January 23, 2015

Horse 1828 - War! Huh! What Is It Good For?

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Artificially propping up aggregate demand which leads to economic growth and the trend towards full employment.
The Military-Industrial Complex is an Iron Triangle which is kind of like a permanent stimulus package, spending money on intrinsically pointless endeavours because apart from the presence of hardware the money spent on defence does not have any benefit into the next year; but that money passes into the rest of the economy which then grows, thanks to multiplier effects.
Say it again!

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Employing scientists in the pursuit of developing technologies which lead to better products and an improvement in the quality of life. Would we have mobile phones if satellites weren't invented and deployed? Would we have satellites if rockets weren't invented? Would we have rockets if German scientists hadn't been employed to find more efficient ways to blow up people and things that were far away?
Would we have cheap air travel without efficient aeroplanes? Would we have had those aeroplanes if the aerospace industry hadn't been employed to develop better aircraft which are used as weapons? Would we even have jet engines if the various aircraft manufacturers weren't trying to make planes faster, so they they could outrun their opponents?
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Giving historians something to write about in the broader context of the story of civilisation.
No one wins a land war in Asia unless you are the Mongols; the Romans controlled a great swathe of Europe and the British sailed across the seas and stole countries with the cunning use of flags.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Demonstrating that mankind is fundamentally selfish and despite our own efforts, that selfishness can not be eliminated. What were the underlying reasons of the United States Civil War or the two World Wars where Germany and Japan invaded places? Selfishness? You have what I want and I'm going to take it by force.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Showing that power if concentrated in the hands of a few bad mad men, is bad for society and the overall well being of mankind.
Think of the French Revolution, the English Civil War, the American Revolution.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
The physical destruction of capital and the means of production in masse; which is the only way yet devised to reduce the rate of return on capital to the point where it is lower than economic growth and wages growth, which are the conditions necessary to reduce inequality.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Giving material to journalists, poets, novelists and song writers, to pen things of lasting cultural impact.
It's a Long Way to Tipperary, Homage to Catalonia, Gone With The Wind...
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Giving some people the theatre to display such qualities as courage, loyalty, endurance and discipline; making them into heroes who then inspire others towards those same qualities.
Say it again.

War! Huh! What is it good for?
Absolutely nothing? Say it again? It's good for something; if only as a side effect of the mass destruction of property and innocent people's lives.
Say it again.

January 22, 2015

Horse 1827 - Why Should You Care About The News?

When Thomas Macaulay used the expression "The Fourth Estate" in 1828¹, I can tell you that he meant it in relation to the other three estates of The Lords Spiritual, The Lords Temporal, The House of Commons and the press gallery overlooking those august chambers; but I have no idea why and nor do I have an idea of the context. The phrase crossed the Channel to France where the three estates were taken to mean the nobility, the clergy and the great unrepresented masses who made up the third estate.
I can tell you that the expression had been in existence for possibly fifty years before Macaulay is credited with it and that it was used in a very different world. For a start, most of the general population neither had the ability to read and nor did they have the franchise. The press itself was nowhere near as consolidated and the age of the pamphlet was still in swing.
Whilst news organisations grew and coagulated before becoming the proper mass media of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the phrase has still stuck and has come to mean something of itself. The narrative that the fourth estate likes to tell itself is that is like a gatekeeper of information and that one of its roles is to hold governments to account. Even so, some news organisations are fully aware of the power they wield and like to use it, to herd public opinion to their own ends; often in the process completely making a mockery of their narrative to hold governments to account.

Given this, why bother caring about the news? What's the point? Alain De Botton quite rightly points out in his book "The News: A User's Manual" that if you just chose to ignore it, your life might be better; in which case it then becomes a value and benefit analysis exercise, as to whether or not you pay any attention to it at all.
If you didn't know about ISIS, the Ebola virus in west Africa, who the new President of Indonesia was, the details surrounding MH370, the war that sometimes is and isn't in the Ukraine, Taylor Swift's new album, or who was thinking of running in the primaries for the US Presidency in 2016, would your life actually be any worse for it? Do you even know about those things now; does it make a lick of difference to you?

There are of course all sorts of things that might take your interest such as some television show, history, learning a language or a musical instrument, doing a spot of gardening, bike riding, running, going to the gym, watching football on telly and yes even watching the news might all be adequate forms of entertainment. Is there really a difference in principle to yelling at the telly because some striker has missed an open goal from three yards, or that George RR Martin has decided to kill off someone else on Game of Thrones, or that Petr Brewin the MP for South Marshfield has made some stupid comment in the parliament that you disagree with? It could be argued 'no' very easily.
So why care about the news at all? Why bother? There are other things which are equally; if not more entertaining that you could pay attention to.

You might not like to think about this but as you sit in traffic and/or on a sweaty tube train, millions of people all over the world have all come to that same conclusion: the news in principle, doesn't matter. If this be the case, what are the effects of this? Collectively if lots of people make the same decisions, then those decisions coagulate to form culture and more importantly, policy for action.
If people choose not to care abut the news, they probably also don't care about things like politics or economics either. If people in principle don't care about these things, then collective apathy surrenders policy power to those that do. This unfortunately might mean that power to enact policy action is surrendered to the rich, the already powerful and the sometimes cruel. Power is often seen as an ends to itself by those who wish to wield it and arguably surrendered power, renders those who have chosen to surrender it through apathy, powerless.
When the institutions that people once fought for because they felt that they ought to have them, or the rules which govern people's working conditions are changed to suit the powerful, or governments choose to go to war for sometimes spurious ends, people who have surrendered power through apathy don't really have the ability of then undo what has been done.

The reason for caring about the news then, isn't because it is interesting, entertaining or fun but because it is necessary that society remains informed. The things that governments and to a lesser degree firms and corporations care about (or are forced to care about via legislation) are those things that the public cares about. If society paid active attention to the news, they might start caring about issues like educating their children, or conditions that people both in their nation and abroad have to work in, or what happens to people if they decide to flee their own country because of war and famine, or policies to do with transport, or the arts and cultural institutions, or issues of justice &c.
Although the news is itself not the best delivery method of information (because commercial news is driven by profit and state-run news is driven by other agendas), it still remains the best yet invented method of delivering information to society. When society is informed, or cares enough to bother to inform itself, the information that it has picked up in the news becomes vital in the ability to make decisions. Those decisions might start at the ballot box, or in the writing of letters to politicians, or in protest action, or perhaps most important of all in their wallets and pocket books.
Remember, collectively if lots of people make the same decisions, then those decisions coagulate to form culture and more importantly, policy for action. If people care about the news, then the decisions of selecting governments, telling those governments what they should care about, the decisions of what to purchase and the big questions of justice and ethics, become the things which are turned into policy and legislation.

I don't think that the press should be held up as the gatekeepers of information and I don't know to what degree or even what the heck is supposed to be meant by the term "the Fourth Estate". People can choose to not care about the news but collectively if enough people don't, then power is surrendered. I would also argue that choosing not to vote is also a deliberate effort to surrender power.
My question then is, is society happy to live with the consequences? Moreover, does it care?

¹"The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm."- Thomas Macaulay, reviewing Hallam's Constitutional History in Edinburgh Review, Sep 1828.

January 20, 2015

Horse 1826 - "Just Bin Your Vote" Is What Campbell Newman Actually Means

PREMIER Campbell Newman, promising to slash water bills for a million households in southeast Queensland, has implored voters to “Just Vote 1” at the January 31 election.
“If you number every square you are voting for a hung parliament,’’ he said.
- Steven Wardell, Courier Mail, 19th Jan 2015

In the 2015 state election campaign for Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman has launched a slogan to tell voters to "Just Vote 1" on their ballot. Owing to the fact that Queensland has Optional Preferential Voting, this isn't illegal. However, owing to the way that preferential voting works, it is basically telling less educated and vulnerable people, to throw away their vote. If it isn't actually illegal then I suppose that a case cannot be mounted against it but it is scurrilous - I bite my thumb at this knave.

Preferential voting works quite simply. Voters are asked to rank their choices from most favoured to least favoured.
All of the votes numbered 1 are tallied. If no candidate has achieved 50%+1 of the votes, then the smallest pile is taken and they then look for the 2s on those ballot papers and allocate then accordingly. If still no candidate has achieved 50%+1 of the votes, then the next smallest pile is taken and they look for the 2s or the 3s if they were 2s and allocate them accordingly. This process is repeated until one candidate had achieved 50%+1 of the votes. Thus under a full preferential system, the candidate who does finally win, has the actual authority of at least half of the voters.
This would be the same as having a series of run-off votes and eliminating one candidate each round. By numbering preferences, these rounds happen instantly; hence the other name for Preferential Voting: Instant Run-Off Voting.

In Australia, voting was made compulsory for a very good reason. The very point of parliamentary democracy is that those who govern do so with the consent and authority of the governed. Democracy itself comes from the two Greek words "demos" which means "the people" and "kratos" which means rule. 50%+1 of votes where some of them have been thrown away just doesn't seem like democracy to me.

Full preferential voting was introduced in 1919. The by-election for the Western Australian Division of Swan in 1918 illustrates perfectly why preferential voting is important. All.elections in those days were conducted under the first-past-the-post system: whoever had the most votes won.

Edwin Corboy - ALP - 6,540 - 34.4%
William Hedges - Nat - 5,635 - 29.6%
Basil Murray - CP - 5,975 - 31.4%
William Watson - 884 - 4.6%

Corboy  won the election with only 34.4% of the vote. This means that 65.6% of the electorate didn't vote for him. How can you call it democratic when almost two-thirds of the electorate didn't approve of the winning candidate. If you have ten people at a dinner party and four people like fish but the other six absolutely hate fish, then you've just served something unpalatable to more than half your guests. The decision of who has the consent of the people to govern them is more important than having fish for dinner and if it goes badly, the result stinks for more than just one evening.
Under Optional Preferential Voting, the number of votes required instead of 50%+1 of all votes, is now reduced to only 50%+1 of all still active votes; when votes have been discarded, it becomes far far easier to achieve a result.

So what happens in Optional Preferential Voting? Suppose for instance that a vote with only a single number 1 on it is in one of the smaller piles. What happens to it when that candidate is eliminated? With no number 2 where does that vote go? The answer is nowhere. Throw the vote into the bin for all the difference it makes. Use it for toilet paper. What's the thickest tissue in the bathroom you can issue? Unmarked voting paper.
Campbell Newman's "Just Vote 1" campaign is asking voters to do precisely that. It would probably suit his party if there was such a thing as optional voting because generally poorer people will tend to vote against nominally conservative political parties. If you can encourage them to throw their voting paper into the rubbish bin, then these parties benefit; I think that Campbell Newman knows this.

The real irony is that the whole preferential system itself was introduced for the 1919 General Election following that Swan by-election. What happened was that under the first-past-the-post system, the conservative vote was split between the Country Party and the Nationalist Party. PM Billy Hughes introduced preferential voting so that the two conservative parties wouldn't put each other at risk in the same electorate. That doesn't happen in Queensland anymore because their successors of the National Party and the Liberal Party have formally united in Queensland to form the Liberal-National Party (LNP).

Three years ago the tactic worked perfectly and caused possibly the biggest landslide in Australian political history at any level of government. The statement that “If you number every square you are voting for a hung parliament,’’ is I think an outright lie because a hung parliament is caused by the lack of a majority of members; not the method by which they were elected and the 2010 UK General Election is proof of that.

Actually it was The Australian who stated in plain English, why Campbell Newman wants people to "Just Vote 1":
THE conservatives in Queensland are set to turn the tables on state Labor and the Greens at the next state election.
The Queensland Liberal National Party will exploit the "Just Vote 1" option to dilute preference flows from Left-leaning voters.
In a strategy that will appeal to the Coalition in NSW, gearing up for a March poll, the LNP will urge supporters not to give a preference beyond a primary vote 
for the LNP under Queensland's optional preferential voting system.
- Sarah Elks, The Australian, 18th Nov 2010

The great Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly once said that: "If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain an advantage, then he should be." Tactically Campbell Newman is interfering with and seeking to gain an advantage, which makes sense because he wants his party to win the election, but it makes a mockery of democracy and in a state where there is no house of review, that's a bad thing.

January 19, 2015

Horse 1825 - The No Odd Perfect Numbers Conjecture

In Horse 1680 I laid out the search for the first boring number and found that every number up to 75 is interesting in some way before  having a metaphorical brain explosion and crashing an imaginary¹ car into an imaginary telephone pole.
During that search I said that both 6 and 28 were interesting because they are Perfect numbers.

A Perfect number is one whose proper positive divisors sum together to make the number.
6 is a perfect number because its proper positive divisors of 1, 2, & 3 add together to make 6. 1+2+3=6.
28 is a perfect number because 1+2+4+7+14=28.
The next two perfect numbers are 496 and 8128; you might like to check that out in your spare time.

Currently it is unknown whether there are any odd perfect numbers as none have ever been discovered. I suspect though (and I'm not a mathematician by any stretch of the imagination²) that there are no perfect odd numbers.

Observation 1:
All odd numbers only have other odd numbers as their proper positive divisors.
Odd x Odd = Odd
Odd x Even = Even
Even x Even = Even
Any even number in a factorisation, instantly produces an even number.
For instance, 75's factors are 1, 3, 5, 15, 25 and 75. All are odd.

Observation 2:
There must be an odd number of odd divisors.
Odd + Odd = Even
Odd + Even = Odd
Even + Even = Even
Odd + Odd + Odd = Odd etc.
Take the number 15. 1+3+5=9 This is deficient but still odd. There can not be an even number of divisors since that produces an even number. By definition, a perfect odd number is odd,

Observation 3:
Perfect numbers follow the same sorts of criteria as abundant number.
A number is said to be abundant, if the sum of the factors exceeds the original number. 12 is abundant as 12's factors of 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 6 = 16 and 16 >12.
The smallest odd abundant number³ is 945. 1+3+5+7+9+15+21+27+35+45+63+105+135+189+315= 975 and 975 > 945. (945 has 15 divisors)
The fact that there are abundant odd numbers rules in the possibility that perfect odd numbers could exist. Whether they do or not is another question.

Observation 4:
Abundant numbers are not semi-primes. A semi prime has two prime factors that are not one.
When you multiply two numbers together you can not end up with a number with more significant figures than the total number of significant figures that the two numbers you multiplied together had; since a semi-prime only has two factors other than one, then that's simply not enough factors to add together to get close to the final answer.
Take a small semi prime number like 77. 77 = 7x11. 1+7+11 = 19 which is scandalously deficient. This only gets worse with bigger numbers.
If abundant numbers are not semi-primes, then odd perfect numbers aren't likely to be as the first abundant odd number is 945.

Observation 5:
All currently observed perfect numbers are of the for PN= (2n-1)(2n-1)
What's of note there is that 2n for any n including n-1 which is just another n, is always going to be an even number because 2 is even. Since (2n-1) is always going to be an even term, the whole expression which generates all of the currently known perfect number can and only must generate even numbers because Odd x Even = Even

Observation 6:
If odd perfect numbers aren't semi-primes, then they must be multi-composite.
This should be obvious to all as even the first abundant number of 12 has three ways to get there 1x12, 2x6 and 3x4.
The reason I make mention this is that apart from 6 which is small, the next three perfect numbers are many times composite.
28 has three ways to get there, 1x28, 2x14 and 4x7
496 has five ways to get there, 1x496, 2x248, 4x124, 8x62 and 16x31.
8128 has seven ways to get there, 1x8128, 2x4064, 4x2032, 8x1016, 16x508, 32x254 and 64x127.
I think that it follows that if the first perfect odd number is greater than the first abundant odd number, we know that this must be true since there are no perfect odd numbers less than 945, then just like the known perfect even numbers, the first perfect odd number must be many times composite.

Now I know that the first 945 numbers out of infinity is a pathetically small sample size but I do not possess the mathematical know-how to prove the case for all numbers. I do know through computational blunt force all numbers to 10^300 have been tested, which is a number so big that it looks like this:

The thing is that the first perfect odd number if it even exists, is bigger than this and must be so hideously mutil-composite and yet fulfil all of the other conditions that I've mentioned, that it just seems unlikely. At any rate, such a number if it does exist, is so humongous as to be totally pointless.
I don't think that there are any perfect odd numbers but that still hasn't been proven by anyone. I just think that there are so many conditions required to produce one, and the fact that no do exist up to 10^300, that none will exist. Again, it hasn't been proven and that's why it's only a conjecture.

¹An imaginary car is one which is the square root of a negative car. Try not to think about that much. It's a bit complex.
²Does the square root of anti-matter equal imaginary matter? If so, if we take our imaginary car and square it, would it create an anti-matter car? If such a car were to be involved in a road accident with its real matter counterpart, both would spontaneously disappear in a flash of energy - that would make for an interesting episode of Crash Investigation Unit on Channel 7, wouldn't it?
³I only found this through brute force by testing every single odd number until I found one. It took 57 minutes.

January 18, 2015

Horse 1824 - Why I Probably Won't Do A Podcast

I was asked by someone at a place where I was doing some work "if you write so much, how come you don't do a podcast?"
Notwithstanding that you need a heap of audio gear (which I don't have) in order to do a podcast: most of the podcasts that exist are generally of the sort where two people witter on, back and forth to each other; about some general overarching topic. One of the defining things about such a series of conversations is that you need at least two people and ideally I'd want the podcast to last between about three to five years; I'm just not sure that I could convince that many people to commit to a long term project like that.

The other thing which I'm convinced of that you need for a podcast (and indeed any audio project) is a nice speaking voice. From a purely technical perspective, I am six feet tall; with a 6 7/8 size head and In consequence, I have a speaking voice which sounds tinny at the best of times and almost Mancunian at the worst. I also have a distinct nasal whine which I imagine is as pleasant to listen to as a cockatoo version of Aida. Mind you, if there was some crazy individual out there who does want to arrange a cockatoo version of Aida, I'd be interested to hear from you. .
People often say that you sound different when you hear a recording of yourself. This in itself is not an issue for me because I already think that I sound horrible; so it might be a matter of public decency that I don't do a podcast.

Having said that, I do not think that I'd run out of material for a podcast. If I've written more than 1800 of these posts, then I think I've proven that I can generate as much banal drivel as the next person. Yes, it might be a more grammatically correct pile of polysyllabic drivel but you still can't make a silken purse from a sow's ear after the horse has bolted and you've hit the cat out of the bag for six. Being able to write is not the same as being able to deliver a sound that people want to hear, no matter how good the material might be. Good writing doesn't always translate into good audio - that's why professional voice actors exist. If you want proof of this, on Audible.com there is an audiobook of Patrick Stewart reading Dickens's "A Christmas Carol". After you listen to that, you might wish to consider permanently blocking your ears with polyfiller, for you will never hear anything so brilliant ever again - believe me.

As far as subject matter goes, I'm not sure what I'd talk about either. Probably things like politics, sport, science, history, literature (so more of the same) but not the arts or the world of entertainment. In the game of Trivial Pursuit which I think is something of a trivial pursuit itself, the brown and pink cheeses of Art & Literature and Entertainment always seem to allude me because although I could care less* about these subjects, I fail to see how.. When I'd first heard the name Lady Gaga for instance, I wondered what she did to deserve her place in the Queen's New Years' honours list or whether she had inherited a peerage or not. It turns out that she's not even a Professor or a Doctor; me thinks that Lady Gaga is trying to pull the same stunt as Lord Monckton.
The news cycle is often a great jumping off point to commence swimming in the seas of drivel. There are lots of news sites though and so I don't know how I'd contribute anything even remotely new or worthwhile. Again, professional journalists and newsreaders should be able to provide better content than I can.

There's always the issue of publishing a podcast as well. Once you have your audio file, you'd need to edit and proof it; making sure that there isn't a terrible amount of crackle and hiss, as well as scratching out most of the verbal tics like the 'ums' and 'ahs'. You'd be surprised at how many 'ums' and 'ahs' people unconsciously emit. In live radio, people will forgive you for the verbal splottage but in a pre-recorded piece, I just don't think that they're that forgiving.
I've given lectures and talks and I'm consciously aware that I speak way too quickly and so I'll even add pauses and directives to slow down in the notes. I don't know if people doing a podcast or live radio make these sort of notes but I suspect that certainly for people on the radio, they'll employ voice coaches to train them to speak better.

If someone out there for some hither to unknown reason wants me to do a podcast with them, then I suppose I'd acquiesce but until then, you're just going to have to make do with a stream of text on a screen.
It's really weird you know, for millennia the words that people spoke just disappeared into the ether upon the moment they were uttered. It is the written word which has survived the ages and there's just something about text which not even the radio or a podcast can not capture.
Travelling at the speed of text allows you to see more of the scenery of the mind than moving at the speed of sound or the speed of light. Could it be I just like moving more slowly?

January 17, 2015

Horse 1823 - Autocorrect: Both A Marvel And A Beautiful Disaster.

Having recently acquired a tablet computer has changed the way that these posts are compiled quite markedly. I used to scribble madly into an A5 notebook with a pencil and then after arriving at a desktop computer, try to make sense of the mess. As a result the final outcome would be either the second or third version. However, with a tablet computer, that process has been circumvented and now the final product which survives is on average, seventh or eighth attempt (or so the software tells me). Mostly thus is because I have two or three text documents sitting about at any given moment; which might get a line or paragraph added to as I go along. I don't know if this improves the final product or not but I do know that it has led to entire lines and phrases that appear and then disappear into the ether with a press of the delete key.
There's another strange consequence as well. The tablet will suggest words to be entered and auto-correct words as I go along. This in my opinion is some sort of techno-marvel, being indistinguishable from magic.
So then, in that spirit, this will be an autocorrect post. I hereby deny responsibility for the rest of this post (unless it is good).

It's really weight using a line or third draft when typing a blood post. The tablet will suggest words as it has been circumvented and now the fact that it has led to the way that it has changed the way that it has been circumvented and.
This very much reminds me of the letter writing game on BBC Radio 4's program "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" where two famous people in history write to each other.
For nothing example:

Dear Neville,
Thank you for visiting me in my opinion in my house. It was very much appreciated that you said that there would be peace in our time but I do know that it is a lie. There will not be peace in our time but I will suggest words to the opposite. 
I have two famous people in my house and now they are very much dead. I will make more people dead when I send trouble into Poland.
Love, Adolf.

Dear Adolf,
I received your letter and now I am not very happy at all. I do not like to see two famous people dead when I am not very happy. I am very angry. Please do not send trouble into Poland. Instead, please do not send trouble into the way of magic.
Please do come and visit me in my house and we can have two famous people over for tea. We can talk about happy things like the beginning of the day and the way that you said that you would be an autocorrect. We can talk about happy things like public puppies and the end of the race. Sometimes I am going to be strangely fascinating and lovely. 
Oh do come and visit me in my village.
Yours sincerely, Neville.

Admittedly autocorrect has its drawbacks. I think that the algorithm it employs is only quite rudimentary because it assumes that the words that you intended to use are those which you have already used to write the documents. As far as passing the Turing test goes, it fails species.

You can of course switch off autocorrect if you want to. I think that many people who do not know how to spell, desperately need to switch it on. The number of e-mails that I get where the spelling is atrocities is staggering. What were these people doing during their school days? Obviously not learning things like grammar and spelling, that's what. Then after switching on autocorrect they should problem pomegranate. If they can get away with murder.

January 16, 2015

Horse 1822 - Do You Really Want To Live In A Society Without Section 18C?

With the attacks on the magazine Charlie Hebdo last week and the subsequent death of twelve staff; coupled with the deaths of two people at the hands of a lone gunman in Sydney, we've seen articles in the Daily Telegraph especially, again calling for the repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
What's the real motive though? I think that it has precisely zero to do with free speech and everything to do with protecting their own and thus removing all ability for other people to find redress through legislation. The only reason that anyone even cares all that much about 18C in particular, was that News Corp's Andrew Bolt was found guilty under the act. If that had not happened, would we be even hearing a peep about Section 18C? Not a bar of it.

What is at stake though? For argument's sake, let's just pretend that Section 18C did not exist. In the specific case of Eatock v Bolt (No 2) [2011], the nine Aboriginal people and specifically Pat Eatock who was an aboriginal lady would most likely not have found any redress whatsoever against a gentleman whose opinions appear in an entire national network of daily newspapers.¹ If the case had been reversed and this lady had written about Andrew Bolt, would he have employed to services of that same national newspaper network and fought a defamation case? It's not hard to imagine.

This is the relevant section in question:
Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.
Note: Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts.
- Section 18C, Racial Discrimination Act 1975

From an historical perspective, the passing of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) sits at the end of a tremendous cultural shift in Australian society. Aboriginal peoples were given the vote in 1967 and a wave of postwar immigration from Europe coupled with migrants who had come as refugees from Asia (especially from places that Australia had gladly bombed because we have never ever in 114 years grown enough of a spine to develop our own foreign policy), meant that even the look of people's faces which make up society was changing. As I type this, I'm sitting on a train with at least six different languages being spoken on people's mobile telephones. 18C with its words that " offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" speaks not only just of what we do not want to see in society but especially of who we'd like to be as a nation.
Are we to assume that those advocating for the repeal of 18C, wish it to be repealed because they'd like to start offending, insulting, humiliating or intimidating people or groups of people without fear of the law? Is it right that a newspaper like the Daily Telegraph which proudly boasts that it has a readership of 1.2 million a day, should even have such power?
It was Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar who said that "The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins Remorse from power."²

What would happen if the laws had never existed? What redress could people on the end of abuse possibly hope for? Defamation cases are far harder to materially prove in court than racial discrimination cases.
What are the consequences of repealing the laws? Presumably those who wish for 18C to be repealed have never had to live with those consequences. Do we really want to live in a society that actively wants the consequences of marginalisation, vilification and exclusion allowed to run riot?
If 18C does not exist, does that mean that we in effect tell society that we do not care who gets hurt? The people who find themselves on the end of racial discrimination and vilification are often the most vulnerable members of society. Are we now saying that absolute free speech should be allowed to be used as a weapon to beat and injure some of the most vulnerable members of society and that there should not be those grounds to redress that injury?

If we do intend to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) on the grounds that it impinges on free speech, then should we also repeal Section 28A of the Sex Racial Discrimination Act (1984)? When the 1994 amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act were made, they followed the same material test:
in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.
- Section 28A, Sex Discrimination Act 1975

If you intend to tear the framework of law apart, then you may as well bring the whole lot crashing down. Let's just do that shall we?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority made an investigation following the 2005 Cronulla riots, into the Alan Jones breakfast show on Sydney radio station 2GB. As far as I know, no charges were brought against Alan Jones or 2GB with regards their broadcasts in the week leading towards the events of 11th December 2005 but ACMA made reference with respect to Section 18C in their investigation. Their investigation looked at the Commercial Radio Australia Codes of Practice 2004 (which has since been updated in 2013) and it found that broadcasts on two of the five weekdays before the riots, were in breach of the code:

Would the repeal of 18C lead to a situation where the law was powerless to do anything in the face of currently offensive, insulting, humiliating or intimidating material which was published? I can't answer that but Johnathon Holmes in the Sydney Morning Herald points out that:
Charlie Hebdo set out, every week, with the greatest deliberation, to offend and insult all kinds of people, and especially in recent years the followers of Islam, whether fundamentalist or not. 
- Jonathan Holmes, Sydney Morning Herald, 14th Jan 2015

Again I ask, what are the consequences of repealing the laws? More race riots like we saw in 2005? Maybe people being shot to pieces like we saw in Paris?
Actually if Charlie Hebdo had exercised some self-restraint and not published the cartoons, the attacks would never have happened. Now I'm not saying for a second that you can necessarily blame the actions of three mad gunmen on Charlie Hebdo because that's preposterous but surely a degree of foresight and responsibility for what you publish might have suggested the possibility that if you are deliberately intending to be provocative, then people are going to be provoked into anger or resentment. Actions have consequences.

It's all very well to run around yelling "free speech for all" and "people have the right to be bigots" but I bet though that if such attacks had happened in Sydney that very different articles would be published, not asking for the repeal of 18C but why the government had failed to stop these people.
If you repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which section of the Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play; moreover, who ends up paying for those changes?

¹Eatock v Bolt (No 2) [2011] - http://www.justinian.com.au/storage/pdf/eatock_bolt_2.pdf
Part (c) is interesting:
that conduct was not exempted from being unlawful by s 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) because the Newspaper Articles were not written or published reasonably and in good faith.
²Julius Caesar, Act II, Scene 1.

January 15, 2015

Horse 1821 - Are We Bad For Liking Murder Mysteries?

"Are we bad for liking murder mysteries? Is it bad that we find entertainment in people being killed?"

Those were the questions that Mrs Rollo posed to me whilst watching an old episode of BBC's crime drama Midsomer Murders during the week. This question cuts to the heart of all sorts of ethical dilemmas and so it was worth writing about.

Firstly, I don't think it either fun or entertaining when someone dies; no matter how horrible or infamous they may be. For instance, I can remember the immense outburst of macabre joy on the internet when Osama Bin Laden was killed and thinking that it was all quite a bit gauche. Even though he was the head of a terrorist organisation which was responsible for killing thousands of people, I still didn't take joy in the fact that someone had died. Likewise when Saddam Hussain was executed, I didn't rejoice at that either. Even if someone has committed terrible crimes against humanity, taking joy in their death just seems like a less than human response to me.
This isn't to say that I'm some sort of model saint either. I can't honestly say that if I was born 1900 years ago, that I wouldn't find pleasure in watching people being killed in Roman arenas, even if they were criminals. I also can't say if I would have been the sort of person who would have found a public execution entertaining enough to want to go and see someone being hanged in a medieval town square. Without being cast against that sort of cultural climate and prevailing social backdrop, I wouldn't like to guess what sort of person that I would actually be in such circumstances. Be that as it is and being born into a "civilised" society, I'm something of a pacifist and I already think that the arming of the population is a nonsense because it opens the potential for lots of people to be needlessly killed; so I don't think that I'm currently watching murder mysteries because I secretly like watching the death of others.
If that's not the case, then there must be some other underlying reason why I like watching murder mysteries.

I think that part of the answer lies in the fact that a crime drama is something of a puzzle. The writers will embed a series of clues into the narrative and by fitting them together, you can solve the mystery.
We see this sort of process going on in real criminal and civil court proceedings all the time; where it is given the somewhat confusing label of "discovery". This has connotations of people in tricorn hats and ships bound for countries unknown across the vastness of expansive and angry oceans. Instead of  discovering the world on board ship, the police and lawyers  discover crime scenes and even documents as their clues. A work of fiction like a novel or a television drama, does all of that boring and often tedious work for you. The writers themselves are aware of this and so will consciously and deliberately weave clues into the narrative. The most extreme consequence of this is "Chekhov's Law" which is named after playwright Anton Chekhov; which states that you should never place a gun on stage unless you intend to fire it. I don't know if this is a pragmatic choice because it involves moving fewer items at the change of scene but at the other end of the spectrum is the "Red Herring" when clues are placed in the story with the express purpose of throwing the audience off the trail. I'd like to propose a variant on Chekhov's Law, the Red Herring subclause; which states: never leave a fresh fish on stage, for fish are like bombs, they go off.
The thing about crime dramas is that there actually is a solution. I don't know how popular a novel or television drama would be if the detective didn't find enough clues to piece together what had happened. What sort of television show would it be if you'd spent 90 minutes only to find that you still have no idea who the killer or the thief was? The tale of Jack The Ripper is famous because it remains unsolved but I don't think that people actually find the fact that five people died in such gruesome circumstances, a fun thing. Even when there are programs about this, there's usually a degree of speculation as to whom it might have been; I suppose that half a solution is better than none at all. The stories which work lie around the questions which are posed but if you have too many unresolved questions, the story soon quickly descends into the land of annoyance.

The crime drama genre itself has quite a number of tropes that we like, built into it. Usually all of the characters in the story are disagreeable and horrible people, except the detective (and even that's not a hard and fast rule either), and so when the detective does finally solve the case, it appeals to out innate sense of justice because horrible people are finally getting what they deserve. I think that we generally like to see people brought to justice and being made to answer for what they've done. The very phrase itself "getting away with murder" suggests that something is seriously wrong with the administration of justice. We just don't like it if bad people aren't punished for what they've done.

Actually I must say at this point that I prefer British crime stories to American ones; mainly because even though the horrible people are just as horrible, there's an element of class distinction as well. The issue of class lends another dimensional level to a story because such people are expected to act in certain ways and then don't. It's assumed by the audience that people of the upper class behave with a higher degree of manners and deportment, and like a good joke, when they do not, they become acceptable targets of sport. Horribleness when added to a facade what amounts to self righteous vanity, lends a degree of tragi-comedy to things; whereas outright vulgarity is just dull. The mechanics of a crime drama are such that poor people although they might act in ways which are equally as horrible, can not by virtue of their poverty act with the same sort of motives because they wish to inherit something, when there is indeed very little to inherit.

As if by proxy we even get to compare ourselves to either the horrible people in the story and commend ourselves for not being as horrible as they; or we get to live vicariously through the detective and congratulate ourselves for solving the puzzle - they aren't called "whodunnit?" for nothing.
Sometimes this is played with though. There are some episodes of Colombo whee the criminal has been caught at the beginning of the episode but isn't talking. The question then is not "whodunnit?" but "howdunnit?" and then the game becomes one of recovery of facts to prove what is already known. Quod Erat Demonstrandum - that which was to be demonstrated.
I think it might have been an episode of Van Der Valk where the question being asked at the end wasn't "whodunnit?" or "howdunnit?" but "if?". If all the clues point to murder but then it turns out that there was no murder but merely the theft of a body from a morgue with the intent of perpetrating insurance fraud, that really messes with the mind of the audience. If you've just sat through 90 minutes only to have every assumption proved wrong, you either feel pleased because you've been tricked or grumpy because you've been deceived.

Once upon a time people might have marveled at how Sherlock Holmes used inductive reason (technically isn't actually deductive most of the time), or at how Poirot used the art of psychology to find his suspects but those days have long passed.
A private investigator like Philip Marlowe just asked questions and followed people and that seems far more real to us today. By the time that police procedurals hit the small screen, the age of the brilliant detective was gone. Taggart, Colombo, Lewis, Frost and Barnaby are still engaged in answering the same sorts of questions like who stands to benefit if someone died but they're far more pragmatic that detectives in stories a hundred years ago.

The two questions of "Are we bad for liking murder mysteries?" and  "Is it bad that we find entertainment in people being killed?", aren't that difficult to sort out. We're probably not bad people because the whole concept of the murder mystery is about finding someone and bringing them to justice and there's probably a degree of virtue in that. Do we actually find entertainment in people being killed? Maybe not. I already find myself asking "why?" when people are needlessly killed in movies and a lot of cases, it doesn't add anything to the story either.

January 13, 2015

Horse 1820 - Bring Back The Pusboxes!

Pusbox. (noun):
- literally a box full of pus.
1. An automobile that is small and unglamorous.
2. An automobile that is in poor condition.
3. An automobile that is prone to breaking down frequently.

What a pusbox is not:

If you read through the entry list for this year's Bathurst 12 Hour race you find a list of exotic sports cars like Ferraris, Bentleys, Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, a host of Porsche 911 GT3s and a few other odd sports cars including some V8 Ford Focii, bringing up the rear. Nowhere do you find the sorts of cars that regular people buy. Absent are the Toyota Corollas and Camrys,  nowhere to be found are Mazdas 3, 6 or 2, and you can forget seeing Nissan Pulsars, Holden Cruzes or Honda Accords which are found in the driveways and petrol station forecourts of this wide brown land. Yes, this might be a GT production race of sorts but the old adage of "race on Sunday; sell on Monday" doesn't really apply.
Likewaise, the Bathurst 1000 in October does maintain a sort of foot in the showroom insofar as much as you can buy a Commodore, Falcon, Altima, S60 or E63 if you find want to but the race cars bear very little resemblance to their road going counterparts that you might see with some screaming kids inside, on Saturday morning.
Here lies a problem.

Unlike Europe which took to GT racing as something of a matter if national pride with Audi and representing Germany, Ferrari being the pride of the tifosi and the French who have had Renault and Peugeot win in the past, for countries like the United States, Britain and Australia which were isolated, the legends of motorsports in all three countries earned their stripes by thrashing about the sorts of cars which mum and dad had sitting in the driveway.
When I was a kid I saw many miles whizz past from the back windows of a Torana hatchback which was similar to the sort that Peter Brock took to the mountain and then we a Commodore sedan; which again won motor races.
It might sound strange but even the Ford Sierra which dominated touring car racing around the world, was the repbox of salespeople across Europe before they all morphed into Mondeo man. The best example of this was the BTCC in the late 1990s. For a short time it was the most furious racing series in the world as the value of the cars they wee driving, fell through the floor. Suddenly in cheap cars, some of the best touring car drivers in the world pounded them over kerbs and into corners with abandon; knowing that it didn't matter if they came home a little beaten (then the costs soared as teams bought expensive bits and the racing wasn't as desperate any more).

This is why I want to see a return to racing small cheap cars. There are plenty of 1.5L buzz boxes like the Mazda 2, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz, Hyundai i20, Kia Rio, Renault Clio, Peugeot 208... the list just keeps on going. I want to see cars that people actually buy, having the life kicked out of them; wanging wheels over kerbs and tyres screaming as the casing tries to separate itself from the rest of the tyre.
If the drivers knew that the machinery they were driving was far less valuable, then maybe they wouldn't be so previous with it. Instead of being really careful with a million dollar machine, what would happen if we let them loose in cars worth barely a tenth of that? Would we finally get to see Hooray Henry and Yahoo Yardley go door handle to door handle and complain abut what was on the stereo of each other's car?
It isn't even like it's an impossible dream either. The three Fiat 500s in last year's Bathurst 12 Hour proved that little cars can go the distance admirably. Why not give Marcus Ambrose a Ford Fiesta and watch him put the car through a four wheel drift through McPhillamy Park? What would be so bad about Craig Lowndes trying to struggle to pull up a Pug 208 at Murray's Corner from 200 plus clicks? More than fifty years ago, Timo Makinen rolled an Austin Mini Cooper S at Forrest's Elbow and once it was righted back onto four wheels, it ran like clockwork and only added 35 seconds to the lap. I very much doubt you could do that with an Audi R8.

The reason why things are as they are is because motor racing is an expensive business. Privateers who tend to be rich businessmen don't want to muck about in the cars of the plebs. The motor manufacturers themselves would rather play with their halo cars and bask in the apparent afterglow. That might work if you are a company like Mercedes-Benz or Jaguar who point to their history in Formula One and Le Mans but it was Subaru who most emphatically proved that street cred is built upon the dreams of normal people.
The famed WRX was originally based on their Impreza which was and still is a small family hack. I've written about this before but the Toyota 86 derives its name, not from some high end sports car but from the work code and opening VIN of a variant of their eighth generation Corolla. The AE86 Toyota Corolla Sprinter has achieved something of cult status because it was the last rear wheel drive Corolla and was perfect for touge racing.

There's a movie franchise which I think has got a perfect name: "Fast And Furious". I've not seen any of the seven films and so I can't comment on them but I can tell you from watching motor racing over many years that the most furious racing comes from a class of car which isn't necessarily the fastest.
I just reckon that if there was a 1000km or 12 Hour race for 1.5L cars, of the sort that normal people buy, it would have the necessary ingredients to produce something very tasty indeed. Who needs fine dining when you can have a kebab with chilli sauce?

I'm going to say something which almost sounds blasphemous to me. Given the right conditions, even a Toyota Yaris can sound cool:

If that's just one Yaris, imagine 50 cars like it. Whoever is in charge of motorsports in this country please...
Bring Back The Pusboxes!

January 12, 2015

Horse 1819 - Miranda Devine, David Hicks and Bad Journalism

But the Pentagon said late Friday that the charges had been dismissed. A brief statement cited rulings by an appeals court that material support is not a legitimate war crime under the law authorizing military commissions.
- Military Times, 10th Jan 2015

Subsequent to his commission proceedings, decisions by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in separate commissions cases established that it was legal error to try the offense of providing material support for terrorism before a military commission. The decisions of the D.C. Circuit are binding on commissions cases and the convening authority’s action to disapprove the findings and sentence in Muhammed’s case is required in the interests of justice and under the rule of law.
- US Dept of Defense, Release No: NR-013-15, 9th Jan 2015

It is one thing to plead guilty to a crime. It is quite another thing to plead guilty to a crime which doesn't actually exist. It's even worse to serve time and then be tortured after being arrested without charge and later have charges made up on legislation made after the event, for a crime which does not exist.
Yet this is precisely what has happened with David Hicks.

Back in 2007 David Hicks pleaded guilty to the single charge of “providing material support for terrorism” and was sent back home to Australia. A full seven years later, the US Dept of Defence and the  convening authority for military commissions has ruled that material support is not a legitimate war crime under the law.

The case of Noor Uthman Muhammed of Sudan provides a only a few short sentences but they are quite telling. Muhammed, a native of Sudan, pled guilty in February 2011 at a military commission to providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism.". It shouldn't take a casual observer like me to point out to governments that this is the same non-legitimate crime that Hicks was charged with. David Hicks for his efforts spent nine months in an Australian gaol, for that non-legitimate crime. Does anyone else see a problem here?

Apparantly not if you are a Daily Telegraph journalist.Let's think about comments made by professional dog-whistler Miranda Devine from an article in the Daily Telegraph on 13th December last year:

The opening two words are now technically incorrect aren't they? "Convicted terrorist"? Can you really be convicted for something which is not a legitimate war crime? Secondly, he wasn't actually charged as a "terrorist" but with providing material support for terrorism. I know that this is a matter of semantics but seemingly people like Miranda Devine as well as the then Prime Minister John Howard and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock have really problems with words like "illegitimate", "illegal" and even "error".

He could thank the Howard government for its successful lobbying to have him released early from Guantanamo Bay with a lenient sentence after he pleaded guilty to “providing material support to a terrorist organisation”. 
Let me reiterate this. If material support is not a legitimate war crime under the law then how is any sentence "lenient"? This is different to being charged with a crime you did not commit. This is being charged with something that isn't actually a crime and then being made to suffer for it.
Hicks was sold to US Special Forces for US$1000 by the Northern Alliance in December of 2001 and was in Guantanamo Bay for three years before any initial charges were laid in 2004. I just don't understand how under any possible definition that can be called being "released early".

No doubt he was treated roughly when he was captured by US troops in Afghanistan in December, 2001. He was an “enemy combatant” in a war zone, who had been extensively trained in al-Qaeda camps.
Ooh. Nice work here. If you omit some words, you change the meaning entirely. Hicks on the charge sheet was charged as:
a person subject to trial by military commission as an alien unlawful enemy combatant
- pg9  USMC, US v Hicks, Continuation of (MC Form 458) Charges and Specifications, 2nd Feb 2007

Never mind the fact that the term "unlawful enemy combatant" didn't actually exist until the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was passed. There is even doubt as to whether he was even actually in a war zone. Some reports suggested that he was being held captive by the Northern Alliance in the back of a truck.

Say what you like about the reasons why David Hicks was actually in Afghanistan but the fact remains that in theory both the United States and Australia purport to have at least a façade of the rule of law. If you're making up legislation after the event and upon subsequent testing of that legislation finding that the courts in question have no legal right to try a particular case, then it's really difficult to continue to say truthfully that the rule of law is being upheld.

Now I know that it probably isn't likely that someone from the Daily Telegraph is likely to look up a list of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to find out what will be heard in a month's time and I also know that this is an opinion piece and so probably shouldn't be held up to the same level of scrutiny as a news item but would it have made sense for Ms Devine to do at least a little bit of fact checking before this was published? Admittedly I don't like her journalism anyway but now it appears to be factually incorrect as well; that's bad journalism. 

January 10, 2015

Horse 1818 - Uzbekistan? Of Course You Can

Uzbekistan 1 - DP Korea 0
Sergeev 62'

Tonight's clash was between a side whose country has a reputation but the national football team does not and another country where its reputation is almost non-existent. Everyone knows about the Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) because it is run by a totally insane regime but virtually no one knows anything about Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan are setting to correct that anonymity on the football field; having made it to the quarter-finals or better of the Asian Cup in the last three tournaments. In this match, I'd expected Uzbekistan to run riot over North Korea but the men in red weren't having that.

Uzbekistan opened with a 4-4-2 and basically camped in the final third of the pitch for extended periods. They frequently prized apart North Korea's back line but consistently found that just because they could draw defenders out of position, they couldn't put anything through the defence. North Korea's central pair played compactly and orderly.
In the 14th minute, Uzbekistan's best chance of opening the scoring, came from a corner and Timur Kapadze's head, but it was deflected by a North Korean defender. North Korea's goalkeeper Ri Myong Guk also looked calm between the sticks and his athletics behind the back four ensured that the match remained scoreless going into the half-time break.

Not long after the second half began, the light rain which had been falling suddenly turned into a deluge and the pitch went from being billiard table felt to a damp kitchen sponge. Instead of the ball skimming nicely across the grass, it sort of squidged. This however caused zero changes to the intensity of the match and if anything, it brought out the technical aspects of the two sides. If anyone wants to know where the Aral Sea has gone, it came to Sydney tonight.

The breakthough finally came when Sardor Rashidov broke down the left flank and crossed to Igor Sergeev who duly headed it past the flailing keeper in the 62nd minute. North Korea immediate stepped up from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 and brought on Chol-Song Om to partner Pak Kwang-Ryong up front.
North Korea though, looked hesitant on the ball when they did make it into the opposition's 18 yard box and that hesitation mean that when they did finally pull the trigger to shoot, the Uzbeki defence was already sorted.
Deep into extra time Pak Kwang-Ryong almost stole back a point as he headed a corner but the hands of Uzbeki keeper Ignatiy Nesterov were as safe as a bank vault - no one would get inside today.

Uzbekistan can be happy with their 1-0 victory and securing the opening points in Group B but if they want to continue further in the tournament, they'll need to shoot from somewhere slightly closer. North Korea lost this match through a case of timidity and not having enough players drive forward on the counter attack. They need to find an ants' next and sit on it for a while - anything to make them a little bit more angry and less timid.

Horse 1817 - The 114th Congress: The Congress of Veto

The 114th United States Congress which was voted for on November 4 last year, began its first sitting session on Tuesday.
Among the first bills that the US House of Representatives passed was a bill approving the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline:

The US House has passed a bill approving the construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.
The Senate is expected to pass a similar bill soon, which President Barack Obama has said he will veto.
Earlier in the day, a court in Nebraska dismissed a case that would have stalled construction of the pipeline. The project has been one of the most contentious issues between Mr Obama and Republicans who now lead Congress.
- BBC News, 9th Jan 2015

What I find most interesting about this, is that President Obama has said that he intends to veto the bill. I don't really care about the politics of the bill to be honest or the shouting match that is the US Congress because that just seems to me to be like Rangers versus Celtic - hooray, boo, hooray, boo - at least Rangers and Celtic fans go home after 90 minutes.
The veto, is an interesting feature of US politics and is a direct result of a partisan method of electing the head of state.

Mechanically, the way legislation passes through the US Congress is identical to that of Westminster parliaments. A bill gets read and debated three times in the lower house before passing to the upper house where it is also read and debated three times. If it passes both houses, it is passed to the head of state or their representative (in the US, the President does the same job as the Queen or Governor-General) and once it is signed off on, it is law.
You'd think that this would cause all sorts of problems but there is a safeguard which allows a two-thirds supermajority to override the president's veto.

I took a look back through the lists of numbers of the House and Senate over the past 100 years¹ and then compared that with a list of Presidents of The United States² and found that of the 54 congresses since 1909 and the presidency of William Taft, only 16 of 54 congresses have been such that one of the houses had a majority different to that of the president. 38 of 54 congresses were openly "friendly" to the president.
This is hardly surprising though. Due to the election cycle of the United States, one half of the Senate and all the Representatives are elected at the same time as the president. During the mid-terms, one half of the Senate and all the Representatives are elected. It means that for the majority of first term presidents, they start with a friendly congress.
It follow that with a friendly congress, there shouldn't need to be a veto, right? Wrong!

In that 100 year time frame, there were 1608 times when the president exercised a veto on legislation. 1256 of those or 78.1% of the time, the president exercised a veto on legislation that came from a "friendly" congress. It was only 352 times or 21.8% of the time, the president exercised a veto on legislation that came from a "hostile" congress.

I think that the 112th and 113th Congress illustrate perfectly why this should be the case.
The 80th Congress was nicknamed the "Do Nothing" Congress by Harry Truman when it only passed 906 bills.
The gridlock on capital hill was so bad recently that the 112th Congress passed 283 bills and the 113th Congress passed 296 bills. Add those together and you still only get 579; which combined is still well short of the "Do Nothing" Congress.
President Obama has only vetoed 2 bills in three congresses. I think it stands to reason that if bills aren't even escaping the congress, they never even get the chance to be vetoed.

This is why I think that the 114th Congress will be different to the other three in Obama's presidency. For the first time, he doesn't just have a friendly or deadlocked congress but one that's openly hostile. Over the long run, only 21.8% of vetoes have come from openly hostile congresses but I suspect that the next two years might be as fractured as Nixon's term as presidency. The congress will try everything and the 114th Congress just might be the one for record vetos... at least before the presidential primaries begin in 2016.


January 06, 2015

Horse 1816 - Amazing Grace (Amazing Goof by Channel 9)

 Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed
- Amazing Grace, John Newton (1779)

Did you listen to that? Channel 9 have done some crafty edits haven't they? Instead of:
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed

They decide to run with:
How precious did that Grace appear
As long as life endures.

Not only is that a like from a different part of the hymn (because Channel 9 clearly can't stand the whole idea of a song having anything to do with faith in God) but it doesn't make any grammatical sense.
I'm sure that many soldiers at Gallipoli probably knew Amazing Grace but really, this hymn almost seems out of place. The hymn seems to me to be as Australian as Apple Pie and Toad In The Hole.
The story behind the hymn Amazing Grace is worth telling by itself.

The author John Newton himself was a curious character. He among a host of career choices, worked on board slave ships in the Royal Navy. Always a song writer, Newton was told off and reprimanded on several occasions for inventing songs that were ever more profane and debauched. John Newton did use language which made sailors blush and upon the tip of his pen, smut was a market that he could not glut.
Apparently whilst on watch on board his ship the Greyhound, a storm grew up so violently that he and another ships' mate tied themselves to the ship's pump whilst other crew were swept overboard in the north Atlantic. He wrote in his autobiography that he challenged God and said "If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!"; then after taking the wheel, spent the next eleven hours in an Atlantic storm thinking about that challenge before landing in Ireland.

After marrying a family friend called Polly, he spent the next few voyages as captain and found it ever difficult to leave her before tossing in his career in the Royal Navy and then turning his life around 180° to study Latin and Greek before finally being converted and following the God he had mocked in the navy. He would go on to become a bishop and write many hymns including "Amazing Grace" which was published in a collection for his local curate in the Buckinghamshire market town of Olney in 1779.
Even more amazing was that over the next few decades, John Newton would meet up an work with William Wilberforce in the fight for the abolition of slavery; which would culminate in the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act 1807 - an irony considering that he had been captain of slave ships just a few decades earlier.
It also found its way into Harriet Beecher Stowe's anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852.

Now I know that Channel 9 are free to take a song in the public domain and use it any way they wish but I suspect that whoever compiled this montage only thought of the aesthetic aspects of the song; certainly they cared not for either the spiritual or cultural associations that the song has.
What made this advert ever more jarring tonight was that NITV was running the PBS Series "The Abolitionists"¹ and so I instantly made the connection with the song... for the wrong station.
Well done Channel 9.


January 05, 2015

Horse 1815 - Playing With The Numbers - 2015 UK General Election

On May 7th which is St Louise's Day (St Loiuse being the patron saint of Cheese - Cheese Louise), the still United for now Kingdom goes to the polls for a general election.

I've been plugging some numbers into the BBC's website calculator¹ from 5 years ago and have turned up some interesting results.

Currently the lie of the land is as follows:
306 seats - Conservatives
258 seats - Labour
57 seats - Liberal Democrat
29 seats - Others

In the election of 2005, the Conservatives were 20 seats short of a majority in their own right and so David Cameron entered into a coalition with Nick Clegg to secure the votes required from the Liberal Democrats to supply in the Commons and that has been in place for five years.
Things aren't so rosy in coalition land though, as over the past five years there's been riots in London and a general feeling that the people just aren't happy with the arrangement.

One of the Conservatives first acts was to honour a promise to the Liberal Democrats to switch to a preferential voting system like we have in Australia. They then made sure that that promise was more or less pointless by running a very loud NO campaign against the proposal; it duly fell over.

Had the AV system been adopted then the landscape would have been markedly different. As it is though, I think that the Liberal Democrats (who for the past five years have been seen as lapdogs and have been only given second-rate cabinet posts) will face political oblivion.

Lets imagine for a second that a purely proportional representation system had been adopted across the UK as a single constituency. The numbers would have fallen as follows in the 2010 election:
234 seats - Conservatives
189 seats - Labour
150 seats - Liberal Democrat
77 seats - Others

Clearly such an arrangement would have been interesting but this is only the stuff of fantasy.

Curiously, if we plug the actual percentages of the various parties' vote share into the election calculator for 2010 of 36.1% Con, 29.0% Lab, 23.0% Lib-Dem and 11.9% Others, we get the following results:
291 seats - Conservatives
266 seats - Labour
64 seats - Liberal Democrat
29 seats - Others

This still would have required a coalition to be formed because neither the Conservatives or Labour would win the necessary 326 seats to form government.

The situation for the Lib-Dems however is dire. If we take the latest opinion polls from YouGov/The Sun² (which usually has its finger on the pulse) and we plug in the results of 32.0% Con, 35.0% Lab, 9.0% Lib-Dem and 24.0% Others, we get the following results:

231 seats - Conservatives
360 seats - Labour
30 seats - Liberal Democrat
29 seats - Others

This nominally suggests a swing away from both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats; thus giving Labour a majority in their own right and hence, government.

Now I know that playing with calculator toys can give you any result you desire but I still think that the result is at least instructive. Asking Uncle Wiki³ (who is Uncle Google's younger brother) yields the answer that you have to go all the way back to about Christmas 2010 to find a consistent streak of polls which put the Conservatives in front of Labour on a two-party basis. Since then, there's mainly been a wall of red.
Actually if you look through the long streaks, Labour gains a wee bit of a peak just after the handing down of the budget in March and the election which is held in May, might coincide with another one of those cyclical peaks. If Labour tracks in the low 40s in May, they'll almost certainly win back government and if the Lib-Dems are currently tracking in single digits, who knows what will happen in May?
I wouldn't be surprised if the Lib-Dems though. don't even get 30 seats in the next parliament. Who knows, maybe Vince Cable will return as leader simple because he's the last senior member left standing.

The dark horse of the election might be UKIP, who on the back of MPs defecting from the Conservatives have already won two seats in the Commons in by-elections. They might pick up a few seats from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and win seats in a general election for the very first time.

This early though, I'm leaning towards a Labour government being returned in May; with Ed Miliband as Prime Minister; that's a weird weird thought. All he needs to do really is run an election campaign with three words "Protect The NHS" and he's more or less assured of victory.
Actually I think that a shopkeeper's dog could lead the Labour Party to victory... that sounds strangely familiar.


January 03, 2015

Horse 1814 - Snow White and The Seven SUV Dwarves

Wiseman's Ferry in Sydney's north, is named after Solomon Wiseman who was sentenced to death for stealing wood from a lighter barge but had that commuted to Transportation For Life to the penal colony of New South Wales. After being given a ticket of leave and eventually a pardon, he was granted a lease on 200 acres of land and convinced the governor to send a road through his estate. Wiseman's Ferry which dates from 1826 is the oldest ferry crossing in Australia and is the home of a small community built around the ferry crossing.
By small, we mean very small. Apart from a Post Office, a pub, a police station, a primary school, a golf course, a bowling club, a park and a few shops selling the mandatory tat that tourist traps do, there isn't terribly much else. Tourists travel to Wiseman's Ferry primarily for the entertainment of going on the ferry.
Earlier this week, Mrs Rollo and I braved temperatures in which if you stepped into open sunlight you'd spontaneously combust and had a picnic in the park at Wiseman's Ferry. But it was in the carpark of the park that I noticed something.

Apart from the utes towing boats and an abundance of Camrys, the rest of the car park was a sort of showroom for SUVs. Just like the Holy Roman Empire which was neither Holy, or Roman and not an Empire, the only Sport that the people in these vehicles did was flinging birds into towers constructed by pigs or matching three different kinds of lollies (I refuse to use the word candy unless it refers to electric goods¹) and the only Utility that the vehicles had was carrying bored children.

Some time in between bursting into flames from the heat of the sun and melting into the car park, I noticed that all the major luxury brands of SUV were represented but there was nothing from Ford or Holden. These people could have bought Australian made but chose not to. Instead, their BMWs were built in Russia. their Mercedes were built in Indonesia and their Audis were built in Slovakia. Still, I suppose that's what comes of wanting a car with a German badge on.
In an attempt to try to add some sort of personality to these luxo-barges, I thought about applying the labels of the seven deadly sins but all I could come up with was avarice. Then it hit me, maybe these aren't the seven deadly sins but the seven deadly dwarves:

Grumpy - Audi: Q3, Q5 and especially Q7
Audi drivers generally aren't cool enough to have bought something fun like a Jaguar or Ferrari and especially around Mosman, they like to drive at a distance of four inches behind you. Audi drivers are renown for their liberal use of the horn, which is sometimes accompanied by hand signals; without most fingers.

Sleepy - Mercedes-Benz ML-Class
Mercedes-Benz has for a very long time built tired cars for tired people. Mostly M-Bs are under-powered for their size and this means that if someone puts their foot down in one, the drive-by-wire systems on board will send that instruction to an electronic "traction control" which is a euphemism for a committee, which will then take five months to deliberate. This is helpful as little Tarquin and Jacinta who are strapped into toddler seats with more straps than a mountaineer, are fragile beings who don't like to be jerked about by wild movements.

Dopey - BMW X1, X3 and X5
BMW make excellent cars which are soured by the sorts of people who drive them. It is usually M3s and now M4s which cut in front of buses on the Warringah Freeway and BMWs which move between lanes into spaces no wider than a credit card without indicating.
Their X line up are for people who didn't realise that the Touring versions of the 3-er and the 5-er have more power than Lucas Heights Nuclear Reactor but still want a BMW badge on their car to tell the world what sort of people they are. At Wiseman's Ferry I saw an X5 parked on the diagonal across three spaces.

Doc - Porsche Cayenne
Porsches generally are bought by people who think that they run the world (when in actual fact, they drive M-Bs); as such, Porsches are driven in such a way as to suggest that they own the road.
"I'm the boss; I'm the king; I'm the one who knows everything"... except that a Porsche Cayenne is basically a reskinned VW Touareg and for the same price you could have had an 850Nm planet-shifting 5-Litre V10 under the bonnet. How sad.

Bashful - Infiniti QX
Do I deserve a luxury car? I want to be different but I hope no-one notices me. I've bought a car that no-one knows exactly what it is and when I said the name, they thought I'd bought a refridgerator.

Sneezy - Range Rover
Once upon a time, Range Rovers were the only SUV. Range Rover though, doesn't call them an SUV because it knows that they're bought by members of the horsey set. Range Rovers often drive across showgrounds and fields but because they're built in Solihull which may as well be Birmingham, then like all cars built in Britain, they come with random faults pre-built in.
Range Rover drivers are often sneezing because of dud air-conditioning or hayfever or horse smells.

Happy - Land Rover, Nissan Patrol, Mitsubishi Pajero, Toyota HiLux and Landcruiser 70
These are the sorts of people who bought something because they want to get them dirty. Land Rovers (even the Discos) are often seen wearing a coat of mud to the door sills. These are the vehicles which tow boats, which ford creeks and rivers and drive to places where the roads are a serving suggestion. I like these Four Wheel Drives. One does not simply walk into Mordor - that's stupid - you drive a Nissan Patrol there.

¹ http://www.candy-domestic.co.uk - Candy, former sponsors of Toleman F1 and Liverpool FC

January 02, 2015

Horse 1813 - The Commonwealth Seniors Health Card - The Sky Is Falling

Isn't this amusing? A detail which was tabled in the Federal Budget handed down by Treasurer Joe Hockey almost 9 months ago¹ suddenly became headline news front and centre when the changes actually came into effect. Channels 9 and 7 ran their usual emotive bleeding heart stories and SBS² ran a matter of fact story about the changes.
Before we start running from side to side like brainless sheep and like Chicken Licken³ yelling "The sky is falling!", maybe it's a good idea to actually read what the changes to the The Commonwealth Seniors Health Card actually are.

To wit:
The Commonwealth Seniors Health Card is subject to an income test that includes:
adjusted taxable income, which is indexed on 20 September each year, and
a deemed amount from account based income streams
There is no assets test.

You should have an annual income of less than:
- $51,500 for singles
- $82,400 for couples combined, or
- $103,000 for couples combined, couples separated by illness or respite care, or where one partner is in prison
The income limit is increased by $639.60 for each dependent child you care for.
- Dept of Human Services, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, as at 2nd Jan 2015

I should point out here that if the rate of return on capital over the long run is roughly 5% and you have more than about $1m in capital that isn't the family home, then that should generate roughly $50000 a year in income. If you can't survive on that as a retired person who presumably doesn't have the extra expenses that come with a daily commute, then quite frankly, you are a wastrel.
To generate $82,400 a year (if you are a couple) requires a pool of capital of $1,648,000. Now this isn't means tested and obviously can not include the family home anyway because no-one's own house generates an income.
I would like someone to show me how a couple with a free $1,648,000 in capital is doing badly.

Including superannuation assets in SMSFs as part of means tested assets might sound unfair until you realise that the reason why people set up SMSFs is to reduce taxation expenses. The truth is that they don't even begin to make sense until the capital quarantined in them is at least $250,000 because at that point, the expense of getting an SMSF audited starts to be become more efficient that the management expenses of retail and wholesale super funds.
Again, with an SMSF which only had $250,000 in it, then at 5% it would only be generating $12,500 which is well under the means test for singles, let alone a couple.
If one partner happens to be separated by illness or respite care or is in prison, then the amount of capital required to hit the limit for the means test is $2.06 million. Again I ask how a couple with a free $2,060,000 in capital is doing badly.

I know I'm going to sound callous and cruel here but the point remains that means testing benefits is in principle a good idea. The very poor needn't worry because they'll always fall within most means tests and the very rich needn't worry because their capital should be able to provide a fairly decent income in retirement (that is after all the very point of superannuation). It is really only those people who fall on the cusps of the means tests who begin to get worried and those sorts of people who either feel a sense of entitlement or those who are actively trying to game the system who feel slighted.
This is quite apart from the fact that in the year 2053 when I retire, I think that this sort of thing will be academic anyway because I think that there's only a 50:50 chance at best that there'll even be a government pension or senior's card in existence. The days of what's left of the welfare state, I think are numbered - Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.
In the meantime, the sky isn't falling and I think that this is a perfectly sensible piece of legislation.

¹ http://www.smh.com.au/business/federal-budget/tighter-rules-placed-on-health-card-20140513-388d5.html - Sydney Morning Herald, 14th May 2014. The budget was handed down on 13th May.
³Chicken Licken, Henny Penny, Chicken Little, Goosey Loosey, Ducky Lucky and Foxy Woxy all thought that the sky was falling.

January 01, 2015

Horse 1812 - Read About Reading

On a fairly recent episode of QI, Stephen Fry asked the audience if they'd read George Orwell's book "1984". When they put their hands up and answered 'yes', the sirens went off and the audience lost ten points. Apparently if you ask most people if they have read it, they will answer in the affirmative even though they haven't actually done so. Even though this was a nerdy audience, when asked if they'd actually read the book, most people hadn't.
If I'd been in that audience, then I could answer 'yes' and be truthful. Mind you, I've also read "Animal Farm", "Keep The Aspidistra Flying", "On The Road To Wigan Pier", "Why I Write" and "The Lion And The Unicorn" by George Orwell as well.

I'm currently reading through Thomas Piketty's book "Capital In The Twenty First Century" and whilst I'm finding the text quite enjoyable, I've heard that many people didn't and the book according to Amazon, is the most downloaded but unfinished book of 2014.
I had a discussion with JJ after church not too long ago and learnt that he is currently on a read through of the Bible and is currently in the forests of dullness that is the book of Numbers. Let's be totally honest about this, the books of 1 & 2 Samuel or Nehemiah are more interesting as a narrative and there's nothing necessarily wrong with holding such an opinion. The first ten chapters of 1 Chronicles are nothing more than X begat Y begat Z et cetera et cetera et cetera...

Before this turns into a lament about how people don't read any more, I thought that it might be fun to look at the reverse question - not why people aren't reading but about why some people always seem to read more.

Admittedly I do a fair amount of reading on the train. In the days before tablet computers and even before iDevices and WalkPeople, people read an extraordinary amount. Australia before about 1990 was the world's biggest consumer of magazines; The Daily Telegraph in Sydney used to boast a circulation of 1.1 million which meant that even more than 1 in 4 people bought a copy. The most obvious reason I can think of for this is that Sydney is a city of only about 4 million people but it is eighty miles across and eighty miles north to south; the people who traverse this vast expanse of suburbia need to do something with their time. Sydney used to be a city full of readers; not so much any more as tablet computers become ubiquitous.

I've found that whilst on holiday though, I've done a fair amount of reading. Now I could go on to mention some overly romantic notion of how I like learning or something but the underlying motive here is entertainment, pure and simple. Like watching television you are pretty well much chained to the spot whilst reading and so that's not really relevant but unlike watching television, you aren't constrained by the rules of their time. A television or radio program or a film, is governed by the time that the producers have laid out but with a book you can dawdle, stop, come back, get a cup of tea or sit for hours turning pages.
I could also spout some sort of nonsense about how reading lets you draw pictures in your mind but I think that's pushing it a little too far. Granted, an author will use a turn of phrase or selected words to paint a picture but if a picture is worth a thousand words, television must write millions; so that just doesn't seem valid to me.

No, I think that a lot of fun in reading a book is derived from the fact that a book requires work. I think it's fair to say that if you've put the effort into reading something instead of just having a television show wash a bunch of images over you, that amount of effort results in a higher rate of engagement. There is probably more personal value in reading something for three months than watching a movie. I would suggest that that is why Harry Potter or The Lord Of The Rings series were so highly anticipated and attended; the same goes for The Hunger Games and the Twilight Saga. I haven't read most of these books but the people who have, would see the films as kind of a reward for something they'd already spent months reading. It probably also explains why Sherlock, Poirot, Father Brown, The Hunt For Red October or The Ten Commandments have a following.

People don't read because reading requires work. I like reading because of the reward that comes as a result of reading. I think that's the crux of all this but I don't know. I might have to read more on the subject.

December 31, 2014

Horse 1811 - How and Why "Monopoly" Works

The game of Monopoly has its origins back in 1903 when an Illinois lady, Elizabeth Magie, first published "The Landlords' Game" to teach "a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences."¹
Monopoly went through a few changes before Parker Brothers published the game in 1935 but from that date has remained largely the same. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to the British Edition with street names from London.

At the beginning of the game, each player receives £1500 to start with. Assuming that no-one ever bought any property, never landed on Chance or Community Chest, never landed on Income Tax or Super Tax and never went to jail², then the economy would grow initially at 13.33% as people passed Go and collected a salary. As each £200 from passing Go is added to the total economy, then the economy's total capital would grow but there is zero growth in salaries. This means to suggest that in Monopoly, peak salaries occur right at the beginning of the game and that wages is something of an illusory effect.
That 13.33% is perhaps the single most important reason why the game of Monopoly works and that in the long run (unless a state of equilibrium is reached) that the game will have an outcome.

Monopoly (which calls itself a 'Property Trading Board Game' on the box), begins to start to be interesting only after property is bought and sold.
The rate of return on capital for all properties on the board in unimproved states is less than initial salaries growth. Even the most expensive property Mayfair, which boasts an unimproved rent of £50, still only returns 12.50% on £400.

Due to the fact that all rents are doubled if one owns all of a colour group (and which is the first condition to improve property), 19 of the 22 improvable properties will achieve better than the 13.33% return as salaries. This might sound insignificant but cuts right to the heart of why the game works.
If the return on capital outstrips the return from salaries, then in the long run, the game should have an inbuilt process of capital condensation and it does. The average return on capital in the game of Monopoly for all circumstances is 58.17% which is more than four times that on salaries.
Find properties and conditions that do better than a 58.17% return on capital and provided you can weather all storms, you should have a good chance of winning.

I should point something out here. The Utilities and the Railways are rubbish properties to own. Even if you owned all four Railways, the return on capital is still only 20.00% and the two Utilities aren't much better at 23.33% in the long run.
For an outlay of £1000, the return on the railways is 20.00%. For £970, you could own all of the sky blue group (The Angel, Euston Rd and Pentonville Rd) and the worst rate of return of those three is 157.14%. Even just one house on the sky blue group will return 20.00% at worst.
For the record, the greatest rate of return on outlay is Pentonville Rd at 162.16% whilst Mayfair with a hotel will only return 142.86% (Vine St on the opposite corner is practically identical in terms of rates of return).

I had a look at Chance and Community Chest cards and whilst they might seem like fun, they contribute practically nothing to the overall economy of the game. Except for being assessed for street repairs (which are both leakages from the economy), the net effect of both Chance and Community Chest is only an identical injection of £8.75 for both cases.
Most of the Chance and Community Chest cards have the effect of shifting minor amounts of capital around the board to different players, with the biggest possible effect being a windfall of £350 being collected for Opera Tickets if eight people are playing (the net effect to the overall economy is still nil though).

The basic reason why the game of Monopoly works is simple though. The game reaches a tipping point when the amount of new capital being added to the game is less than the rate of return on capital. That point happens very quickly once properties are formed into groups and accelerates once houses and hotels are built on them.
Except for the case of equilibrium where a small players have roughly the same amount of capital and aren't willing to solidify their capital into assets, the game should run to that point where capital returns outstrip salary returns pretty quickly.

Moreover, Elizabeth Magie's "The Landlords' Game" actually does work in the real world to some degree. If the rate of capital accumulation outstrips wages growth, then wealth condensation will happen. Apart from some major calamity where mass physical destruction of capital takes place, like Two World Wars for instance, then the game of Monopoly isn't a game any more. It's real.

¹ http://lvtfan.typepad.com/lvtfans_blog/2011/01/lizzie-magie-1902-commentary-the-landlords-game.html
² despite 'gaol' being the preferred spelling across the Commonwealth