February 13, 2016

Horse 2073 - Trafalgar Square, Mosman: A Story That Nobody Is Sure About; In Memoriam Of Someone That Nobody Remembered

In 1912 the suburb of Mosman was a quiet place. Taronga Zoological Park was under construction and the tram lines diverted at Spit Junction; with one route continuing down Military Road towards where the new zoo was being built and towards Balmoral Beach, and the other towards The Spit and a wharf which no longer exists. Spit Junction proper was in what is now called Mosman Square and the intersection of Military Road and Spit Road wasn't really anything, except that it had a corner store on what was a proper corner. In July of that year though, the intersection would change dramatically with the construction of two impressive buildings.

On the southwest corner the Bank of New South Wales purchased the land from a resident and then promptly demolished the building and replaced it with a two storey affair which subsequently passed through several hands including the Commonwealth Bank and the Bank of Australasia before eventually being divided in half and becoming offices and a jeweler's shop, which is the current configuration of the building today. Next to that though, on the city side, another building was erected which has a slightly more amusing history.

From what I can gather, the first building on the site was built by James Halstead in 1899. There is some speculation that he was the person who gave the building its name and that this was simply carried over to the new building; however I can't corroborate that with any records that I found in the local history unit of the library. The more likely story is told below.

Warning: Some of this might be wildly untrue. The following contains weapons of mass speculation.

Benjamin Nelson who was a property developer, built his own building which he hoped would be filled with fancy shops. Unfortunately, as the banks decided to locate themselves along Military Road and towards the zoo, the retail traffic that his imagined fancy shops would attract, never materialized. In a bid to bring tenants to his building, Nelson did something which is kind of remarkable. Instead of painting the building or reducing the rent, he ordered that a fancier façade be built on the roof and he decided to put a name on the building. Naming a building is not particularly uncommon but what the name that Nelson had affixed to his new façade wasn't the name of the building: Nelson had chosen to rename the intersection. Moreover; owing to the fact that his name was Nelson, the name of the intersection would be Trafalgar Square. That name is still on the building today.

A lot of names for places are arrived at through historical accident that just happens to settle. Chatswood for example was originally named Chattie's Wood after Charlotte Harnett, wife of then Mayor of Willoughby. That name has been shortened as is often the way in Australia. The Meccano Set is an intersection which is so named because of the steel signage gantry which hangs above it. I'm sure that whoever Thompson's Corner in Pennant Hills and Pearce's Corner in Hornsby are named after are mostly lost to obscurity but the names have lasted longer than their fame.

Trafalgar Square in Mosman sounds like it was named after the maddening gyratory circus in London and maybe it was but at the time of naming, it was a funny shaped t-junction; with a building owner on an ego trip.
It certainly provides a vast contrast to the Trafalgar Square in London which got its name after the great Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson aboard HMS Victory commanded the British fleet to an unmitigated smack down victory (22 French and Spanish ships lost to the British 0) off the coast of Cape Trafalgar.

Even though the name has stood proudly over the intersection for more than a hundred years though, it hasn't stuck. When the tram lines were ripped up by the Cahill Government, what was a sort of mish-mash of an intersection, was turned into a fairly normal t-junction with Military Road towards the zoo becoming a reasonably minor road. Nelson's building with the name Trafalgar Square, found itself in a busier place but still nobody stopped because the road became a main arterial. Worse, the name Spit Junction shifted from the tram junction when it disappeared, to the t-junction which previously hadn't borne the name.

I don't know if Benjamin Nelson was alive by that stage but I can imagine him being petulant when nobody called the t-junction of Military Road and Spit Road the name which he had bestowed upon it: Trafalgar Square. The name still survives as a hundred year old appendix to a story that no-one is really sure about and as evidenced by the fact that everyone calls the intersection Spit Junction, they don't care about it either.

February 11, 2016

Horse 2072 - The Huffington Post: A Band Of Sweary Thieves? Maybe.

A funny thing happened to me on the way here tonight... No, seriously. This is odd.
Of all the people who I knew who started a blog in the late 90's, I am the last one who generates anything on a semi regular basis if at all. As soon as a platform came along which allowed comments to be posted, I allowed those to appear as well. Mostly the comments that I get these days are spammers who are trying to sell something or drive traffic to their own clickbaity domains but occasionally I will get genuine comments.

Last night, I got a comment on a post which I'd written about the US Presidential race which was so poorly written that it was laughable, so laden with profanity that even a tradesman would have asked for an apology, and carried threats of harm to my family and children (I don't have any children; so good luck with that). The comment would have gone straight into the Deleted Folder, which would have gone into the Recycle Bin, which itself would have gone into a Nuclear Waste Holding Container to be buried for ten thousand years if it wasn't for the accusation that I'd stolen the post from the Huffington Post.

I did a quick search to have a look for the various key phrases in the posy in question but I couldn't find anything and immediately wondered what in Lincoln's name was going on.
It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest that the Huffington Post had stolen a blog post of mine. For reasons that aren't clear to me, other than the bigger army method of diplomacy, copyright law doesn't apply to large firms when they steal content, freeboot and monetize individual's stuff but if an individual were to do likewise, they'd be all over it like a swarm of wasps on a cake that had been left out in the rain. It also doesn't surprise me that the Huffington Post, which is renowned for exploiting writers would either plagerise or spork content either.

I have a pretty good idea of the number of people who read this blog on a regular basis, where they live in the world, whether they arrived by Twitter, Facebook, Paper.Li, various news aggregators or even directly. I can even tell how many bots sweep by, searching fo r URLs to link to. What I can't tell is how much is plagerised, sporked and stolen. That's frightfully difficult considering that I've generated blog posts which comprise well over two and a half million words over the years. I suppose that I could get some sort of program to trawl the web for me but it's just not worth the effort.

This brings me to the subject of the Huffington Post. When the Huff Post started an Australian arm, they sent on email to various journalists and bloggers to ask if they would write for them. I had the tenacity to ask how much I would be paid to write for them and they told me that I would be paid nothing. In return for writing for the Huff Post, they would give me "exposure", they said. I sent them a curt by polite reply explaining that you can't pay the bills with "exposure" and I declined their "generous" offer. I have subsequently found out that this was not uncommon and that the Huffington Post solicited lots of bloggers to write for free for them.

So when I got a sweary, badly written and threatening comment from someone claiming that I'd taken content from the Huff, I was both amused and confused. If this was just some random person on the internet who likes to spit bile, then that's fine because those people are as common as house flies, buy what bothers me about that is that they've seen something on the Huff Post and are blaming me of theft, while the Huff Post is selling advertising space. If however this was someone from the Huff Post themselves who are firing a warning shot because their web trawlers have found similar content, and that is something which I wouldn't put past them, then it seems strange to me that you would want to chop down the very cherry tree which you've been stealing cherries from.

If there is someone who would like to actually pay real money for me to write for them, then that would be just fine. Everyone has their price and my price just happens to be some number of dollars. If you want to throw a bucket of many thousands of dollarpounds at me, then I would gladly accept your burden however gigantically massive it is. Capitalism, Ho! If however, you are the freebooting, invective dripping, thieves at the Huffington Post, then I'm afraid that you've made your mission and objective clear. Let's see ye be stealing this.

February 10, 2016

Horse 2071 - "How Is This Considered A Lowly Paid Worker?" How Indeed?

On ABC1's QandA program (which has become part of what's known as Outrage Monday in some quarters), a question was put to the panel which I think is interesting.

I've got a lot of 18 year old staff members that earn up to $38 an hour on a Sunday in the hospitality sector. We've had to increase the costs of running weddings and events and saw us have a decrease of one third of our events last year. We lost 17 events because we had to put the price up on Sundays. Lower rates would mean more jobs, certainly in the wedding and events sector. I'm not saying to rip them off at all. Even on a Monday to Friday, they earn $23 an hour as a casual as an 18 year old, with a level 3 hospitality worker earning over $38 per hour on a Sunday as an 18 year old, how is this considered a lowly paid worker?
- Mary-Anne Lowe, on ABC1's Q and A, 8th Feb 2016.

Mary-Anne Lowe is a businesswoman in primarily the wedding and events planning sector. She is the owner and operator several businesses including Events with Style, Bridal Events Australia, The Riverstone Estate and the Linley Estate, Kilsyth, which are in Melbourne's North East.
She seems like a pretty driven sort of person because she is also a Councillor on Maroondah City Council in Melbourne's North East.

It probably seems incredible to this lady that her staff are paid $23 an hour and as much as $38 an hour on Sundays. As an employer, she is motivated to reduce input costs and for most businesses, the biggest input cost are labour; naturally as a businesswoman, as that's the largest input cost, then logically that's the one that deserves the most attention. Scratch the surface though and even the most rudimentary of calculations tell a pretty telling tale.

Let's just assume for a second that one of her members of staff is employed at $38 an hour and that their entire working week is crammed into Sunday. At $38 an hour for 40 hours, and yes I know that there aren't forty hours in a Sunday but clearly this lady is living in a fantasy land, so that's what we're up against, that's $79,040 per year. Average Weekly Ordinary Time Earnings or AWOTE is $X and so that's what we're up against.
If we assume that they are on $23 an hour and working 40 hours a week, which is still a fantasy since she herself said that these people were "casual staff", then that's $47,840; which is way lower than AWOTE and still lower than the median wage in Australia.

A more reasonable assumption is that her staff as casual labour, are on far less hours than forty a week and so even the estimate of $47,840 per year for each and every one of her staff seems optimistic at best. If they are on $20 hours per week, which might be more likely, they're probably on an effective yearly wage somewhere in the region of about $32,000 a year.

If they happen to be living in the cheapest possible accommodation in the region of Kilsyth, in Melbourne's outer eastern suburbs, where train and tram dare not tread, then the absolute scummiest place that I could find was still charging $340 per week. If you take away $17,680 from the wage that this lady is paying out, then you're going to be left with $14,320 a year or just $276 per week and from that tax, petrol (because public transport in that part of the world doesn't exist), electricity, water, gas, telephone and internet has to be taken out and that's before you even think about groceries and going out.
This is before you even consider the fact that the sorts of people who are likely to be employed in this line of work are either those people who aren't particularly well educated and that this is all that their skill set will allow, those who are looking to make a little bit extra because their budget was already tight, and students who are looking to compliment what meager funds might already be available to them or worse, they are working to pay their own way through university. All three wish that they were paid more and perhaps if life was a little bit friendlier, none of them would even find themselves needing to work in such circumstances.

Ms Lowe probably looks at the realm of casual staff and thinks to herself that there are people flipping burgers who are being paid far less than she is paying for her staff and has come to the conclusion that she must be some sort of uber generous saint. Given that her turnover is more than $2 million a year (or so she boasts on one of her myriad of websites) then it's probably reasonable to also assume that she herself is on a multiple of at least five times and possibly ten times the average wage of her employees.
The Hospitality General Award 2010³ says that for a Casual worker, they should be paid 125% of the base rate which is $19.10 an hour, which works out to be $23.88 an hour. I don't know how "generous" you are being if you're only prepared to pay what the award says. Ms Lowe kind of implies that she would like to pay her employees less if the law allowed.
She also doesn't go on to qualify why exactly she "had to put the price up on Sundays". The award has been in place for 5 whole years now; and hasn't had any modifications to it. That means that the price of wages also hasn't risen in that period. This remains a mystery.

It must be said that humans are both selfish and incredibly egocentric creatures. We tend to have a very high view of our contribution to the world and think of ourselves as being wonderfully virtuous, such as being kind or generous or competent, when the demonstrated reality might be far from that indeed. For instance, if you ask people how charitable they are, most people will proclaim that they are immensely so but probe into their tax returns and the truth often dissolves their claims in the same way that a furnace does to a piece of tissue paper. The actual charitable rate across the nation is closer to 1% and statistics show that it tends to fall as income rises.

Again, I would suggest that Ms Lowe probably looks at her group of friends and because they're all leading wonderful lives, then the inference must be that her employees are also leading wonderful lives because she is so generous with her wages. Her question on QandA almost seems to come from a place of smugness. "How dare you accuse me of paying low wages!" she might say. I will confess though, that while it isn't fair to put words into someone else's mouth, I have seen exactly this attitude from other business owners before, even in circumstances where they weren't even paying the award wage. Admittedly I do not have the advantage of looking at this books of the business and it's safe to assume that everything is totally above board but attitude is important and often attitudes accidentally spill out of the well of people's hearts through that smallest of openings, their mouth.
The right to free speech exists; as does the right (and responsibility) of those listening to judge what has been said.

So no, I can not reliably say that this lady does pay her employees a low wage definitively but the inference that I draw shows that it might be likely. For her to stand up on national television and declare that she'd like to pay her employees less, in spite of the fact that they are being hired on days which is already inconvenient and that they are probably the sort of people who would appreciate every dollar they have more than she does, indicates to me that there might already be attitudes on display.

In answer to the original question of "how is this considered a lowly paid worker?", well I would have thought that someone on 40% of AWOTE or just 60% of the median wage would statistically be considered to be at the lower end of the income scale but obviously I simply don't know. I'm only basing my conclusions on statistics.

February 09, 2016

Horse 2070 - Woollahra Station: The Hole Truth

The train on platform number five goes to Bondi Junction. First stop Martin Place, then King's Cross, Edgecliff, Woollahra and Bondi Junction.

This announcement is not made on platform five at Town Hall but it should be. Woollahra Station sort of does exist, incomplete, waiting to be finished. It is like a gaping open gash upon the landscape and not quite forty years after the Eastern Suburbs Railway was opened, albeit 44 years behind schedule, it still stands as one glorious monumental hole, to the memory of incompetence past.

It's not even a whole hole. It's only half a hole.

A lot of the original tile work in the Eastern Suburbs Railway was still in place when I used to work at the Law Courts. Sydney was in the grip of another rebranding exercise of its railways and was busily tearing down the white enamel roundels which were still remnant from the previous major rebranding. The Eastern Suburbs Railway Line with its faux five star hotel bathroom tile work looked out of place when it opened in 1979 and today it looks more out of place as age has wearied it and the years condemned. Yet despite this, the modernisation of King's Cross and Edgecliff stations have turned them from 70s monstrosities which crossed the line of taste twice, into works of mediocrity which are fit to be ignored forever.

This brings me to Woollahra Station. Where it would have been is perfectly obvious. The open hole will still take an eight car railway station and could easily be covered over so that the noises of trains stopping as opposed to them not stopping, would be entirely quietened. The building of Woollahra Station would require the eviction of precisely zero people since the site is already in use, would cause the disruption of zero roads since the tunnels have been in place since the 1930s and will increase the usability of existing infrastructure. I can see no logical reason whatsoever, why work on Woollahra Station should not commence tomorrow. It should have been finished forty years ago; if it was meddled with by the local residents.

I'm pretty sure that the residents of 2016 would really really like to thank the residents of forty years ago for this great stinking hole in the ground. An injunction was granted to the Woollahra Residents Action Committee in the Supreme Court of New South Wales to prevent  Codelfa Construction Pty Ltd from being able to work the required number of hours to complete the Eastern Suburbs Line. This case of liturgious knavery meant that Codelfa didn't complete the job and to compound the issue, the State Rail Authority then took them to court for incomplete performance. This case was fought tooth and nail until it ended in the High Court of Australia, some two years after the Eastern Suburbs Railway Line was finally opened and a whole six years after the injunction was granted.

The second piece of idiocy in this story comes from the Wran Government who decided to sell all of the land which should have extended the Eastern Suburbs Railway Line through places like Maroubra and Randwick and which would have connected it up to the Port Botany Goods like, thus connecting the airport to the rest of the train network as early as 1980. That presumably didn't happen because Wran's government which was Labor, was of the opposite political colour to the Eastern Suburbs.
These two acts of political spite and stupidity combined and conspired together the other day when I had to take some documents to Woollahra from Mosman. Had things been built properly and not ripped to pieces, the journey could have been made by one tram and two trains; instead of a bus, a train and another three buses.

Just like Joe Cahill who died in office in 1959 and left us with the legacy of an opera house which cost 11 times more than it should and can't even hold an opera inside it, ripping out the biggest tram network in the world at the time, Neville Wran left us with the legacy of unbuilt railway lines, unfinished railway stations and the cancellation of the Warringah Transport Corridor.

Woollahra Station could have been a thing; should be a thing and it is a crying shame that it is not a thing. Why isn't it a thing?

February 08, 2016

Horse 2069 - Twenty-First Century Astrology

We have just entered the new year on the Chinese zodiac and as such it is the year of the Monkey. I don't know what that means exactly but I'm sure that it probably has nothing to do with the Monkey King, the Fish, the Pig or the monk Tripitaka. The Chinese zodiac with it's twelve animal signs for the various years, is kind of like the western zodiac with its twelve signs, in that it is total bupkis.
In the twenty-first century we have risen above such gibberish and replaced it with modern scientific things such as the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator; which is also total bupkis. For the record, I was born in the year of the Metal Cat, the star sign of Lambda and have the personality type of WBUR.

I think that one of the reasons why this sort of bupkis exists is that the world is a complex place and that people are equally complex. There are seven and a bit billion people on this planet and its useful for our tiny little brains to make quick judgments and compartmentalise people. This is why when we meet people for the first time, we tend to ask questions about where people come from and what sort of occupation they have. Like it or not, stereotypes are actually useful tools for making sense of the world. It's when stereotypes are used as excuse for discrimination and/or bigotry, that they become a problem. I automatically assume for instance, that when I speak to a

The Chinese zodiac is at least useful in the respect that provided that you know the order of the animal procession, you can work out what year someone was born in and just like the designation of which generational cohort someone comes from, you can paint someone with the broadest of brush strokes.

The philosopher Bruce Hood, wrote that the self is an illusion which is so strong, that we even delude ourselves into thinking that there is such a thing. Erving Goffman proposed that there might not even be a true self and that we we put on a series of charades to portray ourselves in the best light. If this is true, then logically it should be impossible for a self to accurately assess itself.
I've even read the theory that everyone has multiple personalities, which work together and come out at different times depending on the situation and that they appear on stage as actors as needed and that some hardly ever appear.

The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator also attempts to paint people with equally wide brush strokes with a sixteen colour pallette. Mostly it does this by arranging its four categories as dichotomous, and only admits room for either one thing or the other. The possibility that there might be a sliding scale of introversion or extroversion, which might be different in varying situations, and that there could be many multitudes of degrees in between isn't even considered.
I personally prove just how pointless the test actually is because depending on what time of day it is, how happy, sad, angry, joyous, content, frustrated, excited or in a patch of ennui I am, I can truthfully answer the questions in the test and arrive at all sixteen destinations. The Briggs-Meyer Personality Test is in my not very well paid opinion, a zodiac for intelligent yet deluded people but then again I would think that, for I am a WBEZ who was born in the year of the Cat.

I have read proper books into the study of personality and granted there are proper metrics which look into things like openness, temperament, risk aversion and the like, but these sorts of studies have looked into traits which can kind of be measured empirically and over a longer to timescale than just a single snapshot of a point in time. The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator has been generally shown to be useless in the real world by the US Army; if there was anyone who could benefit the most from having a tool such as this, its the army.

I suppose that the reason why people still want to read bupkis like astrology readings in the newspaper, want to know which of the sixteen personality types they are, or even stupid questions like the clickbaity "Which Justin Bieber Song Are You?", or " Which Hunger Games Character Are You?", is that we like to curate temples in our own minds to our own brilliance.
Humans are all a little narcissistic and the truth is that we like to look in the mirror at ourselves, even if the image is cracked and warped. Humans are also fiercely tribal and whether it is in the realm of politics, sport, occupation, interests or even personality, we want to know who is in our tribe and who is not. I bet that if there was a clickbaity survey of "Which Potato Are You?", that people would still want to know which tribe that they fit into (by the way, I am a Russet Burbank).

You can find out which modern astrological sign you are by clicking the link below. Be warned though, if this does seem creepily accurate, that's probably because you have narcissistically mapped your feelings onto the test, just like you would for your regular zodiac sign.


February 05, 2016

Horse 2068 - Fifty Years Ago on D-Day, Dollar Bill Came To Stay

In the current version of Roald Dahl's novel "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" there is evidence of a world that was changing forever. Apart from the change which erased the casual racism by replacing "black pygmies" with "Oompa Loompas" (though not the kidnapping and enslavement of them), the change which still hasn't rattled through the book is the issue of decimal currency. In the first versions of the book, Charlie finds a half crown on the ground but in later versions he finds a 50 pence piece. Weirdly, even though that change was made,  he is still given a sixpence for his birthday.

Not quite fifty years ago, here in Australia, we made the jump to decimal currency. That change which changed the change in people's pockets, means that it is only the baby boomers and previous generations who remember this and for those of us born later, the past is like a foreign country which issues no visas.
Of course the old lsd. Pound had been decimal of sorts since 1849 with the introduction of the Florin; which even bore the legend "one tenth of a pound" and even if you consider that the current Australian Dollar is worth exactly half of the Australian Pound, the ten cent coin is equivalent to the shilling, which means that there were in effect ten shillings to the Dollar.

Of course legislation doesn't come about spontaneously; there must obviously be people who made the decision to make the change and the forces which push people to make those changes had been active for years before D-Day finally came to be.
Prior to 1959, Australia didn't really have what we would consider to be an independent central bank. Before the passage of the Banking Act 1959, the functions of central banking were done by the Commonwealth Bank, which was still government owned.

Following the Second World War, Chifley's Government found itself with problems to do with the supply of money and credit. It had proposed to merge the state banks with the Commonwealth Bank but this faced opposition from the High Court as well as the banks and Chifley's proposal for the total nationalisation of the banks, is probably what cost him the 1949 election and was the start of Labor being in the wilderness until 1972.
Herbert "Nugget" Coombs who became Governor of the Commonwealth Bank argued that banks shoud have more control over their liquidity and wanted to see proper market-based monetary policy. Naturally when the Reserve Bank of Australia was finally set up in 1960, Nugget was selected as its first Governor.
Almost concurrently, the working party which looked into the creation of a central bank, also set up a Decimal Currency Committee to look into the benefits of a change. Its report was submitted in August of 1960 and put forward the date of the 11th of February 1963 as the suggested change-over date. Australia found itself with more pressing issues such as the Vietnam War and did what governments do best, it dithered.

I have no idea of what the value of total notes in circulation was in 1963 but the total value of all Australian coins issued to that date (from 1910 to 1963) was £47.5 million in all. The expected replacement cost was estimated at just over £31.7 for all notes and coins and that included the building of the Royal Australian Mint and all the machinery needed.
Prince Phillip opened the mint in February 1965 and it started spitting out coinage, to be ready for the changeover on the 14th February 1966. The public was treated to information films and adverts on their new fangled television sets (except not in colour, that would not arrive until 1975).

- From the National Film & Sound Archive
Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZTeWLA1LAs

Dollar Bill helpfully took us through a simple calculation to show off the virtue of the new system. The real irony with the benefit of hindsight is that most people today probably wouldn't bother to do that calculation because they have more computing power in their phone than they entire of the CSIRO had in 1966 and would just get it to do the arithmetic for them.

Like most countries which made the jump across the decimal divide, Australia decided to keep the coinage sizes of the principal pieces of currency the same. Whereas there used to be a jump from two to ten shillings, under the new decimal regime, the fifty cent coin filled the gap but used a blank which had never been used before in Australia. The fifty cents was on the old half crown planchette and what killed off the round fifty cent coin wasn't that it was mistaken for the twenty cent coin but that the value of silver in the coin ended up being worth more than the face value of the coin as the new currency tanked on world markets.
The road to decimal currency was inevitable and other countries like New Zealand and Great Britain followed soon after but I still think that something was lost. The cold efficiency of doing calculations might have made life easier but for larger amounts, whole pounds were already being stated in account books.

Argue all you like for the utility of a totally decimal system, even I see the benefits when someone like BHP quotes its dividend releases to the sixth decimal place, but the truth remains that there are some things which decimal currency can never solve.
Take salaries for instance: an amount like $77,000 which is about the average for AWOTE. Divide that by twelve to work out your monthly salary costs and you get $6416.66 which is inelegant and inexact. Divide that same number in pounds, shillings and pence and you get £6416/13/4 exactly.
Of course you do end up with idiocies due to inflation, with the Sydney Morning Herald now costing the equivalent £1/5/- but that's expected.

With the force of legislation, centuries of tradition were thrown into the dustbin. The mental agility of shopkeepers and retail staff which once existed has now been replaced by slack jawed dullness. Old "Bob", his mate "Zack" and their little brother "Trey" were all shown the door and the romance of buying a pie for 1/6, a pint for 1/2 and kindly advice are also all gone.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
- The Go-Between, LP Hartley (1953)

February 03, 2016

Horse 2067 - Why Is It "Twelve Men of Virtue True" On A Jury?

As the law currently stands in the state of New South Wales, where I live, the number of jurors required in a criminal trial of sufficient seriousness is twelve. For a civil trial you only need four and in the coroner's court, you need six.
Usually, the amount of jurors that you need to find someone guilty of an offence is eleven of the twelve. I have even heard tales that this arises because there is always one Judas in a group of twelve who disagrees.
When I heard ABC Radio National's "The Law Report" yesterday, they brought up the somewhat bumpy story of trial by jury in the early days of the colony of New South Wales. It is kind of remarkable to think that any sort of legal system would hold, in a land which had been settled and taken by force and to where the British Empire was sending it criminals.

Link: The Law Report, ABC Radio National

Coming back to that requirement for tweleve jurors in a criminal case. I wanted to know where that came from, and of course having piqued my interest, this was something that I simply couldn't let go of until I chased it to the very end.

Numbers of jurors in criminal proceedings
(1) Except as provided by section 22, in any criminal proceedings in the Supreme Court or the District Court that are to be tried by jury, the jury is to consist of:
(a) 12 persons
- Section 19, Jury Act (NSW), 1977¹

All crimes and misdemeanours prosecuted in the Supreme Court, the circuit courts, or courts of quarter sessions shall be tried by a jury consisting of twelve men chosen and returned according to the provisions of this Act. 
- Section 27, Jury Act (NSW), 1912²

the said officer shall in open Court draw from the box one number at a time and shall repeat aloud the corresponding name from the said lists until twelve men shall answer which said twelve men being duly sworn shall be deemed and taken to be the special jury. 
- Section 24, Jury Act (NSW), 1828³

The NSW Jury Act 1977 replaces the existing NSW Jury Act 1912; which itself replaces the existing NSW Jury Act 1828.
Rather than look at Acts which replace Acts which replaces Acts, I decided that the best course of action would be to find what the original act said. Obviously there must be one somewhere.

Hunting around the place and finding nothing, I found a mention of a US Supreme Court case which might finally point me to the beginning of all of this. This was the case of Thompson V State of Utah and was heard by Justice John Marshall Harlan. Harlan is one of those Supreme Court judges who was vocal in his dissent with regards to anti-discrimination legislation following the end of slavery and the US Civil War.

In this case, Thompson and his friend Jack Moore were charged, tried and found guilty of grand larceny. They had stolen a calf belonging to a Heber Wilson. Thompson was found guilty while Utah was still a territory. On appeal and after Utah was admitted as a state in the Union, it was again tried but this time with a jury of only eight people. Thompson who was found guilty a second time then appealed to the United States Supreme Court, on the basis that because the Utah state court only provided a jury of eight people, that this was unlawful.

The case was first tried when Utah was a territory, and by a jury composed of twelve persons. Both of the defendants were found guilty as charged, and were recommended to the mercy of the court. A new trial having been granted, the case was removed for trial to another county. But it was not again tried until after the admission of Utah into the Union as a state.
At the second trial the defendant was found guilty. He moved for a new trial upon the ground, among others, that the jury that tried him was composed of only eight jurors; whereas by the law in force at the time of the commission of the alleged offense a lawful jury in his case could not be composed of less than twelve jurors.
- Thompson V State of Utah, J Harlan, 25th Apr 1898.

Justice Harlan goes on to say that:
When Magna Charta declared that no freeman should be deprived of life, etc., 'but by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land,' it referred to a trial by twelve jurors.
The law of England hath afforded the best method of trial that is possible of this and all other matters of fact, namely, by a jury of twelve men all concurring in the same judgment, by the testimony of witnesses viva voce in the presence of the judge and jury, and by the inspection and direction of the judge. 
- Thompson V State of Utah, J Harlan, 25th Apr 1898.

If you actually read through the text of Magna Carta, no such assertion that a jury must consist of twelve jurors is ever made. In fact, most of Magna Carta which is mainly about asserting the rights of the barons and landed gentry, only affords the right of trial by jury to "free men" in section 39. There is no mention of the number twelve.

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land.
- Section 39, Magna Carta. 1215

I have noticed this in a number of cases and arguments in law, that refer to things which supposedly exist in English law but when you actually bother to investigate, are totally untrue. Magna Carta is often wrongly attributed as the spring from which all sorts of fancy things arise; most of which it never dealt with or never thought about.

You have to go even further back into English legal history to find the first mention of the number twelve, with respect to legal matters:

inquiry be made through the several counties and through the several hundreds by twelve more lawful men of the hundred and by four more lawful men of each vill, upon oath that they will tell the truth, whether in their hundred or in their vill there is any man cited or charged as himself being a robber or murderer or thief or any one who has been a receiver of robbers or murderers
or thieves since the lord king was king. 
- Section 1, The Assize of Clarendon 1166.

The Assize of Clarendon was an 1166 act of Henry II of England and this act with absolute certainty would have been written in either Latin or French. It wasn't until about Edward III that a King of England could even speak English and Henry IV when English was actually spoken by a king in an English court.
An assize is something akin to what we'd now call a circuit court, where travelling magistrates or even the monarch themselves would hear and try cases. In the 1166 act, twelve "of the more lawful men" of the locality were summoned by the king's sheriff to determine, upon their own knowledge, who was entitled to the property which was in dispute or to decide matters of guilt in crimes against the person.
What I don't know at this point is whether or not the 1166 act was proscriptive to finally standardise the courts in England, or descriptive and merely described in law what was already common practice.

Either way, the idea that people would bring their law "thing" (and I use the word as originally intended) to the courts and have that "thing" heard by the court.
A "thing" in the legal sense, is that travelling court or assembly where elders, barons, lawspeakers and people like the King and appointed knights and what have you, would meet to decide "things".
The word "thing" is still used in the names of modern assemblies. Iceland has the Althing, the "all-thing"; Denmark has the Folketing or the "folk-thing"; Norway has the Storing which is the "great-thing" and even the Isle of Man has their "thing in the meadow" which is the Tynwald.
Presumably, all of these places borrowed from each other and cross traded ideas; since England was invaded by Jutes, Saxons, Vikings and Normans, then by 1166, the idea of courts and juries was well established. I can only suggest that they share the number twelve as the number of "men of virtue true" because they shared Christian roots; twelve being the number of Christ's disciples.

What ever the actual story is, because the The Assize of Clarendon was passed in 1166, it falls into the realm of English law known as "time immemorial"; being everything before 6th July 1189, which is the date of Richard I's ascendancy to the throne and thanks to the 1275 Statute of Westminster.
811 years had passed since the The Assize of Clarendon until the current Jury Act but the current act and every act in those 811 years all called for a jury of twelve. It works.


February 02, 2016

Horse 2066 - The Entirely Unremarkable Bellwether

If Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants to hold a simultaneous House of Representatives and Senate election, then the election day must be after the 6th of August 2016 and no later than the 14th of January 2017 (or perhaps a double dissolution bill if the trigger of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2014 is pulled - such a trigger needs to be pulled before May).

Although a House election can be called at any stage, both governments and the electorate prefer elections to be held at the same time. In all likelihood, the election will probably be held in either October or November so as to avoid football finals and the Christmas period.
Because of the requirements of the Electoral Act, the boundaries of the various seats are redrawn to reflect changes in population and in this last shuffle, New South Wales has lost one seat, to fall to 47; whilst Western Australia has picked up that extra seat.

One seat of interest which thankfully remained untouched, was that of Eden-Monaro on the New South Wales south coast. Eden-Monaro has the reputation of being a bellwether seat and the members that it has voted in have been of the same political colour as the government at every election since 1972.
The term bellwether in politics is obvious to people who live in a rural setting but not necessarily for those of us who live in the big smoke. A bellwether is as the name suggests, a wether who has a bell on her. In situations where stock is driven from paddock to paddock or even being droved in the "long paddock", an older sheep (a wether) who has been around for several seasons and already knows the way to go, is given a bell to wear and the rest of the flock will follow her to the new place. Thus a literal bellwether became a metaphor for any leader of a trend but the term is particularly applied to market indicators, various sectors of the economy which pick up and fall flat the earliest (like the building sector), and those electorates which for some reason, seem to fall the same way in an election as the final result. Eden-Monaro is one of those seats.
The weird thing about Eden-Monaro is that although it has the reputation of being a bellwether electorate, it doesn't really reflect the overall demographics of the nation. Eden-Monaro may also fit the metaphor of a bellwether in a semi-literal sense, as it contains a lot of  sheep and wool, beef and dairy farming; as well as a large contingent of defence personnel.

The average age of the voters in the electorate is significantly older than the rest of the country, and the electorate is also significantly whiter than the rest of Australia. Yet despite all of this, there are enough people in the seat of Eden-Monaro who will change sides when they think that the time is right, yet it isn't really a marginal seat either.

With a Westminster style of parliament, government is formed from a majority of seats. It might sound odd that Eden-Monaro has that reputation of being a bellwether seat but the truth is that because humans like finding patterns in any data set, and election results are a data set, it would be very surprising if there wasn't a localized pattern somewhere in 150 seats. Eden-Monaro has gained the reputation because people searching for patterns have found a pattern. If Eden-Monaro didn't return a member who was the same political colour as the government, we'd all start looking for the next electorate which would then be our new bellwether. If it isn't one thing of a group then it must be another thing. The demographics of Eden-Monaro simply do not suggest that they are some hip happening funky groovy electorate with their finger on the pulse of the nation.

The odd thing about looking at an electorate like Eden-Monaro is that the polls taken well in advance of a general election, often do not go give any indication of what the intent of the country is. In a race like 2010 where the eventual outcome was decided after all of the members had been chosen, it's entirely academic anyway. For races like 2007 or even 2001 where there was something of a landslide, it is the contest in the marginal seats which matter the most. Looking at the results in a bellwether seat tends to resemble more of an air crash investigation rather than a peak into the future. Hindsight is almost always viewed with 6/6 vision.

January 27, 2016

Horse 2065 - Australia Day: A Day For All Australians?

Yesterday, the Twenty-Sixth of January is the day that two nations celebrated their national day. India celebrated Republic Day which commemorates the day in 1948 that India became an independent republic. Australia on the other hand celebrates the strangely named Australia Day which doesn't commemorate the day Australia gained independence, responsible government or when the states federated into a commonwealth but the day that the Union Jack was raised at Sydney Cove in 1788; stealing a continent through the cunning use of flags.
Other countries celebrate the day which they became a nation, such as the United States' Independence Day on July 4th or Canada Day in Canada on July 1st. France has Bastille Day on the 14th of July which commemorates the day in 1789 when the Bastille Prison was stormed and seven prisoners were freed; which marks the beginning of the French Revolution. New Zealand has Waitangi Day on February 6th, which celebrates the day on which the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British and the Maori.
All of these and many more represent a point in which either sovereignty or peace was declared. Australia Day on the other hand, is a yearly reminder that the British simply just arrived, stuck a flag in the ground and dumped its undesirables in Australia; with precisely zero regard for the first peoples whatsoever. No other nation that I can think of has a holiday which marks either their surrender or annexation by a foreign power. It would be like France declaring a holiday for the day on which they surrendered to Hitler or Japan declaring a holiday when they surrendered to the Allies.
It is little wonder that protest marches happen every year to mark what many Aboriginal people call Invasion Day or perhaps more optimistically, Survival Day.

I must admit that when I heard the news reporting several celebrations around the country on television and radio yesterday, I couldn't help but feel either shame and or revulsion at the existence of the holiday. I think that it is rather disingenuous to declare that we recognise a group as the "traditional owners of the land" on the day which marks off exactly when those rights were trampled into it. You can't say that "I recognise that you owned this Mars bar" and then eat the Mars bar right in front of their face. You may accuse me of trivialising the issue of land ownership and loss of sovereignty but Australia Day not only does that, it waves a banner over it and then sings patriotic songs over it as if that makes it all right.
Some commentators in the media (and I shan't link to those comments here) ask why people just can't get over it and celebrate the day like everyone else. I could draw a parallel with a loss of sovereignty and self-determination for as much as 177 years at this point and issues to do with established white privilege, but I suspect that people who hold such opinions would immediately trumpet their right to free speech and deny their undeclared racism, which by operation of that free speech is proven.

Yes I understand that there are things like citizenship ceremonies and events which celebrate the nation which is, which let's be honest is a pretty good one, but the reason why we don't mark the day which the Commonwealth Of Australia came into existence, when the states federated together and when the nation achieved sovereignty and responsible government, is because that happened of January 1st; which is already New Year's Day and we already get a holiday for that.

I suspect that Australia will continue to be the insensitive and idiotic thing that it is until Australia becomes a republic. I personally don't like the idea of Australia becoming a republic because of the associated implications of doing so but I think that it's inevitable. If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else (which would be an excellent name for our head of state - we already have a president; they're in the Senate) then I would set the official date that Australia will become a republic as the Eighth of August. The date 8/8 is an excellent date for three reasons:

1. It is memorable.
2. We don't currently have any holidays in August. The calendar is kind of front loaded with holidays and there's nothing towards the end of the year.
3. Most importantly, it's sufficiently far away enough from January 26 to render the old date useless.

Republic Day would be the new national holiday and Australia Day would pass into disuse, obscurity and hopefully be forgotten.
Of course the first act of parliament on the 9th of August would be the signing of a proper treaty with the first peoples of this nation, which would finally contain a formal apology and alter the constitution to include formal recognition. The 9th would also be a public holiday.

I hate Australia Day as a thing, not because I hate Australia or the idea that we should celebrate what is demonstrably a safe, prosperous and I think overall "good" nation, but because the date is self-defeating. It marks the beginning of something shameful about the history of this nation.
Granted that you can't change the past but you really shouldn't be inadvertently celebrating the worst of humanity either. It makes no sense to celebrate nationhood by marking the day that a whole host of peoples had their sovereignty stolen from them.

January 26, 2016

Horse 2064 - Let's Blow This Pop Stand Wide Open.

Michael R. Bloomberg has instructed advisers to draw up plans for a potential independent campaign in this year’s presidential race. His advisers and associates said he was galled by Donald J. Trump’s dominance of the Republican field, and troubled by Hillary Clinton’s stumbles and the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on the Democratic side.
Mr. Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, has in the past contemplated running for the White House on a third-party ticket, but always concluded he could not win. A confluence of unlikely events in the 2016 election, however, has given new impetus to his presidential aspirations.
- Alexander Burns & Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, 23rd Jan 2016

When Americans go to the polls in November, they will be voting for their local representative in the House of Representatives, the people who will represent their state in the Senate and the President. Or rather, they will not be voting for the President but votes in the arcane system known as the Electoral College.
Due to the strange way that the Electoral College works, it's possible to become President with less than 25% of the popular vote by winning the College votes of the least populace 40 states so, possible to become President by winning the 11 most populace stats or by winning by an even more bizarre method which is what led to the "corrupt bargain" of 1824.
If no candidate wins half the number of Electoral College votes, then the decision is sent to a joint sitting of the House and Senate and rather than it being a simple majority of members of Congress, they vote as whole states. This is where the story gets interesting. To force a meeting on the Congress to decide who the President is, there needs to be no clear winner in the Electoral College.

Looking through the long list of results, we find that although George Washington kind of ran as an independent (if there even was such a thing back then and even then he ran unopposed), every single President from John Adams onward ran under the guise of some political party and that ever since the end of the so-called period of "good feelings" and the end of the Whigs, all attempts to run as a third party candidate have ended in abysmal failure. Not even former President Teddy Roosevelt had a particularly successful campaign against the existing political party machines.

Former Mayor of New York City and billionaire Michael Bloomberg has tentatively hinted that he might run for the Presidency but not for either the Republicans or the Democrats. He would run as an independent.
You don't actually need to win 270 of the Electoral College votes to win the election. All you need is the support of the 50 states. Assuming that Bloomberg would win his home state of New York and provided that the chads didn't fall off in Florida, Bloomberg on current polling would only need to win those two states and there would be no clear winner in the Electoral College. 

To be honest, Bloomberg's decision to even contemplate running as a third party candidate seems baffling to me. I imagine that his politics which would nominally be pro-business and very much in favour of Wall Street would have aligned him with the Republican Party. Though given the whole sort of general mish-mash and dog and pony show that is the 2016 Republican race so far, maybe it just wasn't worth the effort.
If you'd asked me six weeks ago who the Democratic candidate would end up being, I'd have said that Hilary Clinton was so far in front that it was a walkover, a cakewalk and a four base walk around. Bernie Sanders has come up out of pretty well much nowhere and he's making noises that make me look like I have cake on my face.

Before we even get to what Bloomberg intends to do, what his policy platform is, its worth noting what kind of uphill task that any third party candidate faces. By not aligning themselves with a party, they may pull voters away from the existing majors but in order to win the Presidency, they'd need to steal perhaps more than half from both camps. That might be extremely problematic because when it comes to voters and political support, people tend to become as rusted on as they would do with a sporting team. A third party candidate might be able to draw in some portion of the 46% of the electorate who can't be bothered to vote (no, I reject the "right" not to vote as poppycock) but is that enough?
Assuming a third party candidate did somehow achieve what no other has done ever, once they found themselves in the Oval Office, they'd have to learn pretty quickly with the Congress. This would mean showing themselves as aligned with one of the major parties on some majority of issues as some point and this harks back to the basic problem that every President faces; if they want to achieve anything, they need to work with the Congress.

If Bloomberg happens to appeal to the members of a newly elected Congress, who I'm assuming would tend to be Republican controlled in the House and the Senate, then Bloomberg could very well be elected by members who would be forced to choose between him, Trump or Clinton; since a Republican controlled House and Senate would prefer Bloomberg over Clinton, he could be installed as president with as little as 11% of the popular vote. If that sounds insane, remember that John Q. Adams in the "corrupt bargain" election of 1824, won only 30.9% of the popular vote, or less than 1% of the adult population of the United States.

January 25, 2016

Horse 2063 - It's Bowlers Getting Belted In The Big Bash; Not Batsmen

After watching the final of Big Bash League number 5 and the recent ODI series between Australia and India, I have pretty well come to the conclusion that the art of bowling in the shorter forms of the game is dead.
"Big Bash" is a pretty apt description for what has been going on in the middle, as the bat appears to have won the eternal struggle between bat and ball, and bowlers have been reduced to automata who exist purely as a delivery system for batsmen to ply their trade.
As cricketers become increasingly mercenary and chase the lure of rupeedollarpounds at the expense of their national sides, the market has decreed that batsmen are worth more than bowlers and as a result, the market has produced an outcome which sees batsmen rewarded for their efforts on the field, at the expense of bowling.

Gone are the days when scoring 200 was a notable feat. Today if you don't get to 200 runs by about the 30th over, then you have performed badly.
In the 1975 and 1979 World Cup Finals, the West Indies made 291/8 and 286/9 respectively. They sound like reasonable totals but in those days, One Day International matches were held over 60 over and not 50. This means that they scored at 4.85 and 4.76 runs per over. In 1983 when India beat the West Indies, they posted a score of 183 from 54.4 overs, at 3.34 runs per over. That scoring rate over 50 overs would have been 167 or in a T20 just 67. Neither of these scores would even remotely be considered as dependable today; yet India won a World Cup at that rate.

In the series just been the losing scores were 309, 308, 295, 323 and 330. If a losing score is more than a run a ball, then either the quality of bowling has fallen off the face of the earth (which I doubt) or the pendulum has swung too far in favour of batsmen,

I take issue with curators of grounds who are preparing batsmen friendly pitches. The Sydney Cricket Ground was once noted for being a spinner's wicket and in test matches, international sides would bring along two spin bowlers to exploit this. Admittedly One Day cricket is a different beast and so teams would drop a spinner in favour of a quick bowler but on Saturday night, the pitch in Sydney gave us so little turn that spin bowling was more or less useless. The curators of the Sydney Cricket Ground gave us a pitch that was more akin to the surface of a motorway in the desert. It was flat, dry and straight. Spin bowlers abandon hope, ye who enter.

Cricket like a lot of sports is very heavily subject to the variable of confidence. We very much saw this in operation in this Australia and India ODI series. Because batsmen are now very much used to accelerating the score beyond 12 an over, they now are far more confident in doing precisely that. If you happen to be a bowler though, having 12 an over smashed off of you, is demoralising and when this happens, bowlers tend to lose their discipline and bowl shorter; which means that the ball is higher when it reaches the batsmen; which means that they can more easily lift the ball over the rope.

What I find incredibly annoying is the introduction of the rope instead of fences. I don't know when the law was changed or when the practice changed to replace the fence with ropes but I suspect that immediately after this change was made, scores rose accordingly.
Once upon a time, when the fence was the boundary, fours were scored by hitting the boundary and sixes were scored by clearing it. At the MCG especially, this meant clearing the ball over a series of battlements which even a medieval army would have trouble scaling. In consequence, sixes were far harder to come by and scores were far lower. Whereas batsmen had to rattle the pickets to get four runs, their job is made as much as 15 metres easier in some cases.
When the best of the Australian bowlers, James Faulkner, gets repeatedly put over the fence and ends up with 0-54, when the best of the Indian bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah, gets 0-40, and when Umesh Yadav gets pummeled with 1-82 at more than 10 an over, bowling ceases to be a thing of skill and a contest and becomes a case of damage control.

The name "Big Bash" describes exactly what's happening within that sacred distance of 22 yards. Bowlers are being bashed by batsmen who neither fear them, nor respect them. A player like Fred Spofforth who debuted in the Second Test at Melbourne in 1877, acquired the nickname of "The Demon Bowler" and would go on be the first bowler to take 50 Test wickets and the first to take a hat-trick. Would anyone get name like that today?
Surely this is obviously idiotic isn't it? Who wants to sign up an be a bowler if your job is to be a sporting punch bag? Surely at international level, batsmen are sufficiently competent enough that they don't need the extra help that playing on a field the size of a postage stamp affords them?

January 23, 2016

Horse 2062 - The Complicated Story of Lady Liberty

Standing on Liberty Island in the borough of Manhattan, New York, New York (so nice they named it twice), is the statue "La Liberté éclairant le monde" which in English translates to "Liberty Enlightening The World" but which just about everyone in the world calls The Statue Of Liberty.
She has pretty well much displaced the former personification of the United States, Colombia, entirely; so much so that Colombia doesn't even appear on coinage anymore but Lady Liberty does appear on the unpopular One Dollar coin.

With this currently Presidential campaign becoming more like a dog and pony show every day; with one particular candidate even calling for a new Great Wall to be erected between the United States and Mexico, it kind of makes the words on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty ring a little hollow. The same sort of sentiment which ensured Lady Liberty be the last thing that new immigrants saw before they made their way to Ellis Island, might not exist today as America again turns a little isolationist.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Could those words be written today? Would they be extended if a Muslim were to arrive?

The story of the Statue of Liberty herself is a curious tale. Even though she would have overseen the arrival of thousands of different immigrants from a whole host of countries, it worth remembering that the Statue of Liberty herself as originally designed would have had a headscarf.
She would have been an Egyptian peasant lady or a "fellah" and was intended to act as a lighthouse for the new canal. This never happened.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the United States but her original purpose was to stand at the mouth of the Suez Canal. She had originally been intended to be an Egyptian peasant lady with a torch in hand but the Egyptian Government suffered its own financial crisis and came to the point where they couldn't afford her any more.
Isma'il Pasha who was the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan from 1863 to 1879, finally did see the opening of the Suez Canal in November 17, 1869. The construction of the canal did not go well and shares in the company which owned it, was under-subscribed. The ensuing financial crisis which meant that the Egyptian Government effectively had to underwrite the project, meant that funds for decorations such as a new colossus had to be shelved. When primary customer France entered into a war with Prussia in 1870, the plans were dropped entirely.

Her designer Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi was so distraught at the news that she would not be overseeing this marvel of engineering that he kind of went crazy trying to find her a home. When the Governor of New York questioned him, he vehemently denied that the statue was ever intended to go to Egypt and rumours started to fly around in the press that he'd modelled the face either on his mother or his brother who had committed suicide.

Somehow Bartholdi convinced French politician Édouard René de Laboulaye who was an anti-slavery activist, that the statue should be re-purposed and given to the people of America as a gift. Again the project ran into funding issues and Bartholdi took out a patent on models of the statue before it was built and even convinced newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer to publish names of the people who had donated to its construction in his daily newspaper the The New York World. Most of the people who had their names published in the newspaper had donated less than one dollar.
After her arm was displayed at the 1776 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia and her head went on display at the 1878 Paris World's Fair, construction moved slowly until she was finally unveiled to the world by President Grover Cleveland on October 28, 1886.

The other thing I found interesting to think about was that for the first 25 years or so of her existence because she is made of hammered copper plates (and incidentally generates an amazing amount of static electricity), she wouldn't have been the green colour that we usually think of her being but she would have been the same colour as an American penny - brown.
So how about that? Not only was the original intent for the Statue of Liberty to be an Egyptian peasant lady with a headscarf but she was originally coloured brown and a Muslim. She was even crowdfunded and the subject of a patent. Originally intended for Egypt, she became an immigrant to the United States, oversaw and came to symbolise the hopes and dreams of thousands and thousands of other immigrants.
I wonder what would happen to someone matching her description if they arrived at the US border today? Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me?

January 21, 2016

Horse 2061 - From Happy To Grumpy In Under 2

On a scale of Seriously Uncool to DB-9 Sub Zero fridge, I have owned several Uncool cars and a few Cool cars. The most recent Cool car that I own is the current model Mazda 2 DY. Hatchback? Yes. Small? Yes. Fun? Very.

The 2 is a quietly cool car. It has a sense of style about it but it's a restrained and subdued kind of cool. The 2 is a springtime afternoon with gin and tonic and jazz sort of cool. It is the clarinet and double bass kind of cool.
Yet even this kind of cool can be ruined by a fool with the stroke of a pen. A clarinet and double bass kind of cool can be ruined by a fool with an electric guitar. Allow me to demonstrate.

This is the Scion iA.

The United States has always been a strange place for motor cars. Possibly as a result of not having a myriad of different manufacturers willing to play in North America in the 1950s and 1960s, the so-called Big Three automakers decided to differentiate their markets with domestic only badges. A Chrysler could become a Plymouth, De Soto or  Dodge for instance and a Ford could also become a Lincoln or Mercury.
When the Japanese decided to play in America's backyard, they learned that that's how the game was played and so brands like Acura exist in no other market. Scion is one of those brands and its strategy is nothing short of bewildering.
Scion as a Toyota brand wants to differentiate itself from Toyota and so that's where all the weird cars go. The Toyota 86, Rukus and even the Corolla hatch are all sold under the Scion badge; meanwhile the plan for the Toyota badge proper, is to play it safe. Cars like the Corolla sedan and the Camry and the Tacoma and Tundra trucks are sold as Toyotas.
I will openly admit that I just don't know what Scion is for. I do not understand its point of existence. If the brand Scion was struck out of existence, I seriously doubt that the world would miss its passing or even be aware that it had gone. In the realm of the automotive universe, Scion is the equivalent of Lichtenstein: funny name and of little import. The name iA for a motor car sounds to me as exciting as the four part thriller "The Wonderful World of Paper Clips"

Having laid out my prejudice against the brand, I now turn my attention to the car itself. Mazda does reasonably nicely for itself and apart from the messy divorce with Ford which now means that it will have to fend for itself, their first crop of post-split cars is by all accounts excellent.
Why then if you are Mazda, do you want your precious little 2 to be sold under such an anonymous badge? Surely you'd want it to sit alongside the 3 and 6 and the CX and BT ranges and be proud of the fact that you've created a competent, fun and cool little car which is easily the superior of VW's Polo, Fiat's cheeky and badly built 500 and even have a tilt against yout ex-partner's Fiesta.
Worse, under the Scion badge they don't even sell the hatchback. Unless I happen to somehow get hold of a two door sports car or something with a stonking V8 up front, I seriously doubt that I will ever buy a sedan. The advantages, including how cool they look, of a hatch over a sedan, are just so large that its not funny. The 2 sedan is still a neat little car but given the option of a hatch, the hatch wins every time. Scion in their madness don't offer a hatch. Are they nuts?

Next we come to the elephant in the room - the styling. What were they thinking? The 2 was already cool. Its wedge sort of grill is reminiscent of Mazda's flying dorito, the rotor from their rotary engines. We go from a car which looks happy and cheerful to one that looks like a bit of a grump. That might work if you're trying to sell a car with many hundreds of horsepowers all snorting under the hood and just waiting to be set free but when you have a happy puppy of a car that wants to run, the personality is just all wrong.
Okay, maybe as a Scion they needed to establish some sort of brand identity but in trying to make it edgier, it is like they threw in an electric guitar solo into that cool jazz combo with the clarinet and double bass.

There is one redeeming feature about the Scion iA though: it will never be sold in Australia. As a North American market car, the brand doesn't travel. Instead, we get the 2 in exactly the same state as they do in Japan. We get the car in its unmolested form. We get Mazda's cool little 2 as Mazda intended.

January 20, 2016

Horse 2060 - Blood on the Tracks

Dear Opal Card,

Presumably the New South Wales Minister for Transport, Andrew Constance, hates his job, hates buses, hates trains, hates ferries, hates the people who use public transport and especially hates the people who live further away from work than those people who live close by. I can only assume that in his little world, which can only be very very little in terms of distance, that he has never ever grasped how wide, how vast and how spread out is the conurbation that is Greater Sydney. I can only assume that he must think that everyone lives within an area smaller than twenty-five square kilometers.
I would invite the Minister to perhaps take a journey to the edge of the transport network for which he is the "responsible" Minister of the Crown for. I suspect that only then, will he see how literally vast Sydney is.

As it currently stands, under the Opal Card pricing regime, the idea of being a "commuter" has been completely abandoned. The word "commuter" is derived from the fact that a season ticket holder, for the period of a week, month, quarter or year, had their fares commuted to something less than the price of those same equivalent individual journeys. The idea was to continue someone's patronage by enticing them with a discount.
Of course as rational actors within a system with substitute services such as car ownership, travellers then make the economic choice based upon what their cheapest options are.

Under the old MyMulti system, my weekly fare which included all changes from trains to buses and occasionally ferries, cost me a flat rate of $63 which allowed me to go anywhere for the week. Of course having charged me $63 which is still the equivalent of a tank and a half of petrol, it made sense for me to make full use of every single possible journey because if I didn't, it was like the NSW Government was getting money for free.

When Opal Card was introduced, the game changed entirely. Now they cap it at $15 per day and at the end of 8 unbroken journeys. Unbroken is the operative word here; what that means is that if you are changing from train to bus to ferry and they're all within the allotted time period, you will get charged for three trips but it will only count as one. Savvy people like myself realised that they only way that we were ever going to get in on this, would be to take trips at lunch time. This means that my eighth trip happens typically at Wednesday lunch time.
Thanks to the $15 per day cap, this means that my weekly fares work out to be about $45 per week. However, to achieve this requires diligence on my part and forces me to take the bus at lunch time.

It was then discovered by those people who live in the inner city, that because the system is automated and there is nobody around to police it, that they could walk from one tram stop to the next tram stop, tapping on and off as they went and although they were charged the smallest fare, it would count as a journey. For inner city dwellers who could do this as they work up and before they had a shower and whatnot, this "trip" would occur well before their first proper trip was recorded and yet still count towards their eight for the week.

Of course the Minister who doesn't have to live which the system, saw this as a problem and has decided to close this rort. Immediately the law of unintended consequences would step in though but it would appear that the Minister doesn't really care about the people who it would actually affect because they wouldn't vite for his brand of political party anyway. Stick them - commuters are scum.
Now the NSW Department of Transport has decided that what they intend to do, is punish people who travel long distances by counting the eight longest and most expensive trips as the eight and then counting those under the cap. They also intend to increase the cap from $60 to $65; that condemns all of those who travel long distances to a flat rate of $65 per week. In my case, that's an effective fare increase of about $20 per week or a 44% increase.

I fully accept that running a public transport system is expensive and that there will be fare increases from time to time, but when a public transport system is seen as a burden for the government that they'd rather be rid of, it makes me wonder who they really happen to be working for.
In Sydney we have more toll roads within the metropolitan area than the entire of Germany; they're privately run. This latest move by the Transport Minister immediately makes me wonder who has been passing him little brown envelopes of cash or which company he's looking to get a seat on the board of, when he retires from parliament. Putting up the effective fares of public transport so severely, would immediately make travellers recalculate their choices. If that means travelling in motor cars on private toll roads and that option is cheaper, then he rational choice is to leave public transport.
I could have the wrong end of the stick on this but we've already lost a Premier because of corruption and I can think of at least three Premiers of New South Wales who ended up with cushy seat on boards not long after they left parliament. I wouldn't put it past the current Transport Minister to follow in their tracks.

In the mean time, I continue to admit that I'm gaming the system in an effort to commute my transport fares. Clearly as one of these people who uses public transport because they do live so far away from where they work, I'm exactly the sort of person who the New South Wales Minister for Transport hates.

January 19, 2016

Horse 2059 - The Four Horse Race To The White House

One of the fascinating things about the 2016 US Presidential race, is the way that candidates are defining themselves. Even if you ignore the fact that everyone has to say that they support the Second Amendment despite all common sense, there are four broad camps which everyone has fallen into.

If it is possible to cut through the hype and the many layers of craziness that is Donald Trump, we find that his actual policies (which are as substantial as a house made of cotton candy) are really quite simple. Trump's campaign always returns to the central themes of domestic security and excluding the other.
Apart from Jeb Bush who is either helped or hindered by having such a famous name, nobody is really all that familiar with the other candidates on the Republican side other than Trump, unless you happen to be a political junkie. Trump isn't a politician and so he is neither versed or trained in the art of political speech; as such he tends to say whatever pops into his head at any given moment. That is either refreshing or unhinged depending on your point of view.
Trump trades on the blunt rhetoric of security by force and achieving piece through violence. Although he has suggested things as looney as bombing every target possible, building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and enacting laws to discriminate arrivals based on religion (specifically keeping Muslims out), they're all based on this central theme of security. If he is questioned outside of this topic, he really has very little to say.
Even though populism is usually associated with the poor masses and the lower middle classes, by emphasising the "other" Trump has rocketed in the polls. He might very well be popular but when the quiet masses are moved in November, is he electable?

Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and even Ben Carson, are all trying to maneuver to try and take the establishment vote on the Republican side.
Owing to the bizarre terminology that exists in the United States and nowhere else in the world, and which was taken from the names of the two main political parties in Britain towards the end of the nineteenth century, the word Conservative does not describe someone who is trying to conserve the institutions of government but someone who would prefer smaller government and the idea of individual liberty but yet maintain the structures of power on the basis of money. Ever since about the time of Reagan, this has meant an even further shift to the economic right; with supporters arguing for lower taxation.
I've heard a lot about appealing to "evangelicals" and maybe "Latinos" as though they were single homogeneous groups. As long as the buzzwords of "abortion", "gay marriage" and "marijuana" are bandied about, then the actual substance of the policy which might follow can be irrelevant or nonexistent. Even though districts which elect the House of Representatives can be gerrymandered to a point way beyond ridiculousness, as long as the words which are said are fine, then it doesn't really matter.
Republicans have controlled the Senate for the vast majority of the past eight years and the House for some of that period and even though Congresses 112, 113 & 114 have been less productive than Truman's "Do Nothing" 80th Congress, the fact that Obama has been a Democrat has been the perfect cover for everything. Ted Cruz was part of the faction that engineered a government shutdown of a few years ago and even though this caused government services to stop, old age pensions to stop and chaos at airports, this still wasn't enough to change people's perception. It was all government's fault; therefore we need to make it smaller.

Hilary Clinton needs no policies. After losing the Democratic nomination in 2008 to Obama, it was generally accepted that she would nominally be the one to replace him. Obama was the first black President and Hilary will be the first woman; that's the way the script reads, right?
Apart from positions of "abortion", "gay marriage" and "marijuana", Hilary's policies needn't be any different to the Republican Party. All she really needs to do is show some touchy-feeliness and say mostly sensible things abiut gun control when the inevitable mass shooting occurs and make the right noises about things like the minimum wage, and she's more or less a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. In fact I'd go so far as to say that if it was November and it was Hilary versus Trump, she'd win the Presidency by virtue of not being Donald Trump.

Bernie Sanders has been saying the same sorts of things since the 1970s. He's been arguing for the best part of forty years that too much income and power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people.
In a speech really early in the campaign, Bernie Sanders identified himself as a socialist; which in the United States, operates on a sliding scale between the ages of 18-dead of hatred. People who still remember the coldest of the Cold War hate socialism despite the fact that they might be receiving a government pension, but for young people, they don't associate socialism with the Soviet Union, Stalin, or Chairman Mao but expect the word "media" to follow the word "social". When they hear policies which address things like taxation of the rich who might be avoiding it altogether and things like health care policy which attempts to address the quite frankly ludicrous situation in the United States where the biggest reason for bankruptcy is medical bills, then Bernie Sanders who would otherwise be seen as a silly old square, starts to look sensible.
In fact Bernie Sanders' policy mix looks more like the sort of platform which would have been at the centre of Winston Churchill's Conservative Party in Britain in the 1950s. Sanders would like to push America a little to the economic left, from its current position of being so right-shifted it isn't funny. He hasn't said anything about labour reform or unionism but I suspect that he likes the idea of raising the minimum wage and possibly actually doing something about chasing overseas tax avoidance.

When this finally rounds the last turn, I think it will be a four horse race. I don't know of who between Rubio, Cruz, Carson and maybe Christie will be the last challenger against Trump but after the Iowa caucuses, there will definitely be dropouts.

I think that:
If it's Trump v Sanders - Trump will win.
If it's Trump v Clinton - Clinton will win.
If it's another Republican v Clinton - the Republican will win.
If it's another Republican v Sanders - California will decide.

This campaign although being excessively noisy, is fast becoming predictable; we're almost out of teh fog.

January 17, 2016

Horse 2058 - Bull, Bear, Donkey, Elephant, Kangaroo? Emu?

ATM -0.16 2.22, BBQ -2.11 46.98, PBJ -0.09 1.13, SBD -1.32 8.25, TLA -2.20 9.31...

If you've been watching the markets this week you will have noticed that stock prices in China have been on the slide, that the Dow Jones Industrial Average seems to have caught a cold and that the ASX200 has been staring into the dark tea time of the soul and wondering about its existence. When stock prices fall, we call it a "bear market" and conversely when they rise, we call it a "bull market". The stories for these names are shrouded in mystery but as far as I can tell, the reason for this is either of the following.

- Outside the Frankfurter Wertpapierbörse - the Frankfurt Stock Exchange

It might have something to do with the way these animals attack. A bull is likely the lower its head and throw the target into the air - it lifts its enemy. A bear will rise up and using its claws and massive paws - it beats down its enemy. It could also have to do with the way that bulls charge forward and bears go into hibernation.
What I find somewhat strange is that in New York City, there is a statue of a charging bull which is supposes to represent the unpredictability of the stock market, there is no corresponding statue of a bear.
Whilst it's true that we just don't know what the bull and bear are actually supposed to mean or where they originally came from, we do know the story behind the animal mascots for the political parties in the United States.

- Thomas Nast's cartoons from Harper's Magazine, 1870 & 1874

The image of the Democratic Party as a donkey, goes back to the days when Andrew Jackson was running for president. During the 1828 campaign, his opponents would call him a "jackass" and instead of running away from this, he embraced the metaphor and redefined it to mean that he was steadfast, willful and determined instead of being obstinate.
The image was forgotten and then revived in the 1870's by Harper's Magazine when resident cartoonist Thomas Nast made fun of the "Copperheads", a vocal faction of Democrats, so named after the venomous snakes.
Likewise, Nast is also responsible for creating the Republican elephant, which was portrayed as belligerent and clumsy. Among other things, Thomas Nast probably also developed the ideas of Santa Claus, Uncle Sam, Columbia and New York's Tammany Hall Tiger.

This leads me to think about what we should do for Australia.
We have two political major political parties who have been locked in the perpetual shouting match across the floor of parliament since 1945. I think that it would be fitting if we could take inspiration from the coat of arms and use the Kangaroo and Emu.
The Labor Party would be the Kangaroo. It stands on the let of the coat of arms and has sometimes been provided with boxing gloves in various contexts.
The Liberal Party would be the Emu. It stands on the right of the coat of arms; which itself is an apt metaphor for the party.
Neither the Kangaroo or the Emu can walk backwards, both have as much road sense as a flying pavlova and both rush about at incredible speeds without the slightest regard for anything else in their environment.
Or maybe not. We already have a Walkley Winning cartoonist in Australia who has given us Ian the Climate Denialist Potato, the Racist Carrot and Brenda the Civil Disobedience Penguin.

January 15, 2016

Horse 2057 - Ali Abbas Returns To The Scene Of The Incident

It must be said that I like watching sport. I like watching, playing and analysing it to the point of stupidity. I like the statistics, the tactics, the struggle, the endurance and the sheer drama of sport but most of all I like the fact that it is a truer and clearer mirror on life than life itself.
The sense of bravado that sports people have when they know that the odds are impossibly against them but they still try anyway, the pure joy that flows through every sinew when your team wins, the sense of disappointment and sometimes ennui when your team loses and the sense of hope in the face of all rational sense that your team will do better next time when they have demonstrated consistently that they will not, are all stronger and more real then the decidedly more grey world where most people are happy if they spend their time in a nice place, with the occasional trip to the lav.
As well as being bigger and better than grown up things like love, death and taxes, sport provides lessons which are also better.

This weekend in what promises to be a slow and wet weekend in old Sydney town, the Sydney Derby between Sydney FC and the Western Sydney Wanderers will be played out in the never ending argument to prove that Blue is best and that Red and Black is like jamming a rusty cake fork in your eye forever (I admit that I am incredibly biased, that I only have one eye and that it is sky blue).
This Sydney Derby sees the return of Ali Abbas to the fixture which saw him out of the game for 405 days.

Ali Abbas suffered a tackle from Iacopo La Rocca in the match on 29th November 2014, which saw a cynical one-all draw and this caused his Anterior Cruciate Ligament and Medial Cruciate Ligament to tear.
As a player who has been through this, the fact that you can't go back out the next week, or the week after that is disheartening; when it extends into months its positively maddening. Worse for Ali, as a professional he will have had to watch Sydney FC from the sidelines and know that he was powerless to change the course of any action out on the pitch. All the while, his match fitness will have ebbed away to zero and he'd still be left with the twin problems of pain and rehabilitation.

On social media, Abbas had to also suffer taunts and racism; rivalry is one thing but this should not be tolerated. The fact that Brendon Šantalab had openly made racist remarks in the 3-1 victory to Sydney in the March fixture at the Sydney Football Stadium in the previous season, should have had Šantalab fined and suffer match bans to say the least - it got nothing.
Abbas himself though, who somehow has risen above all of this, serves as an example of why sport is bigger and better than grown up things like love, death and taxes, and has provided a very valuable lesson to society.

As an Iraqi refugee, he came to Australia with practically nothing and the worst things that will have happened to him already did so before he stepped onto our shores. To be out of the game for 405 days and then to score a goal on your return to competition, shows something of the best of the human spirit. To then back up and return to the very fixture which caused you to get injured, the very next week (which is what happens this weekend) is to display determination and courage. Courage is not an absence of fear but doing it anyway.
Ali Abbas is also I think, a pretty good personification of what it means to be Australian. As a nation the vast majority of us came from across the seas, we're more colourful and diverse than a bowl full of M&Ms, Smarties, Bhuja Mix, Salted Nuts and Skittles and we'd like to think that we show grit and determination in the face of our foes. He might play for Iraq but we can adopt him, can't we?

And what foes they are. The Western Sydney Wanderers are Sydney FC's first best frenemies. They are neighbours, they are rivals and in the great sporting landscape of Australia, they are brothers. Ali Abbas returning to the fixture which put him out of action for so long, is like the return of someone who has been on a long journey and as come home. One of the greatest compliments that a sibling can pay, is a traditional punch in the arm. No doubt that when Abbas returns to the pitch against the Western Sydney Wanderers, they will play him all due respect and watch him like a hawk.

The fixture tomorrow night at Parramatta Stadium, will be a return to where it all happened 412 days before. The incident must have been horrible because it meant that he had to watch all of the 2015 Asian Cup from the sidelines; it meant that he couldn't play for Iraq in that tournament.
I tip my hat to you Ali Abbas. You show a sense of joy and determination which is bigger than grown up things. We should be proud to have you in our nation. I'm certainly proud that Ali Abbas wears sky blue.