inactivity.
Britain has mostly fought its social battles and what we've seen is that the economic right mostly doesn't care and has let the libertarian south win its token symbolic fights. The economic left and the libertarian south, except for perhaps the gentle rumblings of Jeremy Corbyn, are mostly feebly timid. While Boris Johnson does like to be portrayed as a buffoon, he doesn't really represent the authoritarian north in the same way that Donald Trump does. I personally think that this is little more than a practice run for the premiership on his part. I think that Boris is eyeing off the black door of Number Ten and that this is all just a simulation at a tilt for the top spot.

Looking back at Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten, neither they or their parties have the same mad isolationist streak that either a Trump or Farage has, Shorten isn't prepared to pull the economy as far to the left as a Sanders might and neither of them have either a great reserve of insanity or buffoonery that Trump or Johnson have.
I think that politics around the world, is largely being fought on negative grounds because nobody has the inventiveness or vision to positively stand for anything. Trump is prepared to blame the world and especially immigrants for America's woes, Hillary Clinton just has to stand against Donald Trump, Brexit is claiming that everything will go to ruin if Britain is tied to the sinking ship of Europe and the stay campaign is claiming that if Britain cuts itself adrift, then the economy will wreck itself.

Neither Malcolm or Bill have any mad populist or nationalist rhetoric to fall back on. Consequently, they're nor spouting anything that's particularly bonkers. Also, because we have compulsory voting in this country, they don't really need to shout from the rooftops to get people out to vote. What they're both doing is speaking to the safe zones that both of their teams play from and to be honest, I'd rather see dull and timid politics than fifteen different kinds of madness.

June 07, 2016

Horse 2121 - I Want To See The You Yangs 500


It came to my attention that either this year's or next year's Sandown 500 could be the last because the Melbourne Racing Club who owns the land, sees more value in turning the whole thing into yet more housing estates and apartment buildings, than it does from continuing to run horse racing on the site. The argument is that Flemington already provides a sufficient horse racing venue in Melbourne, and I bet that the NIMBYs who have moved into the area have complained about the noise caused by motor racing events twice a year. This is following the same pattern as what happened to both Amaroo Park and Oran Park in Sydney. Both of those places are now nothing more than housing developments.
I believe that I have a solution to the loss of yet another motor racing venue in Australia and the best thing is that the circuits don't even need to be built.

In December of 2013, the then Treasurer Joe Hockey, thundered from the floor of the parliament and dared the automotive manufacturers to leave it they didn't like the threatened withdrawal of subsidies. Within the week, GM, Ford and Toyota all announced that they were leaving.
The thing is though that both GM and Ford had developed cars in Australia and for Australian conditions. To do this, they both built proving grounds: Ford at You Yangs and GM at Lang Lang. This means that in Victoria, there is not one but two sets of what are basically automotive playgrounds which will be totally redundant within two years (or in the case of Ford, 33 days). Without the car makers developing cars for Australia any more, the need for these tarmac and dirt helter skeleters completely disappears.
I think that it would be ace if we could persuade either Ford or General Motors to open these facilities either to the public, in the way that the Nürburgring is, or to the various motor racing clubs; so that the places which once gave us our own Falcon, Monaro, Torana, Kingswood and Commodore, would once again sing to the sounds of an automotive symphony.

Best of all because these places are out in the middle of nowhere and quite possibly next to the towns of West Woop Woop and beyond the Black Stump, the NIMBYs who have successfully whinged and wowsed their way to killing off many motor racing venues in Australia, can stay in their little cafés sipping lattes and babycinos and it won't matter. These places are so far away that the sounds of 500 horses being unleashed by V8s and turbulent terror from turbocharged titans, are only going to bother Skippy and his friends.
As Australia drives down the avenue of stupidity, burning all of its manufacturing industries and redesigning the economy, the only really viable business options left are dirt farming and money farming. With the latter, that largely means burying ever bigger piles of cash into property. With Amaroo Park and Oran Park in Sydney, that meant destroying motor racing circuits and putting houses on them. Both Lang Lang and You Yangs are so far away from civilisation that nobody in their right mind would want to live there.

The only reason that Mount Panorama still exists as a motor racing venue is that this is the biggest thing on the city's calendar. The Bathurst Sheep And Cattle Drome and the livestock industries which underpin it, might very well be the things that keep the tills ticking over most of the time but the twice a year pilgrimage to the mountain is the new glittering prize in this former gold rush town. The gold rush of the 1850s is long gone but twice a year; when the 12 Hour and the 1000 comes to town, the stress again ring with the sounds of their former glory.
What this says to me is that a motor racing venue could be viable; even if there were only one or two events there a year. Evidently though, the Melbourne Racing Club which currently runs horse races at Sandown every weekend for most of the spring, summer and autumn can't spin their dollars fast enough to make it pay. Possibly if they opened the venue to Formula One or maybe the World Endurance Championship for sports cars, they might be able to buy again, that would merely start a new chorus of NIMBYs.

Neither Lang Lang or You Yangs suffer the problems of NIMBYs or potential unrealised profits due to development because nobody lives out there. I suspect that if either of them were turned into proper facilities, that the once of twice a year pilgrimage by motor sport fans would actually increase the value of the land rather than the opposite. They may even take on mythical status like Bathurst, Spa or Nürburgring.
I mean if General Motors and Ford Motor Co are both going to drop Australian manufacturing like a plate of cold sick, the least that they could do is give us back some source of joy.

June 06, 2016

Horse 2120 - Rep For Dem, Dem For Rep - Let's Play By The Other's Rules

When most people are faced with a wet weekend and the challenge of how to fill it, I bet that they'd usually curl up with a good book or more likely these days, an entire season of some television show. When I was faced with the wet weekend that we just had in Sydney, my thoughts turned to playing with numbers and election results for the US Primaries.
The one headline that will not appear in newspapers this week is that on both sides of the divide, the front runner was never headed. No journalist who is worth their weight in dried fruit is going to run with the headline "Expected Result Happens"; even though they've been looking at the obvious for months.
I wondered what would happen if I played with the numbers and ran the results of the primaries so far, as if they'd been run according to the other party's rules. The results were entirely as expected.
If the Democratic presidential race had been run under the rules that the Republicans run under; with most states allocating delegates under a winner takes all or winner takes most basis, then the eventual totals at June 4 would have been thus:

Clinton - 1539 (win)
Sanders - 601

Hillary won a stack of states early on in the race. For the first three weeks of the race, Bernie Sanders would have still been on zero delegates. The truth is that it would have taken Bernie about a month to  crack his goose egg and even then, they were both winning states in equal measure for a while. Then came Hillary's run through the south; which also includes the glittering prizes of Florida and Texas, both of which are winner takes all states, which all means that at no point, even if the Democratic presidential race had been run under the GOP's rules, would Hillary even have looked like being overtaken. On top of that, she would have been the nominee as early as April; easily getting the 1237 needed.
This race would have been far easier to call as there were only two runners. Voters were faced with an either/or choice and so the result would have been even more cut and dried. 

On the Republican side, things were far messier:
Trump - 1325
Cruz - 906
Kasich - 467
Rubio - 426
Carson - 78
Bush - 25
All Others - 9
All of them would be well short of the 2383 needed,

Before the whole thing even began, we had arguments about who would even appear in televised debates before the first primaries and caucuses. There were so many people who threw their hat into the ring that Fox News decided to set up another ring and held another debate for what effectively was the B-side or the undercard. Even the so-called main stage still had seven candidates on it, and if you cast your minds back to last November, to say they were chaotic would be kind.
Running the numbers for the Republicans under the Democratic rules produces an equally chaotic set of numbers. I didn't include Superdelegates because quite frankly, I have no idea how they would have fallen and so the numbers are all understated.

Instead of a candidate knocking on the door of the nomination as is currently the case with the Democratic race, owing to the fact that the regular delegates are allocated on a proportional basis, even if all the Superdelegates were added back in, there would still be a multi-way brawl. There would definitely be a brokered invention, with the word "brokered" being used in the same sense as peace is brokered between warring factions.
We already got an idea that if Donald Trump didn't win the nomination outright before the primary race, that the floor of the Republican National Convention would have been ugly. If the race had been run under Democratic rules, then this ugliness would have been guaranteed. I think that given what we've seen at Trump's rallies, then we would have definitely seen fists and possibly chairs flying at the RNC.

The two systems used to decide who the respective nominees for the parties is going to be, only serves to me to scream in great big neon lights that a first past the post system is inherently inadequate at choosing majorities. Both the Republicans and the Democrats require a majority of delegates to avoid a brokered convention and yet they both employ systems which work against this outcome. In an either/or choice which is what the Democrats had this year that's fine but the only reason that Trump is the outright nominee is because of two things in operation: namely that there is a winner takes all mechanism in a lot of states and more importantly, that so many of his competitors suspended their campaigns.

Had all of the primaries and caucuses been held on the same day in one giant Mega-Super Tuesday, then nobody in a seven way brawl would be chosen and there would have to be a brokered convention. What we've also learned is that this issue only rears its head once every four years and so it immediately gets forgotten about once the President has been elected, and then it becomes a problem again and again and again.

June 03, 2016

Horse 2119 - Too Trivial A Pursuit

I was taking minutes in a meeting the other day when someone was trying to use the metaphor of the Spanish Armada suddenly arriving on the English coast and being bravely driven back by only a few brave souls. They were trying to liken their business to the sceptred isle, set in the sea against the hands of war and infection, with their Director as the brave commander of the English Navy. At this point, they turned to me and asked me if I knew who that was; to which I asked if it was Sir Francis Drake, and I was then asked if I was good at Trivial Pursuit.
I hate Trivial Pursuit. Hate it, hate it; hate it.

Trivial Pursuit like all quiz games, be they board games, or perhaps on television like Sale Of The Century / Temptation, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire or The Chase, are in my opinion bad games. The reason why I think that they are bad games is that you either know the answer or you don't. There are no decisions to be made, expect perhaps for which direction you go around the board to collect the bits of cheese (pieces of pie) and apart from that, every single action is determined by how much pointless information that you've managed to accrue. Except perhaps for the television quizzes where there is money and or fabulous prizes on offer (like a six slice banana toaster), where the skill in the game comes from remembering that pointless information in the first place, quiz games like Trivial Pursuit allow no way into the game if you haven't already crammed your head with useless tat.

Trivial Pursuit may as well be a game like Snakes And Ladders which also takes no skill at all to play, or perhaps Candyland which as far as I can tell is actually a zero player game because all the actions are determined by the order of the cards before the game has started. At least with games like Ludo, Sorry, Trouble and Headache, there are ample opportunities to exact nastiness, revenge, courtesy and kindness on other players. For this reason, games like Risk, Diplomacy and Scrabble are better because they require either strategy, negotiation or management. Monopoly is I think a relatively bad game because it a lot of it is travelling around the board and following the unthinking consequences but it does redeem itself a little bit because of the horse trading that goes on for properties.

My favourite games though, are those ones that allow people to be totally foolish. Games like Taboo, Balderdash, Pictionary and one game I've played which is basically The Telegraph Game but drawing pictures instead of whispering in someone's ear. Games which need the least amount of skill to play are often the funnest precisely because they need the least amount of skill to play. This means that they are the most inclusive an that I think is the whole point of a lot of games. You want to play them because you want to have fun with company.

It also doesn't help that I am exceptionally bad at Trivial Pursuit either. Of the six categories, I know things about Science and Nature, Geography, History but I know virtually nothing about Art and Literature and even less about the world of Entertainment. If I were to go to a trivia night at a pub or something, I'd be totally useless at anything other than current events in the news. I was never particularly interested in pop culture, television series or movies and now that Father Time has decided that my head needs to be sprayed in silver, I care even less. Worse, with a lot of stuff being hidden behind pay walls and on subscription services, I don't even know that they exist, let alone not care about them. I know for instance, who the Democratic National Convention chair is but I do not know who plays Captain America. If you were to ask me what the valency of strontium was, I could tell you but equally I suspect that the people who write trivia questions are writing those questions for people who don't what strontium is.

Trivial Pursuit with its six spoked wheel, the old timey artwork with cherubim holding the bits of cheese at the junctions and the "Roll Again" squares, is as iconic as the Risk of Monopoly board. From a design perspective, I think that it deserves its place in the board game cosmos. However, because it is a game where the biggest skill lies in the work you did beforehand; rather than making decisions which directly affect other people, I think that it condemns itself to being left in the cupboard, in favour of playing something else.

May 31, 2016

Horse 2118 - Water, Water Everywhere But Not The Right To Drink It

http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2016/05/is-clean-drinking-water-a-right-000129#ixzz49orIyR4z 
A report from Matheny Tract, an arsenic-poisoned community that’s about to become the test case for a new legal idea: the ‘human right to water.’
...
But after decades of political neglect, Matheny Tract and similar communities are now at the forefront of legislation built on a legal idea that has gained increasing attention in the past decade in the developing world: the “human right to water.”
In 2012, California became the first state in the U.S. to legally declare that every human being has the right to “safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking and sanitary purposes.” The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown and similar to one vetoed by his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was largely symbolic, intended as a moral compass for future water policy. But it contained a key provision, requiring state agencies to consider the human right to water when establishing new regulations and grant programs.
- Politico, 26th May 2016.

I think it bizarre and strange that in the twenty-first century that this conversation even needs to happen. I would have thought it so mind-numbingly obvious that people should have the right to clean water, that this should have been a fait accompli. Quite apart from the contractual obligation of a water company to provide clean water, that is a product which is fit for purpose, just common decency should inform a water company that people expect their water to be fit to drink.

America it seems has a strange relationship with human rights. It has a Bill of Rights attatched to its Constitution, which if you were to listen to the media for just week, you'd conclude that all it was limited to was the right to free speech and the right to bear arms and not much else.
The whole idea that human rights are codified for the betterment of society seems to have been forgotten entirely and the idea that they might describe standards of how people should behave to one another in recognition of each other's mutual dignity, is completely alien.

The Bill Of Rights which form the first ten amendments to the US Constitution are primarily about codifying at law, the necessary weapons which the nation needed to fight a war (with England). The Bill Of Rights was so bad at providing for the possibility that the nation might be more than just a collection of landed white males, some of whom owned slaves, that there have had to be extra amendments passed just to confer those same rights to other races and indeed women.
It wasn't until the cruel mayhem of the First World War, the abject poverty and misery of the Great Depression and the crucible of the Second World War, when the United States Government bothered to think about the ensuing peace which would follow and how the world might be rebuilt.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's State of the Union Address in 1944 laid out what he hoped might be possible in the future.

http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/archives/address_text.html
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
- The right of every family to a decent home;
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
- The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
- State of the Union Message to Congress, Franklin D Roosevelt, 11th Jan 1944.

I find it a little sad that the Second Bill Of Rights didn't form another set of amendments to the US Constitution. FDR died before the end of the war and so his ideas faded into unimportance and then obscurity. Perhaps lawmakers thought that this was over reach, or perhaps they just recoiled at the thought that government had become too powerful in the light of the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where human lives had been literally vapourised in an instant. Whatever the case, the United States was set down a different path when it comes to human rights and perhaps one that denies the intent of the Constitution to form a "more perfect union".
I don't think it coincidence that Franklin's wife Eleanor continued the fight in the public conscience for human rights and I don't know of not if she was instrumental in bringing about the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, when it was ratified by the United Nations.
A lot of the ideas contained in FDR's Second Bill Of Rights appear in the UDHR and not surprisingly, it also includes some Articles which map nicely with the original Bill Of Rights.
With regards the right to clean water, one particular Article in the UDHR is particularly insructive:

http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
Article 25.
 (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
- Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

It would only be the cruelest of people who would try to deny someone the right to clean water because it isn't a "food". Again, I think that it's pretty obvious that people need water to live but then again, I'm just an ordinary, normally reasonable human being. A government that would openly deny that that there is a right of people to clean water, is in my opinion a kakistocracy and should immediately be removed.

There is a sad sort of tragedy about this story though. Although the United States was a signatory to the UDHR, it refuses to ratify it. The other thing about the UDHR is that because it isn't a piece of statute law, it isn't really enforceable in any of the nations which have ratified it. Mind you, the United States does sort of have form when it comes to denying prisoners, that it has captured, basic human rights (such as the right to a quick trial and the right not to be tortured); so when it comes to denying some of its own citizenry the right to things such as clean water (and other things such as health care), then perhaps it is to be expected.

This cuts to one of the basic questions about the relationship between the people and government. Irrespective of what the consent of the governed actually is and whether or not that can be extracted through the franchise or not, some of the things we charge government with the responsibility of, is the provision of some services, the administration and public order of the nation, and the general welfare of the nation.
That word "welfare" is a tricky one. In general patience we talk of welfare as simply being payments to poor people but economists prefer a term which is more descriptive: transfer payment. The term welfare is used far more broadly and can include things like education, hospitals, the police and justiciary, even things like rubbish collection. Welfare in a broader sense refers to the things needed and provided for the general functioning of society; welfare is the government wall of protection that prevents like from being brutal, nasty and short.

So really I don't care if the provision of safe, clean water is a violation of human rights or a failure of government to fulfill its responsibility. When the system has failed like this, the result is identical.
As in Flint, Michigan and again here in Matheny Tract, water system are being sacrificed at the altar of lower taxes. This is a case of government trying to abrogate its responsibility, whilst inadvertently quashing human rights through inaction.
The fact that this is being dragged through the courts to try and establish a legal right to clean water, in this day and age, is absolutely insane.

May 30, 2016

Horse 2117 - Send The Electoral College Back To College To Learn Something

The United States is slowly making it's way to the November elections for the President, House Of Representatives and Senate, like a great lumbering Routemaster bus which is headed straight towards the front door of a department store - everyone can see it coming but there's no way that the department store can get out of the way. In addition to this, the two political parties are like passengers who are busily trying to throw each other off the bus, with the last person remaining on the bus being declared the winner, even though everyone knows that whatever happens, it'll end in a hideous wreck.

Partly this is due to the fact that the fifty states have what is known as a "republican" from of government; which instead of meaning the same as the Latin roots res publica or "by the people", actually means in practice that the fifty states act like fifty staunchly independent countries, with no uniform practices whatsoever and no common sensible way of deciding anything. The six states in Australia think that they're little nations unto themselves but at least they begrudgingly agree (through force of legislation) to have a uniform voting system and one in which you actually get a chance for more than just two parties to rule the roost.

Australia has Instant Run-Off Voting in the House Of Representatives and Proportional Representation in the Senate. This means that in the upper house because there are quotas for multiple positions at once, you get a greater multiple of parties in that chamber. In the House Of Representatives which has single member districts, you still get the tendency towards a duopoly of parties but what that means is that candidates and parties who are similar in style and ideology, don't end up splitting their vote. This allows for the situation in western Victoria especially, where the Liberal and National parties actually bother to both field candidates against each other. To be fair the LNP in Queensland which is where a formal union of the Coalition has taken place, is really just the National Party with a few Liberals in inner-city Brisbane, tacked on for good measure.

I know that the Republican and Democratic Parties in the United States are private organisations and they are at liberty to decide the rules to determine who their presidential nomination is, however they feel like but the 2016 race has showed that the general public is pretty fed up with the process of deciding the nominee. Both Trump and Sanders have said during this campaign that the system is broken and you have to admit that in those states where Sanders won a majority of votes but still took away less delegates because of superdelegates, that the pretence of democracy is crumbling, wih a worldwide audience watching on in horror. Donald Trump even said in as many words that he has stopped complaining about the system because he won the Republican nomination.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd openly admit that the current system of deciding who the nominee for President is, might have been useful in 1789 when you literally had to send delegates to Washington to decide who the President was but this wore out its usefulness long long ago. My solution to fix this problem is actually to rehabilitate the Electoral College; along with reforming the House and Senate.

Firstly, keep the House Of Representatives as single member districts. However, instead of making every seat a most votes wins thing (First Past The Post is a terrible description of what actually happens because that gives people the impression that you need to achieve half the vote and that is of course a lie), use Instant Run-Off Voting. That way if nothing else you end up with candidates meeting the approval of 50%+1 of the electorate at some point.
The Senate can be run on Proportional Representation lines. Yes there are only two Senators per state but at least this allows for the possibility that party can win both seats if the state all broadly votes the same way or they get Senators of different ilks if the state is more evenly split.

Onto the Electoral College. Currently, states conduct a statewide poll and whoever wins the most votes gets the entire allocation of Electors from that state. Technically you only need to care about a few states in order to swing the outcome of a presidential election and this shows up in the fact that hopeful nominees tend to only tour a few select states. It means that nobody ever visits the little states like Wyoming and nobody ever visits California because it almost always votes for the same colour.
My solution would be this. Get rid of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions altogether. They're pointless. Except when they're not pointless and they devolve into a massive bunfight. In their places, I'd implement a system whereby everyone in a state would choose their preferred candidate as now but instead of basically only getting one from each party, they'd get the whole game and dice to pick from. All the votes in a state would be collected and all the candidates across the parties would be ranked like one giant IRV ballot paper. The Electoral College would then not be say 29 votes from Florida all for one person but 29 identical ranked ballot papers, numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. It would mean for instance that in this cycle, there would have been seven Republicans, maybe more than just two Democrats and possibly other parties appearing in the Electoral College. These ranked ballots (all 538 of them) would then be counted in the same way as any other Instant Run-Off Vote.

It probably would have meant that the race wouldn't have been between Hillary and Donald but between someone more sensible like Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders. An even more interesting consequence would be that you might even get two candidates from the same side of the divide in the running. The biggest plus though is that it would entirely eliminate the almost eleven month circus that is the Presidential race and reduce the whole thing to just one day.
I reckon it'd be ace if there were as many as twenty candidates all in with a shot instead of just the two. People might actually think about voting for who they really want to be President instead of tactical voting and the dumbness of things like the Never Trump and Never Hillary movements. Imagine that - something more closely approximating democracy.

Of course the best idea of all would be to have everyone in the United States simply rank all of the candidates in a 240 million Instant Run-Off Vote. That would eliminate both the party conventions and the Electorial College entirely. For that reason, they'd never agree to it, or indeed any sensible national voting system. That might let democracy out of its little wooden box and back into the hands of the people and we can't have that now, can we?

What is going to happen is the same thing that happens every four years. The people will yet again see the great lumbering Routemaster bus which is headed straight towards the front door of the department store, watch on in horror as yet another wreck happens and then on the Wednesday which follows, turn away and forget about it for another four years. It's like a bizarre Olympic style Groundhog Day.

May 27, 2016

Horse 2116 - Barnaby Joyce Isn't Crying Over Spilt Milk. He'll Do A Pistol And Boo.

http://www.news.com.au/finance/business/retail/coles-to-launch-new-milk-brand-to-help-struggling-dairy-farmers/news-story/e78bfeb40b58d78fbc975c8a8b513fc2
AFTER years of driving down the price of milk, Coles says it will launch a new, more expensive home brand to help struggling dairy farmers. The supermarket chain says proceeds from the as-yet-unnamed brand will go to an independent dairy industry fund to provide direct support to farmers and “invest in innovation to ensure the long-term future of the dairy sector”.
...
Fonterra and Murray Goulburn have both cut the price they pay farmers for milk solids.
Coles, which says it will forgo any profit on sales of the new brand, will also contribute $1 million to create a sustainable dairy industry fund to administer the initiative.
- The Daily Telegraph, 17th May 2016

No no no no no. Don't try to weasel out of this Coles. As a subsidiary of Wesfarmers, you're part of the 8th biggest company in Australia by market capitalisation, You and Woolworths Limited which is the 9th biggest company in Australia by market capitalisation are willing and able partners in this mess. Or did you some how forget this?

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-26/bega-cheese-scathing-of-murraygoulburn-price-cuts/7446956
Murray Goulburn has won a five year contract to supply own brand cheese for Coles supermarkets. 
The five year deal is expected to have a $130 million payoff to the milk-processor, which edged out rival Bega Cheese for the contract. To deliver the contract, $145 million will be invested to upgrade facilities at the Cobram plant in Victoria. Bega Cheese will now have to find an alternative market for up to $60 million worth of cheese.
Bega Cheese CEO, Aiden Coleman said he expects prices were the dominant factor in the allocation of the contract.
"We went into a competitive tender process at the end of the calendar year and Coles have chosen an alternative supplier based solely on pricing I should imagine," he said.
- ABC News, 1st Feb 2016

Don't think for a second that we out here in consumer land didn't forget this. Most of the ASX 200 is either dirt farming or straight out money farming, and here you are driving down the prices of commodities so that you're literally taking the food from the tables of actual farmers.

You will argue of course that this is just an operation of the market. Praise be! In the great god Dollar we trust. Amen. But markets in and of themselves are capable of producing one and only outcome: a price. They are exactly amoral machines in this process. This does not mean so say though that the actors who operate the machines are exactly amoral. Some exhibit predatory power, some exhibit decidedly immoral behaviour. Forcing a guilt trip on the general public because you exercised that market power as a price maker and engaged the dairy cooperatives into a race to the bottom is hardly the best way to help struggling dairy farmers. This "fund" which you suggest will go towards dairy farmers, is little more than a public relations stunt. It is an actual whitewash.

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/num_act/tpa1974149/s46.html
Monopolization.
46. (1) A corporation that is in a position substantially to control a market for goods or services shall not take advantage of the power in relation to that market that it has by virtue of being in that position.
- Section 46, Trade Practices Act (1974)

Now I know that I'm hardly a lawyer but I do have the power of literacy. Section 46 of the Trade Practices Act, which by the way had changes submitted to the parliament by Barnaby Joyce in 2007, was designed to stop things like predatory pricing through this sort of discounting. I don't think that it's much of a stretch to suggest that a subsidiary which is part of a company worth $47 billion "is in a position substantially to control a market for goods or services" and when you're forcing the players in the market to undercut each other to be lead suppliers "based solely on pricing", I think that you've taken considerable advantage of the power in relation to that market.

If you're going to create a fund, or start giving farmers what their produce is actually worth, then don't turn it into some show of virtue. If you don't, then maybe the government might force you to do so.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/federal-election-2016/federal-election-2016-ditch-1-milk-or-face-controls-supermarkets-told/news-story/6cbde0553c3fe3ec2ad6c33ccf1a7e31
Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce has warned the big supermarkets that unless they axe their $1-a-litre home-brand milk, a re-elected Coalition government will force a price rise.
...
Mr Joyce’s price threat came as hundreds of dairy farmers rallied in cities, demanding a fairer milk price and an end to their exploitation by big dairy companies and Coles and Woolworths.
“Retailers need to understand the momentum is there nationally for farmers to get a fairer deal, $1-litre milk that is cheaper than bottled water is not fair,” Mr Joyce said. “It is seen now by consumers as a bad thing that rips off farmers; it is affecting (the supermarkets’) good corporate names, so they should change it.
“Retailers don’t want the government to jump on them, but we will if they don’t do anything.”
- The Australian, 26th May 2016

Oh looky here. Who is this again? None other than Barnaby Joyce. This is the same Barnaby Joyce who told Johnny Depp to get his dogs out of Australia because they'd been illegally brought into the country. This is the same Barnaby Joyce who nine years ago, was thinking of farmers in his then state of Queensland, to try and stop this sort of nonsense.
Laws generally exist for the regulation, standardisation and protection of society. In this case the protection of people's livelihoods. In this case its to stop farmers selling the farm so that they don't buy the farm. Government regulation exists in this case, to stop someone from putting the screws into someone else's coffin.
Don't weasel out of this Coles, or else Barnaby Joyce will do what he did to Pistol and Boo to you.