January 20, 2018

Horse 2366 - Government Shutdowns Don't Happen In Australia

I watch US politics like a football fan watches a neutral game. I don't really care who wins between the two sides and to be honest, any attempts to prove that your side is better, is just part of the background tumult of boos and yays that happen. The difference between say a Celtic v Rangers match, or "El Classico" between Barcelona and Real Madrid, or Everton v Liverpool, is that after 90 minutes, football fans go home. In American politics, the game is eternal.
This afternoon, I was literally watching a countdown clock in the corner of a screen, when the two sides in the eternal struggle that is American politics, failed to pass the Extension of Continuing Appropriations Act, 2018, and officially the United States Government has now run out of money.
That is, that it no longer has approval to issue any more Treasury Bills to keep on funding the debt which now stands at more than $20 trillion.
$20 Trillion? That's $20,000,000,000,000.
Without a source of any more funding, this basically means that only the essential services of government will continue to function. That means that the military, social security, border security and the postal service which has access to its own money will continue to run but everything else will just stop.

The question I've now been asked five times in the space of an afternoon, is could it happen in Australia? The answer is an emphatic "No."
We don't have government shutdowns for a very very good reason.

1. We don't have a debt ceiling.
Under Article I Section 8 of the United States Constitution, only Congress can authorize the borrowing of money on the credit of the United States. Since the United States Government has run continuous deficits since about 1835, the only way to keep funding the big show is to keep on issuing debt instruments. The problem is though that issuing debt with no thought or limit is bad, so Congress imposed the Public Debt Acts as a restraint upon itself. Every time that the debt hits the limit, crises happen.
Australia imposed a debt ceiling from 2008 until 2013, when quite rightly it was realised that this is nothing more than a perpetual game which needs to be played. In 2013, under Treasurer Joe Hockey, the debt ceiling in Australia was scrapped because it actually achieved nothing except tie up the legislature.

2. We have a bigger fiscal nuclear weapon

http://www7.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/legis/cth/consol_act/coaca430/s57.html
If the House of Representatives passes any proposed law, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, and if after an interval of three months the House of Representatives, in the same or the next session, again passes the proposed law with or without any amendments which have been made, suggested, or agreed to by the Senate, and the Senate rejects or fails to pass it, or passes it with amendments to which the House of Representatives will not agree, the Governor-General may dissolve the Senate and the House of Representatives simultaneously. But such dissolution shall not take place within six months before the date of the expiry of the House of Representatives by effluxion of time.
- Section 57, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900


On the 11th of November 1975, which was 6 months and one week after the Appropriation Bill No.1 1975-76 which wanted to spend $6,976,119,000, had failed to pass the Senate because the opposition simply deferred the passage of the appropriation bills which finance governmental operations, the Governor-General Sir John Kerr, under his Section 57 powers, issued a statement to dissolve the parliament:

Because of the federal nature of our Constitution and because of its provisions the Senate undoubtedly has constitutional power to refuse or defer supply to the Government. Because of the principles of responsible government a Prime Minister who cannot obtain supply, including money for carrying on the ordinary services of government, must either advise a general election or resign. If he refuses to do this I have the authority and indeed the duty under the Constitution to withdraw his Commission as Prime Minister. The position in Australia is quite different from a position in the United Kingdom. Here the confidence of both Houses on supply is necessary to ensure its provision. In United Kingdom the confidence of the House of Commons alone is necessary. But both here and in the United Kingdom the duty of the Prime Minister is the same in a most important aspect – if he cannot get supply he must resign or advise an election.
- Governor-General Sir John Kerr, Statement 11th Nov 1975.

More than forty years later we are still arguing the toss over what actually happened that afternoon. This is a tale of intrigue and suspicion over who said what, to whom and when.
What we do know is that at 2:24pm, the bill did pass the parliament and so there was never actually a government shutdown and at 2:34pm there was an announcement in the House that there had been a dismissal of the government. By the end of the day, writs had been issued with dissolved parliament.

The problem with the US congressional system is that the actual head of state is the President; who doesn't have the ability to dismiss or fire the Congress if they fail to pass a budget or debt ceiling extensions. The Governor-General of Australia as head of state does, and on the only occasion where it has looked as though a government shutdown was close, actually did dissolve the parliament. If a President wanted to fire the Congress, all kinds of anger would rain down on Washington.

Australia went through an eleven year process before it came to working out its constitution and it looked at what worked and what didn't work in both the United Kingdom and the United States; in consequence, we have a parliamentary system which is demonstrably better than both of them.The latest government shutdown in the United States, which by the way is the 18th since I've been alive, is in comparison to zero in Australia. It doesn't happen because our constitution works better by design.

January 17, 2018

Horse 2365 - "Raw Water" Is A Thing Now

Two of the regular fixtures on my listening schedules are "The News Quiz" on BBC Radio 4 and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" from WBEZ Chicago and NPR. I like satirical takes on the news because let's be honest, the world is a kind of bonkers place to begin with. When I first heard about the idea of raw water on Wait, Wait and then The News Quiz, I thought that this was one of those cases where some hipster trend has begun in a place like San Francisco and is just as dumb as quinoa, kale, açai, or whatever the next trendy food fad is. When I saw that a shop near where I work in Mosman was selling raw water, I finally realised that this is now going to be a thing.
I suppose that this is the latest in the whole foods movement and I guess that I did see it at one of those kinds of shops but just because something happens to be "natural" is no guarantee that it's better or even safe. Drinking raw water seems to me to be a pathway for pathogens, viruses and bacteria to get a free ride straight into your digestive system. I don't see any sanity in that.

Raw water, for those of you who aren't up to speed on all things trendy and idiotic, is untreated water. My first reaction when I heard about this on the radio was "why?". My reaction when I saw it on sale in the shops was "why?". As someone who is bashing away at a keyboard and wondering what is wrong with people in the world, my current reaction is to yet again ask "why?"
We spend billions of dollarpounds all over the world, setting up filtration and cleaning systems because having clean, safe drinking water is sensible. The fact that I even need to make this point here, is so unbelievably daft to me, I can't describe it.

Probably since before the beginning of recorded history, people have been trying to make their water look better and taste better. Simple common sense should dictate that water with stuff in it, is going to be worse than clean water. Common sense says that if water smells bad or has dirt in it, then you probably shouldn't drink it.
The ancient Egyptians used sand filtration; Hippocrates invented a double layered bag which he used to filter water with; people in the ancient world were boiling water because although they didn't know what they were doing, they knew it did something; the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he should take a little wine as well as water because of Timothy's frequent stomach illnesses.
If you apply the highly inaccurate Greek model of the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water, it stands to reason that something that's in water that isn't water is not water. In the modern world where chemistry is better understood, it is still true that anything that isn't the chemical of H2O is not water. If you are in the ancient world and you don't have a good grasp of science but you know that something in the water has the ability to literally kill you, then it's a good idea to get rid of it.

It wasn't until the invention of the microscope that we started to see that life existed at a size that was smaller than we can see. I can imagine that the first people who looked through a microscope and saw bacteria living in water must have been freaked out by it.
Perhaps the most famous story in the early history of drinking water, was the story of John Snow and the Broad Street pump. There was a cholera outbreak in the Soho district of London in 1854 and he decided to map out all the cases of cholera and see if there was a connection. He found that the centre of the outbreak was one particular pump and this coupled with other events such as the "Great Stink" of 1858 eventually led to the creation of the London sewerage system and the separation of sewerage and drinking water. Under the oversight of the civil engineer Joseph Bazalgette, London's effluent was moved eastwards and well beyond what was then the metropolitan area.

The thing is that stupid people will always do as stupid people do. If they could somehow invent a powerplant that ran on stupidity, then we could solve every energy crisis and global warming at the same time. I have no problem with stupid people being separated by their money if they do it voluntarily. The problem is that this sort of thing, dovetails with other things like the anti-vax movement and the most vocal people who are a fan of this kind of thing, also campaign against putting fluoride in the water, despite it being demonstrably safe and an excellent public health measure when it comes to dental health as well as removing the bacteria and viruses that we want to get rid of. Some of the greatest measures in public health last century were the eradication of smallpox and polio, and the mass provision of safe drinking water and decent sewerage systems.
People should mostly be free to spend their money how they like but when private choice might lead to public danger then stupidity becomes dangerous. I hope that this is seen for the obvious stupidity that it appears to be because then it's likely to just disappear and go away on its own.

January 11, 2018

Horse 2364 - The American Way To "Commute"?

I saw a full bus side advert the other day for American Airlines; which had a picture of a lady asleep in what looked like the comfiest airline seat/bed that I've ever seen and the advert had the tagline: "The American Way To Commute".

This is one of those occasions where someone was doing some paradigm shifting without using the clutch and my brain was metaphorically shooting sparks out the side. This advert was so unbelievably overflowing with wrongability that you might as well forget about trying to catch it all in buckets because there was enough of the stuff to sink the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier.

How art thee wrong? Let me count the ways.

1. Commute (the right way to use the word)
A commuter is someone who commutes. The word commute means to lessen or to reduce. A mass murderer who is facing the death penalty might have their sentence commuted to life in prison. A petty criminal who shows contrition might have their sentence commuted from time in prison to doing community service. Likewise the term "commuter" came about because people who bought season tickets, be they weekly, monthly, quarterly or even yearly (yes this was a thing), had their fare commuted to a lesser amount because they bought more travel. A person who bought a weekly rail ticket might have had their fare commuted from the full five days that they were going to work, to say the equivalent fare of three and a half days of travel.

2. Commute (the wrong way to use the word)
A commuter is someone who commutes. They have had the price of their travel commuted from an amount to a lesser amount. Somewhere in the history of urban public transport, people mangled the word to mean someone who simply travelled forth and back from work. This, rater ludicrously, eventually came to also apply to people who drive to work despite the fact that they do not have the price of their travel commuted to any lesser amount. Both the price of petrol and the associated tax are directly aligned with usage. I should point out here that since the introduction of the Opal Card system in Sydney, because an amount is deducted from people's Opal accounts at the end of every journey, this has in effect killed off the commuter in Sydney. Granted that there are discounts beyond the eighth trip and there is a weekly cap but if you are someone like me who always hits the cap, the fare is never commuted to a lesser amount.

If this is true, then even if we use the wrong definition of the word, then unless American Airlines does take people to and from work, then it's fair to say that there are no commuters who use American Airlines in Australia. There is a select number of people who fly in and fly out of the mining towns in Western Australia; so under this definition, there are some commuters who use aeroplanes in Australia, although American Airlines doesn't provide this service.

3. Commute (the wrong way to be wrong)
If we ignore part one and part two, then in what possible world does American Airlines think that there could be commuters using their services in Australia. As far as I am aware, they operate out of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney and fly to the west coast of the United States as well as Hawaii. I'm not sure if American Airlines is aware of this but the Pacific Ocean is actually kind of big. I don't think that it's even possible to fly to Hawaii in less than twelve hours, which means to say that it is impossible to fly forth and back to work if you're home was in Australia and your workplace was in Hawaii in less than a day.
Unless you have access to time travel, or are able to manipulate the laws of time and space such that you can leave before you arrive, wake up before you go to bed, and somehow manage to fit in an eight hour working day in the middle of all that, then the tagline "The American Way To Commute" is nonsensical as applied to Australians.

4. The Metaphor
Nonsense aside, the advert shows a lady asleep in one of those weird bed things that American Airlines obviously has. If you are someone who falls asleep on the bus, then you're likely not going to be awake when the advert passes by. Maybe this advert is supposed to evoke feelings of wistfulness and wanderlust in a bleary eyed person as they stand out in the cold waiting for a bus and that's perfectly sensible but this is yet another one of those occasions where the marketing department did not think things through.

Conclusion.
From what I've seen of America, the actual American way to commute is to sit in your car for long periods of time, doing six miles an hour, or perhaps sitting on a subway train and hoping that you don't get mugged. Okay, that's hyperbole and parody but as I stand on yet another late running and overcrowded train in Sydney, I kind of hope that "the American way to commute" is to put on some blue tights and red underpants on the outside and fly like Superman - he fought for "Truth, Justice, and The American Way (to commute?)"

January 10, 2018

Horse 2363 - The Train On Platform Number 3... Ha Ha LOL. There Is No Train On Platform Number 3.

Degrade. Defund. Privatise. Repeat.

This is the current policy of the Liberal/National Coalition in both Australia and the state of New South Wales and I for one am sick of it.
After not coming to an agreement on overtime rates with train drivers, Sydney Trains and by extension the Department Of Transport, are now doing their level best to annoy the heck out of the general public by cancelling train services at random and leaving passengers on station platforms with little information.
I have spoken to three drivers and it seems that whoever their managers are, simply isn't assigning drivers on scheduled runs because they haven't got any authority to guarantee that the drivers will be paid for doing them. This is management from above by budget knavery and the best guess is that the trail of decision making leads straight to Minister Andrew Constance's door and quite possibly to Premier Gladys Berejiklian herself.


Last night at Wynyard Station, passengers were herded like sheep, deliberately held back from entering the platforms because of over crowding and the very real fear that someone might fall onto the tracks, wherein we stood nine deep waiting for trains in both directions.


When I finally did get a train that I could get onto, I found myself standing next to the railing on a set of stairs, with a bolt being pushed into my ribs and at one point I swear that my feet weren't actually touching the ground and I was suspended in the air by the crowd crush.
Thanks to the shenanigans by Sydney Trains, my expectations have been successfully lowered from wondering if I'm going to get a seat to wondering if I'm going to get a train.
Thanks Andrew and Gladys. Your handiwork is on display for all to see. Andrew has officially blamed yesterday's madness on staffing issues and lightning.

This morning wasn't really much better. I took a bus from Marayong to Blacktown because the next four services to anywhere had been cancelled and when I did get to Blacktown, the announcements that trains had been cancelled outnumbered the announcements for trains that were actually running, severalfold. I don't know if you can blame lightning which happened more than 12 hours ago for a current running problem.

The playbook which is currently being worked through has been used before. We've seen this with airports, the Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, the electricity and water companies, we're currently seeing it with schools, the post office, the ferries, and if it wasn't obvious before then it is now, the trains and buses. That playbook is simply to starve the services of proper funding, watch as the public gets angry, lose government, then block any and all attempts to correct the stupidity; then after being voted back into office, claim a mandate to privatise government assets before selling them at a discount to your not quite criminal friends.
In the meantime, start playing identity politics, stirring up racial tensions and demonising the newest broad immigrant group to arrive, blame poor people for their own poverty but refuse to do anything about it, or shift the media focus to some other completely irrelevant topic like changing the flag or the republic.

I find it a bit rich that the Minister For Transport lives in an electorate with zero railways stations and that his electorate was presented with the brand new B-Line services; with no plans to expand that portion of the bus network. Incidentally, private operators TransDev already own the South & South Western Sydney bus depots but have no intention of buying the unprofitable parts of the bus network at all. The plans for the Sydney Metro were first put forward in 2001, then 2005, 2008 and 2010 until Barry O'Farrel promised to fill in all of the holes that would be dug for the new stations if his government was elected. It was and magically, the plans resurfaced for a privately operated metro line; so there's no surprise there. As an aside, I consider it total lunacy  that the Metro line terminates at Cudgegong Road but doesn't go the extra 4.1km to Schofields where it could have made a connection.

Back to the issue at hand. Andrew Constance's job as far as I can tell, is to stand up in parliament and refuse to answer any questions about anything ever posed to him. I don't know what the expiry date is for blaming the previous government but here we are seven years later and Constance's default answer to to say that they're cleaning up the mess left behind by Labour, while not actually cleaning anything up at all.
Maybe as the Liberal/National Coalition drifts towards the economic right, they are secretly hoping that we'll just accept the fascist myth of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, that the trains are running on time. Yesterday proved, that if you want the public to acccept the lie, you have to at very least make sure that the trains are running in the first place.

January 09, 2018

Horse 2362 - Jar Jar Binks Is Secretly A Good Character In A Badly Written Universe

In the Star Wars cinematic universe, the three prequel movies are almost universally hated. Unlike the three films starting from 1977, which had space ships, space guns, and space wizards with space laser swords, the prequel films which were made from 1999 and onwards, have more politics, intrigue and a romance gone wrong story, than space ships, space guns and space wizards with space laser swords. The prequel films also contain the universe's singularly most hated character of all: Jar Jar Binks. Had the prequel films never been made, then that position would have been occupied by C3-PO; I suspect that we were kind of supposed to dislike C3-PO though (nobody likes the protocol and rule followers).

Going back to Jar Jar Binks though, I have read that he is seen as representing some kind of racist caricature of Rastafarians, or perhaps nondescript Asian people, to an outright dislike of both his character design to the fact that he is just staggeringly inept and annoying. All of these are valid criticisms because the interpretation of any piece of art always belongs to its audience. No two people can ever experience anything exactly the same way;. that also includes the way that the creator experienced their own work. Although George Lucas probably had good intentions for Jar Jar Binks, to act as someone who the kids would like and maybe as an audience surrogate, once Mr Lucas released his film into the world, no longer controlled the realm of opinion.

I think that Jar Jar Binks is a far more intriguing character than either the portrayal on screen the court of public opinion has declared him to be. He has only a minor supporting role in The Phantom Menace, he gets no more than three lines of dialogue in Attack Of The Clones and he is only seen and gets zero lines of dialogue in The Revenge Of The Sith; to the extent that there isn't even a credit for him at the end of the film. So based purely on the evidence presented before us, he must have a far more interesting story than we've been told about. He has been sidelined because the public didn't like him but that still doesn't mean to say that he still doesn't have an interesting but untold story.

In The Phantom Menace he is presented as General Binks on the planet of Naboo. Immediately we have to realise that despite his bumbling exterior, he's obviously somewhat competent to be able to be promoted to such an extent that he holds the rank of General. Even though he is quite clumsy (and is told off by Qui-Gon Jinn for being clumsy) he still demonstrates at least a passing ability to fight.
Second to this, in the space between The Phantom Menace and Attack Of The Clones, he becomes a Junior Representative for the Bunyan people in the Galactic Senate. Owing to the fact that the whole Star Wars cinematic universe is poorly thought out when it comes to matters of government and bureaucracy (because Star Wars is a space opera with laser wizards), I have no idea how the Galactic Senate is supposed to function. I have no idea how it makes any sense that it would be just Jar Jar Binks' fault that the power of the Galactic Senate should be seeded to Palpatine at all; so I don't think that it's fair that we should blame Jar Jar Binks for the whole chain of events.
Even if you allow for the possibility that there was a vote and the result was tied, his dithering needn't necessarily be interpreted as a bad thing because based on all information available to him it might have been the best choice after a deliberative process. In a vote of 251-250, there are still 250 other Senators to join with the one.

I would like to see the political thriller about how Jar Jar Binks, who was able to convince the cosmos that he was an incompetent fool, was able to wrangle public opinion to the point where he walks into the Galactic Senate in a landslide election. This is high level kind of manipulation of the sort that we might expect from Boris Johnson, Helmut Kohl, or Sir Joh Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Maybe this is a political thriller of a different sort where Jar Jar Binks is openly loved by his people precisely because he is so naive and innocent and the bad guys and antagonists of the film, turn out to be us and our prejudices against him. I must confess that I find Jar Jar Binks an annoying character to watch on screen but I don't think that that necessarily makes him a bad character because at very least, we remember him.

The thing about the three prequel movies is that it is mostly a story about how the Jedi who are supposed to be good, end up being terrible and making equally bad decisions because a space wizard theocracy is terrible at doing the job of governance. It is in that vacuum of terrible governance that Palpatine manipulates the system to steal power. Jar Jar Binks might very well be clumsy, incompetent and terrible at government but at least he does what he thinks it is right and proper to do.
It is we the audience who are the villains for writing him off; and George Lucas himself who is the emperor of awful for giving us three convoluted films with too much politics, intrigue and a romance gone wrong story, rather than space ships, space guns and space wizards with space laser swords.

January 03, 2018

Horse 2361 - Operation Purple Line - The Cumberland Line Extension

The name of the County of Cumberland was bestowed on an indiscriminate plain to the west of the settlement by Governor Phillip on 4th June 1788 and was named after Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland; the fifth son of George III (and who later became the second last King of Hanover before it was absorbed into a united Germany).
As a result, the name Cumberland is thrown about willy-nilly in western Sydney and it is fitting that the Cumberland Line which currently runs from Schofields to Leppington, should also have that name.
As I live in Marayong, which is on the Richmond Line and therefore the Cumberland Line by coincidence, I thought it worthwhile to travel to the other end of the line; to somewhere I had never been before.
The train heads through Blacktown, Parramatta, crosses over the Y-link and through Merrylands and Guildford, through Liverpool until it gets to Glenfield, wherein it makes a hard right over a new viaduct and cuts into fairly open country.


The first indication that you are going to leave suburbia is at Casula, when for no apparent reason at all, the landscape changes from rows and rows of red roofed houses to unorganised bushland. Also, a lot of the stations in this part of the world, are little more than finished concrete over a set of brick walls and with a gantry over the top. Style and panache are non existent except for Liverpool station; which looks as though it should be a grand terminal for something.


Beyond Liverpool, is Glenfield. This photo overlooks an agricultural high school and is an indication of what is to come.


Ever since Harry Beck presented his now iconic map of the London Underground to a thankful public in 1931, the idea has been copied again and again. Most schematic maps bear no relation to what the actual land is like but this section of the Sydney Trains map with the Leppington Branch showed as a hard right angle to the main south line, is actually an apt representation. The train climbs over a short viaduct and really does pull hard to the right.


This is the sort of landscape that this branch goes through. It is mainly rolling hills and plains; with patches of eucalypts still peppering the view. It is this kind of empty country that makes me wonder about this line in two ways:
1. Either the line is many degrees of magnitude of overkill.
2. The line is preparing for future extensions because places like Oran Park and Narellan which used to be little more than four sheds and a dog called Kevin, now have more people than ever before.


I am not a fan of the deliberately nasty styling of these benches. These benches are decidedly unfriendly and are very much hostile architecture. They are meant to be sat on for only a limited period of time; which is fine if you are in Town Hall or Wynyard but when you are in Leppington which is 51 kilometers from Central Station, this is idiotic.
I also do not like the stayed corporate colour scheme which is common across the network. Sure, it is about building a brand but I rather like the idea that because this is on a purple and blue line, that the furniture should also be accented in purple and blue. Then again what do I know? I travel on trains for fun.


Leppington Station like so many modern buildings, stations, apartment blocks etc. is being built to a style which is trendy at the moment. This will pass.
Having said that, it does mean that as you pass through the place, you do get interesting interactions of light and shadow.


For a station which is in the middle of nowhere, Leppington Station is impressively massive. It has four platforms; which are useful for laying up trains and terminating them but apart from that, its bigness is gloriously pointless.
If this was a station in the middle of the city, instead of those Opal Card poles, there would be full on ticket barriers but because there is practically nobody here, they're not required.


From the outside of Leppington Station, it looks like they are expecting crowds of Olympic proportions. This station is equipped to cope with 150,000 people all arriving at once but I doubt if this station would ever see 1% of that in a day. The train that I caught here, literally had 3 people on it who weren't railway staff. If this station ever does see crowds, they'd arrive in the morning after parking their cars and then disappear until the end of the day.
As it was, I wandered around for a bit and then descended back to platform level; wherein I sat on an unfriendly bench for 26 minutes.

Should they have built this line extension? Yes. Should Leppington Station be this pointlessly extravagant? Absolutely.
Unlike say Casula Station which is two river platforms and a gantry, Leppington Station is a destination in itself (although arguably it has to be because there's diddly-squat else put there). A quiet place like this which is massive, positively screams that it has a purpose. It compels you to wander through it; to walk around and to interact with it. It's ace.

More train things to come in future posts.

January 02, 2018

Horse 2360 - The World's Biggest Cup Of Tea

On December 16th, 1773, 116 American traitors to the Crown decided to dress up as Mohawk Indians and seize the cargo of three ships. This cargo, which included 342 chests of tea, represented the last of the so-called "intolerable" taxes that still stood on the specific importation of goods to the British North American colonies. These traitors to the Crown (or heroes of the revolution depending on your point of view), is generally considered to be the tipping point which saw the North American colonies revolt, engage in full scale war, and fight for their independence. 
Not quite 244 years and one month later, we find ourselves in an equally strange point in history where a man with orange hair is now the President of a nation who surely must be wondering if it was all worth it.

WARNING: MATHS AHEAD.

I have read estimates that the weight of tea on board the three ships, the Beaver, Dartmouth, and Eleanor, was circa 90,000 pounds. Since the value of the tax was 4 shillings per pound, then the value of the tax which was dodged was:
90,000 x 4/- = £18,000
This is quite strange considering that the value of the damaged and lost cargo reported by the East India Company was only £9,659. The value that they expected to sell that tea at was £108,000; an elevenfold price markup isn't that shabby.

The average amount of tea in an average teabag (my research involved looking in my own pantry), is 2 grams. By my reckoning:

2g = 1 cup of tea, 250mL
8g = 4 cups of tea, 1L
40,823kg = 40,823,000g = 5,102,875L or 1,275,718 cups of tea.

To put this in perspective, there is about 2,500,000L or water in an olympic swimming pool. That means that there was enough tea dumped into Boston Harbour to turn two olympic swimming pools into something drinkable.
I bet that for a very short period of time, before the tea had a chance to disperse, then it's not unreasonable to say that Boston Harbour or at least two olympic swimming pools worth of water in Boston Harbour, was the world's biggest cup of tea; albeit a very very salty one.

December 31, 2017

Horse 2359 - Certain Defeat On Intractable Ground

Pat Benitar once sang that "Love Is A Battlefield". I will freely admit that I have no idea how the song goes or even who Pat Benitar is; the first Pat that springs to my mind has a postal van and a black and white cat. The Chinese writer of old, Sun Tzu, wrote in "The Art Of War", that there were nine kinds of terrain and that they have names which are kind of like Snow White's Dwarves' heavy metal cousins: Scattering, Light, Strategic, Open, Crossroad, Heavy, Intractable, Enclosed, and Death.
If love actually is a battlefield, then there are certain types of terrain which one would do well to surrender upon. I know not which kind of terrain that the following is but I suspect that it is anything then it is probably intractable because every which way I look at it, defeat is a certainty.


As a commander on this battlefield who subscribes to the theory that scrunch is better than fold, that when filing the paperwork that water makes for a better result, if could issue commands that would be followed, then going over the top is better than a rearguard action from the back. In my perfect world, the only excuse for orientating the roll so that the paper trails out the back rather than the front, is if you happen to have an enthusiastic kitten who likes to unravel the entire roll. If you do happen to possess such a kitten, then there is still merit in sending the tail over the top because you can take a video and post it to YouTube.

By way of legend, the average person spends approximately 28 years in bed, 4 years standing in queues and 56 weeks enthroned upon the seat of porcelain. By that logic, the average person should also spend approximately 19 days of their life filing the necessary paperwork for this act (some people file the paperwork in triplicate). If I am going to spend that long in filing paperwork, then in my perfect world, then I would want that paper to be available and dispensed in a speedy manner. Nobody likes filing paperwork under any circumstances; any help which speeds up the process is in my not very well paid opinion, desirable.

Apparently the Romans used bits of cotton on the end of sticks to do this job. This seems like utter madness to me as the very real clear and present danger which immediately arises, reminds me very much of the Miller's Tale and what Absolon did, except that this punishment would be self inflicted. We have the New York Women's Club in 1871 to thank for the invention of the necessary paperwork for discreet purposes, in a perforated roll; which seems indubitably more sensible and obvious to me. What those august ladies in the latter half of the nineteenth century did not give us, was the explicit instructions that the paperwork should be installed in such a way as I have described, rather than the way of madness and incredulity which currently exists in the smallest room in my house.

This is a battlefield on intractable ground as far as I can tell and a battlefield upon which I have surely lost. The white flag of surrender now hangs limply over the back of the roll; instead of the front, where metaphor and reality are entangled. To those who remain in this fight, I ask you if this is the hill that you really want to fight and die upon. For me, there is no hope and surrender is all that remains.
In the dying of the light of 2017, defeat is a certainty on this battlefield.

December 30, 2017

Horse 2358 - 2017 Ends In Silence

4th Ashes Test, Melbourne.
Australia 327 and 263/4d - England 491
Match drawn

2017 has ended in much the same way that it began; in a flood of despair flanked by incredulity. It seems fitting therefore that I should end 2017 with yet another piece of despair, or a piece of joy depending on your perspective.
As an England fan, I fully expect that at what ever sporting endeavour that an English team is in, that they will fail and fail brilliantly. This match has failed at failing; unless of course the point was to experience that unique joy of giving England a faint sense of hope of victory then crushing it in the din of silence that comes after a draw.

The Fourth Test in the 2017/18 Ashes series has ended in a very unsurprising draw. The curators at the MCG have prepared a wicket which would still be more than capable of being batted on, during day 10 of a timeless test. This pitch, had more in common with the runway at Tullamarine Airport than with a a normal playing surface.
Since the curators' main job in any cricket match is to do whatever they can to ensure victory for the home side, then the curators at the MCG have failed in their job miserably. I'm sure that any Australian side having gone 3-nil up, would want to carry on with their steamrolling job and go on to score a 5-nil whitewash but there was never going to be any result within five days in this pitch.

The two absolutely fundamental concepts which must be adhered to in order to win a cricket match are that you must score more runs than the opposition and you must close the opposition's innings twice. That last point is undoubtedly the thing which England has failed to do this summer. Of the four test matches which have been played this summer, England have only seen Australia's innings close twice in one match and even then it wasn't because they took all twenty wickets. To wit:

England:
1st Test - took 10 wickets. Lost by 10 wickets.
2nd Test - took 18 wickets. Lost by 120 runs.
3rd Test - took 9 wickets. Lost by an innings and 41 runs.
4th Test - took 14 wickets. Match drawn.
If you can not take 20 wickets in a test match, then you can expect to win nothing.

I don't mean to say that Jimmy Anderson is getting too long in the tooth or that Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali haven't been effective enough because they've performed reasonably adequately; it's just that Steven Smith, David Warner and the torrent of tediousness that has been the Australian batting line-up this summer, has been solidly dug in. To that end, it is what you should expect from the home side who should in theory always be more adept at coping with the local conditions.
The critical day in this test match was on Day 4 when, Jimmy Anderson who had been left out in the middle at the close of play the day before, was dismissed on the fist ball of the day's play. Day 4 should have been a day of removing Australian wickets left, right and centre but when the rain came and destroyed that hope, this task was shifted to Day 5. There still should have been wickets taken left right and centre but instead, there was only resoluteness and two wickets removed. 8 wickets short, is an incomplete job.

What is noteworthy about this fourth test, which would otherwise be as dull as dishwater because it is a dead rubber, is that finally this England side have learned the art of digging in and building a stone wall of boredom. Granted that they still did not manage to take twenty wickets in this match either but collectively they hung around long enough for Alistair Cook to remain unbeaten on 244 and carry his bat; which gives him the honour of being the top scorer of anyone in test history who has carried their bat from the beginning to the end of an innings. It is almost as if scoring a double century is incidental, despite it being a major achievement in itself.
I must admit that I quite liked Joe Root's dismissal of David Warner for 86, when Warner holed out to James Vince, but only after Joe Root bowled filth for a delivery; which should have been dispatched to all points of the compass. Yet again we see that bowling rubbish against decent batsmen who don't expect it, brings results that it really doesn't deserve.

2017 began with an orange man being installed in a white house; it ends with a blue cap being thrown on a field of green. If you are an Australian fan, then you'll be happy with the summer but disappointed with the 4th Test. If you are an Australian fan, then the darkest night has already past; the worst can not happen any more. A draw ends the possibility of a whitewash; now comes the crushing silence.

December 21, 2017

Horse 2357 - Fragments VI: The Journey To And From The West

A9 - Scientific Astrology

We had a client come in the other day who is some sort of psychologist person at a hospital, which I imagine means that she would have to deal with assessing some quite disturbed people (not a job that I would want to do), and while my boss was downstairs, I was given a quiz thing to demonstrate the sort of work that she does. Much to my chagrin, the test looked somewhat suspicious and when I completed it, it turned out to be yet another one of those Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Personality type tests.

I absolutely hate this kind of test. Notwithstanding the fact that it's mostly a load of codswallop, it is misused by practically everyone (as if there was a legitimate use for it in the first place) and in effect becomes a kind of fancy astrology type exam for smart people, or at least people who want to appear to be smart.
Just as pointlessly as sorting the world into 12 zodiac signs based on what time of the year you were born, the Meyer-Briggs Personality type test sorts people into 16 kinds of people based on what time of day that they answered. I have taken variations of this test in the past and have been sorted into different categories; which says to me that the efficacy of the test is pretty close to zero.

For the record, I am a JJJJ type, which means that I like judging and listening to Triple J. If it is any help, I am also born in the Star sign of Vectra, in the year of the Rubber Cat; which means that I was born in 19XX and I have a peculiar liking of machinery, especially machinery which produces things through extrusion.

<><><><><>

AD6 - Adverdetective 

I have watched a lot of detective shows on television and listened to many more which would have originally been on the radio. It strikes me as really weird that within the various universes (universii?) that these detectives are famous but it is never really explained why. Do they take out TV and radio ads? Just how expensive is it to run adverts anyway?
It also immediately strikes me that running adverts for someone like Johnny Dollar or Phillip Marlowe on the radio or television would just look really stupid. The announcer on WHYO would have to read copy like:

Got any corpses lying around? Have any relatives with limbs missing for no apparent reason? Have you been recently robbed by thieves and they've taken your Faberge eggs? Then why not call Rollo Q Private Detective Agency on 7575 1966?
Our famous team of private detectives are perfect for all of your mystery solving needs. Want a guy in a trench coat and fedora to investigate a blackmail racket? We can help. Maybe you'd like a lady in a business suit to infiltrate corporate business fraud? We've got you covered. Maybe you just want six hired goons to show up and scare your scheming step brother into exposing his plans for an inheritance confidence trick? It's all in a day's work for... the Rollo Q Private Detective Agency. 
We eliminate the middle man and that means that the savings are passed on to you. We're in two great locations:  116 West Chester Street, Northwood and 223 Third Avenue, Fort Beckton. That's 7575 1966. Call now. 

There is no way I can imagine a jingle or a set of chimes for a detective agency in an advertisement. It seems to run in direct contradiction to the requirements for discretion and privacy that might ensue as a result of client confidentiality; which really makes me wonder how detectives become famous in the first place.

<><><><><>

BCT - The Death of Bob Cat

The thing I find almost incredible is that after they've dug the hole for a lot of these large buildings, they simply leave the poor old bobcat at the bottom of the hole and build the foundations and indeed the whole building, over the top of it. The wee bobcat having done its job proudly, is discarded and entombed as though it were an offering to the gods of construction. None of the people who live in their brand new apartments, neither know or care about the sacrifice which has been made; nor that they are living directly above the buried bobcat.

<><><><><>

C95 - Cars 0: Disney Does My Head In

Where the heck do these cars come from anyway? I imagine that there must be some kind of factory which churns them out but that's kind of disturbing. What if they are living things? That's also disturbing and I don't think I even want to know how the reproductive systems of anthropomorphised cars work.
Do they have schools and universities? Do they grow up? If you consider that Lightning McQueen is roughly the same size as Doc Hudson, then does that mean that they are already fully grown from the beginning?
If they don't have hands, then how exactly is the infrastructure of the world built? How do they hold hammers, turn screwdrivers, operate machines, write things... how do they do the things which are necessary to produce their own existence?

What about their internal organs? They​ have eyes and mouths. How are they sentient? Is there the remnants of a genetically modified human inside? Is this what becomes of humanity after the

<><><><><>

D3 - Argument Of Every Argument Ever

I am usually quite late at noticing things in the world; partly because I suspect that I am something of an ascetic and a misanthrope and have a fundamental distrust of humanity, and partly because despite this I still want to give people the benefit of the doubt because it is easier to attribute things to stupidity rather than malice, but now that I have come late to the party, I have noticed that the extremisation of ideas in conversations, has more or less reached everywhere.

There is a sketch in an episode of Monty Python called the "Five Minute Argument Sketch". The premise is that someone goes to a firm to have an argument with someone. There is a line in the sketch which says that an argument is a string of statements which are presented to arrive at a proposition; whereas contradiction is the automatic gainsay to disagree with what the other person said.

Somehow I feel that not just in the adversarial discourse of the legal system and​ politics but in so many other areas of life, we have reached the point where just about everything has become the intractable automatic disagreement with what someone else says.

I think that everything has come down to two rather basic arguments:
a) I have the right to do anything that I like, whenever I like, and by any means necessary and I refuse to admit that my actions have any negative consequences for anyone else.
b ) I am inherently virtuous and am offended by your actions. Please do not do them. I have the right to stop anything I like, by any means necessary and I refuse to admit that my actions have any consequences for anyone else.

Confusingly, argument a) is mostly taken up by cultural authoritarians who at some point were given the label of "conservative" despite wanting to tear down public institutions but still regulate cultural virtue signals; while argument b) is taken up by cultural progressives who sometimes use argument a) to expand their own agenda, while stealing ideology from the mostly dead economic left.

<><><><><>

QQQ - Droning Conversation

I know that this is part of your personality and that you probably have some deep seated need for approval from literally everybody but when you've had a conversation at me (and I don't mean "with" me) for sixteen minutes and I've said virtually nothing, then that doesn't mean that I am your friend.
I was on a flight from Sydney to Dubbo when I was still working for the law courts and across the aisle from me was a nine year old boy who was trying to have a conversation with me; and for virtually the whole flight I couldn't hear a thing over the rumble of the engines, so I smiled and nodded and laughed in appropriate points in the conversation, all while having no idea what the heck this kid said. For all I know he could have been on a terror list and was telling me plans in detail about how to blow up a 747 and I'd still have been none the wiser.
That's what sitting through the your tales was like, Mister Lawyer. The droning of your perpetual "I", "I" and "I" in your conversation, was like the rumble of those engines. You could have been describing how you'd blow up a 747 and you probably are on a terror list for all I know.

<><><><><>

R12 - Uniform Of The Damned

It's like this is a novel idea, when as little as 15 years ago the whole workforce was virtually clad in white shirts and black trousers and with the only concession to colour being people's ties. If look at photographs of offices going back more than a hundred and thirty years, you will find that a white shirt and black trousers was almost the de facto uniform of billions of office operatives. From photos of Mission Control for the Mercury Project, to the human computers in Bletchley Park, to the traders frantically yelling on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange just before the great crash, it was white shirts and black trousers which built, burned, and rebuilt the world.

December 19, 2017

Horse 2356 - You Won't Believe Number 9

As far as I'm concerned, the way that the Facebook algorithms work is basically a load of unicorns and goblins. As an end user who is aware that I am the product that Facebook is trying to sell to advertisers, I am suspicious of the tactics used by both the platform and the entities who want to sell me stuff.
One source of immense confusion for me are the links to websites which say that "you won't believe what X looks like today" or "the real reason why Y left Z", when I have no idea who X, Y or Z were in the first place. I also those links to lists of things bewildering, when I clearly have no desire to find out what number 16 is no matter how unbelievable it supposedly is.

I have no idea why Facebook seems to think that I would ever be interested in any of these things when I never click on them; so that says to me that somebody somewhere must be and they think that I am an average user. If that's the case, then I'm obviously doing it wrong and what you all want is a random list of rubbish.

You won't believe number 70:

1. Fence posts
2. Power steering
3. Traffic cone
4. Swimming
5. Chiropractic
6. Fans
7. Three
8. Bob hairstyles
9. Bench
10. Fire hydrant
11. Heel
12. Death
13. Four houses
14. Lounge chairs
15. A4 paper
16. Leaves
17. Electricity
18. Denmark
19. Mail
20. Energy
21. Omnibus
22. Indifference
23. Urbanisation
24. Sleep
25. Drilling
26. Junction box
27. Brick
28. Argon
29. Effort
30. Fractional reserve banking
31. Amendments
32. Concrete
33. Encephalitis
34. Hope
35. Glass
36. War
37. Guitar
38. Weather vane
39. Completion
40. Variability
41. Homgenisation
42. Foundling
43. Intrinsic value
44. Cosmology
45. Pepper
46. Entertainment
47. Cancer
48. Sailing
49. Insurance
50. Buffer
51. Minutiae
52. Public services
53. Nationhood
54. Boeing
55. Communism
56. Silver
57. Scary
58. Burger
59. Illegal
60. Accents
61. Forestry
62. Surveillance
63. Inspirational
64. Green
65. Order
66. Medicine
67. Hills
68. Episode
69. Software
70. Cucumber
71. Ram
72. Emergency department
73. Dazzle
74. Tone
75. Lion
76. Roses
77. Kilkenny
78. Orange juice
79. Metropolitan
80. Dairy
81. Councours d' elegance
82. Capsicum
83. Red bean paste
84. Shipping container
85. Limitations
86. Religion
87. Gingham
88. Politics
89. Ferns
90. Complementary colours
91. Hut
92. Pollution
93. Repeating
94. Circulation
95. The printing press
96. Flour
97. Scope of the information
98. Spring constant
99. Bug
100. Choral
101. Bleach
102. Grace Kelly
103. Contact adhesive
104. The wattusi

Incidentally, there is a connection to all of these things. I'm not going to tell you what it is but maybe if you spend enough time thinking about the incredible inanity of it all, you might be able to work it out. Maybe give the list to the goblins at Facebook and let them explain it; while I fly away on my magical neon pegasus.

December 18, 2017

Horse 2355 - Water Is Wet

If there's one thing that I do exceptionally well, it is wandering into an​ argument (however petty), being obsessed to find out everything that I need to to resolve it, before casting judgement. I am the chess playing pigeon who knocks over the king and claims victory but not before thinking about all of the ways to win.
The petty argument that I have wandered into today and which needs resolving is the insanely simple question of "is water wet?".

My first inkling is that this is one of those questions like "is the pope a Catholic?" or "does the bear poop in the woods?"; which should be a knock down walkover. Both of those questions aren't immediately straightforward though, as the pope might be an Orthodox pope and the bear might be a plains dweller. As for the question "is the bear a Catholic?" then that opens up still further questions that have to do with the religious outlook of the bear and whether or not they happen to believe in things which have been proposed post reformation.
An answer to this question is that of course the bear is a Catholic because if they saw the 95 theses nailed to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenburg, they'd tear it down. Let's go back to the matter at hand.

Is water wet?

The quality of being "wet" has to do with the amount of moisture which is either in or which covers a thing. If the floor is wet, it is because there is water covering the floor. If a tray is wet, it is because there is water covering the tray (and you should probably start a fight in the canteen). If it is wet outside, it is because there is water covering everything.
Conversely, the state of being dry has to do with the absence of wetness. Right? Maybe not.

Although the desert may be said to be dry, and dry ice is dry because it contains no water, then how about the dryest continent on Earth, Antarctica? That place has piles of water all over the place; quite literally piles of water. In fact there's mountains of the stuff. How can there be water everywhere and it still not be wet?

Obviously our notion of what is "wet" has to change somewhat. If it isn't water covering a thing that makes it wet, then logic dictates that the thing making it wet is the amount of liquid water either in or covering a thing. I think that makes sense. As the owner of a liquid meatbag consciousness containing machine, I like to keep my wetness contained inside me and find the acts of expelling it quite disturbing. I very much enjoy various actions which replenish the amount of internal wetness I contain, with various kinds of vegetable and animal products.

If you venture into an alpine region, you never complain about how wet it all is until you get the water very close to your skin; wherein what may have been snow turns back into liquid water again. I had an awful afternoon in the snow once when someone threw a load of snow down the back of my jacket and I wasn't properly happy again until I found a leather couch by a nice fire, wherein I could dry out and a particularly memorable hot chocolate and coffee.

The oblique question which prompted this was "is the ocean wet?" I think that it stands to reason that the ocean which is made of liquid water covering other liquid water is wet because liquid water is wet. I think that that also goes for a swimming pool, a cup of tea, and the inside of a Coke bottle. If you jumped into any of those things, you would be wet.

What about water vapour? If you've walked inside a cloud it certainly feels wet. Where you have liquid water in droplets, I think that counts. Steam on the other hand isn't wet. When it condenses back into liquid a thing becomes wet but not before. I have no idea about water as a plasma but I suspect that it wouldn't be wet. Nor do I think that monomolecular water in a vacuum counts as a liquid but I could be wrong.

Is water wet? Not exactly. Liquid water is wet. Ice is only wet if it is covered in liquid water. Steam is not wet and I don't think that plasma or monomolecular water is either.

December 15, 2017

Horse 2354 - In Defence Of Mucking Around And Play

Ever since I were a wee lad, I have been a fan of motor racing. I remember the likes of Peter Brock, Alan Moffat and Dick Johnson thundering around Bathurst in the kinds of cars that you would see on the road and thinking it was great. I remember the era of Nelson Piquet, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna who hated each other, and Nigel Mansell who was always plucky but who never really had the equipment to win (until eventually he did).
Of course having the kind of mind where everything gets thrown together and mangled, I look at the realm of pop culture and see cars like the Batmobile, the Mach 5, the De Lorean, and​ Darth Vader's TIE Fighter and want to have them face each other. In fact, in my copy of NASCAR 2, which was published by Papyrus in 1996, because of the ability to paint all of the cars, has colour schemes which would have never existed on any racetrack at the same time. In my copy of the game, it is possible to see George Washington in front of Kimi Raikkonen and Sonic The Hedgehog in the same race.
In the trailer for the film Ready Player One, you can see quite clearly that someone else has had the same idea as I did because that's clearly the van from The A-Team, the Interceptor from Mad Max, the 1966 Batmobile and what looks like the Mach 5 in this particular shot.


I make mention of all of this because this has only come about because of someone like me in a movie studio who wasn't afraid to just muck about. I'm sure that this isn't because some high ranking movie executive or director has had a brain wave somewhere but because some low level nobody who was just asked to make a thing look pretty, wasn't afraid to look stupid. Just mucking around like a doofus is in my not very well paid opinion, one of the single greatest drivers of human advancement ever.

It is no great accident that a few of the so called garagistas which came about after the Second World War, were all products of blokes in sheds just mucking around. Names like Bruce McLaren and Colin Chapman were able to take on the world and build world championship winning cars, from an operation which had less staff than an average supermarket.
Marie Curie, the great French scientist, won Nobel Prizes while doing something not much more than mucking around in her rooms in Paris. Of course it helped that she had been to university but while the fields of chemistry and physics were still relatively young, that spirit of just kind of mucking around and having a look at what was happening, is what helped open up nuclear chemistry.
The same thing can be said for both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs because their early efforts into the world of computing were really them and their mates just kind of mucking around and seeing what happened. The companies which were founded on the back of this initial mucking around are now massive.

There is a point to me telling a stories about people just kind of mucking around. I absolutely think that building the kinds of environments in universities where there is no obvious outcome, where there is no immediate economic payoff, and where it simply looks like people are just mucking around and wasting money, is essential to the development of technology and society. It looks chaotic at times, deans of universities might not understand why they are throwing money at what looks like a bunch of deadbeat moochers and governments who are always keen to trim their budgets because fundamentally politicians have no idea of what goes on in universities, but that still isn't a good enough reason to stop. Mucking around for want of a more formal word is "play" and for want of an even more formal description can unwittingly be "basic research".

This is the main reason why I love the whole idea of institutions where mucking around is actively encouraged​ and celebrated. Taken to its greatest and most visible manifestation, the whole Apollo Program which landed a dozen people on the moon at a cost of twenty five billion Us Dollars, is the greatest case of mucking around in history. I have heard all sorts of arguments about why it was a colossal waste of money but the amount of focused mucking around to make it possible which subsequently found its way into other technology, is immense.
The same can be said for the mucking around which led to the invention of Wi-fi, of touchscreens, in which advanced logic, and the graphic arts, which make the thing you are currently reading this on possible.

I think that mucking around and looking at things such as philosophy, the arts, history, literature, theatre, and a lot of other disciplines of study that seemingly have no immediate economic benefits at all are also worth spending money for mucking around, because life isn't just about the technical pursuit of stuff but the colour and quality of the stories that are told. Business people who only look to the improvement of a balance sheet at the end of the year might produce a number which leads to economic well-being but they produce unhappiness in so many people; they certainly do not produce either the playfulness of mucking around unless they have a dedicated research and development division.

In days gone by, when people mucked around and threw ideas together, it was fine. The creative process is often just chucking in lots of stuff and seeing what works together. Now that we have intellectual property law such as copyright and patents which sit over the top of published work, what may have been outright theft is now reskinned and might be included as oblique references. That's what has happened in Ready Player One and the filmmakers who have had the job of bringing the book to the screen are trying to show the working. Really though, what we have is someone mucking around and having fun, and I think that's glorious and want to play there for a while.

December 13, 2017

Horse 2353 - AE86 Was Never Great

Dear fandoms, we need to talk.

I realise that due to media such as The Fast And Furious movie franchise, video games like Need For Speed Underground and Gran Turismo on PlayStation, and the Initial D manga and anime, that the Toyota Corolla AE86 has acquired an almost mystical status which is well beyond its capabilities as a 1.6L warmed up econobox but the fact remains that it is still only that.
The AE86 came about because Toyota had a few chassis left over from their previous AE70 series of wagons. When Toyota applied the front end of the AE80 Corolla and then offer both the 1.5 and 1.6 engines, they got the AE85 and AE86 respectively, which were still rear wheel drive even though the rest of the AE80 series of Corollas had already moved on to front wheel drive. That meant that when the replacements for the AE85 and AE86 came along, they also switched to front wheel drive and​ Toyota built the AE92 and the four wheel drive AE95.

At the time, the AE86 Corolla wasn't even the best Toyota that you could buy either. You could get a Celica or perhaps if you we're adventurous, a 2.8L Supra.
As a dedicated race car, the AE86 wasn't much chop either. Depending on how touring car racing was organised in the various countries it found itself in, the 1.6L AE86 was either pitted against 2L cars and 3L cars. This meant that it found itself against cars like the Ford Capri early on and later, the 2.3 and 2.5L BMW M3, and would never stand a chance against the Volvo 240T, the Rover 3500 Vitesse, Holden Commodore, Ford Mustang, the Ford Sierra RS500 and the Nissan GT-R. Basically the Toyota Corolla AE86 was a cheap but slightly warmed up hatchback that when pitted against proper opposition, failed miserably. Granted, the AE86 did manage to hand Toyota the manufacturers' title in the 1986 European Touring Car Championship but that's because it won 12 of 14 rounds in class and had no real competition to speak of. That's like having the only 6 year old win a sports day because they were the only 6 year old at the sports day despite there being many 9, 10, 11 and 12 year old children.

Even in the manga and anime of Initial D, the original owner of the hero AE86 has moved into a Subaru Impreza WRX 22B, which in the real world was a proper racing weapon in the hands of people like Colin McRae and Petter Solberg.

- Bunta Fujiwara ain't taking any of your AE86 nonsense.

As a drift car, the 1.6L normally aspirated four potter is not really powerful enough to make the tail end break out in the way that it allegedly does in various anime and video games. Granted it is a fun little machine but the reputation far exceeds the real world capabilities of the car. A bog standard six cylinder black motor Commodore running on 70 spec tyres is easier to get the rear wheels to break traction than the dinky little Corolla ever was. When Holden brought out the VN with the 3800 V6 Buick engine, it became even easier and it was so easy that eventually they had to climb around the engineering question by introducing a limited slip differential and an independent rear end. Quite frankly the AE86 Corolla doesn't stand a chance against a standard family hack if that's the intent.

Given the hero status of a car which very clearly​ does not live up to the hype, it would therefore make perfect sense to see what I saw sitting in a car park one afternoon:

- If Takumi has any brains about him, he'd get on of these

I suspect that for the fans of Initial D or the myriad of video games, that this AE95 Corolla which is carrying the sticker for the Original Wisteria Tofu Shop, is bordering on blasphemy. This is an occasion though where the real world has produced something better than fiction. The AE95 Corolla in this guise features the same engine as the AE92 Corolla Sprinter which was the direct replacement for the AE86 but the folks at Toyota fitted it with both supercharging and four wheel drive. This car became the half way house between the AE92 Corolla and the ST205 Celica GT-4 which was in every respect a far more competent car and was going out and winning rallies.

Probably  Shuichi Shigeno used the AE86 Corolla as his hero car in the manga because he was thinking back to his youth and the cars that he once had. The truth is that most people's first or second cars are usually a bit rubbish but because we happen to overlay our little metal boxes with stories, sometimes they are endued with more competence than they really have. In my case, the funnest car that I've ever owned was a Mk1 Ford Ka but even I'm under no illusions that it was a a performance machine - it was fun because of its almost perfect geometry and suspension settings. The AE86 is a slightly tail heavy car with a case of deliberate understeer, so that it would be safer to the average schmoe if they happened to get unstuck, and really isn't that much different to drive than the AE70 stationwagon which it shares its platform with.
Precisely because it was used in the manga Initial D and in various video games, the AE86 then acquired a story but it still doesn't really change the fact that most of the fans have simply never driven one and the car is actually kind of lackluster to drive.

Aside:
Of course I am one big hypocrite here because if I was given the opportunity to lay my hands on a 1980s sports car, it would be a Mazda RX-7 SA22C and I would be prepared to have it sit in the garage for months because it keeps on fouling apex seals.

December 12, 2017

Horse 2352 - I'm Not "Summering" Anywhere

The last few weeks of the year in accountancy land are usually either empty waste places of grey where nothing happens at all, or times of great sound and fury when everyone wants everything now, if not yesterday, or sooner.
This summer, is definitely of the latter variety; with either my phone or my boss's phone, ringing more often than Santa Claus' sleigh going for a ride in a spin dryer. (By the way, it's hot in there. Don't do it; stay safe.)

One of our clients who wants a report written for a family law case, came to our offices with a trolley of documents which I'm sure is purely for show, handed us a manila folder, and proceeded to tell us stories which I imagine were supposed to impress us with how fantastically wealthy he was, but online had the effect of making us answer "uhuh" at appropriate moments. It is exactly like that trip I was once on when I was still working for the law courts and someone wanted to tell me a story but I couldn't hear a thing over the drone of the propeller engines - they could have been a terrorist for all I know and I'd have been none the wiser.

At a point in the conversation where this lawyer had explained that his daughter was on a gap year in Spain and his son was finishing up law school, I was asked almost out of the blue where I would be "summering" as though that was a word which was normal. As if to appear impressive and probably in the hope that I would be envious, he very deliberately turned to me and told me that he would be "summering" in Switzerland.
When I explained that I had no travel plans, I was then asked if I was planning a mini-break or going on a staycation and when I replied no to both of those things, I was given a look as though I'd contracted explosive-syphilis-tuberculosis-diahorrea or something and was impolitely ejected from the conversation.
I said hardly anything from that point onwards and kind of went into a kind of daydream mode thinking about the distribution of prime numbers, when I was snapped back into reality when I was asked about what books I'd read lately and said that I'd read Thomas More's "Utopia" and "The Republic" by Plato and​ he was again disappointed that I hadn't read some novel which my boss later told me was rubbish and not very well written.
As if to be deliberately offensive, he then asked about where I live and then went on a rant about how everyone in Western Sydney is either illiterate, or a drunkard, or a multitude of other abominations in his eyes which included being of a different race or religion. To add a touch of perspective to this conversation, my boss asked him where he thought that Western Sydney actually was and apparently it begins in Stanmore.

I don't know just how representative this man's view of Sydney actually is when compared to the rest of the population but given what former Treasurer Joe Hockey said with regards poor people not being able to afford driving cars but I'm beginning to suspect that it might be more true than I would have thought.
Especially among those people who work in the upper echelons of the law, there is a genuine loathing for the working class as though poverty were a disease which they should be immunised against. Perhaps this explains the current government's desire to lower the company tax rates because in doing so, they engineer society in such a way so as to make the gap between the idiotic working proles and themselves unbridgeable.

I think that the reason for the almost continual disdain and suspicion of the imagined people of the mythical place called "the western suburbs" is partly because of the bubble in which people happen to live inside of. Most people have a group of friends and acquaintances who are roughly from the same socioeconomic group as themselves and so there is case of economic xenophobia going on. This is likely to be reinforced by a diet of Sky Business being projected into the inside of their bubble because ABC News is seen as communist, Trotskyist, or socialist. Naturally there is a reciprocal suspicion of the people of the east but that is nowhere near as important because of the immediate and obvious power imbalance.

I think that I cause a distinct sense of confusion for people like this lawyer. Quite obviously I am​ at least partly​ intelligent and because I've read Shakespeare, Aristotle, Cicero, Dickens, Hayek, Von Mises, Keynes, Adam Smith, Mill and Rousseau, I pose a threat to their worldview that everyone in the west are illiterate dipsomaniac thickos.
There are studies which indicate that the amount of dipsomania remains relatively constant across the classes and that the use of recreational drugs actually goes upwards slightly with an increase in disposable discretionary income. So as this lawyer is knocking back his third gin and tonic of the evening (before charging the cab fare to the firm and writing it off as a tax deduction) there's more than a hint of hypocrisy in this regard. As I explained in a previous post (see Horse 2346), if I had untold billions of dollarpounds with which to build a house, one of the rooms that I would definitely have to have would be a library. Probably my most favourite room in the whole world is the central reading room in Melbourne Library, with its great octagonal chamber of books on several balcony levels. Illiterate dipsomaniac thicko? Untrue on all three counts.

As the summer rolls around and the mercury climbs to the stupid side of forty degrees Celsius, I will be reminded of this lawyer who will be "summering" in Switzerland. I am also sure with absolute certainty that he will not be reminded of me at all. I might be tormented by the unavoidable heat and wishing to be somewhere that I could watch the dainty falling of snow but I can guarantee that I will be somewhere with a book for at least part of the summer. I won't be "summering" because although I agree with verbing nouns and even nouning verbs, "summering" sounds daft. I also won't be hearing sleigh bells ringing or the telephone ringing but I might return to daydream mode and think about the distribution of prime numbers again.

December 11, 2017

Horse 2351 - B Meh W

Last week, I wrote about my drive in the as yet unreleased ZB Commodore. One of my clients who follows this blog, noticed that I said that it out-Camrys the Camry, our-Mondeos the Mondeo and out 3-Serieses the 3-Series. Basically I wrote that the ZB Commodore is an excellent machine but I still wouldn't have one. This prompted him to ask what I think about the BMW 3-Series; to which my reply is "meh".

I have to attach so many asterisks and caveats to my opinion that it looks like a Christmas tree and say that I'm mostly operating in the realm of rubbish and nonsense because I haven't driven BMWs all that often. When you consider that I'm not exactly rolling in piles of hundreds like Scrooge McDuck, it's easy to understand that I don't exactly have the ability to buy each and every dream machine that I'd like. However, even if I was a multi-godzillionaire where money was no object, I wouldn't have a BMW through choice anyway.

After all is said and done, motor cars are really nothing more than metal boxes which are used to carry meatbags inhabited by consciousnesses and their stuff. This can easily be seen in a place like Hanoi where the usefulness of a motor car easily trumps any and all other functions that it might have. In a relatively wealthy place where people have overlaid stories on top of the motor car, through various elements of culture, the metal boxes take on more meaning that just a thing to move meatbags inhabited by consciousnesses.
Ever since I was a wee lad, I have followed motor racing. I know that it is an inherently idiotic pursuit but then again, so is all of sport, all of the arts, and indeed all of popular culture that isn't absolutely necessary. Like any other sport, motor racing is very much organised into tribes and the stories that are written on the racetrack spill over into the rest of the world. If it comes down to it, I like the stories of Ford, Mazda and Jaguar the best. The question then becomes what do I think about BMW relative to those stories and the technical prowess of the firm.

In my not very well paid opinion, BMW produces middle of the road motor cars, which have higher levels of trim than average, and adopt new technologies slightly earlier than most motor manufacturers, because they pitch their products at a higher than average price point. I mostly see that price point as unjustified and this attracts the kind of people who are more likely to be selfish and aggressive on the road. This in turn feeds my irrational internal prejudices through confirmation bias and in turn, I don't particularly like BMW as a tribe.
That I think, is a completely rational explanation of my irrational dislike of BMWs.

I have driven iterations of a 3-Series and 1-Series and I didn't really see them as special at all. I have a general dislike of SUVs and that would rule out every BMW with an X in the name, I would feel like a doofus in a convertible and so that rules out the Zs, and having owned a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the appeal of a big motorway burner was lost on me a long time ago.
What I want from a car is it to be little and quirky and fun, and BMW which makes highly refined and plush executive cars, is none of those things.

That means that if BMW were to have something that I want, it would be because they have a story which resonates with me. They do not.
I like the absolutely bonkers BMW 3.0L CSL of the 1970s, I like the E9 635i, I like the E30 M3, but all of those were in touring car racing and BMW haven't told me any new stories that I like, since about 1993.
When people win in a Ford, it is usually in spite of the apathy of the Ford Motor Company. Mazda are the small company in Japan which keeps on trying its little heart out and managed to win the Le Mans 24 Hour Race but was promptly banned. Jaguar's D-Type which won Or Mans in the 1950s, is the single most gorgeous thing ever commited to motoring; the noise which comes out of a Jaguar V12 is like the angels having a fist fight in a washing machine. BMW are a relatively big motor company, who occasionally goes motor racing and then fails to show any passion, which is something that I just don't understand because across the city of Munich, Bayern and their fans are mannschaftkrazygut.

When BMW bought MINI (all caps) from the Austin Rover Group, they had an opportunity to plaster the Union Jack all over the place but failed to take that opportunity. To date they have won zero British Touring Car Championships and zero World Rally Championships. In short, they have not understood the story and have not cared to do so.
When Mercedes-Benz decided to go back into sports car racing, they threw everything that they could at it until they won. Their partnership with McLaren lasted until they could find their own way to winning the Formula One World Championships and as we speak, they are the current holders of both the Driver's and Constructor's titles.
Ferrari is Ferrari. Even when Ferrari are terrible and tearing themselves to pieces, they do so with the flair and passion that can only come from Italians. The Tifosi (which autocorrect wants to capitalise because it could only be the definite article), are possibly the most crazy-go-nuts vans of any sporting team in the world.
BMW look at motor racing and shrug their shoulders.

For whatever reason, BMW either don't know or don't want to tell or write the stories that I want to listen to. They make competent machines which are driven by the kind of people who mostly confirm the stereotype that they driven by the kind of people who mostly confirm the stereotype. Although nobody wants to admit it, there's not anything that a BMW 118i does better than a Kia Rio. It produces 3kW less, uses more petrol in the process, has a smaller boot space but costs more than $15,000 extra; so I suppose that if you want to signal to the world that you are part of that tribe, then that's punishment enough.
I don't think that there's anything redeeming about a BMW to warrant the price tag and if it came down to it, I'd have lots of other things which are funner, crazier and madder and then put the change back in my pocket. All I see when I look at the BMW badge, is automotive boredom and meh.

December 08, 2017

Horse 2350 - I Am Cat: Fix My Problem Immediately

One of the perils with being cat owner is that unlike children who will eventually learn the social rules that you don't speak to someone while they are on the telephone, cats never will. As a result, if a cat wants to let you know something, they will just let you know. That's it. There's no filter, no holding back, no waiting. There's just the unashamed and open yell of feline impatience.

"Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds" - Purranna (probably).

I was on a telephone call on Monday evening when Purranna walked into the centre of the room and announced to the world that she was the most important thing in it. When that didn't immediately capture my full and exclusively unequivocal attention, she jumped onto the computer desk and gave that familiar three tone whine that parents will understand; which means "I'm really bored." Of course when I asked the question "Are you having a whinge, Miss?" it then became apparent that I was on the speakerphone at the other end of the telephone conversation; which was rather amusing.

I don't have children of my own but having been in the world for a sufficiently long period of time, and having observed other people's children, I can safely say that although there are differences between children and cats, those differences are not irreconcilably different (people with children will more than likely accuse me of being ignorant). Cats lack​ the ability of speech but they make up for it by having a whole range of meows, whines, chirrups and moans; which means that they can communicate very effectively indeed. This is also coupled with the fact that the average cat has the ability to learn at least a hundred words; which might not sound like a lot but it is more than sufficient to describe almost everything that is relevant to their interests. Probably most of what we communicate to them is carried by tone but words like "chicken" and "nums" are of great importance to a cat.
Cats don't have access to a suite of vocabulary but from what I've seen, they aren't immensely complex; so what they do have is entirely adequate.

I don't believe the stereotype that cats are anti social killing machines that secretly want to eat you in your sleep because they are more than capable of showing genuine independent affection for you. If you are nice to them, they will seek you out when they want to, they will ignore you most of the time but it's because they're happy just sort of hanging around and doing their own thing, and they will absolutely pester you when they want to be fed or if they want to go outside. Although cats are supremely selfish, that's not all that much different from quite a number of people.
When Purranna walked into the middle of the room and then across my computer desk, her demands to be entertained weren't because she hates us and sees us as some kind of slave but because she likes us and seems to think that the people can solve all of her desires. We are the ones who open doors for her, we are the ones who feed her, and because she had eaten the moth that she had been chasing, I think that she was expecting me to somehow bring forth a fresh moth. She has on occasion yelled at me after the sun has gone down, seemingly in expectation that I can bring it back.

When you have something that will talk to you so readily, how can you not talk back? Cats and people are both social creatures and probably all reasons of why anyone decides to get a pet is because they will form a bond with them. Cats are sufficiently independent and precocious enough that becoming friends with them isn't exactly a straightforward transaction. A dog will be a friend to practically everyone who is nice to it but cats are far more discerning and discriminating. You be a friend with a cat on their terms; which may include the ability to rub your face all over them but even if you are friends with a cat, when they want to be left alone they will be left alone and you will have no say in that.

So even if you happen to be on an important telephone call, even if you need your attention directed elsewhere, even if their demands are inconvenient, if a cat wants something, it wants it here and it wants it now. They haven't got some grand evil scheme worked out, there isn't some overarching vendetta, it could be as simple as "I'm really bored" and the expectation that you'll fix it immediately.

December 06, 2017

Horse 2349 - ZB Commodore: Practically Perfect Pallid.

A client of ours who is a car dealer, had to drop off a new ZB Commodore to another dealership on the Northern Beaches. On way through, he visited us to settle his account and as a result, I was able to cadge my way into getting a drive of it.
For reasons to do with secrecy, which I suspect have more to do with saving his bacon more than anything else, I have been requested not to post any photographs on social media of the new ZB Commodore but that doesn't mean that I can't write several hundred words about it.

This particular example which was the base model Evoke, still had more electronic doo-dads than I think is sensible. It has power everything, including windows, remote locking, press button starting and a head up display which is reminiscent of a jet fighter but what this car does well has nothing to do with the trim at all and everything to do with what it's like to sit in.

I have driven the VF, VE, VZ, VT, VS, VN, VL, VK and VC models of the Commodore in the past. When the VB came out in 1978, is was a strange hybrid of the Opel Senator and the Opel Commodore but with the 3.3L in-line 6 under the bonnet. This meant that the space between the A-pillar and C-pillar was practically all Opel and as such, it was ergonomically excellent. The VE and the VF which were the last two to be built in Australia, were entirely developed in Australia, and that meant although they were very well put together they still lacked that final little piece of ergonomic excellence which Opel has been able to replicate for decades.
Everything and I mean everything, is exactly where you expect it to be. Every dial and switch is instantly viewable and comes to hand easily. The seating position, right down to the angles of where your arms end up us bang on perfect and the pedals are perfectly sized and weighted. I found the ZB Commodore to have perfect manners on the road. The steering was weighted nicely and in terms of pitch, roll and yaw, it was polite and predictable.  I have no idea what kind of engine was under the bonnet but there was an adequate amount of power without being obnoxious and the automatic transmission with more speeds than I even can imagine, was completely seamless in its gear changes. I had no idea when it was changing gears and to be perfectly honest, I didn't miss changing them myself.
In short, the ZB Commodore is everything that you would expect from a car which was engineered obsessively by Germans. It upholds the stereotype of Germany's total lack of humour and it does so with ruthless efficiency. And yet, I still wouldn't have one.

The ZB Commodore is perfectly pitched at the European repbox market. The people at Opel, in producing the Insignia B (hence the reason why the model code is ZB, because ZA was Insignia A), have made a thing which is 100% perfectly adequate. This is a car for someone who wants to jump in, drive a thousand miles and instantly forget that they have driven a thousand miles. This is repbox motoring polished to perfection. What the ZB Commodore is, is out-Camrying Camry, out-Mondeoing Mondeo, and even out-3-Seriesing the 3-Series.
The ZB Commodore is practically perfect in every way and perfectly practical. Pallidly so.

I want bonkers.

If this came to deciding what I wanted in the motor pool, the ZB Commodore a lovely way to drown. I would take a Mondeo over the Commodore because the Mondeo has retained a little bit of insanity which it shares with both the Focus and the Fiesta. The ZB Commodore gives you sensible motoring but the Mondeo has remembered that someone who drives a car wants it to be fun. The outgoing VF Commodore retained that sense that you wanted to drive the car on Saturday and Sunday and not just during the working week. The Mondeo practically tempts you to take it out on the B-roads but the ZB Commodore is definitely driven by its purpose and that purpose is to go from point A to point By as efficiently as possible; without deviating and looking at points C, D or M.

The people who sell these things will fill their initial orders because people in Australia have been conditioned for the last 50 years to take part in a holy war. Now that Ford has exited the stage and replaced the top end of that market with the death trap Mustang (which has been lovingly put together by eight year old children with ADHD and riddled with Ritalin) and not replaced the Falcon at all, Holden have decided to chase the Mondeo rather than the Mustang. The ZB Commodore will be bought by people who still buy into the holy war but I can predict that they won't be as willing to by ZC (if Holden ever get it). People may be even tempted into buying a Kia Stinger.

I am not in the market to buy a large family car but if I was, I'd still have the Mondeo over the ZB Commodore. The ZB Commodore is a perfectly sensible, repbox; with all the personality of a repbox.