June 28, 2014

Horse 1705 - One Sunny Summer's Day In Sarajevo

Much has been written about the causes of World War one, and it must be noted that as a result of the First Balkan War, the Balkan League (Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece) drove out the Ottoman Empire; and the Second Balkan War which saw Bulgaria attack its former allies, probably laid down more root causes for yet another conflict in Eastern Europe than anything else.

The reason why Franz Ferdinand was in Sarajevo in the first place, was as part of a state tour which included opening a new museum and observing military maneuvers in his capacity as Inspector General of the Armed Forces of Austria-Hungary. Basically, the job was seen as being beneath that of the Archduke's wife, Sophie, the daughter of Emperor Franz Joseph, for her to officially represent the imperial family.
Perhaps justifiably, the people of Serbia, didn't particularly like the imposition of yet another foreign power exerting control over what they thought should their lands (or at least their slavic cousins' lands) and so when word got out that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was going on his tour which was kind of semi-deliberately designed to give the locals the angries, a Slavic nationalist by the name of Gavrilo Princip, was one of a group of about seven people called the Black Hand who intended to change Franz Ferdinand from being still alive to not still alive. All of them were armed beyond anything remotely reasonable; some had grenades and high-powered rifles. If Princip wasn't the one who was going to do Franz Ferdinand in, then at some point, one of the rest of them would have.
Princip would later state at his trial in which he would be sent to prison for 20 years (being seven days too young to be given the death penalty) that:
"I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be freed from Austria."
Gavrilo Princip would later die in prison from tuberculosis; most likely as a result of the conditions in prison.

From what I understand from here on, the chain of events was that war happened between Serbia and Austria-Hungary, Serbia called for the help of Russia, Austria-Hungary called for the help of Germany in preparation to stop Russia who were sort of allied with Serbia, Germany asked France if it would remain neutral if it declared war against Russia and France said "non", Germany declared war on Russia and the declared and alliance with the Ottomans and then after France stated that it would not remain neutral, declared war on France.
Get it? Got it? Good.

Germany tried to exact a plan called the Schlieffen Plan which involved marching through the Low Countries of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg before marching into Paris but the English didn't stand for that and came to the ally of France and the Low Countries and the whole affair basically came to a grinding halt, that spat out millions of dead bodies, killed a great deal of the working classes of most of Europe and would sow the seeds for World War 2.
During all of this, chemists on both sides invented ever more evil ways of killing people, the influenza virus, poor sanitation and poor medical facilities to deal with the wounded ended up killing more people than machine guns ever could and a lot of moustachioed generals got a heap of shiny medals to pin on themselves.

If all of this sounds like an over-simplification of a conflict which raged on for four years, then it probably is; but be mindful of the fact that virtually none of it really makes any sense at all.

I personally think that choosing to fight for one's country is among the most noble of professions and it incenses me when commanders and particularly politicians invoke nationalism, patriotism and religion in the name of sending other people's noble children to fight in foreign lands. I wish that I could find the quote, but I read somewhere that mens' lives are the coin of the realm of the battlefield and that that is how you buy territory and tactical advantage.
Well I'm sorry but I'm pretty sure that the parents of even the most heroic sons, would still prefer to have their little Billy returned safely home to them, than a small teak box and a Victoria Cross with the words Sgt. William Jones in place of him, if he lies dead somewhere in a field which in five years time will become the home of sheep and cows.
One of the biggest lessons of the First World War that should be really really obvious and writ large in crimson letters of the blood of almost 40 million people is that if only people had thought just a little bit harder and longer and not engaged in so-called "military diplomacy" then none of it need ever have happened.

If Franky Ferdy had got out of bed one day in June of 1914 and thought "You know what, I don't really need to annoy all these people. I think I might go home to Vienna for some tea, biscuits and Sachertorte", then June 28, 1914 might just have been another sunny summer's day in Sarajevo.

June 27, 2014

Horse 1704 - Burying Boring Things

Approval was given several months ago for an tower with sixteen apartments in it, on Military Road in Mosman and work started with a great big hole being dug for the carparks and elevator services.
Somewhere at the bottom of the hole is a bobcat of some sort and I was speaking to a workman who looked like a foreman or something, about what would happen to the bobcat. He said that a deeper hole would be dug at the bottom of the building site, that the bobcat would be pushed into the hole and then backfilled.
Quite frankly I find the idea that you'd take a perfectly useful bobcat and merely bury it to be grossly wasteful but I suppose that as this is purely a commercial decision, that it must somehow be cheaper to do that than to retrieve it and reuse it. The entire cost of the bobcat must somehow be written into the construction budget and be as easily written off as say the cost of concrete or steel reinforcement rods which go into the construction of the building.

I had heard of this sort of thing before though. I remember reading that the tunnel boring machines for the new  North West Rail Link which is being driven into the ground at Bella Vista in October later this year, will go along its merry way; in principles of tunnel boring which remain virtually unchanged since Isambard Kingdom Brunel used a shield method to excavate the Thames Tunnel, and later improved on by James Henry Greathead for the  City & South London Railway in 1884.
The boring machines will travel along quite slowly in front of a shield whilst the tunnel walls are being built behind it. This means of course that the width of the hole which is being bored through the ground, must by definition become smaller as the walls of the tunnel are built; so the boring machine, can not be reversed.
Since the machine can not be reversed, when it gets to the end of its job, it does a sharp turn and bores a hole big enough to bury itself underground and is simply just left there.

What I find both mind-blowingly bonkers and interesting to ponder, is that for every major city in the world, there must be thousands of bobcats, power shovels and other hardware which is left as discarded rubbish underground. All of that stuff is kind of like the industrial equivalent of detritus, left behind by the rotting carcasses of animals.
This concept of leaving building equipment behind, even found its way into children's literature. The picture book Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton and published in 1939, has Mike Mulligan's steam shovel Mary Anne, left behind at the bottom of the cellar pit that they dug for the new town hall. Rather than dig out a ramp,  Mary Anne is converted into the boiler for the town hall's central heating system.

I suppose that archaeologists in the year 4014 will probably get really excited when they find all of our rubbish and discards as they write their history pieces on twentieth and twenty-first century commercialism but I worry about people whose job it is to provide underground services like stormwater, electric and gas conduits, or even underground railways. They'll have to know where all this sort of rubbish is buried and I seriously doubt whether these sorts of records are being kept.
I wouldn't for instance like to be part of a tunnel excavation team for the brand new Abbott Line with its proposed nine car underground trains running every 7 minutes and have a 200 year old bobcat suddenly break through the ceiling.

June 26, 2014

Horse 1703 - Europe's Mad Money - Minus Interest Rates and Money Which Is Cheaper Than Free

With effect from 11 Jun 2014: −0.10

The European Central Bank which is headquartered in Frankfurt, has decided to take the incredibly unusual step of reducing interest rates from 0 to -0.1%. Let me just re-phrase that - the ECB has decided that its lending rate to banks is less than zero, which means that they will not have to pay back as much as they have borrowed.
To be honest I was shocked when I heard this and my initial reaction was that the bankers had decided to take an extended holiday to Cloud-cuckoo-land; visiting Wicker Basket and Lower Bonkers.

One of the levers which the ECB and indeed any central banking system can pull if it wants to regulate the economy is that of Monetary Policy. By fiddling with interest rates it can either create a drive for people to borrow more or less money, depending on what their future expectations are. By lowering the official interest rate to less than zero, it sends a symbolic message across Europe.

Banks generally like to park their funds in at least some form of ultra secure deposit facility. Europe was hit by the Global Financial Crisis particularly hard and some countries like Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain have made some banks reticent about extending credit.

Lowering interest rates to less than zero should have the effect that banks pull their funds out from being parked at the ECB and make them want to lend them out; after all, it its now costing them less than zero to borrow money, they can lend it out, even interest free and still turn a profit.
This in turn should have the effect of increasing aggregate demand for investment funding which is a net injection into the economy and therefore lead to an increase in consumer spending, which in itself has various multiplier effects which are expansionary on aggregate incomes and GDP.

The two most obvious injections into economies are either Government Spending or Investment Spending; since some governments across Europe are already carrying debts of more than 100% of their respective GDPs, then they aren't going to be particularly likely to want to borrow even more money themselves; since those injections of funds have to come from somewhere, the ECB has decided that it should be from private enterprise.
The other major reason why Government Spending isn't particularly likely at the moment, is that European politics has for the moment shifted to the right. Whilst countries like France and the Low Countries aren't particularly likely to privatise more infrastructure, places like Britain has; Britain has even taken tougher steps by trying to cut back on education and welfare spending. Moreover, Europeans are generally distrustful of a very large central European governmental system, and this has been reflected by hard-right and anti-Europe parties being elected as MEPs across Europe.
When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains however improbable, must be the answer here. Since expecting governments to spend money and create expansionary effects on the economy, then what else is the ECB supposed to do?

The other thing of note is that during periods of decreased consumer confidence, people tend to want to save more of their money to help them weather the storm. Savings by definition are not spent and are a leakage from the circular flow of money. Does increased saving lead to an increase in the available funds for investment and therefore the amount of investment spending? You'd think so but no; or at least not immediately.
To a great extent, economies are run by highly irrational people's brainwaves; the term "animal spirits" has been used from time to time to describe this. Investment spending isn't always driven by the cool drive to turn profits; some of it does require a turn of optimism. A downturn in confidence and optimism can have the effect of slowing economies and causing fiscal stagnation and constipation, and this is obviously what the ECB sees at the moment. It wants general inflation to run at about 2% to keep prices and demand ticking along.

Rather than force banks and governments through regulation which may or may not work, the ECB has basically decided that it is going to encourage the banks to lend money by discouraging them to park their money with them - your money doesn't have to go home but it can't stay here. Time will in fact tell if this mad theory even works at all because it may even have the bizarre effect of simply lining the pockets of Europe's banks. They may cynically take up the offer and not lend out anything but just borrow the funds and then pocket the 0.1% difference in bankers' bonuses.
But in these crazy times of starting sentences with conjunctions and ending them prepositions which is not something with which we shall not put. The European Central Bank must do something. This is something. Therefore it must do this.

June 25, 2014

Horse 1702 - Comparing Apples and Oranges

As a client pointed out yesterday, comparing apples and oranges isn't as idiomatically incomparable as is made out.
Both are:
- fruits
- grown in orchards
- have seeds
- can be juiced
- are about the same size
- cost roughly about the same
It would be better to compare apples and cement mixers or as he pointed out, or as in the equivalent the Polish phrase which means to compare gingerbread and windmills.

What I found to be really strange is that from a botanical viewpoint, you can compare oranges with cashews, some kinds of chestnuts, both frankincense and myrrh, and even maple trees.
Apples on the other hand are in the Rosaceae family which includes Roses but also, pears, plums, apricots, peaches, almonds, photnias and hawthorns.
Even more bizarre was that in Roman, oranges were callled pomum aurantium or literally golden appple; this is similar to Hebrew where they're called tapuakh zahav (also golden apple).

Now to put this into some sort of context, this came up in relation to a company which had basically short changed its employees out of a 2% pay increase whilst at the same time paid out a dividend to its directors which was roughly seven times the amount that the pay increase would have cost the company.
Again we have an issue where two things which supposedly can not be compared, aren't as idiomatically incomparable as is made out.
One of the handy things about money is that it's directly comparable. One would even argue that the existence of money as a store of value and a measure of value is the very reason why all sorts of things are directly comparable. An apple that is worth 18 cents costs more than an orange which only costs 14 cents. Not only can you make direct comparisons, but you can plan out out many you'd like to purchase and... (my notes at this point spiral off into a tangent of rage).
When you are talking about making a comparison between a wage and a dividend, the direct comparison can be made to the exact dollar. Not only are comparing things which are not apples and oranges, or even apples and other apples, it's the same as comparing identical apples. The argument being made was that a dividend isn't the same as wages because they're inherently different things but when the decision to pay one or the other rests with exactly the same person, it is a bit of a stretch to then suggest that they're so different as with the idiomatic apples and oranges that they absolutely can not be compared.

What should have been said is that the owner of the orchard decided that their workers shouldn't have the share of apples or oranges that they were promised; rather that saying that comparing dividends and wages is like comparing apples and oranges and are idiomatically incomparable.

June 24, 2014

Horse 1701 - And you will contribute a verse... What will your verse be?

O ME! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;  
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;  
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)  
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;  
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;         5
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;  
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?  
That you are here—that life exists, and identity;  
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
- Walt Whitman, "O Me! O Life!" from  Leaves of Grass (1900)

Or an Apple advert - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ShyrAhp8JQ

What will your verse be?

Moreover, what would your verse be if you knew that it was going to be the last? When faced with the realisation and after being told that your time upon this earth was absolutely drawing to a close, then what would your verse be? How would it change?

I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me.
- 2 Peter 1:13-14

Ouch. Just ouch.

To put this into context, as best as I can make out, this letter was written in about 67 or 68AD. According to tradition (which is sometimes unreliable), Peter was crucified upside down because he didn't think that he was worthy enough to be crucified in the same way as Christ. I don't know how reliable that is but Peter was probably executed in the year 68AD under the Emperor Nero, which means to say that his second letter may have been written in the last few months that he was alive and in a worst case scenario, possibly in his last few weeks.
This means that this letter, carries a sense of urgency which perhaps isn't as looming as other parts of the New Testament.

I don't know how many people read scripture and consider the literary structure of a book or a letter but the Apple advert and the Walt Whitman poem used in it, made me rethink the Second Letter of Peter.
I admit that this sounds totally bonkers but in all seriousness, it does hold a very strong, almost poetic structure about it, in the form of A-B-A.

The opening chapter is our first section A, a kind of plus sort of section. Peter offers some form of guidance to his readers when he talks about the sort of character and discipline that Christians should aim for.
If one's faith is real, he argues, it will act as a defence to ensure that you will not backslide or be deceived by people who intend to misdirect your faith for other purposes. Make efforts to add knowledge and self-control and godliness and love and you will not fail.
Of course like all of these pieces of advice, writing them down or merely hearing them isn't all that useful unless you intend to practice them: "if you do these things, you will never stumble". The word "do" is so small and yet it is often the smallest of instructions which have the biggest impact.

The second chapter is our section B, the counterpoint to the opening chapter. If guidance was offered in chapter 1, then a warning of danger is given in chapter 2.
False teachers exist and you would do well to stay alert so as not to be deceived. This letter was written at a time before the New Testament was properly compiled and so it would have been far easier for someone who sounded as though they spoke with authority to lead people astray.3
At the end of chapter 1, the hinge into chapter 2 is that scripture is reliable and the apostles as eyewitnesses to Christ's death and resurrection were also reliable but false prophets will invent stories.
These are people who are not afraid of powers and angels and things that they do not understand and they will eventually face judgement and be destroyed. Firey Peter who cut the high priest's servant's ear off, even thirty years later is still just as passionate and firey even in a letter.

Just as if you were to wrap a criticism in a complement sandwich so that you don't disheartening the receiver, the third chapter of Peter's letter is again a section A; but this time it is a reminder of hope.
Christ will return; be mindful of that fact. He hasn't delayed his return, he's got that under control; so stop worrying about it. Time is irrelevant to God, he will do things in his good time. Be alert though, Christ will return when you least expect it and those who are unprepared will be judged, found wanting and punished.
In the light of this, make efforts to be spotless and blameless; keep short accounts and be on guard - you have been forewarned.

I know that Whitman was a religious skeptic but works of literature do not belong to their authors entirely. When Whitman talks of cities filled with the foolish, and  plodding and sordid crowds, he writes to a similar sort of audience as Peter did 2000 years previous because human nature does not change.
Whitman tells us that "the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse" but Peter tells us something even harder, that the powerful play will stop, and you will still contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
Make every effort to confirm your calling and election; be established in the truth; there will be false teachers among you and they will perish...
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.
Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be?

What will your verse be?

June 23, 2014

Horse 1700 - Why Is England So Rubbish At Football?

"It's not about picking your star players... and he plays for Liverpool and he plays for Man United... it's about getting a balance of a side, which is going to get you a result and we never ever do.
And the media's as much to blame as anyone else... when we drop somebody or we play someone in a different position, we're on the case straight away. Why? Why? Why?  
Other countries go 'you know what? I've got good players but unfortunately, so-and-so is gonna sit on the bench tonight and are we bothered? No!' Until we get that way of thinking, how d'ya win football matches? You start from the back, right? Then you get organised and if you've got two or three creative players...  you build a side around certain players... and that gets your side balanced. It's not about having the best eleven players or the best eleven flair players you can find. And we never ever ever learn."
- Chris Waddle, on Five Live on the BBC, 19th June 2014

I find it a little bit odd that Chris Waddle should make these sorts of comments considering that it was him who missed that vital penalty in the 1990 World Cup in Italy, which gave West Germany the berth to the World Cup Final, which they would later go on to win. Maybe he's just venting and maybe he's actually right, I don't know.
The thing I don't understand is that even if you include the World Cup win in 1966, the England national side has always been relatively rubbish compared with the hype that goes around it. In 1966, apart from the final which they won 4-2, England never scored more than 2 goals a match; even in the final, they still only scored 2 goals in regulation time.
This leads me to suspect that actually, England has always been rubbish at national level; I wonder why.
England joined FIFA in 1906 but due to a falling out, left the organisation in 1924 and as a result, didn't rejoin until 1946 and missed the first three World Cups. In the 1950 World Cup, England failed to leave the group stage and even lost 1-0 to an amateur United States side. In 1953 England suffered a 3-6 defeat to the No.1 ranked side in the world, Hungary and then in the return fixture lost 7-1.
Even in 1953, the assumption that England was the best side in the world, was proven to be hopelessly and utterly wrong.

I'm going to suggest five reasons why I think that England has been rubbish at football for so long. Probably they're unfounded but if so, tell me.

1. Impatience
The English national team suffers from precisely the same fate as virtually every club in England; that's hardly surprising since the pool from which both management and players for the national side are drawn, is identical.
Take Liverpool for example. Liverpool as a club is a parallel of the national side. It has an expectation that it will do well, season after season but hasn't won a league title for 25 seasons. The English national team also hasn't won a single tournament, either a World Cup or a European Football Championship, at their last 25 attempts.
Why is this?

When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Manchester United in 1986-87 it took him until 1992–93 to rebuild a side which nominally bounced around 11th, before they would finally win another league title. Likewise, the core group of players featured in the documentary "The Class of '92" would finally win The Treble in 1998-99.
Liverpool in contrast have, season after season, been looking to buy their way into the league title instead of looking to their own academy. If the lead time for a league title appears to be 6 years, then I don't see why this shouldn't be the same for a club or a country.

The England national side obviously can't buy its way into winning a World Cup (because unlike a club side, you simply can not buy players of another nationality) but it could in theory build a side if it were to take the time to do it. If England were to sack the entire first XI tomorrow, all of them, every single one, instead of trying to pick eleven superstars, then they could concentrate on finding eleven players who would all play together with the intent on winning the next World Cup.
The problem with picking eleven players who are "the best" is that they don't play together week in and week out; arguably, they don't link up well in regular play. This was particularly evident when England drew a blank against Italy and to a lesser extent against Uruguay. Wayne Rooney is a very good striker for Manchester United but unlike Raheem Sterling, I don't know if he was as adept at reading balls which came in from Glen Johnson who is Sterling's club team-mate as he was at reading them from his own team-mate Danny Welbeck, but I do know that Rooney was more anonymous for England than he was as he 19 goal scoring machine that he was for United.

2. Technique
When Aimé Jacquet took over the French national side in 1992 following the decision to award the hosting of the 1998 World Cup to France, he virtually fired everyone end blooded in as many young players as he possibly could. He also changed the mentality of the side which outraged much of the French press who demanded his resignation; however during a series of incredibly boring friendly matches, Jacquet developed tactics which saw France play through to the semi-finals of Euro '96 and only go out on penalties after two scorless draws against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

The real irony is that this 1998 French side, was watched by Arsène Wenger who developed this zonal sort of play for something that would work in England and his Arsenal side duly won the 2003-04 Premier League without a single defeat. This same sort of tactic became tika-taka under Pep Guardiola which earned Barcelona a sextuple.

After an horrendous Euro 2000 tournament by German standards when they failed to escape the group stage, the DFB (Deutscher Fußball-Bund) set about creating academies right across the Bundesliga, to foster youth talent. The DFB decided that coaching staff should also be trained through the academies and so now professional German coaching staff starts right at under-15's level of football. Although academies do exist in England, I'm just not sure if being highly commercial enterprises, that they even want to talk to The FA about a national strategy.

3. Socialism
As alluded to, the Premier League has a far more equitable method of dividing up television revenues to the various clubs.
Realistically there are three clubs in Italy which could win the Serie A: Juventus, Internazionale and AC Milan. In Germany there probably Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and possibly VfB Stuttgart. In England though, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City are probably the most obvious, with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Aston Villa and Newcastle United who have all posed serious threats.
This means that the English Premier League is probably of greater depth than most other leagues and football generally in England is collectively stronger but the pinnacle is broader. This means that the core group of players who might form a national squad will come from as many as 15 clubs instead of about 6.

4. Poverty
Although Brazil has very much tried to sweep this under the carpet, poverty is a massive incubator for football skills. Kids who can not afford PlayStations and XBoxes, can afford to go outside and kick a football, even if it is really old and worn out. What they can not afford to do is stay in a favela and I wonder how many apply themselves to practising football, merely because they see it as their only real escape from poverty? Inadvertently, all those hours of street football, might produce skills and hone talents that can not be reproduced any other way; it probably also explains Argentinian football too.
I'm not sure if even the most ardent of right-wing supporters particularly like the idea of suggesting poverty as the reason as to why Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay seem to be so good at football but that might be because of the idea of moral recoil.
I wonder if during those years when England wasn't part of FIFA, during those years of pit closures during the 1920s, when people still worked in conditions that required hard labour, whether that work-hardened fitness would have translated to on-field fitness. Kids in the 1930s wouldn't have been able to stay indoors and eat Hula Hoops. England hadn't actually been beaten in a home international until 1949 and I wonder to what degree that was caused by a class of children from working class families who grew up with nowt else to do?

5. Opportunity Cost
The easiest way to explain this is to look at nations like the United States or Australia. Both the USA and Australia have massive resources that they throw at sport but in the case of the United States, their money goes to American Football, Baseball and Basketball and for Australia, money gets thrown to two codes of Rugby, Australian Rules football and cricket.
England also has this problem. Although more money comparatively is thrown at football, England has been relatively recent champions at Rugby and the number one Cricket test playing nation. Money and more importantly players which form those teams do not form the squads of national football teams.
I ask you, if Stuart Broad, Joe Root or Tim Bresnan had chosen to play football from a young age and not cricket, would they have been world class players there as well? Apply that across all sports and you have something which more closely follows Germany or Brazil.

What I do know is that England is rubbish at football and it is most certainly not in the commercial interests of clubs to correct the issue. Professional football clubs are businesses and players are their working assets. Having them injured whilst playing for the national side is a potential loss of revenues and there have been occasions in the past where the wishes of club and country have clashed. Maybe that's the biggest reason of all.
Last season, I've come to an estimate of TV revenues being worth £1,006,000,000 which by itself is worth more than 3 times that of The FA and that's not including any ticket or merchandise sales or revenues from Europa League or Champions League fixtures that the clubs might pick up and nor does it include individual clubs sponsorship rights.
Ultimately the biggest reason might very well be to follow the money and look at the Cui bono of football; who benefits? Is that the answer?

June 22, 2014

Horse 1699 - When The Airwaves Run Silent

During this World Cup in Brazil I have either been watching the coverage from SBS or listening intently to SBS Radio 4's re-transmission of BBC Five Live's feed (or as they like to say "Five Live from the BBC"). Whilst I admit that there is nothing remarkable about this in and of itself, there is in fact a very serious subject that I'd like to draw out of this.
The BBC whether it likes it or not, is to a degree, a sort of projection of Britain to the world and that motto of "Nation shall speak peace unto nation" is a derivation from Isaiah 2:4.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
This then as  a motto is very much aligned with the Corporation's intent. The BBC World Service can be heard in 28 language and by 188 million people a week. As a result of being largely non-partisan, the BBC World Service has been able to report from many places that other commercial entities have not and where they will not go because it is not profitable to do so. It has also garnered a reputation for quality journalism which in the English speaking world is among the very best.
The BBC probably has in its own way (or at least inadvertently) spoken peace unto nations, for the simple reason that peace often flourishes when people understand each other and the best way to engage in understanding is to speak to each other.
The BBC though is not unique. Germany's Deutsche Welle (DW), the United States' National Public Radio (NPR) and even France's Radio France Internationale can be heard all over the world. DW very much helped to play its part in helping Germany gain acceptance back into the world after the Second World War; NPR consistently proves that real Americans are far more sensible than the governments that they elect and RFI even helps to dispel the myth that French people are somehow snobbish and lack diplomacy. Listen to RFI and you get a sense that France is a very different sort of quirky and warm nation than the image which is projected by stand-offish politicians.

This then brings me to the discussion of both the Australia Network and Radio Australia. Australians are largely ignorant of what either of these two networks do. Radio Australia for instance, transmits in Mandarin, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Khmer, French, Burmese, and a pidgin language Tok Pisin in Papua New Guinea.
Like NPR, the BBC, DW and RFI, Radio Australia is also carried on complementary networks and I was especially shocked to hear programs like The Law Report from ABC's Radio National on Canada's CBC radio station on Sirius satellite in the United States.
From America's NPR you can learn about economics on "Planet Money" and news event on "All Things Considered". From the BBC World Service you can learn about business initiatives on "Global Business" with Peter Day. DW's "Inside Europe" will give you a better idea of the machinations of European politics.

If Radio Australia and the Australia Network carry out the same sorts of functions to these other international public broadcasters, then what sort of message is Australia sending out to the rest of the world? What sort of image are we projecting into places like South East Asia and to out neighbours, with whom we hope to have amicable international relations?
Well come July 1 when the Australia Network is shut off... none at all. What sort of message does silence send to the rest of the world?

Actually it sends out two very loud sort of messages.
Firstly that Australia as a nation can very easily be bought off by people with sufficient amounts of money. Remember, the Australia Network wasn't shut down because it was hideously expensive to run but rather that certain factions of business, demanded that it be shut down and subsequently white anted the Australian government's policies. This proves very much so that the Australian government can be bought off, provided the price is right. The fact that the Australia Network will be shut down is the direct result of rent seeking by private enterprise; the message that that sends out right across Asia in particular is that business people if they want to, can line the pockets of Australian politicians to get what they want because dollars speak louder than votes.
Second it sends a very strong message that people do not matter. If you have been enjoying the Australia Network and you happen to live in Asia, Australia no longer cares in providing you with a service; actually this lines up nicely with domestic policy where the government is also trying not to care about the old, the unemployed, the young, those people who are studying or even the sick people of Australia either.

So when the transmitters run silent on July 1 and all those people across Asia can no longer tune into the Australia Network, what will they think of us? Probably whatever other people, other people with agendas, other people with commercial intent, want to tell them; that is something which we'll have no influence on at all because the government voluntarily decided that we as a nation should say nothing at all.

June 21, 2014

Horse 1698 - The Anonymous Australian

THE ABC’s Media Watch program has been so excited about attacking two of its obsessions — News Corp Australia and big tobacco — that it forgot some obvious guiding principles, such as reliance on the facts and objective reporting.
Then again, this program seems to have lost touch with those principles long ago, focusing instead on activism for its chosen causes, such as carbon pricing and open borders. Quick to suggest conspiratorial motives for others rather than address empirical evidence, Media Watch seems shy of identifying the possible motivation of its own sources. Eager to debunk our report about early statistics showing the possible failure of plain-packaging laws to further reduce tobacco consumption, Media Watch turned to the blogosphere musings of a man who provided policy advice to Julia Gillard at the time she was prime minister and introducing those laws. The ABC failed to disclose this fact, so viewers were not to know the person defending the effectiveness of the laws, economist Stephen Koukoulas, had a stake in their introduction. This is deceptive.
- The Australian, 19th Jun 2014

Yet again I make mention of that famous defamation case heard before Justice Frederick "Fatty" Bacon in 1823 of Pot vs Kettle, in which Pot made accusations as to the nature of Kettle's colour; and which the court held that Pot was precisely the same colour.
Admittedly this is just the latest shot fired in a series of volleys which the Australian has directed against the ABC, in what amounts to what is basically an 80 year turf war between clan Murdoch and the ABC. Sir Keith was getting up to this sort of rubbish in the 1930s with the Herald-Sun.
However, whilst this sort of thing is of itself hardly remarkable, there's something sort of sinister and insidious which this illustrates.

As an independent blogger, I can pretty well much write whatever I like provided that it doesn't defame anyone, doesn't incite violence and isn't racial discriminatory or otherwise discriminatory. I am not bound by an overarching editorial team, nor by keepers who ensure that my copy follows some party line which the organisation chooses to run.
I imagine that for proper paid journalists, that should they choose to publish something which their employers don't particularly approve of, they'd probably need to publish under a pseudonym or anonymously, or even through a leak.
Likewise when an organisation wishes to publish something which it knows is likely to cause public ire, it can in fact do so with almost impunity under the masthead of the organisation via an uncredited editorial.

I completely understand the right of a media organisation to write an editorial in which they do not disclose details as to who the writer was. Doing so under the veil of the masthead, provides a newspaper in particular to challenge the national discussion and put forward ideas which would otherwise be seen as dangerous and or difficult.
However, for a media outlet like the Australian which is part of a very big news empire, to specifically attack an entity for failing to identify "the possible motivation of its own sources" when it itself does so on a regular basis, is just as deceptive.

The net effect of all of this is that a news organisation which chooses not disclose details as to who the writer was, also by default, protects the actual writer who wrote the piece under the cloak of virtual anonymity.

The piece above for instance, doesn't credit who actually wrote the piece at all. For all we know, it could have even been someone from "big tobacco" (not that the issue matters for the purposes of this blog post), who wrote the copy because the editors or writers of The Australia were either too understaffed or too dog lazy to write it themselves - we just don't know.
This is different to say the "Bolt Case" in which Herald-Sun and Daily Telegraph columnist Andrew Bolt was found to have breached section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Had the newspaper chosen to have published this as an uncredited editorial, it would have been quite impossible to find out who wrote the piece and probably no charge would have even been brought before the courts.
It is difficult and expensive to being charges against a large organisation, where you're not sure who was directly at fault and when that large organisation employs a large legal team to protect itself. Such a thing would be beyond the monetary means of most normal people. Certainly the Australian isn't afraid of exerting its legal muscles whenever it gets the chance; it even admits so:
"We will begin by taking this latest piece of tendentious campaigning to the ABC and ACMA complaints processes."
Obviously they don't mind the fact that as taxpayers, we have to fund the legal team to defend the ABC; nor do they mind the fact that we as taxpayers, we have to fund the expense of running the courts with pointless and frivolous lawsuits either.
The ACMA launched 29 formal investigations in 2014, following viewer complaints; 12 of which were about programs aired on the ABC - 0 complaints were upheld. I wouldn't be surprised if all 12 came from people either employed at The Australian or News Corp in general but I can't prove that and they won't officially admit it.

One criticism of bloggers in particular is that we supposedly operate under a veil of anonymity. If I were to write a defamatory or discriminatory piece though, I'm pretty sure that I could very easily be sued; however, if an organisation like The Australian were to actively try to defame me, I very much doubt that I'd be able to fight back.
The Australian on the other hand... doesn't publish the names of who writes their editorials and probably because it knows it can get away with writing whatever it likes in them.

June 20, 2014

Horse 1697 - La Celeste Takes Out Three Lions' Teeth

Uruguay 2 - England 1
Suarez 39', 85'
Rooney 75'

It has taken three appearances at World Cup tournaments but Wayne Rooney has finally scored. His 75th minute equaliser though, still wasn't enough to stop Uruguay's Luis Suarez from dishing out a lesson; nor was it enough to keep England's hopes of escaping Group D alive. They must now not only beat Costa Rica but hope for results from both of Italy's matches against Costa Rica and Uruguay to fall the right way.

Both sides started the match playing a fairly standard sort of 4-4-2 formation but Uruguay's central defence was far more compact than England's and whilst they were content to let England keep possession most of the time (Eng 62% - Uru 38%), their central midfield would collapse back to defend quite easily and thus plug any routes that England might find towards goal.

Suarez' opening goal came from a chip from Cavani which cleared the England back four and he found himself only having to beat England keeper Joe Hart. England would consistenly make this mistake and that largely explains how Suarez would get his second goal to seal the victory in the 85th minute; though it was Steven Gerrard who had to cover his entire back for and which he failed to adequately do, who accidentally headed the final ball to Suarez who duly put it away.

After being 1-0 down at half time, England should have probably thought about switching on an extra forward because they looked without much attacking flair. Rooney did his best but was consistently checked and because Uruguay were so good at shutting down balls and even sending two players to attack the ball, Rooney was starved of supply.
In fact Rooney missed a chance at goal when his header of a corner hit the crossbar and it was only a piece of luck which saw Glen Johnson break free to supply the ball to the far post which gave Rooney his first goal at a World Cup proper and his 40th for England.

England can largely blame this loss, both on the fact that their defence didn't really know how to deal with sneaks from behind and that the pressure to win was so much that Roy Hodgson who could have changed 11 players from the side which lost against Italy chose not to. What is the point of taking 23 players overseas if you're not going to use them?
If Costa Rica and Italy draw, England are gone. If Italy beats both Costa Rica and then beats Uruguay, then it is imperative that England absolutely thump Costa Rica because that would leave Costa Rica, Uruguay and England all on 3 points and it would come down to goal difference. It is worth pointing out that no team in World Cup history thus far, has ever escaped the group stage after losing both of their opening matches.

- Some things like friendship are bigger than even the World Cup itself.

One really special moment of this tournament came after the match after Luis Suarez was being held upon his team mates' shoulders. He ran over to his usual Liverpool club team mate Steven Gerrard and tried to console him.
It is scenes like this which some times make a World Cup memorable. As armchair experts on the other side of the world, it's all to easy to forget that on the pitch there are 22 players, green grass and a football. It is easier for us to make comments than it is to play the game and unlike our jobs, when these people fail at theirs, the whole world is watching.

June 19, 2014

Horse 1696 - Millions, Billions, Trillions, Bajillions, Zillions, Brazillions, Chileons!

Spain 0 - Chile 2
Vargas 19', Aránguiz 43'

"Two World Wars and one World Cup, doo-dah... doo-dah..."
No wait, that's England.
"One Civil War and one World Cup, doo-dah... doo-dah..."
That's better. Now Spain can join England in that fine club of only ever winning one World Cup but going on about it for the next 50 years and never winning anything ever again.

With Aránguiz' 43rd minute strike, the period of Spanish domination of world football has officially ended; it ended with a whimper and most definitely no bang.
Despite a world class line which included the likes of Xavi, Jordi Alba, Torres etc, Spain looked about as threatening as a seven year old trying to hold up a bank, armed with a tulip. For extended periods of the match and most of the second half, Spain were content to occupy the central third of the pitch, playing tiki-taka but were unwilling to press.
When they did finally secure some chances (I counted 3 for the entire match), they were woefully wasteful and for a side whose players when playing for their respective clubs, attract greater salaries than the GDP of small nations, they delivered little.

Chile in contrast appeared dangerous and were willing to work hard to win the ball; in attack, their two wing-backs, Isla and Mena, were able to break deep and cross to the centre with precision.
Apparently, no-one told Chile about the supposed gulf in talent between the two sides because they always looked at least Spain's equal in both attack and defence. Either Spain suffers from a case of ageing (Barcelona's sextuple was all the way back in 2009) or Chile have found a new way to beat tiki-taka (The Netherlands 5-1 win was through sheer brute force and speed), by employing man-to-man marking as opposed to zonal marking which seems to have settled as the norm in top level football.
Blaze and rage away with arguments as to which is best but the point remains that Chile looked solid for their 3 points and Spain will now have to face a three course meal of crow, damp squib and humble pie.

- This pretty well much sums up Australia's World Cup campaign.

Australia 2 - Netherlands 3
Cahill 21', Jedinak 54' (pen)
Robben 20', van Persie 58', Depay 68'

For four whole minutes, four minutes, Australia dared to dream the impossible dream before Van Persie and the Depay scored, to give the Netherlands their second win and confine Australia to the dustbin of vanquished nations at the 2014 World Cup.
Admittedly Australia weren't disgraced but they were outclassed by a side which found the same extra gears in efficiency and work rate which helped them see off Spain in their Group B opener.
These two results set up a pair of third matches in the group in which Chile and the Netherlands will both be playing out of their skins to win and thus avoid Brazil in the next stage of the competition; whilst Australia and Spain will be playing to avoid the scorn and blame of the people forever.

In terms of world wide interest, the football World Cup eclipses even that of the Olympics. However, if you'd been reading Sydney's Daily Telegraph, Brisbane's Courier-Mail or even the Sydney Morning Herald, you would have had to turn several pages in to even know that the World Cup existed.

Had I bothered to watch the State of Origin Rugby League match last night, I would have probably thought that it was a dour affair. 6-4 means that both sides only crossed each other's lines once, which is usually a criticism of football.
I'm sorry but when football has a World Cup, the world cares. When Rugby League has a world cup, not even the only two nations which have any real chance of ever winning it, care all that much. Like tinned Spaghetti Hoops are to cuisine and Mills & Boon books are to literature, Rugby League is to sport. 

Actually if you really want to stop and consider why Australia keeps on failing at the World Cup, a great deal of the blame has to be laid at the feet of Rugby League, Rugby Union and the AFL. Where your heart is, there your treasure is also and Australia has decided to throw its treasure at sports which the world doesn't care about; neither do I.

June 17, 2014

Horse 1695 - Australia Has No National Personification Like Marianne

Some time last week, I was given in change; in place of a Two Dollar Coin, a Five Eurocent coin from France. RF in this case stands for République Française. The lady on the back of the coin is Marianne, the embodiment of the French motto Liberté, égalité, fraternité, and of France itself.
Marianne probably dates from about 1792 after the First French Republic was declared and was usually portrayed with a Phrygian cap which stood for liberty and freedom but in most cases, just makes the wearer look like a giant Smurf.

This got me thinking, the United States is embodied by Lady Liberty, Uncle Sam and even Columbia. The United Kingdom has Britannia and John Bull. Greece or more specifically Athens has Athena; Iceland had The Lady of The Mountain, Ireland is personified with Kathleen Ni Houlihan and Germany has Deutscher Michel and Germania.
This is going to sound really strange but even New Zealand has as their national personification, the lady Zealandia, who is the daughter of Britannia standing on the left hand side of their coat of arms.
No, I am serious:

In contrast, who does Australia have? No-one.

It's interesting how in 2014, in the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of possibly the most idiotic ever fought upon the earth, in which "lions were led by donkeys" and where men's lives were describer as the "coin of the realm on the battlefield", that Australia which was prior to this a tin pot little post of empire, on the other side of the world, is supposed to have forged its national identity.

Yet even with a casualty rate of 65% of Australian soldiers who served in World War One, that still wasn't enough to give either Australians or the nation a sense of its nationhood, that it would become personified.
British solidiers would become known as Tommies and Germany would gain the name of The Hun, whilst its soldiers would become known as either Fritz or Jerry. Granted there are uses of the terms Digger and ANZAC but really, they aren't the same sort of concept as a national personification.

I've had a go at trying to picture what the personification of Australia might look like but sadly, I can't come up with anything constructive. The only images which really stick are either the slouch hat or possibly a hat with corks on. Mostly all the other stereotypical images of Australia are all of things which have long passed.
We might think of the stockman and the concept that Australia rides on the sheep's back but when it comes to actual exports, mining overtook agriculture in the 1960s. We might even try and think of some sporting hero but the problem then is that you actually think of the sporting hero rather than the nation as a whole.
You could try and think of something more contemporary like a family in surburbia; with a house on a quarter acre block but that dream is very quickly fading indeed with the beginning of generations to be locked out of affordable housing forever and being forced to rent. Even the idea of far to many summers on the beach, burning their way into the national psyche are outdated for the same reason. No-one can afford to park all day near the beach anymore, have you been to Bondi or Coogee lately? I don't know if the idea of someone having to put coins into parking meters all day long is exactly the sort of image that we'd like to have as our nation personified; though given the amount of toll roads which we have to drive down just to get anywhere, maybe we should?

Thinking about this logically, it would be fitting if our national personification was four people named Wong, Smith, Santarelli and Jagamurra, driving down the street in a Mazda 3. The car is imported (because Australia soon won't build cars anymore) and apart from Jagamurra who is indigenous, the other three are migrants because everyone except the First Australians are either migrants or descended from migrants at some point.
Maybe they'd have green and gold scarves flapping out of the windows in this sport obsessed nation, for we watch plenty of it but not as many of us actually play as we used to. There'd probably be a kebab, a curry and a pie in the car, and Smith would probably be trying to convince everyone that cous-cous is really special. One of them would be checking out the latest talent competition TV show on an iDevice and they'd all be worrying about housing or rental prices.

The problem with a national personification is that in principle, everyone sort of needs to agree on how they're going to present themselves. The local council area in which I live in has people who came from 205 countries in the world out of 206 and the only reason that we didn't get number 206 is because that's the Vatican City and that'd mean asking curious questions.
If Australia were to become a republic, it couldn't really put anyone like Marianne, Lady Liberty or Athena on the back of the coins because Australia doesn't really have a national personification and I suspect that it couldn't really ever expect to have one either...
...except the lady on the box of Redheads matches.

June 16, 2014

Horse 1694 - Posting Entries to the Gospel Ledger Accounts

There's an amusingly lovely concept which is formally called the Law of the Instrument, or perhaps psychologist Abraham Maslow's Hammer, which stems from his 1966 work The Psychology of Science which states:
"I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail."
I suppose that because I work in an accounting firm, I also suffer from this particular aspect of confirmation bias; conseqently, I tend to see lots of things with regards economic, accounting and legal concepts.
When I read Romans 4 in The Living Bible though, my mind attempted to change gears without the clutch, sparks flew everywhere and I was left in a state of annoyance.

This comes from the passage in question:
For the Scriptures tell us Abraham believed God, and that is why God canceled his sins and declared him “not guilty.”
- Romans 4:3 (The Living Bible)

For the record, I agree with what it says. This paraphrase is attempting to put this into plain English which is perfectly acceptable and reasonable; however, I rather like both the NIV and the King James' better because of their selected word choices.

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’
Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the one to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:
- Romans 4:2-6 (NIV)

Let's for a minute assume that God is keeping a set of accounts. Assuming that each sin has a price which needs to be paid for, that price will accumulate in a Debtor's Ledger. Most sets of accounts will at some point contain a header account called Trade Debtors or something similar.
It's not like the concept is particularly uncommon in scripture either. Right in the middle of The Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6 is the phrase: "And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." 

The word "credited" used here is the Greek word "Elogisthe" which means to  assess or to count. Now I'm not a Greek scholar in any sense of the word but I do remember that in Plutarch's Parallel Lives written in the year 75AD, he uses the word in relation to the extracting of taxation from people who were unwilling to pay.
Similarly, the word "credited" used later is the Greek word "Logizetai" which is just a different form of the same verb and is similar in meaning.

The King James version which was published in 1611, chooses to translate that same passage like this:
For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,
- Romans 4:2-6 (KJV)

I like the word "imputeth" here. Okay, ignore the archaic past tense of the word, and we get the modern word "impute". In an accounting sense, we see so-called Imputation Credits all the time, where a company has already pre-paid the tax which is due and forwards on the remainder to the receiver. Go on, check it out when you do your Tax Returns in a fortnight's time.

In every possible sense, the words "Elogisthe" and "Logizetai" are both words used in an accounting sense; in reference to a debt which will become payable at some point.
A creditor has every right to collect upon a debt and in the case where the person who has accumulated a very large quantity of debt and declares bankruptcy, there are even cases where creditors have the right to claim and seize property.
The question then in Romans 4 if this is the case, is why would the people at The Living Bible choose not to select this sort of language?

Perhaps I should show the case visually:

In a debtor's account, invoices (debts) are shown on the Debit side of the account. An account that shows a debit balance, will appear on the left hand side when it comes time to generating a set of accounts.
These debts will continue to accumulate until such time as they are either paid, or written off. A payment into a debtor's ledger is shown as a credit.
Later on in Romans, Paul describes the wages of sin as death; that is, that and obligation exists which at some point will be called upon.

Obviously, we can choose to pay the debt ourselves, but to use the analogy given for us in Romans 4, where Paul is talking about a saving faith which is being credited as righteousness, it is like Christ's death is a massive credit note and moves use from the debtor's to the creditor's side of the ledger with a carried forward balance.

Now I know that I'm hardly the first to have seen this, or even the best person in the world to explain the concept, or even the first person to have been annoyed by it but it was an interesting sort of diversion; especially considering that here we are in the last two weeks before the end of the financial year and I'm busily trying to extract payment from people who are unwilling to pay and having to pass Credit Notes to forgive debts that I will never be able to collect on.
In a monetary sense those accounts are being credited as righteousness or being put right; and I just happen to see parallels all over the place.

June 13, 2014

Horse 1693 - 2014 Copa Du Mondo - ABRE!

Brazil 3 - Croatia 1
Neymar 29', Neymar 71' (pen), Oscar 91'
Marcelo 11' (o.g)

With allegations of corruption surrounding the selection process for the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, FIFA should have been looking for an opening match which was free from futher controversy. Unfortunately, controversy had booked a ticket to the very first match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and was not only rearing its ugly head, it was actively barracking and cheering.

Tactically, both sides went into this fixture with a 4-5-1 formation, perhaps hoping to force the other into some sort of mistake. I would tend to suggest that at Brazil '14, we can probably expect to see mainly 4-5-1s and 5-4-1s as teams prefer to not lose as opposed to try and win. Only teams with no real chance will probably buck that trend.

The first thing I noticed even before a ball was kicked, was that the tradition of Brazillian stage names is alive and well. The problem is that after 84 years of World Cups, all the good names appear to have been exhausted.

Sure, there's Paulinho and Marcelo but with names like Jo, Maxwell, Victor, Willian, Bernard and Fred, are they even trying any more?
Again there's Fernandinho but how long is it before we can expect Ronaldinho McDonaldinho com a sua el classico Grandé Mac et McChickinho?
Amusingly though, there's The Un-Incredible Hulk who instead of smashing stuff when he decides to have a ragequit, just falls over and demands a penalty.

The crowd in this match was silenced 11 minutes in when a perfectly weighted Croation cross into the box, found Marcelo unsighted and with a limp left foot, he perfectly batted the ball into his own goal to put the hosts 1-0 down.
Just before the half hour, Neymar's hopeful strike from 25 yards away lifted Brazil, who at that stage although played with sublime skill, lacked any real sense of direction.

However it was 71 minutes in that gave us what we'd all feared would happen when everyone in the whole world except referee Yuichi Nishimura saw that Dejan Lovren got the lightest of hand touches on Fred who hurled himself at the ground with the sort of dive that will probably win a bronze medal at the Olympics in Rio in two years' time.
I'm going to come out and say that this sort of thing will conspire to produce a Brazil-Argentina final. When the outcome of a match is swung on the hinges of only a few key moments and they happen to be as the result of a referees' decision and that decision is influenced by shadowy controllers upstairs, what else are we supposed to think?

Croatia appeared to be visibly on top both before and after this incident and this prompted them to play even higher up the pitch; in an effort to try and grab an equaliser which they never have should have been forced to do in the first place. Brazil sat back and contained the next 20 minutes of barrage until into extra time, they found a break out and because Croatia had been playing so far up the pitch, Oscar found himself in a one on one with the flailing Croatian keeper, Pletikosa, and duly slotted one past him from 19 yards away.

The match probably was worth a Brazil win but when matches and tournaments have tempos and attitudes which rise and fall depending on the referee, it does really bring into question the integrity of FIFA as a whole; especially considering that FIFA answers to no-one.
As for Brazil itself, it hasn't necessarily played as attractive football as say Spain or Argentina will, but it is entirely functional and they will be very hard to beat at home (and they'll have help).

During the 2014 World Cup, I probably won't write that many match reviews. I'll say up front that as an England fan, I'll follow them all the way to the Quarter Finals, where they'll be knocked out on penalties. I'll be amused as the Grauniad, the Express and the Daily Mail all splash news reports with begrudging cynicism, then wild optimism invoking the spirit of 1966, before heaping scorn on the England side as it fails at yet another world cup.

As for Australia, I expect that they lose 4-0 against Chile, 8-0 against the Netherlands and 8-0 against Spain. Especially publications like The Daily Telegraph, just don't seem to appreciate the fact Australia is the most minnowy team at this tournament; that is because unlike Rubgy League or Australian Rules football, the Football World Cup is for a sport which most of the world actually plays.

June 12, 2014

Horse 1692 - The Curious Tale Of A Premier Of Queensland And A Cabinet Minister

Frederick Isambard Morton, born 17th July 1877, was the son of a pastoralist in the Maryborough region of Queensland.
At the age of 8, whilst working out in the top paddock; trying to chase some loose kangaroos, he was thrown from horseback and landed with such a heavy thud that he broke his pelvis and several bones in his right leg. The impact with the ground also left him blind, and whilst he recovered from his broken bones, he never recovered from his blindness; hence his famous epithet.
As young Frederick was unable to continue work in the fields and indeed most rural settings, he attended diligently to academic study and not only graduated his school as dux but would go on to study Law at The University of Queensland; which he passed with distinction.

After working for several years at a few law firms including Dewey, Cheatem & Howe and later at Buckleys & Nunn, it was at the law firm Screuham & Burnham that he would really make a name for himself when he defended Queensland State MP for Chatsworth, Lawrence Phurphey against a murder charge.
Phurphey was apprehended by the Queensland Police at the scene of the crime, in which the victim had had his head hacked off with a one-inch butter palette. The room in which Phurphey was found, was locked from the inside, no fewer than 29 signed confession notes were strewn about the room and on his person and Phurphey was himself, covered from head to toe in blood. Phurphey was still brandishing the one-inch butter palette and whistling "I Wish I Was in Dixie" when police arrived.
Frederick was able to argue that certain aspects of Phurphey's case were presented incorrectly under the terms of Queensland's Criminal Code Act 1899 and so all charges against Lawrence Phurphey were dropped.

Having been acquitted of murder and the case declared Nolle Prosequi, Lawrence Phurphey stayed on as MP for Chatsworth and would rise to become Premier of Queensland in 1919. Two years later during a by-election, Frederick Morton would become Member for Ashgrove and was appointed State Minister for Justice and Law soon after.
The increasingly jovial Premier Lawrence Phurphey was said to have been more than happy when Frederick Morton personally oversaw the Constitution Amendment Act 1921 which abolished Queensland's Upper House (Queensland Legislative Council) on the 23rd of March 1922.

In doing the research for this post, many of the accounts were found to be fabrications of that particular Premier of Queensland and had that State Minister for Justice and Law been still alive today, his sharp intellect would have seen this.

June 11, 2014

Horse 1691 - How To Stop People Complaining About Buses That Are "Not In Service" Through The Simple Use Of Applied Psychology

Picture the scene:
It is a little bit beyond five o'clock and the commuters at the bus stop that I was stood standing at (as opposed to sat sitting) are rippling with disapproval that yet another bus has whizzed past at 60 clicks and bearing the message "Not In Service" across its destination board.
Now I'm perfectly aware that complaining about stuff is sort of a national sport along with whinging and tutting to make an Olympic style triathlon, and so I was pondering as is my wont, if it might be possible to employ a little psychology to dissuade the disapproval being shown.

The complaints which are shown as a result of buses whizzing past, stem from the perception that a service is not being provided or more specifically that it is not being provided to "me" and not being provided "right now".
We all tend to have an egocentric sort of view of the world when it comes to these sort of things; despite the fact that a public bus company's job is to provide a bus service and when a bus whizzes past, they are in fact providing that service but just not to "me" and just not "right now". Very few people in the world drive around in buses specifically for fun.
This got me thinking that if people were more aware of the fact that the bus in question is being provided for someone else, then they might not be so whingey about it.

If the bus had the next route number and the target destination across its destination board en route to the beginning of its next run, then would people show as much disdain?

I'm not entirely sure of this but maybe there would be a difference in projected attitude if people were aware that the bus was for "someone else" as opposed to a generic "Not In Service" message.
I already note that people don't tend to complain as loudly when an eXpress, Express or Limited route bus whizzes past and the reason that I suspect that this is the case is because people visibly see that those buses are "In Service", even though I personally find it bizarre that this message even exists.
The way I see it, a bus is always "In Service" except when it's at the depot because either its en route to the beginning of a run or else, its on its way home again; maybe if people were made more mindful of this, they might not be so quick to complain.

Then again, maybe they would. People like to complain about stuff; why stop now? Not when there's an Olympic style triathlon to be won.

June 10, 2014

Horse 1690 - Pizza Maths

Yesterday was the Queen's Birthday Weekend Holiday, which is amusing as her birthday is really on the 21st April. If for no other reason than to keep a public holiday, hurrah for the Queen's Birthday Weekend!
I had a lovely sleep in; in a nice warm bed and as if to cap off a lovely morning, Mrs Rollo made buttermilk pancakes.
This is where the story gets weird...

I cut across a pancake with my knife and noticed that it cut into 2 pieces (okay, that's blatantly obvious). I then made a second cut across the pancake and that second cut, made 4 pieces. I was then thinking about making a third cut when I was told that it was going to get cold.
I'm sure that I must at times drive Mrs Rollo bonkers at times with my incessant wondering; so I kept this one quiet.

What is the maximum number of bits that you can cut pancakes, pizza, lahoh, chapati... into, with every new cut?
I don't really care about the size of the bits.

On the train this morning, I sat doodling; thinking of Blind Freddy working away for Hypothetical Pizza Inc. and I bet he'd know how many bits he could get for every cut of his blade. Being the kind of numbers person, I am, I thought I'd take note of the number of bits I could get for every new cut.

For 0 cuts, you get 1 bit
For 1 cut, you get 2 bits.
For 2 cuts, you get 4 bits.
For 3 cuts, you can get 7 bits.
For 4 cuts, you can get 11 bits.

If we let c be the number of cuts and b be the number of bits that you get, then this should resolve nicely into a simple equation. I also noticed that for every new cut, the number of new bits increased by 1 every time; this means that whatever equation arises, it must be of degree 2.

The general formula for any equation of degree 2 is ax²+bx+c = y
In this case x is the number of cuts and y is the number of bits.
Since the number of bits that I have with 0 cuts is 1, then it's a safe bet to assume that the final constant is 1.

This is where brute force came into play; since I couldn't remember how to actually find a specific equation from the data it generates but I did remember the basic quadratic formula; so I punched in a stack of numbers and fiddled with things until I magically found my answer.

The number of bits that you get from a given number of cuts is defined by the equation:
(c²+c)/2 + 1 = b
I figure that for 10 cuts, you should get 56 bits; for 13 cuts, you should get 92 bits etc. I have no idea what each of those very small bits would look like but to be honest, I don't care all that much. The best number of cuts to make in a pancake, pizza, lahoh, chapati etc... is none.
I can eat a whole pizza.

June 08, 2014

Horse 1689 - Poverty: The Left and The Right

"Poverty is not a left or right issue. It's God's issue." Think I'm at the wrong church. We never talk this much about our call to act.
- Tweeter's Name Withheld, 8th Jun 2014

Firstly to set this straight. On a left-right scale where 0 is the exact centre:
The Economic Left: The point (-∞,0) is the economic position in which the state owns and controls everything.
The Economic Right: The point (∞,0) is the economic position in which the state owns and controls nothing. In a purely economic rightist economy, everything is owned and controlled by private enterprise.

More generally, left-wing politics generally espouse higher degrees of social equality; suggesting that private enterprise because it is selfish has no motive to change or even address inequalities.
Right-wing politics which espouse individual responsibility often also suggest that social inequality is a consequence of the operation of markets and that some degree of inequality is either completely normal or in some right-wing policy sets, even desirable.

Both of these positions are on a different scale to the Authoritarianism/Libertarianism axis in which:
Authoritarianism: The point (0,∞) is the social position in which authority is not allowed to be questioned or must be formally obeyed in all circumstances.
Libertarianism: The point (0,-∞) is the social position in which all authority rests in the individual.

Poverty which is that state in which an individual lacks either the means or capability to meet certain needs, which may include food, shelter and clothing etc. is very much an economic issue because it then calls into question a matter or responsibility.

The Left would suggest that governments should do something about poverty since private enterprises have no motive for solving the problem.
The Right which would prefer that government got out of the economy or at least minimised its impact on how the economy works either through direct action or the removal of regulation, would in most cases tend to suggest that because poverty is essentially a problem which affects members of society which would then fall into economic irrelevance, would tend to look upon the problem of poverty as either a category error or something which is a negative externality, and would generally choose not to incur the cost of doing anything about it if they can.

I found this quite interesting during the 2012 United States Congressional campaign:
Graduate from high school, work hard, and get married before you have children and the chance you will ever be in poverty is just two percent. Yet if you don’t do these three things you’re 38 times more likely to end up in poverty!
- Rick Santorum, at the Republican National Convention, 21st Sep 2012

If we boil down these three things:
1. Graduate from High School - this either assumes that a high school has been provided and/or that it is accessible to attend. If schooling is too expensive to attend, then people do not so so. This argument is being played out in Australian politics at the moment with respect to universities.
2. Work Hard - this again assumes that there is in fact at least a subsistence level of employment in which someone can find themselves. That might be a tall order when private enterprises either find cheaper sources of labour and decide to move or if wages are sufficiently low enough to make even a subsistence level of life difficult.
3. Get Married Before You Have Children - As a societal problem, the issue of marriage is an economic irrelevancy these days. The problem here is whether or not an individual has children and as a result, it minimises their ability to find meaningful and gainful employment; usually this is the case for very young mothers and the fact that very young fathers are able to just leave to bear the economic burden them so easily.

Again, the real crux in all of these three issues is one of a matter or responsibility. The Left would suggest that it is fitting and proper that the government should act as a backstop to ensure at least a minimum standard of living for people whilst the Right would tend to suggest that this is an economic irrelevancy.

Getting back to the original comment:
"Poverty is not a left or right issue. It's God's issue." 
Well, poverty is a Left issue because the Right simply doesn't even regard it as an issue. Taken to its ultimate extreme, in a perfect world where God himself runs everything benevolently, then God lives on the Economic Left. It stands to reason that if The Left is the economic position in which the state owns and controls everything and the state happens to be God himself, then God is leftist.
Also assuming that God's law is perfect and that to disobey God is sin, then God is also the ultimate Authoritarian.

Even if you look at the description in Acts 4:
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
- Acts 4:32-35 (NIV)

This very much is a description of a group of people working together. If they are their own little state, then it's very much a commune, a community, dare I say communist. This is not Soviet Socialism which ran on the basis of greed in many cases but an actual proper community.

Poverty is a Left issue because the Right does not care. As far as God is concerned, he cares for people - God is a leftist.

Our Response:
What should be an appropriate response to this?

For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
- Deuteronomy 15:11

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.
- Proverbs 19:17

And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
- Mark 10:21

Let me just re-iterate the conclusion from before:
Poverty is a Left issue because the Right does not care. As far as God is concerned, he cares for people - God is a leftist.

What would be an appropriate response be with regards the poor? We can give monetarily, we can write to our members of parliament in response to the economic consequences of government policy, we can even seek to help those people who we meet who need out help. Maybe we could in the first instance; and considering that God cares for people and we should be trying to be like Him, we could also be concerned for people? Just maybe?

Horse 1688 - People Used To Believe That The Earth Was Flat - Did They Now?

I was watching the rather hokey Star Trek V last night and one of the comments made by Sybok, who turned out to be Spock's half-brother (in something of a deus ex machina), was that "People used to believe that the earth was flat"; as though that were some sort of proof that we know live in more enlightened times.
Granted that many people did in fact think that the earth was flat and in some cases a disk like object suspended upon the seas, this was in no way universally the case. Plenty of people did not think that the earth was flat; many even took measurements which quite conclusively proved otherwise, even though their calculations and basic assumptions were wrong.

He spreads out the northern skies over empty space;
he suspends the earth over nothing.
He wraps up the waters in his clouds,
yet the clouds do not burst under their weight.
He covers the face of the full moon,
spreading his clouds over it.
He marks out the horizon on the face of the waters
for a boundary between light and darkness.
- Job 27:7-10  (NIV)

There are theories which suggest that the book of Job might be the oldest book in the Tanakh. Job appears in the third section of the Tanakh called the Ketuvim, which include the poetic writings, as well as other assorted leftovers and the two books of Chronicles.
Job was possibly written between 2200-1800BC and if this is the case, then a rather obvious and stark question arises... How could Job have possibly known that the earth hangs over nothing?
Second to this, anyone who has ever stood on the shore of any beach, stood on a very high mountain or even been on a ship in the middle of the ocean, will immediately be struck by the round shape of the horizon; no doubt this is what Job refers to at the end of this little section.

Still further in the book of Isaiah which identifies itself in the 8th Century BC, we find this little nugget:
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
- Isaiah 40:22 (NIV)

The word circle in this verse is the Hebrew word "chug" (חוּג). This word is almost exclusively used as the word "circle". I've heard descriptions both arguing in favour of this meaning a globe and a disk and so it perhaps isn't wise to use this as a basis to start an argument as to what the ancients thought. Bear in mind that the Bible itself is more a description of how God relates to people and so if you want to find out what scientists thought, then perhaps it;s best to ask the scientists.

Both Pythagoras who lived in the 6th Century BC and is best known for his theorem relating to triangles and Parmenides a century later, concluded that the Earth is spherical; as did Aristotle and Eratosthenes of Cyrene not only tried to calculate the circumference of the earth but also the angle of the tilt of the Earth.
Aristarchus of Samos even put the sun at the centre of the universe and using trigonometry, thought that the Sun was 18 times further away from the Earth than the Moon is (it actually is about 400 times).

Skip forward many hundreds of years and Columbus who sailed to the new world, didn't leave Spain on the basis that he thought that the world was round when everyone else thought that it was flat, but rather that he thought that the Earth was much smaller than it actually is. Columbus thought that he'd landed in India, despite never having been there before and called the people who lived there "Indians" on that basis.

If anything it might be true that the idea that "People used to believe that the earth was flat", came from a political conflict rather than what people actually believed:
The myth that people in the Middle Ages thought the earth is flat appears to date from the 17th century as part of the campaign by Protestants against Catholic teaching.  But it gained currency in the 19th century, thanks to inaccurate histories such as John William Draper's History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874) and Andrew Dickson White's History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896).  
- James Hannam, God's Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science  (2009).

All of this leads me to wonder why people think that people thought that the earth was flat but I don't wonder for very long. The truth is that if you ask most people a whole range of questions, they don't really know the answers and more importantly, don't care.
Maybe people think that people thought that the earth was flat because they don't question things enough; that has far more serious implications that the mere shape of the earth.

June 06, 2014

Horse 1687 - The Leadership Challenge That Not Only Never Was But Also Was Actually Never Was

In fact, Turnbull has lavished a lot of charm lately on Abbott’s natural predators, even last week launching a new parliamentary group of friends of the ABC, which got a (small) cut in the Budget.

“I think the ABC is more important than ever,” declared Turnbull, even though it is in fact dangerously huge and biased, stifling competition and punishing conservatives on its five radio stations, four TV networks and online newspaper.
This is Turnbull, on the far Left of the Liberal Party, charming a constituency that hates Abbott and which would back Turnbull to replace him — even if it still wouldn’t vote Liberal.
- Andrew Bolt, Herald-Sun, 2nd Jun 2014

On Monday this week, Mr Bolt's comments launched a wave of discussions which questioned Malcolm Turnbull's disloyalty to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Turnbull's supposed disloyalty stems from the suggesting above that he actually had the temerity to stand up in defence of the ABC.
Meanwhile, Alan Jones over on 2GB, also decided to jump upon this idea that because Malcolm had stood up for the national broadcaster, then that was a display of disloyalty.
Since the budget though, Malcolm Turnbull has cancelled appearances on ABC Local Radio's AM program, cancelled two appearances on ABC1's 7.30 and also an upcoming appointment on Insiders.

I find some of Andrew Bolt's comments particularly confusing. I am really confused. I mean really really confused. Really really really ('chazakah' - the emphatic Semitic triplet type) confused. Specifically I'm confused about this phrase "stifling competition".
Admittedly this column appeared in print in all daily drabloid News Corp rags around the nation on Monday but for several of those rags, such as Brisbane's Courier-Mail or Adelaide's Advertiser, there was no competition. I'm really confused at this point how a newspaper with no other competitors actually has the temerity to print something like this, suggesting that the ABC is stifling competition when from many news-stands across Adelaide and Brisbane, if you wanted to pick a newspaper, you had a choice of ONE.
This is quite apart from the fact that  News Corp Australia owns 50% of Foxtel, Lachlan Murdoch owns Illyria Pty Ltd which holds both the Nova FM and Smooth FM Networks, who by the way also sat on the board of Network Ten Holdings (which by the way, I'm betting has been deliberately run into the ground, just so Lachlan can force the government's hand into changing the way that media ownership rules work).
I'm also a little confused as to how a person who even has his own private Human Rights Commissioner (and we all know that's precisely why Tim Wilson of the IPA was given a golden ticket into the job) can even bandy about the words "stifling competition" in the first place.

When I had started this post on Monday night, it looked pretty simple to tie off. However, fast forward to today the 6th of June and Tony Abbott gave a press conference trying to quell the rumours that Messrs Bolt and Jones had stirred up. Prime Minister Abbott passed off the rumours as "meaningless chatter" and that in itself makes me wonder who the puppet masters are in all of this.

Aside. The following did not appear in the print versions of either the Courier-Mail, The Herald-Sun or The Daily Telegraph. News Corp Australia or rather its version of Minipax has gone back and changed the online version of this article.
"That said, a disclaimer: I’m sure Turnbull isn’t contemplating any imminent challenge or is fostering destabilisation.
Nor do I think the Liberals are considering any such switch at the moment, especially not to a man whose strategic nous is so lousy that he last led the Liberals into the toilet."
- Was not in the physical papers on June 2.

This all brings me around to the concept of plausible deniability. Andrew Bolt can very easily deny that he was directed either by his bosses at News Corp or the Prime Minister's Office that he was told to write this article. Alan Jones also can deny that he was given any scoops or inside information from the Prime Minister's Office. The Prime Minister's Office and even Mr Abbott can deny that they either leaked any directives, press releases or other information.
So who is pulling the strings here? Bolt? Jones? Abbott? Turnbull? Rupert? Lachlan? The IPA? Who knows? I honestly have no idea.

I do know that Malcolm Turnbull who has been in parliament since 2004, certainly saw from the other side of the chamber as Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd pulled ribs out of each other. Even Blind Freddy who was the fictional member for Leichhardt from 1910-1928 could see that it would be an inherently stupid idea to make a leadership challenge during the first term of office of a government. If there is one fixed point in this entire swirling galaxy of intrigue and subterfuge, then this is that.
Malcolm Turnbull can definitely deny that there's a leadership challenge because of the incredibly obvious fact that there is no leadership challenge. Plausible deniability works its best when the thing that you happen to be denying, never actually happened.

No the real reason why Turnbull has been gagged here has nothing to do with a supposed leadership challenge but his statement that “I think the ABC is more important than ever." It is very much in Andrew Bolt's interest as a News Corp lackey to see the ABC kneecapped, as it is for Alan Jones who in effect is John Singleton's. Any dollar pulled from the national broadcaster is a victory for them and this is a classic move in playing the man and not the ball.

There is however one grain of truth in Mr Bolt's initial column that started off this mess:
This is Turnbull, on the far Left of the Liberal Party, charming a constituency that hates Abbott and which would back Turnbull to replace him — even if it still wouldn’t vote Liberal.
Okay, as far as Mr Bolt is concerned, everyone in the world is on the far left to him. He's been on the bus to Far Right Town for a long time now but the truth is that being charming certainly is a good way to win over a constituency - you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
Right now, a great deal of the electorate actually does hate Abbott and probably would back Turnbull to replace him — even if it still wouldn’t vote Liberal, but I'd suggest that's mainly because that's because of everything that his government has said and done, and cutting the budget of the ABC is only the first in a very very very long line of thing.