November 25, 2014

Horse 1793 - A Reply To A Letter Of Schrödinger's Satire

The following might be hiding behind a pay wall. I don't know.

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/last-post-november-19/story-fn558imw-1227127428205?nk=ecbf40fab18e27ead26f7de966548f0d
Imagine if you turned on the ABC to find a current affairs program called “Inquiry & Discussion”. The panel is stacked with bright and articulate commentators such as Janet Albrechtsen, Noel Pearson, Rowan Dean — and a token leftie, Gary Johns. It’s hosted by Tim Wilson. The audience is a selection of correspondents to the letters page of The Australian. Imagine that. You can’t, can you?
- Letters to The Editor, (Derek Southey, Port Fairy, Vic), The Australian, 19th Nov 2014

There's a thought, Mr Derek Southey of Port Fairy. Can I imagine such a show? Indeed I can. It is called "The Bolt Report".

Week after week News Corp Australia's doyen Andrew Bolt, who I am convinced writes columns specifically designed to annoy people because that is what sells copy, hosts a weekly program on Network Ten which I guess is supposed to counter Insiders on the ABC. It saw off other Network Ten show Meet The Press and now occupies pretty well much a unique spot in the network for political comment (if you don't include that week-nightly marshmallow fluff which calls itself The Project).

I honestly don't know if Mr Southey's letter is a work of satire or not because over the past few weeks, I have seen as guests on The Bolt Report, Sharri Markson (of the Australian newspaper),  former Treasurer Peter Costello (Liberal Party), Nick Cater (of the Australian newspaper), Foreign Minister Julie Bishop (Liberal Party), Michael Kroger (Liberal Party power-broker), Niki Savva (of the Australian newspaper) — and a token leftie, Michael Costa.
Imagine that? I can, can't I? Better than just imagining it, I've seen the sort of show which Mr Southey speaks of.

This illustrates something though. With the rise of the internet and the perceived value of journalism dwindling to little, the whole entire of the media landscape is like Ouroboros, the eel that eats itself. As the media eel pie gets progressively smaller, mastheads disappear (does anyone remember The Bulletin, Sydney's Daily Mirror or Melbourne's The Herald) and gradually the media is coagulating into two camps:
1. News Corp/Telstra
2. The ABC/Fairfax

Lachlan Murdoch was once CEO of Network Ten Holdings and Kerry Stokes' Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment Co. are probably stable enough not to be taken over for the moment but neither Channel Seven or Channel Nine even attempt to do political journalism any more. Neither Nine's A Current Affair or 60 Minutes really engage in any serious political commentary and Sunday Night on Channel Seven is kind of like the old Today Tonight but without dodgy tradesmen and washing powder comparisons.
Really only the ABC and SBS are even prepared to ask politicians questions they don't like and Andrew Bolt on his eponymous show which isn't called “Inquiry & Discussion” because his ego stands in the way, either asks Dorothy Dixers or shouts out anything he doesn't agree with, which doesn't really put anyone under the spotlight of interrogation at all. Maybe by not calling it “Inquiry & Discussion” there actually is an element of truth to this.

If Mr Derek Southey's letter to The Australian wasn't a work of satire, then does this mean that he'd like to live in a media environment like the United States where public broadcasting is severely stunted? I've been there; its terrifying.
Fox News is at times genuinely scary whilst at the same time, incredibly insular. I remember a trip I took to America in 2007 and was in San Diego and I didn't find out about a military coup style uprising which was across the border in Tijuana (only 8 miles away) until I got back to Australia.
The same sort of attack on public broadcasting goes on there as well, with Mitt Romney famously threatening to defund NPR and PBS during the 2012 Presidential Campaign.
I don't want to live in that sort of news environment. It's a fast track to the dumbing down of society.

In the end I don't know if Mr Southey's letter is a work of satire or not. If it is, then it's brilliant but if it isn't then that must mean that Mr Southey is speaking to the echo chamber. Imagine that.

November 21, 2014

Horse 1792 - Should We Now Boycott ANZAC Day On Halal Grounds?

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-20/campaign-to-boycott-halal-food-gains-momentum-in-australia/5907844
A campaign to boycott halal-certified food is gaining momentum across Australia, with groups claiming that certification pushes up prices and the money goes towards funding terrorism.
A loose collection of affiliated anti-halal, anti-Islam and nationalistic groups began the movement. 
Now, the biggest online group, "Boycott Halal in Australia", has more than 36,000 members.
Its carefully anonymous leaders keep a low profile, directing their members to swarm target companies' online profiles and boycott their products.
- Alex Mann, ABC News, 21st Nov 2014

Although the head of state of Australia is the monarch, who is also the head of the Church of England, section 116* forbids the Commonwealth from making laws which establish, impose or prohibit "the free exercise of any religion". I think that that's fairly straight forward.
The net effect of such a freedom of religion, is that people are free to be complete wingnuts, like the group "Boycott Halal in Australia".
As far as the word "Halal" goes in Islamic Law (or to be more correct Sharia), all the word means is "permissible". Admittedly this can cause some strange consequences (which can be quite horrid) most of the time, most of what is and isn't halal is either a matter of purity and or common sense.

The campaign has brought together like-minded campaigners from across Australia, including former One Nation candidate and anti-mosque campaigner Mike Holt.
Mr Holt said he was not surprised that the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company had received so much abuse.
"If they don't change their ways and start acting as patriotic Australians, they deserve what they get. It's market forces," he said.

Patriotic Australians? Patriotic Australians?! Are we now going to invoke some sort of quasi-nationalistic fervour? I hope so because I get to invoke indignancy.

Australia began as a nation on 1st Jan 1901 as the result of a referendum adopting the constitution and then having that passed as legislation in the British Parliament. As a result, Australia doesn't really get a day which is a national touchstone for patriotism. January 1 is already New Years' Day and January 26 is more akin to Invasion Day (see Horse 1441).
This leaves the only other day which is constantly invoked as a day of patriotism as ANZAC Day. Even then though, the story should give rise to mass concern by "Boycott Halal in Australia".

During the Gallipoli Campaign, as part of the British Empire, ANZAC forces fought along with Indian Expeditionary Force G which was made up of Ghurkhas and Sikhs. On the Western From, the Australian Imperial Force fought alongside Indian Expeditionary Forces which were comprised of many faiths including Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians.
Maybe we should change our ways and "start acting as patriotic Australians". That would involve boycotting ANZAC Day, wouldn't it?

Mustafa Kemal who would later become Atatürk (Father of all the Turks) wrote a tribute to those killed in the Gallipoli Campaign:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours... you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
This also appears on the Kemal Atatürk Memorial in Anzac Parade, Canberra.

How is it that a former Turkish army officer could write those words about people who were once his enemy? Wasn't he a Muslim?
If there were Islamic people who were prepared to fight alongside Australians in supposedly our most patriotic period in history and an Islamic leader who was prepared to extend the hand of peace after the then bloodiest series of conflicts the world has ever seen, then why is a "nationalistic group" hiding behind patriotism as a ruse for nastiness? What is to be gained?

I don't think that halal certification causes money to be funnelled towards terrorism, I do think however that groups like Boycott Halal in Australia causes money to be funnelled towards idiocy
If you want to stop money being  towards terrorism then how about a boycott of all paper products? DuPont Chemicals is the largest producer of titanium dioxide in the world and that is mainly used as the white pigment in copy paper. I think DuPont is also either the world's third or fourth largest chemical company; that includes making gunpowder, used in bullets by armies both state and terrorist, the world over.

Wouldn't it be a radical thought if instead of championing causes based on bigotry and scaremongery like "Boycott Halal in Australia", wouldn't it make more sense to petition society and governments instead for peace, reconciliation and stability?

I like this line from this article in particular "Its carefully anonymous leaders keep a low profile". Of course they do. A fish only gets caught when it opens its big mouth and even fools may be thought wise and intelligent if they stay quiet.

*http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/coaca430/s116.html

November 19, 2014

Horse 1791 - The Daily Telegraph's Argumentum ad Ignorantiam

On day in which it was expected that Malcolm Turnbull would announce "savings" to the ABC budget, the Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail as expected did their usual range of howling; not even all the dog whistling in the world could keep them quiet.

More intriguing though was the Tele's subtle use of ignorance. Usually I'd say that this sort of thing was a case of Argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance) but this is more a case of Argumentum ad ignorantiam ab ignorantibus; quia ignorat (argument from ignorance, by the ignorant; for the ignorant)

To wit:
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/nsw/cutting-costs-as-easy-as-abc-aunty-is-flush-with-assets/story-fni0cx12-1227127559702?nk=7176ce94201bf142b2260e5227876e12
The Daily Telegraph can reveal the federal government was advised the property at Lanceley Place is used primarily to park outside broadcast vans and trucks, and house storage facilities for costume hire.
Government efficiency documents have revealed the Artarmon property should be sold off to improve capital and reduce the number of program and job casualties when funding cuts are announced today. The property has been valued at between $18 million and $23 million.
...
The ABC would not confirm what the property was used for.
- Daily Telegraph, 19th Nov 2014

Okay Daily Telegraph, you "can reveal the federal government was advised" anything you like but who revealed it? Maintain the confidentiality of any sources you like but unless you provide substantive links, how do we know that this wasn't just made up?
"Government efficiency documents?" Government efficiency documents? Do you mean a white paper? Do you mean an internal procedure review? There is no mention of where they came from, which department published them and no link on the website to confirm their existence.

The thing I really find bewildering is this:
The ABC would not confirm what the property was used for.

Allow me.



That big red and white sticky up and down sort of thing is a transmission tower. ABC Tower 221 transmits television and radio and according to ACMA has a power of 200kW, which is pretty powerful. 
The tower was erected in the 1950s and the very first thing transmitted from it was the ABC News Bulletin with James Dibble reading the news of the Soviet intervention on November 5, 1956.

To miss something that's been in the same spot and can be seen from the top of the hill near my house, some 28.01km away. How is it even possible to miss something which is 170m tall and was deliberately put there because FM transmission (which is what television was carried on) works best with straight line transmission. Within digital TV and Radio, the same tower is used. 

Also:
Twenty years ago the ABC famously promoted itself as costing 8c a day. This figure is now estimated to be 23c a day.

Guess what? We have one of those adverts:


This advert is from 1988 which is not twenty years ago but twenty-six years ago. If you allow 5% for inflation, which doesn't even keep pace with AWOTE figues then that 8 cents would be worth 28.44 cents now.
This means to say that the ABC is marginally cheaper in 2014 than it was in 1988 but it now delivers content in more numerous way than it did then.

The "$20 million property in Sydney used to park trucks and store costumes" is also used to transmit television and radio, which given the title of The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is probably part of its remit, don't you think?
I think that its scandalous enough that the ABC is attacked because of an ideological bent by unelected people tilting the government's hand but when their mouthpiece publishes something which is so easily unpickable, it makes me wonder what the alternative will be if the ABC is smashed to bits as they would wish. 
If the quality of journalism is anything to go by, maybe some of us would be happier if we were ignorant.

November 16, 2014

Horse 1790 - English Votes for English Laws

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/24/english-votes-english-laws-absurdity-separatist
English votes for English laws seems at first sight a logical response to the English Question. But it is in fact incoherent. It means that whenever a government depended on Scottish MPs for its majority, as could occur if Labour were narrowly elected in 2015, there would be a UK majority – Labour – for non-devolved matters such as foreign affairs and economics, but an alternative majority for devolved matters.
But a bifurcated government is a logical absurdity. A government must be collectively responsible to parliament for all the policies that come before it, not just a selection of them.
- Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, The Guardian, 25th Sep 2014

Before I lay out my case that an devolved English Parliament, voting on specifically English laws is not a logical absurdity, I'd like to point out who Vernon Bogdanor is.
http://www2.admin.ox.ac.uk/expert/search/details.php5?id=1

Professor Vernon Bogdanor, FBA, CBE is Emeritus Professor of Politics and Government at Oxford University. He is probably the most qualified and eminent of experts when comes to the constitution of Great Britain.
Yet I still think that bifurcated government is not only not a logical absurdity but perfectly sensible; the reason for this, is Canada and Australia.

Canada and Australia, both have second tier governments. In Canada the provinces are unicameral and in Australia they are mostly bicameral. When it comes to the powers that the provinces in Canada and the states in Australia have, these are expressly laid out in their respective constitutions. Also, when it comes to the powers that the Federal Governments have in Canada and Australia, those powers are also laid out in their respective constitutions.
On top of this, Section 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982 of Canada and Section 109 of the Constitution of Australia Act 1900, both contain supremacy clauses which effectively renders Federal law as the supreme law of the land, which makes logical sense.
If there were to be a specifically English parliament, then not only does is make logical sense to define at law, what powers it holds but there are also precedents in Canada and Australia that show that having a codified constitution is entirely sensible. Currently, the Constitution of Britain is not a single document but a mish-mash of all sorts of pieces of legislation and convention which goes together and was not designed. Supporters will argue that it has evolved over time and suits the needs of Britain but equally, amendments by referenda to the constitutions of Canada and Australia have meant that improvements have taken place with the consent of the people.

If as Professor Bogdanor says that "a government must be collectively responsible to parliament for all the policies that come before it, not just a selection of them" then that suggests to me that rather English members of the existing British Parliament breaking away to vote on specifically English law, then his net position is to actually agree with the creation of a separate devolved English parliament, like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland currently have.

Moreover, the English grand committee would in effect seek to legislate on matters such as health and education, which have revenue-raising implications, without having control over taxation.
A government would not agree to alter taxes for policies with which it fundamentally disagrees. So bifurcated government would become deadlocked government.
- Prof. Vernon Bogdanor, The Guardian, 25th Sep 2014

Much of the Professors argument seems to hinge on the fact that a devolved English Parliament would not have control over taxation. Bear in mind that in Australia, the states surrendered their right to collect income tax in 1942 due to the Second World War going on; admittedly it was only supposed to be temporary and the states did try to regain their income taxing powers but were unsuccessful in doing so. Nevertheless, the arrangements both before and after 1942, worked and continue to work reasonably well.

The question then, isn't one of is it possible because clearly it is but what would a devolved English Parliament look like? To that end, I think that Australia is already a perfect model which could be applied.

Currently; for the purposes of the purposes of elections to the European Parliament, there are nine so-called Regions of England. They are: South East, London, North West, East of England, West Midlands, South West, Yorkshire and the Humber, East Midlands and North East. Functionally they could operate the same way as the Senate does in Australia; with equal representation in each area.
If there were 12 members from each of the regions, like there are 12 members from each of the states in Australia, this solves the problem of the richer regions bullying the poorer ones. Even apply the name of the Legislative Council if you like. There would be 108 members of the English Legislative Council.
Even have them elected on the basis of proportional representation; the same way as the upper houses in Australia are decided.

The lower house which we will call the English the Legislative Assembly should have roughly double the number of members (so that would mean 216) and they could be elected using the instant-runoff voting system, which the Liberal Democrats called for in the United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011. The fact that that failed is a travesty of British politics.

I'd even go so far as to suggest that the devolved English parliament should not even sit in London. It used to be common practice that parliament would sit wherever the king was and the actual debating chamber need not be a particularly large affair. I think that it would be kind of neat if a new English parliament house was built at Winchester, in the same city where Henry III often held parliament. Of course building office blocks are the sort of thing that could be done anywhere; so provided a suitable architect was appointed, this need not even be an issue.

I think that far from being a logical absurdity, a bifurcated government is not only entirely practicable but has proven to be so over many many years in other countries. Do I need to point out that the longest continuously running Westminster-system parliament in the world is not in the UK but lives at Macquarie Street, Sydney? The Grand Old Lady of Westminster's children, have by operation shown to be more sensible than the old lady herself.

Professor Bogdanor who was also against Scottish independence, appears to be in favour of more powerful central government from Westminster rather than further devolved powers. Partly I think that this is because he happens to be part of the establishment. Oxford University which receives a large portion of its funding from government grants, might find itself with a different set of arrangements if there was an English parliament.

Mostly I think that this is a case of pragmatism. Both he and I are probably very aware that no government actively wants to reduce its power. It is not in any British Prime Minister's interest; not the interests of the Commons or the Lords to grant any powers to another parliament.
The Kilbrandon Commission under Harold Wilson's Labour Government in 1969 was set up to look into devolution in Wales and Scotland and there was even a white paper issued in 1974 but it wasn't until 1998 that the Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru (National Assembly for Wales) was established and a year later the Pàrlamaid na h-Alba (Scottish Parliament) followed suit.
An English Parliament would require the legal unpicking of the powers of government and possibly the transfer of many government services; with them, power. What possible incentive is there for Whitehall to make itself less powerful? Nil.

A logical absurdity? A likely posssibiliy? Not in the foreseeable future.

November 15, 2014

Horse 1789 - The FIFA Ethics Committee

http://www.foxsports.com.au/football/fifa-ethics-report-slams-australias-dubious-2022-world-cup-bid-tactics/story-e6frf423-1227122410226?nk=b0346015cb4b32ac951774d5cbe1282d
"According to the Report, there have been communications between one particular consultant of the Australia 2022 bid team that show that the relevant consultant executed his strategy of using his purported relationship with high-ranking FIFA officials to create the appearance that he was influencing the bidding process.”
The ethics committee also said the FFA made “certain payments” to the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF).
- Fox Sports, 14th Nov 2014

If love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, then FIFA and corruption go together like Admire Rakti and the Shinkansen - very fast and dead on the money (in several senses of each of those words).

The initial rules for a nation to even be eligible to host the World Cup, required that the host nation have at least ten stadia, capable of holding 40,000 people. At the time of the bidding process, Japan, South Korea, Australia and the United States all had at least seven with plans to make minor upgrades to others. Qatar had nil.
On top of this, Qatar had to assure FIFA that it would install massive air-conditioners to decrease the temperatures inside the stadiums (which still do not exist) by at least 20°C and after it won the bid it requested to have the number of venues cut to eight because of rising construction costs.

With this in mind, several nations applied to FIFA to have its ethics committee look into both the bidding process of 2018 which awarded that tournament to Russia and the 2022 bidding process. Surprise surprise, it found that payments had been by a former Chairman of the Qatar Football Association and president of the Asian Football Confederation to the president of the Oceania Football Confederation to change his vote on where the 2022 World Cup would be held.
Even though Mohamed Bin Hammam was banned for life from all FIFA and football related activities, this latest report still clears the Qatar bid as being free from corruption.

The report also touched on suspended OFC representative Reynard Temarii and the attempts by Mohamed Bin Hammam to pay his legal fees and potentially deprive Australia of a vote.
Temarii could only be replaced by OFC as a FIFA executive member to vote on the World Cup bids if he accepted his ban from the FIFA Ethics Committee. If he appealed then the OFC’s vote would have been null and void.
...
"According to the Report, Mr. Temarii’s conduct and correspondence with Mr. Bin Hammam shortly after he received the one-year suspension suggest that Mr. Temarii was aware that his appeal would benefit Qatar’s bid.
However, according to the Report, there is no direct link between Qatar 2022 and any payments of Mr. Bin Hammam to Mr. Temarii."
- Fox Sports, 14th Nov 2014

This makes you scratch your head in total bewilderment. How is it that the "certain payments” made by the FFA to CONCACAF, if they were made, are seen as corruption but the fact that the ex-chairman of the very football association who is hosting the World Cup and was banned for life from all FIFA and football related activities, is not? I don't understand.

http://www.arabianbusiness.com/dubai-s-emirates-quit-as-fifa-sponsor-after-2014-570259.html#.VGbJifmUdBg
Dubai's Emirates Airline confirmed on Monday it will not renew its sponsorship contract with football governing body FIFA after the current deal expires at the end of the year.
”Emirates can confirm that a decision has been made not to renew the sponsorship agreement with FIFA past 2014. This decision was made following an evaluation of FIFA’s contract proposal which did not meet Emirates’ expectations,” the airline said in a statement to Arabian Business.
...
While Emirates did not specify the exact reason for ending its sponsorship deal with the football authority, this summer FIFA sponsors Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony and Visa issued a statement expressing their concerns regarding allegations of bribery surrounding the hosting of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar, respectively.
- Arabian Business.Com, 3rd Nov 2014

Not to put too fine a point on it, if Emirates Airlines which operates out of Dubai has withdrawn its support for FIFA and sponsors Coca-Cola, Adidas, Sony and Visa all have expressed concerns regarding bribery, what does that say about FIFA condemning the FFA whilst holding up someone else?
What of the allegations of virtual slavery in Qatar, in the construction of the World Cup venues?

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/nov/07/north-koreans-working-state-sponsored-slaves-qatar
Thousands of migrant labourers from North Korea are toiling for years on construction sites in Qatar for virtually no pay – including on the vast new metropolis that is the centrepiece of the World Cup – in what may amount to “state-sponsored slavery”.
According to testimonies from workers and defectors, labourers from the reclusive state said they receive almost no salaries in person while in the Gulf emirate during the three years they typically spend there.
- The Guardian, 7th Nov 2014

If you add slavery, to bribery to corruption, how do you trust any ruling by an "ethics committee"? Does FIFA even know what ethics are?

November 05, 2014

Horse 1788 - Election Day In America

Before I even begin this particular Horse, I notice that three things have come together:
1. Horse 1788 - the number 1788 is significant in Australian history because it is the date that the British Empire stole a continent from an entire race of people, with the cunning use of flags.
2. Here it is the 5th of November - the 409th anniversary of the day that a chap packed the basement of the House of Parliament in London and tried to blow it up, along with everyone in it -
Remember, remember the Fifth of November.*
3. It is Election Day in America.

What I find so very very hideously disappointing is that the mid-term elections in the United States, get far less media coverage than the run for the President, despite the fact that in essence, although the President is the Head of State and the Commader in Chief of the armed forces, when it comes to the legislature, he's really only the last gut in the chain. He is the legislative Siskel and Ebert who gives either "thumbs up" or "thumbs down".

Even though there is in theory a complete sweep out of the House of Representatives and of one-third of the Senate, in practice, there is so much gerrymandering going on that most of the offices which come up for re-election in the Congress are pretty well much done deals even before anyone casts a vote. Gerrymandering is that lovely process where the legislature draws up the boundaries of various voting districts, electorates, hundreds (call them what you will), so that there is a favourable number of voters within that district who will collectively swamp the others.

The other problem with today is that there are loads of state gubernatorial races going on as well as voting for state legislatures and elections for positions like judges and major executive positions within government, Already I can see potential problems everywhere.
As soon as you have an election for any position, that position is politicised. That's all fine if the position up for election is a member of parliament but if its a judge or some sort of secretary of a government department, that already implies that said position is not going to be impartial. Having a state supreme court judge who has been voted in on the basis of a declared political party allegiance, just seems like a travesty of justice to me.

Concurrent to this is the problem that if you were to do a google search for "unopposed" positions in today's elections, you'd find more than 700 positions across the United States where no-one is running against the incumbent. Okay, in relation to the point I've just raised about politicising positions, that's fine I suppose but when you reach a point where even the political machines are so apathetic that they don't even bother to set up candidates for election, that suggests to me that there is a massive failure of democracy.

All of this is compounded by the twin facts that in the United States, voting is not compulsory and pretty well much all the elections that take place are on a first-past-the-post basis. That is plain idiotic to me.
In Australia where we have both the Alternative Vote in the House of Representatives where electors number their preferences and Proportional Voting in the Senate, it means that in both cases, people who do make it to office, do so with at least the consent of half of the actual population instead of just the wingnuts and the rabid supporters of two parties who yell at each other like Celtic and Rangers fans. Hooray, Boo, whatever. We still have bad politics in Australia but at least its bad politics with the consent of the people.

What also gets my goat is that most of the elections today are in fact completely pointless. "We The People" who show up every two years, matter very little when it comes to the legislation which passes through parliaments. Groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council who pre-draft a whole host of legislation and openly admits to something akin to bribery through working to:
"advance limited government, free markets and federalism at the state level through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector and the general public¹", Grover (who is certainly not you loveable pal) Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform² which opposes any form of tax increases thereby making the ability to pay back the massive US debt impossible and groups like the NRA as well as a whole host of lobbyist who grease the hogs in the trough, are the ones who really hold the power.
There isn't a so-called "shadow government" or a conspiracy of puppeteers. They don't need to live in the shadows, they play games right out in the open, whilst media companies keep people distracted with talent shows and other games.

Election Day In America should be a day to get out that old brush and sweep out all the dust that's been in the rafters but instead, it never is. The greatest political force in the United States is the apathy of the general public who don't vote at all. By not voting, they give tacit approval to the lobbying, the gerrymandering and they're why people are able to run unopposed in elections.

¹http://www.alec.org/about-alec/
²http://www.atr.org/about
³https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/top.php?indexType=s

*Remember, remember! 
The fifth of November, 
The Gunpowder treason and plot; 
I know of no reason 
Why the Gunpowder treason 
Should ever be forgot! 
Guy Fawkes and his companions 
Did the scheme contrive, 
To blow the King and Parliament 
All up alive. 

October 31, 2014

Horse 1787 - Writing A Novel Again (NaNoWriMo)

The word "journey" bothers me. When you hear people on a reality TV show, they'll often say that the reason why they wanted to go on said show is that they're "on a journey", whatever the heck that means. This ignores the more obvious and gauche fact that they're probably really going on the show to win fame and or possibly fortune.
Let's be perfectly honest here, fame and fortune are probably the real reasons why a lot of people want to go into televised talent competitions; not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that because it beats standing around on a retail counter all day long.

But think for a second of the people who go into the arts, like music, painting, writing, sculpture who will never achieve fame and fortune. What drives them? I suspect that it has more to do with the act of creating something; the very act of playing music, putting brush to canvas or chisel to marble, or wrangling words together so that they form some sort of vaguely coherent order.
For this reason, I'm doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) again.

As I said last year in Horse 1579 when I'd come to the end of it, I found that writing a novel was an "entirely unrewarding experience" because I already knew how the story was going to end before I'd finished it. As someone who writes a lot but also reads a lot more, having the ending of the novel spoiled before you've finished it, isn't particularly fun and yet, having gone through the process once, I now know what to expect.
So why do it again, if I didn't like it? Because like musicians, painters and sculptors, I like to write.

On the train heading forth and back across this unwieldy city, I have a lot of time to waste. I can spend that time reading, writing or on those glorious afternoons where the golden rays of the spring and summer sun stream in through the train's windows, I can spend that time sleeping. Whilst everyone else is tapping away, I'll be there furiously scribbling away or daydreaming so that I can continue to scribble away.

Bleeding Gums Murphy taught Lisa Simpson that "music is like a fire in your belly that comes out of your mouth, so you'd better stick an instrument in front of it".  The instrument with which I am most proficient at is a home stereo - I can play that one really well (it even has a helpful button marked "play"). Music is not something that I do well. I can draw comics a bit but they're more the means to an end.
The instrument that I play the best on, is either the ball point pen and exercise book or the US 104 keyboard. From these two places, ideas and thoughts get bashed and work hardened until they form sentences and paragraphs. Look! This is a sentence, just now. This is another. This sentence closes off a paragraph.
If you jam enough words, sentences and paragraphs together, eventually you get something resembling a story. Make it long enough and you have a novel. For someone who has generation more than 2 million words and brought them to heel; so that they form some sort of order, 50,000 words in a month is easy.

Deep down, that's why I'm doing NaNoWriMo again. That fire in my belly wants to come out somewhere and in this case, the instrument I'm sticking in front of it, is a keyboard. Hopefully on 30th November, I'll have something to show for it. 

October 30, 2014

Horse 1786 - The Year And A Day Rule On Homicide

In an old episode of New Tricks on Gem, DS Sandra Pullman mentioned to a chap that they were arresting on suspicion of murder that had he committed the murder just thirteen months earlier then he would have been absolved by the "Year and a Day Rule" which used to exist with respect to murder, manslaughter and aiding and abetting suicide.
I had heard of this rule before from a commercial law class oh so many years ago in relation to concepts like the Statute of Limitations, which then leads on to all sorts of juicy concepts of law like frustration and avoidance of contracts, but never having needed to study criminal law, it remained just an interesting aside. I just assumed that it still was a thing.

The Year And A Day Rule which used to exist was the common law presumption that a death was not a murder or manslaughter etc. if the death occurred more than a year and a day since the act which was alleged to have caused it, took place.

It is really hard to find examples of this existing in Australian law now, as the rule was abolished in New South Wales in 1990, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia in 1991, in Queensland in 1992 and finally in Tasmania in 1993.
An idea of how the legislation used to read can be found in the New Zealand Crimes Act 1961, where it is still in operation:
http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1961/0043/latest/DLM329305.html
Death must be within a year and a day
(1)No one is criminally responsible for the killing of another unless the death takes place within a year and a day after the cause of death.
(2)The period of a year and a day shall be reckoned inclusive of the day on which the last unlawful act contributing to the cause of death took place.
- Section 162, Crimes Act 1961 (NZ)

The reasoning behind both the inclusion of the rule and its final aboliton can be found in the Hansard record which accompanies the The Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996:

http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199596/ldhansrd/vo960424/text/60424-08.htm
The Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996
The rule is a legacy of a time when medical science was so rudimentary that, if there was a substantial lapse of time between injury and death, it was unsafe to pronounce on the question of whether the defendant's conduct or some other event had caused the death. Medical science has now progressed to a point where it is possible accurately to link injury with death even if there is a significant time lapse. Moreover, advances in technology mean that seriously injured patients can be kept alive for long periods. This can have the effect, as in the case of Michael Gibson, of rendering impossible a prosecution for murder simply because of the year and a day rule. One can fully understand the additional distress that this must cause to a victim's family.
The Bill before us provides an opportunity to abolish this outdated rule and prevent such distress in future. 
- Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Bill, Lords Hansard Home Page, 24 Apr 1996

Basically it says that once upon a time, science was good enough to conclusively link acts which occurred more than twelve months before someone had died to that eventual death but now that forensic techniques have improved, that proof is now substantially good enough to be reliable.

It makes me wonder what the underlying meaning was in Edward Lear's poem "The Owl And The Pussy Cat"

Pussy said to the Owl, 'You elegant fowl!
    How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
    But what shall we do for a ring?'
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
    To the land where the Bong-tree grows
- Edward Lear, The Owl And The Pussycat (1871)

They sailed away, for "a year and a day"? Why? Was this because The Owl And The Pussycat had performed some act which led to death and they didn't want to be charged with murder?

Maybe... 

October 29, 2014

Horse 1785 - Bring Back Ties

Twice daily on my travels through the metropolis of Sydney, I pass through the central business district (which itself is something of a misnomer because it's not in the centre and if business means to shift numbers from one screen to another, I'll eat my shares in Hansen Australian Technologies Ltd). As I pass through, I've noticed a subtle change in the way people dress, something which was perfectly normal for most of the 20th century and I'll illustrate this by firstly showing why I don't belong.

My wardrobe is less adventurous than the majority of the office army which twice daily fights its way through the city. I have half a dozen white shirts, black trousers, a few black waistcoats and black suits; most of my hats are also black, save for one which is grey.
The reason for this is perfectly pragmatic. Whites get washed with whites and blacks get washed with blacks and never the twain shall meet. Unlike some strange nationalistic fervour, these colours might run and I fear that happening.
The only real point of colour in my working wardrobe is a series of ties; even then I tend to favour sensible colours and stripes. If I have to meet people in a professional capacity, I don't want to look like a packet of Smarties. However, I am atypical.

As the office army intraunts and exeunts via the vomitoria of underground railway stations and motor omnibuses, I have noticed that the uniform of this army has now become a plethora of pastels. Suits are still grey and black but people now sport shirts of blues, greens, purples and other colours which my protanopic eyes can not see and my EGA mind can not find names for.
The riotous mish-mash which has now arrived upon the gentlemen where once it was just the domain of the ladies, appears to me, to be more at home in the Dulux Weathershield range than an office environment.
As a result of this chaotic kaleidoscope of colour that people are now wearing, the need for the tie has almost entirely been negated. Why bother with that one point of colour if you're already walking about lit up brighter than Trafalgar Square anyway?

Now I know what you're thinking (or if you weren't you're about to because you can't help but think the thing that's written down), what gives me the right to be the self-appointed fashion police if by my own admission, I can't even see half the colours I object to?
Whilst it is true, that I have the fashion sense of a grilled-cheese sandwich which has been hurled into the turbofan of a Rolls-Royce Trent 970 and that asking my opinions on fashion makes about as much sense as placing a custard tart on top of the 378 bus to Bronte and asking its opinions on the merits of the new President of Indonesia Joko Widodo, that's precisely why I'm perfectly placed to offer my opinion. The regular police don't care of the merits of the law, they just make sure that it is enforced and when it comes to the business world, when serious decisions are being made, I don't expect that the people making them should look frivolous.

The tie may have originated when Croatian mercenaries served in the French Army during the Thirty Years' War and may indeed have been little more than a convenient piece of rag to wipe one's nose upon but as a small point of colour, the tie was far nicer to my mind than coloured shirts which are properly meant for after work, Saturdays and Sundays.
Mind you, I also think that we should bring back stovepipe hats, fedoras and whoopee caps; so what would I know anyway?

October 26, 2014

Horse 1784 - What's Wrong With Balotelli?

Since Mario Balotelli's £16 million move from AC Milan to Liverpool, he has increasingly come under pressure in the press for not scoring any goals in the Premier League. As at the time of writing, Liverpool collectively have scored 13 goals from 9 matches and lie 7th in the table, which is the same number of goals as Crystal Palace who lie a lowly 15th. Blame for this drought of goals has been laid at the feet of Balotelli and he is rather unfairly being compared with ex-Liverpool liability Luis Suarez.
The question though, is this blame being apportioned in the right place? I think that the answer is "No". I think that the real reason lies with players like Javi Manquillo and Alberto Moreno.

The unsaid thing about a football match is that there is only one ball. Control possession and even if you have the attacking flair of a depressed badger up front, the opposition can not score against you. You can not score goals if you do not hold and keep the ball.
In 2014/15, Liverpool's forwards have suffered from a fatal lack of supply of useful deliveries. It is all very well to say that the forwards are not scoring goals but without the ball being won and passed to, then how are they even supposed to?

It was amazingly obvious against Hull City and even more so against a classy Real Madrid side, that Liverpool didn't necessarily lose the ball that easily as much as it was never theirs to lose in the first place. Against Real Madrid they constantly defended, 8 yards off the ball which meant that this collection of Galácticos were pretty much free to do as they felt like, most of the time.
Against Hull though, Liverpool could very easily sit just in Hull's half but could procede no further. Hull who never really looked like scored, kept the gates to the final third shut and Liverpool resorted to long range efforts.

Balotelli's problem is that he is being employed as a panacea to cure all of Liverpool's ills. His workrate and distances that he travels according to stats are almost 9km in a match which is quite frankly, extraordinary. He's being asked to bear the weight of the side of his shoulders, when all this Italian stallion wants to do is run free.
Balotelli is currently the victim of a side trading on last years' reputation and although he appears to be working harder than everyone, football needs eleven players to do their job; not just one.
I suspect that if Liverpool moved to a 4-4-2 and dominated the middle of the park instead of looking a little directionless with the current 4-3-3 or even changed to a slightly more attacking mentality at 3-4-3, that Balotelli would be worth as many as 40 goals in a season.

You can't make a Thoroughbred do the work of a Shire horse; nor should they be expected to and yet that's what I suspect is happening. Maybe Brendan Rodgers will find a solution to the issue of replacing Daniel Sturridge who won't return until November due to injury but as yet, this problem has no solution that can be found.

I suspect that if Liverpool does find a way to click together all of the parts then Balotelli's goals will come like a torrent but as it stands, he's grinding away and doing his best with not a lot to work with.
What's wrong with Balotelli? Nothing really. The problem lies with the 9 players on the pitch behind him.

October 24, 2014

Horse 1783 - More Than Just About Piracy On The Digital Seas

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/dallas-buyers-club-movie-makers-hunt-illegal-aussie-downloaders-20141023-11a9qq.html#ixzz3H0VVnk7h
Australians who illegally downloaded the movie Dallas Buyers Club may have to cough up cash payments, with the studio behind the Oscar-winning film asking companies to hand over the identities of pirates.
But Australia's second largest ISP, iiNet, who defeated Hollywood in a piracy battle in 2012, says it will put up a fight for its subscribers.
...
They were asking for settlements of up to $US5000 per offence, or more in some cases. Now they're taking their battle to Australia, applying to the Federal Court that it have iiNet and other local ISPs hand over the identities of the alleged pirates.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 23rd Oct 2014

This post is not about the legalities of downloading movies; nor about the right to privacy but about a third issue which isn't even being discussed amidst this - common carriage.
In a war about the identities of alleged pirates, I think that battleships are being mobilised beyond the horizon.

Uncle Google informs me that the movie Dallas Buyers Club, was made by Focus Features, which is a division of NBCUniversal, which itself is a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.
Comcast Corporation is the largest broadcasting and cable company in the world by revenue.

What does it mean in relation to the other players within the Australian internet market such as Optus and Telstra? When you consider that Telstra is itself a 50% shareholder of Foxtel along with News Corp Australia, the waters get muddied very quickly.
Suppose for a second that NBCUniversal wins its case against iiNet. What does that mean for internet in Australia?

If iiNet loses its case, it then becomes responsible for the data which passes through it. If an ISP is by law a responsible gatekeeper, then it can not be by definition a common carrier.
Suddenly, players like Telstra become very interested indeed. If ISPs are not common carriers, then suddenly they get handed all sorts of interesting power. Take the clauses within the rules which govern Australia Post, for instance:

http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/apca1989337/s32.html
Without limiting subsection (1), the terms and conditions determined by the Board may make provision with respect to:
(a)  the kinds of articles that may be carried by post and the means by which different kinds of articles may be carried; and
(b)  the carriage of letters and other postal articles; and
- Section 32, Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989

http://auspost.com.au/media/documents/AP-TCs-Sep-2014.pdf
5 Right of refusal 
5.1 To the extent permitted by the Act, Australia Post is not a common carrier and reserves the right to refuse to provide postal and related services to any customer or to accept articles of any particular class, character or nature whatsoever at its sole discretion.
- Australia Post, Terms and Conditions
, Part A - General Postal Services, Sep 2014.

The Right Of Refusal to carry certain documents, which is allowed at the Board's discretion under the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989, means that if Australia Post for some reason, didn't want to take a particular entity's letters and parcels, they have the legal right to enforce that refusal.

If you then apply the same logic to an ISP, it would then give them an equivalent right of refusal to carry certain particular entity's data, which might be extremely handy given the perpetual war which News Corp has been fighting with the ABC since as far back as the 1930s.

http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/digital-life-news/telstra-optus-not-worth-chasing-in-dallas-buyers-club-piracy-crackdown-lawyers-20141024-11az39.html
But Anny Slater, of Slaters Intellectual Property Lawyers, said the plaintiff would have picked iiNet ahead of Telstra as the "best chance" of success, possibly after studying the 2012 landmark case brought against the Perth-based telco by the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft. iiNet won that case, but among the documents exposed during the process were case notes that pointed to higher legal hurdles at Telstra and its omission from that legal action.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 24th Oct 2014

Considering that Telstra and News Corp both own 50% of Foxtel, there might very well be an underlying commericial reason why Comcast wouldn't want to take on Telstra in a legal battle. This is classic warfare diplomacy - make peace with your stronger neighbours and isolate and conquer your weaker neighbours. iiNet is a weaker neighbour; they must be isolated and conquered. Fighting against Telstra would be a war of attrition, which neither side wants to engage in.

What else could be behind the scenes here? I wouldn't put it past the current Abbott Government to sell NBN Co to Telstra & Foxtel in a joint venture with Comcast; then what? Comcast and HBO have already exhibited tensions for a while and this manoeuvring by Comcast with respect to iiNet, might just be the first of many shots fired in a very big battle indeed.

October 23, 2014

Horse 1782 - Senator David Leyonhjelm and Spending "Other People's Money"

On Pleasant Crescent there are several blocks of flats. At number 32 Pleasant Crescent is the block called Agincourt. Across the street at number 33 is Beauchamp. Further down the street at number 39 is Cruikshank. Even further down the street at number 46 is Descartes.
All of these block of flats have sinking funds in which the strata holders pay into for the maintenance of their buildings. One day, the strata managers of Agincourt decided that they wanted to reduce costs and so they through a meeting of the Owners' Committee decided to lower their fees. It sounded great for the people who started in the system but for newcomers who joined later, suddenly they found that they had to meet more and more costs for themselves; instead of the building's sinking fund looking after them properly.

As you walk down Pleasant Crescent you stop and think "Sweet Johnny Major!". Before you know it, you've wandered straight into an analogy and into the suburb of Hypothetical (postcode XY22). You should have really realised that after the buildings were named A, B, C and D, shouldn't you?

Which block of flats you prefer to live in, on Pleasant Crescent? All things being equal other than the amount of strata levies that you have to pay for the upkeep of the building. Initially I suspect that you don't want to live in Agincourt. Paying less fees might work for a while but what happens if things really start to breakdown and get old?
What happens for instance if the guttering starts to rust and the tiles need replacing? What about when the lights in the hallways start to go? If there is a break-in down at Cruikshank, would you like for there to be a security guard so that your place doesn't get robbed next? Remember, down at number 46, the people who live in Descartes have started to employ security guards and installed very high steel fences with razor wire. Those residents have also started telling everyone in the street (and very very loudly) that the street just isn't safe any more.

The strata management at Agincourt, have started justifying spending less on maintenance and collecting less in strata fees on the basis that they're spending "Other People's Money"; on the face of it, this sounds prudent and sensible.
What this does do though is shift the question from being purely an economic one and one of mutual benefit to the strata owners, to one of personal responsibility. What happens if a child falls off a seventh story balcony because the railings weren't maintained? Guess what - although that used to be something which the strata managers would have fixed, they now claim that the child deserved to fall because it was up to the owners of that particular flat to look after themselves. Remember personal responsibility? The strata managers do and they enforce it.

Does this analogy sound stupid? What if instead of talking about sinking funds of a strata title building, we look to something larger and talk about taxation in a nation state? What if instead of talking about fixing lights, railings, guttering and tiles, we instead talk about infrastructure, the defence forces and welfare payments?
Are the people who live in a building with its common property and common access really that much in principle any different to the citizenry who live within a Commonwealth? A "Commonwealth" at English Law is a term for a political community founded for the "common good". A similar term might be "Res Publica" from which we derive our word "republic" and means a "public affair".

Now I ask the question: How would we feel if in a nation which likes to call itself a Commonwealth, that someone starts speaking of spending "Other People's Money"? I find this term to be something of doublespeak. If people start to frame political discourse like this, how does that change the nature of political discourse?

Consider this:
http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2F7afa1293-dc66-4f39-be79-28f4497fedf7%2F0147%22
If I were to ask everyone in this chamber to turn out their wallets and purses and give me a third of the money in their possession, I imagine there would be some disquiet. If I were to tell you that the reason for taking your money is that I know better than you what you should do with it, I would expect there would be some resentment. What is more, if I explained to you that if you refuse to give me the money, you could go to jail, I expect there might even be some anger.

Imagine that I decided the large pile of cash you were forced to give me was not nearly enough, so I went out and borrowed more, with the cost of the interest to come out of your pile and the debt left hanging over you and your children. Then imagine that I started spending it foolishly on things you do not want. It would be natural to feel outraged. In fact, you should be outraged. It is something most of us would recognise as common theft. Not only that, it would constitute authoritarian, incompetent, irrational, vain, patronising and delusional behaviour on my part. But that is exactly what the Australian government does to the Australian public, no matter who sits on which side of the chamber. Many people would call it stealing, but in this place we just call it another day at the office.
- Senator David Leyonhjelm, 23rd Sep 2014.

What is Senator David Leyonhjelm saying here? Does he believe in the concepts of nationhood or the principles of community? When he talks about spending money "foolishly on things you do not want" what does he mean exactly? What does he think about the example of a child who falls over a railing because the strata managers of the building also didn't want to spend "Other People's Money"? Is he suggesting that when people happen to suffer because of economic hardship that they deserve to? 

Helpfully Senator David Leyonhjelm said other things in this speech which betray his beliefs. 
Far too much of our political debate is restricted to the question of how to spend OPM or, if you like, who is the better dealer in OPM. This is the wrong question to ask because, as Milton Friedman taught us, it is the very nature of the spending that is the problem. A much better question to ask is this: why don't we just let people spend more of their own money?
- Senator David Leyonhjelm, 23rd Sep 2014.

Let's ask Milton Friedman shall we? In Milton Friedman's 1962 book "Capitalism and Freedom", which was set in a time where the United States was undertaking the biggest public works program in history with the "Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways" (and thus the biggest ever dealing on "OPM", he actually called for a negative income tax for people below a certain level of income. Isn't that in effect what transfer and welfare payments actually are?

Maybe Senator David Leyonhjelm has a different view of spending Other People's Money. Maybe he's a student of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:
And Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people's money. It's quite a characteristic of them.
- Margaret Thatcher, This Week, 5th Sep 1976

Ms Thatcher would not only go on to "run out of other people's money", she also went on to sell "other people's stuff". We saw the same sort of thing going on in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s. We're also seeing it again with the sell-off of Medibank Private, which is a profitable business, which the current government doesn't feel belongs in the common property but rather under the auspices of personal responsibility, should go to those who can most afford to buy it. The revenues which it could have raised (along with a whole host of former government businesses) no longer defray the costs of running government and this make it even more structurally dependent on taxation. 

The reason that this can be constantly foisted upon the commonwealth is that the public's itching ears and sullen eyes are too dull too comprehend what's going on; thanks to progressively defunding education, they're also progressively too stupid. 
Again, on the face of it (like Janus) it sounds as though and is meant to sound as though governments are somehow ridiculously wasteful. I have worked in government and I can tell you first hand that every single government office that I've ever worked in at both state and federal level was so hideously understaffed, that the staff who were there, worked many hours beyond their allotted time and because they were salaried, never even got paid $1 for it. I worked beyond midnight on a few evenings whilst working for the Commonwealth Law and though it easier to go to sleep in the offices than to go home, only to come back at 08:30 the next morning. 

With the rod of personal responsibility, the strata managers of the nation (ie our politicians) can and do beat the people of the nation even harder. Not only that, when it comes to the poor and the old, this discussion is being reframed, so that they actually deserve to be punished.
Tell me, why is it that "dole bludgers" are painted as Public Enemy No.1? Who is really doing the bludging here?
The 90-page look at the the tax contributions of the S&P/ASX 200 between 2004 and 2013 – the first research of its kind attempted – claims up to $80 billion was foregone by the taxman over that period; a sum of money that could all but wipe out the government's past two budget deficits.
- Sydney Morning Herald, 29th Sep 2014.

As an aside, how come I'm forced by law to hand over almost 10% of my salary package to financial institutions who then cream off 2% for doing nothing? All superannuation has to try and beat the market and that's patently impossible as everyone can not beat everyone else; not only that but they have to beat the market by at least 2% in order to make the system worthwhile.
What happens if you are a woman who decides to have children? During the time that you're not working, you're not putting any money into superannuation at all; that has a multiplied effect over 40 or 50 years. That says to me that half the population are being beaten with the rod of personal responsibility harder than others. I'll even go on to suggest that I think that superannuation by operation is inherently sexist.

Speaking of the financial system generally though, banks and other financial institutions only reduce the frictional costs of doing business (and even then, I'm not sure that they even do that any more). Since all payments for borrowings have to be paid back with real work, doesn't this suggest that the entire financial system is basically creaming the top off of "other people's money"? Why is it then that the financial system is seen as virtuous, whilst apparently as Senator David Leyonhjelm sees it, governments are wicked? Who is it that actually maintains and builds common property?

When you think about it, EVERY great institute, every scientific discovery, virtually every endeavour has been the result of a collectivist structure, supporting them in some way. We call these entities, companies, corporations, partnerships, joint ventures, clubs, teams, nations, states, churches, families even. So don't talk about so-called "personal responsibility" because really, in almost every endeavour worth anything great, there has been some "commonwealth" which it sprang from.
Where "personal responsibility" does only extend as far as one's own hands, as far as one's own wallet and as far as one's own desires and motives, then greed comes on his merry way and that despite what a certain movie might have said, is bad for the majority of people.

When Senator David Leyonhjelm speaks of  not spending "other people's money", would he be generous enough to hand back his salary of $195,130 a year? What if we the Commonwealth all decided that Senator David Leyonhjelm was something that we "do not want"? Why would he under his own conditions feel outraged? 

On Pleasant Crescent there are several blocks of flats. Unfortunately too many strata managers who don't actually live in Pleasant Crescent, see strata fees as wasting "other people's money"; so they argue that it should not be spent on the maintenance of the building; nor should it be charged to the residents.
When there's a fire due to bad electrics, or people start dying because the railings are rusted though, then what?

Certitude leads to violence. This is a proposition that has an easy application and a difficult one. The easy application is to ideologues, dogmatists, and bullies--people who think that their rightness justifies them in imposing on anyone who does not happen to subscribe to their particular ideology, dogma or notion of turf. If the conviction of rightness is powerful enough, resistance to it will be met, sooner or later by force. There are people like this in every sphere of life, and it is natural to feel that the world would be a better place without them!
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Perhaps Oliver Wendell Holmes was on to something. I rather like his more famous statement about "other people's money".

I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

October 22, 2014

Horse 1781 - Thoughts Whilst Supervising An HSC Mathematics Examination

"Bring a book," they said. "It will be a long and dull time," they said. Yet here am I in an NSW HSC Extension 2 Mathematics examination and scribbling furiously, having a wonderful time. Obviously, I'm not actually taking the HSC Extension 2 Mathematics examination, I'm here as a supervisor. Though, after looking at the paper, I'm kind of feeling a little bit nostalgic. Integration, conic sections, polynomials, complex numbers - ah. It all looks like fun.
This afternoon is the exam for Mathematics General 2 which looks like it has things like geometry and algebra in. To be fair, those things are far more useful in the real world; so I don't look down on the with disdain as once I might have done.

I peer over this group who don't have any school uniforms and it looks as though the late 1980s has called and wants its clothes back. There's more fluorescent colours here than a road construction crew in hi-vis jackets, in a rave party at Trafalgar Square. This lot weren't around when this sort of thing was fashionable the first time and haven't yet learnt that it looks as hideous now as it did then. That sort of thing obviously must be learnt first-hand. "Retro" is always runs 23 years behind and this lot are literally (as in literally; not metaphorically; I do know the difference) half my age, which would make them about 18.
I note that these kids still think that everything is "awesome" which shows that language appears to be moving slower than I thought it did. I do not think that this display of eye-bleed, saccharin pastels is even remotely "cool" but then again, I'm officially "old" and therefore invisible to these people. Even at the age of 18, I thought that the wardrobe of Poirot was perfectly sensible; here am I, clad in a black waistcoat, suit, tie and bowler hat.

18 years ago I was in an examination hall like this, and answering similar sorts of questions. Looking back, I feel a little sorry for the poor saps who had to mark my papers because as my History teacher Mr Menkes once noted, my handwriting "looked as though a chicken had thrown up all over the paper". Those markers probably consulted the Rosetta Stone to decipher my hieroglyphs. Remarks like that stay with you forever.
18 years ago in those heady days of yore, back in 1996, John Howard had become Prime Minister earlier in the year, and Oasis, Blur and Pulp were fighting it out on the music charts. The kids today have One Direction, Five Seconds Of Summer etc. (this is my attempt to look "hip" and relevant - i reality I have no idea who these bands are).
I would later go on to own the Ford Ka which debuted at the Paris Motor Show that year and to this date, it is still the only car I've even owned which cornered pretty well much flat at 80mph. Today you can get a Toyota Yaris which looks like it has a soup-strainer moustache and is about as much fun to drive as a fridge.

In HSC English, I didn't like the proscribed texts we'd been given, which included "Looking For Alibrandi" by Melina Marchetta (1992) but thanks to George Orwell's "1984" (1949) and Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" (1960) I found the English papers relatively easy. Also, we hadn't been given the works of The Bard in the final year, but again I ended up writing essays about "Hamlet". Hamlet by the way, is a very tasty Hero Sandwich - A large Danish Ham on wry.

The world has changed considerably in the 18 years that these students have been alive. The internet has turned into a proper thing, whereas by by the time that I was their age, two Germanys and the Soviet Union have stopped being things. The War on Terror has replaced The War on Communism but somehow, we still find ourselves back in Afghanistan bombing brown people and it is as barbaric today as it was then.
Liverpool has not won the league, England has not won the World Cup but Blackpool have at least made it into the Premier League for a bit. It is amazing how much things change, how some things stay the same. I myself am officially old, after moving through the listernership of Radio 1, then Radio 2 and now Radio 4 (no-one listens to Radio 3).

I can't help but feel that most of the kids of the generation seated before me, taking this Extension 2 Mathematics examination, will have a harder time in life than I will, except for this lot seated here. Out in the car park I've seen red P-plates of 4-series BMWs, a full set of Hello Kitty seat covers on a Toyota 86GT and not one, not two but five Audi R8s. If you compare that with the Toyota Coronas, Nissan Bluebirds, Commodores, Falcons and Geminis that sat in our high school car park, it paints an interesting story.
When this lot go to university next year, more of them will study things like law and finance than the students of 18 years ago, as the economy has been successfully redesigned to reward people who move numbers from one screen to another, rather than people who design, make and build stuff.
More of the jobs that they would have done will be exported to places like Malaysia, Thailand and India and in 18 years time, it could very well be possible that African countries could very well be the next Lion and Tiger economies. Automation will probably advance at a rapidly increasing rate, with even jobs like forklift drivers and bus drivers finding themselves replaced by self-driving things, the same way that the motor car and the traction engine did for the horse and ox a hundred years ago.

I estimate that most of what they have learnt over the last six years will have been nominally useless. School in principle is about trying to educate and make people ready for the unfriendly workforce. In In practice, things like the sciences will be mostly totally useless in an office environment and the humanities like history and geography are merely interesting diversions. Even today, I find economics, history and the sciences interesting but I suspect that they're mainly just entertainment. Mostly what I do is repetitive arithmetic and fitting numbers into boxes. Those skills could have been taught with six years of learning to fill in forms and doing Sudoku.
I do find it galling that so-called "English" classes are mainly filled with literature studies rather than grammar. I doubt whether most school leavers can explain what the subject or predicate is in a sentence or on a more basic level, how to spell properly. How many people can explain the difference between "who's" and "whose" for instance? This is even worse when people go into disciplines such as Law where you'd think that a half-decent command of the language would be essential but apparently not if the quality of letters, emails and even official documents presented in court proceedings is anything to go by.

For many of these students, these few hours spent in the crucible of examination rooms might very well be the last time they see each other. Despite the gushing of tears and promises that are made, people's lives change. For some students though, the past six years might have been a living nightmare and so they'll finally get a chance to escape. The code of the schoolyard dictates you should never tattle, you should always make fun of those different from you, never say anything unless you're sure everyone feel exactly the same way you do and if you're on the end of it all, accept it quietly.
Unlike the sentiments of Vitamin C's song "Graduation", most will not probably "still be, friends forever" though they might still have the clichéd and oft-repeated strains of Pachelbel's Kanon und Gigue in D running around their heads for years. Presumably this generation though have the all seeing eyes of Facebook and Google; thus ensuring that they'll still know tales of people that they met decades ago.

I bet that in 18 years time, Liverpool will still have not won the league, England will still have not won the World Cup and that Blackpool will still be bouncing around like a mad thing. I also bet that in 2038 that there'll be the equivalent on 4-series BMWs and Audi R8s parked in the car park.
Will those students still be taking an examination on integration, conic sections, polynomials and complex numbers? I hope so. It will still look like fun.

October 21, 2014

Horse 1780 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 10 - Joseph Lyons


X - Joseph Lyons

Joseph Lyons was one of eight children, whose father had lost the family's bakery business due to ill-health. Young Joseph went to work in a printer's shop at the age of 9 but was able to resume his education thanks to his two aunts.
He would eventually become a teacher and as a member of the teacher's union, joined the Labor Party in Tasmania.

He became a state member of parliament and became Treasurer and Minister for Education where he oversaw the abolition of state school fees and the setting up of many state high schools.
He would stay on through several terms of the Tasmanian state parliament and would eventually become Leader of the Opposition and then Premier of Tasmania. His state government lost the 1928 election and so he became a candidate for federal parliament in 1929; easily winning the seat of Wilmot in the Scullin Government's landslide victory.

Previous PM James Scullin's government was barely a fortnight old when the Wall Street Crash of 1929 blew apart any chance it had at normality.
Following a revolt after Scullin had reappointed Treasurer Ted Theodore, Lyons was one of six Labor MPs who defected to join the Nationalists to form the United Australia Party.
Lyons was appointed as leader of the new party as it was hoped that voters would follow him to win working-class voters. Whilst techically not defeated in an explicit  motion of no confidence, Scullin called an election after the loss in  a motion to adjourn debate.

The 1931 election saw the UAP take 34 seats which was 3 seats short of a majority and so it formed a coalition with the Country Party, which took it to 50 of 75. The 1934 election saw the coalition win 42 of 75 seats and in the 1937 election in won 44 or 75 seats.

What makes Lyon's governments interesting is that during the depression, he was able to convince unions to agree to lowering of wages for workers and despite the compaints from the Country Party, continued to impose heavy tarrifs to protect local industry.

In 1932 the NSW Premier Jack Lang refused to pay interest payments on debts that the state of NSW had accrued. In danger of defaulting, Lyons as Treasurer, stepped in and paid the debts, then passed the Financial Agreement Enforcement Act (1932). Ultimately this would lead to the Income Tax Assessment Act (1936) and the eventual surrender of the states to collect income tax revenues in their own right in 1942.

With the rise of facist governments in Germany and Italy and the beginning of Japanese belligerence, the period towards the end of the Lyons government was one of increasing overseas tension and former PM Billy Hughes was brought back into the cabinet, along with former PM Stanley Bruce who was made "Minister Without Portfolio in London". Australia in theory achieved some degree of autonomy with the passing of the Statute of Westminster 1931 but wouldn't adopt the provisions until 1942.

Lyons' government was also able to pass through a national unemployment insurance scheme, much to the annoyance of the Country Party who forced the government to repeal some sections of the act. This caused the Attorney-General and Minister for Industry, Robert Menzies to resign both posts over the issue.

On 7th April 1939, Joseph Lyons died unexpectedly of a heart attack and Sir Earle Page was appointed as interim Prime Minister. Lyons is to date the only person to have been Leader of the Opposition at both state and federal level and a State Premier and Prime Minister.

October 20, 2014

Horse 1779 - The Silent Generation

I was watching CNN's documentary series "The Sixties" on SBS One, and in particular the episode about the space program and the Apollo missions. One engineer said that:
"My generation is the generation which changed the moon from an object to a place."
That sounded to me like this chap had tickets on himself and (probably quite rightly) wanted to give himself and his generation a giant pat on the back.

It's an interesting thought though. All twelve men who walked on the moon, all of their ground crews, flight engineers, mission controllers, spacecraft fabricators etc. were all members of the Silent Generation.
The Silent Generation precedes the Baby Boom and comprises those people born between 1930 and 1945. This is the generation that was born and grew up during the depression and the Second World War but were too young to have fought in the war - that generation was previous one again, with the imposing name of the Greatest Generation.

Think about this, the epitomes of cool James Dean and Steve McQueen, were both members of Silent Generation and arguably the cultural high-water mark of both the teenager and coolness happened with the film "Rebel Without a Cause" in 1955, which came out when the earliest of the Baby Boomers were turning 9 years old.
The civil rights movement, women's liberation, the moon landings, the beginnings of widespread air travel with the Boeing 707 then 747 and even Concorde, were all the doings of the Silent Generation.

It's interesting to think (well at least I think) that practically all of the coolest cars in history were designed, styled and built for the Silent Generation.
The 1959 Mini, 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air, 1959 Cadillac de Ville, 1952 Mercedes-Benz 300SL, 1954 Jaguar D-Type, 1961 Jaguar E-Type, 1964 Ford Mustang and 1964 Ford Cortina.
I take particular note of those last two because in 1964, the first of the Baby Boomers were turning 18 years old, and although the cars which followed in the 1960s and 1970s were more "modern" and even a few of them were quite cool, it is as though the Silent Generation had closed the door of coolness behind them.

What I find really strange is what happened when the Silent Generation began to assume power. They whole scale destroyed everything. The first of Silent Generation turned 50 in 1980 and under Prime Ministers Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Howard in Australia and Thatcher and Major in Britain, the trophy cabinet was upturned and all the silverware sold for sixpence and a pocket full of rye.
After living through a period of unprecedented economic growth, the policies which followed were to rip up the road behind them. Curiously, there have been no Silent Generation Presidents of the United States. I don't know what that means exactly but there was a jump from Carter, Reagan and Bush 41 who were all Greatest Generation presidents to Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama who are Baby Boomers.

The comment that "My generation is the generation which changed the moon from an object to a place" may have been true for a short period in history but in December 1972, the place turned back into an object. The door of coolness remains firmly shut.

October 18, 2014

Horse 1778 - Some Remarks on "Paperback Writer"

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It's based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

Book editors and people who accept manuscripts, will generally have a stock of material called a "slush pile". I have heard it said that some of them will only read through the first few lines of a work and the decide based on that, whether or not the book is worth publishing.

Even the whole process of getting novels to print in an increasingly digital market place is becoming ever so more difficult. I would expect that in most circumstances that Mr McCartney's book would either remain unread, or met with a rejection letter like the ones that a certain beagle may have met with:
"Dear contributor, thank you for submitting your story. We regret that it does not suit our present needs. If it ever does, we’re in trouble."

Many novels meet with rejection letter after rejection letter and so, it can be like repeatedly banging your head against the wall. Have you thought about self-publishing? Thanks to that same digital revolution which has rendered the traditional bookstore a dying breed, self-published books no longer carry that air of desperation that they used to. If this is your first novel (it took you "years to write") then this might be the way to go.

The only Lear that I have heard of was either a pre-Roman Celtic king who may or may not have been legend or the 19th century writer, Edward Lear who was mainly known for his literary nonsense.
The problem with either of these explanations is that neither King Lear or Edward Lear actually wrote any novels; Edward Lear's work was mainly poetry and journal work. Maybe Mr McCartney speaks of some other Lear of otherwise unheralded fame. If so, is Mr McCartney openly admitting plagiarism or theft of work?

It's a dirty story of a dirty man
And his clinging wife doesn't understand.
Their son is working for the Daily Mail,
It's a steady job but he wants to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

This is vague. Does the dirty man with the dirty story want to be the paperback writer, or does his son who is working for the Daily Mail want to be the paperback writer?

This aside, given the Daily Mail's reputation for generating moral outrage on every single page, or its online version with the now infamous "sidebar of smut", the dirty story is either going to be a tale of intrigue where someone is exposed or it will just be a tawdry story of filth. Could you please elaborate which it is?
If I was the publisher, this would probably end up being the blurb for the back of the book. A description this vague would do well because it doesn't really give the plot away at all but still leaves you with enough of a question to make you think about parting with your money.

It's a thousand pages, give or take a few,
I'll be writing more in a week or two.
I can make it longer if you like the style,
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

Charles Dickens' "Bleak House" chimes in at 989 pages, James Joyce's "Ulysees" is no pushover at 933 pages; both are hefty tomes which even in paperback, if they hit you in the back of the head after being lofted at you, would give you a headache. "A thousand pages" isn't a small novel, it's a mighty epic.

Does it really need to be longer? It sounds on the face of hit that it might be prolifically prosaic and may need to have massive chunks taken out of it. Can you retain the feel of a thousand pages by making it quicker? Would you have a snappier and harder-hitting story with the benefit of an editor and a redraft?

If you really like it you can have the rights,
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it, you can send it here
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

This is something of a cultural give-away. In the 1960s, maybe writers only really had one manuscript but now all one needs to do is print off copies as demanded,

I'm not sure about promising the rights to a work that easily though. Writers like to retain copyright and arrange contracts later; once the work goes into print. Given though that this is Paul McCartney presumably who has written this book and he was pretty well much at the height of his fame at the time. the claim that "it could make a million for you overnight" might have a fair ring of truth about it. How many of the screaming girls that are seen in newsreels of the day would have snapped up copies of this book? I think that it could have easily passed the 1 million copy mark within a week.

October 17, 2014

Horse 1777 - Wanna Be Lord Mayor Of Sydney? Just Buy The Council

Did anyone else notice this recently? I did... and I'm scared.

https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/NSWBills.nsf/d6079cf53295ca7dca256e66001e39d2/8ebe89753851210dca257d32001dfd41/$FILE/10952167.pdf/b2014-062-d03-House.pdf
The objects of this Bill are:
(d) to provide that if a corporation is the owner, ratepaying lessee or occupier of rateable land
in the City of Sydney, the corporation may nominate 2 natural persons to be enrolled as
electors instead of the corporation.
- City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014

The City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 was introduced by Robert Borsak of the Fishers and Shooters Party into the Legislative Council (upper house) where it passed easily. All it needs now is approval from the lower house and that's it - the doors are open. If you wanted to, you could BUY democracy. I don't mean through bribery either. I mean just buy the necessary requirements so that you'd have a majority of votes in your own right; you can't bribe yourself, can you?

Step 1- Buy 100,000 companies.
Proprietary limited companies can be hard fairly cheaply. Just out of curiosity I asked our company "manufacturer" how much 100,000 companies would cost. Including ASIC registration fees, they said that they'd be happy to do that for $25.5m.

Step 2 - Subdivide An Office.
I rang the City of Sydney Council this morning and they explained that there is no legislated minimum space for office accommodation - so far so good. If our theoretical office space was only 1cm² per company, then the space needed for 100,000 companies is only 10m². The stamp duty of transferring a piece of office space which is only 10m² in size is quite minimal.

Step 3 - Register 100,000 companies as occupiers of rateable land.
Since companies are separate persons at law, then registering them all as occupiers would then entitle you to 200,000 votes in City of Sydney Council elections, which given that there are only currently 165,000 people in the local government area, instantly entitles you to an outright majority by yourself and one other person.

JOB DONE.

If the City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 passes and makes it into law, then it's entirely possible to just outright buy every single seat on the council for less than $30m. $30m is chicken feed to some of the bigger corporations which live within the local government area of the City of Sydney.
Admittedly this bill amends the City of Sydney Act 1988; so would only extend to the council elections for the City of Sydney itself but there isn't any real reason why it could be expanded to other councils, or even state or federal parliament.

Okay, this is hyperbole and probably won't happen but if you were a property owning corporation like Shopping Centres Australasia, AMP, Knight Frank, Lend-Lease etc. it would be seriously worth considering. If you wanted a 70 storey office block somewhere, why would the council object to it if you owned an outright majority of votes in council elections? You just just nominate every single councillor.

The underlying reason why this insipid piece of legislation was even brought before the house I suspect, is that secretly a group of people wanted the Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, Clover Moore, who is an independent, gone.
I think that Robert Borsak was probably put up to it by someone else because I can not possibly see any reason why someone from the Fishers and Shooters Party would want to enact legislation like this - it's not like there are any wild deer running through the Pitt Street mall which need to be culled. Maybe there's some sort of metaphor here in that Mr Borsak just wants to take aim and pick off Clover Moore.

I personally hate the fact that non-corporeal persons would get any vote in a democracy, much less two. Owners of companies already get their say at the ballot box, so why should they deserve another? It complete destroys the notion of "One Person, One Vote" and although having a vote might be almost passée to us, a shade over a hundred years ago, people picketed and marched in the streets for the franchise.

The City of Sydney Amendment (Elections) Bill 2014 is a bill which actively seeks to disenfranchise people by diluting their voting power. If I can show fairly easily how one can simply buy all the necessary votes to take every seat on the council and take the position of the Lord Mayor; without much effort, then this stomps democracy into the ground.
Democracy - it was fun whilst it lasted.