February 24, 2017

Horse 2233 - The Dark Knight Goes To The Supermarket

Ordinarily I don't give a brass razoo about superhero movies. Superman, Catwoman, Spiderman et al. need to find something more credible to do, in my not very well paid opinion. Of all the superheroes, I find Batman to be the most interesting because his superpower is nothing other than being rich and splashing cash around on overly complex equipment. If he had simply spent the money on improving the police force and their training, then Gotham would be a nicer place but I digress.
One of the most iconic elements of the Batman mythos is his car, the Batmobile. Invariably it is as overly complicated and as unwieldy as everything else in Batman's arsenal but it didn't start out that way. Batman once had a relatively sensible motor car and if I was being commissioned to write a new Batman movie, not only would the whole world be more sensible but his car would be as well.

The original Batmobile as seen in 1939 was either a Graham Model 97 Supercharger "Sharknose" with a 3.6L supercharged in-line 6 putting out 116bhp or a Cord 812 with a 4.8L supercharged V8 putting out 125bhp. Both were seen as reasonably powerful cars in their day but to put that in perspective, a 1.0 litre Ecoboost Ford Focus also puts out 125bhp.
What I find particularly odd is that although the first Batman was written in 1939, his car was already two years old; which means to say that he obviously didn't think it worth the bother to trade it in for something else.

This in itself says something interesting. Batman wants a performance vehicle, presumably to chase bad guys in but in his origin incarnation, he didn't particularly need anything as garish as what was to follow. Indeed, given that he first appeared in "Detective Comics", I would have thought that remaining incognito when on a stake out would have been highly desirable. To that end, if I was going to properly reboot Batman, to his original original 1939 roots, instead of his dark brooding psychobabble that people seem to want to take him in the newest films then if I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, there is only one possible choice for the Batmobile.

A Ford Mondeo.

- No, seriously. A Ford Mondeo.

Before you start jumping up and down and saying that I have no idea what the heck I'm talking about, you should remember that DCI John Barnaby from "Midsomer Murders" has a Volvo S60, DCI Alec Hardy and DS Ellie Miller in "Broadchurch" pootle about in a Volkswagen Passat and the most recent crime series that I've seen "Professor T" had the two detectives Annaliese Donckers and Daan de Winter driving around in a Lexus CT200h. Considering that Batman originally stated out as a vigilante detective, then a car which detectives are likely to have seems like a good choice to me.

The biggest problem with the Batmobile as I see it, is that although it is the stuff of dreams and fantasy, it is still unbelievably ridiculous. Presumably when he spends most of his time as boring old Bruce Wayne, he has a sensible luxury car and I can imagine him being chauffeured in a big black S-Class Mercedes-Benz and so that's not that stupid but on the occasions that he wants to drive himself, the Batmobile is never anything practical. If you lived within a couple of blocks of him, you'd see this massive automotive idiocy and know for sure that it was Batman. Even a McLaren 650s with "I am Batman" written down the side is still more credible than just about every Batmobile to appear in the cinema.

Unless you are going for some over the top thing where the show pokes fun at itself like the 1966 television series with Adam West as Batman, most of the Batmobiles that we see are impractical. Exactly how are you supposed to chase bad guys through Gotham's city streets if you have a 35 foot behemoth that can't turn corners? For goodness sake, even Starsky and Hutch in their Ford Torino or BA Baracus in the A-Team's GMC Vandura van are more likely to catch the Penguin after a jewel heist. Just like it isn't a good idea to go ballroom dancing in a pair of motorcycle army dispatch rider's boots, the idea that you can effectively chase bad guys through city streets in something with the footprint of an Isuzu NPR 550 is bonkers.
A Mondeo is big enough to haul around all the stuff that Batman is likely to need, the turbocharged in-line 4 cylinder engine puts out 240bhp which is easily enough to find yourself on the fun side of 100mph in quick time, and with leather seats, climate control and a fairly stonking stereo system, it's a pretty nice place to be when doing the boring parts of detective work and if you need to go to the supermarket or the McDonald's drive through. Brenda¹ always popped down to the shops in either a Range Rover or a small truck which was owned by the Palace; so if it's good enough for her, it's good enough for Batman.

Of course putting Batman in a Ford Mondeo does immediately beg the question of what sort of movie or television show that this maps onto and the answer is an equally sensible one. The truth is that someone like the Penguin is more likely to be a super-capitalist like Rupert Murdoch, Alan Sugar, Richard Branson or Donald Trump than some comedic buffoon². The Riddler is actually some sort of Russian cyber terrorist type criminal and The Joker is more likely to be a man in a mask like The Genius³.
What sort of car do you give to a valet for parking if you happen to be going to a meeting at Penguin Towers? A black Ford Mondeo. If you rock up in a Batmobile as it is usually portrayed in all its automotive nonsense, then one of the hired goons is going to immediately tell the boss that Batman is downstairs and Batman doesn't want that.

A Ford Mondeo is only one of many logical choices for the Batmobile but given that in the 1966 television series he drove a 1955 Lincoln Futura, I'd imagine that he probably has a bit of brand loyalty; so why not?

¹Brenda is the name which Private Eye magazine has referred to HM Queen Elizabeth II as, since the late 1970s.
²Insert Boris Johnson here.
³"The Genuius" is a South Korean reality / game show which was on tvN. Episode 1: https://youtu.be/jpwIgWPfNvc

February 23, 2017

Horse 2232 - Work Harder, Get Paid Less, And Don't Expect A House - You Povvo Scum!

That's the message which came through loud and clear from today's newspapers. In this new world of personal responsibility, Australia's biggest problems are that low income workers get paid too much; so we'd better absolutely make sure that they get beaten into line.

http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/rendezview/contrary-to-popular-belief-the-world-doesnt-owe-you-a-living-nor-does-it-owe-you-a-house/news-story/2b6d4a8d67c908406ebd02789927f84c
Boy, what an outrageous thing to say. Fancy thinking you need money to buy a home. What a disgrace — off with his toffee-nosed head!
His crime, of course, was being correct. You do need to be paid well to buy a home. That’s a fact.
And it’s a fact we have to live with. Contrary to popular belief, the world doesn’t owe you a living — and nor does it owe you a house. It certainly doesn’t owe you a house in the inner city.
...
If you get your head into gear, you might even get a well-paying job.
- Caleb Bond, The Daily Telegraph, 23rd Feb 2017.

Hear that? Once again The Daily Telegraph is yelling at poor people to stop being poor. "If you get your head into gear, you might even get a well-paying job." says Caleb Bond. It's your fault that you can't afford a house. Stop being poor and get a proper job. Obviously you don't work hard enough. Maybe you should think about working harder, you povvo scum. Maybe try working harder at the weekend too. Except that if you do work harder...

http://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace-relations/penalty-rates-for-sunday-holiday-work-to-be-slashed-after-landmark-decision-by-fair-work-commission-20170222-guj8f3.html?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=nc&eid=socialn%3Atwi-13omn1677-edtrl-other%3Annn-17%2F02%2F2014-edtrs_socialshare-all-nnn-nnn-vars-o%26sa%3DD%26usg%3DALhdy28zsr6qiq
Hundreds of thousands of Australians who work on Sundays will have their take-home pay slashed after a landmark ruling by the national workplace umpire.
...
Full-time and part-time workers in retail will have their Sunday penalty rates dropped from 200 per cent to 150 per cent of their standard hourly rate, while casuals will go from 200 per cent to 175 per cent.
Hospitality employees will face a reduction in Sunday pay from 175 per cent to 150 per cent, while casual hospitality workers' pay will remain unchanged.
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 23rd Feb 2017.

Oh dear.

Okay, okay, okay. Maybe the Daily Telegraph is specifically raging against casual and part-time workers. This doesn't apply to all workers does it?

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-22/wage-growth-remains-at-record-lows/8293704
Wage growth slowed to its weakest level on record in 2016, weighed down by the private sector.
Total hourly rates of pay, excluding bonuses, rose 0.5 per cent in the December quarter, taking the annual rate to 1.9 per cent, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Wage Price Index.
That is the lowest annual rate growth since records began in 1998.
- Adelaide Advertiser, 22nd Feb 2017.

Oh boy.

Let's tie all of this together. The Daily Telegraph is continuing to yell at poor people to suck it up. If they can't afford a house, maybe they should just work harder. If they do decide to work harder, the Fair Work Commission has just announced that penalty rates for the lowest paid workers should be cut. On top of this, the annual rate growth of wages is the annual rate growth since 1998 and had been steadily falling since real wages peaked in the late 1970s.

Does anyone see something fundamentally wrong here?

In my experience, people don't go to work on Sundays because of greed. The majority of people that you see working on Sundays do so because they're trying to make ends meet; people who work on Sundays are more likely to be students, or single parents, recent migrants, or maybe the owner/operators of small businesses. In general the people who do work on Sundays, are more vulnerable when it comes to bargaining power for wages and conditions, and as we've found out at places like Domino's, Grill'd, 7-Eleven, Bakers Delight or such places, more likely to be the victims of outright wage theft. Today's ruling from the Fair Work Commission may as well have endorsed that outright; saying "well done!" to businesses who will now legally be allowed to pay their employees less.

In the world of the Daily Telegraph, there is a direct correlation between how much you are paid and how hard you work. If it is your job cleaning  toilets, standing at a checkout for several hours or running between tables at a café or restaurant, then. clearly you don't work very hard. Obviously it is self evident that any abuse that you might get from customers or the unpleasantness of cleaning vomit from the floor or perhaps facing the possibility of being stabbed by unsavoury elements of society is par for the course and someone in an air-conditioned office who is earning thirty or a hundred times the amount that you do is working harder than you.

Once upon a time is was said that if you worked hard and you do your best, you can do anything. Guess what, even if you worked as hard as you possibly could, the chances are that the house that you live in, even if you are renting, earnt more money than you did in the past five years. If you work hard and are stupid enough to do real work, not only is the reward for for labour shrinking but now it appears as though government policy could actively work against you as well.

There is a lesson to be learnt here. Stop being poor. Just stop it. If you do have a job on Sunday that happens to be traditionally seen as inconvenient, then guess what? You need to stop whinging and be grateful that you have a job at all. We're perfectly sure that we can find someone even more vulnerable than you who is prepared to work for even less wages and conditions because they don't know any better.

Someone much wiser than I once said that where your treasure lies, there your heart will be also. A ruling like this from the Fair Work Commission says that whoever has treasure is justified in not having a heart precisely because they have more treasure. If this is representative of us as a nation then quite frankly it doesn't surprise me in the slightest. We are the country who say in the national anthem "for those who've come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share" and then finds said people before dumping them on an ill-equipped prison island in the Pacific. This ruling doesn't surprise me because this is who we are, Australia.

I work for a firm in Mosman; which has on occasions topped the list of highest average incomes for the country. This is a single s?uburb municipal council area that refuses to join the council immediately to the west of them, for fear of councillors having to share offices with the povvo scum of North Sydney Council. While having lunch in the town square, I have witnessed the utter disdain for wait staff that customers exhibit in this part of the world. I have heard the phrase "do you know who I am?" said on more than one occasion. These same customers are more likely to be in positions of management themselves and unless they specifically happen to be in Human Resources, they're just as likely to demand lower wages be paid to their own staff.

From a fundamental viewpoint, what this ruling from the Fair Work Commission says is that labour isn't something which is as valued as it once was. This recommendation says that we don't view the inconvenience caused by working on Sunday as as valuable as  it used to be. If you are asked to work on Sunday or if you need to in order to make ends meet, than that's your fault. "Contrary to popular belief, the world doesn’t owe you a living" and don't expect one either, you povvo scum.

February 22, 2017

Horse 2231 - The Australian Continues To Flail Its Arms Around Like A Madman In A Crowded Room

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/liberals-push-18c-overhaul/news-story/06c2e194e98f7777fc0464ef55192b67

Malcolm Turnbull will be urged to strike out two of the most controversial parts of the nation’s ­racial hatred laws as Coalition MPs build momentum for change out of concern that the current rules impose a “political correctness” that stifles debate.
A key parliamentary committee is canvassing detailed changes to the law that makes it an offence to “insult” or “offend” someone on the basis of race, replacing the two controversial words with “harass” in order to prevent vexatious claims.

Coalition MPs are also building support for an overhaul of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to include a “truth defence” and a sharper focus on exemptions for the media, building pressure for a formal government decision to amend the law.
The reform plan is set to be unveiled in two weeks and is certain to go beyond a “minimalist” response to the heated public debate over the prosecutions of three Queensland University of Technology students and Bill Leak, a cartoonist with The Australian.
- The Australian, 12th Feb 2017.


That great bastion of self-aggrandisement under the cover of journalism, The Australian, has for an extended period of time run opinion pieces claiming that either the Australian public are crying out for changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, or that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 should be changed on the  grounds that impinges on free speech. To the former claim I say that this is a load of rubbish and the only reason why anyone is even remotely concerned is because The Australian and other sister publications within News Corp. keep on harping on about it like a harpist playing on a harp of only one string. To the latter claim that 18C impinges on free speech, I say "duh", it is supposed to. Absolute free speech isn't and shouldn't be a thing and if anything the actions of The Australian and its sister publications prove the case.
If a right to free speech is to be claimed, then its worth considering both what a right is and what if any limits need to be imposed upon it.

Whether or not a right is either claimed to be pre-existing or arises as the result of the law, a right is a concept at law where a thing is owned or allowable. The right to free speech as being claimed by The Australian is the allowance to publish anything that it likes with absolutely no repercussions for doing so.

The problem with allowing people to do whatever the heck they want, without limit, is that people consistently prove that as self interested and selfish beings, their actions as a result of doing whatever the heck they want, frequently harm other people. Suppose you had someone standing in a crowded room, like the front room of a pub on a night when the football is on the telly, and they were standing in one spot flailing their arms around. If a right exists to move one's body around without limit, then that's all fine until one of those flailing arms connects with someone's face and then suddenly you'd have a full on fist fight, with the possibility of glass flying about and people being cut up and needing to go to the hospital.
Some people would argue that people's rights extends exactly as far as someone else's face and that at it only ends at the point where harm to others is done. This idea is known as the "harm principle" and perhaps the most articulate exploration of this came about in John Stuart Mill's h 1859 book "On Liberty". Mill thought that speech should be as free as possible subject to that harm principle. My question is at what point is harm objectively measured? Supporters of absolutely unregulated free speech would argue that whatever harm might be caused is a necessary cost of free speech but invariably they're not the ones who bear that cost.

Let's take flight of fantasy (on Aristotle Airways flight AA59; bring your passport) and imagine the Republic Of Utopia in which free speech is unbridled and absolute. There is a particular people group living in Utopia who are green in colour and not surprisingly are called the Viridians. Simply on the basis of their skin colour, they are subject to racial abuse, all day and every day. Utopians argue that because they have the right to absolutely free speech, that they can say whatever they like and they are perfectly correct in doing so. The problem is that if something is repeated again and again, people tend to believe it. The Viridians find that they suffer lower wages, are often discriminated against when it comes to drawing up contracts and are constantly made to feel like and are treated as an underclass because people internalise and normalise the racial slurs directed at them. At what point exactly do they suffer harm? If you were to stab someone with a dressmaker's pin a hundred thousand times, all of those individual stabs would hurt but since we're not dealing with physical harm but rather a continual barrage of words, that makes it okay?

What would happen for instance if there was a stream of racial abuse directed at a Viridian who happened to be deaf? As an individual they wouldn't personally be able to take offence because they wouldn't be able to hear the abuse but that doesn't necessarily mean that they suffer no harm whatsoever. The instance of racial abuse still adds to the general pool of ideas which the public carries around.

If you are a Viridian who lives in the hypothetical Republic Of Utopia, it is pretty easy to see that the opportunities which your life is going to present, are going to be far more limited than if you were not a Viridian. The argument that you can just pull yourself out of your predicament, is a complete and utter lie because it is immediately obvious to you and everyone else in the world that you are a Viridian because you stick out like a big green light. For everyone else whose speech is free an unfettered, there is zero consequence of that speech but where opinion becomes indistinguishable from fact, the world is shaped by those opinions which then flow into actions.

The thing is that we do not live in Utopia and to be perfectly honest, I wouldn't want to. I find the idea that speech is completely free and that people can cause harm with no consequences, repulsive. Absolute free speech might allow one specific freedom to those who would exercise it but for the people on the other end who suffer the abuse which follows, it is like giving people a club to beat people with. it is fundamentally unfair that the person who pays the price for free speech, isn't the one who exercises it.
There should be limits to liberties because without them, nefarious people steal them. When driving a motor car down the highway, we are subject to a line down the centre of the road. That line definitely imposes limits to out liberties but few would argue that the line is a bad thing. The line can and should be drawn because although it does impose a limit, society is better off because of it. With regards the right to speech 18C as part of the Racial Discrimination Act clumsily draws that line but I'd still rather that the line existed than not.

As for Mill, he said that:
As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it becomes open to discussion. 
...
Acts injurious to others require a totally different treatment. Encroachment on their rights; infliction on them of any loss or damage not justified by his own rights; falsehood or duplicity in dealing with them; unfair or ungenerous use of advantages over them; even selfish abstinence from defending them against injury - these are fit objects of moral reprobation and, in grave cases, or moral retribution and punishment. 
- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859.

This is one of the reasons why I find something like the Bolt case or furore around Leak's cartoons so illustrative. Something which is published in a daily newspaper is obviously going to carry more weight in the arena of ideas than simple abuse shouted in a small audience.
To be perfectly honest I find the defence, particularly in the case of Bill Leak's cartoons that he was "pointing out facts" to be mostly rubbish. If you had someone in a crowded room who was flailing their arms around, if they happen to connect with someone's jaw and cause an injury, even though it might be stupid and an accident, responsibility still has to be taken for the injury caused. Of course someone who asserts that no injury can be caused in the realm of free speech would also argue that no harm was done. The only reason why certain political parties care about the removal of 18C and express the excuse that it imposes limits to absolute free speech (which it does) is because they don't want to be held responsible for any injury that they might cause (which they also deny exists).

Mill thought that society has jurisdiction over people's conduct when it prejudicially affects  the interests of others. I don't know upon what basis The Australian can claim that its publication of unfair and ungenerous material causes no injury to those on the receiving end and the only "heated public debate" surrounding 18C happens when The Australian for the umpteenth time claims the right to flail its arms around without limit. I think that the only thing actually stifling debate, is The Australian and other sister publications within News Corp. yelling as loudly as they possibly can to drown out all other voices.

February 21, 2017

Horse 2230 - Ever More Efficient Ways Of Killing Humans

I remember my Year 9 and 10 history teacher Mr Menkes telling the class that he thought that if it wasn't for the Second World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, that we wouldn't have had jumbo jets because technology wouldn't have been developed as quickly. I have no idea how to verify that claim because it isn't as if I can run the experiment of history and not include the deaths of probably as many as three hundred million people, but the point is still worth thinking about. Much of the story of technology, arguably since forever, has had a lot to do with mankind developing ever more efficient ways of killing other elements of mankind.

For the vast majority of the history of warfare, the ability to do damage to another human being only extended as far as one's own arms or as far as one could fire an arrow. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Mayans, Incas, Omeks, Babylonians, Persians and all of the barbarians that they were afraid of, mostly exacted terror at the end of the sword. There were things like catapults and trébuchets but they were few and far between. The use of chariots and horses often brought fear to the battlefield and the Romans were most likely bewildered when Hannibal sacked Rome after taking elephants through the Alps. Maybe they put skis on them. I don't know.

The introduction of canon really changed the face of warfare. Suddenly, ships could be used to greater effect and castle and city walls could be more effectively broken down. The musket and rifle rendered the sword utterly useless despite the fixing of bayonets to the end of rifles as late as the First World War.
Gunpowder and greater use of projectile warfare increased the reach of one's ability to exact harm on fellow humans but it still required that you actually had to see the enemy in order to destroy them. Although we don't know exactly who said during the American Revolutionary War to not fire "until you see the whites of their eyes", we do know that it wasn't because of some romantic notion of honour on the battlefield but rather the practical consideration of the range of the rifles and the desire not to waste ammunition.

Mechanised warfare which is mostly a twentieth century invention, did bring about the ability to destroy thousands of people at once and it became apparent that once you removed the physical sight of the people who you were going to kill, that care and consideration of them, was also removed. You can think of the Blitz on London, the thousand bomber raids on Dresden or the bringing of nuclear fire from the sky on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and it becomes pretty apparent pretty quickly, that destroying people, their homes and their families, not only became easier but far less morally repugnant to the people who pushed the button to open the bomb bay doors. I have heard members of the crew from the Enola Gay who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima (always "the" bomb with the definite article) and they express a sense of duty modern than anything else.

I guess that this is the reason why I found this video so disturbing:
Link: https://youtu.be/3XKiUtruQiY

What this is, is a swarm of 103 Perdix drones being dropped out the back of three F/A-18 Super Hornets. If all of these were armed, which I imagine could be a distinct possibility in the not too distant future, then if they were all dropped out of an Unmanned Airborne Vehicle, then what this means is that the equivalent of a legion of troops could be deployed from literally the other side of the world; to zero human cost of the force who deployed them. Forget the enemy being at the end of the sword or needing to be so close that the person pulling the trigger needs to see their enemy face to face, the distance between protagonists can now be half the world away.

If you want to talk about dehumanising the enemy, then surely this is the ultimate in doing that. Someone in an operations centre could be sitting in an office chair, killing hundreds if not thousands of people before having a break at half past ten and walking to the lunch room for a cup of coffee. To them, the enemy who they will never meet in person, are just targets to be destroyed. At the end of the day, they could clock off and go home to their own family in the suburbs, in total knowledge that the state has absolved them of all wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the robotic drone swarm, ten thousand miles away, people's mothers, brothers, sisters and fathers could all be dead. It's not hard to imagine an orphaned child standing in their house, with their entire family lying dead aground them and all because of someone in a dorky looking polo shirt in an air-conditioned office; who they will never ever know.

The use of chlorine gas and mustard gas during the First World War, drifting across the battlefield and sinking into the trenches, proved to be so utterly heinous that soon after the war it was decided that chemical warfare should be outlawed by the conventions of war; decided upon by men in suits in Geneva, far removed from the actual carnage. It was so horrible that the First World War has been nicknamed "the chemist's war" by some historians.
During the Second World War, even German scientists thought that Hitler shouldn't have access to nuclear capabilities but that doesn't mean that the Allies have some moral pedestal upon which to stand because Truman did have the audacity to turn people to vapour and have them melt in the heat of nuclear fire.
There hasn't yet been much of a moral outcry against the use of drone strikes in places like  Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen but I suspect that's because it hasn't yet entered the public consciousness. The video above shows that it will be possible shortly to deploy thousands of unfeeling robots to destroy people, where other people are too cowardly to go.

I don't know if it's necessarily true that if the Second World War, Korean War or Vietnam War didn't happen that we wouldn't have had the jumbo jet as early as we did. I do know that the same technology responsible for remotely delivering bombs on London would eventually depositing a dozen men on the moon but even that was in response to two world leaders realising that they had the power to destroy more people more efficiently than ever before. In 1969, man landed on the moon, the 747 took its first flight; as did Concorde and yet at the same time, there were still steam trains in use in Britain.
It seems to me that at every step of developing ever more efficient ways of killing each other, we've also invented less human ways of doing so. Drones bother me because they are the least human way yet developed of destroying people and with them, the operators will surely follow.

February 17, 2017

Horse 2229 - Company Tax Is Fine, Provided We're Not Paying

Talkback radio and in particular AM talkback radio, seems to me to be the echo chamber for older people who do not like the internet. Probably because commercial radio is by definition commercial, it means that the people who are put on it and the opinions expressed are more likely to be to the right of the economic spectrum. That is, that business should be allowed to do whatever business does and everyone else should put up and shut up. The market giveth and the market taketh away, amen and praise be.

Earlier in the week I was listening to Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council Of Australia and she was again putting forward the opinion that the opposition must absolutely the government's omnibus bill and that the government must immediately look into lowering the rate of Company Tax because that will attract more investment and create jobs. Failure to do so would result in the end of days, apparently.

It wasn't as if this was anything new from Jennifer Westacott either. We pretty much heard the same story back in December last year in one of the Business Council's press releases.

http://www.bca.com.au/media/september-quarter-national-accounts-are-a-wake-up-call-for-parliament
At an absolute minimum, the Senate must pass the government’s company tax plan in full. This will send a strong signal to investors that Parliament is serious about Australia’s international competitiveness.
- Business Council of Australia, 7th Dec 2016

I really wonder about that that phrase, "international competitiveness". To me it sounds like a euphemism for lowering wages and conditions?
This is also from that same press release from the BCA:

Parliament must support the government in taking urgent action to drive new investment and create better jobs with higher wages. This includes embracing more flexible workplaces, lowering business taxes, getting the budget under control, bringing energy costs down and fixing the planning system to spur investment through major projects.
- Business Council of Australia, 7th Dec 2016

Is the BCA saying that lowering company tax would really "create better jobs with higher wages"? That's not what I've heard elsewhere in the grand debate about taxation and wages:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-03-05/business-lobby-calls-for-penalty-rate-cut/7222972
Ms Westacott is unhappy with the current enterprise agreement system.
"There are too many things outside the core wages and conditions that can be negotiated, things like training [and] rosters," she said.
- ABC News, 5th Mar 2016.

The argument that Ms Westacott specifcally put forward with regards the Company Tax plan which is before the parliament, is that a higher rate of Company Tax acts as a disincentive to working harder. I have heard this claim on many occasions and not once has it ever been proven with empirical evidence. It's like yelling "this is a theory" and expecting everyone else in the world to say "well done, we believe everything you say without question".

The thing about Company Tax as opposed to personal Income Tax is that instead of progressively higher marginal rates of taxation, Company Tax is a constant 30% which is imposed on every dollar of profit. The argument about progressive taxation being a disincentive to working harder, is functionally irrelevant when talking about Company Tax because the rate of tax payable on the first, second, millionth, billionth or even godzillionth dollar is identical. Is always exactly the same - 30%.

If we assume for a minute that lowering the rate of Company Tax, say to 0%, is going to herald some new wave of job creation then I don't think that Business Council's assertion necessarily holds. For companies such as General Motors and Ford, who had for many years had an effective rate of Company Tax of less than 0% because of direct government subsidy payments, that still wasn't enough to keep them in Australia. Likewise, companies like Woolworths or Coles, are just as likely to pocket the difference between their old effective rate of taxation and  their new one, and spend some of that on even more automated services. When the banks had the opportunity to axe tellers en masse and replace them with Automatic Teller Machines, they jumped at the chance.

Besides which, given that the largest ten companies by market capitalisation as listed on the ASX are four banks, three mining companies, two supermarket chains and a telco, who have all found ways to replace people with machines, just real world evidence would suggest that the Business Council Of Australia's assertion that lowering the Company Tax rate is going to create more jobs, is repeatably and demonstrably complete and utter rubbish.

Company Tax is calculated on a post profits basis. Labour like every other normal expense is included before Company Tax is calculated. The  thing is that the stated amount which is declared by the owners of most small businesses as their own wages, is something of a juggling act because wages which are included as a business expense usually have PAYG taken out before they receive them and as dividends are usually paid out of post taxed profit, then the mix of payout of wages and dividends is going to be nebulous depending on taxation policy. A simple reduction in the headline rate of Company Tax doesn't of itself mean that even a single dollar for is going to be used to employ an extra employee for that reason. All that happens in the short term is that most small businesses start juggling figures again until they come up with a new position where they can pay the owners more money at the lowest cost.

If this is solely about job creation, then to employ on person on $20/hr on a part time basis, for 20 hours a week, then the amount of Company Tax that needs to be saved is $20,800. Assuming that Company Tax is done away with altogether, then this particular company would have already posted profits of $69,334 and to be fair if they weren't going to employ someone specifically because of the imposition of Company Tax, then its reduction or removal entirely ain't going to make a lick of difference.

Besides which, one of the reasons why we have a higher rate of Company Tax in Australia as compared with other countries in the OECD is that we have a franking credit system where dividends are paid out of post tax profits. That means to say that the shareholders of companies who are entitled to the rewards of ownership of those companies, have dividends paid to them with the tax already taken out. For most people the net effect of that in their personal is exactly nil.

A dividend with a prepaid 30% franking credit, when added to their existing income is taxed at that same rate of 30%. For people at the lower end of the income scale, they receive some of those credits back because their personal marginal rate of taxation is less than 30%. For people in the upper tax brackets, you can hardly say that those higher rates of taxation are a disincentive when they're receiving dividends because dividends as the reward for owning part of a company, are with the exception of small owner/operator businesses, the result of other people's work. That being the case, I don't know how you can claim that a higher rate of Company Tax acts as a disincentive to working harder when you're not the one who is actually working.

February 13, 2017

Horse 2228 - Pineapple Has No Business Being On Pizza

At the weekend, Mrs Rollo and I came to the conclusion that the following items are allowed in a hot dog bun:
- hot dog / sausage: hence the reason for the eponymous food
- onion: this is acceptable
- sauce: tomato, mustard, chili, barbecue
- chili: you can't very well have a chili dog without chili
- cheese: personally I think that this is getting a bit fancy but as Mrs Rollo pointed out - AMERICA!
That's it. Full stop. Story, end of.
You are allowed to have salad on the plate but that goes on the side. If salad finds it's way into a hot dog, then the fundamental laws of the universe are being violated and we risk the earth hurtling off course and careening into the sun. Do you want that on your conscious? I think not.

Naturally as you'd expect, this set the gears in my head spinning and worrying about other fundamental violations of nature. This got me thinking about the laws of pizza.

Meats are acceptable on a pizza. Ground beef, chicken, ham, cabanossi, pepperoni, bacon; even anchovies and prawns are allowable if you happen to be a defective person who thinks that seafood is a good idea. Cheese is also acceptable; in fact many kinds of cheeses including the fancy ones like feta and camembert are allowable if you think that dropping that kind of coin on a pizza is okay. Some vegetables are allowed but this is where the story gets tricky. Garlic, capsicum, tomato, onions, some herbs and spices are allowed to find their way onto a pizza and I suspect that everything on a kebab would also world quite well. There is one thing though, that frequently barges its way into pizza kitchens which surely cannot be allowed to stand any longer and that thing is pineapple.

I don't know if pineapple is a native of the Hawaiian islands or not but under normal circumstances when it comes in concert with ham, it is glorious. For some reason unbeknownst to anyone other than pineapple itself, it arrives on a pizza with ham and then has tried to fool everyone by branding the disaster as Hawaiian pizza. Now I don't have any problem at all with appropriation of the of cuisine from around the world by other countries. Pizza as we know it is very different to the sort of thing that left Italy and is mostly a reinvention by the city of New York. Chicken Tikka Masala could only be possible as the result of the British empire. The meat pie is nominally British but when it comes with mash, peas, gravy and kebab sauce, then that can only come from somewhere antipodean.

According to Wikipedia, which in this case is as reliable as a bunch of people talking to each other at the pub, Hawaiian pizza isn't an invention from Hawaii but of the town of Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Canada of all places? Canada?! These are the same people whose national dish is chips, cheese curds and gravy, which by the way is lovely but also doesn't really have a right to be put together and named as cuisine.
Wikipedia credits it as originating at the Satellite Restaurant in 1962; by a chap named Sam Panopoulos¹. The weird thing is that if you then check the sources in Wikipedia, the Chatham Daily News and the Toronto Sun, they both cite Wikipedia as their source. When you have circuitous logic like this, something is bound to fall over at some point.

Capsicum, garlic, tomato, onion, shallot, pineapple: one of these things just doesn't belong here. Pineapple, no matter how much it tries to force its way past the bouncers, is a fruit. If you suggested that banana, apple, orange, mango or apricot belongs on a pizza, you'd be quite rightly told that you are stark raving bonkers and maybe some chaps in white uniforms might show up and give you a lovely jacket to wear, in which you can hug yourself all day long. Pineapple has about as much business being on a pizza as pumpkin or broccoli does and if you want to put those on a pizza then maybe you should be taken to a place where life is beautiful all the time...

As someone who's only credential in this area of academia is an ill-thought out opinion, I am eminently qualified to dispense judgment on this. If I was sitting in the Supreme Court Of The Internet, which is where appeals from Fake Internet Court² go, then as Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, in the case of The People vs Pineapple (SC109/17) then I find the defendant Pineapple guilty of freelancers and of the tort of passing off.  The meat of this case is just because you often hang around with ham, doesn't automatically confer the right to be on a pizza. To top that off, trying to convince everyone that you belong there is downright deceitful and the only reason that you've gotten away with it for so long is that you've managed to sweet talk your way in. Quite frankly, pineapple on pizza is a load of baloney, or rather, pineapple on pizza.

¹https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawaiian_pizza#cite_note-3
²http://www.maximumfun.org/shows/judge-john-hodgman

February 10, 2017

Horse 2227 - People Queuing Overnight For Trainers

Invariably there will be reports of these people camping out overnight for concert tickets that have gone on sale, or the Apple iSandwich with 128 bit pepperoni and pickle co-processing or in today's insane Sydney rental market, the chance to be put on the short list for a one bedroom apartment with no toilet and only one small window where the view is of the kitten strangling factory. I saw the darnedest thing this morning - people queued out the front of a Footlocker store for the chance to buy a pair of the latest Adidas Harden Vol.1 trainers.


Footlocker went all out on this. The store front was blacked out and when I was passing by, there were some security guards handing out what appeared to be numbered tickets. The queue stretched right around the corner at Park St and almost to the next block. I have no idea how "limited" that this limited edition of these Adidas Harden Vol.1 trainers but if I was Adidas, I'd limit it to the number that you could sell before people lost interest.

This idea of waiting in a queue or camping out overnight isn't alien to me. I have stood in a queue overnight for tickets to centre court at Wimbledon. I have joined a queue at stupid o'clock in the morning for tickets to see Oasis. The idea that people will stand around in the cold, if it means that they will be the first to get the latest gizmo, or something of rarity that they'll be able to flog off on the secondary market, is totally understandable to me. Even if these people decide not to sell their brand new trainers to make a quick buck, then I get it. They want the satisfaction that they were first.

You see this same sort of mentality on YouTube all the time. When a video gets posted, quite often you'll see the word 'FIRST' in the comments section. Of itself, it adds nothing to the conversation but I think that there's a certain sort of innate joy that comes from doing a thing first. Dr Brady Haran of the Hello Internet podcast, Numberphile and Periodic Videos expressed this brilliantly when he spoke of being a kid and being the 'first to touch a tree' on New Year's Day (in 1984) but it isn't just the childlike joy of being first, people who are supposedly grown up do it too.
People speak of inventors who made the first telephone, transistor or television transmission. The lightbulb itself has become a metaphor for thinking up something for the first time. People remember who the first to visit the South Pole, Mt Everest or the Moon were. People remember where they were when someone did a thing first as well. It is almost as if that everyone is playing along by proxy.

For the vast majority of us who aren't inventors, scientists, discoverers or explorers, the chance to do something first doesn't come along very often. I remember walking through the Harbour Tunnel before it opened; I think it will be pretty neat to be among the first to ride on the North West Metro when it opens, and so I don't think of these people waiting in a queue to be among the first to own a new pair of trainers as being anything other than the modern equivalent of explorers.

The question then remains, why trainers of all things? Why not? Is there anything different in principle between collectors of art, coins, stamps, old books, antiques and say six year old children who like stickers? There doesn't have to be a sensible reason for it at all. People like what they like. I've written previously that trainers can have as interesting a story as anything else you might like to mention (see Horse 1933) and they've been around long enough now to have their own history. I think that it's also perfectly find for people to obsess over them and never wear them either. Is there anything different in principle between a trainer which is never worn, or a coin which remains uncirculated MS-70? I've seen people queue for several hours for uncirculated releases from the Royal Australian Mint.

Are these people camping out overnight to buy trainers crazy? Quite possibly but they're making an investment in their happiness; which may or may not pay dividends.

February 09, 2017

Horse 2226 - NCC1701

One of the things that I always notice, much to my Mrs Rollo's annoyance, is the number plates on cars and trucks on telly. I guess that one of the pitfalls about watching crime drama a lot is that you tend to scrutinise everything on the screen in case it's useful later on. This probably relates to the expectation that Chekhov’s Law is in operation - never put a gun on stage unless you intend to fire it. I'd go so far as to say that one of the games which you end up playing in a 'whodunnit' is trying to work out who done it. To that end, number plates on cars are helpful because sometimes you can work out where someone is, or who someone is.

Naturally this brings me to the most famous number plate in all of pop culture, which sits on the USS Enterprise - NCC1701. There have been various editions of this plate as additional suffixes on the end (think D in 'The Next Generation') but the first actually also follows normal and logical rules, which Mr Spock would be most pleased with.

N - although set sometime in the future and in a United Federation Of Planets, evidently that future still contains remnants of the current geopolitical system. The letter N as the opening letter on aircraft indicates that it is registered in the United States. Intriguingly, this also means that United States law also applies because the laws of the country of origin apply on-board ships and aircraft. It also means that if a baby were to be born on-board, that they would gain United States citizenship because they were born on US soil.

C - The second letter specifically denotes that this is a civil craft. This is interesting as throughout the television series and films, the Enterprise often fires cannon and torpedoes, though what those things mean when applied to space is anyone's guess.

C - In the twenty-first century, aircraft do not carry a third letter as an identifier with specific meaning. One can only assume that it must mean something in the future but I don't know what. I would hazard a guess that because the Enterprise is on a five year mission, of scientific discovery and splitting infinitives, that this letter is for that.

1701 - I have heard all sorts of explanations about this, from the number on the opposite side of the street from where Gene Roddenberry grew up as a kid, to someone's birthday, and as a nod to the production number. Whatever it is, isn't really important and so it could just be the next available number at the vehicle licencing office.

This line of enquiry led me to another nerdy thought. The format for the number plate of the USS Enterprise could have existed in the UK on a motor car.

NC - As a prefix opening code, this tells you that the car was first registered at a vehicle licencing centre in central Manchester.

C - This tells you that the car was registered in 1965; which itself is amusing because Star Trek came out in 1966, which means that there could have been a car wearing this number plate when the television show first aired.

1701 - UK number plates of the period are usually of the form XXX-YYYX where X is a letter and Y is a number. It isn't impossible though, for cars of the time to have four numbers instead of a terminal letter.

Taking this to its logical conclusion, if the number plate existed on a car in the UK, it would have been on a 1965 registered car and that could have very easily been on a Mark 1 Ford Cortina, which was the highest selling car in the UK in 1965. It's also amusing that the BBC television series Z-Cars is also contemporary to this and that invariably leads me to ponder the thought that if Star Trek had been made by the BBC, then it isn't beyond the realms of possibility that the HMS Enterprise could have had Captain James T Kirk played by none other than Brian Blessed.


In space, nobody can hear you scream - except if it's THE LOUDEST MAN IN THE UNIVERSE.

CRY 'HAVOC' AND LET SLIP THE DOGS OF WAR.


February 08, 2017

Horse 2225 - How To Look Good In A Hat

There are too many people wearing not enough hats and not enough people wearing too many hats. 
- Horse 562, Rollo, 7th Jun 2006¹.

A long time client came to our office the other day and among other things, he wanted our opinion on whether or not he looked good in his new trilby. In a perfectly non partisan, objective sample of two, my boss thought that he looked daft and I thought that he looked absolutely fine. As someone  who is known for wearing hats, the discussion then turned around why I am able to look good in a hat while other people are not.

From the outset, I don't agree with the validity of the premise. I don't think that I have some magical ability to look good in a hat, or that wearing any given hat would suit me more than someone else. The fact is that I am of slight build and am rather noodley in appearance; I think that I look more like a collection of voles who have managed to acquire a man suit and are operating it like the most complex marionette that the world has ever seen. You could paint me green and let me loose downtown and everyone would think that I would do an excellent Kermit The Frog impression. Would you put Kermit The Frog in a hat? Possibly.
Come to think of it, I have seen Kermit The Frog in a trench-coat and hat² and he looked absolutely fine.
No, the reason why I think that other people think that I look good in a hat is because the expectation that I can wear a hat and pull off the look, already exists.

In the grand old days of yore, from about the 1950s and earlier, the proportion of the population that wore hats was far more than it is now. If you look at photographs of people waiting for trains and buses, the number of hats which have settled upon people's heads is astonishing. One could argue that in a world where everyone wore brown and everyone also wore hats, that it was boring but if I had a time travel device, I would very much like to go to the 1910s and spend a small fortune in a milliner's shop.

I have been watching episodes of the television series Perry Mason recently and something that I've noticed is that the characters in the show that wear hats, tend to be older. This particular series is from 1958, when there were still 48 stars on the United States flag, when cars had sprouted giant fins at the back, and where the credit card is seen as a pretty nifty sort of thing. The wearing of hats was already on its way out then and by the 1960s, was really only the domain of the fuddy-duddy class, of which I am a card carrying member. A direct parallel can be seen today with the wearing of ties; if I look around the train carriage which I am currently seated in, I am the sole person wearing a tie. Button down shirts and shirts which have various patterns of chequers and pin stripes are common but no ties.

If the tie is now seen as more or less redundant, then the wearing of hats must have gone through that same cultural shift 60 years ago. I imagine that this is partly the reason why I like wearing hats and ties so often. Obviously, I am a piece of chronoreal³ jetsom that has floated through time and have landed in the early part of the twenty-first century. I like wearing hats and ties because deep down, I know that I don't belong in this century and probably should be in some government offices in Whitehall, deciding whether or not we should do anything about Kaiser Bill and the news of that unfortunate chap whose head exploded while he was taking a car ride in Sarajevo. If I watch an episode of Perry Mason, or perhaps Poirot or Marple, or maybe Sherlock Holmes with Basil Rathbone, I don't look on those things as period dramas but as fashion options.
Of course it does help that I also like wearing waistcoats and greatcoats but that merely serves to define what sort of hat that I can get away with. A cheesecutter can be worn with practically anything but a bowler demands a little bit more forethought, unless you happen to be a street urchin in either London or New York City in the 1890s.

If it exists at all, which I'm not especially convinced of, the reason why I am able to pull off wearing a hat is because somehow through the act of bravado, I have convinced the world that I look good in a hat. Such an argument is directly out of the offices of the Redundancy Department of the Department of Redundancy. Likewise, the reason why my boss might have thought that our client looked daft in a hat was because he had never seen this person in a hat before. The solution therefore, if our client wants to convince the world that he looks good in a hat, is to start wearing hats. Eventually people's expectations will match up with his desire to be seen to look good in a hat.

¹https://rollo75.blogspot.com.au/2006/06/horse-562-26-in-26-z-of-stuff.html
²https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VL-NeEbJw28 - Still a more credible news source than CNN, which is "fake news".
³If that wasn't a word before... IT IS NOW!

February 07, 2017

Horse 2224 - Pauline As PM? Tell Her, She's Dreaming

http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/pauline-hanson-has-no-problems-with-killer-vladimir-putin-would-be-honoured-to-be-pm-one-day-20170205-gu6392.html
Senator Hanson told Sunrise on Channel 7 on Monday she was thrilled with the strong performance of One Nation and even speculated that one day she could be Prime Minister.  
"To be PM, what an honour that would be. It is a privilege to be the leader of the nation. But it is a tough position and I can understand that you can't please everyone all the time," she said.
"My job now is to represent the people of Queensland and to build the party. Maybe one day, let down the track, in 15 or 20 years time, who knows what will happen." 
- Sydney Morning Herald, 6th Feb 2017

The problem with the "say what they think" approach to politics is that those who do say what they think continue to do so, even if what they think is nonsensical, illogical, irrational, or just plain barbarous. I think that that is the appeal of Pauline Hanson. As someone who speaks her mind, she says things which in the ears of those who like that sort of thing, find refreshing to hear. In the ears of those who bother to think about the content of what she says, she frequently appears to be unhinged. In particular, I find her voiced policies on taxation, economics, immigration and issues such as education and the environment, mostly to be disturbing.

Despite this, I still find it amusing when the media goes into a flap about some things that she has said because if you look into them for more than the three minutes before the media returns to some other point of outrage, or perhaps a video of a puppy falling over, then they instantly appear nonsensical and impossible. The thought that Pauline Hanson would be Prime Minister of this country, is amusing precisely because as things stand, it is impossible.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party polled roughly 9.1% of the vote in Queensland at the last federal election. Most of those votes were above the line for the One Nation Party rather than Pauline Hanson herself, owing to the way that Senate votes are counted. Across the country though, One Nation collected about 4.2% of first preference votes. On the face of it, One Nation is mostly a Queensland phenomenon but if we are looking at an absolute best case scenario, for the purposes of this, I'm going to assume that somehow, despite 9% of first preference votes being unable to carry any seat in the House Of Representatives, that One Nation would win 9% of the seats.

If One Nation were to win 9% of the seats, the would get 13 of 150 of the total and still be 63 seats short of the required number to claim government in their own right. Although the National Party under Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was able to claim government in its own right in the state parliament of Queensland (and arguably still does because the Liberals and the Nationals entered a formal union in Queensland), I'm not sure that that is possible at the federal level for a centre right party. Labor has frequently formed government in its own right at federal level but One Nation would be taking seats away from Labor.

With 13 seats in the House Of Representatives, One Nation would almost certainly hold the balance of power in just about every logical scenario that I can think of but it would need a seismic shift in politics in this country to dislodge the two major parties, of the like we haven't seen since the implosion of the United Australia Party and the creation of the Liberal Party.
I think it doubtful that One Nation would negotiate with the Labor Party and go into coalition with them and by default that would mean that if they wanted in, they would need to argue with both the Liberal and National parties (and the LNP in Queensland). At best, One Nation would be the smallest of three and a half parties in the centre right coalition.

This is where we drive into a brick wall at 110km/h, in a car with no brakes, no seat belts and no airbags. It is exceptionally rare that when you have two or more parties in coalition, that someone from a smaller party is able to gain control of the executive. Just a simple count of the members within the caucus makes this difficult and it takes exceptional circumstances,  such as Sir Earle Page or Arthur Fadden in the 1940s or John McEwen in 1967, for the leader of the smaller party in a coalition to land the top job. The way things usually fall out, the leader of the bigger party becomes the Prime Minister, with their pick also becoming Treasurer, and the leader of the smaller party becomes Deputy Prime Minister; which is only useful in the event that the Prime Minister dies.

I think that what people in Australia often forget (or haven't been bothered to learn) is that we don't vote for the Prime Minister, and nor is the executive of the nation subject to being wrangled from the outside. Especially since the rise of Donald Trump, who used the rules and did win the Presidency of the United States from the outside of the political parties (let's be honest about this, he isn't really a Republican), people make the mistake of thinking that the systems are alike when 117 years of evidence says otherwise.

It could very well be that in 20 years' time that One Nation is able to displace the National Party but that still doesn't change the fact that apart from that turbulent opening decade of the federal parliament when the parties were still sorting themselves out, Duverger's Law has always risen and there have always been two broad centres of power. Be it the Nationalist, United Australia or Liberal Party, there has almost always been one large centre right party and a smaller centre right party where the country and city come into conflict. That however, is not how things stand now.

One Nation is a nativist, borderline racist, centre right party. It has from time to time been quite vocal and been able to tilt the policies of the major parties but for Pauline Hanson to become Prime Minister, it would have to displace one of the major parties, and for it to do so when it currently doesn't even occupy a single seat in the House Of Representatives is in my not very well paid opinion, as nonsensical as their policies.

February 06, 2017

Horse 2223 - Fact Checking Is Like Nailing Down A Blancmange

At the weekend, I was given a project to fact check the claims being made by a video which someone had posted on Facebook. The video in question. centered around the travel ban which has now been imposed on seven Muslim majority countries and various aspects of the protests surrounding said ban. Apart from the use of a framing device of a theoretical 'other', which was very much a straw man that had been set up, the problem with the video was that of all the things I fact checked (which usually came at the end of a paragraph of speech), 5 of 13 things were absolutely true, 6 of 13 things were dubious or doubtful and 2 of the 13 things were outright lies that were easily proven by finding direct quotes.

A lot has been made of so-called 'fake news' over the past couple of weeks and months, and the inadvertent coining of the term 'alternative facts' which is a brilliant piece of doublespeak for lies that someone wants you to believe, merely serves to prove that the algorithms which now act as the gatekeepers of what we're more likely to see, are reinforcement filters for what we already believe.

One of the results of the democratisation of the internet is that the entry costs to publishing something are far lower than they used to be. Apart from the annoyance of advertising which now accompanies Facebook and Twitter, the end cost to the user to publish their opinions is negligible. The entry costs which are the costs of the equipment are minimal; a video camera and computer cost far less than the traditional media infrastructure assets which were/are broadcast towers and licences in the case of television and radio, and massive printing presses and paper costs for print media. Also, the cost of news collection is something which traditional media did and still does bear; which someone working at home on their computer does not. I for instance pay $0 to publish this very blog and the only cost which I bear is the thinking time on the train (which is otherwise worthless).
With entry costs to publishing so low and the tools to publish so prevalent, it has meant that many new players have entered the marketplace of ideas. The problem is that, it is exceptionally easy to produce something which people will accept as newsworthy. It  doesn't take a lot to find graphic designers, to build a website of similar style to the traditional media outlets.

In consequence to all of this, what people will accept as fact, or believable, is now far more open to a lot of different sources than it otherwise might have been. The flip side is that people's willingness to properly scrutinise what they are being told, hasn't changed at all. In conjunction with the algorithms that reinforce what we already believe to be true, this has led to phenomena such as the video which I was asked to fact check. That video contained 5 pieces of truth, 6 pieces of things that are dubious but which might very well be believable if they agree with what you already believe and 2 things which were false but which might be acceptable as something to be believed if it agrees with what you already believe and which most people won't bother to fact check because people are lazy. If someone does bother to fact check something like this, then the news cycle has already  moved on and there will be other things which need to be fact checked and the game moves on forever.

Like it or not, the aggregation of people's beliefs is ultimately what determines the shape, colour and even the rules of society. As little as thirty years ago, because there were so few sources of news information, an untruth in the media would be spotted far more quickly because there were far more eyeballs looking at exactly the same thing. That doesn't happen as much any more.
Don't get me wrong here, I don't view the past as some intelligent utopia of truthiness. People are just as lazy as they always were. It's just that with fewer sources for news, there was a greater awareness that those sources might be biased and a greater idea of what those biases were. Today, it is much harder to work out what those biases are and if the source already agrees with what you already believe, then the desire to question them doesn't exist.
I'm also just as guilty as everyone else in this respect. As someone who rejects various premises from both of the two broad camps of what generally coalesces into the left and the right, I find myself questioning all sorts of things but even I will accept some things to be true and they can and should be questioned.

I think that one of the reasons why a video like the one I was asked to fact check works so well, is that the person who has made the video genuinely believes what they are saying. Even the existence of proof that there are untruths contained in what the chap said, he'd more than likely dismiss those things and move on, with no explanation offered. Part of the art of constructing a believable lie is to build it out of other truths. If you do bother to point out to someone where all the lies are, they'll question your sanity because it follows that if there is some truth in there then surely it can't be designed to deceive, can it? Besides which, in the meantime there's already been another fifteen other things that need fact checking and they all must be true if they're saying similar things too, right?

February 05, 2017

Horse 2222 - Alternative Facts About America

The Battle of Saratoga was the beginning of the end for the American rebellion. Under Benedict Arnold, the British and Loyalist troops held fast and eventually the rebels were brought to heel. Mostly from this point, the fighting died in intensity and when news that as a result of Wedderburn's Case which was handed down later in 1777, that slavery had been abolished at common law, the American generals including Washington concluded that terms of armistice would be agreeable.

Being the skilled diplomats that they were, people like John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were sent to London to explain the American case that the thought that they would be subject to taxation but without having representation in the House Of Commons was repugnant. It was inconvenient for Americans to send Members Of Parliament across an ocean to Westminster and they proposed that America should be given dominion status similar to that which Scotland had enjoyed before the first Act Of Union in 1707. The Commons found this agreeable and passed legislation to confer responsible government upon what would become the new Dominion Of America, on July 4th 1786, which was a year and a day after King George had given his assent.

As a Dominion, America would be able to enact and pass legislation for itself and be responsible for itself but the King would still appoint a Governor-General who would act as his representative, in the same way that the existing Governors had done in the colonies. As a commonwealth, the various colonies became provinces; all with their own parliaments and they were all broadly identical to the mother of all of them at Westminster. In time, new provinces would be added to the commonwealth, until they finally settled on the 64 that we see today.

Because the Colonial Laws Validity Act was still a long way in the future, it meant that when the Slave Trade Act of 1804 and eventually the Slave Trade Abolition Act in 1833,  America would see the end of slavery without having to pass its own legislation. The day of the nineteenth century was a period of great peace for the Dominion Of America and when new provinces were added to the commonwealth, they all joined in a spirit of good humour and civility. By the time of Prime Minister James Garfield, America was adding the ideas of universal education to an already grand legacy. This spirit would be echoed again and again, which helps to explain why the National Health Service of America is both the largest government health system in the world, as well as the most successful and cheapest single owner operator system. With just a single levy of 1.5% which is called the Medicare Levy, all Americans enjoy full coverage of health care costs.

The Dominion Of America would in due time develop a written constitution and this was adopted on July 1st 1867. There had been discussions in a series of conventions as to what a changing government should look like, to more accurately reflect the diversity of the people. An interesting sticking point lay with the subject of the rights of the citizenry to defend itself but consensus was reached that the use of firearms in urban environments was in opposition to the general welfare of free people and this was specifically excluded from the Bill Of Rights Act 1870 on the basis that it was self-evident that widespread firearm ownership destroyed people's life, liberty and happiness.
In 1901, the Dominion Of America and the six colonies who federated together in Australia, both became Commonwealths under Queen Victoria. Not long after the First World War, America changed its flag after Puerto Rico became a province, to a flag of 60 stars in the canton and thirteen stripes to represent the original thirteen provinces. A star was added for Newfoundland in 1949, Alaska in 1958, Hawaii in 1959 and Nunavut in 1999.

The capital had moved on several occasions, from New York City in New York Province, to Washington in Maryland, until it finally settled as Ottawa in Ontario. There had been a suggestion that to avoid favouritism, that a national capital territory be created, which would be separate and distinct from the surrounding province but the idea was quashed after it was quite rightly pointed out that such a proposal might disenfranchise the people living there. It was also decided that a proper house be built for the Prime Minister and the White House was completed in 1870, with Ulysses S. Grant being the first to move in.

There are currently 512 members of the House Of Commons, with 128 Senators (being 2 for each province). The House Of Commons is elected on a proportional representation basis at-large for the province and the Senate which is the house of review is elected on a most-votes-wins basis, for those two positions per province. Because the Commons uses a proportional basis, it frequently means that third, fourth and fifth parties are elected and many independents. During the Premiership of the 44th Prime Minister Barack Obama, his so-called 'rainbow coalition' was made up of six parties, including the Tea Party who usually side with the Conservatives. The current Prime Minister Donald Trump, pulled together both the Conservatives, the Freedom Party and the Grand Old Party.

Prime Minister Trump's cabinet, like every cabinet in  Westminster system, is selected from the sitting members of the parliament and his cabinet has been very conservative and sensible, reflecting his very conciliatory nature. It was the first cabinet in a long time in which there were absolutely no concerns about the competence and capability of the Ministers appointed. The current Secretary of State Justin Trudeau, particularly embodies the spirit of goodwill and kindness that the Commonwealth Of America consistently displays, with his ongoing dialogue and efforts to find safe passage to America for refugees from seven nations in the world which are suffering from singularly unstable domestic affairs issues.

From an Australian perspective, Prime Minister Trump has been very civil towards our own Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, citing a recent deal to take refugees from Manus Island and Nauru, which was brokered between the Australia and America in the closing weeks of the Obama administration. Details of a jovial and cordial phone conversation with Mr Turnbull, which Mr Trump reportedly described as "the happiest by far", were published by the Washington Post on Thursday.

People around the world love America and its current Prime Minister Donald Trump. He is known for going to the airport to personally greet Syrian refugees and help hand out warm winter coats.

February 03, 2017

Horse 2221 - Stupidity Of Olympic Proportions

The Marathon is in my not very well paid opinion, the most nasty, brutal, difficult and physically taxing of all the Olympic sports. The legend of the first runner, who ran the distance of 26 and a bit miles to relay the news about said eponymous Battle Of Marathon, collapsed and died immediately after he had delivered the message. It should come as no surprise that unlike other sports such as sprint racing, swimming, archery, judo and whatnot, there are no back to back Olympic Marathon Champions. Furthermore it seems to be the case that everyone who attempts this torture test of an event, only has about three of them where they are at their absolute peak, in their entire sporting career. Picking who the Olympic Champion will be in the Marathon, is a bit like picking the weather in a city in which you don't live, on a given date four years in the future.

I was looking through a book in the library for a completely unconnected reason and by happenstance I came across the sordid tale of the Marathon at the 1904 Olympic Games at St Louis. Just about everything in this whole story is a comedy of errors and if it wasn't true, if you made a movie about it, you'd be accused of either padding the truth or making stuff up.

For a start, the fact that the 1904 Olympics were in St Louis was a debacle from the get go. The city which had won the bidding process was Chicago but as the city of St Louis was already hosting a World's Fair, they threatened to hold their own sporting fair so that they wouldn't be overshadowed. Chicago surrendered and the President of the International Olympic Committee had to step in and authorise the change. Also, right up until 1948, the Olympics also included cultural events and it was possible to win medals in bizarre things like art and architecture.

As for the Marathon itself, it was held in quite frankly brutal conditions; being run over dirt roads (which because it was 1904 was normal for most of the roads in the world) and in temperatures of more than 32°C. It was so bad that roughly half of the competitors pulled out during the event and among those who did finish, there were more than a few unusual tales.


0th place - Frederick Lorz: Disqualified.
Fred Lorz who was a bricklayer by day and marathon runner by night, had won his place in the American Olympic team by winning a seven mile race at Celtic Park in New York, a fortnight before the Olympic Marathon in St Louis a fortnight later.
As he had been training at night, rather than the heat of the day which got up to 32°C, he collapsed after about nine miles and was given a lift by his manager in a motor car until that also broke down ten miles later. Thinking it would be a great practical joke, Lorz ran the rest of the marathon and crossed the line first.
Naturally he was found to have cheated and was rightfully disqualified. He was then banned by the Amateur Athletic Union for competing for a year, but would later go on to win the 1905 Boston Marathon.

1st place - Thomas Hicks: Also cheated.
Apart from Lorz who had sped on in a motor car, Thomas Hicks was leading the field by about a mile and a half before he too began to suffer the effects of the heat. His manager thought it would be a good idea to give him a dose of strychnine sulfate and brandy, which was thought at the time to be a muscle stimulant and similar to caffeine.
Hicks continued on and started to hallucinate, all the while being topped up with more doses of strychnine sulfate and brandy, in a drunken stupor and eventually when he reached the stadium, he had to be helped across the line by his manager and another support member. After he crossed the line, he collapsed and had to be treated by medical staff but as there were no rules with regards the use of drugs, the officials found nothing wrong and awarded him with the gold medal anyway.

2nd place - Albert Corey: Competed for the wrong country.
Louis Albert Coray had arrived in the United States from France in 1903 but changed his name to be more acceptable to his new home. As France did not send a team to the 1904 Summer Olympics, Corey under the banner of the Chicago Athletic Association and his silver medal was included with the United States.

4th place - Andarín Carvajal: A comedy of errors.
Carvajal arrived in New Orleans, after taking the boat from Cuba and lost all his money and equipment in a craps game and had to walk and hitchhike to St. Louis. As he didn't have any proper equipment, he cut a pair of his trousers into shorts and ran the marathon in his regular boots.
During the marathon he stopped on the way to have a chat with some spectators, he stole some peaches from the back of a car which had been parked on the side of the road and he also stopped to eat some apples which he took from a tree, which turned out to be rotten. As he felt sick, he decided to stop and have a nap and still managed to come fourth.

9th place and 12th place - Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani: They weren't even supposed to be there.
In 1904, the Olympics were held in conjunction with the World’s Fair, which celebrated the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase. Len Taunyane and Jan Mashiani had travlled to St Louis as part of the Boer War exhibition and were there to take part in the re-enactments of the Battles of Colenso and Paardeberg.
Evidently they thought that they thought that entering the marathon was a bit of a lark and as Taunyane had been a despatch runner, he already had the skills to run long distance. He said that he would have done better if he hadn't been chased through a field about half a mile off course by some agressive farm dogs who took excpetion to him.

It doesn't stop there though:

DNF - John Lordan: Started vomiting after half a mile and gave up.
DNF - Frank Pierce: Was the first Native American to compete for the United States in the Olympic Games.
DNF - William Garcia: Had collapsed at about the half way mark and was found lying by the side of the road. He was later found to have been suffering from a serious hemorrhage of the membraneous wall of his stomach as a result of the dust particles which had been kicked up by the officials' motor cars.

Forget Chariots Of Fire with its very British story set in the 1920s but with 1970s synthesizer music, this is the Olympic event which deserves its own movie. Forget films like the Hunger Games, this wasn't something set in a dystopian future but a past that actually happened. It is this running of the marathon in particular which makes me think that there was more than just a hint of truth in the Greek legend. If there is a moral to the story in all of this, it is this:

If you need to go somewhere, take a car. It's the best option and you probably won't die.

February 01, 2017

Horse 2220 - Fragments V: The Final Frontier Strikes Back

A very long time ago, someone much wiser than me said that if you want to be a writer, then you should write something every day, no matter how bad it is. As a result of this, my tablet always ends up with a whole heap of detritus that doesn't really go anywhere, or is useful for anything.

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DM19 - Demountable?

I remember being in demountable classrooms, where the temperature outside was 35°C and the temperature inside was closer to 50°C because the heat from the sun would be stored and then magnified and re-radiated by the metal roof. Air conditioning in such a building was both pointless and ineffective because all of the warmth in the winter and all of the coolth in the summer would just leak out through the joins. On one particular day in Year 1, I can remember tripping over something in the classroom and then dropping my workbook through the join; to the dirt below.

The fans in those demountable buildings had a design at the centre which resembled the letter ü with an umlaut missing. The click of fans spinning around provided the soundtrack to many a summer; accompanied by the ceaseless screeching of fifty million cicadas, all in the key of H#.
One of the strangest things that I can remember was that when I was in Year 4, the teacher brought in an Sony Quintrix television, which was ancient even for back then, and we watched the Olympic Games from Seoul. This was back in the day when televisions in the classroom warranted a massive metal frame; which meant that those of us up in demountable land hardly ever saw them.

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CA27 - Skewing ODI Statistics

Apart from the fact that we had the morally and logically questionable public holiday of Australia Day yesterday, I think that we saw something equally dubious at the Adelaide Oval. I don't want to take anything away from the obviously brilliant and skilled batsman David Warner, who posted a score of 179 with such style and aplomb that he made Sir Donald Bradman turn over the snags on his imaginary barbecue in his grave, but I do want to extend my right finger skywards before dismissing the noble game of cricket itself and sending it back to the pavilion. Something about what we saw yesterday was decidedly not cricket.

If you cast your minds to a world where everything was played in black and white, including cricket, one of the more charming turns of phrase of the game came about because of one very particular aspect of the rules. When a batsman dispatched a delivery to the boundary, it would "rattle the pickets". When Kerry Packer came along in the 1970s and turned everyone from flanneled fools into colourful clowns with the invention of World Series Cricket, those picket fences began to be covered up by advert hoardings for cigarettes, alcohol, pies, paint, motor cars and other companies wanting to hawk their goods and services. The little red ball, or white if it had gone anemic in a One Day match, would clatter into an advertising board with a large thud.
At some point in the late 1990s, in an effort to both standardise the game and for occupational health and safety reasons, a rope was brought in. In time that too would be covered over by an advertising sponge but the adverts for cigarettes would not return.

The point is that not only did a change in the rules bring the boundaries closer but by having a rope rather than a fence, it also reduced the height of the boundaries from as much as five feet at the MCG to only three inches at most.
My complaint is that the scores at the moment (and yesterday was one such example) are hideously inflated and I think beyond the point of sanity. I absolutely accept that we live in an age of vastly increased professionalism and that players on the whole have far more skill which has been built up through training, and to be honest the introduction of Twenty 20 has developed a confidence in batsmen that was previously not as flamboyant but I do wonder if changing the way that the boundaries affect the scores is for the worse.

In the outer suburbs of Melbourne's east, VFL Park was built as new venue which replaced several Australian Rules clubs home grounds that by the late 1970s were falling into disrepair. When Kerry Packer wanted to find a home for his World Series Cricket, the Victorian Cricket Association and the MCG Trust both refused to let Packer set up shop at the MCG and so he made a deal with the VFL to host cricket at VFL Park.
The thing about VFL Park was that it was massive. At night you'd be driving along the expressway, pull off into what back then was mainly fields, and as you approached from the west and came over a hill, VFL Park would seemingly rise out of the earth like a behemoth of light. The ground itself was so incredibly huge that I doubt whether it was ever filled to capacity. I was there for an Australian Rules semi-final and there were more than a hundred thousand people there and the place still only looked about three quarters full.

The Adelaide Oval is already famous for having narrow sides but yesterday, with the rope in, the distance from the stumps to the boundary was only 56 metres; that's not even the length of three cricket pitches. What I'm getting at is that in the days of VFL Park, when there was no rope, it was a full 94 metres to the boundary. If you also add in the fact that the ball had to go over the fence as well, then that's going to have a major effect on the scores. If you bring the boundaries in by more than a third, then the amount of boundary 4s and 6s is going to increase and suddenly where once a batsman might have only scored 2, they might now be rewarded with double and triple the amount for exactly the same shot.

I don't wish to be a curmudgeonly old git who wants to say that things were better back in my day because clearly the overall quality of batting in particular is demonstrably better than in days of yore but by bringing in the ropes to such a degree cheapens the scores. Where once a century or fifty was something which had to be ground out and worked for, the fact that they now come with alarming regularity should be cause for concern by the administrators of the game but it isn't. Where once a score of 225 might have been defendable, now scores of a hundred more than that might not be good enough. Eight an over is possible in Twenty 20 cricket and now in the one day version seven and a half is achievable but in the days when the boundary wasn't just a rope but a whole fence as well and it was further away, five an over was a good fighting target.

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OG20 - Am I Officially A Geezer Yet?

Late last year, I realised that it had been twenty years since I left high school. Back then, John Howard was the Prime Minister, Bill Clinton was the President of the United States, John Major was still living at Number 10 and this new fangled thing called a internet had only really been widespread in people's homes for about four years. There was no such thing as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook or live at streaming of radio. I bet that if I were to meet my eighteen year old self, I would find him intolerable for the most part but at very least we could agree that Liverpool had thrown yet another league title away pointlessly.

As the silent foot of time has stolen swiftly by, the arrows of outrageous fortune and the ravages of time have seen several of my bones an ACL broken, the arrival of hemorrhoids and Father Time has started to spray paint my temples in silver. Some would call it the mark of wisdom but that implies that I have learned something, which is mostly untrue. If I have learned anything at all, it is that I have no clue about how the world works most of the time and that in general, neither does anyone else. Lately though, in addition to everything else that old age can throw at me, I've noticed that my short range eyesight has decided to pack it in.

While looking this up, I've found that the people who write medical dictionaries are all a bunch of jokers. It wasn't enough to describe the reasons why people's eyesight gets worse, they had to give it a name which pokes fun at it as well. The word for this specific complaint is "presbyopia" which comes from two Greek components meaning "old man" and "eyes". Quite literally from an etemological standpoint, I have " old man eyes".

The short explanation is that the iris of the eyes are not as elastic as they once were and this means that they now focus to a point behind the retina. This can be remedied by the use of corrective glasses but it still means that I have to go through the inconvenience of getting my eyes tested and then having to fill out a prescription. I could feign some sort of airs and graces about the whole thing but instead of looking like a university professor, I know that I'll  just look like a git.

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SM77 - Superman Doesn't Mow The Lawn

I kind of don't understand what it is about Superman that we're supposed to look up to. Is he supposed to be someone who we should try and emulate? Because by very definition, as a superhero, if you don't have super powers, then that's impossible. A modem take on Lois Lane makes her out to be a little bit stupid but if you go back and read through the stories from the 1940s and 1950s, she's a journalist who is using her journalistic skills to prove that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person but she is constantly thwarted in her attempts to do so by him. If you examine that for any more than about thirty seconds, you then realise that Superman is actually a major cad.
I have only seen one Batman movie, which was the one from the late 1980s and that was enough. Batman seems more straightforward because he is someone who is trying to exact revenge on the general concept of crime and as we all know, going to war against a concept like drugs, terror or communism, never goes well for anyone.

I like the 1960s Batman with Adam West because I like that they knew that the whole superhero trope is hokey and played the whole thing out, so far over the top that it hit the bell and won the prize. Likewise, I haven't yet seen the Lego Batman Movie but I suspect that it will also hit that same bell.
What I don't understand though, is why Batman in the 1940s started out as a weird vigilante detective. If that was explored, then maybe you might end up with a hybrid sort of Midsomer Murders meets Mythbusters: someone looking at intensely creepy things but with access to incredible machinery and a virtually unlimited budget.

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TP45 - Trump Vanilla With Nuts

On top of this, Trump isn't particularly all that different from presidents that have gone before. Comments that he's made about immigrants and Mexicans, could have very easily been said by presidents in the pre-Civil War period, or maybe someone more modern like Woodrow Wilson. His voiced policies of isolationism echo that of the period of Teddy Roosevelt and his attitude towards women is comparable with that of Warren G Harding; who by the way installed a cabinet filled with so many knaves and blackguards that two of them went to prison on corruption charges while in office.

Just looking at his cabinet, he doesn't seem to be the sort of person who wants to see his worldview expanded. I'm not sure that he would appoint anyone who would fundamentally challenge his opinions. From what I've seen this far, his whole cabinet is made up of people who sound exactly the same as him; I don't know if that makes it a confederacy of dunces but it qualifies as an abundance of idiotic sycophants. For instance it isn't uncommon for a presidential hopeful to release their medical records but what I've found completely insane on reflection is how much Donald Trump's doctor sounded exactly like Donald Trump. He has the greatest health of anyone ever running for president? Seriously? Does that include basketball playing Obama, W Bush the hiker, or Teddy Roosevelt who liked having alligators at the White House because he was that hard core?

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YY98 - Tourist Trophy

It shouldn't really surprise me but I was on the M30 bus to work this morning and as we were passing over the Harbour Bridge, a group of half a dozen tourists got their phones out and started taking pictures of the Bridge, the Opera House and the harbour. I guess that because I pass this way as many as a thousand times a year (actually not hyperbole) that the sight of people taking pictures is still amusing to me.

It is really easy to forget that because I live in this city by the harbour, that to most people in the world, it is something different and exotic. The traffic is on the wrong side of the road, everyone speaks with an accent that's really weird and when you open your wallet to buy anything, all of the money is colourful.